Summary of Michael Kyrle Pope
Michael Kyrle Pope was captured after his submarine, Oswald, was struck in 1940. He was taken to hospital at Taranto then sent to an island near Venice, then to Sulmona. Later he is moved to an ex-monastery at Padula and then to Gavi. When the Germans take over he is moved, with many others, to Germany.
In each location he sets down detailed reports of daily life in the camp. He describes the types and nationalities of his fellow prisoners, gives sketches of his various captors, details the rationing and contents of the red cross parcels and gives examples of the pastimes which were pursued. He includes photographs and hand drawn maps to locate the camps and hand drawn plans of the camps.
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.
Michael Kyrle Pope
[Digital page 1]
Michael Kyrle Pope, submarine Commander 1940, ended in Germany ’45.
Retired (after the war) as Rear Admiral. [MS] Sent by widow to Brian Lett.
Good map of Italy. At camps at Taranto, Venice, Sulmona (and briefly Castle L’Aquila, Padula, Gavi, Moosberg, Tarmstedt Dulag N), Marlag and Lübeck.
Sub ‘Oswald’ sunk 5 mins after midnight 1 August 1940. Well treated by Italian Navy, taken to Hospital at Taranto. Sent to island near Venice.
To the consternation of the Italians three escaped for three hours. While summer lasted life comparatively good.
Sent south again to Camp at Sulmona. Good on detail and senior officers’ camp at Villa nearby. As war intensified in Desert and in air PoW numbers increased, parcels (numbers) deteriorated.
Visit from Vatican including the famous for his help later Irish priest O’Flaherty. Telegrams sent through Vatican. US Military Attaché in Rome visited (US not in war). Then Swiss were the protecting party – cold and neutral.
Briefly in prison in the old Castle on hill in the centre of L’Aquila.
Page 28 and 29. The easy victories of the Italians when they entered the war – after France fell soon changed to defeats.
Rationing in Italy in September 1941 but Red Cross parcels spring 1942.
After a few Italian planes bombed England, Fascists started to plan their visits to Britain.
Pope enjoyed the mixture of races and varied ranks. Vino and amenities for sport and leisure were bought with barter. Then for a time Red Cross parcels failed to arrive.
Many pages of photos and plans of Camps.
Transferred to Padula – Monastery founded in 1306. 400 officers and 100 ORs.
Retreat to Alamein with 30,000 Allied PoWs to Italy. Large black market with guards and locals.
Pope is in second transfer to new camp at Gavi – a huge old fortress, via Naples.
Governor of Camp was an officer called Giuseppe Moscatelli – soon called Joe Grapes.
News in desert improves. Then uncertainty with the Italian Armistice – until Germans take over. Many taken to Germany, but Pope remains. In second group, Pope is [taken] via Piacenza to Germany, one truckload escapes. 200 Britons and 4000 Italians taken to Germany (Moosberg).
Unfortunately ends nine months before the war ends and Pope is repatriated.
[Digital page 2]
Michael Kyrle Pope’s manuscript (later Rear Admiral Kyrle Pope).
Diary of MDKP as PoW, Italy and Germany 1940–45.
List of Camps
2.8.40 Naval Hospital, Taranto 7.8.40
8.8.40 Island of Poveglia, Venice 16.10.40
16.10.40 Fonte d’Amore, Sulmona 10.5.42
27.2.41 Castle, Aquila 8.3.41
11.5.42 Certosa, Padula 23.7.42
24.7.42 Castle, Gavi 16.9.43
20.9.43 Stalag VII-A, Moosberg 25.9.43
26.9.43 Dulag Nord, Tarmstedt 28.9.43
28.9.43 Marlag “O”, Tarmstedt 14.4.45
29.4.45 Offlag X-C Lübeck 3.5.45
[Digital page 3: headed ‘Ugolino Vivaldi’]
I was about to go on watch and was waiting for the last few words of a cypher message when the alarm buzzer sounded, 23.55 1August 1940. Fifteen minutes later I was swimming with all but three of the “Oswald’s” ship’s company. We had been rammed by the destroyer “Ugolino Vivaldi”, which picked us out of the water about an hour and a half later.
The Italians gave us blankets and drinks, and later on clothes; they put the troops on their fore mess decks and the officers in the wardroom. They did us very well, all kinds of spirits and in the morning fried eggs for breakfast.
We arrived in Taranto about 10.00, passed into the inner harbour, and then by charabanc to the Naval Hospital, where we were put into the Isolation section – a shut-off compound.
Here we were washed, fed and
[Digital page 4: headed ‘Taranto’]
more or less kept apart, until we had been interrogated by a charming and exceedingly well-informed N.O., who came over from Rome the following day.
None of us had any Italian, French was sometimes useful, and the early days were remarkable for our attempts at mastery of the few most important phrases. In these few days we saw, I think, all the Italian types – the self-important; the efficient carabinieri; the cultured and the rude type of officer; and all the variety of lower classes of sailor (or soldier), which produce the “Marx Brothers”.
An Italian Paymaster Lieutenant was more or less in charge of us. He owned a most expensive looking bicycle, and even offered me a ride on one occasion. He spoke French and with Lieutenant Commander Fraser worked the interpreter’s side. He made small local purchases for us – toilet gear, etc. – and produced some English “Albatross Edition” books for us; really, he did that side very well. Our immediate attendants were two Sick Bay orderlies, who provided light entertainment. Our guards consisted of seamen and petty officers, who were quite affable and changed daily. They were supervised by a gang of carabinieri, whose local captain was a most objectionable fellow.
We were well fed from a local café, whose van delivered our meals with some ceremony; and, after the first two days, able to see and talk with our troops, who were in the same compound. Clothes were now provided for all of us – up to date we had been wearing gear lent by the “Ugolino Vivaldi”. The troops were issued with Italian fatigue dress of grey cotton twill material. The officers were provided with two suits of this stuff cut by the local tailors on the lines of white uniform – not too bad, and provided with clip-on stripes and a badge marked P.G., which also unclipped. The fittings
[Digital page 5: headed ‘Venice’]
for this gear provided the usual “opéra bouffe” turn, which experience shows to be inseparable from tailors in prison camps.
The uniforms, with little suitcases, vest, pants, boots and socks, were just ready when we left for Venice at midday of 7th. Our destination was, as usual, supposed to be secret. However, we had an exceedingly comfortable 1st class trip up the Italian east coast – enjoying a type of Italian cooked meal complete in paper-bag. At about 10.00 we reached Venice and our coach was shunted to the docks. Here we embarked in one of the local ferries, and, passing the “Duilio” and “Ren”, in the upper harbour, went off towards Chioggia.
Our destination was the island of Poveglia. This is close to the south-east part of the Malamocco. It was a double island, the division a canal; one half was a market garden farmed by a peasant family, the other had been fitted out by the city health authorities as a reception centre for returning emigrants, and had been used as such in the 20s. The accommodation was that of a sanatorium – with frequent injunctions to use the spittoons provided and not the floor.
On our arrival the riot act was read in execrable English, informing us what to do and where to go, etc, but after a few days we did pretty much what we wanted. Our administration was still in the hands of the navy, who provided a small staff, 1 C.P.O. and a few men, and generally look after the commissariat and stores. Our main support was the C.O.S. to the Port Admiral, who had served in British destroyers, but he only came to visit us occasionally. The Commandant was an army officer, Captain Clemente Colacino, who spoke excellent French and was a writer – an excellent man and most friendly. Apart from the ubiquitous carabinieri, our guards were a half company
[Digital page 6: headed ‘Venice’]
of the local Fascist militia, “Divisione San Marco”, with two stunted officers of regrettable antecedents.
