de Burgh, Hugo

Summary of Hugo de Burgh

Hugo de Burgh was a Lieutenant-Colonel, a PoW and the SBO [Senior British Officer] in Camp 49 Fontanellato. After WW2 he was Head of the Allied Screening Commission, where he travelled extensively throughout Italy trying to track down the Italian people that gave assistance to escaping British POWs so that they could be officially recognised by the British Government.

His story details his work across these areas, improving the mental fitness of the British soldiers in the camp to prepare them for any escape attempt that might be coming in the future, liaising with the Italian Prison Commandant, arranging the escape from the camp after the Italian Armistice and himself escaping to Switzerland after a perilous journey through the mountains from northern Italy. His escape is detailed in Blackwood’s Magazine Issue 1561, along with other articles in the Radio Times and New Statesman magazine, which are all included here.

With thanks also to The National Archives for their permission to use the PoW reports for Hugo de Burgh and Noel Burdett.

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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Given by Hugo de Burgh (Junior) to MSM Trust archives Jan. 2001

These notes by Colonel H.G. de Burgh are copies of originals found by chance in his house in Woodbridge by his son, H.W. de Burgh, Summer 2000.

1/ ‘Switzerland Invaded’. A talk given by Colonel H.G. de Burgh.
H. de B. headed up for a certain period the Allied Screening Commission responsible for seeking out and confirming the stories of those who helped POWs and making appropriate payments and ‘Alexander Certificates.

Outline of the mixed bag of POWs in Italy and the various conditions in Camps and then some of the many ways of getting to Switzerland. An insight into the ‘Milan Network’ organised, with the support of the Committee Nationale per Liberations, by Bacciagaluppi, married to an English woman with money provided by individuals and companies in the Milan area and using guides, including smugglers to get POWs into Switzerland by many routes. H. de B. believed there were some 40,000 refugees in Switzerland in 1944 of which some 3000 were ‘British’ – including the whole Commonwealth. (There are also American – often airmen.)

2/ Tour by Lt. Col [Lieutenant-Colonel] de Burgh (as Head of Allied Screening Commission) January ’47 to visit and pay several Italian ‘helpers.
16th J. Dinner party at La Speiza arranged by Major G. Lett.
(Inc. Ricci ? organiser of reunion 50 years later ?)
Report of two fishermen who had taken boats out to save two submariners. Had their nets confiscated by Germans.
17th Lunch again org. Lett (at Aulla ?) inc. Danny Bucchione (at 50th Anniversary). 18th/ Genova/Nervi tried to find one man ‘perhaps he has changed his name’. CHIAVARI to give Cert. then ‘into mountains. Turin 22nd Jan MILAN among many others meets Ing Bacciagaluppi and (Eng.) wife who had led the Milan group which helped some 1000 into Switzerland. (See own account in Italy. O 24th Padùa. (Concerned at this point about staff from Commission being demobbed and the expense of the tour which he was undertaking with Miss Addey ((WAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Air Force]?) as his interpreter. (Later she became Mrs de Burgh). Tries to get freeing of American vehicles very cheaply to Italian helpers. 28Th & 29th Jan Bologna – among officers met (At N. Eastern H.Q. [Head Quarters]) Captain Holdsworth. 29th Owing to heavy frost, snow and ice failed to visit Cervi family. Jeep crashes stays in Bologna until 3rd Feb. (Not able to keep appointment to meet the Bishop of Pontremoli.) and in end the two walk with haversacks but do in the end reach Cervi family. (See account by Lucy de Burgh (nee Addey) 5th Let La Spezia but dine with Letts. 6th Lunch at Viareggio and then to Lucca (at V.? presenting Nuns with 50,000 lire and director of Hospital. At Livorno tried to contact American Officer re ‘purchase of salvage’. Returned to ROME.
(Summary. Italians very pleased that people had bothered to visit them and thank them. A few suggested that a ‘decoration’ or ‘award’, would have been more welcome than some money. (Note by K.K. understood Br. Gove said could not do this as Italians were, originally enemy. However many families still in 2001 value their Alexander Certificates.)

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Switzerland Invaded. [Handwritten note 1000 metres = 3300 feet]

I called this Switzerland invaded and with a question mark at the end to explain to some extent the word invaded. And what I meant was that during the late war this little country was the bull’s eye of safety for people of all nations who came by land, by water and from the sky into the only sanctuary that there seemed to be in the world. By the various gateways across the frontier and by the mountain passes and also by places and routes where there were no passes they came; men, women and children of many nationalities. Many still remain on those mountain passes.

In 1946 I was in Italy as head of the Allied Screening Commission. This Commission had developed from something which was called the “Rome Organisation”, founded by a number of British officers who had escaped from prison camps and had hidden in the Vatican and in the City of Rome itself. During the occupation of Italy by the Germans this organisation had become efficient enough to be able to collect to themselves other escaped prisoners or airmen who had bailed out or crashed.

The main object of the Allied Screening Commission was to seek out and to recompense in some way the people of Italy who had, at the risk of their lives, assisted our men to escape from a further          period of imprisonment in German hands, A certain amount of the work of the Allied Screening Commission was to send up to the mountains and identify bodies of some of those prisoners who in escaping had failed to cross the mountains and who, months and even years after were found when the snow and ice gave them up or when

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someone by chance followed a route which was seldom used.

Altogether as far as I can remember, there were forty thousand escapers of various nationalities in Switzerland in 1944. Of this number some three thousand were British and by British I mean Australian, New Zealand, South African, Indian, Canadian, Cypriot, and many others. Before I talk about the crossing of the frontier I think that you should have a picture of the conditions from which the prisoners escaped and of course I can only talk about Italy. Our first camp was Bari and it was a transit camp where everybody from Africa came to be sorted out, examined and eventually, after varying periods, transferred to the permanent prisoner of war camps. Everyone came into this camp in a state of nervous depression and all sorts of psychological complexes, the main one being escape, to escape to anywhere, to escape at any time, irrespective of clothes, irrespective of food, irrespective of any and without thought or planning of any sort or kind.

And many tried it, some carrying huge haversacks of food which other prisoners had given to them, starving themselves to do so!

Some with desert sores, which most of us had; some wounded; most of them suffering from the debility caused by lack of food and the conditions in North Africa before being transferred to Italy; and few had any boots. Some grew beards, with the idea of disguising themselves. They imagined that beards were grown by Italians.

No one dreamed of the difficulties, no one thought of the Italian fear of the Germans and the Italian terror of the Fascist.

None of them ever thought how conspicuous they would be as they did not know the customs and habits of the country. They forgot

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that it was necessary to know the language and everyone thought in those early days that just a promise of money from the English would be sufficient for the Italians to hide them. They had great ideas of taking boats across the Adriatic to join Mihailovitch but they forgot that Italy is almost an island and that the coast line was extremely well guarded both by the Italian Navy and by the Germans and that no boats whatever could put to sea except those very strictly controlled fishermen without E boats and aeroplanes chasing them at once. There were also hair brained plans for the capturing of air fields without arms, without clothes and without even knowledge of what type of planes would be found there.

Gradually prisoners got sane and began to plan on the basis of knowledge gained from those who had escaped from the camps which was always easy and who had been caught very soon and brought back. It was gradually realised that it was quite impossible to escape without the assistance of the people of the country and that the people of the country being in the grip not only of their own Fascist dictatorship but also of a dominant foreign power were far too frightened to help any escaping prisoners.

From these transit camps all the prisoners were gradually removed to permanent camps, some of them by seniority, some camps by nationality, for instance Australians were put in one camp, New Zealanders in another, the naval officers were separated and so on. However in all the permanent camps there were organisations for escape. These had to be controlled by the senior British

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officer and his staff, so that irresponsible people breaking out of camps and unable to get very far could not spoil well-planned escapes which had a very good chance of success. Of course in every camp people dug tunnels, collected all the paraphernalia, for escapes, made clothing, forged passes, and the organisation for all these multifarious activates obtained in each community of prisoners of war. There were many stories but most of them have been published in the various books written by prisoners of war; how the tunnels were lit by electric light, and ventilated by fans. All stolen from the theatrical people who were allowed these effects by the Italian guards. There were the troubles of disposing of the soil from the tunnels. Two cases I can tell you where soil from underneath the building was taken up into the attics, and was only discovered when two people tried to hide in the attics, there was too much weight for the ceilings and they and the soil cataracted down on to the Italian guards. Another case was when the soil was hidden underneath the potatoes which we had bought for the camp. When the potatoes began to run short, the Commandant was asked for another supply. He said that he wished to see how much we had left. And on visiting our potato heap he saw that it was quite large and refused us any more. It was suddenly realised that we had to get him out of the cellar as quickly as possible because it had been forgotten that underneath the top layer of potatoes was the- whole of the soil which had been dug out of the tunnel just underneath where the Commandant was standing. We had to go without potatoes for quite a long time.

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There were many ways of escape and so now we come to the routes by which people crossed into safety. Mostly they were by boat across the lakes from hide-out to hide-out in the mountains on either side and the prisoners escaping were passed from agent to agent in  small parties.

In the north of Italy the great work of assistance to freedom was carried out by the CLN or National Committee of Liberation. At the head of this committee in Milan was my friend, and indeed the gallant friend or many, escapers Signor Bacciagaluppi, a distinguished engineer whose wife is English.

The centre of this organisation was in Milan and its work began in September 1943, just one month after the Armistice between the Allies and Italy. After this Armistice some thousands of Allied prisoners of war were wandering about the country hunted and destitute. These men, in a country absolutely strange to them and unable to speak the language of the people, were indeed lost. Had it not been for the Italians who risked their life and their property to assist these escapers, few indeed would have survived the arduous struggle to the safety in Switzerland.

The main centre of the CLN [National Committee of Liberation] activities in the north of Italy was Milan. The work of this centre was liaison with the border agents and directly with guides. By border agents and guides I mean of course those people who knew the frontier between Italy and Switzerland.

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It was, as you will all know, necessary to have continual reports on the conditions of the passes; both in regard to weather, ice and snow, and to the hostile patrols and guards of the enemy.

The centre in Milan also dealt with the organised administration. Paying the guides, arranging dates, and collecting places for the safe delivery (conduct?) of parties. Disguises and false papers. Clothing and food. There had to be passwords and signals and furthermore a strict watch kept on the various agents and guides, from the centre, by means of persons pretending to be themselves prisoners of war.

The most difficult period was during the last three months of 1943, when over one thousand prisoners of war were successfully assisted over the frontier into Switzerland.

In December 1943 an important agent was caught by the Germans in Milian, necessitating a re-organisation of the entire scheme. (This agent was shot).

All the organisation had to be carried out with the utmost secrecy. Not only were the German armies in occupation; and most bitter against the Italians: but Fascists were still active so that no man in Italy could wholly trust his neighbour.

Funds, as always, were very necessary and were mostly supplied by the main headquarters of CLN [National Committee of Liberation] in weekly remittances.

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In some small measure private individuals and firms subscribed.

The Allies sent small sums through allied agents and later one million nine hundred thousand lire in gold was sent to the organisation, out owing to the arrest and execution of the chief of the CLN [National Committee of Liberation], Dario Tarantino, almost all this money was lost.

The main expense incurred in the prisoners was the purchase of heavy footwear and eight hundred pairs of mountain boots were bought. Nine hundred overcoats were obtained from varying sources and of course a very considerable amount of food. When possible the boots and coats were given back at the end of the journey to the frontier so that they could be used again for the next convoy of escapers.

Most of the lines of escape being in hard country, that is to say over the mountains, to avoid patrols and guards, food and medical supplies were scarce and they had to be sent up from the central organisation and sub-organisations controlled by Bacciagaluppi in Milan.

In regard to documents there were identity cards of all kinds, release papers, permits for every conceivable thing and Yugoslav and Montenegran passports. There were ration cards for every nationality. All these had to be kept up to date because of the changing regulations in each country and because of the arrest and frequent execution of those persons who were captured with them when they were found not to be correct.

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So efficient was the organisation that even mail from prisoners of war to their families was arranged for and letters got through.

The crossing of the Swiss frontier was in the main through fixed localities making use of pre-arranged centres and with the help of local guides or especially trained personnel.
And so we come now to a few of the routes taken by the escapers into Switzerland.

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VAL VIGEZZO: occasionally and without pre-arranged local organisation this route was used with guides recruited from Domodossola by the CLN [National Committee of Liberation]. The Swiss frontier was reached by using the Simplon railway to Domodossola, the prisoners being fitted out and disguised by the peasants. From Domodossola they were taken up the secondary railway to RE. During all this time the railway employees concealed and assisted the escaping prisoners in every way. On leaving RE they went on foot for about four hours in the mountains of Camedo and over the pass to the frontier. Some fifty escapers went through by this way in September and October 1943 after which it was only used in emergency because it was dangerous country and the Germans had sent their SS [Schutzstaffel] troops up to watch the frontier.

LIMIDARIO, 7000 feet or 2,200 metres: via Intragna and Val Conobino, used from October 1943 to March 1945. This also had to be given up after eight Yugoslavs and some English and Americans were taken in February 45 by the Germans. It was re-opened after two months and became one the main passes with permanent organisation for prisoners of war services by a partisan unit called Casare Battist, which provided armed escorts and refuges for parties of 20 prisoners at a time. These parties were supplied with food, clothing, passes etc. and stayed about 15 to 20 days depending on safety from enemy activity and also on the condition of the very difficult pass of Limidario. From Intragna to the border was a march of some 18 hours and there was much snow during these months. It was therefore an extremely difficult journey and a considerable proportion oi the journey was through dangerous territory uncontrolled by the partisans. It shows much credit to the partisans and CLN [National Committee of Liberation]

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that out of 250 prisoners of war who passed over this route only three were captured by the Germans and only three partisans were killed. To Intragna also came parties from Laveno and Calde, rowed across the lake.

LUINO: from Monte Lemo (Runo) to Astano in Switzerland, used from 1943, September, to March 44. About 100 prisoners of war were helped over this difficult route which amongst others had to be abandoned in early 1944 after the arrest and deportation to Germany of several of the guides who were helping the men over the pass. Their main route was by boat to just north of Luino. Thence after a five hours’ march they arrived on the frontier of Switzerland.

There were many lake crossings and on either side a great deal of hard marching over the mountains. In lower Como the base of operations for this expedition was Lecco and Pusiano. From these two places escapers were rowed across the lake by boatmen. But many, to avoid Como itself went along the frontier side and under took about six hours mountain walk to Carate and thence across the frontier. In the upper Como there was about twelve hours’ mountain march over by Porlezza or San Bartolomeo in the Val Cavargna. Only accessible to very fit men with proper mountain equipment. This route was used from October 1943 to March 1944, this year there were arrests and the route was disused. Furthermore some were lost in the snow. About 150 went over this pass of which some five or six fell into trouble and died there. And afterwards their bodies were found in the snow. Some were taken prisoner by the Germans owing to the treachery of the guides.

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CHIAVENNA: The Forcola pass, 3,300 metres (about 10,000 feet). West of Chiavenna with about 5 hours walking but very dangerous owning to land slides. About 20-30 prisoners went over of which one was lost in a crevasse.

VALCHI, TIRANO, BIANZONO: prisoners came from Bergamo by rail from Lecco and places nearby, but sometimes they came on foot through the Brembone and Canonica valleys to cross the frontier by Paschiav.

This route was closed after some time owing to many arrests and intensifying surveillance by the Germans which led to prisoners of war endeavouring to cross the Bernina (4000 metres) or the Monte Forio nearly 4,000 metres where most of those few who did try to escape by that way were lost. Their bodies were found in the snow in 1947. That gives you a fairly good idea of the general organisation for the escape of prisoners into Switzerland and the CLN [National Committee of Liberation] sent over a total of 1,865 escaped prisoners of war, of which 1,297 were British, 313 were Slavs and 255 were Allies of varying nationalities. Before the CLN was organised those very gallant people who tried to help us there were of course other escapees ever the mountains. Those escapes were unguided. They were undertaken by people who knew nothing of snow or mountains. Some of them Australians, New Zealanders, Indians, undertook an entirely unknown venture in their struggle to regain our own forces in their fight for freedom.

Most of those escapes took place before October 1943 by which time the gallant CLN [National Committee of Liberation] had become organised. There were also many other people who did not come in touch with any organisation to assist in any way whatsoever and made their way over these

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mountains, and they came over by the hard way through snow and ice which many of them had never seen before and quite a large number of them have remained in the snow and ice. They came up the valleys of the streams which run down from the Alps to the Val d’Aosta and they came over the Théodule pass, over the Breithorn, over the Lyskamm and many of them over the Monte Moro towards Gornergrat and Zermatt down the glaciers. They came, some of them, in uniform some of them dressed as civilians; very few had any mountain boots and none had any mountain equipment or clothes to withstand the climate which they were going through.

It differed of course in each camp as to who got away, and where they tried to escape to. Some broke out of the camps, some were taken by the Germans and jumped out of trains. Of these one or two managed to arrive in Switzerland, others died.

Naturally the further north the PW camp was, the more the inmates’ thoughts turned to Switzerland as a refuge against the 400 odd miles through the German lines to our own troops in the south of Italy.

There are many stories about how the various camps got away and I can only tell you the story of my own. We were housed in a large building which I understood had been an orphanage in a small villa, called MONTANELLATO, between Parma and Fdenza. For some well before the final escape we had been working very hard to make friends with the Italian guards of all ranks and had succeeded to such an extent that when the crucial moment came I was able to march 600 British officers out to concealment nearby with the assistance of the Commandant, Colonel Vicedomini of the Bersagliere, who afterwards died as the result of his treatment during his imprisonment by the Germans for letting us go.

