Burdett, Noel

Summary of Noel Burdett

Noel Burdett’s story is told via his PoW de-brief reports and diary entries from the 1940s, and also through letters to Hugo de Burgh in the 1980s. His story includes details of the families who helped him, and the networks that enabled him to escape to Switzerland.

The full story follows, in two versions. The version in the first window below is the original scanned version of the story. In the second window below is the transcribed version in plain text.

[Digital page 1]

[Handwritten letter from Noel Burdett to H. de Burgh’s son (Hugo) dated 27th March 1985]

Dear Hugo,

Thank you for your letter of the 24th, after a visit here which I much enjoyed.

Going again through the memorabilia, I found two more things of possible interest.

When I got the ‘Gazetta di Parma’ of 25th August from, I do not know. I did go to Parma from Bad Oeynhausen that summer (and stole a quick trip over to Nando Incerti’s Gattonia), so perhaps he gave it to me and I’d forgotten all about it. I had not even translated it, but now I have done so. Photocopies of the article and my translation are enclosed.

The other is a message handwritten by Dick Wheeler after Mussolini’s resignation, based on my report of a broadcast I’d listened to. I think I took it to your father, and Dick (staff duties gained!) wrote a copy to keep in his ‘troop’ file, which I minded as his Intelligence Officer.

I will of course write to Absalom: thank you. About ‘the British in Italy’; the date of 18th May looks difficult, but perhaps I can change things.
Our regards,
Yours Noel

[Digital Page 2]

[Handwritten notes on Noel Burdett: Author unknown]

Was a troop intelligence office in Fontanellato. His recollections included.

1. Using a code with which to write home information which the censors then analysed out of his letters.

2. Spending time when out on walking parties trying to work out strengths & nature of German troops in area. German speakers were always encouraged to [?] rush out out when Germans were nearby.

3. H. de B. recruited some officers to learn Italian.

4. Cavalieri & Vice-Domini were two separate people. Cavalieri and H. de B. fought a “War of Nerves” in which H. de B. got his way. At the last, H. de B. commanded C. to cut the wire and send him troops away to enable them to go.

5. The Italian army officers referred to the Lombardy dykes where the Partisans holed up often leaving camp on “The [word unclear]”.

6. The peasant women (all in black) all came to look at them in The [word unclear], and to flirt.

7. H. de B. commanded local syndaco to find any old clothes for his boys, and paid him in Red Cross stores. 2 men per troop were sent down to patch them up.

8. At one point when HB was doing a recce & talking to peasants Germans were seen nearby & the peasant kids whisked him off into a field of [word unclear] [word unclear].

[Digital Page 3]

9. Main fear of peasants (and in ?Parma) was of The “Young Thugs” of the militia – reconstituted under the [word unclear].

10. Italians never panicked ‘they were cool, tough people’.

11. Message system. Germans on the way to one farmand every other one in the area would be warned.

12. Even the farmers were terrified – they didn’t turn out the [word unclear].

13. Organisers of escape usually C.P. [Command Paymaster]. One man – Bianchi organised Switzerland.

[Digital page 4]

JS 9 Sep 1945   SHEET 1

1. NUMBER: I8737I
UNIT: H.Q.R.A. (R.A.) [Royal Artillery] Armoured Div
DATE AND PLACE OF CAPTURE: Feb 26th 1943 El Aroussa, Tunisia
DATE AND PLACE OF FINAL ESCAPE: 9th Sept 1943, Fontanellato, near Parma Italy

2. BRIEF CIRCUMSTANCES OF CAPTURE: Was acting as I.O. [Intelligence Officer] to “Y” DW. Took important information to No 6. Commando, under our command and bivouacked in lying-up position, stayed overnight, Dawn next next morning enemy put in two Parachute BN’s [Battalion], and strong supporting arms in surprise break through right on to bivouac area. Commando took up battle and fought all morning. I stayed to do battle interrogation and was isolated with two soldiers and made a prisoner by enemy infantry and tanks. Escape impossible as all routes covered by M.G. [Machine Gun] fire and leading across open country. Tried to lie low but was located by section of Parachutists and gave order to surrender, as any other course would have been certain death without affecting the battle since the Commando had been over-run and organised resistance had ceased.


