Marida describes the photo above: “This is of dad and myself—yes, with a ‘boy coif.’ I was two years old and dad would then have been 29 years old. It was taken at San Benedetto, opposite the port.”
Below right: Nicola Lagalla in recent years.
I asked Mariada Parkes this week if her father, Nicola Lagalla, and his brother Liberato ever returned to San Benedetto del Tronto after their transport of the British POWs down the Adriatic coast. (See “Nicola and Liberato Lagalla—Rescue by Sea” for the full story.)
She replied, “Papà tells me that after he and his brother delivered the POWs to safety, their boats were tied up alongside an American ship in Termoli for approximately one month.
“The boats used to assist the POWs were the San Nicola—built by my nonno [grandfather] and named after my dad—and the Luigi Primo. My nonno purchased the second boat, which had already been named.
“Dad and uncle had no money and no diesel for the boats.
“After a while, the Americans supplied them with diesel so that they could take the boats out fishing. They fished off the shores of Termoli, Molfetta, and Barletta. They sold the fish at the fish markets in these towns and then returned to the ship in Termoli.
“There was a curfew at the time—and so, dad and uncle returned to Termoli every day no later than 5 p.m.
“A little twist—in Barletta, dad met a man who had previously been a POW in Tobruk for two years. This fellow was allowed to help dad as a deck hand.
“Whilst out fishing on one particular day, the weather turned very nasty. Dad and the other fellow had to moor at Isola Di Tremiti, which dad tells me was a British Navy Base.
“There, dad was taken by the British, incarcerated, and beaten for four days. The British told dad that a boat called the San Nicola had been dealing with the Germans.
“Dad pleaded his innocence. (I can tell you with absolute certainty that our father would have included some very colourful expletives.) It was to no avail. The beatings continued.
“Dad said the accusations were incredulous, impossible.
“After four days, the British admitted that they had been mistaken.
“Dad was released and taken to hospital so that they could tend to his broken ribs, which were a result of the beatings.
“Hearing my dad tell this story to me today fills me with such sadness. He was 17 years old, only a boy.
“As the Allied forces drove the Germans to retreat, dad was eventually able to return to the port of San Benedetto del Tronto, where he was reunited with all his family.
“I asked papà today, ‘What did nonno say to you when you finally returned with his boats?’
Dad replied, in his usual big voice, ‘MARIDA, WHAT COULD HE SAY?’
“Dad and uncle were awarded a Bronze Medal for Civilian Bravery from Brits.
“Liberato died in San Benedetto approximately 30 years ago from a heart attack. No children. Zio [uncle] was a gorgeous man, with his huge, black horn-rimmed spectacles. He was a very calm and gentle man. After the war, Liberato did not pursue his fishing career. He became a glazier.
“I don’t think dad quite understands how he and uncle may have been instrumental in changing outcomes. I am not saying here that they were heroes. But I am acknowledging dad’s humanity, and also that of my uncle, and that of so many people who have been willing to risk everything to reach out, to help their fellowman.”
Of her grandparents, pictured above, Marida writes, “My Nonno’s name is Emidio and Nonna is Ida. The photo was taken at San Benedetto. Nonna had 11 children—only seven survived. Today there is only dad, one brother, and two sisters here with us. Dad had no family in Australia we grew up having only one uncle in Australia on my mother’s side.”