Summary of Ronald Loftus Cummins Part 3
Ronald Loftus Cummins’ story covers his entire WW2 experience from his enlistment in 1940 until his discharge in 1946. His file comprises the very personal letters he wrote home to his wife along with his diary entries, and letters amongst his friends, which have been transcribed into a chronological narrative. This story is an unusually personal account of the events of WW2 in North Africa and Italy.
Ronald’s story has been divided into five parts, of which three are presented on this website. This section covers 1944 – 1947 from when Ronald was still on the run in Italy until his eventual return home. During his time on the run Ronald’s wife had no news of him and this story reflects her perspective very clearly. Please contact the Monte San Martino Trust if you would like to see his entire file.
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.
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[Editor’s note: the letters and diaries of R.L Cummins have been transcribed and integrated together so that his letters and diary entry for the same date can be read together.]
January 1st 1944
At long last another year, what will it bring? None of us expected to be still in Italy at this time when we left our camps. No longer snowing this morning, but a thick cover. Gaetano seemed to take it for granted that we would not move and after giving us some potatoes and chestnuts in a bucket together with some wood, took us down to the other house and told us to light the fire and boil the potatoes etc. for food. Gaetano struck us as being rather mean and abrupt and the schoolmaster must have thought so too as he kept coming in with more wood etc. Had a wash and shave and boiled our handkerchiefs. There was a Sicilian upstairs with a bad foot and people kept popping in with food etc. for him. However we stuck to the only bench in front of the fire to keep warm and having little chats with newcomers when they arrived. In the evening we put up 16lr each and bought a litre of vino each from Gaetano. With this we drank the health of the New Year and damnation to the Germans. For supper Gaetano brought up more potatoes which we cut in half and put in the fire to cook. He got on to the same line of talk as the others about us not being good fighters, at times this is most annoying, considering. As we, anyhow, drove Italy out of the war and on the Armistice all the Italian soldiers threw away their rifles, but I suppose it is one of those things that people in our position have to put up with. Still I don’t keep saying how wonderful our troops are so why must they keep saying how brave the Italians are, ah well! Into our barn again at about 21.00hrs and quite warm and comfortable.
Still fine but little snow has gone. Gaetano thawing out a little but I am afraid that he doesn’t like Mack very much; Mack shows his superiority too much. Down to the same house but this morning the son and the schoolmaster brought us in a large plate of polenta and sausage sauce each, very good. The son was not a bad chap, he had been in Russia and had frostbite and was very bitter about the way the Germans treated the Italians in Russia. As a matter of fact I have heard this before, many say that they like the Russians better than the Germans (a large socialist element in Italy). Spent the day talking etc., it really looks as if we must split if we are to spend any time in one place. It will be hell as we get on very well together and being alone is a dreary business, we are hoping we can stick out one more day here and then on again. In the evening the woman who had brought us in food on our first day brought in another minestra, she is a relation of Gaetano’s and I hope he has supplied some of the contents. Went up to his house after and sat for a bit, his daughter came down for the first time, but was obviously very ill, poor girl.
Snow is going slowly, but it is still quite thick. Asked Gaetano if we could stay one more night and leave tomorrow and he agreed. Bob went out with the son to cut wood, Mack and I helped to shell some chestnuts for food. Stayed in Gaetano’s house most of the day, food again brought up by the woman, he is a mean old man. We taught more English to the schoolmaster who then left for his house in Santa Maria, he said that if ever we were there we must call and see him. Saw three English who were gradually working their way down
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towards Sora, they did not think much of the chances of passing the line, but finding three hard to stay in any place and were wandering south and hoping for something to happen. Had a very heavy meal of chestnuts and potatoes at night, so heavy that I could not finish my plateful, however as long as one has a full tummy what does it matter. This four days has been a blessing, I must admit, and we might have been a lot worse, it is funny how when one thinks things are almost impossible something turns up. We must get going again tomorrow and perhaps split, this continual movement is most tiring, I think as a matter of fact, that if one had been single one could stay on here, but they keep saying what a lot three is. Will try over the other side of Leofreni tomorrow unless a farm offers itself tomorrow which I doubt. Something must happen early this year, or at least in the spring if we can hang on as long as that. It seems ages since one lived a normal life and not this tramp’s existence of from hand to mouth. Still we might be a lot worse.
3rd January 1944 D. Coy. 6th. DLI, Cambs.
As present Coy. Cdr. of D Coy. I must thank you, most sincerely, on behalf of the Coy. for your kind present of one year’s subscription to Reader’s Digest.
I am afraid there are not many of Ronnie’s old Coy. left now but they have all done exceedingly well and are more than bucked at being back home. The Coy. is in grand heart right now and ready for anything.
For myself, I have been one of the very lucky ones and only missed Mersa Matruh and Miteiriya Ridge as I had not returned from being wounded at Gazala. Probably the only members of the Bn. you will remember are: Leslie Proud, Jack Runciman, George Wood and David Rowe.
I saw you advertisement about news of Ronnie and I do hope you received some good news in reply. Please give him my love when you next write and it it’s any consolation ‘It won’t be long now’.
Good luck and many thanks.
Yours sincerely, Derrick Thomlinson.
January 4th 
A cold day but, thank heaven, fine. We left Gaetano with many thanks and promises to return if we came back this way. We did not quite know where to go, but thought we might try Rocca again. They had not had many prisoners and it seemed the most likely place. A bit worried about the road at Leofreni but it proved quite simple and at about 12.00hrs.we were entering Castel Luccio. As we passed the house which had given us bread the last time we had been in the village, we asked if we rest and warm for a moment. This was really to gain time to think as we felt quite convinced that a split was necessary. We found that the three we had seen in there before had gone for a few days to a nearby village, but would be returning. Suddenly after so many days of indecision we agreed to split, Bob and Mack were to go on and try either Colle or Rocco and after they had gone I was going to see if I could stay the night here and then push on somewhere else. Three was undoubtedly too many for a stay of any time, which was what we wanted. After dividing up various of our belongings Mack and Bob left. It was hard watching them go but we arranged to meet again on February 1st. at Gaetano’s to work out our best plan for the future.
When the girls saw what had happened and I explained that three was too much for one place, they told me I must at least stay until the Frenchman and the S.A. returned and that
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for tonight I could have the former’s bed. This was good as it gave me time to think and it was always nice to know that you at least had a place to sleep. Heard that there was a S.A. Major, Captain and two sgts. in the village later, after sitting in front of the fire for a bit, I met them, quite amusing fellows. At night had a good meal and managed to get my right boot repaired which was through to my socks. Went to another house to my bed in a completely dark little room off a kitchen (afterwards heard it was the house of Giovanni and Maria, both good sorts)
The Frenchman came back today, alone. The other two are apparently trying the line though I doubt it! The Frenchman turned out to be an Algerian soldier, nearly black and known as Giovanni. He had been a prisoner since France but was very popular in the village. I stayed on for the day and at night got a barn belonging to the brother of the girls in my house, by name, Vincenzo who was also, as a matter of fact, the Forest guard. I was tucked into the straw by quite a large party, him, his father, and mother-in-law and a number of children, in fact with so many on-lookers it was hard to find room to lie down
January 6th 
Mack arrived today, he had not found a place to keep him for more than one night and he said that he thought Bob was at Rocca. We walked there and had a chat with Bob, who seemed quite happy but said that he was going back to our old valley [valle de vare?] tomorrow to try his luck. Of course no sooner did we get together than we started on our old habit of relating funny things that had happened and going into peals of laughter. I am afraid the farmers never liked this, quite rightly, but we somehow could not avoid it. Mack pushed on into the blue to find a place for the night, I returned to C. Luccio hoping to stay on a bit longer. Into my little barn again at night, the mice were rather a trouble but I slept well.
6th January 1944 Fleet, Hampshire.
My dear Brenda,
Still they arrive in Switzerland and today some in Allied hands in Yugoslavia! Every morning I hope that you will have just had a thrilling letter from the WO and every telephone call in the evening, I hope it’s you.
I must thank you such a lot from Sammy. Your friend, Frewen, wrote and asked him to stay and Sammy thought it simply sweet of you, under such circumstances especially, to have written about him. Actually Sammy has not accepted the invitation as he had fixed up to go in a party to Arosa [? Ed.] but he hoped to be asked again later on. I think it cheered him up a lot to have the invitation. This all came in a letter written Dec. 5th and S says “still nothing to be gleaned of Ronnie from anyone”.
Do hope you managed to survive Christmas, what an awful time feeling all the things that I know you must have felt.
Oh, my dear, I am so very sorry and the only thing that could make up for all this hideous suspense is that R should get through to our lines and come home. I pray this may happen.
I heard from Glyn, Mills and the money, their POW deduction has been repaid into our account so that’s all right. So far, as far as I can see, no money has been paid to S at all so heaven knows what he lives on. But I suppose suddenly a whole lot will be deducted.
Do hope Peter is well and that he was amused by the cardboard horse and rider. Poor little
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Christopher has been rather poorly with ‘flu and a touch of ear-ache but is just on the mend now. He couldn’t come down to our children’s party which was a shame, otherwise it was a huge success. We were 38 for tea.
On Sunday Mother and I took Alice to London for the day and “Where the Rainbow Ends” was on, frightfully exciting, she loved every second of the day.
Lots of love to you and all my thoughts are with you. You must keep up heart. Karin.
Suggestions today that I stay on, the girls say that the four S.A.s will be leaving in a few days and that the village can quite easily look after Giovanni and myself. This is grand as it makes life a lot easier not always having to be on the tramp. Went over to the valley this morning to see the Baronessa, she was however in Rome but I saw her son again with whom I had lunch and managed to cash a cheque for £5 for 5500lr. a good rate of exchange for him. He is a very decent fellow and wants me to call and see them should I be in Rome. Worried about his mother as to where is the best place, the country or Rome, very difficult to give advice. Got back to C. Luccio at about 17.00hrs. to food and straw. Saw S.A. and Italian Airforce Major whilst at the Baronessa’s.
January 9th [8th not written up]
Went up to a little pub on the road for a chat with S.A.s and on the way met an American who is lying up round here. He had been caught near Castel de Sangno and did not think the chances of getting through the line were very great, not during the winter anyway. After a drink at the pub went into Leofreni to hear the wireless but it got late so I went back to C.Luccio. Had a long chat to Vincenzo, who also cut my hair. He does everything, like in all these villages, cobbles, hair-cuts, Forest guard and farmer. It seems to be taken for granted that I will stay now, they say until the English come, but I fear this will be quite a long time yet, it must be difficult country to attack over. The Germans come into Leofreni in trucks but so far have not been down here, one’s worries are Fascists and spies.
9th January 1944 Fleet, Hampshire.
My dear Brenda,
How irritating it is when letters cross. I was awfully interested to see all the rumours, it is extraordinary what a lot of false information does get about. How on earth could Tony Gregson get hold of that story about 29? We knew his brother John very well, he was a subaltern when we were at Woking in 1938 and we saw quite a lot of him, a nice lad.
I had a very depressed letter from poor Betty Clarke the other day, she’s just moving in to a bed-sitting room in London, all alone and she writes “You can imagine what this feels like after the lovely home Andrew and I shared”. Oh dear, Oh dear! I hope to have lunch with her next week.
Sounds as if the 2nd front invasion really is coming off pretty soon, doesn’t it? Wonder if the 50th. will be in the front again. I dread the whole affair.
If you really want to hear everything I know that Sammy’s room mate, Willie Forbes, was recaptured and is in Germany, also Copper Blackett, a Northumbrian friend. I heard from his wife and I’ve seen a couple of others mentioned in the Times, but I agree with you, I do think you ought to have heard by now if Ronnie had been recaptured and I feel all the time he will turn up in our lines which would be the only possible reward for this Hell.
I’m very glad to hear that you were taken out at Christmas, I wish to goodness you weren’t
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so tied to Peter, however much you love him, as it does do one so much good to get about and see people and it’s hopeless with a child.
Yes, I’d heard about ‘Lippie’ (I don’t know her name either) and I know the poor wretched mother, very sweet woman with 3 daughters. It’s the most dreadful shock as she had no suspicion she was TB until she had this bad go of ‘flu before Christmas. It means separation from her children for about a year, too frightful. Remember me to Jennifer Robinson and wish her best of luck next time you see her please.
I got Peter Jeffrey’s cable all right and was very touched at his sending it. I wrote and thanked Philippa at once.
Christopher is just on the mend at last, his cough together with ear-ache was most unpleasant, poor little boy, it was so painful and he was terribly good and patient, I can’t bear seeing them in pain.
Have you any servants now or are you managing completely by yourselves and how is your mother standing up to it?
I’ve only had three letters from Sammy all together, they are very slow and it’s really cables that keep one up to time. He’s just had my second letter when he cables on Dec. 28th. I’ve not yet had any letter in answer to a letter. I know he’d cable at once if he heard of Ronnie as he said so but as I said before, I’m sure Ronnie went south.
I wish I could help.!
Lots of love, Karin.
10th. January 1944
POST OFFICE TELEGRAM
51 9.57 CROOK BHK 9
CUMMINS BURTON BRADSTOCK 61
RONNIE SAFE AND WELL WRITING LENA.
10th January 1944 10 Croft Avenue, Crook, Co. Durham.
My Dear Brenda,
Am writing this in great haste. You would get my telegram, I hope, with the grand news. I sent it off in such excitement and realised afterwards how inadequate it was. Doug’s letter came this morning dated Dec. 6th. in which he said ” if my last letter has not reached you am telling you again that I have news of Ronnie and will you tell Brenda”.
He says he is safe and well and may not be able to write for some time. I don’t know what it means but at least he is safe and well and, my dear, how I rejoice with you after all these months.
I rang up Ronnie’s parents this morning too, his Mother was delighted with the news.
Must dash off to post this. Shall write and give you any details that Doug passes on to me.
Cheerio my dear and kiss Peter for me.
10th January 1944 Clarence, Bishop Auckland.
My Darling Brenda,
Mary is telephoning Ruth and if she gets any information from the WO she will write to you direct, or if any news Ruth will telephone you direct.
Mrs. Douglas Caldwell unfortunately did not telephone to the house but to the works, I was not there and a girl took the message and when I came down it was given to me. I rang up
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Dr. Caldwell (her Father in law) and was given a number to ring up and Mrs. Caldwell would come to the phone, she is not on the telephone so I said “get her to ring up my house and give the news to my wife” which she did and the news is as she wired you, that Ronnie was a prisoner in Germany, safe and well, but could not write just yet. Why, she did not know, but apparently in this letter Douglas had written a prior letter to the one she received this morning and more details were in this letter which at the moment has not reached her. Why Ronnie cannot or is not allowed to write himself she does not know, tho’ the reason may be given in the missing letter. It is possible he isn’t allowed to write until he is settled in a permanent camp or some form of punishment. It cannot be on account of injury for then Douglas would not have said safe and well.
Whether this is rumour or truth I don’t know, but short of Ronnie getting to Switzerland I am thankful he is a prisoner for at least we know he is safe and will be getting news through others and amongst friends and that he is not wandering somewhere in Italy.
This is as much information as I can give you and I hope it is true. I cannot think Douglas would have written and asked his wife to at once let you know if he wasn’t positive.
My love to you all, Grandpa.
January 11th [10th. not written up]
Went out for the day today as it is better to get away from the villages during the day, and luckily the weather has been kind. Walked through Rocca down to another small village where I asked for ostelie? here I ordered half litro but when I told them who I was they refused to let me pay and gave me fried pig’s liver and bread for luck. Afterwards I went up to Colle where I was asked into a house to drink wine, I did not refuse! then along the mountain road to Leofreni and, having got a bit careless I failed to duck and ran slap into a Fascist Militia who, by the grace of God, was a good one and after asking me where I was going, let me go. Must be more careful in future. Had a drink with the S.A. and Giovanni when I got to Castel Luccio and so to bed.
All the S.A.s, except the Major, left this morning, don’t quite know where they have gone. The Major was up late and is leaving tomorrow to join them. After lunch in the village of gnocchi, which was rather too substantial for the two Majors but was lapped up by Giovanni, who usually is a small eater, we went up to Leofreni to listen to the wireless news. Found a nice quiet set in Dopo Lavoro and got the news for what it was worth. Had a modicum of vino and at about 17.00hrs. Giovanni came in with an Italian called Kikino who presented us with 50lr. each and gave me a nice little dictionary. He said he was going into Rome in a few days’ time and would bring us out 500lr each. Went back to C. Luccio to food and bed. Am not sure about Kikino, the village tells me he was at one time a red hot Fascist but is now trying to curry favour with prisoners to “be in good” when the English arrive.
12th January 1944 Culmstock Vicarage, Cullompton.
My dear Brenda,
I feel such a pig for not writing to you before to thank you for your Christmas letter.
David and I have been feeling most desperately sorry for you in your great anxiety. We saw your advertisement and I did so hope that you might get some news through it. David insists
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that Ronnie is not “the sort of chap to go and give himself up tamely” and feels sure that he made a bid for freedom. He says it might be necessary to hide up for months with some loyal Italians in order to make absolutely certain of a safe getaway.
I do wonder if you will go to Mrs. Luxton? It would be such heaven to see you again and for the boys to get together and the break would be so good for you. I do see, tho’, that there is the question of travelling in the winter and the ‘flu epidemic, tho’ I believe it is abating.
By the greatest luck David got home for Christmas. His disembarkation leave ended on Dec. 6th, but he went into hospital when he returned to the unit to have some tummy trouble investigated and managed to pull off a sick leave on the strength of it! As he wasn’t at all ill we were able to have the most lovely family Christmas. He was asked to take his next privileged leave, due in Feb., at the same time so he got a fortnight which lasted in to the New Year. It means he only has 48 hours left in Feb. but David said that after his experience of leaves he felt that a leave in the hand was worth everything and it was lovely for the boys and gave them a chance of really getting to know him.
David is in a bleak little town in Norfolk which is a far cry from here, but there is absolutely nothing to be done about it as I feel it would be hopeless to try and get suitable accommodation for the 2 boys. If it were summer and I knew that David would stay put I might risk it, but in the winter I don’t feel that it can be done. But as Mrs. Bees is such a brick I can get off for a few days now and again.
You see, unless a miracle happens, David will be in the next show with Monty, strictly entre nous, so that in spite of all this marvellous good luck and the lovely time we have had, the war is not yet over for us.
David told me more about Ronnie and said he would write to you about it. He was most frightfully plucky going in to action the time when he was taken prisoner. You see, what he had been suffering from was not piles but a very bad boil on his “back side” which had pulled him down in health and caused him to walk a bit lame. He was so unfit that after many repeated arguments David was still insisting up to the last that Ronnie should remain behind. However, David’s truck was just getting underway with the rest going in to action, when he turned round and saw Ronnie just piling in to his own truck. David said he was so filled with admiration that he couldn’t say anything more and he knew how tremendously cheered Ronnie’s men would be to see him and what a terrific affect it would have on their morale.
I thought you would be glad to know this and also that David says that Ronnie was far and away the best company commander in the Battalion.
I wish I could say more to cheer you up, I do feel for you so very, very much. I can’t imagine the agony of waiting and the misery of not being able to write. David thinks Ronnie must have been in the north of Italy and says it would take a long time to work his way south if he were trying to join up with our forces. I hope so very much that this year will bring some news of him. David is very optimistic that this summer will put paid to the Germans, I do hope and pray that he is right and that by this time next year we shall have them home with us again.
I adored the snapshot of Peter that you sent.
My love to your Mother, a kiss for Peter and lots of love to yourself.
Heard the S.A. Major had gone this morning, he never said goodbye or anything, as a matter
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of fact I had my doubts about him being a Major but I may be wrong. The girls say that everything is arranged in the village and to try the lines now, in thick snow, is quite stupid. I must admit that this is quite true and although it is hellish sitting around doing nothing, this is a good place to lie up and wait for the weather. As far as I can gather the priest said the people were to look after Giovanni and I and we were to spend one day in each house as far as food is concerned. I have only seen him once, he seemed young but rather unshaven. Giovanni is very popular, I am afraid I cannot equal him, he can slap the young girls and nurse the children and get away with it, but the good old English reserve is no good at that kind of thing. Today I did have to kiss one little boy who would have been better employed blowing his nose, but otherwise I am afraid I keep quiet. However the people seem very kind and are most sympathetic about my not yet having seen Peter and my photos are quite dirty with the times I have handed them round.
Hear that a few days ago some boots and food etc. were dropped off at Calvaro, so many rumours, it is hard to believe this one. Anyhow I am not going to investigate this as it is too far and boot leather is too precious. Had a nasty fall this evening, Giovanni and I went to hear the news at Leofreni and on the way back I slipped on the frozen path and fell on my chest, it feels as if I have broken a rib. We are getting hard frosts and the paths are very dangerous. Went straight into the straw without a meal.
13th January 1944 Fleet, Hampshire.
Brenda, my dear,
I was terribly interested in your letter this morning and am wondering whether I shall have a telephone call from you this evening. It’s most mysterious this message from Caldwell. I cannot understand what could possibly prevent your hearing from Ronnie direct if he is in Germany. As you say if his hand was wounded, he’d always get someone else to write. It’s quite fantastic. And yet surely Caldwell’s wife wouldn’t be so cruel as to telegraph if his story was only a camp rumour. I quite agree with you, I hate people who try to be kind with information not based on fact. I do hope that Ronnie is not in Germany, as I know how utterly depressed that would make you and me too if I were in your shoes. Oh, my dear, what hell you are having, I am so sorry.
Here is a very poor selection of clothes. The best have already been snaffled, people book in advance here. Can I have Christopher’s linen suits when he has outgrown them. The cotton suits are worn out and worth absolutely nothing but might do Peter for the garden. The blue and white shantung affair is also worth nothing, I never liked it, far too girlish for CCR. It was made for him and flourishes and I always felt thoroughly ungrateful. The green knickers and blouse are quite nice and not very worn and the little red and white knickers are quite fun as sun suit or ordinary, either. Heaven knows what these last three items are worth, I would say they are a gift as then you’ll feel you can never ask again and I’d love to be of any use to Peter. If you find the green and pink in the linen trousers doesn’t fit send them back, but the rest you must pass on to the village. I should think 3 coupons and 10/- for the lot but honestly don’t know.
I enclose a letter from a Mrs. Birkin whose son in 29 was rather a friend of Sammy’s. If R is not in Germany this may be of some comfort to you.
Lots of love Karin.
Rib very sore this morning and I feel sure that something is broken, but I can manage to
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walk so went and saw Bob at the farm where I had heard he was living. I had a long wait as he had gone out with the son but the young girl and old man gave me some minestra. During my wait saw over one hundred bombers pass. A grand sight. I don’t know where they went to but someone must have had an uncomfortable time. Bob came back at last and we had a chat, he seems quite settled, I am glad to say, and sleeps beside the fire, on straw. After some sausage and bread he came back with me to Leofreni where we failed to hear the news but had some vino. We don’t know where Mack is poor lad, I fear he will not stay long in any one place, but no doubt will be back for Feb.1st. Bob and I had our usual grouse about the Italians saying the English are “poco forte” “if only we had our bayonets we would drive the Germans out in no time”. It is difficult to keep calm when this talk goes on but I think we have learnt to laugh now. When we walked into Dopo Lavoro we found a Fascist Militia sitting there which gave us a bit of a shock but once again fortune favoured us and he was “un amico”, in fact we stood each other drinks. Arranged with Bob to meet him there in two days’ time for news etc. Bought some foglia (leaf) tobacco today, 25lr. an etto, it is very strong but we are used to it by now. Vino is a wicked price 20lr. a litro, we used to pay 8 in the old days. They killed a lamb in the kitchen at night and skinned, gutted and cut it up all within half an hour, it is amazing how they use everything, still there should be some good eating for a bit.
14th January 1944 Caldwell, Irvine, Ayrshire.
My dear Brenda,
Many apologies for not replying earlier to your telegram which I received on Sunday morning. I went up to London on the sleeper train and only returned yesterday. I saw Ruth in Tuesday evening and was very glad to hear that certain snippets of news you have now received go to show that at least Ronnie is alive and reasonably well although, for some unknown reason, kept out of communication with us. That is just the gist of what Ruth told me.
I had a few minutes with Lord McGowan on Wednesday afternoon and as a result have written to Dermot Daly asking for any help or information he may be able to give you. You might like to see what I have said to him, I enclose a copy of my letter herewith. As soon as I have any response I will, naturally, send it straight along to you.
Doris joins me in all the best of good wishes to both you and Peter. We both admire the way in which you have kept up hope which again seems to have been fully justified.
Kindest regards, Yours sincerely, Con.
IMPERIAL CHEMICAL INDUSTRIES LIMITED.
Major D R Daly,
Binfield, Berks. 14th January 1944.
Dear Major Daly,
During an interview with Lord McGowan on Wednesday afternoon last, I asked his help in what is rather a personal matter, and he was kind enough to let me have your address and say I may use his name in writing to you.
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To come to the point, during the last war I served with the father of Major R L Cummins MC and R L Cummins’ young son is now a God son of mine. You may or may not know that Cummins has been missing and completely untraced since the fall of Italy last September, but I believe that prior to that he might have been in the same POW camp as you were and it seemed to me just possible that you might be able to supply some information that would be useful to pass along to his wife and his parents.
The Cummins family experiences in this war have been rather sad because R L Cummins was missing quite a long period during the Dunkirk time and of course the same thing happened between him being capture in Northern Africa and being able to re-start communications from Italy, and now from September last to the present time without word is, I am afraid, beginning to tell on his wife. I appreciate in writing you like this it might be that you are quite unable to give any information, on the other hand if you even knew what his intentions were on breaking camp, which presumably he would do, it might be of some comfort for those at home to know of them. I am awfully sorry to trouble you on a matter of this kind but I feel that any avenue for information, however improbable, should at least be explored.
Yours sincerely, C. Fawcett.
Another hard frost, rib a little better but still very sore. After my wash (shave every three days) and coffee I went up to my mountain-side seat. Thank God the sun is warm and I have found a seat which is in the shelter of a barn, out of the wind, where I can sit quietly and watch the village in case Germans or Fascists come. Thank heaven my jacket, although old, is strong, afraid my trousers are finished, they will take no more patches, still I have the very thin pair which may last some time, yet the others have done very well since S. Sophia. It is amazing but one gets used to being like a tramp, the only trouble is bugs, I think I have got rid of them after changing and washing my shirt and a change of trousers should complete the cure, one gets the fleas from the straw of course. Collected Giovanni and had lunch, I must admit we get well fed, pasta, minestra and meat (in small bits) etc. Since coming here I have put on weight but I could do with it. Children, at least the boys, are badly brought up and allowed far too much freedom, in fact they say just what they want to their parents, often I wanted to give one a good clip over the head. The little girls are quite sweet and start work very early, so do the boys for that matter but they are far too old for their years.
The village is getting filled up with evacuees from Carsoli and other villages on the nearby main road which gets bombed regularly. Still, we seem to move very slowly and the people take this bombing very calmly, of course we get the usual “poco forte” business.
15th January 1944 Clarence, Bishop Auckland.
Grandpa and I have thought things over thoroughly and we have come to the conclusion that you have, that Lena Caldwell’s message does not mean that Ronnie is in Germany. Doug may have heard from someone that Ronnie is all right and, as you say, the fact of his being unable to write looks as if he were still free. It is so difficult to know what to think, but your
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faith that he is not in German hands gives us hope too. Surely we will hear from him soon. When Mrs. Caldwell rang up she quite gave me the impression that Ronnie was in Germany, but when she went on to see Grandpa and told him what was really the wording of the letter (as you have) it did not say he was in a German camp. Time will tell and we must just hope and pray.
Thank you very much for the leaflets from Punch magazine. The Rector also sent me one, I don’t agree with you about the quotation, God may take one thing away but something else is given. In my case if Ronnie had never gone to the war he would never have met you and my thought is that I have lost him for the time being but I have regained you and Peter and it happens in so many cases, not always, I admit from Ronnie’s point of view, he has had to lose a lot but he has gained more. Don’t lose your faith in things, darling, I have had so many letters from people to whom I sent that Christmas card and they have said what a comfort it has given them.
Charlie has been to golf today, it is such lovely mild weather, a sudden change after the heavy frost and snow.
Ruth’s new address is: 198 Queensgate, London SW7. I am so sorry she had to leave the flat but she couldn’t stay there with Edmund alone in the flat. We had Con’s letter tonight he had got in touch with Daly, but you will have got his letter.
Our dear love, darling, and a kiss for Peter. God bless you, keep your heart up, we will hear from Ronnie soon I pray.
Yours, Granny M.
Cutting from a newspaper:
BRITISH OFFICER SHOT BY GESTAPO.
Attempted Escape to Allied Lines.
Captain Roger F Lawrence RA, younger son of Iris Lady Lawrence, of Springwood, Godalming, was shot by the Germans on January 15th while attempting to escape to Allied lines in Italy. “All I know is that he was hiding one night in a little stone hut near Aquila when the Gestapo came and he was shot.” Lady Lawrence stated today.
Captain Lawrence was wounded and taken prisoner in February of last year, when his ship was torpedoed during the voyage to North Africa. After spending some time in hospital he was sent to a camp in northern Italy. When Italy collapsed he was freed and spent the next four months evading capture on his way south.
After pranzo (dinner/lunch) went up to Leofreni to meet Bob but found that the wireless had been taken away as, the day before, two German soldiers had walked into one house and stolen the radio saying they would be back, they do this, of course, for cash, selling it in the next village. Have a feeling that this place is getting dangerous, I am becoming rather too well known, everyone seems to know that there is a Major living at Castel Luccio. Ah well, I can slip at a moment’s notice, I have no luggage except my blanket. Bob says his old farmer is a very good sort and only living to get back to America where he spent 15 years he says “Italy is God damn awful” and when the war is finished he is going straight back. Many say this but I have a feeling it will not be as easy as all that. They are very amusing speaking English and may have only two or three words, still I expect I sound pretty funny speaking Italian. Left Bob after walking a bit of the way back with him, went to the only pub for a drink but the owner was drunk so I left after a slight argument as to if I was English or not
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so I left without anything.
January 18th [17th. not written up]
A full day. Rib better but still painful, certain it must have been a slight fracture. After lunch whilst sitting in the mountains who should arrive but Kikino and two other Italians and Giovanni. Kikino presented me with a phrase book and both of us with tobacco and matches. The other two looked very smart and said they had just come out from Rome. Kikino then presented me with 16,000lr. in 1000 lr. notes. This gave me a bit of a shock as I had only expected 500lr. so I said that I hardly wanted as much as 16,000lr. Then they told me the story, the money the money was English and sent from Rome for prisoners in the country but that it was hard to distribute and I was to take the lot and pay out to prisoners when I saw them. So far so good, but I was to sign for 20,000lr. as they said they had many expenses, secondly they would bring into Castel Luccio any prisoners they found for me to pay, or if I signed for the money, then handed a certain sum they would pay it to any prisoners they found. Altogether rather a complicated business, on top of which I did not know them and being of a careful nature I thought of the many snags which might occur. They had to get me to sign for the cash then arrange my capture and divide up all round. However to cut a long story short, I refused 16,000lr. but took 3,000lr. 1500 for me and 1500 for Giovanni. They were rather cross about this but for many reasons, particularly that I could not see myself instrumental in making them 4000lr., I decided that this was the best course. Giovanni was all for me taking the lot but as he could not write and thus could not sign his name he, I felt, had not much say in the matter. Perhaps I was foolish but after 4 months, continually on the alert, I somehow did not like the feeling of this. Had I been able to leave immediately and get out of the district I might have swallowed my principles and taken the lot. They also asked me to go into Rome but I also refused this as I could see no particular benefit to be gained. After prolonged goodbyes they left and Giovanni and I went down to Maria’s house which as usual had no fire and was as cold as hell. However we bought 4 litro on the strength of our money and stood drinks all round. I think the village consider me stupid but there it is, somehow I felt it risky to take the money. 1500lr. was no good for improving my wardrobe, prices are far too high for that, but I can get a few things like shaving-soap and blades tec.
January 20th [19th. not written up]
Strange rumours today of landings by the Allies at many points near Rome, Anzio, Nettuno, Avitavecchio (?) etc. Unfortunately we have had no electricity for two days and all the wireless sets are off. If it is true it is good, but we have heard these rumours before. There seem to be many lying up all around, practically every village, except those with Fascists in, has it’s “paurarine” [?frightened]. I must say they have been very kind to us but it is a tiring life, continually on the alert and always waiting. Again reports show that I am getting too well known around these parts, it only requires a bad Fascist to hear and I can be bagged easily, as we have always said what hell to be caught when at any moment something big may happen and we have a chance to be free.
One of the girls returned from Rome today, she says the U.S.A. have been bombing inside Rome and machine-gunning the streets, a thing I can hardly believe except that it is first hand news.
20th January 1944 10, Croft Avenue, Crook.
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My Dear Brenda,
I am writing this in the midst of the children’s wild half hour before bed, so forgive the errors and the scribble please.
Many thanks for your letter and, of course, my dear, I see your point exactly. Doug made no reference whatever to Ronnie being in Germany and I quite agree that he may still be free. A friend tells that she saw in the Telegraph, I think it was, of someone from Ronnie’s camp turning up in Switzerland just last week so maybe you will have news of Ronnie soon, or better still he may just walk in upon you! How lovely it would be. I keep my fingers crossed for you and hope it will be soon. Doug’s letter, the one with the details of Ronnie, has not yet turned up. I may have told too much, one never knows, but if it does come I shall phone you.
Don’t talk of expense, what does that matter. I’ve often thought of ringing you up but wondered whether you’d be at home. I phone from the house of a friend two houses away, Crook 11, if you ever have any urgent news to impart they’d be only too pleased to get me, it wouldn’t take a minute to get along.
I’ve had an address from Doug, OFLAG V111, Germany. He was not there when he wrote but was about to set off on the journey. It is not in the map of the camps so must be a new one, hope it is reasonably comfortable, poor lamb.
Have you got Ronnie’s kit back? Am busy negotiating for Doug’s, it is in Liverpool and the agents, Cox and Kings are writing for permission from the War Office to send it to me. A friend of mine has just got her husband’s back and says there are lots of woollens in a tin trunk, some Vyella shirts and some service dress, doesn’t sound too bad does it?
It is head washing night for the children so must begin earlier than usual. Is Peter well? Kiss him from Katharine and Helen. Don’t you wish the summer was here? These dull days do drag along and the children can’t get out. My cousin, in Devon, write some time ago and said that snowdrops were blooming in her garden. We have nothing like that at this time of year. A “free for all” is taking place so I must intervene! Gosh! what a life. My arms ached in sympathy with yours! Kitchen floors are filthy things, my poor hands, I can’t touch silk stockings.
Lots of love, my dear, and good news soon.
20th January 1944 186 Field Ambulance, Thetford.
My Dear Brenda,
I have often thought of you and I have been hoping that you would have some news by now. It is a long time but having seen what was happening in Sicily I think there is a very good chance that Ronnie is in hiding somewhere. It is a long way from North Italy to our lines and I am sure that there are fellows still hiding there. Ronnie, I know, would try anyway as he wouldn’t take the easy way into Switzerland like the others.
I never told you at the time but I think you might like to hear something of the circumstances of the time when he was taken prisoner. He may have told you that he had a very bad boil on his buttock at the time. I persuaded him not to go on the show. However, just as I was starting at the end of the column he came hobbling up and begged me to take him saying that he refused to let his company down by allowing them to go in to a difficult battle without him. It was a great effort and I know what a difference it made to Sammy as there was no other Major with us at the time.
I believe that Daphne has written to you fairly recently, she is staying at Culmstock and is
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having quite a busy time with the children as Michael is now at a difficult stage and Richard is teething. I hope she will be able to visit you sometime but it is so difficult to get away and if one does Culmstock is such an awkward place to travel to from.
I do hope Peter is flourishing and well. He must be a fine chap now and I suppose that he can talk a bit.
Let me know how you are. With love to you both.
Tried to hear news but it is impossible, however rumours seem correct which is good. Anzio and Nettuno seem to be the places and judging by the amount of planes over something must be up. I suppose they are trying to cut the German lines of supply to the south and perhaps free Rome. Everyone very thrilled and expecting the Allies at any moment. I wonder if now is the time to move, if only we could get some definite news and not just rumours. Rib about the same and rather troublesome for sleeping.
On 22nd. January Allied troops were landed at Anzio but were pinned down by very strong German forces but they managed to hold the beach head and the Navy was able to sustain and reinforce the Garrison.
Went over to the valley to see Bob in the afternoon, took blanket so that I could spend the night. Met the girl on the path who told me that Bob had gone to Dopo Lavarro, found him there and had a long “crack” all about Anzio, which seems true, Kikino, my refusal etc. Vino ran out so we decided to go along to Gaetano’s for some. On the way the old woman in the farm near the Baronessa asked us in and gave us little “pizzas” fried in oil and asked us to stay the night. She was almost disgustingly servile (the Allies will be here soon !!) but I said I would as I had nowhere else, so after eating I left my blanket and Bob and I went on to Gaetano’s. He was in his new house and had some evacuees from Carsoli and a Cypriot with him, the latter could speak Italian well and a bit of English but was very verbose. Had a good reception from Gaetano who was a little drunk and a very pressing invitation to stay, we started back. I stayed at my farm and Bob went on to his after agreeing to meet at Old Mother Farinha’s [?] tomorrow morning. Had quite a good minestra but a large family and the children would climb over my knees. The old man a treat, a last war veteran and proud of it, I have met many of his kind. To bed in the straw and quite a good night, though very cold.
Up to a thick cover of snow which melted in the sun. For a poor house the woman was too kind and gave me eggs, an almost unheard luxury, afraid she was looking for a chit signed by a Major. Met Bob at Dopo Lavoro where we had a chat, then on to his place for sausage and bread, afterwards up to a house on the outskirts of Leofreni for vino. Cost nothing, very kind people but like many others expecting the Allies at any moment. Anzio seems quite true, but Bob and I have decided to wait until we can get hold of Mack before moving. Mack seems to be in Dagenti, according to a man we met in Dopo Lavoro, living in the house next to Carla. I hope he comes over on 1st. Back to C. Luccio at night and into my barn again.
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23rd January 1944 Northern and Counties Club, Newcastle.
My dear Brenda,
I am afraid the news I enclose from my enquiry of Major Daly is not of much use to you, but as his wife replied I thought you may like to have her letter which I enclose herewith. I am sorry that it has taken such an age to do this little thing for you, and I’m afraid without much success, but I have been away from home all last week and Dorrie and I are now staying one night in Newcastle en route for home tomorrow. My mother died rather suddenly last Monday, we shall miss her a lot, but perhaps it has been the best thing for her, she was becoming a very poorly old lady, and we know she enjoyed her last few weeks over Xmas spent with us at a time when she was not fit to undertake such journeys.
Dorrie joins me in good wishes to you and Peter and we pray for definite and recent word of Ronnie.
With love, Con.
19th January 1944 Binfield Place, Bracknell, Berks.
Dear Mr. Fawcett,
I am writing for my husband as he is in hospital and unable to write himself. He asks me to tell you that on September 10th. Major Cummins was fit and well and definitely got out of the camp. I am afraid that my husband has no idea of his plans after that.
I am sorry that there isn’t more to tell you and his family and it will seem an age since Sept. 10th for them. I am rather nervous of giving any opinion but surely there must be quite a lot of hope that he is free and they will have news of him soon, I do hope so.
Yours sincerely, Nan Daly.
