Filippo Bottaccioli and
the "great war"

Curated by Francesco Deplanu and Isotta Bottaccioli

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Filippo Bottaccioli was born in 1895 into a very poor family, sharecroppers in San Benedetto. Last alive of 7 brothers and 3 others died shortly after birth. He went to France in 1914 in search of work but returned in 1915 for the call to arms. He was included in the Royal Army in the 15th Bersaglieri, 8th company. From there he wrote to his future wife Elvira Floridi. The postcards he sent from the front had a space to write a message, while those of the Habsburg Empire, multi-ethnic and multilingual, only had space for the name and surname with  writings printed in more than 10 languages to greet loved ones.

Elvira Floridi
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Elvira Floridi and some postcards sent by Filippo.

Filippo wrote to Elvira in the space subjected to "military censorship", and then in agreement with her, words of love in the space under the stamp. Stamps that have all been detached. A form of communication to overcome the "moral censorship" of the time.

In a rediscovered audio, recorded on an old cassette, Filippo, known as Pippo, told his story  participation  to the "great war" and his imprisonment. The audio was recorded in 1983 by Lamberto Beatini , Filippo's son-in-law having married his daughter, Isotta. In the recording, in addition to Isotta, also his consu-in-law Giannina, married to Orlando (Guido) Medici ,  one of Niccone's "stonecutters". Giannina used "you" to refer to Philip. During the first part of the conflict his health conditions made him unable to military activities for 13 months, he remained in the rear in Bologna due to the famous "flat feet", a feature that prevented him from being able to march quickly. With the continuation of the difficult conflict, however, he was judged completely skilled and sent to the trenches. It was the moment of the effort for the conquest of Gorizia, the sixth battle of the Isonzo. He was wounded in the foot in Doberdò on 08/16/1916. 

Da Bologna al ferimento a Doberdò
00:00 / 02:30

I remain little, therefore, in trench warfare; he was hospitalized and operated on with a 45-day convalescence. The story then becomes confused, subsequently he was captured near Udine and we are convinced that it was in the period of the defeat of Caporetto, in fact in the recording we hear "that arrived  revolution ”which certainly alludes to the defeat and the chaos that followed, subsequently defines it as a“ great encirclement ”. 

Dalla ferita all'ospedale 45 giorni
00:00 / 02:55

This was followed by imprisonment in Austria, Poland, Germany, between France and Belgium at the time of the "Spanish", then between March / August 1918, and then again in Poland with the worsening of the conflict for the central empires.

Da Udine alla Polonia
00:00 / 01:49

 What we do know is that he was employed at one point as a railway worker on the line from where he fired the great German cannon at Paris.  In fact, the prisoners were taken to concentration and labor camps both in the areas of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and in the areas of the front in the hands of the central empires, such as between northern France and Belgium as happened to Philip. This is due to the forced labor of prisoners functional to war strategies. In the case of Bottaccioli he was taken to the north of France or south of Belgium to work on the railway that allowed the cannonade of Paris: the “Parisgeschütz”

From Wikipedia in French a representation of the effectiveness of  Parisgeschütz.

The Kaiser Wilhelm Geschütz, or the Kaiser Wilhelm cannon was a weapon that was used for mainly psychological purposes, to hit the enemy's capital. It fired from a great distance, at night, from the St. Gobain forest area.

Dal cannone alle bastonate
00:00 / 02:19

Lamberto tried to help the story of Philip, who was suffering and was 89 years old, but also fits in with his memories. He told some facts about his father, Antonio Beatini, always involved in the "great war": war and personal stories. The hunger he suffered only once, when as sergeant major he captured 12 "Austrian" prisoners and gave them the Italian lunch to feed them; but also a memory that became familiar: his father, in fact, was writing correspondence for a friend of the same department, whose name we do not know, who could not write. 

Lamberto racconta la "fame" del padre An
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He was in love with Anna Gregori and Antonio wrote letters to this girl for him. They were hit by an avalanche and the other died. Back after the war Antonio Beatini married in second marriage, Anna Gregori ... the mother of Lamberto; there  his first wife, in fact, had died away from him during the conflict.

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Anna Gregori

Lamberto racconta della nonna Anna
00:00 / 00:42

Returning to Philip of the imprisonment he told the hunger, which we will talk about below, and the severity of the jailers, the better the "Bulgarians" the worse the "Germans" even if for one of them who hit him with sticks, and Philip reacted by hitting him with a mess tin, reports in dialect an illuminating phrase "he was more nervous than cativo". 

La prigionia, la reazione... la tazza di
00:00 / 02:43

They weren't the extermination camps that will be seen 30 years later, here people were actually dying of hunger and disease. It is thought that of the 600,000 Italian prisoners, 1 out of 6 died in that period in various concentration camps and while traveling. The difficulties of a conflict that became "total war" and economic not only changed the battlefield and gave birth to the "trenches" but subjects the economies of the countries involved to an exceptional effort. Germany and the Austrian Empire did not even manage to feed their own population in the continuation of the war. For prisoners, hunger is therefore a daily reality. Thus the Central Empires will ask the Countries of the Entente to contribute to the survival of their military with military aid. France and England will accept while the Kingdom of Italy will refuse. In fact, for Cadorna those who had already been captured were guilty of having been not very combative, and also, then, to avoid that the rumors of a "good" treatment of the enemy could influence those who were still fighting. A hundred thousand died ... A story of cowardice was also propagated which gave rise to a hostility towards these "cowards".

