Excerpts from letters sent by Salesian soldiers to Fr. Paul Albera during the Great War.
Salesian Cleric Bosio describes his task as stretcher bearer:
“With Ressico and Ramezzana I am on the front line under enemy fire. Everyday we experience the special protection of our Mother, Mary Help of Christians. The hardships and heavy sacrifices which this service imposes on me are an opportunity to gain merits in Heaven. They also reveal so many aspects of life that I have never seen before, which I am sure will prove very useful in my life as a Salesian.”
The young lieutenant was a Salesian named Miglio. He lost his life in a heroic attempt to save his fellow soldiers.
One survivor offers this grateful testimony:
«If I am still alive I owe it to him […] We were in the trenches at an altitude of 1050 metres, caught in a ferocious bombardment by night. Lieutenant Miglio was outside his “barrack”, squeezing in as many soldiers as possible. I was outside near the entrance and he kept shouting to us, “Get in, get in! There is still room for more of you”. And he directed the soldiers inside to squeeze in tighter to make room for us. Miglio remained outside in the trench. Then a bomb fell nearby and exploded with a deafening blast. The shack fell apart and we were buried alive. After they pulled us out, we learned that the lieutenant and other soldiers had been blown to pieces…. He too could have taken refuge, he could have saved himself, but he gave up his place for his soldiers».
E. Valentini, Memory of a Hero, 47.
Fr.Albera’s priority was always to help young people who were most in need. He asked all Salesians who were not in active duty to redouble their efforts at home in order to cover the work of those in the service. Not a single house was closed during the War, a tangible sign of salesian dedication to the young. Despite the War and the shortage of personnel, Albera did not hesitate to open orphanages and offer help to those in need, on both sides of the conflict. The Daughters of Mary Help of Christians adopted the same policy. In 1916, Albera’s first priority was to open a home for war orphans in Pinerolo – Monte Oliveto.