Affection for Ravosa
Recollections of Ravosa Times during World War II
While in Mexico, around 1962, Franco Colautti decided to write to the Mayor of Povoletto, whom he thought he didn't know, asking if he could buy a farm in the area. During the Second World War the area around the Udine railway station was heavily bombed by American forces trying to disrupt supply lines between German forces in Italy and Germany. Franco Colautti who was aged around 15 was sent to Ravosa to stay with distant relatives to escape the bombing. Since this period Franco had had a strong affection for Ravosa and, in particular, for La Faula where he had passed many hours. It transpired that one of the two elegible properties on sale was La Faula and he discovered that the then Mayor of Povoletto was a childhood friend.
At the beginning of 1944 the German/Fascist reprisals against the intense partisan activity in the areas of Attimis, Faedis, Nimis, Ravosa, Torlano and other villages closed to the Yugouslav border increased. The local villagers who were seen as proctectors and suppliers to the partisans, where rounded up, imprisoned and deported to German labour camps. On the day the soldiers arrived in today's Via Arivada in Ravosa from the vegetable garden behind the house of Franco's relatives, four or five men were hiding in tunnels made in the hay stacked in the hay-lofts above the stalls. Meanwhile the women and children pretended to carry on with their daily chores as if nothing was happening, even though their hearts were beating at speed. Franco who sat on a stone step, distracted himself from the fear, by mentally comparing the shine of the brass/copper bullets that the soldiers carried in their cartridge belts to that of the copper buckets - 'cialdirs' in the Friulian Idiom - used to get water from the spring which was then drunk with a copper ladel - 'cop' in the Friulian Idiom. The soldiers commanded that the three daughters of Gnane Pine, the matriarch of the household gathered in the square outside the church where several other unlucky prisoners were waiting to board the trucks of the Wehrmacht for deportation to German labour camps. Amongst the arrested were Gin and his wife and Enzo Ballico, a boy two years older than Franco (i.e. born 1927). Gin had recently been sent back from a German labour camp because of a serious illness. Thanks to his begging in his poor German, but above all thanks to the decisive intervention of the village priest Santin, the women and sickly Gin himself were released.
Taking advantage of the tumult that was taking place in the square in front of the church, but above all thanks to the fact that some of the soldiers that were encircling the prisoners got distracted by the arrival of a side-car motorcycle carrying some commanders, the arrested boy, Enzo Ballico, with a lot of courage, or maybe just the recklessness of youth, took to the fields in a flight for freedom. Enzo, whose flight became the talk of the village for a long time to come, became a land surveyor and draughtsman and subsequently the mayor of the Municipality of Povoletto for 17 years until the early 1970's (and the Mayor that Franco had written to from Mexico). While Enzo was fleeing across the fields, Gnane Pine - Auntie Pine - was preparing lunch for the soldiers who had arrived from behind the house. They were of Austrians, they seemed good people, certainly they were Catholics, because through sign language they made it understood that the Virgin Mary depicted in the picture hanging on the kitchen wall was the same they were devoted to. The most incredible thing was that two men, Giovan and Titi, who were hiding amongst the branches of one of the mulberry trees which grew in a line along the field next to the house, although visible, were never spotted, arrested and deported.
