Terelle – January 1944

Terelle is a small town on the south east side of Monte Cairo just outside of Cassino.

The Gustav Defence Line ran through the nearby town of Cassino and German troops occupying Terelle and the surrounding area forcibly rounded up the local men to labour for them. They were to build a new road connecting Terelle to Belmonte Castello to facilitate the movement of troops and provide an important communication and supply route to the German front line.

From October 1943 onwards, displaced families from neighbouring towns and villages along the Gustav line began to take refuge in Terelle. It is said that 3,000 refugees arrived from Cassino alone.

In the last week of January 1944 the people of Terelle found themselves entrenched in what became known as the Battle of Belvedere. French troops, were ordered to penetrate the German Gustav line, north of Cassino.

On the 25th January 1944 the assault commenced. The German line was well fortified with bunkers and mines and was well defended. The Allies pounded Monte Caira, where Terelle was located, and on the 28th January Terelle was bombed causing many civilian deaths. The French fought on but by the 31st January, under heavy fire, they were forced to retreat. In all they sustained around 2,500 casualties.

At the end of January many of the civilians in Terelle were deported to collection camps north of Rome. Any civilians who had managed to avoid deportation sought refuge in the countryside, finding shelter wherever they could in caves and isolated houses.

Today Terelle is just a shadow of its former size and importance. Many of its residents emigrated after the war, to Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Germany and Ireland. Many who stayed in Italy chose to move to Cassino and the surrounding towns.

Amazingly the civil records prior to 1860 survived the war almost intact but those after 1865 were completely destroyed. Reconstructed records can be found only in the town offices.

Parish records have some gaps in the baptism, marriage and death records but with the help of the Stato d’anime (parish census) it is still possible to reconstruct your family tree.

Napoleonic Cemetery of Terelle Italy © Louise Shapcott

Of particular importance is the existence of a Napoleonic Cemetery. Only a few survive in this area. From 1799 the area was occupied by the French. During this time an imposing structure, Neoclassical style,  was built in the area called the Castagneto. This was the Napoleonic Cemetery named San Egido.  It was made of blocks of squared stone and beneath it was a vault where the bodies of the deceased were placed.  This was according to a law that Napoleon had introduced regarding public hygiene and the regulation of burials. It decreed that each and every corpse must be buried in a cemetery outside of the town walls, within two days of death, thus not in the traditional church graveyards or crypts

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