Mortale and the War 1943

Late 1943
Battles rage as the Allies advance North.  Rome is under German occupation, and many Italian officers and soldiers have gone into hiding. This is certainly the case around Mortale, where many hide in the mountains.  In the actual village, the locals take in a large number of refugees from Formia, Gaeta and the area surrounding Cassino.  Mortale is bursting with people, and houses are packed with refugee families.  The usual population of about 100 has swelled to over 3000.  Standards of cleanliness fall with this influx of refugees, who are not as hygienic as the locals when using the water in the wells, and a typhus epidemic spreads through the village.  Villagers take it in turns to act as lookout guards, warning the village of approaching Germans with the code word "Silvia".  Hiding places are set up underground and in attics.  The New Zealander Roderick arrives and spends time in the village and local mountains.  He has radio equipment and firearms, and provides useful information relating to German activity at the Gustav line nearby.  In October, Porzia Forte and her father, Giovanni, see the first Germans arrive with horses in the area.  Giovanni tells her that this is a bad sign.

22 October 1943
A train loaded full of ammunitions and tanks arrives in Roccasecca.

31 October 1943
After collaborating with the Mortalese, Leonardo Camassa from Calabria goes to the German Command at Casalvieri to report extensive partisan activity in Mortale.  Camassa knows all the look out positions and the code word "Silvia".  No one suspects him as a German spy.

1 November 1943
Before dawn, Mortale is surrounded by Germans and about 40 are taken prisoner to German Command at Casalvieri, via the cemetery where they are picked up by truck. These include Angelantonio Forte, Apollinario Forte, Olimpio Forte (Eastbourne), Rinaldo Forte, Carlo Lancia di Atina, Dino Mancini, Luigi Morelli, Lieutenant Priscobagni, Marcello and Fernando Tutinelli, Colonel Cesare Zincone, and members of the Recchia, Tutinelli and Ventre families.  Some manage to escape before the Germans arrive.  Many hide, including Olimpio Forte (Bexhill).  Porzia sees Angelantonio Forte, husband of her mother's cousin, Clementina, in among the group of men that has been rounded up.  They are about to be marched away towards La Soda and then on to a camp somewhere.  It is cold and dark. The Germans take him partially clothed out of his bed and he asks Porzia for a jacket and some food because he is cold and hungry.  She goes into the house and fetches her father's jacket and some bread and cheese to give to him.  She runs out of the house but the men have already been marched down to La Soda.  She runs down towards them but hasn't gone more than a few yards when a German shouts at her and asks what she is doing.  She says she is bringing a jacket and food to her uncle whereupon the German points his gun at her and tells her to get back or "Kaput".

Many are subsequently released, including Domenico Forte (Mingone - father of Apollinare), his brother-in-law, Paolo Visocchi, and Tito Manlio Fortuna, husband of Elena Forte.  Many of the 40 are foresters and they are also released.  Four Mortalese are taken to the prison at Frosinone.  These are Angelantonio Forte, Apollinare Forte, Rinaldo Forte (brother of Paolino) and Olimpio Forte (Eastbourne).

One night Porzia's brother, Guerino,  and Rinaldo's brother, Paolino, hide from the round ups in the bushes up at Colle Amatto. When the Germans leave, Paolino goes up onto a ridge to see if they were going to Casale or Montattico. He goes up to L'Ara Perrone to see and is shot, not by a German but by an Italian who was a refugee from Naples who has been given hospitality by the Mortalese but has turned collaborator with the Germans. He has escaped from a camp near Frosinone and Porzia is very bitter that he has been given hospitality by the Mortalese who he has now turned against along with a doctor who was also a traitor.  Paolino is seen by Doctor Ventura and is taken by ambulance to Sora Hospital, where he undergoes an operation.

November 1943
Villagers are more cautious now and signals are set up to warn those hiding in the mountains of Germans in the village. White sheets are used to signal danger. Those hiding in the mountains include Olimpio Forte (Bexhill), Alfonso Cafolla, Augusto Forte, Guerino Forte, Donato Forte etc. Germans regularly steal animals from the villagers.

Also hiding in the mountains is Porzia's brother Antonio.  Antonio was in the Bersaglieri but has left to come home not wanting to fight alongside the Germans.  He is hiding at a place called La Cisterna not far up the mountains from Mortale (a disused outhouse is there) where he keeps some of the family's livestock hidden.  The Germans find out that the men are hiding during the day, so they start to come at night.  They break down doors to enter some of the houses where they suspect the men are.  They drag them from their beds and take them away.

Sometimes they extend their search to the surrounding mountains and when they find a group of men hiding they take them down into Mortale and then take them away.

12 November 1943
The four prisoners from Mortale are taken along with about 80 others by train in a cattle carriage from Frosinone prison to Dachau concentration camp near Munich in Germany.

15 November 1943
Paolino Forte dies in Sora hospital at the age of nineteen.

December 1943
The four Mortalese are taken to a camp near Innsbruck, Austria. They stay here for three months in terrible conditions.  Temperatures are between -25 and -30 °C, there is no food and they have to do hard labour from 7am to 7pm.  Many die.  One of their jobs is to pound snow to make runways for German planes.  Having once weighed 65kg, 17 year old Rinaldo Forte now weighs a mere 35kg.  The nails on his hands and feet have fallen out and he begins to lose his teeth.

14 December 1943
At 9.45 am, Guerino and Olimpio Forte(Bexhill) see a Spitfire fall out of the sky near Monte Cicuto above Macchia near Mortale.  They head for it but have to turn back because of a German patrol.  They return the next day to find everything destroyed and the remains of the pilot.  It is later discovered that the pilot was Christopher William Crawley of the Royal Australian Air Force.

© 2011 Paul Forte

By Autumn 1943, the Mortalese people are directly affected by the war.  Some are taken to Dachau and one young lad is shot and killed in Mortale.

The following chronology of events is taken directly from first-hand accounts of people who were in Mortale at this dreadful time.  My thanks go in particular to the late Porzia Forte for her valuable contribution.

Paolino's grave in the Casalattico Cemetery


"Arbeit Macht Frei"
The Gates of Dachau today



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