When my 17 year-old great-grandmother emigrated from Italy to America in late 1912, she could hardly have imagined that in less than three years her homeland would take part in the First World War – a conflict which was to claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of her fellow countrymen.
When I first visited her home town of San Marzano Oliveto, in Italy’s north-western region of Piedmont, I walked around the small village centre and took photos of the war memorial – a simple obelisk in white marble with the chiselled names of 38 soldiers who died as a direct consequence of the First World War – and 14 others who died in the Second World War. The memorial stands on a small green patch at the entrance of the town, at the very top of a road that leads down to the local cemetery – where my own great-great-grandparents are buried.
It only struck me recently how little I actually knew about Italy’s involvement in WWI – the Kingdom of Italy, as it was then, did not enter the war until May 1915. Self-interest was very much at the core of Italy’s decision to abandon its prior neutral status: if they were victorious, the Italian government and much of the country’s population expected to gain considerable portions of territory in Africa and Europe, particularly in the Balkans, which explains why most soldiers saw action on the home front, along the Austrian border.
San Marzano Oliveto’s war memorial lists the names of 38 soldiers who died as a direct consequence of the First World War – that is to say, either killed in action or in hospital due to their wounds or an illness contracted at the front. Only a small minority of them, who were probably injured during the conflict, died in San Marzano Oliveto shortly after the end of the war, where no doubt they had been sent to spend the remaining days of their lives.
Like in so many other cases when studying casualties of the First World War, what strikes one most is the youth of the majority of soldiers. The oldest was 52 years old, the youngest had just celebrated his 18th birthday.
One important remark I should make is that not all of these young men were born in San Marzano Oliveto; some were born elsewhere, as noted under each section. Some moved to the village when they were young, while others settled there after they married local sanmarzanese girls.
I have noticed that the list of soldiers on the memorial falls short by nine names. For unknown reasons, Giacomo Amerio, Emanuele Caire, Alfieri Dante Caligaris, Mario Fiorito, Giuseppe Icardi, Giovanni Liberti, Pier Luigi Pattarino, Giuseppe Pescarmona and Alfredo Solito were not included among those of their comrades in arms – however, they may be featured on war memorials elsewhere. Nevertheless, in view of their association with the town, I have thought it only right to include their names in this list, duly marked with the symbol †. In addition, those names marked with a double asterisk (**) indicate which soldiers are directly related to me by blood (that’s a staggering 10 out of 47). Another curious statistic is the fact that six soldiers died in 1915, sixteen in 1916, twelve in 1917, seven in 1918 and three in 1919, with a further three – Giuseppe Bologna, Giovanni Bussi and Edoardo Lovisolo – being unaccounted for.
The list below includes only the soldiers who died during the First World War. I have not analysed the lives of those who died in the Second World War (that will be for another article). Gathering the information contained in these brief accounts of their lives has been made possible thanks principally to two sources: the Albo d’Oro dei Caduti della Grande Guerra and the civil registry of births, marriages and deaths for San Marzano Oliveto (and other surrounding towns) which are available on FamilySearch.org. To all those who have collaborated in the preservation and digitisation of both resources, I am most sincerely thankful.
- ALBENGA Giuseppe (1886-1916)
Giuseppe Albenga was born on 13 October 1886 in San Marzano Oliveto, the son of Luigi Albenga and his wife Maria Tuzzo, both of whom were agricultural labourers. After the outbreak of war, Giuseppe joined the 2nd Alpine Regiment, being sent to the front along the Austro-Hungarian border. He tragically lost his life on 12 March 1916 following an avalanche in the mountainous region of Carnia, close to what is now the frontier with Slovenia. He was 29 years old.
- AMERIO Giacomo (1885-1916)
Two sanmarzanese soldiers who died in the war bore the name Giacomo Amerio, but only one of them is listed on the memorial. The eldest of the two was born on 19 April 1885, the son of Giovanni Giuseppe Amerio, from San Marzano Oliveto, and his wife Rosa Legnano, who came from the nearby town of Calosso. Giacomo joined the 28th Infantry Regiment, and died at the 107th field hospital on 9 August 1916 while being treated of the wounds he received in action. He was 31.
- AMERIO Giacomo (1888-1916) †
The younger Giacomo Amerio was born on 31 January 1886 to Rocco Francesco Amerio (1838-1910), an agricultural labourer, and his second wife, Cristina Arcangela Rabbino (1834-1910), who came from the town of Calamandrana. After he joined the army, Giacomo was promoted to Regimental Sergeant Major of the 1st Alpine Regiment, but died of an illness in a field hospital near the front on 19 September 1916. He was 30.
