An Italian Hero in Lancashire.

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An Italian Hero in Lancashire

The photo above shows the place where the girls in this story fell into the River Irwell at Burrs in the north of Bury.

The ghostly face top right is the only image I could find of Santo Verde, the hero of this story. It is from the Bury Times of April 25 1945 which ran with the headline

Helped with Civilian to Rescue Drowning Children

It is a remarkable story – a POW who was chatting with a local man heard a young girl scream. He saw her and her sister being swept down the River Irwell so he dived in and saved one of them, sacrificing his own life. The public response was as touching as his heroism.


19 April 1945. Santo Verde was aged 27 and a prisoner stationed at Burrs Hostel and working at the Star Bleach Works (the whole area is now Burrs Country Park). In peacetime Santo was a farmer from Sant’ Antimo near Naples. He had been captured in Libya.

The girls were 5 yr old Betty Goodwin and her sisters 8 year old Alma and 10 year old Catherine.

They were paddling in the water beneath the arches where it wasn’t so deep but Catherine and Betty slipped and were swept downstream.

Hearing their screams Mr Albert Poxton of Stock Street, Bury dived in and, struggling against the current, managed to rescue Catherine. She clung to his back as he swam to a less deep part of the river, whereupon he collapsed and they were pulled out of the water.

Santo also dived in with his pals trying to help too. Santo pushed 5 year old Betty to an island in the river. But as Cpl Major Pasquale Marocco helped the girl, Santo got into difficulties. He “flung up his hands and came up two or three times then disappeared”.

He drowned in 15 feet of water, the current being too strong for his other comrades as they also tried to help him. They were;

Giuseppe Sodano
Salvatore Lopolo
Pasquale Tenora
Paolo Liguori
Enrico de Nunzio.

Below; Photo taken by local historian Mark Fletcher and used with kind permission.
Mark writes, “I took this from the viaduct,” (see lead photo) “just as the old bridge was about to be demolished. Santo died in the pool which is through the right-hand arch. Beyond the bridge is the temporary Bailey bridge, put up by Territorial Engineers from Salford, over a single weekend – very impressive to watch.”


The Inquest

At the inquest Coroner Col R M Barlow questioned the wisdom of the girls’ mother letting those 3 young children play out by the river. Mrs Louisa Goodwin said that she had 6 kids one of whom was a baby and she wasn’t able to look after them all. Colonel Barlow asked if she couldn’t have found help or clubbed together with other mums. He said that he is “constantly sitting in this court hearing of deaths yet we go on allowing people to be in the position of this mother.” Where damage from enemy activity is concerned, he said, we all come together, and go to a lot of trouble, so why does the same community spirit not extend to providing care for dependents? The coroner ensured the heroism of Santo Verde and the others in this story was recognised by the Royal Humane Society and there was some financial reward for the men too.

The Funeral

On April 28 the Bury Times further reported

“The name of Santo Verde will long be remembered in the tiny Bury village of Burrs” the paper reported. The girls family wrote a letter to Verde’s mother “waiting in a small town (near) Naples for the return of her soldier son.”

Villagers promised to tend the grave and keep fresh flowers on it.

The Bury Times reported that more than 150 people attended the funeral. The Italian flag draped Santo Verde’s coffin which was carried by 6 of his comrades. He was buried at Gigg Lane cemetery next to another Italian soldier.

Both bodies apparently were exhumed in 1958 and transferred to the Italian Military Cemetery at Brookwood in Surrey.


EDIT 7 MAY 2014. Comment posted below which is better placed in this main text;

“I am the son of Giuseppe Sodano who was a friend and fellow soldier of poor Santo at that time. My dad had told me of the events that took place on that day, and how they all tried to save the child. They saw that Santo was struggling, my dad said that at one point he reached him and had a hold of Santo’s hair to pull him up but, was pulled by the force of the water and he then lost his hold. It was such a sad story of these young men who had fought in north Africa, at Tobruk and El Alamane.They were just lads from local villages in Campania, Naples draughted in to the army, so they would have witnessed some horrible scenes throughout that time in their lives. But their morality never changed even though they were in an alien country and basically prisoners. I think it right that they were commended for the actions on that day and we are proud of our father and his comrades to show this example to us all.”


