Severino Tognoni's Family Versione Italiana
The story of my family
The series of photographs are all related with Vittorio Tognoni and my family and the stories which accompany them are the fruit of my memory.
I decided to put down what I can remember from my father's stories so that it may remain some traces of them before my memory abandon me completely.
For the visitor who may read this, I must mention: that my attention regarding my father's storiest was at its higest because I admired his courage and his sense of duty. Besides I was young and I could easily memorize all sorts of things and that's why even after about 50 years I think I can write with a good amount of precision.
My father Vittorio was born in Milan in 1917, son of an engineer who worked with the railways
and his name was Italo Tognoni from San Polo d'Enza (Reggio Emilia) and of Guglielma Monti from Zocca.
Italo was at his second marriage, his former wife Antonia dying young and leaving him with two small daughters.
Vittorio lost his mother when he was three years old because the Spanish Flu.
Vittorio Tognoni, radio operator of the Italian Military Aernautics
Left alone is entrusted to the care of the maternal aunts.
He spent four years cared for by his aunt Cleonice Monti in Samone di Modena.
A particular and sincere affection tied the father to the aunt, an infatigable hardworking peasant woman from the Toscanian - Romagnian Apennines.
The aunt that we met on many occasions, used to tell us about the naughty things her nephew had done and she said: "…he could never keep himself from moving - he was always trying to find something to do".
The aunt couldn't keep him anylonger so he was again etrusted to his father Italo, who was still trying to find a wife, the third one.
When I tell the others that my grand father had three wives, all of them smile thinking at the fortune he should have had. But the things were not at all like this. Loosing a wife is always a drama; to whom could you entrust you sons? The type of work he was doing didn't give him time to look after his motherless children.
The engineer, together with his engine assistant was part of the engine, loving his mechanic equipment and refusing to entrust it to anyone else. At the end of a day's work the engineers kept close to their engine no matter where that might happened.
From what my father said to me, the house where the family stayed in Milan in Francesco Ferrucci road, had a small railway terminal where the engine was kept two steps away from the house.
Finally the Italy's third young wife, Ida Gradellini from Parma, took into her hand the family situation.
Two girls and two boys (Vittorio had a half brother, Federico Monti) got in a new situation with a new mother.
Italo Tognini, Vittorio's father
Guglielma Monti, Vittorio's mother
Vittorio as young "Avanguardista"
Fascit young at 14 year are enrolled in the "Avanguardisti".(for those between 14 and 19)
The serenity lasted very little and Federico is sent to Zocca, Vittorio instead was entrusted to Maria Tognoni, Italo's sister, who had married a Milan bourgeoisie member with the name of Adone Roversi, father of Anton Spartaco Roversi.
Vitorio didn't stay much in his new family, much too distant as a social position to accept him as an equal.
It was during the first years of fascism and in Milan the intellectuals and the bourgeoisie were looking for a position in the ranks of the new masters.
The Roversi didn't lack in appeal and were part of the leadership of the regime and only Paolo Roversi, young branch that broke the bourgeois tradition becoming a trade union member, a painter, an occasional journalist for L'Unità and a librarian in Bologna.
I still have good memories about Paolo, cousin and great friend of Vittorio; a simple and educated person in a gentle and fine way that Palmira liked so much.
Aunt Cleonice Monti with Antonio Tognoni
Vittorio, Palmira, Severino and Paolo Roversi a Milano
After a short while, my father would be brought to the famous "Marchiondi" College from Milan and known as accepting boys with good perspective.
Vittorio remembered it as a happy period of professional, social and comradeship training.
The institution was organized as a paramilitary structure by the regime and it was a reeducation and indoctrination center of the "Mistica Fascista" (fascist mystic) that inducted his ideological formation.
My father was a well trained person and of some cultural knowledge; compared his cultural capacity to that of Palmira, I must state that the one of the last one was much more profound and rich.
In order to simplify the things the cultural possession of Vittorio was mainly technical while the one of my mother's was mainly humanistic.
Rereading the letters written by Vittorio while being a prisoner in USA, the content is partially repetitive and grammatically correct with right phrases and well expressed in any topics without any grammatical error.
At "Marchiondi" gathered a good deal of technical experience that would be of high utility as a military and prisoner of war.
Vittorio on holiday
His paramilitary training include the participation in DUX campings, the highist training of the fascist youth and as an avant-gardist he was always proud of it.
Vittorio was of the obedient and respectful type in what concerns the hierarchy but at the same time, he didn't hesitate to be enterprising and autonomic in what regards the operative decisions.
As Palmira was honest and rich in human values which could hardly cope with the warrior spirit requested by the regime. She admired the impetuous behavior of Germans in the war but she could understand that her honour and her humanity wouldn't have allowed her to adopt such aberrant conducts.
In 1937 Vittorio enlisted himself as a voluntary in the Air Force and, after the first period of training as a recruit, attended the radio operator course in Capodichino becoming a navigant specialist.
And here started his adventurous life as an aviator.