23rd January 1944 Hope Cottage, Sunningdale, Berks.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
I am afraid I did not meet your husband after the Armistice, but I heard that he was in company with a Major Champion who I know has been recaptured by the Germans and is now in Oflag V111 F. I imagine that the message you have received means that your husband is free still and in hiding somewhere in Italy. I don’t really think it would be much good your writing to Major Champion as he could not give you any details and you might prejudice your husband’s safety if the Germans get to know they were together. If he had been recaptured himself you would be notified, I gather, very promptly so no news is good news.
I should imagine he is in hiding somewhere until the end of the winter, or until our troops make a big advance. The Italians are very good to us and they will help him all they can, so I don’t think you need worry, although I know how worrying it must be to hear nothing for so long. He was very fit and well when I last saw him and none the worse for his captivity. I hope he gets back soon, I feel he will.
Yours sincerely, J E F Linton.
Anzio definitely true, also Nettuno, but landings only at these two points. It is early yet to say how things will go but there can be no doubt that if we take Rome many things can happen. One or two prisoners are coming through, we are on the route to the new front. I have not spoken to them but the girls say they have given them food. After lunch Giovanni and I had a walk to Rocca, I am getting rather tired of him but as there are only us two, one
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can’t be choosy, we have to converse in our awful Italian. Rocca very afraid of the bombing which has been going on and convinced they will all be killed in their beds. Tried to explain the situation but impossible. Weather stays fine but still hard frosts at night. Must try and have a bath somehow but even in the sun the river is too cold. At night two strange men in the house, both drunk, dressed in civilian clothes and carrying rifles, could not make out who they were but I was taken into a corner and after being breathed upon at very close quarters, told to take Kikino’s money and did I want a revolver? I am amazed that I was polite to the end.
24th January 1944 10, Croft Avenue, Crook.
My dear Brenda,
Doug’s letter has turned up but with as little information as the other. He stresses the fact that Ronnie is safe and well and adds “Tell Brenda he is OK” so he must have something reliable to go on, don’t you think?
The son of a friend of ours who has not been heard of since Italy capitulated has just cabled to say he is safe and well with the British. Did I tell you of him in my letter? Peter’s father went to see a lad who has got back to this country. He says that the Italian peasants were waiting for them when they jumped the train and provided them with civilian clothing. they lived in the villages with the people and even wandered around amongst the Germans quite safely. They gathered at a certain place opposite the British lines until one of our planes came along and spotted them, the pilot flew back and gave their position and a safe lane was made for them to come through. Marvellous, isn’t it? So, my dear, you will be hearing from Ronnie shortly I feel sure. It has been a long and weary time for you but you have been a real soldier’s wife and stuck it, you will have your reward very soon.
We are having appalling weather, cold, gales, sleet, rain, everything except sunshine. I do wish the spring was here. Helen is rather tummyish, she was very sick on Saturday night due to eating unaccustomed oranges. I’ve had a whacking great wash today of cot blankets etc.
This is the next day, I find it difficult to complete a letter at one sitting, something or someone always interrupts.
Kiss Peter R for me, he must be a darling now. Let me know as soon as you have any news.
24th January 1944 Fleet, Hampshire.
My dear Brenda,
Just like you to send double what I suggested! It’s frightfully difficult valuing these things so I won’t argue but hope they really will be of use. The coupons are lovely to get, I’m saving up for 2 new winter coats and hats for the children next winter.
I was very sorry to hear of your Mother’s fall. As if one didn’t have enough unavoidable worries without having extras. And a fall like that always leaves a shock. Do hope she will soon feel herself again. I’m very glad to hear that you’ll have your sister to help as it sounds as if you’re doing far too much.
I don’t believe a word of that “punishment of recaptured prisoners”, absolute nonsense. I can see Ronnie working on an Italian farm, the complete native and perhaps this new landing will buck everything up so he’ll be back in no time.
Letters are very scarce from Sammy. I’ve had nothing for 3 weeks but the children got one a week ago. Anyway he went to Adelboden (not Arosa) on the 15th as I heard from my sister after a telephone conversation.
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I am going away tomorrow for 2 nights, first time I’ve been away without the children since April. Terrific excitement. Christopher is quite recovered, thank goodness, but a variety of illness still flourishes roundabout.
Love to you all and again many thanks and as always hoping for the best with Ronnie. Karin.
25th January 1944 6th. DLI, Cambs.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
Just a line or two to thank you for a parcel of magazines which I received last weekend. It is very kind of you to send them and they are welcome, believe me. I shall pass them round the Coy. so as many as possible will see them. I have just had the pleasure of 10 days privilege leave and the parcel was here for me on my return. Well, Mrs. Cummins, I hope you and the baby are keeping in the best of health. Have you had any word of Major Cummins lately. I do hope he is safe and well, it must be very worrying for you.
There is very little in the way of news here. Things are still pretty quiet in the Batt. and nothing very exciting is happening. It isn’t the same crowd somehow and not like the old lads who were in Devon with us. I still keep in contact with several people in Cullompton and get mail fairly regularly from them. Did I tell you that Major Wood had rejoined the Batt. and is now second in command.
I think that is all for now, so once again I will thank you for the papers and will close wishing you the very best and good health to all at home.
Yours sincerely, E Fowler.
January 26th [25th. not written up]
Went to Leofreni with Giovanni and saw an Indian who told a lot of lies. Anzio slow but reinforcements arriving. Pray heaven something happens soon.
Rib better but I can still feel it when moving. Kikino came again today and asked for a chit which I gave, it is amazing how the landing has made them all think. Sitting up in the mountains I have seen quite a number of prisoners pass, in fact the trek has started. Mack should be over soon and our decision must be made. I am afraid it will be a difficult one, after staying free so long, one feels dubious of risking capture when Spring and the battle season seem so near. 8th. and 5th. Army now stopped, can’t make out who has done the landing, I think half American and half English. Wish I could get more news home, the son of the Baronessa said my message had gone and Kikino took another, but who knows, with such difficulties attached, if these messages ever do reach their destination.
Arranged for some water to be heated for me this afternoon and came down for it at about 16.00hrs. Was just going to start when who should arrive but Mack, he seems to have been in a large circle, staying in a number of villages. Went into the local next door for a litro, unfortunately an old man there would talk to us when we had so much to talk about. After sinking our drinks went back in to the house and I had my bath, a good one. Afterwards Mack said he was going over into the valley to see Bob, had one more for the road and I gave him some money. Great excitement at night, whilst Giovanni and I had our supper about half the village trooped in saying “Escape! Escape!”. Seven Germans had arrived for the night. This rather put us out as at that hour it was almost impossible to find a place.
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However someone in the crowd suggested that they might be English as that was what they claimed to be so I said that I would go down to the place where they were eating and see. The first thing I heard was a broad Yorkshire voice so everything was O.K. They turned out to be seven Parachutists on their way to the line, all in uniform and fully armed. A. S. Major was in charge and one of them was from Darlington. I assured the village that they were English and had a good talk. They were, quite rightly, vague as to where they had been dropped and the job they had done, but gave some interesting news never the less.
Awoken by the old man, owner of the barn, who was reinforced by two others who once again told me to escape as there were Germans, I asked where they were now and they said in beds in various houses. This amused me as here I was a British officer sleeping in the straw. However I once again assured them that the parachutists were most certainly English and went down to wash and shave. After coffee went and had another chat with them all, they don’t seem to know if the line is possible or not. One spoke Italian very well, I think he must be partly Italian, he had lunch with Giovanni and I. After lunch I left them and went up and listened to the news in Dopo Lavoro, met Bob’s old man and gave him a letter for Bob. Back to find all gone and the village at rest. Pulled their legs about Germans sleeping in beds and I in the straw, I don’t think the joke went down very well.
Left C. Luccio at about midday to go and see Bob and Mack. On the way through Leofreni met 5 P.O.W.s on their way to Anzio, two were “the oldest inhabitants” of San Anatolia. They had never gone back and thought 7 had been taken there and that now Gerry had a commando there. I also heard about Colvaro which had been surrounded owing to trouble there, luckily they captured no-one. They also confirmed the story that the Italians had taken most of the kit and food dropped for prisoners and were selling it (1500lr. for a pair of boots). All seemed quite cheerful and like everyone were only hoping that the Anzio landing might mean our deliverance. I gave them all the information I could about the local district, it’s safety and danger points etc. and then went on to Dopo Lavoro to find Bob and Mack. When I passed the farm near the empty house, who had turned us away on Dec.19th the woman rushed out and dragged me in for a glass of wine, she wanted to give me an egg but I refused, this kind of thing makes you sick. It is amazing what the thought of the arrival of the Allies can do, Signor Maggiore this! Signor Maggiore that! Found the other two at Old mother Farinha’s who is a grand old woman. All talked hard, Mack seems to have had an adventurous night after leaving me to see Bob. Only one litro of vino left but more coming tomorrow so after a talk Mack and I arranged to meet Bob in the same place tomorrow at midday. Bob left for his farm and Mack and I went off to find a place to sleep. Passed Gaetano’s where we had a drink and some bread and sausage, he was in Santa Maria but we had a chat to his son and one or two others who came passed. At about 18.00hrs we went on to the next farm and asked for a barn to sleep in. It was a very large family and poor but we were given a large plate of polenta and I bought some wine for all. After talking for a bit and saying that we expected the Allies here any day, liar!, we went into the straw in a barn which led off the room, I think some of the family slept there as well. I had my blanket and Mack got right under the straw. I am calling on the Baronessa tomorrow on the way back, the son had seen Mack and said he would like to see me.
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Waited a long time in the morning but at last got some boiled potatoes. After leaving thanks and the usual chit ( the country is littered with my name) we went to see the Baronessa and her son, both of them were very charming and said that the messages which Bob and I had left with them had gone through and should be on their way home, grand news! Heard true story about Crano(?) etc. Baronessa says Rome is getting very short of food. They gave us a delightful lunch with some good Vermouth and a terrific pear each to take away. Also had a good look at a map for the route to the new front. Met Bob at D. Lavoro but no vino, I had seen the man going for it when I got up, a slow job with a donkey, but Mother Farinha says she expects him at any moment. The S.A. arrived from near Gaetano’s to join us for our reunion celebration and at about 16.00hrs the vino arrived and just after it 5 P.O.W.s looking for a night’s lodging, they were 4 S.A. and one English. Pte.s on their way to try Sora, they had spent about three months in a village near but Fascists had arrived and they had had to clear out. I gave them all the information I could about the Sora route and told them that from all information it appeared impossible. Luckily we had had some food of polly bread and sausage but we suggested that we should leave the place to them so Bob, Mack and I started to go, however one for the road in the bar downstairs turned into another and then the S.A. joined us and some of the Italians we knew, and in the end we had quite a party, with song and dance. At about 22.00hrs. we all went upstairs and then to the barn where we found the other 5. A very amusing reunion party which I know we all enjoyed, particularly Old mother Farinha who put her share of the vino back without a murmur. The Italians loved “She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes”. Mack in great form, he is a most amusing kid, “Pinger” in his quiet way I think enjoyed himself. It was good for us all to forget our worries and relax.
31st January 1944 Oflag 1X A, Deutschland.
I do fully sympathise with your natural anxiety about Ronnie. It must be a frantic worry, but you must keep your chin up and continue waiting as patiently as you can. The evacuation of POWs. from Italy to Germany must have been a chaotic business and it will take a long time to get it all sorted out. From stories we have heard here, it is evident that a large number of them are at large and it will take months and months (as after the French campaign) to round up the less fortunate ones. So cheer up, Brenda, and keep at your prayers, as I am for you. I gave Ronnie R your message about J H for which he thanks you very much. Thanks awfully, in advance, for the baccy. By the way, I forgot to say I’ve given up smoking as it doesn’t seem to agree with my nose. However, others will be glad of your gift.
PS My compliments to Peter and respects to your Ma.
Well another month has gone, afraid we look no nearer home but perhaps the new landing will produce something. A few sore heads this morning but after “the hair of the dog” everyone all right. A festa today and many came in for a drink, the four of us sat talking in front of the fire during the morning and eventually got some very tough gnocchi. Mother Farinha cannot cook, Maria, unfortunately was out. We said goodbye to the other five who went on to Sora, or that direction. Then we once again, for the thousandth time discussed our position. There seems three possibilities.
1. Try the Sora route which we are positive is impossible, so many have come back. 2. Try
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down to the new front on which, at the moment, we have no reports. 3. Stay here to await events. We agreed that it would certainly be better to be south of the Carsoli road if we decided to wait, but we thought it likely that living would be much more difficult further south and the Germans were more plentiful. There was one other course open, to try across on the Pescara front, but this we wiped out as to get there it was necessary to go right round the Grand Sasso, a long trip. As usual all the arguments came up, we don’t want to go back, but if the line comes here we may be forced back, at all costs we must avoid recapture as at any time something may happen which will free us. To cut a long story short we agreed for the time being to await events as movement in this weather is not good, but to be ready at any moment to skip south if it looks as though we might be the wrong side of the new German line. Mack and Bob and I then left, the other S.A. returning to his farm. Left Bob at the turning to his farm, Mack and I going on to C. Luccio where we found a fight going on, Giovanni was drunk and an Italian was laying about him. After some food went to Vincenzo’s for keys to the barn where we heard that three Aussies were to sleep in the barn with us, in fact one was already there and two were waiting to go. Afraid I kicked a bit of a shindy about five men in a tiny barn being too many and that when supposed Germans arrive they are given beds, bad manners but I was rather cross, however we got settled in and all slept well
1st Febraury 1944 198, Queensgate, SW7.
I am feeling so light hearted after reading Major Linton’s letter and hearing the other news from the family. I am sure Ronnie must be hiding and waiting until our troops advance enough. It is the explanation of Douglas Caldwell’s letter as Champion must have given him the message.
You must feel so much happier as this is the first real information. I do think it unkind of Major Beaumont Thomas. Surely he can realise how you long for news. I have had no reply from Erskine, so perhaps he is the same. I forgot about the stamp!
It is a comfort to know that Ronnie was so fit when he started off. It would help him through the winter and the Italians are being wonderfully helpful one hears. I feel I can bear a great deal, knowing he is in kind hands after reading of the Jap. POWs. One would then only pray they were dead and safe from further trials.
I am amused that Mick has managed to wangle a home posting, I hear he is applying for compassionate leave while his father is ill. At last Leslie is a Major and Bill a Lt. Col. I think the latter is rather too much. He is so young and has had very little experience, but the people on HQ staff always got on faster than the fighting soldier who really wins the war. However they haven’t got the MC!
How clever Peter sounds, he seems to be doing a lot of talking. It must be most exciting learning new words. I am glad Granny Cecil is better. The fall must have shaken her and she will have to be careful.
My dearest love to you all. I feel that one day soon we will get a cable from Ronnie saying he is safe. Every bit of ground we take brings the Army nearer to wherever he is.
Yours lovingly, Ruth.
After coffee Mack and I began to think of moving on. Mack said he thought he would try the new front and I said I would go with him as I was tired of sitting about so we decided to go
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and see Bob and tell him we were off tomorrow. First Mack wanted to get his boots done so we went to Leofreni to see if this was possible. After one place refused we found a very good little man who did his boots very well which was some job as both were through to the uppers. When we left his house we were asked into another where we were given bread, meat and wine together with meat tears and the usual “Quando?” We then quietly walked down to Bob’s farm but found him out, however after a long wait we wrote him a note saying we would wait until 10.00 the next morning and then go on, the first halt being Tufo. Back to C. Luccio and a scolding for not being there for pranzo, however had a good cena (dinner) and so to bed. Everyone is much against my going, they say that after the Carsoli road all villages contain Germans and that food will be hard to get. Well we will just have to see, I can remember when I was told I would never get passed Aquila.
Of course the first time for a month, a foul day, wind and rain which eventually turned into snow. Bob arrived at about 10.00 having left his farm amid tears and promises to return if we found the road impossible, also the warning to beware of wolves! making a fourth thing to ask for, Germans, Fascists, spies and now wolves. We agreed it would be best to travel light, not that we had much, without sacks, just as we were. I was very loathe to give up my blanket which I had carried all the way from the camp and which had been a great standby on the road at night. However one of the girls was able to exchange it for an overcoat, old but warm, in the pockets of which I was able to stow razor, towel etc. By lunch time the weather was foul so we decided to wait until tomorrow, but as C. Luccio could not put up the three of us Bob and Mack went to spend the night at Rocca. I forgot to say that about three days ago the Algerian, Giovanni, left to join a compatriot of his in another village, I could not quite understand if he was returning or not. I spent the rest of the day in front of the fire, cursing the weather which after such a good Jan. should turn just when we wanted it fine. Once again to bed in the straw, after farewells today it is rather a come down to be still here.
3rd February 1944 Potterne, Devises, Wiltshire.
I feel I must just write you a line to tell you how thankful I am that you have news of Ronnie, and to send you my congratulations.
I’ve thought of you so often, wondering if you had heard anything, but I haven’t liked to have troubled you with a letter. And this morning I heard from Margaret Proud. I gather you haven’t heard direct from Ronnie yet, but any news must be worth so much to you after your long, weary wait. Peter will be so delighted. He is very fit and enjoying life as much as is possible in the most jungly of jungles! I do hope that your little Peter is very well.
Of course don’t answer this.
Yours ever, Philippa Jeffreys.
Quite a cover of snow when I got up this morning and a high wind, it looked foul for walking but, after coffee, I went over to Rocca to see the other two. Found them just leaving their barn and seemingly quite ready to move so I arranged to meet them at C. Luccio in a short time. Went back and had a superb lunch at the house of Vincenzo’s sister-in-law, a very rich pasta, meat and wine. Once more said goodbye and went back to the girls who had
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prepared a lot of food for us to take with us. Bob and Mack arrived soon after and after further farewells and promising to come back if it is impossible, we left. Before leaving the village however we paid a visit to the sister of Bob’s little farmer, she gave us nuts and her blessing and at long last we got away. Four of the girls, two from my house and two kids went with us to set us on our way and after climbing to the top of the first hill they pointed out the track to Tufo. Although the sun had melted some of the snow it was still quite thick and walking was a wet business. Walked more or less beside the Leofreni road and at one point crossed it. Had one scare on the way when we thought we saw a German soldier but this proved incorrect and we reached Tufo without trouble. It was strange being on the road again after a month, but we had had enough experience, the Lord knows, so it did not worry us much. On arriving at Tufo we made the usual enquiries from a girl as to Fascist, Police, Germans, spies etc. and then asked for some water, this got us into her house where we asked about spending the night. They said we could, which was a blessing, so we settled down for a rest. A Yugoslav came in who seemed a great friend of the family’s dancing with the girls to the wireless etc. and generally making a nuisance of himself. The old woman also said that there was an English pilot officer here who was coming to see us. As a matter of fact ever since arriving we thought that they imagined we were Germans, Mack’s blond hair often did this, and when the pilot officer arrived said “Goodday” and dashed off, I am sure everyone was quite sure of it. This pilot officer had been saying how aristocratic he was and that he always ate off gold plate etc. but nothing would make him talk to us. Still under somewhat of a cloud, we were divided up and taken to different houses for food. I had a grand little place with plenty to eat and drink. After supper we all got together again and came to the conclusion that the P. Officer must be another Yugoslav passing as an English officer, otherwise surely he would have come over and talked to us. Tried to get the news but with the noise going on in the room it was impossible to hear and after a bit we gave it up. Eventually, just as we were going to our barn, another woman came in and cornering me talked for hours, however I left a note for some other Major in the village and received a blanket for the night. A poor barn full of fleas over the usual animals.
4th February 1944 The Brown House, Liss, Hants.
My dearest Brenda,
Just heard that Col. Reeves’ son who was a prisoner in Italy in Campo 29 and escaped has been taken prisoner again by the Germans and at the moment is in Austria. I heard first hand from his Father on the telephone this morning, then another friend, who lives about 2 miles from here, came to tea on Wednesday and she told me that her gardener’s son was a prisoner in Italy but escaped August and reached Switzerland on Dec. 31st. and his family have had a letter from him from there. Mrs Lyall will find out where abouts he was a prisoner in Italy.
I still feel so strongly, darling, that you will eventually hear news of Ronnie and Michael feels the same, he is with us now on 10 days leave. You know how we all feel for you in your terrible anxiety you poor darling.
I know you will both be very grieved to hear that I had tragic news yesterday afternoon, a wire from Kathleen saying “Cecil died today heart attack, tell Lennon if you think advisable”. It came as an awful shock as we only had such cheery letter from both of them last week and Kathleen had said how wonderfully well Cecil was and that he looked ten years younger. I feel rather distracted as they live in the wilds of N Wales, five miles from the nearest station and I’m not fit enough to travel a long distance these days as I have been
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very seedy since Christmas. Philip would have gone but Heather seems to want nobody at present, not even one of her sisters. The funeral is tomorrow at 2pm. I simply cannot bear to think of her all alone, but what can one do if she simply refuses to have any one there.
Your loving, Mother Grubb.
A fine day, but windy. Back to our house for a wash and shave, Mack and Bob also had a hair cut by a man from the village, but I did not bother. Rather doubtful about our route but at long last the P. Officer, Arturo, came to life after hiding from us for so long, the Yugoslav took us to his bedroom for a talk. He turned out to be English alright, but I doubt his being an officer. He was quite helpful and gave us a little hand drawn map of the local district, we have never had a map unfortunately. After saying goodbye to Arturo returned to the house for some “pizza” and then, rather late, once more on our way. The general information seems to be that except for the road the country is fairly safe. Passed down through Tufo Basso and then up into the hills again. We chose a village on the other side of the valley to make for, not knowing its name, but the direction was about right, the main thing was to cross the main road and avoid Carsoli. Of course we lost ourselves as we usually did by getting down into unusual valleys and loosing direction, at last we got onto a main track which seemed about the right way. After about an hour on this, when we were once again getting desperate, we found a small farmhouse in the middle of a vineyard. Using our usual excuse of a glass of water we went in, it was a very tiny place full of refugees from Carsoli. They said it was no good going in the direction we wanted as we would have to cross the plain where there were many Germans. Instead they gave us the name of a village on the far mountain-side which they said we could reach in about two hours and which was quite safe. Thanking them we left on the new bearing, this led us first down into the valley where we followed the stream for quite a long way. Before leaving the stream we had a very cold bathe in a deep pool to clean us up a bit. I found I was covered in bites but it is only fleas and not lice, the barn at Tufo was full of them and I could feel them all night crawling over my hands and face. After our bathe we crossed the Leofreni-Carsoli road and then had once again to take our boots off to cross another river. It was getting a bit late by now so we pushed on quickly and after climbing a foully steep mountain and saw Carsoli down to our right, far too near for my liking. Just then we came across a man with some sheep who pointed out a village called Montesabinese which he said was quite safe although close to the main road. Agreed to try there for the night as it looked as though we would get no further, all of us by now being somewhat tired. Approached the main Carsoli road with care through the woods and on the way saw bomb craters, presumably of bombs which were meant for the road at least 500yds away. Crossed the road and the railway, one at a time, without trouble and started up the mountain to Montesabinese. More bomb craters, in fact near the village there were about six in a group with vines and olives etc. uprooted all over the place, if these were meant for the road end bridge it was very bad bombing. Having seen these presents from our compatriots so near the village we began to wonder what our reception might be and half thought trying the next village, however we were so tired we thought let them kick us out here. We crept in to the middle of the village and Mack went up and knocked at a door. A most villainous man answered and looked at our tattered appearance. In his best Italian Mack asked if we could have some water, I think I heard the “No” first and was just turning on my heal when he added “but you can have some vino, come in”. No sooner were we in than glasses of wine were put into our hands and the
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villain!! went out for more. When we explained who we were and that we were on our way to the front nothing was good enough for us, more vino arrived and, despite the fact that the room was only about 8ft.x8ft., half the village with it. One, an Italian who claimed to speak English, got me jammed in a corner and despite the fact that I was unable to understand a word he said and replied in my atrocious Italian we got on famously. They prepared some sausage and bread for us which we managed to fight our way to, through the crowd and then back to the fire for more vino, altogether a good party.
One of the men there claimed to have come through from the Allied side, he said that way it was possible but not the other. I was given instructions to arrange for explosives to be dropped nearby for sabotage work if I was lucky enough to get through, all seem most keen to do something to help the Allies. At about 21.00hrs. some of the men folk and ourselves moved to another house where we had more vino and a sing-song. Mack was in terrific form and kept the party in fits with his Italian which improved no end with each further glass of wine. At long last, after one of the best receptions and evenings we have had we were taken to a barn outside the village and seen to bed. It was strange after such worries about how we would be treated we should have such a perfect night. Mack hit the nail on the head perhaps, just before he went to sleep when he said “they must be bomb happy”.
A cold and frosty morning, but as was to be expected we had all slept well. We were taken back to the village for breakfast where we were divided out to different houses. I went back to the house of last night and had a good meal of meat, bread and wine, with some more bread to carry with me. At last we all got collected together and on our way, our host of last night coming with us to act as guide. Terrific farewells and told that if we pass through Cervaro to ask for Kiki. A good village, one of the best. Our host accompanied us for about two miles and before leaving us pointed out various villages round about and said that we must pass through Rocco di Botte, a large place we could see on the far side of the valley. A high wind blowing and walking difficult. We were all amazed at the lack of Germans, farmers who we asked on the way said that they had all disappeared about a month ago. After crossing the valley we climbed up to Rocco di Botte reaching it at about 14.00hrs all very tired fighting against the wind. Decided to try and find a house in which to eat our bread before going over the top to Cervara. As we waited beside the wall discussing where to try, a little man with some wood asked if we would like some food. We, of course, said yes and he took us to his house in the middle of the village. A nice little house, quite modern inside and even with a W.C., a thing I have never seen in a village before. His wife, quite an attractive woman, soon gave us lunch, in fact I am afraid we had their dinner and they made do with bread and greens. He had been on the railway in Rome but after the Armistice he refused to work for the Germans and so had to escape to R. di Botte. He said that there are many Italians in the village who have come from Rome. A young Italian officer came in while we were waiting for food and asked if we would like to stay the night, an offer which we jumped at. He went away to arrange it and also to find us a map to look at. Various visitors in the afternoon and evening including our officer friend with a map. We took down yet another route, but no matter which way we go, Cervara is the next place and they all say quite safe. After another meal about 1800 hrs we went down to hear the news at another house, but we were unable to get it in English. However the English seem to be stationary on all fronts including Anzio!! Russians doing good work and advancing rapidly. After the news, we were shown our barn, a grand one with even a fire burning which we have been
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told to keep on all night. Asked to the post-master’s house before turning in, he gave us some wine and was obviously very proud of helping prisoners, showing us many chits signed by many people. As his was the barn in which we are sleeping, I added one more to his collection.
And so to bed, well the first three days have gone over very easily and well, I wonder where our ‘Colvaro’ will be, I rather imagine Val Pietro if we take that route. I think if we asked we might be able to stay on here for a day or two, but perhaps it is best to get on. I forgot to mention we met two other POW’s whilst listening to the radio, two out of the 4th RTR’s, they live in the mountains and come in for food, I think they were two Sgts. and seemed quite well dressed and well fed. Said on the whole the village was good one, with very little trouble from Germans or Fascists.
Another fine day, but still windy. The two sons of the post-master helped us to get up, bringing water and blacking for our boots etc. It was nice having a fire to wash in front of for a change. Went back to the Railway man’s house for breakfast, he had scoured the village for milk so we had a good old feed of milk and toast, a thing which we had not seen for a long time. The Italian officer brought in some bread and meat for us to take with us. After the usual farewells and promises to see them in Rome in better times, we set off up the mountain for Cervara. Our host and his son came with us to get wood, and a friend with a gun to see if he could shoot anything. It was a very stiff climb, but at last we reached the top. Our host pointed out the direction of Cervara and various villages down in the valley, Anticoli, Marano, Agosto, all of which, he said, contained Germans. Goodbyes once again, how many times I have said them, and we took the Cervara track. The mountain was very barren and a cold wind whistled up all the gullies. After about an hour, we stopped for some bread and meat and a cigarette (hand-made). As far as we could see, we should reach Cervara at about three, and agreed that we should spend the night there. Eventually we saw the village stuck right on the top of the mountain like a medieval castle, we heard after that it is the highest village in the province of Rome, which I can well believe. Worked our way around the top of the valleys and down in to the village, after the usual enquiries, we asked a woman if it was possible to find a place for the night, she told us to wait, which we did for about fifteen minutes, when some men collected us and took us to their house. Strangely enough, one turned out to be Kiki, who we were told to enquire for at Montesabinese. They gave us wine but we refused food, saying we would eat tonight, I did not care for them much, but we had every kindness. Apparently many have passed this way, going towards the new front. One youth spoke English and went off to get us a map, but even with a map a route was impossible. They all would talk hard and give their views, one could get no correct answer to questions. We find the villages rather more modern now as we get towards Rome, the houses are just the same, but not so broken down. At about 1700 hrs, it started to snow, so our plans tomorrow look doubtful. After a shave and wash, we had supper, during which two Italian officers and others came in. Whilst sitting after, the former were most rude about the English, much to the amusement of everyone, it was all I could do to control myself, and Mack let fly once, but we calmed down. It was a dirty trick, as they knew we could not reply, anyhow, they were not too wonderful considering they were in hiding also. Just before going to our barn, a young SA came up to see us, a most refreshing lad. He and two others had also arrived today, complete with rifles and bombs, he could talk Italian well, and despite the fact that he liked to talk, was most amusing. He promised to come
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back to see us before going off tomorrow, his route seems to be direct to Anzio. By now it was snowing quite hard and unfortunately Kiki could only produce two very threadbare coats for Mack and Bob, I had my overcoat, but this was by no means as good as my blanket. Still, we burrowed under the straw and spent if not a good night, not too bad a one considering all things.
It was rather disturbing, the attitude of the Italian officers, but thank Heaven we do not often come across this kind of thing. Most Italians, down to the very poorest, have the most perfect manners I have seen, even a poor farmer could often put Englishmen of considerably higher levels of education, to shame. From the terrific jumble of information tonight Valle Pietro seems impossible, they say we could perhaps get there, but certainly no further, owing to the snow. It very much looks as if we will have to try Kiki’s plan of going down the other side of the valley to the west of Subiaco.
Snowed hard all night and in the morning we almost had to fight our way out of the barn. Returned to Kiki’s, where we washed and considered the weather. The snow seems to been in the mountains, the valley being quite clear, however as we had no offers to stay, we had to go on. Kiki says this morning that, owing to the snow, Vale Pietro is impossible and suggests that across the valley to another mountain village, Rocca di Mezzo was the best. SA arrived, and said he was going across towards the same village. After breakfast we collected our belongings in preparation for our departure. Two quite civilized girls came into see us off, I imagine they were the girlfriends of the Italian officers. Kiki was taking some food to some POWs living in a cave, poor chaps, so he set us on our way. After saying goodbye to Kiki we worked down to Agosta, where we had to cross the main road and a river. We were a bit doubtful about Agosta, but on the outskirts, we were collected by a man who claimed to be a Maresciallo (Marshall) of Fascists who led us through the village and showed us the best place to cross the road. There was not much traffic and one at a time we slipped across the road and river and collected again the other side.
A big climb was before us to reach Rocco di Mezo so we decided to try a farm on the way, where we could eat our bread etc. Found a farm and also found it contained four POWs, all English, one a G Howard was a typical Yorkshire lad. They had been living there quite a long time and said, despite the fact that either Germans or Fascists were in all the villages, they had had little trouble. After about an hour with them, we went on to Rocco promising to return if we could find no place to sleep. It was a long hard climb to Rocco and by the time we reached the village, blowing a gale. It was a small place and looked poor, however at the nearest house we knocked and asked for the usual barn to sleep. The girl seemed rather doubtful, but asked us in, where we found another SA, a Sgt. McDonald from the same camp as Bob and Mack (52) he said sleeping places were hard to find here, but after going round the village, got us fixed up with bed and food for the night. He has been in the area some time and is obviously well known and liked and, I must say, was very kind to us in getting us beds etc. He has been captured once but escaped from prison, he is content to wait in these parts for the arrival of our troops, as he says all the reports are that it is quite impossible to get through to the front, even the new one at Anzio. Suggested that we might like to stay here for a few days until the weather improves, he has two ‘casalis’ on the mountain-side, one of which we can use, his two friends – an NZ and an American – having gone off to try the front. This suits us down to the ground, so we said yes straight off. Arranged to go down tomorrow morning. Divided up before supper, I stay in same house
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and when the family returned, Mother, Father and another daughter, we settle down to our food, minestra. After supper two or three of the village girls came in to talk and work the usual ‘canapa’ [canapa=hemp]. Great scare when SA with rifle turns up at another house, I am, once again, like Castel Luccio, able to assure them that he is quite harmless. MacDonald returns and chaffs the girls, he is obviously very well liked. The old man and woman spend the time gazing into the fire and making noises one usually avoids in public, but they had been in the fields all day and are probably dog-tired. At about 2200 hrs, off to an empty house where a bed was made up, had a pan of ashes and an oil-bath lamp, so in comfort I was able to get in to bed. Afraid I transferred some fleas to it, but that could not be helped, despite careful searching they are little devils to catch. Must admit, we always seem to fall into luck, just when things look blackest, I honestly don’t know where we should have gone tomorrow had we not been able to stay here for a few days to re-organise. MacDonald seems a nice chap, a cut above the usual Sgt. and very friendly, I think perhaps he is a bit lonely.
A grand morning, I was wakened by a Spitfire machine-gunning the main road and had just time to catch sight of it before he flipped over the mountain to fresh targets anew. Went down to the house for a wash, where McDonald found me and said that a man was selling tobacco outside if I wanted any, I went out as I was and bought an etto, the man selling, without my speaking, said I was English, which shows how hard it is to keep ones nationality quiet. The girl who looks after the cattle gave me breakfast, polly bread etc and very welcome. At about 10.00, Bob and Mack arrived having had a good night, Mack lots of vino, and we all set off down the mountain once again for McDonalds ‘casalis’. The owner of the one in which we are going to live is a man with a nickname of Gigi, McDonald’s is next to us, and both are unseen from the main path, which is a good thing.
Perhaps I ought to explain the kind of thing we found. During the summer the farmers wish to be on their land, which is some way from the village, early in the morning, so they have a one-roomed house on the spot, with straw to sleep in and a fire-place. Most of their work is with grain, olives and vines, of which the mountain is covered. Found quite a nice little casalis with a good fire-place, and after seeing the owner, we took possession. Gigi and his daughter gave us some fire-wood and we soon had a nice fire going. McDonald produced some potatoes and with our bread we were OK for food for today. Mac, as he was eventually known, was a very good organiser and had arranged food from Rocco tomorrow and from Marano for the day after. Perhaps it would be a good opportunity now to give a general idea of the valley in which we now are, as what follows rests largely on the general situation, and the layout of the country. It is quite a broad valley, about half-a-mile across, containing the main Rome-Casino road and a river. It is along this road that the Germans have to send all their supplies South and although there is not much traffic during the day, at night there is a continual stream. There are various villages in the valley, most of them raised up on some small hill. Due South is Subiaco with, as far as we can make out, a division of Germans in occupation; nearer to us is Agosta, through which we had already passed; Morano [?Morano Equo] with forty Germans; Arsoli, Anticoli etc. all with their local German command. It will be seen, therefore, that the villages are almost impossible to enter, unless one wants to take a great risk. Each side of the valley, for about halfway up the mountains, are a large number of casalis similar to the one in which we were living, and only approachable by tiny mountain tracks. McDonald said that so far there had been on trouble,
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as the Germans never came in to the mountains and one usually got warning if the Fascists were coming. Of course spies could give one away, but that is a risk one always runs and nothing can be done about it. I must say, there are some strange prisoners about; one claiming to be an officer was run out of Marano for his behaviour and is now living in another casalis. Another seems to spend a lot of his time walking about the villages, chatting to the Germans, however if they wish to take risks like that, it is their own look out.
In the evening, we boiled some potatoes and had them with bread and afterward sat for a long time over the fire, smoking and talking. McDonald had a very good escape with two others from prison, and afterwards lived with a family in Marano for quite a long time, he says Marano a grand village, but a bit risky now owing to so many Germans. For tonight I went and slept in the other casalis with McDonald, as the chap who is usually there is away for a few days, he is called Garson and is another SA. Bob and Mack settled down in our place, and we went off to the other, which was very comfortable. Quite a cover of snow, but no doubt when the sun gets on to it, it will all go very quickly, still it is nice to have place to rest again for a few days.
10th. February 1944 The Yorkshire Penny Bank, Bishop Auckland.
It was nice of you to write me at such length and I really was delighted to hear all the news, and particularly the evidence you have been able to obtain regarding Ronnie. I sincerely hope that ere long you will have definite that he is safe and sound.
It was interesting, too, to hear of Peter’s astounding progress, there appears to be a good sized lump of him anyhow!
And now as regards the promised refund of Tax. Unless there is some item to this effect on one of the Pay statements we have sent you, then nothing has come to us. If it does I’ll certainly advise you. From the wording of Glyn’s letter to you it seems probable that Ronnie’s refund may be made by adjustment of this year’s liability, though it is possible that one of these days a monthly statement of his pay and allowances may contain a “credit” item for the refund due. We’ll just have to “wait and see” and examine the statements carefully.
I have not seen Ron’s father for a few days, but he was very well when last I did see him. You will realise from the pass book that he paid £10 into the account on Dec. 10th.
I can’t remember what I told you about domestic chores, but Elsie and I have certainly gone through it lately. Mrs. Glover has been poorly (‘flu) for 2 or 3 weeks and has not been outdoors for over a fortnight. She has been in bed since Saturday and as we cannot get a maid, Elsie and I have to be up each morning soon after 7 to do fires, breakfasts, washing-up etc. and then get off to the bank for 9. We have to lock Mrs. G in the house and a kindly neighbour goes in at intervals until we get home between 5 and 6. And then the fun starts all over again! However, the patient seems to be getting well again, we hope she’ll be fit soon, before, perhaps, there are three of us hors de combat. I think the enclosed cutting from our local paper may interest you.
Kindest regards from us both and love to Peter.
Yours very sincerely, James F Glover.
10th February 1944 Silksworth, Sunderland.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
I did hear some story the other day that your husband had turned up in Germany, having
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been recaptured. I am wondering if this is true? If so it is bad luck, more so for him than you, as you most likely feel quite thankful to know where he is and that he is fairly safe.
I still have no news of Ross and I understand there are still about 60 missing from PG 29, many have been heard of lately in Germany.
Best wishes to you both.
Yours Marjorie McLaren.
February 11th [10th not written up].
We have been here two days and they have passed very quietly. I am afraid the weather has not improved much, but a little snow has gone. From all reports we can get, from now on is very difficult, and once again we seem to be at a dead end. Went to a casalis near Morano for food, it was a bad day, but they brought us out a good feed nevertheless. Found Mac’s sleeping partner when we returned, the SA called Garson, he has had four genuine escapes from the Germans, an amazing record and quite naturally wants no more. He seems to be well known in Anticoli, who have been very kind to him. During the afternoon, we collected more fire-wood for the night and as usual talked until very late, the three of us slept in our own casalis at night, a bit hard but it might be much worse.
February 14th [12th and 13th not written up].
