A story about loss, poverty, war and forging a happy new life in Australia whilst continuing to love and appreciate the old in Abruzzo. Bettina a member of our Life in Abruzzo Facebook group, tells us about her father Domenico Natale, from Caporciano, AQ.
In 1943, aged 19, Domenico was conscripted into the Italian Army and was shipped off to Greece. Two troop carriers full of young Italians set out. One was torpedoed at night, with all on board lost. My father, on the surviving ship, made it to Greece just as Italy capitulated and changed sides. He and his fellow soldiers were taken prisoner by the Germans and sent to the island of Rhodes (Rodi). There they were brutally treated and left to starve, without warm clothes. Domenico was cold and hungry, and he rummaged in refuse bins to find discarded cabbage leaves to eat. Word came that the British Army was liberating Greece and the Italian soldiers grew excited, only to find that the British still regarded them as enemy aliens and treated them no better than the Germans.
Finally, with the help of a local girl named Katia, Domenico escaped from the POW camp and somehow managed to get back to Italy. He made the almost 400 km journey from Bari to Caporciano on foot. When he reached Piedi la Terra, at the foot of the Caporciano hill, some local boys recognised the thin and drawn ex-POW and went haring ahead up to the top of Via Stretta to the top. Here his widowed mother, Maddalena, who had believed her son to be dead, was roused by excited cries of ‘Mimmino è venù!’, and burst into tears of joy at the return of her boy. He was one of the lucky ones, though the experience affected him deeply for the rest of his life.
Domenico left Italy for Australia in 1952, where he forged a successful life and raised five children. He bought Maddalena, his mother to live with us in Australia in 1965 for the last ten years of her life. She had advanced arthritis and needed to be looked after. She had been widowed in 1925 when my father was two and his brother four. Life had been hard for her trying to raise the boys on her own. My grandfather had gone to the USA to work before his marriage and had been able to buy a house and some land in Caporciano, so at least she wasn’t totally destitute. My grandfather, Nazzareno, died tragically young after a second attempt to go and make money in America.
Here is Domenico in his new suit, in 1954 age 31, in the ‘New World’. Like so many others, he’d made the journey to Australia on the Sitmar Line, and another photo taken of him towards the end of his life. He died in 2016.
The amazing thing for me is how much of Abruzzo my father carried within him, and how much he passed that on to me. He always felt a strong pull back there, and he was never happier than when he was back in his childhood home. He made 6 journeys back to Abruzzo throughout his life, accompanied by his wife and children, my first visit to the region was aged 4 months!
Lest we forget all the young lives senselessly lost, on all sides, in the futile cause of war. 🥀