Norwich couple’s remarkable story of love against the odds 70 years ago

The couple who walked across war-torn Europe to start a new life in Norwich. They went on to run the

The couple who walked across war-torn Europe to start a new life in Norwich. They went on to run the Cherry Tree in Pitt Street where this picture was taken in 1966. Nuccia and Stanley Edwards are standing at the back on the right. Others, left to right, are: Mrs A Palmer, Mr K C Hart, Mr C Dack, Miss J Perry, Mr G M Edwards; front Mr R Lewis, Mr W Reynolds and Mr J Kent. - Credit: Archant

Derek James tells the extraordinary story of a Norwich couple who defied the authorities and walked across Europe so they could be together.

The route the lovers took back to Norwich in 1947. Graphic: Kayleigh O'Dell

The route the lovers took back to Norwich in 1947. Graphic: Kayleigh O'Dell - Credit: Archant

It was an extraordinary story of true love which captured the hearts of the people of Norfolk 70 years ago, made headlines around the world, and had all the ingredients of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Surely the romance which blossomed between a Norwich soldier and the Italian woman he met when the Second World War came to an end was doomed. The odds were stacked against them.

How did they get across a shattered and freezing cold Europe, dodging the authorities at the same time, for a new life in Norwich?

Well, they walked much of the way, at times waist-deep in snow, across the Alps.

It was a harrowing journey and when magistrates heard the extraordinary story in the Norwich courts they were also kind-hearted and gave Ilde Nuccia Tenca permission to stay in this country so she could marry Stanley Edwards.

After the hearing Mr Edwards' father, Graham, who lived at Cadge Road and had been looking after Ilde, told the Evening News: 'She thinks the English are the most kind and hospitable people.

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'She has been entertained by neighbours and has visited the Norwich Hippodrome and several cinemas.

'The police she terms her best friends in England. She says she will never forget their kindness in letting her have a black cat with her on the first night she spent in the cells,' said Graham.

And he added: 'She has maintained the optimism the police helped her to foster throughout the two months of waiting to learn her fate.'

At the time of her hearing Sidney had been sent back to Italy to complete his term of duty with the Army and in the meantime she was being looked after by her father.

She then also went on to praise and thank the police for their kindness.

Norwich-born Stanley Edwards went to Nelson Street school, later working in the shoe industry and spending a short time in the printing trade before joining the Royal Artillery in 1941. He saw service in North Africa and Italy and it was then that she first met his Signorina Tenca, a successful businesswoman.

Stanley later spoke being unwell and losing connect with his convoy in late April or early May 1946 and was in a 'bewildered state'. He hitch-hiked to Milan to visit the woman he met and they fell in love. She sold her home for around £280 and they set up home near Lake Como before deciding to come to England – and Norwich - in October 1946.

He explained later in court how they went first by train to the Italian border and then on foot across the Alps.

'We were 17 hours crossing the mountains and at times were waist-deep in snow, but eventually arrived safely in France. We then walked most of the way to Paris, using railway tunnels to avoid gendarmes. From Paris we made our way to Calais, Boulogne, Dunkirk, and then back to Boulogne, trying to contact someone who could get us across to England,' said Stanley.

Eventually they found a fishermen who agreed to take them within three miles of the English coast, They paid him £60 and £3 for a small rowing boat they used to finish their journey, arriving in England on December 12.

Eventually they arrived in Norwich and stayed in a squatters' camp at Old Catton, before the authorities got involved.

Thirty-four-year-old Ilde was charged with landing in the UK without the leave of the Immigration Officer and Stanley was charged with aiding the abetting the offence.

Supt Calver told the magistrates they had power to made an order for deportation but added: 'These people have suffered very much and I wonder if there is a way out.'

She was released from custody and allowed to stay with Stanley's father before the decision was made to drop the charge and allow her to stay in this country.

Stanley told the court: 'I realise that I was wrong in bringing an alien into the country illegally but she had been so good to me when I was ill in Italy and had sacrificed so much for my sake that I intend to marry her as soon as possible.' Stanley who still had a few months to serve in the Army before they were free to be together again.

Eventually they did get married. Stanley returned to the shoe trade. He became making room foreman at the Florida Shoe Factory. For a time they lived at Thorpe and looked after lodgers, including Norwich City footballers including Jim Conway, Gerry Mannion, Phil Kelly and Jackie Bell.

From there they moved into the licensed trade, first as mine hosts at the Bull and Butcher in Pottergate and then to the Cherry Tree at Pitt Street when we met them in 1966 for our regular feature Men Behind Bars. They had a son Giancarlo (known to his friends as John), two poodles Mitzi and Nikki and a cat called Patch.

'Nice pub; nice customers' - that's how Mrs Edwards summed up the pub where Stanley would often show off his concert party talents – to the delight of their regulars.

If anyone deserved happiness they did.

If you know what happened to Stanley and Ilde (who became known as Nuccia) then I would love to hear from you at derek.james2013@gmailcom.

My thanks to Philip Yaxley.