ITALO QUADRELLI WAS A TEENAGE BOY LIVING IN GEMMANO, JUST NORTH OF THE GOTHIC LINE, IN 1944
My name is Quadrelli Italo: I am called Italo because I was born in 1935. Named after Italo Balbo. On 19th February. I worked as a coach driver.
You are I am from Onferno. Once, it was called Inferno, then it was changed. It is 7 Kms from here; right where the Germans got to.
My father was an agricultural worker. He owned land; but in the war he lost everything. My house was in a settlement where the German headquarters were.
I had 2 brothers, but we still lived with our grandparents too. In those days, you started school at 6. We had to walk 2 kms to school. We had home-made school. Before going to school, we had to take our sheep out to pasture.
Was your house actually in Onferno, or a little bit outside?
Onferno was not a town: just a little settlement. Ours was one of the bunch of houses there.
How big was your house?
Not very. There was a stable for the pigs, cows and sheep. The animals lived below the living quarters. 2 cows; a donkey; 3 or 4 sheep; bees. My father kept the bees. We lost absolutely everything. The Germans took everything away: they found our stores of honey. They took the pigs away to eat them, then the cows died under bombardment, and the hives were destroyed.
Where were you in the pecking order?
In the middle. My older brother was 5 yrs older, my younger one 3 yrs older. My father knew what war was about: he had fought in the First World War. Here, it happened like this: the first thing the Germans did was to take away our pigs. They came on horseback, fired shots and took our pigs. A woman in the village was injured, and my father took us to some caves nearby for protection. The Germans evicted us, so my father sent us to Olare, where some friends had made a larger shelter. We needed to hide my older brother from the Germans so they did not take him away to work in Casilina. My grandfather was beaten because he refused to work for them, pretending he was ill: you see, the Germans used to take the old men and their beasts of burden and order them to transport loads for them.
What was/is your older brother called?
Dino. He died, poor man.
Did the Germans come from the North or the South.
From the North; from the Val Conca. Before the battle. First they came to take away all our possessions. Then the positioned themselves here.
Can you remember when?
They first came to take our things not long before the war [sic; i.e. the battle] at the beginning of August, end of July. As a boy, I remember the aircraft chases. The Germans were on the Conca, the English on the Foglia. They attacked each other over our heads. It was quite a spectacle. One fell right near Onferno, and we boys all ran to the wreck. It was a German one. The Germans had a tank at Onferno. This, I remember: it was wrecked.
From the air?
No, no: the English were on the border between Emilia Romagna and the Marche. Their tanks would move a little north and then start firing. They had loads of tanks, the Germans only had one. They’d move it at night, to give the impression that there were more.
Going back a bit, where was your school?
In Onferno. [in another part of the hamlet.] We were 60 or 70 pupils; Onferno was big then: it was a parish of around 600 people, not like today. 5 classes with 5 teachers.
Did you have good friends?
Yes. There were 25 or 30 boys in our hamlet.
Did you play with them, or was there no time to play?
Yes we did. Before school, we put the sheep out to pasture. After school, we all played. It was different then: we didn’t have footballs, we didn’t have bikes. Nothing. We made up our own games. With bits of wood, or whatever came to hand.
Did you have to milk the animals, too?
No, only take them out to the fields. The women did the milking.
Did you have to clean their stables out as well?
No: that was only done once a month. [the sheep]. The cows needed cleaning out twice a day. We had to help out with this, but it was not our sole responsibility.
If you discount nostalgia, were those better times for children?
It’s like this: nowadays, children want for nothing, but in those days, there was more comradeship, happiness.
To what extent were you self-sufficient? In vegetables? Fruit?
Where would we go to buy stuff? Yes, in everything. I remember that my mother, after the front had passed by, made five rolls of cloth. 25 sheets. Made with linen we grew, [though later, he says they bought cloth as well] wool we produced ourselves.
What did you have to buy?
Maybe half or one kilo of meat for our Sunday lunch, maybe mutton to make a stew or a stock. Eggs, cheese, everything was made at home.
So what did you have to buy? Salt?
Yes, salt, sugar. Clothes too. Material to make clothes. If it was something smart, we’d take it to the seamstress/tailor.
Did you also sell the food you produced?
Eggs, cheese, wheatwhatever there was, and veal, if there was enough.
So, you produced and made enough for yourselves and sold what was left over?
Yes. We purposely made extra cheese and veal. We’d take it to the market at Mercatino Conca (Fri) or Morciano (Thurs). Both were 15 Kms away. The sheep were taken live, so they could walk on their own feet!
You would accompany your father?
Yes; once I was 14 or 15, my mother sent me too [by which I think he means on his own]. She sent me with cheese. Until 1954/55. Then, the first mechanised transport arrived and life began to change.
I assume that there was no electricity, running water?
