Keith Killby’s war memoirs are mostly a second hand account written by Kathryn Lanaro who is the daughter of the nephew of Orazio Dalimonte, who provided food and shelter for one night for Keith Killby during his escape back to Allied lines.
Keith Killby was a medical orderly for the S.A.S. He was captured several times during World War II but managed each time to escape. The last time he was captured he was imprisoned at Servigliano POW camp where he was able to escape after the Italian Armistice due to the actions of J.H.D. Millar.
There is a personal account from Keith Killby dated 9th October 1943, in which he describes the difficulties of traversing the difficult terrain around Abruzzi in an attempt to reach the Allied lines further south, and in which he refers to Orazio Dalimonte.
There is also some correspondence from 2004 between Keith Killby and J.H.D Millar. Keith Killby thanks Millar for securing his release from the Servigliano POW Camp, while Keith Killby gives his own account on the escape from Servigliano POW camp and his journey back to the Allies.
Four chapters from his book; ‘In combat, unarmed’ can be read here on our main site.
The full story follows, in two versions. The version in the first window below is the original scanned version of the story. In the second window below is the transcribed version in plain text.
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Account of Keith Killby was by Katharyn Lanaro, February 1991. Katharyn was the daughter of the nephew of the man [with whom] Keith Killby spent the night at Turrivalignani.
The Second World War.
On October 17th 1990 the ‘Independent’ [Newspaper] published a short article on a Trust formed by ex-servicemen to help bring over young people, who are the descendants of Italians who helped to hide British soldiers during the war, over to England to learn English. Until very recently I was unaware that it was my own ancestors who were those ‘Contadini’ (Italian Country People) whose generosity and courage may have saved the lives of many British soldiers. One man who has never forgotten what the ‘Contadini’ did for him, remains in contact with my family, and it is through him that I was able to write about his own experiences, which are those most likely shared by many other British soldiers.
Keith Killby was first captured in the desert when Rommel started his great advance to Alamein. A dozen or more German tanks swept into the field ambulance, and he, along with many others, was rounded up. He and his Colonel were allowed to help look after the German wounded, the tent in the desert being given the slightly ostentatious title of ‘Operating Theatre’. Eventually they were left by the Germans, and after a week returned to the front lines and joined the big retreat to Alamein. In the later advance Keith was taken ill with jaundice and subsequently joined the S.A.S [Special Air Service] where he was accepted as a medical orderly, refusing, as a conscientious objector to carry arms.
Keith was then sent to Sardinia, his first view of Italy being a group of houses seen through the periscope of a submarine, which he later recognised when he was a prisoner there, as exactly a week later he was captured on the South East coast of Sardinia and was taken to a civilian prison. The fall of Mussolini some three weeks later may well have saved his life, as rather than being a prisoner of the fascists who had been under orders to shoot S.A.S [Special Air Service] personnel, he became a prisoner of the Italian army.
He and around 30 other men were then
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taken to Pozzuoli, outside Naples, up to Rome and then by rail to Pescara and Porto San Giorgio to a prison camp in the hills. Two weeks later on September 8th, 1943 the Armistice was announced and as darkness fell two to three thousand men streamed out of a hole they had made in the wall towards the Lower Hills of the Apennines, joined by their Italian guards who had been ordered to let their prisoners go.
The next day, Keith and two American soldiers who had joined him were wondering what the ‘Contadini’, previously their enemies, would think of them. But within twenty-four hours all of the soldiers had been adopted by farming communities and fed and found shelter; whether in barns or cleaned out stalls with oxen nearby or, in the more remote parts where it was safer from the Germans, in beds given up for them.
The ‘Contadini’ were often unable to read or write and were desperately poor, but lived with a certain dignity and with a huge sense of humanity. Perhaps it was their own poverty which gave them their generosity and courage towards other human beings, who did not speak their language and who were not Christian in their meaning of the truly religious sense. They lived only on what they produced which was either chicken, rabbit or pork from pigs which were slaughtered twice a year to make a variety of sausages and hams which were a luxury for special days or guests. Water often had to be carried long distances in large ‘concas’ on the heads of the women. Oil lamps and candles were used to supplement the daylight by which they rose and retired to bed. Hard cheeses were made from the milk of sheep tethered where there was a little grass. A donkey was an asset for transport. Bread was baked every ten days in an oven beside the houses; wood being the only heating material. The other cooking was done in an open hearth whether grilling or using a huge cauldron over the fire to cook pasta or polenta.
