John Evans was a Private in the 5th Hampshire Regiment. His early diary entries relate the inconveniences and longings arising from a sea voyage in cramped quarters and leaving home. He was captured on 26th February 1943 around Sidi Nsir.
Evans describes daily life in a POW camp: a lack of food, uncertainty over Red Cross deliveries, lack of information and speculation about the war, bouts of illness that he suffered due to poor prison conditions and how important contact with home was via letters.
Evans escaped during a POW train transport back to Germany at Bologna (see section 2 for details). His later diary entries detail his life “on the run” back to Allied territory and the help that he received from the Italian civilians, plus how he was able to aid his disguise from the Germans after befriending a stray dog (See Section 4 for details). He managed to walk back to Allied lines and was soon sent back home. He received the [Military Medal] October 1944 at Buckingham Palace, presented by King George VI.
The full story follows, in two versions. The version in the first window below is the original scanned version of the story. In the second window below is the transcribed version in plain text.
[Editor’s note: Section 1: John Evan’s Diary, Digital pages 1-38]
[Digital Page 1]
The DIARY of JOHN EVANS M.M. [Military Medal] Pte [Private] in the 5th Hampshire Reg. [Regiment] Awarded M.M. [Military Medal] on return. 6th January 1943 to 6th January 1944
Recounts:- Journey to North Africa, landing, no man’s land, capture, transport to POW Camp in Italy. Life in POW Camp up to Armistice 1943 and subsequent chaos and removal by train towards Germany but ‘leaves’ train at Bologna Station. In climbing hills finds that all the Italian ‘contadini’ are willing to help. Endless mountains and valleys in rain and snow. With others overpowers a German and Italian when recaptured but finally crosses the Sangro to Allied Lines to return to England one year later.
These seemingly flat undramatic daily entries relate the inconveniences and longings arising from a sea voyage in cramped quarters and leaving home to capture, suffering, illness and dangers but reflect the dogged determination and acceptance of whatever deprivations and discomforts fate might bring. Whether such peaks of optimism as at the Italian armistice or the troughs of illness, starvation and despair he might meet Evans overcame them with a dedication to survive and come through.
[Handwritten Notes by Keith Killby]
Full summary inside.
Besides Diary of year from 6th Jan 43 to 6th Jan 44 his account of escape.
Awarded M.M [Military Medal] 44 by King George VI
[Digital Page 2]
Diary of J.E. Evans, 5th Hampshire Reg. Awarded M.M. [Military Medal]
Notes made by KK on reading October 1994.
Began 6th January 1943 and kept almost daily until 6th January 1944.
Train journey to Clyde. Slept on deck because of conditions below, continually seasick. Goes past Gib to Algiers. To Camp at Bone (later used by SAS [Special Air Service] and where those scheduled to go to Sardinia got malaria).
Moves up to Sidinsir. What a dump, Just one building and railway station. In front line from end of Jan to 26th February when captured. Virtually no food and no cover, pouring rain. Moved back to Bizerta in a ‘dirty old tub’, allowed out of hold to go to latrines. Arrive Naples and taken to POW Camp at Capua (PG 66).
Contents of parcels, hopes for cigarette parcel from family, lice, fleas, dysentery, bronchitis news of fall of Tunis and opinions in March, ‘should not be long before the Italian pack it in’ together with various improvised entertainments all occupy the diary.
19th May, 1st letter from home. Heard rumour of Corsica and Sardinia falling (rumour as Sardinia still in Italian hands when SAS [Special Air Service] landed 6th July.) 31st May morale greatly raised by 100 Allied planes. 12th June heard of fall of Pantalierrea. 15th June 1, 200 moved up to Camp 82, Latrina. 17th hear fall of Sicily. (Attack on jusy begun) 27th July hear of Mussolini fall followed by peace terms (assumption) 10th Aug. 672 S.A. [South African] POW’s arrive from Sardinia (If correct must have been a POW Camp there though none listed but KK in camp formerly of Yugoslavs) New fellows had malaria.
8th September. Italian Armistice. 11th some POWs go 13th Germans take over. 16th POW’s moved by train to Germany in cattle trucks but (as JEE said in a letter to KK) ‘he left the train at Bologna station’. (This was accomplished for by good fortune(‘) he had fractured his ankle which had put him in and out of hospital, as did dysentery etc. but for which he was allowed a stick. With the stick out of the air vent in the cattle truck he raised the closing hook of the door and though every other truck had armed German guards he got out in the dark with two others.) Already by 22nd says ‘Every Ite we have run into so far has been quite willing to help us and quite pleased when they found out what we are’. All the way down from Bologna along the sides of the Apennines he finds food and shelter and other, including Indians, Yugoslavs etc. receiving the same, ‘ though they could get 1800 lire for each one of us turned in’.
On 5th October split from the two others with him. (This frequently happened, though sometimes partners rejoined by chance. The tensions and strains of knowing the taking one fork might lead to continued freedom and the other to recapture or death, the weather, the uncertainty of food and shelter all added to the strain for there was no one to give orders each man for himself was responsible.) 13th JEE joined with an Ite. Passed Pescara (River presumably.) making for L’Aquila -‘main road and rail to-morrow’. 22nd ‘Once I’ve stopped for half a day I get so restless to be on my way – 4 more days journey now to reach our troops’ (optimistic – but necessary) Earlier had said that for a week a dog was with them which caught a rabbit which they cooked and one boot quite worn out.
26th October ‘Everything seems to be against my going, its raining, my Ite friend won’t come along and they all tell me that Jerry has a defence line 15K away. Anyway despite everything I am off to to-morrow with an English fellow in the village who I solo. Someone tried to steal my dog to-day but I got it back. I’ve got to get boots in exchange for my greatcoat! Does for large and small. Offered 1,000 for do, After walking another two days here front is a further 150K away. Worried about Mollie being worried. Goes to village church. Comments ‘Ran into Jerry yesterday and spoke to the Ites with him’. Says ‘some carrying on trying to get through, some going back and some staying here’. Only cold food and water available. Spend night in the mountains. Meets 3 officers – undecided what to do. Goes on with them. All got lice and only cold water to wash in, sleep in cave with straw. 9th Nov. Heavy fall of snow in night. (Is one of the officers Peter Langrish -his account in archives + The routes are the same and almost exact dates and both recounts overpowering a German and an Iti. ??).
[Digital Page 3]
Diary of JEE continued.
Saturday 13th November. Were picked up again by the Germans. They overpower the one German and one Italian left to guard them. ‘We left the Jerry tied up in the shack – he was quite happy – and handed the Ite over to some Ites nearby then made a hasty departure’. Moving around Scanno, Fatura, S.Lorenzo in rain and snow and then on 18th November over Monte Greco and across the Sangro – rather cold and deep (!) and reach their lines.
Foggia Bari Taranto, where his tummy is again upset, Phillipville and then erratic train journey to Algiers but put into Camp 15 miles away. Sailed on evening of 26th December. Watch stolen on boat. Docked and arrived home on 6th January 1944.
Awarded M.M. [Military Medal] by George VI Oct. ’44.
The DIARY of JOHN EVANS M.M [Military Medal] Pte [Private] in the 5th Hampshire Reg. Awarded M.M [Military Medal] on return.
6th January 1943 to 6th January 1944
Recounts:- Journey t o North Africa, landing, no man’s land, capture, transport to POW Camp in Italy. Life in POW Camp up to Armistice 1943 and subsequent chaos and removal by train towards Germany but ‘leaves’ train at Bologna Station. In climbing hills finds that all the Italian ‘contadini’ are willing to help. Endless mountains and valleys in rain and snow. With others overpowers a German and Italian when recaptured but finally crosses the Sangro to Allied Lines to return to England one year later.
These seemingly flat undramatic daily entries relate the inconveniences and longings arising from a sea voyage in cramped quarters and leaving home to capture, suffering, illness and dangers but reflect the dogged determination and acceptance of whatever deprivations and discomforts fate might bring. Whether such peaks of optimism as at the Italian armistice or the troughs of illness, starvation and despair he might meet Evans overcame them with a dedication to survive and come through.
[Digital Page 4]
The Diary of Private J.E. Evans
(M.M. [Military Medal] awarded) 5th Hampshire Regiment
Well! We’re on our way now, started on train journey at 8 pm and travelling all night don’t know where we’ll end up.
Well, here we are, train journey ends at Clyde side. Surprised to get straight from train to boat. What wouldn’t I give to be with my Molly now. Still maybe it won’t be long now.
Still laying in the Clyde expecting to move out tonight. Probably sight land again in 7 to 8 days. Expecting to be sea sick.
Moved out last night into the Atlantic, already feeling pretty groggy, hope it doesn’t last too long. Conditions on board pretty disgusting and packed in just like cattle.
I can’t eat or live below, so I am sleeping and eating up on deck. Living on tinned fruit and biscuits from the canteen.
Weather very rough, and everyone feeling really ill. But rough weather may prevent jerry’s spotting us.
Voyage very uneventful and beginning to get very monotonous, still sleeping up on deck, I almost dread going down below.
It’s a good job there’s a canteen aboard, I’d have starved by now if not. Just living on oranges, biscuits and tinned fruit.
Beginning to sit up and take a little nourishment now. Went down into the hold for a meal, but was soon up again for dinner. It’s certainly thick down there.
Still no interference from the jerry’s. Rough weather was a great help, I guess. Running into the Straits of Gibraltar now. Expecting to see a few bright lights, from the neutral towns along the coast.
Have passed through Gibraltar now. Wonderful to see all the towns lit up. I’ve just witnessed the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. Wonderful colours! The weather has changed now. The day’s are warm, and lovely moonlight nights. Still sleeping up aloft.
[Digital Page 5]
Arrived in Algiers this morning, nice looking place.
Disembarking here, but have to embark again, right away on another boat for Bone.
We certainly have been lucky, still no interference from the jerry. Arrived and disembarked at Bone about 8pm and marched about 4 miles out of town to camp with full F.S.M.O [Field Service Marching Order]. It certainly took some doing.
Sent down into Bone today to B.S.A. [Birmingham Small Arms Company] to do guard and general duties. Our transport not arrived yet. Will be pleased when it does. It will mean permanent job once more. At the moment I’m just anybody’s lackey.
Not so bad as I first thought, getting a little time off, better than being back at No. 4 Transport Camp with rest of Battalion.
Can buy as many tangerines and oranges as you want, also dates and wine. The wine is cheap and not bad.
Still at B.S.A. [Birmingham Small Arms Company] base and sleeping and eating pretty well, in fairly good billets. Fellows back at camp, under canvas and weather still pretty damp.
Left B.S.A. [Birmingham Small Arms Company] for No 4 Camp to join Battalion, expecting to move up to front line very soon now. An experience I’m not too keen on. But I’ll be glad to have a go at Jerry and help to get this lot over with.
Leaving Bone this morning for Sidi Nsir. Had puncture about 6 miles from Bone. Then another about 6 pm. Spent the night in French garrison. Treated us very well. Plenty of food and wine. Liked our cigarettes.
Left French garrison about 10am, about 4 miles had another puncture. Picked up rest of Battalion at Bulborough and continued on to Sidi Nsir with Co [Commanding Officer]. Arrived at Sidi Nsir about 4pm. What a dump! Just one building and railway station.
Very hilly country around here. Companies moving into position to-day. We’re right in the front line, nearest reinforcements 12 miles back. Not too good a position at all.
[Digital Page 6]
We’re sending out patrols, but nothing much happened yet. Food very good indeed! Living on Company rations. 1 box for 14 men.
Getting plenty of eggs from Arabs, but not tangerines or oranges here. Having eggs and bacon for breakfast every morning, or sausage and French bread, fried. Plenty of cigarettes and chocolates every day and a few boiled sweets.
Writing every day to Molly, but only posting once a week, absolutely nothing to write about.
Rations have to be taken to companies by pack ponies. Only means of transport in the hills. Water has to be brought in from ” Be Jo” by our trucks. The road is often mined behind us.
Sunday January 31st to Wednesday 24th February.
Not enough doing to put each day to day, but we all realise that our position is pretty bad. Before we start scrapping we are already surrounded on three sides. Some talk about us withdrawing to straighten up the line, but I know the old man. Everybody’s pretty disgusted with him. Just a Typical Colonel! We get Jerry planes over every day, but have only twice seen any of ours. One or two trucks have been blown up, by planes machine gunning.
I haven’t done much running around on the bike since I’ve been here, just down to Munchar to 2nd Battalion. No one to do maintenance. Instead we’re doing such things as scraping mud from the road after a little rain, etc.
Countryside around here hilly and stony. Local population consists of Arabs – a pretty scruffy lot, certainly not to be trusted. They’d sell anything or anybody for cigarettes or chocolate. We buy practically all their eggs, it’s about the only use we can find for them. We lost one patrol No. 17 platoon of B. Co. [Company] hoping they were all captured. Same Co. [Company] had a little skirmish with Jerry’s, and brought in two dead one and one Sgt. [Sergeant] wounded, he spoke pretty good English.
Next morning one of our patrols, just going out, ran across a Jerry patrol and brought back two prisoners, evidently they were out after our 25lb. [Pound] guns, which have been causing them a bit of trouble.
A couple of nights later Jerry’s put in an attack using heavy mortars, one officer killed, Mr. Bush had just returned from course, two fellows injured. Attack lasted all night. Some of our fellows reported to have seen tanks, (Churchills). but nobody took any notice. Anyway a few days later we found out that they were Jerry’s Mark VI. Our 2lb [Pound] A.T. [Anti-Tank] guns and 25lb. [Pound] guns just bounced off didn’t even scratch them.
M.E.’s 189’s been over today, machine gunning all positions but no damage done. Expecting to go on guard tonight.
[Digital Page 7]
Action Stations about 7am. being shelled and mortared all day long. Then came M.K. [Mark] VI. Hopeless position! Three of these just belted B. Co. [Company] for about 3 hours. Left alone in trench, the trucks caught fire making escape impossible. Found by Jerry about 7:30pm with M.K. [Mark] VI right over my trench pumping away into the station.
Spent last night standing around in pouring rain, feeling pretty sorry for myself. Wet through and hungry, wondering what’s going to happen to us all. Eventually ended up at Ferryville. Still no food. Had first meal about 4 pm and were searched. Then taken to Bizerta to a P.O.W. camp. Food situation pretty bad. Everybody hungry.