There was electricity at Gemmano; it came to Onferno in 1948. Buses connected us from 1953 onwards. For water, we were dependent on wells – mostly communal ones. Running water was connected in 1960/65.
Who had to pump the water?
No, at that time, there was no pump: you just had to pull a pail out of the well. We all had to do it. My mother would just shout to one of us when it was needed.
Did you have your own well?
No, in these settlements, there was one communal well. Everyone went there.
Was there a practical reason why the animals were kept below the living quarters? Was it for warmth?
No: that was just the way the houses were built. There was no other place to keep them.
Did you always have enough to eat?
Yes: we had food. My family were OK: they owned their house and their land. The contadino had a harder time. Of course, it wasn’t like today: We had meat only once a week; but we were fine.
Your father didn’t rent land as well?
How long had it been in the family?
I don’t know. My grandfather had gone to Argentina to earn money in order to buy some land. My maternal grandfather. My mother was born in Argentina. When he came back, he was able to buy 3 farmsteads, which meant that he could live off the income.
Do you know when your grandfather came back?
1910/1915. My mother was born in 1905.
Did you work one of the 3 farms and let the other 2?
We kept one of the houses with just a little land. Contadini worked all the rest. He had 4 children, you know: he was well-off.
Was it your maternal or paternal grandparents who lived with you when you were young?
My paternal grandparents. My maternal ones were still alive, but they had their own house.
In comparison with the way we live now, life was pretty hard nonetheless, in those days, was it not?
Day to day, on a typical day, what was your menu.
First of all, we got up and tended to the animals. Then we had breakfast: perhaps an egg with unleavened bread [piadina – the local flat bread]. Then, people went out to the fields, and came back at midday for some lunch. Probably some pasta.
No, normally some sort of a soup or broth with pasta in it. Not a meat broth, though. Followed by a piece of cheese.
Mostly mixed sheep/cow cheese. Then, in the evening, we would normally have some piadine with salad. We didn’t have problems of cholesterol in those days. Occasionally, we’d have fish, â€œbaccala [dried salt cod], but only on special occasions.
Did you go to church only on Sundays?
Mostly only on Sundays. If there were special feasts, we’d go on other days too.
Did you tend to celebrate feasts as a family or as a community?
Well: boyfriends and girlfriends would go to church together. [hasn’t quite understood the question] We’d all go to church together, then each to our own houses. There were no celebrations outside the religious ones in those days: it is not like today.
Did you always have all your meals together as a family?
Yes. And before our evening meal, My grandfather would say the rosary.
Were your parents very strict?
Yes, yes. Well, mine weren’t particularly: they left us on a looser lead, but some were very strict indeed.
Were you a close family?
Did your father ever talk about fighting in the first WW?
All the time. He was on the Isonzo [Slovenia – now with a different name] and the Piave.
Was he injured?
No. He had many recommendations/medals, but he was not wounded.
Was your life affected much by fascism?
My father always said he was not a fascist. But fascism brought positive things for people at the beginning.
Did you have fascist squadre round here?
Yes, but they weren’t too bad. They forbad us from singing â€œBandiera Rossa; they took away the women’s wedding rings.
Was your life very different under fascism?
Well, I can’t remember it before, but I think fascism brought a degree of wellbeing. He valued agricultural work. Yes, there was less freedom, but people were better off. They had more to eat.
Do you remember the young men around here going off to war?
No, I was too young. I remember when they came back.
Do you remember the 8th of Sept?
Yes. My parents were pleased. They thought it was the end of the war. But our war was in â€˜44.
Can you remember when you realised that you might be on the front line?
Well, you have to understand that things were very confused here: we had no radio: first, the Germans arrived, then we found ourselves right in the middle of the fighting. The only radios we had were in the fascist â€œcircolo – social club. In fACT, after the war, I was driving my bus and one of my passengers was an Englishman who had fought for the liberation of Gemmano. He told me that the Allies arrived right up to the walls of the town and positioned themselves below them. There was one German left, in the bell tower, with a machine gun. He forced the Allies to retreat, and then they destroyed everything: the aeroplanes did.
At what point did your father take you into hiding?
About 12 or 13 days before the battle. When the bombardment started.
Did you know that the front line was getting closer?
Why did you get moved on from the first shelter?
Because the Germans needed it to rest in between shifts.
Where did you go then?
We went to a second shelter. The man who organised the construction of this shelter was killed just outside it when he wnet to take a leak.
When did he build it?
In June. They were expecting it [to be moved out of the first? That the war would come to Gemmano?]
What were the family called who built the shelter?
Casadei. The guy who was killed was Walter Casadei.
How far was the shelter from your farm.
About 2 Kms.
What kind of shelter was it?
It was a cave – 3 caves – dug out of the tufa cave. The 3 caves met up in a central chamber. It was big: a woman gave birth in there.
