history of CAMPO 57 - GRupignano
this history is by Natale Zaccuri, under the auspices of The
National Association of Engineers and Signalers (ANGET), and is reproduced with
permission. It was originally translated by Ken Fenton of Richmond, Nelson, New
Zealand, in 2004, but has been updated. The translator originally noted “Written with the
benefit of hindsight and of a fifty years interval, it provides an interesting
portrayal through Italian eyes of many but not all aspects of that prison life
long ago. Among the viewpoints expressed by him are some, which are rather
different to those being currently expressed by Australian or New Zealand
survivors of the Camp´s regime. In this regard, the official website of the
Australian War memorial (awm.gov.au) gives such views, which may help to
redress any perceived imbalance or omissions in
Mr. Zaccuri´s account.
At the end of the 1980´s, some Udinese members of ANGET while
crossing the fields of San Mauro, paths already trodden during military
service, stopped in front of a very damaged and dilapidated church memorial
tablet, still legible, telling that the place of prayer had been constructed
during the 2nd World War by Anglo-Saxon prisoners of war.
It immediately struck a chord, being responsive to the strong
calling that seemed to burst out from these walls, the old (military) engineers
decided to get started; they rolled up their sleeves and went to work.
In this atmosphere there also sprang up the desire to know,
in the most deeply possible way, the human environment in which the idea of
building this church was born and developed.
The research work was not simple. The undertaking proceeded
slowly, both on the account of the physical distance, for the greater part, of
the players, and the elapsed length of time that had made the records dim and
fragmented. But precisely for these difficulties, Dr. Natale Zaccuri felt all
the more stimulated and, in the end, he succeeded in filling the huge gaps in
knowledge to recreate the framework of life in the camp. The result of such a
study, concluded by the more recent news about the reconstruction of the
church, are contained in this book, and constitute the pieces of a mosaic systematically
assembled and such that they become part of the larger mosaic of the recent
history of Friuli.
ON THE “FIELDS OF
The Commune of Premaraccio is a local government area of
about 420 square kilometers, bordered to the east by the Natisone River and situated
on a flat area about 15 kilometers east of Udine, the provincial capital of
Friuli. Premaraccio has a long history as the ancient buildings located there
Colonized by Roman legions, with a place-name of Celtic
origin like other localities in the district, the Commune today has a population
of about four thousand; amongst its historical legacy is a prisoner of war camp
built near San Mauro in the 1940’s – Campo PG 57. It is also identified with
Grupignano as that was the nearest railway station.
A COUNTRY IN TURMOIL
Upon the entry of Italy into the war, in June of 1940, at
Premariacco as in the rest of the country, youthful forces were called to arms.
Only the disabled, older people, women and children remained at home. In
general, inside and outside Friuli, from a food point of view, there was not
much to be happy about: the median number of calories offered to Italians in
that period was in order of 1100, according to the record of the “Food
Rationing Card”. The workers of Friuli, who according to the 1940 census, were
around 40,000, at least half of whom women, used to be paid a wage of 1 lira and 66 centesimi per hour.
In a year, on average, their income did not exceed 4650 lire!
Ballila and Topolino were the automobiles of the time, that were slowly
replacing horse-drawn transport, and the widespread use of bicycles, often
items of strong interest of the Germans, who took every opportunity to
requisition then. The lack of petrol dashed hopes driving the spluttering and
Newspapers used to spread news from the front in very large
letters and the most apropriate pictures were those offered on the pages of the
“Illustrated Times”. L´EIAR (Company Italian Auditions Radiophonic) transmitted
“News from home” for the fighting men.
The propaganda beat a drum of pride and the reality of blood and
homesickness on the various battlefields often used to sap the morale of the
At the end of the month of March 1942, use of the Food
Rationing Card grew which used to give the right, among other things, to 150
grams of bread per day and to 100 grams of meat per week.
The farmlands of Friuli, stripped of able-bodied men, were
cultivated as best as possible by the women and old people, while boys were
used in public services. Those who were able, often used to work from dawn to
The economy, based predominantly on agriculture, allowed
rural workers a meagre income as war supplies were paramount. The law was
clear, “whoever for the purpose of evading in whole or in part obligations
deriving from mobilization, from requisitions, from the common pool or from the
obligatory conveyance of good (…) is punished with imprisonment from three
months to three years and with the penalty up to 20,000 lire”.