We started off by living in the same building as our troops, but after a fortnight or so the officers and POs were moved to smaller quarters near the Italian officers’ building. The accommodation was quite pleasant for summer weather, but not much good when it was cold. August and September were pleasant months – good food, sun and sea-bathing. The Italian C.P.O. Marcolina did local purchases for us, and though he was a rogue, we did quite well. By this time we had begun learning the language – one Black-shirt, ex-croupier from Venice casino, was an English interpreter.
Venice was about 5 miles away; and we had fine views of parts of the city and the Lagoon.
Lieutenant D.W. Waters and his air gunner arrived during August – taken prisoner after a raid on Augusta harbour. Our troops were set to work on the market garden island – but weren’t a great success, although a local film company put them into a “News Reel”. We were all invited to broadcast and some of the troops were deceived into doing so. We later were able to hear the broadcasts – they possibly gave the first definite news of our three casualties, drowned when the ship was abandoned. At the end of August we were allowed to write and send letters; and towards the end of September received our first letters and cables through the International Red Cross.
With the approach of autumn the inadequacies of the camp made themselves known. The plumbing gave most convincingly, and the cesspits started to overflow. The weather was cold, wet and windy. We got good warm uniforms [Italian Marines, Battalion S. Marco] after another series of comic turns with the tailors.
Early in October the Commandant told us that we should shortly leave for another camp, though he did not know where – speculations became rife. We learnt on October 9th that we should go to
[Digital page 7: headed ‘Sulmona’]
Sulmona in the Abruzzi; and that night 3 of our sailors made an escape to a nearby island from which they hoped to reach the mainland. They shocked, pained and much alarmed our hosts, but were only at large for a few hours.
Except for Waters, Kennedy, Oakes and I, the party left for Sulmona on 11th. We followed the main party on the 16th – had a good 2d Cl [second class]. journey and arrived at Sulmona late in the evening.
Sulmona camp was on the side of a hill and consisted of a number of enclosures, all walled, forming a rectangle. My first impression was of a walled Chinese village; due to the dark, the smells and the noise.
The camp of Fonte d’Amore had been built for Austrian POWs in the last war, and later used as a camp depot by Italian troops. A few old gun limbers were parked about the place. The buildings were all of brick with cement floors, and more like long garages than anything else. A gang of workmen under a local “padrone” were constantly at work mending, altering or putting up fresh structures. The English officers were at the top of the camp, and though the composition of the camp changed at intervals, we kept this top compound. Our troops were halfway down and about 200 French lived in the bottom compound.
At this date there were some 17 British officers; except for ourselves, they were all R.A.F. or F.A.A. from raids on Italy or Rhodes or those, who had failed to fly from England to Malta. The Frenchmen had been captured in the Alpes Maritimes and were mainly chasseurs. They had one of their officers, and also a Polish airman of the French Air Force, who later went to a camp in Germany.
The Commandant was a Carabinieri, Capitano Borsini; and at this early stage
[Digital page 8: headed ‘Early Conditions’]
Colonel Mazzachetti of the Sulmona Depot was most interested in us – his interest extended to taking a personal check of our crockery. As a British camp, the place got going with the “Oswalds” arrival.
Our compound had a building with two mess rooms and a bathroom, also some cabins, and three other buildings with cabins. These rooms were built to take two, and I had one with Waters. The furniture and bedding was excellent – though the beds did not always stand up to unfair wear and tear. Mess gear, cooking utensils, etc., were provided, and after a few days our organisation was going well.
The first couple of months passed quickly as we learnt our way about. The “Unione Militare” commenced a series of visits, which started with a good deal of useful gear at frequent intervals, but in time the intervals got much longer and the quality and quantity of gear poorer, whilst prices increased threefold.
The uniforms which they sold in these early months lasted over four years, and both their heavy boots, and the local product were equal to English in wearing and waterproof qualities. It was only in the second year of the war that the Italian products became rotten – ersatz and expensive.
Our shopping was done in the town every few days by our compound officer or by the Italian R.C. Padre. Occasionally they took an order to Naples or to Rome for us, and we were well served, able to buy clothes and extra food. We now found that we had to buy all our food, and that we were considered as civilians for this purpose. However, at this early stage, food prices were low, the quantity and variety was good – and I now fed better than at any time in prison life, with D. Williams as the caterer.
The Italian compound officer was
[Digital page 9: headed ‘Italian Officers’]
more or less in charge of us, and acted as interpreter at this stage. In the 18 months that I was at Sulmona we had a variety of such officers. Graziani, a schoolmaster, distant cousin of the marshal; he soon found that he didn’t get on well with us and became bored.
Ricciardi, one of the members of an anglophile family, who had lived in Naples and met many English; young and charming, he did us very well and eventually went to the “villa” to live with the Air Marshal and act as interpreter there.
Orazi, an unfortunately unpleasant little man, who had suffered from an inferiority complex in America. It was a relief to us when he left after a week and inflicted himself on our troops. Later he made a name for himself at the officers’ camp of Mont ’Albo.
De Benedictis, a well-meaning and very civil fellow who left us after a few months to rejoin the consular service.
De Ritis, he had learnt his English in America and had no great liking for us. He was, however, reasonably efficient in his own way and managed to stay put, in spite of getting nearly everyone’s back up. He provided many comic turns and was a bit of a caricature.
Luna, rather older than the others, had been a bank manager in Egypt, not an asset to us, and it was a relief when he went.
Radelli, he was in charge of all the English compounds towards the end of my time at Sulmona, Reputed to be an important party official in his home town of Como. He was sensible and quite effective.
After the first few months the Commandant of the camp had little to do with us. Borsini was changed for a pompous Grenadier Colonel, who was a nuisance. Carabinieri Colonels were provided occasionally to “clean up” after
[Digital page 10: headed ‘Air Marshal Boyd’]
escapes. Actually, one followed Borsini for a few months, and then another succeeded the Grenadier and lasted till the Italian Armistice.
The Italian R.C. Padres were exceptionally good. Several of those I met had been in India or Kenya as missionaries, and helped us in many small ways.
At the end of October, a dozen officers and some forty men, chiefly soldiers, arrived from North Africa, where they had been in a temporary camp in Cyrenaica at Giovanni Berta. Their leader was Commander W. L. Brown. This brought us up to 30 officers; at the end of November Scarlett and Williamson of the Taranto raid turned up, with R.C. Neil, who shared a room with me for some months. This just about made our complement for Christmas. N.B. The Air Marshal (Boyd) and his plane crew arrived in November. The Air Marshal living in a villa in Sulmona.
[Small inserted page covering several lines of the diary]
The camp at Fonte d’Amore was very close to the old abbey of Sulmona. This was a very large building, mostly 16th century. In 1860 it was turned into a Penitentiary; and was still serving as such. Some of the convicts, in wonderful striped dress, could be seen working on the prison farm.
A well-known hermitage, dating from 10th century, was built into the steep, rocky, hill-face, some 500 ft above the camp. We were able to visit the hermit occasionally on walks. He was a very medieval figure with a fine beard. Pietro Morrone, 1221–1296, had lived here before his brief reign as Pope Celestine V in 1294.
Sulmona has also the remains of one of Ovid’s villas. The terraces of the villa are reputedly just below the hermitage.
[End of small page]
… to slow walks on selected and guarded routes in the valley. Towards the end of my time at Sulmona walks were “off” again, but were restarted for the Australians when the brutal English had left.
