Di Duca Diary
( A family living on the Gustav Line Italy in the Second World War.)
Larry Di Duca was born in Atina central Italy in 1927.
Atina is to the east of Casalvieri and the west of Villa Litina and lies to the north of Monte Cassino.
He lived with his family on a large farm that was considered prosperous. The Di Duca family owed its position in the area to a connection with the French Bourbons. They were descendents of a family of Frankish royal servants and Bishops from the 8th century, the earliest ancestor was Robert the Strong, Count of Paris, of Orléans, and of Anjou, sometimes called Duke of France. The Bourbon kings ruled France, Spain and the two Sicily’s, Naples and Parma.
Larry’s ancestor Contrada Duca was a grand Officer of the Bourbon family Caserta who lived near Napoli.
His grand father was Luigi Di Duca who died in 1936 and had owned the second biggest vineyard in the area. In 1943 his mother died leaving his father to nurture the family.
All went well with the Di Duca family living conformably on their productive land with a warm sun above and cool flowing rivers. Over the winding roads Larry rode his bike to see a friend in other village or stroll along the lush river banks. Shooting and fishing were seasonal hunting sports on his fathers land from Ponte St Juliano to their large house close to the rivers edge. So close they would catch fish in a net pinned with two stakes to be easily rolled in to gather the catch. During the winter when the fish came to spawn he would use a long fork and cone to skilfully catch the days lunch. Life was good for a young man then, first class as Larry called it. Rising early in the morning and working till eleven when it became too hot in the field and in doors. Then it was time for a siesta under a cool shade of a tree or the shadow of his beloved house. The work was manual in the fields where the family employed five workers. They knew everyone by name in the Town and spend hours laughing and joking the pleasant hours away. But unknown to the Di Duca family the Germans had made plans that would change everything. In October 1943 Field Marshall Kesselring persuaded Adolf Hitler to defend Italy by the use of its natural defences. Hitler saw the danger in losing vital oil and copper resources in the Balkans and gave command to Kesselring. Quickly he prepared a series of line defences one was known as the Gustav line. Which ran across Italy north of the Garigliano River through the Apennine Mountains to the Adriatic Sea. Where the line crossed to the south of Rome the town of Cassino and its Abbey Monte Cassino were prominent. The monastery dominated the Liri valley giving a clear observation of any potential attack by the Allies.
As a young man Larry worked in the vine yard ensuring the quality of the grapes for a fine vintage. The vineyard was just to the north of Cassino at a place called Oliveto famous for its grapes and a favourite of the old Popes who appreciated wines of a high standard. In 1944 the Germans took control of the vineyard and used it to build wooden shelters. Larry was seventeen years old at the time and worked daily just as he always had. Like his father Giovanni Battista, Larry favoured sports, football was their favourite which they enjoyed on many occasions. His life was still full of promise and enjoyment. One day his father was foraging for cows near the Ponte Melfa when it was bombed. His father was struck and thrown down a five foot ditch full of cold water. With the injuries he sustained and the effects of laying in the chilled water he became very ill. A man called Erico Rossi took his father and elder brother Vicenzo to a doctor. The German doctor at Ferreira near the iron works treated him for a virulent chest infection. After the examination the doctor declared Giovanni would die early in the next morning. He administer an injection as a last resort to Larry’s father who true to the diagnosis died at 06.00 in the next morning. Before Giovanni lapsed into unconsciousness he gave Vicenzo complete ownership of the house and all his lands.
The American and British press had continually reported German movements in the Monastery. Air Commander Lieutenant- General Jacobs Devers and Ira C. Eaker said they observed German uniforms inside the walls of the Monastery. This information led to the Bombing of the Abbey on February 1944 as it may be used for enemy observation. The battle for Cassino was in four dramatic stages the final being in May of 1944. When early in the morning of the 18th the Polish Podolian Uhlans Regiment Raised the flag over the abandoned Monastery.
The Di Duca family suffered another blow when their house was hit by four shells and a bomb, from which side they did not know. One of the shells did not explode and they covered it up with sand to make it appear less dangerous. Sadly four people in the area were killed. Larry and his sister Flora at this time were in Fratoni seeing their old Granny. When they retuned to the house and saw it in ruins they desperately sought out their sisters Gina, Julie and his brother Giovanni. Quickly they placed all they could including the wall clock into haversacks then called in their two remaining cows. The family realised they were on the battle front line and had to move away as soon as possible. To find safety they had to walk many miles in hot sun. When they were looking for something to eat and drink Larry bumped into two German Paratroopers. They had previously seen the Germans retreat and wondered if they might by chance meet. From behind two large Elm trees the Paratroopers strolled up to them. One of them said,” Tomorrow you will have a great feast, the British are coming.” In the distance shots were flying every where and people were being killed as four American tanks fired into the village Abruzzi only 500 metres away. Larry heard the track of shell flying perilously over head.
The Germans seeing the allies advance had to get out of the way quickly. The Soldiers were already battle hardened and move across country in a squat position alert to danger, while Larry and family walked brazenly upright carrying their haversacks and those of the Germans. On arriving at Alvito the Paratroopers took their packs and thanked the family. It was possible at that time for the enemy to shot them on the spot. Fortunately they were allowed to go, but the thoughts of being shot were on their mind as they walked along the road. Larry recalls he was skin and bone and easily carried by Giovanni on his back some of the way.
A convoy of lorries came by and they put their haversacks on the last one. Giovanni jumped on and was driven away, Larry thought he would never see him again. Luck was on our side and shortly after they found the lorry behind thousands of Allied armoured vehicles. There was food aplenty just as the German Paratrooper had predicted. That was the end of the war for the De Duca family.
When the war moved on they returned to the farm and found it beyond repair. Everything had changed so much in that short space of time. They sold the house to his cousin, a Doctor, who lived in Belgium. Larry admitted he had hoped to return home but that was not possible, the war had ruined it all.
Later he came to Scotland on a two week holiday.
His sister Flora had married a Scot Jack McPhail. During that time he heard thousands of miners were required. Larry was interested so they contacted a Ben McKay and then wrote to the Home Office.
He was accepted under the condition that he reported daily to the local police station and later to attend English lessons at Dunfermline. In the Fife mine at Dunfermline Germans, Poles, Czechoslovakians and one Italian worked. Larry worked with an ex Polish Officer who could speak Italian. When eventually he worked on the coal face at Rosewell mine there were two other Italians.
As a proud miner employed in the Bilson Glen mine he remembers he was No 17 face man and his pay check number was 335.
We Asked Larry Di Duca if he regretted coming to Scotland he answered, “No I love it here.” The war he thought was now a distant dream. We found Larry a very pleasant gentlemen and his wife Victoria who hailed from Arezzo north of Castiglione del Lago a charming and kind lady, The Di Duca’s live in a pleasant well kept house in Bonnyrigg Midlothian.
Larry and Victoria still have memories of the vines hanging on the elm maturing under a clear blue Italian sky.