CLARA GORDON WAS AN ITALIAN CIVILIAN LIVING IN TRIESTE FOR MOST OF THE WAR, INCLUDING 1943-45 WHEN IT WAS ANNEXED INTO THE THIRD RECIH.
…Yes, it’s a clever thing, memory, because I think that’s certainly true, that one does tend to remember the good things, don’t you?
The good things.
You look back and your past always seems sort of golden.
And even in physical pain, I’m just thinking the human race will have stopped, it will never remember labour pains. They’re pretty horrible, labour pains. You think you could never go through that again, no, no more. So it is a good thing that we forget.
Thank you for the tea.
Wait. I think I have it first myself, because it is a little bit too (pale) for you, for normal people. I’m quiet fussy. I like it pale. Do you take sugar?
Just a tiny little bit. If you don’t have any that’s absolutely fine. I’m trying to wean myself off it. Honestly, it’s fine. Here we are. Perfect. Thank you.
Would you like some sugar?
Just a little bit.
If you are so kind, if you can Could you just put some water on my tea. It’s still Where are you? Yes, please.
You like it weak?
Yes, I like it Oh dear, this is brown sugar.
No, that’s fine. Literally just a taste.
Have a ginger biscuit if you want to.
Thank you. Well, it’s just I Well, you probably can’t remember but the idea of this book is that it will be a narrative history of that last year of the War, going from May, 1944 right until the end of the War. But, having said that, one of the things I’m very keen to do in this book is concentrate on, you know, what was happening to the Italians.
Yeah, the population from both sides.
Yes, indeed. I think, to tell you the truth, there is very little known what happened. Only immediate post-War there was great rejoicing in Italy, Italy was liberated, but the part of Italy I come from had a very, very different history because part of Italy (past) Yugoslavia and there were pretty nasty things that happened there because Tito and the party there were Communists, strongly Communist, just like Russia, and they behaved just like the Russians at the time. People don’t forget that Tito was a Communist because during the years later on he change a little bit and try to get a little bit towards the West, didn’t he? And I think most people have forgotten that it was the first year or so after the War [phone conversation]
No, I think you’re right. Up in that area, around Trieste, it was pretty
Yes, I think it’s completely forgotten and very few history book and people, even old people who remember the War very well and very well-informed people, have obviously quite forgotten. It happened to a comparatively small number of people, in fact I believe that the people that went away, you know, they call it â€˜population’ â€˜Ethnic cleansing’, they call it nowadays. Now (they tell you) they left (apart) and came into Italy, 350,000, so compared to the millions of displaced people left in the world it was nothing, you know.
But it’s all relative.
Yes, it’s all relative. For the people who had to leave it was quite a (wrench).
Yes, and as I understand it the Italian partisans in that area tended to be very Communist, more Communist than elsewhere, and I think they were pretty vicious to the Fascists.
The Fascists, oh, indeed, indeed. But I must say that another weakness was that the partisans, the resistance fighters, were very (fractioned) politically, because the various parties – of course, under Mussolini we had no parties – but it was the beginning of the end of Mussolini, of talking about the Christian Democrats, for instance.
Well, there was the CLN, wasn’t there?
And so forth. And during the resistance, the last year of the War, a lot of people joined and there were quite some professional people, you know, younger solicitor, younger doctor, they went to the partisans and they were Christian Democrat. But quite a lot, quite rightly, the partisans were mostly Communist with a sprinkling But particularly they ganged up with the Yugoslav partisans against the Germans. But at the end, very soon they realised, because then the Yugoslav partisans committed some atrocities which are really unbearable. You never heard or read of the (Foybey)
I have, yeah.
How this (credits this) in there, in which (people were just thrown) like that. People that they thought were (crazy) but they weren’t. They were probably the most, I suppose, (wealthy) men of the village, nothing else. That happened.
The one thing I’ve realised by what I’ve studied so far is is that there’s no black and white when it came to Italy at that time. I mean everything. You think You can’t just divide things into one side or the other side, there’s lots of different factions all over the place.
Italy is still in that way at the moment. It is forever the politically intrigues and all that. It is, I’m afraid, endemic in Italy.
But not when you were growing up because of Fascism?
Mussolini, my goodness, there wasn’t any murmur of any other party. As for Communism, for goodness sake, if anybody was remotely talked of being a Communist was thrown into prison. Although, to be absolutely fair, Mussolini didn’t commit too many atrocities as such. What happened, for instance, an uncle of mine who was purely anti-Fascist, no Communist or anything else. In fact he was quite a wealthy man, wealthy men seldom are Communists. He was saying, what we call it, al confino. Did you ever read a book called (Christo) [inaudible], very famous writer was sent to Calabria. It was supposed to be the end, to be sent to a small village in Calabria. It was meant to be the worst punishment you could possibly have, although it was picturesque and pretty and all that, because it was the end of the world. And so this intellectual writer was sent to the hill of Italy in some village, and they had to stay at home and they had to report to the Carabinieri every day and not move.
So it’s like being on parole or something?
On parole, yes, something like. But, of course, they were never tried, there never was a proper trial or anything. They would just say, â€œOff you go to that little village in the hill of Italy from Milan or Turin or so on. And they had to go and that was that. But some of them, they had a better life, they started getting to know people, they’re very probably better because there was no rationing, and they made friends with the Carabinieri. There are many funny books written about that period.
But were you born in Trieste?
No, I was born on a small island very near Trieste. One of the Dalmatian islands (for the period) before the War.
Ah, and it’s now in Croatia?
And it’s now in Croatia.
So you were born and brought up in that bit?
Not quite brought up, because my father was in the Italian Army and we move around. So we went around. But because we always move around my home was with my grandparents who lived in this small island.
So you used to go and visit them quite a lot, did you?
A lot, yes. Every time my father moved my mother used to send me there to be able to do all the move and so on.
Right. But you were basically living with your parents but you would just visit your grandparents a lot?
A lot, yes. Christmas and We had very long holidays, you see, in Italy, children, schoolchildren, yes. I used to go there a lot. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen or read this, â€˜My Family and Other Animals’.
Yes, the Gerald Durrell.
It was that sort of life, like Corfu. That sort of house, that sort of life, we all had our little boats and so on.
Yes. So lots of swimming in the sea and..? It must have been idyllic, mustn’t it?
Yes. The house of my grandparents was then made into a Communist mess for the
Yugoslav partisans, and all the furniture, family portraits, all disappeared.
What a shame. What happened to your grandparents?
My grandfather had died long ago, my grandmother was quite old and she (came away) just at the end of the War, before all that happened. They knew such a thing would happen.
Did they sell up their place on this island or did they just leave it?
No sale? It just got lost?
Have you ever been back?
I been back there before. Well, I’ve been back once or twice as a tourist.
But is the house still there?
It is a hotel.
So it must have been quite a large house then?
Not all that large. Only a small hotel, not a very large hotel. It was a nice place. It’s very
strange, you know, to go to a place that you know so well, and you arrive there and you see strange people, you don’t recognise the faces, and you can’t understand a word of the language spoken.
Yes, that must be very odd.
Very odd. Like if you go back to Salisbury, you find that everybody speak Romanian or something like that, you know?
