Category Archives: Marino Palmoni

The Departure of Heroes

Antonio Del Gobbo on his ninety-second birthday
Marino Palmoni is interviewed by Italian historian Filippo Ieranò (left) and Ian McCarthy (not shown), 2010

My father, American Sgt. Armie Hill, was a prisoner of war in P.G. 59 Servigliano during the Second World War.

He escaped from the camp in September 1943, shortly after Italy signed the armistice with the Allies. Although the Italian government had capitulated, much of Italy was still held by the Germans. Escapees from prison camps across central and northern Italy found themselves on the run in enemy-occupied territory—and were at the mercy of local Italians for protection.

The Italians themselves were divided between fascists, who cooperated with the Germans, and partisans, who fought for liberation of their country. Rural laborers and farmers, the contadini, were faced with an ethical dilemma when ragged POWs turned up at their doorsteps asking for food, shelter, or directions. 

My father was helped by local Italians—he was fed, sheltered, given directions, and warned of impending dangers. His experience with the local Italians was not at all unusual.

Antonio Del Gobbo was a young farmer in Smerillo when he was approached by POWs from P.G. 59 asking for food. Antonio brought the young escapees home, where his mother, Letizia, took them in. 

Read the family’s story in “A Haven in Smerillo.”

Marino Palmoni was 10 years old when his father, Luigi, discovered escapees from P.G. 59 hiding in woods that bordered his farm fields. Without hesitation, Luigi sent Marino home for food for the men and, when winter set in, the Palmoni family welcomed them into their home.

Read “Marino Palmoni on the Sheltering of the POWs.”

Antonio’s nephew, Marco Ercoli, wrote early this year that Antonio had died on January 2. Antonio was the last living Del Gobbo family member to remember their rescue of the escaped prisoners.

This month, Antonello Palmoni emailed me that his father, Marino, had passed away on February 20.

When I began this website in January 2008 (eight years after my dad’s death), I knew relatively little about P.G. 59 and even less about prisoners from camps across Italy who found themselves on the run in 1943–44.

However, once I established a presence online, I was surprised by how many people contacted me—former POWs who were interned in Italy, their sons and daughter, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and even a few great grandchildren. Researchers kindly shared information with me and, in time, I heard from descendants of Italian helpers, some of whom had living parents or other relatives who recalled sheltering the Allied escapees.

Stories and information these contacts shared with me are on this site. 

Each year, I am saddened to learn of the deaths of contacts, especially those who remembered the war. Many had become close friends. Soldiers who fought and endured captivity are my heroes, of course. But the Italian protectors are my heroes as well. I have deep admiration for their courage and selflessness.

The dangers faced by Italians who harbored escapees are made clear through notices widely distributed in comunes near the camps. A German flyer written in Italian that was posted in Comunanza—about 26 kilometers (or 16 miles) from P.G. 59—was preserved as evidence by British war crimes investigators after the war. 

A contemporary translation by Celestina Moretti of the flyer, now in the British National Archives, reads:

FIGHT AGAINST THE FAVOURING OF THE ENEMY.

  1. Be silent about all you hear and what you see of the German troops. If, for example, the enemy should get to know that German troops are in your town, the town will be bombed by the enemy without pity. Being silent you will save your town, your home and possessions.
  2. You are to notify the German Commands of any P.O.Ws., spies and saboteurs, or of any other persons acting against them. Notify any attempt at sabotage, or any espionage.
  3. A reward of 1,800 lire shall be given to you for every prisoner, saboteur etc, captured as a result of your information.
  4. Notify us of all radio transmitting apparatus.
  5. A reward of 5,000 lire will be paid for every transmitter that is traced as a result of your information.
  6. All offenders shall eventually be punished by the German Military laws
    BY DEATH
    if they conceal any persons or the above facts, or help in the sheltering, feeding, clothing or escape of these persons.
  7. Severe punishment shall be given to the inhabitants of the town if it is known that they assist spies, saboteurs, or escaped prisoners, etc..
  8. The present notice shall be affixed to all public buildings and all churches. Severe punishment will be given to those responsible who do not see that this order is carried out, and to those who remove notices from any of these buildings.

THE COMMANDER of the GERMAN TROOPS.