[Digital page 11: headed ‘Red Cross Supplies’ and ‘Vino’]
Just before Christmas 1940 we received approximately 2 Red Cross parcels each. These were a great novelty and eagerly eaten, though perhaps not fully appreciated, as our food was still so good. In March 1941, we got some more and some supplies of Red Cross clothes, battledress and great coats. Previously we’d had Italian army uniforms with P.G. markings or dyed dark brown. During the summer of 1941 the camp expanded rapidly, and parcels began to arrive irregularly and in small numbers. That autumn we started to have our first regular supply, but that broke down during the winter, due mainly to the chronic state of Italian transport. The winter of 1941–42 was severe; food was scarce, due to bad ration distributing arrangements and Red Cross parcels then became a constant topic of conversation and were really appreciated.
In the spring of 1942 a real supply arrived and was more or less continuously maintained at Sulmona, which was now a small officers’ but a large troops’ camp.
In the first months we were able to buy much local wines and spirits – a good beer in bottle, vermouth and marsala of varying degrees in bottle and cask, “vino” in carboy, and brandy of fair and not so fair repute. The results were not always good. A couple of bottles of beer at the “Air Marshal’s Arms” after a forenoon walk was very pleasant; but some of the evening debauches, when we were advancing in North Africa, leave a nasty taste whenever I remember them.
After the spring of 1941 it became impossible to get more than vino as a daily issue and a small weekly allowance of vermouth; with beer and some extras at Christmas, Easter, etc.; but these supplies were used by the Italians as a yard measure for bargaining with us over our general attitude or behaviour.
[Digital page 12: headed ‘Vatican’]
We were visited by a Papal Delegate, a Nuncio, just before Christmas. We had already sent messages through the Vatican radio system, at the instigation of the R.C. padre. The Nuncio brought us the Pope’s Christmas message, took more telegrams to be despatched for Christmas, and was most affable. His cortege was striking and impressive. He came by car with members of the Vatican, and his secretary, an Irishman, Father O’Flaherty, who was a most kind and helpful fellow. The local bishop and parish priests, etc., came to see us as well.
The Pope sent most tangible gifts as well, in the form of money for our troops and a bottle of spirits per officer! Some of the spirits were pre-1940 Vatican stock and I was lucky enough to draw a bottle of “Canadian Club”.
The visits of the Papal Delegate were fairly regular around Easter and Christmas up to Christmas 1942. At Christmas 1941 the Pope sent a gold dress watch, engraved with the Papal arms, to be drawn for amongst the officers. It was a very handsome watch and was won by a Canadian, Bartley.
On the occasions of the Nuncio’s visits the main purpose was to give a general message to all in the camp. A special message, and, on occasion, medallions, was brought to the Roman Catholics. At Christmas 1942 we received several mounted collectors’ sets of Vatican stamps.
The Vatican organisation for helping prisoners of war must have been very large. It was, I believe, of more assistance to Italian next of kin than to anyone else. As far as we were concerned the Italian chaplain acted as our agent. He was able to send telegraph forms of either 10- or 25-word content to the Vatican. We were allowed these at Christmas and Easter, and it was also possible to use the service
[Digital page 13: headed ‘Red Cross and Protecting Power’]
when first captured or for urgent affairs. These messages were censored in the normal way and then went to the Vatican. Important ones were broadcast over the Vatican Radio at stated times. The radio reception was worldwide. In England the messages so received were published in the Catholic Times. In addition to this the original telegraph form was sent to the addressee, usually by sea-route, and, except for greetings forms, there was a space for reply. On several occasions I received a reply in this way.
A further Vatican service from which I benefited was the visits of the Papal Delegates abroad. It was possible for relatives to give the Delegate a letter, which eventually reached the prisoner.
At intervals of about six months we were visited by the Italian Red Cross officials from Rome or by the International Red Cross from Geneva. They were not able to do much for us and were chiefly interested in checking up on missing personnel. They did not seem to get much help in this from the Italians; for two officers left in North Africa in November 1940 were not officially ‘found’ by the International Red Cross for months.
Shortly after I was taken prisoner, money was successfully sent to me for 3 months through the International Red Cross.
The visits of our Protecting Power were much more interesting. Until her entry into the war the Americans looked out for us, and we had several visits from the U.S. Military Attaché, Colonel Fiske. The Americans looked after us very well, but their visits were not encouraged by the Italians, who realised that the U.S.A.
[Digital page 14: headed ‘Winter and Heating’]
would soon be in the war against them. In the official capacity as Protecting Power the U.S. cleared up many points connected with our treatment, and in their unofficial one were most kind and helpful – supplying books, gramophone records and sports material. When their embassy in Rome was packed up, they sent us a lot of odd gear, which was most useful.
When the Swiss took over the job as Protecting Power, their visits were fairly regular, about every four months. However, they were very strictly neutral in all their dealings, and though well informed, gave a most cold and impersonal air to the proceedings.
The Y.M.C.A. organisation was not allowed to operate at all in Italy. It was possible though to get scholastic help from the European Students Association, which was at Geneva, and was prepared to supply text books, etc. The Italians were not prepared to allow examination papers to be sent to England; and so, generally, the educational side of life as a P.G. was not good.
The first winter in Italy 1940–41 was pretty cold. We had very little idea what to expect and local opinion varied between 3 inches and 3 feet of snow. However, we took the initiative and ordered stoves. These arrived and were duly fitted to rooms and mess-rooms, and the Italians agreed to pay for them. They were of terracotta, wood-burners, and gave a good heat once they were going. They needed quite a lot of wood and the carting and cutting of wood gave us all a good deal of exercise. The following winter, when the camp was larger, our supplies of wood were poor, and we had difficulty in getting enough heat. This provided the stimulus for tin “stufas”. A large variety were built, many of them were exceedingly well contrived
[Digital page 15: headed ‘Stufas’ and ‘Aquila’]
and efficient. For a small expenditure of wood-chips it was possible to boil enough water for tea, to heat the room, and in some cases to work an oven as well. The general maintenance and attention given to these “stufas” occupied a great deal of time and conversation.
The first snows came in December 1940 and we had a good white Christmas with a Christmas Day snowballing match from the roofs of our huts against our troops, who were in another compound below us. Unfortunately this caused most of the roofs to leak. Leaking roofs, due to this, or to the holes cut for stufa pipes, worried us all the time at Sulmona.
This first winter we were allowed to cut and chop our own firewood in our compound. Later the Italians found it was too dangerous to let us use these tools, and the cutting was done for us. This again reduced the amount of wood we got.
We had to buy all this wood, and the tools; and were even allowed to start carpentering. The authorities soon decided we were better off without the tools and we used to see them occasionally in the hands of the Italian soldier workmen.
I left the camp for a few days at the end of January 1940 and returned to spend a few days in the French compound, before going off to Aquila. Aquila was the capital of the province; the castle where I was accommodated was the area division H.Q.; it had a fine view of the Gran Sasso. My stay in Aquila was only 9 days. They passed very pleasantly. I had a room on the battlements to myself. The time passed quite pleasantly; there were three of us English on arrest in the castle, and one Italian air force pilot.
[Digital page 16: headed ‘Aquila’ and ‘Italians and the War’]
Our guards considered us rather a novelty and all treated us very well and most punctiliously. Whilst I was there, the weather was quite sunny for February. I took exercise on the battlements, which overlooked the town and park. Some of the local inhabitants took quite an interest in us. Food was sent in from a nearby café, and we did very well, indeed; the second in command took a personal interest in our welfare. An Italian sotto tenente, Dante, was in charge of us; he was most amiable and I talked quite a lot with him on a variety of non-controversial topics. The Italian war in Greece had not been going very well; but at this stage Bulgaria signed the Tripartite Pact and allowed the Germans access to Greece and Serbia, all of which pleased the Italians very much. The war in Africa had also taken a turn for the better with the arrival of Rommel. Now that the Germans were doing the work for them, the Italians were very pleased again.
