Biographies

Luigi Capello Intra - 1859 Rome 1941
Luigi Capello was born in Intra on 14 April 1859. Cadet at the Military Academy in 1875, second lieutenant of infantry in 1878, he began his military career in the 46th Infantry Regiment. Promoted lieutenant in 1881, he served in the Alpini Corps and reached the rank of captain in 1885.
A nonconformist military – he did not hide his opposition to the spirit of caste of officers, collaborated with Nitti and D'Annunzio and harbored sympathies for the socialist cause (note his friendship with Leonida Bissolati) - soon attracted the antipathy of many professional officers, as to be... read all
Lev Trotsky Janovka (Ucraina) - 1879 Coyoacàn (Messico) 1940
Lev Trotsky or Lev Trockij, aka Lev Davidovič Bronštejn, was born in southern Ukraine, in the village of Janovka, son of David Leontovič Bronštejn and Anna Žovovskaja, a large family of Jewish origin. His father profitably benefited from a landownership, by which he reached a good standard of living. Still a child, Lev was sent to Odessa, where was hosted by a nephew of his mother, Moisej Spencer, a progressive intellectual. In this city attends the Technical Institute of St. Paul where he reveals a gifted student.
In 1896 he moved to Nikolaev to complete the studies. He graduated in... read all
Benedict XV Genoa - 1854 Rome 1922
Giacomo Paolo Giovanni Battista Della Chiesa was born in an aristocratic family of Genoa, the sixth son of the Marquis Giuseppe and Giovanna Della Chiesa. Particularly attached to his mother and brothers, he received much of his first school education at home, cause for his weak health. He continued his studies successfully in one of the best schools in the city and soon became the vocation to the priesthood. In 1875 he graduated in law and his father allow him to undertake the ecclesiastical career, enrolling him at the Capranica College and at the Gregorian University of Rome.
After having... read all
Gottfried von Banfield Castelnuovo di Cattaro - 1890 Trieste 1986
Gottfried von Banfield was born on 6 February 1890 in Castelnuovo di Cattaro in Dalmatia, the youngest child of Ship-of-the-Line Captain Richard Mitis Banfield and Natalie Baroness Mumb von Mühlhaim. His father’s side of the family came from Ireland; in 1830 his grandfather had entered the services of the King of Bavaria and eventually served the Habsburg monarchy. After attending the naval primary school in Pola and the military secondary school in St. Pölten, he successfully completed the naval academy in Fiume from which he graduated on 17 June 1909. He served as an Austro-Hungarian naval... read all
“What can we cook in the third year of war?”
Virginia Brunner chose this title for a lecture she gave on 6 December 1916 in Innsbruck where at that time she was a familiar figure: Today she has been completely forgotten, just like many other women in all parts of the Habsburg monarchy who effectively publicised the difficulties of running a household during wartime.
Virginia Brunner’s life and public engagement during the war are typical of women’s involvement in the hinterland. There it soon became apparent after the first wartime winter that the military were given preferential treatment... read all
Alice Schalek Wien - 1874 New York 1956
Alice Schalek was born on 21 August 1874 in Vienna into an upper-class liberal Jewish family. After publishing her first works under the pseudonym Paul Michaely, she worked for over 30 years from 1903 for the famous Viennese daily newspaper Neue Freie Presse. From 1905 onwards Schalek travelled further afield visiting amongst other places North Africa, the Near East and South East Asia, elaborating her experiences in her columns, books and lectures.
Initially the outbreak of the First World War posed restrictions on Alice Schalek’s work as travelling overseas, especially to “enemy... read all
The Red Baron: Manfred Albrecht von Richthofen Wroclaw - 1892 Vaux-sur-Somme 1918
Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen was born in Kleinburg (Breslau, then part of the German Empire), by a Prussian aristocratic family. Not very interested in the study, the future Red Baron was distinguished horsemanship, hunting and athletics. Destined to a military career by his father, an army officer, to eleven, he entered the cadet corps, which he completed in 1911 by taking service in the cavalry, the Uhlans.