Franco was born in 1929. As a child during the 2nd World War he would leave Chiavris, the quarter of the town of Udine where he lived, and stay with his grandmother's sister in law, a Fattori from Ravosa, who had married one his grandmother's brothers. Because of the war and the bombings of Udine the schools were often closed and subsequently Franco would spend long periods in Ravosa. To reach Ravosa, which was 12 kms from where he lived, he and his grandmother Domenica, nicknamed Meneghina born in 1875, would hitch-hike lifts on horse-pulled carts that transported agricultural and other produce. While in Ravosa, like many local villagers, he would often come to La Faula or the Malina River, where in Summer, most boys would go and spy on the women washing in its waters. It was in 1944 that while visiting La Faula he was confronted by two tall Austrian SS Officers questioning the Basso women (the men had fled) about the presence of Italian Osovani partisan incursions at La Faula. Franco recalls that at least one of the officers was wearing a long black greatcoat with the red SS armband. In fact, half way up the hill there was a bressane (mist-net bird trap) which overlooked the house and, as the crow flies, was no more than 300 meters away from it. Its hide - originally meant for the bird catcher - was used by the partisans for hiding and overlooking the plain underneath. This had attracted the attention of the German troops. Moreover, the hill of La Faula was sometimes used by the partisans to mount ambushes on German convoys passing on the roads below. In response the German troops mounted a machine-gun position in the belltower of the Ravosa church. Miranda Basso recalls one particular firefight between the partisans and German troops in the belltower when the women of La Faula fled running up the creek behind La Faula (behind where the bridge is) while bullets hit the ground around them. By 1944, as the pressure of the German army increased, the partisans were forced to leave the area around Ravosa for safer ones on the Zuffine pre-alpine mountain range behind the hills where La Faula is located. It is worth remembering, that one of the Basso brothers, Giovanni, had been arrested and deported to Germany for passing on some smoking tobacco to a partisan sentinel hiding in the 'bressana' hide. Luckily he survived and came back in one piece at the end of the war.
One other war memory of Franco near La Faula refers to chestnut picking. Gnagne Pine (Aunti Pine) had inherited a chestnut grove near the Castle of Partistagn, at least one-hour on foot away from Ravosa. The chestnut picking would last three to four days and was carried out by the daughters of Gnagne Pine, Reginute and Milie (the same two who were rounded up in front of the church in Ravosa), her daughter in law Giulie (whose husband was an Alpino soldier on the Yugoslavian front) and two 15-year old boys, Pierin and Franco. In those days, as in the centuries before, the woodland was perfectly tended, as any yield from it, besides the wood, was considered a crop. Even the fallen leaves were raked and collected to use as a replacement for bedding straw in cows stalls. They would leave the house very early, as soon as the sun rose, walk to the woodland, pick chestnuts until noon which was determined by the position of the sun or, if the wind blew in the right direction, by the bells ringing from the Racchiuso bell tower, eat a frugal lunch, perhaps a piece of polenta with some muset (boiled cartilage sausage) or latteria cheese, and then by three o'clock they would start walking back to Ravosa before the sun set to attend to other chores before bedtime. Chestnuts were an important part of peoples diets in those days, eaten either in soups, ground into flour or roasted over the fire.
During one of these pickings, from a German armored train located on the main train line between Udine and Germany, at least 10 km away from where they were picking chestnuts, cannon shells were fired repeatedly and passed over their heads aimed, probably, at today's Slovenian main arteries which connected Bovec (Plezzo) or Kobarid (Caporetto) to Italy. The fear of the pickers was such, that at every shell passing overhead, they would lay down flat on the ground over the blanket which had been spread to eat lunch on, hoping to be spared. Franco clearly remembers a patrol of partisans appearing from the woodland, walking in front of them, with not a word or body sign, disappearing henceforth, in the woods to the North.
The pickers hurriedly loaded the chestnuts in handbags made of 'scus' (woven corn husks) and hastily started walking home. When they arrived, the Grandparents - the Sior and the Siore - welcomed them with the words 'Beade l'ore, beade l'ore' (in Friulian Idiom 'blessed this hour, blessed this hour'). But the chores for the day were not over yet, there were the cows to be milked and the pigs to be fed, and the polenta to be cooked for dinner. After dinner followed the Rosary and the crying (because Toni, the husband of Giulie, as well as other sons and brothers were all at war somewhere, and not a piece of news had been heard about them for months if not years). Before bed a few chestnuts were consumed with a bit of Clinto or Americano-grapes wine. Finally there was a deep sleep on a mattress made of 'scuss' that is, maize husks. But that night like every night was short because when it was still dark the Sior would wake them up with the words: 'Bulgars ievait, che el ze pronto el tutubel co 'a polentina calda' ('Bulgarians get up, that the 'anything-goes' with hot polenta is served').