Gino Farnetti Bragaglia

GINO

At the very beginning of June 1944, the Canadians were north of Frosinone and the fighting troops had to be supplied with food, ammunitions and fuel. Reinforcements had to be brought in, wounded had to be brought out so the Transport Troops had to maintain a massive continuous supply line of transport and traffic had to move under cover of darkness to avoid the watchful eyes of enemy observation sites and planes. On one of the trips, Paul Hagen and his co-driver Ike Klassen were the first truck to be sent in. Because the artillery base was short of ammunitions so they had a lot of help unloading. In a very few minutes their truck was empty and in total darkness they quietly drove to the preselected rendezvous spot beside a small gravel quarry. Here they lit a small fire to make themselves a cup of tea. To their great surprise they heard a dog barking close to them. When they moved toward the hollow where the yips came from, they realized it was not a dog or a wolf’s puppy, but an almost naked little Italian boy. His stomach was bloated so badly that he resembled a bowling pin.

His name was Gino Bragaglia and he was five years old. The rest of his story came out in short statements in response to questions from many of C Platoon who were joining around the fire as they completed their run to the front. He had no siblings; his father had been killed in war; his mother was wandering in the woods and he said “She is a wolf”. They fed him and decided that they could not leave him there in the dark and in the middle of the night. That night Paul and Ike had the little Italian waif tucked snugly in between them in their pup tent. The following morning, they informed their Platoon Officer, Leut. Smith. Armed with all the information that they had gleaned from Gino and knowing the location where they had found him, Lt. Smith took two men who could be spared from that day’s run and took off for Gino’s village.

They located several people who knew Gino and were aware that he was out there. Gino had no relatives and there was no one who had any way of feeding him. Most villagers were destitute: it was far better for him to stay with the Canadians. Red Oliver from Miniota was one of the men with Lt. Smith on the reconnaissance patrol: he was a genius for organizing and managing things, all things. Red and Mert Massey, the platoon mechanic, had a larger tent so, after a few days, Gino moved into their tent and they became his mentors and tutors. He was given a uniform, promoted to Corporal and became the mascot of the Company. Red taught Gino the English alphabet, numbers and the Bible. The little boy learnt quickly and very soon he was able to speak English and go round the camp in his little bicycle as a dispatch rider. He went North with his Canadian friends and spent Christmas 1944 in Ravenna. In February 1945 it was time to leave Italy and join the rest of the Canadian Army in Western Europe. They headed to Leghorn and little Gino was in Lloyd’s truck. At a certain point he was spotted by a head officer who said that Gino could not go any further because he did not have documents. Red got permission to take the boy back to Viserba to someone’s who knew him. When he got there, he asked an old Captain of the British Army, who was the town mayor, to keep an eye on Gino. When Lloyd left the little boy it was a cold, heartbreaking night in February that he would never forget. From Leghorn Red contacted Tony Monti, who was fluent in English and Italian and was in the OSS (Office of Strategic Services).

The Italo-American Tony took Gino with him and his unit. At that time the unit was stationed at Durazzanino, between Forlì and Ravenna. In the same unit operated an Italian Partisan, Antonio Farneti. One day he took the little boy to Rina’s, his future wife. From that day on, Gino used to spend the day at Rina’s and play with the kids who lived there around and the night back to the OSS unit. Rina loved him very much! When the day came for Tony and his unit to move, it was May 10th 1945. Gino was left with Rina and when she started a family with Antonio, he was part of it. Gino did not have documents. He went to school, but he could not be enrolled because no one knew his real name or date or place of birth. He was a real person but did not exist, according to the law. The Farneti family tried in every way to trace some relatives of Gino’s without success. Only in 1954 the court gave him the name of Gino Farnetti and after ten years from the day when he was rescued, he did exist! I saw Gino’s picture three years ago while reading the book The D-Day Dodgers by Daniel Dancocks and was intrigued by the short story that accompanied the picture of the little boy in uniform. I decided I wanted to try and find out more about him. Which I did. With our small but determined research group War Time Friends, we were able to trace Gino, meet him, talk to his Canadian friends Paul and Lloyd and to Mrs Rina Farneti.

Thanks to the many documents Gino had gathered and to the contribution of many friends, we were able to tell the detailed story of Gino from that day in June 1944 when he was rescued by Paul and Ike to the present. The only almost impossible but vital details to unearth were those related to his family of birth. We only had a few pieces of information and they were very vague and imprecise. Gino did not remember anything. At the end of August 2012 I made a final attempt and contacted the library in Frosinone. The librarian, Mr Angelo D’Agostini, was very kind and directed me to some local researchers, Mr Paolo Sbarbada, Prof. Maurizio Federico, Prof. Costantino Jadecola and Prof. Gianni Blasi, who did spend his childhood and youth in Canada. They are a wonderful team very keen on the history of the Second World War, particularly on the Canadians and the time they spent in the area that goes from Cassino to Frosinone.

There were places and archives to be visited but which and where no one exactly knew. Paolo started from the archives at the Diocese of Frosinone that keeps all the registers belonging to many churches in the surrounding area, some of them now closed. When he opened the first register, to his great astonishment, the crucial document was in front of him: the christening certificate of Gino Bragaglia, born on April 26th 1938 at Torrice, the son of Giuseppe and Filomena. With that first document is was very easy to refer to the Town Hall offices and trace all the information on Gino and his family. At the end of last October, Gino went to Torrice for the very first time after 68 years. He met his nieces and nephew, visited the cemetery where his parents and brother are buried and the place where the little house of his childhood was. On December 16th an official ceremony was held at the Torrice Council Chamber and Gino was given the honorary citizenship of the town. He is now a happy soul: he has found his roots.

Mariangela Rondinelli