- AMERIO Giovanni Battista (1894-1915) **
Giovanni Battista Amerio was born in San Marzano Oliveto on 27 August 1894, the son of Giuseppe Amerio and Maria Teresa”Marietta” Capra. He was the youngest child of his parents’ large family. Giovanni became a soldier when he joined the 66th Infantry Regiment. He was killed in action on 26 November 1915 in the region of Tolmino, in present-day Slovenia. He was 21.
- BALOCCO Ernesto (1883-1917)
Ernesto Giuseppe Balocco, who was born on 8 September 1883, was the son of Francesco Balocco, an agricultural labourer, and his wife Margherita Vallino. He joined the 127th Infantry Regiment, and died on 17 May 1917 of wounds received in action during the Tenth Battle of the River Isonzo, while Italian troops tried to capture the city of Trieste from the Austrians. He was 33 years old.
- BALOCCO Giovanni Teresio (1899-1917)
The son of Francesco Balocco and Anselma Reggio, Giovanni Balocco was born in Canelli on 2 November 1899. His links to San Marzano Oliveto, which would justify his inclusion in the village war memorial, are unclear, although he may have lived there for a part of his life. Giovanni joined the 14th Regiment of Sharpshooters before going to the front. He was killed in action on the Altopiano di Asiago, approximately half way between Trento and Treviso, on 6 December 1917, just over a month after his 18th birthday.
- BARBERO Giovanni (1897-1916)
Giovanni Barbero was born in San Marzano Oliveto on 2 January 1897, the son of Giovanni Battista Barbero (b.1869), an agricultural labourer, and his wife Angela Maria Baldizzone (1872-1902), who came from the village of Bistagno, in the province of Alessandria. Giovanni was a soldier in the 2nd Alpine Regiment, and died on 19 November 1916 in Cuneo, not far from his home town, due to an illness he had contracted at the front. He was only 19.
- BIANCO Francesco (1888-1917) **
Francesco Luigi Dante Bianco was born on 14 December 1888, although his birth was not registered until a month after his birth. His parents were Marziano Bianco, a local landowner, and Maria Caligaris. Shortly after his own sister’s marriage to Pietro Chiappone in 1912, Francesco married Pietro’s sister Maria Chiappone in the village of Castelnuovo Calcea. Francesco joined the 145th Infantry Regiment, and died on 18 June 1917 of wounds received in combat while fighting on Mount Zebio, an important Austrian stronghold in the region of Veneto. He was 28.
- BIANCO Secondo (1886-1915) **
Secondo Bianco was born on 25 February 1886 to Pietro Bianco, a tailor from San Marzano Oliveto, and his wife Rosa Musso, a seamstress from Agliano Terme. On 2 July 1912 Secondo married Luigia Olivero in San Marzano Oliveto. He was a Corporal-Major of the 38th Infantry Regiment, and died on 2 November 1915 in the 15th field hospital of wounds received in combat. He was 29.
- BOLOGNA Giuseppe (?-?)
- BORRINO Giuseppe (1893-1917)
Giuseppe Borrino was born on 10 September 1893 to Giovanni Borrino and Angela Carolina Cimossi. The family resided in a newly-built house in the regione Mariano area of San Marzano Oliveto. Giuseppe enlisted in the 5th Alpine Regiment, and died of wounds on 25 June 1917 on Mount Ortigara, which was the scene of fierce fighting between Italian and Austro-Hungarian forces as each tried to reach the mountain’s summit. He was 23 years old.
- BORRINO Giuseppe (1898-1918)
Giuseppe Borrino (not a close relative of the previous soldier on this list) was born on 9 April 1898 to Antonio Borrino and his wife Maria Domenica Bianco, both agricultural labourers. Giuseppe was a soldier of the 157th Infantry Regiment and was killed in battle in the Altopiano di Asagio area in Veneto on 31 January 1918. He was 19.
- BRANDA Domenico (1876-1919)
Domenico Branda was born on 9 December 1876 in San Marzano Oliveto, the son of Pietro Branda, an agricultural labourer, and of his wife Rosa Laiolo. He was a corporal in the 225th Regiment. Although he survived the war, his inclusion in the Albo d’Oro delli Caduti della Grande Guerra suggests that his death was a direct consequence of the war. He died in San Marzano Oliveto, due to illness, on 25 August 1919. He was 42.
- BUSSI Giovanni (?-?)
- CAIRE Eligio (1892-1916)
Eligio Vincenzo Caire was born on 27 March 1892, the son of Pietro Caire, an agricultural labourer, and his wife Luigia Merlino. He joined the 2nd Alpine Regiment, and saw action in the Plezzo valley, in present-day Slovenia. He died there, of wounds received in action, on 4 May 1916. He was 24.
