My Memories of the War
By Nicola Nicoló
It was the 8th of January in the year 1943, or (just over) 50 years ago, that I, Nicoló Nicola, together with Piccoli Nicola and Fabrizio Mariano, went to Sulmona where we put on the Italian Alpinists’ hats, all glory and honour to that barracks, where we only stayed for two months before leaving to go to the Val Pescara Battalion in Greece. Very many things happened that year: the fall of the Fascist regime and of Mussolini and above all the thing which most comes to my mind is the memory of a young military comrade from Gessopalena. It was the 25th of July and my battalion was engaged in a bitter fight against the Greek rebels. Whilst we were fighting we heard the news, over the enemy’s loudspeaker, about the fall of Fascism and therefore hostilities were to cease. The phrase ringing darkly through my mind is “Brother Alpinists, we have won. Fascism has finally fallen.” Unfortunately our misfortunes did not end there. In fact, since we had been operating in a malarial zone, almost all of us went down with that disease. The unluckiest ones died, amongst these was our Captain, Vittorio Zilli, Commander of the 286thCompany. Then it was the 8th September, another memorable historic date. The Germans took us prisoner and we were all deported to Germany. Almost two months of being a prisoner had gone by when I was hit by malarial fever (probably in incubation since Greece), but the Germans, not knowing the nature of my illness, treated me for epileptic attacks. It was a tremendous Odyssey: the fever ate me up and brought on convulsions; I thought I would die and maybe I was dying when, on the fifth day, a group of doctors arrived in our concentration camp, one of whom was an Italian Lieutenant. Luck had it that this Italian doctor, having served with the Modena Division in Greece, and having assisted in treating our Captain, who died of malaria, had had experience of this above-mentioned malaria. For this reason he was most astute. Having noticed my hat, he realised that I came from the same Battalion that had been hit [by malaria] in Greece and with immense courage he brought me a box of Quinine, miraculous drug, which, once taken, would have surprising results. He told me to cover my face and as he left, he wished me the best of luck using the phrase “La luna nel pozzo” (literally, I hope you find the moon in the well).
So I stayed covered up for three whole days, after which the German Doctors returned. I pretended to be asleep, but one of them came closer and uncovered my head. He was totally shocked to see my face was as yellow as a pumpkin. It was the month of December; the Colonel immediately called for the Italian Lieutenant who had treated me without authority and asked him what he had given me. Jumping to attention the Lieutenant told him all about our Battalion and thus of the pernicious malaria.
The valorous Lieutenant, proudly replied, “I know what awaits me, but I care nothing about my own future. I have done my duty as a man and I have given a son back to his mother.” He was punished for his altruism and I never saw him again. My greatest regret is that I never knew the name of this valorous, courageous Medical Officer.
© Amici di Torricella
Translation courtesy of Dr. Marion Apley Porreca