In spite of the threats, hundreds of Italian families and individuals, motivated by their humanity—and many undoubtedly inspired by their faith—chose to protect the escapees. Many had their homes destroyed and many more became martyrs.

The end of the year is a good time to remember and honor these departed Italian heroes. Generations of descendants of Allied POWs are indebted to them. They must not be forgotten.

Copies of the original Comunanza flyer were cut into quarters to fit on four pages of the war crimes report, now on file at the National Archives in Kew; image courtesy of Brian Sims

A Visit to the Palmoni Home

On a sunny morning late last September, Marino Palmoni and his son Antonello took a group of us to see the area of Montefalcone Appennino where, during World War II, the Palmoni family sheltered escaped prisoners of war.

Along for this tour were: Anne Bewicke-Copley and David Runciman (who own a home in Montefalcone), Aat van Rijn (from the Netherlands, now a resident of Montefalcone), Steve Dickinson (visiting from England), and Mark Randolph and I (visiting from the United States).

The road to the Palmoni home—Casa Palmoni—in Montefalcone Appennino, Italy.

Casa Palmoni.

Casa Palmoni and the Marziali Property

This is the house where the Palmoni family lived for over 100 years. There were over 20 people living in this house during the war: Mario’s grandparents—Iginia and Luigi Palmoni—Luigi’s four brothers and their wives, and all their children.

They were contadini—sharecroppers working on the property of the rich Marziali family. The Palmonis didn’t own the house.

Marino remembers—as a boy—taking food to the prisoners who were hiding in the woods above his home. His family looked after four of the prisoners who stayed with them in the house—two English soldiers and two Americans (Louis VanSlooten and Luther Shields).

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Celebrating Family Ties

A Dickinson family outing to the beach. At front are Robert, youngest brother Len on the lap of his mother, and his father. In back are brothers James and William.

On this occasion—the Thanksgiving weekend, when American families gather to feast, remember the past, and meditate on their blessings—I’ll pause for a moment to reflect on the universality of family ties.

Here are three families—British, American, and Italian—who have connections to prisoners from Camp 59. The stories of Robert Dickinson, Marino Palmoni, and Armie Hill are well-covered in a number of posts on this site.

In celebration of this holiday, here is an international family album.
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A Season for Visits

John Davison, his family, and new Italian friends explore the grounds of the old Cararola farm, where Norman Davison was at first assigned to work and where he later found shelter.

Steve Dickinson and Dennis Hill were among visitors to Camp 59, where Steve’s uncle Robert Dickinson and Dennis’ father Armie Hill were imprisoned. At center was the hole in the wall—since mortared shut—through which many prisoners escaped from the camp.

For three individuals who have an intimate family connection to the prisoner-of-war camp at Servigliano, this fall was a unique time for discovery.

John Davison this year made contact with descendants of Giovanni Bellazzi, the northern Italian farmer who sheltered his father, escaped prisoner G. Norman Davison. Giovanni and his friends helped to arrange for Norman’s safe passage to Switzerland.

Norman had been a prisoner at Camp 59 before he was transferred to camps farther north, where he was required to work on farms.

In early September, John and his family visited the town of Vigevano and experienced a thrilling welcome. (See posts In Their Fathers’ Footsteps, Part 1 and Part 2).

Then, at the end of September, Steve Dickinson and I were among visitors to Camp 59 in Servigliano, where Steve’s uncle Robert Dickinson and my father Armie Hill were interned.

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Marino Palmoni on the Sheltering of the POWs

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Marino’s parents, Iginia and Luigi Palmoni (Marino genitori, Iginia e Luigi Palmoni)

This recollection of the experiences of Marino Palmoni during the long winter of 1943–44 was provided by his son Antonello Palmoni. Antonello interviewed his father for this story in May 2009.

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Marino Palmoni

The story is presented here in Italian and translated into English.

First, the English translation (Tradotto in inglese):

In September 1943, my grandfather Luigi, my father Marino (10 years old), and my uncle Gino (5 years old) were plowing the field near the woods beneath the cliff, when out of the woods came a man. Although he did not speak Italian, we understood from his gestures that he was hungry.

Grandfather asked my father to return home and bring something to eat, so Marino did and returned with bread and cheese. Our family was poor and large; there were more of us at home.

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