- CAIRE Emanuele (1889?-1915) †
This name does not appear on the war memorial, but according to the Albo d’Oro, a fallen soldier called Emanuele Caire was born in San Marzano Oliveto on 1 July 1889 to Ilario Caire. However, no civil registration records appear to support this claim. A couple called Ilario Caire and Luigia Maggiora did indeed have a son called Emanuele, but he was born in 1896 and sadly died eight days later. The soldier may have been a younger son born to this same couple and he may have given a false date of birth when he enlisted – hence the discrepancy above. Emanuele Caire, a soldier in the 155th Infantry Regiment, died on 6 August 1915 on Mount San Michele due to wounds received in combat. According to the Albo d’Oro he would have been 26 years old.
- CAIRE Ermenegildo (1899-1917)
Ermenegildo Caire was born on 28 January 1899, the son of Tommaso Caire and his wife, Rosa Seconda Turello. He was a soldier in the 5th Alpine Regiment. On 11 December 1917 he died of wounds received in combat on Mount Grappa, in the region of Veneto. He died one month short of his 19th birthday.
- CALIGARIS Alfieri Dante (1893-1916) †
The splendidly named Alfieri Dante Ippolito Plinio Caligaris was born on 15 April 1893, the son of landowner Antonio Caligaris and his wife Marta Alessandria. Alfieri Dante Caligaris reached the rank of corporal major in the 55th Infantry Regiment. The 23-year-old soldier was lost in the sinking of the troopship SS Principe Umberto on 8 June 1916, when the ship hit a mine in the Adriatic Sea. The disaster claimed the lives of 1,926 men – the worst naval disaster in WWI in terms of human loss.
- CALIGARIS Bartolomeo (1895-1916)
Bartolomeo Francesco Caligaris, so named in honour of both his grandfathers, was born on 4 May 1895, the son of agricultural labourers Giovanni Battista Caligaris, of Loazzolo, and his wife Maria Giulia Poggio, of Agliano. Bartolomeo joined the 2nd Alpine Regiment. He died of wounds on 17 June 1916 in the 110th field hospital. He was 21. He was a first cousin of Giovanni Ghignone (see below).
- CAPUSSOTTO Edoardo (1891-1916)
Edoardo (registered as Giovanni Odoardo) Capussotto was born on 8 January 1891 to Lorenzo Capussotto, an agricultural labourer, and his wife, Cristina Lovisolo. Edoardo joined the 79th Infantry Regiment and saw action on Mount Pasubio, where he was killed in action on 12 July 1916. He was 25.
- FACCIO Davide (1895-1917) **
Davide Faccio was born on 27 September 1895 to Guido Faccio and his wife Vincenza Terzano, humble labourers who belonged to San Marzano Oliveto’s small but tight-knit Methodist community. Davide was a soldier in the 1st Regiment of Mountain Artillery. He became ill during the war while fighting on Mount Pasubio, in Veneto, and died on 6 April 1917. He was 21. His remains now lie in the Redipuglia War Memorial. Two of his first cousins, Erminio and Eliseo Terzano, were also killed in the war (see below).
- FERRERO Ernesto (1894-1916)
Ernesto Ferrero was born on 6 November 1894, the son of Giovanni Battista Ferrero and his wife, Marianna Bianco. He had a twin sister, Giacinta, who would outlive him, dying in Calamandrana in 1960. Ernesto joined the 94th Bombardier Battery; he was killed in action in the Carso region between modern-day Slovenia and Italy on 18 September 1916. He was 21.
- FIORITO Mario (1895-1915) †
Mario Francesco Fiorito was born on 9 April 1895 to Giuseppe Fiorito, an agricultural labourer, and his wife Cristina Zanelli. After the outbreak of war, he joined the 9th Bersaglieri regiment in Casale Monferrato. He was killed in action on 21 November 1915 in Oslavia, in present-day Gorizia. He was 20.
- GALLO Giuseppe (1887-1917)
Giuseppe Carlo Gallo was born on 15 March 1887, son of Domenico Gallo and Luigia Pesce. On 27 April 1908 he married Giuseppina Caire (cousin of Ermenegildo Caire, see above). The couple had at least one daughter, Armida, who sadly died aged one. Giuseppe joined the 2nd Alpine Regiment, and was killed in action while fighting during the 10th Battle of the Isonzo on 24 May 1917. He was 30.
