Mess tin with graffiti
The mess kit was inseparable from the soldier. Each soldier had his and carried it wherever he went. Made of aluminum , they were very light. They had handles that could be used to fasten them to the straps. In photographs of the war period, it is common to see soldiers with a mess tin or dish hanging from the straps or belt.
The mess tin shown in the picture has the peculiarity of being personalized. Its owner, Armando Stellani, an Italian soldier, had it inscribed with his name. Stellani’s life story can be reconstructed. He was born in Palestrina in 1914 and participated in the Spanish Civil War with the Corpo Truppe Volontarie, which Mussolini sent to support the rebels. He survived and also participated in the Second World War, from which he also came out alive. Armando Stellani worked in the cafe owned by his father in Palestrina and combined his job with painting and sculpture. He died in 2005, at 90.
The mess kit was owned by a resident of the village of Abánades (Guadalajara), who used it to make plaster. We do not know how it ended up in his hands, but we can understand the general context during the war. Italian forces had a prominent though not very glorious role on the Guadalajara front. They suffered a great defeat in the battle of Guadalajara (8-23 March 1937), which cost them thousands of casualties and enormous losses in matériel. We also know that Italian and Spanish troops often exchanged equipment. In the archaeological excavations in Abánades, helmets, motorcycle goggles and flares produced in Italy, along with the more common munitions that were provided by Fascist Italy to the Francoist Army, have been found in positions occupied by Spanish troops. Ricardo Fernández de la Reguera describes those exchanges in his 1957 novel a Cuerpo a Tierra (“Hit the dirt”) set in Guadalajara during the Civil War:
For a few days, they lived together with the Italians they came to relieve. They got along immediately. Italians were cordial, generous and a bit naive. They were excited by the most unusual objects. As they had an excess of equipment, wonderful exchanges were made. For a wick lighter, a stingy hip flask or any other trinket they got trousers, a combat jacket, a poncho, a pair of boots, caps... Or they disappeared in the hands of rapacious Spaniards at the slightest oversight. Augustus’ battalion [the main character] was transformed. They wore a heterogeneous attire, a mixture of Spanish and Italian clothes.