A wartime story of romance and survival against the odds has led a Morecambe comedian to revisit his roots.
Matt Panesh is preparing to star in a show to raise money for refugees – inspired by the incredible tale of how his grandparents themselves fled their homeland more than 70 years ago in search of a better life.
Matt’s grandfather was from the Caucasus Mountains region of the-then Soviet Union and his grandmother was from what is now Belarus.
During the Second World War, while escaping on foot from the ruthless dictatorship of Joseph Stalin who murdered tens of million of people, they met and fell in love.
“They walked over the Alps to Italy where they got married,” said Matt.
“But as there was a war going on, there were bombs dropping everywhere so they walked back over the Alps into Austria. “They were with a big group of people, my grandma’s mother and father, one of her sisters, and they carried a sewing machine! I have no idea how long it must have taken them.
“But it’s why when I was a child, I could never complain when asked to run an errand that the shops were too far away! My grandma also never understood about children being picky about their food.
“When they were refugees they would knock on doors and people would give them food if they had it. They would go to sleep at night and didn’t know if they would be dead next morning.”
Matt’s father was born in a ‘displaced persons’ camp - what would now be called a refugee camp - in Austria.
The family then moved to Britain in 1949.
It is little wonder that Matt didn’t think twice when offered the chance to star in a night to raise money for refugees.
Matt will top the bill at a ‘Fun Without Frontiers’ comedy and music evening at the Laurel and Hardy Museum in Ulverston next month.
“It was an absolute no-brainer because I owe my life to refugee camps,” he said.
“And as a comedian I’m really looking forward to performing in the Laurel and Hardy Museum.”
Matt also was deeply affected by his own personal experience of visiting the camps at Calais and Dunkirk earlier this year.
“After I got back home, two days later the Dunkirk camp burned to the ground,” he said.
“I cried for three to four hours because I’d only been there two days earlier.”
Matt is also one of the driving forces behind the revival of the Alhambra Theatre and Carleton nightclub in Morecambe.
He was the brains behind this year’s Morecambe Fringe Festival at the venue and is planning more events there in 2018.
‘Fun Without Frontiers’ is on November 11 and starts at 7.30pm. People are asked to pay what they can.
Call 01229 582292 for tickets.