Very odd and rather unsettling, I would have thought?
Oh, indeed, very. Very, very much so. Quite a lot of enmity, you know, because they say they can’t Would like to have the island back, of course. On the other hand the Yugoslavs also have some good reasons for grievances, because under Mussolini time there was a minority of Yugoslav behind Trieste and he (behaved quite badly), I mean forced them all to speak the language, forced them to go to Italian school and all that, so they had their grievances, they took their revenge.
But, as you say, Mussolini didn’t He made life difficult people and he was quite happy to put people in prison but, as you say, he didn’t go around executing people left, right and centre.
I think he thought atrocity were more in the mind of the Germans than the Italians. Probably – I don’t know if you read about it – because there were some law against the Jews in Italy under Mussolini time and they were never applied. Did I talk to you about that before?
No you didn’t actually, but I was aware of that.
It’s rather interesting. For instance the Italians were not – Italian Jews – were not allowed to have Aryan servants, non-Jewish servant. For instance I can tell you I had some school friends who were Jewish and they were telling me that they had an old cook and a maid, and they say, â€œI’m afraid you have to go, you know the law has been passed. â€œOh, you are just joking! We love this job and we are staying here, we are not going to leave here for this stupid thing! We are staying home. And they did.
There was no problem?
Do you mind me asking when you were born?
Not at all. ’23.
1923. Were you still at school when War was declared?
Oh, yes I was, I was indeed. Because our schooling, I went to the Gymnasium, yes But I must let you tell me what you want me to tell you.
This is all very interesting. I am interested to know a little bit about your background and, you know, what you were doing and growing up and stuff, so I’m interested to hear about this stuff.
Yes. Life was, in a way, fairly pleasant. At the schools, we all went to State school, because in my generation the little convent in which my mother and friends and so on went for their education, everybody found out that the State school, the Gymnasium (in the State) became so much better that they all went there. And, of course, Mussolini (and my family), they were
No, no, no, I’m quite open-minded about Mussolini.
I think one has to be impartial. He brought disaster to Italy but he’s done certain things, like education, very
Because of your father being in the Army, were you moving around a lot or moving schools a lot or were you based..?
Yes, we were moving a lot, but on the other hand, because the The real danger of Italy was the Eastern front, the Slavs were always considered alien and hostile from the time of the (Romanov Wars). Most of the postings my father had were around that part, Trieste, then he went to
The north-east of Italy?
Yes. So, more or less, my mother and myself stayed home, we could actually come back home and so on.
So were you in Trieste for the large part of your childhood?
That’s where you were at school?
Yes, that was.
And you were at a high school..?
Yes, (the French call it) a Lycee, a French Lycee. And, you see, we actually finished the famosa, the famous â€˜Baccalaureate’, the French talk, we had the equivalent.
Was it called a Baccalaureate?
Yes, they were called â€˜Maturita’, but it’s very similar sort of thing, and that happens at the age of 19, so, you know, you are quite grown up when I left school and quite conscious of what is happening and so on. And, in my time, students, especially at university, later when I went to university, were very politically minded, very. And it was the very time in which the population turn against Mussolini because the War went so badly, we knew about that, and we were told so many lies and he was found out in all the lies. And so especially the students were self-educating. Although not much, because one ended up in prison, so it was also whispers.
Yes. But you would have been 12 or 13 or something like that when Mussolini sent forces over to Abyssinia. Can you remember that?
Very well. Very well.
Presumably your father was involved in that, was he?
No, he wasn’t, actually, no. But quite a lot of his friends and people he knew went, so I remember terribly well because we were given I must have been about 11, 12, something like that, and it was such fun because it was continuous holidays for every victory in
So you thoroughly approved?!
Oh, lovely! And then Mussolini had a very, very clever way of propaganda, especially in the school, it was broadcasted in the school, that, you know, Ethiopia – we call it Abyssinia, of course – Ethiopia had got still slavery and we must go, we must go and liberate these poor slave who were very ill-treated and certainly not paid and so on, and we must, we must liberate it. It’s out duty to.
Sounds like Tony Blair!
Yes. From what I could, at the age of 12, think, I thought we must liberate these poor slaves. But there again there is something or other in a way that might surprise you: The school, especially in the way of sports and so on, were in the hands of Fascist teacher, in other words the physical exercise teacher. Very nice teacher, by the way, but she was very, very Fascist. And the one who taught football, and the one who taught tennis and other, they were all Fascist, they were chosen. And they used to talk to us about it, and Mussolini would then help a lot, boys and girls who were sporting, they had good physiques and were athletic and so on, they had the time of their life if you were athletic. You were taken for skiing trips and all sort of thing. Rather like Hitler (students) more or less.
Yes, yes. I can completely understand why people enjoyed being in the Hitler Youth. It must have been good fun.
Oh, there was no question of joining. You had to be, full stop. Whether you like it or not, whether your parents approve or not, you had to be, full stop.
Were you quite sporty?
No. No, unfortunately I can’t say I was quite sporty. But there was something, I remember distinctly, I must have been about 12, and a new thing came, â€œDo you know your 10 Commandments? You know, (love, god-like), etc, etc. And then there were the 10 Commandments of the Young Fascists that you had to learn by heart. You must love Mussolini, you must do your best for your country, and so on. And then it ended up – Mussolini e sempre ragione, â€˜Mussolini is always right’. And I remember myself and my girlfriends, â€œNobody can be always right! She said, â€œOnly the Pope! And I said, â€œI think not the Pope, only God!
Even the Pope got it wrong sometimes!
Even the Pope. But you know he was starting (everybody) on these Commandments, the Commandments, and it ended up â€˜Mussolini is always right’. And we had to chant them, if you can imagine.
But presumably as a child you just get used to it, don’t you? I mean it’s all just
part of the daily routine and you no longer think about it?
Of course. And indeed, at that time, for instance my family, my father was always anti-fascist, but they wouldn’t talk to a little girl like me about politics at all. Nothing was ever said.
Your father was always anti-fascist, was he?
Yes, he was.
But I think I’m right in saying that to get to State school you had to be ostensibly a Fascist Party member, didn’t you, because you had to I can’t remember what that little card was It had a name, didn’t it?
[Male voice] Tessera.
Tessera! That’s what I was thinking of, Tessera.
Piccola Italiana. And you had to have a (printed) cap and a white t-shirt, something like that. And then in the Giovanni Italiana it was something a little more for a teenager, and, accordingly, the boys as well.
But the family had to have a Tessera to get you to school, didn’t you?
No, no. Actually my mother and father never had a Tessera.
Did they not?
No, never. I suppose because my father was in the Army he didn’t have to, and my mother because women were women, nobody bothered about you and what you thought!
What was your maiden name, by the way?
Duse. D – U – S – E.
D – U – S – E.
[Male voice, inaudible] (Propaganda).
Yes, that is something very amusing, too. There was a little song that we had to sing before we go to Abyssinia to free the slaves. And then, secondly, I think we had to do another little song about â€˜Albion’, â€˜Albion’, â€˜(that hideous) Albion’. You know when England put some sanctions and then â€˜That hideous England’, and then it ended up â€˜a small island of fishermen Albion will return to be’.
