At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Carlo Orelli – soldier

The last trench infantryman


Carlo Orelli with President Ciampi, at the  awards ceremony on his 109th birthday
Carlo Orelli with President Ciampi, at the
 awards ceremony on his 109th birthday
Carlo Orelli, the last surviving Italian soldier to have served at the start of Italy's involvement in the First World War, died on this day in 2005 at the age of 110.

Orelli had signed up for active duty at the age of 21 and joined the Austro-Hungarian front after Italy joined in the war on the side of Britain, France and Russia in May 1915.

He took part in combat operations near Trieste, experiencing the brutality of trench warfare and seeing many of his friends die violent deaths, but after receiving injuries to his leg and ear he spent the rest of the war in hospital.

Orelli was born in Perugia in 1894, but his family moved to Rome, where he was to spend most of the rest of his life living in the Garbatella district.

He came from a military background and had a grandfather who had helped to defend Perugia against Austrian mercenaries in 1849. His father had served in the Italian Abyssinian campaign in the 1880s and his elder brother had fought in Libya during the war between Italy and Turkey in 1911.

Orelli pictured in his Italian military  uniform in the First World War
Orelli pictured in his Italian military
uniform in the First World War
The wounds Orelli suffered during a confrontation with Austrian soldiers ended his military career and he spent the rest of the war recovering from an infection in hospital.

When the war was over he resumed his occupation as a mechanic and got married and had six children.

Despite his opposition to Fascism, he was sent to Gaeta to direct artillery during World War II, but he returned to his job as a mechanic afterwards and continued to live in Garbatella.

In later life he often talked about his experiences in the First World War and implored people not to forget the sacrifice his fellow soldiers had made.

In 2003, on the occasion of his 109th birthday, he was made a Grand Officer in the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic by the President, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Carlo Orelli in a TV documentary about his  life and wartime experiences
Carlo Orelli in a TV documentary about his
life and wartime experiences
He became known as ‘The Last Infantrymen’, which was chosen as the title for his wartime memoirs when they were published.

After his death in 2005, he was talked about as ‘the last Italian World War I veteran,’ which was incorrect.

He was, in fact, Italy’s oldest survivor of the First World War, the last trench infantryman and the last survivor from the time Italy entered the war in 1915.

Travel tip:

Perugia, where Orelli was born, and which was defended by his grandfather against the Austrians, is the capital city of the region of Umbria. It has a history that goes back to Etruscan times, when it was one of the most powerful cities in the area. A stunning sight on a hilltop, Perugia is also home to two universities, the 14th century University of Perugia and another University for foreign students learning Italian.

Hotels in Perugia by Hotels.com

The Centrale Montemartini museum is in the Garbatella district of Rome, where Orelli spent most of his life
The Centrale Montemartini museum is in the Garbatella
district of Rome, where Orelli spent most of his life
Travel tip:

The Garbatella district, where Orelli lived for most of his life, is to the south of the centre of Rome. It is now a lively area with an unusual museum, the Centrale Montemartini in Via Ostiense, a former electricity power plant that now houses hundreds of pieces of Roman sculpture. Nearby, in Piazzale San Paolo, is the Papal Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, one of Rome’s four ancient churches, which was founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine I over the burial place of St Paul. The site had been marked with a memorial by some of the apostle’s followers after his execution.

Hotels in Rome by Expedia

More reading:


Francesco Chiarello - combatant in both world wars who lived until 2008

How General Armando Diaz masterminded Italy's victory at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto

The Villa Giusti armistice and the end of the First World War in Italy


Also on this day:


1506: The founding of the Papal Swiss Guard


(Picture credit: Centrale Montemartini by Lalupa via Wikimedia Commons)

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