At the outbreak of the First World War he took part in the initial stages of the campaign on the Eastern front as a scout, then being transferred to the West where... read all
Mata Hari (Margaretha Geertruida Zelle) Leeuwarden - 1876 Vincennes 1917
Daughter of Adam Zelle and Antje van der Meulen, Margaretha was born in a town in the northern Dutch province of Friesland. Her father, wealthy man, assured her a solid education, allowing her to attend institutions where was possible to learn different languages. After the bankruptcy of the parent and the consequent disintegration of the Zelle family, Margaretha, now fifteen, became a student at a school for kindergarten teachers at Leiden. She later moved to The Hague at one uncle, where responding to ads for the purpose of marriage, she met her future

husband, an officer, Rudolph... read all
Teresa Labriola (Naples, 17 February 1874 - Rome, 6 February 1941).
Daughter of Antonio Labriola, known Marxist philosopher, grew into a lively and stimulating milieu. Enrolled in the Faculty of Law, University of Rome, in 1894 became the first woman to graduate from that faculty. From 1900 to 1918 she obtained a teaching qualification in philosophy of law at the same university, but failed in an attempt to get into the roles of their university career, largely because of gender... read all
Philippe Pétain Cauchy-à-la-Tour - 1856 L'Île-d'Yeu 1951
Philippe Pétain is one of the most important but also controversial figures in contemporary French history. His remarkable longevity took him though several pivotal moments in history. Rather an onlooker of events in the first part of his life, he became one of the major exponents of the two world wars. The first brought him glory, the second sealed his downfall.
Until 1914, Pétain’s life, like his military career, was nothing out of the ordinary. Never called up for a foreign operation, the Saint-Cyr graduate progressed slowly but steadily, without any experience of direct combat.
The... read all
Giuseppe Ungaretti Alexandria, Egypt - 1888 Milan 1970
Giuseppe Ungaretti was born in Alexandria on 8 February 1888 into a family from Lucca. His father had moved to Egypt to work on digging the Suez Canal. The work was physically exhausting and he died leaving Ungaretti an orphan at the age of two. His mother, a woman of strong character and will, was forced to maintain the family by opening the bakery on the outskirts of the city.
Although his mother was at times strict, she was so devoted to her children that, despite the difficulties, she ensured that Giuseppe and his brother received a proper education. Giuseppe attended the prestigious... read all
Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener Ballylongford-Listowel - 1850 mare delle Isole Orcadi 1916
“Lord Kitchener wants you” was probably the propaganda poster par excellence of the First World War. It depicted the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener – in a Field Marshal cap, with his characteristic long moustache and harsh stare, pointing his finger at the viewer – inviting him to enlist in the British army. It became one of the iconic images of the Great War, and was even taken up again by all the countries that fought in World War II. The image, the work of illustrator Alfred Leete, appeared for the first time in the 5 September 1914 issue of the London Opinion: it was so... read all
Aleksei Brusilov Tbilisi - 1853 Mosca 1926
Aleksei Brusilov was born in August 1853 in Tbilisi. He joined the ranks of the Russian army in August 1871, obtaining the officer rank during the Russo-Turkish war in the years 1877-1878. In the years 1914-1918 he was initially a commander of the 8th Army (1914-1916), and then a commander of the Southwestern Front (1916). After toppling of the tsarist system, from February to August 1917 he served as a Commander-in-Chief of the Russian army. Starting from 1919, he served in Red Army. In 1925, in recognition of his service during the First World War, as well as in acknowledgment of his... read all
Pietro Badoglio Grazzano Monferrato - 1871 Grazzano Badoglio 1956
August 6, 1916, at 7 am, the Italian artillery opened a violent barrage from Tolmin to the sea. The Sixth Battle of the Isonzo had begun and would have ended with the conquest of Gorizia, representing the first Italian victory after more than thirteen months of war.
On Mount Sabotino five infantry battalions, in only 38 minutes, managed to conquer the summit and to surpass it down to the right bank of the Isonzo on the ridge of San Mauro. Until then, the Sabotino had represented a major obstacle to the Italian advance: barren, defended by solid trenches, cave strongholds and shelters and... read all
Cesare Battisti e l'Irredentismo Trento - 1875 Trento 1916
Cesare Battisti – Italian politician, Irredentist, journalist and soldier – was born in Trento on 4 February 1875. He came from a middle-class family and grew up in Trentino under Habsburg rule. He attended the classical high school in Trento and studied at university in Florence, where he graduated in Letters in 1897 with a thesis on the geography of Trentino. During his years at university he became acquainted with Irredentism and socialist ideals. Over the following years he continued to work on and reformulate his thesis linking it to Irredentist ideals, which aimed to annex Trentino to... read all
Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck Saarlouis - 1870 Hamburg 1964
Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, a German officer descending from a Pomeranian noble family with a long military tradition, was born on 20 March 1870 in the town of Saarlouis, in the present-day Saarlouis district.