The failure of their early campaign in Greece set the Italians back a lot. In August 1940, they had told us the war would be over in a few weeks. In fact, definitely, we would be home for Christmas! They all wanted to finish an easy war and to go home. The early news of raids on England pleased them a lot. They sent an Air Squadron to help in bombing London and gave it a tremendous send-off (but remember Mussolini’s speech in 1943 when he complained of the bombing of Italian cities). Greece was expected to be easy meat – internal intrigue and dissension was promised by Ciano and the Albanian Viceroy, but they had to eat their words later – and its initial failure discouraged them. The campaign against France had only taken 100 hours and the Italians had lasted out long enough to accept the fruits of the Franco-German Armistice.
[Digital page 17: headed ‘Italians and the War’ and ‘Aquila (Fraser)’]
In North Africa an Italian advance in September had taken them to Sidi Barrani with much jubilation. Their winter retreat to El Agheila had not been so good – though it had cheered us all up, until the Benghazi Derby started. We had been told at Christmas that German troops and tanks were passing over to North Africa. We were also told that our propaganda had forestalled a Royalist-Catholic rising against the Fascists and against the continuance of the war – this must have been around Christmas or the New Year when things were going badly in Greece.
This short period in Aquila was very pleasant. When I left, my Italian soldier-servant wanted a testimonial – in case he should be taken prisoner by the English. They were quite keen to be prisoners of the English, but scared stiff of being taken by Australians.
The Italians were rather keen on this fortress imprisonment – until they found that we enjoyed the change. They continued to use it until summer 1942, when they provided Gavi instead – which was quite an astute move.
Fraser followed me to Aquila, where he spent a month. His crime was scurrilous writings in a private diary, which the Italians found. Actually, he had described an exceedingly comic side of a visiting general’s inspection, it was somewhat personal to the general – and so he was whisked off for 30 days.
At a later date, he committed himself again on paper – by comparing the “bite of the Italian wolf” with “the stab in the back of 1940” in a commentary on the war situation, when at Veano in autumn 1942. This case was complicated by his taking part in an escape and being shot in the little finger. His statement as to how he had been shot differed materially
[Digital page 18: headed ‘Italian Court Martial’ and ‘Sulmona changes, Spring 1941’]
from the Italian version. This was held to be an insult to the Italian National Honour, since Fraser was upheld by a row of British witnesses. He was sent to Gavi and much later, after several false starts, tried by Italian Court Martial in July 1943. He and his witnesses were found guilty and sentenced to 3 years 6 months and 3 years 1 month respectively. However, the amnesty granted to civil and military prisoners on the occasion of 20 years of Fascism or on the birth of a royal princess quashed the sentences.
On these occasions the case was watched by the Protecting Power and a lawyer was also provided by them to defend. Being military, the courts always found for themselves, but owing to the amnesties very few people served their sentences, though they had to pay costs and to pay for any destruction of property at the highest assessable rate.
On return to Sulmona I found a great change. I had been away from the rest for nearly six weeks. In this time, as the result of an escape and the discovery of a tunnel, the Italians had decided on and started to carry out a big “clean-up”. There had been a change of Commandant, the new man being a surly and somewhat sickly Lieutenant Colonel of Carabinieri. The Italians carried out several general searches in the officers’ compound and then decided to move the officers out to another temporary compound.
This was done early in March. Officially the move was only for a couple of days to a lower compound – but we did not get back till mid-April.
The move from one compound to the other took all day. I wasn’t there to take part, but the whole affair was pretty comic.
Some months later the Italians found another tunnel. The Commandant had again changed,
[Digital page 19: Headed ‘“Luce” Film visit’ and ‘Lower Compound’]
and we were suffering under the Grenadier. This man tried to play the card of “moving us out”. The camp was full at that time so he offered to put us all into the nearby convent, in use as a Penitentiary. This threat was unfortunately not put into execution.
An incident, which I should have mentioned earlier, concerned the film made of camp-life. The “Luce” Photographic Agency came down in December 1940 to take a few shots of the camp. They took quite a number of still scenes of parts of the camp, officers or men at various pastimes, etc., and also some cinematograph scenes of our life in the mess. This party took two days. I had very little to do with it, and don’t think I was photographed. On the second day, when the film was being made, I went into the town to the dentist. [These dental visits were done under guard in a taxi to the local Sulmona dentist, took most of the forenoon and were quite an excursion.] On return I sat in the open and refused to be photographed. The “Luce” people had come by car; these cars were left unguarded in our compound and so we took the maps. This provided us with several excellent copies of Italian road maps, which were very valuable to us. However, when the “Luce” people drove away, they found they had lost their maps, so we were asked to give them back – and threatened with a search if we didn’t do so!
The accommodation in the lower compound was poor, and was made much worse by a period of wet, cold, and very windy weather. We lived in long barn-like dormitories, which had to be entered by “garage” doors. In this period our numbers went up to 50 officers with the arrival of a few R.A.F. and F.A.A. from Albania and the first two
[Digital page 20: headed ‘Parachutists and Fresh PGs’]
(Roy Howard and an Australian) from our reverses in North Africa. We had very little space in this compound and were exceedingly relieved to get back to the old one about April 15th.2The compound and buildings had been pretty thoroughly searched, dug-up, and gutted. Needless to say, quite a lot of gear wasn’t found. Most of the room searching had been done by the Carabinieri, for whose honesty and general efficiency I have a high regard. The more general work in the compound had been done with Greek P.O.W. labour. It took some time and quite a lot of work to get the place habitable again.
In February the first parachutist raid on Italy was carried out by Major Pritchard and his party, who successfully destroyed an aqueduct in S. Italy. This created a tremendous impression in the country. Large bodies of troops were turned out to deal with them, and a big organisation, which immobilised large numbers of men, was put into operation to deal with possible future raids. Some thirty prisoners were made after the raid, of whom 8 were officers. They all were sent to Sulmona, arriving in February, but being kept separated from us in a small prison cell enclosure until the latter part of April. They were a very fine party. Pritchard, Lea, Daly, Deane-Drummond, and Jowett, Lucky, Patterson, Witherspoon. Lucky was an amazing man and would deserve a book to himself.
In April our North African reverses reached a climax at El Mechili, where the 7th Armoured Division came to grief. Up to that time British prisoners in Italy only totalled some 500, but this put the numbers up to 3–4,000. The Generals Neame, O’Connor, etc., were captured at this time and were flown over from North Africa. They went and took up residence
[Digital page 21: headed ‘Villa Orsini’ and ‘Lower Compund’]
at the Villa Orsini with Air Marshal Boyd.
The Villa had been opened at Christmas. During the troubled times in February and March most of the Lieutenant Commanders and equivalents went down to the Villa and spent a week or so with the Air Marshal. The generals, however, took up all the spare accommodation and there was no further visiting after their arrival. Major Clayton of the L.R.D.G. had been captured in February, and came to us at the end of April after a few days at the Villa. Clayton’s knowledge of the Egyptian and East Saharan deserts was very great. Victor Seely, from Neame’s staff, joined us at this time too, he was the first to arrive who knew the story of Mechili and the situation – he filled us all with more gloom than any other arrival.