However is was not only the great generosity
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that was showered upon him which surprised Keith, but the great courage of the ‘Contadini’, as the Germans had offered big rewards to anyone helping in the capture of a P.O.W, and the alternative of death to any who helped them.
After two weeks in hiding and having recuperated from Malaria, Keith and the two American soldiers decided to go and reach the troops in Campobasso. They travelled for about five weeks, being hidden and fed by the ‘Contadini’, and avoiding the Germans, which in one instance meant jumping into a pile of dung!
On October 9th in their journey through the county of Abruzzo, they saw in front of them the hillside below a little village named Turrivalignani. Shortly before it began to get dark they started to scramble up using scrub and long grass to pull themselves up. After what seemed like hours they reached the top. Desperate for both food and shelter they knocked on the door of an isolated house and were greeted by a little elderly man, obviously frightened to be faced with three rough looking young soldiers. He understood Keith’s Italian and ushered them into his small house. Orazio Dalimonte (my great uncle) sat them down and apologised for not having any food in his house and disappeared into the night. They sat and waited, too tired to move, wondering whether Orazio would return with the Germans to claim the large reward for handing them in, or with food for them, for which he could have been shot.
After half an hour or so, Orazio returned with plenty of food, which many of the villagers had supplied. While they ate, Orazio prepared his bed for them to sleep in. Early the next morning they awoke and left early to avoid both the villagers and the Germans. Some twenty years later Keith found Orazio’s house again. He was away at the time, but Keith left a note for him and he wrote to say that his nephew (my father) was a hairdresser in Salisbury where Keith soon contacted him. A year or two later he helped him to find a hairdressing business in Burgess Hill.
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Keith and the American soldiers continued their journey but as they neared the front lines they were re-captured when they walked up to someone they thought to be another prisoner, but, who much to their horror, swung around and shouted ‘halt!’ They were questioned and then taken to an ordinary house where three Germans were already present and with whom they slept in the same room as. That night, Keith managed to escape, leaving the two Americans behind. Some forty years later he heard that three brothers from nearby Capracotta had been brought to those Germans from whom he had escaped and were condemned to death for helping P.O.W’s. On the way back to Capracotta one brother managed to escape but the other two were shot.
Keith escaped into some nearby woods where he hid for three days and was supplied with food and civilian clothing by the ‘Contadini’. When he left the woods and began his way further towards the front lines, he attempted to find shelter but was turned away from one house by people too frightened to hide him. In the darkness he heard a child crying and walked towards the sound and arrived at a house where he was sheltered and fed. A few days later he was captured for the fourth time and eventually joined a German convoy where he was taken to Rome for two weeks. He finally ended up in a prison camp near Munich where he was imprisoned for eighteen months. In January 1945 a Russian battle was heard coming nearer and nearer the prison, many of the P.O.W’s were then marched towards the West, but Keith was taken by train to the Swiss border where he was finally released.
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You’ve gathered together some fascinating information here, the highlight of which is ‘Uncle Keith Killby’s account of his war-time experience in Italy’, which are extraordinary to say the least. If ever you needed conclusive proof of the value of oral history Keith’s testimony provides that proof – a unique glimpse at the realities of war from an ordinary person’s point of view. A very interesting family history project indeed.
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[Handwritten note at the top of the page] Sent to Kathryn Lanaro (Great niece of Orazio) Burgess Hill. 27th December 1990
I am so pleased that I thought to put in with my [Christmas] Card the leaflet with the cutting from the ‘Independent’ and that your school had asked you to write something about your family and the Second World War.
I am pleased because during the last year I have been talking a great deal and reading some 20 books — after finding them with some difficulty, written by those who like I experienced the tremendous generosity and courage of those who were your own ancestors.
No doubt I had told your father years ago something of my experiences and perhaps too I had talked to Rebecca a little but to younger ones – not so young now — I had said nothing and no doubt you had wondered where this strange old man fitted in to your family story.
But for me by chance finding the business in Burgess Hill you would not be living there. But for me by the chances of war I was to find my greatest experience and the greatest experience of humanity in my months climbing over the hills and mountains of the Marche, Abruzzi and Molise and receiving so much from the ‘Contadini’ living there.
