Polly’s Blog on Gualtiero Lenz – 05/10/16

20161005_114427Polly Wright, artistic director of Hearth is on a mission to discover more about Gualtiero Lenzi- ex POW who worked on her grandparents' farm in WW2- and who wrote warmly to her grandmother after the war. She has been in communication with his eldest daughter, Mara for a year now, but will meet both Mara and her sister in person for the first time at the end of this week!

She writes-

Having a wonderful time in Modena, Italy- and have been introduced to a journalist and local historian called Walter Bellisi - who, it turns out, knew Gualtiero Lenzi's brother and his niece. The communications officer at the Istituto Storico de Resistenza in Modena, Daniela Garutti, has extremely good English - and has been translating for us. We found out many things- such as that Gualtiero was one of seven boys- and that all but one of them fought in Libya. It seems as if they were rounded up in some way by Mussolini's press gangs- but one of them hid in a barn or somewhere in the hills and stayed at home in Castellucio for the whole war. He certainly might not have been better off; as the tiny village was badly bombed by the Allies, trying to target German occupied Italy. Later, according to the niece, when the brothers got together they talked incessantly about their time in Libya - but none of them ever referred to their POW experiences- as possibly they were ashamed of being captured by and then on friendly terms with the Evil Albion. The effect that the war had on Gualtiero was that he became a passionate Communist - he became a Councillor in the region of Montese, and, apparently, he was always expressing his socialist views very strongly. Walter and Daniela were surprised by the beauty of Gualtiero's writing in the letters- as his niece says that neither he or his brothers would have got further in their education than elementary school. But apparently all the brothers wrote beautifully- so perhaps Mara, his daughter - will throw some light on the mystery when I go to see her and her sister on Friday in her house in Vignola- a beautiful mountain village in the Apennines. When Gualtiero was brought to Wales from North Africa with other Italian POWs, they were initially housed in the Pool Parc camp, in the grounds of a country house outside Ruthin which is now dilapidated. After a while the camp authorities contacted local farms to offer some prisoners as labour. Farmers were only too happy to take them on, as they were "digging for victory" in a national effort to make the UK self sufficient- and so needed a strong labour force at a time when British young men were at the Front. Prisoners generally liked working on farms, as they were fed well- and were even given small amounts of pay. The beauty of the Welsh landscape must have been a reminder of home for the Italian POWs despite the rain. I have contacted the Ruthin Archive about my travels and discoveries - and hope eventually to deposit the letters there.

20161005_081113I'm reading my history book as I go, in-between quaffing gorgeous wine and sight seeing- and discover that there were lots of examples of warm relations between people of different nations in the war. Many ordinary Italian families took in wandering English POWs after they were let out of the camps after the Italian surrender in 1943- and risked their own lives in doing so in German Occupied Italy.

Researching all this is bitter sweet after Brexit-and watching the rise of the anti immigrant sentiment in Britain- re-enforced by this right wing government. Of course I'm planning to write about the story of Gualtiero and Kathleen, my grandmother as a play, but it feels as if it might not be more appropriate as a mournful lament.

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