Just last month, I posted an unusual story of a South African family who is seeking information about their Italian grandfather, who was a POW working at a local farm when he met their grandmother, Katarina Koopman. See “Searching for Italian POW Guerrino Bari.”
I was surprised to hear so soon afterward from Nicola Jarrett, who is also trying to learn about an Italian grandfather who was a POW during the war.
“My dad is the son of an Italian POW,” Nicola wrote. “It wasn’t until recently I realised that some POWs moved through camps. The camp where my grandma met the man in question was Normanhurst Court Camp 145, in East Sussex, UK. It was a mixed camp of Germans and Italians.
“As far as we know, he was either working on a farm in Robertsbridge, East Sussex, called Walter’s Farm Poppinghole Lane, or one close by. My aunt, now passed, could remember my grandma waiting in a field [for him] at the end of the lane.
“My dad was born Albert John Jarrett on 23 February 1946 in Robertsbridge.
“He goes go by his middle name, John.
“There were rumours of the POW. My grandma didn’t say anything to my dad, but I’m guessing she must have told someone.
“We only found DNA evidence a couple of years ago.
“My grandma already had three children when she had the affair with the Italian. Her husband took my dad as his own and bought him up as one of the family, but he always felt like an outsider.
“We don’t know anything about the Italian. We have tried everything this end [to discover who he was], but there seems to be no records kept on the POWs.
“I’m hoping someone may remember a liaison between the gent and Rosa, my grandma.
“We had an email from Ancestry about a TV programme, My Family Secrets Revealed, looking for DNA results with a high percentage with a good story to tell. [Dad and I] had a chat and agreed we had nothing to loose and gave it a go. To our surprise they picked up our story. Dad wanted me to be part of it, as it’s also my history. So we had a few days filming here and then travelled to Bristol for the last day of filming.
“We had already done my dad’s DNA before the show. My sister did her DNA first and left it to me to let my dad know that the rumour was true. Next we did my dad’s DNA, and then I did mine.
“The show asked if my aunt would do a test. My aunt was the last living sibling. Her DNA turned up an Italian link on my grandma’s side, but it also showed that they had different dads—that my dad’s dad was Italian, and she was his half sister.
The My Family Secrets Revealed segment about the Jarrett family (series 1, episode 11) aired in 2018. The Channel 4 show is available online only to residents of the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
“Dad and my mum—who was Valerie Veness before marriage—had three children altogether: my sister Catherine, my brother David, and then me on the end—the girl with an Italian boy’s name (lol). I embrace it now, though.
“Honestly, it’ll be interesting to see if anything happens. I’m not pinning my hopes on anything, but you never know.
“I find the history of the camps fascinating. They were given a bit of freedom over here. It’s just a shame that there’s not many people left from back then to get stories from. There’s so much history lost.”