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Umberto's War
Written by Pacifico Cofrancesco   
Thursday, 18 September 2008
Article Index
Umberto's War
And the story starts
The war of Ethiopia
The "Libbretta"
Umberto in Libya
The "starving life"
"Prisoner of War" in India
The correspondence with family
Australia
Back home
Downloadable PDF text
Umberto’s War
by Pacifico Cofrancesco

Translated into English with the help of John A. Cofrancesco

In the Cofrancesco family, the name Umberto is quite common, particularly in the last generation. But the Umberto Cofrancesco – son of Lorenzo, captured at Bardia and prisoner of war in Australia as cited in a “Service and Casualty Form” that Ivan found - did not match any of the known Umberto Cofrancescos, living or dead. Our research did not provide any useful results.

Introduction

One day last June 2008, something “strange” happened. While Anna was waiting her turn in a beauty parlor in Cerreto Sannita (Benevento, Italy), she noticed a lady who looked “familiar” to her. The woman was one of Anna’s clients in the past, when she and her sister operated a clothing shop in the same Cerreto. “Sorry to disturb you, but are you a Cofrancesco?” Anna asked. And the woman answered, somewhat intrigued but very kindly, “Yes.” Anna, so enthusiastic about her genealogical research, was excited to find a Cofrancesco to add to the family tree, if she was not already in the tree without Anna’s knowledge. “Do you know that there is a web site of the Cofrancesco family with a lot of information going back to the 1500s? Probably your family is also there”, Anna said. Lorenzina Giuseppina, the name of the lady to whom Anna was speaking, more and more intrigued, answered: “Really?” “Yes, yes. Really. And there is a team of people all over the world doing research”, Anna answered. And she added, “And there is a professor in Pavia who administers the web site.” Giuseppina showed more and more interest and she answered Anna’s questions with pleasure. Anna tried to connect the information to what she knew. Giuseppina’s father lived in S. Lorenzello and his name was Umberto. But her grandfather Lorenzo was born in Massa di Faicchio: in fact, he was also known as the “massaiolo” (a person from Massa). Lorenzo had a sister named Santina, married to a Cappella from Massa. Now Anna started to get her thoughts in order. But papà Umberto? Papà Umberto was a prisoner in Australia. At the moment that information did not have any real meaning. But later, talking and thinking, prisoner in Australia? Sure! Umberto! And – as two plus two equals four – the mystery of the “Service and Casualty Form” was solved. The date of birth also matched. He was really the same Umberto!

Now that we knew who the “Australian” Umberto was, John and I started to read every single word written in the “Service and Casualty Form”. We only had this document to help us understand what happened to Umberto in Australia. And by a careful reading it disclosed a little gold mine of information. At the beginning we had difficulty even reading the word “Murchison”, a name that would soon become very familiar. We were then able to read some other names, and a map on the Internet helped us to understand that they were cities and places around Melbourne. Then we were able to read the ships name and their sailing date. But that was all we could understand.

Giuseppina was greatly pleased to invite Anna to her home. And with what was to become of great value, she opened the doors of his home – papà Umberto’s home! Giuseppina had carefully kept her father’s war papers, and more. “Maybe there is also a diary, a diary written at the time of war!” Anna was able to take pictures of all of Umberto’s documents and photographs, and most of all, his diary, found together with the other mementos. It was a little notebook on which only a few pages had been written. Glancing through it, dates and names appeared: 1940, 1941, 1943, Bardia, India, Melbourne: another confirmation that he was the same Umberto!

And so we started studying the fabulous material that Giuseppina had preserved with such great care. Umberto became alive though those pages: the war, the bombings, and the pain of captivity. Finally, his photographs gave him a face. The names of the places mentioned by Umberto were the same ones that are so well known in the official history of WWII, such as Bardia, Fort Capuzzo, Solum, etc. Umberto was there while that tragic and painful history was being written. And he had his own little “history” to write, which I have tried to assemble and narrate here.

Acknowledgements

I want to especially thank Lorenzina Giuseppina Cofrancesco, who preserved her father Umberto’s memories with such great love, and so generously gave us the opportunity to study his documents and write this history; Umberto’s War. I also want to thank Anna for the passion and dedication she put into our research, and for her photographs of Umberto’s documents and writings. Thanks to dear cousin John, who, as always, with great sensitivity and accuracy helps me in the study of the documents, gives me many very useful suggestions, and assists in the translation of the text into English. Also thanks to Peter Dunn of Brisbane (Australia), manager of an Australian POW camps web site, who very kindly helped us find information sources, documents, and photographs.



Last Updated ( Thursday, 18 September 2008 )
 
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