And that was a little song you had to sing?
A little song that went around, you know.
[Male voice] 5 meals a day.
Yes, yes. At that time empty British propaganda came because of Abyssinia, you see, not before, that it says What were we told? Yes, â€˜Do you know what they do, the British? You wouldn’t believe it but they eat 5 times a day! They have breakfast, then they have elevenses, then they have lunch, then they have tea, then they have supper. 5 times a day they eat!’
So then you all throw your hands up in horror and think, â€˜What heathens! What terrible people!’ How funny. Did you have brothers and sisters?
No, I was an only child.
But you were never a lonely child, I hope?
No, I had masses of cousins and friends and so forth.
And your mother, a ridiculous question, she didn’t work, she stayed at home and looked after the house?
Yes, you know. Oh, yes. For goodness sake it would have been unheard of. And I had servants at the time and all that.
Yes. Well, at that time life was very different. You didn’t need to be particularly wealthy.
But you must have been fairly middle class, you father was an Officer? I mean he was quite a senior Officer, wasn’t he?
When he died he was a Colonel, yes.
And can you remember War being declared in June 1940?
Very well, because I was old enough.
Yes, you would have been 17 or so, wouldn’t you?
Yes, 18, I think. It was June and I remember first of all my father was Yes, he was at home. It was in Trieste on that day and he said it was disaster, â€œWe are bound to lose it! We are not prepared for it! A disaster! What is Mussolini dragging us into? I remember talking to me, at that time I was 18.
Was that quite unusual for him to talk to you about it?
It would be unusual, but at that time he really did say a disaster, â€œI can see a tragedy will happen. And then immediately we had an air raid alarm. Probably they just test it. So all of us had to go into air raid, we were shepherded into the air raid, then nothing happened for quite a long time. We had air raids much later in the War.
In Trieste where you were living were there sort of air raid shelters already built, public shelters, or did you have your..? You know in England you used to dig your Anderson shelter in the back garden?
Yes, not in back garden. In fact we were ordered to go to the public shelter.
Which had already been prepared?
At the very beginning there must have been one or two only in the town, but later on we had quite a number, enough, I think, for everybody who went. Not everybody did go, but
Was there ever social tension in Trieste before the War? Hostility to the Yugoslav border?
There was a certain
There was a bit, was there?
There was a bit.
And were there certain sorts of Serbs and Croats in Trieste, or was it a largely Italian population?
It was most overwhelmingly Italian, but a certain percentage was Yugoslav.
And was there friction that you were aware of?
There was a certain friction, yes. I do remember very well that a girl at school, a very nice girl, had a boyfriend who was Yugoslav, and we talked of it. Because more than an ethnic thing or a political thing, it was mostly the Yugoslavs who were in Trieste were the peasants who came in to be maids or to bring the vegetables in and so on. And they had the reputation of being uncultured, that’s it, that was the idea. Not Slav as a race, but uncultured, uncultured race. Although this particular young man wasn’t at all uncultured, he was very cultured indeed. But that was the idea.
[Male voice] And there was the trouble with the Jews.
I was just mentioning about the trouble with the Jews as well.
[Male voice] More so than with the Slavs.
I wouldn’t say so, Darling. No, I wouldn’t say more so than with the Slavs, because the Jews – although Mussolini wanted very badly to distance the Italian Because, of course, Hitler ordered him to do so, he didn’t have anything against the Jews himself. Quite a lot of his friends to begin with were Jewish, (Officers) were Jewish, you know. But Hitler sent down the order. You had to have la legge razziale, the race law against the Jewish. But I don’t remember anybody, and I said we had friends who were Jewish at school, there was a particular one who was very unpleasant and he happened to be Jewish, and many other Jewish boys and girls who were very good friends of everybody. No, no, I don’t think so. You haven’t read another very famous book, â€˜Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini’?
No, I haven’t.
Yes, it’s a very good book about that particular point, a Jewish family in Florence, and how they felt themselves, you know, little-by-little ostracised, and they couldn’t go to university, that I remember. School, yes, the university, no.
And what did you do when you left school? You left school at 19?
I went to university.
You must have left school in 1943 presumably?
That’s right, ’43. Then I had to have I wanted to go and study Art. Then I had to have another examination
The history of art or the practical?
The history of art. So a few months went by. And then I had – I couldn’t have stayed in Trieste – and the War started and there were raids, the difficulty of moving and so on, and my family said, â€œNo. If you want to go to university you go to the local university. Because we had a university in Trieste itself, â€œAnd you will studyâ€œ Do you speak any Italian at all yourself?
I’m just learning at the moment.
Belle lecture, it’s called. Literature, in other words, which included the History of Art to a certain extent. But then, you see, I stayed years at university because later on all the university Professors, Dons and so on, when the trouble – after ’43 – when the German came and so on, they went into hiding. Nobody wanted to work any more. Lots and lots of people went into hiding.
So presumably university education ground to a halt?
Completely. In 2 years (I had been work hard), there was a lecture there, then we will go to a lecture then 3 or 4 months, nothing happened.
I sort of remember that you were living in Parma at some point.
That’s quite right, you are right there, because my father had to go on a course in order to become a Colonel, to come into Colonel, and we went to Parma.
Was that like a staff college or something?
Something of that sort, yes. So we went there, because it’s a very pleasant town, and we lived in a hotel which was actually the best of the town, and we had some German Officer in there. Of course, the best hotel in the town, there was a small Garrison and so on, so the Germans
So what time was that? When was this?
That was September ’43.
So had you left school at that point?
That was summer. I wasn’t anyhow at school, it was September, yes. And the 8th of September ’43 there was
The truce, yeah, the armistice, and I already mentioned to you we noticed there were not a single German Officer there any more. Suddenly they had gone. And what happened, they had some sort of guns, big guns, around the towns, pointing south where the Allies were coming up, and they turn up and bombed the town. There was nothing in the town, just civilians.
Who, the Allies did? Or the Germans did?
The Germans did, yes, out of spite. They couldn’t bear that Italy had done such a thing.
[Male voice] They shelled the town.
Not bombed, you’re right. Shelled. They had this big Because there was, up in the mountains, they were preparing a resistance line, you see, so they turned their big, big cannon – I don’t know what to call it.
Yes, Howitzers, Field Cannons, whatever.
They were pointing south, they turn it round
And fired on the town.
And fired on the town.
[Male voice] The Gothic Line.
Yes, absolutely. But before the When you’d been living in the hotel with all these Germans
No fraternising whatsoever.
When my father was in uniform, an Italian, at that time the German were our allies. And both my mother and myself had learned at school German, not English, German we learned, and we could have spoken German to them
No, I was just wondering how, prior to the armistice, you personally viewed the Germans, whether you saw them as
They were very arrogant always. Very, very arrogant.
They never really thought much of the Italian as a fighting man.
No, quite rightly.
You know, German soldiers, if you don’t think the military, the Army of your allies
is up to much then automatically, I think, that passes down to the whole nation.
That’s it. There was a very funny conversation I had with an American immediately after the War, and we were talking to this very point, and he said, â€œOf course the Italians are not good soldiers. How could they be? They are far too civilised!
