MORE than 60 years after their father was repatriated to Italy as a prisoner of war, never to see them again, Peebles twins Carlyn McCall and Janlyn Townley have finally been united with the missing members of their family, including a stepbrother and three stepsisters.
After a hunt spanning nearly three decades for any trace of their father, the sisters were met with open arms and tears in an emotional reunion at the airport in Naples at the end of November.
Paolo Mastrantuono, a farmer from the Villaricca suburb of Naples, had been captured by Allied troops at Sidi Barrani in North Africa in 1941. Aged just 22, he was at first held in prison camps in South Africa, before being moved to Scotland and a camp at Thankerton, near Biggar.
In nearby Peebles, Paolo met Carlyn and Janlyn’s mother, Margaret Graham, a weaver in a local mill. But six years later when he was repatriated, Paolo was forced to leave her and their two 11-month-old girls behind.
Paolo, who did not speak English, waited 10 years after arriving back in Italy for contact with the family he had left behind in the Borders, but it was not to be. He died in 1969, never having seen them again.
But Carlyn’s husband, Douglas, started searching for Paolo 28 years ago and never gave up, despite repeated setbacks and frustration over the years.
The hunt for the twins’ father was complicated was the fact that they were looking for someone with the surname of Mastrantonio, because of incorrect information supplied by a cousin.
Carlyn took up the story: “In most of the listings as a PoW, dad’s surname was given as Mastrantonio when it was actually Mastrantuono.
“We finally got all the information we were searching for from the Red Cross in September. But for a long time you were only given very limited information.”
Carlyn and Janlyn’s mother died in 1974. Until then, the twins had wondered whether searching for their father might upset her, especially if it turned out he had married and had other children.
Douglas explained: “Later on, we decided to have a go at it. I did a lot of research over the years, contacting embassies and consulates both here and in Italy, as well as both the Italian and British defence ministries.”
Said Carlyn: “The response was all negative until April 2009. They always asked why we wanted to know, and might it not upset someone? But I always said it was my right to know and my family’s right to know.”
The internet turned out to be the biggest aid in tracking down the missing Italian members of their family.
In April 2009, the Red Cross in Geneva emailed the McCalls to say that Paolo Mastrantonio did exist and that the organisation held his records, but that it could not reveal any information about him unless he or his family gave permission. “So we waited and waited, but nothing happened,” said Douglas.
It looked like the search had a hit a dead end. That was until it received an inspirational boost when Barbara Laurie published her book, Letters to Ilio... from the Cafe de Luxe which told the story of her husband Peter’s father, also an Italian PoW, who had been imprisoned near Selkirk.
It was at this point that a chance phone call to the Red Cross changed everything. “To my astonishment, they said they had very good news and could now send me detailed records, including a home address, service number, etc.,” said Douglas.
“Looking through all the records we noticed that Paolo Mastrantonio appeared on every sheet but one, which had a slightly different spelling of the surname.
“However, this person had the same service number. I thought ‘that’s odd’. So I went on the internet and searched the Italian phone directories and could hardly believe it when I discovered this person was listed as living next door to the address that Paolo had during the war. We thought there must surely be a connection.”
Douglas and Carlyn then engaged professional American-Italian genealogist, Joe D’Simone, who lives in Naples.
To cut a long story short, Mr D’Simone checked out the information and it turned out that the occupant of this house, one Sergio Mastrantuono, was Carlyn and Janlyn’s cousin.
Things moved quickly after that, with contact rapidly established between the two families in the Borders and Naples. It then emerged that the twins’ new stepbrother, Raffaele, had been searching for them for the past 12 years.
“When I phoned my brother for the first time he was virtually in tears because he’d been looking for us for so long too,” said Carlyn.
To say the party from Scotland received a warm welcome at Naples airport would be an understaetment. “It was quite something. I expected friendliness but I didn’t expect the welcome we actually received. It was absolute love, joy and acceptance,” Carlyn told us.
Janlyn says it still has not sunk in that not only do she and her sister now have a brother and three more sisters, they also have five new nephews and five new nieces, plus a plethora of cousins as their father was one of four children.
“And believe it or not we also have a stepmum. She’s 85,” said Janlyn. “We didn’t know how she would take it but she’s just accepted us as her own. It can’t get any better than that.”
Plans are now being made for a second, longer, visit to Naples in the spring.
Janlyn – she and her husband Bob have a son and daughter and five grandchildren, while Carlyn and Douglas have two sons – added: “Life has completely changed for our families within just a couple of months. My feet haven’t touched the ground since.”
Carlyn says she has always been proud to be Scottish, but felt a part of her was somehow missing. “I now feel a whole person. You hear of this sort of thing happening to other people and wonder how it feels. To be honest I can’t describe it.
“And to any other families in the Borders who could be in the same boat, we’d say never, ever give up.”