Later I asked Brad if he had any mementoes in his family from WWI and he said that his Italian paternal grandfather, Spr Giovanni Manera, had served in the 1st Regiment of Engineers in the Italian Army on the Isonzo front from 1915 to 1919.
Brad shared a collection of items he had put together to remember his grandfather including his discharge certificate and medals. He also told me that 12 days after my grandfather Harold was wounded at Passchendaele on 12 October 1917, his grandfather "Giovanni's unit was shattered and the survivors forced to retreat after the disastrous battle of Caporetto".
The Battle of Caporetto and the subsequent withdrawal, had a major impact on the Italian Army. The Italians lost 300,000 men – of these, about 270,000 were captured and held as prisoners. Nearly all artillery guns had been lost. Vividly pictured in Ernest Hemingway’s 1929 novel, A Farewell to Arms, Caporetto was one of the most famous routs in history.
According to Military History Monthly's website "The Battle of Caporetto in 1917 was a decisive victory for Germany, and one in which 25 year old German lieutenant Erwin Rommel showed signs of his future greatness. It was a spectacular victory, which brought Italy to the brink of national collapse."
"To caption your photographs my grandfather enlisted under the name of Giovanni Manera (he had about three Christian names). He joined up from the tiny mountain village of Castell Umberto in Sicily. He was inducted into the army on 1 December 1915 and at the time of his discharge, on 18 December 1919, was listed as Soldato Specialita Sappatore serving with 1° Reggimento Genio – by my hopelessly inadequate language skills, a qualified sapper in the 1st Engineer Regiment.
As Italian service medals from the First World War are unnamed I have put together a group of medals that represent Giovanni’s service and wear them in his honour when we host the Italian National Day ceremony here at the Anzac Memorial on the first Sunday in June. The medals include: the War Cross; the Italian War Service Medal 1915-19; the United Italy Medal 1848-1918; and the Italian Inter-allied Victory Medal.
The photograph is of my grandparents with their (at that time) five sons and a mate of my grandfather's. My father is the youngest of the boys and is standing between grandad's knees.
The helmet is the Italian model 1915 steel helmet of the type issued to all Italian soldiers. It is in my grandfather's head size (I have one of his felt hats).
The bayonet is the Italian model 1891 for the Carcano service rifle. Again, it is indicative of the type of bayonet my grandfather would have carried."