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I do not propose to go into my own experiences of escape because they have already been published in Blackwoods Magazine, but if anybody would like to ask any questions about it I can answer them at the end of this talk.

During the escapes, many people were picked up by the Germans on approaching the frontier because they were conspicuous in some way or other. Mainly it was because their boots were wrong and people are apt to forget that in escaping it is necessary to wear the boots which are boots of the country, mountain or otherwise, in which you are.

But everybody of course wishes to wear his own comfortable boots and although he may have the rest of his disguise complete, it is his boots which will give him away. There were other cases where people who had learnt how to ask for railway tickets were asked by the clerk some question, or the clerk even said good-morning or some entirely innocuous question, whereupon the escaper lost his nerve and bolted, causing a sensation which led to his arrest by the Carabinieri. And so in those thousands of escapes it was very often a great gamble where one got through or some slight mistake destroyed all ones plans.

When the Germans were retreating from Italy they were vindictive to their old allies and they created terror in the small and peaceful villages of Italy, who really had no interest in the war at all. They robbed, they raped and they burnt. And so into Switzerland in addition to the soldiers who were escaping from prisoner of war camps, there came women and children and old men, fleeing from their burning homes and their destroyed villages and their murdered relatives. There are so many stories that it is very difficult to give you a pick but

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there are one or two stories which may be of interest of you. There was a small girl of nine or ten who came along. Her terrified mother brought her to the frontier and having arranged some contact on the other side, the small girl was told by signals how to crawl underneath the electrified wire and put herself into the hands of some Swiss. Her mother was unable to come. There also came into Zermatt while we were there a mother whose husband had been murdered and she had crossed the Theodule pass with her two small children and herself pregnant.

Their feet were frostbitten, they were half-starved. Italian officers came over, some of them with their skis and all their clothes in their rucksacks and they talked to us about what winter sports they were going to enjoy and how they wished to meet the Princess of Piedmont so that they could arrange to live comfortably in pleasant houses.

The Swiss allowed them to go on with their arrangements and then when they finally left for their internment camp they removed all their winter sports equipment from them. There was one case where a brother officer had fallen down a crevasse and his friend volunteered to go down and stay with him to keep him warm until tackle was brought to hoist them out. It was not in the least certain weather any ropes would ever come to bring them up again and this very gallant officer was perfectly prepared to go down and remain with the one who had fallen. I met then both afterwards very badly knocked about when they had been rescued by the Swiss. Then there were the Australians and New Zealanders mostly men who had never seen mountains before and certainly not glaciers and they came over with their feet bleeding, wrapped in portions of their clothing cut up to save their feet but suffering a great many of them from frostbite. Few of these people who came over had had food for many days. To take the other side, there were some amusing incidents. One or two of them may interest you.

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There was Julian Hall, who, when I was seeing the last of our people away, I found within a very short distance of the main road where German patrols were expected at any time, walking up and down by the hill sidereading Shakespeare with all his obviously British officer’s drill, shaving kit and brown shoes laid out in the sun to dry. He seemed quite astonished when I was angry with him and told him to get away into the fields and hide in the grass. Then there were the two officers who struggled across country for a long time and got sick of it and decided that they had not seen any enemy and jumped into a road almost on the top of a German sentry. The sentry called a Corporal and they were taken into a farmyard, and ordered to do what happens in every army in this world, peel potatoes. Then they decided that everything was finished and they were quite sure there was nothing more to do about it so they peeled potatoes. When the job was finished they stood up, rising to their feet and were somewhat astonished at being taken by the scruff of the neck by the large German Corporal, given each a kick on their behind and sent off down the road, having been mistaken for local Italians. Then there was the story of Colonel Cooper, an enormous Australian who, having arrived in Switzerland was put into a cell where he found a fair-haired lady sitting by the stove. There were one or two chairs in the room and some straw in the corner and a Swiss sentry. Colonel Cooper and the lady talked for some time and she told him that her husband had started off with her to cross the frontier to escape but he was weak man and when it came to crossing and climbing through the barbed wire fence, he lost his nerve and she said he had “niente coraggio”. As time went on, Colonel Cooper wanted

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to sleep. And so he said to the sentry that he wished to be taken to the room where he was to sleep. The sentry pointed to the straw lying in the corner and when Colonel Cooper expostulated with him and said that this room was for the lady, the Swiss sentry looked at him with a grin and said “What, niente coraggio?”.

And what happened to us all when we arrived across the frontier into Switzerland? Those who arrived first were collected by the Swiss army mountain patrols. We were most efficiently looked after with food and clothes. Those who were suffering from injuries or exhaustion were sent to hospital or to places of rest; others had had long periods of waiting in Italy hiding and were passed through by the organisation of the CLN [National Committee of Liberation] etc. to to our consuls in St. Moritz, Lugano, Locarno, Bellinzona and so to Berne and to other places assigned by the Swiss to the various nationalities.

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[Handwritten notes at top of page: Some of those who gave money to White [word unclear]themselves and some who were helped by British generals.

To finish up I would like to tell you something of what the Italians did for us and what they suffered in doing so. I can only tell you a few incidents. There was Signor Franciosi, a lawyer of Parma who protected two or three British officers, at least of two of whom led the Partisans of that area. Franciosi is a very sick man and indeed may not now be alive owing to his being tortured by the SS[Schutzstaffel] and the Fascists for his part in assisting our people. There is Colonel Vicedomini, Colonel of the Bersagliere who was Commandant of my last camp, who had a very difficult thing to making up his mind whether to remain loyal to the Italian government and the German army of occupation whom he hated or to assist us, English for who he had the greatest admiration.

It took me a little time to persuade him that his loyalty was on our side because his country was concluding an Armistice with us.

Then I had persuaded him, he gave every assistance to us in the organisation of our escape. And finally when I tried to persuade him to come with us, he said, “No, I have done what I can now my duty is with my soldiers” and he added rather sadly, “I do not know whether they will stay with me.” He was arrested by the Germans and brutally beaten and eventually died in Milan.

I was able to obtain for this gallant gentleman a military funeral attended by British generals and I was able to do something to help his widow and children. There is another case of an old farmer who lives near Reggio Emilia. He had a big farm. He was happy with his wife and seven sons to work on the farm. Two of the sons were married and had small children. Some British, and American prisoners were struggling to escape came to his farm to

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ask for protection and for food. He and his seven sons protected those escapers and although the sons were shot by the SS[Schutzstaffel] all seven or them, none betrayed the Allied prisoners. The mother died of the shock and the old man is left now with two daughters in law and some small children and was you can imagine shocked, but undaunted. We were able to give him a few thousand pounds to recommend him for a decoration and even the Italians honoured him gold medals but as he said rather sadly to us, “This does not very much recompense for my seven sons. I now have no one to work my farm and I am old.” And as we left, almost with tears in our eyes, I congratulated him again on what he and his like had done for us. But he said simply, ” I and others like me did this for humanity, because it was our Christian duty to aid our fellow men in distress, whoever they might be.”

Lastly there was Azzari of Rieti, a pastry cook. When we met him first he had been badly injured but cheerful and smiling always. He must have been very cheerful and smiling before he was tortured. His foot was crushed by a rifle butt when he was arrested, because he knew, and was supposed to know, of the hiding place of some British prisoners. He refused to speak or to give any knowledge of any British prisoners so they sliced open his leg and rubbed in acid. This leg, which had already been crushed by the rifle butt, and he said to me that even in the agony of the wounds, which in 1947 were still open, he did not give anyone away. They then injected him with a mixture of drugs and he told me “they tried to make me mad so that I should talk and give away the hiding places, bit I did not talk and now

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I think he has had his leg amputated and he says that in regard to his refusing to talk, the drugs have made it a little difficult sometimes for him to remember”.

Then we arrived in Switzerland in our various ways and we were accepted as friends and as responsible people who could look after ourselves. The Swiss people allowed us to send our younger members to their universities. Business firms opened their doors to those officers and men engaged in the same lines of business in England. Country houses and cottages invited us to stay in small parties and entertained us in every way they could. Furthermore the Swiss Government and the Swiss army did us the honour to trust us to run our own show without the ordinary guards which were normally placed on escapers in their country.

We, the “evadés de guerre”, have a debt of gratitude to the Italians of all grades of society who risked life and property to save us from the Germans. And we have a debt of gratitude to the Swiss who gave to many bewildered and exhausted fugitives safety, hospitality, and a new lease of life.

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[Handwritten note at top of page: Example of tour by g.s.o. I]

Draft notes on tour by Lt Col [Lieutenant-Colonel] H.G. De Burgh, visiting Italian helpers, etc. in January 1947.

1. Left Rome on 16th January 1947. Arrived La Spezia 2030 hours. Dinner party arranged by Major. Gordon LETT; Prefect, Dr MOCCIA, with wife and daughter; Colonel RICCI, who knew a lot of POW’s in the mountains, and is a member of the Military Tribunal of Spezia; Major BERTONELLI, who was a PW in INDIA and a cousin of Admiral BERTONELLI, who is up for a Grade III as well as his niece. He (the Major) is Sindaco of the SINAGO Commune.

2. 17th January. Dr PERRATI whom we tried to find, had given his address as TORPIANA, but has now moved to LERICI. He was recommended by LETT, and he gave a lot of assistance and was imprisoned. He is down for investigation by IRVING-BE and KELLY (results to be seen later).

MICHELE Margherita. On Dec 18th 1946 a letter from LETT regarding her and also regarding GRIGLOTTI and also SASSANINI Gioberta. Also a note about Singora SHIDONI (CIDONI?) from G.H. FENDER, whose address we have in the file. It was handed in to the Commune a year ago, but they tore it up and the note is to give this person a certificate. Then there is Singora FABRI Danteo fu Pietro of FORNOLI, Commune of AULLA.
Who was away when the paging officers went up, and he went down to ROME but apparently arrived on a holiday and there was no officer present. The letter from him is dated 24.1.46.
Certificate presented to a Naval Officer.
Interviewed Sindaco in the office and the Press. Informed the Press of functions of Allied Screening Commission. At first not interested and afterwards took down very large number of notes and extremely interested. Explained to him that British and American Governments were backing in sterling and the money (if anything in papers get from Major LETT on way back).
PINDARO, Enrico, Francesco, and Domenico, of CABRIMARE, SPEZIA, who assisted two British submarine ratings, who were caught in a mine net. Got them out, gave them a boat and got them ashore, and all their boats and nets were taken by the Germans in reprisal and they are now destitute. We must try to trace through

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the British Admiralty, the official numbers, left by these people DOCOLLETTO, Dino, Sindaco, Via NAPOLI 48. Possibility of issuing a certificate but we must check up in the instructions as to whether we can issue a certificate or not.
ROSSI Carlo. Paid 4,000.
GINNESE Nello: Via MonfaIcona, CHIAPPA. Handed his claim into the Commune in 1946 and has heard no more about it. Was in prison Camp, FONTANELLATO, and assisted prisoners. Possibility of giving him a certificate.
Several persons put in claims for the assistance of Italian escapers which were turned down.

3. Luncheon party arranged by Major Gordon LETT:
Baroness MASSOLA. Her son, Count MASSOLA. Her sister,
Miss Sells.
The Sindaco, Sig. DICOLLETTO.
Signor Danielli BUCCHIONE, of LA CALICE. (assisted Major LETT and others) and Signora BUCCHIONE.
Dottore FENATO arrived about 1500 hrs to enquire about his claim. His address, Via Roma 43, LERICI, La Spezia.

4. 18th JANUARY.
Proceeded to GENOA/NERVI. Two nights. Met Major IRVING-BELL, at the 2Columbia”. Also Signor BREGANTE, of GENOA.
Spent a lot of time trying to find Colonel TRAVERSO, of Corso Firenze. Address obviously wrong. Unable to contact him. Possible he has changed his name. There was a Colonel FONTANA, of Via PERTINACCI 3, who had helped prisoners and everybody knew him. (Another Traverso lived at Corso Firenze, 14).

5. 19th January.
CHIAVARI. Presented Signora SCALE with her certificate.
She requested information as to whether her husband has been put in for an award (check up).
Then into the mountains to present Don Luca CELLA with his certificate. After looking for him at his village, BRIGNOLO, found him at REGGOAGLIO.

6. 20th January. Again searched for Colonel TRAVERSO without success.
American Consulate, in regard to persons requiring passports to go to AMERICA. The Americans have given a quota of 5,000 passports per year to the Italian foreign Office, who are

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entirely responsible for giving these passports. After passports are given a guarantee is repaired from somebody in America to assure that persons going there will not ever be a responsibility to the American Government.
Samples of the forms were obtained from the Consul General and it is necessary for the Allied Screening Commission to get in touch with the Italian Foreign Office and endeavour to arrange for the passports. (D’ALAURO, FRANCIOSI, PARETI).

The LEONE’s to dinner, who helped British, Australian, and New Zealand prisoners in CHAMPLUC to get over the Alps.
Searched for other helpers and important persons but as the weather was so bad, and time was short, it was impossible to trace the addresses of some of these people.

8. 22nd January.
Arrived at the Diana Hotel, MILAN. Arranged cocktail party for following helpers, which was held on the 23rd: unfortunately Com. BOZZI was unable to come.
Signor and Signora GANDINI. Son.
Signor RESTA.
Signora BEOCCHI.
Signor PARETI.
Mr. HIGGS, British Vice Consul, and Mrs. HIGGS.

9. 24th January.
Mrs. VICEDOMINI and Mr. SALA called at 0915 hrs with reference to her business.
10. PADUA.
Interviewed the Chief of Staff, “A” Branch in regard to news that officers on monthly agreement had to be demobilised almost at once. GHQ [General Head Quarters] knew nothing whatever about this.
Rang Aö9, who also knew nothing. Required where information came from and what authority there is for it.

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Telephoned orders to G-2 [General Staff Officer Grade 2] that on no account is any action to be taken without my personal authority while still active with [word unclear].

11. Saw Colonel BULKLEY, about Captain RUSSELL! He stated that the Navy had informed him that Russell had had a great deal to drink which obviously he could not stand and thought had been the cause of the trouble.

12. General note on the Journey.
As already pointed out, expenses are extremely high, living in civilian hotels and owing to long distances, having a large number of people to see, a great deal of searching to find addresses which are not always correct or people have moved, necessitates longer stays in various places. In view of difficulties of transport it has been necessary to ensure the trip going through owing to appointments in various places to take two cars with necessary drivers and which has also added to the expenses.

The expenses of a tour of this kind can easily be met and answered for by the amount of money allowed for a number of claims which have been assessed at certain rates owing to the helpers concerned being not interested, their financial position being such as not to required the money. It is suggested that any higher expenses of contacts, etc. could easily be written off against assessment of these claims in bulk.

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26th January. On Sunday met Captain Muirhead, who was a prisoner of war in Switzerland after having escaped from Italy.
Friend of Franciosi Jose, Professor of Modena, who helped him and Leslie Nathanson. Was very interested in the work of Allied Screening Commission and did good work in telling him what we were doing.

27th. To Padua for appointment with Financial Advisor (F.A.) on the question of retrospective freeing of vehicles to Italian helpers. Agreed with him to ask Brigadier Nixon on his visit to London to go into this matter, to telegraph the result after discussing with Disposals, both to me and to F.A. If it was impossible to make this matter retrospective, Financial Advisor would take up for me the question of what reduction in prices could be arranged between myself and him according to the capacity to pay and position of the helper concerned.
Interviewed Major Field-Fisher on subject of Miss Davis joining JAG [Judge Advocate General]! PA [Personal Assistant] visited Chief Commander Gibson, head of ATS [Auxiliary Territorial Service]. Proceeded Bologna.

28th, 29th. Bologna. Visited Northern Area HQ [Head Quarters]. Saw the following officers and talked to section staff:-
Captain Holdsworth,
Captain Bertolani.
Captain Brown,
Captain Kelly,
Lieutenant Boyd,
Lieutenant Jannicelli,
Lieutenant D’Alauro.

29th. Owing to heavy frost, snow and ice, failed in attempt to reach family Cervi near Reggio Emilia, and Professor Franciosi at Modena. Skidded and crashed into ditch in a jeep. Had already made one attempt to reach Cervi farm at Gattatico, but having bad battery in the Chevrolet unable to proceed. Owing to crash, somewhat shaken. Remained in Bologna resting until 3rd February, during which time again visited section, and saw members of staff and officers.

3rd Unable to keep long-standing appointment with Major Lett to visit the Bishop of Pontremoli. On the way located the Cervi family in their farm. Presented certificates and vaglias which I think did a great deal of good.

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A lot of snow and roads very slippery with ice. After leaving Parma, the roads got worse and climbing the mountains Miss Addey and I got out and walked in front leading the column, as it was impossible to see in the fog, for a considerable distance.
Eventually owing to darkness and snow it was impossible to proceed further than Berceto where we found a small hotel already occupied by a number of truck drivers whose trucks were stuck in the snow at varying distances up the pass.
Remained there one night in bitter cold and misery and being completely cut off by telephone or any other communication, decided that if there was no other means of progress the next day we would walk to Pontremoli.
It snowed heavily all night, and it was impossible to move the cars, partly for this reason and partly because heavy trucks were blocking the roads, and therefore the snow-ploughs were unable to get through to clear them.

