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Excerpt: Chapter 5 - For the Homeland!

When Italy entered the First World War on the side of England and France, its government immediately launched an appeal for the voluntary repatriation of all military-age Italian nationals living in Canada and elsewhere. These men were offered return-trip travel vouchers to la patria in exchange for military service.

The Sons of Italy Society concerned over its sickness and death benefit obligations, issued a terse statement to members volunteering for active duty in the service of Canada and Italy. Those joining the military would be suspended from the society. They would, however, be eligible for reinstatement on their return to civilian life.

Among those who enlisted in 1915 for active service in the Italian military were a group of Italians from Vancouver and the BC Interior. The volunteer brigade assembled at MacLean Park to begin drill exercises before officials completed arrangements for their passage to Italy. Young children, including Sammy De Filippo, watched in fascination as the recruits went through their exercises.

Bill Canal recalled his father, Pietro, mentioning that among the recruits were men formerly in the Italian Army who participated in the exercises. "A group of them formed something like a citizens' militia and would drill up on the MacLean Park playground. I remember my father saying that he and Filippo Branca were a part of it. My father had received some military training in Italy, you see. Neither one of them was called upon for anything, but it was an honest gesture on their part."

Jimmy Scatigno joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps. His brother Angelo Ruocco, still living in Castelgrande, served with Italy's crack Bersagliere Regiment. Although wounded in a gas attack, he was able to leave Italy after the war to join his brothers in Vancouver where he became a successful tailor and respected businessman.

The Sons of Italy raised funds for the Italian Red Cross in 1917 and the Italian Wounded Veterans' Association in 1919. In 1920, the society received a Diploma of Merit for its donations to the National Association of the Wounded and Invalid Veterans of the Great War.

There had been an economic recession in British Columbia around the time of the First World War and many families endured hardship. According to Rinda Dredge her father had become very resourceful in order to feed his family during this period. It was around the end of the war when my father learned that Canadian soldiers were being bivouacked at the PNE grounds. We - and other Italian families - would go down to the temporary barracks at six in the morning in hope of getting some of the unused breakfast food. There were big tins of jam, bacon, bread - bread galore - and we would just run in there and stuff all the left- overs in our sacks. My dad got to know one of the cooks and would give him some wine made by my uncle Lu. I was the oldest, so I brought the wine because the cook would only let the kids come in to take away the left-over food items. One day my dad brought the, cook a gallon of wine. As I was only 10 or 11, Dad had to give it to him because I couldn't carry the damn thing," concluded Rinda Dredge.