To requests about the availability of various kinds of food,
the authorities often responded with an invitation to raise rabbits. For many,
rabbits soon became sources of subsistance and sometimes a source for earning
money. A person who had a courtyard behind the house was clearly fortunate
because he could also expand his possibilities for breeding, for example, ducks
or the fattening of swine.
It wasn´t a time for the mundane: they thought about their
concerns, discomforts above all for the persons of a certain age and for the
families where the father or husband was far away, at the front, or in behind
lines where there was little to be happy about. Difficult times for all. There
are still those who remembers how the butter was “sniffed” in the family and
how the oily paper that wrapped it was sniffed for illusory satisfaction.
Two illegal actions, however, were tightly preserved: the
“Black Market” (economic in character) and listening to London Radio, more
One day, news was spread of the need for female labor to
package tents destined to accommodate prisoners of war that would soon arrive
in the area.
That was the first time there was talk of a “camp” and the
novelty aroused curiosity among the inhabitants of the district, both in regard
to the tent city that was rapidly taking form and for so many – against their
will – prisoners about to become “guests” of it.
But there was little time to linger. Other matters were
getting more ominous, like the military situation on the various fronts; the
scarcity of foodstuffs including those of basic need; the terrorizing
incursions of bomber aircraft; requisitions for military needs for raw
materials like copper, iron, tin; the prohibition of automobile traffic with
the major aim of saving fuel; more severe rationing of food products (bread,
pasta, milk, eggs, etc.) and other essentials. Compared to 1939, national
agricultural production increased 20% and the public debt was almost trebled.
All this while on the battlefields, the Italian Army did not succeed in
providing convincing performances, and unsure because of the limited worth of
FROM TENTS TO BARRACKS
Having marked out the place for the camp, the initial
unfolding of tents greeted the first prisoners of Yugoslav nationality. Tents
were very soon replaced by wooden barracks, then faced with bricks and the
systematic occupation by military “tenants” of mixed nationality: English, New
Zealanders, Australians and also some Greeks, captured on the African fronts
who according to historical records, sometimes neared the ceiling capacity of
Don Angelo Saccavini, today a priest at Paderno (Udine), well
remembers at age 11 the tents because they were taken down and taken along the
road towards Gonars, a little township on the Friulian lowlands where another
“camp” had been prepared in advance for the internement of Croatian and
Slovenian citizens, women and children included.
So was born “P.G. 57 of Grupignano” with the large majority
of prisoners coming from the North Africa front, remaining active until a few
days after 8th September and supervised by the me commanded by
Colonel of Carabinieri VE Calcaterra.
In the memory of those that knew him, he was a character of grumpy disposition and
due to his rather stout physique very much compelled to have all his clothing
altered by the hands of Signora Assunta, a skillful tailoress residing a short
distance from the Camp. On the contrary, his deputy was a man, they recount –
to take a liking to, of good appearance and more communicative. For him, some
of the ex-internees have had occasion to say, were reserved the anxious looks
of the prisoners, hopeful of his understanding.
In the recollection of one of them, Aldo Marogna, by now deceased
for some time, life in the camp was not then so uncomfortable, and having seen
the frequency with which food parcels arrived by means of the Red Cross, also
provided for the clearing of correspondence. Given the times, that condition
was to be appreciated.
P.G. 57, in short, never was an Auschwitz with its
installations of slaughter (where those who arrived there for the first time
would read on the gate or on the entrance, published in large letters visible
even from far away, the curt remark with a mournfully humorous flavor “Arbeits
macht frei” that is “ Work makes free”) and not even the inferno of Mauthausen,
Orankj or Buchenwald. With due perspective, P.G. 57 might be regarded rather a
place of relative well-being, moreover well known by those who went to collect
refuse: remains of fruit, glittering little balls of tinfoil … with still the
faint aroma of wrapped chocolate, tins of partly consumed meat, cigarettes butts.
This is an opinion shared by former infantry corporal Luigi
Dal Bosco who arrived with his 231st Garrison Company at the “Campo”
on 1st July 1941, after 22 days spent in absence at Postumia. He
wrote: “For a certain period at the camp, I was a guard and then I was
promoted, a hand-picked soldier, because, highly regarded by superiors, I
finally became a corporal on account of worthy service.
“I remained at the Camp from July 1941 until 1stOctober 1942. The day began at 7:00 in the morning and at night, if one was not
on guard, one could go off duty on pass. During the day one was now employed on
re-organization and order within the camp, then in the usual guard shifts.”
