Verina Vanzillotti

Transcript of interview with Verina Vanzillotti, whose father Emilio came to Bosmere Farm, Tytherton Lucas, whilst a PoW 1

--- picture will appear here ---

Emilio with wife, Tina, and children Patrizia, Raffaella and Verina at Bosmere cottage

My father, Emilio Vanzillotti, was born in southern Italy in 1921. He trained as an electrician but was called up when he was 18 to do National Service in the army and was then involved in WW2. My father spoke very little about the war, it must have been very harrowing. We know he went with the army to Tripoli and was involved in repairing the telephone communications. He was captured by the English after the battle of El Alamein and taken to a PoW camp in Scotland. He spoke better of his experience there as the prisoners were treated well and he was able to use his electrical skills and was encouraged to do woodwork and metalwork. He was transferred to work at an American camp in Devizes and helped in a factory as an engineer. Then they were asked if anyone wanted to work outside on the farms. He agreed to do that in preference to working inside. He was based at Easton Grey camp and Mr Cottle from Bosmere Farm came to collect him every day. He worked tending the dairy herd. One day Mr Cottle asked Emilio if he would like to stay at Bosmere and, ofcourse, he agreed. Mr Cottle had to write to the Home Office to get permission which was granted. So, Emilio moved into No 2 Bosmere Cottages. Mr and Mrs Cottle had no children and were like parents to him.

My Mum was born in northern Italy and because there was no work in Italy after the war, she came over here to work as a chef. Initially she worked at a place in Sandy Lane. On a night off she went to the fish and chip shop in Chippenham and met my Dad. But they immediately recognised each other because they had met before in Italy. My Dad had driven his car from the South to the North of Italy before the war. He had broken down and needed water and her father had helped him. Everyone knew her as Tina although her real name was Clementina. Dad had an Italian friend and Mum had a friend who cooked with her and the 4 of them decided to go out together for an evening and that’s how it happened!

When Mr Cottle died, Emilio ran the farm with Mrs Cottle helping a bit. But she became unwell and when she couldn’t look after herself, she moved in with us. We started at no 2 Bosmere Cottages and she moved into the downstairs at No 1 which had become empty. We knocked the wall down inside and we had the use of the extra bedrooms upstairs because she couldn’t go up the stairs. Bosmere farmhouse was left empty for several years until she died. The paving slabs on the downstairs floors made it very cold and damp.

My father was always grateful that the Cottles had given him a roof over his head and treated him like a son, but he refused to be adopted because he had a mother in Italy. He did the milking and hay making and never took a holiday, except once when his mother was ill and he went back to Italy for a week. Another Italian guy, Pietro Sgroi, who worked at the chicken factory in Sutton Benger helped out, as and when. We all had to muck in with the hay making. I have 2 older sisters: Patrizia and Raffaella. My Mum helped with the milking as well as looking after us and old Mrs Cottle. It was instilled into all of us as children – we were all workers. From the age of 6, every school holidays, I used to go potato picking for Mr Davies at Manor Farm and was paid 6 pence per crate. It was all done by hand, walking behind the tractor ploughing them up. And then when machines came, we would stand on the back to pick them out. There was me, my Mum and another Italian family from Chippenham, Mrs Rosalia Riccio with her 5 children. Then Mr Davies went into asparagus in a big way, in the field on the right going down to the river and a second bed in front of the barn. We used to cut and bundle them each evening and then Mr Davies would take them to market in Bristol early the following morning. The Spredbury family from Gaston’s farm also helped. But not my father who was always busy milking.

There were quite a few children in the village with us, the Spredbury’s from Gaston’s farm had 5 children, the Hutchings from Curricombe Farm had 3 children, the Sawyers from Field Farm had 4 daughters and the Tarling’s from Stokes Cottages had 2 sons. We all went to the East Tytherton primary school and went to any events like Sports Day. It was the sort of village that if you ever needed anything you only had to ask, and everyone was willing to help each other out.

We didn’t go to church2 that often but when we did we enjoyed it. Canon Snow was lovely. It might have been difficult with the all the Brigadiers and Colonels there, but because we knew Brigadier George Powell from Coggswell, he made us very welcome. My older sister, Raffaella cleaned the horses for him, and he and Charmain treated her like a daughter. Charmain his wife was lovely. They always welcomed us with open arms. And even though we worked for Mr Davies and we respected him as the boss, he was also a very nice person. Ann Davies, his wife, was the one who got us to go to church and join in with things. The Queen’s Jubilee was held at the Grandison’s at Broome Corner. There was a tug of war and Saskia, the Grandison’s daughter, who was only young, broke her collar bone when someone fell on her. I used to babysit for the Grandison’s, and Dr Grandison was our doctor. Every Harvest Festival and at Xmas we would be invited back to Manor Farm for nibbles and drinks. Not my Dad because he was always working. He got up at 4am to milk the cows, came home for lunch at noon with a jug of milk, and didn’t finish the afternoon milking til 6 or 7pm. That was 7 days a week, so we always did things with my Mum. My Dad belonged to the Loyal Order of the Moose, which provided support to orphans and widows. It was always my Mum that took us to their charity functions because Dad would be working. They would provide a meal at Christmas for children from local children’s homes and some older people. Someone would play the piano and I would sing. My Mum and Dad loved dancing and now I am a teacher of Latin and Ballroom dancing.

Mrs Cottle had always said to my Dad that she would see he was “OK”. She asked him whether he wanted Bosmere, or Stanley where there was a bit of an old house but he could build his own. He chose Stanley because he’d done all those years of milking. He felt like a king to have his own plot and build a house. So that was all in her will when she died. She left him a brand new Massey Ferguson 165 tractor, £1,000, Stanley Farm with 22 acres and No.1 and No. 2 Bosmere Cottages. He was in his element although he was very sad to leave Bosmere as it held very good memories and sad to leave his friends in West Tytherton because the whole village was so friendly. It took 7 years to get the planning permission to build the house at Stanley Farm3, even though there had been a dwelling there beforehand. George Powell, Mr Davies and Mr Ford all helped him to get planning permission. The house had to be natural stone, not brick, and was limited in size. We sold No 1 Bosmere Cottages to fund setting up the farm at Stanley. Initially my Dad planted a field as a vineyard. We’d had a vine at No2 Bosmere Cottages and had made our own wine. But the soil at Stanley was clay and the vines didn’t do well. Then my Dad went into market gardening and we used to help to pick the vegetables which were sold to a shop at the bottom of New Road. Finally, my Dad got some cows to rear as beef cattle and that was much more successful. He died in 1997, at the age of 76 years, and is buried in the church yard at Tytherton Lucas.

Verina Vanzillotti was interviewed by Helen Stuckey 13th February 2021

Verina has agreed that this transcript can be used for the Bremhill Parish History project


  1. PoW = Prisoner of War
  2. St Nicholas in Tytherton Lucas
  3. Now called Riverside