Still have not moved and neither, as far as we can make out, have our troops on any of the fronts, still we live in hopes of something happening sometime, even if we have to wait until spring. Everyone has been very kind in giving us food etc., one day we get it from Rocco the next from Morano. Weather has not improved very much, but it is a little warmer and the snow is gradually going. Mac’s two friends return today, they had gone down to try the line with the others and an Italian officer, but returned saying it was quite impossible. Unfortunately one of the party, a chap called Michael who appears to be a real bad lot, may have invented all their story, so we are unable to place any truth to the whole thing. The three of us wanted to go now McDonalds friends were back, but they said no, they are not staying, but perhaps going down again another way, after getting shoes, boots etc mended. So once again we decide to remain. Little air activity of late, we see a few bombers now and again, but the main road below us has remained untouched for some time, in fact the Germans are using it much more during day-light. The usual long talk at night and then in to the straw.
14th. February 1944 Fleet, Hampshire.
Brenda, my dear,
Forgive a short note but I am in a bit of a flap. As you may have seen my Father-in-law died very suddenly last Wednesday. Perfect ending for him (in his sleep) but too awful for poor Sammy. I am the only person to cope with it all and have had a hideous week of funeral and this week I am moving in with Nannie and the children until I hear what Sammy wants me to do. I hope he will allow me to let it furnished as I don’t want to live alone. There are three old servants to contend with, they’ve had no mistress for 8 years so you can imagine how popular I shall be.
Enough of my affairs. I am quite certain Ronnie is in hiding somewhere. As a matter of fact Sammy told me the last time he saw Ronnie he was with a man who he knew had been caught. I didn’t know whether to tell you or not as I thought it so depressing. But you would have certainly heard by now if R had been caught at the same time. I do not believe all that I
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read in the papers about prisoners, not even the Japs., so don’t for a second worry about those 5 recaptured ones. By the way there are 60 from PG 29 still unaccounted for, Betty Clarke told me. So sorry about your teeth, I can sympathise as I’ve had toothache lately.
Lots of love, Karin.
February 16th [15th not written up].
A dull day, and except for the collection of fire-wood, we stayed inside for most of the day. Rocco brought down our food. After sitting late talking, McDonald and Garson went off to their casalis, but returned on tip-toe within about 10 minutes to say that as they approached their place someone had walked away. This was cheerful news, as we knew none of the farmers would be about at this time, so it must be Germans, Fascists or other prisoners. We all had a prowl around outside, but could see nothing. After a conference in our place, we decided it would be safer to sleep elsewhere for tonight, until we could find out what it was all about. So after collecting coats and blankets etc, we crept down the path to another barn, which McDonald knew of and which was open. At last, at about 01.00 or 02.00 hrs we got into the straw and went to sleep. It is going to be a damn nuisance if trouble is going to start after such a quiet time, if it does about the only thing left is to try the line. I hope tomorrow we can find out who our visitor was.
Up at dawn, or shortly after, and back to our old casalis, can see nothing much going on but you never can tell. When farmers arrive, we find that last night a prisoner was caught in Marano and that the rumour went around that the Germans were starting to search casalis. One good thing was that the prowler of last night turned out to be one of the party who returned from the front the other day, they had sent one chap up to warn Mac that the Germans might be on the prowl. This has upset things somewhat, and we decided that we had better leave these two casalis for the time being in case they were searched. Luckily Rocco brought food down for us today, as Marano looks impossible, so we were alright in that way. During the afternoon, we cleared all the straw out of the two casalis and made them look as if they had not been occupied in case the Germans come, and in the evening started off to find another barn to sleep. Garson said he might try the line if the worst came the worst, and went off to Anticoli to collect some boots which he had left there. At first, we thought we might return to the barn in which we slept last night, but decided it was a bit too near the track, so pushed on further into the bush instead. Just as it was getting dusk, we found another place, well-hidden, but which was locked, however I managed to climb through a window and open it from inside. It was not a very good sleeping place, being hay in bales, but it was too late to find anywhere else. Had just time before it was pitch dark, to make a fire and roast some potatoes which found in the barn, not a very substantial meal, but warming anyhow. We felt sure that even if the Germans do start searching casalis tonight, they will find it a hard job to get to this one, and so felt quite secure. A poor night with rather hard beds.
Up early and another scout around, but no signs of trouble. We had arranged to meet Garson on the track to R. di M. beside the fountain at 09.00 hrs, so with our eyes skinned for the enemy, we walked back there. He arrived punctually with the news that the barn in which we had slept the night before last had been raided last night by the Germans. But that
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there was no-one on the mountain-side now. A near shave, as we considered going back again last night. They have also been looking into casalis near Anticoli, so it looks as though they meant business. Garson has had the offer to go into Rome and asked me if I would like to go as well, but it is difficult to decide or to know quite what is the best to do. Went down and sat near where Gigi was working and munched some bread which we had and some other which Garson brought down from Anticoli. Had a long talk as to what is the best to do, once again going over all the usual arguments and once again reaching no conclusion. Garson, anyhow, wants me to go over to Anticoli tomorrow, to see them there and hear more about this Rome trip. McDonald found another casalis, very concealed, which we are going to use tonight, it was a long job finding the owner, but at last ran him to earth and got his permission. It is very hard to get at and I don’t think the Germans will bother to go there at night at least. Also managed to find some minestra at a farm in the valley, which was very welcome as we had had nothing all day. Whilst eating we saw the G. Howard from the first farm we stopped at when we arrived, they too had had the warning of a search and were all moving to another place down the valley towards Subiaco. I had a bad loss this morning, an etto of tobacco which I had got a farmer to buy for me in Agosto, I must have dropped it on the path, but despite a good search, failed to find it. Arranged a meeting with an Italian officer who was going in to Rome, and who might be able to bring us money from the Vatican or somewhere. We were all pretty low in the money line and wanted to try and buy meat, eggs etc.
We avoided being around our new hut during the day, but after a chilly rest, in front of a fire we made in the valley, at dusk we went inside. It is very ramshackle, but has a fire-place of sorts and some straw to sleep on. Cooked some potatoes and toasted bread etc for an evening meal, and then, after a short chat, into the straw. Not a comfortable place, but we might be lots worse. Mac’s other two friends etc are still here, and living just over the hill from us. One of them is most unpopular in R. di M. so I think they get their food from Agosto. Have arranged for food from R. di M. tomorrow, so we should be alright for food. Heard shots in the valley after we got to bed, but could do nothing about it so went to sleep.
No more trouble last night, so we went up two at a time to shave etc. at our old casalis, whilst here two chaps came over from Marano to see Mac. They said we should watch hard as the Germans seem to be going to search the casalis. Afterwards went and sat near where Gigi and his daughter were digging and there our food was brought to us from Rocco. Not a very nice day but we found a sheltered corner and sat chatting and smoking. Garson reckoned it was about two hours to Anticoli and that we should arrive after dark, so at about 15.30, as near as we could judge, we set off. Macdonald had gone over to Marano to collect an overcoat which he had been having dyed but we met him as he returned, he said the Germans were recruiting the young Italians in the village to dig A/A positions and that the curfew there was now 18.00hrs. A much longer walk than I expected to Anticoli but even then we were early, and as we wanted to avoid meeting people we had to do some dodging about, even then we had to speak to a couple of herders who knew Garson. At last as dusk was falling we reached the outskirts of the village and hid behind a barn until it was dark. The Germans at Anticoli are a military band, but they frequent the local pub and often go into the houses so we did not want to be seen. After dark we slipped along behind the houses to one particular house where Garson has a friend and at last got inside. However as the Germans came to the house to buy milk we had to go upstairs and talk in whispers. They
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seemed very good people and all, including our many visitors, were very fed up that our troops were not advancing quicker. As usual we got the Russian advance and the Italian bayonets rammed down our throats. After a very good meal of minestra, a South American artist came in to see us with his wife and child, he could speak good English and was a great friend of Garson’s. He presented me with 500lr. which I signed for and we then discussed Rome. I said that we really didn’t quite know what was the best but that the country was getting a little difficult. However apparently the man who was going to take us in a truck is full up now so it will have to be some other time. After a chat Garson and I had our hair cut, Garson then went off to see another friend while I tried to chat to the family. Before going off to our barn we collected various bits of bread and pizza etc. for tomorrow. We are to wait in the mountains tomorrow before returning to Rocco as they are going to try and find Garson’s boots which are somewhere in the village and then bring them to us. Not a bad barn on the outskirts of the village, both of us soon asleep. Heard of three who had handed themselves over to the Germans.
Up early, the old man brought us a cup of coffee which was very acceptable, then we went up to our pre-arranged spot in the mountains. We had a long wait, but ate bread etc. and admired the view. The Germans had put a large red cross outside a building in Arsoli, I wouldn’t mind betting it is someone’s H.Q. Garson says it was the place where he was taken the third time he was caught, he had been given away by some girl he had never met. At last the man arrived to say the boots could not be found, so we started back to Rocco. A tiring trip back as we tried to find the path higher up the mountain. On the wa, heard that the Germans had visited for a second time the barn where we spent one night, this time stealing all the chickens and a goat, much to the owner’s disgust. I am certain that that was all they came for. Found the others near our sleeping place where we went after dark. They had some potatoes etc. which we fried at night and Garson and I had some bread from Anticoli. Well it looks as if Rome has fallen through, still I am not so sorry, it might be a lot worse there, at least as far as food is concerned. I must say I enjoyed my night out, it was a change to get into the village again. I think Garson could live there if he pressed the matter, he seemed very popular and can speak Italian quite well.
21st February 1944 Hillside, Morcombelake. Bridport.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
I feel I must write and thank you for your letter and the cutting. No, we hadn’t seen it, but we had a letter from the War Office, giving us the gist of it and asking for all particulars about Brian, rank and regiment etc.
We have had 4 cards from Brian, the last with his permanent address. He was in Yugoslavia when captured. Celia has met in India one of the officers from his camp in Italy. He said they all got away Sept. 10th. and split up in to small parties and made for the hills. He was one of the lucky ones and got back. I do so hope that your husband will be fortunate too, and that soon you will have good news of him. I think not having heard so far is hopeful, don’t you?
Thank you so much for writing.
Yours sincerely, Bunty Anderson.
21st February 1944 Gilley Law, Silksworth, Sunderland.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
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Very many thanks for your letter. You are quite right the way the story has got around about your husband being in Germany! I am so pleased the story is not true as you will have something to look forward to.
Father also wrote to Linton and had a very nice reply, most reassuring about the help the Italians are giving our men. He also went to the Red X in London last week and they said about 60 were still missing from PG 29.
I, too, feel we will have to wait for news until the weather is better and rivers are down to normal again, it is difficult to be patient isn’t it? but I feel sure the news is good news and it will be well worth waiting for when it comes.
A large number of my friends who had relations in Italy have heard during the last three weeks that their men in Italy have been recaptured and taken to Germany.
I do hope you are feeling better and your small son is over his teething troubles. We have had colds and Alisa is away from school today with a troublesome cough. The weather does not help one to get well.
Do let me know if you have any news of your husband, may we both have good news soon.
Yours sincerely, Marjorie McLaren.
PS I do hope one day we may meet having written to each other for so long.
February 22nd [21st. not written up]
The Germans seem to have stopped the searching of casalis, but of course one can never be sure, however we started getting food from Marano again today, not at the same place but nearer our own sleeping place. Mack’s (Mackay’s) birthday today so decided to try and buy some vino to celebrate, Mack and I accordingly went down to the first farm where we persuaded the farmer’s son to take a ten litro cask into Marano to be filled, later we promised to go back and collect it. This worked alright and at night Mack and Garson returned with the cask. Macdonald went up to Rocca to sleep and if possible get the news. The four of us had quite a nice little party at night and got quite merry on our vino. No alarums at night.
A foul day, wet and windy. All went up to Gigi’s casalis and spent the day there, getting food from Rocca. All quite cheerful despite our party last night. Macdonald had heard part of the news but said there was nothing, except heavy bombing of Germany. I simply cannot understand Anzio, after a good landing it has just petered out. Garson went off to Anticoli again for the night, we returned to our sleeping place and were soon in the straw after doing some potatoes etc. Just where I sleep is a loose board which is a trial but there is no room to move anywhere. Once more a quiet night, we are considering even going back to Gigi’s hut if this keeps up.
Weather better, spent the day on the mountain side near Gigi’s fire. Garson was in Rocca this morning with some men from Anticoli but he did not come down to us until the evening. He brought some eggs and bread etc. which we ate at night, he also said that he had left an order for some meat in Anticoli which should be ready in a few days, this will be very nice. Still no further trouble and everyone is quietening down, which is a good thing. Perhaps the Germans are satisfied there are no prisoners in the mountains, let us hope so. Into bed quite early and soon asleep.
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All life is, I know, uncertain, but for rapid changes from day to day and even hour to hour, our present existence has few equals. This, as will be seen, was only too true of the day I now record. It started in a hut on the rugged mountains near Anticoli and finished in a flat in the heart of Rome. I left a bed of straw to sleep, fifteen hours later, in a comfortable bed with a book beside me in case the night dragged! Once again back to civilisation, to baths, table-cloths and well-dressed people, not, I am afraid to say, a completely free man, but at least without barbed wire around us. However as Carroll has said: “Let me start at the beginning and go on to the end and then stop”.
As I explained in my diary up to Feb. 24th, we have, for the last two weeks, been finding a precarious living in the mountains between the small town of Subiaco and Anticoli. The Germans, bless their little hearts, are stationed at Maliano and other nearby villages, and knowing, that prisoners have been living in the mountains, have been making periodic searches of the more accessible barns, forcing us to move continually and find a fresh place to sleep each night.
On the morning of 25th I awoke at about 08.00 hrs, the sun, filtering through the many cracks of the walls of our hut, showed only too plainly the thick layers of dust lying over everything, which at night were mercifully hidden. My four companions were still asleep, McDonald and Garson, buried deep in the straw, were almost invisible, their two heads, apparently devoid of any life, might have been thrown down by some executioner. To my right, Bob and Mack had scorned the added warmth which the straw afforded, but instead lay completely covered in the various coats and cloaks of doubtful vintage which they had collected. As I replaced my boots, the only thing I removed at night, Bob’s head popped out to ask the time, my reply must have satisfied him, for like a tortoise into its shell, his head disappeared and all was once again quiet.
Picking up my hat, of which fond memories, I scrambled through a hole in the floor and dropped to the stall beneath, a moment later and I was out in the open. I should explain that the hut in which we are now sleeping, whilst a poor one, has the advantage of being well hidden, except for the front door-way which can be seen from the main track. Providing therefore that we use the back door, and do not stay nearby during the day, all should be well, with the chances of being raided, without good warning, small. Nevertheless, a certain tension is, I know, felt, particularly at night, and although never mentioned the day is welcomed as a time when we can at least see the arrival of a German patrol and start level with them in any game of hide and seek which they organise.
It was a lovely morning, the sun, climbing above the mountains to the East, warmed one half of our valley, leaving Agosta and Cevera still in the cold of dawn. I could see no movement as I carefully searched the mountain tracks to the North, and I wondered if any more barns had visitors last night. Perhaps if things remain quiet, we can return to Gigi’s hut, which, with a fire-place and a bench to sit on, is a palace compared to our present home.
As I walk down to the river, I could hear, high up on the mountainside near Rocco di Mezzo, the shouts and whistles of the farmers descending to work in their vineyards and olive terraces amongst which we lived. Their voices came sharp and clear on the morning breeze, a sound to which these mountains must have listened each morning for centuries.
The water of the river was icy as I damped my beard, and I felt little joy in the anticipation of shaving, an operation which although painful without brush or mirror, was nevertheless necessary after a lapse of three days. A new blade did a lot to help, and by the time I had
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washed the soap from my face, and combed my Byronic I became almost civilized. Pocketing my razor and soap, I wandered back to the hut to find the others stirring, I did not go inside, but sat instead on a log in the sun with my coat around me smoking the first cigarette of the day and inhaling a tobacco, the strength of which, only a few months ago, would have given me heart failure, but which now I smoked, if not with enjoyment, at least with satisfaction.
My thoughts concerning the meal which Maliano was to bring today, were soon disturbed by footsteps on the path above me, and by a voice calling for Lorenzo, the name by which Garson is known in the district. As the owner of this voice appeared around the last corner in the path, Garson came out of the hut and the two welcomed each other like long-lost brothers. Garson had apparently known this Italian in Anticoli and he had come over today with Rodrigues, a South American artist, to take Garson and I back with them to catch a lorry into Rome. Rodrigues was waiting higher up the mountain with extra clothes for us, which had been brought out from someone in Rome. All of this of course was a great surprise, true we had discussed the matter with Rodrigues about a week ago, but owing to certain difficulties the matter had been dropped only to open again like this when we least expected it. However, we had to move quickly, so grabbing our belongings and without even seeing the others we climbed up the mountain to see Rodrigues and get further particulars. We found him talking to Maria at her hut and nursing on his knees a large haversack from which, presently, appeared a grey double-breasted suit with socks and shoes for me and a shirt for Garson. He told us that an English Captain who spoke fluent Italian was now waiting in Anticoli and would accompany us into Rome on a lorry, and no doubt find some place for us to go once we were inside the city. He added that the lorry would pick us up on the road below Anticoli, but that once on board we must on no account speak as the driver and passengers would be unaware that we were English and could not be guaranteed.
Whilst we changed our clothes in Maria’s hut, Garson and I considered the position as far as we were able, it appeared to be fixed, and unless we allowed all this hard work which had been done on our behalf to be for nothing, we must for better or for worse, take the opportunity and go without further delay. As I changed, all the many difficulties which we had discussed before crowded back into my mind; surely the Germans demanded to see papers or identity cards of everyone entering Rome, and even if we got safely past this danger, where would we find a place to live and on what? With a somewhat worried and doubting mind, I rejoined the others, my suit, although large, was well-cut, and I thanked my guiding star that I had shaved this morning. I retained my boots, deciding to wait until I reached Anticoli, before changing into my new shoes, in case my feet, so precious to a fugitive, should be damaged during our walk.
Time was becoming vital if we were to catch the lorry, so bidding goodbye to Maria and also to Bob who arrived in the nick of time, we set off for Anticoli. Garson’s friend carried the haversack, now filled with my old clothes, and despite my new suit and the sunny day, I still clung to my old overcoat and hat – so much might go wrong and I did not wish to be without any covering at night, nor did I know quite what to do with my small, but precious, belongings.
From our hut to Anticoli takes about an hour and a half using the main tracks, but as we wished to avoid passing near Maliano with its German garrison, we decided, perhaps wrongly, to climb the mountain and find a track near the top, running in the right direction. I had been only once before to Anticoli with Garson, and then we had used the main track, so on this occasion I had to leave our route to Garson’s friend who, unfortunately, soon proved to be lost, although only a few miles from his own village. This often happens in Italy, as we
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found while walking from Bardi, many of the village people having no idea of direction.
After about an hour’s scramble over very rough going in rather an aimless way, Garson and I , to our great joy, recognised a track about a hundred yards below us, as one which we had used on our previous trip. By this time Maliano and its dangers were passed so with happier hearts we descended and this time got on our way. The sun was by now warm and despite the cool breeze and my good training, I began to sweat. My thoughts also did little to help, for to be honest, although everything appeared to be fixed, I still could not make up my mind if all the risks which we must run were for the best. So many stories about life in Rome had reached us, it’s lack of food and high prices, it’s Fascist and German occupiers and other particulars which did not sound at all cheerful. However it was obviously too late to withdraw, but I imagined finishing the day in some German guardroom after six months freedom
A breathless climb up the last hillside brought us above Anticoli where Rodrigues left us to go and warn the Captain that his charges were now nearing the rendezvous. Garson’s friend, who by the way, went without sleep last night so that he might serenade his girlfriend instead, now took us over the last lap of our journey. It was, I think, the worst lap, up and down rocky ravines to avoid Anticoli, and when at last we were directly above the road, a breathtaking, slithering run down and down until we reached the valley beneath. It must have been about 2.00pm when Rodrigues left us and by the time we reached the road at least another hour had passed.
We were all, I am sure, glad to reach the road, where squatting it the shade that the banks afforded, we smoked a cigarette and rested our weary legs. At some period during our walk Garson’s friend had sent a message to his home asking that food be sent down to our hiding place. Its arrival made me realize how hungry I was, not having eaten since last night. It was only a small minestra and bread but nevertheless very acceptable. After eating I changed into my new shoes and we tidied ourselves as best we could in preparation for the lorry which, as far as we could understand was still in Anticoli.
It was not a pleasant wait with its outcome clear and obvious, so much might happen and so many things go wrong, that I, at least, classed it with the pause before an attack or some other unpleasant business, which although necessary would still be uncomfortable. Our little hut in the mountains, dirty and dangerous as it was, became almost home now, the unknown stretching before us.
As we sat a few German trucks and cyclists passed along the road above us, little realizing that within reach were two English prisoners, quite defenceless. At last our guide, who had been watching, called to us that our lorry was approaching. Leaving the friendly shelter of the bank we climbed onto the road when, with many regrets, I threw away my hat, it was a sad loss but far too battered for any city and hardly in keeping with my new suit. My coat I retained over my arm in case it was required later. As the lorry approached I saw that it had a trailer attached, the former was filled with Italians all apparently going to Rome, it stopped level with us and a man jumped down from the driver’s cab and came towards us. he was well dressed but looked decidedly Italian, I thought, as I waited for him to speak that he must be the English Captain and his first words asking if I was Major Cummins, confirmed it. I replied that I was whereupon, without further delay, he told me to get into the front of the lorry with him. Our troubles had started however, for no sooner was I inside the cab when an argument started between him and the driver who apparently refused to take Garson for some reason and who, getting warmed to his subject, then decided to have nothing to do with any of us saying that it was altogether too dangerous. Cursing the
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…….ability (?) of some Italians I got down to find John, as I shall now call him, the centre of a gesticulating crowd and standing beside him another prisoner who I afterwards found out was a S.A. called Mandy. Eventually the truck departed leaving us a disconsolate group on the roadside. I was clutching my coat and a flask of oil which John had given me to hold and Mandy was similarly burdened with some loaves of farmhouse bread.
After further discussion however, it was found that all was not lost as, apparently there was still another truck in Anticoli going into Rome today and the driver, who seemed to be a friend of John’s agreed to take Mandy and I but not unfortunately Garson. I was never able to find out the exact reason of this antipathy to Garson but from what I could gather the Italians thought he was too dark in the face to escape capture at any road block which we might have to pass. This was a great pity but John said he might be able to arrange his transport some other day, in the meantime we must wait while our new driver walked up to the village and collected his truck.
I said goodbye to Garson who, poor lad, looked very disappointed at the rapid change in affairs, and the three of us, John, Mandy and I once more sat down in the shade of the bank to wait. This time the wait was a short one, for very soon the second truck appeared, a tiny affair on three wheels with a small open box on the back into which Mandy and I jumped, John getting into the front with the driver. At long last we were off on this strange trip leaving, as far as I could gather, just enough time to do the journey before the curfew which was at 7.0pm.
As our truck got into its stride Mandy and I made ourselves as comfortable and as inconspicuous as we could in the somewhat limited space. Using my coat to sit on and crouching down to benefit from the shelter of the sides, I must have presented the complete picture of the escaping prisoner with, still clasped in my right hand, the flask of oil, of which more anon. After about 15 minutes the truck stopped and John came round to say that we were going to give a lift to two women on the roadside to act as camouflage for us. Our new passengers climbed on board, typical farmers’ wives, old and tired and clutching a various assortment of parcels and packages which they were taking into Rome. We did not speak but left the arranging to John and the driver who eventually got them settled beside us.
The road was crowded with traffic, in the main German but with now and again an Italian truck filled to overflowing with humans and animals. It was a strange experience as German lorries passed us, to look up straight into the face of the uniformed driver who no doubt, pondering about home or the next meal, never imagined that within touching distance were two of his sworn enemies. For some miles we were followed by a German Staff car filled with police in their black uniforms. One was standing in the back to get a better view and seemed particularly interested in us, after about three miles however, with a sigh of relief I watched them turn off onto a branch road and disappear. Tivoli was a seething mass of Germans and during our necessarily slow progress through the town I had many close-ups of Gerry. Actually no doubt one was in little danger, few were likely to imagine that two prisoners were so near, nevertheless after six months of avoiding him like the plague it was strange to be suddenly in such close proximity to our friend the German.
Leaving Tivoli, with its many Germans behind us, we coasted down a twisting road to the plain beneath and in the distant haze I had my first view of Rome, the dome of St. Peter’s dominating the skyline. I chuckled to myself as I recalled a letter which B. had written in the early days of my capture, saying that if possible I must visit Rome and see St. Peter’s. At the time I had laughed at the absolute impossibility of it, but now it seemed that Dame Fortune
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was arranging matters.
The many scenes and my rapidly changing thoughts had, for the moment, made me forget our women passengers who, up to the present, had not spoken to us. My flask of oil, however now caught the eye of the younger one who turned to me and said something which, above the sound of the engine, I could not hear. Thinking that it would be best to pretend that I was deaf and so avoid any protracted conversation, I gave a most expressive shrug to my shoulders and pointed to my ears. This apparently was quite the wrong thing to do, for, with a look of horror on her face, she edged away as far as space would allow and if she had dared would, I am certain, have jumped from the truck parcels and all. What the reason for this was I cannot say, perhaps she twigged that I was English, or imagined I was a mental case on the way to hospital, whatever the reason it must, I am afraid, have reduced her life by quite a number of years.
Her worries, however, were not of a long duration for as the suburbs of Rome came into sight the truck stopped and John came round to tell us to hop out quickly and follow the driver. We had, apparently, nearly reached the block which is across all the roads and while John drove the truck passed the sentries, the driver was to take us across the fields to a prearranged meeting place. Leaving everything in the truck and giving a last look at our now very frightened passengers, Mandy and I left the road and set off with the driver across the fields. The evening was a fine one and in case we were under observation we sauntered as nonchalantly as possible towards our rendezvous, a house in the distance. I remember whistling “The Desert Song” quietly to myself expecting any minute to hear a harsh German voice demand our business. All, however went well, at the house that we eventually reached we found John with the now empty truck, he was smiling and assured us that everything was safe being now inside the ring round Rome. While he chatted to his driver friend I parcelled up in some paper my few belongings taken from the pockets of my overcoat, the latter I then gave away. After fond farewells and thanks all round, including kisses from the driver we set off on foot for the tram which was to take us on the final lap of our journey. As we started walking I considered how lucky we had been up to date with nothing really to worry about and how much I owed to the coolness of John who had made it all possible.
The terminus of the autobus was only a short walk passed a garage which the Germans were using. There was no bus at the moment so, despite a feeling of uneasiness we buried ourselves in the crowd to wait. In the distance, rising clear and green from the plain, I could see the hills of Frascati and the rumble of guns from the Anzio bridgehead came clearly on the evening breeze. At night John said the gun flashes were easily seen and just after the landing the war seemed to be at the very gates of Rome, with nothing between the Allies and actual occupation but a few disorganised German soldiers. The Romans found it hard to understand why we had stopped short of the city, but no doubt there were good reasons.
When at last the bus arrived, there was the usual scramble, I have noticed that on such occasions it is the survival of the fittest without consideration for women or children. However, sticking close to John’s coat-tails, we forced our way on and were soon on our way. Looking out of the windows, as we rattled along, I thought how nice it was to see well-dressed and civilised people again after so long in the mountains, with the shops and houses like some town in England. There were many Germans in the streets and occasionally I saw areas of bomb damage particularly round the stations we passed. During our journey, in an undertone, John kept up a running commentary in English, a habit of his that I thought at the time particularly dangerous, but of which he was quite unconcerned, his usual reply to a
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suggestion of silence being “They are only Italians and won’t understand.”
My knowledge of the geography of Rome is small now but on that first day it was of course nil, so I am unable to say quite what route we took, after about half-an-hour however, we got down from the bus and finished the journey on foot, it was just beginning to grow dark as we walked to John’s flat we were just in time, for as we turned into the building, a clock in the square beside us chimed seven, the hour of the curfew.
It was with a feeling of relief and thankfulness that I let the flat door bang behind us, knowing that for tonight at least we were safe; in this life one is thankful for present blessings and we leave tomorrow to look after itself. There were two other ex-prisoners in the flat, both strangely enough from Durham and both privates of the typical English variety, one, a man named Kegan was from Stockton and in the NFs, the other, I regret to say, left no impression of name or regiment. They had been some time in Rome and were acting as servants in John’s flat while he looked after them. The greatly higher standard of the SA soldier, in comparison to our own, was only too obvious in Mandy, who was an educated and cultured man against the others. I was later to meet another of his type at my eventual living place, which confirmed my opinion, the officer material in SA must be of a very high standard.
The other members of the flat when we arrived, were Tina and Angela – John’s two children – the former about five and a sweet child, the latter about seven and, as I found out afterwards, rather precocious. They were very glad to see John and bombarded Mandy and I with questions about who we were and what we were doing here, a strange life for two little girls. After about fifteen minutes, John’s wife came in, a nice woman, perhaps thirty to thirty-five, but as I first saw her, not very attractive. She was overjoyed at seeing John, as owing to the length of time he had been away, she was sure something had gone wrong. Whilst food and beds were prepared for us, Mandy and I had a good wash and clean up, in cold water it is true, but using a bathroom – a place I had not seen for many months.
During the meal which followed and our long chat lasting well into the early hours, I began at last to gain a clearer picture both of John himself and our future plans. He was not, I found, military at all, but a journalist who, being in Italy on the outbreak of war with his wife and children, was interned in a civilian camp somewhere in the South of Italy, later they had been sent to live in a village on a small allowance which he supplemented by doing odd jobs for the local farmers. After the fall of Mussolini or the armistice, I could never make out which, they came to Rome, where he secured his present flat and where he started on the job of bringing aid to such as ourselves. John could of course speak Italian, as could his wife and children, and with rather Latin features, passed as an Italian when he wished.
During that night and the others that followed, he told some amazing stories of the fall of Fascism and the Armistice, and showed he was obviously a go-getter who could keep his eyes and ears open and his mouth shut when necessary. To this day, despite the tragic sequel to this story, I still cannot exactly place John Sperni (??) but, nevertheless, no matter what the true conditions of his life maybe, he is a man to respect for his drive and guts alone and there can be no doubt that he was a God-send to the many prisoners who, like myself, went through his hands.
Our future appeared simple after a few days with him, we are to go to other flats and families which he has in mind and who, he said, will look after us well. There were, he added, certain dangers in Rome, from police and spies and many prisoners had been recaptured, but provided one is careful and circumspect, life can be quite pleasant.
At about 2am the party broke up. The excitement of a very full day began to tell and three
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of us at least felt the need to sleep. As we undressed, I could hear in the distance, the occasional shots and bangs of street rioters, and the heavy rumble of the guns at Anzio. Nevertheless, my head was no sooner on the pillow, than my somewhat muddled thoughts faded and under very different conditions to those of yesterday I fell asleep.
[Richard Lamb writes in his book, “War In Italy”, that “A considerable number of British escapees gathered in Rome while it was still occupied by the Germans. Major Derry and an Irish priest, Monsignor O’Flaherty, set up an organisation through which all the POWs. were billeted in safe houses; only a few were denounced to the Germans by fascists. Friendly Italians obligingly cashed cheques. In the end Derry had 2,591 British on his books and was paying out two million lira a month but not all these were in Rome”. Ed].
26th February 1944 Barksfoot, Caversham, Reading.
Brenda, my dear,
I am most terribly sorry to hear you are so run down but who can wonder at it under such a ghastly long strain. Personally, I should think specialists are quite superfluous, all you need is to hear Ronnie is with the Allies or in Switzerland and all would be right. There’s nothing makes one feel so ill as worry. Anyway I think it’s a marvellous idea of yours to come and stay with me, the trains to London are very good and very frequent from here.
We’ve had beastly, noisy nights here this week but mostly our own guns and anyway not half as bad as in London. I’d love to have you.
I’m being quite firm with the maids, my brother is staying this weekend, mother next weekend and Betty Clarke the one after that!!!!!
Don’t know how your plans will fit but should suggest your coming here on Tuesday 14th. for as long as you like provided you agree to having breakfast in bed as I have it with Nannie and the children and that is not suitable for a guest.
It’s very sweet of you to say what you did about my father-in-law knowing Sammy was safe; of course it was absolutely marvellous for him and just made all the difference to his peace of mind. I really think he died happy as he adored the children too so felt everything was complete.
It will do you a lot of good to come away on your own without Peter, however much one loves them, they are most exhausting and such a tie. I must warn you there is no central heating here so put on your thickest underclothes. Even with electric fires, coal fires and oil stoves it is freezing and we would strike the coldest patch of the winter.
I’ve people coming to see the house this afternoon and want to let it for 6 months if possible.
Must fly, but we’ll be able to talk hard when you come. If the 14th doesn’t suit, suggest what you think but not 11th and 12th as Betty will be here.
Lots of love, Karin.
PS I’ve just read through your letter again and I see that you want to go away one week with Peter and the Nanny. If you’d like to come here later, on the 16th for example, it would be all right for me but is the weekend a good time for London Doctors?
I sympathise with your mother not wanting to go away to an uncomfortable hotel and do hope she will manage to get a good rest in her own home. What a tiring life it is! Let me know what you decide later. K.
28th February 1944 Clarence, Bishop Auckland.
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My Darling Brenda,
Mary and I cannot think of what to send Ronnie for his birthday so I am sending you £3-0-0 with which you can buy something to send him when you get word where he is and may such word come soon. It must be a very trying and anxious time for you, honey, and you are a brave little lass, the plucky way you stand up to it all.
Every time the phone goes we wonder if it is from you giving good news. Everyone seems to think that the spring time will be the time those hiding will make a move.
Ruth had been at some conference or other and met and ATS Commandant whose son was in Camp 29, and she, too, had no news from him. She told Ruth that from various sources of information she gathered the escaped, or released Italian prisoners were in hiding and waiting for better weather.
We have a thick cover of snow and it’s bitterly cold and a hard frost, fortunately there is little or no wind otherwise it would be unbearable.
Ruth was lucky to leave her old “diggings” in Queensgate as in one of the raids the windows were all blown in (or out), no one injured but all those whose rooms faced the front were very uncomfortable. There is, opposite to where she lives now, a very deep shelter into which the other inmates retire when the alarm sounds. Her address is: 15a Lowndes St. London SW1 and her telephone number at 15a is Sloane 8067.
I hope your Mother, yourself and Peter are all well. Mary would send her love if she knew I was writing (but I’m at the office).
My love to you all, Grandpa.
28th February 1944 10 Croft Avenue, Crook.
My dear Brenda,
What an absolutely awful time you’ve been having! I do hope it has come to an end. What a shock for you to have both Peter and his Granny fall downstairs. I hope they are both well again and that your tooth has decided to stop troubling you, you must have felt utterly wretched.
I’ve got my little Helen in bed with a chest cold at the moment, she has been there since Saturday, poor lamb. Katherine has started to sneeze and so have I so I suppose that we shall be the next victims. What a life!! I panic at the thought of being ill now that there is no help in the house. Am furiously gargling etc. in the hope that I shall kill all the germs. I was going to the theatre on Wed. to see Roger Livesy in “5th. Column”, guess that will be called off now!
Had a letter from Doug today dated Jan 16th.. He said that someone from his old unit has turned up at the camp and has given him news of Peter’s death. Am afraid that it has been a tremendous shock to him. He is not receiving my letters at all and that is depressing him a lot. I suppose it wouldn’t be any good writing to the Red X about it. They have enough to cope with.
My dear, it is sweet if you to want to send Doug cigarettes, he’ll love having them from you. His favourite brand is Craven A and his address is: 90268 Capt. D Y Caldwell, POW No. 1047, Oflag V111 F, Germany.
So glad that you got in touch with Major Linton was it? Of course you have solved the mystery but it was your guess at first wasn’t it? I am keeping my fingers crossed for you, my dear.
Wasn’t it good news of Mick Ferens’ promotion? Had a letter from Peter saying that they’ve got a flat in London. Rather a risk taking the child but I’d take it too to be with Doug!
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Must dash now, supper and so to bed. Cheerio my dear and good news soon, many thanks on Doug’s behalf. Kisses to Peter from us all. Love, Lena.
28th February 1944 6th. DLI, Cambs.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
Just a few lines to thank you for the two bundles of magazines received today. We all appreciate them very much and they are passed round the Company for the boys to see. There is some good reading in them especially these cold nights when the fire is the best place to be. I hope you and the baby are keeping well and you are having things nice and quiet down there and not being bothered with any air-raids. Have you heard any news of the Major recently, I hope he is quite well and safe.
Quite a few of the old boys have asked me lately if I had heard any news about him and I am glad to have this opportunity to ask you. One of our CSMs. who was taken prisoner at Mersa, June 1942, came back to the Batt. a couple of weeks ago. He was in a camp at Bari and when Italy packed in they were released and he managed to get back to our lines after 250 miles walking. At present he is in hospital here with leg trouble through playing football.
Lt. Lindrea has also rejoined us, he was badly wounded at Mareth. We had a visit from the King last week and Monty three weeks before. There is nothing exciting in the way of news from here, so I will close with best wishes to yourself, baby and all at home.
Yours sincerely, E Fowler.
1st. March 1944
POST OFFICE TELEGRAM
9.0 BISHOP AUCKLAND T 10
CUMMINS 61 BURTON BRADSTOCK
LOVING THOUGHTS FOR TODAY
GRANNIE AND GRANDPA.
3rd March 1944 Banksfoot, Caversham, Reading.
Brenda, my dear,
I’m afraid there’s a slight hitch. The fact is, Alisa is missing both her dancing (on Wednesdays) and school, the latter can’t be helped but I thought I’d take her over to dancing anyway. Unfortunately it seems to be too exhausting to do it all in one day so this week we stayed Wednesday night in Fleet and she got in Monday morning at school and we came back in time for tea on Thursday and I think I ought to keep this up ‘til the end of term. If you could have made it Monday 16th it would have been perfect but that may be a fearful nuisance with you and your friends. I’m terribly sorry to alter like this but I’d hoped that Alias and I would have just been away for the day on Wednesday which wouldn’t have interfered at all. 2 long bus journeys and dancing seem to be too much, though.
I could almost have left you alone perhaps but the old cook is a bit doubtful, my tact hasn’t stood up to the strain and we’ve had a terrific row so she may walk out any minute. This needn’t worry you as it doesn’t me, I’m a pretty good cook and very used to it. I am looking forward to seeing you enormously and feel very sick at altering the dates but I have to try and work it all in somehow.
How miserable you must have felt, Ronnie’s birthday and all. Don’t I know it? So sorry Peter’s having trouble with his teeth it is a nuisance and wretched for everyone.
Can you get in your Doctor’s all right if you come to me 16th – 22nd? I do apologise again
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and hope there won’t be any more alterations. Life seems pretty uncertain one way or another!
Lots of love, Karin.
5th March 1944 Oflag V11 B, Deutschland.
My dear Brenda,
Thank you so much for your letter, I was so pleased to get it and am looking forward to meeting you and Peter. I do hope you have had news of Ronnie before this. I know you must have had a worrying time but I am sure he must be all right. I have tried from this end but opportunities are limited and rumour unreliable. Mary C tells me they are to be with you in April, I am sure it won’t be long before we are all together.
Much love from John.
6th March 1944 15a, Lowndes Street, SW1.
I have just had your letter from the family. I am so glad you are having a change. It will do you so much good and I am overjoyed that I will have a chance of seeing you. I was going to write tonight in any case.
