Fortunato Picchi (Private Pierre Dupont)
Unit : X Troop, 11th Special Air Service Battalion
Fortunato Picchi was born in Carmignano, near Florence, Italy, on the 28th August 1896. He joined the Italian Army during the First World War and served in Macedonia with the 64th Infantry Regiment. Following the Armistice, he worked in the hotel trade before emigrating to Britain in November 1921, where he spent 14 years working at the Savoy Hotel, eventually becoming head waiter before moving to the Flemings Hotel. Picchi came to regard Britain as his home, and although he did not claim to have any particular political leanings, he was certainly an anti-Fascist, and so when war was declared he was extremely eager to help his adopted nation in any way that he could.
Picchi joined the Pioneer Corps and volunteered for mine clearance work, but towards the end of 1940 he was recruited by the Special Operations Executive. In January 1941, the Director of Combined Operations asked SOE if they could supply an Italian linguist to accompany "X" Troop on Operation Colossus, and Picchi arrived at Ringway towards the end of that month. In view of the high probability that most if not all of the party would be taken prisoner, Picchi was dressed in British uniform and given the identity of a Frenchman, 3846154 Private Pierre Dupont; a lie that he could lend a little credibility as he had a reasonable knowledge of the language.
His participation in the raid is something of an anomaly as the operation orders repeatedly called for just two Italian speakers, and these they had in the form of Trooper Nastri and Flight Lieutenant Lucky. In view of his connection to SOE, coupled with his unsoldierly bearing and somewhat advanced age for this type of work, one could be forgiven for imagining that there may have been more to Picchi's role than merely translating Yet there is nothing in his SOE record to suggest otherwise, and as he never parted company with "X" Troop as they attempted to reach the rendezvous with the submarine, it would appear that this was indeed his only purpose.
Picchi accompanied Major Pritchard's party, and despite being a middle aged man suffering occasionally with asthma, he did phenomenally well to maintain a pace with the rest as they struggled through the appalling conditions across the mountains. He asked them several times to leave him behind if he became a burden, but they would have none of it and he kept going.
When the party was taken prisoner and interrogated, particular attention was paid to the Italian speakers amongst them, and none more so than Picchi he had an obvious Italian look about him, spoke the language with a flawless Florentine accent which still lingered in his English, and he seemed so out of place amongst the fit, young men of "X" Troop. Continually questioned and possibly even tortured, during these sessions or subsequently, he became quite dispirited, despite the efforts of his fellow prisoners to assure him that he was protected by his British uniform, and that he should stick to his story of being a Frenchman, and provide his interrogators with just his name, rank and a number, which in any case was all they should expect to receive from him. Picchi was a highly idealistic man, however, and Lieutenant Deane-Drummond was alarmed to hear him consider revealing his true identity, reasoning that very few people in Italy had any Fascist sympathies and so they may view him as a loyal patriot. He may well have done this, because he was separated from "X" Troop shortly after and taken away.
Picchi was brought before a special tribunal near Rome 5th April 1941, where he was charged with assisting an enemy and taking up arms against his country, despite being a British citizen. He was found guilty, and on the following morning, shackled and facing a wall in the manner of a traitor, he was shot in the back by a firing squad. Fortunato Picchi has no known grave, but he is commemorated on the Addenda Panel of the Brookwood Memorial, at the Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey, and is today celebrated as a hero in Italy.
In the aftermath of Operation Colossus, there was an idea to make a propaganda film about the raid with Picchi as its main subject, but it came to nothing due to numerous security concerns. The Special Operations Executive were worried that any Italians recruited from the Pioneer Corps in the future would be assumed by their comrades to be embarking on such a raid, and as such any loose talk which spread to the wider Italian community in Britain could potentially be intercepted by enemy agents and result in their identities being known in Rome before they had left the country. The Central Landing Establishment, meanwhile, were concerned that the film could reveal something of their methods and training, and Lieutenant-Colonel Rock added, "Although Picci was an idealist, he was also, after all, a traitor to his country and it seems rather difficult to make him out a hero. I am not at all sure, either, that it is a good thing to publish the fact that we dress Italian civilians up in battle-dress and drop them in Italy in the company of British soldiers. It is the type of ruse of war which we complain about in the enemy." It was, therefore, not until 1944 that Picchi's involvement became known to the British public with the following newspaper article:
47-Year Old Italian-born Air Commando Hero had Love for England
Hero of Britain's first paratroop raid on Italy was 47-year-old Italian, Fortunato Picchi. Details of the raid, made three years ago, have just been released. Picchi came to England from Tuscany (north of Rome) and later became sub-manager of the Savoy Hotel in London before enlistment.
