William Scalabroni in 1942. Mattia De Santis says, “One year later he would be a partisan in this place.”
Mattia De Santis from Ascoli Piceno, Italy, wrote to me two weeks ago, “I’m the nephew of two partisans that were in Ascoli between September and October 1943.
“My grandfather, William Scalabroni [also a partisan], told a very short story on video about himself and his comrades who helped two Italian officers and also a group of POWs from Servigliano to reach the road going south during the German attack on Colle San Marco.”
The video can be accessed through Storia Marche 900, a website devoted to the history of the liberation movement in the Marche.
“Maybe you would find the story interesting, even if it’s just a little reference,” Mattia wrote. “It is in Italian, but I can help to translate it.
“I think the video was made around 10 years ago. It is the only available part of a longer video archive in which there are a lot of interviews of partisans about war and resistance in this region. I think the entire archive is in Ancona in the main History Institute.
“Unfortunately, my grandfather William died one month ago. He was run over by a car.
“His death was a shock. Even though he was 91, his health was good and he had still a lot to share. He was the last partisan in town.
“I read that the prisoners escaped on September 14, 1943. At that time William was with other guys creating a group of resistance on Colle San Marco near Ascoli.”
Below is Mattia’s translation of the video.
“They gave us a machine gun. We had rifles, ammunition, and everything else.
“There were six or seven of us. We stayed there.”
[Mattia explains, “He’s talking about a hill that was a very good sighting point. The machine gun and the rest refers to the arming of the partisans—in particular my grandpa’s group.”]
“Afterwards they brought us some prisoners—about 30 prisoners who had escaped from Servigliano, where there was a concentration camp. They were American and English.
“They rested with us for several days, until October 3.
“Then the cannon shots began.”
[Mattia says, “The cannon shots were the beginning of the German attack. The cannons were on another hill, on the west side of San Marco.”]
“At this point the POWs left, rightly, and headed south for our mountain, I don’t know if you know it. From there it was easy to reach Abruzzo—but they had farther to go.
“October 3 was a foggy day. There was such a terrible fog that you could not see anything.
“We stayed there until maybe 9:30 or 10 a.m., until two officers arrived—Captains Pigoni and Torelli—with 10–15 other Italian guys.
“‘Do you know the road to San Giacomo?’ they asked.
“‘Yes we do.’
“‘Do you really know? Because otherwise we will get lost—we don’t know where we are.’
“We knew the road because we frequented that mountain. We went there to ski in winter and we went to take air and sun in summer—every Sunday.
“‘So pick up and take away all your stuff.’
“We took the machine gun and all and we went with them. We took the main trail from which you could not see anything.
“And after half an hour we reached San Giacomo.
“The Germans had already been to San Giacomo. The door was destroyed, and all the stuff was on the ground, but the house had not yet been exploded.
“From what we saw there, we surmised the Germans had moved on. In the meanwhile, as we were climbing up the Germans were descending.
“The way through the mountains was like this:
“On Oseno’s hill, where we were climbing, there is a valley that divides it from another ridge in the direction of Marino’s ditch.
“They took that trail because it was the more obvious choice in coming from the shelter—from the customs between Marche and Abruzzo, Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the Papacy.
“They were on that ridge and we on the trail, maybe at a distance of 150–200 meters from them. However, we absolutely could not see each other—even if we were only 30 meters away [we would not have been able to see each other].”
[Mattia clarifies, “At the same time as William’s group was climbing, the Germans were descending. They were close, but for the fog it was impossible to see anything (luckily). About the customs—William told about the place from where the German were descending. During the attack, the German came from everywhere, below and above the hill. When my grandpa’s group arrived in San Giacomo they went to check another sighting point (the customs) with other partisans, but they found nobody, just a big disorder inside—a sign the Germans had already arrived and captured all the partisans who were there. My grandpa goes on to recall what that facility was in history: an old customs that managed the way through the ancient border between the Reign of South Italy and the Reign of the Pope before the unification of Italy. Marche is the current name of my region, Abruzzo the southern one. The border is exactly on the mountain, in the little village of San Giacomo.”]
“And so we went on with these two captains, until we arrived at San Vito.
“There they made us hide the weapons, and they said:
“‘Now go wherever you want.
“‘It’s over for us. If we go back they’ll kill us. Choose the best way to save yourselves.’”
“And so we did.
“This is the story of San Marco.”
Mattia added, “It was the captains who said those words to the group. They took away from the battle a lot of guys because there was a conflict of views: these captains thought it was impossible to defend the hill. The others stayed, resisted, and died in significant number, following their favorite commander because they wanted to do something against the Nazis and fascists. Their resistance saved a lot of people.
“I hope you will understand. This story told in the full video documentary is complicated, with a lot of connection. The video of my grandpa William is just a little window into it.
“About the POWs, William said they left at the beginning of German attack. However, among the victims we have at least six men—maybe more—without identity. One of them was an Englishman” who died near an Italian partisan—these two are unknown. Who could say their names and numbers? There aren’t documents.
Not all the POWs headed south. Some of them rested and fought with Italian people.”
Matttia said university historian Sergio Bugiardini, in his book La città e il colle (The Town and the Hill), documents the POWs who were recaptured from the Ascoli area and sent to Germany:
“In the book there are only their names—no dates, ages, or nationalities. Maybe some of them are spelled wrong,” Mattia said.
“Others died in San Marco or were killed in the October 5 battle in Pagliericcio, near Villa Lempa.”
“My other grandpa, Ugo (who passed away last year), also has said something about the movement of POWs from Servigliano to other places. He was an officer and he organized the rescue of some of them—most they were English). I don’t think Ugo was with I.S.9, but he had some relationship with the English for helping the POWs from Servigliano.
“I already knew your blog before writing. Spartaco Perini, about whom you’ve written, was the commander of the partisans of Colle San Marco. (See “I.S.9 Agent Spartaco Perini.”)
There was a command divergence between Spartaco Perini and Pigoni and Torelli. Pigoni and Torelli were both captains, while Perini was a 2nd lieutenant.
Although Perini had a lower rank, there was a moment in which most of the people on San Marco elected him as commander. They voted! This is a very peculiar and considerable event to underline.
Most of the partisans that wanted to fight and defend the town were from Ascoli, and they were also civilians, so their choice was for Perini because he was brave and a rebel and they already knew him.
The two captains were from Reggio Emilia and their military habits were refused by many of the guys.
“Another one of our heroes is mentioned a lot of times in your posts: Fausto Simonetti. He was with I.S.9, he fought on the mountains, and he was murdered in a manor near Ascoli, the sadly famous “Villa Triste” (there was one in every city or town during the war) in which German used to torture and kill their enemies.
“My grandpa William was one of the last to see Fausto Simonetti alive when he was in jail in June 1944.
We have a square in the town center named for Fausto. We also have a song, a partisan hymn, written by him. It’s very powerful.”
A more recent photo of William, taken during a ceremony to remember two young rebels who were killed in Porta Romana.