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Tag Archives: Libyan war

Calcagni’s Memoirs. Toto and Luigi, or Gigi, Calcagni (13)

Luigi Calcagni, one of Carlo Calcagni’s two younger brothers. Click to enlarge. “To my dear mummy, on May 24th 1909″

[13th excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, my maternal grandmother’s eldest brother and a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text]


Carlo Calcagni had no children [see the original text in Italian] but for example his brother Gigi had nine, 6 girls and 3 boys, so I was asking myself: is it possible that no descendant is contacting me as for these memoirs I am posting?

At last Lorena Baroncini, Manuela and Maura Calcagni showed up, a lovely surprise (also Christian Floquet did: I will mention him in a later post).

Lorena, Maura and Manuela are in fact descendants of Gigi Calcagni [see his picture above], one of Carlo Calcagni’s two younger brothers. This is why I’ve decided to dedicate a post to Gigi Calcagni by collecting Carlo’s scattered memories about him.

Gigi was the tallest in his family, 1.82 mt, which, in those days – beginning of 1900 – and in this country meant being really tall. He therefore joined the grenadiers.

“He volunteered at 17 before his call-up – Carlo writes – and was rising through the ranks having no qualification since he had abandoned school in order to embrace the military career.”

Gigi was the one who accompanied his father Nino in his walks:

“When my father was looking for company in his long walks in the country – Carlo continues – the most enthusiastic was my brother Luigi, very young at that time but very big, or lanky, already. He followed my father like a dog for hours, then came back home tired and hungry beyond description.”

He married a certain Margherita.

“Margherita also exceeds the average height for women … their children all turning up colossal: a beautiful family whose females are like valkyries, and the first male a big and handsome young man … So big and beefy they are that they have cost Gigi a fortune in order to feed and to clothe them. Financial means: little, hence great and exhausting toil for him.”

Luigi was extremely strong and a good companion in their swims in the Tiber.

“And he fought with Toto, our dog, in World War I in the Grenadiers’ II Corps which distinguished itself in several battles.”

To proceed further we must therefore talk about Toto, the Calcagnis’ dog. From now on I hand over the floor to Carlo.

 Toto and Gigi, fellow soldiers

Toto, great Toto, priceless Toto … our dog or, to be precise, my dog … a fox [Terrier?] of the purest breed, all white with a maculated head … a dog that people turned around to admire in the street, a dog that Marquis Calabrini, the King’s squire, came to look for up to our house in order to buy him and bring him to the King’s kennel: he would have paid any sum to have Toto.

From our house window my sister Maria, Toto’s closest friend, cried, particularly indignant and resentful:

“Toto is not for sale. What then? Are we going to repeat the ‘Joseph sold by his brothers’ story?”

Calabrini – I remember as if it were now – went away between admired, astounded, confused and very perplexed.

My brother Luigi progressed in his career as a noncommissioned officer of the grenadiers. He came home every day and then went back to his quarters in S. Croce in Gerusalemme.

He had already experienced war, the Italo-Turkish war or Libyan war, from where he had returned safe and sound despite he had found himself in the firing line in battles such as, for example, Sidi Said and Bir Tobras.

Ponte Sisto on the Tiber as it is today. Click for credits and to enlarge

Getting back home from war he looked at our small house with pleasure, the one we lived in overlooking Ponte Sisto (see picture above,) and said with intention “Oh, we’ve got gas now” (great news for our home since there always had been petroleum, and little of it). Then sitting at the table in front of a good steak (a horse steak although he didn’t know that) he began to eat at a good pace. At one point while cutting the meat and it escaping the grip of his fork he deftly caught it and with his deep voice mimicked the carter who tries to stop the horse, “Leh ….”

A dream! He had immediately understood how and why there could be so much luxury of meat in our house. A little humour inherited from my father but more serious, more restrained and, above all, much less frequent.

Toto, War Volunteer

Then came the First World War with the departure of my brother Luigi as warrant officer together with a volunteering Toto.

Toto’s voluntary service went in this way.

Gigi told me one day:

“Would you give me Toto? I’ll bring him to war with me. He will keep me company and, together with him, I will bring along a piece of home and of you all.”

We were puzzled and between yes and no until the day of the actual departure from the Tuscolana railway station.

All of us, mum, Maria etc. plus Toto went for the ritual adieu. It was a long unending troop train of grenadiers, all the Second Regiment. Gigi went up and down the train to see if everything was all right in order to communicate and enforce orders and regulations. And Toto, without us or Gigi calling him was running back and forth between my brother and us, extremely agitated.

When it was departure time and the train had almost moved, Toto jumped into the car where Gigi was and immediately looked out the window to say goodbye to us.

Toto had left as a war volunteer.

A smooth Fox Terrier. Click for attribution

He behaved very well and always accompanied Gigi in all expeditions there including the very risky ones… Gigi took him under his coat while riding his mule and Toto didn’t utter a sound: he knew very well how to play the military dog … Of course all these feats had won Toto the affection of all the grenadiers …

When Gigi was once on leave he arrived in the dead of night. By hearing the family whistle everyone jumped out of bed to open the street and the flat doors. Toto was there with him and there hugs and rejoicing occurred for the two fellow soldiers. Then of course we went to bed and Toto triumphantly resumed his place on the bed at my feet according to his ingrained habit. Have a good night and rest: lights are turned off.

At one point Gigi, needing a piece of cigar for his pipe, carelessly walked into my room. Toto immediately attacked him since this time he didn’t serve any more as a fellow soldier, but rather as a guardian of his truer and senior master. I remember Gigi saying to Toto the bitterest insults that dog ever received from its master.


When the war ended Gigi returned home, got his discharge with honour and passed to the civil service at the Ministry of Finance. He was then employed at Banco Roma and later obtained a post in the Governorate of the Vatican City.

Original text in Italian

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