My Mom re-married when I was 3 and my “step” father adopted me and brought me up. I was not very close to him as a child as I was a little scared of him. Although he only ever gave me one hiding , he just had to give me a look and I would start behaving. When I was in my twenties I started to realise what a softy he really was.
I sat with him one day and he took all his old photos out of a tin box and told me stories about his war days. I wish I had recorded that conversation. All that I can remember and have pieced together makes a very fascinating story.
My Dad was the middle child of five children. I am not sure how old he was when his father passed away but his Mother could not afford to look after 5 children. My Dad’s elder two brothers were sponsored by the Catholic Church to go to a Catholic boarding school. His Mother deciding that she could only manage to take care of two children, so my Dad was put into an orphanage.
From when my Dad met my Mom he always referred to the orphanage as “boarding school”. Only after my Mom had managed to trace his younger brother and sister did we find out that he had been in an orphanage.
Straight after school my Dad joined the army. He was then flown to North Africa. He was watching a war documentary one day and they showed a flight that took soldiers from South Africa to North Africa and my Dad said to me that he was on that flight.
I wish I could remember more that he told me about his time in North Africa. I remember him telling me about his buddy that was always in trouble because he never had his proper uniform on. He told me how he and some friends marched to some senior military man to complain about the conditions. When they stood bravely in front of him he told them to look behind them and then to decide if they wished to proceed. When they looked behind all the other soldiers had run off.
My Dad was taken prisoner of war in North Africa and taken to a POW camp in Italy. I remember being impressed when an Italian exchange student came to visit me that my Dad could speak Italian, it was only later on that I realised where he had learned his Italian.
I cannot begin to imagine how he suffered in POW camp. He once told me that some soldiers were forced to dig trenches and then shot and buried in the trenches that they had dug. Our surname sounds Jewish and fortunately my father escaped being sent to Auschwitz as he had not been circumcised. He would always insist that it was very important to eat onions. He often would tell us that in POW camp he only had onions to eat for months and never became ill.
My Dad and two other POWs escaped over the Swizz Alps into Switzerland. They could not have had any proper clothing or food or mountaineering gear. I wonder how long it took them. My Dad spent the last few years of the war in Switzerland. He met a girl and fell in love. Unfortunately she did not want to leave Switzerland and my Dad did not want to live in Switzerland. They decided that all they could do was part ways. (He even had a photo of her in his tin box).