The "hunger" was recurrent in the memories that Filippo even after a long time:

elaborazione audio nonno pippo fame
00:00 / 00:20

His daughter Isotta wrote other memories on paper: “ And you told of your imprisonment, when hunger was daily bread. One day, a prisoner in Germany, when your stomach was being torn apart by excruciating bites, you set out in search of something to eat. You happened upon a compost heap and saw potato skins among the garbage. Regardless of the smell and the place, you collected them, washed them and after a quick boiling in a rusty jar, you devoured them and the hunger subsided for a while ". And again “You told us again, and always with great emotion, that freed from captivity, with one of your companions, you came across a tub full of barley. You had a backward hunger and you considered this a blessing. With your head bowed, you began to eat handfuls, filling your long-empty stomach. At some point your common sense told you to stop, because you knew that the cereal, softened by the gastric juices, would increase its volume and the stomach would suffer. You also advised his friend to stop but the poor man did not have the strength and during the night his stomach "cracked" and he died in excruciating pain ". Eventually he returned home albeit with frozen feet.

 

Philip, known as "Pippo" was a simple man, but rational and intolerant of injustices. In 1966, by now in his seventies, he briefly wrote down his life in a diary that his daughter Isotta wrote down; here is a passage: “ Having some free time, I am going to tell you about my life. You will pity my ignorance because my school stopped in the first grade and a few months from the second evening. I was born in 1895 in S. Martino, near San Benedetto. I try to describe my home where I was born. A kitchen all black with soot. A large fire, a chamber. A grain-free barn. The Furniture: a small table, a very thick wooden table. No chairs at all, but two long oak benches instead of chairs. The room: two trestles with relative tables on which there were the mattresses. On the ground a tablet with a trap to kill ... what can you imagine. We had straw mattresses. A good thing was the wool coltrone. In the mattresses besides the straw there were also the maize leaves. In the kitchen, pots, pans, a few plates and glasses, forks and spoons. There were two large caissons. One box belonged to my mother who is still here in the house, the other has been destroyed. There were two looms for making the canvas. Some shoemaker and carpenter tools. I could write a lot, but it would take a writer and I know so little about it . ".

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Pippo Bottaccioli outside his house at the "Fontanelle".  Photo of Niccone from the 60s where he lived for a long time.

Poverty and the inability to study were his concern, the importance of culture was a requirement that became a value and pushed all his children to graduate and many of his grandchildren to graduate. A pride for him. From being the son of a sharecropper in San Benedetto, after the Great War he became a barber in Niccone. The twenty years and the second world war arrived that saw him anti-fascist and communist. He opened a wool shop right in the historic center of Umbertide. He died on June 14, 1985.

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Pippo Bottaccioli came back, he was lucky ... but many boys did not come out alive from the collective experience that was the "great war".

 

For years, the historian of Città di Castello Alvaro Tacchini has reconstructed the human losses that our area of the Upper Tiber Valley suffered on his personal website www.storiatifernate.it .

 

He also took care of taking a census of the 268 fallen of Umbertide. Thus he writes: " The list of names of the 268 fallen of Umbertide. Of them, 63 died of disease, 17 in captivity, 20 are missing ". We highly recommend that you read it. Inside the page you can see the day of death, the reason and the place of burial of each individual deceased.

At the end of the page you can download an attachment with the same data but with some images of documents related to  Pupils Ernesto Tullini, Domenico Caldari, Ciocchetti Olinto and Spinalbelli Achille.

http://www.storiatifernate.it/pubblicazioni.php?&cat=48&subcat=104&group=234&id=374

Alternatively, you can search individually or by municipality from the site https://www.cadutigrandeguerra.it  on the page https://www.cadutigrandeguerra.it/CercaNome.aspx. To find all the members of the Municipality it is enough  indicate in the box "Comune in Albo", for example, the term ...  Umbertide .

https://www.cadutigrandeguerra.it/CercaNome.aspx

The young Umbrians who died in the "great war" were, however, really many more, about 11,000. To be exact 10,934, of these almost a thousand died in captivity, exactly 964 people. At this link you can have news  on the complete list of the Umbrian dead in the war:

http://www.gualdograndeguerra.com/images/stories/pdf/prigionieri-umbri.pdf

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Image of Italian prisoners in Germany during the second world war. Notice the jailer's staff.

Image from:  https://www.raicultura.it/storia/articoli/2019/01/Lodissea-dei-prigionieri-094ea220-5eba-4b49-af34-3a64c831649d.html (photo 8)

Sources:

- Oral and written sources Isotta Bottaccioli

- Audio cassette from 1983, Isotta Bottaccioli / Beatini archive

https://www.raicultura.it/storia/articoli/2019/01/Lodissea-dei-prigionieri-094ea220-5eba-4b49-af34-3a64c831649d.html

-  https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parisgesch%C3%BCtz

-  http://www.storiatifernate.it/allegati_prod/02-caduti-umbertide.pdf

-http: //www.gualdograndeguerra.com/images/stories/pdf/prigionieri-umbri.pdf

- https://www.lagrandeguerra.net/Presentazioni/Isonzo/isonzob.html

- http://www.esercito.difesa.it/storia/pagine/f6-offensiva-isonzo.aspx

-  http://www.deportati.it/static/pdf/TR/2001/marzo/14-01%20marzo.pdf

Photos and postcards: Isotta Bottaccioli / Beatini Archive

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