A lifetime friendship borne of kindness in the face of danger

133413c'Obituary pictures for John Robert Clark 'Picture by Neil Silk'20/08/13
133413c'Obituary pictures for John Robert Clark 'Picture by Neil Silk'20/08/13

A Scarborough man who escaped from an Italian prisoner of war camp and was sheltered for a year by a local family has died at the age of 98.

John Clark, of Cayton, went on to strike up a life-long friendship with the Italian family who put themselves at risk to save a stranger’s life.

Mr Clark, who was a private in the Green Howards, was captured in the western desert in June 1942 and spent 15 months in a camp near Genoa until the Italians surrendered.

The men in the camp were taken over by the Germans and were marched towards Germany, but Mr Clark took his chance when it came and slipped away from the marching column.

He managed to live off the land for a while, with help from some of the local Italian peasants. He ate figs and peaches and slept rough.

But when winter came, it became more difficult to be outdoors and this is when Mr Clark came into contact with the Donderio family.

At first they just fed him, but later he was allowed to sleep in a cow shed and to eat his meals at the family table.

Eventually he became like one of the family, having become fluent in Italian, and was given a bed in the house.

He could recall several occasions when he was bundled into hiding as local Fascists came round the farm buildings or German soldiers came scrounging wine, but he was never discovered.

Mr Clark eventually left to join the partisans after the Germans tightened up their search for missing deserters and guerilla fighters, and it was while he was fighting with them that he was recaptured and almost shot as a spy.

He was taken to a prisoner of war camp in southern Germany where, in 1945, he was freed by General Patton’s advancing army.

Mr Clark went on to marry his wife Dolly in 1950 and spent his working life as a boat builder.

For some time after the war, Mr Clark exchanged letters with the family, but they lost touch until 1970, when a surprise visit brought the Donderios back into his life.

Giorgio Donderio was only four when his parents Giovanni and Maria took in Mr Clark, but can remember nothing of that year.

He didn’t know about Mr Clark’s existence and had even visited Scarborough twice before on courses to improve his English.

However, after finding a letter at his parents’ home showing his address, Giorgio got in touch with Mr Clark, reuniting the two families.

What followed was a life-long friendship, with Mr Clark and his wife Dolly visiting Italy for holidays, weddings and christenings, and the Donderios paying regular visits to Scarborough.

Mrs Clark said: “He had a very, very interesting life. He was in the Merchant Navy too and travelled all over the world. He was a happy person and was hardworking, kind-hearted and generous.”

She added: “It’s wonderful that we’ve had such a bond with the Donderio family. We’ve had so many celebrations and happy times together.”

A funeral will be held at Woodlands on Tuesday at 10.40am.