A Reflection on Heroism and Humility

Antonio and Domenica Cavaciuti

“There is a certificate of gratitude hanging in my grandmother’s house in London that was awarded to my great-grandfather, Antonio Cavaciuti,” Sophia Boeri wrote to me last month. 

“I recently began to enquire about the history of this certificate to my family. My grandfather passed away before I was born and so I was never able to ask him directly about the certificate. My family don’t know too much about the story behind it—all that they’ve been able to tell me is that my great-grandfather helped to protect British soldiers during World War II and that his actions were deemed to be very courageous, especially considering that he had nine young children. 

“I began to search for more information on the internet and came across your website, so was hoping that you will be able to provide me with more information about the actions of people like my great-grandfather.”

I told Sophia I would like to share their great-grandparents’ story and asked if she would send me a few photos.

Sophia wrote again a couple of weeks later. “Sorry about the delay in responding to you,” she said. “It took a while to sort through many boxes of family photos!

“I have attached a picture of my great-grandfather’s Alexander certificate, a photo of Antonio and Domenica, a clearer photo of Antonio and a photo of all their children together.

“I have managed to find out the following so far: Antonio and Domenica Cavaciuti lived in the village of Rusteghini, which is in the municipality of Morfasso and the province of Piacenza in Italy, with their nine children. They lived a very humble life working on their farm.

“Apparently, they sheltered British soldiers in their stable.

“I would like to be able to find out more about what they did to help these soldiers and who the soldiers were that they protected.”

The children of Antonio and Domenica Cavaciuti

Sophia identified Antonio and Domenica’s children as (left to right in the picture above) Rita, Giovanni, Giuseppina, Teresa, Andrea, Maria, Rachele, Giovanna, and Ugo. 

“Unfortunately, Ugo passed away when he was just 10 years old,” she said. 

“Of the remaining children, only Giovanna and Rachele remained in Italy—the rest became economic migrants as they moved to Paris and London. My grandfather was Giovanni—he originally left Italy to move to Paris with his sisters Rita, Giuseppina, and Maria, and his brother Andrea. He then decided to move to London, where he joined his sister Teresa. 

“After Antonio passed away, the decision was made to give the certificate to the only son remaining, my grandfather Giovanni, which is how the certificate made its way to London.”  

Antonio Cavaciuti

The certificate is creased from being folded, as if carried in someone’s pocket at one time. It was ultimately framed and displayed, however the story of the family’s heroism has faded over time—the details forgotten.

The wartime episode is a testament to the Cavaciutis’ humility—when the escapers wandered onto their property, Antonio and Domenica acted on a principal of deeply-felt humanity. Sheltering the men was likely a natural, spontaneous impulse.

Nazi retribution for helping escapees was swift and severe. They were risking their lives—and the lives of their children. I have no doubt they realized this.

The Alexander certificate attests to their heroism. It is a document Antonio and Domenica’s descendants can rightly be proud of.

The Alexander certificate

This certificate is awarded to Cavaciuti Antonio as a token of gratitude for and appreciation of the help given to the Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen of the British Commonwealth of Nations, which enabled them to escape from, or evade capture by the enemy.

H.R. Alexander
Field-Marshall,
Supreme Allied Commander,
Mediterranean Theatre
1939–1945

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