- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Arpalice Giselda Yarrow (nee Moretto)
- Location of story:
- Massanzago, Padova - Italy
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 26 October 2005
(told by her son John Yarrow)
My mother recently died at Basildon Hospital and I have only just found out that she was an unsung Italian heroine, who saved American and British servicemen.
Giselda was born in November 1922, one of five sisters, in a village called Massanzago near Venice in Northern Italy, into a middle-class family. Her father was a respected businessman and industrialist at the time and had good connections. The whole family hated the way that Italy was turning to Fascism, and after 1940, Nazism, when Mussolini collaborated with Hitler. During this period, the early part of the war, some of her friends had joined the partisans, but being frightened and unsure at the time she did not join the organisation. One day in a lane near her house she came across one of their best friends murdered by the Nazis for being involved with the partisans; her tongue had been cut out.
Her parents at that time had quite a large estate with several acres of land where they lived; there were barns and cubby holes, etc. where people could be hidden. Immediate friends knew them to be a family sympathetic to the British cause to rid Europe of Nazism. When British, American, Polish etc airmen crashed down or parachuted down in the vicinity they used to be hidden in their house, but mainly on the land in the barns and cubby holes, several at a time. After securing their place of safety they had to be fed; each morning she did the rounds on her bicycle, with her basket filled up with food (hidden of course from the Germans) to all the secret locations. Many times she ran the gauntlet of Nazi roadblocks.
After several months the Germans became suspicious and eventually she was arrested by the S.S. With nothing proven and her father knowing people in high places she was let off after a good bribe was paid. She continued doing her dangerous work moving people fleeing from the Germans and feeding them. She was arrested for acting suspiciously, this time by the Fascist police, and for a second time she was released due to her father’s position. Bear in mind that at this time you couldn’t trust anybody, even Italians.
Towards the end of the Nazi occupation of Italy, just before they capitulated, Hitler and Mussolini were at a rally in a town called Padova (Padua) in Northern Italy. Everyone in the crowd was giving the Nazi salute and cheering — except of course for my mother who was shouting her disgust (I think it was more like obscenities) for Hitler and Mussolini. She was suddenly surrounded by SS or Gestapo officers and taken away. At this time she was with two of her sisters who pleaded that she had learning difficulties and was not responsible for her actions. I think her father intervened on her behalf again, but was warned that she would be sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp if she did not behave herself. By this time she was in her early twenties.
Near the end of the war she met my father, Bernard, who was in the British army pushing up from Southern Italy. They met in Padova and a relationship started. After the war she came to England, married Bernard, and I was born in 1947. My sister came along in 1953. Next year (2006) would have been my parents Diamond (60th) Wedding Anniversary.
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