When we decided it was safe to cross to the Allied side of the front line, we arrived at Alevola, where the English were positioned. I was nine: I had never seen negroes. At a certain point, my father decided it was safe to go. So there, I was, bare foot, walking through rough fields with shards and shrapnel. 300 metres from the negroes, my brother found a pistol. He wanted to take it with him but my father didn’t allow it. A little further on, we came upon some Kurds [sic] with those big knives. My father was a smoker, but hadnot had a cigarette for many months. Further on again, we ran into some English, who had tins of 50 cigarettes. My father chain-smoked about 100 of them.
Going back a bit: were you conscious that the front was approaching?
No, as a child, I wasn’t but my father had fought in the previous war and knew what was going on. He moved us on.
No, I mean, did you hear the guns getting louder? Rumours?…
Yes, these refuges were built when the Americans landed. Our parents knew what would happen. My grandfather and aunt stayed at our house because they didn’t want to abandon the last remaining animals. Besides which, our numbers had swelled because it was thought that the main fighting would happen on the Foglia, not here, so people had evacuated from there to here. At Onferno, there was a â€œgrotta carsica [? cave] which was crammed with refugees from as far away as Rimini: no-one thought the battle would be fought out here.
Did the number of refugees double or triple the local population?
Definitely doubled. There were loads of refuges in these tufa rock areas.
How many people were in the Casadei refuge?
There were 3 or 400 of us.
And they just kept enlarging it, did they?
Yes. First, there were two entrances and 1 big chamber, then, more and more were built. People were constantly working at it.
This was the tunnel that Walter Casadei had started?
Yes. He was 20 when he started building it.
You say you saw your house burning from the refuge?
Yes. Onferno was just opposite.
Was your house bombed?
Yes, first it was bombed, then it caught fire. Grenades were falling all the time. There weren’t many Germans, but they were tough. You should have seen how much metal I sold as a child: shrapnel everywhere. Tons of it. That was the children’s work. You can still find the metal. Besides, our house was a German command post. One day, 11 soldiers were playing outside the house and a grenade fell in the middle of them and killed them all.
Did you see this happen?
No: I was in the shelter, but afterwards, I saw the piles of bodies and pigs’ bodies all thrown into the air and piled one on top of the other.
Were they your pigs?
No, by then, all our pigs had been taken away by the Germans. These were other people’s.
Something I remember is this: My father used to keep pidgeons. When the Germans arrived, one of them got his pistol out and took a shot at one of the birds. The bird’s body fell to the ground, but its head stayed up on the roof, right where it was shot!
Do you remember how you felt when you saw your house go up in flames?
Yes, and particularly, as a child, when I saw how upset my parents were.
What happened to Walter Casadei?
He was hit by a piece of shrapnel.
Did you see it happen?
Yes. He went out at sunset to have a pee.
What happened then?
Everyone went out. This refuge had been a totally safe place: until then, no-one had died. Just think: when we were in the refuge, we had to eat pig fat. My mother had gone to a neighbouring house to make some piadine [flat bread] and while she was there, a bomb hit the house and took down a wall. The women were all unharmed. Ironically, the only one who did die was the guy who built the shelter.
How did you live in the shelter? What were the conditions like? Did you sleep on the ground?
Yes, on the ground, and not stretched out: there were too many of us for that.
Where did you go to the loo?
Everyone outside. In the countryside. Where do you expect? My God, we were hungry: reduced to eating pig fat, can you imagine. After 12 or thirteen days, we were desperate; in fact, some people left the shelter out of desperation. Then [when they left] there were corpses everywhere: Kurds, Indians
Here, first the Germans raped the women, and then the Negroes, coloured people. There were 2 borther, who were priests, who went to the Allied headquarters and begged for this to stop. They also advised us that, against the coloured men, we should wield our pitch-forks as they would be afraid of them. The whole place was reduced to an abbatoir. But there were very few civilian deaths. Two of my mother’s relatives died, but there weren’t many civilians who died.
Were there many rapes around here?
I know of two three cases for sure.
How many days were you there, in the refuge?
About 15 days. When I came out, the Germans were in retreat. There was a man from the village who told the Allies where the Germans were hiding. The Germans were still only 2 or 300 metres away. The Germans never got him.
What persuaded you that it was safe to leave the refuge?
It was the two Casadei sisters who said to us: â€œtomorrow, we will be free, the English are at the gates of the town. Since we had these relatives at Levola, my father said, â€œlet’s go to Levola. In fact, the next morning, everyone left the refuge: some went one way, some another. The troops had arrived over night and they were 3 or 400 metres away.
Could you hear that the English troops were so close?
Well, the Germans were in retreat. They were very nervous. It was known that the Allies were at Levola, and were already celebrating. In fact, as we approached Levola, we saw that they were aleady our side of the town.
