Gino Farnetti: A Child Of War

The astonishing true story of how Canadian soldiers saved an Italian child after a Second World War battle reveals the resiliency of the human spirit.

Following a battle against German forces in Torrice, Italy, in June 1944, the fields of warfare were devastated with ash and spent ammunition shells. But among the wreckage of combat lay a destitute 6-year-old child, scared and hungry and even more heartbreaking, the little boy was stuck in a bomb crater. That boy’s name was Gino Farnetti.

City Life had the honour of interviewing Farnetti and being invited to the exclusive screening on Sunday, June 16, of the Canadian docudrama Gino: A Child of War, which captures his survival journey.

After the emotional and well- received screening, a dinner was hosted at Montecasino in Vaughan honouring Farnetti, now 86 years old, where he graciously answered questions in front of a 200-person audience, many of whom also originally came from the town of Torrice.

It was in this beautifully made documentary that we learned that Canadian soldiers on a refuelling mission in a small town just south of Rome found Farnetti most unexpectedly. Tony Battista, the executive producer of the film and a Canadian military veteran, went on to say, “They heard a howling noise and thought it was a dog. Then they realized the noise came from a child stuck in a bomb crater trying to get their attention.”

When the soldiers retrieved him, they looked after young Farnetti as if he were one of their own. Especially after Members of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps had learned that the little boy they just rescued had already lost his father and mother.

“Survival was my main concern. I felt rejected by everyone until the Canadians found me in a shell hole and they showed care, compassion and affection. They offered me warmth, safety and something to eat, and that felt good!” says Farnetti.

Nine months after his rescue, the Canadian soldiers, or as Farnetti refers to them, “my Canadian guardian angels,” taught him English and relied on him as a camp messenger throughout the closing months of the Second World War.

Although Farnetti admitted at the outset of the interview that his childhood memories have faded over the years, one of the most cherished memories he will never forget is when he was given a bicycle and a little car built by his guardian angels.

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“My rescue by the Canadians defined the life I have lived. They gave me hope when desperation and criminality were the only other outcomes. They gave me love and a purpose when helplessness and depression were the only other options,” says Farnetti.

After leaving the care of the Canadian soldiers, Farnetti was soon adopted by an Italian couple Antonio and Rina Farneti (one ‘t’ as opposed to two in his adopted name). He went on to live a wonderful life, and became an engineer, husband, father, and grandfather.

Eventually, Farnetti reconnected with Lloyd “Red” Oliver, one of the Canadians soldiers who’d saved his life and connected him with the rest of the men still alive: Mert Massey, Paul Hagen and Doug Walker, and he was able to meet with them and their children. Although the Canadian soldiers who saved him have all since passed on, Farnetti’s bond with them and with their families will remain strong as long as he himself is alive.

When asked what he’d like to share with younger generations about his war experiences and the importance of hope, he replied, “Understand the lessons of the past and try very hard not to repeat mistakes that lead to war. Compassion, humility and the best aspects of human dignity must always prevail. War is the failure of civilized human activity, but prevention and deterrence remain necessary. Every generation needs to learn and re-learn this. Finally, children must always be protected, no matter how desperate things might get, because they are the hope for a better world.”

The next special screening of Gino: A Child of War will take place Tuesday, July 9, at 8:45 p.m., outdoors at the Birra Moretti Cinema in Toronto.

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Marc Castaldo

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