From the enclosed I think you can make out quite a good story. You could begin by saying that you had always had a vague idea how this strange old Englishman was somehow connected with your family since the war but only recently you had heard the full story of that connection. Then you can paraphrase – in indirect speech and better English and without my spelling mistakes – what I have told you of my story – or that part which you think is of interest. You can end by saying, what is quite true, that had I not helped your father find a business you might never have come to live in Burgess Hill.
Also if you think you can put it in well I would ask you to mention briefly at the end that I and others, remembering to this day that great courageous generosity, have set up this Trust to help bring over young people, who are descendants of those ‘Contadini’, to England to learn English.
War is brought about by the worst in mankind but sometimes it, by its brutality, brings out also the best in mankind. I witnessed that best in the hills behind the Adriatic coast and I am glad to express it to you so you can always remember it.
Good luck with your essay – and I would like to see a copy and know what your teachers think of it.
Best wishes to all of you.
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The 9th October 1943 was to prove one of the most testing days of our climb over the hills and valleys of the Abruzzi in the hope of reaching our lines further south — but it ended by good fortune in a very comfortable bed – big enough for the three of us — after an excellent meal provided by all the village.
It was just a month since our whole camp had broken out after the Armistice in Italy which had been announced on 8th September. As darkness fell we made our way through the hole that some of us had made in the wall that had for months kept us in. Our Italian guards, having been ordered ‘Do not fire. Let them go’, joined us. Two or three thousand of us streamed in the darkness towards the lower hills of the Apennines. Next day we wondered what the country folk – only a few days ago our enemies — would think of us. We need not have worried. Within twenty four hours we all – scattered for miles around – had been adopted by the nearest farming communities and fed and found shelter – whether in barn or cleaned out stalls with oxen nearby or, in the more remote parts where it was safer from the Germans, in beds given up for us.
After some two weeks not far from the camp I decided that I had recuperated enough from malaria and the restrictions of Camp life to start down towards our lines of the Allied Forces at Campobasso – some two hundred kilometres away- if one were a crow. We were no crows and so had to do about four times that distance up hills and down ravines, avoiding the roads and villages where the Germans were penetrating more and more.
Two Americans had decided to join me. They had been captured in Algeria. I had been captured in the desert when Rommel started his great advance to Alamein. A dozen or more German tanks had swept into our Field Ambulance and we were rounded up. However as some were getting wounded with bits of schoolboy German I made them understand that we had to go to help look after them. I and the Colonel were allowed to go to the ‘operating theatre’ – a tent in the desert. Later the Germans left us to work for the wounded though four others lots swept into the camp. On the third day Rommel himself walked through the camp just before we were flooded with German wounded, After a week we staggered back to our lines and joined the big retreat to Alamein.
In the later advance from it I was laid low with jaundice and later joined the Special Air Service, as I did not want to be seasick on the second front.
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The SAS [Special Air Service] however was a very mixed bag and they accepted me as a medical orderly refusing, as a conscientious objector, to carry arms. Among the mixture were Churchill’s son Randolph – a brave but bloody fool and it was said several crooks who had special knowledge of cracking safes etc.
However their training was mixed too and I was put into the Special Boat Section and having been encouraged to learn Greek and German and taught to parachute I was sent to Sardinia by submarine, on which, between bouts of malaria, I learnt bits of Italian from a borrowed grammar.
My first view of Italy was a group of houses seen through the periscope of the submarine, but which I recognised when a week later we were prisoners there. The fall of Mussolini some three weeks later may have saved us from being shot by the local fascists as Hitler had given the order that SAS [Special Air Service] personnel were to be shot..
Taken, as prisoners to the mainland we saw Vesuvius – then still with the plume of smoke that was to disappear after its eruption a year later, St Peters and the Coliseum as we passed through Rome. From the train that wound its way through the mountains to the Adriatic coast at Pescara I fell in love with Italy.
Little did I know that within a month I would be climbing those hills and the crossing of that railway line and road to Rome and the parallel river Pescara which all bunched together at Scafa would prove to give us our most difficult day.
Everywhere on our two or three weeks walk to that point we had been fed and sheltered. Indeed it was difficult to keep moving as all the country folk wished to feed and shelter us – offering even to hide us until the Allies reached the area. But we wanted to push on before winter came. The ‘Contadini’ – the Italian word for county people is not to be translated by the English word ‘peasant’ for though they were often unable to read or write and were desperately poor they lived with a certain dignity and with a huge sense of humanity. Perhaps it was their own poverty which gave them their generosity and courage towards other human beings who did not speak their language and were not it seemed Christian in their meaning of the truly religious sense – Roman Catholics. But in the Abruzzi the word ‘Christiani’ has a much wider sense when they said ‘Siamo tutti Christiani’. We are all human beings.