Very carefully put.
[Male voice] Had Austrian boyfriends.
[Male voice] Your mother had
Oh, well, when she was in the Army, indeed, indeed, because she was under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when my mother was young, not in my time. Yes, she was very much in love with a
So before the 1st World War where you were living was part of..?
The small island I was born was Austro-Hungarian, yes. That was before the
So did your mother speak German?
Yes, but it was in general by chance, because nobody spoke German. The Austrians were very liberal, you know, they never force anybody to speak German as such. Well, of course, the German, if you wanted to become an Official or an Officer then obviously, but a civilian The schools are in Italian, there wasn’t a
But your grandparents on your mother’s side were both completely Italian?
What did your grandfather do?
My grandfather was in shipping, yes. The small island was rather famous for, in the olden times, for sailing ships, and there were several families there who were owner of sailing ships, my mother’s family, one of them was In the olden times, you know, they had ships, sailing ships.
So when you were in Parma on the armistice can you remember was there a feeling of relief or more..?
Oh! I though it was so lovely! Finished, we have lights in the town – because all the lights were switched off
So no more blackouts?
Yes, no more blackouts and all our boyfriends will come back from the Front and there will be dances and rejoice and all that. And then, very soon, hours after that it was realised that the Germans wouldn’t allow all that. And my father thought he had to rejoin his Unit and find out what was happening, what were the orders. So we travelled back
Can you remember what his reaction was to hearing the news of the armistice?
Well, he said it’s very unclear what is going to happen. Nobody will give to them very clear because it was a mess, it really was a mess. So he said that, â€œMy only task will be to rejoin my Unit. And his Unit by that time was in Yugoslavia.
So he went there, did he?
He would have wanted to go there but the time we arrived in Trieste, it was a very, very difficult journey.
So almost immediately afterwards you left Parma for Trieste?
Within 2 hours, 3 hours, or something.
You just packed up your bags, out of the hotel, and off to Trieste.
Presumably by train?
Yes, only, yes, of course. Who had car in that time? Nobody at all.
I just wondered whether your father might have because he was in the military.
No, no. Nobody had them. They were all requisitioned, you see, if you had it, yes. Went by train, (a very rumbling old thing) and all sorts of thing happened on the train. Then we arrive in Trieste and there he was stopped. He was stopped and he was said by colleague we had to go present ourselves to the German Commander, and the German Commander said, â€œNow you have to fight with us or against us. You choose what you can do. They were all senior Officers by that time, you see. â€œAnd then you can go away and tell us what you want.
Your father was a Colonel by this time?
Yes, he was Colonel. And there were a couple of Generals there and so on. And then they decided, â€œNo, we won’t fight with the Germans. And disappeared. And when it meant â€˜disappeared’, quite a few of them took their civilian clothing and so, of course, went back to Naples, round there somewhere, and waiting for Allies to come. And some went into hiding altogether and said perhaps the resistance will be started and so forth. And some decided to fight for the Germans, there were some who said yes, we will. By that time Mussolini was
He was captured in October, I think.
Yes. And then you remember later on he was in Lake Garda.
That’s right, with the RSI, yeah.
And he formed some sort of Army, more or less.
Yes, it was the New Republic Army.
The New Republic Army. And quite a number of them, the Ex Officers, joined that.
I’ve spoken to quite a few people who did, actually.
Yes, I know. It wasn’t at all unusual. It was said to be pretty ironic not to at the time.
[Male Voice] What did the RSI stand for?
The Republic of Salo Italiano, or something like that.
I’m not sure that I remember. It was definitely Salo. It was along the small place in Lake Garda.
I’ve been there, it’s tiny.
But the Government was all over the place, it was all round that lake area they had in Modena, and all that sort of place, Bologna, and all those places, the Government offices.
Where we are, the Venezia Giulia, the region is called Venezia Giulia, that was declared by the Germans a Liberale Adriatico, it had a special standing. It wasn’t really Italian any more. It had a Gauliter, which was a Governor, German at the time, you see.
And he was presumably not popular?
An SS man, as you can imagine.
Can you remember who he was? I’ve got it down somewhere.
Ah, yes If I see it written down I would remember. Yes, very unpopular chap.
But your father didn’t go down to the toe of Italy, he stayed in Trieste, didn’t he?
He stayed in Trieste in hiding. It was possible, you see.
He was in hiding, was he?
Yes, he was in hiding.
And how often would you see him?
Oh, my, he was in hiding in our own house because, you see, the population, the Germans couldn’t know because, say the Municipia, you know, the Town Hall, couldn’t give the addresses of Ex Officer. If they asked it would be all muddled up and give false addresses. Most of the population was very good about it, hiding anybody, young men who wanted to go into hiding. Identity cards are forged, all sorts of things happen, so it was quite possible to be in your own home and in hiding with the others there, obviously.
And can you remember your address where you were living?
Yes, very well. It was called (Villa Guido Renning), 6, number 6, but it was unfortunately destroyed by a raid, and air raid.
Oh, was it? Were you still living there at the time?
Yes. Lost absolutely everything.
Gosh. When was that?
That was in September ’44. Yes. My father was made prisoner on the 24th of August ’44, after the attempt to Hitler. You remember the attempt to Hitler? And then, of course, they’ve been all over Europe, a sort of mass vengeance all over. People were The faintest suspicion were made prisoner.
Tell me, between October or September when you arrived, 1943, when you arrived
back in Trieste, back to your family home, and your father being arrested in August, you say he was in hiding but what was he doing on a day to day basis? You must have (had to fund) yourself? I mean, (you’ve got to live).
(I know, indeed). Exactly, exactly. We had a lot of friends and everybody help each other. He was given false paper, he was given a little job, ostensibly, in the harbour, checking up of supply or something silly like that.
But that gave him a few Lira?
Yes, yeah. Very few indeed. And also I must say he wasn’t very young any more, so he wasn’t all that suspicious going around in civilian clothes with a peek cap and so on, you know, he could do that.
But was he involved in any partisan activity?
That’s a point, you see, that we have never discovered. There were, altogether, 11 senior Officers who were taken on the 24th of August, put in the local prison, the local, normal prison.
Yes, there were thieves
Yes, with other criminals.
Yes, like that. And then the whole lot of them were taken by cattle truck to Germany Well, they were taken to They were taken first of all to Dachau, the whole lot.
But I seem to remember you telling me that you and your mother went down to see the wagons going, and I can’t remember quite how you got word that they were off?
Because, as I told you, there was a lot of communication between the Italians, they could (do harm) to the Germany, any possible way. I think it was a porter of the station that heard that this train, German train, was going with these prisoners towards Germany, and somehow they knew the name they were, as I say, rather senior Officers, so the town, the whole town, was talking about this, that and so forth. And so a (train guard) has talked to somebody who was a friend of mine, and this friend of mine rang me up and he said, â€œLook, your father is going at 4 o’clock in the morning to Germany. So we went there during the curfew, you see. It was strictly forbidden.
But you still managed to get out?
Uh-huh, hiding here and there, you know. When we went there, so foolish that we thought we give him some food and we give him
You found him?
