“… THEY WERE YOUNG AND STRONG…”
The temporary exhibition “… THEY WERE YOUNG AND STRONG…” lasts until 31st January 2016. All the relics displayed in the exhibition come from both public and private collections, while most of the documents come from the State Archive. Here are some facts related to the exhibition to better understand the title, the logo, the aims, and the different rooms .
First of all the logo: it clearly represents a crown of conventional grain, which sprouts up from an Adrian helmet. This sort of French helmet was commonly used by Italian soldiers during WWI and it stands for their sacrifice in the name of freedom and of the union of their young homeland. On the other hand the logo even represents a symbol of rebirth through memory, because new generations have to be the new spokesmen of the ideals soldiers fought for. As far as the title of the exhibition is concerned ( “…they were young and strong…”), it’s a quotation from a famous poem written by Mercantini, focused on the Risorgimento uprisings that led to the unification of Italy and paved the way to WW1.
Among the several purposes of the exhibition we must of course mention the most important ones, the first one : memory, memory of humble young men’s stories, those of soldiers from Caserta who fought and died for Italy: this aim appears clear if you consider that in each room you’re going to visit, you can see and consult some registers with their names….at the moment the number of the known fallen ones is 5718…and we hope other names will come out thanks to the help of visitors who can provide information. The second important aim is commemorating the centenary of Italy’s entrance into WWI, which happened on 24th May 1915: your visit here is going to be a sort of journey through trenches and the daily life of soldiers, thanks to documents, relics, pictures, letters from the front and the reproduction of a real trench, which will help you feel the atmosphere they lived in. The third important goal is to remember that soldiers lived in trenches for a long time and they were heroes and at the same time normal people. As a matter of fact you’re going to see relics which tell us about how they spent their free time there not to go insane, and at the same time some stories of heroism, as Enrico Toti’ s one.
The exhibition is subdivided into five main areas: Health and illnesses, Communication, Journalism, Everyday life in the trenches, and animals
Let’s start our visit:
In the first room we can see the typical uniforms and equipment of the Arditi - the brave ones-, the ones who were called sturmtruppen in German. They were assault infantrymen, famous for their bravery, experience and willpower, who would receive strict training and were the real heroes of WWI. They used to wear a uniform with a woolen jacket and on the collar patch there was a double pointed flame, usually black, on their head they wore a black fez with a black ribbon, interchangeable with a metal helmet in case of attack. They used to carry their blankets on their shoulder. Moreover they even had a GIBERNA, a sort of bag to carry weapons and sometimes food. Their typical weapons were a dagger, a musket, a bomb and a machine gun. They used the dagger in case of full contact fighting. In the first room there are three dummies with the typical uniforms, the one with the cape, less fit for fighting and riding.
In a corner there are the typical bicycles used by the Arditi with heavy metal wheels and a musket case.
THE SECOND ROOM FOCUSES ON HEALTH AND ILLNESSES: Wounded and ill soldiers were treated and transported in a step by step procedure that military doctors, nurses and chaplains followed with care at the camp infirmaries where equipment was made of a few tools as surgical instruments, stretchers, bandages and grappa, cognac and morphine to ease their pain. Soldiers received the first treatments at the camp, then they were sorted, depending on their personal health situations , and transported by train or ships to hospitals. Wounded soldiers who died were transported to the graveyard thanks to horses and mules.
Soldiers suffered from several illnesses, apart from the wounds, due to the fact that they used to live in catastrophic sanitary situations: the main problems were trench fever –caused by lice’s excrements - , typhus fever, limb frostbite, infections, shell shock, insanity and respiratory and sight problems due to gas shells.
Soldiers with similar symptoms were inserted in the same military divisions non to contaminate.
( the tracomatosi ones had, for example, eyesight infections)
Here you can see two main display cases:
- One with surgery instruments used for amputation and orthopedics: a real bag belonging to a camp doctor, MR Scuncio, who after the War kept on being a doctor, a haversack ( a shoulder bag to carry food and the water bottle), some surgery suture instruments, an instrument to sterilize, hacksaws and scalpels.
- One with microbiological instruments: an instrument for pneumothorax, aplasmodo ( an anti-malaria elixir experimented on the soldiers, invented by Doctor Pagliuca in Caserta), an ivory spoon of a doctor, a box with morphine and different medicines.
- Between the two display cases there is a box with some Sudan powder that revealed the presence of a skin irritating gas ( mustard gas ), and beside it there’s a confining basket, where they would throw infected dangerous things.
THE THIRD ROOM FOCUSES ON COMMUNICATION: During WWI soldiers used a new, reliable and immediate communication system, made of radios, telephones and telegraphs, which launched soldiers into modernity. Camp telephones and telegraphs became fundamental at the front to communicate with the rear. Camp telephones were usually held in transportable wooden boxes and were used to communicate orders, to choose the proper position for the artillery and to intercept the opponent part communication, as part of the intelligence. Intercepting and decoding codes became another silent weapon, together with machine guns and shells.