CAMP NO                                   PERIOD                                           HOW EMPLOYED
AND PLACE                                 FROM               TO

Tunis Cage                                  March 1st         March 8th
Ship for transit                          March 8th          March 16th
Campo P.G. 66                           March 17th        May 13th
Campo P.G. 49                           May 13th           Sept 9th


(N.B. Never came round to my turn. All escapes on strict routine in our camp).

[Digital page 5]

RANK: Captain


Set free by Italian Commandant, Fontanellato Camp (P.G. 49) on Sept 9th. On Sept 11th volunteered to leave main body of prisoners with one other officer and seek help and hiding with local Italian peasants. Other officer was Major G.H.D. Collins, Q.R.R. [Queen’s Royal Regiment]. Found refuge locally, resolved not to move until possible developments in war indicated best direction to strike out for. German raid on our area, in which we narrowly escaped recapture, decided us to seek safer refuge, chose an acquaintance with an apartment in Parma; who had already offered us hospitality. Stayed in his apartment seven weeks trying to organise papers or an escort to get us down to Rome; all efforts unsuccessful. Where betrayed by other occupants of tenement and narrowly escaped recapture by hiding on roof when Fascist Militia came to raid apartment. Took to streets and were picked up by other friends, came to notice of organisation “Italia Libera” who finally organised our transport to Milan.

Story continued on Appendix “C”.

DATE: 1\9\44
PLACE: Bern Switzerland

[Digital page 6]

Reference:- NO 208/4243 XC/A/048400



TYPE OF HELP GIVEN: Food, lodging, clothes Sept 11th  -Oct 6th.

TYPE OF HELP GIVEN: Clothes and personal guide to Parma. Subsequently many     small gifts.

TYPE OF HELP GIVEN: Food and lodging Oct 6th about November 21st. Repeat attempts to find us useful contacts.

TYPE OF HELP GIVEN: A few days food and lodgings.

TYPE OF HELP GIVEN: A few days food and lodgings.

[Digital page 7]


Reference:- NO 208/4243 XC/A/048400




To include:
(a) Last part of journey to Switzerland which is not mentioned in main report.
(b) Information of organisation.
(c)Escape plans in or outside camps during capitulation (This will only be given by Camp Leaders and the senior officer or N.C.O. [Non-Commissioned Officer] present in areas from each camp).

By help of organisation “ITALIA LIBERA” Parma and Milan branches, Major Collins and I were taken to Milan in a furniture van. We were passed rapidly from household to household, arriving on Dec 2nd at a factory lodge-keeper’s house where we met Lieutenant George Paterson, Parachute Regiment. He was working with organisation which arranged our escape from Milan into Switzerland, and has since arrived in Switzerland himself and given a full report of this organisation. We were given charge of about 25 British O.R.’s [Other Ranks] on Dec 3rd and all made the journey together by train, boat and on foot during night Dec 3rd/4th, crossing Swiss frontier near village of CASLINO, North-East of COMO.

[Digital page 8]

