We learnt that her husband had been an Italian internee during World War II, and that he had been shipwrecked following deportation from Britain. His body was washed up on the Isle of Barra in the Hebrides.
I had been watching a TV programme called Island Parish which was filmed on Barra. The programme vividly brought back memories of Vera and her contact with the island.
I decided to do some research, and very quickly came across her husband's name, Oreste Fisanotti, on a website about the SS Arandora Star, a ship carrying refugees & internees to Canada from Liverpool. The boat set sail from Liverpool on the 1st July 1940 and was torpedoed off the north-west coast of Ireland by a German U-boat the following morning at 06.15. Oreste was amongst more than 800 who lost their lives. I also discovered that, subsequently, following her own death in 1975, Vera had been taken back to Barra to be buried beside him.
Vera's life was a sad one. She escaped from Petrograd (St. Petersburg) during the 1917 Revolution, where she was studying to become a doctor. Because of his contacts, her father, a sea captain, smuggled her on to a boat in Odessa bound for Constantinople (Istanbul). He gave her a small leather pouch containing precious stones. When she arrived in Turkey it was very frightening for her, and she decided to try and make her way to the UK. Eventually she arrived in London, where she got work in an hotel as a chambermaid. It was in London that she met and fell in love with Oreste Fisanotti, who was also working at the hotel as a waiter, and they married.
From the day she left Russia to the day she died she had no idea what had happened to her family. She tried to find information about them from the Red Cross, but she was very wary of giving away too much about herself as she still had a great fear of being found by the Russians. In the 1960s, when we first met her, Russia was a closed society.
When Oreste, her only friend and her beloved husband died, she left London to live on Barra to be near his body, she had nobody else in the world. She stayed there until the late 1950s until the doctors told her that the island was not a suitable place for her to reside. She was suffering with rheumatism and respiratory problems, so reluctantly she left Barra and moved to Glasgow.
We had a bedroom, a living room and shared a kitchen with our Landlady in Glasgow. Our landlady had befriended Vera at her church. When we first moved into the apartment and met Vera she was very cold towards both of us during her visits. As time passed she opened up and became friendly. Later she told us that she was, understandably, jealous and anxious that we would take our landlady's love away from her.
Her very sad life made a lasting impression on both H and myself.
Vera & Oreste Fisanotti's graves on the remote Island of Barra
On her gravestone, I was pleased to see that Vera was finally able to publicly acknowledge her Russian origins by using her Russian name, Vera Maschova.