Chapter 9 - Farewell to Polverara

The year 1917 saw the establishment of the Imperial War Graves Commission.  The change of name to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was not until 1960.  The purpose of the Commission has always been to mark, record and maintain the graves of military servicemen.  At the end of the First World War the bodies of servicemen were brought together into cemeteries maintained by the Commission.  The same process was to be repeated after the Second World War and a number of CWGC cemeteries were established in Italy.

On 29th October 1945 the bodies of the five crew members of HF694 were exhumed and transported for re-burial in the CWGC cemetery at Staglieno in Genoa.  A letter from Eraldo Manfroni to Stephen's father dated 8th December explains that the villagers of Polverara had undertaken the initial transportation from Polverara to Ricco del Golfo before handing over responsibility to the military authorities.

Eraldo Manfroni's letter exists in two forms: In English and in Italian. Intriguingly the latter has faint handwriting on its reverse "14, Three Kings Yard, W1". This, it transpires, is the address of the Italian Embassy in London. Perhaps Stephen's father was asking the embassy to help translate.  Eraldo acknowledges their earlier letter to him and then explains what has happened.  He continues by expressing his disgust of the fascist dictatorship before describing that on November 2nd he assembled his "undernourished" pupils at Polverara cemetery to lay flowers and to pray for the dead aviators and dead partisans.

"For the suffering of those who are alive, for the martyrdom of those who are dead - let God send his benediction to this suffering Europe, to give wisdom to the Governments, so that good understanding and harmony between the peoples prevails and all menace to peace disappear.  I predict to you and your wife all the best, consolation and comfort. Let your wish to visit the grave of your beloved son become real.

Happy Christmas.  Yours sincerely Eraldo"

Stephen's father replies in a letter dated 31st January 1946:



Pelton Cottage
Manley Grove
Ben Rhydding

Jan 31/46


Dear M. Eraldo
                         I send you my best thanks for the further information about the removal of the bodies from Polverara.

We have not heard from our Air Ministry about this removal.

My wife & I are very grateful for your interest in these brave men.

If we ever did come to see the graves, it would be also our intention to see you and your friends to offer personally our grateful thanks


Yours Very Sincerely

Wm. H. Smith

It was to be another eight months before Stephen's parents received official notification that Stephen's remains had been re-buried :

It was then another year before they received a letter enclosing a photograph of the temporary wooden cross which marked Stephen's final resting place :

The delays in receiving official documents from the Air Ministry can be explained by the huge task they had at that time.

Regrettably, neither Stephen's mother or father were ever able to make the trip to Italy. It is clear, however, that they had formed a distant friendship with Eraldo. They sent two parcels containing chocolates. Eraldo retained two labels [24] from the packaging. The first label bears a stamp indicating it was posted in Ilkley on 16th December 1946 and the sender is identified as Stephen's brother, Bill. The second label was posted by Stephen's mother at an indeterminate date in 1946. It was processed in Genoa on an indeterminate date in '47.



It is apparent from a letter to Stephen's mother that Eraldo had received two parcels, one on 28th January (1947) containing 16 chocolates and a second on 31st January containing a further 18 chocolates. He explains that he no longer teaches at Polverara having been transferred to Spezia. Never-the-less he returned to the village on 3rd February and distributed the chocolates to the children. (The notes on this letter suggest that it is, in fact, a translation by someone other than Eraldo)