I am going to Canada for a brief spell. I can hardly believe it, it is so exciting. I go home on 16th. but if you can come to London on that day I won’t go til 17th. I do hope you can manage it as I was so hoping I could see you before I went away and wondering how it could be done. Will you decide what theatre and I’ll book seats. You had better give me a selection in case I have difficulty in booking. Will you also let me have your telephone number at Charminster as there is a vague possibility I may have to start leave on the 14th or 15th. In case I do perhaps you could come on the 15th. The difficulty is that I will have so much to do at home and dare not stay in London too long. I must make some underclothes and masses of mending etc. I shall only be away a short time but there is much to prepare.
I am looking forward to seeing you. It is so disappointing that you are not coming this week, but at least I’ll have one day. I only wish I could see Peter and Granny Cecil too.
Darling, I thought of you all so much on Ronnie’s birthday. I’m afraid the hold up due to the weather is delaying our news as I am sure Ronnie will make no rash move now until he can safely reach our lines.
All my news when I see you. Let me know about the theatre in good time. I don’t mind what I see.
My dearest love to you all. As ever, Ruth.
[She was sent to Canada as the Canadians had been to England to be trained in how to set up an equivalent Service to the ATS there, and a party of senior ATS went over to inspect what they had done and give further advice. Ed.]
6th March 1944 6th. DLI, Cambs.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
Just a few lines in answer to your letter which arrived after I had written thanking you for the magazines. I was so sorry to hear about your Mother and Peter and I hope by now they are well again, and you are keeping in the best of health yourself. You are certainly having a worrying time with the Major and I do hope some news comes through soon for your sake. It is a long time now, but as you say he may be waiting for some better weather to make
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good his escape.
I haven’t seen Pears this past week but I shall make it my business to go along to the officer’s mess where he is employed to show him your letter. He is always pleased to hear some news from you. I wish we had the Company now that we had in Cullompton, honestly they are a poor crowd here now and it is a good job we have some of the old faces left. As regards the cutting from the newspaper you enclosed, well he must have been attached to our 16th. Batt. which was fighting with the 1st. Army in North Africa. We were in the 8th. Army, as you know, and we came out of the fighting at Enfidaville on April 19th and never went in again til the invasion of Sicily.
We had heard that Lt. Col. Jeffreys was in Burma and also that Major Ferens was in London. He visited the Batt. at Benina, I believe, on our way up to N Africa. He was then a liaison Officer for the RAF I think. It was a coincidence you should ask about Capt. Lindrea when he had just come back to the Batt. He was posted to Brigade about three days ago. Major Proud has gone away on a course and I believe he won’t be coming back to us. I haven’t asked Major Wood if he received your cigarettes, he is a man I don’t like approaching, although I was his clerk for 12 months.
Well, Mrs. Cummins the only fresh news form here is that we shall be moving pretty soon, so I will close with my best wishes to all at home.
Yours sincerely, E Fowler.
18th March 1944 Clarence, Bishop Auckland.
Addressed to Caversham as she was staying with Karin.
Your letter has not arrived as usual, it generally comes on Friday evening. I had a letter from Ruth saying how much she had enjoyed her day with you and she said how you were so wonderfully bright and looked so sweet and also that the Doctor had said that there was nothing organically wrong, but you needed a rest and change. Now, darling, I have a suggestion to make, would it be possible for you and Peter to come up with Ruth on 29th. and spend the fortnight here and we would all be together. You would not have to bring anything up but Peter’s and your clothing as we can get pram, cot, high chair etc. and I think borrow everything necessary. The only thing is your Mother as I am afraid we could not put her up too. I don’t know that I am wise in making suggestions but if you could close the house up and Granny go to Phyllis or Joy. We could have the dogs too or perhaps the man at the Mill could look after them. It would be so lovely to have you as we have seen so little of you and Peter. I am writing to your Mother suggesting this. Ruth would meet you in London. There is a train that only changes at Maiden Newton, if you could get some friend to come with you as far as that to help you with Peter and the luggage, you would be all right until you got to Paddington where Ruth would meet you.
I rang Ruth up on Thursday, right after her letter, and told her about it and she thought it a lovely idea. Anyhow she is seeing you on Tuesday and talk it over and let me know. You would get the rest and change as we would look after Peter too and I can get someone to take him out in the afternoons etc.
Now think it all out when you get back to Burton Bradstock and talk it over with Granny C and let me know. We are thrilled at the thought of it but we want your Mother to be happy about it and able to go somewhere where she will have a rest too.
All our love, darling, I hope the change and rest you are having now has done you good. Remember me to Mrs Battiscombe, she will love having you.
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God bless you, Granny Mary.
Darling, Do try and do this, it will be lovely and we will look after you and you can have a good rest. Grandpa.
19th March 1944 Grove, Burton Bradstock.
Addressed to Caversham.
As all our letters from the south are censored they take longer to arrive. I hope Mrs. Battiscombe can keep you til Sat. also hope you are taking the iron tonic and pills.
A Mrs. Copeman, sister-in-law to Bunty, nee King, wrote from Brighton offering her services as cook, she is 33, widow of Army man, has 2 boys, ran her own house for 12 years and has been cooking in a school. She hears we have a “cottage”, of course she must have the boys in the holidays. She offered to come and see me on 27th. I have written her exactly what accommodation we have, and asked ages of the boys and suggested she comes on 27th. for a week or so on trial. It sounds all very sad, of course 2 boys is the snag, they’d have to be kept in the cottage, I couldn’t possibly have them in and out of this house in all weathers.
Elsie made us a nice orange cake with my ingredients. Nurse and Peter are going to tea with the Lessers tomorrow, darling he looks a perfect picture! Nurse says she has a few times had to slap his hand! He seems to enjoy his food more than ever, he feeds himself much better, he says daily, waving his arm “Mummie gone car” he will probably be quite shy when you return! Nurse went to Church this morning, looking quite smart.
I expected to hear Cassino had fallen tonight, awful fighting. Did you see “Sam” is being married at the end of this month! and not to her!
Masses of love, sweetheart, Your loving Mum.
20th March 1944 Stalag 1V G, Deutschland.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
Thank you so much for your letters dated, 27.1.44, 15.8.43 and the other 4.9.43, the last two from Italy, as you will see by the dates, which I was very delighted to receive. I think it is very, very kind of you to send me all these letters and I want you to know how much I appreciate it. By the way, we had quite a pleasant surprise today, we all went to the cinema and it was very good. In our letters to this camp you don’t mention whether you have heard from the Major, if so will you please tell him that I hope he is keeping well and hope to see him soon. By your letters little Peter seems to be getting quite a big boy now, you must get many a laugh at his actions, and I guess his Daddy will be very proud when he sees him. Well, I see I am coming to the end of the letter so will close now, hoping to hear from you soon, so cheerio for now.
Yours sincerely, Lumley.
22nd March 1944 Grove, Burton Bradstock.
Dear Major Longrigg,
I agree to investing the £4,000 into 3 1/2% Conversion Stock, I hope I receive the dividend on April 1st!
We are still without news of Ronnie (since Aug. 26th) and the great anxiety has told on us both. Brenda is away on a fortnight’s holiday as we were able to get an excellent Maternity Nurse just for that time. She was very run down and nearly at the end of her tether, as Peter is a most energetic person to look after, besides doing all our own chores! No, Peter is not
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spoilt, he is well is well disciplined . He is full of character and a real live wire so we get very exhausted!
I saw Miss Piggot had passed away in Vevey, she was a very charming person, I am sad to think I shall not see her again.
With our love.
Yours affectionately, C A Bennett.
[Major Longrigg was one of the Trustees of her Trust and also her Solicitor.]
26th March 1944 Banksfoot, Caversham, Reading.
Brenda, my dear,
I wonder if and when you came to Reading station yesterday. I went there about 12.35 and walked about for 5 minutes but then had to go as it was so uncertain when you would come. I’d love to have caught a glimpse of you but it can’t be helped.
Before I go further, let me thank you for all your generosity. You were the most impossible guest in that way, far too lavish. We loved having you but I certainly wish you hadn’t had this wretched catarrh, it was so miserable for you and I only pray it will go now that you are home and have to start work again. It seems a very common complaint by the way. I went out to lunch today and both my host and hostess had just had the doctor as they’ve had this catarrh since Xmas! Very cheerful
I’m longing to hear how you found Peter and if you approve of the new child he apparently is. Shouldn’t be surprised if you prefer your “hysterical son”. Nannies are a most peculiar race.
Oh, my dear, I took a taxi miles after tea to fetch a cat as a birthday present for Aurea. Before it had been in the house 10 minutes it managed to get away and he’s not been seen since. Isn’t it maddening? I’ve booked a kitten but can’t get it for 6 weeks and meanwhile the mice are becoming tamer and tamer and are almost sharing my chair. How I loathe them! Also, poor Aurea will be heartbroken as I promised her a pet. Very sad.
What do you think of Churchill’s speech? I was rather disappointed he was not more sensational, though I realise he couldn’t be.
Did I say “thank you” for the laundered handkerchief? You shouldn’t have bothered.
Hasn’t it been a heavenly weekend? I’ve been longing for a cotton frock today.
Lots of love and don’t forget to write. Karin.
27th March 1944 7 Dixon Street, Blackhill, Durham.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
I write these few lines in answer to your ever welcome letter, I am sorry we have not got it answered before now but we have all had very bad colds and my daughter, Mrs. Hepple, has been very busy at her work, however, we are all well again and I hope your Mother and your son, Peter, is quite all right again. I was very sorry to hear about it, the shock would do her a lot of harm and she would be upset about Peter in case he was hurt, but I do hope they are both well now. I do hope you have heard news of your husband, we look at the papers every day to see if his name is there so we just have to wait and pray for good news to come and I hope it won’t be long. I had a letter from my son, he says he is all right but he is very sorry about his Major and wishes he could get news of him. He says he thinks it won’t be long til he is with us all again, I do hope and pray he is right and what a day that will be for us all to be together again. I often think of you and your little son Peter waiting day after day for the good news which I am sure will come one of these days. We have had a lot of sad ones but I
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do hope the bright ones will come for us all for good. I know you will be like myself praying each day and night for this war to end and for all to get their loved ones back and be happy again and you three united together again with all the love and pleasure you have missed since you were separated from your husband. May God bless you and yours and keep you ready for his return.
Will you tell your Mother I am asking kindly after her and hope she is about all right again. I was awfully sorry to hear about it, when one gets older they feel it more, but I know you will take every care of her. Now, I hope you will excuse writing as I am not a very good one at letters.
Now I will close as it is dinner time, hoping to hear good news from you soon, from a faithful friend to a very good friend. Mrs. C Lumley.
ROME: MARCH AND APRIL 1944
The limitations of this short article on Rome April 1944 are twofold; the first, which will soon be apparent, being that I am no writer, the second, while not perhaps so obvious to the uninformed, though nevertheless true, is that I am a member of that strange sect “Free Prisoners” and must from necessity remain in partial hiding. This being the case I am unable to collect opinions and impressions from all classes of society and from all parts of the city. At the same time, apart from the language difficulty, which fails where the finer points of a story are concerned, one has to contend with rumour without having any method of proving the truth or otherwise of the story, on information.
However, during the short time I have been here, I have, through the kindness of visitors and with my own eyes whilst moving about, been able to form a general picture of this great city waiting for freedom. There is little in it of a sensational nature, indeed for a capital which is in the sound of gunfire there is almost, at times, an air of indifference, but nevertheless perhaps the brief story of this strange situation may be of interest.
If one analysed the conversation and thoughts of the average Roman I think the analysis could be collected under three main headings. The cost of living, The German occupation, The execution of the war by the Allies, and in that order of importance. In the following pages, therefore, I intend to use these headings to group together the scraps of information and opinions which I have collected and to show, as well as I am able, how Rome reacts and behaves under the present, trying conditions.
The cost of living
The main consideration under this heading is, of course, food about which we are always thinking. When the Italians entered the war a rationing system was put into operation, somewhat on the lines of our own, and a strict eye was kept on any dealings on the black market. As far as can be traced, however, even in the early days it was not satisfactory and now with the Germans taking a large slice of the country produce together with the drastic reduction of internal transport, the system has collapsed.
Bread, of quite good quality, is obtainable in quantities which vary with the supply if flour, having dropped as low as 100grms. a day, it is, at the time of writing, back to the more normal ration of 150grms. per day. Pasta, meat and oil are considerably behind in supply and only at rare intervals do minute portions of cheese, butter, sugar, pomodoro become available. Occasionally some overdue ration is recovered in bulk but I think it can be said in all truth that to live on rations alone would be almost impossible. It is agreed that the prices of rationed foods are, in comparison, low but the quantities are quite inadequate.
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To supplement these poor rations Rome, and indeed the whole country, has turned to the black market or Borse nero. I am unable to decide if the poor rations are due to the Black market or the Black market due to the poor rations, but whatever the reason the “commercante”(trader) is, today, a most important man. Practically all the basic foods and some luxuries together with many other things can be obtained in this way providing you can find a trader who wishes or is able to sell and that you have the money to purchase.
The system is simple, the commercante may buy in the country or may take over goods bought in the country, or even goods released from warehouses in Rome and having contacted customers, to take in bulk or by items, clears his stock in a very short space of time. Sometimes these goods pass through many hands before reaching the actual consumer, each seller taking his or her profit on the sale. Or, again, a trader may be asked for goods which he does not hold but is able to obtain from another.
It would seem that in this way, together with the shortage of supplies, that things reach enormous prices, not only in food but also in many other articles which are dealt in. I have been able to find out many of these prices, a list of which follows, naturally the prices are continually altering, but by comparison with pre-war it can be seen how impossible it is to place a value on anything today.
Pre-war Lire April/May 1944 Lire
Flour ( all per kilo) 2 150
Rice 3 150
Salt 1 180 if found.
Pasta 2 130
Sugar 2 300 ” ”
Bread 6 100 ” ”
Butter 20 600 ” “
Pomodoro 1 150
Polenta 1.50 150
Jam, Honey 10 350 ” “
Potatoes 1/4 40 ” “
Greens 1 40 poor quality
Oil per litro 8 600
Tea per etto 5 200
Vino per litro 3 32
Meat per kilo 6 200 if found
Cigs. per 20 5 60 ” ”
Eggs each 1/2 14
Men’s socks cheap 10 80
Women’s stockings 50 250
Some of these articles can be purchased in shops at the prices mentioned, but if they are not to be found there, then one must search for a trader who can supply, and even the Borse Nero will fail at times. Naturally, this large increase in living shows itself in everything from tin-tacks to tunny fish, from ice-creams to lilac blossom, all are inflated far beyond their normal value. Owing to disorganisation, or indifference, the authorities are quite unable to do anything but touch the fringe of the trouble. It does happen at times that a trader is stopped and searched, and his stock confiscated, but as the police and the military
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themselves are dependent on its activities, the Borse Nero continues to flourish and send out off-shoots.
A cheaper type of food is greens, large quantities of which come into the city every day. Whilst the quality is poor, and even at times doubtful, these greens do serve as a make-weight to rapidly emptying tummies and purses, and during most mornings the hand-cart can be seen at street corners, surrounded by buyers all looking for a cauliflower with some heart to it, or a cabbage with some claims to youth, but even greens are expensive to some pockets, and cannot be considered a permanent diet, however cheap they may be.
Apart from the price of actual food, its preparation is quite an item of expense in any budget. Gas has been non-existent for a long time, and even those fortunate enough to have electric cookers are sometimes disappointed as the current is turned off on the slightest excuse. One must, therefore, buy charcoal, either as a permanent method of cooking or as a standby, and this, like everything else, is a shocking price.
To avoid many of these difficulties of food and cooking, it is, of course, possible to eat in restaurants, many are closed, but there are still an amazing number which, in some way, manage to secure a certain quantity of food. The normal thing is to use your ‘tessera’ or ration-card, from which the waiter will take coupons for the minestra, meat and bread which you eat. Or you can say you have no tessara and receive the same food for about twice the price, a good system for the rich but of little help to the poor! To be sure of getting at least one main dish, you must arrive early and even then, you may have to try two or three restaurants before finding one which has not sold out. Many of these places and cafes sell cakes and sweets of a kind, some good, some bad, but all expensive. A slice of nuts and fruit, mixed, measuring two inches by two inches costs 10 lire, which, at pre-war exchange, would be about two shillings. Ices, at which the Italians excel, can still be found, not perhaps so rich and creamy as of old, but nevertheless, very nice and, for a change, at quite reasonable prices.
Drinking, except for vino, has, by necessity, almost died out, many of the bars remain open for the sale of vino and coffee, but it is usually quite impossible to find any but the more local liqueurs. Vermouth, Grappa and Marsala cannot be found, and even vino and spumante are beyond the pocket of many.
It is obvious that a situation such as this cannot continue forever. Many shops are shut for lack of supplies, and many cannot continue their work for other reasons and must therefore live as best they can, on capital which is rapidly dwindling. Even a job is no guarantee of security, as in many cases salaries have not been raised from pre-war levels, while living expenses are into the clouds. Amongst the poorer classes, starvation has already arrived, and it must obviously grow with every rise in price.
It is amazing what little value the Romans, as indeed all Italians, place on their own currency except for necessities, and in an endeavour to secure money to live, are selling anything they can; jewels, linen, china – all eventually find their way to those who can afford to pay, so that the seller may continue a little longer to supplement his rations on the black market. The Germans, too, are not improving the situation, by pouring into the country the lire which they print by the million, and which, of course although valid as money, cannot but make the position worse for an eventual straightening out of Italian finance.
Despite this somewhat gloomy picture, the standard of dress is high, and the streets gay and colourful. Clothes, for men at least, are almost impossible to buy ready made, the method being to buy cloth or linen on the black market and then find a tailor to make you suits or shirts. The situation is the same for women, except that one sees a few hats and dresses in
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the more expensive shops at staggering prices.
Nevertheless, in public at least, Rome keeps up her standards. If heads are a little bowed and minds a little dulled, the streets remain colourful and, perhaps, the blazing stalls of carnations and roses, lilac and cherry, mimosa and lilies with the fresh greenness of the spring trees, gives a feeling of unreality to the whole situation.
With the fore-going in mind, let us see how much money would be required to keep a family of four adults for a month, they have normal healthy appetites and are able to supplement their small rations by buying on the black market.
First their house or flat; the latter being the most popular in Rome. In a world of high prices, furnished flats have remained surprisingly cheap and range from 500L and less to almost any amount, depending on size and locality. Despite the large increase in the population since the armistice, flats are not hard to find, and for 800 to 1,000L a month, you can rent a nice one of 5 or 6 rooms. Electric light is also reasonable, though, if much cooking is to be done by electricity, at least 200L should be allowed per month, and if charcoal is used as well, another 400L should be added. Incidental expenses might amount to another 100L for telephone, clearance of rubbish etc., making a total for flat and service of, say, around (??) 1.600 a month.
And now food. With coffee (grain) and a roll for breakfast, and two main meals a day, the family would have to allow (??) 2.500 each per month, this would be for food only and would be enough to buy on the Black market the usual basic things such as pasta, pomodoro, flour, bread, meat and oil and would give plain, though substantial, meals. Vino would be extra though it might be possible at odd times to squeeze a litre out of the 2.500. It must be understood that this amount would only be enough when four persons combined to obtain the benefit of numbers. In a family of two, the rate might be 3.500 or even more. We will see from this that a family of four adults would require between (??) 11.000 and 12.000 per month to feed and house them, they would have good quantities of bread and pasta, with meat when available and occasional luxuries in the way of cheese, tea, milk, cakes and ices etc. In fact they would feed well, but very plainly, but must watch carefully the outlay of their money. Vino, cigarettes, flowers, clothes etc., would all be extra and could not possibly come out of the allowance.
If, of course, one considers this in the light of the pre-war rate of exchange, of even (??) 100 to £1, it is almost unbelievable, but with a flask of oil at (??) 12, a kilo of bread at (??) 1 and a kilo of rice at 30/-, it can perhaps be imagined.
It is obvious that there are very many families who are quite unable to keep up this standard of outlay on food alone and who must therefore pull in their belts and live on considerably less, or turn their hands to some activity which will supplement their small income on dwindling capital. As I have said, the greens which can be brought are a cheap type of food and there are ways, no doubt, of living on much less than I have mentioned, but they cannot be anything but uncomfortable. It is said that many of the Fascists are supporters for the money only and it is a fact that (??) 500 will help you out of many difficulties with the police, but perhaps this is the normal thing.
Recently, the Germans have placarded Rome with notices to say that in other parts of Italy they have increased and brought up to date all the rations, but that Rome “who must thank the Anglo-Americans” will remain unaltered, despite the fact that the situation is becoming critical and many are starving. Even Rome laughed at this childish propaganda, but there is no doubt that unless something happens soon, this laugh is going to be a hollow one.
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THE GERMAN OCCUPATION
To discuss the German occupation of Rome, one must of necessity know something of the political side of the question, a thing I am loathe to mention owing to its complications and my meagre knowledge. However, I will try and give a general picture as it appears to me.
I understand there are four main parties; the Republican Fascists, the Communists, the Socialists and the Royalists.
The Republicans are the followers of Mussolini, or at least of his ideals, and at present are under German pay and command, or those in uniform (??). In the country they are used for policing purposes and are reported to be fighting with the Germans at Anzio, though I suspect in the capacity of truck-drivers and cooks, as no doubt the Germans value their capabilities as highly as we do. Whilst in the country, I met quite a few Fascist militia who were quite harmless and were only longing for the arrival of the British.
In Rome, the Republicans supply a force of military police to assist the normal city police, wearing brown on blue uniform with a yellow and red arm-band. They have, I think, complete powers, and to English POWs are a great trial as they can quickly tell you are not Italian. However, as I have said before, 500L will get you out of many difficulties.
Occasionally, one sees members of Mussolini’s parachute Batt. doing guard duties or swaggering about the streets, all very young but with considerably more age than brains. One sees other uniforms from time to time, including Red Cross workers, who are acting as orderlies at some of the hospitals.
There are, of course, civilian supporters as well, but I honestly believe that whether military or civil, the number of those with true faith is too small to be important; nevertheless, they are working with the Germans and constitute a danger at the moment.
The remaining three parties, although divided in politics, combine against the common enemies; Germans and Fascists. This does not mean all are ardent supporters of the allies, but rather wish Italy freed to enable re-organisation to start.
The Communist and Socialist parties are divided into many branches, The Labour party, The Christian Communists, the Republican Socialists and others all varying in some degree in policy. Some wish to reduce the power of the Church, others to even part from it altogether. I must admit it has been a great surprise to find what little respect the Church or at least the priests receive in Rome, but if half the stories one hears are true, it is not to be wondered at.
There is no doubt that the example that Russia has shown of her unity has done a lot to gain supporters for her teachings, and in Rome at least the Communist and Socialist parties are by far the strongest, from what one can gather the rest of Europe is in a similar position. The Royalist party is, I am afraid, very small particularly for the House of Savoia(?), the news that the King intends to put Umberto on the throne as Regent was not popular, I think the only man who might have rallied supporters around him was the dead Duke of Aosta.
One keeps hearing rumours of Rome becoming completely under the Pope as a separate city and no doubt this policy has some supporters, perhaps to avoid fighting in Rome between the Allies and Germans the populace might agree to it as a temporary measure, but not to one of long standing.
And now to the Germans. it is quite impossible to say quite how many are living in the city, but the number is considerable even since their supposed evacuation. The Area General Staff and S.S. Police both have their H.Q.s here and the latter have taken over part of the
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large civil prison of Regina Coeli and formed another in Via Tasso, both of which, as will be seen, are usually full. Certain hospitals and barracks have been taken over for wounded and those recovering, and I think the city is used as a leave place, altogether, at a very rough guess, I would say that about 5,000 would be the number in Rome at the moment.
The behaviour of the normal German soldier has been good. Unlike when in the country, he usually pays for his purchases and conducts himself quite well in the streets. Reports of owners of billets say that the occupiers are very quiet and it seems obvious that particular orders have been given to ensure a good impression. The better class restaurants, the concerts and the opera are well attended by German officers who, except for rather an abrupt manner, keep all the rules of civilisation and are accepted, if not liked, by the people of Rome. One has to admit that the Germans have gained some respect for this behaviour which of course they have lost in other ways.
After the armistice, when the Germans took over Rome, they imposed a curfew which has varied in time from 5.30pm to 8.30 pm where it remains at present. Anyone on the streets after this time is arrested or shot and during most nights one can hear odd bangs and crashes from all over the city. This curfew was, of course, imposed to foil the Communists and hot-heads of Rome who were, and still are for that matter, using the hours of darkness to bump off any stray Germans or Fascists they can find, the result being that after curfew the latter fire first and ask questions afterwards, perhaps a wise precaution. After the curfew is also a popular time for raiding houses and flats when the occupants are most likely to be at home.
If the Germans have created a good impression by their behaviour in the normal things of life, they have certainly lost it in their treatment of the manpower of Rome; by their wholesale arrests; by their recruitment for labour and military service; and their complete disregard of private property. It is time to say that no-one is ever in absolute safety and many thousands live in permanent hiding. Jews, French, Greeks, English and Italians, all are suffering the same way for different reasons. False documents and papers are as easily bought as a kilo of flour and nearly every household has some secret sign for their doorbell or telephone as protection against the S.S. or the Italian police. During the day streets are closed and all able bodied men taken for forced labour, cinemas, trams and restaurants are raided for the same reason and at night even your own flat is not inviolate as many have found to their cost. Recently the Germans called up the 1922-23-24 classes for service with the death penalty for failure to report. A few days ago an Italian was shot out of hand in the street by the Germans for carrying two revolvers. Needless to say many never do report for service but remain in hiding, and many are still carrying arms. Those recruited for local labour do not fare too badly, it seems all too easy to escape after a few days and usually the work only lasts for about a week in many cases. Those actually arrested are not so lucky, their destination is probably the Regina Coeli or Via Tasso, both of which are equally unpleasant. If the prisoner is political and has information which the Germans want, they are not concerned how they get it, beatings, tooth pulling and other methods are used freely, with solitary confinement on bread and water as a cure. I must admit that I have had no reports of British prisoners being treated this way but unfortunately too many about Italians and Jews.
The police, both German and Italian, receive information in many ways, by telephone, letter and spies giving particulars as to where wanted Italians, Jews and English etc. are hiding. It is regrettable that often Italians are given away by their own people, perhaps someone with a score to repay or of different political views. The Germans show no respect for a flat when
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they raid it and take a prisoner, usually leaving it in a state of complete wreckage. The women are treated in the same way as the men except for separate cells in the prisons. People taken in the streets are not allowed to communicate with relations for some days after the arrest and a family may spend four or five days in ignorance of the whereabouts of one of its members. Even when this has been discovered an interview is very difficult to obtain. Plain clothes Germans and Fascists are continually on the watch in the streets and keep asking for identity cards. I believe that some English have got away when asked for their card by Italians by pretending to be German, but this sort of thing only works once or twice.
One afternoon, at the end of March, acting on information received, the S.S. police surrounded a block of flats supposed to contain some dangerous Communists. It was a busy part of the city and the Communists, who had seen the streets being closed and the SS. arriving, decided to fight. During the fight which followed, from windows and doors, 32 Germans were killed, many of the Communists escaped but some were captured including two English P.O.W.s who had been helping them. A few days later it was announced by the Germans that for every one SS. killed ten Italians were to die and to prove this shocking statement 320 Italians were collected from Via Tasso and Regina Coeli and taken for execution. Amongst this 320 were all types, soldiers, priests, civilians, many of whom had been in prison for a considerable time, or at least since the armistice and so could have had no connection with the outrage. There were, of course, the prisoners actually taken at the time but these were few in number. Nevertheless having taken them to a cave just outside the city and stripped them of all except their trousers, their executioners turned a machine gun onto them and blew in the cave.*
No bodies, to my knowledge, have been recovered and many relations are still unsure if any kin of theirs were included in the dead. This story is, I think, the correct one and the most credited. Other rumours of a more terrible death are, I think, untrue, but it is a definite fact that 320 Italians died because of the killing of 32 Germans, many having no hand in the outrage.
It is obvious that armed resistance at the moment is useless; a few Germans get killed, but as a reprisal they shoot many more Italians. As I write, May 1st is approaching; it will be interesting to see if any disturbance occurs and, if so, what happens.
This massacre shocked even some Germans, and more or less put an end to any respect the Germans had in Rome. Since then, they have not tried to hide their normal nature under a polite exterior and, in recent weeks, many more have been taken; streets are closed and flats searched. In fact, it is rumoured that the Germans are trying to collect all foreigners and 60,000 Italians for transportation to Germany for labour.
The Germans make good use of propaganda in Rome; anything which can be turned against the Allies is used and, unfortunately, the material recently has been quite large. The newspapers are of course under German control and, apart from propaganda, are used for public announcements. They had full particulars of the German evacuation of the city early in May, and the complete text of De Valera’s efforts to make Rome an open city. They also give information about rationing, the curfew and calling-up notices – in fact, all the usual things from the German viewpoint. Whether the Italians believe what they read in the papers, I could not say, but I expect the majority do not.
Rome radio station, like all the others in occupied Italy, is also of course German; it broadcasts the normal Italian programmes, flavoured with propaganda, together with the news. One turn which causes us much amusement is two Americans, a man and a woman,
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who broadcast for the benefit of the US troops in Italy, particularly at Anzio. They speak in a pronounced American accent and between records of well known dance music, pour out an amazing collection of half-truths and lies for the doughboys’ ears. Their programme is often opened with the statement: “Today is the 64th day since the Allies bombed and destroyed the monastery of Monte Casino”, and another remark frequently made is “Easy boys, there’s danger ahead”. They use the usual method of making the world listen by giving the names and messages of prisoners taken on the Italian front, even sometimes getting prisoners to speak to those at home. I understand the Germans are trying hard to get Italians who speak and write English to take jobs at the Rome studios, whether the high wages offered have tempted many, I could not say.
The posters with which the placards of Rome are covered are most interesting, we have tried to get copies of some but so far this seems impossible. The usual heading is “ecco la liberatoni” ( here is the liberator ?) underneath which is a picture of a grinning negro Sgt. in uniform with the American flag flying from his bayonet and under one arm the statue of Venus. Another shows Churchill dressed up as Nero playing a Lyre whilst bombs rain on Rome. The most recent one is about there being no extra rations for Rome “Thanks to the Anglo-Americans”. There are many others on the same lines and all, I think, cause more amusement than anything else. I have noticed that very soon after being posted up they are defaced in some way, whether this is done on purpose or not I could not say, but it seems to be taking a needless risk.
After the Anzio landing the Germans took all the English and U.S. prisoners they had captured to Rome and every few days they marched them through the streets, it has been said that it was always the same party being taken out on different days to give the impression of thousands of prisoners, but this I cannot vouch for. On one occasion all the Americans were marched to the American Church in Via Nationale for a service and afterwards given lunch at the Germans expense, but again I cannot guarantee the story. I do, however, know for a fact that a priest who was seen giving a cigarette to a prisoner during one of these marches was arrested and thrown into the Regina Coeli where he stayed until complaints were made to the German Ambassador by the Vatican and he was released.
Before finishing with propaganda I must not forget the various leaflets which are handed out from time to time. They cover such things as our bombing of Monte Casino, the Americans come to Rome- as prisoners and another showing Russians shooting people by the hundred with underneath “Your turn next”. They are quite cleverly thought out but, I fear of little value now when the Germans themselves are committing some pretty bad atrocities.
Britain is not, of course, silent with counter propaganda. Bais[?] and Radio Londra both being popular stations, in fact, I think, the majority of Italians look to Radio Londra for their true news, and one often hears the statement ” Yes, it’s true enough I heard it on Radio Londra”. Our bombing of Rome gave the Germans some good material and the Americans lost a lot of supporters in Rome and more recently the strikes in England have caused rather an upset, but no doubt soon it will all be forgotten.
What is the outlook? There can be no doubt that at present in Rome there are fewer Germans than a month ago and it is true, I think, that the majority of their transport and troops no longer pass through, but to my mind it is still a long way from being an open city. Trams and transport run until late at night and although we are indoors and cannot see what is carried one can make a good guess. As we have seen the German and Italian police
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are more active than ever and each day the city becomes more dangerous for all but women and children and old men. Whether the Germans intend to fight for Rome remains to be seen but it must be a problem to the Allies to know quite how to treat it. They have, thank heaven, stopped the bombing which served no purpose. We hear rumours that the Pope may take over but there are no active signs of this happening. Meanwhile Rome waits and suffers with “Quando” always on her lips. Unless relief arrives soon the pot which is simmering may boil and scald friend and foe alike.
*This refers to what has become known as the Ardeatine Massacre which took place on 24th March. Hitler demanded 50 Italians to be shot for every dead German but this was reduced to 10 and due to a miss count 335 were murdered. Jews, political prisoners from the Coeli jail and Italians taken from their homes were shot. A former SS Captain, Erich Priebke, who had been living quite openly in Argentina for 50 years, is currently standing trial in Rome for war crimes, his defence is that the order came from Hitler and he would have been shot had he not carried it out. Ed.
The Progress of the war.
To understand the Italian attitude to our progress in this war, one must first try and understand their temperament. 1943 produced two big events; the fall of Mussolini and the armistice. There is no doubt that the former is welcomed by the majority, and the latter by all. In the past, I feel, when the Germans and Italians had Alexandria nearly in their grasp, the people of Italy almost began to think that Mussolini had been right after all and that the British Empire was finished. during the months that followed, however, the Allies turned the tables and day-by-day the war crept nearer to Italy. Soon, with the increase of our air-force, came the bombing of their big towns and, eventually, the invasion of Italian soil in Sicily. Once again, the unpopularity of Fascism was talked about and, as there is nothing worse than a dictator who fails, the fall of Mussolini was welcomed with joy.
Badoglio took charge and, despite rumours of disagreements with the King, eventually signed the armistice on the eve of Italy herself being invaded. There is no space here to include the many rumours and stories about the armistice, it’s enough to say that the average Italian in the country and the POWs expected the Allies to arrive and take over at any moment. Why this did not happen, we will learn later, instead of which the Germans, with their usual promptitude, rushed divisions to all parts of the country and stole the cake from under our very noses.
The Italian army dissolved like snow in summer. Riddled with double-dealings in its ranks and deserted by its King and leaders, any discipline which it possessed before were swamped by the thoughts of German vengeance. Trams, buses, roads and mountain tracks, from north to south, were crowded with soldiers returning to their homes as fast as possible, having thrown away arms and anything that could connect them with the army. Some units did remain intact and have since done good work behind the lines, but the fear of the Hun was too great even for some of these after a short time. Since those days, eight months ago, the Allies have captured nearly half of the peninsula, while in the remaining half, the Germans have used every opportunity to make the Italians pay for their desertion.
If you talk to an Italian about the war he will say that he is a supporter of the Allies against the Germans and may add that, at no time during the war, did the majority of Italians wish to fight the English, but Fascism forced them to side with the Germans. It was this ‘lack of will to fight’ that enabled the English to take Abyssinia, North Africa and Sicily, and not the
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want of bravery or leadership on the Italians’ behalf. Now that we are stationary on all fronts and the Anzio landing has failed to make headway, it is said that the Germans are too good for the British and that only in the air and at sea can we hold our own, our soldiers being ‘poco forte’ with little liking for the bayonet: “If only,” they add, “we Italians could get at the Germans with our bayonets, it would not be long then.” It is of course impossible to suggest that their bayonets are all now at the bottom of rivers or in the hands of the Germans and even a mention of Caponetto (?) is best left alone. Nevertheless, I have asked that, seeing how brave they claim to be, and how unpopular the Fascists were, why did it take a war and invasion to pull down Mussolini? But like many other things in Italy, there appears to be no answer. To return to my first para. I think temperament is the answer: excitement can carry them right up into the clouds, disappointment will drop them back to earth with a loud bump. At the same time, loud talk often covers an inferiority complex and from remarks dropped by the more educated, one can see that their present position, in all its starkness, is realised by many.
There is no doubt whatever that this long delay has lowered our prestige enormously. Eight months ago, Italy thought the war was over, while in fact her troubles were only starting. If the many sacrifices, which she is now making, hurried forward the day of liberation, complaints would be few, but even if Rome and central Italy are freed soon, the northern provinces must remain for some months in German hands.
Unfortunately, too much of our bombing has been inaccurate; blocks of flats demolished, trams hit and churches wrecked without killing a single German. Rome, I think, would expect these things if the Germans killed numbered even a part of the civilians, or if the damage caused inconvenience to the German war effort, but it is only too obvious that this is never the case. I am glad to say that for some time now the Americans have stopped this stupid practice – it was only giving excellent propaganda to the Germans and lowering our prestige day by day. In any case, Rome has never been prepared for bombing; even before the armistice, her alarms often sounded after the bombs had dropped, her shelters are not always bomb-proof, and she has no organisation for the care of bombed out house-holders, a sad state of affairs in a capital. During March, thousands took their meal every day to the area of the big churches, where they sat during daylight for safety, returning to their flats at night.
The Russian advances have been most popular and are always held up against the Allied progress as an example of what we might do if we were good fighters. Even the argument that Italy is a much more difficult country to fight over has lost a lot of its ‘punch’ since the Anzio landing. I think a remark, overheard the other day, gives a fair picture of Italian feelings: “The British are using Poles, Free-French, Canadians, New Zealanders, Indians and Americans in Italy, but still they can’t advance. But I heard on the wireless last night that the Russians took 250 villages and 3,000 prisoners yesterday.”
Despite some failing and an undoubted inferiority complex, one must be sorry and sympathetic about the present Italy. It is not a ‘united nation’ as England understands the term, Romans dislike Neapolitans, Neapolitans dislike Calabrians, the north is divided from the south, the mountain-dwellers from the cities. Whilst the whole is called the Italian nation, there is still a long road to travel before complete unity is reached. Nevertheless, as we prisoners have learned and must never forget, the Italian is a kind-hearted and generous giver. During these weary months of waiting, many thousands of English and Colonials have received food and shelter, without payment and without any immediate chance of reward, unless it be in the shape of the German police. In Rome, as in other parts of the country, the
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risks in harbouring a prisoner are high. Those caught doing so can expect a term in prison or even deportation to Germany. It has been said by one prisoner, and I think it is a very true statement, that in occupied territory, 40% of Italians will do you no active harm, 40% will feed and house you and 20% will give you the shirts of their back. This, in a country which has, in fact, little to thank England for except her fight against the Germans, is a pretty high standard, and it is to be hoped that those who have partaken of this hospitality will never forget it.
Since my arrival in Rome, I must, I suppose, have heard of about 50 of our chaps who have been re-captured, either in the streets or in flats, by the German and Italian police. Some, of course, do stupid things which invited suspicion and usually, after a short time, get what they deserve. One can use the trams and, to a certain degree, the smaller restaurants, though there is no doubt that indoors is the safest place. Recently the area of the Swiss Legation and the Vatican (outside) has become dangerous ground and, of course, even in the streets one must run the risk of being asked for an identity card. Perhaps in one way it is a good thing that so many of us have wandered about Italy a bit; we have received kindness which in camp we did not believe existed and we have been able to see that our ex-enemies are pretty good fellows in many ways.
One of the great trials to contend with is rumour, both in the country and in Rome. The Allies have landed? at Avitevecchia [Civitavecchia?] at least six times since the armistice, the last landing being about two weeks ago. It is almost impossible to get a true story unless you have the luck to meet an actual observer, and even then the finer points may be lost by the language difficulties. At the time of writing, it is rumoured that the Germans intend to search all houses and flats to collect man-power for transportation to Germany, it seems a large task but it is hard to know what reliance to place on the information. The greatest number of rumours have, I think, been about the closing of Rome; first the Germans were leaving entirely, then the Pope was going to take over, now it is said that the Allies will never come to Rome, quite what will happen I don’t know.
