Campbell, Peter


Peter Campbell was serving with the South African Air Force when he was shot down behind German lines. Peter describes in graphic detail the appalling treatment he suffered in Italian PoW camps in North Africa, before being transported to Italy in the torpedo tubes of a submarine. After spells in Bari and Modena camps, Peter Campbell escaped with Bill Swan after the Armistice and, despite illness and starvation, they managed to find their way rapidly to Allied lines.

The assistance they received from local people during their journey was in marked contrast to the treatment in the PoW camps. This account is remarkable for the depth of detail assisted by the diary that forms the bulk of the story, the constant danger they were in, and the vivid and tragic descriptions of the suffering of PoWs. This account can be read in conjunction with that of his colleague Bill Swan.

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.

[Editor’s note: Peter Campbell’s file comprises four distinct sections, which run chronologically. They do not however join up. Certain pages start or stop in the middle of a sentence, and occasionally dates do not run chronologically in the original. Also in the original file, but not published on this website, are letters between Keith Killby and Campbell’s family about Peter’s actions during WW2. If you wish to consult these please contact the Monte San Martino Trust.

1 – Diary Entries 1942

[Section 1 – Diary entries 1942 – digital pages 1-11]

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On November 24th 1942: I sat writing to the family – Brenda, Duds and Desmond at Tmini, Sat. 1 was not feeling particularly happy about life, no one is when “standing by for an op”. ‘Tis not a pleasant occupation. Then into the mess tent came Tiny – and said “Peter you and Dick must leave for Msuse immediately, so as to be able to carry out the evening and dawn Tac R. Funnily enough as I left the tent to collect my kit Trev, Olive and Dennis shouted out “Can we have your camera?” I wonder what they felt like when I didn’t return?

[Handwritten marginal note by Keith Killby] Written in Prison Camp.

The weather was not so good as there was 7/10ths cloud and raining. Murray decided to come to Msuse with us as he wanted to see how the advanced Flight and Curly were doing – I was not flying my own machine – as it did not have the extra-long tanks fitted – so had to take one of the new machines, Dick the same. My take-off from Tmini was foul as usual – and the trip down was un-eventful except Dick would not keep up and it rained like hell.

On arriving at Msuse we found four squadrons of Spits, what a grand sight – but unfortunately, they could not operate because of lack of fuel and the front line too far. Good old Flight Smith met me in the lorry – he was my mechanic in Abyssinia. We then went up to Curly’s tent had some tea! and were “briefed” for the evening Tac.R but Murray decided (to my great relief) that it would be better to leave it out and combine both the next day – then Murray left to go back to Tmini.

It was while I was sitting talking to Curly and Dick that Shorty Regan appeared – he had only Just arrived up from the Union and converted to “Spits” and joined “One Squadron”. It was grand seeing him again (old Peg Leg) and he had a couple of drinks with me and dinner and then went back to his Squadron – as I was having to get up early – we decided to continue our talk when I got back from my »Op”. Little did I think how long we would have to wait. That night was terribly cold and I slept at the back of Curly’s truck.

At 4 o’clock on the 25th Nov. Smithy woke me and told me coffee was ready and that the “Micks” were ready to light the flare path – so Dick and I swallowed our coffee and had our last chat – I was to do the Tac.R and he was to weave on my tail – then trouble started – my aircraft wouldn’t start – and it kept us waiting until there was hardly any need for the flare path. We wanted so badly to get to Agheila just when the sun was up so as to do this area before the M.E.’s 109 were awake – but it wasn’t until 6 o’clock that we got off. I set course for the “Bay of Serte”. We hit the coast well up towards Agebaba – I then struck West as I could see my compass was out – I climbed up to 8000ft. and on reaching the coast at Agheila – put the nose down and did a fair speed down the Agheila line to Maurader – very little ack-ack but fair movement on the road – down to Maurader I was then at about 50ft and was receiving a little light ack-ack. Now trouble started in a big way – as my maps blew out and I had to hand the job over to Dick – whether he received my message or not I cannot tell as he did not answer – but anyway he was leading and I was on his tail. He took over about half-way back from Maurader to Agheila and was flying bloody low over their positions, when we reached the Agheila-Bengazi road.

I spotted two M.E.109’s but they were heading west at a good speed at about 7000ft up – Thank God! What Dick was up to now I could not make out – and still don’t know! He was at about 100ft going like hell and like a fool at a rate of about 260 Mph – his wireless was either not working or he wasn’t receiving me. So I also pulled every-thing and passed him – and just as I did was hit by light ack-ack (2 cms) in the engine and cockpit. I hit the ground at about 170 mph -tore the wing – bounded again tearing bits off everywhere until I came to rest – Oh! how I prayed at that moment that perhaps I was in our territory – although I knew I wasn’t – I still prayed – my straps broke in the crash and I was out of the aircraft in a second and having carried out a “good scorched earth policy” ran like mad towards our lines- had not got more than a quarter of a mile when Jerry opened up with a machine gun – just over my head – then to the left and right of me, so I knew the game was up and I was a prisoner. Oh! what a terrible feeling that is – just utter despair and loneliness – just as if the end of the world has come.

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Having come to a sudden halt after being fired at, I turned round still with my hands up and waited until a party of Germans reached me in a “Volks Wagen”. The next part was rather amusing although I did not think so at the time. A Jerry Officer got out of the car and came up to me and said:
J.O: Oh! I see you are a South African (he saw my red tabs), what part do you come from Cape Town, Jo’burg or Durban?
Self: I come from Durban.
J.O: Oh! I don’t know Durban so well, Cape Town is my town, I was at University there for four years. I am sorry but it is your bad luck that you are my prisoner. Have you any papers on you or letters?
Self: No
J.O: I shall search you.
Self: Carry on.

This conversation took place only 5 kilos from our lines and he spoke in perfect English. He then took me back to the remains of my aircraft and said he wanted to take a photo of me – as he said he would send a copy to me when he returned victorious to the union! I was terribly fed up with life and should very much like to see that photo. After that he took me to his gun position and gave me a drink of Cognac (Brandy), told me to sit down, gave me a blanket and then offered me a cigarette – which I could hardly hold as I had started to shake – nerves after the crash had started.

I stayed here with him until about 10.30 – he then told me he was sending me to his H.Q. where I would be questioned and then sent to “Germany”. Hell I won’t forget those words in a hurry – “Germany”. He shouted orders in German which I couldn’t understand – and shortly a lad of about 18 years old arrived in a motor-bike and side-car – the J.O. then wished me goodbye and said ‘please for your own good don’t try and escape, as this lad has just become a Cpl. and now carries a Luger (which I saw) and is longing to use it!! I was then on my way to H.Q.

What the German Officer talked about while I was with him – 1. He had been on the Russian front – and said the Russians were terrible. 2. Their art was wonderful. 3. Did not worry about losses. 3. The British were good sportsmen and we should be fighting together 4. He did not like the Japs and hated the Italians and said how lucky I was not in Italian hands as they had no idea how to treat prisoners. 5. He said he thought the war would go on for another four years (I nearly cried). 6. He was quite sure they were going to evacuate North Africa because the Italian Navy was so weak. 7. What did I think of Rommel? 8. He was surprised about the strength of the British in North Africa. 9. He said he had been on leave during one of our 1000 Bomber raids and the damage had been very little.

Now to continue my P.O.W. life. The journey in the side-car was uneventful except the German Cpl. would not stop fiddling with his revolver and drove as if he was possessed. After an hour’s drive through their front lines – where I saw very little and made mental notes of whatever I saw in case I got away (I saw only three tanks). We came to H.Q. where I was cross-examined – What is your job? – why do you fly? – how long have you been in the desert, etc., etc. Then when I said I would not answer these questions, they said ‘but we know all about you – you did not destroy your papers properly.’ I said ‘well if you know everything, why ask me?’ They then laughed and gave me a cup of tea. The Germans were always most polite and treated you as an Officer – all the privates saluting before addressing – how unlike the “Bloody Ities”.

At approx. 12.30 I was sent to Marble Arch ‘Drome where I was piled into a “Focker Wulf Condor” a four-engined German machine which until then I did know they were using in the Western Desert. It is a fine machine (not this one!!!) and very heavily armed – we took off at about 1.30 p.m., I having two guards to look after me. Two hours later two engines failed and we were losing height rapidly. Phew!! I just didn’t panic – no, I had a very peculiar feeling of just not worrying as I thought the end had come and I now realise why men are brave – what else can one do under the circumstances – nothing – so I sat just waiting for the crash. It was to be the second in one day – would it be the last – no. I must take my hat off to the pilot – he managed to keep height and as he told me later it took him 70 miles to turn.

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When we turned my hopes rose – would we come down in our lines? When at last we reached the African coast again, I saw we were heading for Agheila in the ‘Bay of Serte’ – but my luck was out – or I thought- so at that moment – but I was lucky we didn’t come down in the seas as I had no ‘Mae West’. We at last came down next to an Italian advanced Drome – a squadron of M.200 and Stukas. The Jerry pulled off a good forced landing – amongst tents and screaming Ities. From that moment approx. 4.30 p.m. on the 25th November 1942 I was taken over by the “Bloody Ities” and until I reached this camp on the 29th January 1943 I was treated like a dog.

After getting out of the Condor the Jerry pilot came up to me and told me he was very sorry. But I would now have to become an Italian prisoner – I now know why he was so sorry for me. I walked about 6 miles that afternoon with four Italian guards going from one H.Q. to another being questioned at each place –until at 6 o’clock we arrived back at the Squadron I had left and here I just said I wouldn’t move another inch – as I was tired – bloody cold and hungry – during the afternoon I had seen nothing of interest, no guns, very few minefields – and their transport seemed to be nil. If only I could get back with this news, I would have done the finest Tac.R of my life!

