Calgary-made film tells story of Canadian soldiers who rescued Italian orphan during Second World War

Click to play video: 'Calgary-made film tells story of soldiers who rescued orphan in Second World War in Italy'
Calgary-made film tells story of soldiers who rescued orphan in Second World War in Italy
WATCH: A Calgary production company is sharing the story of a bond that has lasted 80 years. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, an Alberta woman travelled to Italy for an emotional meeting with the man her grandfather rescued. – Oct 16, 2023

A new movie exploring the real-life story of an orphaned Italian boy cared for by Canadian soldiers during the Second World War made its Canadian premiere in Calgary this weekend.

Lloyd Oliver was serving in the 5th Canadian Armoured Division in Italy in 1944 when he and some of his fellow soldiers found Gino, an orphaned five-year-old boy.

Oliver helped care for him for nine months until he was able to find foster parents for the child.

“To my grandpa, Gino was like his firstborn son,” said Amanda Oliver-Lonson, who lives in Redcliff, Alta.  “He taught him how to read and how to write. He took him everywhere. He taught him life lessons.

“When the Canadians left Italy, they had to leave Gino behind and to my grandpa that was like leaving his firstborn. It was very difficult for him because he didn’t know what the outcome of Gino was going to be afterwards.”

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An undated photograph of Gino Bagligia on display during the Italian premiere of the film depicting his rescue by Canadian soldiers during the Second World War. Supplied/Oliver family

Oliver-Lonson said her grandfather was ordered to leave Gino behind and to take him to a displaced persons camps, but he requested that he and Sgt. Les Bryant from Miniota, MB., drive Gino to the town of Viserba where he would find someone to care for him.

After the war ended, Oliver tracked Gino down in Italy and they kept in touch over the decades until Oliver’s death in 2012.

Oliver-Lonson and several other family members travelled to Italy this summer for the premiere of the documentary telling Gino’s story. They met Gino Bragaglia, now 85 years old, and watched the film on Canada Day with him in the village of Torrice.

“That was the first time I met Gino, and he has been like a long lost relative,” recounted Oliver-Lonson. “To finally get to meet him was really surreal. It was an overwhelming and happy experience for our whole family and I’m glad that we got to be a part of it.”

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Poster for the Italian premiere of ‘Gino: A Child of War’.
Poster for the Italian premiere of ‘Gino: A Child of War’. Supplied/Oliver family

Gino: A Child of War had its Canadian premiere in Calgary on Oct. 15 at the Italian Cultural Center. The event was attended by Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek and Italian Consul General Dr, Marco Nobili, as well as the film’s producer and director.

The project was led by Col. (ret’d) Tony Battista and produced by filmmakers Karen Storwick and Robert Curtin of Combined Forces Production Collaborative.  Their mission is to bring Canadian war history to life through compelling storytelling.

Storwick said the story is particularly relevant with war raging in Ukraine and the Middle East where so many children are victims.

“The Second World War was 80 years ago, suddenly (it) feels like it’s not that far away,” said Storwick, whose great-uncle, Pte. Louis Street, died while fighting in Italy.

“These things are still happening in our world. Children are still being orphaned by war but there are acts of kindness everywhere.  This is what we really wanted to profile with this film — the acts of humanity.

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“We want to make sure that we never forget our humanity.  And war, unfortunately, is part of the human condition that we seem to never be rid of. But, if we can remember that we have to be human beings through all of this and take care of each other, maybe we could all move forward to a better place.”

Storwick’s great-uncle, Pte.Street of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, was killed on May 23, 1944, just before Gino would have been found wandering in the woods near Torrice in the Liri Valley.

Mayor Gondek says the story serves as a reminder that many soldiers who enlist to preserve our democracy perform acts of kindness that we may never hear about.

“Many of those folks are incredibly compassionate human beings and many of them are putting their lives on the line to save others like Gino,” said Gondek.

The Gino film project was presented at the ICFF Venice Film Festival Industry Conference in September.

The film will make its Manitoba debut on Oct. 20 in Miniota, where many of the soldiers who rescued Gino were from. Subsequent viewing events throughout Canada are currently being planned.

The filmmakers received a grant from the Veterans Affairs Canada Commemoration Program to help create the project that, according to Storwick, will be shown in schools.

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