Yes. 5 minutes opening the cattle truck and his face was there and we gave him this little bundle. Then a little soldier, a young, German soldier came a saw us, push us away with the butt of his rifle. â€œGo away! Go away! Go away!
[Male voice] You gave him some sovereigns.
We gave him some sovereigns thinking that perhaps he can then bribe somebody to try to get free.
Where did you get the sovereigns from?
Well, we had some, my mother had some. At the time people had gold, seems to be a very good thing to have, because the money, there was inflation and the money was worth nothing, so people invested In fact my mother had these gold coins from an old uncle who left her that, yes.
So you did get to speak to him, anyway?
Oh, 2 words, yes. We gave him that. And, of course, of these 11 people, who were all healthy people, not so young, well over 50 most of them, none came back. Within 3 months, 4 months, they were all dead.
How did you find that out?
I found out in the most extraordinary way. We had a ration card and my father had left the ration card, and we were told by the Germans you can get rations for the prisoners and send parcel to Germany. We would give the parcel of food that you send to Dachau or whatever – my father was then sent to Mathausen, another camp – (we will, of course, give them help), of course, the parcel that went from Italy, we deny ourselves this and that, make a little parcel, etc, send it off for an address to Dachau or whatever. They never arrived, they were eaten up by the guards or who knows, anyhow. And the card, the ration card, had to be renewed from time to time, so when it expired – I think it was January – I went to the special office with my father’s card and said, â€œLook, it has expired. Can I have a replacement? They usually put a stamp and it is valid for another 6 months. And they said, â€œHow can you come here and ask? We know he’s dead! We were given from the Commander, from the German, a list of people who died. You can’t renew a card for somebody dies. It is fraudulent to do a thing like that.
And that was the first you knew?
And that was the first we heard.
What a terrible way to hear.
Hmm. But then at that time we had already heard that several other were dead. It was Well, he was taken in August and he was dead by the 24th of January. And all of them, 11 of them, nobody came back. So nobody knows for certain the involvement of this group of senior Officer. There were rumours around that they were helping to organise the groups of young resistance fighters in the mountains, you see. Rumours.
What was quite common was that the British and Americans, whether it be SOE or OSS, they would get in contact with, via the CLN, people precisely like your father. The senior Officers tended to be the first port of call to facilitate contacts with other secret services.
Even if he was, it was so dangerous that he would never, never have told us anything about it, you see. Never, never, never.
And at that time you were trying to be half at university and half..? I mean, you’re not really going anywhere, presumably?
No. At that moment we are penniless, too, because we lost the house.
Can you remember precisely what day it was in September?
That our house was bombed?
Yes, I think it was the 12th of September. Yes, very soon after (build up). And the Germans declared my family, the Duse family I was telling you, enemy of the 3rd Reich, and therefore the bank account was closed, so we had no money.
When was that? The moment your father was arrested?
Yes, immediately, and we couldn’t get any money there so you can imagine the difficulty. Most of the jobs available to somebody – I spoke some German, not very well but anyhow, some – and I didn’t want to work for them, so I didn’t want to go and work. I’d do anything, but not that.
Presumably your dislike of the German occupiers must have grown massively in that time?
Yes, you can imagine. There were other episodes, for instance the partisans, (I’m afraid), threw a bomb in the Officers’ Mess of Trieste, the German Officers’ Mess of Trieste, and immediately – they are super-efficient, I must say – immediately they cordon off all around and got, I don’t know, several hundred people who were passers by at the time, and picked out mainly young men and hanged them by the lampposts of the main road of the town, and they left these corpses there for a week. It is amazing how the population felt after a thing like that. Probably completely innocent.
It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?
Unbelievable. Quite unbelievable.
But how were you Up until your father was arrested what were you doing on a day to day basis?
Absolutely nothing. Because I went to university, occasionally I heard of a lecture and would go there then come home. But then, of course, you see in my time a girl was very often, even if she didn’t go to university, lived at home until she married. It wasn’t at all that unusual, you see. But I wanted to work to get some money. Fortunately my mother still had some of these same sovereign, and I remember she was changing a sovereign a month (as a debt), you know, so you survived.
[Male voice] You went to work in a crÃ¨che, didn’t you?
Darling, that was absolutely voluntary. I did work in a hospital for young children, but it was voluntary, it was nothing. Nobody paid me a penny for that.
And presumably when your house was bombed in September 1944 you were obviously in a shelter of some kind? You weren’t at home at that time?
Well, we were It was a block of flats and our flat was the very top flat, so it was completely destroyed.
And that was your childhood home? That was the home you’d always lived in, was it?
Yes, it was. That was our home. And we were going down the staircase and this bomb, everything was tremendous noise and shaking, and dust all over. And I had my mother by the hand, she was quite ill at the time.
What with? Exhaustion and all the rest of it?
Exhaustion, correct, things like that. And an old maid we had, I couldn’t see the old maid in this terrible dust, we ventured out of the whole of the block of flats and I saw coming down, slowly, slowly, some paper, bits of paper. It was the wallpaper of my bedroom. And then I knew what it was, yes.
And it was utterly destroyed? Everything gone?
Utterly, yes, yes. And then this old maid was missing and we were looking for her, and she was completely dazed, she was looking around and couldn’t find the way back, and we spend the day looking for her and so forth.
So where did you go?
Well, that is when the friendly family comes into being. We had a number of relation and friends and everybody helped. I was given a dress from a friend, my mother was given dresses, we had to go and buy a toothbrush and live with an aunt for a while and then find There were several flats empty because people were in the country, were afraid of raids, you see. Especially the flats near the harbour was in danger. And we lived in a small flat of friend of friend rent free.
But you were left, you, your mother and the maid, on your own?
Yes. The maid had to be sent back to the village, poor thing, because she was too dazed. It was my mother and myself on our own. But we had a lot of dear friends and relations. Oh, they fed us too.
But were the Allied bombers coming over quite regularly at this point?
Yes. At this point we have a lot of air raids. Not always raid, we said â€˜alarm’, because there were a lot of plane going from the south of Italy towards Austria, so there was forever, forever, the whole night, 2 or 3 times a night you need to get up, go down the shelter.
You can’t have had much sleep?
No, but I was young. I could sleep in between.
But was there any kind of resentment towards the Allies? Presumably you can’t have been exactly over the moon about your houses being blown up?
No, I don’t think I myself ever had and resentment, no.
You could see the bigger picture? You could see what they were trying to do?
Do you remember any other German atrocities in Trieste?
Yes, there was a silos where they held rice, and they used to refine the rice, I don’t know what you call, some machinery there, and it was out of action during the War, I think, and they used to take there, if they found any partisans, and torture them. Because the people round there used to hear screaming and so on, and kill them later. Yes, they used to have a big oven for this rice refinery, and they put, you know
Bodies in there.
Yes, cremation was done there.
And presumably there were quite a lot of Germans on the streets, but were there many Blackshirts as well?
Very few in Trieste, very, very few.
Mainly Germans because of the Gauliter?
Yes, yes. Very, very few. I don’t remember seeing the But we, at a certain moment, lived very near a barrack. I used to see a lot, a lot of Germans. And, you know, when there are girls, the German young soldiers could wish to do to a girl when they’re going by, and I would go down and look at them with such hatred. That’s all you can say.