7.30 p.m. 26 November 1942

After having been given a tin of Itie bully and a drink of cognac I was taken to a tent, put inside and told to take off my shoes, socks and pants – this just left me in a thin khaki shirt. I asked for some blankets, but the swine just laughed and said “Prisoners no blankets. “Oh! God I was cold – imagine being just in your shirt on a winter’s night in the desert. But funnily enough I slept for several hours just dead beat as I had had a long and strange day. I did not intend to sleep –but just could not help it. I woke at 12.30 p.m., stiff, tired and very miserable and decided to escape. There were only two guards outside the tent and as far as I could tell, they were both asleep as there was not a sound coming from them. Clothes were my great handicap-as I have said before, they took my trousers and socks and shoes away from me, but still I decided that this would not hold me. Oh! how desperate I felt – I lay listening for several minutes and then crept out of the back of the tent. If they woke up and tried to shoot me, I was going to say I was going for a pee – but no – they did not wake and I was once again “FREE” (Oh! to be that now). The weather was bad, drizzling and unluckily no moon, I say unluckily no moon because I had no compass and was relying on the moon to pick out familiar landmarks. What a sorry sight I must have made, wandering about clad only in a shirt. I did not stop walking and jog-trotting all night – suddenly coming across a tent and running like hell away from it – this went on until day-light. At dawn to my horror I was still well in German lines – tents were scattered all round me – I walked on, now being able to see where I was. During the night I must have been wandering North, South and East – more or loss in a large circle. My feet by this time were in a shocking condition – cold and bleeding. Why I did not give myself up immediately, I cannot say – I see now what little hope I had of trying to get through the German front line clad only in a shirt! But still one must remember my only “thought” was to get away somehow – but unluckily my “freedom” was short-lived. Not more than 20 minutes later I was halted by a “Itie gun sentry” and what could I do but give myself up again. So at about 7.30 a.m. on the morning of the 26th November 1942 I was again a P.O.W. in the hands of the “Bloody Ities”.

The Itie that picked me up thought I was a “Mad Englishee” and called all his pals to see me – before marching me off to his Officer. God I could have killed “the lot” the way they laughed – they would not give me a blanket to cover myself and if one knows how cold the W.D. is in the mid-winter one can imagine how I felt.

I will not go into detail of what befell me before I eventually reached the camp I made my escape from, as it was just one long laugh and jib at my expense. Oh! what rejoicing there was when I arrived at the camp I had broken from, I was put in another tent and had four guards to guard me now. They would give me no food or water – or cigarettes – my own cigarettes were very low as I had smoked very heavily the day before. At about 3 in the afternoon my clothes were given back to me and I was taken before an Itie Major and told in very broken English that I would be leaving in a few minutes for Tripoli. Would I please not try and escape again. If I tried, they said things would be most unpleasant for me.

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I said things could not be more unpleasant than they are now. I asked again for food but was told I would get food at the P.O.W. camp I would spend the night at. I thought I would have a special car or truck to take me – but no, we (four guards) and myself walked to the main Tripoli-Benghazi road where we stood and waited for a lift. We were there for at least an hour before a huge diesel lorry and trailer stopped and picked us up. Before I continue on my journey to Tripoli, I must tell you that while we were waiting on the side of the road many Jerry trucks, comparatively empty, passed us, but all refused to have anything to do with my Itie guards. We bumped and swung along the road, until 7.30 p.m. that night, then pulled up for the night beside the road. I was told to get under the trailer (I was still clad only in my khaki shirt, slacks, shoes and socks). I asked for a blanket and food – the answer I got was ‘Englishee nova blanketa nova mangiare”(food) domani’(sic). Oh! was I soon to learn the words Domani and Mangiare. What a night I spent, I slept at intervals through sheer fatigue, only to waken stiff with cold. I had now come to the end of my cigarettes – and could get none off my guards – so one can imagine what a night I spent. Oh! God how I prayed for the dawn – escape was useless – for one thing my feet couldn’t have taken it – and another – four to one – and although they were Ities, they had guns and were furious with me for getting away the night before. They took no chances – but at least I had the satisfaction of knowing they didn’t get much sleep that night. The third day of being a P.O.W. dawned and thank God the sun shone and there was not a cloud in the sky.

27th November

Still no food, but I managed to get a drink before we started to climb on the lorry. It was still very cold but the sun was out – but God how hungry I was. The lorry was travelling at a terrific speed and the trailer was swaying badly. While we were doing a good 50 mph along the straight road just before entering “Serte”, the lorry skidded off the road and turned over. I was not hurt, just slightly bruised, but unfortunately my guards were not hurt either!! The Ities however in the trailer were badly cut up and two were killed, but funnily enough it did not affect me in any way – and I really wished that the whole Bloody issue had been killed. I was amazed at the way the Ities went about after this accident – some were crying, others laughing. I must admit I had my first laugh – which was really relief at seeing them in a mess instead of myself. None of them knew anything about Red Cross (I mean First Aid – I have Red Cross on the brain) and I saw some horrible sights and the one rat had his leg off as the tyre had come off and the rim had gone over his leg, another his head squashed In. All they did for them was to give than Cognac. It was while all this was going on that I pinched a packet of cigs off one of the Ities who was too far gone to worry. Oh! did those cigarettes taste good. We spent about four hours beside the road waiting for another lift – when we were at last picked up by the same type of lorry. We carried on in this until we reached “Serte” I saw nothing of interest on the trip and the Axis seemed still very short of transport, as they were using trucks as trailers in great numbers. They were mostly going West. Was their retreat on? No such luck. When we arrived at “Serte” I found it was entirely populated by Italians, I was taken and questioned again and stared at, and then placed in a small fort. By the way I wrote my name all over the wall for something to do!! I was still desperately hungry and still no food came forth. I was now getting to the stage where I could have killed anybody for food. I spent until about 4.30 p.m. here and then an Italian. Major came who spoke English and asked me to send off a Post-Card to my family – name, rank etc., and that I was not wounded and was a Prisoner of War in Italian hands and was being treated well!!! So I told him I would write it out if he would send me in some food and water, so he said I was not to worry, as in a few hours I would be in a P.O.W. cage with a lot of our infantry who had been captured the night before and where I would get a good meal. I told him he was talking a lot of Bull – and that they hadn’t captured any of our troops and didn’t have a hope of doing so. I also told him the war was over for him as he would soon be captured; as he wouldn’t be able to get away as Jerry would take all his transport like he did at Alamein. He did not like this and walked out – leaving me still with no food. At 5 o’clock my guards came in and said we were moving again and that we were only going a few miles to a P.O.W. cage

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so off we set walking – hell, were my feet giving me hell. At about 8 o’clock we arrived at the cage – we must have walked about 6 or 7 miles. Here I was again searched and put into the cage, which was a square about 100 yards square and at least 100 tents in it – and myself the only prisoner. God did I feel lonely and cold.

I crawled into one of the tents and sat in the dark thinking ‘how can I get out?’ when I heard a row outside the cage and someone swearing in English. Then a chap came crawling into my tent. “A Stooge”. He said he was a French Canadian belonging to the LRDG and had been captured the night before on a raid party behind the Jerry lines. Thank God I remembered reading that little book about not talking to strange P.O.W.’s. The next thing was he was taken out to be searched, anyway he came back with a half a leaf of bread, which we shared, – he was quite clever as he let me do the talking. So I just asked him all about his job, which I must admit he knew his part well. But all he told me were of past successes of the LRDG who anybody might know of – and besides he was far too keen on cursing the Ities. He said his name was Jock –Allan. He asked me if I had any plans of escape, so I told him it was only natural, but thought I had little hope of doing so from here -with four guards just outside – he then said he was tired and wanted to sleep. How he succeeded in doing so I cannot tell, as I was far too cold and hungry, but at least the bastard had some cigarettes which he gave me saying he didn’t smoke much. Another terrible night.

November 28th

Another sunny day thank God and we sat outside in the sun. It wasn’t long before a guard came and told me he wanted my shoes, so I told him to go to the devil. But it was useless as he just pointed his bayonet at me and I meekly took them off and he strutted off with them and came back with a horrible old pair of Itie boots. About an hour later they came to take “the Stooge” away and just before he left he asked me to give him my squadron number and O.C.’s name as he was trained in escape. So anything for peace so I told him I was 8 Squadron and my O.C. was Maj. Johnstone (neither existed) so he replied ‘Hell, why didn’t you tell me before? I met him In Cairo once!’ It was my turn to laugh. He was then driven away in an Itie car so he got no news from me and I hope by now he is six feet under. God knows how a man can stoop so low. Little did I know that another one was going to be the cause of a failure of a “well planned escape”. Towards afternoon I was taken by four guards to the main road where we were to “hitch-hike” to Tripoli. We had the same trouble in trying to stop a truck and it wasn’t until about 4.30.p.m. that we managed it. I was piled on to a very crowded truck and sat in the centre of a filthy mob of Ities. I had never in my life come across such filth – they did not now worry to stop the truck to relieve themselves but just did it leaning over the edge and one can imagine what the wind did, also their aim was far from good. We travelled like this until 7.30 p.m. when we reached Musuarate. Here I spent a very uncomfortable night in a small cell with still no food or blankets but I did manage to get some water and a mattress, but when morning came, I wished I had never seen the mattress as I was covered in lice.

November 29th

We started off at about 9.30 a.m. for Tripoli, hitch-hiking as usual. Nothing very much happened on the way except more filth and much jeering – God how I hate these Ities. At about 4 p.m. we arrived in Tripoli – the city I had heard so much about, and the place where the Squadron were going to give things such a bang. Well, at least I was the first of the squadron to reach the cursed city I was taken to the Ities H.Q. where I was taken before a Colonel to be questioned – what a bastard this man was. By this time, I was so hungry I didn’t care what I said and I told him exactly what had befallen me since I had been captured, and said how sorry I was that I had. been unable to remain a German Prisoner, as they at least gave one food and water and treated one as a human being. His reply to this was that I would receive food when I had been questioned. So I told him that I had given my number and rank and I did not intend to say any more. He then said I had to give my squadron number and if I did not tell them, they would be unable to communicate with the Red Cross, to let my next-of-kin know I was safe, so I said I would not do this. So he went off the deep-end and then told the guards to put me in the prisoners’ cell and that I would be given food the following day when the question had been answered. So after saying I would contact the Red Cross authorities at my first opportunity, I was placed in the cell. Another very unpleasant and cold night. Next morning at dawn I was taken out of the cell, put in a lorry and taken 19 kilos back on the Tripoli-Benghazi road

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and placed in a small fort which looked like what you imagined a fort to be after reading P.C. Wren’s books. So on the morning of the 30th November I received my first meal since I had been a P.O.W. in Italian hands. It consisted of rice and water and a half a very small Italian loaf of bread.

