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Born on the 23rd August 1898 Delfino Borroni, who died earlier this week, was the last surviving Italian reduce (veteran) of the Grande Guerra (Great War, i.e. WW1).
Borroni was called up in 1917 at the age of nineteen to serve in the Bersaglieri Ciclisti (infantry with bikes), and began his combat career on the front line of the altopiano di Asiago (Asiago plateau). After a spell fighting at Pasubio he ended up in the infamous trenches at Caporetto.
“Caporetto was the worst place that I saw during the war”, maintained Borroni, “trench life was terrible, the cold, the hunger, the rumble of the bombs, then there were the gas attacks”.
“When it rained there was the temptation to sleep, but that was the moment in which an attack was most likely, so the Captain passed amongst us in his black cape and shouted at us to stay alert”.
One day the Sergeant ordered him to leave the trench for a reconnaissance, “I asked him why he was sending me, the youngest one, out to die and he replied that all the others had children”, recounted Borroni.
“As soon as I had crawled out of the trench a bullet hit me on the boot. I pretended to be dead lying beside two corpses, and when finally the Austrians had gone I managed to rejoin my comrades in retreat. The sergeant took my head on his lap and cried when he saw me alive”.
Some weeks later Borroni was captured but after only a few months of imprisonment he found his opportunity to escape when, after a long day of marching, the Romanian officer on guard fell asleep and Borroni made a run for it. Joining up with a cavalry battalion Delfino then made his way by train to Piacenza from where he wrote to his parents to come and get him.
“ I was resting in a tent, I raised my eyes and saw the boots of my father. Mia madre lancio’ un urlo cosi forte, che quasi mi moriva fra le braccia (My mother let out such a strong cry, she almost died in my arms)”.
After the war Borroni recommenced work as a mechanic, then married and moved to Castano Primo where he found work as a driver on the famous “Gamba de Legn”, the historic Milanese tram.
Delfino Borroni passed away on Sunday 26th October at the age of 110.
You can find a video of Delfino talking about his experinces (in Italian with Italian subtitles) here: Delfino Borroni
There are now only seven survivors of the Great War: Three in Great Britain, two in Canada, one in Australia, and one in America.