4th. The following day, at about mid-day, we started to walk, Miss Addey and I, leaving the cars at Berceto, carrying a certain amount of equipment in rucksacks and haversacks. After an extremely cold, wet and tiring journey on ice and sometimes slush, we arrived at Montelungo at 1730 hrs and went into the Trattoria to rest before completing the next 13 kilometres.
However, after a short time and making friends with some interesting partisans and locals, they told us there was a truck going to Pontremoli and we were able to get a lift, (Note: 1000 lire), with a number of other people to the hotel Principe where we arrived at 1900 hrs on the 5th, very wet and very cold. But morale extremely high! Somewhat sore due to our bruises after the jeep crash a few days before. A number of people we met had been prisoners in England, America and France and Africa, and we had an extremely interesting time learning their experiences.
They all seemed slightly astonished at the two lunatics in British uniform who had walked over the mountains. Stayed the night of the 4th at Pontremoli with a view to contacting the Bishop the following day.

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5th. Telephoned to Major Lett’s office, but unable to contact him. Left message with secretary. Unable to get through to Rome or Bologna. Cars arrived at mid-day. In the afternoon tried to call on the Bishop but missed him unfortunately. Left for La Spezia at 4.30 p.m. Major and Mrs. Lett to dine. Hotel Firenze. We both feeling stiff and very tired.

6th. In the morning to Major Lett’s office, where I discussed various cases with him and also the matter of the giving out of certificates in Pontremoli with the suggested date of the 1st of March.
Went to Lucca, lunching at Viareggio on the way, presenting the nuns with 50,000 lire, and met the Colonel Director of the hospital, who was very pleasant and wanted us to dine and said any time I liked I could have a room there when I wanted to go back. Note: next time we go take cigarettes and tobacco to sick Italian soldiers. Dined with Major and Mrs Lett.

7th. Driver from Bologna section (name?) taken ill and left my driver to look after him and started for Rome 1015 with Miss Addey. At Livorno endeavoured to contact Colonel Ela, Salvage Department, USA, in regard to purchase of salvage for helpers and for Victor Farrell.
Contacted Ela’s staff and made arrangements for introductions to him. Dined Grossetto 1930, and arrived in Rome in pouring rain and very wet roads about 0130 a.m. on the 8th.

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In general, the whole trip was a very great success. All the people contacted expressed themselves as very pleased to see us and everyone we met said that the personal contacts made were of a great deal more value in a great many cases than the money or anything else that we gave them. One or two people mentioned that it would make a great deal of difference if a certain number of decorations or awards could be given pretty soon and I consider that this is an essential thing and that we should write to the War Office, taking up my previous recommendations that this should be done as these think as already pointed out, mean much more to the people who helped us than the simple giving of comparatively small amounts of money.

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[Handwritten letter from Major-General R.H.L Wheeler to Hugo de Burgh’s son dated 6th November 1984]

Dear de Burgh,
Of course. Delighted to give and help I can.
Your father was a great hero of mine. Both in the camp, and when we fled it, he showed true leadership – strength of character alone, for he had none of the trappings of the “System” to fall back on.
I will send you a few notes, and

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if they cover what you have in mind we can go on from there.
Delighted to see you if you feel it necessary.
One delicate point, confidential to you for the moment. Messages had been received by most camps that we should stay put and await the Allied troops. Some camps did so and were swept up by the Germans.
Graham would have none of this and led us forth, disobeying the order.
Would officialdom take exception to disobeying this message system.
It was ridiculous anyway.
Yours sincerely
Richard Wheeler

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[Handwritten letter from Major-General R.H.L Wheeler to Hugo de Burgh’s son dated 7th December 1984]

Dear de Burgh,
I have searched my memory and now send these unadorned notes.
I don’t know if they are what you want but at least they have given me the chance to record something of your father, and the feelings we had for him. I think it was his “[2 words unclear] Hour”, – during that period he was a great man fulfilling a role for which he was uniquely fitted.

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As I recall it, not a great number actually got free; but this is not surprising. “Escaping” is a technique which has to be learnt, and to do this one needs time, and, above all, luck.

Still we tied down a lot of the enemy.

One condition. This is not likely to arise, but I don’t want my name mentioned as the author or giver of information without discussing the matter. Old soldiers shouldn’t talk!

But your father was a great man to whom we all owed a lot; I am happy to have said so.

Yours sincerely,
Richard Wheeler

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[Handwritten letter from Major-General R.H.L Wheeler to Hugo de Burgh’s son dated 31st December 1984]

Dear de Burgh,

Here are the answers to your questions, in the same numerical order.

On reflection I’m not too sure about Tyndale – Biscoès reign a d character – take it with reservations, I can’t have seen much of him, though I reckon I do remember him taking a roll-call parade.

Signed R.W.

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[Handwritten letter from Major-General R.H.L Wheeler to Hugo de Burgh’s son dated 8th January 1985]

Dear de Burgh,

I have been searching among some old papers, and now forward the report I wrote on G. de B’s work; for the War Office – who didn’t do much about it that I can remember.
The report is satisfactorily done to my memories. But I note the interpreter, whose wife we visited was called Connie.

Richard Wheeler

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[Handwritten note: Lt. Col [Lieutenant-Colonel] in camp]

[MAJOR GENERAL] R.H.L. WHEELER CB [Command of the Most Honourable Order of Bath] CBE [Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire]
Sent these 3 documents to H.W. de Burgh,
Winter 1984-5

Please note that he did not want his name mentioned publicly without reference first being made to him.

1/ A seemingly official report by above on Colonel de Bergh for whom he was ‘intelligence Officer at Font.
He emphasises in this and correspondence with H. de Burgh Junior how de Burgh smartened up the inmates of the Camp, made them respect the Italians and generally boosted morale and paved the way for the orderly exit from the Camp.
2/ General Report on Camp, inmates, escapes etc.
3/ Replies to queries by H de B.
4/ Extracts from other reports on de B.
Official Report of de B.’s capture, de B. in hospital at the Lucca Hospital for POWs for 5 months.
5/ List of Italian Personnel. Commandant and Interpreter very pro English.
6/ Helped to Milan by individual /British. (H de Burgh).
7/ Undated account of the general exit from Fontanellato by luseppe Sambataro.

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G de B. = Graham de Burgh.

Notes on Fontanellato 1943 Pt 1

1. Said to have been a nunnery. Good buildings. Large number of smallish rooms – 8/10 officers in each. Central hall (big) where we hold plays, concerts etc. Central dining room. Big sandy exercise area.

2. Perhaps 400 officers with 100 O.R. [Other Ranks] as orderlies etc. Fantastic variety – city men, priests, dentists, doctors, regular soldiers; John de Bendern (amateur golf champion) who walked around with a teapot full of chianti; Bragg a Wing-Commander who swam ashore over a mile after being shot down, had never swam more than 50 yards before. Donald Pain, Beaufighter pilot; Donald Nott regular Worcesters DSO [Distinguished Service Order] MC [Military Cross], etc. etc. (See Eric Newby’s books especially Love & War in the Apennines).

3. Doctors worked out the calorie intake was so low that we should hardly move. But fitness was a shibboleth. Walking round wire every evening (anti-clockwise); running up & down stairs; athletic meetings (Cavalry vs R.A.F. [Royal Air Force] etc.) P.T. [Physical Training] classes led by Roncaroin (International Rugger player) especially using a towel for stretching work.

4. Education classes on every possible subject. Bridge, sometimes all day. Poker schools for very high stakes indeed, through I.O.U’s. Language classes.

5. No discipline, slovenly dress. Beardo. A great deal of sunbathing, naked, “Roll Over” an uproar.


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6. Entry of G. de B. from hospital.
Took over S.B.O. (Senior British Officer) immediately; claiming a small bed/sitting room for himself. Very trim in desert gear; and slacks, battle dress jacket, polka-dot scarf, tidy hat, small metal rank badges.
Walked round whole camp, silent, eyebrows raised, inimitable half smile of quizzical outrage which said “Yes, I understand, but this will all stop immediately”.

7. He organised the whole camp into Coy’s [Company], commanded by Lt/Cols [Lieutenant-Colonel]. Appointed an Adjutant (and me as his Intelligence Officer) and/or G1 [General Staff Officer Grade 1].
Roll-calls we had to fall in properly dressed; no talking.
Nudity was forbidden.
All beards to be shaved immediately (save for Naval Officers) I had to arrange an officer who said he had become a Sikh to be forcibly shaved (G de B cross questioned and defeated him on the Sikh religion).

8. He forbade walks outside the camp after some officers had pelted a troop lorry with tomatoes.

9. Established close liaison with Camp Commandant when it was clear (through venial guards we had bribed) that Italy was breaking up.

10. Finally had us making some change in our dress for dinner.

11. His sole function. His formidable personality, completely individual attitude, and the level look with which he would say to a rebel “I shall report you to the War Office when we get back”.

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12. News of Allied invasion of Sicily, then the mainland. Venial, bribed, guards told us everything, but G de B was also in close touch with Camp Commandant.
We drew up plans to evacuate the camp if necessary.

13. Orders had been received from England to stay put. Idea was we might get shot in the confusion! Some camps ordained this policy; one even locking up Officers who said they were evacuating.
For example the whole of Chieti waited until the Germans came up and took them away. The S.B.O. [Senior British Officer] was nearly lynched.

13. G de B simply laughed when I brought him the order. He was brought up in the old Field Army tradition where Battery Commands were omnipotent and their Regimental C.O’s [Commanding Officer] asked permission before entering “Battery Lines”! To G de B and his colleagues, no order from above was taken seriously. Unhampered by training of any sort, other than Battery training, he did what seemed best to him. If successful he would command his Battery for, perhaps 10 years. If he failed, he was sacked.

14. G de B’s training & experience this made him the ideal man to handle this situation.
It just never occurred to him to consider the order to stay put. He would decide what to do when the time came.
In the meantime all were warned of a possible evacuation and how to do it (minimum gear, one blanket and soon).


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15. Reports of a German advance.
All one night firing was heard in or around the town.

16. Next day lunch was put on table.
We noticed the Italian guards were leaving their posts.
Phone report to Italian Command of German columns. G de B gave order, abandon lunches, everybody fall in ready to move.
Wire was torn down and we moved, in good order; G de B as Moses leading the children of Israel.

17. We carried very little, marched fast.
Eric Newby (who had sprained his ankle) travelled on a horse we had acquired – the first time he had ever ridden. The horse was led by two Italians, who urged it over ditches G de B was aiming for some woods we had heard of.
A 2 engine aircraft flew over us, but took no action.
We felt it best to press on & disappear into the woods.

18. Remarkable feeling to be free, carrying practically nothing and taking decisions, after varying periods of prison.

19. Arrived in the woods, G de B established an H.Q. [Head Quarters] with runners, sent out; L.O’s [Liaison Officer] to contact the farming community; and allotted areas to each company. Recce also back to camp, who found the Germans had eaten all the food and looted our possessions.

20. We spent a few nights in the woods. Lovely weather. Populace brought us food and civilian

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20 cont. clothes. Only a few of us (I was one) felt like giving up the legal protection of British uniform.

21. Situation awkward. No reliable information, but rumours of landing in Genoa area, that could have made it sensible to wait, in hiding, for British advance. Otherwise 100’s of miles to South Italy or to Switzerland, either of which could have given results.
Living on, or with peasants could land them in serious trouble. To march around as a formed body would be suicidal.

22. Once more G de B took a decision.
“I have led you out. Our usefulness as a formed body, and, therefore, my command, is over. You are now all free to act as you wish; every man for himself”.

Part II

This details actions taken by various people as far as I know them. But, of course, I was a bit preoccupied.

1. The majority I think; but I left, so I have no figures. Relied on the Genoa rumour, which was very strong, and stayed in the woods, helped with food from peasants. Inevitably they were betrayed to the Germans, who surrounded the woods, fired some volleys and ordered everybody out. Recaptured.

2. A fair number.
Walked varying distances away and lived on the country. But to spend the night in a farm was eventually fatal. Somebody spotted them and they were arrested the next morning. It was vital to leave around 1 or 2am. “The bird flown”. Many were caught shaving; a sacrifice to British upper class traditions. Talking for information was, also fatal.


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3. The serious escapers, some with previous experience.
Set off either solo or in parties of 2, 3, 4.
These walked, on chosen directions; by day (not night because of barking dogs); lay up at night; moved to a new hide in the middle of the night.

a). Dennis Gibbs (C.O. [Commanding Officer] Queens) and, I think 2 others, walked South, got through the battle zone, and back to U.K.

b). Hugh Mainwaring (G1 [General Staff Officer Grade 1] 8th Army) did the same.

c). Several were wounded in the battle zone, mostly on minefields, and finished up in Germany.

d). Many were recaptured in various ways on the way South. (Inadequate luck and British uniform).

e). 3 or 4 went up into the hills, made friends with shepherds etc. and in, I think, one case, came down, a bearded Patriarch, and astonished the Allies.

f). About six of us, I think, decided to make for Switzerland and got there, including G. de B. As “evadés de guerre” we then had the right to go back to UK, but couldn’t manage it for about a year.

g). My own rather ridiculous exploits will suffice. All of us had similar experiences, the others choosing better routes!

h). Eric Newby’s adventures are in his book.

4. Recce showed that trains were swarming – people on the engine, roofs, running boards.

I waited with G. de B. and one other and took train to Florence.

We had the address of Camp Interpreter (a Major) and called on his wife,, who was English. She gave us a meal and later we met her husband.

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4. Spent the night in a bombed ruin.

5. I parted from G. de B. and the other chap (? Williamson) who, I think, made plans with the Interpreter, but I can’t quite recall this period.

6. However I finished up, by train, and by walking, in the Italian Alpine village (? Champoluc) where I met a smuggler/peasant type who was escorting a well bred Italian charged with messages for the Americans in Switzerland. This man weakened and gave me the messages and some welcome dollars.

7. The smuggler led me to the Theodule glacier and Pass and at dusk I climbed up and hid in rocks, planning to go down the next day.

8. However a blizzard blew up and I judged the exposure too much for my thin clothing; gambling on the Italians being friendly I sought shelter at their frontier post.

9. This worked and the next day they helped me on to the Swiss post who, when the weather improved, took me down to Zermatt.

10. Here I was “put on my honour” to stay in a Hotel and not go out! It was heated, the food was excellent. This first tea with fresh milk & sugar for some 12/14 months. Superb.
I stayed, but was taken on to Berne a few days later.

11. G. de B. and his companion arrived at Berne about a week later. He didn’t say much, but I gathered he had got hold of an escort, perhaps through the Interpreter.

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In the camp itself

Answers to questions in your letter 16th December R. Wheeler sent to[word unclear]H. de B. junior.

1. The S.B.O. [Senior British Officer] before G. de B. was Lieutenant-Colonel Tyndale-Biscoe, a well known, cheerful, rather easy going character. Newby writes of him “a nice, high spirited old man much too old to have been captured fighting in the Western Desert” (page 34).
He was S.B.O. [Senior British Officer] for a very short part of my time at Fontenellato; but I think one should say he really made no attempt to “command” the camp; though he was only S.B.O. [Senior British Officer] for a short time. He was cheerful, popular; kept spirits up.

2. S.B.O. [Senior British Officer] was decided on seniority by acquiescence amongst the senior ranks of the camp. The junior officers accepted whoever who proclaimed, criticised his actions and went their own way if possible.
It was not a popular job.
TB would have said to G. de B. “You’re the senior now; take over.” Two Indian Army Colonels did squabble over their seniority at Chieti, but TB would have considered such action highly ungentlemanly.

3. We all accepted that G. de B. was the senior. He firmly said so and that was it. (No check possible – just a statement of “1st Commission”).

4. I can’t recall the full picture.
G. de B. appointed a) Company Commands, I think, by selection. There were plenty of Lieutenant-Colonel’s who had commanded Battalion’s etc. (such as  Lieutenant-Colonel Dennis Gibbs, youngish, wartime commander of a Queen’s Regiment [word unclear]

b) A very high class young captain to command the 100 or so O.R. [Other Ranks]. I can’t recall

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his name. He instituted meticulous parades and stuck to his men with great loyalty in the “break out”, though most, I think were re-captured.

c) An Adjutant. Tom Williamson (? Williams) who got into Switzerland with G. de B.

d) Me as a sort of G1 [General Staff Officer Grade 1], telling me to get various things done (such as removing a beard, by force if necessary).
I was highly incompetent – believing, as we all did, that landings, air drops etc., well up the mainland, would rescue us. Of course, the resources to do this were not there. But why did the War Officer tell all camps to wait till they were rescued, and not break out?
Anyway G. de B. gave us all a chance, and those who re-adjusted to reality made the best use of it!

5. I can’t remember Cavalieri, unless he was the Interpreter. If so he was completely Anglicised, married to an Englishwoman. A very pleasant chap.

Vice Domini was an Italian aristocrat. High ideals and standards, he felt it his duty to protect us against the Germans. At the end, he was under orders from higher command to fight the Germans if necessary, but, of course, this was a hopeless idea.
He was interned by the Germans, and, I fear, died shortly afterwards.
But his close liaison with G. de B. and the information he gave us of German movements were very valuable.

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6. There were at least 5 strands in our thinking as we journeyed to Florence.

a) We still thought that landings or air drops might take place well up the mainland. Hide up until there was an Armistice? (But the Germans took over the country).
b) Stooging about; the whole country being disorganised and large numbers of Italian deserters flooding the railways. It was really rather fun after prison.
c) We jumped trains, no tickets needed, and rode them till they stopped.
d) G. de B. had the Interpreter’s home address and wanted to follow this up.
e) When I saw the Germans ‘taking over’, and established that rumours of landings were false, I ‘hardened’ for Switzerland, as did G. de B.

7a) When first established the camp contained only Captains & below.
Most were “hostilities only”; 5 months training in an OCTU [Officer Cadet Training Unit].
Thus, no ingrained military traditions or discipline. Moreover, they suffered some guilt at being captured, and harboured strong resentment at theirseniors who had “let them down”.