[illegible] P.O.W. Camp; In this camp there were three Officers, 6 British ORs, 34 South African Natives and about 150 Indians. The British Officers consisted of Fl.Lt Hodgson (and his Sergt. Observer), a British Tank Cpl, 2 Lt, myself and six Tommies. Hodgson had been shot down a few days before me in a Beau Fighter whilst straffing a drome near Sfax. The tank had been captured at Fuku. There was no room for me in the one cell with the other two officers so I had to go and live with the natives for two days and nights in the underground cells. It was rather funny sharing a double decker-bed with a native. Our ration-for the month I was in Tripoli was half a loaf and two small billy-cans of rice and water per day. I don’t ever wish to be so hungry in my life again or so cold, as we still had only one blanket. A more miserable month I have never spent. We had no books, cards or paper and pencil. The natives were wonderful to me and gave me a bush jacket to put over my torn shirt and while I wrapped myself in a blanket they washed my pants and socks. But amazingly enough they were very fit and cheerful after the terrible times they had been through, such as working at the docks of Benghazi, Tobruk and Tripoli while our bombers were at work. But the poor Indians were in a frightful state. We only had one W.C. which everybody used, including the Ities. And it was here that I realised how really filthy they are, as an Itie W.C. is just a hole in the cement and these dirty rats did not have the decency to pass what they wanted down the hole, but sat facing the hole and just did it all over the floor. Paper was unheard of and they used old bits of cigarette paper, pieces of stick etc. The poor Indians were in such a state with dysentery that some of them could not make the W.C. owing to being so weak, that they did it on the floor and in their beds. Well, two days later I joined the other Officers in the upstairs cells which was much better. There I got to know Hodge, the Canadian F/Lt. I did not get to know the Tank lad as he left us to go to Italy a few days after I joined them. Which reminds me he owes me a pound – as he bet me we would be re-captured by our troops before the Ities could get us away. Poor chap was very fed up when the Ities took him away. Before I go on I must explain how our hopes ran on being re-captured – you see we spent the day watching through the grills of our cell, the main Tripoli road, to see if the panic had started, or if we could see any of our own aircraft. As we saw so many Itie and Jerry transport planes leaving and arriving at the drome near us. It is amazing how when you are a P.O.W. you get into the habit of bluffing yourself about the position of the Army and their next move. I know perfectly well that our troops had no intention of breaking the Agheila line until about the 15th December and yet here we were hoping at each dawn that we would see the Air Force above and the infantry and tanks at the prison gates. Little did we know how long we would have, or the disappointments and hardships we would have to go through.

On the night of the 5th December at about 8 o’clock Major Johnstone of the long range desert group arrived. We thought he was a stooge as he was dressed in well-creased battle-dress, shaved and his hair well groomed. So we told the O.R’s not to talk too much and to say nothing about our hope of the troops re-capturing us. But the poor old major was too far gone and all he wanted was sleep – so we left him to it. Next morning we got his story and I somehow think that he had not much savvy. Apparently, he had set out from Kufrua with three trucks loaded with tea, sugar and coffee to operate behind Jerry and find out about his transport, movement etc. and the tea etc., was to give to friendly Arabs. But had been ground/straffed in the sandy sea, lost his transport, so he decided to do the rest on foot- but got lost, then picked up by Arabs, who had fed and watered him but who would not hide him because they were too frightened of the Ities as they had murdered many of them for hiding British Pilots and LRDGs. Before. So with a full water bottle and no food the Major set out for the desert and from there he was going to make for our lines.

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But on reaching the outskirts of ‘Serte’ curiosity had got the better of him and he decided to have a look-see. But a Britisher can get away with a lot but not walking right into an enemy town in British uniform. Anyway, he walked straight into an armed guard and was made a prisoner, so he ended up with us. But I must say he gave us a good few laughs, as he hated the Ities and made no bones about it. His only fault and a bad one was that he had a huge appetite and went as far as to be caught by us stealing half a loaf from one of the natives. But I managed to get it back by taking his issue the following day and giving it to the boy, but it nearly broke his heart and I don’t think he will ever forgive me for it, but many things shook me then which I laugh at now. It was here in this camp when I for the first time in my life realised what hunger was. And it was the first time I ever saw human beings rushing and pushing to get the chance to scrape a pot to get the last morsel of food out. And it was here that I ate grass for the first time and liked it. And found out that a man’s character shows up best when he is hungry. And also you find a true friend.

December 6th

We awoke to find the new P.O.W. was no stooge but just a hungry and sadly disillusioned Englishman.

Plans of Escape.
There now’ being Maj. Johnstone, Fl/Lt. Hodgson, his sergeant, and myself in one cell – all made our plans of escape. We decided that midnight was the best time to attempt and we were going to do the following. You see we were locked in our cell at five in the evening – with only the one guard outside who unlocked the cell for us when we wanted to go to the W.C. We made a dummy revolver out of wood and a piece of piping from the bed – and a Jerry hand signal for stopping lorries from cardboard and a stick which we were going to hold a lorry up with on the main road. I cut up my only blanket to wrap round my heavy Itie. The rest we cut into small strips to bind the guard with. I had also arranged with the native sergeant to leave four water bottles on his cell window – which being an underground cell we could reach from the outside of the Fort. The next thing to work out was when to attempt it. We wanted to leave it as long as possible so as to allow our troops to get as near as possible – but we daren’t leave it too long as we didn’t know how long it would be before we were to be sent over to the dreaded Italy. But that day it was decided for us – as a Capt. Richards arrived in the camp, who claimed he was a LRDG chap and he certainly caught us all napping. At first, I didn’t trust him as I was beginning to be suspicious of all newcomers. But then Major Johnstone came to me and said he was quite genuine, and he could vouch for him, said he knew numbers of chaps in the LRDG. But It still worried me. How could a pure cockney be a captain in the LRDG – but I must admit he seemed very genuine. It pays never to trust anybody while you are a P.O.W. Well, it was decided to leave it for two days and make our break on the night of the third day. Well, we did this. Oh, how slowly the days went, and God how hungry we were. Hogs and I spent the days playing “Battle Ships” on the wall. The rest of the time we spent taking lice out of our clothes. At last our night of action arrived and the stage set. I was to go to the door at about midnight, rattle the lock and when the guard came, was to pull him through the door where the others were waiting to gag and bind him. Then we were going to get over the wall in the eastern corner where there was no outside guard. They changed guards every four hours so our escape would not be made known for four hours and by then we hoped to be many miles away. But owing to Capt. Richard being a “Stooge” this is what happened.

At about 8 o’clock. The courtyard of the fort was filled with Ities, and the door of our cell opened – and in came about a dozen Ities with the Itie Commandant and an Itie who said he was the Italian Interpreter. The next few minutes I shall never forget. The Ities stood inside the cell and surrounded us. Then in very bad English the Interpreter Said, ‘I am sorry but we have had orders to “shoot you” according to rank. He meant to say “SEARCH” you according to rank. I have never in my life felt so utterly hopeless. At first I thought they couldn’t do such a thing – and then I remembered the terrible things they had done in Poland, Greece, and what the Jerries had done to the Jews. It was just at that moment we found out that Capt. Richards was a “Stooge” because he stepped forward and said “don’t worry he means search and I’ll go first” – we never saw him again. We were stripped and searched and then locked back in cell – and so came to a quick end our hope of Escape.

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And I was now left with no blanket, so spent the night skipping to keep warm – God, what a night. Anyway, this taught us never to trust anyone, and I haven’t since then. On the following day, the 9th December, Wing-Comm. Bragg arrived. He had been shot down in his Beau-Fighter when strafing the “Serte” road. He came down about five miles out to sea and had to swim in. He lost his observer when they hit the water. He was not in very good trim as he had quite a lot of shrapnel in his arms and legs.

But he was very optimistic and was certain we would not be sent to Italy. Actually, he was at the Durban July Handicap with Roy Coull and Eileen. As he had been C.O. of a training school in the Union. I can understand why he was still not there as he was an awful liar – and ran down the [illegible] too much. He also pinched food. One thing about him was that he could fly. As he had been a test pilot for the R.A.F. and had flown 168 types of aircraft. The next few days life went on as usual. Just dull, empty, cold and hungry days.

12 December 1942

Today, Mac Hogarth and Francis Penley arrived. Mac was shot down at Agheila while on a transport job. He had a new observer with him, who owing to bad weather overshot our lines and was shot down by ack-ack. They were not wounded but terribly fed up. Poor old Pen was just on his way back from a few days’ leave. As he was on General Monty’s Staff, he gave us some real dope. And told us the 8th Army was attacking “Agheila” on the night of the 13th and that the N.Z; Div was cutting them off at Marble Arch. (which they did. Not enough can be said for these boys – they have done wonderful work.) Mac, Pen and I made friends immediately – they are two of the best. Pen is a lawyer in England and Mac is a wild Australian sheep farmer. From here on we stuck together through some bloody times. Escape from here was now hopeless, as we were very well guarded and were separated at night. The natives were still fit – but the Indians were in a shocking state. Two Indians escaped from the docks where they were working – and were recaptured by Arabs and handed over to the Ities. They were locked up in one of the cells and were thrashed every day at 11 o’clock. The screams the poor devils put up was awful. It was here that Mac and I got locked up in separate cells for two days, because we kicked up a fuss about the thrashing of the two Indians. I shan’t forget those two days in a hurry.

16 December 1942

At about two o’clock in the afternoon all the Europeans were herded into the courtyard and told we were leaving for another camp. There were twenty-three of us counting the O.R.’s. I managed to get a few minutes with the natives so wrote a few scrap notes home and to Murray and told the natives not to worry as they would soon be recaptured by our troops, and to try and get the notes home for me. We were then all piled into one lorry and away we went. We were not sorry to be leaving that Hell Fort but it did worry me, as I thought we were really leaving for Italy – but no. We went into the centre of Tripoli and then went dead south, we asked one of the guards where we were off to and he said to a very good camp called “Tarhuna.” We were all very fed up – but our hopes rose when we realised we were not yet leaving for Italy – We still had hope of being recaptured. We started singing songs – but that was soon stopped because one of the O.R. was hit on the head with the butt of an Itie rifle. Escape was bumped on the head during this trip by the Wing-Co. and the Major. Because on the way on a very lonely strip of road the lorry broke down – and there only being six guards and one Serg. Maj., Mac and I wanted to overcome the guard and push off across the desert in a easterly direction. But nobody would hear of it, as they said without water or compass we could never do it – and the Arabs-would give us up. We told the Wing-Co. and Major they were bloody fools and would live to regret this chance. But they said we would have a better chance from “Tarhuna”. So we were eventually towed into “Tarhuna”, very tired and extremely hungry.

“Tarhuna” was far worse than the last camp, as it was alive with lice, very dark and very cold. We were very cold in this Hell Hole but our spirits were still high, at least we weren’t in Italy. The Commandante was a bastard and the Interpreter was a regular little rat. As he was an American Itie – and he came to take our names -this is what he said and my answers:-
Int. (In an American accent.): Say, what’s your name?
Self: Campbell No. 103130.
Int.: And say, what’s your Civvy occupation?
Self: That’s bugger all to do with you.