EDIT 9 JULY 2014.
Please see additional notes in the comments section below by Mark Fletcher


Below; The only part of the mill at which Santo Verde and his comrades worked still remaining today is the mill chimney. Photographed from the aquaduct above the spot where the Goodwin sisters slipped and fell into the river.


Below; Photo of the mill, courtesy of Mark Fletcher

Note; there’s not much on the internet about this story but there is a recent comment on the Lancashire Fusliers Message Board providing some info but credit should be given to the publication below from which it has been copied.

Unsung Hero by J Dunleavy, Backhill – Rivista Della Comunita’ Italiana, September 1993, page 14.

49 comments on “An Italian Hero in Lancashire.
  1. Steve P.Kane (S.P.K.Photography) off & On says:

    Very nice

  2. Steve Graham (formerly 'grahamsj3) says:

    POWs are human beings, too, and some would be willing to risk their lives to save a child, while others probably wouldn’t have done anything. But the Coroner certainly didn’t think much of the girls mother, did he?

  3. Jainbow says:

    What a sad story for such a beautiful place. Lovely photos, Ian. (Is that icicles I see hanging off the bridge?) :~}

  4. cgullz says:

    this is lovely. sad but lovely. yr top image is fantastic – perspective, colour and clarity. the ghostly image you so rightly describe, suits the tale well .. it’s really as if he is there in that spot.
    interesting that he should be honoured by the locals, but exhumed and moved later on? why? … it’s kind of sad in that he died a local hero, it would have been nice for him to remain local. may be just me.
    given the age of the girls i get the buzz going, they should still be alive [all things going well] today – where are they and what story do they have to tell … the family of Santo, do they still remember his story – to know this would be a great follow up tale. not asking for much am I?

  5. mick cooke says:

    sad story ian , just shows how human he was he gave is own life

  6. amyrey says:

    That is a terrific story of human nature at its best. Heart warming and sad at the same time.

    I’ve often wondered how many POW’s stayed in Britain (or any other country where they were captive) after the war. It is only because I used to help a German POW on the farm when I was a kid. He’d stayed in Britain, married and raised a family. Terrific bloke and good friend he was too, but I never asked him about the war…. in a sort of Fawlty Tower’s "don’t mention the war" kind of way. Wish I had now…. but possibly, given that he didn’t really mention it either, he didn’t want to talk about it. Maybe it was best kept unsaid.

  7. Ian D B says:

    Hi Amy, that’s an interesting story about your former POW friend. A number of POWs stayed in the UK after the war, the most famous probably being Bert Trautmann (who is still with us apparently) who became a goalie for Man City. According to wikipedia he was a former paratrooper who served on the Eastern Front for 3 years, earned the Iron Cross and – very fortunately for him and Manchester City – he was transferred to the western front where he was taken prisoner.

    I will be doing more about POW camps in the area shortly and will provide a map showing all of them (or most of them; the one above isn’t mentioned on any of the databases I have yet a large number of German and Italian POWs were at Burrs).

    Thanks for your comment.

    [] Hi Ang, I wondered the same, where the women are now or what happened to them. I should have planted a poppy cross… Maybe I will revisit, this place is only a short mile from where I live.

    I was saddened to read they had exhumed the body as I wanted to visit the grave. I guess they were moved when a centralised cemetery was created which makes it easier for people to visit I suppose, but far less personal. I prefer the British and Commonwealth tradition, I like visiting graves of men who rest where they fell. The connection is more real.

    Centralised cemys are just like big memorials. The person is recorded but not much else. It is the same feeling I have about moving air crash debris from sites, even when it ends up in a museum there is something in me that always thinks it was better left where it was.

    [] [] []
    Agree it is a heart warming tale from an unexpected quarter. [] Yeah those are icicles Jane. The aquaduct carries and old canal and water leaks from that and through the brickwork. [] The coroner started to criticise the mother… Then blamed society, saying he understood how difficult it was for Mrs Goodwin to care for 6 kids. His report is an example of how by the end of the war people’s views of what society and community should look like were changing.
    [] Hi Steve, good to see your around again!