"All his life he had a passionate love of Britain and all things British," says the Sunday Despatch.
"It came as a shock when he was interned after Italy entered the war on June 10, 1940. The reason probably was he had never troubled to seek naturalisation. But Picchi was pleased, after which he told the British authorities he was prepared to undertake any work, however dangerous.
"He became a private in the Pioneer Corps, and, with a handful of others, vanished from public life.
"One day they left on Britain's first aerial commando raid - 17 men including the pilot - for southern Italy.
"Picchi, their guide, was first out of the plane. The others followed with tightly-packed equipment for a big programme of sabotage ahead.
"Evidence has been received that they accomplished at least three quarters of what was planned. Among things blown up were an important bridge over a canal, a railway junction and a bridge leading to it from military storehouses of different kinds. They were at liberty for about a week, hiding in the day time and striking at night time, living on the country.
"But the hunt for them was on. Despite Picchi's knowledge of the country, they were captured. Picchi knew that he now walked with death. If recognised, he would be shot as a traitor and the others would be merely held prisoner. For some time his identity remained unknown, but finally he was recognised and sentenced to death.
"Picchi, hatless and with his hands shackled, was executed by an Italian firing squad on the outskirts of Rome. He was shot in the back as he faced a wall."
A fund of £1000 is being raised to perpetuate Picchi's memory by endowing a cot in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for children at Hackney, a suburb of London.
The following files are transcripts of Fortunato Picchi's Special Operations Executive record.
NAME PICCHI, Fortunato.
PARENTS Both Italian. Father dead.
BORN 28.8.1896, Carmignano
NEXT OF KIN Mrs Florence Lantieri, 175 Sussex Gardens, London
CIVIL OCCUPATION IN ITALY Hall porter and various hotel work
SINCE LEAVING ITALY Head waiter Savoy Hotel, more recently Fleming's Hotel.
MILITARY SERVICE 1915-1919 Great War. Pte. in 64th Rgt. Inf. Took part in 1st Italian Expeditionary to Macedonia. Went to Sofia.
KNOWLEDGE OF WEAPONS ETC Rifle only
ARRIVAL IN U.K. November, 1921
REVISITS TO ITALY four or five times last visit in 1931
LANGUAGES English read and write and speak fluently. French understands and can speak fairly well. Formerly some knowledge Bulgarian.
SPECIAL QUALIFICATIONS Can swim.
REMARKS 1.3.41. Memo from J to the effect that this man is now a Prisoner of War in Italy. Although trained by J & M was handed over to D.C.O. Ought they not deal with his position? His friend MRS LANTIERI, 175, Sussex Gardens, W.2. must be told his English name and only use such, and must adopt for herself, when communicating with him, another name. 1.3.41. D/T I talked and we produced above points D/T1
NAME PICCHI, Fortunato
BORN 1896 Florence.
Waiter. Served in Italian army in Great War. Came to England in 1929. Worked at Fleming's Hotel, Half Moon Street and then for 14 years at the Savoy Hotel where he was head waiter on the Banqueting Hall. Belonged to no Italian Club or society and is thoroughly Anglicised. Not politically minded, but would rather England won the war than Italy and is anti-Fascist. Volunteered for mine-sweeping and for the Pioneers. Anxious to serve in any capacity, however dangerous. No dependents. Mother in Italy.
REPORT ON PICCHI.
From S.O. R.A.F. Station, Ringway. P/O L.P.R. ROCHE.
I stayed with PICCHI, PURISIOL and SALSILLI at the same hotel from 23.1.41 to 26.1.41 inclusive. All spoke freely to me of their various experiences from which the following was gathered.
PICCHI, for 14 years at Savoy Hotel, London, as banqueting Manager. Latterly at Fleming's Hotel. Most of the foreign and even English waiters at Savoy were ardent fascists. Claims to have no politics himself, but against Dictators and attached to this country. Engaged to Amy HEPWORTH, 116 Queens Road, Wimbledon. He wrote to her whilst here and to his mother (? Mrs. Florence LANTIERI, 175 Sussex Gardens W.2.) also to Captain H.A. GRIGGS M.T. Section BASE (?) 10 Corps HQ, Home Forces. Speaks excellent English (with accent). Quite intelligent, inclined to talk too much about his keenness to do a job in the War for Britain. Appears genuinely grateful for opportunity given him here, and for his treatment, during and after internment.
QUERY. Physical fitness after Hotel life. He seems quite fit and moderate in his habits.