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Int.: Say, buddy, shooting your mouth won’t get you no place.
Self: Shooting yours won’t get my civvy occupation.

This is what he got from us all. He then wanted to get our watches – saying “you might as well part with them for ten cigarettes, as in a few days the guards will get them for fanny. But we still didn’t get our watches. We received no food until 11 o’clock next day. It was just as well we didn’t try and get away on the road as we were all too weak, and would have been caught very quickly.

Two nights -later our hopes rose 100 % as we awoke to a terrific racket going on in the town. But our hopes were dashed when a few hours later four officers and about ten men were brought in. They were LRDGs. who had been blowing up trucks in the car park of Tarhuna, but had been caught. But they said we were not to worry as they said Maj. Paddy Mane would come and get us out. But no such luck – I guess he had another job on. We must try and realize that P.O.W’s, once they are made prisoners “for you the war is over”, this being a favourite Itie expression. Other troops carrying out a job can’t be troubled with a lot of hungry unarmed P.O.W.s. So from the 16th until the 20th of Dec. we were caged at Tarhuna. On the afternoon of the 20th we (14 officers) were put in a lorry and off we set towards Tripoli? Was it to be Italy this time? Oh God where were our troops to save us from this. But it was not yet going to be Italy for us as after a very uncomfortable trip we arrived at our other P.O.W. camp. And it was here that I saw how wickedly the Ities had treated our O.R.’s. since Tobruk.


(about 9 miles outside Tripoli to the West) 20 December 1942). On passing into the Fort we saw 450 of our O.Rs and I have never seen men in such a terrible state. The sketches I have in this book are very true to life. One of these O.R.’s shouted ‘Hello Peter’, he said his name was Yellbanks, and that he was at school with me, but I am afraid he was in such a terrible condition I did not recognise him. I cannot impress enough upon anyone who should read this article – what a terrible state these lads were in – all their bones were showing, they had hardly my clothes on – and the most awful stare in their eyes. On being taken inside the fort we were again searched – but they found nothing simply because we had nothing. We were again put in double beds, and no food. I met a S.A. doctor Major [name omitted] who I considered a worm, as I have never seen anyone doing so much creeping to the Ities as he did. He was frightened to talk to us, and seemed to spend his time saluting and jumping about for the Ities. After we had been in the Fort for about an hour, an Itie officer came up to me, and told me I would be allowed to speak to my “brother” who was In the O.R.’s cage, and for a terrible moment I thought they had caught Ted, but soon realised that Ted could not have been able to be caught by them. So I thought immediately – another “Stooge”. Eventually a lad arrived and when he was at least twenty paces away from me, he shouted “Hello Peter, old man”. God how pleased I am to see you”, then he put his arms around me like a long-lost brother and whispered to-me to pretend I was his brother. So I did. And we were allowed about an hour together in which he told me the “Living Hell they had. gone through in the past seven months since Tobruk had fallen.” I will now write down a few of the terrible hardships these men went through. They were in the cage at Tobruk for five months, one month at Benghazi and one in Tripoli. While they were in these camps they were fed entirely on rice and water and were occasionally given a tin of bully beef. They paid as much as £22 for a tin of water, lost on an average of two per day who died of dysentery, a packet of springbok cigarettes went for £16 – one Italian cigarette £1. Stampedes for food in which the “whites” were pushed out of the way by starved Cape boys and natives. Forced to work at rail head on ammunition dumps. Several chaps were shot, by the “Sunuse” who just fired blindly into the cage at night. One case of some men who tried to escape – one was shot in cold blood when half way through the wire, and his pal was shot when he went to help pull him out. In mid-summer the water cart was left just outside the cage door – dripping- for several hours before being brought in.

Just before our troops reached Benghazi the P.O.W.’s were piled into trucks and driven off, two or three of the lads were shot at when the trucks stopped and they jumped off to W.C. This treatment they had had for seven months. The Black Sonousie” being the worst, the only decent treatment they had was when they were in the hands of Jerry – for the first day after the fall of Tobruk.

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He wanted to tell me much more but the Itie officer parted us. I tried to cheer him by telling him that he was to go back to the cage and give my regards to any other lad I knew there, and to tell them that they weren’t to worry, as at least they were soon be over the worst, as our troops would recapture them in a few days. So I told him if they did get away to contact the family and tell them I was well. But they said they were afraid they would be sent to Italy as well – and that is what actually happened, they were moved over to Italy three days before Tripoli fell into our hands. God, how sorry I was for them having been moved – each time from Tobruk, Benghazi and Tripoli, a few days before our lads arrived. This lad also gave me half a loaf of bread which he said he had pinched from the kitchen, so Mac and I slipped off to the W.C. and polished it off. Hell, how good it tasted. I was not able to see this lad again before I left, and I have forgotten his name but I shall certainly never forget his piece of bread. We spent three days in Swanee – and they were none too pleasant, what with the usual shortage of food, and many lice.

23rd December 1942

This morning we were taken away from Swanee at about 11-30 in the morning. We managed to shout a farewell to the O.R.’s as we passed the Cage. But we were all very fed up with life, as we were told we were off to Italy in a “Submarine”! This didn’t “panic” me much – no, not much!! I hate subs. On the way we picked up two Yank pilots who I will tell about later – terrible types! We passed through the centre of Tripoli on the way to the harbour and it looked deserted! By the by, the Yanks told us our troops were now at “Homs” which is only 65 miles from Tripoli – We were put in a barge and off we set for the ’’submarine” which was parked just outside the harbour. Poor old Pen was very seasick, so I knew he was going to have a bad time in the sub. By the way, it’s against International Law to move prisoners by submarine, but a lot we could do about it!! Here we spent from about 2.30p.m until 6-30p.m. while they off loaded petrol from the Sub. Thank the Pope our Air Force didn’t arrive. Suddenly at 6.30 a launch came out, with the usual pile of Itie officers on and told our guard to take us back to Trip. P.O.W. cage. You have never in your life seen such excitement. We cheered, shouted and sang songs all the way back, as we really thought the Ities had decided to evacuate themselves and leave us, especially after the Yanks had told us that our troops were at Homs yesterday which is only 66 miles from Tripoli. But at that time, we didn’t realise how highly the Ities regard P.O.W.s – they would far rather leave their own troops rather than leave P.O.W.s. Well, we spent the night in the old Hell Fort of Trig. where I came across the natives again and also some late prisoners who confirmed the Yank story that our troops were at Homs. Amongst the new prisoners there was one very fine chap named “Mahoney” and one dreadful type called Boumville Clay, who said his real name was Lord Charlesworth. I have never come across so much tripe spoken in so little time as was said by this man. Kavive, a New Zealander, was a very fine type. There were now thirteen officers all told. We were still in excellent spirits when we reached “Trig.” (Hell Fort) and annoyed the Ities a great deal that night because, although they have put the thirteen of us in one small cell with one blanket, we Just spent the night singing. Again no food.

24th December 1942

We were let out of our cell at 10-30 p.m., our spirits were high and we quite expected to see the battle in the distance. The S.A. [South African]? Natives were thrilled to see me again. They now said they were certain we would be recaptured. We all began to think so by now. But our excitement was short-lived, because at 18.30 we (13 in all) were put into a truck and told we were definitely going in the sub this time. Just before we left, they gave us some rice and water. It was just after this that a nasty incident took place. We were all damn cold as we still had hardly any clothes. So Mac decided he was going to pinch a blanket. But while he was sticking it inside his shirt a guard saw him and started screaming and calling for the Sgt [sergeant]. About six itie guards rolled up – and the one hit Mac across the face. This was far too much for poor old Mac. He just let fly back and then the trouble started, as they all had rifles. The Sgt. let out with the butt of his rifle for Mac’s head, I pushed hard and caught most of the blow with my arm – which Mac said saved his head because he said the rest of the blow was quite bad enough. Anyway, in a short time Mac and I found ourselves in a dark cell. We were very pleased with ourselves to begin with as we thought this might get us out of the trip by sub. But no such luck, as shortly afterwards the Commandant came to see us and told us we were very lucky not to have been killed.

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And that he had written a report on our “Captive Sheet” saying we were to be punished at the next camp – Mac for attempted theft and myself for telling the Sgt. that he had not been born in “wedlock”! After this interview we were placed in a lorry and off we headed for the submarine. On arriving at the harbour, we were again put on an invasion barge and off we went for the Sub, but this time it was the end there was no waiting. They took our cigs away and matches (about six between us). Also our belts. Then the thirteen of us were placed like sardines in the “Torpedo Tubes” racks. It was a chamber which I shall never forget. I will now try and draw a picture of it.

We just had room to sit on the floor with our knees hunched up. This trip was an experience I shall never forget. It was just four and a half days of utter torture. We got under way at about 3-50 p.m. of the 24th December, Xmas Eve 1942. We got out of the sub on the night of the 29th Dec. at Toranto Harbour. I will now try and give a description of that trip.

After getting settled as best as possible in the Torpedo rack – chamber – I had Mac Hougarth on my left and Wing. Comm. Bragg on my right. The heat was dreadful and the air foul. We submerged almost immediately.

And now the heat and air was almost unbearable. Then the trouble started -W.C. Bragg started shouting as we began to submerge. He kept saying he couldn’t stand it, and that he would go mad, if we went down anymore. Then old Kivive told him to pull himself together. So he spent the rest of the voyage crying. I was damn sorry for him but nothing could be done. The Ities pumped air down to us every four hours. And I can tell you at the end of two hours, one is breathing very heavily so you can imagine what it was like after four hours you cannot tell the difference between day and night because there was an electric light on the whole time. When the submarine is submerged you cannot tell that it is even moving – and it is submerged all day and only surfaces at night and it was during the night we had all the trouble. Because if you can imagine what it would be like to be in a rowing boat in the Bay of Biscay in a storm, then you know what a sub is like when it is on the surface, except in a rowing boat you have air. We were only allowed up to the W.C. once a day – and that was at night – and half the chaps couldn’t make it because they were so ill. We had one bucket between the thirteen of us which was quite inadequate. So we were being sick in it, as well as W.C., and after the first night we were all covered in sick and W.C. The air by this time was worse than foul, it was putrid. So we wallowed in our own dung and sick for four and half days – a pigsty was nothing to this chamber. Poor old Penley and Mahoney were in a shocking state, and Mahoney was wounded and Penley was seasick in the barge before we entered the sub. The Ities gave us a tin of bully per day and a big biscuit which, although if we had received this during our stay in Tripoli, we would have considered it a luxury, now just stayed open in the tins (as the Bs insisted on opening each tin). So it just made the air worse. Mac and I were not sick after the first night.

