Gravestone appeal for man who defied the Nazis as a boy

Eugene di Villa
Eugene di Villa

A campaign has been launched to ensure that a beloved local author and parish councillor, who once defied the Nazis as a brave child, is not forgotten.

Eugene Di Villa OBE represented Underwood on Selston Parish Council from 1981 until his death in 2010 and was a well-loved community figure who also stood for election to Ashfield District Council.

Current grave for Eugene Di Villa

Current grave for Eugene Di Villa

However, when he died of hypothermia at the age of 79 his family could not be contacted.

He was buried in St Michael’s churchyard in Underwood with a plain, hand-written wooden cross to mark his grave as being paid for by Underwood Parish Cuncil.

But the plot is now grassed over and the cross is beginning to rot away. Now his friends are determined not to let him be forgotten and are trying to raise money to pay for a fitting stone headstone.

Especially as Mr Di Villa had led an extraordinary life.

The most astonishing episode was when, at just ten years old, the village in France where Eugene lived with his family was invaded by Nazis.

They demanded to know where his father was as he was fighting with the French Resistance.

Eugene and his older brother refused to betray their father so the Nazis drove an armoured car at them. His brother was killed and Eugene’s leg was ripped off.

Friend and fellow councillor Andrew Fell described Eugene as ‘a gentleman who was liked by everyone on the parish council’.

He told the Advertiser: “Eugene was a wonderful man. Nothing was ever too much trouble and he was so generous.

“If anything was going on in the village he would be the first one there.

“He went through a lot and it is important that his memory doesn’t die with him.”

During his time as a councillor he helped to established a doctors’ surgery in Underwood and played a part in saving the St Michael’s Church clock in Underwood, which was donated in 1919 to commemorate WW1, from falling into disrepair.

However, he was a very private man who rarely spoke about his life, so it came as a shock to his friends when it was revealed at his funeral that he had changed his name by deed poll from Alwyn John Rees to Eugene di Villa in 1959.

Local author Stan Smith, aka Ztan Zmith, has researched the councillor’s life and written a book entitled ‘Eugene di Villa’ which reveals history of the enigmatic man as part of the fundraising effort for a gravestone.

He said: “The ladies clearing up the graveyard were so upset that the only grave in the whole churchyard without a proper headstone was his.

“We just want to raise enough to pay for a simple headstone with his name and and an inscription ‘A friend to Underwood’.”

‘Eugene di Villa’ is available from Underwood Post Office for £2, call Ztan on 01773 783009 or to donate e-mail