Aunt Restituta’s Discovery

The Trust has many memoirs telling of the experiences of escaping prisoners, but not so many written from the point of view of their Italian helpers. Here, Domenico Forte, who lives in Enfield, tells how his relatives, living at Casalattico, north of Cassino, came across two Allied servicemen.

I was born in Exeter in 1936.My family were British citizens – my grandfather had come to the UK originally in 1896, from Casalattico. When I was two years old my mother discovered that she was expecting twins. Despite the clouds of war gathering over Europe in 1938, my parents decided to send me to Italy to give me an opportunity to learn Italian. It was argued that even if war should break out I would be perfectly safe in my remote valley just north of Cassino. Little did they know that I was to be trapped there by the war until 1947!

In the autumn of 1943 the Germans arrived in my remote village and some were billeted in our farmhouse. My Italian relations tried to carry on farming as usual for as long as they could.

One day coming home, their heads laden with bundles of fodder, two of my aunts came upon two men trying to hide in a disused water channel. They guessed at once that they must be either Allied soldiers or German deserters.

They put down their bundles and started to talk to the men.

My aunt Restituta decided they must be English.

“Inglesi?” She asked. The men nodded and she decided to reassure them.

“My sis in Esceter, Devon, Engeland” she informed them, and for good measure added

“Forte Icy Cream”

One of the men smiled and said: “Yes, I know Exeter.”

My aunt resorted to mime and made them understand they must wait there while they went to get some food and old clothes.

When they returned with food and clothes, one of the men gave them a piece of paper and made them understand it would be useful when the Inglesi and Americani eventually arrived.

When the Allies broke through at Cassino, our area was occupied by New Zealanders. My aunt went to see the commandant looking for laundry work. She showed him the certificate. He told her to come back the next day. When she returned, he told her that if she wanted work, there were vacancies at the Allied HQ at Caserta. My aunts were overjoyed and with two other women cadged a lift on an army lorry to Caserta. Every few weeks they came home for the weekend bearing slabs of what seemed to me very antiseptic smelling red army soap. Their escorts were royally entertained with mounds of home made spaghetti and lots of local wine.

In 1948 my mother fell ill and my Aunty Restituta used the certificate and a reference from Caserta to support her application for a work permit. Two years later she was able to successfully apply to become a British subject. After her death I looked for these documents but failed to find them.

Last year while doing some research, I went to the village of Montforte in Casalattico and discovered that several other people had helped Allied soldiers. One of the villagers realized the value of the certificates and managed to steal one belonging to a neighbour and used it to get to England and land a good job. To this day his action has neither been forgiven nor forgotten!