“We ate well”, Dal Bosco recalls. “With me there were
Veronese friends Bicego, Niero and Beghini. Bicego was the head cook and Niero
his assistant; Beghini was in charge of the canteen; a truly fortunate
situation, avoiding the need to eat with the troops”.
The research commitment of all those who in whatever way
served or experienced the vicissitudes of the camp, in 1991 brought to Douglas
Frame, an Australian of Castle Hill, an “unearthed” intermediary, the
Giorgiutti family from Friulian immigrants. They encouraged contact with an old
“friend” of the incarceration Amelio Cavassi, who at the time was a guard and
afterwards went to live at Medeuzza di San Giovanni al Natisone (Udine).
Taken as prisoner by the Germans at El Alamein in July 1942,
Frame was “transferred” to the Italian Army at Mersa Matruh and, two months
later in September, conducted to Camp P.G. 57.
He was just 23 years old. He remained for thirteen months, in
the course of which, was able to kindle lasting friendships, as still done
today among the people of Cividale or elsewhere.
These friendships ended because of his transfer to Germany
for about two years, before being able to return home to Australia in June of
1945. Years of sacrifice, of sad moments, anxieties and thoughts for distant
loved ones: years impossible to forget!
While writing in July 1991 to his Italian friend Amelio
Cavassi, Frame recalled “the carabinieri that controlled the beds in the
barracks with wolfhounds and pocket torches” and that enclosure, “our
enclosure”, the best thing, was situated on the left side at the rear of the
camp, viewed from the entrance gate.
He recalled also the names of some officers such as
Lieutenant Loski (of that particular enclosure) a good man, friendly and rather
old: Lieutenant Mussi, who by comparison was instead severe; the sergeant who
was nick-named “Pedro (Peter) the Mexican” on account of his Latin-American
looks, Colonel Calcaterra and Father Cotta, an elderly priest with a white
beard, very appreciative of the problems both of the prisoners and of those in
charge of the Camp.
Although an internee´s life was planned in every detail,
there was always someone who was in the habit of gave purpose to his day.
Documents uncovered in the District highlight, for example, the deep love of
prisoner John M. Katz for a local girl.
At the home of Maria Braida, on the contrary, a watercolor
given to her father by one of the prisoners has still been preserved. Mr.
Valentino Tolazzi still possesses two poetic works written by a prisoner of
Indian origin. During its period of permanence, the camp did not lack attempts
to escape, as also those assigned to reflection and to resulting prayer, the
idea of a plan for a specific place for worship.
THE ESCAPE FROM THE CAMP
Among the events that typified the Camp were attempts to
escape. The first of these happened, as the then Sergeant Thomas Canning
recorded in his writings, at the beginning of winter of 1942, ending tragically
however. New Zealand prisoner Private Wright had been the one to put it into
action, but his attempt to crawl under the barbed wire was halted by bullets
fired by a sentry, one of which hit him high in the neck.
Obviously this event aroused reactions, above all by Camp
Commandant, Colonel Calcaterra, who having assembled the prisoners onto the
open space opposite where the little church was taking shape, proclaimed in a
showy and confident manner that others would never be able to, or want to,
escape from “his camp”, adding that the fate of Wright would concern anyone who
tried to imitate him. Shortly afterwards, notwithstanding the threats, the
first attempts commenced at studying and putting into effect that escape which,
in the end, enabled a band of prisoners to get outside.
Certainly it wasn´t easy because one had to reckon not only
with the constant surveillance of the searchlights, but also with the nature of
the terrain, often extremely hard like that next to No. 2 compound. It wasn´t
so in the area chosen for the quartering of prisoners captured at the battle of
El Alamein. As a matter of fact, for a variable depth from three to three and
one half meters, the friability of the ground made up for the scarcity and
difficulty of means to excavate the coveted tunnel of liberty; a pickax, stolen
from the Italians, a helmet used as a shovel, a kind of sledge used for the
shifting of earth removed from the tunnel entrance, from where it was brought
up and with evident prudence settled under the floorboards of the barracks a
little distance away, which given the method of building its foundations,
offered the precious space of 60 centimeters to be filled without becoming
It is worthwhile recalling that the best accommodation
buildings, re-sheathed in brickwork and located at the boundary of the Camp,
were those reserved for the guards. About 70 centimeters high and 50 wide, the
tunnel, according to plan, needed to emerge out onto the surface more or less
45 meters beyond the surrounding barbed wire fence and with the help of a
plantation of millet, clearly protecting it from the intrusiveness of the
searchlight´s beams of light, turned around by the sentries. With the
completion of works drawing near, Canning again recalls there was no lack of
discussion on the manner of escape, the evading potential, and the way ahead
for launching forth once having gained the outside of the fence. Just when the
work of advancing the tunnel was about to arrive well into the middle of the
field of millet, Canning again notes, it occurred by chance that the owners of
the property has decided on its harvesting. Obviously, the unforeseen event
complicated the escape plan, because it was failed to both hide the tunnel exit
and the necessary coverd of the escapers from anticipated weapons fire.