27th December 1942

A Xmas day I shall never forget. We were now literally sitting in ….!! The Commander of the sub. came down to see us, but said he was sorry he could do nothing for us, but he gave us two bottles of Cognac. When he passed it through to us Mac, Kivive and I decided to get merry at all costs – which we did – but were sorry for it later.

2 – ‘Submarine Trip Continued’

[Section 2 – ‘Submarine Trip Continued’ – digital pages 12-17]

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[Handwritten note by Keith Killby] Account of Peter Campbell after being shot down in desert (where is the beginning?)

Submarine Trip – continued

The rest of the trip was hell – our guards were ill the whole time just outside our door. I cannot say more about the trip as actually there is nothing to tell.

At about seven o’clock in the evening of the 29th December we pulled into Taranto harbour, and it was not long before we were dragging ourselves out of our miserable and dirty four-and-a-half day abode. Climbing out of the submarine was agony, as we were so cramped. We literally crawled across the narrow plank that the Ities had placed from just below the conning Tower to the landing-stage. There were dozens of Italian Marines to guard us – and once again we found ourselves being counted. Then we bustled into a large charabanc and were driven off at a terrific speed in complete black-out to the Italian Naval Hospital. Here, strangely enough, we received good treatment. We were placed two in a room, the beds being fairly clean, and we were given a very good meal of macaroni and a bottle of red

vino between us – but still no cigarettes.

Next morning, we were woken up very early and given a cup of coffee and a roll of bread, then taken off to bathe and have the lice removed from our clothes, also a haircut and shave. I cannot describe the thrill of getting under a shower, the first since being made a prisoner, and of getting rid of our lice-infested beards. After this the usual counting, and then a very sad parting, as the Air Force had to leave the Army. Mac, Hogarth and I were very sorry to say goodbye to Frances, Penley and Kiwive. We never guessed that it would not be long before we were to meet again –and again be so hungry together.

At about 11.30 we Air Force men were taken off in a truck for an unknown destination – six of us with eighteen guards. This trip was not long, we soon found ourselves at the Italian Air Force Headquarters, overlooking the Bay of Taranto, with many Italian flying boats moored to buoys, and also quite a number of German six-engined flying boats. Here we were on the sixth floor of the building for three days. The food was, as usual, macaroni. Our prison was a fairly large marbled room and bitterly cold, and it was not

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long before our only amusement and way of keeping warm was deprived us. We used to stand in front of the one and only large window and warm ourselves in the, sun and watch the Axis flying boats taking off and landing. But the morning after our arrival a blustering high-ranking Italian Air Force Officer came charging into our room, cursed our guards and swore at us for looking out of the window. And it was not long before our guards were changed, and our only little pleasure sealed up. So the rest of the time we just lay on our beds and were cold. On the second evening nine Italian Air Force pilots came up to visit us. They came into the room dressed in riding breeches and boots, with their hands in their pockets, looking like tailors’ dummies and just stood staring at us. Then much clicking of heels and the Fascist salute and in walked the Italian Commandant. Just before he walked in, we were told that on his arrival we were to stand up and salute. This, we told them, was impossible as we did not possess caps, but we were told to salute in any case, which we did not do, but just stood up when he came in. He looked us up and down for about three minutes and then told us to be seated. The conversation that followed was rather amusing, as all these Itie pilots seemed to have shot down an amazing amount of our Air Force. They all wanted to know what we had been flying but we told them that that was quite impossible. Jokingly Mac whispered to me that for a square meal he would tell them the history of the Air Force! They then asked what we were – no comment was made until Mac said he was an Australian. This caused a great stir as they said “Australiana non bono” (sic) – as they come back and shoot you when you are already shot down. Then they all went, the Commandant’s last words being “Buona, Buono, for you the war is over.” What a terrible feeling comes over one after those words. One wonders how long the war will really last.

4th January 1943

Left Itie Air Force Headquarters in the evening in a cattle train, were given a small tin of Itie bully beef and a minute roll of bread. Were driven to Taranto station in a closed charabanc. On arriving on the station platform, we were objects of great interest – people crowded and pushed to get a better view of us. We were all very shaken to notice how many of the women wept on seeing us. One offered me an orange, but the guard would not allow her to give it to me. The journey by train was a really terribly cramped trip but luckily only lasted six hours. Our spirits were high on arriving at Bari station – as we really thought

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that our hunger troubles were at last over – and we had visions of Red Cross parcels, warm clothes and decent sleeping quarters.

When we got out of the train Mac and I had a wonderful chance of escape, as the platform was in complete black-out barring for a few blue lights. But where could we go – there was a steady fall of sleet – we were shockingly clad, terribly cold and hopelessly hungry, no maps or money – and nearly 1,000 miles from the Swiss border – and not a clue about the language. So we decided against it. But just as an experiment we thought we would try and get away from the guards. Our chance did not take long to come, because, like Taranto Station, Bari was crowded with inquisitive people, so on turning down a subway Mac and l decided to carry on, which we did- and were not noticed. It was a very strange feeling to be free again – and we stood in the dark watching people pass us. How easy it would be to just walk out of the Station and make a break – but again, where to? Then suddenly we heard a terrific commotion. Our escapade had been discovered. Guards rushed about blowing whistles, waving their hands and screaming at civilians to get out of their way. We waited for a short while and then decided to give ourselves up, so came out of our dark corner and stopped an excited guard with a peculiar looking Napoleonic hat (Special Police). Then the fun started – in no time we had half the Italian guards in Italy, and civilians, trying to lay a hand on us to be able to say they had recaptured us. Actually, I thought that our little escapade would end in tragedy as the way they pushed and pulled us I had an idea we would soon be lynched. But no -we were pushed back to the other prisoners who cursed us for keeping them standing in the sleet and off we set for our new P.O.W. cage. It was a terrible walk of six miles. Cold, hungry, tired and very stiff, as we had had no exercise for two and a half months, we arrived at Bari P.O.W. Campo 75 late at night.

On arrival at the camp we went through another search, which was most annoying as we were wet through, cold and hungry. After this we asked for food and got the usual answer – ‘Domani’ (tomorrow). We were then pushed into what the Italians called the “Dissifezione”, which is a place the Italians put new P.O.Ws, in case they have brought any disease over from North Africa. This made us smile knowing how diseased the Italians are themselves.

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The strange part of this was we were only separated by barbed wire. We had no food that night, but were thrilled to find two sheets and three blankets. The beds were of wood, and double deckers – four beds combined.

Next morning, I was excited to find some old friends. The first person I saw was Jerry who was in the SAAF Fighter Squadron in the Desert and who was shot down about a month before me. It was grand to find so many South Africans, but oh, how thin they looked. No wonder, for the daily ration was a small billy can of macaroni twice daily; and a small loaf of bread with a small tin of coffee.

We received a terrific surprise next day when who should walk into the Dissifezione but the eight army officers who came over in the sub with us and who we left at the Italian Naval Hospital. The first question they asked us was: ”How’s the food question? What’s a Red Cross parcel like?”

We were always hungry and the cold was unbearable, because although we had three blankets, they were very small and thin and made of a kind of cardboard compound. How this was discovered was when one lad tried to wash his, it came out of the water like a piece of wet newspaper.

I will try and describe how a day was spent in this hell hole of Italy – Bari P.O.W Camp 75. The camp was about the size of three rugby fields and consisted of twelve stone bungalows with a road about twelve yards wide and a hundred yards long down the centre for exercise.

There was breakfast at seven o’clock, consisting of a 50 C.T.C. cigarette tin of Italian coffee, which is made of ground burnt acorns and a small loaf of bread – 100 grms. 7.30 a.m. Roll Call, which lasted anything from ten minutes to four hours, as the Ities haven’t a clue about counting and always have an idea someone has escaped, and that the rest of us are trying to hide it by being counted twice. Then one either went back to bed or walked to keep warm or, if the sun was out, one took a blanket outside and took one’s clothes off and picked the lice out – washing one’s clothes in cold water without soap does no good, as the lice creep into the seams.

We played bridge when one could get cards, but cards were scarce – and anyway at this time we could not concentrate properly as we were continually thinking of our next meal.

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11.30 a.m, lunch, which consisted of a small billy can of macaroni cooked in olive oil and water, and if you were extremely lucky you might find one bean or a piece of cabbage stalk mixed with it.
12.30 p.m. Roll call again, and the afternoon spent in the same way as the morning.
5.30 p.m. Roll call. Then we were all herded into our respective bungalows and not allowed out until morning.
6 p.m. Our last meal of the day – a billy can of macaroni.

The guards in the Bari P.O.W. Camp were particularly bad types – especially the commandant – and went out of their way to humiliate us. One had to use terrific control to stop oneself from retaliating.

Often after Mac, Pen and I had spent hours collecting small wooden chips, twigs and odd pieces of cardboard, and had just managed to get a small tin of water on the boil, a guard would come round the corner and kick it over. We even boiled grass in this camp to mix with our macaroni to make more of it. We were so badly fed in Bari that we often felt quite faint standing at Roll Call.

The cold during an Italian winter is terrible, especially when you are dressed so inadequately. I was still dressed in Italian military trousers and a thin khaki shirt and a South African bush jacket. It is a dreadful thing to be cold or hungry- but to be both is wicked. Very occasionally some dried figs and little cakes were brought into the camp, but the prices for them were exorbitant and the rush on them was beyond imagination.

At the end of the first month at Bari we went to draw our pay. As a Lieutenant I received 950 lire per month –at the rate of 72 to the £. 626 lire per month was taken off for our Messing, which came to about £8.10.0. per month –and yet we were nearly starving!

Escape from this camp was hopeless as it was much too far to the Swiss border and the cold was too intense.

Hardly a day went by without a search – guards came pouring into our bungalows at any hour of the day to search us. They took away from us any knives that we had made

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from odd pieces of tin, and they even took our little tins that we used to boil our water in. Actually, in this camp they did everything possible to humiliate us and to make us miserable – they simply hated us to amuse ourselves in any way.