The main party from Mechili arrived in the first week in May. A few of them were put up with us, but the larger number went into the Lower Compound and were kept apart from us to a certain extent. The Italians at this time tried to treat the new arrivals as blue-eyed boys, whilst considering us as detected criminals. The two compounds were not joined up until the end of June, and as far as the Italians were concerned, our administration was separate up to the end of my time there.
Lambert from the “Regent” arrived in May. The “Regent” had been trying to evacuate British diplomatic or consular officials from Split in April. The port was then in the hands of the Italians, but the local General agreed to help and Lambert was sent ashore, whilst an Italian officer hostage was put on board the “Regent”. Before Lambert was able to find the whereabouts of any British members, the “Regent” was forced to leave the harbour by German aircraft attacks. After 10 months Lambert and his hostage were successfully exchanged in Madrid.
[Digital page 22: headed ‘Further Camps’]
We had one somewhat similar case later in the summer. A soldier called Baber was one of a party (Northumberland Fusiliers?) captured by the French in Syria. He was flown out of Syria, but the plane did not reach France and had to carry out a forced landing in Sicily. So the Italians took charge of Baber.
However, the British held the French General Denty hostage until all British prisoners taken in Syria were returned, and somehow the Italians were induced to give Baber up.
The officers in the Lower Compound consisted mainly of those from Mechili, English and Australians. There were also a few from Greece and Crete. An Australian party had been evacuated from Greece, escaped from South Crete in a motor barge contrived from their resources, and had been stopped in the East Mediterranean by an Italian sqn[?], which had taken off the officers. The men successfully reached Sollum (Fitzharding).
The “Hereward” party arrived at the end of June, captured in the evacuation of Crete.
Up to this time there had only been some 500 British P.G. in Sulmona. But now the number rose to the 2,000 mark. A further officers’ camp was opened at Rezzanello, and one for both British and Greek started at Mont ’Albo during the late summer, both these camps were near Piacenza.
Larger camps for British troops were not needed until November 1941, but there were a good many camps for Greeks and Serbs about the country. We had one compound for Yugoslav or Serb, and another for Greeks with a few Greek officers at this time. And, of course, the original 200-odd French were still with us. They went back to France, I think, about the end of 1941.
The provision of food during the winter
[Digital page 23: headed ‘Food Troubles’ and ‘Italy and the War’]
1940–41 had not worried the Italians. There had been plenty in the country and we’d been able to get all we needed. As the summer of 1941 passed, the food situation got worse. Rationing, on a fairly strict scale, came into force in September. We ranked as non-working civilians for rations and had a thin time. Officially we were able to buy a large number of extras – but these were very hard to come by and exceedingly expensive. I think that poor distribution of food, and the absence of an intelligent Italian supply officer were the main causes of our deficiency. However, in the winter 1941–42 and until spring 1942, when our Red Cross parcel supplies came through again, we had a very poor time.
When we were first captured, the Italians were sure the war would be over in a few weeks. They considered that England’s case was hopeless and gave September as a date for us to go home. This idea failed them – but the German bombing of England encouraged their optimistic ideas, and up to October they were confident that the affair would be cleaned up by Christmas. In fact, our Black Shirt guards in Venice were making arrangements for touring England about the New Year; they were going to have special conducted tours at free rates for good party members. The Greek campaign upset all their ideas – but eternally optimistic the Italians always felt the end would be soon. In the autumns, when we did well, it would all be about to finish in our favour. But each spring the triumphant Axis was about to crush the British in a decisive North African campaign.
[Digital page 24: headed ‘Exercises and Games’ and ‘Lectures’]
One of the landmarks in the passage of summer 1941 was the discovery of our second tunnel. This caused a good many repercussions, and clarified the escape attitude in the camp. Our surplus energy had now to be used up playing games. In our early days at Venice we had been able to bathe, at Sulmona to go for reasonable walks. The space in our compound was not large enough for much organised sport, nor did we have any gear until it was given us by the Americans in the early summer 1941. Various odd games were played, of course, and wood chopping took up a good deal of energy. The parachutists introduced the first regular P.T. classes and kept them going for a long time. However, during this summer we first played a peculiar form of basketball, which was the best suited to the cramped quarters and gear available. The only trouble was that it wore all our shoes out; and footwear had become difficult to buy or to get repaired. The British troops at Sulmona were employed on minor working parties about the camp, and were allowed to build a good football ground, it had a hard surface and was also used for hockey, but unfortunately was only finished at the end of my time there.
We organised a series of inter-service lectures; these started well with good lectures and audiences, but gradually tailed off as people became bored. However, I found that most of them were very helpful and showed the points of view of the other service. I never regretted being in mixed services and mixed Dominion camps. The opportunities for finding out what happened in other countries and services were excellent. My contribution was a talk on torpedoes. The naval section, some 20 strong, also ran a series of lectures
[Digital page 25: headed ‘Anniversaries’ and ‘Canteen’]
and signals exercises for their own benefit.
Commander Brown was very keen on gramophone music, and we obtained several gramophones and a variety of records. The Brown Sunday evening gramophone concerts became quite a feature of camp life.
Several people took up fencing. At first it was very difficult to obtain permission to do this. After the permission had been given, buying the gear was fairly easy. However, at Sulmona, Padula, and Gavi fencing depended very much on the humour of the Commandant and was frequently stopped during periods of panic. I think Gavi was perhaps the most satisfactory place from this point of view.
Anniversaries began to occur at the end of the summer and became quite an occasion for a large-scale party – with all the usual party difficulties of whom to invite and whom to leave out. The summer open-air parties were good fun, though the quality of “vino” now provided was a form of poison and guaranteed to turn the stomach of all but the most hardened. Later in the evening, and in colder weather, the vino was mulled, or heated with fruits or sugar, which made it much easier to take, though the effect was usually the same later. The alcohol quantity was quite high!
Our vino was now dealt out by our own canteen or shop. The vino supply fluctuated violently, and was used as a bargaining lever by the Italians when dealing with our rather weak-kneed Australian S.B.O. The shop was our institution. At first we had been able to place orders, which were quickly carried out. The Italians told us what we could buy and we ordered what we needed in the way of cigarettes, some articles of clothing, washing
[Digital page 26: headed ‘Queuing’ and ‘Parcels’]
and writing gear, etc. The supply by this method soon failed to meet the demand and we had to ration ourselves by having lists and rosters. After a year in prison the system had become one in which we prepared a list of requirements every fortnight, and during the fortnight the Italians bought such of the items for us as they could easily obtain. We tried to get a form of contractor to supply us but were unable to do so.
Queues were a large feature in camp life. If you saw a queue forming it was advisable to join it and then find out what it was waiting for. Queues formed for the issue of vino, the shopping gear, tea-water and Red Cross Parcels, pay and an infinite variety of things.
Private parcels were issued to the individual by the British Parcels Officer supervised by an Italian officer and carabinieri, who opened everything. All tins had to be punctured, etc.
Red Cross Parcels, when available, were issued to 1, 2 or 3 people per parcel, depending on the supply. Our system was to withdraw certain types of food from each parcel to be cooked in a general mess and shared, the rest of the parcel went to the individual and consisted in the main of tea, jam, butter, milk, sugar, chocolate and soap.
Roll-call, taken by the Italians, gradually developed into a proper parade, held twice a day, at which each officer’s name was called out and he had to walk past the Italian officer. A good deal of fun was had from time to time on these roll-calls.
