Malcolm (left) with two of his ex-partisan friends.
Malcolm's parents in Italy
Author and historian Malcolm Tudor discusses the fascinating stories of his Italian ancestors, from pre-unification Italy to dramatic escapes during World War II…
YOU HAVE ITALIAN ROOTS… WHERE IN ITALY DO YOUR RELATIVES COME FROM?
My Italian grandparents came to London early in the last century. They were from neighbouring villages in the province of Piacenza, Emilia-Romagna. My grandfather, Alfredo Dall'Arda, found employment as an actor in silent films and then became a chef. He met a young confectioner, Giuseppina Volponi, in London's 'Little Italy' community and in 1914 they were married at St. Peter's Italian Church.
Alfredo served in the Italian Army on the Austrian front during the First World War, returning to London once peace was restored. My mother, Clara, was born in 1920. Grandfather worked in hotels such as the Ritz and the Savoy and in 1928 opened his own restaurant in Upper James Street, W1. The business prospered and three years later he took the family back to Italy and the village of Castell'Arquato in the foothills of the Apennines. They bought a nice villa and my grandmother also inherited a share in a farm in the vine-covered hills above the village. Life was good - until on 10 June 1940 Benito Mussolini took Italy into the Second World War on the German side.
YOU'VE RESEARCHED YOUR FAMILY TREE EXTENSIVELY. WHAT DISCOVERIES HAVE YOU MADE?
My family history research has taken me back to the years before Italy was a unified state. At the turn of the 19th century my three times great- grandfather, Antonio Volponi, and his wife, Rosa Arata, followed tracks across the mountains from the Ligurian Republic to Castell'Arquato. It had been a trade route carrying agricultural products between the coast and plain for thousands of years. One of the couple's sons, Giuseppe, married a daughter from another family of merchants with origins in Liguria. Their granddaughter, Giuseppina, was my grandmother.
In contrast, my grandfather's family were poor farmers. I found that my great-grandfather, Giovanni Dall'Arda, had been murdered on his way home from Lugagnano market. His wife, Maria, had been left to bring up the family on her own. It is perhaps no surprise that one of their children, my grandfather Alfredo, would try and make a new life in London.
HOW DID YOU FIRST COME TO WRITE BOOKS ABOUT WORLD WAR II IN ITALY?
The decision to write books arose directly from my family's experience of war. In September 1943 the Allies landed in southern Italy. The Germans occupied the rest of the country and installed Mussolini as head of a puppet Fascist republic.
The local area was the scene of the greatest prisoner of war escape in Italy. At noon on 9 September over five hundred British and Allied servicemen marched out of Camp 49 Fontanellato, just ahead of a German column sent to capture them. Among the brave Italians who helped the escapers were my mother and grandparents.
My father, Quartermaster Sergeant Kenneth Winston Tudor, arrived in Piacenza with the liberating 8th Army in May 1945. He met my mother, Clara, when she was working as the interpreter for the Allied Military Governor. They were married in Swindon in 1948 and moved to my father's home of Newtown, Montgomeryshire, where I was born.
I grew up with stories of escapers. The outside walls of the house in Castell'Arquato were still peppered with bullet holes. On 5 April 1945 the partisans had routed an enemy force sent to blow up the river bridge, and the fighting had spread into the garden.
I decided to find out more. I was able to meet some of the comrades of the escapers whom my family had sheltered, and spent many hours of research at the British National Archives at Kew. It was the logical next step to collate these precious stories. And so my first book, British Prisoners of War in Italy: Paths to Freedom was born. A new edition was published in 2012.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR OTHER BOOKS?
So far I have written seven military history books on Second World War Italy (1940-1945). They cover British and Allied prisoners of war, special operations, air forces and partisans. All are based upon contacts with veterans and their relatives, new document releases and frequent field trips to Italy. Full information on my books is available from my website at www.emiliapublishing.com
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT ITALY?
There is always a sense of excitement when one visits Italy. It is a vibrant society and also treasures art, language and culture. The people are warm and friendly. It is a special treat to sit with friends over a table of good food and wine and to enjoy some lively conversation.
I am proud of my Anglo-Italian heritage. In my writings I cover the life and times of some remarkable people. It is a pleasure to share this experience with readers from all over the world.
The former Camp 49 at Fontanellato.