Search This Blog

Sunday, June 20, 2010

War Path

Imperial War Museum photo number: E 6064

28 September 1941. Men of the (British) King's African Rifles (KAR) collecting surrendered arms at Wolchefit Pass, after the last Italians had finally ceased resistance in Ethiopia.
Photographer: Clements H J (Lt), No 1 Army Film & Photographic Unit (UK)
Collection No.: 4700-32

When a fifteen year old Tiudo presented himself at the home of his grandparents, in Naples, he was dirty, hungry and bloodied. He waited on the doorstep for hours before his grandmother  returned home.

She saw that he was fed, cleaned and bandaged before her husband returned. He noticed for the first time how old and fragile she was. In her presence, he broke down and cried for the first time since his father died. Her home smelled so much like his old home, the same roses on the credenza, the same drapes in the dining room. Everything he had felt in the last year returned to pain him with a vengeance. His father’s death, his sister’s death, the loss of their house.

“This is not how I am.” He told her, ashamed of his tears, of his condition.

“Yes, dear. It’s all right.”

“I came to say goodbye.”

“Oh? ”

" I’m joining the military.” He knew that she would not remember their ages; she always mixed his birthday with Lina’s. But he also knew that she would be the only one he could talk to now. His sisters were burdened already with their own problems.

“You could wait another year. No?” She tried to find out what else this boy could do.

“Nonna, there is no need to wait.” He wanted to be talked out; but he also wanted to be done with waiting, done with being bossed around.

“Well, I suppose. It would so please your nonno if you remained a while with us. Seeing you children does us good. We are so sorry about your father, your sister! My goodness, I can still see her here with us. If only she waited….” And she too began sobbing, shedding tears she had already shed when she let Graziella return home.

At dinner time, Doctor Fabrizi asked him straight out: “So, young man, Don Teodoro Rapolla, how do you plan on making your fortune at your age?” The boy was shocked to hear his full name. Sometimes, his father had used the name to emphasize some precept or other, usually when the youth needed punishment.

“I’m a pretty good artist, actually.” He responded, straightening up, aware he was wearing his grandfather’s shirt and coat. He had nothing. Not even a change of clothing.

“You think anyone will part with their few lire for a portrait? There are strikes, famines and pick-pockets everywhere. Everyone is worried about having enough to eat. The government is taking-over industries. Don’t you get any news in that town of yours? If you don’t return back home, you’ll be shanghaied. I’ve seen it happen right down on the waterfront.” Doctor Fabrizi was not sure what would convince the boy to settle down. He needed a dose of good fortune, he thought.

“Papa was a soldier,” the boy responded, “this was his dream for me too!”

“This is a different Italy, not the King your father served. We can purchase your passage to America, if you don’t want to go back home. Don’t you have an uncle and aunt there?”

“We have not heard from them.”

“You need to plan ahead a little bit. How did you just show up here without a plan? We can house you while you go to school?”

Tiudo made no plans that night. He ate, slept soundly, and the next day he joined the army. They asked him how old he was; he told them he was eighteen.

Three years later, the grandparents received a letter from India. Tiudo had been captured in Africa, three months in his service, by the British, and taken as a war prisoner.

“It is hot here, hotter than anything I ever experienced,” he wrote. “I’m treated well, with plenty of food, and opportunities to paint. I’m learning to speak English and plan on going to America when all this is over. Tell my sisters I’m doing fine.”


  1. Theodoro experienced what many PoWs experienced in Canada and elsewhere: freedom and well being even in captivity. Most PoWs in Canada stayed here after the war.
    Some who worked on farms even married our girls while still theoretically captives.
    Our own PoWs were not so lucky although many acknowledged that they were not worse off than the general population out there.

  2. Interesting. I'm always intrigued by this story.