Albert Jones, 50th Recce Regiment, was reported as missing in North Africa in June 1942, was transferred to Capua camp by November and on to Camp 53 Sforzacosta in the Marche later in November 1942. He escaped from the camp in September 1943 and spent eight months being sheltered by one (unnamed) family. He reached Allied lines in July 1944, arriving back in the UK the following month. This account consists of diary entries written at the Italian POW camps and during his time with the Italian family that sheltered him. It describes the very poor conditions, illness and hunger in the camp and subsequently the daily life and kindness shown to him by the local farming family.
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.
JONES, ALBERT THOMAS
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In my Father’s Footsteps Italy 1942-1944
27 June 1942 In Libya as part of the North Africa campaign. Reported as Missing
30 July 1942 Confirmed as a Prisoner of War in Italian Hands
14 November 1942 Reported in Camp 66 (Capua) Italy
19 November 1942 Transferred to Camp 53 Sforzacosta
15 September 1943 Escaped from Camp 53
13 July 1944 Officially reported escaped and reached Southern Italy in Allied hands, 2 Allied POW Repatriation Camp
11 August 1944 Arrived back in UK
[Photograph with caption] : Corporal Albert Thomas Jones (6915107) 50th Recce Regiment
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At the age of 24, my father spent 10 months in Le Marche as an escaped Prisoner of War. According to his diary he spent at least 8 months under the shelter and protection of just one family, a family that must have risked everything, but a family with ‘no name’ and no precise location.
This is the beginning of the story that attempts to find a name and a place where my father found shelter, protection and friendship during a time in his life that he rarely referred to, yet must have had a profound influence on his life that followed.
Campo Concentramento 53, Sforzacosta
“Sforzacosta is on the railway line 12 miles south of Macerata which is close to the east coast of Italy in the Marche region. The camp itself was about one mile from the town railway station. In 1942 the prison camp was on the western edge of the town and was a fairly modern building having been built to refine sugar beet. The outline of the camp was almost like a large capital ‘E’ and entrance was made through an archway built in to the wall of the main leg. The north and south parts of the camp consisted of tall storage buildings which, when I arrived, housed about 800 prisoners each on just the one floor with no room divisions. By the time I left there must have been more than 2000 men in that one area!”
There are over 7,000 prisoners here, about 6,000 of them are English and the camp is filled to capacity. All the Prisoners of War use three-tier bunks. Ventilation is inadequate and light in the dormitories is too weak to enable the men to read. As in most camps in Italy, there was a complaint that outgoing mail was held up, though incoming mail is fairly regular. The wood ration is smaller than in most camps. The water supply is insufficient, some of the taps are unusable and the showers do not work. The infirmary is rather small for the number of patients, a great many of whom are suffering from skin troubles. There is a fairly large sports ground, but no recreation room or place where lectures could be organised and run successfully. A Roman Catholic priest holds religious services in the camp (visited March).’ (2)”
[Footnote] (2) Official Red Cross Report quoted in the July 1943 Prisoner of War Magazine.
[Illustration with caption]: Artist: Paul Bullard (1918-1996) DESCRIPTION: image: The interior of a prisoner of war hut. The space is filled by the receding lines of wooden framed bunk-beds. Men lie and sit on the three-tiered bunks, clothes and unclothes. A seated figure on the central bunk has a red lozenge shape on the back of his khaki shirt. Below him a young man rests with his hands across his chest, a book lying open on the floor beside him. Washing hangs on lines strung from adjacent bunks.
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“I remember that day clearly. We had been paraded in the recreation field and the Senior British Officer spoke to us of the separate peace, then told us the Allied Forces should be with us in a matter of days and he didn’t want any ‘Bloody silly heroics’ at this stage. Any man disobeying the order would find a court martial waiting for him, should he ever reach the Allies … In an hour or so it was noticed that the Italian sentries had gone and this fact alone worried me. Perhaps they had heard more than we had. I talked it over with my friend John and he agreed to leave the camp with me after the evening meal. I suggested we wait for this, for we would have no idea how long it might be before a cooked one came our way again. Of the seven thousand men in the camp, six thousand chose to stay put, while the remainder, grabbing what kit they could, ran out through the gates, holes in the wire and over the walls. This before the exits were sealed and the sentry boxes manned again, but this time by our own men, who in the traditions of the regiments from which they came, carried out their orders without imagination. John and I crept out by a small semi-hidden gate, thirty seconds ahead of the party bent on closing it.”
Father’s diary extracts on life in PG53
20th November: Arrived at new camp today at 5 pm with no promised hot meal being ready. Camp really a factory still being built, after being herded into groups of 48 and for the night herded down in these large workshops.
21st November: All topsy-turvy at present, waiting for beds etc., food a bit short, trouble at cookhouse owing to wood issue being short, due for parcel tomorrow, issued different here one between seven daily.
