Mario Subacchi was a prominent Catholic and a well-loved member of the Italian community in Britain for over 60 years, writes David Subacchi, his son.
Born in Bardi in the province of Parma, north Italy, on May 16 1923, he was the second son of the local blacksmith Carlino Subacchi and his wife, Teresa Pelizza. His elder brother, Don Italo Subacchi, was a young cleric murdered by the Nazis at Sidolo in 1944. Together with two other priests, Don Giuseppe Beotti and Don Francesco Delnevo, Don Italo had the misfortune to encounter an SS unit of the retreating German army in the small village of Sidolo, near Bardi, on July 20 1944. Falsely accused of aiding the partisans and hiding Allied escapees they were executed by a Nazi firing squad outside the parish church, before their killers fled north towards the border.
Mario’s three other brothers, Pierino, Carlo and Giorgio, were all well-known in Bardi and all sadly predeceased him.
Mario was educated by Sisters at a Church boarding school at Cremona in the 1930s after both his parents died of natural causes before he was seven. There, he learned the art of woodcarving that was to play such an important part in his later life. On leaving school and after lying about his age he enlisted in the crack 8th Bersaglieri regiment of the Italian army and was wounded in action in North Africa during World War II, where he was present at the battles of Tobruk and El Alamein. After hostilities with Italy ceased he was released from captivity and served with the British Pioneer Corps in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt before returning to his home town of Bardi. Finding the area ravaged by the after-effects of war he eventually headed for Wales, settling in Aberystwyth, where he had family connections and where he was to remain for the rest of his life.
It was as a restauranteur in his father-in-law Giuseppe’s Chiappa’s Restaurant in Eastgate that he was best known for over 40 years. A gregarious man, a great raconteur and a lover of languages, especially Italian and Welsh, he remained a highly popular businessman and an inspirational Catholic personality in Wales. On a visit to Aberystwyth a few years ago he was introduced to the Italian ambassador, who was amazed at the quality of his spoken Italian given the length of time he had lived in Wales!
In 1954 Mario married Giovanna Maria (Joan) Chiappa, the daughter of Giuseppe and Giustina Maria Chiappa.
Following his retirement 24 years ago Mario returned to the art of woodcarving that he had been forced to put aside during a busy career. He was an exceptionally talented engraver and sculptor in wood and produced a prodigious output ranging from Welsh dragons to horses, religious imagery, chess sets, jewellery boxes and elaborate picture frames which attracted widespread acclaim. In addition, he gave freely of his time to teach woodcarving skills at a local centre for those who had suffered from physical or mental stress. On his retirement from this voluntary work due to old age he was appointed Sculptor Emeritus by a grateful health authority.
His Requiem Mass in Aberystwyth on June 3 attracted hundreds of mourners from all sectors of society.
He is survived by his wife Giovanna Maria (Joan), sons David and Paul, daughters Anna, Silvia and Sandra, and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.