  8. crusader752 says:

    As Ang rightly says Ian the main photo is just superb with those lovely arches reflected in the waters but I particularly like the other shot with that old Mill chimney and the wonderful ‘duck’ rippled reflections.
    What a sad tale as Amy and others rightly state, which serves to remind us all just how quickly, innocent fun can turn to tragedy around such seemingly picturesque places. What a truly selfless act by the Italian gentleman, no doubt diving in without a thought for his own safety and yes I agree with your sentiments about exhuming his remains. I had no idea this was done and it reminds me that some Luftwaffe aircrew were buried in a local cemetery down here but I’m not sure if the same applied to them.
    As always you have superbly crafted this unfortunate tale along with your commendable research. Fascinating 😉

  9. nondesigner59 says:

    Great work.. Keeping History alive..

  10. Ian D B says:

    [] Hi Rob, thanks for your thoughts. I am not sure whether there was a formal process for removing all remains or whether some remained where they were originally buried or what. Something worth looking into.
    [] Thanks Malcolm, that’s the idea!

  11. Steve Graham (formerly 'grahamsj3) says:

    [] Repatriation of remains has been a common practice so that the families of the dead can remember them, and I think that’s more important than keeping them interred on foreign (to them) soil. If the community wants to honor them, they should put up some sort of monument…or turn that chimney still present into a monument to their sacrifice for "enemy" children.

  12. salfordlad1 says:

    Wow Ian..fabulous. Amazing to know the history. The times I’ve walked round there without knowing any of that. I’ll see it in a different light now. Wonderful reportage..

  13. stiemer says:

    Fantastic Ian, really interesting write up.

  14. Lazenby43 says:

    I often wonder, how long into the future, will what we post on flickr survive? Will these posts still be available to anyone in one hundred years? Will there be an archive that is available to a select few? Will they disappear?

    Ian, you make valuable contributions to social history. I hope they will be available long into the future.

  15. Highy says:

    Great tale, well told of such a selfless act Ian and a couple of cracking images to go with it. I really like Salford Lads comment that next time he walks there he’ll see it differently; a great example of how a bit of knowledge brings a place alive, well done buddy.

    Can’t help thinking the remains would be better left where they had a connection, or alternatively repatriated to Italy and his home town.

  16. Tech Owl says:

    Quite a bit of research again Ian – amazing how these stories go missing over time. Thanks for collating

  17. Misses Davies says:

    I love how you bring history to life with your photographs.

  18. Ian D B says:

    Many thanks everyone, your comments are very much appreciated, they are what keep me researching and photographing these stories.

  19. Hannah Benson says:

    I came across this wonderful story as I was searching for Italian POW’s in Bury around 1945. My father was born in October 1946 in Bury and his mother took to the grave who his father was. All I know is that my Grandad was an Italian POW who used to drive taxi’s in the area taking her to dancing. Looking through the names of these amazing men I can only hope one of them may have been my Grandad. I always feel so upset that my family tree will always be unknown because of this. My fathers mother felt she could not reveal the name as her husband who she believed died at war, returned in 1946 to discover her pregnant and left, she never forgave herself for moving on when he had in fact still been alive.

    If anyone knows of ways that I could try and trace this man without a name I would be grateful. My father had a shortened birth certificate as such there was no section for the fathers name. I am unsure if this would have been recorded somewhere or if she would have simply placed her husbands name instead.

  20. Hannah says:

    Dear Ian,

    Thank you for your message and helpful links. I could not find anything on the national archives link but I have requested a birth certificate and can only hope the certificate sent contains his fathers name.

    My only other hope is that my fathers mothers husband who returned from war late to discover her pregnant is still alive and whilst I am not sure he would want to discuss matters as the event ultimately ruined their marriage, he may know of a name. I am going to trace his address as I know he still lives in Bury.

    I will let you know if my search gets me any closer. For all I know any of the names listed in that article could be the man I’m looking for but without a name I have no idea!

