May 8th, 1945: My Dangerous Childhood Games (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy)


Eugenio Battaglia writes:

Some time ago our estimated moderator asked about the memories WAISers have of the date of May 8th, 1945.

At first, I just remembered the feeling of mourning for the defeat of my state: the Repubblica Sociale Italiana, the horror for the crimes committed by the communist partisans including the awful death of a dear friend of mine at 17, but I have another memory that may give an idea of the local situation.

I was in the fourth grade of a primary school situated in the center of Savona. Previously I had been attending a school near my house situated on the hill on the outskirts of town, but it had been closed for temporary war reasons.

After April 25th, when the German and RSI force had withdrawn from the town, many ammunition deposits of antiaircraft or anti-ship batteries were left abandoned. We kids would go there to get bullets and open the 110 mm. artillery ammunition in order to extract the ballistite propellant.

We would throw the bullets into a bonfire to watch them explode, while the ballistite was used to make our version of a V2 rocket. We took empty cans and filled them with ballistite, leaving out a longer piece of ballistite (something like spaghetti), which we would set fire to and then escape. When the ballistite exploded it would launch the can into space. A couple of my friends lost their fingers or hands.

On the 8th of May the stupid school authorities at 10:30 gave us the rest of the day off, so almost in unanimity the kids decided to go and get ballistite at a gallery on the Aurelia road between Savona and the village of Albissola where there had been a fortification.

At first, I joined the group but then halfway I changed my mind and returned home.

After a few minutes at home I heard a huge explosion with an enormous cloud of smoke. The gallery had exploded. Apparently someone when disassembling a big shell casing had damaged the fuse and caused the first explosion.

The criminal partisans who did not care about guarding over such places at first tried to say it was a criminal fascist plot!

By the way not only kids were there, but also adults who were getting the shells to be sold. I had one in beautiful brass but my mother threw it away.

There were 74 deaths in the explosion, including almost half of my school mates and hundreds of injured.

Fast forward to the present. Yesterday, the young Silvia Romano, a volunteer in a shelter house for abandoned children in Kenya, was freed after 535 days from the Somali kidnappers Al Shabab. She has converted (I assume very voluntary according to the "best traditions" from 620 CE) to the Muslim religion.

JE comments: Eugenio, a chilling story. That day you made the wisest decision of your young life!

I am struck by how your wartime childhood games were so similar to those of a lad on the other side, John Heelan in the UK. In today's world of cocoon-like car seats and helicopter parents, we tremble to recall just how dangerous kids' play used to be.