WWII Memories of Frank Dennis Gent

Fulvia schiff-Gent 1927-2016 eulogy

Good afternoon.


Buon giorno a tutti.

Nonna - my grandmother - was an extremely impressive and formidable woman. A woman of many talents, passions and opinions and, sometimes confusingly, a woman of many names - Fulvia; Liliana; Mrs Gent; Mrs Schiff-Gent; Nanna; Nonna; Nan; Titi, Mum and Mam, to name but a few. Today, I'll use Nonna.

It is very special that we are all here today - to remember Nonna and celebrate her life. It is wonderful that so many people have travelled such a long way to be here, especially Loredana, Magda and Valerio, who have come all the way from Italy to be with us today. (A special mention also to Vanes, Nonna and Grandpa's close friend - and fellow vehement ManCity supporter, who would have been here today if it wasn't for a last minute strike by airport staff in Venice.)

Lots of people have been there for Nonna and have been an important part of her life over the years. I would like to say a special thank you to all of the neighbours who live on Wigmore Road. I know that the kindness you have shown has always been greatly appreciated.

Nonna leaves behind a huge legacy. She had an impact on so many peoples' lives. She was a true matriarch. A strong female leader of a vast and ever growing family. I gave up trying to count all of Nonna's direct descendants - her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren.

Nonna was a very clever woman. And that was thanks in no small part to her own drive, motivation and her passion for learning. Her sharp intellect is all the more impressive given that she was forced to leave school aged 11 (when the Italian Racial Laws came into effect as Italian Fascism was increasingly gripped by German National Socialism). Nonna's drive to learn was unabated despite her lack of a formal education in her youth. Nonna was a voracious reader, getting through books at a startling rate, and she passed exams in several subjects once she had moved to Manchester. Her knowledge about so many topics was always impressive. She was a true linguist, with a zest for new languages, grammar and the meaning and etymology of words (famously, during the war she learned to speak Albanian so fluently she was able to pass as a local and obtain essential supplies that were not available to foreigners). Nonna had opinions and anecdotes on everything and anything - I'm sure we've all got particular stories that have stuck in our minds and which we will continue to recount for many years to come.

Nonna had a plethora of talents. Some talents were perhaps unsurprising - her knitting was exquisite (some of her angora wool creations should be in the V&A) - but she also had some more unexpected talents. She was a champion table tennis player in the 1960s. As many of you know, Nonna also had a talent for knowing everything worth knowing about football, especially English and Italian football. And, of course, about Manchester City in particular. I always loved talking to Nonna about football. She was wonderfully opinionated and entertaining to listen to - she was always up-to-date and had an impressive tactical acuity and astute critical eye for the game. (It occurred to me the other day that if Nonna had been born 50 years later, it's not hard to imagine that she might have been the first hugely successful female football manager of a top flight men's team - being good with languages, having a passion for and knowledge of the game, an ability to talk to anyone and a willingness to be extremely direct when necessary. I defy you to watch any press conference with a top flight manager and not to think "Nonna could have done that better.")

Despite not actually being in Italy for most of her life, Nonna's pride in being Italian, and her love for the very best of Italian culture, was beyond doubt. Her lifelong passion for and knowledge of Italian opera, music, fashion, food and football, was quite amazing. The drama and passion of opera suited Nonna well. Giuseppe Di Stefano was her operatic hero and she saw her first opera, "Norma" by Bellini, in Catania in Sicily when Nonna was a child. Nonna's connection with the arts, opera and ballet continued throughout her life, and she had fond memories of being a theatrical digs landlady in the 1960s and 70s. Nonna's strong links with Italy, and her appreciation of the wonderful, rich culture that it has to offer, is a gift that Nonna has given to all of us.

As everyone knows (just ask my wife, Emma), we all have our quirks and differences. To be imperfect is to be human. And it is possible to be perfect in our imperfection. Though it isn't always easy, sometimes it can be helpful to understand why someone is the way they are, and to appreciate them the way they are. Loving someone can be a process.

In November 1938, from a very happy existence in Italy, Nonna's life was turned upside down. The next 7 years, from the formative ages of 11 to 17, were almost unimaginably traumatic. Nonna and her family were forced to flee for their lives from war and persecution. They were faced with uncertainty, hunger and poverty. They saw violence and death on the streets and in the squares. They spent time in refuge in Albania and travelled, slowly and often in bitterly cold weather, across a dangerous Europe. Often the family were forced to separate, sometimes waiting months before they could be reunited. The pain and anguish it must have caused is hard to comprehend. It is perhaps no surprise that Nonna's childhood experiences during the war have since become the subject of several books.

It is simply breathtaking that Nonna was able to come through that traumatic period with some happy memories, of time spent with her family, and to have blossomed into a clever and resourceful young woman.

No wonder that a certain British soldier was bowled over by Nonna's strong character and unquestionable beauty. To be fair, it's also not too difficult to imagine what Nonna might have seen in Grandpa - the tall, handsome, generous, good humoured English gentlemen. A true Gent.

It is no secret that Nonna loved Grandpa deeply. Their marriage had a quite incredible longevity. I've always been constantly impressed by the dynamic of their relationship - yes, it's been loving, with a good helping of patience and kindness; but it has also had a decent measure of fire. Nonna and Grandpa did not have a quiet, eventless relationship; instead, they lived together with passion, with humour, with communication (sometimes rather animated) and with companionship. No one will have felt the loss of Nonna quite so acutely as Grandpa - but Grandpa, we want you to know that all of us will be there for you in the coming weeks, months and years.

I am extremely grateful that I have had the privilege of being related to Nonna and getting to know her over the years. She didn't always give me, like anyone else, an easy ride (I think I only survived telling her that I liked Chelsea because I emphasised that it was mainly due to Zola and Di Mateo). But Nonna's passion, directness, cleverness and wicked sense of humour made her a powerhouse of a human being. She may have not been a big person, but boy was she a big personality.

Nonna's ashes will be interred in her daughter Stella's grave in Weaste. We will think of them both often.

As we all go through our lives after today, we will remember Nonna; we will remember who she was; her passion; her strong will; her humour; her directness. Now, her stories become our stories.

Nonna was - and to all of us will always be - a remarkable woman.

 

Nonna, we will miss you.

 

Eulogy read by her grandson, Leo Gent at her funeral service, 8th November, 2016

 

 

Fulvia Schiff-Gent 

 Frank Dennis Gent and Fulvia Schiff in Milan 1945