Last week we posted an article about the photography exhibition in London that was about the lives of soliders in Puglia, Italy during the Second World War. In the article we mentioned Corporal Philip Kemp of Long Ditton, Surrey who features in one of the images. We have now been happily informed that his daughter got in touch with Accademia Apulia UK after recognising him in the picture and joined them for the opening of the exhibition Stories of Friendship on 24 July, where she gave a speech about her father’s story.
Read on to see Mila Kemp’s tribute to her parents:
World War 2 was the deadliest military conflict in history. Over 60 million people were killed which was over 2.5% of the world population at the time. Inevitably, wars always have serious consequences for the civilian population, tearing apart their lives and leaving a burden of misery and destruction in its wake. However, even in war and times of real hardship it is incredible how the human spirit can survive and positive values such as brotherhood and solidarity can flourish, resulting in warmth, empathy and long lasting friendship – even love and marriage.
It was World War 2 that took my father, Philip, an Englishman, to Italy. He had never been outside England until May 1943 when he was sent to Tunisia with the RAF. His section, called V Section was part of the Allied photo reconnaissance wing which constructed models of enemy territory from aerial photos for both land and air attacks. Models were very important as they showed the terrain with much more accuracy than photographs.
After General Badoglio accepted the conditions of the Armistice, my father sailed across from Tunisia to southern Italy landing at Bari and proceeded up the coast to San Severo where he remained until the end of the war. Models of areas of eastern Italy, including those used for the crossing of the Sangro River by the British Eighth Army under Montgomery.
When my father arrived in the small town of San Severo, it was December 1943 and very cold. The first night was spent in a small Benedictine Monastery. All the soldiers were forbidden to take off their uniforms – not a bad thing as it was so cold – and had to sleep on a stone floor with just a blanket to cover them. The next day they were given lodgings in houses which had been requisitioned by the military.
I often tried to imagine what it must have been like for my father and his fellow soldiers, far from their families and thrown into a completely different culture and way of life, unable to understand the language or be understood, and in circumstances in which the local people were naturally wary of yet more soldiers arriving in their town.
However, my father always spoke to me very fondly of one family who lived in just one room across from his lodgings. The mother used to do his washing for him. They took him into their home which had no electricity. They shared meals with him even though they had scarcely enough for themselves, communicating at first in gestures then gradually beginning to understand a few words. The food was very different but interesting and tasty.
As life gradually returned to normal, people began to go out walking in the evenings. After a while they became used to the presence of the Allied soldiers. It was at this time that my father met a group of young students who were to become friends for life. I still have a letter from one of them to him, a man named Augusto, in which he calls him cousin and chides him for not responding for so long.
One evening my father was invited to a gathering of Augusto’s friends and relatives and it was here that he was introduced to a beautiful young lady called Pia, a teacher. He wanted to see more of her so asked if she would give him lessons to improve his Italian, she agreed and subsequently a firm friendship developed. My father was eventually invited to meet her father, who was the town clerk and a very stern pater familias. Philip was extremely nervous, a wrong impression would probably mean the end of his friendship with Pia. She was looking after her three-year old niece, Marina, at the time, luckily my father loved children. Marina gravitated towards him straightaway and he to her. There was no longer any problem, he was no longer a foreign soldier, just Philip, Pia’s good friend. During the next few months as they saw more and more of each other their love blossomed.
Before Philip left to go back to England in 1945 he decided to ask Pia for her hand in marriage only to be told by her father that he had to go back home and after a year if they were both still in love he could come back and ask again.
In April 1947 Philip married Pia, my mother and took her back to England as his wife. They were happily married until 2000 when my mother died at the age of 84.
My father and I took her ashes back to San Severo according to her wishes to be buried with her family and two years ago after my father died I took his ashes to lie next to my mothers. And San Severo has been and always will be part of my life too.
I stand here tonight as a testament that love is truly universal. It will shine through all kinds of hardship, regardless of nationality, uniformTs and rank.
You can still check out the Exhibition until 29 August 2014 at the Priory Church of St John, London.
Museum of the Order of St John
St John’s Gate St John’s Lane London
21 July – 29 August 2014
Monday – Saturday 10am – 5pm