In Search of Armie’s Italian Angels

Sergeant Armie S. Hill, circa 1943. I carried this photograph of my father with me to Roccafluvione and to the site of Camp 59, where he was a prisoner.

Strada Caserine winds up a mountainside westward from Roccafluvione. American servicemen Armie Hill and Ben Farley were led up this road by children to a farm where the family of Angela Bianchini offered them protection.

View into a rain-soaked valley from half way up Strada Caserine.

The story of how my father, Armie Hill, and Kentuckian Ben Farley were befriended in the town of Roccafluvione is recorded in an earlier post, “Armie’s Italian Angels.”

Take a moment to review Armie’s account, as it will help you appreciate the adventure described here—a September 2010 journey to Roccafluvione.

I had hoped to meet relatives of the Italians who had sheltered the two men. My friend Anne Bewicke-Copley said the way to get advance word out at Roccafluvione was to contact the town bars—the social hubs of the community.

In early August, I sent letters—translated into Italian—to the four bars in Roccafluvione. I also sent a letter to a city office—to the segreteria of the commune.

With each letter I included a printout of the rescue story, a picture of my dad, a scan of the page from his address book where Angela Bianchini had penned her address, my contact information (including e-mail address), and a self-addressed envelope.

At first I heard nothing. Then, on September 9 an e-mail came—the subject line “Risposta da Roccafluvione.” It was from an Italian woman, Ilaria, who offered to help. She was aware of a possible Bianchini descendant in the community.

“When you arrive at Roccafluvione we’ll talk with an employee of the municipality,” she wrote.

Anne and her husband David Runciman, arrived in Italy from the UK in mid-September. They drove to Roccafluvione and stopped at the commune offices, then contacted the possible Bianchini relative. Anne arranged for a meeting with him at the Bar Tre Fonti at 5 p.m. on the day we were to arrive in the Marche.

Steve Dickinson, Mark Randolph, and I flew into Ancona on the afternoon of September 25. We rented a car and drove to the home of Anne and David, where we enjoyed a splendid but quickly-consumed meal.

Then Anne announced, “We are shortly due in Roccafluvione! We must be on the road now.”

We took two cars—Anne, Mark, Steve, and me in one, and David and Aat Van Rijn in another. Our little caravan wound along the wet, curving roads toward Roccafluvione.

We arrived at the Bar Tre Fonti and parked. Anne introduced us all to the proprietor. The gentleman whom we suspected was a Bianchini descendant arrived and Anne engaged him in conversation, explaining in Italian who we were and what we hoped to discover.

He then shook his head—no, he was not related to Angela Bianchini who had lived on Strada Caserine.

After he left, David asked, “Would you like to drive up Caserine?”

“Yes,” I answered.” Yes, I certainly would!”

Anne, Steve, and Aat stayed at the bar while David drove Mark and me up steep, narrow, winding Caserine. I imagined my father and Ben walking up the road—on a September day 67 years ago.

We drove until David said, “This really is as far as the road goes. They would have gone no farther than this.”

Although the Bianchini address—Caserine N118—was written in my father’s address book, David explained that the house numbers had changed over the years. So it would not be easy to determine which property was the Bianchini farm.

Although it was raining, I asked David to let me out so I could walk along the road. I wanted to feel the pavement beneath my own feet and take a few pictures. I walked for awhile and David picked me up farther down the hill.

Armie had written this entry in his journal on the day the two men had arrived in Roccafluvione:

“Sept 17. Woke up 4:30 and walked a couple of miles and lay down to sleep and eat. Ate canned [unsure of this word] meat roll and syrup and bread. Still have a canteen of water but have to get some more water soon, as its hot here. Its 10:00 a.m. now. Started walking again down road to Escoli [I believe he meant Ascoli.] stopped and rested by road in shade of large trees. ate and left place stopped in town and walked past town people Warned about Escoli saw G. in civilian clothes I believe drunk. Left road and took cross country; reached another town [Rochafluvione] received N. [Nazi] salute from enemy’s left in hurry. Arrived farm [Bianchini farm] ok.”

We rejoined the others at the bar. Together we trudged though the rain along the main street of the town. David pointed out the town square and we speculated on which houses and shops would have been standing in 1943—and which would have been built since then.

As dusk fell, I considered our attempt to contact Bianchini descendants had come to a dead end.

But then a thought occurred to me. What about the rescuing priest?

In 1987, my father had described his encounter with the priest:

“Children milled around us. We ran a block or so and left them behind, and then suddenly there was a priest standing right in the middle of the street. He opened his gown and he put his hands around us. He said a prayer. He talked to some of the Italians. One of the Italians could speak English, and he said that the priest wanted us to follow the children—they would lead us away and hide us.”

“Is there more than one church in Roccafluvione?” I asked Anne. “And, was there more than one church here in 1943?”

She posed the question to the bar’s proprietor and patrons. Then she answered me:

“They say there’s a small chapel near here, but it seems it’s quite new. The only church that dates to the ’40s is San Stefano—on the edge of town. We passed it on our way here.

“I think we should go there and see if anyone is around,” she added. “It’s certainly worth a try!”

As we approached the church, we could see the drive was crowded with cars. We parked and quietly waited outside. A few minutes passed and the door swung open. Families streamed into the night—children, parents, grandparents. We had arrived at the end of Saturday evening mass.

Soon the church was empty and the Anne ventured in. We waited, full of anticipation.

At last she reappeared and said, “Come in now.”

We followed her to the front of the church and then through a door to the priest’s private chambers. She introduced us, then explained to the priest in detail what we had come to find out.

The priest looked thoughtfully at me, and I held out a picture of my father and said in Italian, “Questo è mio padre”—this is my father.

Anne spoke further with the priest.

Then suddenly he said, “Un momento…” and disappeared through the doorway into the sanctuary. He returned with an elder lady whom he introduced to us as Teresa Luciani, the niece of Don Giuseppe Ciabattoni.

Signora Luciani explained that her uncle Giuseppe was parish priest at San Stefano in 1943. She said he had been involved in the rescue and sheltering of POWs who wandered into the area—including an English general.

Don Giuseppe, she told us, was born in Spinetoli—a small community just a few miles from the Adriatic coast.

The priest took out a notepad and recorded this information for us:

In Italian:

Don Giuseppe Ciabattoni
Parroco di S. Stefano

Nato a Spinetoli

Teresa Luciani
nipote de Don Giuseppe
figlia delle sorelle

Translated into English:

Father Giuseppe Ciabattoni
Parish Priest of Saint Stefano

Born in Spinetoli

Teresa Luciani
neice of Don Giuseppe
daughter of his sister

The trip to Roccafluvione had paid off. I had walked on the main street and along Strada Caserine where my father had walked.

And I now knew the name of the rescuing priest!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s