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S. Tenente Farmacista Beghetto


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After university, my grandfather was sent to the Scuola di applicazione di Sanità militare di Firenze to complete his studies in military medicine as pharmacist in March 1939. He was 26 years old while here and he learned the ins and outs of military life.
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He was eventually sent to the Military Hospital of Verona where he is given the rank of Sottotenente (2nd Lieutenant) in the Army's Corpo Sanitario. In June of 1940 Italy declares war on France and Britain and when my grandfather was home on leave, asked his father with excitement, "Did you hear? We declared war!" He received the following response about his early attitude towards war, "Be weary, because war begets war." 2 days later he was assigned to the 132nd Sezione Sanità of the division corazzata "Ariete". He spent the remainder of 1940 on maneuvers near Verona and Bergamo.
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On Dec 28th he was declared to be sent to territory in a state of war, boarding a ship in Naples January 22, 1941 and arriving in Tripoli January 24, 1941.
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There is not much known about the year he spent at war. A few pictures, some locations up to October 1941 as the division moved east, but not much else.
After some requests for his stato di servizio and his record with the ICRC we learned that he was captured by enemy forces on December 7, 1941 near Gambut. It is unknown why he was at Gambut when he was captured or if this was just the nearest location where he was sent after capture. Best information received, is that with all Rommel's orders for the Divisione Ariete to move west, then east and then back west, the convoy of the sezione sanità was attacked, became displaced and ended up within area controlled by the 25th Divisione Bologna. (My guess between El Adem and Gambut). My grandfather said that in the day prior to being captured he was assisting in field operations, (amputations) and administering medicine, (morphine) and described the situation to be complete hell. He woke up from his tent the next morning to find the section completely surrounded by "the English". It is unknown if they were actually English but most probably were from the 70th Infantry Division as Scobie was clearing the area between Tobruk and Gambut in these days. According to one record, salvaging parties of the 70th went out that morning and returned with 50 prisoners. If he was captured by the 70th, then my grandfather was most-likely one of them.

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By January of 1942 he was eventually taken to POW camp 308 then 309 and 306 in Geneifa Egypt where he stayed until September 1942. The only story from his days as a POW in Egypt was that the prisoners would hope to catch a rat every so often, so as a treat, they could have some meat in their soup as opposed to just broth.
In September 1942 he was set to be transferred from Egypt to the UK via South Africa. Now, the story that was passed on to my father was that my grandfather boarded the ill-fated Laconia that day. At some point along the journey, (Aden-Mombassa-Durban-Capetown) he disembarked the Laconia and was separated to board another ship either because he was an officer or because he was thought to be a doctor and not speaking any english, could not tell them he was a pharmacist.
He recounted one night after sailing from south africa that he noticed the ship moving in the wrong direction. They had received word that the Laconia had been sunk and to avoid the U-Boats in the Atlantic, his ship went across the Atlantic, up the coast of the Americas to join the convoys crossing the North Atlantic, finally arriving in the UK on September 22, 1942. The story of being on the Laconia was always a bit fuzzy and there was never any proof that he was actually on the ship, until this year my uncle found in his attic, an inscribed book given from my grandmother to my grandfather in 1965 of the story of the Laconia.
My grandfather has always stated that while in the many POW camps England, he was always treated very well by the British, either because he was an officer, or he was placed in charge of other POWS or because he was put to pharmaceutical use.
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My grandfather remained a POW until after the war was over, eventually repatriated in February 1946. After the war he was retroactively given the rank of Tenente and according to my father, remembers him referred to as "Capitano" in the reserve Army, but I have no record of this. He died in 1973...I never met him.
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