7b) They reverted quickly to civilian status, splitting into clans, and following their old habits and interests! Gambling, bridge, study, the pursuit of fitness, sunbathing, a beard if they wished it, dress as they wished, roll-calls attended with chatter and delay, theatre shows & music.
Food of a sort, lodging were provided, and they felt that had no responsibilities. The Italians gave little trouble.

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7c) They came from the top strata of our society, picked men with plenty of drive and ability, once good officers.
Now it was not so much ill-discipline as the abrogation of all discipline, the denial of any need for discipline, for morale, for cohesion of any sort. “Wait, The war will be over one day”.

7d) The Italians then began to post more senior officers to the camp. So G. de B. (and I and quite a few more) arrived in a batch. As Eric Newby says:
“This state of affairs continued until a very regular full (sic) Colonel arrived… he was so horrified by the lackadaisical and demilitarised state in which he found us all that he immediately organised the camp on the lines of an Infantry Battalion in Company’s with Company Commanders (p.42)”

8) These changes were received.
a) Gladly by the majority. They had been good officers and saw the need.
b) With lethargy or cunning by some, who tried to go on with their old life. “The war is over for us”.
c) With resentment by a few; and rebellion.

But G. de B. was irresistible.
He walked the camp daily, stopping people discussing; criticising their dress, asking them for their “escape plan”, and giving them 24hrs to produce one if they admitted ignorance.
As I have said, he would note a rebel’s name and tell him “When we get home, I shall report your conduct to the War Office”.
That shook them, it had overtones of victory, of further service against the Japanese etc.

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1. Preliminary.

I was sent to 49 POW Camp, Italy in May 1943.
The camp had been open for a short time only.
It held, roughly, 450 officers and 100 O.R. [Other Ranks] collected together, during May, from many camps, but particularly from small camps which the Italians had closed to economise in guards and to avoid risk of being over-run by the Allied forces.
The camp, therefore, was a collection of lesser camps, each with its own individuality. Discipline had evidently been lax in some of these camps. Esprit de corps was lacking. Turn-out and morale of many of the POW’s was bad.
Lieutenant-Colonel de Burgh arrived a short time later. He was the Senior Officer in the camp.

2. Reason for this report.

I was the “Intelligence” officer in the camp and therefore in close touch with a very large number of the officers and O.R.’s [Other Ranks].
I was able to observe, personally, the great effect of Lieutenant-Colonel de Burgh’s leadership on the morale of the camp.
I am certain that the successful evacuation of the camp was due to his work.
I have noticed that no record has been made of his work and I wish to repair that omission.

3. Details of Lieutenant-Colonel de Burgh’s work before the fall of Italy.

(a) By his personal example of firm, dignified and determined behaviour to the Italians, Lieutenant-Colonel de Burgh set the standard for the attitude of the British to the Italians, and insisted on, and achieved, proper and respectful treatment of the British by the Italians. He checked all irresponsible “baiting” of Italians and insisted on courteous and correct treatment. He thus won the confidence of the Italian officers and O.R.’s [Other Ranks] and made it easy to handle them to British advantage when the crisis arose.

(b) By his force of character and personality Lieutenant-Colonel de Burgh welded the camp into a disciplined body, divided into homogenous companies, properly officered. Turn-out was excellent, for example the whole camp dressed for dinner. Steadiness and smartness on roll-call parade was remarkable. This was achieved without sanctions, by a carefully graduated programme which demanded an ever-higher standard, and which depended for it’s fulfilment on Lieutenant-Colonel de Burgh’s personal authority.

(c) The organisation of the camp into COY’s [Company], with their own officers, was perfected with the purpose of preparing for evacuation of the camp when the chance came.

(d) Generally Lieutenant-Colonel de Burgh revived morale in the camp, instilled esprit de corps and determination and prepared all POWs for the coming test.
He was a true leader, achieving authority under difficult conditions, and upholding the prestige of the British.

4. Detail of Lieutenant-Colonel de Burgh’s work at the fall of Italy.

(a) He was in close touch with the Italian Command throughout.
(b) He kept a firm hold of the POW’s, organising the whole camp for instant evacuation but allowing no irresponsible movement.
(c) At the critical moment he evacuated the camp to the neighbouring woods, taking all essential records. So short was the time available that the Germans entered the camp 15 minutes later to find the lunch of the table.
Here I should like to call attention, once more, to the fine work done by Italian Commandant, Colonel Vice-Domini, who allowed the camp to be evacuated and remained, himself, to face the Germans. He was arrested and taken to Germany. The Interpreter, Captain Camino and Lieutenant Peredini also did fine work, reported on elsewhere. Under Lieutenant-Colonel de Burgh’s leadership there was no straggling or panic haste.

(d) The camp was held, in its military organisation in the woods for two days whilst civilian clothing and food were procured and various plans for further movement were made. Lieutenant-Colonel de Burgh was in very bad shape, physically, after a winter spent in bed with pneumonia and after 15 months malnutrition. I can testify, as one who was with him the whole of this time, that he never rested in his efforts to plan for the future movement of the camp. It became clear, however, that so large a body of officers and ORs [Other Ranks] could not hold together in a country terrorised by Fascists and Germans. Lieutenant-Colonel de Burgh therefore gave permission for individual action.

(e) He remained the area for, roughly, a further week, until it was clear that no more could be done.
He then set out for Switzerland, which he reached, roughly, a week later.

Digital page 48]

Reference:- WO 208/4257

Extract from Report PW/REP/lTALY/208 – Major G.D.H. FLOWERDEW. 4A

Lieutenant-Colonel, DE BURGH, at BARI, POPPI and FONTANELLATO, was outstanding in every way.

Extract from report PW/REP/ITALY/205 – Captain J.H. LYTLE.

“Lieutenant-Colonel DE BURGH did admirable work as S.B.O. [Senior British Officer] and maintained a high state of discipline and morale. LYTLE, like many other P/W from Camp 49, wishes to testify to the admirable arrangements. made for the evacuation of the Camp.”

Extract from Report PW/REP/ITALY/113 – Major DE WINTON.

“Camp 49, FONTANELLATO; there were about 500 British Officers and 100 O.R.’s [Other Ranks] there at the time of the Armistice. The whole camp was successfully evacuated on 9 Sept under arrangements mutually made by Lieutenant-Colonel DE BURGH, the S.B.O. [Senior British Officer] and the Italian Commandant”.

“Camp 75. BARI. Lieutenant-Colonel H. DE BURGH, R.A. [Royal Artillery] and Captain FINCH (Indian Army) did much to preserve morale and discipline of P/W.

“Camp 38, POPPI Lieutenant-Colonel H DE BURGH, R.A. [Royal Artillery],  S.B.O. [Senior British Officer] and Major ABBOTT, his Adjutant, did much to promote good organisation and discipline.”

“Lieutenant-Colonel DE BURGH was always helpful and co-operative towards escapers.”

Extract from PW/REP/ITALY/110 – Lieutenant-Colonel GIBBS.

Lieutenant-Colonel DE BURGH, S.B.O. [Senior British Officer] Camp 49, was at all times outstanding in his leadership of the Camp. – see statement attached.

[Digital Page 49]



1. NUMBER: 1229
RANK   (WS) (ACTG) (TEMP): Lieutenant-Colonel

Nationality: British
UNIT: R.A. [Royal Artillery]
BRIEF CIRCUMSTANCES OF CAPTURE: Moved with Regiment with 10 Corps from Sidi Haneish. Stopped on scarp to see Regiment through. German tanks worked round to East of Column and opened fire on Column. Considerable confusion. Got through leading a few trucks. Truck gave out. Walked desert. Picked up by 3 Ton truck early next  morning. Met Bays and Armoured Cars of Royals? Went on their advice through mine field to Division H.Q [Head Quarters] German Patrol in trucks opened fire, some wounded. Impossible get away with overloaded 3 Ton Lorry from small fast vehicles heavily armed, we practically unarmed.

CAMP NO                      PERIOD                                        HOW EMPLOYED
AND PLACE                   FROM                 TO
75 Bari                           15. 7.42.            28.11.42.         S.B.O. [Senior British Officer]
38 Poppi                        29.11.42.          17. 3.43.           S.B.O.                “”
202 Lucca (Hospital)    17. 3.43.            8. 8.43.             S.B.O.               “”
49 Fontanalata.             8. 8.43.             9. 9.43.              S.B.O.               “”

                                                 ATTEMPTED ESCAPES

DATE: Aug 1942
Four of us made a tentative escape. Two got away and were recaptured almost at once. Two failed owing to bright moonlight and alteration of time of changing Italian guard.

[Digital page 50]


NUMBER: 1229
RANK:  Lieutenant-Colonel


DETAILS OF FINAL ESCAPE and SUB- SEQUENT JOURNEY UNTIL TAKEN OVER BY ORGANISATION: (Names and addresses of helpers must be entered on Appendix A and not mentioned in this report). (Escape plans and other information which would jeopardise security or identification of organisation or helpers must be entered in Appendix C and  not mentioned in this report).

Before I left LUCCA there had been rumours of prisoners being sent to Germany. On arrival at FONTANELLATO I superimposed a Company organisation upon the ordinary Dormitory organisation. This Company organisation was designed to meet any eventuality. See Appendix C.

On the 5th Sept. 1943 the Italian Commandant informed me that Germans had intimated that prisoners were to. be removed to Germany. I asked him what he intended to do, and if he was prepared to give us some warning.

He replied that he would, and that if I organised, or was organised, inside the wire, he would  have cyclists out to bring information of any approach of German troops. I saw him again several times about the question of our getting away, and on the 8th Sept., 44, he allowed me to send my G.1 [General Staff Officer Grade 1] with an Italian officer to reconnoitre an area suggested by him, and agreed to by me, where we could hide the whole camp, some 600 all ranks, (Officers and O.R. [Other Ranks] servants) for a short time. No organisation was in existence other than this and certain individuals. See Appendix A.

DATE: 29.9.1944
PLACE: Beine
[Signature of Interrogating Officer]

[Digital page 51]


NUMBER: 1229
RANK:  Lieutenant-Colonel

SURNAME: VICE-DOMINI. Lieutenant Colonel. Italian Army
Commandant of Camp 49. Extremely good to us and helpful. Made arrangements for our escape and concentration area. Taken to Germany as a prisoner in consequence.

Interpreter at 49. Very pro-British. Had business in Slough. English wife. Worked very hard to obtain civilian clothes for over 300 of us. Also got villagers & farmers to bring food. Provided money.

TYPE OF HELP GIVEN: Assisted CAMINO. Took us into his house & provided clothes. Took us to MILAN, brought tickets and sent us to Valley AOSTA. Through his influence that local people gave so much help.

Italian Bank, London. Assisted CAMINO.

SURNAME: RISSOTO, Seargent Major

CHRISTIAN NAME: Madame and two brothers
TYPE OF HELP GIVEN: Took enormous trouble to conceal and help many of us. Food and clothes.

SURNAME: GRECO (Professor)
TYPE OF HELP GIVEN: At CHAMPLUC. Clothes, food and help with guides, boots.


[Digital page 52]



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


(a) On 9th Sept. 44 I was warned at 12 noon that we were to leave. Having organised beforehand and packed and dressed in battledress, rations were issued for 24 hours. The Italian officers cut the wire. We formed up in 5 Companies and H.Q. [Head Quarters], on the recreation ground and marched to concentration area.
The Camp was cleared at 12.10. Each Company and H.Q. [Head Quarters], were guided to Areas under cover, and remained that night, as we had no information of Germans except that they had arrived in the Camp one hour after we had left and arrested the Italian Commandant and some other Italian personnel. They had broken open everything and given many food parcels to the local population. The population brought most of it to us in hiding. The Italian officers and certain civilians collected civilian clothes and as many as possible changed out of uniform.
I decided it was not possible to hold this large party indefinitely, and that we must split from Company to Platoon and lower, so I called a conference of Company Commanders at which I gave orders for 3 Companies to attempt a march into the hills towards La Spezia, across the German L. of C [Lines of Communication]. Two got through. The remainder were by this time mostly billeted and hidden in farms and were in civil clothes. After all had been arranged for in parties of various sizes, my G.1 Intelligence my Adjutant and I, left. We were assisted by civilians, and one Italian gentleman took us to MILAN to his bombed flat. He bought us our ticket next day and we travelled to the Valley of AOSTA to the house of an Italian officer. The family were frightened, so we left and moved, up towards the Swiss Frontier, to CHAMPLUC, where we remained several days at first in the village and after in the farms. We were able to pass several parties of soldiers, chiefly New Zealand and Australian over. Eventually we crossed the LYSKAMM pass, spending 3 nights on top, 4565 metres down the GREN Glacier to GORNERGRAT and ZERMATT.
During the whole period of the escape from Camp the Germans were searching for us and were in occupation of all towns and railway stations.
(b) No outside organisation we encountered, all depended entirely on ourselves.
(c) In each Camp in which I was S.B.O. [Senior British Officer], we were organised in Battalion and Company organisation. In each case there was a H.Q. [Head Quarters], corresponding to a Divisional H.Q. [Head Quarters], divided into (1) Operational, to meet any eventuality, (2) Administrative for the serving of the Camp and its discipline (3) Instructional for Military Courses, languages and many other Educational subjects. There was also, in addition to the Intelligence Staff, an escape committee to cater for the individual or for small parties. There was no touch with outside organisations but we had an excellent liaison with many of the Italian officers guards.         
The organisation in the Camp provided for escape in various ways, and for the maintenance of discipline and controlled action in the initial stages of any action. The Staff or H.Q. [Head Quarters], had representatives of every branch of departmental staffs, so that whatever plan was forced upon us, we had the organisation to compete with it.

[Digital page 53]


The Prisoners of Campo 49, Fontanellato, at their ‘Maquis’ HQ [Head Quarters]

The order received by Lieutenant-Colonel Vicedomini in the night of 8th September 1943 was to defend P.O.W. Camp 49 from possible attacks by the Germans and, in case that should prove impossible, to set the prisoners at liberty.

Lieutenant-Colonel de Burgh, the Senior British officer, went to Lieutenant-Colonel Vicedomini to place himself, together with his 550 officers and 150 other ranks, under Italian command and to cooperate in whatever decision might be made about defending the camp.

The Camp Commandant only had command of 150 men, of whom 30 were without arms while the remainder had only model 91 rifles plus other rifles even more antiquated, with ammunition sufficient to provide each man with one magazine. He also a small case of hand-grenades, and four machine-pistols.

It was ridiculous to even think of defending the camp with such armament, and so the order was given to Captain Camino Mario to disperse the camp and send the prisoners into hiding. The place chosen was the Rovacchia di Paroletta, in the district of Fontanellato, excellently suited for hiding the men in the thickets bordering the river Rovacchia.

The camp changed its name to “Maquis Quarters”, and its HQ [Head Quarters] was set up in the Merli house, consisting of Lieutenant-Colonel de Burgh, Lieutenant-Colonel Lee, Lieutenant-Colonel Tindale Briscoe, with Major Phillips as their adjutant, together with Captain Camino Mario and Paini Paride as his adjutant.

The campers carried rations for only one day and in the event food had to be found for 700 men until the morning of 10th September.

I joined the formation on the morning of the 9th, spreading alarm and panic by the approach of my car, which was thought to herald the arrival of Germans. I arranged for the delivery of 700 bread rations prepared by the bakers Incerti and Maccagnoni, while the dairyman Abrati Riccardo, at my request, provided 2 quintals (about 23 gallons) of milk. Meanwhile the news had spread around Fontanellato that the English prisoners were in the vicinity, and an endless succession of girls and young men, alone and in groups, smilingly carried bags stuffed with food up to the Rovacchia, – their own offerings of victuals and smiles to the prisoners. I came upon them everywhere, always smiling as much as to say “You see, we’re trying to do our bit as well”.

But it was not going to suffice to provide food for one or two, or even three days. The possibility had to be considered that the campers might have to remain hidden in the ‘maquis’ for an indeterminate period, in uncertain weather and always exposed to the risk of a surprise incursion by German troops or worse, of being spotted by German aircraft, perhaps because of the continuous comings and goings of Italian civilians. It would be necessary to split up the prisoners as much as possible, not only to ease the problem of feeding them, but also for the better accommodation of such a mass of men.

So in the afternoon of 10th September the commander accepted the advice that the officers should be distributed in small groups around farmhouses in the neighbourhood, where they could be provided with food and shelter. The word was soon spread around, and civilian clothing for them to change into began to pile up rapidly, – countrymen’s working clothes, old uniforms, anything that might fit them.

[Digital page 54]

At my request, Commendatore Paolo Scerni was the first to agree to look after 14 prisoners, this example being at once followed by those living nearby, then by people further off, and finally by the neighbouring districts of Soragna, San Secondo, Fontevivo. What had seemed an impossible problem on the morning of 10th September had become a reality by the 16th.

Of the 700 prisoners about 80, wearing British uniform, had chosen to try to reach the Swiss frontier in one marching column, but they were descended upon by German troops a few days later. About 45 others stayed behind in the Rovacchia thickets, where they dug themselves shelters in the river banks. The remainder scattered around the nearby farmhouses and villages. The provision of the 45 who were dug in was an easy task, giving Captain Camino the great pleasure of satisfactorily concluding his assignment to “save Camp 49”.

