Those who have lived through war tend not to want to relive any memories, but through a chance conversation, Dennis Brock found himself thinking back to the person to whom he owes his mobility. He also found himself and his story in the national newspapers and on BBC Radio 4!
Shot in the legs in combat in WW2, Dennis found himself as a POW in a camp in Italy. He was to spend 3 years incarcerated, during which he suffered unimaginable conditions including beatings and starvation. After a particularly brutal winter in camp, where mud and snow came up to the prisoners knees, he started losing the sensation in his legs, finally losing his mobility altogether.
A young Italian doctor at the garrison hospital was interested in his case. He had seen and treated a similar condition when he was stationed in Ethiopia. It had come about as a direct result of chronic malnutrition. Dr Antonino Alessi knew he had a chance to reverse the condition, but needed to inject a serum into the lymphatic glands at the top of both Dennis’ thighs.
It was easier said than done procuring this serum, but they managed. A POW would not usually be so lucky, but to this doctor it was almost experimental so a case worth persuing. No such luck procuring any anaesthetic though, so the process of injecting the potentially life changing serum was a brutal affair.
Held down by 3 nuns it must have been torture itself, and Dennis tells me the air turned blue with Anglo Saxon expletives! But after 10 days Dennis started feeling a tingling in his toes. Today Dennis, at the age of 99 (this November in fact) still climbs the tower of St Mary’s to ring the bells, and still drives, no doubt thanking Dr Alessi every day for the good fortune of being able to walk.
The Daily Telegraph was so interested in his story that they did some research, finding the family of Dr Alessi in Italy. Sadly the doctor himself had died, but his 4 children were very interested to hear Dennis’s story. One of the daughters called to talk to Dennis. They wanted to invite him over to Italy. In a twist of fate, Dennis took her telephone number down incorrectly so is left with no conclusion to his story and a potential reunion. There are ways in this day and age however, so perhaps a reunion is still on the cards. Meanwhile Dennis feels blessed every day and his positivity radiates. “After so much hardship I vowed never to let anything get me down” he says.