Italian prisoner of war found lasting love in English village after WW2 end


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Edoardo Agnoli and Margaret Bayford married on Valentine’s Day 1948 and remained together until Edoardo’s death in 2004. They are now buried together in the same grave

Edoardo Agnoli and Margaret Bayford married in 1948
Edoardo Agnoli and Margaret Bayford married in 1948

It is an extraordinary love story of World War Two.

A 25-year-old Italian Prisoner of War fell in love with a 19-year-old English girl who led to an incredible marriage that spanned decades.

Edoardo Agnoli and Margaret Bayford married on Valentine’s Day 1948 and remained together until Edoardo’s death in 2004.

They are now buried together in the same grave in the same village in Essex where they met and fell in love back in 1945.

As 75-year-old Rosemary Patchell sits in her front room she still can’t quite believe the obstacles her amazing mum and dad overcame as they provided their deep love for each other.

Edoardo before the war in Italy
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Daily Mirror/Ian Vogler)

Among her mementos, she has the engagement ring her dad made for her mum when he was locked up in a Prisoner of War camp. “I made it from some sort of bottle top,” she said. “It was one of mum’s most prized possessions. It was very special to her and I’m so glad we’ve still got it.”

The devoted couple’s love proved to be an unbreakable bond that crossed war-torn Europe in those difficult weeks and months after the Second World War. Before the war, Edoardo was a happy teenage waiter working in a restaurant 45 miles south of Rome.

Through national service, he was conscripted to fight for the Italian Army. Captured by the British in North Africa he was transported back to the UK where he was interned in a Prisoner of War camp in Essex.

After the war finished in 1945 he was allowed out each day to work for a local coal merchant and Edoardo fell in love with his daughter Margaret. She fell pregnant and Edoardo was wrongfully arrested, charged and convicted and sent to Norwich jail.

Margaret and Edoardo with Rosemary and Peter
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Daily Mirror/Ian Vogler)

Subsequently, I received a full pardon and was allowed to return to the camp. Margaret had her baby which the couple named Rosemary. Edoardo was allowed to occasionally visit them. But then the authorities ordered Eduardo to repatriate back to Italy forcing him to pay an emotional goodbye leaving his distraught girlfriend in England with her young baby.

At that stage, they didn’t even know if they would be able to see each other again.
But love would conquer all. Margaret’s dad wrote to Edoardo saying he would be welcome to come back to marry his daughter from her and even sent some money to help pay for his return from her.

Edoardo was delighted and returned as soon as he could and the couple soon married at the St Mary the Virgin Church in Little Hallingbury.

Afterwards they walked across the road to the reception in the Village Hall and then set up home together in the nearby village of Hatfield Heath going on to raise a family of five.

“They loved each other very much,” said Rosemary, who lives with husband Barry in Bishop’s Stortford, Herts.

“But I can’t even begin to imagine the difficulties they must have faced in those years after the war.

A love letter sent by Edoardo from POW camp to Margaret Bayford
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Daily Mirror/Ian Vogler)

“I’m so pleased and proud of my mum and dad for the amazing way they managed to stay together and get married and eventually raise five children.

“I know dad was allowed to walk the two miles from the Prisoner of War camp to come to work for our grandfather who ran a successful coal merchant business.

“And that’s where he met and fell in love with mum.”

Her brother Peter, 73, said: “Dad never really talked much about the war. The only thing he ever said to me was that he was given a rifle that was useless and didn’t work properly! Don’t forget he was a waiter not a soldier.”

The family always knew about Margaret and Edoardo’s incredible love story but their mum and dad never really talked about it.

But recently going through old letters and documents they have managed to piece together more of the family history.

A ring made by Edoardo for Margaret
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Daily Mirror/Ian Vogler)

Edoardo came back to England on 7th January 1948 where he had to be officially registered as an “alien.”

Just 35 days later the couple were married on Valentine’s Day – in the church where they now lay to rest.

They went on to have five children: Rosemary, Peter, Mark, Nick and Paul.

When Margaret died in 2009 she had seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

The incredible love story came to light after the Mirror reported on a football match between a Prisoner of War XI and Hatfield Heath.

It emerged that Rosemary and Peter’s dad would have been at the match and villagers recalled the wonderful Agnoli love story.

Rosemary and Peter were only too pleased to chat about their parents.

Rosemary and Peter at the grave of their parents
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Image:

Daily Mirror/Ian Vogler)

Rosemary said: “Apparently dad still didn’t speak very good English when he returned back from Italy.

“But he loved mum very much and attacked life in Britain with a passion.

“He was a popular character in the local villages who drank Double Diamond in the local pub and had the most incredible traditional English vegetable garden.

“We never bought any veg or salad – he grew it all.”

Two Australians inspect Italian tanks abandoned in the Western Desert in 1940
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mirrorpix)

Peter chuckled: “But he certainly never lost his love of Italian red wine!

“He often drove into London to Covent Garden market to buy a lorry load of grapes and then came back and made his own red wine at home. That was unheard of in this part of Essex!

“And he really loved his espresso coffees as well. He was incredibly proud of being Italian but he loved living in England and was always so grateful for the opportunities England gave him and our family.

“He would pack us into his car – a Vauxhall Cresta saloon as I recall – and drive us from Essex to his family home in Fiuggi – it would take three days to get there but it was such an adventure.”

Close friend Bernard Kettridge, 88, recalled: “Edoardo was such a nice guy. He was very popular and great fun to be around.

“I used to love spending time with him and fondly remember our trips to Walthamstow dogs.

“He was such a generous man and would give my young son Ian five shillings (25p) every time he saw him.”

Rosemary added: “It’s not until the years have passed that I think the whole family has fully appreciated what mum and dad did for us.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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