Nothing much doing. Sleeping out in open with just an overcoat, impossible to sleep and only one meal a day.
Monday March 1st.
Issued with one blanket today but that’s not much good without cover. Such heavy dew falls at night, and very cold, only one meal a day.
Feeling terribly hungry, thought about eating my blanket. Issued with small ground sheet tent, may sleep in a little comfort now.
Slept OK last night, but wish we could get more food. Everybody feeling starved but still keeping cheerful.
Getting browned off with the place. Hoping to be moved to Italy soon. Split into two Co.’s [Company’s] and taken to Bizerta dock where we boarded a small boat, a tank carrying craft, looks fairly fast.
Transferred on to larger boat, named ‘Congo’, a dirty old tub. Crammed down into the hold, with one meal and nothing to drink, but water. Meal consisted of half a tin of Corned Beef and one biscuit.
Feeling half starved and very weak. Allowed on deck in twos for lavatory only. Food getting worse, just Corned Beef and no biscuit today. God, what wouldn’t I give for a good meal, with a nice cup of tea. Fellows still keeping cheerful, Italian guards aboard have been stealing our food and selling it back to fellows for cigarette lighters, etc. Consequently we all go short.
[Digital Page 8]
Expected to land at Naples today, but disappointed. This means another night aboard this filthy tub, and still no food. Can see land OK now but will probably be midnight before we reach Naples.
Landed at last, thank goodness! and getting straight aboard train. Given two loaves and 1 tin of beef, best meal since being prisoners. Train journey ended and taken to Prison Camp, looks quite clean and tidy. Prisoners already there gave us cigarettes, first for a long time.
First night in prison, camp not bad. Slept well. Washed and shaved after 10 days without either. No breakfast issue here at all, I certainly miss it. Looking forward to Red Cross parcel to help out with the grub. Wonder what my Molly is doing now, won’t be any pancakes for us.
Considering circumstances we’re living pretty well. Coffee in bed this morning and tea again at 9am. Received Red Cross parcel OK and they are certainly good. Had vegetable stew for dinner, not bad! The midday meal and 1 very small loaf of bread a day is the only meal provided by the Italians, otherwise we rely on our Red Cross parcels.
Coffee again in bed. I’m afraid the life is too idle for my liking. I’ll be glad if or when they find me a job, but they are very few and far between. Another Red Cross parcel today. A Scottish one this time and a little better variety. Looking forward to a Canadian one now. 1 parcel per man per week.
Reveille appears to be settling down to late hour, its about 8:15am now before anyone is up in the morning. Expecting to stay at the camp for about 40 days. This is just a transit camp, P.G. 66 or ‘Concentramento’ 66 as the Ites call it. Still no work to do. If we do a fatigue it means another loaf per day and that is just what I want as we are not overfed.
Having large Red patch sewn on my jacket today (prisoners trade mark). Couldn’t I go one of Molly’s home made cakes now. If local news is anything to go by it shouldn’t be long before Italy packs in now. The sooner the better, I want to get home out of this, it seems years since I last saw Molly or Michael. Its good to have someone to think about and to know that someone is thinking of you because with nothing to do and feeling half starved it wouldn’t take long for a fellow to go crazy.
Usual routine of nothing to do. Attended church service, open air at 2:00pm. given by camp padre, very nice fellow. Looking forward to Canadian Red Cross parcel tomorrow, although doubtful.
[Digital Page 9]
Parcel day today everyone in good spirits and we did get a Canadian one. They are lovely parcels, plenty of milk and biscuits etc. and milk chocolate. The first we have tasted for a very long time.
Not feeling too good, tummy upset. Will have to be careful as there are a lot of cases of Dysentery about the camp. Unexpected order to move out. Everything packed and hanging around, but I don’t expect to move until tomorrow.
Moving today but only to another camp about 500 yards away. I wish we could get transferred to a jerry camp, they are at least human and look after prisoners very well, with more food and much cleaner. This camp is lousy.
Parcels again today and again a Canadian one. Made a lovely cake with the biscuits and fruit. All the other lads of the 5th, came in this evening. Poor devils are just about all in after 14 days in the hold of a boat on the way across from North Africa and nearly starving.
The other lads (No. 2 Coy [Company]) are looking better this morning after being issued with their parcels. Practically all B.H.Q. [Battalion Head Quarters] lads are with No. 2 Coy [Company]. Weather is getting warmer here now but not so warm as it was in Tunisia.
Made another cake today, a little burnt but not too bad. Supposed to have been paid our 10 Lire today and also issue of Ite fags, but don’t expect we shall get them until Monday now. I am running short of smokes too. Maybe I shall get some from Mollie later on. (Learned on return home that thousands of cigarettes were sent but none ever arrived. Many never even left England).
This camp is certainly lousy. All the lads turn out their shirts every day and usually find one or two unwelcome visitors.
Saw jolly good show today given by our own lads. Quite as good as some professional shows I have seen. Next Saturday we have got the Boat Race to look forward to. Parcel day tomorrow thank goodness.
Quite a good parcel today. Some talk of bulk rations being issued. Wonder what they will be like if we get them.
Issue of letter and card again today so I can write to Molly. I would certainly like to hear from her. Parcel issue again today and once again quite a good one.
[Digital Page 10]
Lot of talk about being issued with bulk Red Cross rations but no issue of milk at all. That means no tea. Still getting plenty of raids, usually start about 7:00pm and carry on at intervals all through the night. Objective – Naples.
Well we got the Red Cross bulk issue OK and its pretty good. 33 biscuits, 1 Tin Honey, 1 Tin of Bully Beef, ½ Tin Pork Sausages, 1 packet Cheese, ½ lb [Pound] Marg, ½ Chocolate, 1 Tin M & V and about 10 Figs. This is to last 2 men 3 ½ days. No milk unfortunately.
The weather settling down a little now and getting quite warm. Heard rumour that ‘Pnacho’ our C.O. [Commanding Officer] has been decorated with the D.S.O. [Distinguished Service Order].
More new men just arrived at the camp. Some only captured on March 6th. – 8th Army. Should get a bit of news from the outside from them. Among them are some of our men released from hospital.
Another of bulk Red Cross rations, but still no milk. Rest is pretty good. 1 lb [Pound] Tin Butter, 32 biscuits, 1 tin Pilchards, 1 Tin Tunny Fish paste, 1 Tin Peach Jam, 1 packet Cheese, ½ lb [Pound] Dates, ½ lb [Pound] Sugar, ¼ lb [Pound] Chocolate. Now for a tuck in.
Not feeling too well today. Do hope it is not a dose of Dysentery. Had an awful night, so sick thought I was going to peg out.
Still feeling very groggy. Went sick and was admitted to camp hospital with ‘Malessere’ (Ite Flu’). Being fed very well on diet 5 the best of the lot. Probably appreciate the food more tomorrow. Every bit of food in the hospital is provided by the Red Cross from Diet 1 -5. Everything is of the best. What should we do without the Red Cross. The Ites would let us starve.
Feeling better today. Lovely porridge this morning and tea. Cocoa at 10am with bread & cheese. 12:30pm Stew, 2:00pm Tea, 4.30pm Macaroni, Custard and Jelly. 6.30pm Bread and cheese and Horlicks. How could I help feeling better.
Still feeling fairly fit. Changed diagnosis from ‘Malessere’ to Bronchitis. Anyway I still have a good appetite and feeding very well. We all had a large cup of Ovaltine tonight for a nightcap.
[Digital Page 11]
Temperature up a little today but still don’t feel too bad. I can still eat OK thank goodness. Trouble is I cannot find anyone who doesn’t want his share.
Temperature still up this morning but down this evening and not feeling too bad. Expect I shall soon be out of here, I hope so anyway.
OK again in morning but temperature right up this evening and feeling jolly rough. Afraid this is going to turn to tummy trouble.
Friday 23rd. Good Friday
On diet 3 this morning. A light diet but very good indeed. Afraid I am in for a dose of Diarrhoea worse luck. Still feeling pretty groggy. Won 25 Lire on the races in the camp horse races.
Down to diet 1 now. Just liquid but it is enough for me at the moment. Diarrhoea now. Missed my letter and card through coming in here. That means Molly will have to go without and only I know the reason why. Easter Sunday tomorrow and still no Hot Cross Buns!! I’m taking Communion, hope it doesn’t interfere with my Diet.
Sunday 25th. Easter Sunday
Took Communion at 6:30am. Feeling a little better on diet 2 now. Diarrhoea much better. Hope to get out soon as our lads are moving to a permanent camp and I would like to keep with them. Jolly good concert for patients in hospital.
Feeling a lot better, but very weak still. On diet 4. I think lads are moving tomorrow. I’ll try to go with them, a permanent camp should be much better than this one.
Getting up for the first time today. A little rocky on the pins but otherwise OK. On diet 5. Expecting to go out tomorrow, hope so anyway.
OK now or near enough and leaving hospital this morning, but still on special diet outside. I still feel jolly weak still but I guess I shall feel OK in a few days. Living will probably be better in a permanent camp.
Once more a parcel day for me. Had no parcels whilst in hospital but I did not need them. The food certainly was good and I shall miss it now I guess. Heard that Tunis has fallen, lets hope its true. It’s about time anyway.
[Digital Page 12]
Issued with one spoonful of jam each, the Ites must be feeling generous. Its not very often they give anything away. Can’t understand us not moving yet. Perhaps its because of the rush on the railways due to the evacuation of North Africa.
Can write to Molly again now thank goodness, have just received letter and card. Have also managed to get a few walnuts from the canteen, about 5 per man but better than nothing. The little money we get is practically useless, there is never anything to buy. The folks at home know that conditions are bad out here, but I honestly don’t think they realise just how bad they are. The civil population are suffering from malnutrition and just seem to exist on Macaroni.
Finished my diet today, will have to continue with Ites tack again I guess. Hope I can manage it OK. Waiting today for parcel tomorrow and cigarettes.
Parcels again thank goodness. It’s certainly something to look forward to and the lads always speculate as to which kind they will be English, Scotch or Canadian.
Some jolly good Rugger [Rugby] matches going on but its very rough going on the hard ground and quite a few fellows are getting cut about. We have a number of professional football and rugby players in the camp.
Not feeling so good again, the old tummy is playing me up again. Once more waiting day for parcels tomorrow. Still rumours about a big draft going out but nothing definite.
Went sick with the old tummy again this morning and put on a diet. It will mean going hungry for a while, but anything to get this lot cleared up. Still it will soon be OK after I get home.
Weather turned wet and cold again, almost like an English climate out here, except that when it is hot it certainly is hot. Some jolly good football matches going on now, playing practically non-stop all through the day.
Went sick again this morning, still to carry on with diet but my tummy is a lot better now thank goodness.
Wet and cold again today, just messing around in the hut all day. Parcel day again tomorrow, believe its Canadian parcels, hope so anyway.
[Digital Page 13]
Parcels today and yes it is a Canadian one. Everyone pleased about that. I joined a Rover Scout movement started today in the camp. It should be interesting but the main thing is its something to do.
Still waiting for those Ites cigs. to come in, they are not much good but they are at least a smoke. About 600 of the lads are moving out tomorrow going to a permanent camp. I hope to be off soon.
The lads moved out about 4am and the whole camp was out running around, most of them on the scrounge for wood stores, old clothes, etc.
Did my first good deed as a Rover today carting parcels from store to compound. It really was a pleasure. They were Canadian parcels just what we have been waiting for.
Scout meeting at 1pm today. Padre came and told us some of his experiences as a Rover Scout. Quite interesting. It passes away the time and that’s everything.
Medical inspection by our own M.O. [Medical Officer] We also had a blanket check, and they came back worse than they went, absolutely swarming with fleas. Fellows have been catching as many as 200 in one blanket. The lice are not so bad but fleas, my goodness I never thought I’d see so many or feel em.
Started doing a little light P.T. [Physical Training] in very easy stages though. Getting myself fit ready for going home, which shouldn’t be many months hence. Waiting day again today.
Parcels again today and I received a Scotch one (Perth) very good too. Still doing P.T. [Physical Training] although not feeling very energetic. I have to pack it in when I start feeling hungry though.
Stopped feeling hungry whilst doing P.T. [Physical Training] and have to give up P.T. [Physical Training] as I feel so groggy. I didn’t realise that I was so weak.
What a day! Received my first letter from Molly. I know I shall received them fairly regularly now.
Worked on parcels again today although I didn’t go outside of the compound. Got hold of a jerry loaf 5 ½ lb [Pound] for 50 cigs; raffled half of it for 50 cigs. and boy what a tuck in on the buckshee half.
[Digital Page 14]
Scout meeting today, lecture by R.S.M. [Regimental Sergeant Major] quite good too. We made him an honorary member. Should mean a few good jobs or a few extra.
Hearing a few rumours about Sardinia and Corsica having fallen into our hands. Of course we can’t get confirmation of the fact, but lets hope that its correct. Still loads of fleas and flies about the camp, they really are a menace.
Played football and received a good kick in the ankle and sprained my thumb for my trouble. Good concert with camp band playing for the first time.
Parcel day once again. Paddington one once again, a big tin of pilchards and my partner couldn’t eat any of them. Not that I minded that a lot.
Jerry must be getting jittery, fixing up gun positions around here. There are rumours of the invasion of this country being imminent. How far it is true of course we cannot tell.
Terrific sandstorm followed by thunder and rain. The awkward part is that our roof is under repair and the rain simply poured in. Another letter from Molly.
Parcels again, another Paddington. Jolly good boxing show, including the camp band during intervals. Hampshire were well represented. Issued with Ite. Cigs.
Received letter and card issue, wrote to Farnham and letter to Molly. I hope she has received a few letters from me by now.
Sprained my ankle when jumping from bunk, very painful and beginning to puff up a bit. Have to go sick tomorrow. I’ve had to report sick more since being a P.O.W. than in all the three years at home.
Went sick this morning with my ankle. It is certainly a size and very painful. Hospital full so have to lay on my bed for three days and then report sick again. Hobbled to concert. Jolly good show.
What a day. Parcels day, had another letter from Molly and about 100 or more of our planes came over, Stirlings or Fortresses. They are the first we have seen since capture. What a sight and didn’t the Ites run.
