Farewell Mrs Mousehold Pat Siano- a woman who did so much
PUBLISHED: 11:00 24 December 2016
Archant Norfolk Photographic© 2008
We have lost one of the most passionate and warm-hearted campaigners this fine city of ours has produced in recent times. She was a glorious advertisement for what makes so many Norwich people rather special.
Family and friends gathered last week to pay their last respects to the one and only Pat Siano... Mrs Mousehold.
Her life story was one of courage, determination and true love against all the odds.
One in which the Evening News had a role to play in bringing two young lovers, once enemies, together following the end of the Second World War.
Every morning Pat would draw back the curtains and look across at part of Norwich which dominated for life and she told me: “I think how lucky I am.”
A few days ago she died peacefully at the home where she had lived for more than 80 years. “That’s the way we would have wanted it,” said her daughter Teresa.
Her mum was born Pat Williams in a small house in Little Bull Close off Magdalen Street, 89 years ago when life in the city back streets was one of survival. “Times were hard but our home was full of love,” she said.
Her father Frances was a tough Irish soldier who had arrived in the city with the army. He married Agnes and stayed on.
Frances ran a small boxing club at the back of the Cat and Fiddle public house where Pat’s brothers, Frank and Danny were star attractions in the 1920s and 30s.
The family moved out of their home as part of the “slum clearance” programmes. Their furniture and belongings were fumigated and they arrived at the home over Mousehold were Pat would spend the rest of her life.
“Why would I have wanted to live anywhere else?” she asked me.
The heath became her playground where she and all the other children would spend long and happy hours – in the sunshine or in the snow.
Pat went to Bull Close School and then, as a Catholic, to Heigham House and the Norwich Art School before working in publishing at Jarrold.
Apart from Mousehold the other love of young Pat’s life was music. Billy Willson who ran a much-loved music shop in the Back of the Inns taught her to play the accordion and she joined a concert party which went out and about entertaining city folk.
The arrival of the Second World War would change Pat’s life in a way she never imagined.
During the conflict she joined the Women’s Land Army working on the Norfolk coast but it was when the war was over that a chance meeting happened – and she fell head over heels in love.
She spotted a rather dashing young man walking on Mousehold when she took her dog for walks. “We kept bumping into each other. At first we smiled and then, finally, we spoke.”
Trouble was – Giovanni Siano was an Italian Prisoner of War.
“An English sergeant, a little man with a moustache, spotted us together and Giovanni was sent away from Norwich. To Newmarket, Ely and Thetford but I kept tracking him down,” she said.
They were difficult days. The powers-that-be were doing their best to kept them of them apart and eventually Giovanni was sent home to Italy.
“We shared our last hours together in Norwich but then he missed the last train. We both cycled to Thetford through the night and made it back to his barracks – just,” said Pat.
She then stood on the platform at Thetford Station and watched as he and his fellow PoWs were marched to the train and back to Italy.
“We tried to keep apart but we couldn’t. Our love for each other was so strong,” said Pat.
Before long Pat, with help and support from the Evening News, found someone to offer him a job in Norwich and then decided to go over to Italy...and bring him back.
“I had never been far before but there I was, still in my teens, travelling across a war-torn Europe. I had to hitch-hike part of the way because there were no trains,” she said.
Finally she arrived and fell into Giovanni’s arms.
They started the long journey back to England but he didn’t have the proper stamp in his passport when they arrived in France and were sent back to Italy. He finally made to England with just one day of his permit left.
Back in Norwich on Boxing Day of 1947 they were finally married in March of 1948.
“I remember going to City Hall to see about my marriage and a woman warned me against marrying a foreigner!” said Pat.
They went on to have son Mario, daughter Teresa, grand-daughter Joanne, and great grandsons Ethan and Ruben.
She continued to play a leading role in the life of Mousehold Heath for the rest of her life. She was a member of the Defenders and spearheaded the campaign for the bandstand and did all she could to improve and protect the unique and historic heath.
She and Giovanni continued to walk the heath together. “We have had a wonderful life,” she told me.
City councillor David Bradford summed Pat up so well: “She was one of the most warm-hearted, generous-spirited people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.”