Gleave, Bill

Summary of Bill Gleave

This collection of letters between Bill Gleave and Keith Killby tells the story of Bill Gleave’s service with the 4th Battalion The Green Howards in North Africa and Italy during the Second World War. He was held in camp PG 53 (Sforza Costa) and in June 1943 was sent to an agricultural working camp near Isola Della Scala (10 miles south of Verona). He left camp 10 days after the Italian Armistice on 18 September 1943. Over the next 2.5 months they marched over 400 miles from north to central Italy ending at Tolentino, Macerata. In April 1944 he seems to be in the same area, based on a message sent back to his mother. By July 1944 he was in Naples.

A formal account of this story seems to be held by the Imperial War Museum in London.

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

[digital page 1]

[Letter. To Keith Killby from Bill Gleave of Warrington]

20 June 1992

Dear Keith,

Many thanks indeed for sending the book so promptly. I received it on Friday morning at 8.20am. I was very pleased to learn that you were an ex member of 150 Brigade (50 Dice). I was in the 4th Green Howards but had been posted to Brigade [1 word illegible] at Christmas 1940. I was the Brigade’s orderly until we went up the desert then I was transferred to the Brigade H.Q ?scanals as an infantry ?runner. I went into the bay about 11.30am on 1 June after crossing the minefield to try and escape – but no luck. [3 words illegible] 50 years ago now. But looking back it was the time spent on the run that really left an impression on me. Dangerous times, yes, but

[digital page 2]

a [2 words illegible] made interesting for every retreat. I could not stick an [1 word illegible] job after the war and spent most of my time [2 words illegible] lorry driving. I am sending you a selection of some of the papers I have – I hope you will find them of interest. The book you sent me I found very absorbing and I am learning things I’ve wondered about since the war. I was in camps 66-53 (Sforza Costa) and in June 1943 was sent to an agricultural working camp near Isola Della Scala (10 miles south of Verona) as you will see from the enclosed papers. I wrote a 100 page account of my last 3 ½ years abroad (1949/ 1950). The proposed war reunion has it at present – and have promised to return a typed copy when it is completed. They have had it since January. I am wondering if they have forgotten their promises. Is there any possibility that when you are near the Museum that you could enquire for Mr Robbins and ask

[digital page 3]

him if they will be much longer with the copying. I can’t afford to lose it. I will certainly let you read it, after it is returned to me. Like yourself, I too saw Rommel. He rolled up in his 8 wheeled armoured carrier, and stopped about 30 yards from the lorry I was being carried in. (I think it belonged to the 39th Panzerjäger regiment). It all seems a very long time ago now as indeed it is, but my interest – especially about Italy – and the contadini is a never ending source of interest. I’ve posted a letter this morning to Savoilina at Tolentinos with Photostats of the papers you sent to me. The 5 years’ service we (my old Red Cross parcels made – George Harris ex KRRC) [King’s Royal Rifle Corps] and we [1 word illegible] Italy. We had a difference of opinion but as I have a real longing to go back this year I may write to him to see if he fancies another visit. It’s not much fun going on your own – among the families we know in Italy there doesn’t seem to be any children, who would qualify for the

[digital page 4]

San Martino scheme. They are all either too old or too young, and none of them, to my knowledge, has a grasp of English. But I could be wrong about this. Santino’s brother Adelio lives on his farm at Santa Lucia about 2 miles east of Tolentino and the younger brother Berrito lives on a pretty big farm in Southern Tuscany. He is also the agricultural mechanic for the area. The father, Ogortino, put me up for nearly 6 weeks over Christmas 1943 until I was chased out by the Fascists (as was George Harris (Wirral). We 2 were the only ones to survive the midnight raid on 11 January 1944 (my grandson’s birthday) so I never forget that date. I have about 17 new escape books about Italy – if there is a list you have of such books would you please send me one. You would find the “History of 150th Brigade in the Middle East” of interest, also the History of 44th RTR [Royal Tank Regiment] (our box). They should both be in the British Library in London. It’s been a real pleasure to establish links with you. Hoping to see you before long.

Yours truly (Ciao) Bill Gleave.

[digital page 5]

[Letter from Keith Killby to Bill Gleave]

24th June 1992

To-day two girls from Tolentino are coming to tea to say good-bye at the end of the month they have spent over here studying English from a bursary given to each of them by the Monte San Martino Trust.

Yesterday your letter of 20th arrived as I was about to go out. I put the letter part in my pocket and read it – with great Interest in the train to Eastbourne. I will reply to many points in a day or two but I am writing this letter immediately to get from you the surname of your family at Tolentino and the exact address. I tried to telephone you last night but Directory Enquiry could not help me.

