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INTERNATIONAL: Partying with German officers at family gathering; Diary of a PoW In December 1943, and being sheltered by the brave Tarchiani family in Florence, Anthony Laing and Jack Clarke are forced to pose as Italian cousins when German officers come calling.

On December 21 Leopoldo Tarchiani came up to Santa Brigida and drove us down into the city, to Via Ciro Menotti 35. After the usual warm Tarchiani welcome and a good supper we were taken to No 8 where we were greeted by Pamela Valvona-Buti, an English lady born of Italian parents in Northamptonshire, with a son, Kim, of eighteen, and a little girl, Toy, aged ten. Tonia, an Austrian governess, was also very much part of the family.

While Pam treated us as if we were her sons, her husband was interned as an enemy alien in England, where he had run a perfectly respectable business for many years.

Despite this Pam had already sheltered seven ex POWs and the last two had only left the day before! She was the most remarkable lady, brave, warm-hearted and generous.

No 8 was a three-storey building in which a grand staircase led to the first floor entrance of their large apartment on the first and second floors. This was the only exit, there being only balconies at the back, but we were assured the ground floor occupants were discreet.

For us it was the height of luxury: beds with linen sheets, hot water, soap and towels. And toilet paper! The children were delightful, and English was spoken, which was a great relief. Christmas was nearly upon us and although the Italians place more emphasis on New Year, we passed a memorable and very happy Christmas with them. Feeling slightly homesick, we attended a service that day in the Duomo.

We received such wonderful kindness and generosity from their friends too. Rationing was very strict but, with the help of Mario Nappini in particular, who got hold of necessities on the black market, we ate remarkably well and never went hungry.

Another firm friend was Angelo Salvatore with whom we went for long walks through the Campo da Marte to Fiesole when the weather allowed. Giuliana Righi, a spirited young girl, whose family would later put Jack up temporarily, also came with us. We went to the opera on several occasions with Elsa Tarchiani. On one occasion we sat next to a box full of German generals. But we all spoke Italian and no one was any the wiser.

One evening the telephone rang. Tonia answered and was delighted to hear her brother, a major in the German Army Medical Corps. He and a fellow officer were at Florence Station on their way down to the Front at Cassino. He had a Christmas present for her and their train was not leaving until midnight. Could they come and see her? After a hurried consultation it was agreed that they should. If the apartment was being watched it might be helpful if two German officers were seen to be received.

We did not want to go out as the weather was pretty bad, so it was decided we should hide, but while we were making preparations the doorbell rang and they arrived. We were introduced as Italian cousins and we had a jolly evening until they left towards midnight to catch their train.

But we were very aware of the danger in which we were putting this splendid family and we thought that we should leave. Through a Lucetta Amendola, a friend of the family, who worked at the Town Hall, we were given pukka ID cards - a set of genuine fake Italian papers!

The diaries of PoWs Anthony Laing, Jack Clarke and Marcus Kane Berman are being abridged by Clarke's daughter Rosemary. This summer she will be recreating their escape when she retraces their 600 mile walk through Italy's Appenines. If you would like to sponsor Rosemary's journey, or donate equipment for her trip,

visit www.birminghampost.net/apennines or www.rosemaryclarke.info for further information.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 16, 2007
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