Thursday 9th Sept:   Left Camp, night in Bund.
Friday 10th Sept:   Left Bund, night at T’s
Saturday 11th Sept:   Joined by N. Set out for mountains, returned to T’s.
Sunday 12th Sept:   Day in ditch Lieutenant R. Noble
Monday 13th Sept:  As above
Tuesday 14th Sept:  Set out for Pasola to view Strada. & Railway but N. Migraine Day in ditch near G Dickens
Wednesday 15th Sept:  Decide against Mountains owing to rumours from T. & L. Day as
Tuesday (hot baths)
Thursday 16th Sept:  Too many people in above ditch so day in ditch nearer to T’s. Met Fanny 1st time; evening – marching orders from T. plan to escape Switzerland propounded.
Friday 17th Sept:   Day in Vicino awaiting instructions, met F. first time but C. quiets flap completely.
Saturday 18th Sept:  Vicino all day. All quiet.
Sunday 19th Sept:   Proceed to Bund and commenced Bouco’s
Monday 20th Sept:   as above… Bouco’s finished.
Tuesday 21st Sept:   In Vicino resting from labours but hiding-place wrecked by wind.
Wednesday 22nd Sept: Visited Bouco’s, all OK. Rained for 3 hours afternoon. Bouco’s had to be used!
Thursday 23 Sept:     At T’s all day. Ground very wet and anxious that we should not get ill. Very dull day, made our Bouco.
Friday 24th Sept:   Commenced Regugio for T.
Saturday 25th Sept:   Continued with labours – rain stopped play out midday. 20 – 30 hours warning of flap for Sunday night in hay.
Sunday 26th Sept:  Left T’s at dawn, day in Bund. Flap false, all OK at night.
Monday 27th Sept:   Rain. Polished scales re Saw F & Fern. 6 came back from S. together. (Feruccio & Fernando)
Tuesday 28th Sept:    as above… Good days both, niente flap.
Wednesday 29th Sept:  True Flap. Very narrow squeak. 9 caught !! Day in Vicino. Night in hay: one on guard.
Thursday 30th Sept: Bund at dawn: found it empty! Returned to Vicino at midday: old man brought news of our move. First stage finally at 22.30 that night.
Friday 1st Oct:    Arrived at FN’s at 07.00. Met Fly-by-night.
Saturday 2nd Oct:    Stayed put.
Sunday 3rd Oct:    As above N. developed flu. News of further captures in our last place. Visitors Lcu’ & E.
Monday 4th Oct:    N still has flu.
Tuesday 5th Oct:   N better.
Wednesday 6th Oct: Nothing. N. got up.
Thursday 7th Oct:  Visited L. & Fer. Also whiskers (v. hopeful), good day.
Friday 8th Oct:   Fly-by-night very cloak-and-dagger in house hunt.
Saturday 9th Oct:  Nothing.
Sunday 10th Oct:   Announcement in papers.
Monday 11th Oct:   Nothing.
Tuesday 12th Oct:   Nothing.

[Digital page 9]

Wednesday 13th Oct:   Suddenly cold.
Thursday 14th Oct:  Still awaiting Whiskers
Friday 15th Oct:  Nothing.
Saturday 16th Oct:  Nothing.
Sunday 17th Oct:  News of D. being taken !!
Monday 18th Oct:  Nothing.
Tuesday 19th Oct:  Fn away all day.
Wednesday 20th Oct:   Fn returned at breakfast time. Fn worried. Whiskers returned !!
Thursday 21st Oct:  Interview with Whiskers f. satis. await his next visit.
Friday 22nd Oct:   Niente.
Saturday 23rd Oct:  Niente.
Sunday 24th Oct:  Visit from another Bro. 3rd string
Monday 25th Oct:   Fn away by bus.
Tuesday 26th Oct:  Visitors with cakes and biscuits. No whiskers yet
Wednesday 27th Oct:  Fn returns and promises visitors for Friday.
Thursday 28th Oct:   Niente.
Friday 29th Oct:   L & R bring cigarettes. Uncle Joe & friend (N.B.G. I fear) Also news that Whiskers is back.
Saturday 30th Oct:   Niente.
Sunday 31st Oct:   Whiskers brings A.O.I’s and much good cheer, but very little else
Monday 1st Nov:   Niente.
Tuesday 2nd Nov:  F & T bring cigarettes, and a haircut !!
Wednesday 3rd Nov:  Niente
Thursday 4th Nov:  Whiskers 10 players only !
Friday 5th Nov :  Niente
Saturday 6th Nov:  Niente
Sunday 7th Nov:  First visit from Blackface and friend.
Monday 8th Nov:  Niente.
Tuesday 9th Nov:  Visit from Fr.
Wednesday 10th Nov:  Fr to R.E. more news of L.
Thursday 11th Nov:   Niente.
Friday 12th Nov:   Niente.
Saturday 13th Nov:  Niente.
Sunday 14th Nov:   Visit from Blackface. Fresh plan and news of Gunner & Ronnie.
Monday 15th Nov:   Noel visits the other two all settled and we just wait.
Tuesday 16th Nov:  Niente.
Wednesday 17th Nov:  Niente.
Thursday 18th Nov:  Noel said he’s like a change and we went for a walk !! Night with ugly mug and A.N. other.
Friday 19th Nov:    Day at Ugly Mug’s. Move to the best house yet in the evening.
Saturday 20th Nov:   Still at BHY as we thought lots & lots of food.