- GHIGNONE Giovanni (1888-1916)
Giovanni Bartolomeo Ghignone was born on 17 July 1888 in Canelli, but was raised in San Marzano Oliveto. His parents were Giuseppe Ghignone and Cristina Caligaris. On 28 March 1913 he married Virginia Tavasso in San Marzano Oliveto. During the war he joined the 144th Infantry Regiment, but was later wounded in action, dying in a field hospital on 15 October 1916. He was 28. Another San Marzano Oliveto soldier, Bartolomeo Caligaris, who also died in 1916, was his first cousin on his mother’s side.
- GRASSO Giuseppe (1882-1916)
Giuseppe Grasso was born to Andrea Grasso and Cristina Filippone on 21 December 1882. He had at least one older sister called Maria Giacinta Giuseppina Grasso, who married Francesco Amerio. Giuseppe himself married Angela Spertino in 1906. Giuseppe joined the 77th Infantry Regiment. He went missing, presumed dead, on 3 November 1916 while fighting in the Carso region. He was 34.
- ICARDI Giuseppe (1896-1917) †
Giuseppe Icardi was born on 23 August 1896 to Guglielmo Icardi and his wife, Carolina Bertello. He joined the 3rd Alpine Regiment. He died in military hospital number 28 on 29 August 1917 due to wounds received in combat less than a week after his 21st birthday.
- IMERITO Candido (1884-1916)
Enrico Candido Imerito was born on 22 July 1884 to Stefano Imerito and Catterina Berta. He joined the 2nd Alpine Regiment, and was seriously wounded while fighting in the Plezzo Valley, in modern-day Slovenia, where he died on 29 April 1916. He was 31.
- IMERITO Davide (1889-1917)**
Davide Imerito, who was named after an older brother who died the year before, was born on 2 July 1889 to Giuseppe Antonio Imerito, of San Marzano Oliveto, and Luigia Barbero, of Canelli. He joined the 88th Infantry Regiment, and was seriously wounded while fighting. He was sent to the spa town of Acqui Terme, near San Marzano Oliveto, to convalesce, but he finally died on 7 November 1917. He was 28.
- IMERITO Silvio (1891-1918)
Silvio Imerito was born in Calamandrana, but may have spent a part of his life in San Marzano Oliveto. He joined the army as a soldier in the 155th Infantry Regiment. He was taken prisoner at some point during the war, when he became gravely ill, and he was still being held a prisoner when the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918. He died exactly a week later. He was 27.
- LEONZINO Carlo (1882-1919)
Carlo Leonzino was born on 8 August 1882 in the village of Santo Stefano Belbo, the son of Bartolomeo Leonzino. He married Catterina Ghignone and settled in San Marzano Oliveto, where his son Battista was born in 1910. He joined the army as a soldier in 154th Infantry Regiment, but became seriously ill and was sent back to San Marzano Oliveto in order to convalesce. He died there on 3 July 1919. His younger brother Pasquale Leonzino (1892-1915), who is not recorded in the San Marzano Oliveto war memorial, would also lose his life due to military action during the war. He was 36.
- LIBERTI Giovanni (1886-1917) †
Giovanni Luigi Liberti (or Libert) was born on 14 June 1886 to Ottavio Liberti, a labourer, and his wife Rosa Rinaldi. After the outbreak of war he joined the 257th Infantry Regiment. He was later taken prisoner and died due to illness, while a prisoner of war, on 26 December 1917. He was 31.
- LOVISOLO Alessandro (1886-1918)
Alessandro Lovisolo was born in Calamandrana on 9 October 1886. His connection to San Marzano Oliveto is not known. He joined the 68th Infantry Regiment. During the war he became seriously ill, and was taken to Milan, where he died on 3 November 1918, near the end of the war. He was 32.
- LOVISOLO Edoardo (1878-?)
Edoardo Giovanni Lovisolo was born in Nizza Monferrato in or around 1878, the son of Luigi Lovisolo and his wife Clementina Viazzi, both residents of San Marzano Oliveto. Edoardo’s name is included on the war memorial, but is not featured in the Albo d’Oro. It is not known when or where he died.
- OLIVERO Francesco (1887-1915)
Francesco Carlo Olivero was born on 28 January 1887 to Battista Primo Olivero and his wife Teresa Borrino. On 29 November 1910 he married Ida Asinari. He joined the 155th Infantry Regiment. He was killed in action fighting on Mount San Michele on 26 July 1915. He was 28.
- OLIVERO Michele (1889-1917) **
Michele Lorenzo Olivero was born on 5 February 1889 to Giuseppe Olivero and Luigia Pesce, who died in childbirth when he was only thirteen years old. He joined the army as a soldier of the 2nd Alpine Regiment, but was later taken prisoner by the enemy. His health worsened during this period, and he died as a prisoner on 25 October 1917. He was 28.