And so we wait, selling and scheming to obtain food, harried by the Germans and prey to every rumour. London suffered from bombardment, Paris has the Germans still in her streets, but poor Rome has both. Churchill has promised that the city will be taken but without suggesting when. There will, I know, be great rejoicing when the Allies arrive, nevertheless they must expect to be asked the reason for their lateness.
There are, no doubt, many things I have missed out, through forgetfulness or on purpose for safety reasons, the opera which I attended one afternoon, a description of the trees in their spring dresses and the odd things I have seen on the few walks I have taken. I have made no mention of the many kind people who have given me hospitality and amusement and helped with music, art and books to pass the time, I have only touched lightly on the life of my companions in Rome. It is impossible to cover every subject and I have merely tried to give a general picture of the life at present being lived by the average Roman. When I reach home, which I sincerely hope will be soon D.V., I will be able to enlarge on these notes under more happier circumstances
4th April 1944 Banksfoot, Caversham.
Brenda, my dear,
How wonderful of you to write such a long, detailed letter when you must be up to your eyes and you can imagine how I purred with pride. I must confess it does rather sicken me that Sammy never got a bit of ribbon, though it didn’t surprise either of us as he made such
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an enemy of the Brigadier, subsequent Major Gen. Nichols. What a show that must have been, I can hardly imagine Ronnie and Sammy singing!!!!!!! but perhaps that was confined to the men. Poor Billy Watson, he does seem to have been a round peg in a square hole. What a visitation this man Davidson made on you. I can just picture him sitting there while you were dying to do this and that! But he sounds very entertaining though it’s rather depressing to hear how bad the officers in our second front seem to be.
It was marvellous of you to remember Aurea’s birthday. The only wire she had and she was thrilled. I’m afraid she wrote Peter’s PC without any aid so the spelling is somewhat erratic!
I am much relieved to hear that your catarrh is really better at last. What hell it was for you.
The parents arrived all right and are now more or less installed. Mother looks done to the wide but will recover soon I hope. The poultry stood the journey very well and laid eggs at once and the bees seem none the worse. But what a mass of stuff it was, took us 2 1/2 hours to unload the van.
Italy is a mess isn’t it? I don’t understand it but perhaps the second front, if it ever starts, will help that front too. Sammy sounds literally eaten up with impatience. Oh, dear me, I wonder when you will hear more news of Ronnie.
I’ve got to go and fetch the fish now, quite a household to cater for, 8!!!!
Lots of love, my dear, and thank you such a lot for telling me all those nice things. I’m sorry he didn’t realise what Mike Ferens really was !!!!!!?!!!!!!!!
Yours ever, Karin.
5th April 1944 Caversham, Reading.
Did I thank you for writing to Sammy? Suddenly struck me that I forgot to and it was so sweet of you. Maddening they’ve stopped all air mail for the time being so heaven knows how long letters will take. Anyway he will love to get your letter when it does arrive.
Happy Easter to you all.
5th April 1944 38, Welsh Div. Provost Coy. Home Forces.
Dear Mr. Nelson Ward,
I have just received your letter dated 26 March. I have been away on a Course and have only just returned, hence delay in answering.
I am sorry I cannot give you any information at all about your friend as he was at a Senior Officers camp and I was at Camp 49 for Junior Officers. I know that many of the officers from 29 got out and it is quite possible that the officer you mention may still be in hiding, like a lot of other prisoners, behind the German lines.
I suggest, however, that his wife write to Major Champion in Germany and if she does not know his address she will probably get it from St. James’ Palace, the HQ of the Red Cross. I am sorry I cannot be of any more help than this.
Please give my kind regards to Mr. and Mrs. Collins and I wonder if you would ask them if they know that Air mail postcards may now be sent via Persia to prisoners of War in Japanese hands. The Far Eastern section of the British Red Cross, 9 Park Place, St. James will give some information on this subject.
Yours sincerely, G M Bowder.
[Hugh Nelson Ward was a cousin of BPFC. Ed.]
6th April 1944 7 Dixon Street, Blackhill, Durham.
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Dear Mrs. Cummins,
I am sending a small gift for Easter, a paste egg for your little son and a few ginger snaps, the snaps are homemade and I hope you will like them. The egg is only dyed with coffee grounds as I always dye them with onion peelings but I had none so I prefer coffee as it is better than dye. Now I hope you will accept them as a little kindness from a friend as I feel I cannot forget your kindness to me and my son in time of trouble and I must show my thanks somehow. I only wish I could thank you personally, perhaps I may some day.
I often wonder about you all and your little son, now I hope you have had word of your husband and hope you all are all well as we are keeping all right and I hope your mother is better. I do wish this war was over, it is lasting a long time but there will be a silver lining one of these days and we get our loved ones back, may God bless and keep them safe until then.
Now I hope you will excuse writing as I want to catch the post.
From Mrs. C Lumley.
9th April 1944 Gilley Law, Silksworth, Sunderland.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
Very many thanks for your letter. You really are a most cheering person and I felt 50% better when I had had your letter. As you say it is awful waiting but we really should hear good news soon. You are the only person with a husband in Italy that I write to that I have not met, and I do so hope we will meet one day.
You will, no doubt, have heard how I met Prudence McClarice, when Ross was at Bridport I went down for a week or two. Could not find rooms anywhere near the 8th. Bn. The McClarices’ name was given to me and when I went to see them they were far from willing to have me! After I had pestered them they said I could stay a week as they were so sorry for me, and we ended up by being very fond of each other and we still write. They were most kind to us and nothing was too much trouble, we stayed nearly three weeks and could have stayed longer.
So glad you saw Betty Clarke, I had a few words with her after Xmas but had no chance for lunch. She looked awfully ill, and I do so worry about her, but really there is nothing one can do to help her.
Hope you are all well and you will have good news soon. Don’t forget to send me a card when you do.
Best of luck to you both.
Yours very sincerely, Marjorie McLaren.
12th April 1944 Banksfoot.
Brenda, my dear,
A horrid rush but thought you’d like to see the enclosed letter. I believe you’ll be hearing that Ronnie is with our people any day now. Wouldn’t it be too marvellous? I do pray you will.
Have had big party this afternoon and am off to London at crack of dawn tomorrow.
Hope all well with you.
14th April 1944 Clarence, Bishop Auckland.
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Very best wishes for your birthday. Your present will arrive in due course. I pray that the one present you want will come quickly. I feel so very confident that it will. Did you see in today’s Telegraph the news that someone from 29 had reached our lines. I feel very sad that I will not be at home for the family reunion, but we will have another when I get back. If you can spare them give Ronnie many hugs and kisses from me and please make him write to me! I will write as soon as I can giving you my address.
Will you thank Granny Cecil for her card. I have taken the addresses and hope I will meet the other Ruth.
My dearest love to you all. I shall worry about you, but Ronnie will soon be back to take care of you all. Tell my nephew he must do his stuff until his Papa can take over. Give him a specially large hug and kiss.
Bless you, darling, and my best wishes, you know what they are.
Yours lovingly, Ruth.
Easter Sunday, 16th April 1944 20 Turnstile Road, Southwold, Suffolk.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
I have seen your notice in the Times weekly edition, asking for information about your husband. We met on two occasions last autumn, on the 16th and 17th November. He was then walking with two Southern Rhodesian soldiers, Brown and McKay by name. He was very fit indeed and looked extremely well. Where he eventually went to I’m afraid I don’t know. You must not worry about him at all for I’m sure that he will be all right: he was certainly in great form when I met him.
It is not difficult to live the other side: one can get sufficient food and shelter is fairly easily obtainable. I crossed over on 25th March. Up to that time none of us, I was one of a party of five, had had five minutes illness. Throughout the winter, living in a small cave, we had had no coughs or colds. It was amazing how miraculously fit all the POWs with whom we came in contact were. Being married myself, I appreciate how damnable is lack of news, and I know you must be just longing for some sort of message from your husband. I do hope you will be able to hear something more definite soon.
If I can be of any further assistance or give you any more information, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Yours sincerely, H E Garland.
Major H E Garland.
[This letter arrived on her birthday. Ed.]
16th. April 1944 9 Alington Road, Bournemouth.
My Dearest Brenda,
This is to send you my very best wishes for your birthday and for many happy returns of it. May this new year that is beginning for you bring what you most long for, and may the news of Ronnie’s safety come soon. The time of waiting must seem so desperately long, but I do hope that there are many happy years in store for you both to make up for all this sad, weary time.
How are you, Mummie and Peter? and did you feel better for your little change and rest? It was strange that you should be at Charmouth that night I rang up! I was sorry nothing came of the advertisement, but felt there was just a hope.
Things go on here much the same. We have had very few alerts lately, but a great deal of practice firing and the place is swarming with American troops.
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I would love a letter when you can find time. I want to know how you all are and all the latest news of Peter.
With very much love to you all and the best of good wishes.
Yours ever, Brenda.
16th April 1944 Ashbury House, Kemerton, Glos.
Have just been on the phone to Mrs. Burton. She has nothing she can tell you, but will ask her husband as soon as he arrives. The only fear is that it may be so long before he gets back. Apparently they have to wait for a boat and one man has been waiting a month already! You may be sure I shan’t forget you and will keep on to it.
Tons of love to you and Cissie, TB [A Miss Buchanan. Ed.]
18th April 1944
POST OFFICE TELEGRAM
11.19 BURTON BRADSTOCK BOA 27.
CUMMINS CLARENCE BISHOP AUCKLAND.
RECEIVED LETTERS ESCAPED OFFICER WHO MET RONNIE NOVEMBER 17 WALKING WITH TWO SOUTH AFRICANS WAS VERY FIT AND IN GREAT FORM LOVE BRENDA
POST OFFICE TELEGRAM
1.48 BISHOP AUCKLAND
CUMMINS 61 BURTON BRADSTOCK
A HAPPY BIRTHDAY OUR LOVE JUST RECEIVED TELEGRAM LOVELY NEWS GRANNIE AND GRANDPA.
20th April 1944 Banksfoot.
Brenda, my dear,
You shouldn’t have bothered with those rags, though as a matter of fact they arrived at a very opportune moment as I’ve had a filthy cold and passed it on to CCR and he needs the rags badly! I’ve thought of you fifty times a day as I’ve had such catarrh after the cold and it really is hell, never to be able to breathe through both sides at once and quite often neither side, very exhausting. You must have felt like death.
You will be amused, you know my brother and his absurd plan of never meeting us, well we’ve all kept to it until last Wednesday when I went to lunch at Claridges. The first person I saw was Anders and he’d been asked to lunch by this same friend and hadn’t heard that I was to be there. It was too funny and I enjoyed my lunch twice as much.
Incidentally this friend had just come from Sweden where he’d seen my sister and he heard from her that Sammy bought a large company of men to Switzerland. They’d slept in ditches and woods all day and crept along at night til they came to a lake on the border and there they stayed a long time being rowed across in twos and threes by the peasants. Most surprising as I’d always imagined Sammy being quite alone. According to this man he was “in command of a large party”, his own words, I mean the friend. Where did he pick them up as it must be men not officers of course? I’ve got my ears pricked all the time for the telephone as I feel sure you will be getting good news soon.
Peter does sound a handful, what will he be like when he gets a bit older, but he sounds full of life and fun which I think is grand. I don’t really like good, quiet children though they are easier to live with!
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How amazing to think that Anthony Sanctuary is so old. I’ve though a lot about all you told me of the Edwards family, how little one really knows of people’s worries.
Aurea and I are off to Dartmoor to stay with Sammy’s eccentric Aunt on May 4th. We can get no definite permission but just have to risk it. The police here thought that my story would pass muster though. I’m very frightened we’ll either get stuck there (too ghastly) or that we get sent back straight away which would be simply maddening. The old girl begs me to come every letter so I feel I must make the effort. All her animals are expecting litters just then!! Aurea will love it.
I’ve not seen or heard any more news except a letter from the mother of Sammy’s room mate in PG 29. Willie Forbes. He and 2 others from 29 are in Silesia, I don’t know if they are all there as she only mentions the ones who sent messages to me. Poor woman, she started this war with 3 sons, one killed at Dunkirk, one died of wounds in Italy and the 3rd. in Silesia. What a life.
Lots of love to you and my daily prayers still include Ronnie.
21st April 1944 Gilley Law, Silksworth, Sunderland.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
Very many thanks for your letter and the enclosed which I am returning in case you want to send it on to anyone else. How dreadful for those men to be treated so badly by the Fascists, I feel myself that the strong Fascist movement is mostly in the North of Italy and let’s hope our men are far south of that industrial area by now.
I had learned about Burkin and Burton getting through and also Barber, but don’t know who the 4th. B is, or if he has got through. Ross was sleeping in a room with Burkin and Barber and they were known as “The Three Musketeers” so I am hoping to get some news when they get home.
My Father walked in to the War Office the day that Barber and Burkin were reported in our lines. He saw Mr. Rogers, the head of the POW Dept., who was most cheery and said the risk of being captured was small now that the weather had improved and things are more organised.
It would be nice if our husbands were together, it is, as you say, quite likely as they are, I think, the only 2 DLI still missing from PG 29.
I will write at once if I hear any news. In the meantime may our joint prayers for joint good news be answered very soon. And when they do get home may they not have to go abroad again.
Yours, with all good wishes, Marjorie McLaren.
22nd April 1944 Clarence, Bishop Auckland.
Thank you very much for your two letters this morning. We are so sorry you did not get our letter on your birthday morning, as you said, we posted it on the Friday hoping you would get it in time. Anyhow, you know we did not forget it, but it makes a difference when you do not get it on the right date.
It was lovely reading Major Garland’s letter, how very nice of him to write to you. It gives one confidence that those who have not got back may turn up at any time and although
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they must have been going through a terrible time all this winter, they are taking it and evidently come out all right. Poor Ronnie, I suppose being in caves is all they could do, but it must be pretty bad. I pray he may be out of it soon. You will, I hope, soon hear from Major Burton and he may have later news. When he does come, I am sure of this, darling, he won’t want to come North just to see us, Millbank is in the London area and his first thought will be to go first to his wife and baby which is only natural. Things will right themselves when he does come. We should love to see you all together and I hope it will be so. Ronnie will want to see us with Peter and shew him his grand parents.
Yes, we read an account in one of the papers about the POW men returning home. Granny is quite right it does want to be studied carefully as they will all have a lot of adjusting to do and, knowing Ronnie as I do, he will want to sit quiet, not speaking for many hours, just getting himself attuned to the different life again, like many others.
Ruth must have gone, we had a letter on Thursday, no date, no address and no news, saying she would be writing soon and we had to take care of ourselves etc. She must have been in London. When I sent your letter and the new address on Tuesday they would have been returned as we put on the back, please return to Mr. C E Cummins etc., so far they have not come back.
Peter certainly keeps you going. How we should love to have him near us and see something of him at this age. So glad to know you went out to have lunch at Bridport, you should do it often as now Peter is old enough to enjoy what is on the menu and you and Granny have no lunch to cook, and the change is good for you, I wish we had a place near enough. We are spring cleaning, it is hellish but has to be done. We are having the sweep for the kitchen and nursery next week. Grandpa is getting your paper done. He is also having some done for Granny C, he says she must need it.
All our love, darling, to all. God bless you.
Yours, Granny Mary.
23rd April 1944 Southville, Warkworth, Northumberland.
Dear Mr. Cummins,
My step-son, Lt. Col. G F M Stray, who is now a prisoner of war in Germany at camp V111 F and whose number is 1999/V111 F, in a letter we received from him a few days ago, asks me to write to you and enquire what news you have of Ronnie. He does not, of course, give any more details as to Ronnie’s identity, but I presume he is your son and guess he was with my step-son at Campo 29 in Italy.
I hope you have good news of Ronnie and that he was one of the few officers who managed to reach the allied lines in safety.
After tramping about Italy for 3 months my step-son was recaptured some time in December. He writes very cheerfully from his German camp where the food and conditions generally appear to be a great improvement on those in Italy, but even so I hope it will not be long before we welcome him and all the other prisoners of war home again.
Yours sincerely, M …………?
This came the other day, Charlie has replied to it. You need not return it.
25th April 1944 9 Alington Road, Bournemouth.
My dearest Brenda,
Just a line to tell you how delighted I am to hear your news. It was a lovely birthday present
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and now I hope you will soon hear from Ronnie himself. He must be simply longing to get news of you and Peter.
It is sweet of you to ask me to come for the weekend. I should love to but at present I think it is better for everyone to stay put, don’t you? The end of the war may not be far off and then it will be lovely to go away and feel that nothing fearfully disastrous is likely to happen at home and passenger transport will be normal again.
We had a very noisy time here last Sunday night with quite a lot of incendiary bombs, but none were very near here I’m glad to say. We sat under the stairs for 1 1/2 hours, the baby was awfully good, not a whimper.
I enjoyed your stories of Peter, he is a real boy, I’m longing to see him.
Norah sends her love and asks me to tell you how glad she is that you have heard news of Ronnie.
Lots of love to you, “Gummy” and Peter.
Yours ever, Brenda.
26th April 1944 At my working party in Cheltenham.
I am hastily penning this note because on my way here I met Bobbie Burton. He got home the day before yesterday. I instantly asked him about Ronnie and alas he has no late news of him. He knew that he got away with Major Campion (or is it Champion) and that Major C was recaptured and Ronnie was not. He says that C was “a bloody fool and would wear his uniform!” So no wonder he was retaken! However he gave me the following address and thinks he may be able to tell you something if you have not yet been in contact:- Major Clive Walker RA, C/O Cox and Kings Branch, Lloyds Bank, 6 Pall Mall, London.
I am so sorry that I could not hear more but this may be some use. Bobbie looked awfully well, fat and bursting out of his clothes. He said the farms all had plenty of “vino” and he literally staggered from farm to farm!
I only had a few moments with him as he and his wife were trying to get some shopping done.
This is all being scribbled in the middle of my working party. Last of the season, thank goodness.
Tons of love, Tina.
28th April 1944 20 Turnstile Road, Southwold, Suffolk.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
How ripping that my letter to you arrived on your birthday. How I wish it could have been your husband instead, for I really do appreciate the misery and anxiety that must be yours. But please do not worry, so easy to say isn’t it?, for there is absolutely no cause for alarm whatever. There is ample food still in all the villages and the Italian peasants are invariably kind and generous to all ex-POWs. If he does get retaken by the Germans, and there is no reason why he should be, they were always treating ex-POWs. very generously.
No, Majors Burton and Birkin were not living with me. Actually they crossed the line a few days after I did and we came back to England on the same ship.
I met Ronnie near a place called Colfiorito. It is about 30 miles SE of Perugia. Where exactly he was making for I’m afraid I don’t know, but my impression was that he was undecided. As one goes along, or as we used to go along, we changed our plans fairly often. Both R’s companions seemed to be good chaps and I think would have been both helpful and
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resourceful. So far as I can remember R was rather smartly turned out, in fact very smartly for an ex- POW! He had a sort of mustard coloured coat and I think was wearing dyed battle dress trousers, but I can remember his coat well. Both days I met him he had shaved, so his morale was very high! His boots I can’t recall, but if they had been bad almost certainly I would have noticed them, so you can take it that they were probably in the same sort of condition as my own, i.e. quite serviceable.
I’m afraid I never met Major Ross McLaren, nor do I know which camp he was in. Has Mrs. McL. advertised like you did? Someone must know him.
No, I did not have much difficulty getting through our lines, though naturally it requires a good deal of previous preparation. Actually we have been asked not to talk about this, as if routes or places or methods employed are talked about, it might prejudice the chances of others getting through.
It is awfully sweet and brave of you to wish me a happy leave, thank you very much. Alas! I have not met my wife and children yet for they are in India. I came home just to see my aged parents and am off again next Tuesday, 2nd May. I shall have only had six days with them and then I’m off to India. Heavens, I am looking forward to it. I do hope and trust that very soon it will be your turn to be rejoicing. I know what my own wife has been through. But you jolly well must remain cheerful and optimistic, otherwise if you worry you will cultivate wrinkles, which are unbecoming!
I think that I have given you all the information possible but if there is anything at all which you would like to know further, you must write to me at once. I shall be in India, but shall reply by Airmail which is reasonably fast. My address will be:- Major H E Garland, 3rd. QAD, Gurkha Rifles, C/O Messrs. Grindlay and Co. The Mall, Peshawar, NWFP.
Please do not thank me for writing, it is the best I can do and a privilege to help the wife of a fellow ex-POW.
Yours sincerely, H E Garland.
28th April 1944 Banksfoot, Caversham, Reading.
Brenda, my dear,
I think it was quite wonderful of you to remember CCR’s birthday at all and he felt very important at getting a telegram and I kept it ‘til the right morning of course. Thank you very much and please thank Peter from CCR. We had a marvellous day yesterday, all went to the zoo and thoroughly enjoyed it, such heavenly weather. You must take Peter quite soon, they do adore it.
I thought the letter from Major Garland was most encouraging and rather nice to think you got some real good at last out of your advertisements. I honestly have thought all along that Ronnie would turn up trumps but it doesn’t help you to bear the frightful waiting and uncertainty. And even now, if he should get caught, it’s for such a short time, my dear, only a few months I feel sure. Anyway it’s wonderful to know that they all kept so fit and well. Thank you very much for letting me see it.
We are off on Tuesday. I shall have my heart in my mouth all the time and will be absolutely livid if we get turned back at Newton Abbot. Everybody seems to vary in their opinion of the date of the invasion but most I’ve met who know seem to expect it in June.
Sammy got the news of his doings to my sister through the Diplomatic Bag, he’s made terrific friends with the wife of the Swedish Charge d’Affaires. At first I thought he must have gone mad and told her over the phone via Berlin!!!!!! but it’s not so, I’m glad to say. His birthday letter to CCR complete with illustrations arrived on the exact morning, amazing
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Peter does sound a most entertaining child. I wonder what their fathers will make of their sons as CCR was only 9 months when Sammy saw him last, so he really doesn’t know him more than Ronnie knows Peter.
The thought of our reunion makes me feel quite mad!
Lots of love, Karin.
30th April 1944
POST OFFICE TELEGRAM
MAJOR GARLAND SOUTHWOLD SUFFOLK
GRATEFUL THANKS MOST CHEERING LETTER. ANTI WRINKLE CAMPAIGN GOING STRONG. MY GODFATHERS ADDRESS LT.COL. A G OGILVY GS BRANCH GHQ INDIA VERY BEST WISHES LOVELY REUNION BRENDA CUMMINS
1st May 1944
My dear Brenda, (this is impertinence I know!)
How very kind and sweet of you to wire and I did appreciate it enormously, thank you so much. I’m very glad to hear that the anti wrinkle campaign is in full blast!! Well done, you. At times you are bound to feel sad and depressed but continue to be a brave girl for that is the way you can best help Ronnie. Both times I saw him his morale was so obviously high and you will, I know, keep yours the same. Will you very kindly let me know when you are united once again so that I may rejoice with you. Very best wishes. Yours ever, Harry Garland.
Supplement to the foregoing
Owing to the capture of a very good friend almost a week ago, Archie Gibb and I spent about a week in another flat, this was for safety reasons as it was unknown whether the Germans would be able to trace our old living place from information secured in the flat of our friend. It was rather a boring week without wireless, books etc. but a wise precaution to take. We returned on May 1st, perhaps a dangerous day to move on, but as it happened the day passed quietly. Even now that we are back of course it is not absolutely safe, but I think and hope that the immediate danger is over.
We have tried to find out how J.S. is being treated but without anything definite. His wife has been to the prison of Via Tasso with clothes and food but without seeing him and, as a matter of fact, all the things she took him have been returned. This, I am afraid, does not look too good, however we must hope for the best, he is English so should have fair treatment.
When we arrived back the wireless news gave little of any importance, from everything we hear the second front must be due very soon, it will be a great blessing when it comes as I am afraid the impression I get is that Rome at least is becoming very restless.
It is said, though I cannot guarantee the statement, that Fascism is once again growing, particularly in the North, many Roman families leaving Rome to go to Florence, Milan etc. and there is no doubt that there is quite an outcry against the bombing by the Americans. People say that the armistice has done nothing to help Italy and that it would have been better if England and the Allies had never invaded Italy. For eight long months Italian men and boys have had to remain in hiding and now many are so tired of waiting, they are going to work with the Germans.
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Although I sympathise with their troubles one cannot but be rather disgusted with their mentality, like the wind they blow hot and cold and change as easily, they have no endurance and while saying how glad they are to be rid of Fascism in the same breath add that the English are running Italy although it is thanks to us that Mussolini is no longer.
Rome in particular, I am no longer able to judge the country, is, I am afraid, nearing bursting point, money gets scarcer and scarcer and no doubt there is a certain amount of starvation, but any rioting which may eventuate can serve no purpose except to make their life worse to bear. It is said to be the darkest before dawn, let us hope that the dawn is near in the shape of the second front which will, I feel, brace up the rather flagging interest in the Allied cause.
France, Norway, Denmark, Belgium have waited 4 years and are still waiting, Italy, who until 8 months ago, was an enemy of the Allies and who then, in such fervent terms, denounced her German friends finds only these 8 months too long a time to suffer for eventual freedom and the financial stability which only England and America can give her.
Taking it all in all I am afraid that our stock is very low at present in Italy, the Italians are, I am convinced, quite sure that we are no match for the Germans, except in the air where we can spend the time bombing defenceless towns and cities without much risk to ourselves. As I have said I think a few wish perhaps that we were not in Italy at all forgetting that only 8 months ago they cheered our entry to an echo.
I only hope that the second front comes soon and goes through well, it is depressing to feel that a nation, whose bravery is largely of the knife-fighting variety, is feeling that even they are better fighters than the British, nevertheless in a year’s time they will, no doubt, be accepting British aid to help them out of a fiscal mess which is entirely of their own making.
May 2nd. 1944 Roma.
3rd May 1944 Market Lavington, Devises, Wiltshire.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
Thank you for your letter, I last saw Ronnie in the middle of December when we spent two days in a small village where he was living. He was then fit and seemed to be well “dug in” as far as food and shelter were concerned.
I don’t know what Ronnie’s plans were, but he did say that he thought that the fighting was too static for it to be possible to get through and I think he intended to wait until things started to move again. He was not far from the line when we met him, so the chances are that he stayed on in that area for the winter, in which case he will have been well fed and will have had good shelter.
If I were allowed to tell you more I could probably give you more cheering news, but I cannot, so I can only hope that you hear good news of him soon.
Yours sincerely, Clive Walker.
4th May 1944 Clarence, Bishop Auckland.
My Darling Brenda,
Further to my telephone call last night I went to see Glover this morning and saw the cheque which Glover is sending on to you tonight. It is, without any doubt, Ronnie’s writing. Glover is writing the bank (Lloyds Ltd) and when he gets a reply will let you have it. What a pity Ruth is away otherwise she could have done it all and we would have news at once. It is comforting to know that Ronnie was fit on the 7th. March and able to “touch” someone for £20, ‘tho’ who John May is, where and how Ronnie came across him we cannot tell, but the
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Bank may have some information.
I wish I could give you more exact news, all our theories are, of course, mere conjecture but the actual cheque and date are facts of prime importance. It may mean good or better news in the near future, I pray it may be for your dear sake, just as much as for us, for you have been a brave soul in all this terrible period of waiting.
God bless you, darling, and all of you at Grove. Grandpa.
4th May 1944 The Yorkshire Penny Bank, Bishop Auckland.
My Dear Brenda,
I have seen Mr. Cummins this morning and he has told me that he telephoned you last night giving you the particulars of the mysterious cheque of Ronnie’s which reached us yesterday.
This does seem to prove beyond doubt that he was alive and well “somewhere” on March 7th last, and will, therefore, be a tremendous relief to you.
You must have endured agonies of suspense these past months, though Ruth told me what a “brave little lass” you were through it all. I do hope the clue will lead to fuller particulars as to where he is.
I have written, today, to the Manager of the London Bank through whom the cheque reached us and enclose a copy of my letter. I will let you or Mr. Cummins have particulars of any reply I receive. No doubt you would like to see Ron’s cheque and so I am enclosing that too “for inspection and return” (as we say in Bank parlance.) I am sorry I cannot let you keep the cheque, it is my document for the inspectors and auditors to support the debit of the account, so kindly return it to me by registered post as soon as possible.
Cheerio, and I hope you’ve fuller news soon.
Yours very sincerely,
4th May 1944
Lloyds Bank Ltd.
Walham Green, SW6.
Major R L Cummins MC.
In yesterday’s clearing we received from you a cheque for £20, drawn on plain paper by Major R L Cummins, to your customer John May.
The cheque bears payee’s endorsement and, in addition, you have certified that the amount has been placed to his credit.
Major Cummins has been a prisoner of war in Italy since September 1942. From the time of the Italian capitulation last September his wife and parents have had no word at all either from him or of him and have suffered agonies of suspense and anxiety.
Your cheque, dated 7th March 1944, and undoubtedly written and signed by him, has revived their dwindling hopes for his safety and has come as a tremendous relief to them.
They are naturally mystified as to how the cheque reached you and wish to follow up the clue in an endeavour to trace his present whereabouts. Will you please give us any information you can that will help. You may know the circumstances of how the cheque reached England, that might be helpful, and perhaps you will be kind enough to furnish us with Mr. John May’s address to enable the family to get in touch with him.
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For any help you can give we shall be extremely grateful.
Yours faithfully, James Glover.
I should add that Major Cummins and his family are friends and near neighbours of my own and I know what suspense they have endured and what relief this evidence that he was living on March 7th has brought them.
5th May 1944 The War Office, Cas. PW. Curzon Street, London.W1.
I am directed to state that information has been received in the Department to the effect that Major RL Cummins MC, The Durham Light Infantry, was stated to be free and well in German occupied Italy from January 22nd to 31st.
It should be clearly understood that in passing this news to you the Department is not in a position to confirm the report from official sources, but it is sent in the hope that it will serve to allay some anxiety on your part.
In the circumstances it will be appreciated that it would be unwise at present to make any further enquiries as to his location or welfare as these might prejudice his chances of reaching ultimate safety.
Immediately any further news is received you will, of course, be notified. Should you receive any communication direct, however, prior to an official report, it would be appreciated if you would inform the Department.
I am, Madam, Your obedient Servant,
G T H Rogers.
5th May 1944 6th. DLI, C/O APO England.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
I am sorry I haven’t been able to answer your letter sooner than this but the day I received it we were setting out on an exercise and we haven’t been able to do any letter writing til today. I was very pleased to hear you and baby Peter are keeping well and I hope this few lines finds you the same. It is grand news about the Major and I do hope he gets through our lines very shortly. It is certainly a very worrying time for you. Davison told me about the visit he paid to you and he said he had a grand time and was given a grand welcome. I should like to pay you a visit myself but it is too far out of our area. You won’t get much help by our address now but although we are not a great distance from you we are only allowed within a certain area. There is nothing in the way of news from the Batt. and no changes of any note.
I saw a card the other day from Nelson. He is in Germany of course and it was the usual official card saying he was well. We are away from our camp this week but hope to be back again in a couple of days. It isn’t so bad but, like everywhere else we have been, you have a long walk to the nearest place. We have had a long spell of fine weather, which I hope you have, but today it is raining very heavy. Still I think it is needed in the south but it is uncomfortable in tents.
I think that is all for now so I will close with best wishes to all at “Grove”.
Yours sincerely, E Fowler.
[The 6th. were stationed in Nightingale Wood, between Romsey and Southampton, and were being trained for the D Day Landings. Ed.]
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6th May 1944 Clarence, Bishop Auckland.
Isn’t it wonderful news. We know that Ronnie must be all right on March 7th and I feel sure before long we will hear that he has got through, bless him.
What a very delightful letter from Major Garland, he sounds so human and understanding, after all he does not know you and takes the trouble to give you all those particulars about Ronnie and try to cheer you up. I wish there were more like him, as, in the first place, when he saw your appeal in the Times when he reached Allied lines he might not have bothered to write to you, it shows what a good soul he is. The mustard coloured coat would be poisonous, but it served its purpose. His description of Ronnie was very cheering, only hope he looked after his teeth as well as having a shave, poor boy.
Charlie wrote to Olive Grant yesterday, she is a great friend of Ruth’s at the War Office, POW office and sees all the names as they come through. She may have seen John May’s name and would not know what it means to us!, anyhow we shall hear what she says. Then Mr. Glover has written to the Bank, Lloyds, to ask about him, so we ought to hear something in a day or two.
I hope Peter enjoyed his supper on Wednesday night, he seems always ready for mischief, the darling. The enlarged photos are beautiful, thank you very much for them. I think I like the one sitting in his barrow best, he has such a lovely smile, but they are both adorable. Uncle Pip will be pleased to have one.
We have had two cables from Ruth, the last from Ottawa, we ought to be getting a letter soon.
The garden sounds so lovely. Mrs. Hendy always brings me down her first lily of the valley, but they won’t be out yet. We have had some good tulips, I pick them as they come out as they would only be stolen by children coming in to the garden.
You will have had the same sort of week I had, the sweep etc. and the plumbers. When we get back from Kirkby the men are coming up to paint the kitchen, do Ruth’s bed room ceiling and lots of odds and ends.
Vera is back, she was very seedy, had bad ‘flu, she is a brick but I wish she could stay longer, she has a baby of 6 months and the husband, who is an invalid, looks after him when she’s out, gives him his orange juice, changes him etc. and she goes back at 11.30 and does all the doings. There is a lot to be said for that kind of woman, the child is always so clean and well looked after. We are looking forward to our three days at Kirkby, no meals to cook and no washing up. I wish you and Granny could have the same, but I will have to put my back in to it when I get back. I feel very proud, I upholstered one of the chairs in the drawing room, the seat had entirely gone, it really looks quite good.
Now, darling, all our love. We may get news any time now. We have left instructions both at the Works and Uncle Pip that if any comes through they will telephone the “Penine Arms” at once. God bless you all.
Yours Granny Mary.
Thank you for POW magazine, John Heslop is hoping to be one of the repatriated prisoners.
6th May 1944 Gilley Law, Silksworth, Sunderland.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
Very many thanks for your letter and enclosed. The letter from Major Garland certainly is very cheerie, I am so pleased you have some news of your husband.
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I had a letter from the War Office yesterday saying Ross was free and well in German occupied Italy on Jan. 16th. They also said they were contacting Birkin who is now in England, so I expect Burton is also home.
I had a letter this week from Mrs. Claye whose son Derek Claye was a Capt. in the 8th. and captured at the same time as Ross but sent to another camp. He got free in Sept. but has just written from Germany having been recaptured. His first letter from Germany dated 26th. March said that Ross was “Free and OK” when he was recaptured. This would be mid March so it is cheering news.
Thank you so much for giving my address to Major Garland, I do think it kind of you.
I feel sure we will get some news soon from our husbands. I think the worry we are having now is better than worrying about them in the 2nd. Front, don’t you?
With all good wishes and many thanks. Yours very sincerely, Marjorie McLaren.
7th May 1944 PO Box 541, Ottawa.
You will have heard some of the news I expect. I have not seen your cousin yet as, though we are near Montreal for two days, we were being heavily organised and taken to parties and for motor drives. I have written and hope to see her soon. I do wish you were all here. It is amazing and everyone so kind. The milk and fruit is wonderful.
I have sent off some sweets to you and will send another parcel soon. Some things are difficult here. Stockings are very scarce, but the food is wonderful. I cannot get over the lights at night. I still want to pull down the blinds. I am stationed in Ottawa at present but hope to see some more of the country. We are having a very interesting time and have met lots of people. We had tea at the House of Parliament on Thursday and were shown round. It was most interesting
Thank goodness it is a little cooler today. It has been terribly hot, but nothing to what it can be. We go in to summer uniform soon, I hope. We have had two wonderful train journeys getting here, one was 26 hours. It was most comfortable and the meals on the train were very good. We still gape when we see so much cream and fruit. I move in to rooms this week, at present I am in a hotel, but can’t afford it as living is terribly expensive and my pay won’t allow for much. Living is much higher than at home. I do long for news of you all. We have had no letters yet. I feel awfully far away but hope you are well.
My dearest love to you all and please take care of yourselves.
Yours as ever, Ruth.
8th May 1944 Lloyds Bank, Walham Green Branch, 472c. Fulham Road, London SW6.
The Yorkshire Penny Bank,
Major R L Cummins MC.
In reply to your letter of the 4th inst. I am pleased to hear of the relief brought to the relatives of this officer on the receipt of his cheque.
I can assure you that Major Cummins was in the Vatican City when he signed the cheque. My customer has been privately employed there for many years, and I am receiving cheques from time to time signed by escaped prisoners, and these bring enquiries from many distant parts of the universe.
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Please tell the relatives that the officer is well looked after, but they will not receive any communication from him, neither can they send one. I must ask the relatives not to pass on any information, as they will appreciate that the way in to this sanctuary will, I suggest, be stopped if it is brought to the notice of the enemy, while others are probably trying to get in to safety.
I regret I cannot tell you how the cheques get here or give you my customer’s address as I am unable to write to him myself. If any of Major Cummins’ relatives are ever in London I shall be pleased to give them any further information if they care to call.
9th May 1944 The Yorkshire Penny Bank, Bishop Auckland.
The Manager, Lloyds Bank Ltd.
Walham Green Branch, London SW6.
Major R L Cummins MC.
I am extremely grateful to you for your kind reply to my letter of the 4th. inst.
It is good of you to give me so much information and I will, most certainly, respect your confidence regarding Major Cummins’ place of sanctuary, and no doubt his family will do the same.
They will be overjoyed to receive your news after all these months of suspense, and will appreciate your invitation to call on you in London.
Again, my sincerest thanks.
Yours faithfully, James F Glover.
Rome May 9th 1944
And so we wait. For many days now the wireless news has been almost a repetition “Bombing over Northern France and Germany, raids from Italian bases on Austria and Hungary, and apart from bombing in occupied Italy little other activity”. Every day in Rome we hear bombing, fortunately, since March, Rome itself has been free from the stupid attacks which turned so many against us, but the British Government do not, apparently, consider Rome an open city which I suppose is right for, without doubt, there are many Germans still here and their habits remain unchanged.
During the last few weeks close on 10,000 men, young and old, have been recruited for labour, many are volunteers and in a way can one blame them, without the security of a German pass the streets and even one’s own house are a constant source of danger. With this pass they do, at least, avoid being deported for work in Germany and are able, when not actually at work, to move about the city without fear. These 10,000 are, I believe, divided into parties of 400-500 and at night are taken to various places to repair damage on railways, roads etc. or to build defences for the Germans. They are paid, which is surprising, about 130lr. a day, or rather night, for they return home to sleep and eat during the day. No doubt it shows a certain lack of purpose and will to fight against the German occupation, but they run quite a risk from our bombers and I expect do not do a great deal of work, one must also remember the Italian temperament, that they are a nation who will naturally bow to the most powerful in their midst and are, in a way, quite content to be led. I have recently been reading the life of Mussolini by a woman ‘Sarafatti’ who was with him in his early days and, despite the fact that he is such an obvious rogue, one must, at the same
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time, feel a certain respect, or at least sympathy, for one whose job was so nearly impossible; that of turning Italy into a disciplined and self-sacrificing nation. (She left him later and now lives in the USA, according to a friend of hers.)