Around the 16th – 17th September there began an exodus of the Officers from their farmhouses, some heading for Switzerland, others for the Emilian Apennines. Anybody having a map and correct instructions could make his own way to the Apennines, with Bardi being the favourite area. Lieutenant-Colonel de Burgh, Lieutenant-Colonel Wheeler, and Major Phillips were taken to Fidenza by myself, then to Milan by Mr Gandini Remo, and subsequently were conveyed near to the Swiss frontier by Captain Camino. Many others were taken up into the Apennines. Some stayed for many long months among the farms of Fontanellato and its vicinity.

As I wrote in my first article, it was later confirmed that about half of the officers succeeded in evading recapture by the Germans.

To sum up, such was the brief, intensive existence of the “Maquis HQ [Head Quarters]”, difficult and risky, with its hopes and its fears.

Further instalments of the story will be able to recount some of the more exciting, even in some cases fabulous, escapes which the people of Fontanellato, often at the risk of their own lives, succeeded in helping towards a successful conclusion.

Giuseppe Sambataro

[Digital page 55]

These oddments are copies of papers belonging to Mrs H.G. de Burgh

1/ Group of papers.
4 Testimonials from Senior. Officers concerning de Burgh.
2/ de B.’s own report. Capture FUKA 30th June 42. Bari Camp. S.B.O. [Senior British Officer] 15/7/1942 to 28.11.1942, POPPI 38 (Amo Valley S.B.O. [Senior British Officer] until 17.3.1943 202 Lucca (Hospital S.B.O. [Senior British Officer] to 8.8.43 Fontanellato S.B.O. [Senior British Officer]. Though only 1 month S.B.O. [Senior British Officer] at Fontanellato, taking over from an elderly and acceptable officer, he reorganised the Camp and was completely accepted by all it would seem From 5th Sept in preparatory discussion with Vice Domini Italian O/C [Officer Commanding] and Interpreter(with English wife and other English Connections. Full list of Italian senior staff.
de Burgh report on Exit. Brief account – with some names of helpers of de B. own departure for and to Italy. Account by SAMBAARO on how he helped provision POWs ‘in the thickets bordering the Rovacchi River and then taking De B. Colonel Wheeler and Major Phillips to Fidenza and then others names to Switzerland. Also mentions some 80 marched off to Switzerland but were soon picked up by Germans.
3/ Captain Ian Reid., who escaped several times in Italy after Armistice Long letter from him to ‘New Statesman & Nation Apr 20th  1946 showing how he was so well helped by Italians and experiences in a village and with Partisans but complaining strongly how the former Fascists had come back into power and got themselves good jobs calling themselves Christian Democrats.

[Digital page 56]

Copies of correspondence with Noel Burdett in 1985

[Handwritten Note by Keith Kilby]: Trust Supporter.No Document in Trust

[Digital page 57]

CMF [Central Mediterranean Force]

7 AUG 46

Subject: Injustice In Italy – an article in the New Statesman and Nation, 20 April 1946

To: GSO 1 [General Staff Officer Grade 1]
Allied Screening Commission,

I felt I ought to bring to your notice an article by Captain Ian Reid entitled “Injustice in Italy” to be found on page 279 of the enclosed “New Statesman and Nation”, April 29th 1946.

C.G. IRVING Bell, Major
IC [In Command] Advanced Headquarters,
Allied Screening Commission,

[Digital Page 58]


[The writer, Captain Ian Reid, late of the Black Watch, was wounded and captured in Tunisia whilst serving with the 51st Highland Division of the Eighth Army. After the Italian Armistice, he escaped from an officers’ camp near Modena in Northern Italy. From September, 1943 to June 1944, he lived amongst the peasants, who treated him with great generosity and kindness. During this period, he was recaptured on three separate occasions, but each time succeeded in escaping again. After his fourth escape from a transit camp at Mantua, he walked to within about fifty miles of the Swiss border, only to be recaptured by Mussolini’s Fascist Republicans, men who had fought for Franco in Spain. This time he was sent to Germany. In March, 1945 when the Germans started to march their prisoners East, away from the Allied advance, he escaped once more. On April 2nd he succeeded in joining up with the American 9th Army. He has recently completed a book about his experiences which he hopes to publish shortly].

On November 23rd, 1943, after one recapture and two escapes, I reached a village near the Rome – Pescara road, called Vivaro Romano. (About three weeks previously, I had joined up with an Australian sergeant called Claude Turner). Here we were strongly advised not to try to pass the front, which was then firmly established at Cassino. There were several feet of snow on the mountains, and the peasants, farther south, were on the verge of starvation. A simple and kindly old man called Angelo Cerini offered us shelter.

We stayed with that family for nearly two months, during which time they looked after us with quite exceptional selflessness and generosity. They risked their lives in doing so. On December 27th we were again recaptured in another village, where we had gone in search of money and civilian clothes for other ex-POW’s. A week later, we escaped again, stole two bicycles and returned to Vivaro.

The majority of the inhabitants were so hospitable and pro-Allied that, by this time, around thirty ex-prisoners were living in and around the village. But there were also four or five ex-Fascists – up to now they had been too frightened to act – who eventually betrayed our presence to the Germans. At dawn on January 16th the village was surrounded, and raided. Turner and I had made ourselves a secret hiding place, to be used in the event of emergencies and we were not found. But twenty three prisoners, who tried to dodge through the German cordon, were recaptured, one Italian was shot, and harsh reprisals were taken against the village. The Germans knew that we had been living with Cerini – they turned his house upside down, fortunately found no trace of our presence there, and thus did not shoot him. For the next four months, however he was mercilessly persecuted by the Germans and even more so by the Fascists.

After the raid, Turner and I were, of course forced to quit Vivaro. Eventually some peasants found us a shack in the mountains and provided us with food. It was here that we first met Gulizia, a young Sicilian of 21, who was a member of the Committee of Liberation, and who himself English. His father was a poet who had been exiled by Mussolini. He was anxious to organise a Partisan armed band and asked us to join him. We agreed. By the beginning of April 1944, Renzo had “acquired” some grenades and small arms ammunition, which he asked us to keep in our hut. He had also been busy in other directions. A British private ex-POW, had developed an acute appendicitis and there were no local surgeons. Renzo secured a lorry, driven by a man wearing Fascist uniform, and smuggled him into a hospital in German occupied Rome. He left him in the care of a priest. When the Englishman was convalescent they sent for a hearse, placed him in a coffin and drove him into the Vatican City, where he remained until the Liberation.

But once again we were betrayed, this time by a young student called Cesarino Dal Oglio, who had made unsuccessful efforts to become a member of our armed band. On April 6th, the very day we expected to receive rifles from Rome, eight Germans, headed by Cesarino, who was dressed in a German greatcoat and tin hat, swooped down on our shack in the mountains. Through no fault of Cesarino’s Renzo was fortunately not captured. He moved to Rome, where he continued his Partisan activities until the Liberation. During this time he worked under the sentence of death from the Germans.

Turner and I escaped again, from the last German transit camp, north of the Po. We got halfway to Switzerland where we were recaptured by the Fascist Republicans, the most hated men in Italy. This time our abortive attempts to get out again were unavailing and we were sent to Germany.

I now come to the point of this article. When I got home from Germany in April, 1945, I made a full report to the military authorities about all those Italians who had helped us so courageously, and also about those who were collaborators and pro-Nazi. That was nearly a year ago.

I have recently received two letters. The first was from Angelo Cerini. He states that all the same Fascists who betrayed us and brought down Nazi hell on Vivario, are still in control of the village. They are still persecuting Cerini and all those other villagers who used to listen to “Radio Londra”, the BBC transmission to Occupied Italy. They even had the impudence to arrest Cerini’s son, who fought for the Allies in the liberation of Rome, and who tried to denounce the quislings. To crown it all, Angelo asks me not to write to him at Vivaro, as the village postman is one of the Fascists!

The second letter was from Renzo Gulizia. He has received absolutely no recognition for his services to the Allied cause. On the contrary, since he is neither a monarchist nor a member of any political party, he finds himself unable even to secure employment. Cesarino on the other hand, now calls himself a Christian Democrat, and has found a good job. This Fascist collaborator has also (believe it or not!) been given the official title of “Chief of the Partisan Armed Band of Tufo” (the village which Renzo, Claude and I intended to make our Headquarters). All Renzo’s documents, which proved his allegiance to the Allies, have been stolen from the files of the “Ministry of the Interior”. “There are many other ‘Christian Democrats’ in this Ministry”, commented Renzo. He too made a report to the Allied Commission in which he denounced the Fascists who were responsible for our recapture, and for [word unclear] [word unclear] to their own people. “The Allied Supreme Command didn’t want interest about it,” he writes in his uncertain but nevertheless descriptive English. He goes on “you know that I learnt to love England by her literature, and when it elected a Socialist Government I hoped well….”. He is still hoping.

Renzo is not a Communist  “I do not want orders about my[word unclear] [word unclear] he writes. My parents educated [word unclear] to [word unclear] liberty over all and now I ask myself “Why Allies protect, in Italy, Fascists and collaborators?”. I fear to answer this question.

I fully realise that the Allied Commission have a difficult task to sort out all the evidence, denunciations and counter denunciations given by Italians after the Liberation. But presumably, as I am a British ex-regular officer, with over ten years service, and as I lived behind the lines in Italy for ten long months, and have no axe to grind, I might be regarded as a reliable witness. I made my first report nearly a year ago. I have since communicated with both the Italian Foreign Officer and the Allied Commission in Rome. I have not yet received any acknowledgments.

Part of the responsibility for this situation undoubtedly rests with the Coalition Government of Mr Churchill. Churchill preferred to co-operate with ex-Fascists, like Badoglio, rather than with the genuine friends of democracy in Italy. But now we have, in England, our first really progressive Government. Even if the high-up military chiefs are averse to “meddling in the internal affairs” of Italy (to quote a Tory MP on Franco), could not the Labour Government persuade them to see that elementary justice is done? I dare say they will eventually compensate Angelo Cerini with a few hundred lire, for having sheltered two escaped POWs for a couple of months. Perhaps they have already done so. But he is much more concerned with the iniquitous political situation in his little village of six hundred souls, ruled over by half a dozen unscrupulous Fascists.

There are many people in Italy like Angelo and Renzo. They have, or had, a great deal of respect and good will towards this country. From practical expediency, if not from a sense of fair play, should not measures be taken to remedy this intolerable state of affairs? If not, I fear that out present policy will have most detrimental effects on future accord between our two countries.

I will end with a quotation from the last letter of Angelo Cerini:

“When will the Fascists be brought to trial? When will justice be done?”

[Digital Page 59]

[Handwritten notes from Keith Kilby on material from Noel Burdett to H. de Burgh’s son]

Notes of material from Noel Burdett to H. de B. (good Italian speaker).

Organised collection ([word unclear] [word unclear]) of civilian clothes for POW.
N.B. captured in Tunisia.
With Partisans for a time.
Hid in flat CANETORA, Parma for 7 weeks.
Helped by Italians, (and 1 Parma to Milian [word unclear])
Crossed frontier near village of CASINO (near Corno) with 25 O.R. [Other Ranks] Dec 3/4th.
Letter dated 9.7.1978 about return to and of people who helped him.

Article in [word unclear] Reporter in 40s and 50s?

[Digital Page 60]

[Handwritten notes from Keith Kilby on material from Noel Burdett to H. de Burgh’s son]

[word unclear] Secretary to the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme with [word unclear] some 36,000 entrants annually. He visited some 40 countries before his retirement in 1985. [word unclear] often [word unclear] [word unclear]never really retired from the sea keeping a boat and frequently on it in the Mediterranean while he sailed usually with his wife Francie. They had three sons & a daughter.

He became a keen supporter of the MSM Trust in its early days.

[Digital page 61]

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

Dear Hugo,

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

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

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

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

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

[Digital Page 62]

[Handwritten notes on Noel Burdett: Author unknown]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Digital Page 63]

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

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

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

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

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

[Digital page 64]

JS 9 Sep 1945   SHEET 1

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

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


CAMP NO                                   PERIOD                                           HOW EMPLOYED
AND PLACE                                 FROM               TO

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


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

[Digital page 65]

RANK: Captain


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

Story continued on Appendix “C”.

DATE: 1\9\44
PLACE: Bern Switzerland

[Digital page 66]

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



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

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

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

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

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

[Digital page 67]


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




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

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

[Digital Page 68]

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

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

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

[Digital Page 69]

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

My dear Geoffrey,

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

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

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

[Digital Page 70]

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

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

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

[Digital Page 71]

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

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

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

[Digital Page 72]

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

As ever,

[Digital page 73]


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

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

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

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

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

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

Noel H Burdett 20th May, 1978

[Digital Page 74]

[Italian translation of the previous page]


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

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

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

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

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

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

[Digital page 75]

FONTANELLATO    Sat, 20th May 1978

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

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

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

[Digital page 76]

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

Signora Ilde Catellani, 22 settembre 1978

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

[Digital page 77]


Ex ufficiale inglese ritrova la famiglia che lo salvò nel 1943

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

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

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

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

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

[Digital page 78]



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

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

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

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

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

10th January, 1979 N.H.B.

[Digital page 79]

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

[Digital page 80]

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

[Digital page 81]

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

[Digital page 82]

Sunday 21st Nov:   Old man still brings news of move. Fests we blow out. (After so much abstinence this eating is really a problem !)
Monday 22nd Nov:  Niente.
Tuesday 23rd Nov:  So much food that in the evening we really have to give in !
Wednesday 24th Nov:  Rumour is we go tonight or tomorrow. The little comes at 7, says tomorrow evening.
Thursday 25th Nov:  Slight hitch ! Comes at 7 and takes us to another house but no move, says perhaps Sat.
Friday 26th Nov:  Brother comes in evening and says not Saturday.
Saturday 27th Nov:   Breakfast comes our little man and Ronnie’s little man who says hope Monday.
Sunday 28th Nov:  Comes brother in morning and hopes Monday. Come brother on evening; Monday off ! Hoping, Hoping, Hoping, Always bloody-well hoping.
Monday 29th Nov:  Feeding at this place really much more reasonable but this morning we both observe with disgust how fat we are getting. Hear at midday we are off this evening. However after two hours anxious waiting, @ 8 o’ clock we hear it is to be tomorrow morning.
Tuesday 30th Nov: Leave at 5.30 and arrive later at the house of the Very Tired Old Lunatic ! Spend day and night with him.
Wednesday 1st Dec: Leave house of VTOL suddenly just before 10 to keep an appuntamento importantissimo ! After certain amount of wandering around finally reach a refugee for the day. Spent the night here.
Thursday 2nd Dec:  Had a visit from the owner of the store in the morning then just after lunch were collected by car and taken to another house where we met P. Rumour that we might go tonight but not to be and we spent night.
Friday 3rd Dec:  Are collected at midday and go by train and pick up some soldiers then by train to a station up country; short halt there and then started on our last trek but everyone very kind: first night a bit rough but we got warm and dry (Brussella).
Saturday 4th Dec:    After a very trying time, in clink once more !!
Sunday 5th Dec:   Walked at midday to Chisso where we were medically examined & stayed the night.
Monday 6th Dec:   Left by 8.30 train for Bellinzana (Saw Birkbeak & Lugano): arrived at about 10. More bumfe then a meal, disinfestation (very well done) and moved to a house mainly occupied by Greek Officers and now await transport to Ville.

[Editors Note: The right hand side of this page contains the original handwritten notes which have been typed up and start on DP 80]

[Digital page 83-84]

[Editors Note: This pages contains the original handwritten notes that are typed up on DP 80-82]

[Digital page 85]

[Two photographs with captions from the Radio times. The first photograph has the caption “Dick Mallaby (in beret) with two Italian partisans.” The last photograph has the caption “A recent portrait of Dick Mallaby and his wife”]

[Article from the Radio times (date unknown) with the title “Dick Mallaby, Secret Agent”]

The adventures of an ordinary soldier who found himself entrusted with highly important missions as a secret agent in Italy will be told in ‘Non-Commissioned Envoy’ which Home Service listeners can hear on Sunday at 9:30pm. The programme is introduced here by TOM FALLON.

At moments of crisis in war fate sometimes selects a humble fighting man to play a part of the greatest military significance. Sunday’s programme is the story of an ordinary soldier of the second World War who found himself unexpectedly thrust into just such a situation.

Dick Mallaby – Captain Cecil Richard Mallaby M.C. [Military Cross], as he afterwards became – spent his boyhood among Italian farmers and peasants on his father’s estate at Asciano, near Siena. There he learned the language and customs of the country, and developed an understanding of friendship with its people. In the late summer of 1939 when Hitler was about to attack, he decided to leave Italy and make his way to England. Travelling across Switzerland and France he arrived in this country a few days after hostilities had begun. He joined a British country regiment, transferred to Commando 8, and in due course from himself in the North African campaign. A severe illness put him out of action for some time, and when he emerged from hospital he found that his Commando had been disbanded and his comrades dispersed to other units.

Italian patriots were then being trained for special work behind the enemy lines in Italy. With his knowledge of the Italian language and people, Dick Mallaby felt that he was qualified to take part in these operations – if only he could persuade the authorities to accept him. Fortuitous circumstances, coupled with his natural initiative, provided an opportunity. Someone else dropped out, and he was in. He had now to learn the technique of his new ‘trade’.

While completing his operational training at ‘Algiers’, he met Cadet Ensign Christine Marks, a member of the F.A.N.Y. [First Aid Nursing Yeomanry] attached to ‘Special Ops’ in North Africa for coding and cipher work. Christine was later to play a not unimportant part in Dick’s adventures, and in the best tradition of such stories she was to become his wife.

It has been my privilege to learn much about the dangers of parachute landings in enemy territory from some of the gallant men and women who took part in these operations. This story disclosed a new and startling hazard.

