Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Tomaso (Nos. 220 & 341)

This is Tomaso. He is 85 years old and runs two allotments, 220 and 341, though at one point he had six! He was born in 1923 and comes from Cadanzaro, Calabria (he said he came from Philadelphia, but I shall have to check that out*). I found it quite hard, by the way, to understand what he was saying, so I must make excuses in advance for the accuracy of what I write.

His family were farmers, but starting at 16 he worked as a turner, making bombs, etc. He went into the army in 1942 aged 19, and served under Mussolini. He was a machine gunner, operating a 25 mm anti-aircraft gun.

When Italy fell, he deserted and made his way (from Avalino or Padua? - the front line anyway) back to Calabria. It took him 25 days, during which he was in constant danger and had no food. He had jumped over the fence of the army camp because if he had stayed, the Germans would either have shot him or taken him back to Germany. He said he had destroyed his papers and passport, so they could not prove who he was. When he met soldier on the way, they would ask "Mussolini or Vittorio?" If you said Mussolini, you were taken off to Germany. If you said Vittorio (the king) you were left to pass in peace. During the nights there was constant bombardment from the air.

However, when he did get home, it was only to re-enlist on the allied side. This time he was a sapper, building roads and bridges. He said he worked his way through Salerno, Naples, Averso, Monte Cassino, Bari, Ancona and Falemara.

After the war was over, he was in the army a further 18 months working in a supplies depot (postilieri), where he issued everything from clothes to food. He worked from 7 in the morning to 11 at night, then went out and enjoyed himself. He was demobbed on 25th July 1946.

He went back home and worked in agriculture for ten years, during which time he married and had two boys (he later had a daughter). But the pay was no good, so in 1956 he came to England to work. Here, he worked on a farm in Garford, near Abingdon, for four years. He did everything from the milking to repairing tracks. He was given a big house, but until his family joined him five months later, he had to do his own cooking and housework after a day's work.

He says he got fed up with wearing wellingtons: anyway, he found work in the railway factory in Swindon, and from then on worked in industry. He got his first allotment on Pickard's Field the same year - 1960.

He did two stints for the railways, first cleaning and stripping coaches, then painting them for 6 months, then as a boilerman shovelling coal on the steam trains. Each stint lasted about 2 1/2 years.

After that, he worked at Cheney Manor, and was at Plessey for 25 years. His wife died several years ago, and he buried her in Italy. His children don't have allotments or garden, but he supplies them with vegetables.
(*He comes from Filadelfia in Calabria).

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