Yeah. And presumably in these sorts of circumstances The rationing must have been pretty tight at that stage?
Yes, at that stage we had to go And that was fortunately when one is young one is very resilient. They had a soup kitchen for people who were victim of raids, so we would go, another and myself, and we were fed. For lunch we would have pea soup, and for supper, baked beans, and the next day would be bean soup, and for supper, pea What do you call it? Pea pudding. Yes, and that was that.
So pretty monotonous?
Oh, very, yes.
But would you say you got enough to eat or were you constantly hungry?
As a matter of fact the very last month, not quite.
You were pretty hungry?
More than hungry. I would say malnourished. No fruit, no milk, not butter, not We would have bread and beans and peas, some very miserable apples.
But were you aware of how the War was progressing?
We all listened to radio London.
Did you? You had a radio?
So you knew breakthroughs and stuff?
Yes. And you had to be very careful to switch off to another station when you finished because had the German come and find you, the radio and that, you get into trouble. And it was, the radio, in Italian, London radio, always started with the note of Beethoven [Hums Beethoven’s 5th]. And people, I remember very well, there was people met each other, they say, â€œOh, did you hear that concert? [Hums]
I know you were considered an enemy of the Reich and everything, but were you still given ration books and things?
No, no, we were given ration books.
You still got that?
Yes. But the rations by that time
Was almost nothing?
Oh, very, very, very little. Very little indeed. And not much money to buy the rations. If the War had carried on and on I don’t know what we would have done. Fortunately just finished in time, the sovereigns, the gold sovereigns, a few were still left.
But in 1945 did you know that once the winter was over there would be another Allied offensive and this time it was likely to be the last one?
Not really. Because, of course, there was a complete censorship, even well before, when the War started, there was strict censorship. You were never told of any defeat or anything.
You never saw any underground newspapers or anything like that?
Never. Never. I don’t know, there might have been but I certainly hadn’t myself. There were just whispers, you know, there was a lot of rumours around. Some true and some not true, obviously.
I’m sure people were talking all the time, weren’t they?
Oh, yes. There was so many rumours. You didn’t know what to believe. Everything or nothing or Yes, difficult.
And did you have school friends who had gone off and become partisans?
Yes, yes, we had a cousin who was a partisan, and he was killed by the Germans.
Yes, taken prisoner and killed there and then.
What was his name?
He was called Carlo, Carlo Boen.
B – O – E – N. The family originally from Czechoslovakia, century before, yes. Very nice boy, too, young man.
And he was just executed and that was that?
Executed. Probably in these rice silos I was telling you about.
And had he been Communist or was he..?
Certainly not Communist, oh, good heavens. The family were more religious than the Pope.
Were you and your mother quite religious? I mean did you go to church every week and all that sort of thing?
Yes, yes, yes. Not more religious than the Pope, but yes. Christian, you know, Catholic, yes. Church-goer, yes.
And did you have a good local priest?
Yes, on the whole. The Bishop was quite good. He did quite a lot for the town and helped, and went, had some contact with the Gauliter and tried to intercede. In fact he tried to intercede for this group of 11 senior Officer who were arrested, he went there and tried, and said, â€œPlease tell us what you think they are guilty of? No, no, nothing, nothing.
Nothing? He never got a word?
No. Not a word.
And the Germans in Trieste, you’d see them every day, presumably..?
Yes, well they were, you see, they were in Trieste having been originally in the 1st World War under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There were 1 or 2 German – well, Austrian, really – there, and some of them had relations in the Army. There were a lot of Austrians in the Army, in the German Army. Not only German, Austrian as well. And that I remember it was always very Everybody had very difficult to fraternise with them, even if there had been prior relation and things like that.
And did you ever see the Gauliter himself travel past?
No. No. Nobody ever entertained them. No, I never heard. Not even, you know, I believe that not even prostitutes went with the German soldiers. I was told – maybe some of them did – but I was told it was very, very strongly anti-German. Probably not so in Trieste than in other places because a friend of mine was telling me in Turin, they never had such a presence, there wasn’t any necessity for it, you see, or Florence, or something like that. They weren’t loved but they wasn’t quite so prominent as they were there.
I suppose only because of the border situation.
Probably. And, of course, the pressing on the German, Tito troops coming. And there was shooting, of course, between the Germans on the very last day of the War, between the German and the Partisans, the Tito soldiers who entered the town in the north.
Yeah. You can remember all that happening?
Oh, very well, yes.
That must have been quite frightening, wasn’t it? Or worrying?
You must have spent your whole time just worrying and feeling anxious?
Yes, of course, of course. Yes.
Clearly your mother was devastated by it.
Completely and utterly. She really collapsed, yes.
It’s quite a change, isn’t it, from having this lovely, idyllic childhood and sun, and sea, and, you know
And very sheltered. That’s one of the things that’s really struck me about talking to some of the Italian civilians who I mean a lot of you, you were living in a town, quite cosmopolitan compared to a lot of Italians, and yet you have this very sheltered upbringing, lots of friends, happy at school, suddenly everything changes. It must have been terribly alarming I should think.
Conversely, I was asking you about partisans, did you have school friends who stayed on and fought with the Fascists?
I don’t know personally anybody. Not anybody. I do know, for instance, a Jewish friend who – in fact a Jewish teacher – who committed suicide when he heard about this law that came, a very nice teacher. And then another elementary teacher that was taken to Auschwitz and was killed. And then I remember a friend of mine – well, not quite a girlfriend, a schoolgirl – that went, was raped by the Germans and then she committed suicide. And she wasn’t raped because she was Jewish. She happened to be Jewish but they couldn’t have known. She was going on a bicycle in a little road
This was in 1944?
1944. All sort of things were happening.
I’ve done quite a lot of study into this and there were vast numbers of Italian women that were raped in the War, and I’ve got to say that the vast majority were by Allied troops rather than by Germans.
Really? I didn’t know. I didn’t know anything about that.
Particularly bad, actually, were the French, the Moroccan troops.
Ah, yes, yes. Somebody told me the Moroccan.
They weren’t paid, they weren’t given a salary as such. The spoils of war were part of the deal, and they just
That I did not And I might also say, although this friend of mine was raped, that I haven’t heard much about raping around Trieste.
Generally speaking the Germans were quite good about that and they were quite good about not looting, either. I mean – there’s always exceptions to the rule – generally speaking the Allies were worse.
I don’t know, because when they arrive it was the end of the War. They arrived in Trieste toward the end of the War, ended up
I appreciate it was a long time ago, but can you at all remember the Christmas of 1944?
Oh, gosh, so well. I can’t tell you how well I remember. Not only I remember it because also it was We knew, we were so completely penniless. It was a very cold winter, no fuel, so cold, no hot water, no food, continuous air raids, my mother ill. My father, any day we thought we would hear he was killed. And then it was tremendous rejoicing of the Germans for the New Years Eve, I remember. Silvesternacht, they call it. They do a lot of fuss New Years Eve in Germany in general. When we went to Germany with my husband, was stationed there, they was The night of the 31st is the night of the year. Fireworks
Did they have fireworks in the War?