Appears to be keen and have "guts".
(had one "Pip" upon great coat, & none on battle dress, which aroused curiosity and lead to questions being asked. Note by Major Wilson, to say this has been fixed)
Report on Picchi by L/Cpl Searle, FSC.
An idealist, apart from politics, who is in many ways more English than the English. An excellent worker and organiser who cannot allow failure. Wants above all things, for everyone to be treated fairly, and according to their deserts. Is prepared to share in all England's trials and has no desire to be treated in any way differently from the English soldier. Has a real security sense.
6th May 1941
Reference the attached copy letter from Sir WALTER MONKTON to Mr GLADWYN JEBB.
This letter seems to me to entirely miss the point. Surely the most disastrous aspect of the publicity given to the PICCHI episode is that any Italians whom we may in the future enlist from the Pioneer Corps or Internment Camps at once become marked men among their fellow pioneers or internees. If, for instance, we now recruit a man from the Pioneer Corps the whole of the rest of the Pioneer Corps will assume that he has gone for parachute training; from the Italians of the Pioneer Corps the story will spread through the Italian Colony in England, amongst whom, if there are not actually agents of the Italian Government, there are certainly a large number of very noisy gossips. This means that in all probability the Italian Government would know the names of Italians being trained by us before they even went out on an operation.
I do not think it too much to say that our whole policy of recruiting Italians in England in jeopardised.
Surely Sir WALTER MONKTON must realise that publicity such as this must endanger the lives of other trainees and their families in Italy should they have any.
Apart from this any such disclosures must obviously be prejudicial to the security of a department such as ours, where secrecy is of the utmost importance.
30th May, 1941.
You may remember the story in the Press of Fortunato Picci, the ex-Savoy waiter who, as a member of our parachute forces was dropped in Italy and eventually executed by the Italians.
A film company is anxious to make a film on Picci. It would be of strong propaganda value and I am anxious to help as much as possible in its production.
Very little is known of Picci as an individual and it would be the greatest help if anybody who knew him well could be allowed to discuss his personality and life - so far as it is known - with the writer of the film script.
We should have to make sure of course that the film avoided any possibility of giving valuable information to the enemy.
It is possible that Picci may have been attached to you at sometime. If so, could you help me at all, and alternatively let me know if you think the project undesirable.
(Sgd) R.E. TRITTON
No.11 S.S. Battalion,
33, Toft Road,
Central Landing Establishment,
Royal Air Force, Ringway,
14th June 1941
Reference attached correspondence, none of us here knew Picci well. He was sent us by Brigadier Gubbins, who should be able to provide the information you want.
Although Picci was an idealist, he was also, after all, a traitor to his country and it seems rather difficult to make him out a hero.
I am not at all sure, either, that it is a good thing to publish the fact that we dress Italian civilians up in battle-dress and drop them in Italy in the company of British soldiers. It is the type of ruse of war which we complain about in the enemy. [Penciled note: This fact has already been fully revealed by the Press.]
Yours [Signed by Major Rock]
Major D.M. Grant,
26th September 1941
1. The above was one of our first Italian recruits; and, after training by us, he was handed over to D.C.O. at their request on 22 January 1941 for the "COLOSSUS" operation.
2. His official designation was No.3846154 P. Dupont.
3. The Rome wireless stated in a broadcast on 6 April 1941 that a certain FORTUNATO PICCHI had been taken prisoner with the British paratroops who had recently landed in Southern Italy. It was said he was recognised and denounced after the paratroops had committed acts of sabotage in the Calabrian region; and he was shot by the Italians as a traitor. The Rome wireless report was quoted by the B.B.C. and considerable publicity was given to the incident in the London Press.
4. We have had no official confirmation of PICCHI's death; and it was thought at the time that the Italians might have made the announcement in order to provoke some statement in England.
5. In order to establish the facts it has been suggested that an enquiry should be made through the U.S.A. Embassy in Rome whether one of the British paratroops engaged in this operation was in fact shot by the Italians and if so what was his name. The question is purposely put in the above form and it is desirable that neither the name of PICCHI nor the name of DUPONT should be mentioned.
6. In our view, the enquiries should be made by the D.C.O. as the man in question was transferred to that department; and they are presumably responsible at least for obtaining evidence about his fate.
7. Our concern in the matter is two-fold. In the first place PICCHI left a will before his departure appointing a certain MRS LANTIERI of 175 Sussex Gardens, W.2 as his sole executrix and legatee and the will remains in our possession. We feel that there is not sufficient evidence available for MRS LANTIERI to prove presumption of death; and that the matter should be cleared up at the earliest possible date. In the second place, we are continuing to pay MRS LANTIERI an allowance of £3 a week in accordance with the instructions of PICCHI which he left behind with us. If death can be proved we should need to consider a settlement with her.
