Summary of Arthur Hammond
Lieutenant Arthur Dennis Hammond RA (1909 – 1987) was a soldier in the British army. His unit was captured in Libya in 1942. He was transported to Italy and imprisoned at Campos P.G.N. 66, 17, and 49. After the Armistice of September 8, 1943, Dennis, along with 600 of his fellow officers and men, took part in a mass escape from Campo P.G.N. 49 in Fontanellato. He spent nearly nine months on the run and in hiding in Italy, sometimes alone and sometimes in the company of one or two men, finally crossing into Allied lines in early June, 1944. Found among a treasure trove of surviving letters to his wife and parents, this is Dennis’s first letter as a free man to his wife Florence, who was residing at the time in Montreal, Canada. It was written on June 6, 1944.
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, left side]
6th June 1944
On the night of 2nd – 3rd June I managed to cross the mountains near the Adriatic and reach our lines.
The contrast in my present life with the old one is so great that I’m still pinching myself to see whether I’m not dreaming. It is a change from the life of a hunted animal to that of a welcome guest: from barbarity to civilisation.
In the last nine months, sometimes with a friend and sometimes alone, I have wandered from Parma down to near Avezzano, north to near Rimini and then south again near to Pescara. (If you measure the distance and multiply by three to allow for mountains and wrong roads you’ll get a rough idea of the distance I covered – I who always hated walking!) For three months Jan – March I was living in two houses; another time I stopped for a fortnight and again for a week: otherwise it was never more than two nights in the same place.
At first food and sleeping places were easy to find but the last two months, although feeding was not difficult, getting a place to sleep was an awful job as all the country folk have been terrified by the Germans & Fascists burning down houses and killing inhabitants if they found a “Prisoner” on the premises. We were in constant fear of Fascist spies: Germans we have frequently passed and even spoken to
[Digital page 1, right side]
without being recognised. Nearly always we had more than enough to eat and drink but with very long days and short nights at times we were very short of good sleep. We always had to wait until darkness before approaching a house to ask if we could sleep in the stable – say about 10 o’clock and we were always on our way again by 5 A.M. One result was the impossibility of getting clothes washed and I caught scabies rather severely which prevented me from sleeping at times.
The scabies is now practically cured – a terrific mental relief as I felt a complete social outcast –and I’m in very good health – quite lost the “stockbroker’s tummy”! – except for teeth & the odd corn & blister.
I was so sorry I was unable to get a photo taken of my awful ragged Italian clothes when I arrived – they were removed from me very rapidly to be disinfected or burnt.
I’m now at a repatriation camp waiting for a boat and then Blighty. At the outside limit I should be home in six weeks – almost certainly before and I then get 28 days leave. Once there I shall get as much information as possible as to my likely future and if I’m certain to stay in England I shall make speedy arrangements for your return. Alternatively I shall try to get out to you.
So many wonderful things have happened to me the last few days that I feel the crowning joy of seeing you and Gill again can’t be far away. (I’ve just pinched myself again to see that I’m not dreaming).
[Digital page 2, left side]
Darling, I’ve so much to tell you that I can’t get my thoughts straight enough to write coherently. And oh! there’s thousands of things I want to ask you – from the important but commonplace – how are you? – to – do you still love me? though I believe the latter is an unnecessary question. I’m absolutely sick with longing to see you again. There is a patch of my brain that is numb with doing overtime on this! There has not been a day pass, without me thinking of you, wondering how you are and feeling sympathetic for you for I can imagine the horror of nine months of well-meaning friends constantly saying “any news?”
How’s my overgrown schoolgirl daughter? Does she still think I’m in England making nasty faces to frighten Jerry away?
Precious, write quickly to Vicars Close: your first letter might get there before I arrive – a poor substitute for having you there but at least it would be something. Follow up an air-mail letter with all photos you can lay your hands on, please.
Today is Invasion Day and in a few minutes we shall both be listening to the King broadcast. Next time he broadcasts we shall be together. It will be interesting to discover whether you have been conscious of me thinking of you at this time.
Goodbye, my love, for a short time – just a little time longer. I know we’re going to see each other soon but I can hardly wait. Oh darling, it has been so long – too long.
All my love – except what can be spared for Gilly – bless her.
[Digital page 2, right side]
Mrs. F.K. Hammond
Medical Arts Building
[Struck through]3417 University Street
Sherbrooke & Guy
[Digital page 3]
Photograph of Arthur Dennis Hammond with his mother, Florence, in England.
[Digital page 4]
Photograph of Hammond’s wife, Florence, and daughter, Gillian, in Montreal in Canada.
[Editor’s note: With thanks to Hammond’s granddaughter, Karen Grigor, for the letter and photographs]