Sheffield woman finally united with brother, who was a WWII love child

A Sheffield woman has finally been united with her brother who was born out of a wartime romance while their dad was serving in Italy.

Wednesday, 6th February 2019, 10:54 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 16:55 pm
Vilma Twigg and her brother Tommaso di Leonardi united at last

Vilma Twigg’s ‘Romeo’ father Arthur Jeffries started an affair with a local woman, Maria, while he was stationed in Sicily with Montgomery’s Eighth Army during the Second World War.

They had a child together, who was born in 1945 and named Tommaso in honour of his ‘Tommy’ father.

Vilma Twigg and her brother Tommaso di Leonardi united at last

Arthur returned to his daughter and wife Annie in Upperthorpe after the war ended, but he never spoke to them about Tommaso and took the secret with him to his grave when he died in 1964, aged just 52.

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They always suspected, however, with Arthur sending regular letters and postal orders to Italy for two years – pretending to his family that he was playing the pools - and even trying to persuade them to move there, telling them he had made good friends and they would start a business.

But the biggest clue came when Arthur, who worked as a travelling salesman, brought home a copy of The People newspaper in 1958, containing an article headlined ‘Letter brings hope to a sad little boy’.

It was about a 13-year-old boy called Tommaso di Leonardi who had written asking for help to trace his father, an ex-British soldier named only as Arthur.

Tommaso di Leonardi with his mum, Maria Cuscinotta

Vilma said Tommaso had short trousers in the photo, and on seeing him her mum told her ‘he’s got your legs’. She believes her dad, who never usually bought The People, had left it for them to see because deep down he wanted them to know.

“He used to say to my mum he had something to tell her one day and she would reply ‘I know, you’ve got a son in Italy, get back to him’, but he would just laugh,” said the grandmother-of-two, who today lives in Wadsley Bridge.

The article, which included a quote from a former comrade of Arthur's describing his romance with Maria as an ‘inspiration to war-weary Sicilians’, was not the only clue to Tommy’s existence.

In 2003, Reader’s Digest ran an advert for a book on the war featuring an arresting front page image of a British soldier kissing a young boy who was wearing his helmet, which Vilma is convinced was Arthur bidding Tommaso an emotional farewell.

Vilma Twigg with her dad, Arthur Jeffries

And In 2010, The Star featured a story in which Vilma, who was raised as an only child, described her dad as a ‘real Romeo’ and appealed for help to find her half-brother.

It would be several years, though, before she finally made the long-awaited breakthrough, which came, by a strange twist of fate, after she had a nasty fall on a bus, breaking her arm, around two years ago.

She was put in touch with the LiveWell at Home service, managed by South Yorkshire Housing Association, and a young woman called Miriam visited to help with her rehabilitation.

When Vilma told her about Tommaso, Miriam was able to track him down with the help of friends and family via Facebook and get in touch.

Tommaso di Leonardi as a young man

Tommaso, who it turned out was also raised as an only child and had no children of his own, replied and explained how he had moved to Germany and now lived in the Black Forest with his partner.

In a letter, he described how he had worked as an accounts manager in Milan before retraining and becoming an electrical engineer in Berlin.

Tommaso, who is now 73 and retired, wrote how he had had a ‘good life, sometimes difficult’, before signing off 'a kiss from your brother Tommy’.

Vilma finally met Tommaso for the first time last year, when he and his partner Teresa visited the UK.

“As soon as we saw each other, he came over and kissed and hugged me,” said Vilma, who worked at a drill factory and as a housekeeper at Middlewood Hospital, and who has one daughter.

“Tommy told me how when he was at school he would get upset that other boys were talking about their fathers and he couldn’t talk about his dad.

Vilma Twigg in her younger days

“Before I got in touch, he didn’t even know our dad had died, but I was able to show him photos of Dad’s grave up at Wisewood Cemetery.

“Tommy looks more like his mother but you can tell he’s my dad’s son because they have the same forehead, and I can see my dad in the way he stands.

“He showed me photos of his mum, who wasn’t a bad looking woman but was nowhere near as pretty as my mother.

“Tommy’s a very nice fellow. I’m happy to have met him and I’m proud to have him as a brother.

“But I’m not proud of my dad because he let me and my mother down, and he let Tommy down too.”

Tommaso di Leonardi today
The front cover of a Reader's Digest book about the war which Vilma Twigg believes shows her father Arthur Jeffries kissing her half brother Tommaso di Leonardi goodbye
How The Star reported in 2010 on Vilma's search for the brother she never knew
Arthur Jeffries was called up in 1939 and served with Montgomery's Eighth Army in Italy during the Second World War
Vilma Twigg as a girl