[Digital Page 15]
Went sick again this morning, but still unable to move my ankle. Still pretty painful and swollen. It will soon have to improve because we have got a move coming off and I don’t want to miss that.
Issue of Ite sugar, about ¼ lb [Pound] per man, for 1 month. Had a few spuds in our stodge this evening, the first fresh potatoes I’ve tasted in 6 months. Of course they forgot the salt and spoilt it.
Parcel day again. Ankle very painful indeed. I think there must be a broken bone somewhere. I’ve got to go sick tomorrow morning anyway.
Went sick and after a conflab between 3 English and one Ite doctor its still undecided whether I shall have to go to Caserte Hospital for an X-ray. Lets hope not.
This is going to be darned awkward. I think I have got a touch of Diarrhoea, which means dashing up and down the ward umpteen times a day. At least my ankle feels easier now I can rest it in a soft bed. The move to permanent camp is definitely on, some of the lads are off today Saturday 5th. I’m afraid I shall be left behind worse luck.
Once again the move has been postponed for a while. Swelling of my ankle has gone down a lot. Had a short church service in the ward.
Parcel day outside and inside but we don’t draw them. Still on diet 5 but no appetite. Slight touch of diarrhoea.
Two or three of the lads who were captured with me are in here and there is always something to talk about. It’s usually home, civvy street, or a lovely roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and roast spud dinner.
Really have got diarrhoea now, right down to diet one. That is the diet where the orderly brings a bicycle pump in on a tray for meals then asks if you are blown out.
Parcels again today. On diet 2 now and feeling better for it. Still cannot use my ankle, although it is not half so painful now.
Wrote letter to Molly and card to Dad. Hope to hear again soon. On diet 3 now and feeling OK except for my ankle.
[Digital Page 16]
Heard of the fall of Panteluna and of 13,000 Ites being captured by our boys. Lets hope they soon get here. I want to get home out of this – it’s about time this blasted war ended.
Feeling better altogether now, although I still can’t walk on my ankle. Had small service today by Padre. On diet 4 now.
Parcel day again today but still on diet 4 – feeling pretty good. The big move is definitely on No. 5 compound going tomorrow.
1,300 men moved to permanent camp today from No. 5 compound. I am going tomorrow. Don’t know what camp but I hope its a good one.
At last we are on the move. Still unable to walk properly so with a few others were riding to the station on an ox-cart. And now for about a 400 miles journey in a freight train and what a train.
Travelling all last night and arrived at camp 82 (Laterina) at about 11:00am. Went straight into hospital. This camp appears to be a big improvement on the last. It’s quite new. I am in a new ward with 3 others – fellows of the 5th, everything beautifully clean.
Did good business with tin of stuff brought with me from 66. Made 210 English cigs. Issued with Canadian parcels and I stored it until I leave hospital. So business should be pretty good when get out of here.
My tummy feels better also my ankle although it is still slightly swollen. I expect I will be out of here tomorrow. They send fellows from this camp out to work. I’d like to go myself, its better than being idle. We won ‘t be fit for anything when we get back. If you don’t volunteer to work the Ites just make you anyway either Farming, Forestry or Pottery but its all digging trenches I think. Anyway its something to occupy your mind.
Nothing much to relate, no service here like we had at the other hospital on Sundays. Listened to the band playing, could hear them through the window. It’s a change anyway. Hope to get out tomorrow.
I was really hoping to get out today but my blessed temperature started to rise and by evening was 101. Nothing to worry about but it will keep me in here longer and believe me I have just about had enough of it.
[Digital Page 17]
Still have a temperature and a devil of a headache, also my chest is very tight, although I can still eat OK so that’s something. Issue of Ite cigs. 35 ‘Popolari’.
Still likely to be here for a few more days yet unfortunately. The old Temp is still high but still on good diet and able to eat OK.
Temperature still a little high but am feeling OK. The weather is really beginning to warm up now. It’s almost unbearable in this ward in the evening but its the coolest place in the camp.
Temperature down today and bandage taken from my ankle. Should leave hospital tomorrow. I am thoroughly browned off with this life I have only seen this new camp from the ward window so far.
Still feeling OK but can’t seem to get out of this place. I admit that my chest is a little thick but I don’t think that should keep me in here. Anyway here’s hoping for tomorrow. We hear a few rumours of news in the camp the trouble is that you cannot believe any of them. I think some of the lads let their imagination run away with them.
I think it must be a bit of chest trouble keeping me in here, because I had a special dose of medicine this morning, 3 drops and 1 bottle of tonic. My chest certainly aches although I didn’t mention it this evening.
Still feeling OK should definitely go out tomorrow, I hope. Wrote letter to Molly, my goodness I shall be glad to get back to her. This surely is a rotten blasted life but I have just got to be patient.
Not out yet but maybe tomorrow. We have got a gramophone in the ward today and it certainly cheerful to hear a spot of music. One of the Ite workmen brought us in a small bottle of wine, much more cheerful.
Well here’s another day gone towards the end of the war and getting home to Molly. Quite a crowd of fellows went out to work today. I think I will go out working myself when I get out of this place.
Issued with 35 Ite weeds today. If ever a cigarette stopped a man’s growth its these. They are awful. I definitely think I shall be out of hospital in the morning, the doc said himself that I was OK today.
[Digital Page 18]
At last I am out of hospital thank goodness. Its a lot rougher living out in the camp, but I am glad to be out. Soon I will join a P.T. [Physical Training] class and get myself a bit fit. I’m getting rather fat now, I cannot understand it on Ites grub.
It is very hot in the sun now, or anywhere in fact. I will have to get myself some sun glasses as the sun hurts my eyes and head. I am beginning to feel better already but have no appetite at all. A lot of our fellows go out to work now. I expect you feel a bit more free and it must pass the time away.
It’s lovely to be able to get a cold shower any time after 1:00pm and it helps to keep the fleas and lice down. Although this camp is like a palace compared with camp 66.
The huts are divided into 4 sections with 72 men in each section. They are brick buildings and now they are being plastered inside in white. Much cleaner and brighter. We sleep, eat and live on 5 tier bunks 9 men to a bunk, not good at all.
This talk of sheets and beds is all bunk in our case and the Ite food is terrible. Its far from adequate and we absolutely rely on the Red Cross parcels to prevent us from suffering from malnutrition. Wrote a letter to Molly today.
The chief thing about this place is to keep oneself occupied. Just find any old thing to do rather than be idle. Its a devil of a job to get a decent book to read.
What a day today quite a big event. I received 3 letters from Molly. My goodness it certainly was good, to get a letter is the finest thing that can possibly happen to a fellow during a life like this.
Parcel day today for me. There are parcels issued every day except Saturday and Sunday and every parcel day there is a market, when fellows swap tins of stuff or sell them for cigs. Its quite good fun, I usually go out with my little tray of goods. Another letter from Molly today.
Heard good news today that Sicily has fallen but so far it is only a rumour. Lets hope that this place will be next because that means home and Mollie which is what I long for every moment of the day.
Quite good open air church service today, and a jolly good concert in the evening, although not so good as we used to get at camp 66.
[Digital Page 19]
Swapped stuff for tin of milk on the market. It’s quite good fun spending a morning bartering. It’s just in my line and I often exchange goods for the other fellows.
On the market again this time getting cigarettes. There are quite a lot of cigs. in the camp now as cigarette parcels have been coming for several days now.
Nothing much doing, just the usual routine. Coffee at 6:30am. Stodge at 09:30am. Coffee and bread at 12.30pm. Stodge again at 5:00pm that is our daily routine.
Waiting day for me for parcel tomorrow. At this camp we draw one parcel a week each man and its better that way.
Drew my parcel today. No pudding in it but ½ lb [Pound] of dried fruit in it instead. That didn’t last me very long as I am rather partial to this delicacy. It seems that most of the parcels now have dried fruit in them.
A really big day today. Boxing at 09:30am and then side shows and general sports in the afternoon. International football in the evening England v S. Africa. England won 2 – 0. Also band and grand procession a really good day for a P.O.W. All this entertainment was brought with us from Camp 66. Its the first that the lads in this camp had seen like it and they certainly enjoyed it. I had my fortune told by Madame NEEZABAD.
I am on carrying today, that is carrying the stodge from the cookhouse to the hut. For this we get double stodge and the scraping of the pot and believe me that pot is well and truly scraped. Band played as usual this evening.
We are practically out of Red Cross parcels in the camp so today we were issued with one parcel between two men. Goodness knows how long that has got to last, the Red Cross parcels are the mainstay of us all.
The market was pretty slack today owing to the shortage of parcels. This afternoon our parcels arrived at the station and were brought to the camp hence much rejoicing among the men.
We are only being issued with 30 cigs. this week and I am pretty short now. A cigarette parcel from Mollie would be a boon now but I guess we are lucky to get any at all.
[Digital Page 20]
Good news today, our troops still advancing in Sicily and Naples being well bombed. Russians also are doing very well. My hopes of being home for Xmas are beginning to materialise. Anyway I have got a Red Cross parcel on it.
No letters from Mollie lately. I guess they are being held at camp 66 until they get a batch to forward. The letters should be coming straight here soon as I guess Mollie knows I am at 82 now.
Issued with a few tomatoes and boy were they good. They went down well with my three days ration of cheese. It really was a treat. We should be issued with fruit but we are not, in fact we don’t get many things we should. The news is good. Sicily is about finished and Italy should be next. I’ll be home for Xmas now I think or at least free.
The Ites are getting rather spiteful now and from tomorrow are puncturing holes in all the tins in our Red Cross parcels. This means food will have to be finished up the same day or it will go bad.
Getting a little news through about Musso. [Benito Mussolini] being kicked out and King Emmanuel taking over. It started as a rumour two or three days ago but is definitely true now.
We are jolly lucky, owing to Musso [Benito Mussolini] packing in when he did. The guards informed us that if he had not we should have been transferred to Germany this week.
News still very good. We are still pressing on in Sicily, but it really is time that lot was over. Then lets hope that Italy will be next on the list.
I’ve certainly got my appetite back now and today knocked myself up a special cake for dinner, it really was good. News still very good, we really are giving Germany a good bashing.
Parcels running very low now. Its a good job I draw tomorrow. I’ve had to wait nine days this time owing to the parcel shortage last week. News still very good lets hope it continues.
Drew my parcel today thank goodness. I needed it as stock was very low. OK for another week now. Everyone training for sports event in the camp. Should be a good show.
[Digital Page 21]
We keep hearing rumours of peace terms between England and Italy lets hope there is something in them although I think Xmas is a safe bet now.
Big sports day today, starting at 10:00am. Running, jumping, Putting the weight etc. No. 10 hut won the shield made by the fellows in the camp, also a cup for runners up. Ites stopped all shouting and cheering at football.
The Ites also stopped all singing at the church service. All merry making stopped throughout the country. They must be in a pretty bad state. News still good, still fighting in Sicily.
Took a few tins on the market this morning and did myself a bit of good. Weather very hot indeed although I am getting used to it. News still very good.
Carrying stodge today so I got double stodge and pot scrapings. It’s the only chance you get of a reasonable feed, also had a steak pudding from my parcel. Rumour came in that Sicily fell at 5:00pm this evening. It should be right according to the news lately.
Had letter to write instead of card so wrote to Ethel & Norman, by the time they get it I hope to be a free man. Just been detailed to go out working. Played on my ankle and think I have got away with it, not sure. The news is too good to go out working now, otherwise I wouldn’t mind.
Parcel day today for me, not a bad one. I think I am on the workers detail, in any case the move has been cancelled until further notice. They’re probably getting shaky now that out lads are getting so close. The saying now is “It won’t be long”. Fellows on the Ite detail issued with Ite boots and pantaloons, most of them cut down for shorts. Now the move is cancelled they have to pay 35 Lire per pair for them.
Expecting big events today onwards. Heard once again that Sicily has fallen. Came over the wire. Quite a good concert again this evening. Everybody pleased about the news.
Our boys bombed Turin, Genoa and Milan over the weekend. Turin is pretty badly battered by all accounts. News still pretty good from Russian front and Sicily still going strong.
Knocked myself up a lovely little cake from eggs and oats with jam on top. Heard of another landing in Sicily, lets hope that this is true this time.
[Digital Page 22]
Tuesday 10th (cont.)
will do the trick. 672 S. Africans came into the camp about 11:00am from Sardinia, they say we are bombing hell out of the place.
All the S. Africans moved into our compound today, we are just about packed out now and its simply stifling in the hust. Our lads still going away in Sicily.
I’ve got two S. Africans next to me now and they are jolly good fellows. The more I hear of S. Africa the more determined I am to settle there after the war. The standard of living is marvellous, and it offers every chance for a man with a little go in him.
I’ve been sleeping outside for quite a while now, but the Ites have stopped it. I can’t sleep inside at all. I just lie there and sweat like the devil, and the air could be cut with a knife. The news is still quite good. I drew my food parcel today.
There is rather an acute shortage of parcels owing to all the new fellows coming in and next week its to be between 3 men, with the chance of more parcels coming very slight. This is of course because our boys are belting hell out of the Ites. So roll on the end of this. The weather here is simply marvellous. Sunshine all day and beautiful moonlight nights and the most glorious sunrises. Under different conditions I would enjoy it, but oh boy do I want to get home.
Water supply is very bad here now and drinking water is only brought round once a day on a wagon, and with 2,000 men feeling thirsty the queue is a pretty big one.
Still no parcels in. The issue today is one parcel between 2. (Canadian Parcels). The milk will last longer at any rate. Good news about Sicily fighting around Maciana now so she is definitely finished now.
Yes Sicily is finished now definitely, and it won’t be long before Italy goes and then it will be us for home. Oh boy what a day that will be. I’ve almost made up my mind to go to S. Africa after the war. Its only for Mollie to say the word now.
Drew my half parcel today, its got to last me about 10 days this time, but I don’t think that it will. Lets hope that the other supply of parcels arrive soon or we will be on bare Ite rations and that is going to be just too bad.
Milan is getting bombed practically every night now, which is the reason for the parcel shortage I guess. Lots of rumours. Just received 6 letters from Mollie, one with 3 snaps included. They are quite good too.
[Digital Page 23]
Rumours flying around that our fellows have landed on the toe of Italy. It wouldn’t surprise me if it were true. I don’t think they will hang around in Sicily too long.