How come you went to Levola? Had you already made contact with your relatives?
No. We just went. On foot.
Carrying just a few belongings?
Nothing. What do you expect?
What impression did the quantity of troops and materiel have on you?
[indistinct]As the Allies advanced, they built roads, bridges. They had everything with them. Who ever saw so much stuff? It was another world. The Germans came before them, but they moved around on horseback: horses which they had stolen from us. They only had one tank. It was very impressive.
Do remember thinking that the Germans didn’t have a hope against this?
No: by now, everyone was just waiting for the end to come. People were fed up: they couldn’t stand it any longer.
Was the general attitude to get rid of the Germans?
And also the Fascists?
Yes. The fascists had become violent: we saw their violence against the partisans.
Were you aware of partisan activity round here?
There wasn’t really much: they were grouped on the Foglia, because that was where they were expecting the fighting.
Did you see any reprisals of any sort against the partisans?
No. But I was only a boy. These things were done in secret.
So there were no public executions in the town, or anything like that?
No: this happened at Pereto, at Marzabotto, but not here. In a â€œfrazione of Gemmano called Farneto, the Germans had lined up some hostages against a wall and were about to shoot them when the priest begged for them to be spared. So they shot the priest instead (he was a collaborator with the partisans). I didn’t see this, though: I was only 9.
Before going to Levola, idd you go to your house to check it or pick anything up?
No: everything had burnt. My grandfather and aunt had stayed at the house because they did not want to leave the animals: they survived and came down to Levola with us.
What was the farm called?
Ca’ Ferrarese. Someone from Ferrara had built the original house on that plot.
Were you still at Levola at the end of the war?
No. We came back here. We began to rebuild the house, with mud.
Straight away. By October, we were already there. Life had to start again.
How did you survive in this period? You had no animals: nothing.
From hand to mouth: however we could. My father had saved some honey. He had buried 6 demijohns of honey: when you make it, you know it’s liquid. He sold this, and bought a cow. Then, life started again.
Can you remember looking out and realising that everything had been destroyed?
Everything had been destroyed. Everything.
Do you remember the moment of realisation?
Everywhere you went, there was total destruction. Exceptionally, a house had remained standing. The owner of that house was a rich man. If you had a roof, you were rich.
Despite being only 9, do you remember the reactions of people at large? Do you remember how the community felt?
The fact is this: round here, there were not specific instances of violence against the fascist collaborators. He has misunderstood the question.] My brother used to go down to where the Allies were giving out clothing, shoes, Parmesan (which was gold at the time). Also, there was still a bit of flour and other essentials floating around here. Then the Allies came and gave us food. They had loads of stuff.
SO, there was no resentment against the Allies for blowing the town to bits?
No: the resentment that we were left with was against the Germans. The allies were here because of the war. There were those few instances with the Negroes that I have told you about, but they didn’t bring bad feelings against the allies in general. The Germans stole our food, our animals.
They stole them; they didn’t pay for them?
Don’t be ridiculous: of course they didn’t pay for them. Not only that, but they sometimes sold them back to us after having stolen them from us.
What was the worst thing you ever saw?
My house burning down; the Casadei man being killed and the negroes and the Kurds. I was 9: I’d never seen a coloured man before. They presented a pretty frightening aspect, with their helmets and knives, jumping out of the woods like they did. I also still remember the impression of all the allied troops filing out of Levola: who had ever seen so many soldiers and so many vehicles. I’d barely seen a car before. And my father, from the emotion of the moment, smoking 100 cigarettes, one after the other. And then, when we got to Levola, all that chocolate: We’d never seen chocolate before. And all that food: fresh bread. We only made bread once a week, otherwise, we’d have piadine. Your packed lunch would be a cold piadina from the day before. We’d never seen tinned meat. There, they were practically throwing it away. Manna from heaven.
Do you remember hearing that the war was over?
Yes, I’ve already told you: those two Casadei sisters told us.
No: I mean finally over. Did you hear it on the radio?
Radio? None of us had a radio.
Perhaps you heard a radio in the town square?
[laughs] We lived out in the countryside. We got our first radio in 1950. I’ve still got it and it still works. Now we have 3 TVs!
What happened to the farm after the war? Did your brothers take it over?
My older brother was there till he was 19, then he joined the Carabinieri. We still own it, but it is worked by others. They live in the house, and I built myself another one. My wife is on a teacher’s pension, I am on a bus driver’s one and we are comfortably off. My sons are comfortably off too. I did my military service. In 1961, I managed a bar in Bibiena for 2 years, then I met my wife, who was a teacher, and we went to Morciano to live . I became a bus driver. WE had 2 sons: one has a son and a daughter and one just a son.
WE were three brothers, so we divided the house. My brother’s sons have one third; I kept my third and bought my other brother’s third and let those two portions.