Romance is in the air

GREAT MILESTONE: Yolanda Elliott of Taupaki  also has two sisters in Italy in their nineties.
GREAT MILESTONE: Yolanda Elliott of Taupaki also has two sisters in Italy in their nineties.

A handsome Kiwi soldier stirring a bowl of porridge catches a pretty Italian girl's attention. It's not your usual romantic meeting.

"I thought what is he doing, I'd never seen porridge before. My friend thought it was baby food," Yolanda Elliott says.

"We spoke a few words here and there - we understood each other."

Tony Elliott was in the 24th Battalion of the New Zealand Army, returning from Cassino to rest in Yolanda's hometown Pieve, in Belluno province in the Italian region of Veneto in northern Italy. Within six months the couple had married as the reality of the end of World War II set in.

But they were parted as Tony's ship returned to New Zealand and Yolanda waited three months in Alexandria, Egypt. Her ship was full of English immigrants returning to New Zealand.

"One lady was having a baby and I let her take my place. She made it just in time to New Zealand for the baby."

Today the Taupaki resident reflects with family and friends after celebrating her 90th birthday on February 18 - with three parties this month.

Yolanda was one of the few Italian war brides who came to New Zealand - most were single and married Kiwis later.

She says the Kiwis are still revered today in her mother's area because they liberated them from the Germans.

"We used to see a lot of the Maori Battalion too and our people liked them as they mixed well and learnt Italian very quickly," Yolanda says.

It was a big culture shock coming to New Zealand as a 21-year-old, although she found the wartime rations amazing compared with Italy.

"I adjusted very easily to the food here."

She also brushed off homesickness with her first job sewing bassinets helping her learn English. She eventually took a few trips to Italy.

Children Livia and Frank say their mother believes family is No 1, and she dotes on her five grandchildren.

As one of seven siblings, she has two sisters living - one is 97 and the other is 92 in an Italian rest home.

Growing up where mountain climbing and skiing were common in the Dolomites - Italian Alps - as a youngster, she has continued her good health today.

"I just carry on like everyone else. I'm always outside - I love gardening and sports."

Livia says she loves both countries but will cheer for Italy in the America's Cup and if they're against the All Blacks. Their dad was also in the Scottish battalion of the New Zealand army and they have photos of him wearing his kilt.

Their parents wed in January, 1946, and were married for 53 years before Tony died in 1999. The couple first lived in Northcote with Tony's parents before moving to Mangakino.

Yolanda has lived in Taupaki for 31 years.

Livia and Frank have fond memories of growing up with olive oil, Italian meals and a flair for fashion.

Frank used to speak Italian fluently when he was 5 as he was with his mum when they visited Italy for three months. His mum also spoke Fodom, a dialect.

Livia says visiting Italy has always been memorable.

"The people are passionate about their food, wine, fashion and family life; in fact they enjoy life!"

Frank says of Yolanda: "The whole of Kumeu knows her."

Norwest News