Woman of the Italian Resistance

Discussion in 'The Women of WW2' started by Caroline Wright, Aug 30, 2019.

  1. Here, I remember my Italian great-grandmother Caterina Marchetti. She and her family were anti-fascists who lived on a farm near Brescia, Northern Italy. During the German occupation of Italy, a British plane was shot down on or near to the Marchetti's property. The pilot was injured, but alive. Caterina and her family rescued this pilot and hid him in the chimney of their home so he wouldn't be caught by the Germans. Eventually, through the family's contacts with the Italian Resistance the pilot eventually made it back to Britain and survived the war. Caterina took a huge risk in helping this pilot as if the Germans had found this man then Caterina and her family would have been killed (and possibly other people in the town too.) My mum told me this story and the pilot was always very grateful to Caterina for rescuing him because he would have been killed by the Germans if he'd been found. Later on, the pilot (I don't know his name) visited Italy and met Caterina again.
    Caterina Marchetti died in 1981. I have written this to show that not all Italians were Fascists and how many people in Europe risked their lives to help Allied Servicemen.
  2. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member


    Eric Newby's Love & War in the Apennines is clear enough evidence that lots of northern Italians gave massive assistance to British PWs - at huge risk to themselves.


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  4. Dear Frank
    Thank you for letting me know about the above book. I haven't heard of it but definitely want to read it now.

    Kind Regards
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  5. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    Numbers of escaped British POWs joined the Italian partisans Ma
    The book has been published under a variety of tittles - in part because the US publishers didn't like the British title.

    Getting hold of a copy of MI9s Oficial History may also be of use. MI9 agents organised escape lines working with local resistance groups and partisans and also carried out pick ups by aircraft - in Italy a captured Storch was sometimes used.
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  6. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    There is a book in English called Women and the Italian Resistance 1943-1945 by a Professor Jane Slaughter about women in the partisan groups:


    Wikipedia has the following, apparently summarising her book:

    "Women played a large role. After the war, about 35,000 Italian women were recognised as female partigiane combattenti (partisan combatants) and 20,000 as patriote (patriots); they broke into these groups based on their activities. The majority were between 20 and 29. They were generally kept separate from male partisans. Few were attached to brigades and were even rarer in mountain brigades. Female countryside volunteers were generally rejected. Women still served in large numbers and had significant influence."

    And I presume we're all familiar with the photo of three armed women partisans from Florence (I think)?
  8. Dear Robert
    Thank you very much for the information you have provided, it is very useful.
    Kind Regards
  9. zola1

    zola1 Member

    Excellent book highly recomend this one :-


    Attached Files:

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  10. Tony56

    Tony56 Member Patron

    Caroline, my father served throughout the Italian campaign, and whilst I have no actual stories, based on other accounts that I have read, there are many Allied servicemen who were supported by, and owed their lives to the locals. I can also recommend this book, as mentioned in a previous post of mine, about an Italian family facing the hardships of WW2:

    Civilian accounts of wartime italy
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  12. Dear Tony
    Thank you for letting me know about this book. I read the Civilian accounts provided and they are very interesting.

    Kind Regards
  13. Alisonmallen

    Alisonmallen Well-Known Member

    That book is great and emphasised the risks taken by Italians. My grandfather was billeted with a family in Northern Italy who were poor and he went out to steal chickens from wealthier Italians. There was a girl called Sara and her father was a resistance fighter who visited the little farm at night. I suspect it was a meeting place. I was fascinated by this story told to me in 1986 and from a photo he had of ‘mama’ I managed to locate the family and correspond. The children/teenagers my grandfather knew were alive then. I am in touch with younger members to this day. There were certainly resistance working hard in the area.
  14. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    1. Most of the Italians who helped the escaped prisoners of war at the point of need - food, civilian clothing, somewhere to sleep or hide - were not part of 'The Resistance' . Women were often moved to help these youngsters because they had sons or grandsons who were prisoners of the Allies and hoped that someone, somewhere, would help them too, or because they were practising Catholics who felt it was their Christian duty to assist people in need. In those areas where the prisoners were being employed as farm hands very close ties had developed between them and the family whose land they had worked, and here affection played a major role, leading to huge risks being run in many cases.

      Immediately following the Armistice the 'Women of the Resistance' in the north west did play an important part in acting as guides and assisting the POWs to reach the railway station in Milan and from there cross into Switzerland.

      The question as to what degree Italian women were politicised before and during the war is interesting. They were all brought up as fascists, or at least, had been educated in the Fascist school system. They were required to attend the Sabato Fascista - the Fascist Saturday - practising sports and being involved in other activities intended to build up the strength of the mothers of the future generation

      We should not forget that women in Italy only got the vote in the post-war period.

      My favourite book about Italian women and the resistance is 'L'Agnese va a morire', by Renata Viganò.
      Agnese, a middle-aged widow, went off to act as a cook for a group of partisans after the Germans who were being entertained by her neighbours shot her cat. It just needed one thing to make her take action. Of couse, it's a novel, and in the end she paid the ultimate price.

      I think it's important not to look at the Resistance through rose-coloured spectacles. Reports made by SOE agents who had to work closely with the partisans and knew their strengths and weaknesses balance things out somewhat. It should also be remembered that the ultimate aim of the Garibaldi Brigades was to establish communism in Italy.