[Digital Page 10]

[Letter in Italian to Noel H Burdett, written from Fontanellato 1 May 1976]

Gentilissimo Signor Noel H. Burdett
Sono la figlia di Incerti Ferrucio che purtroppo è morto otto anni fa. Mi ha fatto nolto piacere sapere che Lei si e ricordato di mio padre, che tante volte me ne parlava. Il mio rincrescimento è di non avere La potuto vedere e conoscere personalmente. Sappi ache mio zio Nando invece è ancora in ottima salute nonostante l’eta. La contananza che ci divide difficilmente ci permettera di vederci molto presto. Communque alla prossima sua venutain Italia desiderei conoscerla personalmente.
Io abito proprio vicino all’uscita dell’autostrada cioe in Via Seletti.
Distinti Saluti
Incerti Ilde e famiglia

Saluti e auguri a le e suo compagno. Desidero tanto vedervi. Io sono vecchio e amalato. Vi ricordo sempre. Nando Incerti, Parma

[Digital Page 11]

[Handwritten letter from Noel Burdett to Geoffrey Collins dated 9th July 1978]

My dear Geoffrey,

Thought you might be interested in the enclosed, all relating to a meeting I finally managed to arrange on 20th May, at the end of a business trip to Italy, with dear old Nando.

Ferruccio died nearly 10 years ago, as you can see from his funeral notice. His daughter Ilde married a Signor Catellani, who carried on the bakery until he retired last year; now he works at it part-time.

Their daughter Carla married a cost accountant, Bergonzi. They live in Piacenza but they and their son, who is a university student, came over to Mamma’s flat in Fontanellato, calling for Nando in Parma on the way. (Nando has given up the restaurant but still

[Digital Page 12]

lives in ‘own’ apartment building, – although now on the ground floor, – in Parma). Nando’s own son is described as ‘cold’ and ‘difficult’: he was a POW in England and apparently a non-cooperative one. Nothing, apparently, would have persuaded him to join in an occasion such as this. Nando is a widower.

Maria, who covered our Graces so fantastically, married and had a family. She lives near Bologna, white-haired and serene. Ferruccio’s widow, who used to bring us cigarettes, is still alive and well: she telephoned in from somewhere during the party and she and I had a long conversation.

Nando was never ‘capped’ for helping us, but somebody denounced Ferruccio and he spent six months in prison, suffering a broken shoulder in the process, from which he never fully recovered.

[Digital Page 13]

Our Italian manager, Alberto Fasola, drove me down the motorway to Fontanellato and stayed with us. The ‘autostrada del sole’ runs very close to Fontanellato: we met the family at the exit and Ilde insisted on being hostess. She’d prepared a very fine feast, and it went on for a long time!

Before it started, Bergonzi, Alberto and I visited the old inner-village of F. I was amazed to find myself visiting a superb, moated Rocca, the home of the Sarritale family for centuries until quite recently! Never knew it existed, did you? Just a mere 500 yards West of our ‘orfanotrofio’.

Nando asked frequently after you. I told him you were well and brought him up to date as well as I could, promising him I would let you know all about our meeting. He doesn’t seem to lack for anything. I’ve promised to get him some English high-necked sweaters, – that seemed to be all he wanted. He’s just 84.

[Digital Page 14]

We ought to meet sometime!
There’s so much to talk about that it’s impossible to begin writing it down it letters.
These photographs are for you to keep.
Much love to Jean and best of wishes to you and the children.

As ever,

[Digital page 15]


Thirty-five years ago this 49 year old ’trattoria’ – owner housed the escaped British officers, Major Geoffrey Collins and Captain Noel Burdett, for six weeks in his apartment in Parma, high above the little ground-floor restaurant from which food was carried up to them twice a day.

Finally they fled on to the roof just in time to escape a search by the young thugs of the neo-fascist milizia. (This was their third narrow escape, and there were two more to come before they bathed their frost-bitten feet in a Swiss army billet in the Ticinese village of Brusella on the morning of Saturday, 4th December, 1943.)

The two Englishmen, after a few rain-wet hours behind a dormer-window on that roof, decided to risk a return to the apartment. There they learned from Maria, a cousin of Nando’s who helped him and lived with the family, that she with great presence of mind had scattered their things about the apartment, in drawers and boxes, so that the Milizia noticed nothing when they ‘searched’ it.