Sergeant Dick Mallaby had to make a parachute landing in an Italian Lake. This was no accident of war. For a variety of reasons, that was what had been planned, and the training which led up to it included a practice jump from a plane into the sea – just to make sure that such a landing was a practical proposition.

From the moment of his watery touch-down in Lake Como, ill-fortune seems to have beset Mallaby. As always, bright moonlight was essential for such an operation, and it so happened that his arrival at Como, coincided with a heavy bombing of the nearby town of Milan. Many of the citizens of that town were seeking refuge by the lake when he arrived.

The events which followed the landing, and the manner in which failure was transformed to success, from a story that has few parallels.

War had, in the meantime, also caught up with Dick’s father. The Germans had occupied Siena and the surrounding countryside and he was obliged to go into hiding. Anti-Fascist guerrillas were at work harassing the Germans, and Mallaby Senior joined them.

A Second Mission.

With his first ‘special op’ completed, Dick Mallaby rejoined his unit in Italy. He had been promoted to commissioned rank, and was engaged in the training of Italian volunteers. But the work lacked the thrills and action of ‘special operations’, and the advance of the Allied Armies into Italy presented him with an opportunity for another mission behind the enemy lines.

Although in extreme peril, he attempted to negotiate an arrangement with the Supreme German Commander which would have enabled him to utilise the Italian patriot guerrillas in operations against the retreating enemy. Only ill fortune cheated him of success. The most astonishing aspect of this part of the story lies in the fact that a soldier so young and so comparatively inexperienced could have conceived an attempted to carry out such a plan.

When the war ended Dick Mallaby and Christine Marks were married. They returned to Italy and at Asciano the first of another generation of the Mallaby family was born.

[Digital page 86]

[Newspaper article from the Swiss Reporter, Keith Kilby’s handwritten notes presumably suggest this was written in the late 1940s or early 1950s]

Swiss Reporter SPECIAL – Escape To The Mountains!
Tales of Flights To Freedom.

The following article is the introduction to a series of reports to appear subsequently on escapes into Switzerland made by Allied soldiers. The author has spent much time doing original research on this subject, and is perhaps one of the best informed civilians on wartime escapes to Switzerland.
By Claire-EIiane Engel

Throughout the Second World War, due to the fact that entire countries were overrun by Germany, hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians were forced to escape from one country to another. Many books have been written on this subject, and yet some of the most dramatic tales have hardly attracted the notice they deserve.

Very little is known about the escapes across the Alps. For example, when Italy surrendered on September 13, 1943, several Italian prison

[Black & white photograph with caption “This is the sort of terrain soldiers escaping from Italy had to cross to reach Switzerland”. It shows a snowy mountain side with three men trying to climb up it]

camps were opened, and British and American prisoners were liberated. Five or six thousand of them reached Switzerland, crossing the frontier at various points from the French to the Austrian borders. Swiss authorities had them interned in various camps, the largest of which was Wyl in the Canton of St. Gall. All of them were repatriated to England via France and North Africa in September 1944 when France had been liberated.

Many of them reached Switzerland the easy way, near Chiasso and Ponte-Tresa, where mountains are low and paths not difficult to find. Some of them actually entered Switzerland riding a bicycle or calmly wading through the Tresa River while the Italian guards were having their lunch. But many had to traverse high Alpine passes, some of them well above 12,000 feet.

Research Is Difficult
It is not an easy task to piece their stories together by employing Swiss Military archives. The officers of the Swiss Military police who questioned them were not interested in the peaks they had crossed. They merely ascertained the name, rank, and unit, the place where they had been captured, and the camp from which they has escaped. Often the fugitives hardly knew the name of the route they had taken and they did not want to mention the names of the Italian villages where they had lived for days or weeks before reaching the mountain. They had been helped, fed and sheltered by Italian peasants and they, were anxious not to endanger them. Consequently, the accounts of their Alpine journeys were extremely vague.

Trying Experiences
Many of them tried to forget their ordeal, and very few took the trouble to write their story. It might have been possible to find many details when the events were still fresh in their minds, but until the end of the war, secrecy was maintained by British and Swiss censorship. I was also a refugee in Switzerland, so that I was bound not to ask questions about military subjects. Later, guides and local people had forgotten most of the details and they hardly realized what such climbs had meant for men who had no mountain experience, who did not know how to use a rope—when they were lucky enough to have one —and who were in poor physical condition. When leaving the camps, they had discarded their uniforms, and often they were clad in rags given them by Italian peasants. Many of them traversed high glacier passes in low shoes round which they had wound bits of strings to get some sort of grip on the ice. One of them came down the Felikjoch on his bare feet.

Sources Of Information
Many of these escapees were New Zealanders, Australians and South Africans who had never seen snow. They were to experience all at once the various curses laid upon novice climbers by high mountains: cold, fog, giddiness, mountain sickness and exhaustion.

Should any of my readers know anything about those escapes from Italy into Switzerland, I should be extremely grateful if they would communicate with me through the Editor of this publication. I am indebted to the following persons for most of my information: Lieutenant-Colonel G. de Burgh, Major J. Hall, Mr. Kenneth Grinling, Major Kenselmann, Mlle. Billon of the Swiss General Staff, Mme. Baumann-Kalbermatten, M. R. Escher and M. M. Borsinger.

[Digital page 87]

[Newspaper article from the Swiss Reporter]

Escape To The Mountains!
Tales of Flights To Freedom

This is the second in a series of articles about war-time escapes into Switzerland. The third will appear in next week’s edition.

By Claire-Elaine Engel

Italy collapsed on September 13, 1943. After a delay which has not been clearly accounted for, prison camps were opened and most of the inmates attempted to go south in order to reach British, American and French lines. Some waited for an expected landing near Genoa, but this did not take place. The only remaining possible solution was to try to reach Switzerland.

During the summer, they had looked forward to the Italian surrender, and meanwhile attempts had been made to contact the leaders of the Italian resistance. Among these were several priests who organized various lines of escape. The priests of Bonianco and Piedimulera (south of Simplon) were particularly helpful. In the prison camp of Chieti, Lieutenant Edmonston Loew who knew Switzerland well, and was a mountaineer drew rough sketches of the passes above Zermatt. Yet he did not escape that way himself. He joined the Italian resistance and fought with them for nine months, to be finally recaptured by the Germans and sent to a German prison camp.

Smugglers As Guides
The men were instructed to follow the streams up to their sources, so that they could not fail to reach the top of the Alpine valleys. When reaching the high villages, they were provided with local guides to take them to the frontier passes. These men were not real mountain guides, but usually smugglers who were not anxious to meet Swiss troops. They demanded extremely high prices— as much as 20,000 lire—and left their parties at the top with vague directions about how to descend. The Italian slopes are long and exhausting, but not dangerous, while Swiss side of these passes is a succession of the worst glaciers in the Alps. There are mazes of séracs and crevasses, the crossing of which required both skill and training. It was not long before the Swiss kept constant watch over the glaciers, and sent out parties to rescue the men who were coming down.

It was important to avoid towns such as Macuganaga, Breuil, Domodossola, and Courmayeur, as they were garrisoned by the SS [Schutzstaffel]. For the same reason no escape took place across the Saint Bernard, for according to what the Prior of the convent wrote to me, “the road had been immediately occupied by German troops.”

Few escapes, if any, took place across the Col de Valpellin. The largest number of fugitives reached Switzerland through the passes around Binn, the Simplon, Saas, and Zermatt. It is estimated that 1600 men crossed the Simplon, while 1500 used the latter passes.

Danger of the SS [Schutzstaffel]

The first group of 22 British and American soldiers arrived through the Monte Moro on September 20, in a state of complete exhaustion. From that day on and until the first winter snowfalls closed the passes, escaped prisoners kept arriving almost every day.

The SS [Schutzstaffel] occupied Breuil on the 27th and they were very near to Macugnaga. In spite of the increasing danger, fugitives kept arriving. On November 2, 1943, 43 men reached Saas in the utmost state of exhaustion. They had been en route for six weeks, and for two days they were in the mountains without food or shelter. Twelve of their companions had given up the climb, exhausted and mountain sick. On the col, they had the discouraging experience of finding the dead body of a man they knew. He had evidently died of exposure a few days earlier. A week later, early winter snow blocked the pass.

Some Had Luck
In the autumn of 1943, the mountains were very dangerous. There had been hardly any snowfall during the previous winter, and consequently the crevasses were wide open. By the end of August heavy waterlogged summer snow had drawn a thin and deceptive covering over them. Trained mountaineers know how to probe their way across a glacier with their ice-axes, but hardly any of the escapees had any mountain experience. Some had fabulous luck. A group of New Zealanders arrived at the Lyssjoch, at the top of the Grenzgletscher, between Monte Rosa and the Lysskamm. Their guide left them, and they began fighting their way down the glacier, which is one of the worst in the Alps. They succeeded in crossing several crevasses and suddenly were faced by another one, a huge chasm of unfathomable depth cutting right across their path. The only possible solution seemed to go down one side and up the other, though this most optimistic idea would never have occurred to a mountaineer, of course.

The youngest member of the party volunteered to go down, and was lowered on a rope. After a certain time, he shouted to his companions that everything was all right and they had but to come down. The crevasse happened to be a sort of tunnel which curved up and opened lower down on a flat part of the glacier, providing an easy though weird short cut under the séracs. Such crevasses have been mentioned in Alpine legends but were always thought to be as fantastic as the Alpine dragons described by 17th century writers.

Others Were Unlucky
Not all the crevasses were equally merciful. Two young English soldiers went across the Mont Moro and when coming down the glacier, one of them fell into a crevasse. He was stopped between the narrow ice walls, and he shouted to his companion, whose name was Moore, to go down and fetch some help. Later he managed to open his pocket knife and cut hand and footholds in the ice. After a long exhausting struggle he reached the surface of the glacier: no one was in sight and he resumed his way down, eventually reaching the first Swiss military post in Mattmark. There he told his story and asked whether Moore had arrived. He had not. Two Swiss patrols went up at once. They shouted, blew their whistles, looked for footprints in the snow, but found nothing. The poor boy had obviously fallen into another crevasse which had no escape.

When spring came, bodies were found and often identified on the Monto Moro and in several other places such as Sondrio (south of Poschiavo in the Engadine). But the number of fatal accidents will lever be known as the Monte Rosa glaciers do not carry down their dead.

[Digital page 88]

[Newspaper article from the Swiss Reporter]

Escape To The Mountains!
Tales of Flights To Freedom
By Claire-Elaine Engel


The Felikjoch is the pass between the Lysskamm and Kastor, one of the Twins. It is about 4,068 feet high and like the Lyssjoch, it leads to a very dangerous glacier riddled with crevasses, the Zwillinggletscher. It always had a notoriously bad reputation, due to several fatal accidents. As usual, the Italian slope is much easier than the Swiss one, though the climb is extremely long. The Italian Alpine Club built the Quintino Sella Hut several hundred feet below the peak… and how fortunate that was !

Probably because reliable persons had been contacted in Champoluc, I the village at the foot of the pass, several hundred escapes took place across the perilous region. Fortunately, two officers who went that way wrote an account of their journey.

Prosaic, It Would Seem

Towards October 9, a dozen or so fugitives led by Major Julian Hail reached Champoluc. They found two local guides, or rather smugglers, who agreed to take them to the frontier. The ascent was made under what mountaineers would describe as “good conditions”. They had weather neither too hot not too cold. There was, however, one serious drawback: a great amount of fresh snow made the going very tiring. Yet, such a matter-of-fact description is hardly revealing, for these men were on a high mountain for the first time in their lives, and had to fight against an always increasing fatigue in altogether unfamiliar surroundings. Here are extracts from Major Hall’s story:

“There were no longer rocks in our path, or stones. There were peaks in the distance and stars overhead, but in our way was the snow, soft interminable, barren and white.

One had to climb, but I couldn’t keep my foothold. I slithered, I struggled, I felt a fool. Time passed: how many hours I couldn’t say.

I was deeply distressed. Ice, precipices, crevasses—to those things I had looked forward with dread: I knew that they would test my endurance. But I hadn’t reckoned with the enmity of snow, sheer passive, snow, in which I was unable to walk. Perhaps it was the lack of nails in my boots (in one of them I had three), perhaps it was the faulty placing of my feet. The snow was beating me. I was not angry, I was scarcely even ashamed. I was merely sick of it. My body loathed what it was trying to do and was doing badly, so wearily… I dragged myself forward, slipped backwards, waited; I no longer cared what became of me, I was struggling with-out hope or plan… I wanted only one thing—to walk no further, to get | my feet out of the snow.”

Little Hut Is Happiness

“This was the cabana… It was empty. Someone put a mattress on one table and I threw myself upon it. I heard nothing, saw nothing, cared for nothing. I was happy. I need walk no longer. No happiness on earth could be greater than mine…”

“It was a world of white and grey, a drab and uninhabited world: a rack of clouds below us with mountains which were names but no more. It was a clumsy, graceless, tedious spectacle. It brought no exhilaration to the mind. It looked dead, inanimate. The clouds looked inert. We turned and set on our journey.”

Switzerland Or Not ?

“A long, broad and gentle slope. Nothing to do but mount it steadily, step by step, hour by hour, placing our feet in the snow. I didn’t slither, for now we had ropes, and I followed in the footsteps of the leaders; but I suffered as much as I had suffered in the night for now I was so weary and stiff that to walk at all was painful. My feet were like lead.”

“It was as though they were chained. I staggered rather than walked. Five minutes stagger, and then I must rest. Again five minutes, perhaps less. A longer rest, a shorter five minutes. The sky was turning golden where it met the earth. A single peak glowed pink like a rose. If I ever reached the crest of this slope, I should be at the foot of a steep rocky barrier. Was that our goal ? Was Switzerland at the top of it ? My neighbour thought it was.”

It Is Switzerland !

“They were right. That barrier was the end of our climb. It was the Felikjoch. There was ice. This was the ascent of which they had warned us at Champoluc. Dangerous it may have been, but it was not hard work. It did not take the heart out of me as mere snow had done. I climbed very slowly, I was practically crawling, but I didn’t feel tired or distressed. I was exhilarated. I reached the crest. Everybody was laughing, talking. This was Switzerland; the morning was up. The day was awake. The barren world came to life. From THE ALPS, by Julian Hall, THE SKI YEAR BOOK, 1949.

[Digital page 89]

[Newspaper article from the Swiss Reporter]

Escape To The Mountains!
Tales of Flights To Freedom
By Claire-Elaine Engel III.


A few days earlier, another party had attempted the same traverse and the result was little short of tragedy. Colonel Graham de Burgh and Captain R. Philips had great difficulty in finding guides. They finally found two smugglers who demanded 20,000 lire to take them to Switzerland together with a good looking, incompetent Italian officer whom they promptly nicknamed Blondy. (After Smugglers’ Way, by Col. de Burgh, Blackwood’s Magazine. Dec. 1945.)

The party left by night and when they reached snow level, a sharp, cold wind was blowing. The tracks were steep leading endlessly up, and they were exhausted and probably mountain sick. Their low worn-out shoes were soaked with snow and they kept slipping on the ice-glazed rocks. The sun rose over a landscape of surprising beauty but they were not allowed to pause and after a while their ascent became a nightmare

Nightmare Climb

They lost count of the number of hours they had spent fighting the mountain and against their own deadly weariness. When, at last, they reached the Quintino Sella hut, they were allowed but one hour’s rest, and then resumed their ascent. By that time, the weather had changed and the sky was dark with falling snow and the winds were of blizzard proportions. The Italian guides confessed that they had lost their way, and Colonel de Burgh ordered them back to the hut. He and Captain Philips were terribly frostbitten and fearfully cold. The Italians suggested that they go down to the village for food and return when the weather looked more promising. “Blondy” hurried down with them and that was the last they heard of him.

Finally Switzerland

De Burgh and Philips spent three miserable days in the hut, with hardly any food, burning every possible bit of wood to avoid being frozen to death. On the third day, the smugglers came back, and tried to induce them to descend. According to them, it was much too late to cross the pass. Colonel de Burgh suspected it was not true, and he succeeded in urging them to resume the climb.

The party started early in the morning. The slope was steep and covered with thick fresh snow, a fact which accounts for the very bad time Major Hall’s party had at the same place a few days later. The ascent up to the pass soon became the usual nightmare and Colonel de Burgh was completely dazed and almost unconscious when he heard one of the guides saying: “Svizzera!” They had merely to go down to quick safety.

They had no rope. The smugglers stopped on the pass and the others started down, stumbling in the fresh snow. Their goal was terribly far away and time and time again they slipped and barely escaped falling into gaping crevasses. Suddenly, de Burgh felt the snow give way under him. He tried to jump back, failed and fell. When he recovered consciousness, he was lying between walls of deep green ice, in semi-darkness. He shouted for help but felt as if the ice were deadening the sound of his voice. A coat of ice began to enwrap him and he frantically tried to shake himself free. He realized that without aid his life would not last as long as daylight.

Chamber Of Horrors

Suddenly he noticed strange shapes encased in the transparent ice surrounding him. It was not a fantasy —three dead Italian soldiers were staring at him with wide open eyes and almost seemed to be smiling at him. Some time later he lost consciousness.

When he came round, he was lying on the surface of the glacier. The smugglers had heard Philip’s shouts and had come down and rescued him from his icy grave. They took him and Philips down the Gorner glacier where they were met by the Swiss patrols who gave them tea and put them on their way to Zermatt.

(to be continued next week).

