They kept in touch for decades, through yellowed letters and words half-understood.

Attilio Pezzato and Frank Ashford crossed paths in the hills of Lessinia, in the small town of Vestenanova, Veneto, during a time of immense pain, sacrifice and courage.

Today, Francesca Rama, Attilio’s granddaughter, alongside the Ashford family, keep a story of affection and gratitude that seemed unwilling to surrender to life’s circumstances alive.

The two crossed paths just under fifty kilometres from Verona, in the aftermath of the first act of the Badoglio government when Italy declared war on Germany in 1943.

Attilio Pezzato and his wife Giustina Dal Zovo were living at the time in a modest house in the ‘Pezzati’ district.

Their goodness of spirit prompted them to take in, without any hesitation, two British soldiers rescued by some local partisans: Frank Ashford himself and his comrade, Armand.

The couple instinctively took care of them with shelter, clean clothes and “what little there was to eat,” as the friendship between Attilio and Frank began to grow.

In January 1945, the two Englishmen left without saying goodbye. It was not until four years later that the Pezzato couple received a letter bearing Frank’s signature.

Frank explained he was “frightened by the idea that he might endanger them,” prompting him to leave the hamlet, get to safety and return home to England.

The two men continued to write to each other, sharing the most important moments of their lives, even after the Englishman moved to Australia.

More than a decade after their last letter, Francesca Rama decided to track down the Ashford family so as “not to lose that immense legacy imbued with gratitude and generosity”.

Last April, descendants of the two families finally embraced for the first time in Melbourne.

“I have just returned to Verona, and I still carry in my heart the beautiful memory of meeting Frank Ashford’s family,” Rama recounted, moved.

“His daughter-in-law Bev and daughters Carol and Megan welcomed me and my husband with open arms and hosted us with infinite affection.”

Rama described it as an “absolutely memorable” meeting which resulted in “comparing memories, sharing documents, letters and photos”.

“We chatted a lot about the present and the past,” she added, “the past that we were missing that allowed us to close the ‘circle’ of friendship started by our grandparents back in 1943.”