At that point, another problem cropped up making this a
secondary concern: the layer of earth to be removed became so hard as to induce
the group to opt bringing the tunnel mouth forward by ten meters.
Unfortunately, the event increased the ever most demanding requirements for the
concealment of the earth to be carried from the tunnel to under the floorboards
of the barracks.
Finally after much anxiety and five weeks of exhausting work,
on the night of 30th October 1942, the fateful time for escape
arrived. The escapees, having arranged themselves in groups of 3 or 4 persons
through the drawing of lots, then decided the order of exit from the tunnel for
all the 19 who had accepted the risk of escaping. Canning again recalls Canning
his two companions were Tom Comins (RAF Wellington bomber pilot) and Dick Head,
of the 12th Battalion AIF. Everything went according to the prediction;
Kevin O´Connel was for some moments illuminated by a moving searchlight while
he was getting ready to come out.
However with composure the escapee remained still, so
succeeding not to arouse any suspicious, and all went according to plan. Once beyond
the tunnel, the nearby hills were their common destination. While the escapees
were tasting those first longed for moments of freedom, within the camp on the
day following the escape, life became a source of tension both among those
responsible for discipline and among the prisoners themselves fearing heavy
Looking at it from a distance, the Giulian Alps, densely
covered with trees, appeared a convenient refuge. However the reality was not
so, because in that area was a resident population of an Italian military
division. Also for that reason, already on the day after the escape, two of the
escapees were captured and – in due course at the end of the fifth day, the
same thing happened to the remaining seventeen. The cherished dream of freedom
ended for all, at least for the moment. Retaken and put in chains, the
prisoners were brought back to the Camp and, for each one of them, the relevant
punishment was inflicted, in variable measure according to military rank held.
Two of the 19 were NCOs with the rank of sergeant: to them 25 days was
inflicted: ten days of hard punishment and fifteen days of simple confinement.
To the corporals, lance corporals and privates: thirty days, ten days hard and
twenty days confinement.
“We did a week of our sentence”, again recalls Canning, “when
one night a volley of shots resounded from the perimeter of nearby compound No.
2, followed by much shouting and calling out of the guard. The guard that had
fired the magazine burst asserted that a prisoner had climbed the main wire
fence … since the distance was less than 10 meters, he could not have missed
him. However, there was no body. The following day a prisoner (Bill Pitt, 2nd/23rdBattalion AIF) was carried into the prison severely wounded …. As a result of
despondency, he had got into position and climbed the barbed wire fence …. On
the insistence of the medical officers Binns and Levins he was transferred to
hospital and after his recovery transferred to another camp. Having overcome
this difficult moment too, slowly the works for the realization of the little
To the cement of the eager spirits was joined the
industriousness of the hands recognizable by the rapid growth of the wall
structure, well emerging in stone and cement with the rectangular nave and, in
the background, an apse and a little presbytery. On the longer walls, ready to
give light, there were four windows with openings framed towards the outside
while the frontal part of the construction was bestowed with a portico of
semi-circular structure, a colonnade formed by components of rectangular
section in worked stone, and trussed on wood for the roof surmounted by
terracotta tiles. The altar, like the entry steps for the church, was
prefabricated outside the Camp. The precision of their construction was
revealed such that at the time of assembly, all fitted perfectly.
