Picture of Alfredo Antonio Comparetti in Africa in 1936
My father Alfredo is the second from the left standing up wearing his white officer hat.
He was born in 1899 and he was forced to discontinue his studies on his 18th birthday, having been called in 1917 to join the Army and do his part in World War I.
Many other teenagers were in his same position , they were regarded by the veterans like cherished children and were called nationwide “I ragazzi del 99” (i.e. “The boys of 99” born in 1899), many of them never went back home, including Ugo, a brother of my future mother, who went in 1917 as well and was killed near Venice just few weeks before the end of the war in 1918.
At the end of the war in 1918 my father was lucky enough to get back home alive with the degree of Lieutenant for his valuable services in the Army.
So valuable his services had been that on the 4th of March 1921 (he was just 22 years old) he got a Honour Medal for his performance as a Lieutenant during Worl War I.
One year after, in 1922, Mussolini marched to Rome to set up a dictatorship, my father was only 23 year old but had his own cristalclear ideas and could never accept such a situation and openly showed his disagreement. Tough year followed for him, with no I.D. issued by the Partito Fascista he could not finish his University and he could not get a job, and couldn’t get a passport either.
In the early thirties he met Maria Zaira, my mother to be, and they married against all odds on the beginning of 1933, but the situation became even worse in march 1933 when Hitler was “democratically” elected by the majority of German Voters and Mussolini became an allied of Hitler.
My father had no place in Italy and could not go abroad as the passport was denied to him, so later in 1933, even if never a day in his life he was a professional soldier, the only way out was to put on his soldier’s uniform once again and go as a Complement (i.e. non a Professional Officer) Captain to Africa, where the majority of the Sultanates of Somalia was under Italian control since around 1880. The last piece of land acquired by Italy in Somalia in order to form Italian Somaliland was the Jubaland region which Britain ceded to Italy in 1925 as a reward for the Italians having joined the Allies in World War I. The British retained control of the southern half of the partitioned Jubaland territory, which was later called the Northern Frontier.
At the end 1935 he was involved In the war with Ethiopia (Abyssinia) which lasted until may/june 1936 when (with the silent agreement of the European Nations as well the USA) Ethiopia became an Italian Colony.
On the 15th of June 1937 he was awarded a Honour Medal of Gladio Romano (i.e. Roma Sward) for his notable behaviour during the Military Campaign in A.O.I. (Africa Orientale Italiana, i.e. Italian Eastern Africa) and this happened even though my father was not sharing those values but only was used to behave responsibly and with no fear.
Then on the 2nd of May 1938 he was also knighted by the King of Italy (…and Emperor of Ethiopia during maybe 5 years only…) Vittorio Emanuele III as a Member of the Crown of Italy Order.
Even an unpleasant situation can produce something positive, in this case it was a blessing for causing my father’s unexpected discovery and appreciation of the African Tribal Art as he could travel around Africa and specially to the British and French Colonies which were sofar neutral to Italy (this is also explaining the interesting collection of Post Stamps of the main British and French African Colonies of the time).
So he remained in Africa for various missions until 1941 when Italy got involved in World War ll and he was recalled to Europe to combat there (against the old allies of World War I …..).
His fourth reward came on 14th of December 1942 with a Cross Reward (Croce al Merito) Medal for his performance as a Captain during Worl War II.
To cut a too long story short, my father managed once again to stay alive in spite of “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (as William Shakespeare writes so good…) and went back home and his long missed wife during August 1945. They were so happy to meet again after such a long time that I was born on the 30th of April 1946, 13 years after they married and unwillingly parted from each other.
When I was a child my father was talking to me about the wild beauty and profound attraction of Africa and African peoples before World War II, telling me fascinating stories about their oral traditions, enchanting myths, primeval but deep spiritual beliefs and their moral vision of the world as a whole , single living entity….but he never told me a word about the horrors he went through since when he was only 18, during all those too many long years as a non-professional soldier in the heart of the carnage until the day he came back home at the age of 46.
His life was thence cool and serene until the day came when “the dewdrop slips into the shining sea”(as Sir Edwin Arnold depicts) and he died in peace with himself and the world in 1975, Maria Zaira joined him in 1993.