In 1881, at the age of 11, he entered the cadet school in Potsdam, where he stayed for three years. He obtained his diploma from a second school in Groß-Lichterfelde and, in 1888, joined the 4th Regiment of Foot Guards in Berlin as a cadet officer.
His career soon took him far away from Germany. In 1900, five years after being appointed Lieutenant, he was posted to China, where he served... read all
Churchill and the Great War Woodstock - 1874 London 1965
Winston Spencer Churchill was born on 30 November of 1874 in Woodstock, son of lord Randolph Henry Spencer Churchill, an important conservative politician. Churchill went to the military school of Sandhurst and was a correspondent in South Africa at the time of the Boer war, then in Afghanistan and in India. In Sudan, he participated in the war against the Dervishes, distinguishing himself in the Hussar regiment during the battle of Omdurman. He entered politics in 1900 in the conservative party, and then moved to the liberal party in 1906. In 1908, he was president of... read all
Henry Gwyn Jeffreys Moseley
Born in Weymouth on 23 November 1887, he was an English physicist. In 1910 he received a degree in physics at Trinity College, Oxford. After receiving his degree, he moved to Manchester and joined the research team of Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics and winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1908, with whom he worked until 1913. In the same year he enunciated what would go down in history as "Moseley's law", the result of his experiments in the field of X-ray spectroscopy. With the outbreak of World War I,... read all
At the outbreak of the “Great War” the officer class was the result of a strict and old-fashioned education based on nineteenth-century military manuals derived from those of the Napoleonic period. The military staffs of the main European armies were supporters of tactics and skills – such as bayonet assault, cuirassiers, the cavalry, showy uniforms – which were obviously outdated. After the American Civil War, even though whole regiments had been wiped out by ever more powerful weapons, including the first machine guns, the only solution suggested by the French military command was to... read all
On 8th September 1915, in Zimmerwald, at the end of the conference attended by members of the main European socialist parties, a manifesto was approved strongly condemning the ongoing war as well as all the political parties, including Socialist parties, who directly or indirectly had allowed it. A resolution of sympathy and solidarity with those persecuted in their homeland because of their pacifist and anti-militarist positions was also adopted. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, members of the SPD who during and after the war rose to the forefront of the... read all
Luigi Cadorna: lights and shadows Pallanza - 1850 Bordighera 1928
Luigi Cadorna, the general who led the Royal Italian Army to Caporetto, was born in Pallanza on the 4th of September 1850. Son of Count Raffaele Cadorna, the general who led the army in the conquest of Rome in 1870, Cadorna soon launched his military career, attending the Teuliè Military School in Milan and the Military School of Torino. His career made swift progress up the hierarchy to occupy the role of Chief of Staff of the Army, in July 1914.
With the entry of Italy into World War I, Cadorna finally had a way to put in practice his convictions on carrying out the... read all
D’Annunzio and the “Sagra di Quarto” Pescara - 1863 Gardone Riviera 1938
On 24 May 1915 the Kingdom of Italy broke from the Triple Alliance and declared war with Austro-Hungary. In the months of neutrality the country underwent a confrontation between the neutralist majority, formed by socialists, Catholics, and Giolittians, and the interventionist minority, which was present in every political force. They found major support among nationalists and republicans and, in particular, the two most important people in the government: the council president Salandra and the foreign minister Sonnino. A number of causes came together to... read all
Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin Konstanz - 1838 Berlin 1917
Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838-1917) belongs to the ranks of the genteel pioneers, the ultimately unfortunate counts. A member of the high aristocracy of Württemberg, his military career followed the aristocratic path par excellence: cavalry service. Intrigued by aviation experiments with aerostatic balloons, he began to study the problem of building an aerostatic balloon with a maneuverable rigid structure in the ’80’s. His ideas were initially considered unfeasible, arousing derision toward Zeppelin, who continued on his path despite a lack of success.... read all