The 3rd of September, 1943. Italy surrendered to the Allies.
Germany was not exactly enthralled with this idea and promptly took over the country. My wife’s grandfather, a general in the army at the time, called his troops together and gave them a clear choice.
Go home, or go with him to fight the Germans.
Not one of them went home. They left in the night, while some of the older soldiers stayed in barracks under the effective command of his wife, to make things seem normal. Two of their sons were living at home, the eldest was in a military academy half the country away.
The Germans were desperate for troops. They went into the academy where my Father in Law was learning and stated that, the following day, all students over the age of 16 were being moved to the front for active duty in the German Army.
My Father in Law left that night, along with most of his classmates. He knew roughly where his father was. All that seperated him from joining his father was 550 miles of rough country, patrolled by an army that would now consider him a deserter and shoot him on sight.
He walked at night for two weeks, sleeping during the day in whatever hiding places he could find. Culverts, caves, barns, sometimes in a bed thanks to the kindness of strangers, who would feed him well before sending him on his way. The rest of the time he ate what he could find. He always hated eggs, both cooked and raw, after this gentle stroll!
Once he got south of Rome, he managed to hook up with the partisans - mainly Mafia - who conveyed him to his father’s hiding place. He walked into the camp one evening, kissed his father and asked for a rifle. This good and gentle man had a confirmed kill count of 175 by the end of the war, done one shot at a time not spray and pray.
By the end of the war, he was well established as liaison to the Allied forces, a job he continued after he went back to the academy and qualified in 1946. In the late 40s / early 50s he did some hush hush work for Operation Gladio, then retired from that to command the same regiment his father had before him.
At 90, he was still slim and muscular and worked out every day. He had an operation on his cataracts when he was 87, meaning he could once more see to drive. Prior to that, riding in a car with him was interesting, to say the least!
I will miss him terribly.