Their poverty was obvious for all to see. They lived only on what they produced which meant that chicken or rabbit which always could be found
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tucked in hutches around the houses with the pig to be slaughtered twice a year to make a variety of sausages and hams were a luxury for special days or guests as we were. Water often had to be carried long distances in large ’concas’ on the heads of the women. Oil lamps and candles were used to supplement the daylight by which they rose and retired to bed. Hard cheeses were made from the patient milking of the sheep tethered where there was a little grass. A donkey was an asset for transport. Bread with a special tang, was baked every ten days in an oven beside the house, wood being the only heating material and the open hearth for all other cooking whether by grilling of the huge cauldron which boiled the water, hanging over the fire, to cook the pasta or polenta.
It was not however only great generosity that was showered upon us from this poverty it was great courage for the Germans had offered big rewards to anyone helping in the recapture of a prisoner of war and the alternative of death to any who helped us. During the month out of the camp we had found almost all willing to welcome us with open arms. As we got nearer the lines we three had walked up, by mistake, to a German who had captured us and taken us to the nearest village. During the night I had escaped – though to be captured on the front line a few days later and taken via Rome’s Regina Ceoli – civilian prison, to Germany. Some forty years later I heard that three brothers from nearby Capracotta had been brought to those Germans from whom I had escaped, and were condemned to death for helping POW’s. On the way back to Capracotta one had escaped, the other two were shot.
On that day In October 1943 we sat, as was our practice, watching the traffic, both rail and road in the valley below us wondering how we were going to get across to the other side where a small village was perched high up a very steep hill. At first there was a small and seemingly unimportant road. We dashed across it flinging ourselves into a dung heap as an unexpected German staff car and motor cyclist came round the corner. Then came the main arm of the river. Dangerously perhaps we decided to cross using the railway bridge. Perhaps because it was day there was no guard on it and we got across safely. Then we sat and, hidden in the undergrowth contemplated the next ‘step’ – the main road between Rome and Pescara on the Adriatic coast. At one point it crossed high above another smaller branch of the river and as German vehicles were continuously going up and down the road we
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decided that that was the way for us, hoping no Germans would stop to look over the bridge and see us. We made our way down the steep hillside sliding from one bit of cover to the next and then quickly waded through the shallow river before taking breath underneath the high arches of the road bridge.
In front of us was, it seemed, the sheer hillside below a little village with the long name of Turrivalignani. Shortly before it began to get dark we started to scramble up using scrub or long grass to help pull our weary bodies up. After what seemed hours we reached the top in darkness. We looked around for an isolated house and decided to knock on the door of one for we were desperate for food and shelter. A little elderly man came to the door, obviously very scared to see us large rough looking young men. In a minute he had understood my equally rough Italian and had ushered us in to his small house. Orazio having set us down and apologised for having no food in the house soon disappeared into the night. We sat and waited too tired to move but wondering whether he would return with Germans to claim the large reward for handing us in or with food for us for which he could have been shot.
Orazio after half an hour returned with plenty of food which many of the villagers had supplied for us. While we tucked into the food Orazio prepared his huge double bed. Though it was my turn to sleep in the middle I slept soundly until the first light appeared and we got on our way to climb even higher mountains before all the villagers and the nearby Germans were on the roads again.
Some twenty years later I found Orazio’s house again. He was away but left a note for him and he wrote to say that his nephew was doing hairdressing in Salisbury in England where I soon found him. A year or two later I helped his nephew find a hairdressing business in Burgess Hill.
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[Handwritten letter from Keith Killby]
Monte San Martino
28th May 2004
Dear Dr Millar,
Finally I can write to you to try to express my thanks and that of 2000 others for what you did 60 years ago.
I came ten days ago especially to take part in an exhibition concerning the Jews. For a few had been interned in the camp after us. I showed many groups of students around the camp, spoke at the closing session and in my almost forgotten Italian explained how the story of our escape should really be told.
When I had put up the plaque in 1993 to thank all Italians who had helped POW’s everywhere it reads 3000 had escaped as in a very authoritative book ‘A Strange Alliance’ it had said on one page that there were 337 POW’s in the camp but on the next that 1000 Americans had been in the camp. We, 25 SAS [Special Air Service], were the last to arrive. from Sardinia. Two weeks before the Armistice. (K.K. therefore concluded wrongly that the 337 POW’s should have read 3370).
