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A heartwarming true story of Canadian soldiers who saved an Italian boy during the Second World War

By Martin Zeilig

Photo Credit: Martin Zeilig

A new Canadian made docudrama, Gino: A Child of War, is an amazing story of hope and kindness.

The hour-long film had its Winnipeg premiere before 260 people at the Centro Caboto Centre (1055 Wilkes Avenue) on October 22.


The Royal Military Institute of Manitoba co-sponsored the screening.

RMIM member Alan Parkin did much of the work in promoting the film’s showing here. 

The film, which was the idea of Colonel (ret) Tony Battista, was  produced by historian Karen Storwick and film director Robert Curtin of Combined Forces Production Collaborative.  

Their mission is to bring Canadian war history to life through compelling storytelling, noted an earlier CTV news item on the film--  Calgary-made film tells story of Canadian soldiers who rescued Italian orphan during Second World War (October 16, 2023).

The film was based on a book, Il Bambino in Divisa (The Boy in Uniform), that was written by the Italian historian/author Mariangela Rondinelli, who is also interviewed in the film.

Col (ret) Battista and Mr. Curtin were both present at the film showing here.

Gino Farnetti Bragaglia was an Italian 5-year-old boy orphaned and abandoned during the Second World War. 

“In 1983, Gino, then in his forties, receives a strange letter accompanied by an old photo of Canadian soldiers,” says the film’s narrative.

“By reading the name of Lloyd ‘Red’ Oliver, a light sparks inside of him. He remembers this name… ‘Red’ was one of the Canadian soldiers who took care of  him during the war after he was found astray at five years old in a quarry near Torrice, south of Rome. Gino is suddenly brought back to his forgotten past, inspiring a quest for rediscovery into the truth of his origins.”

Oliver was from the farming community of Mineota, in western Manitoba.  Other members of his unit were also from rural Manitoba.

The soldiers demonstrated the “Canadian way” says retired English Literature professor Gianni Blasi, who has both Italian and Canadian citizenship, in the film.

He defines “The Canadian Way” as fighting wars “with humanity, and recognizing the human cost and trying to make things better.”

“The Canadians show Canadian values in a theatre of war, and that’s what these guys did during the war,” Mr. Curtin said, during an interview with The Voxair following the screening.

He added that he and Ms. Storwick have been making films that tell the Canadian military story for about 15 years now.

“She and I have been separately telling our military story for about 20 years,” he said.

“Her background is a historian and my background is a filmmaker. It has been a fabulous partnership. We have done numerous projects for the (Federal) Directorate of History and Heritage, and museums across the country to tell our Canadian story because most Canadians learn our military history by watching U.S. television and movies or British movies. In those cases, although Canadians may have played a major role in the events, they’re omitted from the scripts.”

 But, they’re not written out of his and Ms. Storwick’s scripts.

“We want to help Canadians across the country understand the sacrifice because the very freedom that we enjoy was paid for by the blood and treasure of Canadians,” Mr. Curtin continued.

“It’s interesting because I typically like to film action, and this film has none of that. This is a gentle story about compassion and humanity in times of destruction. I wasn’t sure if I was the right guy to film it.

“It took me a while to come around to the Gino story. As I read Mariangela Rondinelli’s book I realized how powerful that story of the little boy and the connection to Canadian soldiers was. So, to me it was a thing of beauty and I wanted to create a thing of beauty that would reinforce that message.”

Col (ret) Battista, who served for 40 years in the Canadian Armed Forces, observed that the film documents how the past can have profound meaning in the present.

“Our hope is to help future generations learn about the tragedy of war, while showing the world how Canadian values illuminate the best in the human spirit,” he said during an interview with The Voxair.

He added that those Canadian soldiers displayed acts of humanity that are the best of the human spirit.

“What I’m so passionate about is their story needs to be captured and their families and grandchildren need to be made aware of the great deeds of their forebearers.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Parkin observed that the film had a lot delays due to the COVID pandemic.

The wait was worth it, though, he emphasized.

“It’s a wonderful story. The decency and compassion shown by those soldiers during the horrors of war was the Canadian way,” he said.


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