IN THE NAME OF FAITH
It was the idea of the chaplain of the Camp, Father Giovanni
Cotta for the building of a place of prayer. Part of the military
administration, he had already attended to the prisoner of war camp at Prato
Isarco (Bolzano) before arriving at “Campo 57” at Premariacco. He was already
getting on in years, but – despite his age – was very energetic in action and
in thought, pleasantly eloquent also when he expressed himself in English. From
time to time he was given permission to hold discussions on non-military
The most appropriate discussions seemed to be those of an
agricultural character and of an architectural nature for which references were
not lacking throughout the land. It appeared curious to many to see him move
throughout the Camp with his face framed by a white beard falling down to his
chest, short of stature and by form taking on a round shape. To assist him in
the construction project for the chapel were, in particular, Father Tom Lynch,
a priest of the diocese of Southampton and Captain in the British Army, and the
New Zealander Ambrose Loughnan, having become a Dominican priest in 1951. Among
those present in the Camp from time to time was also then Father Ricardo
Travani, of the archiepiscopal Curia of Udine, who used to express himself well
enough in English, and, as such, very effective in dialogue with English speaking
Not difficult to find was labor. In brief, what could seem to
most people a dream became a reality. The final allocation having been set,
they got onto the foundations that were laid down at the beginning of 1942,
thanks to the availability of numerous volunteers, above all the Australians
and New Zealanders, obviously of Catholic faith. From memory, and some
historical and fragmented written records, their undertaking was rewarded with
a daily supplementary ration of bread. For the collection of stones for use in
the building, prisoners were were under escort in groups of 8-10 with the
preferred areas being along the banks of the Natisone River.
An unforgettable experience, again writes the Australian
Frame. Moreover, he selects from a mass of records, “the departure from the
Camp by lorry, together with seven other companions, for the purpose of going
out to collect stones in the bed of a not distant streamlet that it appears was
called Terano [Torre, more likely]. There, our sentry promised that if we
filled the lorry quickly, he would pay for a beer for each one of us,” Said,
done. Therefore, they ended up in a nearby inn, in one of the back rooms. Two
young girls about 19 years old entered and spoke to us, with the sentry as
interpreter. One of the girls, named Violetta, took a liking to me and asked
the sentry permission to visit me in the Camp next Sunday, in order to bring me
some fruit and sweets.
The sentry angrily replied that it was impossible and so
Violetta took off disillusioned. Nevertheless, what happy memories! “Meanwhile
the wall structure continued to grow rapidly and not much time elapsed before
the positioning of a wooden cross, acquired by the prisoners with their
savings. According to an investigation carried out by Mario Coccolo, a keen
researcher of historical things concerning the place it was sculptured in the
craft workshop “Senoner Holzbildhauer” of Ortisei (Of which Peppi and Richard
Senoner are now the owners, respectively son and nephew of the maker) and
painted by Corrado Pitscheider, also of Ortisei (Bolzano). From the cessation
of war-related events to our times, the wooden Crucifix has found a secure
repository in the parish church of Premariacco. Dedicated to “Our Master Jesus
Crucified”, the new chapel, so sought after by Father Cotta and his friends in
the venture, experienced its unique Eucharistic celebration only one week
before the Camp started to be evacuated by the Germans: the 13thSeptember 1943.
AND THE ARMISTICE CAME
On the 8th September 1943 Italy signed the
armistice with the Allied Governments. The news also reached the Prisoner of
War Camp No. 57. The prisoners went to see the Vice Commandant of the camp in
order to attain their release immediately. He however could not do so because
the Commandant, loyal to his orders, chose the course of awaiting new
instructions and not that of immediate release.
To sort out the situation, Father Angelo Saccavini and with
him Fabio Donato, still remember today one who worked in the Camp at various
times – a few days after (between the 11th and 12th of
September) the Germans had arrived by night in their transport, with headlights
off, in front of the Camp entrance. The sentry, appreciating the reality, was
unable to do anything without orders from higher authority.
The Germans having entered the Camp, in the hours following,
formed “groups” of two to three hundred persons, and having been assigned, were
escorted along the main road not far away to the railway station of “Veneta” at
Moimacco, from where, crammed into cattle wagons, they went to Germany. Tears clearly
flowed onto their faces, and one could read there expressions desperate for knowledge
of the destiny that would await them! In those dramatic moments, the idea of
escape – this time from the Germans – was uppermost in their minds. For those
who were fortunate in choosing such a solution, the anchors of salvation were
the families of the surrounding area, with their providential offers of civil
clothing, while those discharged military personnel ended up being
painstakingly hidden away.
In correspondence dated 6th August 1945, English
prisoner William S.C. Paling remembered those moments with his friends Brier to
whom he wrote: “For me it has been impossible to write to the Italian family
who so kindly took care of me when I escaped from the (prisoner of) war camp at
Premariacco. Unfortunately again I have been made prisoner and everything has
been taken from me by the Germans. After having been with the partisans
[rebels] for more than three months, I was taken to Germany, from where I
finally succeeded in escaping across Austria, Hungary and Yugoslavia, passing
through Bari [Southern Italy], on 2nd November 1944 …”.
