Inshallah

By sebastianokelly

The last four years of Amedeo Guillet’s life were increasingly spent in Rome, and he slowly wound down. His house was an early Sixties apartment in northern Rome off the Via Cassia, near Tomba di Nerone, now covered in housing, but he recalled foxhunting over its hills in the Thirties.
It was after a day’s foxhunting in the Roman countryside near Viterbo in pouring rain that we stopped off for an ice-cream – a characteristically perverse choice, on Amedeo’s part. In a banal, plasticky bar Amedeo suddenly said to me:  “You know, Mussolini was really quite impressive with a small audience.” He was recalling his first encounter with the Duce, along with other young officers, after returning from the Conquest of Abyssinia in 1936. “It was only when he got on the balcony and started playing to the mob that the actor revealed himself.”

Amedeo’s lovely house at Kentstown, in County Meath, Ireland. Each room chronicled episodes of his life. The top left hand widows are those of the ‘Blue Bedroom’, where I wrote most of the book.

My daughters – le due figliole – Anna and Emily, with Amedeo in a pub in Trim, Co Meath. This is where Wellington came from, and a large monument dominates the town. Amedeo delighted in repeating that Wellington was indignant to be considered Irish just because he was born there: “If I were born in a stable would you call me a horse.”

Emily and Amedeo beside the old abbey at Trim. The children grew up on Amedeo stories and had that bond that grows so naturally between great age and childhood. He was certainly one of them, rather than one of the boring middle-aged grown-ups. They gave him a plastic figure of Zorro on a horse they had found in Agropoli market, and it was greatly appreciated, placed amid the silver-framed photos of Indira Gandhi and Principe Umberto in his dining room.

Amedeo celebrates his 100th birthday, February 7 2009, at the Italian Officers’ club in the Palazzo Barberini in Rome. It was a last gathering of his friends, and members of the Italian royal family, which he had so loyally served. Here are Ambassador Marchese Fabrizio Rossi Longhi, with Amedeo’s eldest son Paolo and, with the beard, the Duke of Aosta. Friends gathered from Italy, Ireland, England, Yemen, Eritrea, India, the USA and the Middle East. Amedeo sat on a vast ornate armchair, as though a Barberini pope himself. But the occasion was a triumph of will over the aches and pains that assailed him, and he left as soon as he decently could after having done his duty a final time.

Amedeo, with Dr Paolo Guillet, his eldest son, and daughter-in-law Suzanne.

Dan Vittorio Segre, author of the bestseller Memoirs of a Fortunate Jew and La Guerra Privata del Tenente Guillet, greets his old friend Amedeo, who he first met when serving with the British army in Naples, 1943.

Vassili Kiriakakos, a Greek Eritrean, and Colonel Mongelli, who made a film documentary about Amedeo and was a devoted attendant during the final years, with Major Ed Jeep, of the US marine corps.

Sancho Panza takes his leave … It was always very difficult to find presents for Amedeo that he might actually like, but I found some chocolates at Hampton Court with the portraits of Henry VIII’s six wives and he enjoyed the mnemonic of the women’s fate: divorziata, decapitata, morta; divorziata, decapitata, sopravvissuta …

 The Funeral

Amedeo’s funeral was a small affair in Capua, north of Naples, the little city where he had grown up on the River Volturno, where he crossed German lines in September 1943, to rejoin his king – and, as it happened, the Allied cause.

Capua, of course, wasn’t going to let its famous son pass away without noting the occasion. Dignitaries and a guard of honour marked the occasion.

Amedeo was adamant that he should be buried with the mane and tail of his wonderful Arab stallion Nasr, a parting gift from the Imam of Yemen when he ceased to be Italian ambassador in 1960. Characteristically, he had arranged almost everything, even ordering the marble epitaph for his tomb. As a result, workmen had to remove bricks from the outside wall to fit the casket or risk breaking it.

The flowers in the centre are from King Abdullah and others of the Hashemite ruling family in Jordan, who had a particular affection for Amedeo. He is buried with his father and mother, Bice, and Uncle Amedeo, the army corps commander, who had been such an influence on his life and who had made him his heir.

Remember

Mary Soames, Winston Churchill’s surviving child, and Sebastian O’Kelly give a talk for 120 guests at the Italian Cultural Institute in London in April 4 2011. Lady Soames and her husband Christopher had befriended the Guillets in Jordan during the 1960s. Alfredo Guillet came from Rome for the occasion. Emily O’Kelly is on the right, operating the projector.

Eritrean ambassador to the UK Tesfamicael Gerahtu, Sebastian O’Kelly, Mary Soames, Dott Presenti, of the Italian Cultural Institute, and Amedeo’s second son, Alfredo.

  1. Luigi Primavera says:

    Grazie, Signore Guillet.
    Perché è grazie a Uomini come Lei che Io riesco sempre a trovare la forza per andare avanti, pescando profondamente nel valore della dignità, umiltà, coraggio.

    Sono di Ercolano, ma in giro per il Mondo.
    Nelle prossime festività natalizie passerò a trovarla.

    Per renderle onore.
    Per ringraziarla.

    Luigi Primavera