I had long been curious about the specific details of my father’s experiences during World War II.Then, in the wake of my father’s death, I received an unexpected parcel wrapped in brown paper from my Italian aunt, Francesca. Imagine my elation when I discovered a pile of yellowed, letter sheets inside, originally posted from a series of Allied Prisoner of War Camps in Great Britain and the United States to my grandmother, Argia Leonardi Rappini in Bologna, Italy. The onion thin papers crackled in my hands as I scanned through them, reading the fading blue of a fountain pen’s ink in my father’s bold script. So began the quest to piece together his story, one that chronicles his rocky transition from a naïve Italian schoolboy to a proud Canadian immigrant.
To complete this work, I researched published and unpublished sources as well as consulted with subject matter experts in England, Italy, Canada and the United States. I am grateful to John R. Masters, Founder and Secretary, of the H.M.S. Firedrake Association, who provided me with much needed original research on the sinking of the R. Smg. Durbo and the rescue of its crew by the H.M.S. Firedrake.
While I can read some Italian, my father’s script proved a challenge given the stylistic writing of the time and his Bolognese expressions. My longtime friend, Cristina Nipoti Romagnoli patiently translated these letters for me which I greatly appreciate. During visits to Italy, Cristina and her husband, Vittorio provided exposure to Italian history, culture and of course, food and answered my endless questions.
My Italian cousin, Roberta Sera Savini supplied me with stories about Nonna Rappini and nuances of my father’s life under Mussolini’s regime.
The content of letters between my parents during the summer of their engagement provided me with great insight into their relationship at the time and preparations for their wedding. Throughout the book, I have taken the liberty to modify the names of people, as appropriate, to protect their privacy. However, for the most part, real names are used.
Over a period of several years, months of research went into exploring the history of Mussolini’s era, World War II and the Allied Prisoner of War Camps which housed my father. I am especially indebted to the U.S. Army Military History Institute (Carlisle, PA); the Special Collections Library, University of Tennessee (Knoxville, TN); The Naval Technical Museum in La Spezia; and the website, Regia Marina Italiana.
The Humber School for Writers, Correspondence Program in Creative Writing, provided me with a rare opportunity to work with Joan Barfoot, one of the school’s distinguished faculty and author in her own right.
My husband, Walter Fairclough, supported me throughout this project with encouragement, suggestions and technical support. Thank you for being there for me.