Ernest Day told his family little about his experience as a prisoner of war in Italy, but the scraps of information that filtered through to his great-grandson, Zak Jarvis, were sufficient to fire his imagination. Zak is starting off on a career as a film director and immediately thought to himself: “What an amazing subject for a film!”
Zak, aged 20, is studying at the Northern Film School in Leeds. He comes from Hitchin in Hertfordshire, and his great-grandfather, who died in 2006, served with the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment. Captured in North Africa, Ernest was held prisoner in the fortress at PG5 Gavi, near Alessandria, the Italian Colditz that had a large number of recaptured escapers among its inmates.
It is known only that after the Armistice with Italy in September 1943 Ernest jumped off a cattle train taking him to Germany and that he stayed on a farm with an Italian family for some time, possibly until the Allies liberated the area. After the war Ernest kept in touch with the Italian family but information about them, or their location, has not survived.
Zak stresses that he does not want to make a film purely about his great-grandfather. “It will be a fictional narrative drama but based on and inspired by the real experiences of the many escaped PoWs. I will be pulling strands from all of the books I have read and combining them into one PoW’s journey.” He has produced a script that include interviews with surviving PoWs. He has interviewed and filmed Keith Killby, the founder of MSMT.
He envisages the interviews as introducing different episodes in the film, in the style of Band of Brothers. To compose the soundtrack, Zak has enlisted help from “the enemy” – in the person of Alessandro Apolloni, a graduate from the Royal College of Music, whose own grandfather fought for Italy in North Africa. “I thought it was a nice touch to have the descendants of two opposing sides now creatively collaborating,” says Zak.
In March 2016, Zak went to Gavi, did some filming and toured the fortress (the only tourist on that particular day). “It was surreal to know my great-grandfather was there.” It is thought that Ernest was an orderly there and worked as a chef.
In August 2016, Zak launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise funds in order to make his 30-minute film, entitled Across Frontiers. With the help of 150 individual funders, and money provided by himself and his collaborators, he raised £5,250. Anybody supporting the crowd-funding campaign was rewarded with perks.
Zak’s crowd-funding campaign was at:
The Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/AcrossFrontiers/
If all goes well, Across Frontiers will tour festivals and raise enough interest for Zak to expand it into a feature film. “I am aiming for this film to kickstart my career,” he says.