In your letter you mention Santina and his brother Adelio who lives at Santa Lucia 2 miles East of Tolentino. But what are their surnames?

If this arrives on Thursday morning could you put the full name and address of the two brothers. (Are they the original ones who helped you?) And post the names and addresses to me immediately. Or could you telephone me between 6 and 7 on Friday evening — I am away for the night on Thursday.

I will tell the girls this afternoon about you and show them your route to Tolentino and Post Cards – which I recognise. When there in April I met the girls and their mothers in the Cafe seen in the postcard with the Bell tower. The girls will I know if I ask them go and see the brothers and explain to them the Trust in case there are any young members of the family who would like to come another year. The girls leave early Saturday and so I must phone them Friday evening.

[Digital page 6]

Enclosed is the list of books which I hold which shows those which I am able to lend.

I would be very interested in seeing what is said about the 150 Brigade. Are you able to give me more information about the book so I can track it down.

I hold ‘The Story of the 50 Div’ by an Aubrey Hammond which was printed in the Middle East in 1942 or 1943 but its standard of accuracy is not high as it begins by saying that The two Ts stand for Trent and Tweed.

As soon as I get time I will try to go to the Imperial War Museum to read your account of your experiences and then I can ask Mr Robbins whether he will be returning it soon.

As I say I will write again in reply to much of your letter but if you can, could you get to me immediately the names of the family (or families) you know at Tolentino so that I may give them to the girls before they return.

Yours sincerely,

[Keith Killby]

[Digital page 7]

[Letter. To Keith Killby from Bill Gleave of Warrington]

2 July 1992

Dear Keith,

Many thanks for your letter which arrived this morning and its very interesting information. Firstly I will give you the information about the family at Divina Pastora (2 miles east of Tolentino) but on the south side of the River ?Cienti, which flowed past the back of Camp 53. We three of us (the other one was John ?Godson of London (he did live near Highbury football Ground) when I rung him up 7 or 8 years ago. John was in another farm house about ¼ mile east of George Harris and I. He was raided the same night as we were, in fact the Fascists woke him up in bed and he finished up in the coal mines in Germany. Also him and Andrew who lived in another farm house about 300 yards east of George.

[digital page 8]

John Groppo was in the Rifle Brigade 2nd ? I sent him some photo postcards of Tolentino and Verona as souvenirs but he didn’t seem to want to keep in touch. When we arrived at Divina Pastora (to simplify the story) we were found families to stay with on small farms. I went to Gapponi’s and George moved into Gampbettela’s house (I have photos). But because they didn’t tell us we would be visiting camp 53 I didn’t have any film in my camera. Therefore today we have no photos of 53, which I very much regret. Any chance of copies of your photos of Camp 53? When we went into 53 in 1985 we saw that the gable end of the centre block was partly demolished. It sounds now as though (from your letter) that there are now only two blocks remaining of Settore B. We were in the block A nearest to the camp gate, and the [1 word illegible] where the famous clock was (we were the 1st lot in the camp) (brand new). The Capproni family consisted of the following members:-

[digital page 9]

This page had to be removed from the original document for data protection reasons. It gives personal details, ages, addresses, occupations and wider family details of the people mentioned on the previous page.

If you need to trace or contact these people then please contact the Monte San Martino Trust and ask them to act as an intermediary.

The people listed are the Capproni family which comprises:
Agostino Baffoni
Maria Baffoni
Adelio, Santina, Guido, Benito,
Also mentioned are:
Griana Agostino,
Rossini sisters
Maddalena and Alessandra.

[Digital page 10]

There is a Headteacher at Trevenzuolo near Isola della Scala, who we visited at his school and who was responsible for the photo / newspaper article about me and George Harris going back after 40 years (in 1983). If you can let me have copies of the photos of camp 53 I will be very thankful and will of course pay the full cost involved. Our compound had been wired off and made into a supermarket. When we think what it was like during the war it seems a sick joke to look through the big windows knocked in the long end wall and see all those ‘boats’ loaded with all kinds of grub, all over the area where our 3 decked beds had been. I visited 150 Field Ambulance once in the Western desert, as second man on a 10 cwt truck with a signals D.R. He was a Londoner named Bert and we had to cross a dried up salt lake and then pass near to two nearly identical pillars?  to get there. The Field Ambulance had vanished when we got there and apart from several miles of signal wire all there was was a very lonely looking [1 word illegible] on top of the slope in front of us. It really was a sad scene. Maybe you remember (sketch).