Parcel situation very critical, none coming into the camp at all. We are having another 3,000 men sent here too, goodness knows where they are going to eat and sleep, and it is going to make the parcel situation worse than ever. The weather now is hotter than ever, its almost unbearable and they say next month gets even hotter.
Still no parcels in and tomorrows issue is one parcel between 6 men, From then on it is to be bulk issue until they run out. A lot of the new fellows are going down with Malaria and about 4 died on the way here.
Bulk issue. There is about one third tin of meat and the same of fish, 1 tin raisins, 1 tin jam, ½ tin marg. per man. One of the new fellows died with Malaria, service being held this evening, being buried tomorrow. Expecting 3, 000 men in tomorrow then food will be short.
Fellows from No. 6 hut are preparing for an escape, are digging tunnels under camp cesspit under wire. They are certainly working hard. The 3,000 men came in last night, not settled in anywhere yet. Tents have been put up. Still more fellows coming in from camps down South. Not much news coming now. I expected an attack on this place by now.
Received a letter from Farnham. It doesn’t seem that my letters are getting home very well. I would like to get a cigarette parcel though. Smokes are very short here now, we had only 13 per man issued on Monday and no parcels in still.
Received three more letters from Mollie today. The letters are coming direct here now so maybe there is a chance of getting a P.P. [Personal Parcel] or a Cig. parcel. Most of us living on Ite. grub now, no parcel food at all.
Change in the weather today, quite chilly and sky overcast. Lets hope we are out of here before the cold weather sets in. We should never be able to stand it on just Ite. grub and no food parcels. Not much news these days. Churchill supposed to be making a speech on Sunday. Still no attack on Italy proper, I wish they would soon start something and get us out of here.
Weather quite good today, back to normal. Issued with two peaches per man today and boy were they good. I thought how Mollie would have enjoyed them. Band played from 3:30pm to 05:00pm. Still no news.
[Digital Page 24]
Another issue of peaches, about 3½ or 4 per man. Quite cheap too for Ite. stuff about 1½ Lire. Also issue of a few onions. We are all beginning to feel very hungry without our food parcels. There is absolutely no goodness in Ite. grub at all.
Churchill speaking tonight, should hear about it tomorrow. Supposed to be drawing one parcel between two men tomorrow. We can certainly do with it. Water situation still very bad here, always have to queue up for it.
Drew 1 parcel today between 2 men and 10 cigs. issued. Not much news in Churchill’s speech. Huge forces massing in N. Africa and Sicily according to the Ite newspapers. Lets hope they are coming here.
Present camp leader R.S.M. [Regimental Sergeant Major] is resigning and C.S.M. [Company Sergeant Major] from next compound is taking over. He will certainly be for it when the lads complete their tunnel. Another issue of onions and apples. Still not much news, but the Ites are getting well and truly bombed.
Oh boy! Good news today, our boys have landed in S. Italy and are doing fine. I don’t think it will be long before they are here now, lets hope they bring some food with them for we are all terribly hungry.
News still jolly good. Naturally there are plenty of rumours flying around about other camps being relieved and boy that is just what we are waiting for now. I guess I’ll be home for Xmas now. I wonder how Mollie feels about the news pretty good I guess. The weather is quite cold now, and food is really terribly short, but we can stick all that with the news as it is for we will soon be home.
Our boys are supposed to be at Naples now and on their way fast. I guess its goodbye to Red Cross parcels and P parcels now and cigs. We have been short for a few weeks now but Oh boy it is worth it.
I’m afraid the landing in Naples is all balls, but we know they are definitely in Reggio (Calabria) and another landing is very likely now. Beginning to feel very hungry now.
No P. parcels or Cig. parcels coming in now. It’s a pity that Mollie sent off my second P.P. [Personal Parcel] because I will never see it now. These blasted Ites will get hold of it as they do hundreds of them.
[Digital Page 25]
Oh Boy! What wonderful news, the Ites have asked for peace and everybody in the camp and out are going crazy. Fires all alight in the surrounding hills and we can hear the cheering up at the village . All the notice boards in the camp were pulled down and burned.
We heard today that an Armistice has been signed between us and the Ites. We’ll soon be home now. Parcels are in and cigs. We’re not out of the danger zone yet. There are a few thousand jerries in the area, lets hope they don’t get nasty.
I drew a Canadian parcel and 65 cigs, everything in the garden lovely now. We are standing by to clear out in a hurry in case jerry comes this way. Lets hope nothing happens now, I want to get home out of it.
Quite a bit of excitement today, about 30 men made a break from the next compound. The Ites fired on them wounding 6 or 8, killing one. Only about 30 got clear away. It seems queer making a break in broad daylight but everyone is getting very restless now. Discovered the explanation for the break. A few of the lads had arranged it, the others seeing them go thought jerry was about and just made a mad dash for the hills.
The Ites around here camp guards officers etc., have all deserted, and here we are in a prison camp without any guards. Went out for a stroll this evening through the vineyards. Did we eat grapes.
Went for a long stroll round and ate practically every kind of fruit, Grapes, Figs, Peaches, Apples etc. Fellows flogging clothes to Ites for bread. Jerry took over the camp this evening and shot a few of the fellows who were out. I had my kit all packed ready to go.
Our position is definitely awkward now. We’re all scared that Jerry will cart us off to Germany. If he makes a move that way I’m off, but its a worry to know what to do. I think the fellows who have been caught outside will definitely go to Germany, they have been put in a separate pen.
Two more fellows made a break today and a lot more will follow I think. The news is not too bad I might make it by Xmas now, provided we don’t rely too much on the Yanks.
Lads are still escaping in ones and two’s. I am afraid I missed my opportunity but there will still be a chance I guess. We were told this morning that we are all moving to Germany. My goodness what a blow. First batch move tomorrow at 2:00pm.
[Digital Page 26]
Well the first batch of fellows moved out at 2.00pm and all looking pretty glum. It’s our turn tomorrow and fellows are hiding in the sewers and everywhere but I don’t think it will be much use. I shall have to try something on the way.
Saturday 18th to Monday 20th.
Started out journey about 10:00am. Quite a few fellows ducked on the way to the station. R.M. [Ronnie Morgan], W.P. [Wally Pohl] and myself jumped the train at Bologna but landed up in a marshalling yard guarded by Jerry. Hiding out in a wagon until tomorrow and then we may be able to get our bearings. We are in dangerous position here, jerries walking around all over the place, and I don’t think we can trust the Ites. We’ve had to discard a lot of our kit and getting water is going to be difficult. We want to get away from here today but the place is swarming with ltes and Jerries all looting. Quite a bit of bomb damage here.
We got away OK. Just walked out in full kit, we even had a chat to the jerry sentry. Walked until 5:00am Monday over 20 miles. Slept in vineyard and met Ites this morning, they made us coffee with our own coffee, but we must not trust too many of them as the Fascist’s are back in power again. On our way again this evening at 7:30pm. We’re not touching the roads at all if possible. Just cross country and its certainly hard going.
We found a suitable spot to sleep at 4:00am, and we were certainly tired. We have to lay low in the day but its difficult to keep out of sight. We met up with quite a few Ites and they were OK. Gave us bread and wine. Passed through village of S. Piebr.
Got down to sleep fairly early last night feeling very tired, made brew first thing. Given ‘Pani’ by farmer and then on our way. Every Ite we have run into so far has been quite willing to help us, and quite pleased when they found out what we are. A little rain this evening, 35K from Bologna. Passed through village of D’ Imola, more vino and ‘pani’ from peasants. Finished way up in the hills and camped down by 8:00pm. Starting to rain now looks as though we are in for a wet night.
Just had brew, we are about 50K from Bologna now, and continuing S.E. today. Once again given bread and vino by peasants. Passed through village of Fainsa and over line going to Maridia. Met 3 Ites and had long chat. They helped us out and gave us lovely cake. Sleeping way up in the mountains. Ran across two more escaping prisoners, Indians.
Started out before sun-up and just walked until we came to a convenient ravine with water. Intend to spend the day here and wash our clothes and rest up. My right heel has turned septic, but not too bad. Staying here tonight but moving early tomorrow.
We didn’t move so early, started about 9:00am. Once again we had vino and ‘pani’ given to us. The going appears to be very hard. Saw 36 of our bombers and heard some of their work. Not getting news from the Ites, our troops do not seem to have advanced very much. We are just about in line with our old camp now 82.
[Digital Page 27]
Saturday 25th. (Cont.)
Passing by on the left about 90K from Bologna. Slow going over these mountains and hard.
Started early again today 7:30am. Slept last night in a cow shed. Met a good Ite at Rocco. Took us in and gave us a jolly good meal and another again at about 6:00pm. Another Ite gave us bread, wine and ham. Spending tonight in a small mountain shack. A gale blowing again.
Off we go again it’s about 9:00am. Some Ites took us in and gave us ham and ‘pani’ in a village called Strada san Sanja . A little further on we had another feed. Crossed a big river beginning to rain like the devil. Ran across a farmhouse on mountain top. Fed us and spending the night there.
Its still raining like the devil and we’re still at the farmhouse, just had another feed about 10:00am. Weather cleared a little and we started on our way but had to take to small mountain shed because of the rain. Made for the nearest farmhouse and spent the night in a barn. They fed us OK.
The weather is a little better today and we have just had coffee and ‘pani’ given to us and are now off again, The people are very good, plenty of ‘pani’ and vino given to us. Spent night in stable very stuffy but dry. Met Yugoslav Captain at farmhouse, he had travelled 18 days. Gave us copy of his map.
Started off early this morning, passed through village of San Sophia. Met 5 Ites on the run in the mountains and they gave us food. Staying the night in small village Castello D’ [word unclear]. In stable again. Everyone in the village brought us food.
Started fairly early again this morning and once again we were fed by several Ite families. They certainly are treating us well. This evening we pulled into the village of Cappare and all the villagers turned out to see us and talk to us. Were spending the night here. Talk about hero’s.
Spent the night in a hay loft and slept really well. The villagers made a collection around for bread and cheese and collected enough food for about 12 men. Three of the villagers took one of us each for dinner and we certainly did well. The mist and rain is still around the hills. The folks are certainly treating us remarkably well considering that if they cared to turn us over to jerry they could claim 1, 850 Lire for each of us.
Spent another night in the hay loft, weather looks about the same. We are all going to 11:00am Mass this morning, myself for the first time. It certainly was a strange experience. The folks were sorry that we are leaving them. Another lucky strike. Sleeping in barn where 25 Yugoslavs slept 2 days ago.
[Digital Page 28]
Started rather late about 12.00 mid-day but we made good progress. We’ve still got bread and cheese given us by the folks at Cappanni Reached and by-passed Bardia, spending the night in a barn. The folks invited us in and gave us food. The Yugoslavs have been here too.
Started early this morning just after sunrise. The weather looks much better lets hope it is. We are wearing Ites clothes and its jolly warm going. I have parted from Wally and Ron. I regret now but I guess I shall rub along OK by myself. Anyway I found a farm to sleep in and they fed me.
Started off all on my own-some today. I feel rather lonely but I’ll make it OK. Ate in house this morning. I wish I could get some news of our troops advancing. Our troops now 140K from Rome. Another good place for me to sleep and food, not going too badly.
Started on my way at 7.00am. No sign of Wally or Ron. Am being fed at practically every house I pass. Met Ite who spoke a little English. Started raining so made for nearest house. Asked in and food just coming up I hope—–and it did!!! Slept in the straw jolly good night.
Off once again early this morning about 7.00am., but didn’t get far before the rain came. Asked in house with about 4 Ite soldiers in it. Jolly good folk too, certainly feeding me well. Staying the night in the granary and should be comfortable.
Off once again about 10:00am. I think the folks in the house want me to stay but I am not sure as I don’t speak the lingo. I lost my list of towns running down to the coast that I am following. Made quite good progress today but ended up in a house not too good. I am beginning to wish I had stayed in the other house, but I must keep going until I reach our troops. When I lost my list of towns I also lost a letter from Michael that I carried in a matchbox with it. No use looking for it in the mountains. I wish I could get news of our troops advance I’d know what I was doing then perhaps.
Could not start off this morning, raining like the devil. It’s going to be darned slow going like this. I think I will just remain in a house until our troops arrive. Two fellows passed this way, I wish I had seen them I would like to speak a little English for a change. These folks want me to stay.
I couldn’t make up my mind what to do, stay here or carry on, but I carried on. The weather is now quite good. I hadn’t gone far before some folk had me in a house for some food and wanted me to stay. This evening I was taken to a good class house and the seniore made out a route for me to follow.
[Digital Page 29]
Spent a very comfortable night in the house and the people are going to dye my trousers for me. Made tea for me this morning and instead of dying my clothes gave me a complete new outfit, shirt and everything. They are really very good. Left my address with them.
Spent last night in a bed with another Ite. Off again this morning at 07:30am. The going is not so good now as I got rid of my kit bag yesterday and have a suitcase instead and its very awkward to carry. I have to rest more often and the going is slow. By-passed Gubbio this a.m. I met up with 4 English fellows and one Ite. He is coming with me tomorrow. Seems quite a good chap and knows the way OK.
Off again this am. with my Ite friend. He sure walks a pace over these mountains. We should arrive with our troops in about 10 days at this rate. Had a very narrow escape from jerry. In a house eating when 4 passed by probably looking for us fellows. We’ve walked about 20K today, stopped for a sleep.
Not quite so early starting this morning about 09:00am. I’m getting along faster now for I have abandoned my suitcase and my Ite friend knows his way around these mountains. Met marine, solo, no kit and boots worn off his feet. Our fellows coming up a little faster now. Passed Pescara. About 7 days now.
Met marine again last night, he was in the house that we called in to sleep. On my way again about 7.30am. My Ite friend wants to go a little far South for my liking instead S. East. Anyway we are making good progress. Making for Aquila too many jerries at Pescara. Stopped this evening after getting wet through, with a padre. Not too much food here, but its warm and that is the main thing. We will be able to dry our things out. We’ve done a few K’s today. Sleeping tonight in a barn in the straw. Off again tomorrow if its fine. I often wonder where my Mollie thinks I am, probably in Germany.
Raining like the devil this morning impossible to carry on. My boots are worn right through, but it won’t be many more days now before we reach our troops. Have been in the mountains now for 29 days. Rain ceased for a short time so on our way once again. Arrived at Macchia where there are a few jerries, but staying the night anyway.
