VOVA POMORTZEFF PRESENTS
Little Victims of the Great War
Graves of Italian children who died during the First World War documented by photographer Vova Pomortzeff
Vova Pomortzeff
photographer
Counting losses in the First World War, we should not forget children who died deep in the rear due to bad health conditions and food shortages. Especially tragic was the wartime situation in Italy, where infant and child mortality exceeded the casualties of the Italian Army at the front lines. Today, thousands and thousands of children's graves at the Italian cemeteries commemorate these little victims of the First World War. Some of the graves are traditionally decorated with toys placed here by modern Italian children. It's believed, the wartime children could play with them in the other world. Photographer Vova Pomortzeff has found these impressive hundred-year-old children's graves at the Campo Verano, the largest cemetery in Rome.
Burial place of Italian girl Assunta Gazzella, who was born on June 5, 1918, five months before the end of the First World War, and died on January 29, 1920, at the age of 19 months.
Infant and child mortality during the First World War increased significantly in all European countries. The most dramatic was the situation in Italy, where child mortality was one of the highest in Europe even before the war. At the beginning of the 20th century, in average two hundreds Italian children under the age of five died per every 1,000 newborn babies, almost every fifth one of them. The First World War had doubled the child mortality rate in Italy.
Burial place of an Italian boy, who was born during the First World War and died on February 6, 1920. The name of the boy is hidden behind the toys and the photographer decided he has no rights to move them to find out the name of the buried child.
Especially tragic was the last year of the war, when infant and child mortality in Italy exceeded 45 percent. Altogether 290,000 of Italian children under five died in 1918, while only 655,000 babies were born. This was partly due to the outbreak of Spanish flu, as the mortality rate rose to a level that had not been experienced for several pre-war decades. Totally more than one million children under five died in Italy during four years of the war. For comparison, at the same time 650,000 Italian soldiers were killed at the front lines of the First World War.
Burial place of Italian girl Francesca Carletti, who was born in August or September of 1918 in the last weeks of the First World War and died on February 20, 1920, at the age of 17 months.
The wartime children continued to die even in the first post-war years, because of their poor and diminished health. Although the statistics of infant and child mortality in Italy returned to the pre-war indicators already in 1920.
Left: Burial place of Italian boy Mario Trimellini, who was born on March 2, 1915, and died on January 16, 1920, at the age of four years, one year after the First World War. Right: Burial place of Italian girl Marcella Colombi, who was born on August 18, 1912, and died on July 1, 1916, at the age of three years.
Burial place of Italian boy Alfredo Masci, who was born on March 3, 1913, and died on August 12, 1917, at the age of four years. Photographs of the dead children pictured on their deathbed appear on some gravestones. The children buried behind lived too short lives and their parents obviously managed to take the first and also the last photographs of their children when they died already.
Burial place of two Italian children who was born during the First World War and died in 1920 and 1924. The names of the children are hidden behind the toy.
Left: Burial place of Italian boy Cesare Matteucci, who was born on January 11, 1918, ten months before the end of the First World War I, and died on December 29, 1920, at the age of 23 months. Right: Burial place of Italian boy Silvestro Cascini, who was born on October 20, 1915, and died on February 7, 1917, at the age of 15 months.
Burial place of Brazilian boy Giovan Battista Pugliese, who was born in São Paulo on June 6, 1913, and died in Rome on January 17, 1917, at the age of three years.
Left: Burial place of Italian boy Aldo Valdroni, who was born in the summer of 1915, shortly after Italy entered the First World War, and died on December 5, 1916, at the age of 17 months. Right: Burial place of Italian boy Renato Anzellotti, who was born on September 27, 1915, and died on November 15, 1916, at the age of 13 months.
Burial place of an unknown baby, who died during the First World War. The inscription on the tombstone was erased from time and is completely unreadable now.
It is worth to add that infant and child mortality in the Russian Empire on the eve of the First World War was the highest in Europe. Every second newborn died before the age of five in some Russian regions, more than fifty percent. Even in the relatively prosperous pre-war years, mortality among Russian children exceeded the worst wartime statistics in Italy. Infant and child mortality increased rapidly due the First World War and the followed Bolshevik Revolution. The most catastrophic was the situation during the Russian Civil War, when infant and child mortality in some regions of Russia exceeded 70 percent. That means three of four Russian newborns died before the age of five. At that time, child mortality in Italy, disadvantaged by European standards, had already stabilized at around 20 percent and continued to decline. In the Soviet Union, such statistics were achieved only after World War II.
Monument to Italian children who died during the First World War on the ground of the memorial to fallen Italian soldiers at the Staglieno Monumental Cemetery in Genoa, Italy.

The photographs of this feature were taken in October 2014 at the Monumental Cemetery of Campo Verano in Rome, Italy. The last photo was taken in March 2016 at the Staglieno Monumental Cemetery in Genoa, Italy. Ten photographs from this series were shortlisted for the professional competition in the Still Life category at the 2015 Sony World Photography Awards of the World Photography Organisation.