Among reminiscences of Fabio Donato, these places were easy
prey, immediately after the compulsory evacuation by the Germans, to a
population which looted everything removable: from household goods to sheds.
And he similarly recounted the escape, this time successful, of a small group
of prisoners, having happened at night, straddling between the 8thSeptember and the arrival of the Germans. Taken to the home of the same Donato,
he was washed, hunger appeased, and put up as best as he could in the barn
where he remained for 10 days or so.
The risks, obviously, were considerable: the Germans, in fact,
often leaving their horses just under the lean-to of the same house, which the
prisoners constituted a worrying presence. To have the prisoners at the house,
in short, was nothing to be joyous about!
Fortunately, one morning, still before daybreak, while using
the disguise of a farm worker, supplied with forks and rakes, with a cart of
the horse-drawn type, he succeeded in getting away as far as Cosizza, in the
municipality of Savogna, almost to the shelter of the boundary with Yugoslavia
where, for the last time, there was an affected greeting.
A THING THAT HAS NO OWNER (RES NULLIUS)
The Camp, on the other hand, in the difficult months that
followed the 8th September, like all the abandoned military assets,
became RES NULLIUS, for disposal, it was taken out of military service at the
disposal of the fearful of the future head of Communal Administration, to form
accommodation for dispersed and displaced people.
For all the materials retrieved, as Mario Coccolo noted in
his journalistic correspondence of August 1992, “they found adequate civil end
use: the beams and planking were used in housing, overcoats and garments were
made from blankets, the reticulated pipework formed the fences of vegetable
gardens, the sheets of “ethernit” asbestos cement replaced the old sheet metal
of lean-to shelters and the like. A saying was widespread in the area “Stuff
from the Camp”. The wooden barracks, having been taken to pieces, the outline
of some of their foundations still remain visible. By virtue that they resisted
damage of weather and vandalism, certain masonry structures, some restored and
today almost unrecognizable, are inhabited - like the former cinema premises or
the building for the former Corps of Guards, where Antonio Cavaliero lives, a
pleasant “personality” well inclined to dialogue and to recollection,
notwithstanding ailments of advancing years.
Around almost everything has remained as those days,
including the water piping put at the edges of the large courtyard, as the good
Antonio remembers, having remained by choice in these parts that saw him as a
young soldier, faithful servant of his country, a man in love with Lucia, whose
remembrance is still most vivid in his memory.
Having overcome moments of chaos and the contradictions as a
result of the armistice between Italy and the allied Anglo-American forces, the
little church – contrary to what the fortunes of the Camp were – remained a
visible testimony and, for some years to follow, was used above all for the Litany
of Saints on Rogation Days. The proof is the commemorative plaque sited to the
left of the entrance, recording the visit of the Archibishop of Udine, Mons.
Giuseppe Nogara, that happened on 17th October 1946.
THE MONSIGNOR IN THE CADILLAC
But let us return to the little church on order to relate a
remarkable episode which land surveyor Mario Coccolo, at the time Mayor of
Premariacco, was eye witness too. “It was in December of 1975, a Saturday like
so many, with me in my office concentrating on getting through usual business
when I sensed the arrival of a car in front of the municipal building. Looking
up, I saw a luxurious blue “Cadillac” with a foreign registration plate having
at the wheel a man of colour in uniform with a little monkey as escort, and in
the place of honour, a bishop at whose side sat a gentleman with the evident
role of secretary, as he then had to declare himself to the secretary of the
Comune, and in asking to speak to the Mayor, to precisely locate his place of
origin as Buenos Aires.
Having been admitted for a meeting, the prelate, upon
declaring himself as such Monsignor Jacopo Antonio Lozzano, as the
representative of and having interests on behalf of the Holy Catholic Apostolic
Church of the East with a seat at San Francisco … asked to be able to acquire
the former church located in the former prison Camp of Premariacco, including
the “surrounding grounds”. In the end, time shows how that had been a great
bluff. Since then much and more prey to the scrub(wood) and the structural
deterioration, the roof included.
THE ANGET ON THE VESTIGES OF “P.G. 57”
These were the conditions that greeted the eyes of the
members of the Udinese ANGET when – in 1990 – with General Steno Carraro as
chairman - they “discovered” the little church. Abandoned among the ruins and
rubble, it appeared to Father Gianni Meneni´s eyes like an unexpected recall to
a past gone but not forgotten, and as such the idea of restoration was born for
the purpose of later dedicating it to all those who, in war and in peace, had
served in the Corps of Engineers and Signals; but also to keep alive the memory
of those, their then enemies, who contributed to the building of that place of
faith and prayer.