I was in a barrack that was very near the back wall. After days of discussing what to do amongst ourselves and with the Italian guards I heard a noise outside the hut and found some of my SAS [Special Air Service] colleagues trying to make a hole in the wall who said they were going. I collected what I could and got in the queue. When the first SAS [Special Air Service] started to go out the Italian guards fired into the air, then the ?clearest order possible in Italian ‘Do not fire. Let them go!’.
Wrongly I had imagined that all the others had followed us through the hole when of course obviously all gates had been opened – thanks to your determination to defy the incredible stupid orders (perhaps initiated by Montgomery) which came down from MI5 [Military Intelligence] to all the camps which the O.C [Officer Commanding] of MI5 [Military Intelligence] refused to revoke until the day the Armistice was announced – too late to reach the camps!
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The only other Camp where the senior officer Colonel Hugo de Burgh defied the order and with the Italian officer ?engineered the exit of 600 officers. We have a book about them all try one of them and perhaps fifty individual accounts. De Burgh got to Switzerland but then returned to Italy to head up, until it’s closure, the Allied Screening Commission, set up by others hiding in Rome the day that Rome was liberated. It distributed a million pounds & hundreds of Alexandra Certificates to Italians who had helped POWs. (Many of our students have produced them from their family archives). Hugo de Burgh had a young A.T.S [Auxiliary Territorial Service] officer as his secretary – whom he later married. Lucy de Burgh has recently given us his diary showing how they had travelled – in immediately post war Italy – paying out large sums of money. Their son, also Hugo – was with his son on our first Freedom Trail which was opened by the Italian President Ciampi. Himself on the run through the lines with POWs.
Back to Servigliano. Though, then almost unknown, the S.A.S. [Special Air Service] were special troops who did rather mad things (I was only the Medical Orderly with them as I had volunteered ?as a parachutist.)
As I see it, it is probable that one or two of our W.O. [Warrant Officer] were putting pressure also on the Italians while you did the zeal and official work but possibly with your agreement, they started to make the hole in the wall. Though it is improbable that you remember it now, you agreed on their action for it would seem you were in contact with the S.A.S. [Special Air Service] as Giuseppe says you still have the silk handkerchief map which two S.A.S. [Special Air Service] (and R.A.F. [Royal Air Force] crew) were issued with!
I am so sorry that nobody had done the research at the Camp before – but then Giuseppe only found it when researching Bacchi.
In the annual report this year we put very little about Servigliano as we felt we could not tell the full story until Giuseppe [Millozi] had presented his thesis and got his degree – which he has with honours.
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However it has often been mentioned – with photos before in previous reports and I will make copies to send you.
As I have said we have some 80 different books by & about POWs ‘on the run’ in Italy and some 200 manuscripts. They have been put in excellent order and listed by another Italian who got his degree with a thesis on POWs and Italians around Rome. The Imperial War Museum were sceptical about keeping out manuscripts together if the Trust decided – in future years – to offer them to it. Now having seen how well they are organised they have agreed they should be kept together and with them a list of the 80 books collected by the Trust.
I will write to you again when I have sorted myself out after 3 weeks in Italy. I am going on to the Trail at Rossono.
In war chance plays such a big hand. Though captured four times I felt I did not have a very dangerous war. I could not return ‘to my valley’ until 1961. Since then I have returned at least once every year.
Your action changed my fortune and future.
With grateful thanks
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Copy of rough notes made at the time of K.K’s exit from Servigliano.
9th September 1943 (a.m.)
As I sat there I heard distant [word crossed out] but rowing cheering. I turned round and said ‘Is that it ?’. It was, the Camp was [word missing] towards the offices and a few guards were walking through [word missing] (of prisoners) that shook both their hands as their eyes sparkled so near to tears. The feeling inside me seemed to start from my stomach and then slowly work up and my whole body tingled. I had been there only 18 days, many 18 months some 28, what must they feel? The band was outside in the (blank ‘square’ but [word missing] probably the playing field outside the camp) and we all [2 words missing] to where they were playing. After two numbers they came to [word missing] for which we had all been waiting – the National Anthems of The Allies – Canada, France, Poland, Russia, America and Britain. There were many strained faces and eyes that flickered as they heard tunes which spelt home and all it means some [word missing] [word missing] first time years.