December 4th: On the field two hours today on Roll Call, very cold weather and they wonder why so many being in hospital, paid today maybe, sent Xmas mail yesterday, hoping for a letter by then, have been POW six months tomorrow, hope I do not see a second six here.
December 4th: Roll calls on field now, weather very bad, but tough on the parcels now, Iti ration is no better, lads go in dock daily with pneumonia. Wrote today to M&P as usual, still waiting for news from them. Iti’s don’t seem to be doing so good these days.
December 10th: Since coming here, 16 lads have died of pneumonia. Hospital full up, parcels not coming so regular now, camp does not appear to be running very smoothly as yet, still waiting for first letter from home, deadly having nothing to do all day.
2nd January: The new year has arrived and not so good news, parcels are just about finished, and shortage of wood making me miss morning coffee. Iti fag issue 12 in four days, next parcel due on the 12th roll call is still is still inside, no war news these last few days.
4th April: Have not been too well these last few days with bad head and tummy, however I’m feeling better now, have been out of parcels again just when we were picking up, cook myself. A book for half choc helps to pass many an hour away, parcels, fags etc should be here any day now, men detailed today for working camps, war news very good.
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10th April: Six days have passed since my last entry, dreary and uneventful. Why! The little brown boxes missing and how we miss them, nothing much to write about now, except weather, that’s fine enough. News I still much about the same.
13th April: They are in again, five trucks, enough for a two-week supply. Mail very scarce so far this month, war news good. Tunisia just about finished, no news from Russian front, should get fag issue today, skilly very poor these days.
1st June: Found some of my old platoon in the new batch from camp 65, all looking well, will find a difference here to where they came from, no more mail just yet and at the present, had no letter cards for the week, drew parcel today, Leicester, not bad. Still got bad tummy and visiting WC fairly frequently, not enjoying my food very much, another two trucks in today. Contents unknown so far, just another five days and have been a prisoner of war 12 months. Weather very warm, too warm for me.
26th July: Marvellous news today, Mussolini is now finished, the new government formed under Badoglio, looks now that the end is in sight as he will not stand for Italy being devastated. Maybe home for September yet. No news from home lately, would like to be able to see our news today (roll on the boat).
29th July: Had no news for three days now since Badoglio took over, have had plenty of rumours of negotiations going on. Everything is being kept so quiet. I think the end is so very near now, no news is good news. Had a letter from Mum posted June 30, only one so far this week and must be dozens on the way, according to Mum, now we are near the end of July. Hoping August brings our freedom with it. Having difficulty again getting veg for scoff, had plain rice yesterday with tomatoes today.
10th September: Marvellous news here on the eighth, we found that the armistice has been signed, had quite a celebration. To top it off parcels arrived at the camp, not much news however, German forces are reported to be fighting around Naples, also our forces have landed at Genoa and Rome. May be a few weeks yet before we are released, although we are now virtually free. Russia doing very good still.
14th September: These last few days we’ve been under our own officers here, it seems like we are behind Jerry at present and now have a sweat on as to who is getting here first. If we are likely to fall to Jerry’s hands we shall escape from here. A few got out last night. Yesterday we received a parcel each for emergency and ¼ of fags are next on the list. Our lads are expected here in six days approximately.
16th September: Yesterday we abandoned camp and last night found that the Germans had arrived at camp. But once again we are free, as yet no definitive goal in mind except to keep away from Jerry. The Italian peasants are very friendly towards us I don’t think we shall be much trouble getting food. All we want for the next few days is bread, we bought some yesterday for soap. Last night we spent in a farmyard in the barn and used the people’s house to brew in.
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His diary after the escape
19 September: Saturday, the third day away from camp 53, arrived at this farm yesterday and are now lodgers. These people are very kind to us and will do anything, we are anxious for the lads to get here. They will not take anything from us. We did press some soap on them yesterday, but they will not take anything from us. We did press some soap on them yesterday, but they will not have any of our food. Their food is simple but good, the youngest to the oldest do their share of work each day, yesterday and today we have been making vino or wine. Quite the job, pressing grapes and boiling them, how grand it is to be free again after 15 months in there. If the Jerry comes this way which is doubtful these people will do their best to hide us. Jerry took over the camp on Wednesday night and I think there was little trouble there in the doing. More tomorrow, waiting for new now of the boys.
23 September: Still at this farm, been very well looked after, a bit of a scare on as Jerry troops, how many not known, are 15 km away from here. I don’t suppose however that they’re interested in us, locals have their scouts to give warning and we are dressed as civvies, have had no news for three days now, must try and get it today if possible, had bits of excitement yesterday, a rick caught fire and a false alarm for Jerry, our stuff disappeared in no time at all.
