Pietro Secchia 1958

Women Partisans

Source: Il Monterosa è sceso a Milano. G. Einaudi Editore, Turin, 1958;
Translated: by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2009.

As the war of liberation draws to its victorious conclusion, our chronicle would be incomplete if we were to remain silent about the functions carried out by a brigade that didn’t fight, but which nevertheless participated in all the combats, that was ever-present, worked everywhere without firing noisy shots, but whose action was even so as effective and necessary as that of the more perfected arms: we’re talking about the nursing, courier, and intelligence women partisans.

The Resistance, however great might have been the courage of the men, would not have been possible without women: their functions were less flashy, but no less essential. There is no comparison between the participation of women in the fight for the Risorgimento and that for national liberation. It was then a matter, except for the insurrectional days in the cities and the popular revolts, of a few chosen ones, of shining examples, but not of mass phenomena.

“A fundamental characteristic of the women in the Resistance, which was one of the most vital elements of the war of liberation, is precisely its collective, almost anonymous character; its having as protagonist not some exceptional beings, but the wide masses, belonging to the most varied strata of the population; its being born, not from the will of a few, but from the spontaneous initiative of the many.” [1]

The first partisan couriers and spies were women. Initially they brought, along with assistance in the form of food and clothing, news from home and information on enemy movements. Quite quickly this spontaneous work became organized, and every detachment created its own couriers, which specialized in shuttling between the city centers and the command of the partisan units.

The couriers constituted an important gear in the complex machinery of the partisan army. Without the secure liaison carried out by the couriers, directives would have remained a dead letter; assistance, orders, and information would not have arrived in the various zones. Their work was delicate, difficult, and almost always dangerous. Even when they didn’t cross the lines during combat under enemy fire, they had to pass through the steep slopes of mountains, in pouring rain with dangerous, cumbersome material, covering hundreds of kilometers on bicycle or truck, often on foot, in the rain and the fury of the wind. Crushed in trains, squeezed against the disconnected axis of a cattle car, the couriers passed long hours, often forced to pass a night in a station or in an open field, facing the dangers of bombardments or a German ambush.

They often had to precede the fascists who were climbing behind them in order to warn our people in time, and many times they were involved in the subsequent roundup. After the combats, the retreating partisans were not always able to take those seriously wounded with them. If there were too wounded to hide, the couriers remained to watch them, to give them the necessary treatment, to seek medical help, to organize their recovery in a clinic. It often happened that after the battle the courier remained at her post in the occupied country in order to learn the enemy movements and to get the information to the partisan command. During the transfer marches they were in the vanguard: when the partisan unit arrived near a town the courier was the first to enter in order to find out if there were enemy forces and how many there were, and if it was possible for the partisan column to continue on.

During the overnight and rest halts the couriers went about the town in search of food, of medicines, and of whatever else was needed. Indefatigable, constantly in motion day and night in order to establish a liaison, to seek information, to deliver an order, to transmit a directive; often in the tiny envelope that the courier hid in her breast was the salvation, the life or the death of hundreds of men.

Many couriers fell in combat or in the course of their dangerous missions. Among others there was: Giuseppina Canna at Premosello August 29, 1944, Erminia Casinghino at Varallo April 24, 1945, Ermelinda Cerruti at Feriolo di Baveno November 19, 1944, Alda Genolle at Cavaglio d’Agnona April 4, 1945, Rosanna Re at Orio Mosso October 4, 1944, Ceonice Tommasetti at Fondotoce June 20, 1944, Fiorina Gottico at Varalla Pombia april 26, 1945, Veronica Ottone at Gravellona Toce November 1, 1944, Maria Mariotti May 16, 1944 at Novara, Anna Rossetti February 22, 1945, Maria Luisa Minardi, Maria Ubezio.

The Valsesian and Ossolan formations had as their main collaborators and couriers: Teresa Mondini, attaché in the liaison service, the sisters Dina, Lina and Tersilia Mambrini of Borgosesia, the sisters Maria and Wanda Manfredi of Valduggia, the sisters Wanda and Emiluccia Cann of Borgosesia, the sisters Vitto, Jucci, and Rosetta Caula of Varallo Sesia (nurses as well as fighters); the sisters Caterina, Angela, and Maria Zanotti of Valduggia, Angelo Zenotti’s mamma, and that of Giacomino Barbaglia; Stellina Vecchio of the general command of the Garibaldi Brigades; the schoolteacher of Rimasco Biancaneve di Boleto, Mariuccia of Varallo Pombia, Bianca of Montrigione, Fina Rizzio and her daughter Maria of Praveri, Maria Rioloio of Lebbia, Mariuccia of Cellio and Liliana Fantini of Borgomasero, Maria Teresa of Maggiora, the daughters Rasario and mamma Comoli of Raschetto, Lina of Varallo Sessio and many others. [2]

Particularly precious were the labors of Mariola and Marcella Balconi, indefatigable and courageous sanitary inspectors of the general command of the Garibaldi Brigades.

The Garibaldian Command in the Belliese was essentially served by the labor of Lilliana Rosetti for liaison between the zone and regional commands; of Bianca Diodati, Vinca berti, Anna Cinanni and Alba Ferrari for liaison with the general command of the Garibaldi Brigades which had its seat in Milan; of Nella Zaninetti, Aurora Rossetti, Giovanna Vanucci, Terseina Comini, Rita Gallo, Nara Bertotti, Luisa Giacchini, Ughetta Bozzalla, Mercedes Fall, Bruna Giva, Marai lastella, Eva Anselmetti, Bettina Zanotti, Ortensia Nicoló, Maddalena Curtis, Amata Casale, Silvia Berbero, Scintilla Robbioli, Marai Teresa Curnic, Alba Bischetto, for the various units of the Fifth and Twelfth Divisions, Lina Antonietti ensured the liaison with the National Liberation Committee and the civilian authorities. We must also remember Catarina Negro, the old “aunt” of the partisans, who despite her advanced age spared nothing in order to in every way assist the patriots who found in her welcoming home rest, liaison, and deliveries. Alba Spina and Ergenite Gili, among the mist active and daring, first worked with the Biellesa partisan formations, and later passed over to the regional military command.

It’s impossible to cite and recall all of their names. We needed the assistance of hundreds and hundreds of them, their initiative, their care and their courage. Medals were given to partisans and fighters, and to intriguers as well; but little or nothing was given to the women of the Resistance. But all those who know them will forever carry in their hearts the memory of what they were; to the couriers, to the nurses, to all the female partisans goes the imperishable affection of the Garibaldini.

1. A. Marchesini Gobetti, Donne piemontesi nella lotta di liberazione, Torino.

2. I ask for pardon from the many brave and deserving ones whose names I’ve forgotten.