The autumn set in early and wet. In fact, the winter was chiefly noticeable for this wetness and coldness. Practically all the roofs leaked – due to stove pipes, bad materials and bad repairs. A good deal of baiting of Italians was
[Digital page 27: headed ‘Accommodation Troubles’ and ‘More Accommodation Troubles’]
easily performed on this vexed question. The general accommodation was cramped. The “lucky” early comers and the senior officers had good rooms for two or three, but the lower orders and the unlucky lived in very draughty and rather cold dormitories. Needless to say, the allocations of the rooms caused a lot of heartburning, and most complicated lists were made out to give an order to this chaos, allowing points for rank, etc., and for seniority as a P.G. The dormitories were only fortunate in receiving a comparatively good fuel supply. I shared a room with Fraser during all this time and so had no real worries over the general movings in and out.
In December, several escapes were made under very difficult conditions, and Deane-Drummond got to Como and obtained information, which encouraged us all and led to his successful escape in the following year. A month or two earlier Stewart had successfully travelled into Switzerland from Chieti, but his qualifications had been unusual. Early in January the Italians tightened all their regulations for railway travel.
A couple of days before Christmas a few officers, those whom the Italians thought they would like to transfer, were moved to a camp at San Romano near Florence. The generals at the Villa Orsini had had additions to their number from the initial failure in North Africa in November 1941 and the more senior of them went to another villa in Florence. Villa Orsini was closed for a while, but used again later.
In November 1941, the Germans and Italians captured several thousand prisoners before we recovered from the initial setbacks of the campaign. Some of the officers came to Sulmona just before Christmas. Most of the troops did not come over from Africa till the New Year – by which time the Italians
[Digital page 28: headed ‘A Poor Spring’ and ‘Italian Camp Security’]
had constructed new camps, temporary or permanent, chiefly around Bari and Naples.
The news that these arrivals brought us was all really encouraging, especially when combined with the British advance – which was to end as the second Benghazi Derby.
The spring weather was appalling, wet and cold, rain and sleet. A good deal of energy was expended in subterranean activities. I took over the job of compound quartermaster and so had plenty to do. Our Red Cross supplies failed, food was pretty poor for several months. At the end of March this situation improved, both parcels and local food started to come in.
April was a splendid month for the Italians. Tunnel after tunnel was found by a series of mischances. However, they didn’t find one which blew in July under comic conditions when a donkey fell into its outboard end.
The Italian security measures were controlled by a Lieutenant of Carabinieri; a little man with a Japanese cast of feature, whom we knew as Matsuoko. When we got to know him, he turned out to be quite a reasonable fellow, but to start with, he caused nearly as much aversion as De Ritis. He was pretty thorough and in April set out to clean up the whole camp. As far as the officers were concerned, he found one tunnel, and then proceeded to go through every building and room pretty thoroughly. For about 10 days he appeared every morning and searched all day. He nearly wore his security staff out; and he certainly took a great deal of gear away from us. This gear wasn’t always of a contraband nature, but his aim was to reduce our effects as much as possible.
All this time the Italians must have been preparing the ground for a policy of appeasement with the Australians. The General Staff
[Digital page 29: headed ‘Leave Sulmona’]
had decided to split up the British and Dominion P.G.s. We had heard rumours that we were to be moved, and the orders and details came at the end of April . Nearly all the senior officers went off to Veano, near Piacenza, this camp would hold about 200. Mont ’Albo and Rezzanello were in this area; the former held English army and some navy, the latter was used for South Africans. A camp was opened at Poppi for New Zealanders. Most of the British went to Padula. I was in the party which went to Padula. We left Sulmona on 10th May. The Upper Compound became an Australian camp, the Lower was filled with Indian Army Native officers.
The Italians became very pleasant to the Australians after they had got rid of the English. The idea was very transparent, and I think the Australians rightly took advantage of it, much to the chagrin of the Italians, when they found that even the Australians dug tunnels.
[Digital page 30: headed ‘Journey to Padula’]
The move down to Padula was really very well organised and for this we had to thank Matsuoko, and Scarlett who was the senior member of our party. We were not restricted to baggage and most people had an immense heap of stuff. I think I had 2 suitcases and 2 blanket or groundsheet rolls. We packed this, had it examined by the Carabinieri and then placed in a baggage store, from which it was transferred to the station, and all arrived safely, though battered, at the other end.
The actual journey of 10th May started with a series of waits and searches, bus drive to the station and then a cramped, and hot and tiring railway journey of 24 hours. The relief of nature was very difficult on this trip – the guards were determined not to let us jump off the train. After a dusty march from the station we reached Padula and after a long search passed into a camp, which was the biggest possible change after 18 months at Sulmona.
[Digital page 31: headed ‘Padula’]
The Carthusian monastery of Padula was founded in 1306, it soon became a rich and thriving community, though the clerical members did not exceed 30 till the 16th century, when the numbers gradually rose to 70 or so. The library and chapel, and various small courtyards are still showpieces, and though sacked by the French in 1806, the monastery is one of the great monuments of southern Italy. It reached its richest and most influential period in the 17th century. The cloisters date from 1641, the ornate façade from 1718. Thus the early part is of southern Norman architecture whilst the larger part is a fine baroque work. The old chapel still had fine wood-carving. Most of the chapel paintings are of the florid baroque type, which I associate with the Roman Church; though some of them are said to be good, I was not impressed.
The old library had, prior to its sack, a valuable collection of manuscripts, etc. It still shows signs of magnificence.
The older part of the monastery was given over to the Italians. The museum aspect of the place was shown to parties of us. We lived in the large cloister part, which had some fine baroque specimens, particularly the grand stairway. The monastery was at the head of a valley, surrounded by steep hills, which gave the impression of being the floor of a silted-up lake. The village overlooked the camp.
The cloister part of the monastery, which formed our camp, gave one a very good idea of the life led by the Carthusian monks. The lower cloisters were about 150 yards by 100 with high arches, opening onto the centre court and supporting the upper cloisters or gallery, which was enclosed and ran around the whole court.
The former monks’ quarters, consisting of a
[Digital page 32: headed ‘Accommodation’ and ‘Gardens’]
confectory [refectory] and a number of self-contained quarters abutted onto the court. Each of these quarters, some 28, had 3 rooms, a balcony, passage with wash-place, and a small garden. Such a quarter formed a splendid billet for 8 or 9 officers. Roughly speaking, all of captain’s or equivalent rank were accommodated down below, those junior lived in the upper gallery. This enormous gallery, without breaks or partitions, was exceedingly draughty, dark at night, and filled with smoke in bad weather. Life up there was rather squalid in some ways.
In the last war 15,000 Austrian prisoners had been camped in the outer grounds of the monastery, which were the size of a small park and surrounded by a high stone-wall. The Italian guards had used the monastery buildings as a depot.
We numbered over 400 officers and really had plenty of space. The inner courtyard was too broken up by concrete path edges for games, but a large field was available outside.
Our first troubles arose over the place being an ancient monument. The camp had been started at the end of March and since the Italians provided no wood, a certain amount of decayed woodwork about the place was used for private cooking and heating – this was magnified to the crime of vandalism. However, the affair died down and we got more wood.
Gardening at Sulmona had been difficult owing to the gravelly soil, and really only of an ornamental nature. Here we were able to start vegetable growing on quite a reasonable scale. The small gardens of each quarter were used well, and in addition, part of a field surrounding the camp was cultivated with fair success. Of course, in moments of panic the Italians forbade us to use the gardens, owing to suspected tunnel activities – but that was only to be expected of them.