Meanwhile the alarmed Nando, understandably, had taken to the streets. So did they, and miraculously they bumped into him in the dark, foggy night. Captain Burdett had remembered the way to another safe house which he had visited with Nando, also in a fog, some evenings before.

This last meeting with Nando took place on a bridge. Frightened as he was, not so much for his own safety as for his family, he tried to make them come back with him. When they refused to expose him to worse risk, he pressed on them all the money he happened to have in his pockets.

Two years later, after the end of the war in Europe, Burdett drove down to Lombardy on a mission from Westphalia and briefly visited Nando in Parma.

Noel H Burdett 20th May, 1978

[Digital Page 16]

[Italian translation of the previous page]


Trenta cinque anni fa, questo proprietario di trattoria nell’età1 di 49 anni ospitava gli ufficiali britannici scapati, il Maggiore Geoffrey Collins e il Capitano Noel Burdett, durante sei settimani nel suo apertamente in Parma, che stava al di sopra del piccolo ristorante nel piano terrene, da dove due volte al giorno pasti caldi ci erano portati.

Finalmente gli ufficiali dovettero fugire sul tetto del allogio per evitare une ricerca di sorpresa dai giovani scellerati della milizia neo-fascista.(Questa era la loro terza miracolosa fuga, e dovevano essercene ancora due prima che essi potessero lavare i piedi gelati in un accampamento dell1 esercito svizzero nel villagio ticinese di Brusella nell matino di Sabato 4 dicembre, 1943)

I due inglesi, dopo qualche ora sotto la pioggia in un nascondiglio dietro un abbaino, si decidevano ad azzardare un ritorno all’apertamente, La, venivano a sapere dalla Ida, una cugina di Nando che la aiutava e abitava colla sua famiglia, che lei con un sangue freddo ammirevole aveva disperso la loro roba in cassetti e armadi, di modo che la milizia non noto nulla durante la ‘ icerca1.

Nel frattempo il Nando spaventato, naturalmente, era fuggito in strada. Anche loro fecero cosi, e miracolosamente lo incontrarono nella tenebrosa e nebbiosa notte. Il Cap. Burdett si ricordava il tragitto a un1 altra casa sicura che aveva visitato con Nando, ancora nella nebbia, qualche sera prima.

Spaventato r ai-, era, non tante per la sua incolumità quanto per quella della sua famiglia, egli tento di farlo ritornare con lui. Quando essi refiutarono di esporlo a rischi peggiori, egli consegno loro tutto il denaro che egli aveva nelle tasche.

Due anni piu tardi, dopo la fine della guerra in Europa Burdett titorno in Lombardia in missione dalla Vestfalia e visito brevemente Nando Incerti in Parma.
20 May 1978  Noel H Burdett

[Digital page 17]

FONTANELLATO    Sat, 20th May 1978

Met and had lunch with:-
Signora Ilde Catellani: (nata Incerti, daughter of late Ferricio Incerti).
Signor Catellani: her husband, a retired baker.
Cav. Fernando Incerti: her uncle.
Signora Carla Bergonzi Catellani: her daughter.
Signor Bergonzi: her daughter’s husband.
Signor Bergonzi: her grandson.
Alberto Fasola.

[Black and white photograph of Incerti Ferruccio with the caption “N. 21-7-1891 M. 5-10-1968]

[Black and white photograph with caption] : Lavoro bontà onestà furono le sue principali doti. Fu sua gioia e gloria la famiglia cui donò la sue preziosa esistenza. La moglie, le figlie, I generi, I nipoti, I Fratelli, la sorella, le cognate, il cognato e i parenti tutti. 

[Digital page 18]

[Letter from Noel Burdett to Signor Ilde Catellani, 22 settembre 1978]

Signora Ilde Catellani, 22 settembre 1978

Cara Signora,
Hi finalmente ricevuto le fotografie scattate durante la Bellissima giornato che abbiamo passato in vostra compagnia il 20 maggio.
Le sono molto grato per tutte le cortesie che Lei ci ha usato, e Le rinnovo i più sinceri complimenti per la  riuscitissima colazione. É stato un vero piacere conoscere anche gli altri component della sua famiglia che ho trovato simpaticissimi.
Mi augur oche avremo presto l’opportunità di revederci e gradisca nel frattempo, cara Signora, I miei più cordiali saluti, anche ai Suoi famigliari.
Noel Burdett

[Digital page 19]


Ex ufficiale inglese ritrova la famiglia che lo salvò nel 1943

Ci sono voluti ben 35 anni prima che un inglese avesse la soddisfazione di incontrarsi con una famiglia di Fontanellato che lo salvò nelle giornate successive all’armistizio dell’8 settembre 1943. La vicenda è singolare e vaie la pena di essere raccontata. Al momento dell’armistizio italiano, esisteva a Fontanellato un campo di prigionia inglesi presidiato dall’esercito italiano.