Semi-destroyed from roof to walls, invaded by scrub(wood), it
began to receive the first necessary “attention” after – obviously – the
indispensable certificate of conveyance from the Administration of Premariacco.
Word about the beginning of the restoration did not take a
long time to spread among the associates of other sections of ANGET who did not
hesitate to make themselves available both in material and in economic terms,
even if finances never attained a level of sufficiency. Not such a reason, one
well understands, for giving up! If it had been so from the start, definitely
that description “tenacious, untiring, unpretentious, modest…” that highlighted
the first words of motivation of recognition for the military value of the
Corps of Engineers would assail the eyes and ears of the heirs of those heroes
of so many battles and sacrifices for the greatness of the Nation.
The military engineer, who operates from within the zone most
distant from the front lines up to forward outposts, who performs many tasks
from combat to that of working with courage, decision, spirit of sacrifice,
technical and scientific preparation; a precious combatant and also an expert
“engineer” able to re-establish the balance undermined by real circumstances
and of restoring confidence: the engineer who does not give up! And so, slowly,
faith and tenacity have found strength in the arms and minds of many inside and
outside the directing Council of the Udinese ANGET. For all, a unique
objective: to reconstruct that little church and… in the eyes and in the
hearts, the foretaste of the pleasure of sensing – well knowing that which will
soon be the Chiesetta of ANGET.
Necessities, however, never end. And it has been pleasing to
see the willingness of so many friends who have known how to be such, even in
the moment of need! And of need, in the circumstances, there has been so much
of it, both for morale and for … funds nearly empty. Having fed the latter, the
master carpenter Marco Bulfone from Moggio made up his mind to complete the
work, the same builder of the internal trusses, helped by some specialists from
the team of Angetine volunteers. From the walls … to the roof and, then, to the internal works like electric
wiring and water and sanitary systems, finalized during 1993.
Still before the New Year passed, the bell tower was repaired
and so too the main walls destined and ready to receive the new roof with the
geometrics of its wooden trusses seeming like a work of art - carpenter style!
Today, the fine view also repays those moments of strong anxiety evident when
they discovered – in the course of work the awful conditions of the beams
overhanging the pronaos.
At the end of the summer of 1993, at the “yard” again open,
the adventure of reconstruction is enriched by a fact, certainly idealized in
the minds of the people in charge, but rather remarkable: from New Zealand,
where he now resides, the Rev. Father Ambrose Loughnan, Domenican Father, is
heard from again. His arrival is announced by means of his letter to the
President of ANGET, General Carraro, to whom he writes, among other things “I
was part of the New Zealand Forces when I was 23 years old … It was in that
camp, through the daily setting, that I began to think about my future as a
priest …”. And he concluded “… I would truly be very happy to be able to
celebrate the sacred mass that will signal the restoration of the little church
that has occurred. For me personally that would be an act of thanks for the
gift of life during these fifty years from 1945 to 1993 …”.
On 2nd December the wish of Father Ambrose became
a reality: in that place that saw him constrained to live the reflective
thoughts and actions of difficult times, he returned to celebrate the second
mass in the history of that place of worship so laboriously achieved beforehand
and again given a new life at last. (The first celebration, in 1993, happened
only a few days before the German troops proceeded with the evacuation of
prisoners to Germany). To gather around the welcome guest, there were obviously
the members and supports of ANGET and many people from Premariacco, who still
had a living memory of the reality of that earlier period. In sum, a memorable
day in the name of the faith in primis for the maturing of the priestly idea of
the Father, but also of the Christian values of friendship and brotherhood
Having also recorded the moment in archives, it was necessary
however to achieve the resolution of the building´s restoration project
including the ornaments and fitting most suited. To the carver Silvano
Bevilacqua fell the task of producing a crucifix, a chalice, and two
candelabras, and the follow the Via Crucis. In addition, the Generals Campagna
and Calamani offered bronze statues in the image of Saint Gabriel and Saint
Other generosities have also to be taken note of – the firm
supplying various materials, and some artisans who - acutely aware of the needs
– are accepting reimbursement only for the raw materials and not for labor; the
villagers like to express their solidarity with the initiative by assiduously
making provision for the operation “ristoro”. In 1994 and, again in the first
months of 1995, the repair of a large area of the floor, the plastering of
internal and external walls, and the installation of new fixtures are proceeded
with. Outside the building, by the hand of Romeo Lancerotto, a suitable
pavement bearing some religious and military designs is being set out. The
spring of 1996 is the season of the rebirth of the little church too, now ready
to welcome friends and faithful and to give testimony to Christian love and the
Gospel of God.