Here you can see a camp telegraph post, with a power generating bike, which worked as a dynamo. The man has got a telegraph handbook dating back to 1915, a giberna, and a notice board in front of him with personal pictures and war ones, to point out the birth of journalism in that period. Journalism: journalists worked “embedded”, side by side with soldiers, and sometimes reporters made their extreme sacrifice in the name of the ideals they believed in. they used to come from all over Italy, and many of them volunteered in the army as Alpinos, Bersaglieri, foot soldiers or assault infantrymen. Most of the newspapers sent their reporters to the trenches to inform citizens, even if since 1915 a sort of censorship for security and propaganda started. A royal order gave prefects the power to ban articles which might have been against the national interest. In the middle of the room there are three sheaves of wheat for three municipalities that didn’t exist in that period, as for example Cellole. In a corner you can see a bombard, which was similar to a mortar and was more useful than the musket in some occasions for its long range; beside it there’s a portable machine gun, that at the beginning was a station one, but then they added a wooden frame to make it portable.
IN THE FOURTH ROOM WE FIND TWO LOOKOUT POSTS: They were not usually dug in the ground and so they were surrounded by jute sacks to avoid being seen for defense. In the bigger lookout post there’s a FIAT machine gun that had to be cooled with water after a long usage thanks to a water container, a portable ammunition case, a bayonet – used in full contact fighting , a giberna to carry ammunitions, a gas mask and a metal helmet, covered with a beige cloth to camouflage the soldier. In the corner there’s another smaller lookout post with an Austrian model of machine gun, a SWARZLOSE model, and a trench heavy metal shield to protect soldiers in the post. The machine gun tape was really useful to avoid loading the machine gun and not to stop firing.
In the display case there are some pliers to cut barbed wire, a bell to get aware if someone was cutting it, barbed wire and two shovels to dig trenches.
THE FIFTH ROOM FOCUSES ON EVERYDAY LIFE IN THE TRENCHES: Trenches have become one of the symbols of the Great War, being hundreds kilometers long corridors, dug in the ground and in the mud, where soldiers used to live in even for months, next to the “no man’s land”. At the beginning they only had to be temporary shelters, but they soon were transformed into permanent quarters for the frontline; they were protected by barbed wire. Life there became timeless with the continuous threat of attacks. Soldiers had to try hard to survive. In their free time they used to read, write letters to relatives, and even to play to forget the war atrocities. They sometimes played bingo or the game of the goose, chess, draughts or bocce. They sometimes created their games, using bullets, and the remains of the fighting.
In this room there are different documents and a reproduction of a trench cleft, among the others :
- Display case 1: newspapers of the time with banned articles.
- Reproduction of a cleft, with two people who are playing chess; the chess board is made up of battle remains, for example the pawns are made with parts of ammunitions. There are two oil lamps, one was an Austrian model, the other one is made with the remains of a grenade.
- Display case2: some armed forces handbooks, for example about uniforms and license. A document of the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce asking for the names of women that had to work in the countryside while their husband were in the trenches.
- Display case 3: a book of enlisting records, in particular the enlisting record of a guy born in 1899.
THE SIXTH ROOM FOCUSES ON ANIMALS: Animals would support soldiers in the most difficult moments during WWI; dogs, horses, mules, carrier pigeons fought together with men. Pigeons used to be trained to transmit messages and to check if there was gas in the air. As far as dogs and puppies are concerned, they were used for two main purposes -to transport and to keep company -and they were trained as well. There was an animal register because every family, whose animal was enrolled in the Armed forces, received a document, so to be able to get their animal back at the end of the war.
Here you can see a big pigeon coop basket, a portable shoulder pigeon coop, a drinking trough for pigeons, a dog cart and a basket for transporting puppies, that needed to get used to noises since early age.
In the last room there are some relics belonging to heroic men related to WWI:
- ENRICO TOTI, from Rome, was a BERSAGLIERE, was crippled due to an accident while working as a railways stoker. In spite of this, he volunteered in the war and used to ride his one- pedalled bike with his crutch case on it, and finally he died in Monfalcone, fighting till the very end. He died after a last heroic action: after he was wounded several times, without any more weapon to be used, he threw his crutch against his enemy before dying. Here you can see the letter he sent the the Aosta Duke, demanding to be enrolled.
- ERNESTO PISACANEwas a double war medal chaplain from Caserta, whose function was double in the trench: to help writing letters and reading and to act as a spiritual guide.
- ORESTE SALOMONE was an airman from Caserta who received a golden war medal.
- GENERAL ALBERTO POLLIO was an important chief of staff, who attended the Nunziatella military Academy since he was 8. He died in mysterious circumstances, probably committing suicide a little before WWI broke out. He showed his far-sightedness, introducing some important reforms in the Armed Forces organization, and giving importance to “the intelligence”. Here we can see his medals, some books written by him and his kepì.
GLi alunni dell' Istituto Foscolo, Teano - Sparanise