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Italian peasant who harboured escaped prisoner of war from Kentish Town hoping for reunion

09:00 26 July 2014

Doris photo and inscription

Doris photo and inscription

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An amateur historian is appealing for help in tracing an escaped prisoner of war from Kentish Town – using a photo that was kept for 70 years by an Italian peasant.

Employment lawyer Anne Copley is trying to uncover what happened to Anthony Swingler, who was sheltered by an Italian family during the Second World War.

He was among the thousands of fighters who escaped prisoner-of-war camps after Italy signed an armistice with the Allies in September 1943, and then took refuge with Italian peasants as the country remained in turmoil.

Ms Copley has little to go on, aside from a fading photograph thought to be of Mr Swingler’s sister Doris, which he left as a memento with his Italian helpers, the Antognozzi family.

In a message inscribed on its back, to his “very good friends”, Mr Swingler gave his address as 74 Highgate Road – now part of the Orientalist rug shop.

Ms Copley, 59, said: “Gino’s family are very keen to find out what happened to Anthony, they want to make contact again.

“He was living with them in very impoverished conditions for six to eight months, he would probably have helped in the fields and he would have been like part of the family.

“My hope is that someone recognises the photo, the name or the address and comes forward and tells us a little bit more about what happened to either Doris or Anthony.”

She added: “We think she’s called Doris, we think she’s the sister of Anthony Swingler, and that she was an actress. That’s the story.”

The Oxford-based lawyer spends several weeks a year at her second home in Italy, which is only about 10 kilometres from the village of Montelparo, where the Antognozzis still live.

Her interest stems both from her connection to the area and her late uncle’s similar experiences as an escaped prisoner of war in Italy.

She was contacted by Mr Antognozzi’s nephew in May, after helping to uncover the background of another British soldier who was killed by the SS after being discovered on a farm not far from Montelparo.

Mr Antognozzi, who is in his late 80s, has kept the photo ever since travelling with Mr Swingler to meet Allied troops in May 1944, when he was 17.

“The Allies were progressing through Italy from the south and they got within 20 miles of where they were, so Anthony and Gino set off to meet them,” said Ms Copley.

“On saying their goodbyes, Gino was given this photo.

“Anthony might have joined up again with the Allies – but we don’t know.”

Ms Copley, who worked in TV before becoming a lawyer, says it is one of the Second World War’s “untold stories” that thousands of soldiers survived due to the “assistance, shelter, food and clothing they received from the Italian peasantry”, and she has written a proposal for a TV drama about the subject.

She added: “All my Italian neighbours have stories about PoWs who they had sheltered in their houses during the war or their parents had.

“These young soldiers would not have survived without the peasantry who were themselves living in medieval, feudal conditions really, and who took them in in their thousands.

“They stayed with Italian peasants for up to a year waiting for Allied troops and formed incredibly strong bonds.

“They worked the fields, learned the language, the local dialects. They certainly dallied with local girls, there were some marriages, probably some people who disappeared and stayed there.

“This happened on a huge scale.”

If you think you can help Ms Copley’s search, please contact the Ham&High on 020 7433 0100 or editorial@hamhigh.co.uk.

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