Italian Language Blog

My Grandmother’s War Diary Posted by on Sep 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

“7-1-43 Arrivo a Pesaro. Le bambine e mio padre stanno bene. Siamo vivi grazie a Dio! Il viaggio è finito!” (Arrival in Pesaro. The girls and my father are well. We are alive thank to God! The journey is over!)

These words are taken from the very succinct  diary that my grandmother kept during the Second World War. In fact, the whole diary consists of the front two pages of a small missal, which my mother gave to me just a few months ago. Here is a brief history of the whereabouts of my grandmother at the time:

In 1938 my grandmother Vincenza went to Addis Ababa in Abyssinia (today called Ethiopia) to join her husband Ciro, who had been living there for over a year. Abyssinia was the latest Italian colony in East Africa, conquered in 1936, and Italians who went there were given housing, land, and benefits. My grandmother was a primary school teacher, and each year of work which she completed in Abyssinia counted as double towards her state pension. So, in March 1938 she left her four young daughters, including my mother, at a boarding school in her home town of Pesaro, Marche, where her parents lived. At the end of 1941 Abyssinia was lost to the British. For a few months my grandparents were allowed to remain in Addis Ababa, but as WWII progressed in Europe, they were moved to Harar in the Ethiopian highlands, where my grandmother contracted typhus and spent a long period in hospital. In November 1942, due to her physical conditions, she was given a place on the Italian ex cruise liner Vulcania (read more about the Vulcania HERE), which took her back to Italy, while my grandfather Ciro remained in Africa as a POW, finally returning to his family in Pesaro on the 5th of January 1947. Here are the entries from my Grandmother’s diary:

Marcacci 3

The very succinct diary that my grandmother kept during the Second World War

Page 1:

“Offertomi nell’Epifania 1937 da Don A.M. Valente” (Given to me in the Epiphany of 1937 by Don A.M. Valente)

“La dedica è strappata dagli inglesi il 20-11-42 giorno d’imbarco sul Vulcania” (The dedication is torn out by the British on the 20th of November 1942, the day of boarding the Vulcania)

“1-12 partenza da Berbera” (1st of December leaving Berbera – on the Somaliland coast)

“4-12 taglio dell’equatore nell’Indiano” (4th of December crossing of the Equator in the Indian Ocean)

“12-12 Port Elizabeth” (12th of December Port Elizabeth – South Africa)

“21-12 taglio dell’equatore nell’Atlantico” (21st of December crossing of the Equator in Atlantic Ocean)

“23-12 Isole del Capo Verde – S.Vincente” (23rd of December Capo Verde Islands – St.Vincente)

“25-12 Natale 1942. S.Vincente do Capo Verte” (25th of December Christmas 1942. S.Vincente do Capo Verte)

“1-1-43 Capo d’Anno – Gibilterra” (1st of January 1943 New Year’s Day – Gibraltar)

“6-1 Sbarco a Brindisi” (6th of January Landing in Brindisi)

“7-1-43 Arrivo a Pesaro. Le bambine e mio padre stanno bene. Siamo vivi grazie a Dio! Il viaggio è finito!” (Arrival in Pesaro. The girls and my father are well. We are alive thank to God! The journey is over!)

“25-7-43 Cade Mussolini. Assume la dittatura militare il Gen. Pietro Badoglio. Mombaroccio” (25th of July 1943 Mussolini falls. Gen. Pietro Badoglio takes on the military dictatorship. Mombaroccio – a small hill town a few km inland from Pesaro where my mother’s family had been evacuated on the 7th of June)

“8-9-43 Resa di Badoglio agli Alleati. Occupazione tedesca. Mombaroccio” (8th of September 1943 Badoglio surrenders to the Allies. The Germans occupy Italy. Mombaroccio)

A photo of my mother’s family taken at the end of the war. From left to right: zia Lola, mia nonna Vincenza, zia Carmen, con dietro il cugino Brunetto, mia mamma Rosanna, e zia Vicky.

Page 2  (some of the entries in this page are not very clear to me, but unfortunately both my grandparents have now passed away, so I can’t ask them for clarification). Here are the most relevant entries:

“1944 agosto – 28 agosto – offensiva. Entrano i Canadesi in Mombaroccio alle 8.20 – Domenica” (1944 August – 28th of August – offensive. The Canadians enter Mombaroccio at 8:20 – Sunday)

“20 settembre 1944 – prima venuta a Pesaro” (20th of September 1944 – first arrival in Pesaro)

“14 ottobre 1944 – Tutta la famiglia a Pesaro” (14th of October 1944 – All the family in Pesaro)

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  1. Adrienne Donohue:

    Reading about your grandmother’s voyage on the Vulcania brings back many happy memories for me. In 1948 my mother and I and many of our neighbors and friends from New York City sailed to Genoa. It was the first time my mother and our neighbors were returning to Italy since before the war. I was going to meet all my relatives in Italy including grandparents, and many aunts, uncles, and cousins for the first. We were there for four months. It was magical! I loved sailing on the Vulcania and can still remember very vividly so many details of that voyage.

  2. William Auge:

    I finally had the chance to read this fascinating story.
    Thanks for sharing it. I was surprised that they sailed around Africa instead of from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. It must have been a very trying time for your grandmother, making that voyage and having to leave her husband behind. Another story that illuminates the great suffering and hardship that war causes.

    Peace, Bill

  3. Charles Laster:

    Fascinating story.

  4. Dena Cornett:

    Such a treasure!

  5. Linda Powell:

    Thank you for posting your grandmother’s diary. My great-great-grandfather’s cousin, a veteran of the Royal Merchant Navy who commanded minesweepers in two World Wars and was additionally awarded the Russian Order of St. Anne: Commander John Williams Damer Powell, DSC (and Bar), RD, RNR (1887-1958) was the Senior British Naval Officer who made three voyages aboard Vulcania with sister-ship Saturnia to repatriate Italian colonists from Berbera home to Italy. He is written of in Alec Glasfurd’s “Voyage to Berbera” first published in 1947.

    • Wendy Charles:

      @Linda Powell Linda, Commander John Williams Damer Powell is also an ancestor of mine. (My grandmother was a Powell. ) We think his father was Frederick George Powell. Do you have any idea who his mother was? Where does the name ‘Damer’ come from?
      Hope you can help!

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