Love and war in Liguria: Michael Ross

Michael and Giovanna RossMajor Michael Ross, in common with so many escaping PoWs, suffered hardship and danger – but one thing marked him out. By meeting, and then later marrying, Giovanna Porcheddu, he secured his future happiness.

Michael was captured in the North African desert in 1942 during the retreat from Benghazi. After internment at Padula in south Italy, he was taken to Fontanellato, from where he and a fellow Welch Regiment officer, Jimmy Day, made a daring escape. With help from fellow prisoners, they dug a shallow trench in a playing field outside the main compound and escaped at nightfall. Unfortunately, they were recaptured near the Swiss border after 10 days. But Michael was again at liberty after the camp opened its gates in September 1943 following the Italian Armistice.

This time, together with George Bell, he headed north-west for the French border. After two months, they came across a group of anti-Fascists in Liguria and were sheltered in Bordighera by Beppe Porcheddu and his family, at great risk to themselves. Michael fell in love with one of Beppe’s twin daughters, Giovanna, but did not know if his sentiments were reciprocated.

After a failed attempt to escape by boat, the two men made for the hills on news that Beppe was about to be arrested. They kept on the move, in constant danger, narrowly surviving drowning during another attempt to escape by boat. In March 1945 they finally succeeded, rowing to Monte Carlo in time for breakfast at Bristol Hotel.

In 1946, Michael returned to Bordighera for a reunion with the Porcheddu family, who had all survived. He and Giovanna married that year.

Michael eventually told his story in his excellent book From Liguria with Love, which is available from the Trust. He was complimented upon it by Eric Newby, a fellow prisoner at Fontanellato, whose Love and War in the Apennines chronicles how he too returned to marry the daughter of a man who befriended him.

Michael Ross died in March 2012, aged 94