Food and all living expenses are rising every day. Even since our return from the other flat only eight days ago, flour has risen to close on 200lr per kilo and cigs. to 15lr per 20, and other things are in proportion. In this flat at least, it is now some considerable time since we had any meat, even the Black market failing for once. The standard of greens entering the city has risen, which is good, and with the coming of spring and early summer, quite a large variety of vegetables can be found; artichokes, asparagus, lettuce etc have all been on our plates at one time or another and quite good too, but they cannot be considered as the only food, though I fear many are forced to do this. Small riots break out occasionally over bread and I understand that a woman was knocked and robbed of some food that she was carrying in the street the other day. It is becoming very serious, there is no doubt. Thank heaven we, because we have money, can live, if not well, at least with enough not to know hunger, also the allowance which we get has gone up to 200 which is a good thing.
The life that I, at least, lead at the moment is, in one way, rather like Camp 29 in so much that I do not leave the building or have not done so since returning from the other flat. I sometimes think that Egle, Laura and Archie must consider that I am a very timid individual not to go out into the street occasionally. Perhaps they are right but I look at it this way; having spent first a year and a month as a prisoner and now eight months a semi-prisoner, I am taking no risk which will prejudice my returning home. After almost three years away from England and so much that is my life, to be caught now, when liberty might be so near would almost be too much to bear. I am banking, very much, on the second front which we all await with varying degrees of patience, that I intend to do nothing which might stop me taking part in it. However, there it is, perhaps I am no longer a man if I ever was one, certainly my nerves are in a particularly jumpy state.
Lately Archie and I have been talking about the arrival of June with no change in the situation, and what we might do. Egle and Laura have been very kind but I have no doubt that when they decided to look after us they did not imagine that things would drag on so long. It is now over two months since I arrived and looks like being three, so far we have had good fortune but one can never be certain. John’s arrest was a scare that we seem to have passed always, however, at the back of one’s mind is the awful thought of what might happen to the two girls if we were caught here, Regina Coeli and their belongings smashed with, possibly, a trip to Germany. The risk for a month, yes, but when this month grows into 2 and 3 and 4, then it is getting too much. They have made no complaint, in fact to the contrary, they say life is much more amusing with us here and with Laura, this I am certain is the case, also there is no doubt that the money we have brought into the house has been a Godsend to them. Nevertheless, we have suggested that if by June 1st. (I wonder where all the Dunkirk boys will be) nothing has happened we are pushing off. What I shall do I really don’t know, after being clean and having a bed and books, the country does not hold much attraction, apart from the fact that they may not be so keen to have one. Perhaps I may try to get into France if I can find any way of reaching the north of Italy without walking, but we will see, somehow I feel something will happen any day now and the situation may be quite different.
We have had a little news of poor John, his wife has been unable to see him or to get extra food to him, perhaps he is being treated well but who knows, he is a civilian and cannot expect the treatment that a British uniform might guarantee. He is a complex personality
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and one who it is impossible to find out about but I hope in better days to hear his true story and to put in a good word for him if it is necessary, he has done a great deal for me. His wife has been left in peace by the police, but is having a bad time, poor woman, with the two children to cope with as well as the great worry of John. Unfortunately she is by no means an isolated case, many wives and mothers are suffering in the same way. The woman in the next flat has not seen her husband for nearly 2 months and this week another relation was arrested by the Germans and taken to Via Tasso. Truly a sad state of affairs and if only the sufferers could see some ray of light, but at the moment there seems little.
We get up late, and why not? Sometimes the two girls are out or Egle has a pupil in the sitting room. After a shave and wash the coffee, that one of us has put on, is usually ready which we accompany with a piece of bread. After breakfast we wash up last night’s dirty dishes and sweep out the room, two jobs we have tried to insist upon doing ourselves, it passes the time and I must admit that I get a certain amusement and satisfaction from reducing the kitchen to order after the work of the night before. I am afraid that neither Egle or Laura are particularly tidy, most of the people at home would have a fit if they saw our kitchen cupboard. We have at least water in the taps now but hot water is, sometimes, a bit of a trial as it must be heated on a very small electric stove or on the charcoal fire which we don’t like to keep lighted too long as charcoal is expensive. After drying and putting away the plates etc. we can then at about 11.30 settle down to read or write. We have been very lucky with books having been lent quite a number, I have also joins a Library which contains English books and get two books at a time, or rather Egle or Laura get them for me. To join cost 65lr. for each book and at the same time I got a catalogue so I can choose the books I want. Archie Gibb has been writing up a lot of his experiences and I have completed a diary and also an article on cost accounting. Perhaps our writing is of little importance but it passes the time. Usually one of the girls comes in for lunch and perhaps we have a visitor as well, after which we all return to our usual jobs. If Egle has no pupils in the flat we also have the wireless on, but if she has we, of course, stay quietly in another room. I often wonder what some of them would say if they knew that in the next room were two English prisoners. From a seat in our bedroom (until we arrived, the girls) I get a good view of the street outside, Via Plinio, and the clinic which is just across the street. Cars, particularly the baby Fiats stand outside this clinic all day and many people go in and out, civilians, Fascists and Germans, in fact it gives quite an interesting performance. Then on the same side as ours, but a different block, is a girl’s school run, I believe, by French nuns. Every day one can see the girls playing in the small garden in the centre of the building and the bell which the nuns use to summon their pupils for meals is a well known sound. At the moment the roses are in full bloom in this garden and a tree, which we have watched since it was gaunt and bare is now a solid mass of leaves and the home, I think, of all the starlings in Rome and in the mornings their chirping is quite impossible to sleep through and it is the best alarm I have known. Over the house tops to the north we can see the dome of St. Peter’s, which dominates almost every skyline in Rome, and at night as the sun sets with the dome silhouetted against the darkening sky and the swallows swooping and calling above us, makes a very peaceful scene rather at variance with the times.
If we have been able to buy tea and if one of the girls is at home we sometimes have a cup at 5.00 or 6.00, it is, I am afraid, poor stuff, rather weak and without milk and usually without sugar, in fact a drink I could do without. My mind often goes to the brass tray at home with Daddy’s large cup and plenty of milk and sugar with, perhaps, some hot buttered toast and strawberry jam, but those kind of things as with the feeling of contentment which
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one can get in the happiness of one’s own home, seem to be things of another world, things about which I know but am unable to partake in.
At about 8.00 I usually have a glass of wine and, depending on when the girls come in, follow it with supper. Sometimes this will be at 9.00, sometimes at 10.00 and often, with talking at the table, it may be 11.00 before we leave the table. About a month ago I learnt to make pasta since when we have combined our labours on two occasions, with the help of a machine to cut the pasta, have produced some very good macaroni, it dries in about two days when we store it away. Archie and I both do our own washing of clothes etc. which every now and again takes up some of our time. Altogether we occupy ourselves most of the day, there may be an hour or so when we are at a loose end but it can hardly be avoided and there can be no doubt that we are considerably better off than many in the country.
The weather has steadily grown warmer and by midday the flat is quite hot, it is to be hoped that before the real heat of summer we shall be back in England.
I am afraid my Italian does not improve. I have, as a matter of fact, reached that stage where some concentrated hard work is necessary on verbs etc. but somehow the days slip over and with other things to do I get no further. I know I shall regret it later but there it is. Laura, on the other hand, has improved by leaps and bounds in her English, with the result that English is the language most used. Occasionally some caller cannot speak any and then Archie and I must talk in Italian but this is rare as many of our visitors can speak better English than we can Italian. Archie is much better than I, I am very stupid I am afraid, it is unfortunate in many ways as I am unable to understand the papers etc. and there are a number of books which would be grand to read if I could. I expect Hooky can speak well by now considering he was quite fluent in the camp, I wish I could get in touch with him but it seems impossible.
It is some time now since I was out but one can go about the city, as a matter of fact, with a certain amount of risk. I have never been able to get over a certain feeling of unreality when in a tram and, perhaps, standing next to a German or a Fascist. The risk lies not only in the periodical round-ups but also that someone may strike up a casual conversation which is hard to deal with. At odd times, whilst out, I have been asked the way, or the number of a tram etc. but one has to pretend to be either a fool or in a very bad temper. It is nice to get out and see a bit of life, one day we had a walk into the Gianicolo Gardens going via St. Peter’s. The latter was very fine but somehow smaller than I had imagined, but the piazza was most impressive. We couldn’t go in as it required an Identity card but Laura enquired at the door first so we weren’t caught out. One got a lovely view of Rome from the Gianicolo and looked straight down onto the Regina Coeli which gave Archie nostalgia. After a picnic lunch in a little pub near the pancrazio(?) we walked down to the Tiber and along the banks to the Castel S. Angelo in the moats of which we got a bit lost. It is quite an impressive place and, as a matter of fact, not very far from our flat. The Tiber is not a very beautiful river but has certain attractions particularly the houseboats which look great fun. The flower stalls, which always seem to be near the many bridges, are very beautiful even if the flowers are too expensive to buy. I haven’t seen the Tiberna(?) yet but may in time, also the old part of the city such as the Colosseo and the Palatino, I am always hearing about the Piazza Venezzia as well but so far I have not seen it. Laura’s father was responsible for some of the bronze work there I believe. I have, of course, seen none of the churches inside and few from the outside, for that matter, but somehow this does not worry me, they all are far too ornate to be restful and to my mind that is the main necessity in any church.
The wireless, naturally, occupies a fair amount of our time and for me, at least, the 6.00
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news from London is the most important. Whilst listening I often imagine B. and Daddy and Mummy listening at home, perhaps they are thinking of the same things as I am. It is now months since I heard from any of them, I do so long to know how they are. Although it is going to be heaven to get back there is going to be a minute or so when I hear how everyone is that may be hell. I only pray the news will be good.
We talk about many things at one time or another. I am at times I am inclined to be a bit impatient when some propaganda is brought forward as the truth. This long wait for something to happen and our failure at Anzio has meant to the Italians that we are poor soldiers and only of any use in the air. I try and explain the position but it is difficult, but I am still convinced that all this wait has been to our benefit and when the second front does open it will probably be forgotten. They have told us a lot about Naples and Capri, both of which I am longing to visit if after the war we ever have enough money, they are a strange family, difficult at times to understand.
9th May 1944 1 Clarence, Bishop Auckland.
My dearest Brenda,
Uncle asks me to write and thank you for your letter and the lovely snap of Peter. He does look sweet. We are both looking forward, very keenly, to seeing the little fellow in the flesh.
I don’t know if I am first with the splendid news that Ronnie is safe and well and in the Vatican City!!! He cannot receive letters now, nor write them, otherwise he is a prisoner til Rome is taken by us. Still, nothing matters now we know he is safe and well and will remain so, we hope and trust, til we release all who have taken refuge there.
The Vatican officials don’t want this noised abroad, in case the Germans demand the surrender of all prisoners. There may be several hundreds in Sanctuary there and so telephone or talk about it might jeopardise the safety of the lot.
The Bank officials say that quite a few cheques have come through from John May and undoubtedly he is helping all he can in that way. We don’t know how his letters or cheques are received in London, from Rome, unless there are official bags passing between the two countries.
Anyhow, at last you can relax and take things easier so as to be fit and well when he gets home. It should not be so very long now, I should imagine a big push will start on all fronts together, as soon as we are ready.
Uncle and I went to Darlington yesterday, he went to see the eye specialist as his eye was unusually painful and inflamed. On careful examination a small eyelash was discovered growing in on the eye and on being removed all the irritation ceased. It was quite an expensive little time, 2 guineas worth!!
Now I must stop as I am due up at the CRS at 3.00 and it is getting near that time now.
Give a big kiss to Peter from us both and with lots of love to you.
Yours, Auntie Blanche.
10th May 1944 Penine Arms.
The enclosed has just arrived, 10 minutes ago from Mr. Glover and a post goes at 5.00 so I am writing this straight away so that you can get it at once. [Letters previously written up from Glover and Lloyds. Ed.] Oh, darling, isn’t it wonderful news. I can hardly realise it but we must tell nobody. I only hope Pip and Blanche have been careful as Mr. Glover let Pip read the letter before sending it.
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We are also sending you Olive Grant’s letter which is the same as your War Office one. Who is the man Walker who wrote to you, his letter was interesting and cheering.
I wish we had been at home during this time but as we had booked we thought we ought to stick to it and we are enjoying the walks and the weather has changed, it is much warmer today. We go back Friday afternoon.
The worst of our troubles are over now, darling, we have a lot to be thankful for. Kiss Peter and tell him he will soon see his Daddy now I hope, and bless you, your patience and faith have brought you through. Granny Cecil will be thrilled too.
Our love to you all, Granny Mary.
Still no change in the news, ‘though the second front must be almost due. I really think that another week will see us in the midst of it. Poor chaps who form the bridgehead, I am afraid it will be a bloody affair to start with. One feels very much out of it and of little use nowadays. No wonder no-one seems to consider us much, it is like the time in camp when all the North African campaign was going on and we felt so useless. This, of course, is by no means a pleasant life but at least we are not under fire. Egle and Laura were out all day, we made our own lunch of macaroni and beans which were very good, followed by an egg each. Archie was recalling the time just after they had arrived in Italy in a very starved condition, when grown men were collecting recipes of various dishes which they had had before the war, presumably the thought of food gave some alleviation to starvation. I must be thankful that except for a very unpleasant time in North Africa for three weeks I was not too badly off but that many others died from starvation and lack of medical attention. It is absolutely true some of the stories of the conditions of camps in North Africa where men had to spend up to six months are beyond description. One can forgive crowdedness for a short time but never starvation and it is one of the many things I will never forgive the Italians for. At night Archie told some of the stories to the girls who, I think, were a bit surprised. One thing I am certain, no Italians died of starvation in our camps. Of course I have a superiority complex about the Italians, Lord knows why but taken as a whole I have the most contempt for them, they are lacking in all the virtues which make a fine people and really I cannot imagine what their future is going to be. However I must not get on to my hobby- horse.
I have just heard that wine is finished in Rome which is a bloody nuisance, it was an enjoyment that I looked forward to each night, however it cannot be helped, no doubt the blackmarket will produce some before long, I somehow cannot imagine Rome without it entirely, but we shall see.
Another day Laura and Archie and I had a walk through the P. del Popolo and the Pincio into Villa Umberto. From above the P. del. Popolo is another grand view of Rome, this time in the other direction. We had tea in a very nice cafe in the Pincio surrounded by Germans and afterwards had a walk right through the Villa Umberto to Villa Borghese. It was very pleasant with the trees coming out and we had great fun taking our photos with Laura’s camera. The actual Villa Borghese was rather disappointing but nevertheless altogether it was a very nice walk. Other parts of the city which I have got to know are the well-known Piazza di Spagna and its beautiful steps and flower stalls. Quite a number of Italians have told me that when away from Rome thoughts of the city always picture the Piazza di Spagna. From the Flamino [Flaminia ? Ed.] station along the walls to Ponte Pia is another route I know, nothing much of great interest but very pleasant passing the Hotel Flora etc. Again I occasionally used to see the main station and Piazza del Esedra with the great Via
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Nationale leading into the latter, I have not seen all of the Via Nationale but only the small portion leading to the Opera. There is, I know, a great deal more to see and if I am lucky enough to be free when the Allies arrive I must spend two days in a general rush around before making all speed for Brenda.
On March 28th. we went to the opera, my first I regret to say, but, perhaps, to hear one’s first opera sung at the Opera House in Rome is the best start one could make. Unfortunately it was one I did not know, Cilea’s ‘Adriana Lecouvreur’ with Maria Caniglia and Aldo Ferracuti as the stars. The place was full of Germans who always are great attenders and altogether I enjoyed myself a lot. Luckily we had a box so we could talk during the acts. One amusing incident was a German Capt. standing on Archie’s toe during the interval while he was outside having a smoke and making the normal apologies. We have tried to get a Puccini but so far without success, also Gigli and his daughter are equally hard to catch, perhaps before I leave I will hear another. I must say I was greatly intrigued despite the fact that I did not know ‘Adriana’. They tell me that the Scala Milan has had a bomb through it which is a great pity but I understand that the Rome house is quite as good. Archie has been to the cinema once or twice with his girl-friend, I have not but if the films we had in camp are any criterion I have missed nothing.
I have had dinner or lunch out in a restaurant on two or three occasions, the first time with John was spoilt for me, at least, by a Fascist Captain who was at a table near ours and appeared to be gazing at us the whole time, as a matter of fact I don’t think he was thinking about us at all as eventually he left and we continued our lunch in peace. Another time with Laura we had a nice little meal in a very small place near the Piazza di Spagna where we met an ex-sentry from Archie’s camp who was very friendly. Archie and I went back to the same place where, despite our lack of tesseras, we had bread and meat in large quantities, certainly the price was high but ‘non for mente'(?)[non fa niente]? Archie went, I believe, to one of the big restaurants with Egle before I arrived but was rather uncomfortable as the place was full of Germans and he felt very conspicuous. We have once or twice been in odd bars and cafes for a drink or an ice-cream but there is no doubt that it is a risky business. One can go on doing it for so long and then one day something happens and you are caught, with the possibility of liberty so near I do not feel disposed to take this risk.
During the latter part of March and early April John Sperni found that the S.S. were on his trail. He had recently changed his flat for a very nice one near the Piazza Bologna and, just in time for, about a week after leaving, the Germans raided his old one. To be on the safe side he began to lie very low, getting rid of all prisoners in his house and destroying any particulars that might prove dangerous. Mandy stayed on with him, he was particularly fond of John I think and did not wish to go to anyone else. About 17th April, Archie, Egle and Laura went to his flat for tea, I did not go having decided to stick absolutely to our house in case of recapture. It was quite a large party and John, with the security of completely new papers and a little beard, told Archie he was going to move about again as he thought the danger was over. He also agreed to come to us on the following Wednesday, 19th. for pranzo (lunch/dinner). On 19th he and Mandy arrived at about 1.00 and after quite a good lunch we all sat chatting about all kinds of things, John was particularly keen on a scheme of mine for selling English goods in Italy after the war and we discussed the matter very fully.
They left at about 6.00, just after the news intending to get a hair cut on the way home. Young Mandy, Archie and I both thought, looked ill, he has, I believe, heart trouble.
We heard nothing more until Friday when, like a bolt from the blue, came the news that John was taken together with Mandy and an American who was in the flat as well. This, of
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course, was terrible particularly for John etc. but we were also not sure if the Germans had found Egle’s name or telephone number in his flat and whether to expect a visit ourselves. On Saturday we got further particular. The SS. had arrived at John’s flat at 10.30 pm on Wednesday, the day he lunched with us, the American and Mandy had tried to get into a secret room but been shot at, luckily without casualty and John and the other two had been taken away. Unfortunately the American had in his pocket Keegan’s address which was visited the same night and Keegan taken. They left Mrs. Sperni and the two children in a wrecked flat and prostrate with grief, taking John to Via Tasso and the others to Regina Coeli.
On the Sunday, after considering the situation, Archie and I moved to another flat for a short time, but this need not be included in this short story. Via Tasso is, of course, a hell hole and during the weeks which followed Mrs. Sperni tried repeatedly to see John and get food to him, the latter was always returned and never would the Germans allow one word with him, saying he was all right, but it was a pity he was a civilian, if he had been in the military he would have gone to a concentration camp straight away.
From time to time we had reports on Mrs. Sperni, poor woman is, of course, nearly mental with worry, knowing as we do the many unpleasant things which could be happening to John in Via Tasso, where beatings, tooth pulling, nail pulling and starvation are every day occurrences. People living near it have had to move because of the screams which they heard. In 1944 one can hardly imagine such a thing possible. At last came the foul sequel. On 17th May, nearly a month after his capture, the Germans said that she could see him, he was brought to her supported by two soldiers, wasted with starvation and, perhaps beatings, his legs would not support him, and having lived in a dark cell the unaccustomed light made him blink and shut his eyes. Nevertheless despite all this he managed to convey that no-one need worry, he had not spoken, and would she remember him to all ‘the boys’, Archie, myself and his other friends. If only they had not shown John to his wife in that condition one might have seen something to forgive, but to let her see how awful he was is too much to bear. She was in a state of collapse when she arrived home, you can only bear so much, it is a wonder that her reason has not gone.
The next day he was moved to Regina Coeli where, let us hope, he can recuperate as far as a prison diet will allow, at least we hope that he will not be beaten more as by now his case must be complete for trial, the outcome of which one cannot foretell.
There is the story in a very few words, coming, as it does, after my first meeting with him it is I am afraid a sorrowful sequel, nevertheless it shows not only that the Germans are quite inhuman but also that, in some cases, the civilian may be in a worse plight than the soldier.
May 20th. 1944 Rome (then there is a space so not sure if the date refers to the above)
11th May 1944 The Yorkshire Penny Bank, Bishop Auckland.
My Dear Brenda,
Your long letter puts me to shame! I would love to send you an equally lengthy one in return but it is absolutely impossible. I’m inundated with work at present, in spite of coming in last Sunday evening for a couple of hours and working until 9pm. Monday and Tuesday. I have arrears of correspondence from last Saturday to tackle yet, sp please forgive just a short letter.
The 2 Post War Credits I have placed in a sealed envelope and sent to be placed with the rest of our Safe Custody articles. I thought it wiser to deposit the packet under your name, in case they should be needed for any reason before Ron’s return (I’ve lost mine, no idea
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where they are.) So please put enclosed blue receipt with your collection, (I think this will be no. 3.)
(Interval of 20 minutes, Customer must see me)
Thank you for the kind things you said about Elsie, she has certainly done very well and is, undoubtedly, a grand clerk. Before I forget, I did not want you to return the copy of my letter to Lloyds Bank. I got Elsie to type two copies, one for our file and the other for you.
By this time you will no doubt have heard the result of the enquiry. Col. Cummins would receive the Bank Manager’s letter from me yesterday at Kirkby Stephen and will have then sent it on to you. I do hope it will be the means of bringing a large measure of relief to you. It must be something to know exactly where he is and, particularly, that he is well looked after. It is a pity he cannot write to you, nor you to him, but we must just hope that before long the Hun will be ousted from Italy and then all will be grand.
Thank you for the news of Peter, he must be a great comfort to you in these days. By the way, I believe Ruth mentioned that you might be coming up this way in June, was I wool gathering that day, or is this so?
I should like to see you if you do come before I put down my pen in August (I think I have definitely decided that I cannot go on any longer after then.)
Cheerio to Peter and yourself, and no more bad news ever.
Yours very sincerely, James F Glover.
11th May 1944 Gilley Law, Silksworth, Sunderland.
Had a letter from Ross today saying he got to our lines on May 4th. He is with Tom Preacher from PG 49. He told me not to write as he will be moving and letters won’t catch him up.
I do hope you have news soon.
All good wishes. Yours, Marjorie McLaren.
13th May 1944 The Durham Light Infantry Prisoners of War Fund,
Dear Sir or Madam,
According to my records, you are the next of kin of a prisoner of war who is serving with the Durham Light Infantry. I have, however, no recent address of your relative and am thus unable to send him the regular parcels of cigarettes which this Fund supplies.
It is possible that you may have heard his latest address and I shall be most grateful if you will let me know of it.
Please let me know your relatives Army No., Rank, Name, Prisoner of War Number and Camp Address.
If you have not yet heard of your relative’s address, perhaps you would let me know as soon as you get it.
Major, Hon. Secretary.
15th May 1944 Caldwell, Irvine, Ayrshire.
My Dear Brenda,
A brief note of appreciation to your courage and also to tell you how delighted Dorrie and I were to hear, first of the cheque and later of the brief and secret information you now have that Ronnie is safe and sound.
The old folk seem to have taken a new lease of life upon it, I don’t like to be unduly
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optimistic but can’t help feeling that once Ronnie got into hands which cashed his cheque, there could really be no urgent need for £20 and the cheque coming home may be in the nature of an “Advice note” that “Here is another on the short list for return to the UK”. At any rate, Hurray!
Ginger loves Aysgarth, I hope we have peace and you, Ronnie and Peter at Ronnie’s old prep school in time to watch Ginger win a race or a jump or anything at the School sports.
Dorrie joins in all the best of good wishes for a happier future.
Yours, Con F.
15th May 1944 Banksfoot, Caversham, Reading.
Brenda, my dear,
I have been thinking of you extra much today as I heard from Mrs. McLaren about her husband having got through to our lines. I expect she wrote to you too and although in a way it’s all encouraging news it’s rather hellish for you, at least I think it would be if I were you. I long for you to hear and yet I hope Ronnie will be very careful and bide his time as this “push” of ours ought to make things much easier if only he waits a bit longer. This all sounds very muddled but you know what I mean.
Well, Aurea and I got back safely from Dartmoor, in fact we had a wonderful journey both ways, no crowds. Our visit was very successful, though I did not all together enjoy it, cooking on oil and the house full of animals and their hairs and smells!!!!!! Aurea loved every minute and rode the pony and altogether enjoyed herself.
I’ve had several letters from Sammy who seems to be disporting himself all over the place including the Legation at Berne. He tried to stay with your friend Roger Frewen too, but he had been ill and was just off to convalesce. However, they did meet which was something. Sammy had just got my letter written when you were staying here so half the letter is “poor Brenda”! He’s just taken up with impatience to get back although he’s full of plans for us to go back to Switzerland after the war.
Did I ever tell you that Philippa Jeffreys spent the afternoon here a week or two ago? She was absolutely unchanged, I do like her a lot. She wanted to hear all about you of course. Peter is rather hating his life of creeping round the jungle, poor dear, sounds too foul.
Next Saturday the Prouds are, all 3, coming over for tea. Margaret wrote the other day, I’d been meaning to write to her for weeks. It will be fun to see them again.
I’ve had the little study done up, looks very nice and I’ve just altered all the furniture but I can’t get things really straight yet as my stuff from Newcastle has not yet come and I’ve no curtains.
Our mice have disappeared in most extraordinary fashion, we never see or hear them now. I did sympathise with you in your letter about them, loathsome things.
How’s Peter, has he thought up any new tricks? Aurea has begun at her new school and has demanded a blazer!!!!!! I’ve not given her one yet, I can’t bear to have a school girl daughter just yet. They are both in the best of form.
Mother is looking so well and so rested, everyone says she looks like my sister!!!!!! Two sided compliment.
Write soon and keep your chin up, I know it’s going to be all right.
With love, Karin.
15th May 1944 6th. DLI, C/O APO, England.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
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Just a short note to thank you for your letter and for the bundles of magazines received last week. They are more than welcome, believe me, and they are in great demand by the men. I shall be only too pleased to receive them in the future and if we change our address I will let you know. I suppose we will have a new address one of these fine days and we shall look forward to them more than ever. I am very pleased to hear all are keeping well and I hope this finds you the same. Glad to hear Lumley is well and keeping cheerful, it must be a very monotonous life. I wonder if their visit to the cinema was a bit of propaganda. Perhaps they can see the writing on the wall and they are trying to make a good impression on our prisoners. There is nothing in the way of news from here so I will close with best wishes to you all.
Yours sincerely, E Fowler.
16th May 1944 Gilley Law, Silksworth, Sunderland.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
I do want to thank you very much indeed for your telegram, it really was most kind of you to send it to me. I do wish our news had run concurrently this time, and I go on praying, nightly, that you too have good news very soon.
I will ask Ross for news of your husband as soon as he gets home, and I do hope you hear from him before that.
Ross sounds fit and has lost only a little weight, conditions were good at times and bad at others, the bad being caused by the weather and lack of clothes.
I understand some men are flying back now so I may see him soon. I hardly dare go out in case he arrives while I am away!
I will write again when Ross gets home, and please do let me know your little bits of news.
Yours with all good wishes for your good news soon.
Yours, Marjorie McLaren.
[18th May 1944. Monte Casino was finally taken after nearly six months of fighting. Ed.]
19th May 1944 The War Office, Cas. PW, Branch. London.
I am directed to thank you for your letter of 7th May and for the information contained therein.
I am, Madam, Your obedient Servant, G T H Rogers.
19th May 1944 7 Dixon Street, Blackhill, Co. Durham.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
I write you these few lines in answer to your ever welcome letter and I am pleased to know you received one from my son. I also have had one and I am so glad to think he is keeping well. We wrote and asked him what he was doing and he says he is working in a paper factory and I am more content now I know what he is doing and I am more than thankful to know he is in good health and keeping well. He is always asking after you and your husband. I do wish and pray you could have news of him, I know how you will be feeling and you are sure to get run down and need a change, and if you are able and can manage to get to Bishop Auckland I should very much like to see you all personally as I think I have a deal to thank you for as you have been more than kindness itself both to me and my son and I know he feels the same about you too as he has often said in his letters what a fine lady you were
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and also your husband a fine Major. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you have done and your kind gifts and I was so pleased with Peter’s photo and I do think he looks well and a proper swank boy as you say and he must be a great comfort to you all as he gets older every day you will all be very proud of him. I keep him on the piano and I often think if only things were normal and you had your husband home what a blessing and a comfort there would be for you all and everybody else. I do think we women have been very brave and I do thank the Lord for all the help and strength He has given us to bear up through these awful times. But let us hope there is better ones in sight soon.
Now, I hope your Mother and yourself and son are keeping well, as we are all well at home, only the weather here is cold and wet but we are used to it up here, we don’t get much summer and before long it will be black-out time again as I think the months seem to fly, but I hope it brings the end of the war nearer.
Now, Mrs. Cummins if you do come to Bishop Auckland do let me know as I will be very pleased to meet you all the more so little Peter. God bless him and keep him from all harm.
Yours sincerely, Mrs. C Lumley.
Well since I last wrote we have had some pleasant news about the advance of the combined 5th and 8th Army along the west coast. This started on 11th since when steady progress has been maintained. As I suspected would be the case, a great change over in feeling has taken place in Rome at least, from saying the English were no good against the Germans, they are now saying that the Germans are finished and that Rome will be in Allied hands this month. They are like the wind, and I am sure that if only the second front goes forward satisfactorily soon we will once again be considered by all as the liberators of Italy.
The news of this offensive has been very bracing to us, there is no doubt, and each and every bulletin is listened to with wide open ears. I myself, despite their good start, cannot see them in Rome for a few weeks yet though one cannot, I suppose, tell, anything may happen. Our great worry now is to remain free after waiting so long and it is difficult to know quite what the Germans will do in Rome before leaving. We stay always indoors now as many men have been taken on the street for work and transportation both by the Germans and the Police, blast their eyes. Yesterday the papers gave the ’25 and ’26 class until the 25th. to report, after which they are liable to all kinds of punishments. We cannot think it possible for the Germans to search every building to collect manpower but have a little plan laid on if they do. I am only hoping that the Communists do not cause trouble, for if they start trying to resist and kill some Germans they will only cause the death of many of their own countrymen. The Germans are few in number now in Rome but what they lack in numbers they make up for in brutality. I have written elsewhere about John so will not go into the matter again but at last we heard of his condition a few days ago.
We were also shocked to hear about the 47 Airforce prisoners who were shot in Germany, the Hun is storing up a lot of trouble for himself, he would be advised to consider the future a little more carefully.
The second front is still no further than words, but we feel confident that it is due any day, perhaps even before the end of this month. Surely, once established, it will be the death blow to Germany and the return of Europe to civilisation.
I am afraid the food position in Rome is getting worse. We are alright because we have money for the black market but prices are still rising and money is getting short. The following is the approximate ration which can be drawn which, as will be seen, is quite
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impossible to live on.
100 gms. (3 1/2 oz) bread a day.
50 gms. (1 3/4 oz) butter per person per month. These are fairly regular but
140 gms. ( 5 1/2 oz) meat ” ” ” ” be guarranteed.
50 gms. ( 1 3/4 oz) cheese ” ” ” ”
200 gms. ( 7 1/5oz) salt ” ” ” ”
Sugar, pasta, rice, oil, flour, beans etc. are no longer issued, the result, of course, is the blackmarket, where prices are so high that many cannot afford them. Flour, at the time of writing, is 225lr. per kilo and at 100lr. to £ approx. £1 per lb. Oil has just touched 2000lr. per flask of 2 litres or £20 in English money. It is quite fantastic and as I have said, impossible for many.
Luckily vegetables are becoming more plentiful, we have recently had green peas and beans, rather old no doubt but quite good. The former were 50 lr. a kilo or about 4/6 a lb. which is not so bad. We have also had cherries which were good, these, I think, were 60 lr. a kilo. As I have said we cannot grumble. With the money that Archie and I get and the extra we put in we are living at about 12,000 lr. a month or £120 for the four of us. The girls pay for the flat and the other extras and we pay for the food. On this we can buy flour, jam, rice, meat etc. and recently Laura went for a trip into the country and returned with cheese, ricotta, oil, flour and a kid which is making good eating. Semolina, pasta and beans are our main items of food with rice, eggs, occasional meat and vegetables as extras. I have got to like the pasta very much in its various ways and must undoubtedly have it when I get home as I am sure my B. will like it as well. I am trying to find a machine to take home with me for making it but they seem difficult to get.
21st May 1944 Banksfoot, Caversham, Reading.
Brenda, my dear,
What a truly thrilling letter you sent me. I think it’s simply wonderful to know that Ronnie was well and safe in March, though, of course, it’s still a beastly time of suspense for you til you hear he is safely through, but now with these Italian successes and everything, I’m sure it’s all going to be all right and he sounds so sensible from these men’s accounts. What a charming letter the Garland person wrote, all about Ronnie’s clothes etc. just what one loves to hear, he must be a nice man!
The Prouds came yesterday and Margaret was very nice as usual, I like her. Leslie is not attractive to my mind but he looks very well and no older. Anthea is a jolly little child, not a bit shy. They were full of Ronnie’s cheque story, as you expected, but I was so vague as to what I ought or ought not to know, I rather changed the subject and said I gather Brenda has heard R was alive in March but the least said the better til he’s back home. As you say, it is amazing how secrets never remain secrets if one tells any single soul! Anyway, my dear, I am too thrilled for anything that you should have had such encouraging news and shall continue to pray until he’s back.
Before I forget, Nanny won’t hear of CCR’s blue coat being handed on, she says he must have it “for worst” to save his new one and that it won’t be too small. I’m awfully sorry but to argue against nanny is too exhausting.
Awful, the people where the Prouds are living, Mrs. Nicholson and 2 small children, husband in Cairo (sorry the grammar of this sentence seems rather poor) the younger child died on Friday, only ill for three days, with tubercular meningitis. They were scared stiff for Anthea
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but, apparently, there is no risk of infection. Very tragic, the little boy was 18 months and the father had never seen him.
Leslie Proud tells me that Bill Watson asked to be relieved of his command because he just felt it was all beyond him and he’s doing some training job in Cairo. I sympathise with him. We did not mention Michael Ferens, I thought it better not to!
Do you know I’ve never even seen this Post War credit, can’t imagine where it came from but suppose it must have been stuck in an envelope I used for you, anyway thank you very much for sending it back so carefully.
Aurea came back from school the other day and said “Mummy I don’t believe you’d let me go to this school if you knew what some of the children say” Sounded most ominous but I gather it was only a little mild vulgarity and nothing really unpleasant! I was quite frightened at first.
Lots of love to you and I’m holding my thumbs. Karin.
Windy this morning, in fact recently the weather has not been too good with showers, dull heavy periods and thunder. I think, undoubtedly, that April and May are the two months to see Rome, also the country must be very attractive too. England must be heaven now, how I long to see it again though it seems like some impossible dream. I have been thinking so much lately about those wonderful months in 1940 at Burton Bradstock with my poppet and again at Cullompton. It is worth waiting for if I can get back to that, though three years is a long wait. Still, I am still alive which is more than some poor fellows.
Four years ago I was in France, about Vimy I think, three years ago Dick and I were drowning our sorrows on board, two years ago in the Gazala line having just come back from leave, a year ago in Camp 29 at Piacenza and today in Rome. Who knows what a year hence will bring, let us hope the finish of this and the start of a normal life with my family.
Rumours of Mussolini in Rome, but quite unfounded I think. He is, I believe, still alive but looking a very old man, after all he has lost a lot. It amazes me that there are still some fanatical supporters of his teachings and in a way one must admire them, at least they have the strength of their convictions and for better or worse stick to their beliefs which is more than many Italians do. It is going to be interesting to see quite what happens in Italy after the war, think it will be a Communist state unless they are careful, but one doesn’t hear of any leaders or strong men which will be needed to try and unite this nation.
We had some friends of Egle’s in to lunch yesterday, poor people, I expect it was the first good meal they had had for some time as despite his good job! he only earns about 1800 lr. a month which is quite inadequate to live on. The wife has sold all her belongings and he most of his to make ends meet and they live in one room as of course a flat is quite out of the question. They are educated people which makes things worse. There must be many in the same boat unfortunately.
The lack of exercise and the warm weather has given me heat spots, like my old ones, not badly but a trouble at night. After being so fit in the country I am afraid that the last two or three months have made me soft again. It will be grand when one can get some exercise again and go to bed feeling healthily tired. Well, perhaps it will not be long. We have been lucky with cigarettes lately, although expensive, 80lr. for 20 Nationale we keep ourselves going. Antonio brought us 200 in yesterday which together with some that Egle got give us quite a nice store. I managed to cash another cheque today, making a total of £50 to date. I only got 600 which is very poor. This last cheque for £20 was really for Archie who, poor lad,
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because he is only a Private has been unable to find anyone to help. Actually he is, I think, considerably more wealthy than me. However he has given me a cheque for £15 which I can cash after the war. I am afraid one loses the idea of money in Rome, but it is necessary and I am sure my account will stand it. Anyhow I have a claim for £60 for savings in the camp and £40 for lost kit to make when I get back so that should go a long way to covering it. The bringer of the money said it was very dangerous outside just now, apparently Wednesday is considered the day when many will be taken. Let us hope they do not come in the flats, but our opinion is that they will not. However we must just trust in fate, if I am to be recaptured it will almost kill me but what is to be will be and worrying cannot help
War news good today with the Allies hammering on the Hitler line from Tercina to Pico (?) We are hoping they will join up with the Anzio boys soon and start a drive on Rome. The Germans must consider Frosinone(?) important as they are making a strong stand against the 8th.Army. If only the second front would go in, it is almost too much waiting for the Russians to get ready for their summer offensive which should start any day.
Archie and I recalled our days in the desert tonight. How I loathed it all, there is no doubt that apart from prison life they were the worst days of the war for me. Give me European fighting any day though I like the desert itself. I sometimes wonder if I have altered so much outwardly as I feel I have done inside. Happiness or the happiness of contentment seems lost to me since leaving England and I must always feel a dissatisfaction with life, consequently, no doubt, I am not the man I was, who knows? If I return home I can secure the contentment I know with B. but the uncertainness of everything at the moment is appalling.
We have had some lovely roses which pupils of Egles’ bring to her. They are beautiful but sad in their way giving memories of gardens at home and peace. Like much that is Italian, in the bud they are beautiful but they soon bloom into blowsiness and finish in tatters. The flowers in the flower stalls continue to be sold, one wonders sometimes if there is such a money shortage when people can afford flowers, but perhaps even flowers form a diet of sorts.
[By 23rd. May the Germans were in full retreat and the Allied forces at Anzio were able to advance. Ed.]
The news remains good except for the continuing wait for the second front. Each morning when I wake up it is one of my first thoughts and as such is my first disappointment of the day when I get the first news. Early this morning we heard the terrific thunder of the guns from Anzio and thought something was up. Sure enough the Germans report a heavy attack at Anzio by us with tanks and Infantry. We are waiting for further news. Laura, poor girl, is in one of her temperamental moods when she dislikes the English, tries to see the good even in the Germans and finishes by saying that the Italians are despised by all. She is a very nice girl, but a bundle of nerves, and changes her mind after every story of credit or discredit which she hears about anyone.
