Ernest Day told his family little about his experience as a prisoner of war in Italy, but the scraps of information that filtered through to his great-grandson, Zak Jarvis, were sufficient to fire his imagination. As a student film director looking to kick-start his career, Zak immediately thought to himself: “What an amazing subject for a film!”
As the video below proves, Zak succeeded in making a 30-minute film, entitled Across Frontiers, while studying at the Northern Film School in Leeds in 2017. Zak comes from Hitchin in Hertfordshire, and his great-grandfather, who died in 2006, served with the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment. Captured in North Africa, Ernest was held prisoner in the fortress at PG5 Gavi, near Alessandria, the Italian Colditz that had a large number of recaptured escapers among its inmates.
It is known only that after the Armistice with Italy in September 1943 Ernest jumped off a cattle train taking him to Germany and that he stayed on a farm with an Italian family for some time, possibly until the Allies liberated the area. After the war Ernest kept in touch with the Italian family but information about them, or their location, has not survived.
Zak stressed that he did not want to make a film purely about his great-grandfather, although the objective was indeed partly to pay tribute to the brave farming family who sheltered Ernest. The aim was to make a fictional narrative drama based on and inspired by the real experiences of the many escaped PoWs. He produced a script that included interviews with surviving PoWs, including Keith Killby, the founder of MSMT. The film was shot in the Peak District and at Middleton Railway, Leeds.
To compose the soundtrack, Zak enlisted help from “the enemy” – in the person of Alessandro Apolloni, a graduate from the Royal College of Music, whose own grandfather fought for Italy in North Africa. “I thought it was a nice touch to have the descendants of two opposing sides now creatively collaborating,” said Zak.
In March 2016, Zak went to Gavi, did some filming and toured the fortress (the only tourist on that particular day). “It was surreal to know my great-grandfather was there.” It is thought that Ernest was an orderly there and worked as a chef.
In August 2016, Zak launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise funds for the film. With the help of 150 individual funders, and money provided by himself and his collaborators, he raised £5,500. Anybody supporting the crowd-funding campaign was rewarded with perks.
Zak’s crowd-funding campaign was at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/across-frontiers-a-wwii-escape-story-war#/.