In quella circostanza due ufficiali inglesi, un maggiore e il capitano Noel Burdett, approfittarono della confusione per tentare la fuga e il piano riuscì grazie a un generoso paesano di nome Catellani che trovò il sistema per nasconderli con vari travestimenti presso un amico, Ferruccio Incerti. Questi dopo qualche tempo provvide a nascondere i due inglesi, in barba ai nazifascisti che intanto avevano preso il potere in paese come altrove, accompagnandoli a Parma dal fratello Nando, che era in tretto contatto con i partigiani attraverso i quali i due ufficiali inglesi riuscirono poi a riparare in Svizzera nascondendosi in due bidoni di carbonella (allora usata come combustibile per i camion) durante un falso trasloco.

Noel Burdett è venuto a Fontanellato dopo 35 anni ed ha chiesto della famiglia Catellani, ma non c’era nessuno in casa in quell’occasione. Così l’inglese lasciò un biglietto col proprio indirizzo. I Catellani gli scrissero inviando il loro, numero telefonico, il che consentì al Burdett di mettersi in contatto dall’Inghilterra per un incontro a Fontanellato.

Questo incontro è finalmente avvenuto dopo sette lustri da quei tragici giorni di guerra e si è concluso attorno ad una tavola imbandita che ha visto riuniti i Catellani e l’ex capitano memore della salvezza ricevuta grazie a loro. La vicenda

dimostra ancora una volta che l’amicizia fiorita nella sventura non può essere facilmente cancellata.

[Digital page 20]



35 years had to pass before an Englishman had the pleasure of again meeting a family from Fontanellato which saved him during the days following the armistice of 8th September, 1943. The incident is unusual and it is a story worth telling. At the time of the Italian armistice there was a camp of English prisoners guarded by the Italian army in Fontanellato.

Two English officers, a Major and Captain Noel Burdett, took advantage of the confusion to try to escape, and the plan succeeded thanks to a kindly local man named Catellani who found a way of hiding them in civilian dress in the home of a friend, Ferruccio Incerti. These two then after keeping the two Englishmen hidden for some time, under the noses of the Nazi fascist troops which meanwhile had taken over power in our region as elsewhere, took them to Parma to the care of Ferruccio’s brother Nando, who was in close contact with partisans. With their help these two English officers then succeeded in escaping to Switzerland hidden in two charcoal drums (charcoal was used at that time as a fuel for lorries) during a feigned removal.

Noel Burdett came to Fontanellato after 35 years and asked after the family Catellani, but nobody was at home on that occasion. The Englishman therefore left a note with his own address. The Catellani’s wrote to him sending their telephone number, and this permitted Burdett to resume contact from England to fix up a meeting at Fontanellato.

This meeting finally took place after three and a half decades had passed since those tragic times of war, and the meeting place was a copiously laden dinner table around which were reunited the Catellani’s and the ex-Captain conscious of the rescue which he had enjoyed thanks to them.

The incident demonstrates once again that friendship borne of shared adversity cannot easily be wiped out.

10th January, 1979 N.H.B.

[Digital page 21]

[Letter from Noel Burdett to Cav Fernando Incerti, 22 settembre 1978]
Mio caro Nando,
Ti prego scusare il lungo silenzio dopo la meravigliosa visita del 20 maggion a Fontanellato. Il mio servizio fotografico é stato ritadato dal fotografo, ma ora posso allegare le fotografie che ho fatto in quella occasione.
Esse sono un ricordo spendide di una Bellissima giornata finalmente passata insieme rievicando cari ricordi del passato.
Ho anche scritto alla Signora Ilde che così gentilmente ci ha ospitati. Spero che avremo l’opportunità di incontrarci molto presto e in tale attesa ti abbracio con l’affetto di sempre.
Tuo, Noel.

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