Yes. Funnily enough they did. Shouting and screaming and all around the town.
Gosh, the contrast of what you had experienced.
Oh, yes. I do remember so well.
You must have been devastated about you father as well, but it must have been wearing, I would imagine, the strain for you of having to look after your mother and nothing you can say will cheer her up, will it?
No. I tell you something; â€˜What can’t be cured must be endured’, you always say in English, and it is true. You just have to. What else is there to be done? You are facing (death) and you try your best. What else?
Even today you can go to places where there is an atmosphere of violence and menace, I’ve witnessed it a few times myself. I rather imagine Trieste must have been a bit like that all the time. All the time, even in daytime, you’re slightly on edge. Can you remember that or is that overstating it?
In that respect, no. In fact, in a way, I felt more that in Cyprus, when we were there in Cyprus, because it was, you know, they were shooting I don’t know. You probably don’t know there what happened.
I know of it.
But, no, it was order. The Germans were so that there was order in the town. There was no looting or I can’t say that one would feel, as a girl, threatened. I wouldn’t go out during the curfew, of course, I could have been shot during curfew. But if you obeyed basic rules
You got by.
Yes, you got by, as a girl. As a young man I would say â€˜yes’, Because if you were young they would make
You either should have been fighting for them or you
That’s another thing, you see; they used sometimes to block 2 roads. They used to call it (eritarter), which means like a fishing net, when you draw the net there, and then sort out girls out, all the men out, women out, the young men up to Germany as slave labour. They often did that. So if you were a young man, yes, you would feel that. Not a young woman.
So no boyfriends because presumably there was no one around much?
They weren’t around!
Tell me about the end of the War; Did you sense – you were listening to radio London and things – you knew it was coming, did you?
Yes, it was.
Was there a change of atmosphere amongst the German occupiers?
Yes. Yes, they were. In fact I remember one aunt of mine, a relation of mine, had in the same block of flat – it’s a town that is mostly blocks of flats, you know, the centre of the town – and some flats were requisitioned by the Germans, and one German came to her at the end of the War, said, â€œPlease, please -â€œ A Naval Officer, â€œ- Please, please give me civilian clothes, I want to run away. I know what is going to happen. The War is going to end any moment and Tito and his partisans’ are coming into town, they cut my throat. Please give me a suit. And she wouldn’t, actually. She said, â€œGo away, go away! But there was a feeling of panic, very much so.
And can you remember the I may be wrong but I have a feeling it was the New Zealanders, wasn’t it, that got there first, of the Allied troops?
You see, it’s not a very large town, Trieste, but large enough to have somebody coming from the south and something coming from the north at the same time. So the Yugoslavs from the north. The Germans was
Yes, filtering out, running away, and so forth. It was vacant for a few hours. And then we heard shooting. And we were fairly near the north of the town, or rather, in the centre at the time, and we heard the shooting in the north, the Tito partisans shooting I don’t know who, because the Germans had left. Perhaps 1 or 2 were just running away. Then shooting from the south. And then there was a certain moment they thought German The New Zealanders and the Tito troops were shoot each other, we thought, but they didn’t. They didn’t. And then when we saw the New Zealander entering the town, what a relief! What a relief. I remember rejoicing. And in the shooting, in the very last minute of the War, a rather silly young man wanted to see what was happening and he was killed in the crossfire.
Well, you know, terrible.
So the flat that you moved to after your flat had been destroyed, how close to your old house was it, your old flat?
Quite close, because, you know, we had to really, in a way, accept charity. People who had gone to the country
But it wasn’t on a completely different side of town or anything? It was the same area?
No, no. But then we couldn’t stay long there because the owner of the flat had promised the flat to somebody else and we had to move. So we went to yet another place again, out of charity. We knew everybody by that time. It’s not a big town, you know.
And those that stayed behind, there’s even fewer?
Yes, fewer. And people felt very We were extremely popular because of my father being taken and
So he was a hero?
In a way, yes, I suppose. People felt so sorry, obviously, and they were very kind to us. Lots and lots of people even who are just acquaintances will come to us and say, â€œWell, how can we help?
And it was literally just a day or two after the New Zealanders arrived that the War was over in Italy, wasn’t it?
Oh, yes. Just a question of a few days, yes. And then you should have seen the rejoicing. The rejoicing. The popularity of the New Zealanders, they were kissed and given flowers and, oh, it was lovely. Those nice boys, some of them looking overwhelmed.
And then no anxieties about the Yugoslav partisans and stuff?
Oh, yes, because they took the
It always seems to me that you get over one hurdle and then you’ve got another, you know.
Yes. In fact, the outskirts of the town, the north outskirts of the town, were in the hands of Tito partisans for 40 days, exactly 40 days. People always talk of the famous 40 days of the outskirt. But there was some treaty was between the Allies that they weren’t allowed to come into the centre of the town.
[Male voice] How long did the New Zealanders stay?
I can’t tell you because I wasn’t quite sure myself of the difference between the New Zealander uniform and the British uniform and the American uniform, they all were
Well, the British Army troops, whether they were New Zealander or Polish or whatever, it was little more than a shoulder tab to differentiate them.
I don’t know, really, how long the New Zealanders stayed. I suppose quite a while. Then the British, of course, arrived, and then the Americans arrived. Yes.
Presumably you did notice the Americans, because they had more chocolate and cigarettes to hand out than anybody else.
They were very popular, yes.
[Male voice] Nylon stockings.
No, not yet, not yet. That came a bit later.
I was going to say about Mussolini; you remember hearing the news that he’d been strung up and..?
Oh, we all Everybody, any right-thinking Italian felt ashamed. If you want to shoot him? Right, do that, properly, but not the way they’ve done it. They’ve been ashamed, obviously. I mean, all the people I know, there were even very anti-Fascist
Quite shocked at the way it was done.
One of the things I’ve also been investigating is these large German Rastrellamento, Rastrellamenti, I should say.
Yes, I’ve been examining a couple of quite major massacres. Presumably, at the time, you weren’t aware of this going on, were you?
We were, because
I know you were saying about those people, those young men, being hanged and But there was one I looked at where over 1800 people, largely women and children, were just mown down.
Yes. Yes, (we do). Because you had to remember that we were in the Italian part, the Italy which wasn’t occupied by the Allies. We were in, well, you say German-occupied Italy, but the population was Italian, the population talk, and, as I told you, whisper, rumours.
You did know about it then?
Oh, it went round like light.
Yes, absolutely. One heard these sort of things, yes. Then, of course, you would say that (perhaps it’s true, perhaps they killed them), but we certainly did hear. We also heard what they did in the concentration camp.
You knew about that?
So when you knew you father was in a cattle wagon you knew he was heading off to concentration camp, you knew that meant trouble?
Well, indeed, indeed. Although nobody at that time had come out and told us about it, again, we heard, we have heard about it.
It’s just the change, isn’t it? The change of tempo from life before the War?
Absolutely idyllic. I keep on thinking my childhood was absolutely idyllic in every respect.
And what a change.
Yes, what a change.
And tell me, did your mother recover?
