The Peace Through Valour Committee will hold a dinner in Toronto to honour Gino Farnetti-Bragaglia and the families of the Canadian soldiers who “adopted” him 70 years ago. This event will take place June 20th 2014 at Montecassino Hotel and Event Centre.
The Story of Gino Farnetti-Bragaglia
In June 1944, following a deadly battle between Canadian and German Armoured units in the
town of Torrice, near Frosinone, members of a Canadian Transport Unit conducting re-supply
tasks found an almost naked little Italian boy close to the battle ruins. He was obviously malnourished with a stomach so badly bloated that he resembled a bowling pin. His name
was ‘Gino’ and the Canadian soldiers determined that he was between four and five years old.
After caring for his wounds and giving him food, the Canadian soldiers determined that this little boy was now an orphan and homeless. They were unable to locate relatives and there was no one to feed or look after him. Most people from the surrounding villages were destitute: it was far better for him to stay with ‘I Canadesi’.
Three Canadian soldiers – Lloyd ‘Red’ Oliver, Paul Hagen and Mert Massey took little Gino under
their wings and became his mentors and tutors. He was given a uniform and became the
mascot of the Royal Canadian Service Corps Company. Red taught Gino the English alphabet,
numbers and the Bible. The little boy learned quickly and very soon was able to speak English and go around the camp in his little bicycle as a dispatch rider. He went North with his
Canadian ‘guardian angels’, as he would call them, and spent Christmas 1944 in Ravenna.
In February 1945 the Canadian soldiers left Italy to join the rest of the Canadian Army in Western Europe. Gino could not accompany his Canadian “amici” and was left near Ravenna with a local family, adopted only on condition that he could stay in touch with his Canadian ‘guardian angels’, which he did until they passed away (the last one to die was Red Oliver in July 2012). Gino did not have a birth certificate or other documents. He went to school, but could not be enrolled because no one knew his real name or date or place of birth. He was a real person but, in legal terms, he did not exist. In 1954 the court gave him the name of Gino Farnetti. After ten years from the day when he was rescued, he did exist, albeit with an adopted name!
Just over three years ago, through the work of Mariangela Rondinelli, a researcher and writer
from Bagnacavallo (near Ravenna), together with her war-time friends and collaborators,Paolo
Sbarbada, Maurizio Federico, Costantino Jadecola and Italo-Canadian Gianni Blasi, the complete
story of Gino began to emerge. They were able to trace Gino, meet him, and talk to two of
his Canadian friends still alive, Paul Hagen and Lloyd Oliver, and to Mrs Farnetti. Thanks to the
many documents Gino had gathered and to the contribution of many friends, they were able to
tell Gino’s detailed story from that day in June 1944 when he was rescued by Canadian soldiers.
Sadly it was discovered that Gino’s parents perished in the war and his brother did not live long enough for him to meet again since he became an orphan of the war. On December 16, 2012 an official ceremony was held at the Torrice Council Chamber and Gino was given an
honorary citizenship of the town. He visited the cemetery nearby where his parents, brother and other close relatives rest in peace. He is now a happy soul: he has found his roots. Interestingly and coincidentally his only living relatives still alive are a niece and nephew who reside in Montreal and who Gino has yet to meet.
Tony Battista, former Canadian Defence Attaché to Italy, undertook to invite Gino to Canada on
the 70th anniversary of that battle between German and Canadian Armoured Units. He joined
his efforts with The Peace Through Valour Committee and the organizers of Operation Husky
2013 to develop a Canadian visit program for Gino and his researchers, who will arrive in mid-
June. Events are being planned for Montreal and Ottawa on June 16th and 18th respectively,
and Toronto on June 20th.