“WE’RE only beginning to realise she was the strongest of us all,” said one of Maria Vitale’s 11 daughters following her death.

The much loved grandmother to 28 and great-grandmother to 14 had already battled through several strokes before she lost her fight for life at the Great Western Hospital last Tuesday at the age of 88.

Vincenza Bretti, Maria’s second eldest daughter, said the family had been left devastated after her death.

She added: “There was no one quite like my mum.

“We had a few spats but I think that’s what I’ll miss most about her – her winding me up.

“We had a chaotic childhood but it was fun. We never had to leave the house to have fun because it was always there.

“She was always cooking and she loved Christmas, and she would always have everyone around, her mum, dad, the whole family.”

Maria, who was born in Italy, moved to Swindon with her late husband and childhood sweetheart, Nicola Vitale, in 1944.

She became a popular member of the Italian community and always welcomed visitors to her Curtis Street home.

Vincenza said: “She had lots of friends and she always left the door open. They would just walk in when they came around to see her and they all lived in walking distance.

“A lot of people in Curtis Street always lock their doors, but hers was never locked. She always left it open. Everybody loved her.”

Maria’s eldest child and only son, Pasquale, tragically died following a farming accident in Eastleach at the age of only seven, and Maria will be buried on the anniversary of his death.

Vincenza said: “I think it’s nice she will be buried on the anniversary of his death because she always thought he was waiting for her.”

Maria Bretti, Vincenza’s daughter, said her grandmother had been an inspiration to all her grandchildren.

The 27-year-old said: “She was a really strong woman.

“I think on behalf of all of the grandchildren her strength is what we will miss most. She was such a strong woman. She had a great sense of humour and she was so hard working. “She worked all her life, even when she had so many children, and she was such an inspiration to people.”

Hundreds of friends and family are expected to turn out to remember Maria tomorrow at her funeral at Holy Rood Catholic Church, which is scheduled for 12.30pm.

This evening a special vigil will be held, with Maria passing her house for the last time.

Maria also leaves behind a sister, two brothers and nieces and nephews.