- PATTARINO Pier Luigi (1866-1918) †
Pier Luigi Pattarino was born in the house of his paternal grandfather on 6 August 1866 in San Marzano Oliveto, the son of Giovanni Pattarino, a landowner, and Teresa Giolito. He later became a veterinarian. In 1892 he married Angela Gurgo-Ara, the sister of his own sister-in-law. He joined the army as Veterinarian-major. Towards the end of 1918 he became ill and was taken to Alessandria, near his hometown, where he died on 5 November a few days short of the end of the war. He was 52.
- PESCARMONA Giuseppe (1897-1917)
Giuseppe Pescarmona was born on 30 September 1897 to Luigi Pescarmona and his wife Felicità Lipani, both of them agricultural labourers. He joined the 2nd Alpine Regiment after the outbreak of war, and saw action in the Vicentine Alps. He was killed in action on 25 June 1917 on Mount Ortigara. He was only 19.
- POGGIO Enrico (1885-1918)
Enrico Giuseppe Poggio was born on 16 November 1885 to Luigi Poggio and Francesca Giuso. He joined the 2nd Alpine Regiment, but towards the end of the war became gravely sick, and died in field hospital number 171 on 18 November 1918, a week after the end of the war and just two days after his 33rd birthday.
- POGGIO Francesco (1895-1918)
Francesco Antonio Poggio was born on 19 February 1895, the son of Andrea Poggio and his wife Isabella Morando. He joined the army as a soldier of the 2nd Engineers Regiment. He became ill during the end of the war, and died on 23 November 1918, shortly after the armistice was signed, in field hospital number 69. He was 23.
- SCAGLIOLA Giovanni (1893-1919)
Giovanni Pietro Scagliola was born on 17 January 1893 to Giuseppe Scagliola and his wife Petronilla Bielli. He was named after both his grandfathers, Giovanni Bielli, of Rocchetta Palafea, and Pietro Scagliola, of San Marzano Oliveto. He joined the war as a soldier in the 79th Infantry Regiment, but his health suffered during the war. He survived the conflict, but died in San Marzano Oliveto on 19 May 1919. He was 26.
- SOLITO Alfredo (1888-1916) †
Alfredo Solito was born on 8 April 1888 to Luigi Solito and Rosa Terzano, agricultural labourers. He married in 1912, and three years later, following the outbreak of war, he joined the 2nd Alpine Regiment. During the war he became gravely ill and was sent to the town of Alessandria, where he died on 13 July 1916. He was 28 years old.
- SPERTINO Vittorio (1890-1915) **
Born on 4 July 1895, Vittorio Luigi Erineo Spertino was the son of Domenico Spertino and his wife, Cristina Terzano. He joined the 37th Infantry Regiment. Vittorio died due to illness contracted at the front while being treated in field hospital number 73, on 3 September 1915. He was 20.
- TERZANO Cesare (1893-1915) **
Cesare Giuseppe Terzano was born on 25 March 1893, the son of Giuseppe Terzano, of San Marzano Oliveto, and Catterina Terzano, of Nizza Monferrato. He joined the 55th Infantry Regiment and saw military action on Monte Piana, in the Dolomites. He went missing in combat, presumed dead, on 20 July 1915. He was 22.
- TERZANO Eliseo (1899-1918)**
Eliseo Dante Terzano was born on 10 December 1899 to Stefano Terzano and Marta Pons, agricultural labourers. He joined the 7th Alpine Regiment, and was later taken prisoner, where he died of illness on 29 August 1918. He was nearly 19. His brother Erminio Terzano (see below) and his first cousin Davide Faccio (see above) were both killed in action in 1916 and 1917 respectively.
- TERZANO Erminio (1893-1916) **
Erminio Davide Terzano was born on 22 April 1893 to Stefano Terzano and Marta Pons. Like his brother, he joined the army, becoming a corporal of the 1st Mountain Artiliery Regiment. For his efforts he was awarded the Silver Medal of Military Valour. He was killed in action on 11 September 1916 while fighting on Mount Pasubio. He was 23 years old. His younger brother Eliseo and their cousin Davide Faccio (see above) were also casualties of the war.
- TORELLO Pietro (1894-1916)
Pietro Torello was the son of Pasquale Torello. He was born in Canelli on 14 June 1894. He joined the 2nd Engineers Regiment, and was later wounded while fighting in the Carso region, dying of his wounds on 21 September 1916. He was only 22.