Appeal by Jane Garvey on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour to solve mystery of Letchworth girl’s 1929 diary found outside Italian railway station

Letchworth girl May Stewart's 1929 diary, which was found in Italy in the 1990s and is now in the po

Letchworth girl May Stewart's 1929 diary, which was found in Italy in the 1990s and is now in the possession of Claudia Rizzo. - Credit: Archant

Do you recognise the name May Stewart, or perhaps Velma Williams, Phyllis Rogers or Stella Boon?

Jane Garvey, presenter of Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4.

Jane Garvey, presenter of Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4. - Credit: Archant

These names all appear in a Letchworth girl’s 1929 diary, mysteriously discovered outside an Italian railway station in the late 1990s, and efforts are now being made to reunite the diary with the writer’s family.

The diary, which belonged to May Stewart of 221 Nevells Road, is now in the keeping of south Londoner Claudia Rizzo, whose dad Annibale Gorelli found it – and last week she spoke about it with Jane Garvey on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.

Mum-of-two Claudia, who is 45 and originally from Carovigno – near Brindisi in the remote south-east of Italy – told the Comet afterwards: “It’s a long time I’ve had this diary. My father found it in front of the station at Carovigno.

“The station is far from the village with no public transport, and my father was picking me up when he found this on the ground.


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“This was about 1997 or 1998. I moved back to this country from Italy in 1998.

“Every now and then I’d look for this lady May Stewart, but maybe I didn’t look in the right way – every four or five years I’d try but I’ve had no luck.

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“I wish I’d done something like this before – if she has children maybe we can find them.”

The navy blue leather-bound diary is described on its front cover as a copy of ‘Charles Letts’s School-Girl’s Diary’, and on the title page as ‘The School Girl’s Diary and Note Book for 1929’.

Regarding how it came to be in Carovigno, Claudia speculated that May could have lost the diary while travelling to India or the Far East, as travellers by train and ship would often go via the port of Brindisi.

However, there does not seem to be any reference in the last entries, dated September 1929, to indicate being anywhere but England. The last entry is dated September 16, and the note for September 14 seems to be about visiting Westcliff-on-Sea.

The final entry reads ‘Home again worse luck’, written in large letters and underlined repeatedly.

Jane said: “It makes you feel slightly mournful to see her innocent, rather neat handwriting, just going on about Latin tests and day-to-day schoolgirl stuff.

“Of course she’s unlikely to be alive now, but there might well be a relative listening. To look at the detail of one young girl’s life is very moving, and it does belong to somebody’s family.”

The very first entry, on January 1, 1929, is ‘Pinched and punched Donald’ – who appears to have been May Stewart’s brother.

Records survive of a Donald Stewart who lived at the same address in Nevells Road, went to Letchworth Grammar School and worked at the town’s Post Office.

Donald served in the Second World War as a Royal Navy pilot and went missing in action off Greece in 1944.

May recorded her birthday in the diary as May 1, but left out the year.

A note at the end of the book says ‘John Home October 1930’.

Also at the end of the diary is a list of names and addresses, including Stella Boon, of Longford in Cashio Lane, Velma Williams, of Champneys in Norton Road, and Phyllis Rogers, of Lynton in Gernon Road.

Also listed is Jean Crump of 27 Russellcroft Road in Welwyn Garden City.

Anyone who thinks they might be able to help solve the mystery and reunite the diary with its author’s family is invited to send messages to Claudia care of the Comet through jp.asher@thecomet.net.

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