A Llanelli war decorated survivor and POW of the bloody El Alamein WW11 campaign has celebrated his 100thbirthday. (Nov 26th 2019)
Sharp of mind with remarkable recall of his wartime memories, Raffaele Quaglia only gave up driving at the age of 97. Fiercely independent he still tends his Queen Victoria Road garden and says the best present he could receive would be a knee transplant to follow a successful hip operation he had aged 95 to maintain his mobility.
He has a huge zest for life. As part of his pre-centenary celebrations he travelled to Lourdes this summer with his youngest son Luciano, a Vidal Sassoon trained hairdresser and only daughter a civil servant, Anna. Sadly his wife Lena died after a short illness in the summer of 2018 aged 86.
As an artillery officer in the Italian army Mr Quaglia was conscripted at 18-years-of-age to the Bologna Regiment. He witnessed horrific carnage in arguably the most decisive battle of the Second World War. He was captured in El Alemein in November 1942, and made a Prisoner of War.
Eldest son, Tony who has worked in international and premier league football as a sports nutritionist and private pilot, Tony Quaglia said military historians had told him El Alemein had been one of the most decisive battles in military history and described as a war without hate. “It has helped me understand why sometimes Dad has been totally lost in thought, so common for soldiers who survived the cruel brutality of war.”
What remained of his regiment in the desert war had been abandoned by the Nazis who hsd taken them to war ill equipped. After many successes driving the Allies back at Tobruk they moved on to El Alemein where because of lack of supplies and equipment were forced to fight a rear guard action.
Unsupported they fought ferocious see-saw battles against the Allies across 400-miles of desert with both sides chasing one another across the unforgiving North African desert landscape. Disadvantaged with antiquated First World War equipment they also struggled with water rationed to a quarter of a litre of water to each soldier a day.
Mr Quaglia admitted it was a relief to eventually have been captured and not killed or expiring from exhaustion and dehydration on the battlefield. The majority of his comrades did not survive.
“When we were captured the water rationing increased 10-fold and I had my first shower for a year. I have never complained of the rain since. I think it is why I love Wales so much,” he smiled.
Following capture Mr Quaglia was clandestinely evacuated via Cairo where he was kept for seven months before travelling through the Mediterranean and on to Scotland. After a month he was put on a train from Glasgow with 12 other POW’s and they were dropped off one by in great secrecy throughout the country. Mr Quaglia was the last POW to leave the train at Carmarthen station and sent to work on a farm at Llanddarog and then Llangain before he developed malaria battling the disease for a month. He re-couperated on another farm at Llanarthne and after six months was posted to another farm at Pontarddulais.
Farm labouring suited Mr Quaglia. He’s the son and one of seven siblings of a farmer from Alta Villa, Italy. He had left school at the age of nine to help his father, Donato on the family farm.
Mr Quaglia left Pontarddulais after being accused by the Ministry of stealing eggs when they were still being post war rationed. His son Tony says: “Dad says he argued eggs may have been rationed but his work never was. He was starving and working 14-hours a day! He needed the eggs to survive.” Mr Quaglia was returned to Llangain where he had been treated well and when the war ended he was repatriated to Italy where he remained for seven years.
His love for Wales encouraged him to write to the Carmarthen family at the last farm that had engaged him at Llangain asking them if they could help him return to Wales.
Mr Quaglia said because of his hard working ethic he was welcomed with open arms and enjoyed many years there before finding work at Kidwelly Brickworks, Llangennech and Cynheidre Colliery as a coalface worker contracted by Thyssens, Bynea. He retired in 1980.
But he had managed to find the love of his life while in Carmarthen.
An Italian friend recommended he seek a wife and eligible young lady Lina (Michelina). They exchanged many letters before he returned to Italy and met, courted and married her in May, 1956. He brought his wife to Wales and they lived at Bancyfelin and Pillroeth Lodge, Llangain. They raised a family of three, Tony, Anna born in Llangain and Luciano in Llanelli where the family rented homes in Tunnel Road and Park Crescent before buying their first family home in Old Castle Road then Queen Victoria Road.
It was there, his home of nearly 50 years; Mr Quaglia celebrated with family, nighbours and friends his colourful 100 years.
Among scores of cards and message Mr Quaglia was delighted and surprised to have a birthday card from the Queen to which he said: “I don’t know why? I have never met her! I also had a congratulatory letter from the Pope. I haven’t met him either!” Mr Quaglia mused with a twinkle in his eye.