4 February 1943

A great day – we were told we were going to receive our first Red Cross parcel. Unfortunately, there were not enough to go round and after much delay we discovered that there were just sufficient to have one Red Cross parcel between eight of us – but even this was the biggest thing in our career as P.O.Ws. It was wonderful to get a slice of good old bully beef, to be able to have a brew of tea and a piece of chocolate. What a day it was going to be when we received a whole parcel each. But no such luck in Bari …

16 February 1943

For some days the rumour was rife that the South African officers were leaving Bari and going to the permanent South African P.O.W. Camp in northern Italy. And at last the day dawned. Heavens! How pleased we were to be leaving Bari. We did not have much warning about leaving – but we hadn’t much packing to do!!l

So on the evening of the 16th February 1943, after a very thorough search in which they found my precious map that I had spent days copying from a friend in camp, we again walked the six miles to the station. There were sixteen of us including five doctors, three padres and a mixture of Infantry and Air Force.

On arriving at the station we had the usual inquisitive crowd – bumping and boring to have a good look at us – and then we were very surprised to find we were going by passenger train.

3 – Diary Entries 1943

[Section 3 – Diary entries 1943 – digital pages 18-31]

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[Handwritten title] FROM ARMISTICE TO MODENA

Wednesday 8th September 1943

The Armistice arrived in a way that nobody expected. We did not expect Italy to last long – but the night of the Armistice there was no rumour to that effect in camp, which was strange. Bill and I had just finished grub and were going into the bungalow to get our chairs to watch a football match, when suddenly there was a mighty rush from the Itie quarters and an Itie officer called me over and said that fighting had stopped between Italy and Great Britain. I was just struck dumb – Nobody could believe it, much shaking of hands – even tears – The Itie guards trying to get over the fence to shake hands. Strange, when a few minutes before they would have shot us. The Itie soldiers made signs over the fence of how they were now our Allies and would help us ‘cut Jerries’ throat!’ But I still don’t trust them after the way they have treated me for nearly a year. I cannot believe we will be home soon. Gradually the crowd dispersed and we wandered round in small groups discussing things. Some of us are very keen to get out because we have an idea Jerry will whip us away to Germany. Hendi, Tickie and Bill and I tried to get out of the camp but were threatened by the guards. The next thing we heard was that Jerry had taken over Modena, and were soon coming to take over the Camp. Then we heard that the canteen was to be opened and we would get a lot of Vino each – good show – so Bill S., Bill H., Hendi, Tickie, Dennis Dawson and I toasted the Peace and a quick return. Much more shaking of hands etc. Some thought we ought to escape at once. We then made a lot of cocoa with a lot of Klim. Sat up until 1.30 a.m.

9th September 1943. Woke up to find Ities jumping over fence, with bicycles -Kit all dressed, as Senior British Officer still not given permission for us to escape. At about 11.30 the Germans came to take over the Camp. Spoke to us over fence, told us they knew weeks ago the Ities were going to give In. Hell, they have guts.

12.30 p-m. Bill and I decide to bunk. We are all ready to do so. S.B.O. calls a Parade and tells us that we can go if we want to. During this Parade the Germans arrive in force, so Bill and I are about to go, when Bill’s O.C. Col. Went calls all his officers

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together. I begin to panic as, while Bill is at this talk, Jerry is pouring in, so go and pull Bill out.

The break out. We try the front of the Camp, but Jerry is there so we go down to the N.E. corner. McArthur and four others are trying to scale wall too. It is a wall and double barbed wire fence. I get up first and was trying to help Bill and Mac up when they shout from inside that Jerry is coming. I did not know whether to jump back or take a chance, so did the latter, cutting my hands, but not badly. Eventually the three of us are over and join up with two English lads. Bunny McGibbon and Lewis O’Monsey, and now we really have to run. We had far too much kit, because we didn’t know how the Ities were going to treat us outside.

I will now write in note form as time is short.

Hiding in ditches, German lorried Infantry passing. Changed into civvie clothes in a cow-shed, eating grapes. People pleased to help us. They hate Mussolini. but had to be Fascists to live. The people can’t do enough for us. We decide to go round Modena and cross the “Strada Via Emilia”, many lucky escapes. At one time we ran in the dark into a German machine gun post. In my hurry to get away I lost my water bottle. Gave a lot of our kit away the first night.

The night of 9th September 1943. Outskirts of Modena. Spent in vestibule of small church, were woken in the night by a German convoy passing, for a horrible few minutes we thought it was stopping.

Started before dawn and headed S.W. for the Appenine Mountains. At one time passed over a Jerry Cable (telephone) but had nothing with which to cut it. Saw numerous Jerries today. Still hiding most of the day, but managed to cover 22 miles. Derek and Bill’s feet are giving in and I can see trouble ahead. P.S. Do hope family not worrying about me.

Night 10th September 1943. Monfestino. Maranello. San Dalmazio (met first woman to speak English, a bitch, Yugoslav) Cascogio, Benedello (terrible hills).

Night 11th September 1943. Verica. Ranocchio. San Martino (spent five days here owing to Bill and Derek’s feet, also Bill not so fit.’ A wonderful

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family here who are hiding us. The old man went to America in 1909, was there two years. Speaks little American, very nice daughter who says ‘you’re welcome’!!! We sleep in an old water turbine at night and hide out in the hills during the day.

12th September 1943. Bunny and Mac keen to go on but impossible for Bill or Derek to move so am staying with them. Said farewell to B. and Mc. We spent six very pleasant days here, bathing, eating grapes, fresh eggs, new bread, wine, good cheese. Tomorrow Bill and I set out for Porcetta or Riolo and are taking a chance on passing as a couple of Yugoslavs, and trying to catch a train for Florence. We are a bit nervous, but we can’t live on these people for good. Derek is staying, his foot is still bad, any way he is very keen on a small Itie girl here. Sweet kid.

P. S., While we are swimming, completely naked, the entire family, men and women come and watch us! What happens next I will write when I have the next chance. Let’s hope we get away with it. Musso’s new Government gives out that all P.O.W’s who don’t give themselves up in 24 hours will be shot. Musso’s escape worries the peasant people very much, they are petrified the Fascists will come and shoot them for harbouring us. So things will be harder in future. It is so funny to be hiding out and free, anyway I’m damned if I’ll ever be a P.O.W. again.

P.S. Amazing the way old women cry and kiss us when we leave a place, also men.

18th September 1943. Bill and I left Derek at Antino’s house and set out with a young Italian boy who is going to lead us to our lines. We got up at three o’clock in the morning and walked up in the dark to his house. On reaching there we were given some very strong spirit, something like Vodka, nearly knocked us both out!! Not used to drinking so early in the morning. We then walked up to Montese, which was about five miles up the mountain. There we waited for the bus, which we eventually boarded at 5.30. It was a trip I shan’t forget. We were dead scared somebody would speak to us, or our English looks give us away. I was separated from Bill on the bus, so pretended to sleep. A charming girl sat in front of me

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and I wanted badly to talk to her but was scared. I was pretending to be fast asleep at one stop, when two Fascist guards boarded the bus. I could have sworn the one was watching me the whole way, and was quite prepared to be spoken to when we got off the bus. Our Itie guide bought the tickets. But all was well and we got out of the bus at Vergato. There were no Germans there, but a lot of Italian officers, so we ducked off into a cafe, and here we spent from 7.30 till 11.30 when the train left, drinking wine. When 11.30 came, if half the German army had rolled up it wouldn’t have worried me, I was fine!! Luckily, we were together on the train. The couple next to me seemed very interested in me, so again, I pretended I was asleep, I didn’t have to pretend much as I was damn tired, also full of wine. We saw a few Jerries on the way and you can imagine how small we made ourselves. We passed through the following towns:- Vergato, Rilo, Porette, Pistoia, Prato, Costello. We got off the train at Costello which is a small station just before Florence. We were frightened to go straight into Florence because it is under Jerry control, and they want to look at your passes on the way out of the station. We have none. All was well, no Jerries at this little station so we walked round the outskirts of Florence. It is a beautiful city and I at once remembered all that Marion Keegan had told me about it, but only wish we could find an English family to help us. We spent a long time getting through the city, hiding from Jerry, running up side streets etc. Then our guide bought us a big bottle of wine and then it was the end of old Swan and Campbell. We were tired and hot, so polished off the bottle and up we went through the main street as though we owned it! Admiring the views, waving at cars, whether Itie or Jerry, the funny part was when three Germans came down the street straight for us, but no trouble, we just walked straight past them, and they took us for three peasants. I was going to speak Zulu to them if they spoke.

We had now to find a place to sleep, I was very keen on going into one of the huge villas, but we decided it was better to go to

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a small place, as we have found up to date that the poorer people help much more than the richer, the well to do people are too frightened of the Germans. So we pulled in at a small house and had a drink of water and were then told that the castle next door contained an Itie with an English wife – phew – my dreams come true! But not for long. A rather charming maid met us at the castle gate and asked us to wait, then out came the owner, on Itie, good looking and fair, but he was petrified, said his wife was having a baby and he had just got back from ……. (I won’t forget the name, dare not write it) and that his house was being watched by the Germans, so he gave us some money and another English address so we dashed off through his beautiful garden. It was beautiful, Roman pavements, etc., gold fish ponds, but we were nearly lost in it, it was dark by this time. We were to catch the bus and go across Florence, but when we got to the bus stop they would not stop, so we were stuck, it was now a quarter to nine and there is a curfew at 9.30. So we rushed into the first small house, which is where I’m writing this up. The family is wonderful, we got thoroughly drunk last night and slept on the hay. I woke this morning to find a cow looking at me – I mean the animal cow – we have now decided to move on in the next train, as we can’t get across the city of Florence, it is full of Jerry, also the soldiers of Italy have been given until 16.00 hrs. to report to the Fascists’ Depots or else they will be shot. P.O.Ws as well, as it’s going to be very difficult to travel. So must end here and only hope I will have time again to write this up. If only we could get to this English family. Anyway, until later, good luck.

19th September 1943

22nd September 1943.

