I was pleased to hear not long ago from Marida Parkes. Her father Nicola Lagalla and his brother Liberato were instrumental in transporting Captain J. H. Derek Millar and dozens of other escaped prisoners down Italy’s Adriatic coast from San Benedetto del Tronto to Termoli.
Marida had read Captain Millar’s autobiography and recognized her father’s role in his escape. Soon after, she interviewed her dad so that she could share the his story with Captain Millar’s son, Lenox.
Nicola now resides in Perth, Western Australia.
Here is his story:
“My brother and I knew nothing of the prisoners until we were approached by Commander Nebbia—my nautical professor—and Mr. Antonio Marchegiani.
“Prior to their approaching us, my brother and I had already decided that we were going to escape [from San Benedetto del Tronto] with our boats within two days. The boats belonged to my nonno [grandfather] Emidio Lagalla.
“They were the only two boats left on the wharf—and due to be sunk by the Germans.
“When Nebbia and Marchegiani came to us, they asked what we were planning to do with the boats. We trusted them and so told them that we had planned to escape with them.
“Nebbia and Marchegiani told us that there were a lot of prisoners waiting to escape. It would be very risky, but would help the prisoners?
“We agreed to take the prisoners on the following conditions: that we had to depart within two days, that all the prisoners had to be hidden at the wharf and they had to be organised, and that the prisoners would not board before we had fully prepared the boats for the escape.
“Our boats were anchored three meters from the jetty. On the day of the escape, it all happened very quickly—the prisoners came on board the boats with dinghies.
“As they came on board, one man was very sick. A soldier with a Sicilian accent told me he was a doctor. If he was the only doctor on board, then he must have been your father. [Nicola is talking to Lenox here about his dad.]
“With the help of another soldier, we took him to the engine room—there were bunks there and the doctor was able to rest.
“My brother and I knew the coast well. When we got to Termoli, everyone disembarked and I did not see your father again.
“The boat that was said to be missing [in Captain Millar’s memoirs], with all the prisoners on board, was the boat that my brother was skippering. It had approximately 60 prisoners on board.
“That boat came into Termoli one and a half hours later. All the prisoners were alive and so happy to be back in safe hands.
“We could not return to San Benedetto as we would have been shot. The Americans took care of us until such time as it was safe for us to return home.”
Marida Parkes had this to add regarding her father’s experience:
“I have to say that it is gobsmacking that two kids took those boats. My dad would have been all of 16 or 17 years old and my uncle Liberato about 19 years old.
“Dad tells me my grandfather had no idea that he and Uncle Liberato were going to try and save the boats by escaping San Benedetto del Tronto.
“They were terrible times for all concerned.
“Dad married Maria Bartolomei—they lived next door to each other in San Benedetto Del Tronto, so she was ‘the girl next door.’ They had four children. I was the first, then Robert, Paul, and Sabrina. Dad, mum, and I immigrated to Australia in 1956.
“Dad eventually became a licensed crayfisherman, and in a short period of time purchased his own boat. This boat was named the Kon Tiki—it went one mile forwards and two miles backwards it was so old. But as they say in Lancelin—a small fishing village 70 miles north of Perth—’he killed the pig,’ which means he did very well.
“His catches during a couple crayfishing seasons, as well as working in the prawning season in the Exmouth Gulf, had set dad up for life. He built a new boat with all the latest equipment on it and has not looked back since.
“My dad was such a worker, and still he pushes on. He has a few ailments, but for his age he is incredible. He is funny, generous, tenacious, and headstrong. He is still fishing on his mini crayfishing boat at age 85.
“In all, he is a terrific papa.”
For more information on Captain J. H. Derek Millar, see these posts: