8. A Letter from Italy
Sig. Eraldo Manfroni 
The content of the Air Ministry's letter of 20th June 1945 was soon to be confirmed by an extraordinary letter dated 6th October from Sig. Eraldo Manfroni, who it transpired had been a teacher at Polverara. Examination of several documents indicates that he had been witness to the crash scene, had actively participated in the funeral and burial arrangements and had personally taken it upon himself to contact the families of the five dead airmen.
The original letter (7 pages, 7.32 MB) to Sgt Smith's parents can be viewed here.
The story of the letter and much of its content was subsequently published on page 5 of the Ilkley Gazette on the 23rd November 1945. An image of the article can be viewed (769KB) here.
It has recently (2013) been discovered, from documents provided by Elisabetta Manfroni, the daughter of Eraldo Manfroni, that letters were also sent to the families of two other crew members. Notes kept by Eraldo indicate that in addition to the address for Sgt Smith, he had also found addresses for Sgt Bowman and Sgt Betts.
The father of Sgt Betts wrote to Eraldo on 30th September 1945. An image of the letter  can be viewed here. The content is as follows:
Dear Mr Manfroni
First on behalf of my wife and myself I must deeply thank you for the kindness you have shown to us. Yours through Dennis was the first we actually knew what happened to our dear son and it ended the agony of nineteen months waiting and hoping. It has at least eased our minds that he never suffered and is at rest in a grave on top of the mountain. He loved hills and the open country and we think he will be content there.
He also loved Italian music and has several records of their beautiful singers and bands. We have not yet had the story and poetry, as Dennis wrote that he would bring them when he came on leave. I wrote to the other parents giving your address and they said they would write to your personally and thank you.
We are hoping some time next year when transport is a bit easier to visit the grave and hope then to meet you and thank you for the interest and help you have given us.
We do understand how unhappy your beloved country must feel and how your former leaders have let you down so badly but I am afraid nobody gains out of war and all peoples must be made to realise the futility of it.
Your action alone shows that peoples of different nations have the same feelings and could live in harmony the best that each nation can provide. Again thank you for all you have done
Yours sincerely, H Betts
Sgt Betts' father wrote a further letter  just a month later on 28th October 1945 and can be viewed here. Its content is as follows:
I thank you for the story of the last flight made by my son and his consequent death. I do not know how to thank you for the trouble you have taken to compose the story, the expense and the kindness behind it all.
I'm afraid we in England have got used to the mutilated bodies of civilians and airmen. It was a relief to learn that they all died instantaneously and that they were buried decently. We feel very grateful for the expressions of sympathy by your local peoples and would like to convey our thanks to the vicar and officials of the church for the Christian spirit they displayed to the mortal remains of my son and his friends.
I have written to the people mentioned by you and they will be writing to you themselves. I suggest you delete that portion dealing with the pitiful sight of their bodies but state their deaths were instantaneous and the subsequent burial portion, which is really beautiful. We hope to visit your country as soon as possible and to thank you in person for your kindness.
Yours sincerely, H Betts
The reference to "Dennis" in the first letter is partially explained by another letter provided by Elisabetta Manfroni. This letter was written by Trooper Dennis Lovell and is dated December 1945. His army unit, Prince of Wales Own Royal Hussars, acted as part of the "Army of Occupation" in both Italy and Germany at the end of the war. It is presumed that he had met Eraldo Manfroni during duty in Italy and had agreed to help contact the families of the dead airmen. The letter  can be viewed here whilst its content is as follows:
Dear Manfroni, I hope this letter will find you and all your dear ones in good health.
As you will see from the above address, I am now stationed in Germany. I have recently been to England for a 28 day repose and I did of course meet and speak with Mrs Betts. And I was very pleased to be able to tell Mrs Betts all that I know about the happenings at Venturello. Also Mr Betts said that you have written and told him the graves are being cared for, thank you. Mrs Betts is very pleased to know her son is buried in a proper cemetery. Perhaps in a year or two's time, when you are able, you could take some photographs. I am sure we would all appreciate it very much. I must finish this letter now, I once again assure you we all, family and friends, think a very lot of you and thank you.
I am your sincere friend, Dennis Lovell
Two letters from the mother of Sgt Bowman have survived. The first has been written in Italian and appended with signature and address by his mother. The letter , the date of which is unclear, can be viewed here. The English text is as follows:
London 1?-19-45 (Possibly 19th January 1945)
Dear Mr. Eraldo,
I wish to thank you for your kind letter about my son and his friends. At the moment it's impossible for me to give any address of his friends as I don't know them, but I'll send you as soon as I receive them because I've written to the Ministry of Aviation to ask for the parent's addresses of the other aviators.
I thank you so much for the memorial you sent me either and for all the troubles you suffered due to my son.
I was disappointed to hear that my son has been moved from Polverara as I knew that he was (buried ) with his friends that's why I truly thank you for your kindness towards me. Here I've found a friend who read your letter to me and he wrote this letter to you either so I can avoid to look for another interpreter. I wish to know if you found my son's identification tags or anything else that belonged to him, in order to find something to remind him.
I thank you so much
A. Bowman (Mrs)
12 Pembroke Road
The second letter  is dated 6th August 1945 and can be viewed here. The content is as follows:
Having heard from Mr Betts, the father of Sgt Betts, whose aircraft was destroyed, I am thanking you for the care and consideration you have used regarding the loss of my son and others in a plane disaster, which no doubt you know more about than anyone.
I shall consider it a great favour if you will be good enough to inform me when my son was buried and I would like to know how the American Red Cross could let our Air Ministry know, after such a long time, to inform me of my son's death.
Is it possible for you to tell me if my son's disc or any other regimental or any of his belongings were found near him which can eventually prove that he was one of the party in the plane. I shall be grateful if in any way you can enlighten me, also thanking you for the utmost kindness and interest you have taken in the parents of these unfortunate lads. If you could tell me its not my son I would bless you always. As you are a Pastor, I can tell you that my son liked his chapel so well, and he was loved and esteemed by all, and was an Officer of the Boys Brigade.
I am yours very sincerely, a broken hearted mother, A Bowman
It is apparent that Eraldo was not content to only send letters to the three families for whom he had addresses. He also wrote to the Air Ministry in London asking for contact details of Sgt Barton and Sgt Hurnell. He received a letter  from the Casualty Branch dated 22nd January 1946 which can be viewed here. The content is as follows:
Dear Sir, I am directed to refer to your letter dated 13th December 1945, and thank you for communicating with the families of Sgt Betts, Sgt Bowman and Sgt Smith, and also for your kind offer to write to the next of kin of Sgt Barton and Sgt Hurnell.
I am to explain however that it is contrary to Air Ministry policy to reveal the addresses of next of kin of Royal Air Force personnel, but letters which need not be stamped, addressed to: Mrs S.A.Barton, the wife of S.A.Barton and H.E.Hurnell Esq, the father of Sgt P Hurnell will be redirected without delay if forwarded to this department in the enclosed envelope.
An associated letter  was subsequently written by the Casualty Branch dated 10th March 1946 which can be viewed here. Its content confirms receipt of letters as follows:
Sir, I am directed to thank you for your letter of 20th February, enclosing two letters, in memorial form one for Mrs SA Barton, wife of Sgt SA Barton and the other for Mr HE Hurnell the father of Sgt P Hurnell. These letters have been redirected as requested.
Sadly there are no indications that Eraldo's attempts to contact the families of Sgt Barton or Sgt Hurnell were successful.