[Digital page 33: headed ‘Tobruk Depression’ and ‘Padula Messing’]
There were over 400 officers and 100 other ranks. Most of the Dominions had been separated and sent to other camps – but the services were mixed. The next part of the Italian policy was to send all the people who had committed themselves or whom they didn’t like, to a special camp at Gavi; the Gavi candidates left in two batches in June and July. Early in May the North African war – which meant more to us than any other front – seemed reasonably satisfactory. The Benghazi Derby was over and we had not gone back past Mechili. However, at the end of May the situation deteriorated with progressive rapidity, culminating in the loss of Tobruk (June 20th) and our retreat to El Alamein. This was the blackest period of captivity.
The 30,000 odd P.G.s, who now came to swell our ranks, led to the formation of many large camps all over Italy. Officers’ camps taking up to 2,000 odd were made at Chieti, Bologna, Parma, etc. The Italian PG organisation, which had at length accommodated the November 1941 prisoners, was again completely upset.
We were too many to feed in one party at Padula, and so had two sittings. The meals varied with the state of the black-market and the quantity of our rations. Our civilian ration required extras to bring it up to anything like a reasonable amount – but in this part of the world the extras were not to be bought in the local markets. However, such is the cupidity of the average Italian that a very large black-market traffic was soon opened up. This supplied us with meat, fruit, bread, wine – but not all of it was bought for the general mess, and some individuals were able to get the residue, which was a most unfair system and led to much ill-feeling. When we arrived from Sulmona, we formed a large enough block to try and break this inner circle. Scarlett eventually did succeed in this.
[Digital page 34: headed ‘Leave for Gavi’]
After the June party left for Gavi I spent some time in the jail, and was able to watch the workings of the B.M., as the main entrance was alongside the jail.
Roll-calls were held by blocks here, and the whole was an affair of numbers not names, which simplified a number of matters. We had three a day. It was occasionally possible to go on walks. I went on two, one into the hills around the local village, the other down to the river, which was deep enough to bathe in.
We had a number of escape affairs with the Italians; but they lost what sense of humour they possessed on those occasions. The monastery sewers were excellent for would-be escapees; they were of the good old-fashioned variety – somewhat primitive, but large enough for one to walk about comfortably. They were blocked up at several points to prevent escapes. The whole sewer system was very extensive and took several months to map out complete.
Before I left Padula the “Bedouins” arrived. They had been on a Malta convoy and brought us a lot of pretty up to date naval news. Two Brigadiers arrived from Tobruk – they were pretty glum and did not care to say much about the loss of the place, though they gave us the general reasons for its fall.
Having missed the first party to go to Gavi on June 19th, the Italians made very certain that those selected should travel without fail in the second party. We left on 23rd July having been kept more or less shut up, 17 of us, since teatime the previous day, and counted frequently during the night. The Italian security was worthy of a better cause. My baggage had gone on with the first party so I’d nothing to worry about or carry. Returning guards from the first party had been much impressed by
[Digital page 35: headed ‘Journey to Gavi’ and ‘Joe Grapes’]
the grimness of Gavi – so we were looking forward to something special. [And we got it, though probably the Commandant himself made the greatest impression on the It is.]
The journey up was slow but quite good and comfortable. We were heavily guarded, but had none of the cramping and relieving nature difficulties of our journey down to Padula. The sight of the sea was worth a lot. We went Naples, change; Rome, long wait and shunt; Genoa – Gavi. Naples showed a good deal of bomb damage, though the attacks had been relatively light up to then. It was, however, the most bombed Italian city and the inhabitants were very sorry for themselves. We were in Rome for several hours in the evening, and passed through Genoa the following morning – here traces of the naval bombardment could easily be seen.
We reached the station for Gavi about 10.00 and travelled to the castle by bus. My first sight of the castle showed a massive pile on the top of a hill. We were received by the Commandant in person. Colonel of Carabinieri, Giuseppe Moscatelli, rather naturally known to us as “Joe Grapes”. He was a man of great personality and undoubtedly held his side of the camp together by will power more than anything else. A big man, well dressed, with an imposing presence, age was beginning to tell on him – but he went everywhere at all times of the day and night, and he was ever to be reckoned with. All the Italians officers and men were terrified of him and of his rages, in which he would scream and stamp, wave his stick like a weapon, threaten and storm. To watch J.G. tear one of the Italians up was a splendid sight. He was very jealous of his position and his rights, but provided we conceded these he was reasonable to us. But his temper was very uncertain and his reactions were nearly always an unknown quantity. One couldn’t but admire his attitude whilst detesting his person.
[Digital page 36: headed ‘Entering Gavi’ and ‘The Castle’]
Our entrance into the castle was made as impressive as possible, it can be said to compare with entering a medieval dungeon. We passed through three massive doors, with sentries on each, and were led through a dark passage out in the rock, emerging at the guardhouse courtyard. Here we had to wait whilst we were searched, and this was generally meant to impress us with the kind of efficiency we would meet with in the castle. It was, actually, a pretty good personal search. Our baggage, however, was searched much later and much less carefully.
This party over, we were pushed into the Lower Compound of the camp, where we met those who had preceded us. Fortunately, I missed the first month of the camp by coming up with the second party. By the time I arrived the greatest difficulties, accommodation and provisions, had been reasonably dealt with. That earlier period had not been pleasant.
The actual castle dated back to about the 9th century. It was a natural position for a fortress and had been important strategically since Roman times. Parts of the castle dated back to the 9th century; most of the fortifications were early 17th century, of Spanish military style. It was a very strong castle and had been used in the 19th century as a penitentiary; as such it had been condemned in 1910, but used for Austrian prisoners in the last war. The Italians had been preparing the place as a “bad boys” camp since January and by means of concrete, lights, iron-bars, barbed-wire and many sentries had pretty well achieved their object. In fact, only one successful escape was made in a year.
The castle was really built at two levels with a connecting pathway inside the buttresses. The Italians occupied guardrooms in three
[Digital page 37: headed ‘Accommodation’]
parts of the castle. These living quarters took most of the lower level and covered both approaches to the castle inside, which were two courtyards. These two courtyards and the rooms adjoining all sides of them were our quarters; they were joined by the pathway or ramp connecting the two main levels of the castle.
Dating from the penitentiary days, with a few special exceptions, all the windows were heavily barred with gratings, and the doors were of the prison variety, heavy, bolting on the outside and with peepholes. We lived in rooms averaging 8 to each, this did not leave much space, but was not too cramping. A few of the upper rooms, for the more senior, were really very nice, they were rooms in the proper sense with doors that did not give straight access to a courtyard. These rooms were not prison vaults like all the rest, their ceilings were high and dry and their unbarred windows gave a fine view to the south. My own room was barrel-vaulted, very damp in wet weather and in winter pretty cold, in spite of a wood-burning stove.
Our mess was a long low building, beamed and vaulted, it gave straight access to our galley, and though draughty, served its purpose quite well. The two courtyards were pretty small and gave one a very boxed-in feeling. It was just possible to play basketball in the lower, on a very reduced court, and another game on a smaller area in the top court. Most of our exercise was taken walking up and down the ramp, which was a steep track rising 100 feet in about 90 yards and just wide enough for four abreast. The ramp was also our best sunbathing pitch.
Gavi gave us very many problems to overcome, if we were to enjoy life there. The numbers varied from 100 odd up to 180 at the end.
[Digital page 38: headed ‘Two Compounds’ and ‘Surroundings’]
We were nearly all old prisoners, but young in average age. The spirit of the camp was better than in any other I have been in – perhaps because we had difficulties to face all the time. Anyway, we knew what we wanted, which was to be as much of a nuisance as possible, and, camp conditions apart, this was the best camp I was in.
