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Italian experiences during the War

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posted on 2024-06-05, 16:48 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

The contributor attended the event to share her memories of WW2.

"My grandmother came to England from Italy in 1912 with one child and her husband. In 1914, my mother was born and my grandfather was fighting on the Allies' side in WW1. They were living in the area of Soho, London. My grandfather died in 1918, we think due to Spanish Flu, and is buried in this country. I was born in 1937. My mother was born in London of English parents, my father was born in London but of Italian parents. My father had an older brother (who was born in Italy) and a sister (who was born in England).

In 1939, at the outbreak of war, my father, because he was British born, joined up and my uncle, because he was Italian born was interned (in England). At this point, my grandmother was not interned. In 1939, we moved from Soho to Mornington Terrace (which is half way between Camden Town and Regent's Park). My father went off to war, which I don't remember too much about that. My earliest memories as a child are of the air-raids, which I found very exciting. We lived at 42 Mornington Terrace - Mornington Terrace is divided by a large cutting where the main train line runs to Euston Station. So, the Germans were always trying to bomb the railway line.

There were two guns that were called George and Mary. When there was an air raid, we always used to hear these two guns going off. One night we slept in Mornington Crescent tube station, but after that my memories are of the deep shelter that was built under the Carreras cigarette factory in Mornington Crescent. The deep shelter, I very much enjoyed because there were nurses there who gave the children chocolate and there were bunk beds. It was fun - I can remember saying,"I hope there's an air raid tonight because it was fun going down".

There would be 3 or 4 families and they each would have prams full of belongings. The houses in Mornington Terrace also had coal shelters in front and some of the people had converted those into air raid shelters. I didn't like our coal shelter because it wasn't painted, but there was a neighbour who had painted hers white and I didn't mind that. It was pristine - I didn't like ours because it wasn't as clean.

My father was away in the army and I can't remember seeing him much. He was in the Catering Corp of the North London County Yeomanry. I can remember that his Colonel in chief was Lord Bearsted of Upton House (which will become important later). Lord Bearsted was from a Jewish background and his wife, I think, was an Italian Jewess. So he felt strongly that brother shouldn't fight brother.

It was my mother, my grandmother, and myself. I didn't feel any loss that my father was away and I was an only child. I was the idol of my grandmother, so had a very happy childhood. In Mornington Terrace, you had Irish, Italians, Greek Cypriots, Czechoslovakians, and Poles - all seemed to get on very well. And of the foreign troops, I remember the Canadians (I don't remember the Americans) were very nice to the children. I must have been 3, 4 or 5 now. Because I was too young to be evacuated by myself, my father (I think with the help of Lord Bearsted) evacuated my mother and myself from London to Cambridge. At this point, I was only speaking Italian.

We didn't stay in Cambridge for very long, we went to stay at Upton House. I think we stayed with the Chief Warden, who was a Mr & Mrs Cheverton. But we didn't stay there for very long because my grandmother (as an enemy alien) had to report to the police station monthly. This went on until 1950, reporting to the police I think.

I have here a book that says she was no longer considered for internment in 1941 (see object). That's my grandmother (Margarita Marinone) and that's my registration card, and that's my mother's (Alice Marinone) registration card.

Now I never remember being hungry during the war. I can't find the ration book, but I have it somewhere. All I remember is the milkman, who had a dairy in Parkway, who was absolutely according to the books - everyone got their rations and that was it. Obviously there was a bit of blackmarket that went on, but I can't really remember that.

We stayed at Upton House temporarily and then spent the rest of the war in Mornington Terrace. Later in the war, there were the doodle bugs. You were ok whilst you could hear the drone, but when it stopped you had to run home, or if you were home, duck under the table. I can remember a lot of talk about V1s and V2s then deep shelters. My memory is that the deep shelters were almost at the end of the war.

I can't remember if my father came back periodically during the war. I remember my father sent me a present during the war - it was a table tennis bat with 3 chickens. And that had been made by a German prisoner of war, but I don't know how he got hold of that. I think that his regiment went to North Africa, but I don't know if my father went to North Africa.