The Scots of course were the first to have their own parade, the Cypriots and a combined British and Greek demonstration [word missing] by dances that looked so fatuous by being so similar to [word missing] reels. And the Poles played tunes the memory of which was too [word missing] for them before.
(Notes made on the left hand page after first visit back in 1961)
‘As the evening wore on our camp leaders tried to persuade the Italians to let us go. The Italians guaranteed to protect us from the Germans. We preferred to get out of the way & disregarded the instructions (followed in other camps which the Germans captured whole) from England to ‘stay put’. An Italian S.M. [Sergeant Major] telling us to keep calm – in his own excitement. The white on the hill that was oblivious to our joys as was the one [word missing] looked down on our capture (in Sardinia) had been of our [word missing]. Finally we made a hole in the wall (north east wall), and said we were going shots were fired. Italians ordered to fire and so we went off in the dusk. Many of us ill and quite out of training for hill climbing!
The crickets. The figures in the moonlight, odd parcels dropped. The awful strain of reaching the top of the next hill. (K.K. had bouts of malaria for over 2 months on arrival [word missing] Sardinia). It is too much for some. A fugitive in a foreign friendly land. 4 of us – 2 Americans and one other Englishman with T.B.
It continues with account of first entry to a house – of the guards at the Camp and then the flood of food they brought to us. We had ended up just below San [word unclear, ?Giovanni] facing Monte San Martino.
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Dr John H.D. Millar M.B.E. [Member of the British Empire] 14th January 2003
First my apologies for not writing sooner to thank you for the excellent reception you gave to Giuseppe Millozi and all the information you could recount to him. It will very much enrich his thesis and then be of great value for those who are interested in the history of the Camp at Servigliano.
My second apologies for sending you a copy of my letter to Howard Jones. I had intended to recount to you my memories on that vital though small part of our own history. Instead I am sending you the copy as once I started in on those memories I found myself going into more and more detail.
Like all P.W. Camps I expect when we arrived – on 26th August the Camp had many Medical orderlies and, fortunately, my malaria did not break out in the next two weeks. Several of us had caught it at a Camp in North Africa – near Algiers where it broke out while on the Depot Ship – for submarines – while there. I had to take some of the others to the sickbay and they could not come with us. Mine broke immediately I got out of the submarine and was too weak to paddle to the shore. It broke out again just before and after my fourth capture.
It may be that some of our N.C.O’s [Non-Commissioned Officer] were in touch with you and knew that you were desperately trying to get us released and perhaps you encouraged them to make a hole in the wall to put pressure on the Italians. Now having heard of your actions I expect there were others at gates or other possible exits trying to expedite the exit of us all.
I thought it was still daylight when I joined the queue to get out as soon as the hole was made but I remember (as in my notes at the time) how I wonder what the Italians thought with hundreds or prisoners walking past their houses in the dark. Next day we found at when they overwhelmed us with food and all the help they could possibly give us.
I have already explained to you about the Trust but since it began over a dozen years ago I have requested from the very many ex POW’s whom I have contacted any accounts that they have of their experiences especially while ‘on the run’. I understand from Giuseppe that one of your sons is putting
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together your papers and memoires. The Trust has here about 130 manuscripts, nearly 100 books written by or about POW’s ‘on the run’ in Italy. I have to summarise them all for the lists that have been made. At the moment they are being brought up to date by another Italian – from Naples – who used them to write his thesis two years ago – on POW’s and the Italians in and around Rome.
Two years ago an archivist from the Imperial War Museum came to see them and I think he and his No. approved as they have since stated that they would be pleased to have them on the terms we suggested that they should all be kept together in one section – that is to say the manuscripts, the books, where they have not got them already would go into the general library but a list of the books appropriate to the work of the Trust would be places with the manuscripts.
Only last year I was able to show the son of an Air Vice Marshall other photos of his father that he had not seen. Another time the granddaughter of a former Mayor of Rome sent me a photo of 3 British Officers (not succeeding to look Italian but very British men out for a stroll.) whom she and her parents had met in the hills. I linked the little she told me that she could remember and sent it to a Trust supporter who had never seen the photo. Another time a supporter – the daughter of a POW asked if anyone had met her father ‘Ginger Davidson’. A quick reply – to our Annual Report – came from a now retired General with a photo of him and other POW’s with partisans.