26 September: still at the farm, for escaped men we are doing all right, being looked after and fed well, not getting a lot of news, we are pushing now towards Rome, have to keep to the farm now as fascist supporters are reporting us to the Jerries. Have not been actually bothered yet, seems like the Slavs are fighting in Trieste and the Germans are lobbing! (posing) as Eye Ties to Germans of military status. Fags are getting short now, otherwise everything is well. All very well in with the family and have made friends with all of the children. Heard today that all of the camp has been moved, have been out 11 days now. Jerry must e short of fags as he is pinching from the Ities now from the towns, have been doing a little work around the farm to pass away the time, more tomorrow. We have been living very well here, have hardly touched any parcel food except for tea, sugar and milk. We are on the last of the marg now and the last jam. Dry bread next week. Often think if I shall be very lucky and get home for Christmas. I’m hoping so, so we can stay here as long as we like I know and will be very well looked after.
15 October: Have not made up this for two weeks now owing to the book being in the hiding place and difficult to get at. However today I managed to find it. Have had one or two scares with Jerry. But all right. A few days ago, news that a SAS officer was in the district with a plan to get us away. The officer was quite alright but the plan went astray, another is in progress news of which I do not know yet, but we must be over by the 23rd this month. Still doing very well at this farm, the people won’t let us leave, we help on the farm occasionally. I welcome it and is something to do. I’m worried now about Mum, Peg and the folks, they must be wondering what is happening to me and doing the same, news is fair. Italy is now at war with Jerry, if nothing happens by the end of this month I’m going to push on south and try to make it to our own troops. Not easy but necessary if one wants to get to get home, as I do, and at least to try and hope to be home for Christmas. Quite a lot of lads are gradually making their way southwards, the weather has broken now, making plenty of rain and cross-country ravelling difficult, but it has to be.
October 29th: Nearly another month finished, have been staying with these people six weeks today and any mention of leaving is immediately squashed by the. They say we have to stop here
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Until the British arrive. The weather at present makes travelling too difficult and the country is far too hilly for walking, almost impossible to make any headway. Having been having radio news these last few days. Russia is giving Germany socks, a general crisis is at present on in Berlin, German troops have been on the retreat for days now, we are still pushing here slowly and the RAF are active as we see them daily. Several places near have been bombed including our own camp, which Jerry has been using for storing grain. Have been doing a little work this last fortnight as they are sowing grain and we have been hoeing, pretty tiring the first day or so, now it is raining so work is held up for the fine weather again. The people here dyed our shirts for us and have now done our khaki trousers and when cigarettes are in the village, give us money to get some. Have not had any scares lately. The scheme that was to have come off on the 23rd came unstuck. It was genuine enough, the Jerry found out and so won’t happen. Some Americans were captured and as far as is known, a few others, the rest got away. Have been putting on weight since being here and have been weighed twice, first time 72 kg, the second 78, gained 14 pounds in a month! In fact, the four of us are doing very well.
9th November: Still at Casa Marzialette, weather (at) present very rainy. Glad that we have finished sappering, so is Pop. Feeling pretty well, worried (that I) seem to be putting a lot of weight, keep being told about it. Feeling good myself however. Have had pants died black, they shrunk like hell, went out to dinner last Sunday, had quite a time. Monday last was fiesta here, we went to church all dressed up in best civvy suits and ties, it felt fine, news is very good. Heard part of Churchill’s speech today, Russia is doing fine 50 km from the Polish border and 80 past (Trier!). Advancing steadily in this country, doubt whether we should be home for Christine but may, God willing, be home in the new year.
18th November: Still enjoying life at Casa Marzialette! Nine days since my last entry, nothing very much exciting has happened, Wednesday last had four Jerry go through Massa, news at present still pretty good. Have heard of lads being picked up by fascists and now at Camp 70 of all places where our lads have been caught and not getting any food. Now seriously think of going on any do that should come up, as it may be months before we get up here and these people now getting short of food. There is nothing to do around the farm these days, all work finished for the next few months, went to Monte Giorgio on Tuesday! To the daughters, had quite the time at Sandinas. Came back on Wednesday. Met Gordon with griff of new stint at San Benedetta. Not much news just yet, weather very rainy here, otherwise very good, plenty of mud in these parts. Went for cigarettes today and got 50, too late for any more, still putting on weight, hoping for news of fall of Pescara soon now.
25th November: Still at Casa Marzialette 10 weeks today. Still being fed and looked after, no work to do now, time hangs heavy daily, news much about the same. Today talk of Russians capturing Rommel and the 8th Army having a bridgehead across the Sangro! It’s heavy going there, plenty of mud, same here. Plenty of rain nowadays, got fags in the village yesterday, 10 a man. Although since we have been here, we have never gone without the smoke, being supplied with tobacco by the old man. He is a good old stick, Charlie has a tailor’s job in the village now, keeps him at least occupied, on fine days we go for a stroll visiting farms and the lads, a few blokes now getting browned off and heading for Pescara. We shall have to attempt getting through some time, I’m always wondering about the folks at home, hoping they are well and when I shall see them again. I doubt now it will be this year. God bless them.
