The drawing above is my tribute to the great Italian soldier, writer, artist, architect and engineer Paolo Caccia Dominioni. As a soldier, he experienced both World War I and World War II, beside the Libyan Campaign and the War in Ethiopia. Initially along with the Axis forces, he later joined the resistance, during which he was even captured by the Nazi Germany secret police known as Gestapo.
His historical witness is important not only for his extensive experience, involvement, and knowledge in many different fields, but also as a writer and fine artist: beside many other things, his production of a vast amount of drawings, sketches, and illustrations, is a legacy of immeasurable value. Several artworks of his were made directly on the field, or from personal memories, and give us an impactful glimpse of life during war.
Paolo Caccia Dominioni came from a generation of architects who knew how to draw. A generation who lead to the birth of Italian design, and who also inspired a great number of cartoonists and illustrators for many years.
Due to the status of his noble family, he lived his adolescence following his diplomatic father around Europe and North Africa. This situation gave him an eclectic cultural background that was as well related to the old-fashioned chivalrous view of life, which blended braveness, education, and good manners. He had a creative vision of the world, sided by a fair and sporting spirit in the fight.
In 1942 he was assigned to the Military Intelligence Service (Servizio Informazioni Militare). Unsatisfied with this rear line task, he managed to be transferred to the newly created division of the Alpine Combat Engineers, also known as Sappers (Guastatori del Genio Alpino). In July 1942 he was entrusted with the command of the 31st Sappers Battalion of Africa (31º Battaglione Guastatori d’Africa del Genio), used throughout the North African campaign. During the Second Battle of El Alamein, they took part as reinforcement of the 185th Airborne Division “Folgore” (185ª Divisione paracadutisti “Folgore”). His battalion was the only surviving organic department of the X Italian Army Corps (X Corpo d’armata italiano). For this reason, major Paolo Caccia Dominioni of Sillavengo was decorated with the Silver Medal for military valor.
Of the 5,000 battalion soldiers, only 304 returned. The deeds of the 31st Battalion became legendary. Their spirit of abnegation is unparalleled in contemporary history, and their courage has been universally recognized. A quote from German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel says: «The German soldier has astonished the world; the Italian Bersagliere has astonished the German soldier». According to some historians, «the British special forces were so impressed by the methods and tactics of the Italian desert corps that they actually copied them». Winston Churchill said in a speech to the House of Commons a month after El Alamein: «We must honour the men that were the Lions of the Folgore».
Due to the Badoglio Proclamation on 8 September 1943, Paolo Caccia Dominioni joined the Resistance inside the 106th partisan brigade Garibaldi.
After the war he devoted his life retrieving, identifying, and burying the corpses and remains of the soldiers, of all sides, who lost their life in the Alamein battlefield, for which he designed a memorial named Quota 33.
He tried to name them all: behind each of those names there was a man with his story. They were not just numbers. As far as possible, he honored his men on his books, with his memories, his stories and his drawings. He even personally wrote letters to the families of the victims, sometimes even attaching a few tufts of grass and some sand collected near the burials in the desert.
A memorial plaque that he designed for the monumental memorial of Quota 33 at El Alamein reads: «Mancò la fortuna, non il valore» («Fortune had lacked, not the valor»).
As an architect, he understood the profound meaning behind a monumental cemetery.
Architecture arises from the dialogue between life and death, as something built for eternity. In particular, the monument is the place through which we continue to identify our history, our identity. It forces us to remember. Its etymology derives from the memento, an object that obliges us to remember, something that is kept as a reminder.
This artwork was inspired by Paolo Caccia Dominioni’s drawings related to the epic battle of El Alamain. You will find traces of his style, as well as his handwriting and calligraphy. There are also some references to the vintage typography of his books, like the one he published in 1931, Basta Con Questa Guerra (something like Stop This War or Enough Of This War).
I dedicate this illustration to his memory. A small tribute to a great soul.