Yes, but I must admit that afterwards she has never been really the same again. Again, she was a very, very sheltered person, she was the apple of the eye, of her father’s eye, and, I think, as a young girl, rather spoilt. My father was They had a very happy marriage, a happy family life and so on. She was a I thought she really was really old, because, to me, she was in fact 46 when all that happened and I thought she was far too old to survive it. You know how young people look at it, and I think she never quite, quite recovered.
Sad, isn’t it? And do you mind me asking how you two met?
Ah, yes, that came some time later. (Cyril) was in the Army, with the Royal Engineers, of course, he took Trieste. At that time, actually, I was working for Allied Military Government! For a (new bit) which was called the Film Board and, believe it or not, we had to censor films, simply politically, not morally, nothing to do with the morals. But the situation in Trieste was very volatile, because Tito wanted Trieste, the Italians didn’t want to give Trieste. Then the Communists came in full force in Trieste, the ex partisans, the Communist Party was in favour of the Communist Yugoslav. Anyhow, very volatile, so there were a lot of films, War films at the time, immediately after the War as you can imagine, very topical, and I had to watch these films and tell the Film Board, the Allied Military Film Board, to say is there anything likely to inflame the population or to start a demonstration or something, is there anything (tricky) in that film. So I used to go to the converted cinema, a big cinema we had at that time, and view certain films which are, perhaps, (read first about), and if it was a particular theme that might offend the feeling of the Italian, or the feeling of the Yugoslav, or the feeling of the Allied, or the feeling of the anybody, then cut it out. Yes.
It must have been interesting.
Oh, it was, yes, very.
[Male voice, inaudible] What was your first name?
[Male voice] James. You haven’t answered James’s question; how did we get together.
Ah, yes. I had to start that because I was in an office and Cyril was, as a Royal Engineer, was about to requisition that office, which was in a flat in town, for British families. So he came into the office and that was that.
[Male voice] I’d heard there were pretty girls working there! Then I said, â€œIt’s now or never! Luckily Clara was unengaged.
And was persuaded by your charms?
[Male voice] Yes.
So had you been serving in Italy during the War?
[Male voice] No, I was in India, Burma, with the Chindits.
Oh, were you? Were you on the second expedition then, or the first?
[Male voice] The second. The first one I was with in Arakan, and then joined the second expedition.
You obviously got through it. Which column were you in?
[Male voice] Mike Calvert’s.
Oh, were you? Yes, he’s very, very highly thought of, isn’t he? Were you a fan?
[Male voice] Yes, he was a wonderful wartime leader, like Wingate. But he cracked up after the War.
Did he? I didn’t know that.
[Male voice] Yes, took to drink and
I don’t think Wingate would have survived long after the War. He was a manic depressive, wasn’t he?
[Male voice] He was an odd one.
We went to Burma many, many years later, because our first son was, at the time, the British Ambassador in Burma. So he somehow managed for Cyril and the second son to go to the very spot where he was wounded and had his Chindits exploits there.
[Male voice] I’ll show you a picture.
I’ve lived in Broad Chalke all my life and my GP when I was growing up had been a Doctor on the second Chindits expedition, a chap called Doctor Chris Brown. I’m trying to remember which column he was on. He was with the 77th Brigade? Does that sound right?
[Male voice] Yes, that sounds like the one I was in.
He was supposed to land At the last minute, I think I’m sorry, it keeps going from my memory, but at the last minute, he was going to be at one of the landing grounds and they couldn’t because it looked like they’d been occupied by the Japanese. In fact they hadn’t but aerial reconnaissance suggested that was the case, so I think he landed at I think it was Piccadilly, or was it one of the others, I can’t remember.
[Male voice] Because they dragged logs across the
That’s right, yes. Amazing. That was an amazing expedition. Quite incredible. He kept a very detailed diary, so he’s got this amazing record.
Cyril has got very detailed diary as well.
Hmm, very detailed. Very detailed.
I’d be fascinated to see any pictures, though, I must say.
[Male voice] Amazing how good the Japanese were as soldiers.
[Male voice] Incredible. They’d carry on year after year in the jungle without any leave, holiday, or anything.
I was thinking away, thinking about our generation, that we had, you know, this terrible war, great war or 1940 and so on. Then, when Cyril was in the Army, we were going around the world at the end of the British Empire, so wherever we went we were shot at.
Interesting times, though.
Very, very interesting. I have written for my grandchildren (my notes), and all of them away, we went to Cyprus, we went Aden, yes, you know.
Really? But you’ve written about your childhood and the War in that as well, have you?
Amazing. Tell me, do you have any photographs of..?
All destroyed, yes, all went. Yes. That was terrible. Not only our house but, as I say, my grandparents house was taken, everything was taken away by the partisans, looted of every picture.
I don’t know how you’d get over that, I mean
You don’t in a way, you know, you don’t. You become a stronger person, I must say. You do become stronger.
Do you think, because of everything that happened to you, that made you more willing to marry your husband and go off all round the world and leave Italy? Because, in a way, you home had gone?
Sure, sure, yes, sure. I’m sure about that. And all the various difficulty when we were young, you know, the British Army told us of the difficulty. We had some pretty grotty accommodation at times, you know, and as I say, we were in danger at certain moments as well by insurgents and whatnot. Yes, I think it does, it makes somebody stronger, I suppose, yes.
And how many children do you have?
We have 3 children. 2 boys and a girl. And 1 boy is, one son, is now in Vietnam, and 1 son is in Khartoum in the Sudan, and 1 daughter is in London.
Gosh, so they really are all over?
Hmm, I’m afraid so. [Male voice, inaudible] You don’t want to hear all that!
I do. Of course I do.
Yes, we do have (then fairly) scattered around the world. The son who is in Vietnam is the British Ambassador in Hanoi. He was in Burma, in Rangoon, and now he’s in Hanoi.
How incredible. You must be very proud of him.
Yes, we are. Because especially he was the youngest ambassador in his time, when he first became ambassador of Burma. Yes, he’s a clever chap. And then the second son is working for an organisation called Worldvision, I don’t know if you ever heard it. It is a mostly Well, when I say mostly American, it’s really international, and it is an (aided head/ageing wreck) of an organisation. And he has been in many places, Mozambique when it was the great floods of Mozambique, he went to Papua New Guinea, then now he is in Khartoum at the Sudan, involved in the Darfur trouble, you know. So we have very interesting e-mails from all
I’m sure you do. So you’re all linked up on the computer then?
Yes, yes, very.
I should think with 2 sons in different parts of the world, the e-mail has revolutionised things.
Yes. The only thing – you wouldn’t believe it – I write, constantly, e-mail and forever something go wrong, I mislay it and I can’t find the copy and all that sort of thing. I’m afraid I’m not a great fan of the computer. I do understand it but I suppose I’m too old.
They are a curse as well as a blessing, there’s no question about it. And do you go back to Italy ever?
Oh, yes, yes. A lot, actually. As I say, I went back to this tiny island that was, you know I always say I would like to be buried there, but far too much complication for my poor family.
Well, at least you’ve been back and everything, and it’s all nice and peaceful now.
Much better than [inaudible, mic knocked]
Yes, yes. That’s true.
Now, tell me, you know all about my life [Interview ends – 1:33.42]