All the best for now. Let me know about the girls and [1 name illegible]. Regards. Bill

[Digital page 11]

[Letter. From Bill Gleave to Keith Killby]  16th July 1992

Dear Keith,

Many thanks for your letter which arrived this morning. Firstly I would like to say that I have not had my account returned to me by the Imperial War Museum, nor any letter after the one stating that it would be returned to me after the photocopying had been completed (1 word illegible) this year I think so it’s been 7 months more than enough I would think to do the job. I know that the Italians are asking about anniversary letters etc. I’ve sent Christmas cards and have had no reply in previous years. I’ve bought an 800 page Italian / British dictionary for the use of the

[digital page 12]

Girls at Tolentino. I am hoping to be able to give it to the girls personally at Sartina’s this [2 words illegible]. Last Thursday George Harris my old Red Cross parcel mate – who was on the run with me in Italy – turned up at my house. I was pleased to see him (after our differences?) as it made the prospects of a visit to Italy much more likely this September.

He has met you at the [1 word illegible] of the Escape Club. I hope to get there this year [1 word illegible]. I have a large close-up photo of the Capproni Family taken at Christmas 1945. I’ll get a reduced size copy done and send it on to our various locations of places and people we were in contact with. Any pages of 150 Brigade history please photocopy if you want to this account will provide? [1 word illegible] with quite a lot of info I [1 word illegible].

Yours, Bill Gleave.

[Digital page 13]

Please return 150 Brigade History when you have read it and please don’t lend it to anybody else. Thanks!

[Digital page 14]

[Letter. To Keith Killby from G.H Harris of Ellesmere Port].

Dear Killby,

Thank you for your letter of the 23rd July.

Antonietta and Alma are the sisters you refer to in your letter. Antonietta has two daughters both of whom are teachers. Isola Della Scala is a town just south of Verona and was the Camp 148 from where I left to walk south to the “Gran Sasso” fighting with the Partisans.

[Digital page 15]

I was in the K.R.R.C 39/46 [i.e King’s Royal Rifle Corps] and was taken PoW at Bir Hakiem in June 1942. 7th Armoured Division.

With regard to the book, this was published by Gale and Polden of Aldershot in 1947. They are, or were, the military publishers, but I regret that I am led to believe that the book is no longer in print.

Antonietta’s father helped quite a few PoWs but is no longer alive. I was interested in reading your experiences. Hope to see you at Hull.
Sincerely, G.H Harris.

[Digital page 16]

Help given by parents of the under-mentioned to Corporal G. H Harris, 2nd Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps and PoW from Bir Hakim, Libya, 2nd June 1942. Camps: Capua 66, Macerata 53 and Isola Della Scala 148.
Antonietta Sarte Santino, Isola della Scala
Fernando Campetella, Macerata
Adelio Capponi, Macerata
Alfredo Polastri, Ferrara

[digital page 17]

The Luchetti Family of Macerata
These all gave aid to me and “Georgio”.

Member of Escaped PoW Club, Eight Army Vet[eran] Association
Author “PoW and Fugitive” 1948 Gale and Polden.

Sincerely G.H Harris

[Digital page 18]

[Certificate stating that William Gleave had rendered an account of his experiences to the British Authorities in July 1944]

[digital page 19]

[Italian letter form. Used for a letter by Bill Gleave to his mother. 2 April 1944. Sent from the Bishopric of Macerata, Italy to his mother in Warrington, UK.]
Dearest Ma,

Am well. Hiding in Italy. Being well treated. Hoping to be home soon. Am in good spirits. Don’t worry. Thumbs up. Fondest Love, Bill.

[Handwritten note at the side] This message sent by land to the Vatican.

[Digital page 20]

Isola Della Scala – 10 miles south of Verona to Tolentino, Macerata. Prove 18 September 1943 to 1 December 1943.

Route of Journey (march) over 400 miles.

Isola della Scala. Legnago. Crossed the River Po to Balto / Fallonica. Then Bondeno. St Agostino. St Pietri en Basala St Giorgio de Piano. Budrio. Medicina. Massa Lombarda. Bagna-Cavallo. Russi. St Pietro en Trento. Rotta. Forlimpopoli. Bertinoro (enter Appeninies near Cesena October 1943) Borello. Mercato. Novafeltrica. Macerata-Feltria. Urbino. Fossombrone. Corinaldo. Ostra. Jesi. Cingoli (Partizans) Freia. Pollenza. Divinia-Pastora. Sforza-Costa which was the location of our old PoW Camp (Campo 53) near Macerata in the Province of Marche (Adriatic) 1 December 1943.