Off again at 8:00am and going comfortably along a valley with my dog. He has been with me now for about 6 days. He caught me a rabbit and within 2 hours it was cooked and eaten, and it was jolly good. No rain so far and making good progress. In another 2 days we should pass Aquila, and then for our troops. Ran into a ‘carebaniere’ but he was OK thank goodness.
[Digital Page 30]
About 8:00am when we started away this morning, but the going is not so good as my boot is pretty well worn off my foot and the bit that is left rubs my foot like the devil. Its starting to rain now but we must get in as many miles as possible now that we are getting fairly close to our troops. Lets hope they do their share of walking I want to get home to Mollie and Michael now.
On our way early 7.00am making fairly good progress. Met 3 Ites on their way home and passed 5 English P.O.W. Passing Aquila now. Quite a few jerries here I believe. We’ve got to pass the main road and railway tomorrow. Quite a job finding anywhere to sleep tonight. The houses are getting small and few and far between.
Another lovely day today I hope. Started about 7.00a.m and on our way met 3 English who warned us of jerries in the vicinity, so had to climb huge mountain took us 2 hours to get clear. Now we have the main road and railway to cross and its absolutely swarming with jerry trucks. We walked until after dark today.
Started out rather later than usual about 09:00am. At 11:00am we made a halt for the day because we now have a 10 hour walk over the mountains, with no houses and no food or water. Starting 06:00am tomorrow. Lets hope we get food for the journey. The folks around here are good but they haven’t much food and the houses are terribly small.
On our way about 07:00am we stopped about 10:30am for food. Ite friend wants to stop here and wait for our troops, but I really don’t know what to do. Mollie must be terribly worried about me, and the quicker I reach our fellows the better. The Ites reckon there are a lot of jerries in the country around. About 20 P.O.W. passed through today. Stopping for the night I’ll probably be on my way again tomorrow by myself. Once I have stopped for about half a day I get so restless. Always wanting to be on my way. It shouldn’t be more than 4 days journey now to reach our troops.
I awoke to a beautiful morning and feeling that I would like to be on my way. Anyway I am waiting for news from the village to see just how far our troops are from here. Another 4 fellows are waiting here until our chaps arrive.
I’ll have to work today if I want any food I guess. For three days I have had only ‘Pani’ and chestnuts. I’ve been asked to go down to the village tonight to listen to the radio. Tomorrow I am off again, can’t stay in one place more than a day or so.
Everything seems to be against my going, its raining, my Ite friend won’t come along and they all tell me that jerry has a defence line 15K away. Anyway despite everything I am off tomorrow with an English fellow in the village who is solo. Somebody tried to steal my dog today but I got it back OK. I’ve got to get boots in exchange for my greatcoat.
[Digital Page 31]
We were off again this morning but its raining like the devil again. It seems that we just cannot get away from this place. I reckon there must be about 100 P.O.W. in this area. Swapped my greatcoat for boots, 1 large 1 small. The rain looks like staying but we must get away tomorrow. I have been offered 1, 000 Lire for the dog. The weather certainly looks better this evening.
We are definitely off this morning 7.30am and making good progress. Doing some pretty stiff climbing. Started raining like the devil about 3:00pm but we must carry on to the next village for somewhere to sleep. There are quite a few jerries in the area so we must look out.
Friday 29th and Saturday 30th.
I am one adrift somehow with this diary so I am making these two days one. About 8:30am before we started out but we made very good progress and are now well away from Rocco Medsa. We heard today that Pescara is in our hands. Its jolly good if its true but you can’t rely on any news that the Ites give you. We spent the night in a little church in the mountains. Made a good fire in an outhouse and had a fairly comfortable night. The food situation is not so good now as the folk are getting scared with so many jerries around and it will get worse as we get further South, but we will make it somehow. At the last long halt my Ite friend gave in and wouldn’t come any further. I am now with a fellow from Sheffield. The Ites certainly gave us wrong information at Corvona, told us that the front was 60K away, we now find that it is about 130K, after walking for two days. I have found out that I am not a day out after all tomorrow is Sunday. We ran right into jerry yesterday and spoke to the Ites with him.
Sunday today and it looks like being a lovely day. Had hoped to do another 20K today, but had only gone 10K and ran into 4 fellows who have been up to the front and reckon its impossible to get through. No food and no sleep for three days and there is nowhere to stay for a few days in the vicinity.
I’ m going to stay here as long as the folks will have me, or until a pal comes along keen on getting through the line. Its no good trying solo. I certainly feel a miserable wretch. My Mollie must be worried to death not knowing where I am. Went to service this evening at the village church.
Today I met 3 officers from the 5th in the same village, like myself they don’t know what to do, carry on or stay in the village. We are about 45K from the front but its hell to get through this area now. Some carrying on trying to get through, some going back and some staying here.
Still hanging around the village and feeling pretty hungry. Boy what wouldn’t I give for a good cup of tea and one of Mollie’s dinners. I hope we haven’t got to hang around here too long. Our people should be here soon. Personally I think they have messed things up around Italy. Tonight we have to sleep in the mountains as jerry is about.
[Digital Page 32]
Spent last night in the mountains and believe me it was cold, I couldn’t sleep a wink. I would certainly do with a good hot drink but no such luck. These people never seem to eat breakfast. I think tomorrow I will move out of this place, not go South but go east into the Sulmona valley where there is supposed to be food. The news is still about the same, no advance by our troops.
Moved out this morning with Captain Little and two Lt. [Lieutenants] one of the 5th Hants the other R.A. [Royal Artillery]. Moved into the valley and there is food here yet it is closer to the front. Heard the good news that our troops have taken Insonia . We are sleeping in a cave in the mountains tonight, lets hope that it is not too cold.
We went down to the nearest village for a good wash but no hot meal. I could certainly do with one. We have all got lice again, and are just going through the de-lousing programme. We have just been informed that we are all getting a hot meal this evening. We have had it and it was good with bread and cheese and vino after. We intend to stay in this area until Castel Di Sangro is in British hands, and then move on. We can get bags of food here but no hot meals which is what we really need. Still we are staying on for a while here now that Inirnia has fallen it shouldn’t be long.
We slept much better last night with some straw in the cave. Wandered down into the village and came back with bags of food, ‘pani’, apples, cheese, nuts and beans. Last evening were supposed to feed in a house, we went and all we got was bread and cheese again.
We went down from our mountain cave last night and slept in a barn not too bad, lets hope we feed this evening OK. My tummy is pretty bad again the old trouble. News is good, should be going soon I hope. Disappointed again this evening, no hot meal.
Last night we had a heavy fall of snow in the mountains and its very cold today. I wish the news would buck up. I am getting very impatient indeed and want to be getting away, but I suppose we must be patient if we want to get back home. Disappointed with my meal again.
Well we are still here and there is plenty of snow in the hills. Last night two more officers joined us and we hope to be getting along soon. Directly the news is good we shall be off. We are quite comfortable in our barn and sleeping warmly.
Heard today of an Ite who is willing to take about 6 men through to our lines we are trying to contact him, he would just be the kiddy now. We hear he gets paid 5,000 lire for one officer and 1,000 for a man, so it should pay him OK.
[Digital Page 33]
This hanging around is getting me down, I want to get cracking, besides hanging around here is dangerous now jerry could pick us up quite easily. My hopes of being home for Xmas are fading now, but I am going to be mighty disappointed if I am not home by then.
Should have been Friday 13th for us as we were picked by jerry again. We managed to overpower the jerry and the one Ite he had with him. We left the jerry tied up in the shack – he was quite happy – and handed the Ite over to some Ites nearby, then made a hasty departure into the mountains in the direction of Fatura and S. Lorenzo. Staying tonight in Fatura and moving on to S. Lorenzo in the morning, after that we hope to hit our troops. Things are not going too well at the moment.
Started off for new Fatura to get rations for the journey. Bought shoulder of mutton and had a good hot meal cooked there. Then on our way to S. Lorenzo, its raining like the devil. Reached S. Lorenzo wet through and feeling utterly wretched.
This morning raining like the devil and snowing, practically impossible to carry on. We are only 15K from the front but the mountains are bad now. Ites gave us a little meat. Moved down to small shack. May get some sleep tonight I hope. Our rations are short.
My god what weather, rain and snow. Finished our rations this morning. Two of us are going back to scrounge food. I went back to Fatura, one went to Scanno. The Scanno fellow did quite well and got some good bread, fruit and potatoes enough to last us a few days. The other two came back.
Weather not too bad today but we have no news of Castel Di Sangro being in our hands. Two of us went for food again and they came back well and truly loaded thank goodness. A huge crowd of our fellows have just come along with a guide having a go through. We are off too in the morning.
Started out this morning for the front. Going over Monte Greco. Its hellish hard going. 3ft of snow and cold, feet frozen. We came near jerry lines about 5:00pm. The guide cleared off and left us so we have got to make it on our own.
We were going all night last night. Crossed the Sangro river, rather cold and deep. Heard a few shots. Reached our lines about 7:00am. What a relief. Fixed up with a bath and taken to camp base. Spent a good night and slept warm for once.
Fixed up with another bath and clean clothes, and taken in a truck to a place near Foggia. We are all feeling very pleased with ourselves. Free and clean after all this time and on our way home that is the main thing.
[Digital Page 34]
Today we are leaving here for Bari where we get rigged out with an entirely new outfit again and wait for a boat home. Off at 12:30pm about 10K away the bus got stuck in the river. Started off again about 5:00pm and reached Bari about 10:30pm. Bath and changed.
Today we received new battle dress and boots, kit bag and small kit. Not likely to be here long. The food is good but I can’t take it yet my tummy is bad. Paid some money and bought some chocolate in the canteen. Colonel Newam came in to see me, he was quite pleased.
This morning we were off into Bari to catch the train into Taranto and then to Blighty —–maybe. The sooner the better. Arrived at Taranto camp about 9:00pm. Quite comfortable quarters here, had food and off to bed.
Issued with cigarettes this morning and reported sick. Unfortunately I have to go to hospital as my tummy is bad again and we have been told we are off this morning. What luck eh. Missed the boat for a dose of salts. I don’t mind so much if I am home for Xmas that is my aim. Quite a nice hospital here in Taranto.
Quite a comfortable night but its a lousy day today. I’m still feeling darned annoyed with myself for having to go sick. I’d have been well on my way home by now with the other lads, but here I am just hoping for the best. I must be home for Xmas, 1 month from now.
Friday 26th to Tuesday 30th.
Nothing much doing these few days, just the usual hospital routine, and hoping to get out as soon as possible. The days are getting on now and time is getting short to be home for Xmas. Anyway I guess Mollie knows that I am safe and sound now and I am definitely going home soon.
Expected the usual hospital routine, but about 10:30am I was rushed off to catch a boat for home, then the boat couldn’t get in owing to high winds. I guess we shall be off tomorrow. Quite a few other fellows again now.
Expecting to be off today but about 11:00am were told we could go out. Went to garrison theatre. Saw hit parade of 1943. Got back to camp about 6:00pm rushed off straight away for boat. We are on our way now for N. Africa, Phillipville.
The conditions on board are not too good for us fellows. Pulled into Sicily. Expecting to arrive at Phillipville tomorrow night and from there we have got a 4 hour train journey to Algiers. Still it’s worth it to get home for Xmas.
[Digital Page 35]
We should pull in to Phillipville this evening. Arrived at Phillipville about 5:00pm but for some unknown reason we are not disembarking tonight we’ve got to wait until 9:00am.
Disembarked about 9:30am and taken to the transit camp. No P.O.W. commission in Phillipville. It doesn’t look as though we are going to catch a train for Algiers today. Went to see an E.N.S.A. [Entertainments National Services Association] show in the town.
Hoping to catch a train there is supposed to be one going today. We were told at 2:00pm there is not a train today but we are off tomorrow at 9:00am. Off down to Phillipville. Everything is a terrible price, its the yanks. Saw a picture Nelly Kelly.
At last we are off this morning. Train left at 9.00am but what a train. Cattle trucks no seats, we have got 4 days rations and doing our own cooking in the truck. Talk about gypsies, my goodness its awful but its all on the way home.
This is an awful train, at every station the train goes off to do a job of shunting anything from 1 to 4 hours. A good train could do the journey in a day but this is likely to take 3 to 4 days. Certainly cutting things fine for Xmas.
Expecting to pull in to Algiers this evening, at least they tell us so. Its certainly not very comfortable on this train . We arrived at a station about 15 miles from Algiers about 8:30am and were taken to a P.O.W. transit camp. Arrived about 9:00am. Had good supper and so to bed.
The fellows that I left at Taranto are still here, so things don’t look so good for getting home for Xmas. This is quite a good camp and the food is very good. 50 of us here now. The small town nearby is called Fort Di Luce, not much there.
There are two more fellows from the 5th here. I know them well. We all went down to Algiers this afternoon and saw a good picture. Tried to see “Strike up the Band” but the shows are booked up for days ahead. I honestly don’t think we shall get away from here for Xmas or the New Year now. I’m certainly disappointed because I had set my heart on being home for Xmas all along. A plane is the only hope now.
The time does drag here because there is absolutely nothing to do. One parade in the morning at 8:30am and then we are finished for the day. The weather is terrible, raining like the devil and very cold.
[Digital Page 36]
Off into Algiers again today rather early so we can have a good look around. There is not much in the shops and what there is is an awful price. I wanted to send some fruit home for Mollie for Xmas. I’d rather take it myself.
It’s a pity we are not living in England and under these same conditions. It really would be just the life, almost like being on leave, but we are all itching to get home and cannot settle down to enjoy this life.
The weather is very good and quite warm again now although it gets darned cold at night and in the morning. Saw quite good E.N.S.A. [Entertainments National Services Association] show this evening.
Still no news of getting home for Xmas, the only hope is a plane now and that is very doubtful as they are working overtime on Xmas mail. That takes No. 1 priority as it rightly should. We are No. 3 priority or so I hear.
Every other day we get issued with 2oz block of chocolate at roll call, we had our issue this morning. I’m going to another E.N.S.A. [Entertainments National Services Association] show this evening, thank goodness for E.N.S.A. [Entertainments National Services Association].
