An account by Jack Pearce of his meeting with his elderly British-born cousin after the Allied invasion of Italy in 1944:

“I saw Gwendoline in 1944, when I was a Captain in the Eighth Army serving in General Mark Clark’s headquarters, then located in Florence. At that time the Germans were gradually being pushed back to their defence positions on the Appenines, called the Gothic line. We were held up that winter for several months, and I made a point of visiting Gwendoline now and then, partly as a relief from army life. She was living in a large bedroom on the third floor of the Strozzi Palace behind the Duomo, which was full of refugees. When I entered her bedroom she took a moment to recognise me, and on my saying that I was her cousin she said “Oh, I’m so glad that it’s you. I thought you were a British officer come to requisition something! This week I had several visits from British officers who took the furniture, two weeks ago we had the partisans who took the wine and cheese, and before that we had the Germans who took the peasants.”

After this rather curious welcome we had a pleasant talk, although Gwendoline, being an ardent fascist, was very sad at the condition of Italy. After some minutes of conversation we talked more easily, and Gwendoline showed her true feelings when she finally said to me “You British and Americans have ruined Italy. Mussolini was the best thing that ever happened, and now we have nothing,” – waving her hands round her large bedroom hung with masterpieces by Titian, Rembrandt etc. By now I was beginning to get a bit hot under the collar, feeling that I was a crusader come to liberate Europe from the tyranny of Naziism and Fascism, but I managed to keep my temper. Listening to her tragic comments though I could not help but compare with her life my life in a tent beside the Arno, with two inches of snow outside and a camp bed with a broken leg inside! Certainly, talking to someone so civilised was quite a welcome change from the usual Army life, especially as I was then working as a junior officer in the mixed Anglo American HQ, in the G (Plans) section under a rather colourful American Colonel called Aaron M Lazar, a very dynamic and brilliant officer of German Jewish extraction, who was quite a contrast to Gwendoline’s aristocratic refinement, more like a character out of Damon Runyan. I saw her several times that winter, and I think the only occasion when she seemed really cheerful was during Von Runtdstet’s successful offensive in the Ardennes at Christmas 1944. I remember she said to me “My dear, I’m afraid the news is not very good for you just now. It looks as if the war may go on for another ten years.”