An obviously not very rich woman has sent £5 every year though I have been unable to give her any information of her brother who was in Servigliano. All I could do was to assure her that the Italians would have helped him as they helped all of us. I have not told her that five POW’s were shot not far from MSM (Monte San Martino) by fascists or Germans and the nearby nuns came out to bury their bodies. But of course he may have died miles further on. He could have been the very frightened individual that I found hidden in a cave near us at Monte San Martino but whom I could not persuade to come out and walk down with us.
Obviously I could go on for a long time. Let me however finish by thanking you very sincerely for the action you took which enabled some 2000 of us to escape and to witness the spontaneous generosity and courage of the Italians. Though I was to end up in Germany I had that experience which greatly enriched my life.
I would ask you to discuss with your son and daughter about the possibility of enriching our archives by adding to them your story.
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Monte San Martino Trust Reg. Charity 328352
Hon, Secretary Stephen Sims
Chairman of Trustees Brian Gordon Lett
Correspondence Secretary Cav. Uff J Keith Killby OBE [Order of the British Empire]
Mr. Howard F. Jones, 12th January 2004
Dear Howard Jones,
Though we were both in close proximity within the walls of Servigliano Camp over sixty years ago and were both parachutists and Medical Corps I do not think that we met.
Your name has been given to me by Dr Millar via a young Italian who for his thesis – on POW’s and the Italians in the Marche – has been doing much research over here and found a small piece of paper in the archives of the Records Office at Kew. It gave the name of Dr Millar.
The Italian student has since been up to see him and heard his account of the exit of all us from the Camp thanks to the action of the Dr Millar.
We – some two dozen SAS [Special Air Service] were only in the camp for two weeks having been brought over from Sardinia where we had been to make diversionary raids on Sardinia just before the big landings in Sicily. Though I think we SAS [Special Air Service] were scattered around in various huts most of us were in what I call the top right hand corner of the camp. After, as I suppose we all did, arguing with the Italians and amongst ourselves I remember hearing a noise behind our hut and went out to find some of my colleagues making a hole in the wall. They said they were going. (The scar in the wall is still visible today.) I got in the queue and when some of them started to go out the guards fired – but into the air. Immediately a very clear order was given in Italian ‘Do not fire. Let them go’. Stupidly I had thought everyone had followed us out though the hole. Of course now I realise first that that order was really given by Captain Millar and most probably spoken by the interpreter who had been both putting pressure on the Camp Commander to let us go.
I also remember that it was suggested we made for Campobasso – of which of course we had never heard. Having stumbled weakly (still suffering from malaria which had knocked me out as soon as I got out of the submarine to land on Sardinia) during the night up to near Monte San Martino. After then days of recuperating and discussing with the [word unclear] [word unclear] [word unclear] the area, I set off with
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(cont. from letter to Howard F. Jones)
two Americans and one English, whom we soon lost as he said he did not feel well – we thought he had found a good home where the daughter was the main attraction. From the very first morning we were plied with food and anything else the very poor people thought we needed – if they had it. We scrounged a map out of a school book which gave us with the help of the sun and the stars the direction to Campobasso. I could not return to the area and Italy generally until 1961. I asked a woman where two families lived below Monte San Martino explaining that they had helped me when we escaped. She replied that she had helped POW’s. I explained that there very many of us and everyone had helped us. She scrutinised me further and then said one was a ‘sanitario’ who spoke Italian. (I had tried to learn it from a book on the submarine to Sardinia and then acted as interpreter to s when captured. When I confessed that it could have been me she agreed and said that once I had asked her the name in Italian for a bandage she had replied Fascia – so I said I did not want to learn that as it was too near fascismo.
After some five weeks the two Americans and I were captured near Agnone and asked by the Germans why we were still in uniform – which I took as a hint if there was another time. Pleaded that the other two were ill – partly true I with my Red Cross armband and they were put into a private house at Agnone but on the second floor with three German medics whom I chatted up. (I had worked for three days for German wounded in the desert when captured temporarily and Rommel had come through our camp and learnt some German at school).
I pointed out the French window next to the ‘loo’ on the half landing to the two Americans and told them to go regardless of others if they got the chance. With Germans snoring on either side of me I woke at midnight, swung my feet into my waiting boots and crept down the creaking stairs, got on to a balcony, but it was too high so on to another and then away. Hidden in a barn for the next day of rain I as fed by a family and found clothes which did not fit my over large body and was hidden in a wood by day where the Germans came in the hope of finding a pig. It was too dangerous for the Italians helping me and I moved nearer the front hearing three guns firing and then only two I made for where I believed the other had been. I needed shelter for the night and was given it by the poorest family I had met. Moved out early and then finding a crevasse in the hillside too steep and weak with malaria I carried on and hit the last German patrol. My boots (no size 12 in Italy then) gave me away. I sat all day with the last German patrol shivering with malaria. I could see the windscreens of our troops on the hills opposite across the Biferno with Campobasso behind them. Montgomery waited another three days before advancing by which time I was in Rome’s notorious civilian prison.