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12 December: Still anxiously waiting some new development. News is good but so far we have not been able to get away, Pescara is in the balance now, both armies have made advances, have not heard the news for the last week. Today perhaps we will go up. Have been here three months now, looked after very well, so well in fact that I’m getting too fat, nearly 14 stone. Christmas is nearly here and we have been promised a good time, but how I wish I could spent it with my own dear ones. Food and clothes have been dropped around here but the fascists picked up some of it, we did not get any. The Jerries are not worrying much about us but the fascists are. One of our lads was killed last week. God willing a few fascists will get it when our troops arrived here, the weather is rather cold now and plenty of rain and we have to not stray far from the house. I hardly know what to write about but I hope whatever the folks at home are doing, my dear Peg and Mum have a good Christmas and pray I see them soon in the new year.
22 December: Three days to Christmas, but what will it bring, nothing startling but we hope to have a good time. The lads are still battling away down south and we are still hoping to be away in the new year. Learnt that two SAS men left ear here with 25 boys for home and gave those who do not 500 lire each. The weather is very wet but not very cold, nothing like Christmas weather in good old Blighty. The Germans here are not worried about us but the fascists are proving themselves a nuisance, we shall probably get dressed up in Saturday and go to church in the Villa. Sunday, we go to the brothers, on Monday to Sandrinas at Montegiorgio, more later.
2 January: The year starts here with a foot of snow, now the weather is very fine, had a good Christmas, got dressed up and went out. The weather being pretty good, did as we had arranged, have decided that as soon as the weather gets fine, we shall head for the coast and try to get a boat away. This is being done frequently and the Eyeties are making good money. Hope early this year will see us home again. Hoping the folks had a good Christmas back home and the new year, am browned off hanging around, so I am going to have a go at it. Inghilterra for March.
5th March: Have not made this up now for two months owing to having had some scares. Spent another birthday away from home, have to be home for the next one. Spud and Charlie were picked up in January by Jerry in Massa, have not heard from them since. Though we were not on speaking terms for some time owing to having an argument. Since then we, Joe and I, have been away to Monte Giorgio for 15 days as the fascists cleared up Loro Picero, caught 11 blokes, the rest scampered mostly to the mountains, one day they pulled up in a car outside a house and got a Yugoslav, we had a shake on and our people sent us to Sandrinas. Done well for two weeks but glad to get back here, we can always find something to do, went into the village yesterday, they got stuff from Monteponne, the civvies opened up the grain store and helped themselves, expected to do the same here any time now. Today swapped pants with Babu since mine having been washed and shrunk. I have put on a hell of a lot of weight since being here, I’m doing my PT every morning and working when there is anything to do. The weather here since Christmas hasn’t been too good, lots of snow and rain, yesterday fine, today snow, have been getting the news. Am myself expecting to hear ‘the big do’ coming off any time now, the sooner the better, I want to get home and soon, hope at home all well and happy, oh boy will I be happy to get home again. Jerry has called up all Joes! For military service here, under the threat of being shot if not reporting. All for tonight, more later.
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From 5th March to the 13th July when he was recorded as being repatriated and in Allied hands at 2nd POW Repatriation Camp Naples we have no record of his movements.
The places shown on the map are referred to in the diary and from the references would suggest that:
Daughters of the family at Casa Marzialette were living at Montegiorgio, as they visited and stayed with them there.
[Map with caption]: Places mentioned in the diary
Sforzacosta Camp 53
Loro Piceno – moved away from here while the fascists cleaned up
Massa – where two fellow escapees were caught by Germans
Montegiorgio – visited the daughters
Monteponne – a grain store
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[Photographs with single caption]: In 1963 Albert Jones, his wife Peggy, daughter Lincia and one of his sons, Graham, visited the area from a holiday in Rimini. The only record are these images taken from slides. They show Albert and Peggy Jones with Mama and Babu, two of the family who took Albert and his colleagues into their home.
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[Colour photograph with caption]: Casa Marzialette – the farmhouse has been altered and extended and now has new owners (1963)
[Sepia photograph with caption]: Albert and Giuseppe taken by a photographer during the war
[Editor’s note] An Italian newspaper article ‘Terra Nostra News’ 15 September 2011 talking about Albert Jones’ return trip to Italy was found in the physical archive file for Jack Hobbs. It cannot be published for copyright reasons so please contact the Trust if you wish to see the newspaper article.