    Kindest regards,


    • Ian D B says:

      Sounds like a plan Hannah – hope you find out what you need. As you say, it could be one of the men named above. Certainly they would have known your father. Be great if you did find out!
      Best regards,

  21. ang wickham says:

    Righto! Thanks for the link here Ian – and for the inspiration – my neighbour is in his 80’s and from Tyverton, Devon. We often have chats at the mailbox or on rubbish day, and I finally got time and courage enough to ask him of his memories of the war. He was a teen at the time so pretty aware of what was going on, he said because Tyverton was between Exeter and Wales the enemy bombers used to fly right over their town on the way to bombing in Wales, but recalls only once were bombs dropped nearby [he thinks 1942, no deaths]. However, because of this post of yours and the map you linked, I asked him if there were any POW camps – and he said yes, Italians and at least two of them stayed after the war and married local girls. So, there you go, fresh from the press in NZ ;)I would have found out more but we were interrupted. It’s interesting to me as he was not far from Somerset where my grandfathers family was. Anyway, thanks for the inspiration Ian 🙂

    • Ian D B says:

      Cheers Ang, it is always good to have a connection to your old memories. Felt that way when I met Shiner Wright, the old shipmate of my Dad’s. He died just a couple of months ago, by the way. We need to get these memories while we still can and you do right to ask him his memories of the war.

  22. m. sodano says:

    I am the son of Giuseppe Sodano who was a friend and fellow soldier of poor Santo at that time. My dad had told me of the events that took place on that day, and how they all tried to save the child. They saw that Santo was struggling, my dad said that at one point he reached him and had a hold of Santo’s hair to pull him up but, was pulled by the force of the water and he then lost his hold. It was such a sad story of these young men who had fought in north Africa, at Tobruk and El Alamane.They were just lads from local villages in Campania, Naples draughted in to the army, so they would have witnessed some horrible scenes throughout that time in their lives. But their morality never changed even though they were in an alien country and basically prisoners. I think it right that they were commended for the actions on that day and we are proud of our father and his comrades to show this example to us all.

    • Ian D B says:

      Hi Mike, thank you very much for your comment.

      It’s great to have this connection, you and your Father’s memory adding to the story. You are right to be proud. It is one of the more heartwarming tales from that period, not just the bravery of Santo and your dad and his pals, but also the respect the locals had for them all. Dreadful times as you say, but their standards of right and wrong survived the war. I’m really pleased you got in touch. Have drawn attention to your comment in the main text above.

      Best regards to you and your family,


    • Roy Sanderson says:

      Hi, I am looking for my father who was also a pow at this camp, I was told when I was younger that my father had a story written about him, I don’t have much information on my father, other than his name was Vincenzo (bachete/bossetti) -not sure of the spelling. Is it possible your father knew of him or was one of his friends, or some of your fathers friends would know of him or family members of his. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Mille grazie

    • Lindsay Haworth says:

      I need to get in contact M. Sodano as soon a possible. My Father was a War baby from an Italian POW in Bury. I think I’ve been looking in he wrong place all my life and it seems I need to be looking to the Burrs POW site. I have recently been given some information of my Italian Grandfather’s identity and want to confirm with you some details that are too private/sensitive to post on this site.

      Please could you contact me on my email address:

      Kind regards,
      Miss Lindsay Haworth

  23. MARK FLETCHER says:

    Hi Ian

    I have some bits of information to add to this. I lived nearby in the 1960s, and my paternal grandfather was the caretaker at Burrs Mill from 1933 to 1939. He had lost the use of an arm at Third Ypres in 1917, and managed to get a job as firebeater at Burrs Mill in 1921, when it became the Star Bleachworks. Because of the Great Depression, the bleachworks closed in 1933, but he was kept on because of the possibility it may have reopened, but it never did.

    In September 1939 the mill was taken over for billets by the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry, who were a cavalry regiment, and trained on horseback with drawn sabres in the fields at the back of the mill! They then became integrated into the Royal Artillery, and left Burrs to see action at Monte Cassino & Normandy.

    For a short period after this, American GIs were posted at Burrs, then it was designated as a PoW camp, and the Italians arrived. They did not work in the mill (it remained closed), but were given spending money, and allowed to fraternise with the locals. They became a common sight in Bury town centre, and my mother, who was then a young girl, knew several of them by name.

    My mother said the Italians were amiable and engaging, and well liked by everyone, and had absolutely no interest in the war or Mussolini, they just wanted to go back to their pre-war lives in Italy.

    Several years ago, I interviewed a local man (now dead), who witnessed the recovery of Santo’s body from the river. Santo died in the deep pool on the south-east side of the bridge, which was rebuilt in 1988 (That pool gave me the creeps as a young boy, for years it had a dead tree which rose out of it, like a beckoning claw).