[Digital page 90]

[Newspaper article from the Swiss Reporter]


Escape To The Mountains!
Tales of Flights To Freedom
By Claire-Elaine Engel


When snow had closed the passes of the Valais, escape attempts were made in other districts where the mountains are lower. All through the winter months of 1943-44, escapees kept arriving over the passes of the Tessin and lower Engadine. By that time, most of the Italian towns, like Como and Chiavenna, had been occupied by German troops; but it was still possible to creep round them into the country and reach the higher districts.

Throughout the winter, Swiss troops stationed in La Valetta, a narrow valley leading from Italy to the neighbourhood of Bellinzona in Switzerland, continued to admit large numbers of escapees. These men had been hiding for almost six months in Italy and had learned enough Italian to make themselves understood by the peasants and by their fellow fugitives. For by winter, the groups which reached Switzerland were rather mixed.

Many Nations

Apart from British and American prisoners of war, there were Greeks, Yugoslavs, French—both Free French captured in Libya and maquis fighters, mostly sailors who had taken to the maquis after the scuttling of the French fleet at Toulon—, Russians and Ukrainians, most of them in the last stages of exhaustion. Some of them, in the heart of winter, were still wearing shorts and ragged shirts.

It happened that most of the parties which reached La Valetta were commanded by very young Cockneys who succeeded in shepherding them to safety. They had often wandered foodless in the snow for six or seven days, and most of them were badly frostbitten.

Family Affair

From a camp near the Austrian border, two American brothers escaped together in the dead of winter. One of them was a first-class skier while his brother was not even a beginner. They managed to find two pairs of skis. It is easy to imagine what an ordeal it was, getting a complete novice up and down difficult, unknown slopes.

The Swiss troops had been put rather out of their depth at first by this unexpected flow of refugees. There was no question that they had to be taken in: a neutral country must give shelter to escaped prisoners of war. The Swiss were at first surprised to see that most of these men were without their uniforms: they needed several days to realise that they had had to discard them when leaving their camps to avoid being identified.

Men Show Dignity

They were more surprised at the dignity and quiet of the men. Their one urgent request was for means to wash and shave. They never complained about the food or housing. In Visp, before being sent to Swiss camps, they were housed in large empty buildings belonging to the church: the Swiss officers were surprised to hear hardly any noise from the several hundred men there. All the presents given them, cigarettes, chocolate, etc., were put in common and shared among the members of the group. All the Swiss reports I have gone through are unanimous in their respect and admiration for these men who had endured so much.

Zurich Youths Begin Unique Boat Theatre

Some enterprising members of the Swiss organization “Youth Aids Youth” have converted an old boat on the Lake of Zurich into a floating theatre. The boat tours localities along the lake and gives performances at Zurich, as well.

There is no charge” for admission, but guests are asked to purchase an insignia of the Pestalozzi Village, which is the beneficiary of this novel idea.

The boat looks like an overgrown version of the Tessin fishermen’s craft, and is colourfully decorated, adding a note of exoticism to the lake area.

[Digital page 91]

[Black and white magazine advert for BRYMAY safety matches with slogan “British Matches for British Homes”, made entirely in England in BRYANT & MAY’S MODEL FACTORIES.]

[Cover of Blackwood’s magazine Number 1561, November 1945. Keith Kilby has highlighted the article Smuggler’s Way. A story of our escape over the Monte Rossa, by Lieutenant-Colonel H. G. de Burgh OBE [Order of the British Empire] MC [Military Cross].

[Digital Page 92]

Naval Occasions

Where are the Railway Steamers so familiar to the pre-war traveller? Although the war has ended many are still doing a great job, as hospital ships, troopships, mine sweepers and the like. Famous train ferry steamers are proving invaluable in pouring supplies into liberated Europe.

Some have made their last voyage; others, better, faster, are being planned to replace them in their vital post-war duties of linking the nations.

[Small picture of a steam train]


[Handwritten note by Keith Kilby: Armistice announced evening 8th Fontenellato marched all next day]


No. 1561.      NOVEMBER 1945.     Vol. 258.


A Story of our Escape over the Monte Rossa.

BY LIEUTENANT-COLONEL H. G. DE BURGH, O.B.E [Order of the British Empire] M.C. [Military Cross]

On the 8th of September 1943, in a prisoner-of-war camp in Northern Italy, a British bugle call rang out suddenly— ‘The Alarm.’ It was repeated.

For a moment all stood paralysed, then everyone was galvanised into sudden activity. This was the signal we had been waiting for.

‘The Alarm’ had sounded at 12 noon. At 12.10 I passed through the gap where the wire had been cut, the last of six hundred British prisoners of war.

It sounds a curious thing that we ‘marched’ out of a prison camp in an enemy country, but the Italian Government was disintegrating and the Germans, who were in virtual occupation of the country, were moving all Allied prisoners to Germany. In view of this I and my staff had, with the aid of some of the Italian officers, organised the camp to be ready for some form of break-out, to avoid further imprisonment.

The reason for marching as we did in six companies was that I hoped that, if the Germans sent air or motor patrols to look for us, we, marching across country through the trees and vines, would be mistaken for a German battalion. This was possible, as the German uniform might easily be mistaken for our own. Aeroplanes did fly low over us—and my gamble came off.

We hid, concentrated in good cover, for two nights, during which time the Italian peasants brought us food and civilian clothing, thus enabling most of us to melt away in small parties in various directions. The majority of the six hundred got back either to our own forces or to Switzerland.

When all had gone, Colonel Dick Wheeler and Captain Reggie Phillips, my two staff officers, and I began our own bid for freedom. Our plan at that time was to try and get to Genoa and thence by boat, possibly a neutral vessel, to Corsica or some other place in Allied hands. But when one is escaping, plans do not work out quite as expected. After many adventures by road and rail we three arrived in a small town situated in the valley of Aosta, from which many other deep and narrow valleys run up to the Swiss Alps.

[Digital page 93]

We did not want to go to Switzerland, where we thought we should be interned for the rest of the war. But by now Germans and Fascists were searching for escaped prisoners and all movement in north Italy was being watched, so we were gradually forced up one of these valleys towards the mountains. We began to fear that a party of three was too conspicuous, so Dick Wheeler went off on his own. He eventually succeeded in negotiating one of the passes alone and arrived in Switzerland.

Reggie and I rested for a while to ease my foot, in which I had an old wound; also having been in hospital for six months I was not particularly fit. We then began our long walk to a village at the end of the valley, which we had been told was a winter sports resort of Italians in peace-time. We thought we should be able to hide in this lonely valley and eventually join a guerrilla band.

It was a glorious day and the country was quite beautiful and untouched by any suggestion of war. There were thick woods everywhere, and the road wound up the hillside, on which grew a profusion of mosses, ferns, and little coloured flowers. At intervals clear cold water cascaded down the rocks and across or under the road. It was all so peaceful and so beautiful that one had to remind oneself that one was an escaped prisoner of war and that either death or another prison was waiting round any corner. One thing very important in escaping is to be inconspicuous. Our clothes were all right, but it was not always possible to wash and shave. I carried a razor, soap, and brush in my waistcoat pockets, and in odd streams in the mountains we made our toilet so as to look as local as possible.

We developed very sore feet, owing to the town shoes we wore. The shoes themselves were becoming conspicuous in a part of the world where everyone wears mountain boots. So we kept to the fields and along the river-bank, where we could take off the offending shoes and dip our aching feet into the icy snow water.

Here by the river we ate what food we had to the incessant accompaniment of the cow-bells. These I hated; I wanted the silence after the noises and worries of war, prison camps, and escapes. However, one got used to them, as to everything else, in time.

The mountains were closing in on both sides towards a point where the sun shone brightly on the snows. I said to Reggie—

“Thank God! The valley ends. We stop in that village.’’

“Thank God, too, from me,” said Reggie. “If I don’t stop, my feet will; they are just burning. How is your leg?”

“’Bloody, but unbowed,’” I said as we walked on.

A village lay ahead of us. It was quite lovely. Red roofs, timbered houses, and up the mountain-sides gay chalets dotted here and there in emerald-green open spaces in the pine woods. Farther up were a few more chalets showing dark against the snow. As we entered the main street we saw by a bridge Alpini troops in their grey uniforms with yellow facings, their small felt hats with feathers stuck in them. They were examining all civilians.

“Reggie,” I whispered out of the corner of my mouth, “this looks like the end.”

“Hell!” said Reggie. “Go on as if we owned the damned place,” and we did, hardly glancing at them. And got away with it.

Frightened by this episode, we walked on past several small hotels until well out the other side of the place. There was one building ahead with a large notice, ‘Hotel Breithorn’; another, a sort of chalet, stood across the road.

“I stop here,” I said, “whatever happens.”

Reggie said nothing.

I went up the steps of the hotel and found the office. A woman jumped up nervously, and before she could speak I asked if she knew French. She did. I said, “I want two rooms.” She said I could have one, with two beds, in the chalet. I agreed, and we were taken across by an old fierce-looking maid. We ordered a bottle of red wine, drank it, and fell into bed, having ordered some dinner to be sent over later.

I could not sleep. I don’t think I ever slept much on the whole trip. I was too tired physically and mentally. Not only was escaping a strain, but there had been the responsibility over a period of weeks for the preparation of plans to prevent several hundred British officers from being taken to Germany; the final mass escape and organisation of food, clothes, and concealment till all could get away in various parties.

All this had now produced a sort of numb mentality, so that I lay half unconscious and woke unrested. Reggie slept and slept. Next morning at about seven-thirty coffee and rolls were brought to us. We got up and went out. It was beautiful. A forest of pines and other trees grew up both sides of the narrow valley; down the middle wound a fast-running river about twenty yards across in places, but narrowing and widening at times. In some places it was fairly smooth and shallow, but with deep pools; at others a rushing torrent over rocks.

By climbing a little way up the eastern side we could see away to the Matterhorn or Monte Cervino, as it is called locally, and nearer at the end of the valley the Breithorn. They were shining white with snow, except for the top of the Matterhorn, which looked like a great jagged black tooth. One more village lay, beyond the pine woods, tucked into the sharp angle where the valley ended. A track led up to one of the passes into Switzerland.

That evening the proprietor of the hotel and his wife came to see us. They told us that they had thought we were French, but now realised we were English. They were very frightened and said we must go away as the Fascists were up looking for escaped prisoners. I said we would not go unless they produced guides to take us over the mountains. They said we could not pass over now as it was too late in the year. The weather would be bad and the snow deep and soft. I said in that case we must stay and that anyway I didn’t really want to go over at all. They left us, saying they would find guides.

We stayed in our room, but when local people began to visit us we found that everyone knew that two English officers were there in the village. The ladies brought woollies, thinking we were going over the Alps. The woollies belonged to their fifteen-year-old daughters and so were not very adequate. Reggie was presented with a small piece of fur, either cat or goatskin. I never discovered where he wore it.

Apart from these ‘comforts’, we were dressed in light summer suits, silk shirts, socks and shoes, and had no other garments of any kind.

We waited in vain to meet guides which the hotel-keeper had promised, and eventually we met a ‘beautiful ’ young Italian officer who spoke English. He had the best ‘pansy’ winter sports kit on, and his fair curls were arranged tastefully under and around a white cloth cap. We christened him ‘Blondy’ at once. He told us that he was escaping too; we asked ‘what from’, but this appeared tactless and we got no answer.

During the course of conversation he said he was in touch with two brothers who might take us over if we wanted to go. We told him we were not thinking of going to Switzerland. We didn’t trust him anyway. Later that evening an Italian lady came and told us that a party of Australians were in a deserted house farther up the valley. We went to see them, and later managed to get an

[Digital page 94]

Italian Alpini soldier to guide them to the main pass, where he said they, being ordinary soldiers in uniform, would not be stopped. These Australians told us that more were on the way up, so we decided to see them over before doing any more about our own future. The last party to arrive told us that they had heard on the wireless that prisoners were to go to Switzerland, from where they would be repatriated.

This decided us, and I sent Reggie to contact ‘Blondy’; for we were told that as civilians or officers we should not get through the guards in the place where the soldiers went. ‘Blondy’ came, accompanied by two Italians. He said they were willing to take us, but it was a long and dangerous journey, and they looked with contempt at us and asked where our kit was. We told them. They laughed. After much weary argument and trouble we got some ancient mountain boots. Then we were ready to go. After many false starts, owing to bad weather, we started at two o’clock one morning.

Just before we began the climb, ‘Blondy’ informed us that the other two were smugglers and must be paid. We had a little money and agreed, but the nature of our guides’ calling did not give us much confidence in our safety and I was quite expecting to be ‘done in’ at any convenient place.

Through the dark pine woods, aided by sticks, we panted up a narrow path at times almost perpendicular. Three thousand feet we went that night. We arrived at a farm in an exhausted state. A drink of hot stinking milk revived us and we slept in the cowshed with the cows. It was warm.

The following night we started off again, sore and stiff now; it was painful. Another farm, and here the farmer had been in Australia for many years. We stayed for two days, wandering about the mountain waiting for the clouds to lift, and trying by gentle exercise and rest to get aching muscles fit for the journey again. Each night we hoped to start, but it was not until the third that the Italians got out their ice-axes, ropes, and crampons to go. It was cold and clear; up we went above the forest-line over bare rocky ground in misty moonlight.

At about three in the morning we halted by a small lake which shone like a burnished shield of black metal. We had a mouthful of brandy and struggled on again. Now we were under the frowning brow of a great massif, on top of which were frontier posts. We had to move silently and were unable to use our steel-shod sticks to help us on the steep sloping hillside. The path had disappeared and we began to cross the many moraines in which every stone and rock was flat and edge up. The painful struggle over these was accompanied by slips between them, when feet and ankles were wrenched and bruised agonisingly.

We were getting into snow; there was ice on the rocks and the wind was bitter. The way here was one great mass of stone and rock tumbled as if by an explosion, and we climbed or scrambled on the slippery ice, tearing hands and knees. Most of the nails were gone from my ancient boots and they leaked. Dawn was breaking. We halted again to eat. I had nothing.

‘Blondy’ gave us some bread, and Reggie had a tin of sardines. We never managed to get the smugglers to produce food for us, and they always seemed surprised when we took theirs; however, they never refused to give some. It was too cold to sit long, exhausted though we were, and we could find no shelter from the Arctic wind. As we went on the tumbled rocks disappeared more and more into snow, until we were knee-deep in it.

I was desperately thirsty and sucked icicles, which ‘burnt’ my mouth so that I was unable to eat. On the top of a high peak we halted again, and in spite of utter weariness we were astonished at the sight around us. Below, a few hundred feet, was a sea of billowing, pure-white cloud. Out of it great jagged black islands of rock, like giants’ teeth, stood up towards the sky. On the east the whole was tinged with a lovely pink darkening to red near the rising sun.

We gazed in silence for some time, refusing to listen to the Italians when they wanted to push on. It was a sight few people had ever seen. We were out of the world. I felt we were part of the heavens, and a curious detached feeling came over me that little men crawled about below but were like ants, not part of my life. Then the Italians began to jabber, and I said to Reggie—

“I’ll never pay any attention to my mountain-climbing friends again. I don’t believe they’ve even dreamed of this, much less seen it in their little expeditions. Do you realise that we’ve seen the dawn from the top of Monte Rossa in summer suits?”

“No one will believe it,” said Reggie. “I probably shan’t believe it myself, if we ever do get down to the world again.”

We turned to resume our trudging through the snow, and I soon forgot the glory I had seen in my concentration on putting my feet into the steps of the man in front. This made the going easier, as he had stamped the snow down, and my feet did not sink softly at each step.

By now the backs of my legs and thighs were almost giving out. They were a compound of pain, a chill aching pain, and my foot and twice-broken ankle were on fire. Even the guides were weary and silent now, and ‘Blondy’ was failing badly. Later he fell with a loud cry; I didn’t even look round. He made a great fuss. As we went on I said to Reggie—

“Is he badly cut?”

“Good Lord, no; he’s spoilt his beautiful trousers, that’s all.”

I had forgotten how wonderfully he was got up in his winter sports outfit.

The snow was getting deeper, so we all walked or plodded in the footsteps of the leader. The going was difficult and much of it dangerous. Often we were on an almost perpendicular wall of snow, leaning on our sticks, which we thrust in above us, and stamping a foothold for each foot in turn. To lose balance, or a false step, might precipitate us all down a slide of a thousand feet or more, with a final dive into space and a crash on rocks below.

On we struggled, up, always up, and the white glare on the snow just under my nose made my eyes ache. Sometimes I said “Stop!” and for a few breaths we halted; once or twice Reggie said it. But mostly we plodded on praying; at least I did. I prayed all the time, “God give my knees strength to go ten yards more,” and each time I looked up the top was farther off. I don’t think I was conscious all the time. I remember looking at Reggie’s drawn yellow face and thinking he wasn’t.

At last we rounded a turn at the top of a small glacier and two hundred yards away was a hut. It was one of those used by Alpine clubs for expeditions. It had been broken into. The entrance was heaped with snow, and we had to dig our way into the living-room. There were piles of wet and sodden blankets. The small kitchen, however, was shut and dry. There was some wood, and soon a fire was going in the stove. The Italians got a bucket of snow, melted it, and put sugar in. We all had a hot drink. I got my boots off, and, rolling myself in the blankets, tried to rest. I only lay aching; whichever way I turned was pain. And then I began to shiver. I shall never forget that shivering; the agony of it was worse than being wounded. Reggie slept till he got cold. Then we both shouldered the Italians away and sat right over the stove. Through the window the sun was bright and everything clear, so clear that we could look

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down upon the valley we had left. Reggie said—

“If I had a glider I would go down and never climb again.”

I felt I’d like to sit down and slide away on that smooth white surface rather than move again. But we had to move one way or other now.

