A deep regret I have is that I never asked my dad more questions. I remember the stories he told us, but perhaps back then, they just didn't mean much and we listened with child like interest. My mom and dad had this old Bakers Biscuits tin, which served a 'photo album', which I eventually inherited. Recently I have been scanning some of these oldies, memories of yesteryear with the intention of doing a 'today album'. Here I share some of these oldies with you and briefly give you some history.

Memoirs of a POW

My dad, Antonio was born in Brindisi, Italy, in 1914. I never knew my grandparents personally, as the winds of war swept our destiny to Africa. Antonio fought in the African campaign and was captured in Abyssinia. He was shipped out to Southern Africa and taken to Zonderwater, a concentration camp close to Pretoria. His time at Zonderwater is a story on its own, but here I will outline some of the details. Most of the prisoners of that time were farmed out to the locals as cheap labour. This was intended to keep these young men busy, but also to capitalize on their individual expertise in many different fields. This also relieved the SA authorities in having to feed over 100,000 prisoners. Initially, Antonio was exempted from transfer and remained in camp undertaking to teach illiterate soldiers. But with time, as the numbers of prisoners diminished, he too was transferred. His was sent to a convent on the north coast of Natal known as, Genazano, (today Genazano is a Boys Town). Here, together with a friend and fellow prisoner, Rafaele, they built schoolrooms and did general maintenance work. His time at Genazano was memorable as the nuns were very kind and good to them. So much so, that when the war ended, Antonio decided to stay on and finish what he had started. Rafaele on the other hand, grabbed his duffle bag and headed for home. Back in the old country there was a particular young girl who was fast becoming a woman. Having witnessed war herself from the home front, the bombings, helping to feed departing troops and also coping with a general state of depression, Ida had always led a very sheltered life. Sneaking down to the docks, she would watch the troop ships coming in, filled with worn-out and defeated soldiers. Ida never imagined that in time, much later, her ship would also be coming in. Antonio finally docked at Brindisi harbour; a year or so after the war had ended. Walking through old familiar roads, he turned into Via Cristoforo Colombo and headed home, a duffle bag thrown over his shoulder. Almost dropping at the sight of him, his mother cried with joy, as she had thought him to be dead, not having heard from him in years. Antonio began doing the rounds of finding old friends, one of whom was Petruccio, a shoe maker in the back streets of Brindisi, who had also done time at Zonderwater. There, during one of his visits, Antonio met a dynamic old lady who was showing off a picture of her family to the shoemaker. Antonio's eyes fell onto the most beautiful of the four girls in the picture; he excused himself to the old lady and promptly notified her that he would be marrying that young lady. Soon after, Antonio packed a bag ready to find his way back to Africa, as a depressed Italy had no future for him. But not before he had met Ida and proposed to her. Antonio and Ida married by proxy, Ida in Brindisi and Antonio at Genazzano. Ida later boarded the old SS Jerusalem (that ships final voyage) and weeks later met Antonio at Durban harbour where just days later they were formally married at the chapel at Genazano; ( see watercolours for my painting of that chapel). The young couple later moved to Johannesburg where they boarded with a Jewish family in Saratoga Ave, Yeoville. Old Mrs Lewis took the young bride under her wing and guided her into this new and foreign world. My parents later bought a house in Pankhurst, a suburb built for returning soldiers from the war. Tina, my sister was already born and I arrived eighteen months later, totally without warning, just my mom and I, home alone. How did we both survive? Thanks to an unexpected visitor, who separated us with the very scissors my mother sews with today.

My uncles Cosimo, Teodoro and baby Antonio
Antonio (right) North Africa
Antonio (right)
Antonio & Rafaele, Genazano
Zia Rita, zia Yolanada, Salvatore, Ida
Nona Lucia & Zio Premio
Myself, dad and Tina, swimming at our humble Parkhurst home
Tina, my mom and I, at the Zoo Lake. A favourite haunt then and now.
My favourite car
Departing Troops
A historic picture taken of the locals of Brindisi feeding troops before departing for Greece. My mother, to the right, with pigtails and grandmother can be seen next to her. None of these soldiers came back.
My father, mother, Tina and I on Tina's communion day
Wedding Day at Genazzano
Nonni Concetta & Francesco Forleo
Honeymoon 1950
Wedding day by proxy inBrindisi... zio Teodoro stood min as the groom
Tina's first steps 1952
Baby Franco 1954
Ida in Rome 1950
Duca d'Aosta
Zonderwater Gallery