Eileen Truant Pedersen has been researching and writing about her family roots, and local history, for years.
Many may recall her name from the highly regarded book called “Set in Stone – A History of Trail’s Rock Walls.”
Now, Eileen is sharing an epic tale that first began 10 years ago when she was handed a modest-looking ring by her older sister.
Turns out this ring carries with it great worth and prominence, but not in terms of dollar-value.
Instead, the metal band gives a glimpse to the past of not only Eileen’s predecessors, but also of her family’s homeland, Italy.
The ring, and countless others like it, was issued by Benito Mussolini’s fascist government to Italian women who chose, or were strong-armed, to give up their gold wedding rings and other gold jewelry for the war effort.
Women were given “replacement” rings with the inscription “Oro Alla Patria” [gold for the country] and the date.
Eileen’s handed-down ring was originally exchanged for a gold wedding band belonging to Annuta, an Italian aunt who died in child birth 100 years ago.
Interestingly, Eileen only recently noticed “Oro Alla Patria,” inscribed in the ring. Also stamped inside the dull grey band are Roman numerals, and the year, “1935.”
There is much more to how this particular wartime ring wound up in Trail and in Eileen’s possession. In her story, “The Metal Wedding Band,” she shares the riveting tale.
The Metal Wedding Band
By Eileen Truant Pedersen
“The story begins during the First World War.
Two of my uncles died during WWI in Northeast Italy – one, my mom’s brother Vincenzo, a Red Cross soldier; and the other, my dad’s brother Attilio, a soldier who succumbed to The Great Influenza of 1918.
Conditions during the war were deplorable in so many ways as the battles mostly took place during the winters in the precipitous Dolomite mountains along the Isonzo River.
Little has been recorded of these battles, contributing to a collective amnesia of Italy’s involvement, and, there has been a perception that Italians were incompetent fighters.
I grew up with this joke: ‘What did the Germans do with the grenade the Italians threw at them? They lit it and threw it back.’
For me, that was my family’s country’s legacy until I began to delve into my family’s her/history.
After the Italians suffered a resounding defeat by the Austro-German forces at the Sept.-Oct. 1917 Battle of Caporetto on the NE Italian front, my Nono sent my Nona, their five daughters, and youngest son, 9, to Genoa as refugees.
My mother was 10.
At least 250,000 women and young boys from the Friul and Veneto areas also left for various parts of Italy. My parents and several previous generations were peasant farmers on the plains of the Friul of Northern Italy in the village of San Martino al Tagliamento.
The Tagliamento is one of the most important braided rivers in the world. Meaning, it runs mostly under ground, except during spring runoff from the Dolomites, or during rainstorms.
It is currently nominated to be a World Heritage Site.
The town is close to the banks of this river, hence the name.
In Genoa, my family stayed at the L’Albergo Dei Poveri [Hotel for the Poor] for 18 months.
My grandfather stayed home to tend to and protect the farm animals and the land they owned.
The eldest son, my uncle Vincenzo, though he was with the Red Cross during the war and was apparently protected, was killed in 1916. He is buried in Gorizia.
I heard the story of how the family found out about his death: his sister Rosina, about 12 at the time, woke up from a dream screaming ‘Vincenzo is dead! Vincenzo is dead!’
‘Oh don’t be silly,’ the family reassured her, as they’d just received a letter from him.
However, word was out that men from the village had been killed.
My grandmother went out into the street to find out who. ‘Yours for sure’ one of the village women told her point blank. There are several stories of dreams such as this one in our family.
My mother’s oldest sister Annuta, pregnant with her second child, also accompanied the family to Genoa with her 18- month-old son Vincenzo.
The day she birthed her second, Ricardo, at L’Albergo Dei Poveri, Vincenzo died of meningitis.
Approximately a year after, it was safe for the family to return home.
Annuta gave birth to two more children, both girls.
Tragically, she died the day her youngest daughter was born, Feb. 6, 1921.”
Fast forward to 1935
“With the rise of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime, and two months after Italy invaded Abyssinia, now Ethiopia, at the beginning of October, 1935, Mussolini urged women to donate their gold jewelry to ‘the war effort.’
Directives were issued to collect gold wedding rings from even the poorest and exchange them for metal bands. According to Forbes.com Mussolini amassed 35 tonnes of gold this way.
Women seen with gold rings risked being shamed and shunned.
Annuta’s husband, Leonardo, ‘donated’ his deceased wife’s gold wedding ring when he was paid a visit by party members at his home.
It was replaced with a metal one.
Leonardo brought [the replacement ring of his deceased wife] to my mother.
He told my mother to hide her gold ring and to wear the metal one, which she did.
When party members came calling, my mother had no gold to contribute.
My eldest sister Anita, entrusted with its care, passed the metal band on to me, along with the story, about 10 years ago.
She knew of my quest to research and record family her/history and thought I should have it.
I am so grateful for that kind gesture.
What neither of us knew until researching further (Feb. 5, 2021), was that these replacement rings all bore the inscription ‘Oro Alla Patria 18 11 1935 X1V’ on the inside.
Translation: ‘gold for the fatherland.’
Did our heirloom have this inscription?
I retrieved the ring and scrambled to find a flashlight and magnifying glass.
Sure enough, there it was.
Seeing the inscription brought me to tears — so many emotions.
Read more: Trail Blazers
Read more: Trail Blazers