After an hour we set off again, this time up a long glacier with some horribly sinister-looking black cracks in it, towards the pass twelve thousand six hundred feet high over which we must go to Switzerland. It does not sound much to climb from ten thousand five hundred to twelve thousand six hundred feet over snow and ice, sometimes going up, sometimes going down; it was to be a dreadful journey.

Our first attempt was a failure. As we reached the top of the glacier the sky darkened, snow began to fall, and the wind, that ice-cold wind, to drive through us. We were roped now. The Italians put on blue goggles, scarves and gloves. We had no goggles or coverings for heads or hands. Our thin clothes were no protection. The storm became a blizzard; my hands went black. I was so cold that I didn’t feel cold. Soon we could hardly see twenty yards, and at last, on a slope so steep and frozen that we had great difficulty in remaining on it at all, we realised that we were lost.

Like all Italians, the three began to shout and argue. Then we stood or rather leaned against the ice, hardly daring to move. At last I ordered them to go back. I was angry, but I dared not lose my temper in case I slipped down the precipice. I hardly dared turn round. At last we were back on the glacier, but now we could see nothing, for the driving snow blinded us. At first we followed our footsteps, made coming up. They gave out, and only the little holes our sticks had made, which had not filled with snow yet, enabled us to find our way back to the cabin. I often afterwards wondered at which period we were nearest death, but I never got it worked out.

The agony of our thawing out is a thing neither of us will ever forget. I think our brains must have remained frozen or else fear would have prevented us from ever doing the last part of our journey three days later.

The Italians now said it was useless to go on, the weather would last for days. We said we would not go back. The guides said it was madness, that the last date for crossing was the 15th of September in ordinary times, and now it was the 25th. We sat silent and let them shout. Then at last they said they would go back for food, and that when they returned, if the weather was not suitable, we must go back. I agreed, and off they all went, leaving us a small loaf, some cheese, and some sugar. ‘Blondy’ was like a girl going to a ball; he brought out the most wonderful kit from his rucksack, arranged his curls under his white cap, and that was the last we saw of him as his scarlet wind – jacket disappeared down the snow.

We were now left alone. We stoked the fire, and, wood being scarce, held a conclave on the order in which we should burn parts of the hut to keep warm. The lavatory door went first. Two days we stayed listening to the howling wind and watching the snow, and wondering if our rocking cabin would blow away. We had no light other than the stove, and we hadn’t, or wouldn’t have, enough wood to keep it burning all the time. I don’t think we talked much. I was too tired to sit up and too cold to lie down; and what agony that shivering was ! The ice-cold chill of the wet blankets was terrible, so we sat at the stove till we could sit no longer, then lay down while the warmth lasted to try to sleep. We didn’t talk, but sometimes we discussed how easy it would be for the smugglers to leave us or finish us off.

The third day dawned brighter; the wind had dropped and the snow seemed to be stopping. We had nothing left to eat and very little sugar for the hot water. We both thought, but neither mentioned it, of what would happen if the guides did not come back.

At about mid-day the sun was bright and there was no wind or snow. I suddenly had a craving for a pipe. Neither of us had anything to smoke. Matches were few and we began to fear to let the fire out in spite of shortage of wood. We shaved and washed and walked about in the sun, getting warm for the first time for ages. We got quite angry if we thought one or other was neglecting the fire, or neglecting to watch down the mountain for the Italians. But especially we got angry if we thought the other was holding the door open too long when passing through, thus letting any warm air out.

At about four o’clock the Italians came back—without ‘Blondy.’ They laughed contemptuously and said he was in bed. They brought us no food as they said we must go back, that it was now impossible to go farther. Sadly Reggie and I agreed to abandon the trip. So on the 27th of September we started back to Italy again. It was all clear and beautiful and I felt we should be going the other way. I said so to Reggie. He agreed, and we stopped. Reggie told the Italians we refused to go down. After much argument we got them back to the hut for one more night. It was too late to start now, as the trip was dangerous, and we must have daylight and enough for them to get back. They dare not risk being taken by either Italian or Swiss guards.

We settled down again for the night, it having been decided that unless there should be a clear sky and stars it would be impossible to go on. I did not sleep. All night I watched the window. If I ever prayed in my life I prayed for a star that night. So did Reggie, though I didn’t know it then.

It must have been about 4 a.m. that something shone on the glass. I couldn’t believe it, then I saw it was not on the glass and it was ‘ A STAR.’ I leaped at the recumbent Italians and kicked them up. Until daylight we watched that star. I never took my eyes off it. And at daylight, under a clear shining blue sky, we started up the glacier once more.

We went up the same way as we had on the first occasion, crossing the sinister crevasses by the same snow bridges. The greenish ice-walls shone brighter in the sunlight. The leader felt his way continually with his ice-axe, stamping on the ‘bridges’ to test the bearing power of the snow, and ‘packing’ it down with each foot when he found it held. Occasionally one leg would go through and we hung back ready to take the strain on the rope if he went down. At last we were past the place where we got lost in the blizzard; on the other side the snow was soft and deep and we were in it to our knees, a very tiring progress being made.

I tried to walk in the footprints of the man in front, but it is not easy to adjust one’s paces like that. I kept thinking of Kipling and everything gone but the will to hold on. I had not thought of the meaning of those things before, or if I had, there had been no understanding of it.

We were climbing all the time, so steep a slope that one was almost leaning against it and fearing all the time that one might start an avalanche. We had heard the rumble of one or two far below us. We came to a knife-edge stretching away and up in front of us, rising five hundred feet or more. On the right nothing, black rocks a thousand feet below; on the left a slope of shining white snow almost perpendicular. I stared fascinated at the edge so narrow that it looked impossible. But on we went, and I know my tired brain could not register enough fear or I should never have been able to go another step. On this

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hair-raising climb one false step by one of us would probably have meant dragging the whole party down to death. Castor and Pollux, two great twin heights, were behind us and the Lyskamm lay ahead and above. As we mounted over eleven thousand feet I began to feel slightly sick, and now I had to call frequent halts; not only was my leg hardly alive, but my heart was giving some trouble. One of the smugglers kept turning to ask me if I was all right. He was anxious; for if anything went wrong with one of the party it meant an almost superhuman task by the others to get the sick one along, whether forward or back.

Somehow I kept going, but the short halts were now every few yards. At long last, dazed, I reached the summit of that climb. I sat down; almost in a stupor I heard someone saying ‘Svizerra.’ He might have said China for all I cared. The Italians produced a bottle; it had a little liquid in it. I gazed at it listlessly, but Reggie grabbed it from them and handed it to me. I took a mouthful. It burnt horribly all my mouth and throat and all the way down, but the pain of that pulled me together. The alcoholic effect was nil. Reggie drank and gave the bottle back to the guides.

There was hardly any snow on this side for some distance and we were going down. The relief to my legs was indescribable, but it didn’t last long; the pain transferred itself to tired knees, and after a time I began to long for a climb again, when there was no jerking and jarring of downward progress. We were on a well-defined path leading towards the valleys, and, beginning to take an interest, I saw the Gornergrat and the entrance to the valley down which lay Zermatt— Switzerland! The realisation came now, suddenly—we were in Switzerland.

As we descended we came to more snow. We had come out from a sheltered cup, and suddenly I looked hard at what lay between us and that pleasant valley. We were on a great glacier. Now the rope, which we had discarded above, was put on again, and crampons and ice-axes were once more ready for use by the guides. We, of course, had our walking-sticks only.

The glacier is known as the ‘Grenz,’ and, as we afterwards heard, as the ‘Man-eater.’ Once again we trod the lovely white virgin snow, threading our way round the black yawning crevasses or crossing the snow bridges over great chasms of green ice and dark depths. I looked fearfully down into some, wondering how far down one could fall if the treacherous white wig of snow with hanging icicles, like ringlets, which overhung the green walls, should give way under us.

Soon we appeared to be so close to the black rocky river valley beyond which lay Gornergrat that I felt the end of the journey had come. In fact it was nearly our own end which we were meeting.

We halted and looked across. The Italians pointed to a path on the hill beyond the dry valley—the path to Zermatt. They showed us that we must go up to the right to the foot of a black mass of rock, the right bank of the glacier, and down this we were to climb into the valley. They were anxious to go back. They had to use the daylight, and also they were afraid of being captured by the Swiss patrols. We said a grateful farewell and paid them what we had. They had come much farther into Switzerland than we had bargained for, and so we unroped and off they went.

Reggie and I stood a moment watching them negotiate a particularly dreadful ice-wall which we had crossed by cutting steps for hands and feet. Then we turned and started on the last lap, walking blithely across the snow. Then I went through—I flung out my arms and by the grace of God they held, but my legs and body were dangling in nothing. Reggie came behind me; I told him to go away or we’d both go, but he heaved me out— I don’t know how. I got to my feet, and without looking at the hole turned and went on. Suddenly in a clear patch of smooth unwrinkled snow I went down again. This time I had a dream as the snow dropped from under me. As I fell I threw myself back clutching, but the snow came with me and down I went. My thoughts were numb and detached, but I remember wondering whether icicles grew upside down and if I should be impaled. Then I crashed; I knew no more for seconds, it must have been. The snow had broken my fall, but I had not got away scot-free. My left arm was injured. I was more anxious than frightened now. It was gloomy but not dark, and a trickle of water ran below me and under the ice. Far above was daylight and sun and silence. The walls about me graded from black to dark green as the ice rose towards the light. I thanked God it was early morning and the light would last. Probably longer than my life. It was cold with a dead cold and my body seemed to steam. The steam froze and formed a thin coating of ice all over me. I got up and moved along the narrow passage of the crevasse; as I moved I stumbled over a long block of ice. I looked down. In a thin casing of frozen glass lay a man. I could see his shadowy form and his face; his eyes were shut; he was grinning. It did not impress me much; I wondered who he was and passed on. There were two more. One I saw very clearly, young and fair-haired, in what appeared to be an Italian uniform. He was looking at me; his eyes were open and he smiled. I liked him. I felt he was glad to see me. I sat down on his—his what?— his robe of ice, and, nursing my broken arm, began to talk to him. But suddenly I found that I, too, was gradually becoming robed in ice. I got up, and, working arms and legs, broke it off. As it cracked away my body steamed and I felt icy-cold, which I had not done when in the ice. I thought—

“These three are warm enough,” and then I pulled myself together and said, “Live, you must live; fight, damn you—fight!” and I fought.

I fought against drowsiness. I fought against the silence and the gloom of the ice-walls. I fought against the desire to join my friends in their ice happiness, their freedom from worries and misery. I fought—why? But I did; and doing so kept myself warm. No—not warm—alive. Then I sat down at the feet of my friend the Italian and talked to him. He had some medals. One leg was broken; it was twisted under him so that, unless you looked closely, he appeared to have only one leg. He had a great bruise over one eye, and his hands were black. I looked at mine; they were black too. I wondered why. And then I found the coating of ice on me again. Now I panicked; I stood up and shouted. Then I stopped in horror; the shouting came back dead at me. Dead from those horrible translucent walls of solid ice. I thought—

“Now I must die—all responsibility is over—all I have to do is sit down with my friends here and be happy.

“No, no,” I shouted. “I won’t give in; I will fight as I have fought all my life. I—will—fight!”

The cold dead mist, made by the sun on ice and snow, began to sink down upon me. The light above was fading. I could not see my friend in his ice any more. I was ceasing to feel the cold. Almost I had died when—crack!—down came a load of snow and ice. I was quite angry. I was being disturbed! I tried to turn to my friend and found I could not move. I was frozen to his pall— to his tomb. I had sat so long I was frozen there and I didn’t care.

Someone was making a noise. I felt angry. I moved, and my ice clothing cracked away. I thought that one of the other bodies had got up. No—it was someone else. He said—

“Move—move, or you will die!”

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I laughed, and my ice cracked—it was quite thin still.

That was all I remembered for a long time.

I became fully conscious again on the snow with the burning of brandy in my mouth and throat. Reggie and the Italians were standing by me. I sat up. I stood up rather bewildered. Reggie said, “Feeling better? I shouted and got the guides back. Thank God they have come; we can’t get on alone.” We were roped up again and on we went.

When they had left us they had said we’d be down in half an hour. It took them four hours to find a way down. I have been afraid in my life, but never so afraid as I was during that journey down the ‘Grenz.’ Now we came to where the glacier broke as it curved into the valley. We zigzagged round and over a horrible network of crevasses, jumping many great cracks, not knowing if the snow would hold as we landed, sometimes on ridges of ice so narrow that only perfect balance prevented one from pitching over into the next fissure. Many times we thought we should never get over the great gaping chasms, and sometimes it was only by cutting steps in the walls of ice for hands and feet that one by one we slid dizzily along from one side to the other, never daring to look down.

At last we were actually at the bottom. But still I could not free myself of fear and went slowly, after the Italians had again left us, prodding with my stick. I saw Reggie striding on and pulled myself together and joined him.

We were soon picked up by a Swiss patrol. I didn’t know whether they were Germans, and I didn’t care. They gave us all their rations and sent for a thermos of hot tea to meet us later. We got to Zermatt on the 29th of September and took a room with a bath. That bath got overworked that night, and we rested. I didn’t sleep properly for many days. I was too exhausted. In my half-waking hours I wondered whether it was all real or only a dreadful nightmare.

From Zermatt we went to Visp, or Viege, where we were put in a Hospice just outside the town. It was a place used for ‘Retreat’ by the Roman Catholics, and we each had a cell containing a comfortable bed and a dressing-table. During the ten days or so we spent here we did nothing but lie under the apple trees, occasionally pulling fruit down to eat.

We interested ourselves in the soldiers of our own army and dominions who drifted over other passes and were collected at Visp, to be fed, rested, and to some extent clothed.

It was October; all had been very lightly clad and were now, for the most part, in rags. Many of the men came over with almost bare feet, bleeding and frost-bitten. Some had not come at all: the gaping crevasses had claimed them; surprisingly few in view of the complete lack of food, clothing, and mountain equipment.

We had to listen to the woes of the dozen or so Italian officers, who alternately wept for their country or crowed with pride at their achievements in ‘escaping.’ They gave the impression that they believed this to have greatly assisted the Allies. Reggie said it was far more likely to hove assisted the Germans by relieving them of their presence. Some had brought their skis and winter sports outfits and talked much of the good time they would have. The Swiss took it all away from them as they went to the station on their way to internment camps.

Before leaving Visp I called to thank the Swiss officers for their kindness to us all. One of them said, “Why not? If it had not been for the Battle of Britain in 1940 there would be no Switzerland.”



The portrait of my Great Grandfather, General Thomas William Taylor, has looked down on me at intervals throughout my life. He wears a General’s uniform of 1846 with the Order of the Bath. Until quite recently, however, my knowledge of his career was merely that he had fought at Waterloo, was Lieutenant-Governor of Sandhurst, and Groom of the Bedchamber to William IV. in 1833. The last-named appointment was apparently no sinecure; for the Sailor King seems, from all accounts, to have been as difficult in the bedchamber as he was on occasions in the audience chamber.

By a coincidence it was on VE [Victory in Europe] day, when I happened to be turning out a mixed collection of rubbish, that I came across a bundle of letters written by my Great Grandfather during the hectic ‘Hundred Days’ which culminated in an earlier VE [Victory in Europe] day. The letters were obviously considered to be of interest as they had been crudely printed many years ago for private circulation among his family. The letters, written as they were on the strategical and tactical battlefield, are full of incident and give a vivid picture as seen by a man on the spot.

When Napoleon arrived at Fontainebleau in March 1815 after his escape from Elba, Taylor was a captain in the 10th Hussars, which was split up into troop detachments forming part of “the infamous army” strung out in a long line from Charleroi to Antwerp to cover Brussels. These detachments appear to have been billeted on the inhabitants; it seems to have been a free and easy form of existence, for Taylor writes from Distelberghen, near Ghent, on 20th April 1815: “Our troop was much scattered, some in one house, some in another; God knows how I shall ever collect them in case of attack. I was in a distiller’s house, and better quarters or civiller people I never wish to meet with. We dined in Ghent at the Hotel de Cerf and had good ‘feed.’ Louis XVIII. there living very quietly. A French dragoon officer who was with him told me three hundred Cuirassiers had deserted or rather come over to him. Plenty of uniforms of all kinds. Our troops— i.e., infantry—come up in five boats from Bruges and Ostend.”

Taylor, who had been Military Secretary for five years to Lord Minto when he was Governor-General of India, and had won golden opinions as a Staff Officer, was not impressed by the Staff arrangements in Belgium; for he writes on 22nd April: “Hopeless muddle everywhere; march in the morning in hard rain to join the rest of the regiment; by some wise management we went to Head Quarters at Oostaire, where was no sign of them; then we had to come here (Distelberghen), where we found they were still dispersed over five or six miles of country. The people seem very good sort of folk and like the English and dislike the French as much as I could wish. They seem to have rather a Prussiophobia also. March tomorrow to Oudenarde; the name is pleasing to an English ear. News we have none; we hear nothing.”

My Great Grandfather had a profound respect for Royalty, and as has been told, eventually reached its bedchamber. During the Hundred Days, his respect was extended to that somewhat dilapidated monarch, Louis XVIII., with whom he had frequent contacts; he was, however, somewhat suspicious of his entourage; for he writes on 5th May: “In Ghent I saw

[Editor’s note. The original file also contains the pamphlet ‘Nei Venti Mesi della dominazione tedesca 1943-1945 by Mons. Giovanni Sismondo’. The text is in Italian and if you would like to consult the original please contact the Monte San Martino Trust via the website.

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