    Edited to say:
    7 September. Please see my new thread on British Liason Officers and the Italian Partisans in the Special Forces section of the forum.​
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2019
  15. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    All? Not those over 40 for a start
  16. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    You are right. I shouldn't have said all.

    I mustn't get carried away by one of my favourite topics....next time I'll get my Italian husband to read the proofs.


    Edited to say that I'm not happy with the reply I have given to Robert - it was far too glib, but he touched a sore point.

    I have spent a great deal of time over the last 20 years researching the Resistance, and I should have learned by now that when writing on this topic every word needs to be weighed carefully or it will be used against me.

    Some years ago I was threatened with court action for having made public the fact that a 'hero of the Resistance' had been an auxiliary agent in the Fascist police until two weeks before the Allies arrived. He then deserted in the nick of time with some others - they took their service rifles with them - and joined the partisans. After the war he spent a fair number of years as a communist mayor, and in 2004 he was given an award for services to the Resistance.
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2019
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  18. Hi Vitellino
    Thank you for the information you provided about Italy which was interesting. I didn't know about the Garibaldi Brigades and their aim to establish Communism in Italy. I will certainly try and track down L'Agnese va a Morire.

    You are right in saying that many women were not directly involved in the Resistance and helped prisoners or servicemen because of their Christian faith or because they had relatives who were prisoners. However, Caterina was over 40 when the war happened and was not educated whilst under Fascism. My mum told me that her own mother who was Caterina's daughter, who grew up under Fascism hated Mussolini, maybe because her fiance was strafed to death by Fascists. Later on my maternal grandmother went to live in England. I reckon from what I have heard and read many Italians may have appeared to have been Fascists but like Caterina and the people you mentioned disliked them (but couldn't protest because of fear of punishment) but in their own ways defied the regime. In my great grandmother's case I think both personal and political factors influenced her decision to help an Allied serviceman.

    Kind Regards
  19. Alisonmallen

    Alisonmallen Well-Known Member

    I dnt think anyone would be looking through rose-hued spectacles, after all it was a bloody war. I feel that comment is somewhat offensive and doesn’t take into consideration knowledge or experience people have. When I mentioned my grandfather stealing chickens it was a dangerous business and not a fun pastime - he did that because he was a family man billeted with a very poor family and felt for them. Mama was no fascist. Her son May have been but changed sides so to speak. There was never an occasion where he felt women of this particular family were doing just anything for their need or food. I accept that could and did happen. He was there, it was his experience and he saw so much fighting throughout Italy that to a degree this family reminded him of home and his own poor family. He was clear who was on which side and that the element of trust with some Italians was questionable regarding their political aims. It wasn’t just SOE agents who worked alongside partisans. However, there were men and women who were not fascists and suffered during and after the war. It goes without having to say really that the role of partisan was valuable and saved many lives even if some intended communism as the better way of life.
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  20. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member


    Perhaps you will concede that after hours spent in Arezzo public library collecting material for my book on The Arezzo Massacres, three years of widespread reading of original documents in both English and Italian ( I am bi-liingual), the translation I have just finished the translation in Italian of 'The Broken Column - James Frederick Wilde's adventures with the Italian Partisans' by Warren and Benson, plus living in Italy for thirty years and being married to an Italian, I might actually have acquired some information, knowledge and experience on matters concerning the Resistance.

    I have learned in all this that we should always measure our own personal knowedge and experience against that of others. I will finish with a translated quote which I have included in my recent book 'The Long Trail Home: Allied Prisoners of War in Umbria 1943-44'.

    Escaped political internee Professor Louis Wagenaar, who had formerly been a lieutenant-colonel in the Dutch Armed Forces, was a member of the Communist A. Gramsci Brigade of partisans, one of whose two leaders was Alberto Filipponi. Wagenaar took an interest in the thirty-seven Allied escapers, mostly British, who had turned up at the Brigade's headquarters in Cascia on 20 February. The professor explained in a report written in French, which on 30 August 1944 he sent to the headquarters of the patriot (partisan) group 'Gran Sasso', that

    a large number of Allied prisoners arrived – Britons, South Africans, Canadians, Greeks, New Zealanders and Americans. They were treated abominably as if they were outcasts. Despite my protests, most of them were refused help.

    Earlier in February Wagenaar had met other groups of escapers who had expressed interest in joining the resistance group. When upon his return to Cascia he broached the subject during a meeting with Filipponi, the latter turned to him and said:

    I expressly forbid you to occupy yourself with the Anglo-Saxons. At this moment of time we should be in the business of organising a communist formation capable of forcing the Anglo-Saxons to do what we say should they occupy us. If they don't do what we want we shall have to occupy the factories and engage in guerilla warfare against their armies. We are communists, we've got Stalin behind us who will help us in the struggle. If you continue to take an interest in the Anglo-Saxons I will give the order for you to be shot.

    After the arrival of 6 British Armoured Division in Terni on 13 June 1944 Filipponi was arrested by the British military governor, accused of the maltreatment of several Allied POWs who had asked the A. Gramsci Brigade for assistance. He was interned for several months at Altamura in Puglia and later at Padula in Campania. He was freed only after an 'American Captain' had intervened on his behalf.

    Perhaps now we can get back to the role of women...

    Vitellino (Janet Kinrade Dethick)
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