« Cane Makers Plight | Main | The Blitz »

To War With The Bays: 85 – Living Memories

Fifty-one years after World War Two had ended Jack Merewood returned to Italy to seek out some of the people he met while in combat.

To read earlier chapters of Jack’s wartime experiences please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/to_war_with_the_bays/

Now I wanted to find Granarolo and the farm where we had made regular trips to the Senio. I wanted to see that river again, and I wondered if any of the Balbi family were still there.

Granarolo wasn't easy to find. I had numerous maps but it wasn't on any of them. But consulting the memoirs and asking in various places, we finally found it. I made inquiries at a farm and the lady said yes, she knew the Balbi house. She got in her car and asked us to follow her. We drove half a mile or so and pulled up in the driveway of a house.

The door opened. A lady came out, saw me and shouted, 'Jackie.' I said, 'Yes - Diana', for I immediately recognised her as Giuseppe's daughter. She couldn't believe it. Suddenly and without warning after fifty-one years I had come back. She was nine years old when we last saw each other.

She spoke good English and said, 'Come in, you're staying here with us tonight. No way are you going to go any further.'

It was no use arguing. Giuseppe had died about ten years ago but astonishingly here was her mother. The Signora Balbi I had known was a bright, happy and friendly young woman of thirty-three, black hair brushed back and fastened with a comb. The Signora Balbi I saw now was an old lady of eighty-four, but she still had a ready smile. Diana was married and lived here with her hus¬band and mother.

This was the same room where I sat and ate with them, at this very table all those years ago. The house had been small and they'd built on an extension, but now Giuseppe had died, their daughter was married and lived in Rome, so they had plenty of room for us.

And how about her cousins? One boy had died but Anna and Emilio were still alive. Their father, Giuseppe's brother, the one with the sore leg, had died only three years ago.

Part of the canal had been filled in and the bridge had gone, but the farmhouse from where we had made our daily trips to the river was still there.

In the evening we were joined by Anna and Emilio and other family members and also a lady, Orsola, who was extremely inter¬ested in the war and particularly the fighting in this area. She had lived in Granarolo all her life and was five years old when the Bays were here. She brought a video which she had obtained from the War Department in London, taken shortly before the Bays arrived. She knew all the history and was delighted now to have someone here who had taken part.

We talked well into the night. I read a few excerpts from the memoirs, which Diana translated to a full house — and they laughed about the children being in the bedroom waiting for me to waken, and were so interested in everything. Orsola left with the promise that in the morning she'd take us up to the river.

I was at the Senio again. Fifty-one years ago - what memories. I stood where we used to come with the tanks. It was easy to see now how the Germans were able to dig in at the bank on the other side. Where the road now crossed the river were the remains of the old bridge destroyed by the Germans.

Then we had to leave. 'But why? Surely you could stay another day or two. Do you have to be in Venice by tonight?' We explained we had only intended to stay an hour or two and were still here a day later, we were getting behind on our schedule. We eventually got away but not until we had visited more of the family — cakes and wine every time. The people had been wonderful, and it was fantas¬tic to have seen them again. Diana insisted I send her a book.

Now it was north to Venice, then an overnight stop in Grado, where Harold and I had spent that quiet weekend. We found a hotel which I think had been the Eva. But how Grado had changed. No longer a quiet little resort, but one with new hotels, bustling and busy with tourists.

Next, to Gradisca and the Isonzo. The wide river with its islands of white pebbles was just as I remembered it. In the fields alongside grew crops, but the memory of just where we had been with the tanks and played cricket and swum in the river was hazy, and I wasn't sure of the exact locations. I wondered what had happened to the girl whose name I never remembered - but who had upswept (and downswept) hair.

On to Campalogna. A lady extremely anxious to help remem¬bered the soldiers being billeted there, some even in her mother's house, but she couldn't remember the Matarese family.

We had been on the move two weeks now, another week yet through Austria with a couple of nights in Salzburg.

A day in Berchtesgaden and to the Eagle's Nest - the mountaintop retreat that had been built by Hitler between 1936 and 1938. It couldn't have been more appropriately named. A drive of about three miles up a steep mountain road, then park the car and a further four miles in special buses, on another incredibly steep and spectacular road, leaving the bus, there to walk about 300 yards through a tunnel cut deep into the mountainside. Into a lift to the mountain top itself. Hitler's hideout has now been turned into a restaurant. The view from there is breathtaking.

Germany, France and Belgium for the ferry to Hull. It had been a marvellous, unforgettable three weeks, a drive of over 3,000 miles. Three weeks packed with memories.


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.