World War I had a great effect on Trentino. The first general mobiization in July 1914 called all men age 20 – 42 for service in Galizia and Russia. Large losses in the war are remembered with monuments to the fallen in many of the villages of Trentino. For example, the village of Romeno, housing about 850 people sent 155 of its young men to
fight in the war, 14 of which did not return.
The loss of the services of the young working men greatly impacted the village and its ability to provide for the remaining residents. Parts of Trentino were affected in different ways. Some areas remained untouched, while others suffered the effects of battles, evacuation, and deprivation.
Living conditions in Val di Non (the valley of my origins) during World War I were very difficult – not only due to the conflict and the casulaties, but also due to the harsh weather in that mountainous region. This was especially evident during the winter of 1916-1917 when the snows reached six feet and more of depth. As a child, I was told stories of families being housebound, and having to enter and leave their homes through window rather than doors.
Because of the war, and the presence of troops and many strangers in the area, many families feared that their possessions would be confiscated for military use or otherwise lost. As a result, many families gathered their utensils, pots, and valuables, burying them on family farmlands, to be retrieved after the war. This fear was wellfounded since subsequently, military authorities forced the confiscation of metal objects, tools, horses, and livestock. During the course of the war, many common items were difficult to obtain. In addition, money was not otherwise plentiful. Thus, a barter system was implemented, and families traded butter, milk, etc for shoes and cloth.
At war’s end, soldiers of both sides hurried to return to their homes. As a result, they sometimes abandoned equipment and backpacks. These items were retrieved by villagers for their needs. Hard bread was often found in the backpacks, which my grandparents used to make feed for the pigs. Many times, soldiers would knock at my grandparent’s door in Cunevo, asking for food or overnight lodging. Their requests were not often refused, but my grandfather normally stayed awake most of the night while the soldiers slept in the stables downstairs.
During the last months of 1918, typhus spread in Trentino, resulting in an epidemic which lasted into 1919. My grandfather’s brother-in-law Carlo Zanon and Carlo’s son contracted the dread disease. Their house was placed under quarantine, with no visitors allowed. My grandfather and other relatives brought milk, food, and other necessities. A rope was lowered from an upper window, and the supplies were pulled up by hand. Unfortunately, both father and son succumbed to the disease.