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ON THE RUN IN THE FOREST
After the first bombardment on December 15, 1943, people had sought refuge in stables, caverns and caves outside the village.
We passed the first night in the stable, in the cold and dark, huddled around the small fire that slowly died down. The roar of the cannons continued on throughout the entire night. The following day, taking advantage of a bit of a break, my mother and grandmother along with others decided to return to the village to have a look at the houses that they had left open before, during, and after the bombing. My mother with her torn clothes, her wounded knee and no shoes found it difficult to walk.
At the entrance to the village, they were stopped by a German patrol that searched them. I don’t know what they believed they would find on a group of very scared women in such bad shape. After a while, the women were allowed to continue. Our house was open as they left it the day before, but it was occupied by German Command. They believed it to be a strategic point in the center of the village and from the terrace that looked out over the entire town and valley; they could observe the movements of the allied troops. The women were allowed to enter the house to get what they could take with them. My mother grabbed a dress and a new pair of shoes. My grandmother took other things and even a few utensils from the kitchen. She knew that they wouldn’t be returning to town for who knew how long. With their sacks, they returned to the stable.
Uncle Fiorenzo, Livia’s father, had returned to his hiding place in the highest mountains in order to avoid being captured by the Germans. Uncle Michelangelo had been requisitioned by German Command to serve as a mountain and forest guide. They knew he was a park ranger and that he knew all the roads and paths that took you through the mountains and the thickest parts of the forest. To refuse would have meant instant death. The Germans knew that hiding in the mountains and the forests were both young escapees and Allied soldiers who had been separated from their detachment. Our mountains were full of English, New Zealanders, French, Italians that had abandoned their units and hidden themselves to avoid capture; they were trying to cross the battlefront and the border by crossing the high mountains, such as Mount Meta. My uncle’s job would be to guide German troops while they searched for escapees, and captured them to then send them back into combat at the front or bring reinforcements. My uncle knew, in fact, where they were and often during the night would follow shortcuts and rugged paths of which only he knew, in order to bring the escapees supplies and advise them to leave everything and flee as far as possible. He seriously risked his life, but he knew that it was his duty to do so; he saved so many poor young kids that were suffering from the cold, from hunger and who were in danger. He wasn’t the only one, as other villagers hid Allied solders in stables and caves and shared what little they had with them.
Unfortunately, there was also an English spy among them, but only few knew of this. Everyone called him Captain John and thought that he was simply a soldier who had fled. Even the director Luchino Visconti had fled to Settefrati, as had other officers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They had hoped to avoid the front by crossing Mount Meta. They were not successful.
In the mean time, the weather worsened, and snow storms and freezing winds had arrived to contribute to the unease and discomfort that everyone was experiencing.
Hundreds of bomber planes
ploughed through our skies each day in the direction of Cassino and Monte
Cassino. They would continuously bomb the Val Comino; bombs would fall on both
small and large towns. Columns of black smoke rose towards the sky and the towns
of Atina, Sora, Pontecorvo, Alvito and Veroli burned. There were many victims;
there was no shelter when bombs would fall from above and cannons would fire
from the ground. The people would flee in increasing numbers to the mountains
and the forest, wherever they could find a hiding place far from the war.
DELIA SOCCI SKIDMORE