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by CSV Action Desk Leicester

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Archive List > Family Life

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CSV Action Desk Leicester
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Royal Air Force
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25 January 2006

The Friendship that knew no frontiers

A Belfast Protestant’s friendship during the Second World War with the nuns of an Irish convent outside Rome is a touching story.

It was told to me yesterday by Johnny Jones, of Severn Street who was a sergeant with the R.A.F. during the fighting to liberate Europe.

Johnny proves the old hacks belief that there is a story in everyone. Before giving his proof that the Irish overseas, irrespective of the foot they kick with, are kinsmen in exile, he said; “ I read all your articles in the News Letter, and that invitation to readers to give you theirs set me thinking.”

“Towards the end of the war I was stationed at 149 staging post, Ciamino Airport, Italy, and we were accommodated in Villa Graziona, next door to Marimonte Irish convent in Rome.”

“As time went on I met and spoke to Father Leahy from Co. Cork, who hadn’t been home in 26 years but you could still have cut his brogue with a knife.”.

“He took me into his convent where I met Mother Perpetua — also Sister Walsh from Maghera originally, and of the Walsh’s Hotel Family whose brother wrote a well known play, ‘ The Auction Of Killybuck’.”

“Now I got the impression from Mother Perpetua and the nuns that they had not heard from home for years, so I gave them all Air Force letters with my name on them, and they all wrote home.”

“ I will never forget the joy when the letters of reply came back to me and I handed them out to those for whom they were intended.”

With no other postal link than that of the Allied Forces, Johnny continued this practice for months until he was posted elsewhere.

“I also got letters to the U.S.A. for them, and they got parcels back and Bibles. All my effort was not in vain for it gave me great satisfaction on top of all that, my wife got word from the Grand Central Hotel in Belfast to call over there for a message.”

“It was a God Send of a parcel that she received, during the rationing; tea, butter, eggs and meat.”

This had been the nuns way, through the letters he had despatched for them, of getting their friends to thank him.

“Then when it was my time to go home in 1946, I got a beautiful present through them from America.”
“Later on in my service I was stationed in Ballykelly and many a week, on my way home over Glenshane Pass, I called into Walsh’s Hotel and got a very Irish welcome..”
“But then I got the sad news that Mother Perpetua and their sister had passed on. I often wonder how many of the others in Marimonte are still alive. It would be great to hear from any of them.”

Johnny’s last words to me were; “So there’s my story, and all through life I have always been the same — treat all equal regardless of religion.”

“I never missed a day going to see them in Marimonte, and me a Protestant. I was never asked my creed or religion, and I never forgot Fr. Leahy who also was a welcome visitor to our sergeants and officers mess at Villa Graziona.”

That, truly is a lovely story!

This story was submitted to the “Peoples War Site by Rod Aldwinckle of the CSV Action Desk on behalf of John Jones and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the terms and conditions of the site

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