He would fly multiple types of aeroplanes for transport and recognition, mentioning the ones he loved more: Cant Z501 hydroplane, Savoia Marchetti SM81 in which he spent more hours on bord and Savoia Marchetti SM79 that operated in North Africa during the war.
During the months that preceded the burst of the hostilities of the Second World War he met Palmira at the course of radio operator auxiliary where he worked as an instructor.
Vittorio playing football at Marchiondi College
Vittorio was always wearing a perfect uniform and paid much attention to the personal care, one of the values he passed to me was the personal cleanliness and order and I am very proud of it.
My mother was delighted with his courtesy and always mentioned his qualities: the correctness of his language and the gentlemanly manners he displayed, a quality admitted by all his friends and colleagues.
Partially the ideological affinity was the one that seduced my mother together with his capacity of entertainment and innate team spirit.
He always observed the conduct and education limits in his relationship with the other, especially with Palmira who wouldn't have tolerated the slightest deviation.
The start of the war found him working as radio operator in an important weather forecast station in Ustica, in the service
of aero-naval operations in North Western Mediterranean Sea.
On that isle very little or nothing used to happen, the war events were far away from it.
In 27 September 1941 he was the witness of an aerial incident: the fall in the sea of a Macchi 200 squadrile and the planes coming back from a mission fell into the sea one after another because of the lack of fuel.
A photo shows captain Franco Lucchini's aircraft destroyed on the ground. Captain Lucchini saved his life but he died in 1943 in another theatre of operations.
In Ustica he had the opportunity to meet some exiles of fascism and there are some photos showing him in their company. This is the reason why my father remembered something that brought him more honour. On the island the military people were forbidden to show respect to the exiles but my father couldn't do such a thing and said: "… I know workers, professors, trade union members and others with a great care of the common welfare, culture and the sense of the state; how couldn't I respect these people?"
Activated in war operations, he restarted operating the SM81's and SM79's in order to transport materials and soldiers from Palermo, Boccadifalco, Sciacca and Catania to Africa.
This voyages over the Mediterranean sea were full of adventure and in many occasions the fortune played a very important part especially when there was a one pilot plane and Vittorio as a machine gunner.
Now for Vittorio came the moment of heading for the "unknown destination" (Tunisia) where he would receive the command of a mobile radio station: two trucks, one for the radio station and the other for spare parts and food supplies, and five crew members.
Among them there where two radio operators.
The adventure had started, now life was for real a valuable asset. Sometimes they were caught under sudden enemy fire and bombardments that caused injuries. His task was to follow a German - Italian battalion and to receive and transmit the directives sent from Palermo to the headquarters of various operative theatres and front segments.
The requisition of houses where they had to put to shelter and camouflage the trucks, was for him fun, he always looked for villas situated high on hills for his antennae, and surrounded by trees, "to protect them against the sun" as he said.
In one occasion he enjoyed himself selling the house of a French colonial to a Tunisian for a few liras, the local occupation currency that had no practical value, just to have fun.
He met a French ballerina and his trips to Tunis were quite recurrent.
Vittorio used to tell that the Italians, his comrades didn't want to go to the capital for fear that they could be stabbed to death on the way from the base to the inhabited center of the city. They were not allowed to carry guns during these "free outings", they could only carry a bayonet. Against the directive, he used to carry in a bag two grenades "just in case", as he said.
When we, the boys, were listening to his stories, we asked him: "but you were not afraid?"
He admitted it but he said that his enemies, the partisans, were probably more afraid than him.
He had explained to us in detail that he used to look for the best position in the carriage with his back to the wall in a corner without windows having under his eyes the entire corridor and the wooden seats in front of him.
The end of his North Africa's adventure was coming to an end and the tragic epilogue as a prisoner of war was showing itself above the horizon and catching shape.
From his full of patriotism stories it's obvious that at that moment a defeat was unthinkable although the soldiers were demoralized and what was more, the officers, low rank officers and the troop were sure that the defeat was coming.
To prove that, here's a fact: one night they had caught a Tunisian hanging about the night camp of the motorbike couriers and the radio carrying trucks.
The intruder was brought by Vittorio himself to the closest Italian headquarters, nearby the radio station. Presented to the commander as a possible spy he was not interrogated and the order was to let him go free.
Here the disillusion and the inutility of what they were doing and of the war, generally speaking, transpired in my father's words.
The surrender.As he usually did, at the sunset he chose a protected spot to stop for the night, always in the headquarters area of the battalion.
So he selected a depression of the ground, out of the street and at some meters under its level.
At the first rays of light of the next day they heard the noise of the coming of an isolated armored car: incredibly, an English tank with a solder in the turret who was watching the group and without showing any intention of slowing down went further.
Vittorio and his companions looked at each other with stupefaction.
To go away was impossible because of the tank, to go back was not possible either because the presence of the English.
They turned to the radio and Vittorio himself transmitted a report about the situation.
In a short while came the answer from Palermo headquarters: surrender!