Must record some delicious kid which we had last night and again today, Laura brought it from the country and the two hind legs, after roasting, were perfect, the flesh just like chicken, it was just on the turn which added to the taste. I must try and remember this in England as I can think of some grand dishes using kid as a base particularly with mushrooms etc.
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No reports of Germans entering flats etc. yet tomorrow and after are supposed to be the big days, we will have to keep our eyes open. I don’t know if I mentioned hearing that Col. Foot had got the V.C. instead of the D.S.O which he heard about in the camp, he was reported as being in Switzerland. I wonder where all the others are Sammy, Stray, Dodd, Bill Syme, Ongill(?), Old Bod! and the many others. We will learn some strange stories when we get home, I add when.
Further news of John, he is recovering in the Regina Coeli and was definitely starved and beaten in Via Tasso. Poor man has still to stand his trial with the possible death penalty. I understand that the Fascists have set up a similar place to Via Tasso where the usual horrors are carried on, they are storing a lot of trouble up for themselves.
Remembered a race game that I invented in camp last night and am now working it up again, as far as I can see it should be a good one but experiment is the only proof.
Nearly nine months of this life, how I long for news of all at home. I expect by now that they know I am safe but they will, nevertheless, worry about me. So much may have happened at home that it will be with some trepidation that one arrives and makes enquiries. I often feel that I have not done all I should to try and get home, I should have made a determined try at the line. One is so afraid of recapture and one is always expecting something to happen which will give liberation. If only we can stick out another month I think things should be OK but there is a lot that can happen before then. Have managed to get a little wine but it is very expensive and almost finished. Still lack of it will not kill me though it does help to keep one sane. Have been having some nice books from the Library which are good as they also help to pass the time.
Affairs are now moving more rapidly. After information last night and again today we find that a defensive has been launched at Anzio with apparent success. It is obvious that it is directed to cut the communications of the Germans to the south, how successful it will be and how long it will take remain to be seen. At the same time the 8th. Army has launched a heavy attack against the Hitler line and broken it at Pico and Pontecorvo(?). If only the Anzio drive goes through much might happen. Churchill has said that it is hoped that Rome will be spared and a commentator adds that the city, at the moment, is calm. This may be but we are all wondering what the future few weeks have in store for us, are we to be liberated or, which is possible, will we be forced to leave the city because of the battle raging there.
There have been rumours today of Fascists searching flats last night in a quarter near J’s old flat. Unfortunately it was Laura who brought the news and she is rather unreliable, usually getting the story mixed up. I am afraid there may be a bad time ahead.
The weather has been dull today, but great air activity early this morning. For over an hour we heard the roar of bombers passing over on their way to Germany, and at intervals during the day dog-fights could be heard in the district. So far Rome has escaped which, I think, is a good sign.
Once again the water has gone off which is most uncomfortable making it necessary for Laura and Egle to go out in the evening with bottles to collect from the street pumps. As far as I can make out the water comes from Tivoli and no doubt the pipes have been bombed, I am afraid they will not be mended now until we are freed which, let us hope, will be soon.
Have managed to find a little more wine which will keep us going for a few more days. It is there alright, if one can locate it.
Watching from our windows, as I do, it is most amusing to see all the various types who
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enter and pass the clinic. The standard of feminine beauty is high, black hair, dark complexion and good colouring are a good combination and the Italian women are tall and carry themselves very well, far better than the British. The men too, despite oily hair etc. are of a high standard, both in physique and dress, although some habits such as walking arm in arm or hand in hand make one rather sick. It is amazing how they can’t walk and talk and are continually stopping to say something or illustrate some point with motions. The clinic must be quite a well-known place as some expensive looking people go in and out and there is usually a bevy of big cars outside. I must not forget the briefcase that so many men carry about, they must sell thousands of them in Rome in normal times.
Spots or heat bumps still giving a little trouble. I want some good exercise to tone up my blood, it is about a month to five weeks since I left the house for a walk.
25th May 1944 Caldwell, Irvine, Ayrshire.
My dear Brenda,
Thank you so much for your letter enclosing the snap. We think it is lovely, what a fine boy Peter is, you must be proud of him. We are simply delighted news has come through about Ronnie, it is splendid. He is an old warrior now and, it seems, can take care of himself.
Now, regards Dawson’s cot etc., I am not wanting them, but don’t want to sell them because our nieces are growing up (19 – 20) and may call upon my help with them, my main desire is for you to use them again when Ronnie comes home! So certainly lend the pram to your friend, I don’t mind what you lend her, but you keep your eye on them for your future use!
I think Ruth must be having a wonderful time, my days are full with housework etc.! You must be the same.
Do try and persuade the Grandparents to come and see us! We must all meet for a holiday when peace comes. Excuse writing, I have had poison in my hand and had to have it lanced, it has been painful.
Con joins me in love to you and Peter.
Yours ever, Dorrie.
May 28th [intervening days not written up]
Rome is amazingly quiet considering the momentous affairs taking place at the very gates. True there is little she can do but wait with patience for the outcome of the battle which is starting. Nevertheless the streets appear the same and everyone is going about their business as usual. They have been exciting days since I last wrote. Exciting and, at the same time, disturbing for with freedom and home almost within my grasp, the worries of recapture are doubly strong. To be taken now would, I think, break my heart after such a long wait. After all one cannot, I suppose, expect Rome to be demonstrative until the liberation is an actual fact for during the last 12 months she has on three occasions been on tip-toe with expectancy only to drop back to earth a week later. The fall of Mussolini, the Armistice and our landing at Anzio all led to no immediate change in life. Nevertheless, I think that this time even the most critical pessimist in Rome agrees that the Allies should be here soon but, unfortunately, no-one can tell how many will still be here to welcome them.
The news so far today (we get seven bulletins a day) has been of growing German resistance around Valmontone and Veletin(?). It appears that they are trying hard to keep open the Via Casalina for the movement of their troops to the south near Frosinone(?) and that with the reinforcements that they have rushed down from the north they are intending to hold a line in front of Rome, for the time being anyhow.
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It is, of course, impossible to form any accurate picture of the likely German movements, but from a common-sense point of view I should have thought that a withdrawal north to shorten their lines of communication would be the best. Kesselring must be considerably worried over his transport problems if all we hear of his losses is true. To the often repeated question of will they fight in Rome, I am afraid there is no answer though from general appearances it does not look likely for if the battle continues in the direction of Tivoli Rome will automatically be isolated.
With the scare of the calling up of the ’24 and ’25 classes have been rumours of flats being searched but so far we have not been troubled. I am sure the task is too large for the police and Germans to tackle and if they catch large numbers of men where is the transport to move them up to the north. At these critical times it is an unpleasant thing to be caught, the German, when excited, is a dangerous fellow and, as like or not, one would be shot whilst trying to escape!! They are quite ruthless now in Rome and only yesterday I heard of three women being shot in prison without trial. The Fascists, aping their masters in all the lower forms of activity, have set up their ‘Via Tasso’ which deals out the usual tortures to any of the unfortunate Italians who fall into their hands. Whilst, by stretching my imagination, I can understand an Italian remaining true to his beliefs, I simply cannot understand their helping the Germans who have so obviously and blatantly robbed and used them since the war began. Another rumour which has gone round is that Regina Coeli is mined and will be blown by the Germans before leaving, but somehow I don’t believe it. They are strange these rumours, but, surprisingly few in number. Our latest is that the water will be turned off throughout all Rome today, so far this has not happened but the streets this morning were filled with people carrying flasks and any other containers for holding water, to the street pumps. The water has been off in the house now for a week. Laura made some rapid journeys but tired herself out, poor girl, and tonight, when Egle returns, we must pull up a lot with our rope
I heard the other day that during the last few months over 30,000 people have been given away to the Germans or Fascists. These people would be Communists, foreigners, personal enemies of the denouncer etc. and it seems impossible to believe that so many foul swine could exist who would allow their own nation to be handed over to the possibility of death, torture or transportation. I have heard that the SS. receive piles of unsigned letters giving the hiding place of some wretched Italian who has done no harm to anyone except to dislike the Germans or Fascists. Now that the English are so near I expect there are many anxious minds, wondering if perhaps they have given themselves away and whether someone has their name written down for repayment. We don’t go out now, but I understand that Rome is full of spies and everyone, with 20 years of Fascism behind them, keeps very quiet in case something they say causes their arrest, it is awful to think of humans not able to talk and write freely.
Since our offensive on May 11th there has appeared again the phenomena which I noticed in the country when it looked as though we might soon be under British domination, that is a stream of callers with gifts etc. This I know sounds a caddish thing to say and 90% are genuinely kind-hearted, but nevertheless we have had that 10% who feel that now is the time to be on our side and therefore begin edging in.
Recent news of J is cheering. He is recovering and seems quite cheerful from what I can gather. During the last few days, except for increased air activity, we have heard few actual sounds of war. We are low down here in the prata (prato= meadow/lawn) and the rumble of the guns near Frascati, although audible on the other side of the city, cannot be heard here.
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A strange and rather unfortunate business happened last night. All the people in the other flats, we hope, know nothing about us and when the woman next door comes in at night, Archie and I always dive for our room. Last night, however, after curfew Laura and Egle were out getting water when the doorbell rang. Thinking it was Egle returning with her hands full Archie opened the door to be confronted by our neighbour, she looked very surprised and asked if she could telephone. Archie, in his best Italian, said “Si Si” and retired into the kitchen. I was reading in the sitting room when Egle came back, she got a shock but she asked the woman to say nothing, not mentioning that Archie is English. I think she will be all right as her husband is in Regina Coeli and she has other troubles, but it was rather a pity, however we must hope for the best.
Two days running now the light has gone off just when we want to listen to Algiers for the latest news, they do it on purpose I am sure, let us hope it is never off permanently as for the wireless alone it would be awful. Had a few visitors yesterday, our kind bread woman and our barber from both of whom we got stories and rumours. They say the Germans are prepared to give up Rome if necessary, which I can well understand, and that the reserves which we heard were on their way down had been held up, nevertheless reserves have arrived according to the B.B.C. The bombing outside Rome is, I understand, terrific and yesterday Tivoli stopped a packet, since the morning we have been hearing distant rumbles. I only hope the battle has moved a step nearer. It is a trying wait with nerves at a stretch, so much can happen and any day may see us free or on our way to Germany. A slight slow up it seems from today’s news, the Germans are holding out hard at Veletin and Valmontone and seem to be withdrawing slowly from the south. It is by no means a rout yet and much can happen, however as the main thing is to capture or kill Germans we must not be impatient. I think another two weeks should see us free. Have heard the rumble of guns all day and a slight haze has been apparent, it is, no doubt, the dust drifting in from the battle front. Late at night we heard the patriot station from the 5th. Army broadcasting names of spies in Rome, one was in the Piazza della Libita(?) just near us, it was most amusing and must be very uncomfortable for the spies.
29th May 1944 PO Box 541, Ottawa, Canada.
Your birthday cable was wonderful. I did appreciate it. I also had one from the parents, so my birthday was not a lonely one. I also heard that there had been some news of Ronnie, but of course had no details, so I suppose it was someone coming back with news. Anyway I am waiting anxiously for a letter. So far none have arrived.
I have heard from Ruth and hope to meet her soon. I may even manage it this weekend as I go her way on duty and may manage an hour or two off. I’m being rather busy at present and travelling a bit, though I’ve not gone far yet.
If only you and Peter could be enjoying all the good things there are. It seems so unfair that I am having them though I must admit they are good and I feel a different person now. It is very hot and we are glad to be in cool uniforms, even so I drip most of the time. The news seems pretty good, but we are longing to hear even more. Are you going North? I am so afraid you may not be able to manage it from what I’ve read.
We have had many interesting parties given for us and people have been so kind. It is going to be so difficult to return it. I sent off a parcel last week, so hope it arrives safely in due course. I’ll send another soon. The shops are most exciting and I only need lots of money
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and I’d be happy! I hope you all are well. It is horrid being so far away.
My dearest love to you all and thank you so much for the birthday greetings.
Bless you all, Ruth.
Great joy this morning when we found the water on again. We all had a good wash, I washed clothes and cleaned up the kitchen. We also filled every available container including the bath in case it goes off tomorrow which seems the general opinion. News in the morning much the same, there seems to be a slowing up in the northern fighting but 8th. Army in the south is going well and is not far from Frosinone. I have a feeling that we may have to wait until the two armies get into line before cracking the defences in front of Rome. In the city we still remain quiet, there are still Germans here but not so very many. Egle says there are rumours of a drop in prices due, no doubt, to the arrival of the British. The traders who have hoarded supplies are now worrying that the Allies will bring in food at cheap prices and undercut them so they are trying to get rid of their stocks. I must watch out for more of this. I have been trying to think of presents for B and others at home but I cannot make up my mind whether it is best to wait until I get home. Unfortunately having cashed that cheque for Archie only the other day I am not sure that I will be able to get more, still I will see. Antonio brought some more cigarettes today, 85lr. for 20, what a price! but worth it nevertheless. If one wants to smoke you must pay.
Radio newsreel talks of peasants coming down from the mountains when the British come which makes it possible for us to get through as well. If Bob and the two Macks are where I left them they should soon be OK. It is not worth the risk, I think, to leave Rome to try but one never can tell, now that I am here I think I will take my chance, it will only mean holding out for another two weeks or so which should be possible.
It is a trying time this waiting and perhaps our tempers get a little drawn, however I am doing all I can to keep off the bad subjects and everyone is doing the same. One of our friends, a girl, came in bringing some papers with her. She is very kind and a friend of Menuhin, the violinist. After she had gone I made some pasta, very hot work and tiring for the hands. When we finished supper we put it through the machine so it should be ready tomorrow. I now like very much all the various forms of pasta and will, without doubt, have them when I get back as I am sure B will like them as well, very cheap food too. I really must get Egle and Laura to explain the making of some of the Neapolitan dishes, have been meaning to do this for some time but always forget.
Well the last day of May. Woke up very early and lay recalling three years ago [four years actually. Ed.], lying truck at Zindcote(?) near Dunkirk with poor old Peter W. God what a lot has happened since then. Went on thinking about the wonderful months at B. Bradstock with my poppet. I wonder how soon it will be before we meet again. What a day that will be, it is too wonderful to think about.
Sounds of the battle all night and an air battle this morning. So far I have not heard the news but Clarke said last night ‘before many days Rome will be freed’ I only hope he is right but I seem to remember the same words when they landed at Anzio, still I think this time it is certain.
As I thought the advance is slowing. From the words of the B.B.C. “The Germans are throwing in all their manpower to hold the Velletin-Valmontone line and that to break it will
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be a hard job”. That they will break it I am certain, but perhaps now it will be a little longer before Rome is reached. They had hoped, I think, to get the Germans into a wholesale retreat which in some way they have avoided. It is a pity that they sound so confident on the wireless only to have to fling these kind of things at us but it can’t be helped. I am very lucky and safe or at least better off than those fighting at the front. This was brought home to me in a commentary today from the front when V. Thomas was talking about a Coy. Comm. he had seen in action. Tension in the air is high, I know Archie is longing to make some disparaging remark and I am trying hard to avoid it, as I expect is he. Still I think we have done wonders and everything will be OK, nevertheless it is a trying time waiting and wondering. (written in pencil- Don’t forget ‘The wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame.)
Another unfortunate affair tonight when two strangers rang up asking if they could come round and see us. Laura, silly woman, instead of denying all knowledge of what they were talking about said- “Yes, come round tomorrow”. Really I give up. In the first place I have no wish to see anyone except two or three close friends, but if they bandy our names half round Rome then they must take the consequences if we are raided. There has been far too much talk already.
Well back to June again. I wonder where all the Dunkirk boys are now. Up early to meet one of our strange visitors. He arrived at 9.00 but we did not see him. Laura said that he was not nice at all and I have the deepest forebodings. He said he was some friend of the man who brought us into Rome and some Dr., and that he had seen Archie at John’s. The story from Laura is so mixed that it is difficult to make out quite what it is all about, but I do know that it is a bloody trial. We must see the chap that brought me in and find out who he is and if it is necessary to change our living place, dangerous though it is. After all my wishes to be quiet and taking every precaution this kind of thing happens. Oh Laura Laura Laura !!!
A bad day for me today, everything tight and knotted and worrying about our morning visitor. Marta to lunch, news good considering, think about two weeks should finish it. Stories of Germans trying to find places to disappear to until the British come. Archie is getting rather difficult, though in my heart I know that the fault is probably mine. I must be hell to live with just now and cannot settle to anything, afraid nerve strength is sadly lacking these days but with so much at stake——-. Still one has a great deal to be thankful for. What makes me so cross is other people’s stupidity, if I endanger myself by my own folly OK but the other is hell.
After rather a worried night our minds were eased a bit this morning when Egle traced our visitor of yesterday who, it appears, is all right, or so we hope. Little new in the news today. We have cut highway 6 near Valmontone and 8th. Army is advancing rapidly along the valley to Subiaco. My reading of the position is that in 3 days the 8th. Army will have joined up completely with the 5th. and the battle for Rome will start. I think it should be free by June 15th !!! but we must wait and see. The Pope, to his Cardinals, today made, I thought, some rather stupid remarks; that the war was reaching a violence now which was beyond human comprehension; that it was hoped that a helping hand would be given to the vanquished etc. I don’t think he said much when London and England were being bombed.
Rome remains quiet, all things considered. There are rumours of prisoners being taken from the Regina Coeli but this has not been confirmed. J. has got three years which is good, I was
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afraid he might be shot. Also I hear that there are 25,000 wounded Germans in hospitals here. I expect they may find it hard to get them away if it becomes necessary. Everyone is still awaiting the second front. It has amazed me, I would have laid £50 any day that it would open in May, perhaps it is all propaganda who knows? Electric light very weak these days making it hard to get the news. Of course what usually happens is that it is quite clear until the Italian news starts and then it begins to fade. For a few days now we have missed Sally and her boys from Rome, they used to broadcast particularly for the Anzio boys. As I was twiddling the nobs tonight I picked them up from Florence so they have made a hasty retreat, most amusing. Easy girl there is danger ahead.
Can’t make up my mind what to get for B, a woman wants to sell a silver-fox [can’t read it Ed.] but she is asking 14,000lr. which strikes me as being wicked unless it is at least 3 skins. Jewels can be got but even at our exchange rate they are expensive. I am continually keeping my eyes open. What heaven that reunion ma quando!(?) speriamo presto. (?)
Wrote a little note to Mrs. S. today, poor woman, she must have been going through a bad time but perhaps it will not be for much longer. If only that second front would go in I think the Germans down here would andare via subito (go away quickly) with their long and expensive L. of C. (?) If this happens perhaps Regina Coeli will be liberated.
A bad day for news as the light has been off nearly all day and at the moment it looks as if we may have to go to bed in the dark. I think they do it on purpose to stop people hearing the news. From the small amount which we heard, good progress is being made and everyone is very cheerful. A lot of visitors again this afternoon, they exhaust me and I feel like a wet rag afterwards. Archie very popular, myself I am afraid not so
Our scare of the stranger the other day has died down a bit, still he might prove dangerous yet. One is so jittery of recapture now that any small thing assumes large proportions. I am afraid that since the armistice I have done nothing but look after myself, a selfish life, but how I want to get home and really it is difficult to know quite what to do to help our cause.
Saw two small German tanks go passed north today, the first I have seen for a long time, let us hope they will all have to pull out soon. Was lent two paint brushes today, having now got paper and colour I must try and paint something.
A strange day with greatly increased tempo. It really started last night when the late news, the only one we could get, suggested that we had made good progress and also a message from Alexander to Rome telling them to be calm and giving other instructions to help his entry. After a quiet night we found, this morning, that many Germans had come in during the night and that all the bridges were closed. Antonio came in to cut our hair and stayed to lunch, giving us all kinds of stories about the German trucks and tanks etc. now in the streets near us and in front of St. Peter’s. The light, of course, went off at about 10.00 so up to date we have no news but from all the signs it looks as if the Germans are in retreat. The noise of war is much more obvious, a big gun goes off every now and again and odd shots from revolvers and tommy guns ring out in the streets. Aircraft have been over all day like wolves on the tail of a stag and air battles or at least machine-gunning is often heard.
After an afternoon reading etc. Egle came in with lots of news. She had managed to get across the bridge and first told us the grand news that J. had escaped, I will enlarge on this later. She also brought Angela back with her. She is, unfortunately, terrible at giving
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information but from what I can gather the position is as follows: The English have taken Colli Albany and are now advancing on Rome, Alexander has given further instructions and leaflets have been dropped. She says that we are on the outskirts but I can hardly believe this but apparently on the outskirts are plenty signs of war with shelling and Germans cutting the corn etc. No-one seems to have any opinions whether the Germans will fight in the city or not. If they do we are on the wrong side of the river but at the same time are near the Vatican. My views are that the Germans are sheltering in Rome today but will get out on the roads when it is dark, I hope so at least, nevertheless we must be prepared to have the bridges blown at least.
Regina Coeli has been emptied, some set free, some taken away poor devils, with freedom so near it must be hell to be taken north. Water has been off today so we are senza mente. The people are amazingly calm, occasionally when a burst of tommy gun goes off nearby you see people diving for a door and the roofs are crowded at times to watch the aircraft but on the whole everyone is going about his business. Trains are, of course, stopped but many are still walking in the streets. I think, without doubt, that we have arrived, at last, near the end, it remains to be seen whether we shall get through this difficult time safely.
Am writing this at 4.00am June 5th after an exciting few hours. The light returned at about 9.00 just in time for us to get the news which said that we were in the suburbs of Rome. At about 10.30 we heard people shouting in the street saying we had arrived .After a dash round tidying up and giving Angela to the woman next door the four of us went out. I felt a little doubtful in case this proved a false alarm but everyone in the street seemed certain. Papers were being dished out right and left and everyone was cursing the Germans and sounding very happy. Odd police were wandering around and odd shots and bangs were going off in the vicinity. For some reason which I couldn’t gather we were advised not to go up to the bridge and after an hour with nothing happening we went back to the flat. At 24.00 we heard from Algiers that all Rome is ours, which seems amazing with such speed and quietness. However decided to go to bed and see what the morning brings.
I am amazed at my calmness, I have been waiting and dreaming of this day for nearly two years and now that it has arrived it is, perhaps, too large and wonderful to grasp all at once. I, of course, could not sleep, neither could Archie and at about 3.0am we heard shouts of “Archie” in the street outside which proved to be Capt. Salinus(?), 8 months in Regina Coeli and just released, and his wife Lucrezia and Rocco, all a little pickled. They said the city is undoubtedly ours, with American tanks on the bridges etc. so at long last we ARE free.
Put hankies, socks to soak as I shall be wanting clean things tomorrow and I have plans for an early walk tomorrow if things are still quiet. I can’t make out if John was released or he escaped but Salinus said that all the English prisoners in Regina Coeli were liberated, lucky for them. The German retreat seems to have been nearly a rout, from what I can gather, with every type of transport brought into play. Many of the Pi(?) and Fascists too have escaped but quite a few haven’t !! All night odd shots have been ringing out, some bloody fool Itie swanking with his gun I suppose. What amused me was the terrific excitement which went up only to die down again when nothing happened. Have still, therefore, to meet my first Allied soldier which I hope to do tomorrow and at the same time see parts of Rome which I have always wanted to see. Of course we had no vino to celebrate but I hope tomorrow to cure this.
June 5th 1944
Well after nearly two years today is my first day of freedom and I can now get back to my B,
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what heaven. I did not sleep at all last night, it was quite impossible. As dawn broke I got up and washed some clothes. After making some coffee the others got up and we drank it standing and talking. At about 7.30 Laura and I went out to see what was happening and headed for the Plaza Venezia. It is impossible to describe the streets, they were packed with cheering crowds throwing flowers and things into the American trucks as they came in. Signs of rioting were to be seen in broken windows and wrecked cars and, at one or two points, blood on the pavement showed the shooting place of some Fascist. Cars with party banners and placards were everywhere, the hammer and sickle very prominent and we found that when we got to the P. Venezia that under Musso’s speech window were all kinds of slogans. The Plaza was packed but the buildings were very beautiful, perhaps rather too white. Laura was very excited and very proud, I think, to show me Rome, she is a very nice woman and worth two Egles any day. As Archie and Egle would not be able to leave the flat until we returned, we hurried back at about 9.30.
During the morning we had shoals of visitors, Michaele with flowers, John and Mrs. Sperni to collect Angela. John looked very fit and was in the usual good form. Libio(?) the poet, with more flowers and the Neapolitan violinist who eventually stayed to lunch. Egle and Archie were very late, we had finished lunch by the time they arrived. Again during the afternoon a continuous stream of visitors, most of them strangers to me. Antonio found some vino after a long search and J. Peli brought more. By 4.00 I was quite exhausted with the noise, excitement and trying to carry on long conversations in Italian and so I decided to go out for a quiet walk round to rest myself. When I got back Gigi was there, the man who drove me into Rome. After supper and a talk I went to bed and slept, quite exhausted by all that had happened.
It really was a day, after waiting so long and with one’s nerves keyed up, now all my dreams can come true and I think that within a month I shall be home. It is amazing to walk in the streets once more a free man without having to feel uneasy every time one passes a policeman. Tomorrow I am going to search for a report centre and see how soon I can get on my way.
5th June 1944 6th. DLI, APO, England.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
Just a line or two to thank you for the grand time you gave me at the weekend. It was the most enjoyable time I have ever spent outside my own home and it went over too quick for my liking. I also want to thank you for the cigarettes and sandwiches, they were really lovely. I think you were too kind to me and I wish I could do something to repay you. Peter is a grand little boy all right and his father is going to be very proud of him. I couldn’t get over how he took to me, a perfect stranger to him ‘til then. My journey wasn’t too bad at all. I left Maiden Newton at 4.00 and was in Westbury by 5.15. I had to wait ‘til 7.30 for the Salisbury train and arrived there at 8.30. I took the bus to Larkhill and started to walk back to the camp when a jeep pulled up with three officers in and gave me a lift back to camp. It is just as well I got that lift for it started to pour down and I would have been soaked in a few minutes. I didn’t have any trouble at all with my pass and everything went off fine.
I am taking the magazines to the recreation tent in this camp when I have read them as it will give all the men a chance to read them. We have been on the firing range this morning, quite a change for me. I don’t mind as I like a bit of shooting myself. I have just been told I am on guard tonight, 2 hours’ notice. It is the first for years for me but it is a very easy one and only lasts 12 hours. There is nothing in the way of news about the Bat. this morning, but
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the news from Italy is grand isn’t it. I hope Major Cummins will soon be through and back home in England. If we are here another couple of weeks and there is any jobs I could do for you I would be only too glad to do them for you. You and your Mother have a big job on keeping the “Grove” going and you don’t get much rest I can see.
I will close hoping you are all keeping very well and thanks for everything once again.
Yours sincerely, E Fowler.
[It is not clear why he was still in England on D Day when the rest of the Bn. had gone to Normandy. Ed.]
Could not find a place to report. Lunch and tea out, collect my writings from Michaele.
[Normandy landings. Ed]
Found report place, told no transport yet but to return on 10th.
7th June 1944 Sweetholme, Broadmayne, Dorchester.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
It was very pleasing to know that your news was good and it must have relieved your anxiety to a considerable extent. Now that progress has been made in that quarter of the globe, no doubt you will soon hear more. You have had a dreadful period of suspense, I am afraid, and you have fully deserved the relief and joy which I hope and pray will soon be yours.
Recent weeks have been trying to everyone and the present, amazing operations are exciting to put it mildly.
Your boy must have been a tremendous interest and joy to you during the last 2 1/2 years and no doubt he is now a considerable “handful”!!
I think it may now be said that the Hun tried to bump us off not so long ago. By the most excellent good fortune, the bit of old iron he dropped did remarkably little damage, fell on soft ground, and the other fellow was, apparently, dud! Nevertheless these nocturnal disturbances are extremely vexing and I must see someone about it!
With kindest regards and all good wishes.
Yours sincerely, Richard L Ravenshaw.
Out buying a few presents, this wait is hell but must be born. Have a bicycle and spend time looking at Rome.
Go and see Colloseum with Laura. Start taking an interest in news once again and second front. Spent afternoon and evening indoors packing and finishing up.
Up to report centre at 8.30 after goodbyes. Two trucks leave for Naples at 12.30 through all the fighting area, most villages quite flattened. A solid stream of traffic. Arrive at repatriation camp at 7.30 and find many there including Tregaer (?) from 29. Into bed early.
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10th June 1944 [RLC actually dates this 10th July but it was an error. Ed.] No address given.
My Darling Precious,
At last, after so long the day has at last arrived when I can write to you again with the knowledge that in a short time I shall actually see you. I have thought about it so often in the last three years that even still it is difficult to believe. Mixed with the wonderful thoughts, my dream, is perhaps a little fear in case I fail to live up to your memory of me, but I think I am the same Ronnie who said goodbye to you three years ago in Cullompton. Since I last wrote from my camp a lot has happened which, apart from security reasons, I have no space to mention here, but for the present I expect all you wish to know is that I am fit and well and mad with excitement. I had a roughish time for six months, but apart from mental strain the last three have been comparatively comfortable. When I rejoined our people I asked about cables but they said this would be quicker and I hope that within a short time of receiving it I myself will be in England. We don’t know when we leave but imagine soon and have 28 days leave when we arrive, not much, my darling, after three years, but heaven nevertheless.
How I am longing to see you all, Peter, Daddy and Mummy, Ruth, Granny C. There is so much to talk about, we will never rest for the whole month’s leave. I don’t know where I shall land but unless I get no other information I will come to Dorset and then we can try and go north or perhaps we should meet in London, but what does it matter, darling, all that matters is that soon we shall see each other again, where is nothing. If you could find a place for us to spend a quiet fortnight, all the better, but I expect things are difficult in England now. I shall go into civilians again so could you look my things over. Afraid lots of money must be spent celebrating and refitting so see that Glover has piles of pennies available in Bank. I have claims for about £100 to make when I arrive. Only other person I have heard is free is Ross McLaren, have heard nothing of Sammy or anyone else you know, but they are coming in daily. It is agony having to wait now but we can do nothing about it and must try and be patient.
Afraid I have not learnt much of the language but you can teach me, darling, with PR as the younger pupil. What will happen after the 28 days leave I don’t know but I presume I shall return to my depot and so to war again.
You will I know send this letter to Daddy and Mummy so at the moment I will not write to them as these are rather hard to find, anyway I hope to be on my way soon. How often I have thought of you all and now it need no longer be thoughts. It is nice to get civilised food again though I rarely went short before, but meat, potatoes etc. were a luxury which we did not see often, still we had some quite good dishes! There is so much, darling, which I want to tell you but it will have to wait. You must be seeing quite a lot of the war now from Grove, I am afraid I have been so involved with other things for the last few days that the war has gone in to the background, but no doubt it will return in due course. Well, my precious, the end of this letter but the beginning of something much more wonderful. We must be patient for just a short time more which I pray will go quickly.
All the love in my heart to you and everyone at home. It should not be long now. Ronnie R.
[Arrived 18th. June 1944]
June 10th – 23rd
Visit Naples two or three times for clothes etc. but dislike it. The camp is under Vesuvius so
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visit Pompeii, very wonderful. Read, walk and sleep, a dreary and lonely wait but there is heaven on the horizon. G. Cole comes in and leaves. I was number 12 of camp 29 to get back, a very small number. On 22nd Archie arrives, he has been enjoying himself in Rome. Letters away home, and all kinds of rumours about when we go and what will happen to us.
10th June 1944 Gilley Law, Silksworth, Sunderland.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
I am sorry I can’t tell you much about Ronnie. The last I saw of him was the 12th or 13th Sept. last, about 10 miles from Camp 29. He was with an awfully nice fellow called Monty Champion, a Major in some Welsh Regt. They were sleeping in the same spinney as us and we all made a hasty exit from it about 10.00 am. due to a scare about some Germans searching a farm near-by and due to Monty and I having met a fair haired young man who had been most curious about us and had asked rather suspicious questions about where we were living etc. We thought that perhaps he was a German dressed as a Slav ex-prisoner (as he said he was.) However, there are still lots of ex-POWs living in the hills and the Italians are being most kind to them, feeding them as well as themselves and often better than their own refugees. Also the Germans, if they recapture POWs, treat them very kindly, as I know from personal experience, having been recaptured myself once. I was in their hands for about 48 hours and they treated me as a father would his son!
If you get messages giving no details from him or the War Office or some other source, official or semi-official, saying he was well on such and such a date, believe them. The authorities cut out all information in case it should reach the Germans. I sent my wife several messages through various channels and find that when they arrived they had been much cut down, so much so that she scarcely believed them.
With the present advance going on as it is there is every chance of him being able to hide up and let the front pass him and leave him high and dry, so to speak. All I am afraid of is that he may become fed up with waiting in Italy for the present push and have moved off to France or somewhere else. We thought seriously of doing this about April this year and might have done it had our boots not been in very bad condition and our clothes too raggy to pass muster even amongst the Italians.
I do hope you hear good news of him soon. Don’t worry. There is every hope of him being able to make it.
Yours sincerely, Ross McLaren.
10th June 1944 Blair Atholl, Coonoor, Nilgris, India.
My dear Brenda,
We are becoming quite pen pals (I believe that is the right expression) aren’t we?! I’m so glad that you didn’t mind me calling you by your Christian name, though later I thought that it was terrific cheek on my part. I’ve only met your husband twice and that was whilst he was a wanderer like myself. But I am middle aged, incredibly dull and very staid, so I don’t really feel guilty at all about my forward behaviour! I was awfully interested to hear about your young Peter Ronald and he sounds a great boy. He must have been a great solace to you during the past, miserable, two years you have been called upon to endure. How Ronnie must long to see him and I do hope so much that he will be able to do so soon.
I was delighted to hear that you had heard some news of Ronnie up to the end of January; and then this cheque in March, so he was fit and well up to that date and obviously got through the winter all right. That is simply splendid and I do rejoice with you, for it is a relief
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to have heard all that. But I can’t work out why Ronnie should be paying John May ( no I know nothing of him, I’m afraid) £20. Money was comparatively easy to come by in Italy and anyhow May would have presumably been in no position to cash a cheque for R. I hope that you have made every effort to trace May, because he should be able to give you a lot of information. Almost certainly he is not an agent of ours, for they would accept no money. And, again, almost as certainly, you can rest assured that R is not employed in any sort of secret job behind the lines, so you are not to worry your young head about all sorts of hair raising projects. Don’t forget my good advice about the wrinkles, Brenda, and keep Elizabeth Arden at bay for many years to come. Heavens! I do so hope that you get Ronnie back soon. I know just exactly how you feel and you must often have an awful sort of leady heart, all heavy and sad. But Ronnie is all right. I’m sure, so you must jolly well continue to be a brave girl and be as patient as you can.
I arrived here (actually I’m in Poona at the moment) ten days ago and I stupidly got ‘flu. Poor Daphne came rushing up from Coonoor, two days and nights in the train. It was simply terrific seeing her again, quite indescribable. I think it was the happiest day of my life. Yes, we have two infants, Catherine aged 7 and Julian aged 4. I’m dying to see them and they write comic letters most days telling me to hurry up and get home! It is really time that they all went to England for they have been out since 1940, but I rather dread them going now. My life seems to be one long separation from my family. The rains have just started here and everything is just beginning to sprout green.
With very best wishes to you and do keep me informed about R.
Yours ever. Harry.
13th June 1944 The War Office, Cas. PW., Curzon Street, London W1.
Madam, I am directed to inform you that a report has been received stating that Major R L Cummins, MC., The Durham Light Infantry, has reached Southern Italy and is in Allied hands.
Arrangements will be made for his return to this country as soon as practicable.
I am, Madam, Your obedient Servant,
15th June 1944 Clarence, Bishop Auckland.
My Darling Brenda,
We were so glad to get your letter, you have been, are and always will be a very sweet daughter-in-law, a wife to our only son and a mother to a fine boy.
God bless you, Grandpa.
I’ll send on any news we get from Olive Grant you may hear any day now that he (Ronnie) is on his way to some port for home.
Thursday night, 15th June 1944. Clarence, Bishop Auckland.
Isn’t the news wonderful. I am sending you Olive Grant’s letter. I expect you just dance round the house with mop and duster.
Now we will just have to wait and perhaps he may walk in on you any day. We sent off a cable to Ruth.
I am so sorry to hear that Granny Cecil is still in bed. She has had a very trying time. We do hope she will soon be all right. The news will cheer her up.
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God bless you, darling, you will have Ronnie in your arms before long.
Yours, Granny Mary.
Just a line to tell you how overjoyed we are at the grand news. Now we only have to wait til he comes home to see you and Peter.
My love to you all, Grandpa.
15th. June 1944
POST OFFICE TELEGRAM
1.0 READING. T 12.
CUMMINS BURTON BRADSTOCK 61
HOW WONDERFUL ALL OUR LOVE AND CONGRATULATIONS KARIN.
16th June 1944
My Darling precious,
I have managed to find two more of these so I am sending one to you and one to Daddy and Mummy. Well, we are still waiting, I have been here a week now and am raging with impatience, still after two years one has become used to waiting. It is very warm so I spend most of my time reading and thinking, the latter now a grand way of passing the time when one has so much to dream about and look forward to. My leave is only for a month but even an hour would be perfect providing it could be spent with you. Darling, I am so excited I can hardly be still, after three years to be with you again and to see Peter. At times I get a horrible thought that you may think I look different or something, but I think you will find the same Ronnie as before, at heart anyhow, perhaps I look older.
A few more have come in but no-one you know, darling, altogether we have traced about 14 from my camp, still no news of Sammy, Doug Caldwell etc. but I keep on hoping. I have been thinking lately of poor old Dick and Peter Walton, it will seem strange without them if I rejoin my regiment.
Precious, I have got a few presents for you, nothing much I’m afraid, but you will see when I arrive, also a book for Peter given to me for him from a great friend here. I have so much to tell you I shall not know where to start, we will have to allow each other periods to get all the news off our chests. What shall we do, darling, I will make my way to Grove when I land and some time we will have to go north but no doubt travel is almost impossible now and, anyhow, all I want is the quiet country and you, perhaps a night out or two in London might be nice later, but we will see. Get Glover to have some cash available, won’t you, as we shall need it. I think I have a good chance of being with you somewhere about the 8th or 10th July, very nearly two years since my capture. It has been a trying time, particularly the last 9 months but is over now and a future is before one, life is hell without a future.
I have often wondered if you got any of the messages which I sent, they were hard to get through but I imagined you wondering what had happened to me after the Armistice. It is nearly a year since your last letter and whilst longing for news from home I await it with trepidation in case something has happened. Except for a difficult tummy I am very well, but I have to be very careful what I eat or drink at the moment or I feel ill. Perhaps when I get in to a cooler place I will be better, I never did like the heat. Give my very best love to Granny C, I am longing to see her again. Hell, you don’t know what it is like, this wait B, I could bite the tables at times. I am sorry about the pencil but ink is “nonche” [non c’è] as are many other things. If you can manage to find some beer, darling, and a tankard! lay it on, I am looking
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forward to my first taste again after two years.
The end again, darling, but I hope to be home soon after this, afraid I shall return minus everything I left with except myself, but I must thank God for that. All the love in my heart, darling, not long now before we are together again and in heaven. Ronnie R.