8. We should perhaps mention that the D.C.O. has never assumed any responsibility for PICCHI's remuneration; and MRS LANTIERI, not being a relative, would presumably have no claim on Army funds whatever PICCHI's
F. PICCHI 13th January 1942.
Whether Picchi was in fact an Italian subject. Yes.
Where he was born and when. Born PRATO Nr. FLORENCE, 28/8/1894.
Name of parents. Mother's name: GIACOMINA PICCHI. (Maiden name PIZZI?)
How long he had lived in England. 20 years.
When he last visited Italy. 15 years ago.
Whether he had ever expressed the view that England was his permanent home (assuming he was an Italian). He looked upon England as his home.
Whether he had ever expressed the intention of returning to Italy. Not permanently, but if possible for a vacation.
Which of these countries he referred to as "home". England.
Whether he maintained his connections with Italy, e.g. read Italian newspapers, or had Italian friends, and, if so, the names and addresses of any particularly close ones. He did not maintain any connections with Italy. He may possibly have read Italian papers when he was at the Savoy Hotel, but he certainly did not at home. His only Italian friend was Mrs. Lantieri, but naturally had Italian acquaintances.
Whether he fought in the last war, and if so, with what Army. He served for 4 years in the Italian Army in the last war and was wounded.
From whom Mrs. Lantieri heard of Picchi's death and whether she has received any letters from anyone tending to establish this fact. Mrs. Lantieri heard of Picchi's death on the wireless and subsequently in the daily papers. X (See page over).
If so, would she allow us to have the originals copied and translated (if this is necessary), these being returned to her when Picchi's affairs are wound up. None.
A similar request regarding all letters (if any) from Picchi while a prisoner. No letters were received from Picchi whilst he was a prisoner.
The number of letters which she wrote to Picchi, and approximate dates thereof. Mrs. Lantieri wrote a number of letters to Picchi, but these were subsequently returned to her before they left the Country.
She has been told that he was tortured etc. but is not certain who told her. It may have been Mrs. LINA CRIPPA who works in a delicatessen shop at Tidsbury Court, Wardour or Rupert Street. It seems that Mrs. Crippa has befriended Mrs. Lantieri on several occasions and is 100% pro-British. I rather gathered from Mrs. Lantieri that the owner of the shop, by name, BIRALE, has Fascist sympathies and it appears that if Mrs. Crippa gave any information to Mrs. Lantieri it would have probably emanated from Birale. Mrs. Lantieri stated that Mrs. Crippa is most loyal to this country and she did not wish any harm to come to her (Mrs. Crippa) through having mentioned her name.
FORTUNATO PICCHI, alias PETER DUPONT
The Allied authorities require a signed statement showing in full detail what the Italian authorities did with the above-mentioned, who was captured in British uniform on 10/11th February, 1941, following upon the parachute operation which was carried out in uniform against the Apulian aqueduct.
The Allied authorities are in possession of papers showing that the above-mentioned was interrogated by Major FIONI, and that under interrogation it was discovered that DUPONT's real name was Fortunato PICCHI. There is at present no information at the disposal of the Allied authorities to show what subsequently happened to PICCHI.
On 6th April 1941, a broadcast from Rome was monitored by London. This broadcast purported to be an official statement to the effect that Fortunato PICCHI had been shot as a traitor.
On 7th April, 1941 a statement appeared in the newspaper "Messagero", a translation of which reads as follows:
"Among the parachute jumpers of the British armed forces who were captured in the Calabra - July 26 p.m. (?) a zone where they had effected acts of sabotage last February, the Italian civilian Picchi Fortunato, son of Ferdinando of Carmignano, Florence, aged 44, was identified. Picchi Fortunato was accordingly denounced to the Special Tribunal accused (a) of the crime as per Article 242 P.P.C.P. for having from December 1940 onwards served, although an Italian citizen, in the armed forces of the English state; (b) of the crime as per Article 247 O.P. for having during war time, with the scope of favouring the military operations of the enemy to the detriment of the Italian state, helped and collaborated with the British armed forces in accomplishing such Operations. The law suit against this traitor was commenced on Saturday and it terminated with the sentence of death by shooting in the back. The sentence was executed on Sunday April 6 at dawn in the suburbs of Rome."
To: Capt. C. Rolo, No.1 S.C.I.