At this point I remember well the question we the boys asked: "...and if they had asked you to keep fighting, would you have done it?" "Of course!" he answered.
Italian football team of the prisoners of war in the USA.
Files Photo daunload 1979x1077 px 490kb
Knowing my father I think that his answer was sincere and he would have done it. He cared too much of his honour. Probably all of them thought:" it finally happened!"
I confirm that Vittorio was not a warrior, he loved life, but he wouldn't have betrayed his country or his companions no matter what might have cost.
The orders that came with the surrender were: Destroy all the communication records, the typewriter (they had special fonts), destroy the food reserve.
They had to leave untouched the vehicles, the weapons and technical equipment.
Well, at this moment Vittorio asked himself why they should leave intact to the enemy that war equipment.
He couldn't explain that but what he did was to obey the orders.
Everything had happened in a short time and had a particular significance that he remembered with emphasis: when they threw themselves into the trench the Parmesan cheese shape, this one broke into thousand of pieces and they collected them and put them on the pocket they had prepared.
They waited for a while and then they spotted two English soldiers who invited the group to come out into the street.
Their prisoner of war time had started.
Going on foot together with other soldiers, as prisoners, got in a collection point.
After the corporal search they stayed here for a day and two nights.
The second day at dawn the English started to put the prisoners in vehicles and separated the officers from the troop.
With his promptness of heading to the trucks preserved for the officers (the soldiers had to go on foo) climbed a vehicle and sat down.
He looks around and met the look of the others and felt ashamed that he had taken a place which was not his (he was not an officer).
He tried to stand up but the captain that was standing next to him took him by the arm and ordered him to sit down.
The fact would prove to be significant because the officers were directed to different destinations from the troop (after the war it was found that his companions were transported to Egypt and Kenya).
During the transfer, while they were having a stop in a street, an Australian or a South African soldier with his typical large brimmed hat put on a colonial helmet with the signs of the Air Forces.
The trip had as a final stop point a railway station in the Algerian territory.
Debarked from the trucks the prisoners were put in rows and passed by militaries that were sitting at tables and putting down the personal data of the prisoners.
The information requested was: name and surname, date of birth, military branch, rank and specialty.
Al of them left the trucks watched by French colonists after the French metropolitan soldiers (my father used to speak about French in general).
The sufferance caused by thirst in closed carriages under the African sun was hard to describe and the scraps of cheese collected during the destruction of the provisions proved their utility; they were changed for a flask of water.
That was the hardest moment because of the sufferance caused by thirst and hunger and the intolerance of the guard who didn't hesitate to hit the prisoners with the handles of their guns.
He gave for water all the golden buttons of his uniform.
The train reached a station where it had been waited by another train under American supervision.
The carriages were attached to that train that left for Casablanca.
From that moment on things changed; they finally got food and water.
After a short stop they were embarked on a "Liberty class" ship.
The Atlantic was crossed with one stop only at high sea because a submarine alert.
The outings on the deck were cancelled and there were armed guards till the danger suspicion would be over.
They landed in the harbor of New York and then they were transferred to Arizona.
The captivity in USA is divided in two periods: the first and the after September 1943.
For less than one year the prisoners of were treated by the book.
This first period was one of hostility (we were still war enemies), and the place was arid all year round; they lived in wood barracks with beds on the ground and Vittorio remembered that in order to protect himself from scorpions which could find shelter under the beds, put his legs into large tins full of water.
They collected cotton together with other temporary field workers.
On the field there were German prisoners, too, with the same status.
Vittorio admired the rules and the discipline self imposed by those Germans.
He remembered seeing them marching according to the rank and sang all the way; the Americans tolerated this conduct and showed an obvious benevolence, even if their officers were sometimes punished for having ordered the troop to come in front of the barracks on the occasion of some Nazi festivities.
The prisoners ceased to come out of the camp until the end of the war in 1945.
The second and the most fertile period was the one of the collaboration with the ally troops after 1943.
The American request of fighting together was accepted immediately and the advantages were obvious. The status of prisoner of war was changed into the one of the cobelligerent and they entered the Italian Service Unit.
Vittorio drove a military vehicle and is allowed to repair and to listen to an old radio.
When he left the camp a German prisoner asked him to give him the radio and he agreed to do it, his intention was to give it to him as a gift, but the American soldiers imposed to the Germans to pay for it and as they couldn't poses any money, they offered to change it for a ring.
This ring is still worn by my brother Renato Tognoni.
A good football player he honours the Italian team.
When he left USA, he had in his pocket money (400$) which he used to get married and start a family.
He left from Los Angeles on his way back to his country.
After his arrival he restarted his military job as a radio operator in Boccadifalco.
His last place of work was Padova but not as a radio operator. He became a radio station maintenance technician after having graduated the course from Chiaviari in 1958.
Vittorio died in 1998.
He turned to Italy and honored the promise of marry her, made to Palmira.
He had never uttered a word of blame about his Country which he honored under any circumstances always carrying on his military and fatherly duty.I say good bye to the memory of my father.