I intend to go in to Algiers today to do a spot of shopping. Tried to find a shop where they send fruit home for service men but it appears to have stopped now. Bought some dried bananas, raisins and dates but prices are terrific. Prices of all goods here are terribly high. A good handbag costs £10-£12.
Just the usual routine today. Some of the officers went home by plane yesterday. Went into Algiers today. Saw picture at the Empire, a Laurel and Hardy, it was a laugh at least. About 50 Russians arrived in camp this morning.
This waiting around to get home is awful, most of us are getting thoroughly browned off. I’m afraid Xmas is going to be rather dull. Oh I had set my heart on being home for this Xmas.
Another crowd of fellows came in this morning, about 20 of our fellows among them. We’re supposed to be off in a few days time, at least there is a rumour going around to that effect.
About 9 more officers have been flown home for Xmas, lucky devils.
[Digital Page 37]
Nothing much doing all day. Went to the pictures in the evening, in Fort Di Luce, jolly good show. This is a very lazy and monotonous life nothing to do all day.
Went down to Algiers but all shops shut. Managed to buy leather wallet for Mollie but its not much good I’m afraid. Had a few drinks with a couple of lads from the 5th. Champagne etc. got quite merry.
Saturday 25th. (Am writing this on MAY 2nd.)
I am writing this in advance but definitely think I shall be home with Mollie and Michael on this day and having a good tuck in. (I am about a week or ten days out) Preparing today for sailing tomorrow early. Good dinner, Turkey, Port etc. Xmas pudding. We are confined to camp Xmas day as we are being medically inspected and must not contact any civilians before sailing.
Up at 4:30am breakfast 5:30am changed money, handed in blankets and moved off about 7:00am for the docks. Quite a decent boat, but usual conditions below for the troops. Sailed about 6:00pm at last we are on our way.
Sea is rather rough especially for the Med which is usually calm. Feeling a little groggy but I shall be alright in about 3 days. Sea a little calmer towards evening.
I don’t think I am going to be seasick this trip thank goodness.
I only wish I had a little more money with me as we can buy practically as much chocolate as we want in the canteen.
I am feeling terribly impatient on this trip, but I guess we have got about another 4 days longer yet. It will seem like years. Anyway I haven’t been seasick yet and I am not likely to be now as the sea is very calm compared with last trip.
Another day nearer home and Mollie. Hope we are not too long hanging around before our leave when we do get in. We have got to report to the Central Hotel Marylebone, London – just right for me.
Won’t be any celebrating aboard as this is a dry boat. Some dirty devil has stolen my watch, I am upset for there is not much chance of getting it back.
Still no sign of my watch. I shall not see that again and somebody will make themselves a few quid on that.
[Digital Page 38]
Supposed to land today but no sign of land yet 11:00am.
Docked and home on January 6th, 1944.
Pte [Private] J.E. Evans
5th Hampshire Regiment
Awarded the M.M. [Military Medal] October 44
Presented at Buckingham Palace
by H.M. [His Majesty] King George 6th
[Editor’s note: There is a handwritten outline on this page depicting the actual size of John Evans’s diary with the following note on the right hand side]
Actual size of Diary, consequently writing very small in pencil and indistinct in places.
[Editor’s note: Section 2: John Evan’s Story, Digital pages 39-50]
[Digital Page 39]
John Evan’s Story
We were on a four-day journey to another camp and thoughts of escaping were always in our minds. I had gradually built up some supplies, mainly tinned food. I had an old haversack with my old razor and various bits and pieces like a knife and fork which would come in useful, but no dummy papers or anything like that. I’d made a mug out of an old tin can. Obviously, I had a tin opener!
I’d had one go at escaping, without telling anyone. I’d chosen my moment to cross the perimeter fence and have a go at the wire, and was doing very nicely when all hell was let loose, the lights went up and guards charged about shouting, because there was a mass breakout from the other side of the camp. I couldn’t believe it when the guards dashed right past me. But it was clearly not a time to slip away unnoticed, as everyone would be on the lookout for prisoners for days.
The train journey would be the last chance. We knew it would be four days, which probably meant Germany. We were issued with four days rations, black bread mainly, and told how long it had to last. We were packed into cattle trucks with guards in front and behind, and all the time we were looking for opportunities, at every halt, every time the train slowed down even. Before boarding the train we would have done anything, dived over a bank, anything, but there was no chance. Once in the cattle truck, iron bars were dropped over the doors. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, I’d broken my ankle and was still walking around with a stick. There were a couple of louvres (vents) at the top of each cattle truck, and about eighty men inside. I was next to two friendly chaps, South Africans. They’d been working in Sardinia before being sent to our camp, and could speak a bit of Italian. I got them to teach me a few essential phrases, and eventually persuaded them to jump the train with me. We climbed on top of each other and poked the walking stick through the louvres to see if we could feel this iron bar outside. With the crook of the stick I managed to dislodge the iron bar and slide the door open enough to see where we were going and what sort of places we were passing through. The train stopped sometimes but. always these places were swarming with Germans, and the guards patrolled ceaselessly while the train was standing still.
[Digital Page 40]
The camp we were coming from had been near Florence, and an ideal opportunity occurred when the train slowed down to go through Bologna station. Outside the station we could see a German marshalling yard full of trucks, the railway being at a higher level so that we could look down on it. Also, with the slope of the ground, we only had to get down below the platform level on the far side to be invisible to guards on the train. We pushed our haversacks out first, and then jumped out after them, intending to crawl back, but the minute we jumped out there were shots fired. And the shots went on even after the train had gone, as they were not from the guards on the train, but from the marshalling yard which was very heavily guarded. I still don’t know if we were being shot at, or if the shots were loosed in our direction because we made suspicious noises – it was just about dusk. I think they must have seen us silhouetted against the sky. One of the South African chaps ran like the very devil, picking up his haversack, and we never saw him again. There were plenty of goods wagons and cattle trucks standing in the station, and we hid underneath one of these to decide what to do. There was a search being made, we could hear it coming nearer along the train to where we were hiding. We took our boots off, thinking we’d make less noise in bare feet. The sentries were moving nearer and we could see them checking by poking rifle-bayonets under each truck. We climbed on the axle and prayed, but they checked under the next wagon to ours and then turned back. We knew we had to get away, they wouldn’t stop there, but would come back with more men. We made a dash as quietly as we could for a goods wagon we could see with its door open, and nearly died when a face appeared – it was our mate who had got there first, and we picked the same wagon out of all those in the yard. It was full of paliasses army equipment probably, so we buried ourselves under these. And there we slept till morning, the yard around us literally swarming with Germans. In the morning there was a search made for us, and someone looked into our wagon but we were so deeply buried he didn’t find us and we heard him with tremendous relief moving away. The yard was busy with deliveries – probably the reason why it was so heavily guarded was to prevent pilfering as much as anything. We had to hide in there all day, and with the sun on the truck, and the fact that we had no water with us, we were nearly stifled among all these mattresses, terribly thirsty, and desperate.
[Digital Page 41]
I remember arguing with the other two that we couldn’t get out and creep around without looking suspicious, we couldn’t get out and run for it, so as we had to get out, why not just walk calmly and hope not to attract any attention? We were all in khaki shorts and shirts. It was nearly dusk again. So we climbed out and began to walk along the track by the train, and came slap bang face with two German sentries. We were all carrying haversacks and to make it worse I had a prisoner-of-war parcel box with ‘Kriegenfagnerpost’ written all over it. They challenged us and the two chaps with me tried to tell them the truth – in Afrikaans – that we were prisoners of war and had jumped off the train – but the sentries didn’t seem to understand, not to be terribly bothered. I can only think they thought us Dutch or Austrians impressed into the army, and didn’t like to admit their ignorance of what these chaps were trying to say. When my mates said ‘ Wasser’ we were directed round the back of the hut where there was a tap and we managed to walk slowly although there were prickles running up and down my spine, and once we were out of sight round the back of the hut we didn’t bother about water, we ran and ran and ran. When we couldn’t run any more, we went into a long, large semicircular walk which took us all night and most of the next day as we made for the mountains.
We stayed together for five or six· days, walking all through the night and hiding up for most of each day. But gradually I began to see that three of us good friends as we were couldn’t go on together. We had small differences of opinion about which way to go, and as it was always two to one and they were on the same side, I always lost an argument. Also I’m an independent type, I like to make my own mistakes. More important, there was such a food shortage that three travelling together and asking for food were less welcome than one alone. I could always get food on my own. And if three were seen, three would be caught. One walking alone might pass notice. So we split up. Mind you the day after I missed them and wished we hadn’t, remembering what it had been like while we were together.
One night, in the hills, after about three days, we were at Camparni. We had to be careful, because some families were Fascist, although the further we got in to the hills, the less people cared about the war, and the safer we were. If you were lucky with your first family, they would tell you of another well-disposed family who could be found a day’s march away and would give help. This family at Camparni had been evacuated from Rome.
[Digital Page 42]
The man said with a wink that he was a Fascist. Of course. Then pointed to his stomach, meaning his heart… ‘but not here’. He was prepared to say he was a Fascist to the authorities and do everything in his power to overthrow them, including giving prisoners-of-war the best food they’d had for months. We even went to a barn dance while we were there, in a proper barn, with candles all round on the beams and a fiddler. It was a couple of days after this we split up, but good to look back on.
The second day alone I was between two ridges of hills in a mist, lost, no map or compass. I’d been using my watch to make my way south east – you know, you point the hour hand to the sun, and half way between the hour hand and twelve o’ clock is south. It worked jolly well, except when there was no sun. The mountains ran south east, I wanted to keep in the middle, and eventually a chap gave me an old map and I kept a record of towns on either side – reckoning if I was twenty kilometres away from the towns on either side, I must be somewhere in the middle.
The food was interesting – at one place I had ‘pani bianca’, sifted dozens of times to get it really white for the bread.
I was still wearing old Army boots, but when I got down to Bopeye, or just north where I picked up this dog. An old dog, terribly friendly. He followed me when I set out from this place and I tried to send him back three for four times, throwing stones at him. He wouldn’t leave me.
After a while I realised what an asset it would be to have a dog like that with me, and anyway I didn’t have much choice, he had attached himself to me and refused to be discouraged.
Prior to that I stayed with a family who dearly wanted to keep me. The man had three sisters. (About 16, 18 and 22). The first question on arrival among a peasant family was always ‘Are you hungry?’ and I always was, then ‘How long since you had a woman? When I said ‘Two years’ there was always a terrific outcry, they were so sorry for me. But despite the three sisters I managed to persuade them to let me go on my way, and I had a lot of photographs with me, of Mollie and Michael, and showed them what I had to go home to, and they were thrilled when I left a couple of photographs with them. They were so poor – when you think they lived on about 1/7d a week! Plus the grain and grapes from their smallholding.
[Digital Page 43]
They had no fireplaces or cooking stoves, just slabs of stone, and on one of these slabs they would make up a fire. They made a bread mix, a large flat cake of dough, then swept the ashes and charcoal off the slab and spread the dough like a large pancake over the hot slab and heaped the hot ashes on top of it. They left it until they knew it was done, then swept the ash from the bread with a little brush – sometimes little pieces of charcoal were stuck in the bread, but with pimento or a soup like minestrone it was absolutely delicious. Always by each fireplace there was a crock with olive oil and garlic in it, and if they had any meat it was minced and mixed with herbs and dropped into the crock of olive oil as meatballs to be eaten as a treat, on a lucky day. One day I met a chap who had been in the Italian Army and wanted to get back down south, and asked if he could come along with me. (At a place called Roca di Medsa?)
Prior to meeting him, I was up in rocky, mountainous country and didn’t know which direction to take or how best to get out of it. A mist came down and I knew it was fatal to be caught at such an altitude; it’s a freezing mist. So I came down the quickest way, down a steep bank of shale which was as good as a chute down the mountainside. I was really frightened, because once you start down like this there’s nothing you can do to stop and you drop about thirty feet with every stride at a terrifying rate. But I was very, very lucky, and came out of it on to a little track, an old goat track, and walked along it for miles and miles. Below the mist it was raining anyway, and I was completely soaked through, and this was how I arrived at Roca di Medsa.
The chap I met here knew some people and took me to their house, where they were able to find me something dry and warm to wear, and an old barn to sleep in. But this Italian didn’t have the same urge to get moving as I had – I wanted to be on the move from sunrise till sunset, driven on by the feeling that I had to be home for Christmas. The peasants were so friendly, so eager to keep me there, they would do anything – hide my clothes, offer me any one of three daughters – to stop me moving on. One day’s delay was because my host wanted to go and see his brother, who lived
[Digital Page 44]
a day’s walk away. And he wanted to borrow my boots! A pair of British Army boots were quite something to an Italian peasant, so I waited around for a. day while he went for a long walk in them.
One day, just after I left ([location redacted]) I came to a river, a wide, fast flowing river, although I didn’t know its name, and I knew I should have to cross it. There were a couple of little boys by the river. (Ten – twelve…) One of them asked me if I wanted to cross, and insisted that he would carry me on his back. I didn’t want to, it seemed ridiculous, the size of him and the size of me, but he insisted, and there was I being carried across the river on the back of this poor little kid. I had a few lire on me so I gave him about ten lire and he thought he was well-paid for his effort. I felt ashamed of myself but it saved me getting wet again.
When I was with this Italian chap, the family wanted us to go with them to pick chestnuts, (‘Castagna’) which grow in the foothills to a fantastic size, and afterwards, when we went back with them for our meal, they put chestnuts to boil in a copper with herbs, and as we hadn’t eaten all day we were very hungry. The family had taken food to the chestnut picking, but we had not wanted to take their food and had simply had a drop of their wine. So I really gorged myself on these chestnuts, thinking it was the main meal, whereas in fact it was a sort of hors d’oeuvre. But they had cut strips of this smoked fat they use a lot, and cooked it especially for my meal, with bread, the best luxury they could offer. I had to eat it because they sat round the table to watch me enjoying their hospitality, and wouldn’t share it, and I’ve never been so bloated in my life, although it was good.
In the end just before I arrived in the British Lines, I had to cross Monte Greco about 11,000 feet, snow, nothing to eat. But I’d taken some of this smoked fat with me and was able to chew strips of it to keep me going.
