My grandfather Bruno (Brunone) Rebuli was born on the 23rd of October, 1893 in the small town of Bigolino in Northern Italy. He was the middle son of Bortolo and Dori Rebuli and had two surviving brothers – Giovanni, the eldest, and Silvio, the youngest - and one sister, Maria. Two other brothers died at an early age. One drowned in a water hole on the family property when just a toddler and the other perished in Russia during World War I. I only just recently became aware that my grandfather’s name was in fact Brunone after a search uncovered his entry papers when he first arrived in Australia. Before that, I had only ever heard him referred to as to Bruno.
Bigolino is east from the city of Venice in the Veneto region and next to the bigger and better known town of Valdobiaddene in the province of Treviso. It is a pretty area, situated just next to the River Piave and mostly dominated by grapevines and other agricultural activities. The Rebuli family were farm people who owned their own land situated at Via Boschi. On all accounts, they had a comfortable existence growing mostly grapes but also a few other smaller crops that included wheat and corn. They also had an ox, mule and cart which they used for work they did for the local “commune” (council) gathering rocks from the banks of the Piave and maintaining the local roads.
The River Piave begins in the Italian Alps and flows southeast for 220km into the Adriatic Sea near Venice. It has seen several battles including in 1809 during the Napoleonic Wars in which Franco-Italian and Austrian forces clashed. In October, 1918, it was the decisive Battle of Piave on the Italian front. The failed Austro-Hungarian attack cost them nearly 200,000 casualties. The Piave has since been labelled the Sacred River of the Homeland (Fiume Sacro alla Patria).
The area around Bigolino suffered during the First World War due to its proximity to the River Piave. For some time during the war, they became cut off from the rest of Italy and were forced to struggle for just the bare necessities while the Italy on just the “other side” enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle. As a result, many had to flee their homes and go to live on the other side of the Piave as refugees.
The fighting along the Piave during World War I was made famous by Ernest Hemmingway who spent some time there during the war as an ambulance driver. His novel “A farewell to arms” recounts his time spent there.
Today, the Piave is no longer the mighty river it once was during the battle in World War I. Often, in summer it is just a trickle of water running through a mostly dry gravel riverbed. The Piave’s upper valley has major hydroelectric stations while downstream its waters are used for irrigation. I have fond memories of swimming and playing in the low waters of the Piave as a young child when we spent some time in Italy during the northern hemisphere’s summer of 1975.