A GOOD AGE: WW2 scrapbook leads to new discoveries


Clare Boothe Luce, centre, being welcomed to the Villa d'Este in 1945. On the right is Jack Knight the late grandfather of Julie White.
Clare Boothe Luce, centre, being welcomed to the Villa d’Este in 1945. On the right is Jack Knight the late grandfather of Julie White.

Deborah Campbell of Quincy recently learned about her late grandfather, Owen Conrad. He was a top-level American spy during World War Two.

Another person who had discovered about her grandfather, Major Jack Knight, is Julie White. She only remembers her granddad as a man who only encouraged her to study and practice her clarinet. He was born in the year 1906, died in 1988 and he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

He served with the Fifth Army during the World War Two and started his career in North Africa, he later moved to Sicily. In the year 1944-1945 as the war was ending he was put in charge of managing several camps in Italy.

Knight never talked about the war to Julie but he left behind a scrapbook among his things which had some evidence or clues: ” Montecatin,” “Cernobbio” on Lake Como and “Vimercate” which she believed to be among the places he stayed during the World War two. The scrapbook had a cloth patch from American Fifth Army and a sticker from d’Este, a hotel in Cernobbio. She also found a photo of him on the lake together with a young lady and other officers. Her grandparents had divorced before he went to Italy.

White also found a photo of him with Clare Boothe Luce who was the first woman to be appointed as a major ambassador outside America, in 1953. White’s mother remembers her father telling her that he had taken Luce water skiing in Lake Como.

Last summer, White together with her husband and their son planned a trip to Italy. They included Lake Como and Villa d’Este to be among their stops during the trip. They had hoped to stay at the hotel but they later learned that it was a five star hotel with a single room rate of 750 Euros per night which they couldn’t afford. The hotel is owned by Conda Nast Properties.

White was hoping to confirm if really the hotel was a camp for American soldiers at the end of the World War Two.

On august 22 they used ferry from Como to Cernbbio and walked to the hotel where she asked the concierge if he knew history about the hotel, he instead called the public relation manager, Annamaria Duvia, who confirmed that indeed the hotel was a rest camp for American soldiers.

White showed her the menu she had found in her grandfather things which she recognized the signatures used as those of the manager and the board members during that time. She told them that, during the war the hotel operated as a hospital but the manager still stayed. The original building was built in 1568 by a cardinal.

She invited them to tour around the building and gave them drinks .As they toured around White recognized many places memorized in her granddad scrapbook which left her with no doubt that he had stayed there. Duvia later gave White a cookbook, “Tales of Risotto” published by the hotel staff.

The experience helped her understand that her granddad was not a distant man, who smoked camels and told her to work hard, but he also loved Italy, people there and he was a social person who loved going out.

According to PatriotLedger.com, Julie White had confirmed that her granddad was stationed in an amazing place with grate people who made her feel at home. Her mom has never been to Europe despite her granddad efforts to take her there.

These discoveries show that many more might be hidden among the old family belongings such as photos and journals.

Steve Khalif

Steve Khalif is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE