Italy’s involvement in the First World war was nothing short of disastrous. In 1915, knowing that Italy was keen to expand its geographical area Britain promised Italy that upon defeat of the Austro-Hungarian empire there would receive territorial rewards if they supported the cause. Italy broke with The Triple Alliance on 3rd May 1915 and just three weeks later declared war on Austria-Hungary, although not on Germany, 5.8 million Italians were immobilised from a population of 38 million. Italy was both militarily and economically unprepared for war.
The war for Italy lasted just three years, but in that time more than 650,000 Italian soldiers were killed and more than a million seriously wounded. 600,000 Italians were captured by the Austrians and deported of which a 100,000 died. From the 5.8 million immobilised soldiers, 4.2 million were deployed to the front and 56% were former farmers.
At the end of the War, Italy was virtually bankrupted. National debt in 1914 had been more than 15.5 lire by 1919 that number had risen to 85 billion lire. Inflation rose to 400%. More than 500,000 civilians died mostly from food shortages and the poor harvest in 1918.
The promises made in 1915 did not come to fruition, many Italians felt that they had paid a hard price and received almost nothing in return and it was this sentiment that led to Benito Mussolini to rise to power.
For those of us researching Italian ancestors one thing to be mindful of is that if your ancestor retained their Italian Citizenship but lived elsewhere, the UK or US for example they were required to serve in the Italian military.
In the 1930’s Italy’s Ministry of War published what are known as the Golden Books. There were 28 books published plus an additional three appendices commemorating those who perished during the First World War and fought in the Italian Military.
The website can be located at http://www.cadutigrandeguerra.it/CercaNome.aspx
The website is not the greatest design, and the main page and the initial results can be translated using your internet browser, when your surname yields a response it shows the surname, first name and the father’s first name, which is very helpful, the second field shows which volume the record is in followed by the province, the page and sub-page, the commune or town of birth, date of birth and the last two fields have links, first to the actual page of information (in Italian) and the last field is the personal data and this can be translated in your browser.
The image shown below shows the search box, the transcription and then the excerpt for the surname of Vircigilo, although there were two individuals that perished.
For those of us researching Italian ancestors it is a vital record of our ancestors, because even if they resided elsewhere they may well have returned home to Italy to serve their country. If anyone is researching the surname of Virciglio, especially in Sicily I would be especially delighted to hear from you!