Mortale and the War 1944

January 1944
Many people in Mortale are infected with typhus, a disease feared by the Germans.  Several die of the disease.

6 January 1944
Paolino's fiancée, Annunziata Forte (Tella) dies of pneumonia after being given medication for typhus.

21 January 1944
Two German officials and one fascist soldier arrive in Mortale and are told by a young boy that Olimpio Forte (Bexhill) is in charge. They go to his house and order Olimpio to find 30 men to help flatten some ground at the Montattico bivio for an ambulance base.  Armed with pickaxes and shovels, the job is done.

German officials occupy Camillo and Annunziata's house.

22 January 1944
During the early morning hours, troops of the Fifth Army swarm ashore on a fifteen-mile stretch of Italian beach near the resort towns of Anzio and Nettuno.  The landings are carried out so flawlessly and German resistance is so light that British and American units gain their first day's objectives by noon, moving three to four miles inland by nightfall.

German officials leave Mortale.

Late January 1944
SS soldiers arrive in Mortale and recruit several men for hard labour building roads etc.  Roderick and Olimpio head back into hiding in the mountains.

Mid February 1944
Three of the four Mortalese prisoners are taken from Austria to Holten, Germany, 24 km from the Dutch border. They work in steelworks. Conditions are harsh and nine of their companions (one from Aquino) are hanged.

15 February 1944
The monastery of Montecassino, high on a peak overlooking the town of Cassino, is destroyed by 1400 tons of bombs dropped by American B-17, B-25, and B-26 bombers. The bombing is based on the fear that the abbey is being used as a lookout post for the Axis defenders.

Roderick and Olimpio witness the bombing of Montecassino and it is heard from miles around. Roderick leaves the area soon after, leaving behind a machine gun.

17 February 1944
German paratroopers pour into the ruins to defend it, making it an even more viable defensive position.
From 17 January 17 to 18 May 1944, the Gustav defences are assaulted four times by Allied troops. For the last of these the Allies gather 20 divisions for a major assault along a twenty-mile front and drive the German defenders from their defensive positions but at a high cost.

One Canadian and one Australian soldier arrive in Mortale as replacements for Roderick.  They base themselves with radio equipment in the mountains.

As the allies work their way up Italy, the Germans are retreating and take their prisoners with them.  Two British prisoners escape and find their way up to La Cisterna where Porzia's brother, Antonio, is hiding. Artillery shells are landing around Mortale having been fired from long distances away at the time Monte Cassino is being besieged.  Antonio has to hide the sheep up there because the Germans are coming at night to steal livestock from wherever they can.  Antonio is at La Cisterna for quite some time but when shells start to land thereabouts he feels it wise to move the British pair down to Mortale.  They are known as Jimmy and John.  They are put into the attic of Giovanni and Teresa's house in Mortale. These are Porzia's parents.  There is a shaft like a chimney behind a sideboard/dresser and this is used to get the two men up and down and also to give them food and water three times a day using a basket on a rope.  At night the pair come down and go out for exercise but no one knows they are here because it is kept strictly secret.  They don't know who they can trust.  Porzia's mother, Teresa, makes sure the men are fed and watered, asking "Did you feed the pigeons today?" or "Don't forget to feed the pigeons!".  This is because they never know who might hear them.  The men have a radio and are able to tell them that the Germans are getting close. They tell the family that they have to leave because if the Germans discover that they have been sheltering the British, the family will be shot.  So they go up the mountain and are picked up by other allied forces, after making plans on their radio. They give Porzia a letter in an envelope and tell her to give it to whoever is in charge of the allied forces whenever they arrive.  However., when the Germans are about to arrive, Giuseppina tells her to get rid of the note so she chews it up and spits out the pieces.

End of February
The Germans round up some men including Guerino with some other young men.  They are brought down to La Soda before being taken away.  Nonna Anna (Fratarelli), better known by Porzia as Mammanuccia, and Porzia herself run down to La Soda with Mammanuccia shouting at the Germans asking them where they are taking him.  A German strikes her on the head with the butt of a rifle and she falls to the ground with a bad head gash.  It transpired that they take him to San Andrea and then to Cesano and from there onto a concentration camp near Germany for the remainder of the war.  He is lucky to survive as others who go with him eventually die there.

© 2011 Paul Forte

By early 1944, typhus spreads in Mortale, the men hide from the Germans in the mountains and the Battle of Montecassino rages less than 10 km away.

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.

Porzia Forte

Guerino Forte

Antonio Forte

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