The dog came in useful. At one point I had to cross the Rome Aquilo road
[Digital Page 45]
which was constantly busy with German convoys and patrols and was so long waiting for a chance to cross unseen that I was tempted to go back into the hills. But by this time the dog was behaving as if I was its master, and the suit I had been given was crumpled as I’d slept in it a few times, so I looked more like an Italian of the area, out with his dog, which came to heel when called. We crossed the road in full view, between the convoys and nobody took a ha’p’orth of notice.
Another time, when I got down to (Sulmona Plains) there was a high, rocky protrusion from Monte Greco which was about a day’s walk away. On top of this razor back was a village, and I thought ‘What an ideal spot to hide out’. I started to make my way up but couldn’t find a track which led to it. Halfway up, I saw eight Italians working and asked them the way up to the village. They tried to tell me but kept glancing towards this little hut nearby, and at last, out of the hut walked a German soldier. This, I thought, is my lot, it’s all over. But I tried to keep cool and thank them in Italian, and called the dog to heel and set off along the direction they had indicated. The Jerry was asking the Italians if I was a friend of theirs, and I heard them say yes, fortunately, as I walked slowly away with the dog at, my heels.
When I reached the village, I discovered there was a radio there. As I said, by now I was in the foothills of Monte Greco. Over the other side was the Sangro river and the Castle di Sangro, about three days walk away. If the Jerries were in retreat, as I heard, they wouldn’t retreat over a mountain, they’d go round the side, and I could wait for the right moment to drop down into British Lines. There was another chap up there, and a Major, who had heard that Castel di Sangro had fallen and was ready to make a move. I don’t understand it, but I didn’t want to go with them. I’d been on my own for so long, and by now I was thinking if I was going to make mistakes, I’d rather make my own mistakes. I don’t know what happened to them. As I waited in the village, staying with an old dear, and going out to listen to the radio at another house, three chaps walked up the main street. Obviously British, they turned out to be from my own unit, Captain Little and two others. I told them about the radio. There was no food in this
[Digital Page 46]
village, as every single thing had to be brought up from the plains. Nothing would grow there. We decided to hang on there, listening for a favourable opportunity on the radio, but if none came, to return to the plains where we could at least live. With the food shortage, we weren’t prepared to scrounge from these villagers. It was an ideal spot. The village was surrounded by a wall and we could look over it down a sheer precipice to see the road winding up, and if anyone were seen coming along it we had twenty minutes warning. Once when I was there on my own, a motor bike with sidecar, ridden by a Jerry, had been seen coming up the road. He called often, this one, to take eggs away. I had time to climb higher up the rocks and could look down on the village at the women gossiping below me, and the hens scratching. Then from inches away, an eagle, its wings folded and body tucked up, dropped down like a bomb, with a rush of air, and the women screamed, hens flapped… I expect he got something and veered away but it was too quick for the eye to follow.
We were now a party of four, in two groups of two, one pair lying low on the plains the other going up to the village for news. When we judged the time was ripe to make a move, we went separately to villages roundabout to beg enough food for a three-day journey. At one cottage, and old chap (BeviAqua – Drinkwater) was delighted to see us, gave what he could, offered us nuts and wine, and sang with great pride ‘In The Shade of the Old Apple Tree’. He was old enough to have fought in the first war when Italians were on our side. We had to drink with him to please him, and he was the first one under the table. When we got back to the shepherds hut we had made our shelter, we heard there were two other chaps there, who were tired out. They were on the run and wanted somewhere to rest, and so we didn’t disturb them but settled down about a hundred yards away to sort out our supplies. As we were doing this they came out. One pulled out a Luger and said he was a German soldier, and he was sorry, but this was war and we had to go with them. The other chap had a bag of grenades. We asked, two of us, if we could go back into the hut to collect what little we had left in there in the way of belongings. ‘This was agreed, and
[Digital Page 47]
the two of us inside thought of going through a window at the back.
We couldn’t, not three days away from safety, just give up so tamely, not after all we’d been through. But that would leave the other two, with two guards, and it wouldn’t be fair. We could, all four of us, surely make a break if we did it in the next few minutes. Alongside the track we would have to use was a little stream, where we had been used to having a wash and shave in the mornings. The Germans lead us along this track, all four of us together. His companion an Italian brought up the rear. Joe had the idea of stopping to look in his haversack as if he’d forgotten something. As the Jerry drew alongside, he lunged at him and the Jerry went straight in the river. He had kept his Luger out of sight in his pocket and couldn’t get it out in time. The two others wrestled with the Eye-tie who had the hand grenades, and I went to help control the Jerry who let off one shot through his pocket as he got out of the stream, and I had his arm in a twist and could have broken it. In the end we took the Jerry back to the hut and tied him up. The Eye-tie we made walk along with us until we met a group of Italians. ‘Look after this chap, he’s a Fascist and no use to you or anybody else’, we said, and the last we saw of him he was on his knees begging for leniency. The Jerry we had tied up and left with a drop of water, so he would be all right. I was very tempted to pinch his boots because I badly wanted a better pair. Mine were odd sizes, cracked across the bottom, and the toe kept poking through anyway, I must have soft-hearted. In the end over the mountains I finished up with just rag round my feet. After that we knew the enemy would know of our existence and we had to get up to the mountains where we should be safe from pursuit. On foot only it wouldn’t have been practical to search for us. On the way over, we found Italians who hated Fascists to help us. We were lucky. At nightfall we found an old barn. Someone brought us meat and something to boil snow in. It turned out we’d eaten mule. It was tough, green and horrible without salt or seasoning of any kind. There were a few stringy cattle in a field. One of them had a bit of an udder on her and I managed to get about an eggcup full of milk. The cattle woke us up, licking and slobbering all over us. But it was warm with them.
In the morning it was beautiful, with the sun on the crisp, smooth snow.
[Digital Page 48]
I had to think about getting rid of my old dog, because it would be awkward trying to get him through the lines, and might put all of us in danger. One young Italian fellow he seemed to take to, and he was happy to have the dog. So I let him go. The terrible thing was I could hear the old dog crying for me for ages after we left him.
It was quite tough going up over Monte Grecor, snow underfoot and my boots in tatters, but with luck we knew that it would not be long now before we had all the luxuries – new boots, new clothes, cups of tea, cigarettes, no lice and food.
The thought of all this was obviously a spur, and despite the conditions we made good progress, and were on the downward slopes towards the river Sangro, and the town of Castel di Sangro.
Looking down over the river we could see several fires burning along the far bank of the river. There was shooting going on, big stuff mainly, and we passed within a short distance of one of Jerry’s big guns close enough to see the crew lighting up their cigarettes. We had to cross the river which was deep, cold, and quite fast running. I lost my very nice silver propelling pencil, and my pipe crossing that river. The banks of the river had been mined in places – we must have missed them.
We walked a short distance into the outskirts of Castel di Sangro, and could see how badly the place had been knocked about. A little further on our way we came across a railway track that had been rendered useless by Jerry. Evidently they used an engine with an anchor on the back end which, when the engine had reached a certain speed, they dropped the anchor and it ripped through the sleepers; very effective. Anyway we followed the track for quite a way as it was leading in the right direction. We left the track when it swung off in the wrong direction. We came across an isolated house with Ities still living in it, in the middle of no-man’s land. I still had some
[Digital Page 49]
odds and ends of emergency rations that I was carrying with me, and this was an ideal way of helping these people. I hopefully would not now need them. It was not long before we ran into our troops, and told them about the gun we had passed. Evidently it had been causing them a bit of bother so they promptly sent a patrol out to silence the Gun. It was around 7am and our main concern was breakfast, tea, sausage, bacon, fried bread anything would be gratefully accepted. Of course we all had a jolly good meal and then a bath. We had a good warm night’s sleep for the first time in quite a while. We had another bath (steady) and clean clothes and were taken on a truck down to Foggia. On the way I and a couple of others were sick – it was a combination of rich food, and fumes coming into the back of the truck.
Next day we were off to Bari in a bus where we were to have another bath and complete change of clothes. The aim being to get rid of all my little friends that have been crawling around with me for almost a year. On the road to Bari because of a bridge having been blown up we had to return to Foggia and while there waiting, another two passengers appeared on their way to Bari. Anyway the bridge got repaired, and off we went again for Bari.
Arriving at Bari, believe it or not, the two new passengers turned out to be none other than my two S.A. friends that I had left about a month ago much farther north. They evidently had come through the lines, about 100 miles farther to the east on the same day as myself. After a couple of days we were off again down to Taranto, where we would no doubt catch a boat for North Africa on our way home. As my old tummy is still playing up a bit I had to report sick after reaching Taranto and they sent me to hospital for a course of M.&B [Sulfapyridine] tablets every 4 hours including night time. Regardless of my state of health around 10am on 1st December I was rushed off to catch a boat for Phillipville, but no such luck a bit of a storm arose and strong winds prevented the boat from entering the harbour. I went to the Garrison Theatre
[Digital Page 50]
and saw the Hit Parade of 1943, got back to camp around 6 pm and rushed off again to catch a boat.
We’ve no right to expect everything to run smoothly its a war zone, and hiccups are bound to occur. I’ve become impatient because for quite a while my movements were entirely at my own convenience.
It was approx. 9.30am when we disembarked at Phillipville and into a transit camp. From here we hope to go by train to Algiers – should be quite a pleasant nice leisurely train ride over four days. The truth was hard to bear. Fortunately we had had recently some good training for the journey that lay ahead. Four days rations, with brewing gear a genuine DIY effort in a goods train, no seats. The engine went off at regular intervals to do a bit of shunting at odd stations along the way. At one stage we were off the train having a brew and stretching our legs while the engine was away. On its way back I thought and said “that engine is going to run into us” and sure enough it did, there were a few bruises and bleeding noses with those still on board, altogether it wasn’t a bad trip, and we were on our way home and while we were waiting around we were being well looked after with plenty of good food, and specially ‘vitamised’ jam and chocolate rations, also plenty of entertainment. It all helped to pass the time and make life a little more pleasant.
I was quite disappointed at not being home for Xmas ’43, because I had promised myself that I would be. Anyway January 6th was not too far out under the circumstances.
I would not necessarily volunteer to duplicate those last 12 months, but having had the experience I am very happy with it and pleased to have come through safely and hope to have benefited from the ordeal.
[Editor’s Note: Section 3: Correspondence between John Evans & the Monte San Martino Trust. Digital Pages 51-64]
[Digital Page 51]
Correspondence between John Evans & the Monte San Martino Trust
[Handwritten letter by John Evans to someone named James, with the title Ref POW Newsletter 94. Dated August 1994.]
Reading through the news letter I realised that I should have contacted you before.
I was in Camp 82 in the Florence area, at the time of the Iti exit from the fighting and then taken by the Jerries on my way to Poland.
I left the train at Bologne, and made my own way down through Italy on foot, meeting many Contadini, being fed, sheltered by
[Digital Page 52]
them, and will always be grateful for their help.
Two or three years ago I returned to the Gubbio area, and managed to contact the son of a family who had helped me on my journey. I’ve been unable to contact these people again since, but intend to return soon.
I would also like to go to the Sulmona area where I met an old boy who had fought on our side in the 14-18 war, and could still sing – By the Shade of the old Apple Tree, after a fair amount of his best wine & walnuts. I was picked up again by Jerry near Sulmona, but after a brief scuffle, was on my way again.
[Digital Page 53]
I would very much like to visit the spot where I stayed for a few days in a little old barn by a stream where Jerry picked me up. I was trying to get together some rations to take me over Monte Greca, and down into Castel di Sangro. Anyway I eventually made it.
I would be grateful to know anything & anybody to contact in the Sulmona area to help me find the place again.
Around Grubio I found things had changed so the road that I had watched along was no longer just a track, but a good metaled road. The railway track & station that I had crossed had gone completely, and the
[Digital Page 54]
family who had helped me had moved from the usual cattle shed come house, to a very nice new house. Of course the son who was just a little boy when I first met was now a man over 50, and of course his old dad was long gone, we should of course be aware of all this, but it still comes as a surprise.
Next year is the last chance to meet all the members, and I must make the effort. Newcastle is a hell of a way away though.
John E Evans
[Digital Page 55]
[Typed letter from Keith Killby to John Evans dated 22nd August 1994]
‘I left the train at Bologna’ is I think the biggest understatement that I have read of the many in a hundred or more accounts that I have read of POWs on the run in Italy. There must be a lot more you can tell about the ‘brief scuffle’ you had with the Germans when once more you got away from them and through the lines.
Have you notes or an account of your wanderings? If so a copy of them would find an importance place in the dozens that the Trust has already gathered.
When I have finished this letter I must continue to type out my notes on 26 summaries of interviews etc. in English and Italian which I have received from the Liceo in Sulmona (see Annual Report) together with some ten hours of interviews with those who can still remember their encounters with POW’s. Then yesterday I had to lunch one student who is now over here. Her father teaches English in Castel di Sangro and her mother’s father received an Alexander Certificate. Previously we had three students from Sulmona and also one from Bologna. His family had hid a POW after the Germans took over the camp which was immediately opposite the P. Camp. Last night I received a phone call of one man, who lives in Birmingham. Some two years ago Antonio Millozzi, who is the sort of Town Clerk of Monte San Martino and does all the work for the Trust there, had managed to trace the one member of the family who had helped him and is still alive. I had visited her eighteen months ago and the man from Birmingham had just come back having, with his son, traced and visited her.
PG 82 is listed by the Red Cross as at Arezzo and I do not remember many others as having escaped from there. Were you all taken by the Germans? As you can imagine it is very difficult to trace families 50 years afterwards as so many have moved away and often we had only vague addresses. As you found at Gubbio the landscape and the remembered features have much changed. If you have any exact names and addresses we would do our best to help. As you can see we have many good contacts. The Mayor of Pietralunga, mentioned in ‘Umbrian Partisans’ is due to meet me in London this week while in Sulmona we have many contacts – including the Chief of Police so we should be able to trace descendants of any precise names living in certain streets on Sulmona or villages in the area.
As you can imagine I could continue for many pages but I should wait to hear what further information you have. Meanwhile I enclose some pages about the Trust, which as you can see has been quite active in its four years of existence.
Do let me have an account and a little map of the places you passed through or near,
Thank you for writing, [handwritten notes at foot of page by K.K.] as you can see to my machine are both old.