Escape Route North to Central Italy:

The following summer I and George continued on our march to the front line at Pescara. We got as far as Penne on the Gran Sasso but had to return adding 120 miles to our walk.

[Digital page 21]

[Hand-drawn sketch with caption] 150 Field Ambulance Position

[Digital page 22]

[Letter from Alfredo Polastri, STUDIO TECNICO, BONDENO (Ferrara) 20/2/1964 to Mr. GEORGE HARRIS of Ellesmere Port, CHESHIRE]

Dear Sir,

In these last days, among old papers I came across yours, names and addresses of 3 other escaping prisoners of war.
We have always wondered and hoped that you boys (Desert rats I remember) had success in your dangerous escape towards liberty?
We had the honoured opportunity to secretly help you in that year of 1943 here in Bondeno near the city of Ferrara midway between Bologna and Verona. You were with us a day and my father gave every possible material help to continue on your road. You were quietly housed in the cowshed!
Years have passed but we often wondered how you fared. We would be delighted to hear from any one of you and perhaps meet again. However this is a hope that this letter finds you just to know of your past safety is our reward.
Yours sincerely

[digital page 23]

[Letter from Colonel d’A Mander of Fleet to Bill Gleave]  15 January 1991

Dear Mr Gleave,

I have read your account of your adventures, which I am returning to you herewith, with the greatest interest.

I sailed on the same ship from Liverpool (“A” Company were right in the bows and the movement was like a very quick lift going up to the 1st floor and then down to the cellar!). I shared all your experiences in Egypt and Cyprus and, as you ?recall, I was captured in the same battle, carried off to Italy, imprisoned, escaped and walked a similar 400 miles until finally the VIII Army met me just as it did you.

I wish I had seen your

[Digital page 24]

story before writing my book; we could have made it a joint effort.

I wrote to Lt Col McIntosh and told him what an interesting tale you had to tell and he says the G.H Gazette has reached saturation point on PoW stories (His words not mine!)

I could go on talking about how my situation was different from yours and what I did when you did that. We ought to meet and have a good chat about it. I do wonder why you didn’t go to the coast and get a fishing boat but I suppose the coast line was stiff with Jerries. My policy was to go down the middle ready for landing on either side.

I share a friend, Mr Rankin, who has written two books, the second of which

[Digital page 25]

was a selection of stories such as yours. If he writes another book I’ll let you know and see if your story might not be incorporated in it.

I am sorry I cannot think of anything else I could do about your marvellous story, which tells a tale full of Green Howards guts and determination so modestly and so well.
Yours sincerely
D’A Mander

[Digital page 26]

[Hand drawn sketch of a haystack showing Bill’s hiding place and the hay cutting tool the Germans used to find people hidden in the stack]

[Digital page 27]

[Hand drawn sketch of a corn field showing the hiding place of George, Bill and Jimmy, and the proximity of the Germans.]

[Digital page 28]

[Letter from Simon Robbins of the Imperial War Museum to Bill Gleave]

22 January 1992

Dear Mr Gleave
Thank you very much for your letter of 12 January enclosing the photocopy of your account, written in 1949-50, of your service with the 4th Battalion The Green Howards in North Africa and Italy during the Second World War.

I am delighted to accept your account as a welcome addition to the Museum’s archive and I am sure that it will be of great interest to those carrying out research into life in the Army and in particular the operations in North Africa and Italy during the 1939-45 War. I will send you photocopies of your account for retention by the family as soon as the copying process has been completed.

Thank you once again for your generosity in donating your most interesting account to the Museum.

Yours sincerely
Simon Robbins

Department of Documents

[Digital page 29, left hand column]

150th Infantry Brigade
21 April 1941  Left Liverpool
23 April 1941  Left the Clyde
16 May 1941  Arrived Freetown (3 days)
27 May 1941  Arrived Durban (4 days)
13 June 1941  Disembarked (Port Tewfik [Suez Port])
14 June 1941  Arrived at El Quassassin
27 June 1941  Camped at Maarten Bagguish
Camped at Fruka and El Duba
10 Aug 1941  Moved to Cyprus (Kontea)
3 Nov 1941    Moved to Palestine (Haifa)
30 Nov 1941  Moved to Egypt (Amryna)
7 Dec 1941    Moved to Maarten Bagguish
22 Dec 1941  Moved to Bir El Thalata
25 Jan 1942   Moved to BirHarmat, and Tengeder
28 Jan 1942   Moved to BirHakeim
16 Feb 1942   Moved to BirGeff
21 Apr 1942    Moved to Got El Valeb

This was 150th Infantry Brigade’s last position until 1 June 1942 when it was destroyed by the AfrikaKorps (mainly 21st Panzer Division) and 15th Panzer, 90th Light Division.