From: Major P.M. Lee, 300 F.S.S.
8th August, 1944.
Further to our telephone conversation, I attach 2 copies of a note which I hope is self-explanatory, concerning the above-mentioned ex-agent of ours.
I should be grateful if you could extract from Col BERTACCHI the necessary signed statement.
For your information PICCHI was originally recruited by our organisation right at the end of 1940. In January 1941 the D.C.O. asked us to supply a man for the Apulia Acqueduct operation. Accordingly PICCHI was handed over and went on the operation dressed in uniform under the name of No.3846154 Pte. DUPONT, P. After the operation PICCHI was reported as having been made a prisoner of war, and various arrangements were made for his relatives to write to him under an assumed name etc. No letters actually left the country for him, and none were received from him.
On 6th April 1941, Mrs Lantieri (the beneficiary under PICCHI's will - see below) heard a broadcast from Rome which, according to Mrs Lantieri, included an "official" statement that PICCHI had been shot as a traitor. You may also remember that about 1st April, 1941 an obituary notice appeared in The Times, announcing that PICCHI had "sacrificed his life for the cause of freedom" etc. This announcement caused no end of a publicity campaign, and gave our Security Dept. many headaches.
On 7th April 1941 "Messagero" published from its Roman office a statement concerning the death of PICCHI - a translation of this statement is attached.
The only substantial asset that PICCHI left was a life policy for £1,000. Mrs Lantieri is badly in need of this money, but has so far been unable to draw it, as the insurance society are still without proof of the death, and will not accept the radio report or the extract from "Messagero" as evidence.
Perhaps Col. BERTACCHI could be persuaded to produce a signed statement showing what the Italians actually did with PICCHI.
P.M.135. 21 August 1944.
In the first half of 1941 there were dropped in the Neapolitan area some British parachutists who carried out acts of sabotage on an aqueduct.
On investigation by the Military authorities of the area, the Carabinieri and the Police, it was possible to arrest some of the parachutists themselves, among whom there was a certain Peter DUPONT. Suspicions were aroused by his perfect Italian and Florentine accent, and on interrogation he confessed that he was an Italian citizen.
He was in fact identified as Fortunato PICCHI, born at Carmignano (Florence).
In accordance with articles 242 and 247 of the Penal Code PICCHI was charged before the Special Tribunal which condemned him on 5th April 1941 to death for having played the traitor and having carried arms against the state.
Sentence was carried out by a firing squad on the morning of 6th April 1941 near Rome.
I make this statement as Head of the C.S. Section of the "Bonsignore" to attest officially the death of Fortunato PICCHI for the reasons and by the means as shown above.
Major O.C. Section.
22nd September, 1944.
It is with very great regret that I have to inform you that enquiries made in Italy have established that Fortunato Picchi was killed near Rome on 6th April, 1941.
I should like to have the opportunity of meeting you in order to hand you the Will of the late Mr. Picchi and give you any other details and assistance which you reasonably require at the present stage. If it is convenient for you to travel to London on Wednesday, 27th September I could see you here at 3 p.m. on that day, and Major Snow, whom you already know, has kindly promised to be present also. Should this suggested appointment not be convenient will you please telephone and arrange an alternative. I do not suggest your calling without an appointment because a considerable proportion of my time is spent out of the office, and both Major Snow and I would like to see you when you call.
Mrs. Florence Lantieri,
3 Southfields Road,
The War Office,
18/19 Monck Street,
1 August, 1947.
Signora Iacopina Pazzi Picchi,
La Briglia No.153,
We are in receipt of your letter to the War Office dated 18 July '47.
Your son Fortunato PICCHI volunteered to return to Italy on a very dangerous mission, and after a period of training he was dropped by parachute in February 1941 with a party of British paratroops. Their instructions were to carry out acts of sabotage to aqueducts, bridges, etc. in the Calabria Area. The party was eventually captured and placed in a Prisoner of War Camp. Unfortunately the authorities became suspicious of your son in spite of his assumed name owing to the fact that he spoke perfect Italian. He was eventually identified and appeared before a Special Tribunal who condemned him to death. This sentence was carried out near Rome on 6 April '41.
Fortunato Picchi was the first Italian to volunteer to return to Italy in the cause of her liberation, and his heroic death made a great impression on the Italians in this country. A Fund was started to raise money to endow a cot in his memory in a Children's Hospital.
Your son did not give us your name and address before he left this country, knowing that in any case it would not be possible to communicate with you at that time. In a will written before he left on his Mission your son left everything of which he died possessed to Mrs. Florence Lantieri.
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