The characters

Paolo Crivelli 

Thirteen-year-old Paolo Crivelli lives with his mother and elder sister in a large house in the hills surrounding Florence. He dreams of adventure and is determined to play his part in liberating the city from the Nazi occupation. 

His wish comes true, unexpectedly, when he is riding his beloved bicycle home one night and is ambushed by a group of Partisans who have an urgent message for his mother. Paolo finds himself dragged into a war that is much more thrilling, and far more terrifying, than anything he could possibly have imagined…

Like all young boys at this time, Paolo is knowledgeable about military hardware, especially tanks. He certainly knows an American M4 Sherman tank from a German Tiger. The Canadians have their own version of the Sherman, known as a Grizzly.

The Sherman tanks are small and zippy. They are capable of going cross-country and so are well-suited to roaming off-road in the Italian countryside.  

The Tiger tanks, by contrast, are much heavier, weighing over 55 tonnes to the Sherman's 30 tonnes. They are also a lot bigger and far noiser than the Sherman ones. Tigers are around eight metres long, four metres wide and three metres high. Shermans are only five metres long.

Italian-manufactured tanks, known as Carro Armato, which literally means "armoured tank", are used by both Allied and Nazi forces. The British, Australians and Canadians commandeer them from the German army as they work to liberate Italy.

Paolo is interested in the military in Florence, but the Partisans are his first passion. He is intrigued by stories of the brave freedom fighters hidden in the hills near his home. The Partisans' weaponry and uniforms are much simpler. They have access only to rifles and small, home-produced guns called SMG. Many of them wear a red neckerchief to symbolize their Communist allegiance.

Comprised mainly of men and women who have been outlawed by the Fascist regime in Italy, the Partisans will play a very important role in liberating the country. They have a large number of supporters and are able to provide a safe haven for anyone fleeing the Nazi forces.


Constanza is Paolo’s sixteen-year-old sister. She, too, wants to play her part in the war effort. Being older, though, she has more of an understanding about the real danger of war. She likes to escape from the terrifying realities of the world around her by listening to music on her gramophone and looking through fashion magazines. Due to rationing, clothes and magazines are scarce. Chanel, for instance, has stopped producing scent, but continues to sell face powder, lipstick and soap. Constanza enjoys looking at pre-war copies of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar

Below are some fashion sketches by Shirley Hughes of the types of outfits Constanza dreams of owning.

Constanza also loves to listen to music on her gramophone. Her favourite songs areJattendrai by Rina Ketty, La Vie en Rose by Edith Piaf and Lili Marlene” by Marlene Dietrich.


Constanza is also interested in popular films of the time. Some pin-ups of her day are Errol Flynn, whose portrayal of Robin Hood made him famous in 1938, Humphrey Bogart, who starred in Casablanca with the gorgeous Ingrid Bergman in 1942, and Clark Gable. Gable and Vivien Leigh brought Margaret Mitchell's book Gone With the Wind to life in 1939. 

Rosemary Crivelli

Rosemary Crivelli is Paolo and Constanza’s English mother. She was born in England and moved to Florence as a young woman when she married Franco, an Italian whom she met when he was visiting London before the Second World War.

Rosemary is worried about her mother, who is still living in London, and so is keen to learn as much about the war as possible. Information is hard to come by because of an aggressive Nazi propaganda campaign. However, Rosemary tries to listen to the British Overseas Service, British European Service and Voice of America as much as possible to keep up with the international news. 


Maria is the Crivellis' servant. She has been with the family a long time and is an important, and loved, member of the household. Her brother, Mario, owns a neighbouring farm.

Il Volpe 

Il Volpe (Italian for "the Fox") is the leader of the local Partisans, the band of rebels fighting against the Nazi occupation in the hills around Florence. 


Guido is Paolo's beloved dog.
 Cover artwork © 2012 Michael Crampton. Website text © 2012 Shirley Hughes and Walker Books. 
Fashion sketches, and black and white illustrations © 2012 Shirley Hughes. All rights reserved.
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