As I am sending a copy of this letter to Dr Millar I have given all the detail as I expect it was he who suggested we made for Campobasso and that I nearly made it. I spent 18 months in Germany improving my schoolboy German and learning Russian from a Russian.
Now here comes the important question. Have you written your own account ? If so we would very much like a copy for the archives of the Trust.
The Trust in just over a dozen years has given some 250 Bursaries to young Italians from all parts but especially the Marche and Abruzzi in which areas many thousands were helped.
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[Handwritten note] File Dr Millar
21st January 2004
Dear Keith Killby,
Thank you very much indeed for your MOST interesting letter and booklet. I am enthralled by your personal account and stories from other ex-POWs! We must all be getting old in the tooth but now I feel much younger…
It was sad to read that your freedom was curtailed by ill health. Next time you must try and take a doctor with you.
Dr Derek Millar will surely give you a far more authoritative, thrilling and detailed account of the activities in Campo 59 at the collapse of Italy than I dare. He may tell of our peripatetic wanderings around San Vittoria, Ascoli, Piceno and San Benedetto… how he jumped out of a farmhouse window during a terra moto… prescriptions given on toilet paper for grateful tomato-bearing villagers and lots more, but probably he will not mention escaping piglets….
I went into the bag after a parachute drop outside Tunis in ’42 and was sent to CG59 via Capua CG66. Re-joined Allied lines in late ’43. Taken prisoner again at Arnhem ’44. Imprisoned at Neubrandenburg. Avoided Russian ‘release’ but was recaptured wearing some German uniform. Later released. Walked to the American lines on the Elbe.
I would liked to have re-visited the Marches and Abruzzi but the War/Colonial offices persuaded me to join the Kenya Police.
Very Best Wishes,
[Signature Frank Howard Jones]
P.S Should you see Dr Millar – avoid playing cards he’s just too good…
Where are the watch towers on the Servigliano wall ?
All through the night “Sentinella Nove – Alerta?”
“Alerto Sto” Et al…..
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Dr John H.D. Millar, MBE [Member of the British Empire] 15th August 2004
As I will explain I had the intention of writing to you in a week or two to suggest that we might meet for lunch in Scunthorpe in the autumn.
However I have just heard the excellent news that your son is going out to Servigliano and also that you are sorting out your account of the time when we escaped. To my surprise I was able to get to Italy in May and June but I do not think that I shall be making it for the ‘vendemia’ this year – in the ‘60s I usually went and was found to be quite useful as I could pick the grapes that grew from small tree then without steps – which my usually much shorter Italian friends needed.
When I went in the summer I was escorted to check out by an Italian student who was staying here and met at the other end by Giuseppe’s father. Then after two weeks taken by him and a Neapolitan I have known, as Giuseppe, since his teens up to north of the Marble Mountains at Carrera where our Chairman’s father led a very effective international group of partisans.
It would have been a great pleasure to show your son around the Camp but I am sure Giuseppe can tell you everything I know as he for some twenty years often heard me recount my experiences there – as I did this year in conjunction with a special exhibition in the Town Hall.
Tell your son to confirm that there are still visible shards of glass on tops of the walls which was, as I am sure you remember, the normal way, in this country too to inhibit ‘climbers over’. For one error however I ought to explain. He will find a plaque that I placed at the gate to the Camp some 15 years ago. On it it says that 3000 Allied POW’s escaped. At that time one of the few books that had just been published which gives an overall picture had talked a little about Servigliano and it said on one page that there were 398 POW’s and then the next page that among those who escaped from the Camp were 1000 US. POW’s. So I presumed the first figure wrong, but I had walked down and through the Abruzzi with two Yanks. The whole reason and message on the plaque is to remind the young Italians of the day we were all so marvellously helped by ‘The Italian people of the countryside’.
I think Giuseppe has shown you the several photos I took of the camp when I first went back in ’61 but two of them are in the booklet which I enclose. A couple of years later I took – what was then a
[Original letter ends here]