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Beneath a Scarlet Sky tells the tale of Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Lella, one of Italy’s forgotten WW2 heroes. Despite being unknown, he played such a pivotal role in driving the Germans from Italy and at such a personal cost, forever altering him. Mark Sullivan’s book allows Lella to step out of the shadows, telling his story and getting the recognition that he deserves.

This story focuses on the forgotten front that is Italy between June 1943 and May 1945. Despite being described as a work of historical fiction, the story behind the book is real. With so little available on WW2 Italy, Sullivan published it as what he describes as ‘a novel of biographical and historical fiction’ weaving together historical facts with an emotionally charged story of a 17-year-old caught up in a brutal war and along the way finds a love that stayed with him throughout his life. A tale kept in the shadows for the tragic reason that despite the good he did, Lella describes himself as a coward, not thinking himself worthy of the title hero.

The story starts with Lella at 17, living in Milan, not yet touched by the brutal reality of WW2 until he and his brother got caught in the bombing of the movie theatre. Making it back home relatively safely but changed, for the next couple of months Allied planes came for Milan, Lella stayed in Milan with his father until a bomb destroyed his home and his father sent him to Casa Alpina, a refuge in the Alps ran by Father Re.


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Giuseppe ‘Pino’ Lella papers aged 17

It is at Casa Alpina a hero is born, not content to be left on the sidelines Lella joins the underground railroad of the Catholic Church and the Italian resistance to save the lives of many Jews. Making a trek through the Italian Alps guiding Jews to the safety of the Switzerland border, first alone then he trains up other boys including his younger brother, Mimo. Risking his life and making many daring journeys until just before his 18th birthday he is summoned back to Milan by his parents. Fearing for his life, they convince him to enlist in German Army to avoid being conscripted and sent to the Russian frontlines; he reluctantly joins the Organisational Todt (OT).

“Nothing in life worth doing is easy,”

Not long after his enlistment he is injured and sent home. His story takes another turn here. We see him risking more and in a different way. Opportunity strikes when one of Hilter’s top men, General Hans Leyers, recruits him as his driver, eager to have a role in bringing down the Nazis’ he becomes a spy, operating under the codename ‘the observer’. Frequently risking his life to gather information to aid the end of the war, witnessing many atrocities, Lella makes many a daring feat to help those who are in need. He works his way into becoming Leyers’ right-hand man, translating information and bearing witness to meetings of influential figures within Italy at the time, such as Mussolini.

Throughout his time as a spy, the circle of people who know about his undercover status is small, until he reunites with Anna, who he met, briefly, at the start of the book but whose memory stays with him, giving him courage. With Anna, he has moments where he is just a young man falling in love for the first time. For someone who risks so much not just his life but his relationships with family and friends, he experiences so much pain and heartbreak. Throughout his risky mission, he keeps what Father Re told him close ‘Have faith in God’s plan for you.’


“Do what I sometimes do when I get scared: imagine you’re someone else, someone who’s far braver and smarter.”

The ending of Beneath a Scarlet Sky is bittersweet and the life led by Pino Lella during those last two years of the war is remarkable, he suffered and witnessed more than most in those short years than most do their entire life. The story here is truly inspiring, courageous yet heartbreaking story and it begs the question how many more people out there are like Pino Lella? WW2 heroes with untold stories, that possibly will remain untold.

Pictured: Mark Sullivan and Pino Lella with a copy of Beneath a Scarlet Sky.

Pino Lella currently lives in Lesa, Italy.

The rights to Beneath a Scarlet Sky has been acquired by Pascal Pictures and is soon to become a major motion picture with Tom Holland leading as Pino Lella. 

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Tom Holland has been cast as Pino Lella.

Celine Ward is a 3rd year Communication Management with Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on on LinkedIn: and found on twitter @celinemward.