[Digital page 29, right hand column]

150th Field Ambulance ?on a different ship as it stopped at Cape Town [2 lines illegible]
150th Infantry Brigade (50th Northumbria Infantry Division)
4th Battalion Green Howards
5th Battalion Green Howards
4th Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment
72nd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
232 Field Company, Royal Engineers
150th Field ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps

attached armour. (“Gazala Box” 44th Royal Tank Regiments; “B” Squadron 42nd Royal Tank Regiment) 30 January
“Battle axe” battery, 7th Medium Re
65th anti-tank Regiment Royal Artillery (1 battery)
81st / 25th Light A.A Royal Artillery (1 Battery)
2nd Battalion Cheshire Regiment (1 Comp’)
Captain Reisman (Berlin Battalion)
1 June 1942. Gazala “Box”

[Digital page 30]

[covering note to Bill Gleave by the Green Howards enclosing a published account of  escape stories edited by W.E Bush]


To request indulgence for inaccuracies and thanks to those who have so kindly assisted.

This story was first recorded in a prison camp in Italy, when the facts were fairly fresh in our minds. The account was seized by the Italians during a search which followed an escape from the camp. It was re-written. When Italy capitulated in September, 1943, we escaped from our camp. Some of the contributors after spending several months in the mountains of Northern Italy, made their way to Switzerland – others were unfortunately recaptured, and taken to Germany. A few regained our own lines four hundred kilometres South. In any case, it was no occasion for transporting literature, so the second copy was dumped. It possibly still exists in the Italian farm house.

This third edition has been written in Switzerland, and I have to thank Lieut Colonels; Reynalds, Norman, Lyall and Cooper, Majors; Piele, Kennedy, Woolley and Dobson, Captains; Dennis, Mitchell, Vian and Lieut. Flederman for their help in providing what is in fact the whole story. They may probably not agree with certain dates, and sequence of events, but I am afraid that is inevitable when I have to rely on memory after such a lapse of time. My object will be achieved if the account serves to keep alive that comradeship which helped us in those days and provides a basis for a more accurate account in the future.

I am also indebted to the regimental journal of the Green Howards for undertaking the publication of this account, thus giving it a far wider circulation than anticipated.
W. E. BUSH. CO [Commanding Officer] 5th Green [1 word illegible]
Switzerland, 1944

[Digital page 31]

[Hand drawn sketch of Bill’s, George’s and John Groppo’s positions one night in the snow between Sforza Costa and Tolentino.

[Digital page 32]

[Letter from B.S Barnes presumably to Bill Gleave], undated.


Many thanks for contacting me regarding my present research. Find enclosed a short questionnaire for you to fill in and a stamped addressed envelope. I am at present interviewing men who served with 50 Division during the war and will soon start to write a history of this famous unit as seen by the soldiers who fought within its ranks. Yours is a fighting record second to none and you must be very proud of it. It is my intention that the nation should have it on record so that you and your fallen comrades should be remembered by generations yet to come. All interviews are on tape and will, in the end, be given to the national archive at the Imperial War Museum, London. If you have a photograph of yourself from the war years you would loan to me, I will copy it and return it to you within two weeks. This also will feature in my next book. You will be the 45th man I have interviewed in the last two years. I shall be interviewing until Christmas and then I shall sit down to write. I hope to hear from you soon.

Barrie S Barnes.

[Digital page 33]

P.S I would be very interested in seeing your written account of your war service. I will of course refund the postage and guarantee to have it back to you within two weeks after I have copied it and can read it at leisure. My last book was as follows:

“This Righteous War” (A History of the Hull Pals Battalions 1914-1919).Published by Richard Netherwood Ltd.

[Digital page 34]

[Questionnaire sent to Bill Gleave by B.S Barnes]

A Name, Rank and No
B. Regiment, Battalion and Company
C. What was your occupation before the war?
D. What actions stand out in your memory?
E. Where did you see your first casualty?
F. Did your Father serve in the Great War?
G. Did you have a close relative in 50 Division?
H. Was joining up a patriotic duty or just another job?

[Digital page 35]

[Letter. From B.S Barnes to Bill Gleave], 15 December 1991

Dear Mr Gleave,
Hope you have got your photos back by now. Find enclosed your most excellent memoir which I shall certainly use in my book. I have also enclosed a cheque for the postage you paid in sending it to me.

I am just about to begin Chapter four of my book which is the move into France.  When I am finished I will let you know if I am successful in finding a publisher. Once again, many thanks.

Barrie S. Barnes

Connect with us via Facebook or email - [email protected]