The rescue of the building (defined in the land register on
folio no. 2 of cadastral maps 63, 238 and 250) granted by the Comune di
Premariacco in bailment (commodation) of the title free for ten years to the
Udinese section of Anget, as already recorded, began in the summer of 1991.
The technical relationship in respect to works of
extraordinary maintenance, signed by building surveyor Michele Mauro, whose
office is at Udine, emphasized that one was dealing with an article
manufactured in masonry, width varying from 50 to 60 centimeters, placed at a
median depth of about 85 centimeters, and surmounted at the roof by a frame
visible in wood of fir (for the purpose of restoration). The roofing of the
entrance, that initially seemed to need to be replaced only partially, required
instead complete resurfacing, as in their totality did the 11 exterior door and
window frames (re-done in anodized aluminum) and the main access door, now in
wrought iron, having a squared pattern (anthracite color), with glass windows
replacing the previous wooden ones.
Having given regard to their good condition, the marble chip
tiles of the pre-existing floor have been part preserved.
More than eight meters wide and with a development in depth
of a little more than twenty meters, the new structure externally presents
walls finished off with plastered white stucco containing powdered marble.
Inside, the altar with a demountable iron plinth, surmounted
by a shelf in wood of solid appearance. On the left side of those entering, now
the evocative statue of Saint Augustine of Canterbury stands out, and arranged
along the lateral walls, the tables of the Via Crucis. For those fond of
figures, let us record that for the renewal of parts of the edifice in
stonework about 35 quintals of cement, about 1700 bricks, double bricks and
hollow flat blocks, 6000 pieces of pantile, 3 quintals of iron and arc welded
mesh; the gutters have now been renovated in cooper, a footpath formed in fine
washed river gravel (established) with designs and friezes, as well as having
mounted five trusses with the boards placed above them being of the match
lining type, their faces exposed to view.
Intercommunicating with the Sacresty, a small bathroom has
been put in. To those who might want to view the church and its environs, the
view that is offered today is that of a classical place in the Friulian
countryside. In the foreground, at the margins of the way in, proceeding from
the center of the place, one catches glimpses – among breaks within the
shrubbery – of one of the surviving barracks in masonry with the ravages of
time on it.
In clear contrast with what has been, a modern villa is now
at the head of the access street to the little church, which in turn, is very
near to the reconstructed building part (used) for civil habitation (where at the
time there was the cookhouse for the Italian guards) and part used as a shed or
stall (formerly the room for the cinema).
On the left side of the access way the partly modernized
lodging made of compacted earth is still there, which was (built) for the Commandant
of the Guards and, forward a little more, at some slight distance from the
highway to Cividale del Friuli, finally, exists the house/barracks (also in
this case again restored) and still inhabited by the former Sergeant Cavaliero,
class of 1915. In such a “revisited” environment the reconstructed small church
stands out, dedicated to “Our Father Jesus Christ Crucified”, strongly desired
by the Udinese section of ANGET, in homage to all those who were constrained in
the Camp by events, and also to so many – in peace and war – who served with
honor in the Corps of Engineers and Signals.
THE REASON TO REMEMBER
Beyond the mid-century of history is a good time for
meditating: not so much because the memory of the past is clouding over, but
above all because the accelerating process of changes to the way of living and
to society risks being an accomplice to a forgetfulness that has to be
rejected. All this has to remain a warning for present and future generations.
The historiography, be it small or large, cannot but make for
pondering over and understanding how much war is a tremendous event for
humanity: violence degrades man, it
conditions him and humiliates him so as to make him an instrument
without soul disposed even to seek revenge and to cause death. To know the
torments and sorrows encountered by humanity, to rediscover the values of peace
and democracy, can but be the objectives of all civilized peoples.
THE PLAQUE THAT RECORDS THE RESTORATION WORK OF ANGET
In wresting it from neglect and deterioration THE NATIONAL
ASSOCIATION OF ENGINEERS AND SIGNALLERS OF ITALY wanted to restore the church as
a sign of Christian brotherhood with the prisoners who erected it. 1991 – 1995.