Yes, I remember my father coming back at the end of the war. I didn't like this intruder, I didn't know him, and I wasn't the centre of attention any more. I can remember that I never had as close a relationship with my father as my mother - or as my daughter had with my father. They had a terrific bond.

I can remember very early on in the war, there was a knock at the door at night, and my grandfather was taken away and I think he was interned for 3 months on the Isle of Man. After 3 months my mother found out where he was interned and he was released. He spent the rest of the war with us.

At the time I was unaware of my grandmother having to check in with the authorities regularly. When my grandmother came to England, the first child (my mother's sister) has obviously been born in Italy and she had two sons - the oldest was called Peter. She wanted my grandmother to bring him back - the war was about to start - so he was also an enemy alien, but he was only about 12 at the time. He grew up here and didn't see his parents until the end of the war.

Do you remember any hostility? Oh yes. I remember until I married around 1960 (and my surname changed to Stephens), I was well aware of a lot of antagonism to having a foreign sounding name.

Do you remember that hostility during the war? Yes. I can remember being told by my grandfather when I was catching a bus, he told me,"Rita, we don't speak Italian, we speak English" Even after the war, I didn't like my grandmother coming to functions at my school because she never really learned English. The change comes in 1960 when it becomes fashionable to have Italian clothes, fashion, shoes - my children (two daughters) thrived on that with their Italian links.

I can remember when Italy capitulated there were a lot of Italian POWs in Regents Park. They were very free and could mix with the people in Mornington Terrace. I guess this must be just after the war, but I can remember going to Regents Park and seeing a whole lot of men working, gardening there - but you did not mix with those because they were German POWs.

I remember children had a Mickey Mouse gas mask and they were red with a floppy nose. I wasn't frightened by that, but I was frightened by the adult gas mask. I can remember having one - I haven't got it any longer.

There were a lot of Poles living in Mornington Terrace. I can remember coming home one night and half of Mornington Terrace had been bombed and our house had all the windows blown out, but it was still intact. We stayed living in the house.

We lived in Mornington Crescent until 1958 when my parents moved to Finchley (which was considered rural). A mixed population, but very Jewish and a lot of Italians. Today, my daughter still lives in Finchley and there are more Asians living there now and the Italians have gone.

My grandmother was obviously an economic migrant. She was from Piedmont (North Italy - it was an important distinction for her). There was a well established group of migrants when she came over here, all from the Piedmont. They all worked in the catering business. When my father came home from the army, he went back to being a chef. He ended up with two restaurants, both in Maddox Street near Bond Street. One was called 'Le Entremets' and then the snack bar, 'Le Rendezvous'. It was like a little village - you had a hat shop next to the restaurant, then a shoe shop in Bond Street and it is said that when my daughter was born, my father was so excited that champagne flowed down Maddox Street.

I can remember at the end of the war going up to Piccadilly for VE day. When Japan capitulated, I remember we were on holiday in Ramsgate or Margate and there was a huge bonfire on the beach. Hirohito was the guy who got burned.

The first time I went to Italy was 1950. It was not at all like London. I don't remember seeing too many signs of the war, but I remember not liking the toilets - that's what sticks in your mind! Obviously, we went to the Piedmont to visit relations, but very quickly (1960s) you see the economic change in Italy. My grandmother must have left school when she was 9, but then her great grand-daughter reads Classics at Exeter College, Oxford - so you see the transition - and is now a doctor.

We moved out here because we wanted to move to the country and Great Missenden was on the main line in to Marylebone.

Note: after the war, Rita tried to trace her father's war records but could not find anything after 1940 because it was all classified. She thinks this might be because Lord Bearsted was involved in the founding of MI6.

History

Item list and details

Identity cards

Person the story/items relate to

The contributor, Alice Marinone, and Margeritta Marinone

Person who shared the story/items

Anon

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

Own memories and memories of contributor's mother and grandmother

Type of submission

Shared at Great Missenden Library, Buckinghamshire on 30 September 2023.

Record ID

94723 | GRE003