Antonio Antoniazzi and Giuseppe Moruzzi were boyhood friends. They lived in the village of Grezzo near the small town of Bardi in the Apennine mountains of Northern Italy, and they were my grandfathers. It was beautiful mountain country with stunning scenery but with a problem. The lovely terrain could not support the population that lived there and there was much poverty. The sad answer was to emigrate and to find a living somewhere else. People, mainly young men at first, went to France, the USA, Switzerland and Great Britain to find work. Many followed the trail to the valleys of South Wales where the Italian Café was becoming a familiar addition to many of the mining and industrial Towns, providing a valuable social outlet for the people who lived there. In a short time the “Bracchi Shops”, as they became known, were an institution in these towns.
Antonio and Giuseppe followed this trail as young men. Antonio with his brother were particularly fortunate and opened a number of cafés in the Caerphilly area. Antonio asked his friend Giuseppe to manage one of the shops, and eventually sold it to him. Life for the two friends was good. The businesses prospered and both men married and had families. They both still had small farms in Italy which they visited on holiday from time to time. They were accepted in the community and the future looked assured and bright.
95-97 Cardiff Road, Caerphilly, Antoniazzi's shop, 1920s-1930s.
This changed completely on the 10th June 1940 when the Fascist Italian Dictator of Italy, Benito Mussolini, joined his German allies and declared war on Great Britain. The Italians living in Great Britain were suddenly ‘Enemy Aliens’. This declaration of war had a devastating impact on the Italian population of Great Britain. Churchill, fearing a “fifth column” of sabotage and espionage issued orders to “Collar the lot” and most Italian subjects living in the UK were interned. The internment, though understandable in the dire straits in which Great Britain found itself in 1940, was nevertheless indiscriminate. It did not differentiate between known Fascists and simple café owners who had been living and working in Great Britain for many years. Many of whom had children who had been born in Great Britain, and had no sympathy with the Fascist cause.
Giuseppe was one of these unfortunate men. He was arrested by the local Police and taken firstly to Maindy Barracks in Cardiff and then in the company of many other South Wales Italians to an internment camp on the Isle of Man. He faced an uncertain future and was worried about his wife, three young sons and business in Caerphilly. His wife, my Grandmother, had to leave Caerphilly and move at least 20 miles from the coast. She found a temporary home with her youngest son with Italian friends in Tonypandy. The husband of her friend had also been interned. Giuseppe’s café was run by his two eldest sons, my uncle and my father both still in their teens.
Giuseppe spent 11 months in the internment camp and was freed after influential local people sent attestations of his good character to the authorities. He was fortunate because many men spent a longer time in the camps and many of the men that he knew never came home at all. A passenger liner the Arandora Star taking internees to Canada was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland and hundreds died. This included 53 men from the Bardi area.
Following Giuseppe’s return to Caerphilly my uncle and my father were called up to the British Forces. My father failed his medical on account of a heart defect brought about by Rheumatic Fever, but my Uncle joined the RAF. He was a very intelligent man and wanted to become a pilot. He was not allowed to fly because he stated that he could not bomb Italy or Italians. The RAF nevertheless used his intelligence and he became a technician in the use of RADAR following a crash 6 month University course in Liverpool. One of his lecturers was Arthur C Clarke, of later “2001, A Space Odyssey” fame. It has always seemed ironic that the son of an internee, initially deemed dangerous to the security of Great Britain, should have been involved with one of the most secret and vital aspects of Great Britain’s defence.
Antonio was on a visit to his farm in Italy when war was declared and was unable to return to Caerphilly for the duration of the war. His businesses were run by managers, licensed by the British Government, in his absence. Fortunately he had his family with him in Italy. The war was a very hard time for the Italians which became considerably worse with the Italian surrender in September 1943, when the Germans occupied much of the country. It was a brutal time. The Allies were fighting their way through Italy against the Germans in an attritional struggle. In the country side and cities there was virtual civil war between the remnants of the Fascist forces and the Partisans.
The Bardi area was occupied by German troops, often using Mongolian mercenaries originally captured on the Eastern Front. Their occupation was harsh, with savage reprisals for any show of resistance. There were continual sweeps by the Germans in the area to find Partisans and young men who would be sent to forced labour camps in Germany. It was doubly difficult for men such as Antonio who had such strong links with Great Britain. They invariably came under suspicion and were watched by Fascist sympathisers amongst the local population.
In September 1943 a large Prisoner of War camp containing Allied prisoners near Parma was abandoned by the Italian Guards. The prisoners immediately started to make their way to the Allied lines in the South. Many prisoners came up into the mountains around Bardi where they hoped that they would find help to escape because of the strong British connections of the people there. They were not disappointed. Many Italians risked the lives of themselves and their families by hiding former Allied prisoners and providing them with food and information to help them get back to their own forces and avoid capture or worse at the hands of the Germans and the Fascists. Antonio was one of these people. He helped a number of British soldiers and airmen, testified by letters sent to him after the War by Wing Commander Garrard-Cole, and Lieutenant-Colonel Beyer. The letters confirm the help he gave and the consequences if that help was discovered by the Germans. It is ironic that Antonio would have been interned had he been in Caerphilly in 1940.
After the war had ended Antonio made his way back to Caerphilly with the intention of resuming his business. For a variety of reasons there were difficulties and he was faced with the prospect of losing the business he had worked so hard for. He turned to his friend Giuseppe for help. Giuseppe and his son Domenico took Antonio to a prominent law firm in Cardiff and following a protracted legal battle he was able to recover his business.
From left to right: The 2 grandfathers, Giuseppe Moruzzi and Luigi Antoniazzi, and my father Domenico Moruzzi.
The photo was taken by a street photographer while
they were on their way to a Solicitors firm to discuss the legal issues in
the battle for Luigi Antoniazzi to regain his business, a battle which
ultimately was successful.
Giuseppe ran his café in Caerphilly until his death in 1950, when his sons took over the business. Antonio was happy in his regained business and it went to his son when he died in 1966. A consequence of the help that Giuseppe gave to Antonio was the meeting of Giuseppe’s son Domenico and Antonio’s daughter Veronica. The rest, as they say is history – my history.
Joe Moruzzi, Cardiff