    If you stand on the north-west part of the bridge, and look down into the water when it is low and not murky, you can see the slabs of the old ford, which pre-dated the old bridge, and is on a different alignment.

    The burial register at Bury Cemetery gave Santo’s address as ‘Burrs Hostel, Star Bleach Works’. The site of his grave is now an overgrown corner of the cemetery, where, if I remember rightly, there were one or two gravestones, related to Bury-based combatants.

    Some years ago, I obtained a photo of his present headstone at Brookwood, and it bears the epitaph ‘Morto Per La Patria’ (“He died for the homeland”), but I do not think that the Goodwin family would have agreed with that.

    The last part of Burrs Mill, which stood just to the south of the chimney, was demolished in 1982, which was very unfortunate, as it still contained a series of murals painted by the Italians, one of which appeared to be the interior of the Brown Cow. According to my mother, one of the characters in this painting may have been a local woman, who died in about 1990 (I will not name her here). I have photos of the murals.

    Early in 1946, after the Italians had left, German PoWs were incarcerated at Burrs, and although they did not have the freedom which the Italians had, they were taken under escort to attend local C of E church services.

    I was myself involved in the creation of Burrs Country Park between 1987 and 1994, and am working on a book on the area.



    • Ian D B says:

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks again for your fascinating additional info to this piece. I have referred to it in the main text above.

      The photo I used here was admittedly more for aesthetic reasons than for any accuracy about the spot Santo Verde died or even where the girls fell into the river (I liked the icicles hanging from the arches and the reflections in the water). However, if you can provide an exact spot, it would be worth a revisit, Burrs is very close to where I live. Which is the bridge to which you refer, the aqueduct pictured here or one of the other bridges?

      I have seen some rough copies of the murals and an old photo of the mill as it was before demolition but none of any quality, nor did I have permission to use them. If you have any photos to add though, they would be gratefully received.

      I have a contact in Bury who is also a historian, you may know of his site Lancashire At War?

      As for the Brown Cow, I recall visiting that pub back in the mid 80s before the East Lancs Railway was running and before the creation of Burrs Country Park. We would have been underage drinking, though I can’t recall whether we were served or whether we stuck around as the place was dead. They served Wilson’s ales if I recall correctly, so maybe we were served after all! Funny how fortunes change over the years.


  24. Mark Fletcher says:

    Hi Ian

    Your photo is a good one of the feeder canal aquaduct. This was first erected in about 1795, to take water from the Burrs Mill pond, to Elton Reservoir, which was intended to top up the MB&B Canal. The aquaduct was rebuilt in about 1890, by Sir John Hawkshaw.

    The roadbridge at Burrs was built in about 1890, then demolished in late 1987, when the present roadbridge was erected. As you go onto the bridge from the Woodhill side, the deep pool is immediately to your right, and seems to have developed on the outside of the river bend, below the original ford, where water would have flowed fastest.

    Further downstream is the footbridge known as the ‘pipebridge’. This was built in about 1993, on the site of the stone & timber aquaduct which took water from Burrs, to the millpond of Higher Woodhill Mill. This aquaduct was demolished sometime around WW2. Beneath the timber deck are a pair of pipes which take water down to Higher Woodhill.

    I will post to you photos of the mill.

    ‘Brown Cow’ – I did some underage drinking there in the mid 70s – it was a remote place then, and the landlord was incredibly laid back. It was a classic country pub, timeless, with an internal layout which reflected its origins as a farmhouse which was actually two seperate houses (it became a pub in about 1870). In 1988 the interior, with its three coalfires, was ripped out, so as to become the present ‘nowheresville’. A real shame. I used to love sitting in there in the afternoon, sun streaming in through the window, the only sound being the ticking of the clock. I imagined it had not much changed since my grandad had been a customer in the 1920s.


    • Ian D B says:

      Brilliant, thanks Mark. Great to have all this additional info about Burrs and the fate of Santo Verde.
      I wonder what happened to your Dad’s canoe?

  25. Mark Fletcher says:

    The lads who took it ‘joyriding’ in the river lost it there.