Am writing this in a beautiful forest which is on the mountain overlooking Lake Trasimento. It is one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen (next to the Abyssinian lakes). It is about 15-16 miles big and has three islands, one with a castle on it, which the Kaiser stayed in in 1908 for a holiday. The last four days have been perfect hell. After leaving the family we spent the night with {   } at Florence, we again left the city by small alleys, dodging Jerry as Florence is the German H.Q. and it is thick with them. It took us four hours to get out of Florence, owing to

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having to hide etc. We passed the beautiful Villa of Baroness XXX and I swore I could hear a baby crying! Hell, how we wished we could have gone inside for a good meal and bath. At last we made the small station of Compiobbi, which is about six miles outside Florence. Sesto went into the station to see how many Jerries were There, and came back to say that there were two Jerries in charge. So we thought we would risk it, Sesto bought the tickets and we waited outside the station until the train was just about to arrive. One train passed and we dashed on to the station to see the damn thing go straight through. At last one arrived and we jumped on. It was full of Ities, so we got into a compartment and stood in the comer. Luckily, we did not have to separate. Along came the ticket collector and took our tickets, so far so good. We were on the train for about 4 1/2 hours and covered about 100 miles South, which saved us a lot of walking. We intended to get out of the train just before the big station of Arezza because we were told that Arezza was also thick with Jerry, but after passing a good few stations and not being even suspected we thought we would risk going through Arezza and get off at a place called Terontola, which we did. We were very worried while passing through Arezza as we noticed on the platform that each Jerry moved around with an Itie Fascist policeman. On reaching Terontola we stepped out on to the platform and to our horror found six German officials. Bill told me afterwards that he didn’t panic as he said he was so tired he looked the part (an Italian peasant). I was tired but not quite tired enough not to panic. I felt that at any moment one of the German officers was going to put his Luger in my back. The dreadful part was that not knowing the station, we went down the wrong sub-way and had to return right past the Huns again. Anyway, we managed it without mishap and set out through the town. We had what was supposed to be a good address in this town of someone. It was now getting late and we enquired where this place was and were told it was a good 15 miles away. So not being able to make it by curfew time we looked for a place to sleep close by. But no luck and we

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walked about 15 kilos until about 8.40 p.m. when we eventually found a peasant family who said we could stay the night, but not in the house, we had a drink of water and were then taken down into the vineyard where we found a straw hut, we sat down to a meal of bread and grapes. What a terrible night. Three of us could hardly fit in, so Bill and I slept with our feet outside, we were very cold and were bitten badly by mosquitoes. So passed the night of the 20th September 1943. Next morning early we shaved and set off for the next station as we had given up hope of finding this address, but after covering a few miles along the edge of the lake we were called into a fisherman’s cottage for a drink (fresh wine). Here we enquired again for the address and to our delight were told that the fisherman’s wife had worked for these people and she knew them well, and if we waited a few minutes, her son would arrive and show us the way. We had not been waiting long when along came a German convoy, so we watched it going past!!

Then along came a young Italian who said he was a pilot who had escaped when the Armistice came, and was living close by, and would we like to hear the wireless. So off we set. Here we had a fright because we had to cross the main road and in doing so saw a German staff car coming along so off we scrambled up the bank, hid in the bush until it passed, but the two officers in it took no notice. After an hour’s scramble through vineyards and ploughed fields we made the Itie pilot’s house, a very beautiful villa over-looking the lake. Here we were given wine and then taken into a really beautiful room to listen to the radio. We heard Daventry, and found out troops were still in Bari and Naples. BBC gave no news of P.O.Ws so again we find ourselves having to head for Naples. I was hoping to be asked to stay, but no luck. I am afraid the Lady of the house was too frightened, she also cried when we left. Really I have never had so many people crying for me. We had the direction now for this address and off we went over the mountains and it was a day I shall never forget, the mountains I shall never forget, the Berg has nothing on these Well, to cut a long story short, after walking solidly all day, and what was breaking our hearts, we were going North, we eventually made this wonderful Castle where

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we were going to be able to rest for a few days, in good beds, have a bath etc. (I must put in about the last small???? hill with the villa where our Paradise was on top, was like from the R.D.L.I. Drill Hall to Lady Campbell’s house) and we dragged our tired bodies up this hill. Eventually tired and hungry we reached the gate, rang the bell and just lay down. Eventually the door was opened and we were told there was nobody at home and the gate closed and the old keeper wouldn’t let us in. Oh God! It was heart breaking. We didn’t know what to do, we were so tired, but soon did do something because up the road came running Ities saying “Tedeschi!” (Germans) who were picking up all men between the ages of 20 and 40. We soon found our legs and were away. Hell, did we prick ourselves on the brambles. It was now quite dark, so we made for the first cottage, a come-down from a castle to a cottage, but our luck was in, we have definitely decided to leave castles alone and just travel from peasant to peasant. They are the only people who will help one, and they really give you everything they have. This cottage was grand, they gave us a “slap up” meal of pasta and rabbit, the signora of the house was extremely good looking!! So was the daughter, but we left early next morning, heading South over the mountains, partly retracing our footsteps, we had lost two days now, but why worry, we are still free. P.S, that was the night of 21st September 1943.

To travel by train is now quite impossible as they are picking up all young men for work in Germany, and I really couldn’t stand that!! so it’s the hills for us. We travelled all. day over the mountains and our feet and bodies are feeling it, so we stopped the night at a peasant’s cottage overlooking Lake Trasevento. We decided to stay here a couple of days, which we did, and luckily the owner of the Estate who was out shooting called in, and the peasants told him about us. And he has done wonders for us, he speaks English well, has travelled In England, some months in America, gave us some new clothes, some tea, jam and a very good map. We hid during the day in the hills. He has some Germans camped in his garden, so we can’t stop with him. He also got us

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some eggs which were grand. We overlook the Villa from our mountain hide-out and it looks grand. He wants us to stay with him after the war. I have his name.

Thursday 23rd September 1943

We left our mountain home and 11 a.m. this morning and have covered only 10 miles as the crow flies South, as we have had to go round small towns, to miss the Hun. No narrow escapes today, as we have stuck to the mountains. It is now 7.30 p.m. and we have had some more pasta and are staying the night in this peasant’s cottage, so will say Cheer ho! This place is called San Giovanni, about 15 miles from Perugia. Here the whole family watched us go to bed, Mother fed child from breast in front of us, shook me a bit! It rained heavily.

24th September 1943

Much has happened since I last wrote in this diary. We walked solidly through the mountains without mishap until 1.30 p.m. when we crossed the Tiber River (Father Tiber), we did not risk the bridge but found a spot where it was not deep and waded across, ate a lot of grapes. We then entered the small village of Ponte Pattuli, where we found no Germans and villagers told us it was safe to catch the train. We were delighted and d sent Sesto in to buy the tickets, all went well and we got in a very crowded train at 2.15 p.m. Nobody noticed us and we pretended to sleep. Saw a great deal of the Hun on the road and at one station, our compartment stopped opposite three Jerries filling a 4-gallon drum with milk – Hell, how I wanted some! But thought better of it!

No mishap and we got out of -the train at Cesi which is the station just before “Terni”. As this is a big factory town and full of the Hun, we had to dash off the road just after we got out of the train because of a German convoy. Here again we had bad luck, as Terni has been badly bombed and all the population have made for the hills so we had to wander round the mountains for three hours in the dark looking for a place to sleep. We eventually slept in a haystack but had a good, meal of pasta before turning in. Funnily enough it was given to us by an Italian German special policeman!!! Spent a good night but a bit cold.

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Saturday 25th September 1943

Just a hell of a day, just endless mountain climbs and as the crow flies we have only done about 14 miles, but have really completed about 20 miles. We passed through the following places:
Skirted Terni (passed through bombed factories), Cascata delle Mormore (beautiful view, wonderful Falls, terrible climbs)
Marggio (full of Jerry) much running and hiding, tonight we are in a church on top of a mountain, cold, no food, but we have bread and straw, and we are free. Today has been hell, our feet are bad. Goodnight. (Macchialungar, the church).

Sunday 26th September 1943

Left another mountain home, the church, after a rather trying night, as the church had too many windows and a storm came up in the night and the rain came in, one of the bloody windows fell on my head. We waited until ten o’clock in the morning owing to the rain, but could not wait longer, so left in a slight drizzle. All mountains, walking today and we have headed for a mountain village where there is reported to be an Inn where we can stay. Catanello.

We arrived at this village and went into the Inn but they would have nothing to do with us. We went through a very awkward half hour as some of the population apparently thought that the reward out for us was very good, 1800 lire. (The Germans have now offered 1800 lire for our capture). It’s funny having a price on our heads. We left this not very secure place in a hurry and made off again into the mountains. God! How I hate them, our feet are damn sore now. Managed to get some milk at “Montesola” where we spent the night. My tummy is giving trouble and it’s hell on a mountain trip. Slept on a bed of straw full of rats.

Monday 27th September 1943

Left Montesola at about 8 o’clock after a bread and wine breakfast, have walked solidly all day and have only completed about 15 kilos. Mountains all day, tummy giving a lot of trouble, are now parallel with Rome, and only 45 miles away, only wish we had taken the city. We have decided to stay here the night, place called “Cerchiara” high in mountains, can hear our bombers giving Rome hell. On clear day you can see dome of St. Peter’s. I don’t

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wonder, it’s high enough. Saw some Jerry today but hid away, all was well, only wish we had some arms, as we could do a lot of damage on our way. The mountains today were exceedingly bad, and my tummy is giving me hell. Bread and grapes is all we’ve had for days {and a cup of milk), people have less to eat here, Jerry has taken away most of their food. We are heading East, tomorrow, as we are getting too close to Rome on this range of mountains, so it means we will have to pass through a lot of Huns tomorrow. Am hoping for some Pasta to eat tonight.

Tuesday night 28th September 1943

Belmonte in Sabina, in a stable, bloody cold, people have hardly any food, Jerry taken the lot. Followed the river down, walking very bad, as we had to walk on bed of river, stones and pebbles. At Roccasinibalda had a false scare and ran half way up the mountain, cut our heads on bushes, huge dam, deserted M/G posts Castelditora, saw some Jerry, had to climb bloody mountain. Food getting critical, my tummy giving me hell owing to too many grapes.

Wednesday 29th September 1943

Night spent again in haystack, no food, I was bloody annoyed, because we had no sooner settled in the haystack when we were chased out and up the mountain because Jerry’s food and press gang out after us. Found another up the mountain, but Bill had trouble with animal. This was between Ascrea – Pagenico.

Thursday 30th September 1943. Started walking at dawn owing to Jerry. Can’t write more, too tired, have covered 63 miles in three days, are now at Poggici, Corsoli, Presto. Slept night in hay again, am only walking small distance and then hiding up as we are now dead beat. At last we are South of Rome. Nasty time crossing main road and railway, too many Jerry. Some Robin Hood!!

Friday 1st October 1943

Have not been able to write this up since Monday as we have had a terrible week of walking, no place to sleep at night, food has consisted of bread and grapes and apples, our legs are dead beat and so are we. Since I last wrote we have passed through the following places (as written up, above).