Keith Killby (Hon. Secretary)
[Digital Page 56]
[Handwritten letter from John Evans to Keith Killby date unknown]
[Handwritten notes by Keith Killby at top of page] Important letter: Evans 12th Sept [old [word unclear] [word unclear] & [word unclear] [word unclear]
It’s not exactly a Hotel I suppose but it’s certainly in Gubio as you will see by the Brochure.
Re., and exit from the train at Bologna many years ago.
I’ve never really believed in good & bad luck they are so intermingled. It was because of my injured ankle that I was carrying a walking stick. The stick enabled me to lift the drop arm of the sliding door of the of the truck by pushing an arm through the air vents and sliding the door, back just enough to see where we were, we couldn’t show too much activity because
[Digital Page 57]
Jerries were sitting in the doorway of every 3rd truck, often a fair amount of discussion as to who was coming along etc., and waiting until the train slowed sufficiently for safe jumping. This turned out to be the marshalling yard at Bologna.
Fortunately the train was on a raised portion of the track, and having jumped on to the track we could then jump down to the lower track and be temporarily out of sight. Those left behind in the truck pushed out our few belongings after us, and this meant climbing back up on to the track to retrieve our belongings.
There was a bit of firing and we
[Digital Page 58]
weren’t sure whether it was coming from the train or the yard. The yard turned out to be quite heavily guarded.
Two chaps came with me. A couple of South Africans, had been in Sardinia and spoke a little Iti. (Wally Pohl + Ronnie Morgan). Ronnie Morgan ran off down the track at the first shot, Wally & I crouched under a railway carriage.
It was just getting dusk, and a couple of Jerries was coming down the train looking under, and poking around with rifle & bayonet. Strangely enough they came to the next carriage and turned back up the train.
Looking across the yard we saw a goods wagon with it’s door
[Digital Page 59]
slid open, and decided to hide there for the night. Just about to climb aboard, and a head popped out. It was Ronnie Morgan who had decided upon the same lodgings. We stayed until first light, and was desperate to find water, and decided to go out except not run, but steady walk right along the cover of one train, and rounding the end we ran into a couple of Jerry sentries. We tried to explain what we were doing there in Afrikaans, but they didn’t understand.
So we asked for water, much to our surprise they showed us where there was a tap, round the back of one these funny little back buildings that can
[Digital Page 60]
be seen in railway yards. We walked to the back of the building, out of sight, and went like the very devil.
I’ll let you have the details of my other encounters with the diaries. Also my recapture down near Sulmona.
After about 10 days from Bologna I left the two South Africans to go it alone, believing that I stood a better chance that way. I’ll enclose a letter that I wrote when I was trying to trace them later, in S.A.
John E Evans
[Digital Page 61]
Is because I have 5 Horse Chestnut trees along the front of my house.
[Digital Page 62]
[Handwritten letter from John Evans to Keith Killby dated 19th September 1994]
Here is the copy of my diary as promised. Hope you find it interesting.
The actual diary is rather small, consequently the writing is minute. I must have had good eyesight in those days. If you wish to have the actual diary at a later date. I will let you have it, but it is becoming a little delicate.
Hope you are keeping well.
John E Evans
[Digital Page 63]
[Typed letter from Keith Killby to John Evans dated 1st November 1994]
[Handwritten note from Keith Killby at top of page] 12th November informed about [word unclear] application.
Apologies, apologies. Since my return from Italy I had much to catch up with both for the Trust and for myself, especially as I am executor again for the 13th time. I could easily have read through your diary with great enjoyment and thanked you for it. However, though I did read quite a bit of it I put it aside purposely.
With the some two dozen manuscripts that I hold for the Trust I have read them carefully and done a resume – which I think may be useful when they go on to the Imperial War Museum. At last I have been able to do that quietly and unhurried. I enclose a copy and I hope you approve. Your diary reflects your thoughts at the time – it is not boosted by a doubtful memory and expanded ideas of the importance of what you did. On to it however I am sure you could hang an awful lot of accurate detail which would show that so often you and you alone had to ‘begin it now’ as the Himalayan climber wrote.
Every book I have read, every manuscript that is here contains one or two outstanding points – yours I would call the masterpiece of understatement. You say you have a detailed account of your departure from the train at Bologna and your encounter there with Germans – most people would think it was fairy story.
When reading the accounts I like to follow the route on the map. I knew Scanno of course, and Monte Greco rang a bell, I soon found Fatura but not S. Lorenzo so I went to the manuscript of Peter Laing, an RA [Royal Artillery] officer, who had included excellent maps in his account. Yes there it was and the date was the same and he recounts how some who had joined him had been picked up by the Germans and then taken off by a German and Italian whom they had overpowered. So. Obviously as he was with a large group of British and Italians which split up it seems you were both part of the same crossing.
In January 93 there was an advertisement in the D.T. [Daily Telegraph] about trying to contact those who escaped from Fontanellato. Peter Anthony Laing were trying to track them down and though I was not there I contacted them because of the Trust. Consequently I was one of the very few non Fontanellatoites at the reunion luncheon last autumn and again this autumn. I intended to write to P.L. when I had finished this spot of research to thank him for this year’s function and I will at the same time as I post this send him a copy of my resume of your diary.
The Mayor of Pietrlunga in sending me a video of the function there confirmed he had had the letter delivered to Loreto Egisto.
It would seem that your diary had an extraordinary journey too – following you out of the truck and surviving all the way. I too have quite a few papers that I carried from Sardinia, on the run, in Rome’s notorious prison, the Regina Ceoli – now used for politicians – and up to Germany and home.
[Digital Page 64]
[Typed letter of condolence from Keith Killby to Mrs Evans dated 12th May 2003]
Dear Mrs Evans,
It was particularly good of you to ring me when such sadness must be surrounding you.
It is some nine years since I was first in touch with John. I noted immediately the name of the house – though actually it was, I understand because of the Chestnuts in the garden – for it showed that the ‘castagni’ – which often had to be added to the bread had left a deep impression on John.
The fact that John walked so far and managed to escape again after recapture showed his resourceful nature and determination, besides a lot of courage and energy. I know of no other award of an M.M. [Military Medal] for work done behind the lines, John made no fuss about that.
Far more than most John always remembered what we owed to the Italians – especially the ‘contadini’. Two years ago I was able to express that in a speech in front of the President of Italy Signor Ciamp. It was in the huge old square of Sulmona. Some Italian friends were hesitant about me using the word. I said ‘We owe so much to help given by the charcoal, burners, the shepherds and the ‘contadini’. It was greeted with applause for though I had added ‘in spite of their poverty and the danger they always helped us.’ There are no longer ‘contadini’ as they were but the second and third generations know their ancestry and are proud of it.
I presume that John got the M.M. [Military Medal] for overpowering an Italian and German not far from the front line and leaving them tied up went on to get through with a mixed party of Prisoners of War.
If any friends do wish to remember him by a donation to the Trust they might like to know a little more about it and so I enclose three copies of the one page which recounts its aim and work.
Again my deepest sympathy in your very sad loss of a husband and a real person.
[Digital Page 65]
[Editor’s note: Section 4: Pages of notes that do not fit in the other sections. Digital pages 65-69]
A BRIEF SUMMARY OF MY ASSOCIATION WITH THE TWO SOUTH AFRICANS FROM ENTERING THE CAMP 82.
The two South Africans Wally Pohl and Ronnie Morgan were captured at Tobruk, the exact dates I do not know. I met them in Camp 82 at Latrina after I was moved there from Camp 66 in Capua. We became friends. The Germans took over after the Italians capitulated, and they decided to move all prisoners to other camps in Germany and Poland.
We were packed into goods trucks and prepared for a four day journey to “somewhere”. We did not intend to find out! Wally Pohl was a tall lean type around six foot three and lived in Jo’burg, I believe that he worked in local government.
Ronnie Morgan was short and stocky, and I’m not sure what his work was exactly. I believe Wally Pohl’s father came from Australia to South Africa. There were a lot of South Africans in the camp, most of them captured at the same time in Tobruk. I have a very detailed account of our actual escape from the goods train. It reads almost like a fairy story because of a series of unbelievable coincidences. As the train passed through a marshalling yard just beyond Bologna we managed to lift the drop arm of the train’s sliding door. With the door open we were able to pick our time and spot to jump into the marshalling yard. We spent a night here, where we had a brief encounter with a couple of German sentries before making a speedy move towards the mountains. We walked by night and laid low during the daytime to get the feel of the lie of the land. After about ten days we split up because of the food and the prevailing general situation. Almost two months later, and quite an eventful journey, I came through our lines about ten kilometres south of Castle-da-Sangro. Later, after a few showers, changes of clothing and de-lousing I was taken to a transit camp at Foggia, from there by bus to Bari. On the way to Bari we came across a bombed bridge and had to return to Foggia where we picked up two more men also waiting for the return journey to Bari. Imagine my surprise when disembarking at Bari I discovered that the two men were none other than Wally Pohl and Ronnie Morgan.
[Digital Page 66]
[Handwritten notes by John Evans where he details some of the help he received whilst on the run by the Italian civilians as well as descriptions on how the Italians prepared food for him.]
I got quite a good reception at most houses and practically all were prepared to feed us with what they could spare. These were mainly country folk working on farms or vineyards, and very poor.
The houses were shared with the cattle, either at one end of the house, or on the ground floor with the family living above. Cooking was very primitive just a large open fireplace, no cooking stove or oven. The bread was baked in a large communal oven for all the village each taking about a week’s supply. The oven was heated with lunts of wood.
One supper of bread that I rather liked was a large flat loaf, eaten hot.
This was baked on a large round flat stone slat in the fire, the ashes were cleaned from it, and the dough laid on the stone, then the hot ash was shovelled back over the dough. When ready the ash was swept from the bread, with small pieces of charcoal embedded to aid the digestion. It was jolly good with soup.
I’ve seen some Iti’s go off to work in the morning with a packed lunch which consisted of the outstanding slices of bread as a sandwich, most of the houses had a piece of pork back fat hanging up in an outhouse. This was held over the fire on the end of a long fork, when it started to sizzle & melt it was slapped on to the slices of bread to release the fat, and this was the filling for the sandwich.
When sleeping out in the hills I have been woken long before daylight by workers digging in the fields.
[Digital Page 67]
A Friend Indeed
Walking down through Italy during the last war, between September and November 1943, having jumped from a train full of prisoners on our way to Poland because of the German occupation, I kept as near as possible to the mountains. The only means of obtaining food was to call upon the odd farm cottage inhabited by farm workers or farmers.
On one of these calls where I stayed overnight in an outhouse, I was adopted by a dog – black and white and rather sleek – he persisted in following me when I started on my way in the morning. I really tried to drive him back for 3 or 4 miles but he was determined that I should be his new friend. Actually I was rather pleased about this, but was concerned about how I was going to feed us both, food being very scarce, but I was on my own and the old dog was wonderful company and well worth a small sacrifice by way of food. On cold nights, sometimes with no shelter, we kept each other warm.
On one very memorable day he caught a rabbit (about the only one left in the whole country). A lady on one of my calls cooked the rabbit for me and was most upset because I insisted that the dog had his share. We had been living mainly on bread, with the odd bit of cheese. His value increased considerably after the rabbit episode. I was offered 8,000 cigarettes for him by one chap, and in the village a couple of days further on someone locked him up overnight and no-one would say where he was. After I had shouted, and whistled for him I heard him barking behind some old shed door, which I had to break down to get the dog back. The locals weren’t very pleased with me.
What a marvellous cover the old dog was for me. Nobody expected to see a complete outsider with a dog, so much a part of me and wonderfully obedient at a slight whistle and gesture.
I crossed the main road between Aquila and Rome, while truck-loads of German troops and various vehicles were passing, without much more than a glance from them.
On another occasion I was leaving the Sulmona plain making my way to a small village on the foothills of Monte Greco and just off the track there were about 10 Italians digging into the hillside. I stopped to ask them the right track to take for the village. While they were explaining a German guard came from a little hut and asked them if l was a friend of theirs. They said “Yes” I patted my dog and departed trying very hard not to show any undue haste. The old dog must have been an asset in this instance.
A few days after this I met up with four other chaps, and after a nasty scrape with ‘Jerry’ we decided to make our way through our lines. I dare not take a chance with the dog so I gave him to the first Italian who the dog took to, and vice versa. Unfortunately I could hear the old dog crying for me for a long time on my way up the mountain -I can’t forget it.
[Handwritten note at foot of page] Citation for M.M. [Military Medal]
5503866 Pte. [Private] EVANS, J.E. 5th Hants., 46 Div., [Division] 1st Army
Captured at SIDI NSIR on 26 Feb 43. Sent via CAPUA to Camp 82 (LATERINA). After the Armistice this camp was taken over by the Germans and on 16 Sep 43 P/W were entrained for GERMANY. EVANS jumped from the train at BOLOGNA and made his way south, meeting British troops near CASTEL DI SANGRO on 19 Nov 43.
[Digital Page 68]
[Handwritten note by John Evans]
No doubt a good many of those who decided upon walking down through Italy to reach our troops, would agree with this statement.
It was written by a leading member of a Himalayan expedition.
Obviously it applies to all such acts. I found it applied to a surprisingly accurate degree.
[Handwritten signature of John Evans]
[Digital Page 69]
[Handwritten Note at top of page] For archives
ESCAPES FROM CAMP 82 (LATERINA), ITALY
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR AWARDS
(1) After the Armistice with Italy had been signed the Senior British Officer of the camp advised P/W to remain there, but did not actively prevent their escaping. There was a mass breakout by some French Foreign Legion troops, who were fired on by Italian guards, and a certain number of British P/W escaped during the confusion. The majority, however remained in camp and were captured by the Germans when they took over.
A number of sub-working camps were attached to Camp 82 and most of the P/W in them seem to have had little difficulty in getting away after the Armistice.
(2) I recommend the following other ranks for the awards shown, brief particulars being given in the enclosures stated opposite their names :-
(a) Recommended for M.M. [Military Medal]
5503866 Pte. [Private] EVANS, J.E., 5th Hants., 46 Div., 1st Army 1A
4975257 Cpl. [Corporal] FOX, A.J., 1 Bn. [Battalion] Sherwood Foresters 1B
T/133433 Dvr. [Driver] JONES, F.G., 278 Gen. [General] Tpt. [Transport] Coy., [Company] R.A.S.C., [Royal Army Service Corps] 13 Corps. 1C