    I will post to you a photo of Santo’s gravestone at Brookwood. The Latin insciption is hidden by the flowers, below the cross. If you wished to post this, the cemetery hold the copyright, I think, as they took the photo.


  26. Allan Poxton says:

    Albert Poxton the civilian who dived in with Santos was my Uncle. Heroic of them both!!

  27. John H says:


    Both my wife and I visited this country park today, lovely feeling to the place very calm and surreal, we noticed that a number of flowers in fact bunches of them, had been placed in a tree just up from where the wheel pit is (was) and so curiosity got the better of me to find out why and I stumbled upon this site and the detailed history! After reading though it appears that the flowers must be for something or someone else.

    I had a strange feeling when there today that there was much history to the place, and after reading this fascinating story about Santo I shall be returning to take in and learn much more of the history!

    Photos and images are brilliant, give you a real feel for the place.



    • Ian D B says:

      Hi John, thank you very much for your visit and your positive comment. It’s always a pleasure to hear that people find this stuff interesting and useful.

  28. Michele Sodano says:

    Hello, It could be that my Father did know of a Vincenzo. However, my Father passed on many years ago so unfortunately I can’t help you. Most of the fellow soldiers would have been in there mid 20’s my Father was 27 years old at the time of the internment. So today my Father would have been 99 and your Father would be a similar age, the difficulty comes with people that are still surviving that could have known him. It could be possible they were from the same division which was 54 Infantry Napoli maybe this could be another point for investigation. Most Italian war archive don’t tend to name individuals. When the war ended the Italian POW’s had to return home for repatriation, which is what happened to my father and he returned to England to work at a later date through friends and contacts he’d made as a POW. If your father did return to England he would have been issued with an aliens order book. This would have been documented and carried information on his birth location, address and place of employment this may be another avenue for you to check. I’m sorry I can’t be of any further help but I wish you well in your search.

  29. Graham Godfrey says:

    I used to live in Burrs, at Broom House from 1949 till about 1961. The story about this tragedy told at the time when I used to go to the area was that girls had fallen in, and an Italian prisoner of war jumped in to try to save them but hit his head on rocks under the water. So, this is a different slant. I knew Albert Poxton.

  30. Lindsay Haworth says:

    Message for Michele Sodano/Mark Fletcher,

    Please could you get in contact with me as soon as possible as I would like to run by you the name of my Italian Grandfather who was a POW in Warth/Burrs, Bury 1942-1946.

    Mark: Please could you contact me as I would like to know if the name I have of my POW Grandfather is one of those your Mother remembers. It’s nice to read that your Mother met and knew some of the Soldiers.

    I read the article: “Unsung Hero”, by J D Dunleavy about Santo Verde. He then later says in the article that the POW’s were marched past the Town Hall,down Knowsley St, Manchester Road and then down Radclffe Road to Warth Mills with some members of the public jeering etc at them – that saddened me as my Grandfather could have been one of them. Nevermind, that’s what happens in War. The nice thing out of it is that I have my dad and he told me he would like to see a picture of his dad before he dies.

    Kind regards,

  31. Hannah says:

    Hi Lindsey, I know it probably doesn’t feel like it but you are so lucky. My grandmother took to the grave who my dads father was. Her best friend told me before she died that he was an Italian prisoner of war working as a cab driver in Bury, she worked at the mill in Bury and used to go ballroom dancing every week he was apparently her driver. My dad was born October 1946 and died not having a name or any idea who his Dad was. I understand this gentleman went home to Italy before being told she was pregnant. Sadly with no name to go on I’d never know who that man was. It’s a huge gap in my family tree not having a name for my grandad.

    If anyone knows of any Italian pow in Bury cab driving I would be very grateful.

    Kindest regards,


  32. Carol Maine says:

    Betty Goodwin was my sister. Sadly she passed away 2018

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "An Italian Hero in Lancashire."
  1. […] The Mill itself has had a colourful history during wartime, originally being a billeted station for a Yeomanry where officers could regularly be seen on the fields nearby giving exercise to thier horses, this is before the mill became a prisoner of war camp housing German POWS but in the main those from Italy, in fact there is a story about Italian prisoners of war becoming heroes themselves in Bury for the rescue of a lady from the River Irwell […]

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