16th June 1944
At long last after such a long wait I can once again write to you. Since your last letters in the camp nearly a year ago, I have thought and worried about you so much, now however, in a short time I hope to be able to see you with my own eyes. It has been a long wait, particularly the last nine months without news. I only hope that you had some information that I was OK, by now, no doubt, you will have got the news. From what I can gather I should be in England about the second week in July and will get a month’s leave. Presumably after that I go to Brancepeth and then I don’t know, but I am living entirely in the present with the glorious thoughts of seeing Brenda and Peter and you all soon. The wait here is hell, but it cannot be helped. I am afraid, with the exception of Ross McLaren, I can find no traces of any other locals being safe. Sammy B. Dick Dennis, Douglas Caldwell are still on the wrong side of the line I am afraid but I live in hopes. How is Ruth, she must be a Lt. Col. by now, when I drop to Captain again she will be miles ahead of me. It is almost impossible to plan just what I shall do when I get back but you can be sure I will get in touch immediately, naturally B is my first objective and I want to get away from crowds and be quiet, but I expect travel is impossible. I shall get in to civilian clothes so can you look my things over if they are at Clarence. It is very warm here, I shall be so glad to get in to the cool of England again, though I expect you may have a heat wave there or something. I will have so much to talk about, we will never stop, but a great deal has happened during the last three years, still I am returning to England which I must thank God for, many never will, poor lads. Everything I left England with has gone and only my own self returns but I am re-equipping a bit here and will complete it in England, so often have I lost my kit it is almost habit by now and I am wondering where my new stuff will end up.
I have asked B to arrange with Glover to have cash available, my credits on a Major’s pay should have mounted up by now, also I have some heavy claims to put in. I want my leave to be without money worries. I am getting very impatient at our wait here but one can do nothing about it. Afraid my tum-tum is not what it was and refuses to stand the slightest abuse, but no doubt a period of good food will put that right, it is probably from my teeth which are in a pretty bad state. I think I will have a lot of them out when I get back. Give my love to all at home, Uncle and Auntie etc. I expect I shall find some changes in Auckland, all I hope pleasant ones. I think I look about the same but you will soon be able to judge. I am so sorry, darlings, about the pencil, etc, but ink is almost impossible to find, I managed to borrow a pen for the address but nothing else.
Well, all my dear love, Darlings, I can hardly wait to see you all but it will not be long now.
Tons of love, Ronnie.
16th June 1944 Ottawa, Canada.
I am so happy I can hardly write. I got the cable last night and have walked on air ever since. What you must feel like is beyond understanding.
I am so longing for more details and, of course, want to come home at once. It is horrid not
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being there when he sees Peter, but I will have to wait for that.
Darling, you have been so splendid and such a comfort to us all. You never gave in and were solid in your faith.
Ronnie may be with you when this arrives. If so please ask him to write as I want a letter so much and it will be so marvellous to see his writing again. I know he’ll be busy, but he will realise what letters mean to an exile! Ruth Bennett is coming here next week, so I will meet her. Last night I met a friend of Ronnie’s, Francis Cumming-Bruce. He had just arrived here and it was a lovely surprise to see someone from home, especially as I had just had the news. I am sending a parcel off this week, with some socks I have knitted. I’ll get the others done as quickly as possible now.
Please give Granny Cecil my love and wishes for her birthday. It will be a happy one for her, I know.
Bless you all, darling, and please write and tell me all that happens and about Peter and everything. I am so longing to hear.
Very much love to you all, Ruth.
16th June 1944 Valley View, Etherley Lane, Bishop Auckland.
My dear Brenda,
Mr. Cummins showed me his War Office letter yesterday and I am hastening just to say to you how delighted I am to know that Ronnie is free again and that those awful months (years almost) of suspense are ended for you and Peter.
I hope you will soon hear from Ron himself and that he will be able to reassure you that he is in perfect health. I hope he’ll be with you very soon now and that before many more months pass this nightmare will be over and you will be together again for good. I shan’t be able to send you many more “monthly statements” as I am definitely retiring on August 31st. I’m very tired of it all.
My kindest regards to you both.
Yours very sincerely, James F Glover.
17th June 1944 Clarence, Bishop Auckland.
How grand to have a letter from Ronnie, you would be so thrilled when you saw his handwriting. Any day now you may get a telegram saying he is arriving.
We have sent off a suitcase and registered it, and enclose the list. I can’t find the other sock suspender. I had them all out in the yard all day so I think the smell of the mothballs has gone. It was so lovely to hear Peter’s voice. I heard it very clearly, the line was very clear. try and find out if we can get in to the “Bridport Arms”. It won’t be next week as Charlie is having some alterations done at the works and he can’t leave. Anyhow, if Ronnie comes you and he will want a few days together alone. How very excited you must be, darling. The vicar came in last night and he said “You look ten years younger. Put it there” and he clasped my hand. He is a dear.
Have just been looking at the photo of Peter, the day he had his hair cut and said to Grandpa won’t Ronnie love to see that lovely face. He has always been so sweet with tiny children, that when it’s his own he will be so happy. I am enclosing Ruth’s letter, she certainly is enjoying herself. We have not got our parcel, it may come any time
We could find one pair of socks, but your card said you have some down there.
All love darling. God bless you. You might have Ronnie with you when you get this. God
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bless you, Granny Mary.
3 complete suits.
1 sports coat.
1 pair grey flannel trousers.
1 doz. collars.
1/2 doz. ties.
1 pair socks.
3 coat hangers.
1 pair shoes.
1 only sock suspender, the other cannot be found at the moment.
18th June 1944 Banksfoot, Caversham, Reading.
My dear Brenda,
I wonder how you are feeling now, if you are standing on your head still or calming down.
It must be so utterly lovely for you and you’ll soon get a letter, won’t it be heaven. I cabled Sammy yesterday and put “Ronnie just emerged from Vatican, Brenda ecstatic” Hope it’s all right for the censor!
I had a priceless letter from Sammy yesterday, written May 17th. He had just had dinner, sitting between the Queen of Spain and the Infanta, the other guests being the Prince of Monaco and the American Minister and his hostess, a Mrs. Horton. I wish you could hear when S says, he only had his ready made blue suit to wear and the whole weekend was completely fantastic, like a Strand magazine story. As usual S asks if there is any news of Ronnie. I’ve just thought, do you remember when he wrote and suggested that Ronnie might be RC, perhaps he meant the Vatican then and not recaptured as I thought.
It will be thrilling to hear how long he was in the Vatican and all his adventures, and I wonder how soon he will get home. I am so glad for you, my dear, after 9 months of torture. I honestly don’t know how you stuck it as manfully as you did.
Do hope your Mother is better now, what a time you must have had, but nothing matters any more now.
Do let me know any more news if you have a second, it was sweet of you to wire and ring up, but I couldn’t be more interested as you know.
Love to you and heartfelt congratulations from us all, Karin.
19th June 1944
The Personal Column of the Times.
PG 29. Major R L Cummins MC., DLI., safe in Allied hands.
This was also in the Daily Telegraph and the local Bishop Auckland papers.
19th June 1944 No. 2 Allied Repatriation Camp, CMF.
Stupid fool that I was in my other letter I forgot to put any address on the top for a reply. I was imagining that it would take too long and that I should be on the way before I could hear from you. As I am still here I am cursing hard but it can’t be helped. Anyhow, I am sure I shall be at sea before I can get a reply now so I should not bother to write.
This wait, my dream, is pure agony, so near and yet so far, but one has just to be patient, after 3 years of thinking about this time it is hell not to be on our way to enjoy it, however,
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as I said in my last letter, I have great hopes of arriving in England during the second week in July, when I will ring up or wire to Grove. We have heard stories of coastal areas being closed and even evacuated so I hope I can reach you quickly. There are many of us collected now, unfortunately no-one I know, but this does not worry me. I have seen one other DLI man from my Coy., a private called Clelland, we had a long talk but still no news of Lumley, Sammy, Duggie etc. I fear they must be in Germany. I am so anxious to know how you all are and could kick myself for not putting my address on my first letter. I must now wait until reaching home before I get my first news for nearly a year.
I hear the old Div. was the first in France, they have done a lot this war, I suppose I will know none of them nowadays.
I am spending my days reading and walking and thinking, as I have said before, the latter a very pleasant occupation now that it all looks like coming true. The country side just here is not very beautiful, but the view in general is world famous. So much to talk about, darling, we shall not know where to start. How I am longing to see Peter, so far it is difficult to imagine a son, but the time is now near when I can see him. Don’t arrange any parties, darling, I want you and quiet and only family. I am afraid the four weeks will be only too short so we must make the most of them.
The last nine months have been a strange experience, in one way rather amusing but rather a mental strain always on the look-out, still now that it is over one can look back quietly. I have kept a diary of most of the time which will give you the general idea of things. The news from France seems good, perhaps before long it will all be over and we can then start on normal life. Darling, I am afraid it has been a strange start to married life for you, I am only praying we shall soon be together for good.
Darling, the end again, this wait here is too awful and I think they could have done more to avoid it, but it can’t be helped. It is nearly four years since we first met and that glorious summer in B Bradstock, in a few weeks we will recapture those days, this time with a third member. I wonder if Askers is still going.
All the love in my heart, darling, not long now thank God. Ronnie R.
Undated Clarence, Bishop Auckland.
Thank you very much for your letter with Ronnie’s too, it was lovely reading it. A letter from him came by the same post. I was so excited I could hardly open it. Poor dear, he says his tummy and teeth are not too good, but they will soon be put right with proper treatment. All he wants now is to be with you for a time and I think your idea is a good one, you both and Peter to have the first half of Ronnie’s leave together and then if they can take us in at the “Bridport Arms” for a couple of days we can see you all and if Ronnie wants to come North with us he can do so. It would be lovely if he were stationed at Brancepeth for some time, you might be able to get a house there or rooms.
You have just been on the telephone and evidently have got a letter too. It will be just a matter of waiting, he may come any day.
Dear Peter, talking so much about his Daddy. How Ronnie will love him, he won’t mind being Daddy Roodah, lying down and letting Peter crawl all over him. How happy you all will be together.
Ruth’s letters are still very interesting, Ronnie will get a great surprise when he knows where she is. How much you will have to talk about. I had a letter from Leslie tonight, saying how glad he was, he is in hospital with malaria. He, Margaret and Anthea hope to come north
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early next month. Mick and Peter sent me a telegram. I don’t know when I am going to get all my letters through. So many have seen the advertisement in the Times and Telegraph.
Vera has not been all this week until this morning, she had some food which upset her, I gather a meat pie, she looks like nothing on earth. I was not very fit either but still had to carry on.
All our love, darling, we are all happy now.
Yours, Granny Mary.
20th June 1944. Cutting from the Times.
THREE OFFICERS ESCAPE.
Three officers who were prisoners of war in Italy have reached Allied hands. They are Captain DRC Templemore, who was reported missing in November 1941, during the campaign in Libya and afterwards stated to be a prisoner; Major RL Cummins MC, Durham LI, son of Colonel and Mrs. Cummins of Bishop Auckland; and Captain OP Lanyon, RHA, only son of Lt. Col. and Mrs. OM Lanyon of Royston, Hertfordshire.
21st June 1944
POST OFFICE TELEGRAM
3 88 8.33 LSS PCV 14
CUMMINS GROVE BURTON BRADSTOCK BRIDPORT
LOVING CONGRATULATIONS AT WONDERFUL NEWS
MOTHER G AND ELAINE.
21st June 1944 9 Arlington Road, Bournemouth.
Brenda, my dear!
I am delighted to read of your Ronnie’s safety. After all these months of anxiety the relief and happiness must be beyond words. I’m longing to hear details and to know whether you have heard direct from him. How lovely for you both!
I wonder whether Joy was able to get down to you. Long distance journeys seem very tedious as most of the fast trains have been taken off, but wasn’t it surprising that the Invasion made none of the dislocation we had expected. I’m afraid they are having a very bad time in London and long alerts in Kent and Sussex too. Here we have had very few lately, but a tremendous noise of planes going and returning.
How is little Peter? Phyllis seems devoted to him. How you must be longing for his Daddy to see him. I do hope he will soon be home.
Lots of love. Yours ever, Brenda. [Meredith. Ed.]
21st June 1944 7 Dixon Street, Blackhill, Co. Durham.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
I see in the papers that your husband is free and back in Allied hands, how pleased we all are when we read it, we were all overjoyed as we have hoped and prayed for him to be spared to come back to you all and our prayers have been answered. What a relief it would be to you all as it has been a long, anxious time for you all and I do send my best wishes for him to get home to see you soon and have a good rest as I think he will need one, both in body and mind as I know he will have been thinking of you and your little son. It will be such a joy to him when he sees him and such a fine boy. What a reunion it will be. Now, I do hope you are all keeping well. If only this war was all over and we were all settled down to normal
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times again, what a good thing that would be for everybody.
I had a letter from my son and he says he is all right, he is working in a paper factory and the time doesn’t seem so long to him now (but long enough). He thinks it will not be long before he is back home with us all again and I hope so and pray for that day to come. Now, I hope your Mother is keeping well and also yourself and little Peter. Now you will have news of your husband I hope it will help to cheer you up and give your health and strength to carry on till that day comes for you all to meet, and I hope it is soon.
God bless you all, from Mrs. C Lumley.
22nd June 1944 15, Bowers Way, Harpenden, Herts.
My dear Mrs. Cummins,
I can’t tell you how delighted Ross and I are to know your husband is safe and well, we have wondered so much, but Ross was sure he would be lying up somewhere as “crossing the line” is no joke and dangerous.
I do hope he is well, I can just imagine your feelings of thankfulness. Ross took 4 weeks to get home from crossing the lines, he is really quite well but much thinner, he can walk me off my feet after his journey.
We would so like you to come and have lunch with us if you are up in County Durham. If you are short of petrol we are almost on the main bus route from Durham to Sunderland. Do please give us a ring if you are up. Our phone number is East Herrington 2132. Do phone at night or early, about 9am. when we are most likely to be in.
All good wishes to you both in which Ross joins me. Please don’t bother to reply to this as I am sure you will have dozens of letters to reply to.
Hoping to see you soon.
Yours very sincerely, Marjorie McLaren.
PS We go home on Tuesday next.
22nd June 1944 7.30 am. The Brown House, Liss, Hants.
Oh! Brenda, my Darling,
I am so thrilled and excited that I scarcely know what I am doing for joy at your wonderful news!!! I was in bed last night reading the Daily Telegraph at 10.30 when something made my eye glance at the personal news and I almost had a fit when I saw Ronnie’s name!!! I simply shrieked to Elaine who was shutting up down stairs and could scarcely believe my eyes at first, my only regret was that I had not read the paper earlier in the day so that you had got our wire yesterday, however that cannot be helped and I was certainly “guided” to look at that column last night. I was only talking to Col. Reeves on the telephone Tues. evening about Ronnie, as his son Bill was in the same camp but had been taken prisoner by the Germans again alas! Oh! Darling, all our prayers have indeed been answered, I can just picture yours and Mummy’s joy and long to be with you both. I am not writing to her separately as I know she will share this letter with you. I have been meaning to write for ages but somehow without success.
When the Invasion started on June 6th. we were terribly anxious about Michael as we of course pictured him with the 6th. Airborne Division in the thick of everything!!! but he wasn’t and as far as we know is still peacefully up in Lincolnshire! at least he was when he wrote on Sunday, so we do not think he will be going over until there is another landing somewhere else. We think? he is with 1st. Airborne Division but this is only our surmise!!! M is such an oyster, he tells us nothing, of course he is perfectly right and I do admire him for it
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but it does keep one rather living on top of a volcano!!! He is now a parachutist and simply adores it, really I think it is safer than being in those awful gliders which is a far larger target! and often a ghastly landing.
I have had rather a lot of “ups and downs” lately and a bad “go” last Sunday week and in bed 4 days but am all right again now. I fear poor London is having a thin time and it makes one very anxious about one’s relations and friends there. One of the “little horrors” passed over Liss Fire Station last Friday night, very low and the light then went out!!! but mercifully it did not explode til it was some miles away in a wood, very kind and thoughtful of it!!! Elaine is very well and very busy with one thing and another and still at home with me thank God! Denis is also with us and he’s to have his tonsils out shortly! Philip and Audrey are flourishing tho’ they had a bomb drop about 200 yds away some weeks ago. Kathleen sold her house in May and is now wandering, I hope she may come to me in Aug. for ten days or so whilst E takes her guides to camp six miles away, if it ever comes off, but one can make no plans these days!!!
Am so longing for details about Ronnie. Much love from us both to you both and a big hug for darling little Peter.
Yours ever lovingly, Mother G.
Elaine is simply thrilled and delighted for you all. I have of course written from us both. Am writing Michael today.
23rd June 1944 Bedhampton Rectory, Havant, Hants.
I was so glad to get the good news about Ronnie. We are both delighted. All good wishes and love to you all.
Philip. [Rev. PHW Grubb.]
Down to the ship at last, a long wait on dock and on board to a packed ship, but what does it matter. In cabin with another Major, Caffyn, of a Yorkshire Reg, a nice chap. At last I leave Italy with great thanks and at last I am on my way to my adorable B. The End.
THANK GOD !!!
24th June 1944 Clarence, Bishop Auckland.
Lovely to have another letter from you, but I expect you are as disappointed as we are that Ronnie may not be back for another fortnight. Anyhow, each day brings him nearer. I know how you are planning things out, to be all ready when he comes. I hope Granny Cecil has had a happy birthday, but I am sorry to hear her feet are still painful. I agree with you, a rest away will do her a lot of good and she will be happy knowing that you are happy.
How exciting about the car, we think you have done the right thing. I was only saying to Charlie yesterday, Ronnie won’t like going by bus everywhere he goes as he was always able to jump in to a car. It was a very thoughtful and good thought of yours. It will make all the difference to you both.
How nice to go to Bridport to see “George and Margaret”, I have seen it on the films, a very delightful play, and your shopping event too.
Auntie Blanche was so pleased to have your letter for her birthday, she read it to me when I went in tonight.
The spare room looks wonderful from all accounts, what have you been doing, have you put
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in a basin with hot and cold water, having the plumbers in sounds like it.
Grandpa has golfed today, it has been our really first summer day, very hot and blue sky. I managed to get some gooseberries and 1/2 lb. cherries, which I have bottled.
I don’t suppose we shall see Ronnie before you do but we won’t say a word about the car if we do. His first object will be Burton Bradstock, naturally, and he won’t get there quick enough!
I only wish I could have seen Ronnie’s face when he first sees Peter, how they will love each other.
Well, darling, good night and God bless you.
All our love, Granny M.
24th June 1944 1st. Air Landing Squadron, Reconnaissance Corps. APO England.
I was most frightfully pleased to hear from my Mother that you had, at last, heard that Ronnie was safe. It is terrific news for you. I do hope he will soon be back in England. He will certainly deserve a good leave then.
I managed to get home on a short 48 hours about a month ago and found all the family well. Am afraid I have never yet found myself near enough to Burton Bradstock to look in but one of these days I may.
Not much news, we keep pretty busy. I expect Cousin Cecil and Peter are as excited as you are.
With love, yours ever, Michael Grubb.
27th June 1944 British Red Cross Society, POW Dept. St. James’ Palace.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
Major R L Cummins.
Thank you for your letter of June 23rd. and for so kindly returning the coupons which were previously sent to you when Major Cummins was a prisoner of war.
We were very pleased indeed to hear that he had managed to reach Allied lines and would like to send you our congratulations on receiving this good news. We would also like to thank you very much indeed for all your very generous remarks and kind appreciation of the work done by the Red Cross.
pp E M Thornton.
27th. June 1944
POST OFFICE TELEGRAM
83 4.28 BISHOP AUCKLAND T 18
CUMMINS 61 BURTON BRADSTOCK.
RECEIVED TELEGRAM GOOD NEWS HAVE CABLED RONNIE GIVEN NEWS OF RUTH
LOVE GRANNIE GRANDPA.
28th June 1944 Failand, Near Bristol.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
I have thought of you so often lately, as I read your news in the Times, but did not like to write and encroach upon such grievous anxiety. Then last week I saw that wonderful little
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paragraph in the Times about the escape of “Three Officers”. I can sympathise with you, though how I wish my Tim was with him. I always felt that if he had been taken prisoner he, too, would have tried to escape at once.
You wrote such kind letters to me, now nearly two years ago, that I felt I must send you this little note. Please don’t think it needs an answer as I know how many you will have to write.
How splendidly that gallant battalion are doing in France. They always seem in the midst of the struggle.
Hoping that your husband is well and that you have good news from him.
Yours v. sincerely, Frances Chamberlain
Captain Tim Chamberlain was killed on 24th October 1942 during the Battle of Alamein. [Harry Moses writes that: “He lost his cigarette case during the evacuation of Dunkirk. His Mother gave him another to replace it, made of silver and engraved with the family crest. Inside was engraved the Regimental badge and the following words, ‘With love from Mum, Dunkirk 1940’. He lost this cigarette case in the Gazala line. On the 5th November, when the 9th. DLI reached El Daba, this same cigarette case was found on a table in an underground shelter. Lt. Col. Watson returned the case to the Captain’s mother.” Ed.]
28th June 1944 A Coy. 6th. DLI. British Western Expeditionary Forces.
Dear Mrs. Cummins
Just a few lines to let you know how the old Batt. is going on over here. First of all I believe it was in the papers just before I left England that Major Cummins was in Allied hands and I hope if he isn’t already home now he soon will be and he gets a good long rest at home with you.
I have been over here a week and there have been a lot of changes in the Batt. as you can guess, for this Division has been in the fighting since D day and hasn’t been out since. A lot more of the old faces has gone and it gets less like the Durhams every day.
I met Davison the first night I went up the line and he told me he had just written to you. I don’t know if he mentioned to you any of the casualties but I am very sorry to tell you that Pears was killed in the fighting. Major Tomlinson and Major Kirby, the last remaining old Batt. officers were wounded so that leaves the QM as the sole survivor of the Batt. when we went to the ME. Foster is well, I saw him today. You remember me telling you about a CSM Charlton who escaped from the same camp as the Major and was back with the Batt. well, he is missing again and probably a prisoner.
The country round here is like the south of England and hard fighting for the Infantry. [They were just south of Bayeaux. Ed.] The weather was grand the first few days I was here but it has broken and we have had plenty of rain since. I don’t know what the people are like towards us as I haven’t had any contact with any yet. It will be a good day when it is finished a I hate to see fighting with women and children in the middle of it. The news is certainly great now from all fronts and I hope to see it finished this year.
I don’t think there is any more news now and I hope your mother, Peter and yourself are keeping in the bets of health, as I am here. So I will close with best wishes to you all at home.
Yours sincerely. E Fowler.
30th June 1944 The Yorkshire Penny Bank, Bishop Auckland.
That terrible day! so no time for more than a short scribble.
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I’m delighted to hear that Ronnie hopes to be home soon, it almost sounds fantastic, doesn’t it, after all that long silence, the worry, the doubt and fears? No wonder you and Peter are all excitement. I do hope he’ll come home feeling and looking very fit indeed. I note your instructions NOT to remit the monthly £16 to Glyns any longer, some day I must get Ronnie to cancel the Banker’s order.
You’ll see from the enclosed Statement that the tax refund has been credited, but they seem to have taken almost the whole of it back again on the other side, it is beyond me! Pass book enclosed.
Cheerio and a gloriously happy holiday when Ronnie comes.
6th July 1944
POST OFFICE TELEGRAM
MRS RL CUMMINS GROVE BURTON BRADSTOCK DORSET
ARRIVED TODAY COMING SOUTH TOMORROW FRIDAY WILL BE WITH YOU SATURDAY GREAT EXCITEMENT ALL MY LOVE DARLING RONNIE
7th July 1944
POST OFFICE TELEGRAM
MRS CUMMINS GROVE BURTON BRADSTOCK DORSET
LEAVING GLASGOW NOW EXPECT TO BE IN BRIDPORT SATURDAY AFTERNOON EXCITEMENT TERRIFIC ALL LOVE DARLING RONNIE
7th July 1944 Glyn, Mills and Co. Kirkland House, Whitehall.
We received your letter of the 3rd. instant and quite agree that the deduction of tax made by the Army Pay Office at Manchester is out of all proportion to the amount of your husband’s pay. We have today taken up the matter direct with the Commissioners of Income Duty, War Office, and have asked them to give it their special attention.
We will advise you when we receive a reply from them.
For Glyn, Mills and Co.
17th July 1944 A Coy. 6th. DLI. BWEF.
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
I will take this opportunity of thanking you for your letter of the 1st. which I received a little over a week ago. I would have answered it sooner but I had already wrote to you and there is very little fresh in the way of news since. I was sorry to hear your Mother had been ill again and I sincerely hope that she is quite well again and Peter and yourself are in the best of health. I hope the Major is home by now and is having a well-earned rest. I expect you are having a very busy time but you won’t mind that as long as you have him back home again.
If he was back in this Batt. he would be a stranger. I was telling you in my previous letter that the only officer left who was in England in 1940 was the QM, Capt. Runciman, well he has gone now, I believe he had some trouble with the CO and the next minute he was gone. I saw Capt. Lindrea the other day, but not to speak to, he is in Brigade HQ. It was certainly a nasty wound he had in the face. Davison is all right although I haven’t seen him for a while. We have moved very little in the last few weeks and I haven’t seen what is left of the old
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boys since I landed as we haven’t been out for a proper rest yet. It is tough going in this country around here and there is very little room for tanks to work in. The noise of the guns is terrific and the worst I have ever heard. I think it would amaze major Cummins when they put a real barrage up for an attack. The remainder of our transport, what was in Larkhill when I was there, has just joined us today. The first medals are to be presented today and I think Major Wood is getting the DSO. He led the Batt. the first couple of weeks of the invasion when the CO had gone back ill. The weather has improved a lot these last few days and if it lasts things may move a bit quicker over here. We have had more casualties but I don’t think any of them have been the old lads.
One thing that might interest the Major if he remembers him, L/C Harrison who was in D Coy. has just been promoted CSM of D Coy. We had our first NAAFI order last week, it was mostly cigs. but we had the pleasure of a bottle of beer. What we miss mostly is bread and a good cup of tea. These compo rations are a good thing but one soon gets tired of them. They are not like fresh rations. The news from Russia is wonderful these days and I think we should see the end of Germany this year. I think that is about all the news for now so I will close with the very best wishes and good health to you all at Grove.
Yours sincerely, E Fowler.
19th July 1944 Via Cosseria 1, Roma.
My Dear Mrs. Cummins,
I am an Italian Artillery officer and, during the period of German domination, I was hiding from them in a house in the Abbruzzi mountains. There I met your husband, Major RL Cummins, who was trying to reach the Allied front lines, after escaping from the prisoner’s camp, where he was kept, on the 8th. September 1943.
Your husband spent several days with me and he asked me to write to you, enclosing the message for you he wrote, as soon as it was possible. The last time I saw your husband was in March 1944, and about that time too I arranged that a message with his latest news should be sent to you if possible through the Vatican. I hope you received it.
Now I suppose that your husband is safely home, enjoying a rest he well deserves after so many months of excitements and troubles.
If there is any other information you would like I will be very glad to give it to you, please write me, even in English as I master the language quite well.
My address is: Mr. Giuseppe Coletti, Via Cosseria 1, Roma, Italy.
Kindly remember me to Major Cummins whom I hope someday to meet again, and wishing you the best of luck, please accept my most respectful regards.
The message written in pencil reads : I AM WELL AND SAFE DON’T WORRY DARLING HOPE TO BE HOME SOON. MY LOVE TO YOU ALL, KEEP YOUR CHINS UP. RONNIE.
22nd July 1944 The War Office, Cas.PW., Curzon Street, London W1.
I am directed to state that the Department is pleased to note that your husband Major RL Cummins, MC., The Durham Light Infantry, has now arrived safely in this country.
I am, Madam, Your obedient Servant,
2nd August 1944 266 Battery, 67 Field Regt. RA., CMF.
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Dear Mrs. Cummins,
The enclosed letter was given to me by some people I met to forward on to you. I’m afraid that the message from your husband is rather out of date, and I hope by this time you have good news of him.
Oddly enough I know Burton Bradstock quite well as I used to live at Margetton, the other side of Bridport, for many years before the war. I hope that the countryside hasn’t changed much as I think it is the nicest part of England.
Yours sincerely, Richard Hall.
[Enclosure not found. Ed.]
11th August 1944 A Coy. 6th. DLI. British Liberation Army
Dear Mrs. Cummins,
I must apologise for not writing before now to thank you for the magazines I received a couple of weeks ago. We have been moving about quite a lot and there hasn’t been much in the way of news. I haven’t heard as yet if Major Cummins is home but I hope he has been for some time and he is having a well-earned rest at home. I hope he is keeping better and also yourself and Peter and your Mother are keeping well. We have had some grand weather lately and if it is as good at home the Major will soon be fit again after what he has gone through the past year.
The country is quite nice in these parts and some of it reminds me of Devon. I expect Major Cummins will remember some of these parts form 1940. Major Galloway is back with us having recovered from his wounds received during the early fighting and we have also had a few of the boys back but no other officers. I have seen Capt. Lindrea a couple of times but not to speak to. Davison is still all right, I saw him a few days ago. The Division is still in the fighting and has been since D Day. Two days ago the Batt. was in an attack and the casualties were not light believe me. We are about half fighting strength now and I don’t know what is going to happen next. I don’t know of any old men being casualties the other day, in any case there is only a handful left. Did I tell you in my last letter that CSM Dawson who took over form CSM Wood at Gazala had been killed over here. He was a grand chap and very popular with everyone. In between the pages of one of the magazines you sent I found what looks like the pattern of a boy’s suit or something cut out in newspaper. I still have it if you want it.
I think that’s all for now and I am keeping fine myself, so I will close with the very best wishes to all at Grove.
Yours sincerely. E Fowler.
17th September 1944 A Coy. 6th. DLI. BLA.
Dear Mrs. Cummins.
I will take this opportunity while I have it to thank you for the two parcels of magazines received a couple of days ago. It may be a while before we have the chance to write again and I don’t think we shall get any ourselves. Big things have started today as you will know by the news of our paratroops being dropped in Holland and we are all hoping that this really is the beginning of the end.
Of course 50 Div. is always in the thick of it as you know and we have been given a rough picture of what is going to happen, but of course our word is Mum. In any case by the time you get this it might be old news. Well, Mrs. Cummins I haven’t any news from you for some
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time and although I heard some time back that Major Cummins was home I haven’t heard officially. I should think he is home long since and I hope you are all keeping in the best of health and Major Cummins has recovered from his trying ordeal of the past few years.
As for the old Batt. it is still getting its share of the fighting and last week suffered pretty badly again in casualties. It was said by some that it was about the worst it has had since Mareth and it was nearly cut off as one of the Coys. were. We are hoping a lot of the men are prisoners as the fighting was so confused. The CO was wounded and I have never seen the Batt. so short of officers but we have some more new ones now. Davison is all right, but he was lucky this time. He had his carrier shot from under them. Foster who is a L/C is OK but his jeep is full of shrapnel holes. I don’t suppose there are half a dozen left of the Coy. that Major Cummins commanded. We have had a great welcome all the way through France and Belgium and have seen many places made famous of World War 1 and the present one. I don’t know what it is going to be like for us in Germany but I am just hoping for the best, it may soon be over.
Well, I think that is all the news for now so I will close with the very best wishes to yourself, Major Cummins, Peter and your Mother.
Yours sincerely. E Fowler.
7th November 1944 Accounts Office, DDMI (P/W), The War Office, Room 327,
Hotel Victoria, Northumberland Ave. London WC2.
Thank you for your letter of yesterday’s date with receipt for £35.0.0 enclosed.
I would like to call your attention to paragraph 5 of my letter of 2nd. November. Particulars so far as you remember them regarding two small loans Oct. 1943 and Jan. 1944 are required for our records. If it is possible to trace the helpers they will be repaid. Kindly complete form previously sent to you and return same to me in enclosed stamped addressed envelope.
E A Crawford Jones,
12th December 1944 As from: Bryntirion, Trefnant, Nr. Denbigh.
Dear Major Cummins,
Please excuse a letter from a complete stranger, but my mother has received a letter from my brother (L/Cpl) Paton Brown saying that for three months you travelled together through Italy before you got through to Rome (he hopes) and he was recaptured.
Paton asked me to write to you to find out whether you did manage to get through our lines and are now home again. He also mentions somebody called Mac, but doesn’t say whether he managed to make it or whether he was recaptured too. Paton is now in Stalag V111 A. I do hope you did get through and are now safe and able to get in another smack at them. It’s heartbreaking to think of those who have been taken again after so many months of freedom, of a sort.
If ever you can spare just time enough to write to me saying how you fared so that I can tell Paton, and if you could tell us something of his health and spirits it would be more than kind of you and would give great pleasure to my mother who has very little else to think about nowadays.
I do hope you don’t mind my writing to you, and with all good wishes for your future
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undertakings in the war.
[Paton Brown must be Bob Brown. Ed.]
New Year’s Eve 1944 As from: Brytnirion, Trefnant.
Dear Major Cummins,
I can’t thank you enough for your letter about your journeyings with Paton. The distance you covered seems almost incredible when gauged on the Daily Telegraph War map, I expect it seems more incredible to you. Your account is so vivid, it’s easy now to picture it all, you must have had a pretty exciting time getting into Rome. I have met somebody else who was hiding up there for six months.
Thank you too for saying so much about Paton himself. It’s good to know that his sense of humour hasn’t suffered and that he was in pretty good physical state. I hope they both manage to keep that up now. He has mentioned Mack, but doesn’t say whether they were recaptured together. I haven’t sent your letter to Mother yet as I’m going on leave on Thursday and I don’t put too much trust in the Welsh postal service. But I have written to tell her that I have heard from you and that will be a greater tonic than any present could possibly be.
Paton will be so pleased when he hears that you made it, I do hope it will be possible for you to meet again when it is all over. It is rather wonderful that your diary and his letter got to you, please, if you remember, send us the diary you are working up, it will mean a lot to us to learn more about his experiences. There is always the thought now, that after all that, he might not get home in the end.
I hope your dental treatment is completed, two months of it sounds no picnic to me, although I have come across good Army dentists in 5 1/2 years of experience of them throughout the length and breadth of Western Command.
The church bells are just about to usher in the New Year. I would like to send you my very best wishes for 1945.
And thank you very much.
Yours sincerely, Jessica Brown.
1945 – 1947
29th January 1945 HQ Allied Command, CMF.
I suppose my letter must not have been very well written. I do not have twins, but one girl of 2 and another girl of two months. The first is named Christian and the second Roberta.
I was so glad to get your letter, now at last I know your married name. You see I lost the first letter you wrote so I was completely at a loss and decided to call you Miss Bennett and address it to Grove.
I was very interested to hear all of your husband’s adventures. As for that fellow John Sperney, I have never heard of him personally, but I can assure you that he would not have been arrested by the Italian authorities. As a matter of fact I think I read about him in the Union Jack. He must have been arrested by the British authorities and will, no doubt, be brought to court in London, like Joyce, Amory and others. So I am afraid there is nothing I
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can do over here.
Of course I know the Colletti family very well. The father had an American wife, and the three sons behaved very well during the Partisan period. Umberto, the eldest, fought against the Germans in the mountains near Florence and was captured and brought to Dachau where he died in a gas chamber. The youngest died fighting against some Black Shirts and the only one left alive is the second son who lived low during the German occupation and is now still alive. I think his wife must have had a baby, or it will be arriving very soon. What a coincidence that your husband should have been helped by them!!!
You give me no news of your friends and family. Do you remember when I was there in ’39 we went to a road house with some relation of yours who was in the RAF. What has become of him? And the boy who came here in Rome with the Imperial Airways?
My mother and father are OK, living in the country at Forino [? Ed.] as things are easier there in respect of food etc. They have been there ever since 1940. Magda is married to a Navy Officer, Antonio Monaco. He was in Tehran in 1941 as Naval Attache and when Persia was occupied by your troops, Magda and he were escorted to the Turkish frontier, 500 miles of nearly desert, terribly hot, no water and under tents. The result was that Magda lost the baby she was expecting. Now she and her husband are in Taranto where he is deputy chief of staff.
Rudolph has been very badly hit by this war. His brother Roderick (a naval officer) disappeared in the Eastern Mediterranean in July 1941 leaving a wife and sweet daughter, then of three months, and has never been heard of since, nor will I think. Then his mother was frightfully ill when he was away with his regiment in Greece. She was living at Forte dei Charni [? Ed.] where she had a house, a bit of ground and a pig and a cow as their income from America had been cut off. His uncle died there. During the occupation his eldest brother Edward was murdered by the SS for no reason at all and Rudolph lived for 25 days in a hole in the garden covered by turf and so saved his skin. Liberated by the 5th. Army (US) he acted for some time as liaison officer on the front and then was transferred to Rome where his mother had died as soon as he got there. So he is now completely alone and as he was very tied to his family he feels it very much. However, he still has two brothers living in America and I hope he will be able to go and pay them a visit. It will distract him and do him good.
Well, Brenda, all the very, very best to you all and I do hope we will all be able to meet in England next summer so that our respective husbands, wives and children may meet.
With my very best love. Ottino [? Ed.]
4th May 1945.
Judith Brenda Mary born in the Gables Maternity Hospital, Newcastle Upon Tyne.
7th May 1945 Banksfoot, Caversham, Reading.
Brenda, my dear.
I was so pleased to see that you had got a little girl and I do hope you had no complications this time, but that all goes well with you both.
I’m sure Ronnie must be delighted and I do think a “mixed pair” is the ideal.
I was up in Richmond a week ago with both children and had thought of trying to get in touch with you but Christopher developed mumps 2 days after we got there so everything was hopelessly upset. Anyway it wouldn’t have been much use as your show was so imminent, I’d rather forgotten when you expected the new member of the family.
[Digital page 116]
Isn’t it incredible to think that the war is at last over? I hardly realize it and find it very difficult to feel really joyful. One has lost too many friends and there is altogether too much grim suffering going on. And then the future looks so frightening, I wonder how we shall manage to get on with the Russians.
Why can’t people be allowed to sit back and enjoy their own back gardens instead of being dragged into war that so few people really want. It’s all so mad.
We ought to have had a lovely fortnight at Richmond but of course Christopher did spoil things, poor dear, he spent his 5th birthday in bed, he wasn’t at all rough thank goodness. Aurea is in quarantine now and has to miss 3 weeks of her new school which is most annoying. They are both in very good form.
Sammy was looking wonderfully fit, but getting very impatient not to be suited and not to have his rank back. I see Ronnie is captain, sickening, but there it is! How is Ronnie now? quite fit again I hope.
Do write when you are well enough, but, not before, and let me know if she is like Peter and what you are calling her and how you are all getting on etc. etc.
My people, who are living with me again, send their love and congratulations too.
Lots of love to you all. Karin.
Sammy would send you all the best too if he knew!!!!
16th January 1946. War Office.
Now that the time has come for your release from active military duty, I am commanded by the Army Council to express to you their thanks for the valuable services which you have rendered in the service of your country at a time of grave national emergency.
At the end of the emergency a notification will appear in the London Gazette (Supplement), granting you the honorary rank of Major. Meanwhile, you have permission to use that rank with effect from the date of your release.
I am, Sir, Your obedient Servant,
Major R L Cummins MC.
The Durham Light Infantry.
25th May 1947.
Cecilia Patience was born in Grove, Burton Bradstock.
Will you please remember
on Sunday the 25th. September 1949
when he will be ordained to the ministry of the Church
at Bury St. Edmunds by
The Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich,
and his work in the combined parishes of
Holy Trinity and St. Mary’s
at Bungay, Suffolk.