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Saturday 2nd October 1943

We set out at dawn this morning, had breakfast of bread and Bully as Dennis had quite good amount of Red Cross food, but we can’t carry it all and have given a lot away already, it breaks one’s heart but one must do it. I had to carry my pack and Dennis’s most of the day as he is still weak, has not been at this long enough, we passed a camp of five S. A’s who were hiding in the mountains because one of the party was ill. One lad Gillbanks was at Hilton after my time, know his brother, also passed to Foreign Legion. It began raining at 4.30 and we made this village of Campo Soccia at 6.30, wet through. No Huns or Fascists so went into the Inn where, much to Bill’s disgust, I got thoroughly pookeyed on the wine that was literally hurled at us. The whole village turned out to see us and the Inn was full, little girls brought us new bread and cheese and some green beans, so we ate well again. Old women cried, men kissed us, just one hell of a show. Had two bad scares by Jerry throughout day, mountains still terrific.

Monday. 4th October.

We left Campo Soccia at dawn and walked through the valley all day, going was very bad as we could not as usual keep to the road, passed 10 other escaped P.O.W’s, we saw a lot of Jerry today and it looks as if he is pulling out, let’s hope so, as my shoes and…..

Sunday, October 3rd

Have a bit more time to write as today we are staying at this village Campo Soccia, I have much to write up, after that terrible night in the open. Thursday we struck luck in a big way, on Friday morning a young Itie submarine corporal came up to us in the field and asked us to come into the village of Roccadibotti and stay at his house. We were a bit sceptical at first as we have heard how so many chaps have been caught this way, but being so cold and hungry we decided to take a chance, so in we went. Just in time because the rain started in earnest when we entered the house. Here we had a good wash and shave and two wonderful meals, one on tinned ham given up by an Italian Doctor, the other consisted of soup, bread and some delicious chops and some very good wine, we read and talked all day; the plan being that we were to

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wait until Saturday and then four Itie officers were going to lead us to Foggia, but all this fell through because of the Hun again. We were just going to bed and the great thing as in a real bed, when in rushed an Itie, told us to pack…. My knees can’t take much more, still a big reward out for us, my knees gave out yesterday, so we only did 20 kilos, also my guts very bad, green apples and bread is all we’ve had today. CANNESTRO.

Spending night at R.C. Padre’s house on top of hill (as did it twice, shall never forget it), good pasta, funny woman, good bed, guts bad, good night.


Arrived here Tuesday at about 12.30. I could not go another inch as my tummy was playing up the devil, so we only made 10 kilos today. Found an extremely good peasant family where we have been staying the last three days. While I am writing here beside the fire the husband and wife are kneeling on the floor beating mealies off the cob. Bill is making a cork for his water bottle.

The trip over to this spot has not been very eventful but just a bloody nightmare for me. I have been very fortunate in being able to have milk for the last two days. As all the women folk around the place have been bringing milk for the sick Inglesi.

The woman of the house is a real dear, Is only 30 and has four children 5, 6, 7, 8, good going. I am much better today and am eating again the Lesto got for me in the village seem to have worked, but last night I thought I would die, sat on my haunches for a solid hour. I really thought that I would have to walk down to the main road and give myself up to Jerry to get medical attention, thought I had dysentery. We are told that the American forces are only 52 kilos from us. Wonderful to think of a tin of bully and a cigarette. We have not had tobacco for weeks.

Friday and Saturday 8th and 9th October

Still here, have been very sick. Bill looked after me like a mother. Better, Saturday went down to village to get news. Radio too small, only gets Rome. Many Jerry in village, secured a few Itie cigs. One of our girl-friends bums cigarettes from the Jerry for us. Living in cottage on hill. Bill and goat’s milk, people……

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Sunday 10th October.

Left our mountain home early after a hurried breakfast of bread and cheese, said cheerio to British Sgt. who was sticking to the mountains. Then went down mountain to say goodbye to Signora and Johnny, had some milk, much weeping when we left, these people were really wonderful to us, passed through Civita D’Antino.
San Giovanni
San Vincenzo
Bal Sorano (Gerry H.Q. shoes gave out here, fixed here.)

Monday. 11th October.

Pascosolido 100 Jerry trucks pulled out here, stopped at 10 o’clock with an ice cream vendor from “Coventry” England. Terrific meals of fruit and pasta. Very amusing to hear English spoken all longing for English to arrive. Jerry still stealing everything, had bed for a change.

Tuesday. 12th.

Left at about 7 o’clock with two young Itie boys as guides, skirted Sora, did a long distance today through Campoli Lake Posta hysterical people very afraid of Jerry, we passed very close to Jerry here, passed four main roads today, “Casual Vieri” spoke to doctor. Bill got a new shirt, got guides with revolvers. Spent night at “Montatico” with Scotch family, daughter Jean, born and bred In Glasgow, speaks Scotch better than Itie. Good bed, good meal of chips and eggs and tea. Wonderful.

Thursday 14th October.

Belmonte Castello, very careful, place alive with Jerry. Saw ack ack giving our Libs hell but did not hit any, spent night at Valle Suce with Scotch Jock and family. Wonderful night, cigs, tea, cocoa, sausages, town come out in force to welcome us, thought we were British Army, many spies so slept in loft, left early, one Itie girl raped by Jerry, 20 Itie women and children slaughtered in this village so not healthy.

Wednesday 15th October.

Spent day having rest and bath and washing clothes, eating potatoes, slept in hay, right on top of mountain, cold.

4 – Story of Two South Africans

[Section 4 – Story of Two South Africans – digital pages 32-34]

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The Good Fortune of 2 South Africans

Two South Africans, though captured in very different circumstances, were able to escape together from the Camp at Modena and by good fortune made quick progress to Allied Lines. Bill Swan had, like so many South Africans been captured when Tobruk fell after Rommel had won the touch and go battle of the Cauldron, being able to make more decisive decisions that some time [illegible] British top brass. Though with many other Royal Durban Light Infantry, Bill made a very quick exit from North Africa from the appalling conditions of POWs there, and was thrown with others after 3 days to Bari. It was weeks before Peter Campbell found himself with 13 others in the usual chamber reserved for torpedoes in a submarine for three days over Christmas. Campbell however had had a far from orthodox arrival into captivity as his Spitfire was brought down just behind German lines and he was lucky to survive a very ‘dicey’ landing. A rough and sarcastic interrogation was followed by a ride in a sidecar driven erratically by an 18-year-old German. With two guards he was loaded into a Focker Wolf Condor. Suddenly after two hours they lost height rapidly and Campbell. though two crashes in one day would not be too much fun. However, the pilot managed to reach the coast again and land between tents and, not surprisingly much agitated Italians. The next day – 28th October 1942, Campbell escaped and tried to get through the comparatively near front line – but was recaptured. With four Italian guards he was sent west towards – by hitchhiking whatever they could. When requesting food and a blanket he was met with the usual Italian ‘Domani’ – which was perhaps less brutal than the German ‘Nein. Verboten.’

On the third day the lorry carrying them skidded on the road. Neither he nor his guards were seriously hurt but 2 Italians in the trailer were killed. They had to cadge another lift.

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The Good Fortune of 2 South Africans Cont.

[4 words illegible] Italian guard, at the point of a bayonet, took his boots and a ‘stoodge’ was put in with them, to whom Campbell gave some useful – false – information. On 30th November he was put in a small Camp with 3 Officers, 150 Indian soldiers and 34 South African Native troops – who did their best to help anyone. The Indians with filthy latrines and very little water could not maintain their usual very high standard of personal hygiene. Other stray individual POWs joined them and one as a Long Range Desert Group Officer who proceeded to encourage them to plan an escape. The Italian Commandant burst in with a dozen soldiers and said they were going to be shot. The LRDG Officer volunteered to go first, which he did. There was no shot but the ‘officer’ was not seen again. The others remained but 2 others tried to escape. Their screams as they were whipped after recapture could be heard by all. On 26th December 16 officers were taken by lorry to worst camp of all in North Africa at Tarhuna. There was the worst POW camp in North Africa where many Other Ranks spent endless months with of course no Red Cross parcels and even barer food rations than those of the Italian soldiers, sparse water supplies and of course great heat during the day.

On Christmas Eve however Campbell was fortunate to be in the crowded torpedo chamber of the submarine, with 2 bottles of Cognac on Christmas Day from the Sub Commander. But when they staggered out three days later a coach was waiting with the usual dangerous speed of Italians, transported them almost to heaven, the Italian Naval Hospital at Taranto with beds with sheets and macaroni and red wine on the menu. The Italian Navy had much respect for its British counterpart with which it had fought in the 1st World War. When they left at the railway station an Italian woman tried to give them an orange, but after a month in the Camp at Bari, Red Cross parcels appeared and life became bearable. By the time of the Italian Armistice of 8th September 1943, Peter Campbell had teamed up with Bill Swan [illegible]

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2 South Africans Cont.

That everyone stayed in the camp – until the Germans arrived, by the front gate. While many hid in the roof, Campbell and Swan climbed out of the back. Germans were firing at them but one British Officer yelled, in perfect German ‘Don’t fire, they are not armed’. In the turmoil quite a few got away, carrying with them what they could of belongings and Red Cross parcel food. Immediately Campbell notes ‘The Italians can’t do enough for us’. Instinctively they went south but the Appenines drove them at an angle eastwards, slowly coming north of Florence. At one point in the village of Ranoccio, Campbell collapsed and while Swan was trying to revive him, an Italian girl came along and helped them both to her home. There the family fed and housed them until they were fit to go on their way. But the family insisted they could not get on what trains/buses there were, or find food and lodgings without being able to speak Italian. Sesto a young son of the family was willingly loaned to them. With his help they were able to get buses and trains, first into Florence and then further south. He could reconnoitre and interpret the often heavy dialect Consequently they were able to make faster time than most to the south and east until they had a ‘nasty time’ crossing the main road and railway, which was and still is a marvellously scenic route going eastwards to the Marche and Abruzzi. That had been the railway for many POWs taking them from the prison camps in the Tenna Valley. Those and many others coming from further north usually kept to the east through the Marche and Abruzzi. Swann and Campbell followed their guide on a more direct route to the Allies but a much more dangerous area, finally getting through the lines in the most difficult part of the front by dodging the Germans behind Cassino, until they hit a Canadian Regiment, and not the Germans. The Signals Officer asked their escort why he was bringing ‘those lousy bastards in here’. Taken eastwards to Bari they left their young guide to visit relations which he……

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