Each compound was a separate unit to the Italians, and we were shut up apart for all the dark hours, and at first in the afternoons. Each compound had an Italian officer, and an Italian Sergeant Interpreter. The Fascist party element featured largely in the make-up of the camp officers.
Karanti looked out for the Lower Compound. He really was a nasty bit of scum; only, perhaps, surpassed by Ferrari of the Top Compound. The Italian officers were changed about quite a bit, but they were all encouraged to be unpleasant, I suppose they had to.
Capitano Aldo de Cesare was our official Interpreter Officer. He was general secretary to one of the Genoa shipping firms, and seemed to have learnt his English for business letters alone. Right up to the end his English was poor. He was very easily agitated, and in many ways a figure of fun; but for all that he had many good qualities. I had quite a lot to do with him; in a way he let us down at the end, but probably that was his conviction – he tried to be a good Italian, and was kind-hearted and sentimental.
We were able to go for occasional walks. In the winter these were curtailed by the weather. The surrounding countryside was very pleasant, and from the castle we had fine views to the south to the Ligurian hills, which shut off Genoa. To the east was the hilly region where the Apennines started. On a clear day to the west we could see the peaks of the Alpes Maritimes.
[Digital page 39: headed ‘Administration’, ‘Italian Pay Rates’ and ‘Water’]
Our pay arrangements were very much the same in each camp. I received the flat rate for a Tenente di Vascello, L1,100 lire per month. In England I was charged for this at the rate of L72 to £1. We were paid at the end of each month, and at each camp I was in, we had our own equivalent to a bank. In the earliest days we’d been paid in Italian notes, later only by internal credit, and from January 1942 onwards in camp money or “buoni”.
Out of this pay we had to buy our food, firewood, vino, canteen extras, and pay our own orderlies, etc. In the early days everything had been cheap, in 1942 it all became most expensive. Messing charges had started at L8 per day, very well found; and rose to L16 and 17 with very poor value received. Vino was another thing which became expensive, prices per litre changing from L3.50 to L14.
A second lieutenant, drawing L750, was not able to make both ends meet comfortably at the worst times. The Italians complained of the prices they had to pay in England as prisoners, and at one stage took reprisals on us by charging an extra L6.80 per day to bring our messing up to nearly L22. However, this was eventually settled amicably and we had the money refunded.
A good deal of money was sold to junior officers by senior, who wanted to exchange their surplus lire for £s in England. The system was a pretty poor one at the official exchange rate.
We always had water troubles. The Italians were not used to washing frequently and didn’t understand why we wanted to. Of course, the actual local supplies were often poor as well.
Sulmona had been very bad – a weak and inefficient supply, liable to be cut off at any time of day. We all had to keep many containers and fill them whenever possible.
[Digital page 40: headed ‘Camp Jobs’ and ‘Mess Accounts’]
In the winter the pipes froze at Sulmona, which made it even more trying. At Gavi the supplies were poor but better controlled, and the authorities were more reasonable. The lavatory was pretty difficult on occasions.
In the course of 3 years in Italy I had a few camp jobs which helped me to learn Italian and passed the time. At Venice I had been the equivalent of the canteen officer, but this, of course, only lasted a couple of months. At Sulmona I had taken over the job of Q.M. for the last 6 months there. This had meant quite a lot of paperwork, etc., accounting for all the stores of furniture, bedding, mess utensils, etc., supplied by the Italians. I had to come into contact with the Italians a good deal over this. They had no system of depreciation and replacement for wear and tear, which made life expensive.
At the end of my time at Sulmona all these stores were assessed by the Italians who then charged us damages for the whole period we had been there. Except for crockery charges they did not do it unfairly – but ever afterwards we tried to buy the crockery direct at the start of a camp, and not just pay for breakages at the end.
At Gavi the Mess Accounts were run by two accountants of experience, but a few weeks after I arrived they went to another camp. I was given this job, and so initiated into the mysteries of Double Entry. I did it for 4 months before retiring to an honorary post on the Audit Board. I think at the end of the time I understood the double entry system, as run in the mess books! This job was a good one, it showed how the catering was run, how the money of the mess was spent generally; and also gave one quite a lot to do with the Italians through the ordering side, and the accounting of bills, etc. Jago was P.M.C. over this period, which helped me a lot.
[Digital page 41: headed ‘Gavi Canteen’, ‘The War’, ‘New Arrivals’ and ‘Air Raids’]
The Italian canteen at Gavi was an odd affair. Occasionally it showed initiative and then sold us quite reasonable gear – we also ran our own canteen which bought in bulk from the Italians and sold to us. This was the fairest method as it permitted the keeping of rosters. We bought our vino through the canteen. The area supplied a couple of good local types of wine which we could occasionally get, and of course, the usual cheap variety. It was not always possible to get a supply – the difficulty being none in the locality or lack of transport from the village to the castle. This transport question was quite difficult at times, due to the bad road up and the fact that most of the gear came up by horse or mule-cart.
[N.B. In autumn 1941 Fraser and I made and bottled a good deal of vino from white grapes. It didn’t have enough sugar but plenty of gas.]
The progress of the war was eagerly followed during the 14 months I was at Gavi. After October 1942 everything went pretty well for us. We got enough new prisoners to keep our news up to date. The most notable arrivals being Hedley from the Tobruk raid in December; [David] Stirling from Gabes Gap in January; and [Ian] McGeoch of the “Splendid” in June. The tide of the war was fully set in our favour, though the Americans in Tunis had a few set-backs. The November 1942 German-Italian occupation of the South of France had one repercussion on us. Eight R.A.F. officers arrived from the South of France, they had been interned by the French and were not able to get away – the Italians took them over.
The R.A.F. and U.S. air raids on Italy began to be really noticeable. When Genoa was raided we could see and hear most of what went on. If Milan or Turin were attacked, we did not get the newspapers that day, and other signs of traffic dislocation were noticeable. The big
[Digital page 42: headed ‘Air Raids’ and ‘Repatriation Parties’]
raids on Milan in July 1943 stopped our Red Cross supplies finally. All these big raids worried the Italians a lot. During a raid, extra sentries were posted, the whole Italian garrison “stood to” (including all the officers) for perhaps half the night. We always had our lights put out during a raid, and were shut in our rooms; but otherwise blackout arrangements inside the compounds were not severe.
The aircraft raiding Genoa often passed quite low overhead; but the best night of all came in July when the local railway junction of Arquata, 3 miles away, was attacked for about an hour. A train, reputedly full of ammunition, blew up with an exceedingly fine glare and noise; a large government warehouse was set on fire and burnt till 8 a.m. Planes could clearly be seen flying low up the valley, outlined against the glow of the fires or against the clear sky when over the castle.
In January 1943 an Italian naval officer visited us and took a few particulars of the naval prisoners. This was followed in March by the bombshell of the first naval exchange and repatriation. It was one of the most disturbing events in my time as a prisoner. There had previously been Medical Boards, etc, for repatriation of sick and wounded. These repatriations were also speeded up just now. Later in the year there was a further exchange for naval ratings only.
When Gavi first opened, it took several months before Red Cross parcels arrived. However, once the supply started, it continued with great regularity up to the end of July 1943. In the winter we were on half issue for two or three months, and at the end had a reserve store, which would have lasted another month. In my last 6 months at Gavi I worked in the Red Cross store. There were two sides to the store. That of private parcels and that of Red Cross ones. All tins
[Digital page 43: headed ‘Red Cross Store’ and ‘Italian Security Measures’]
were pierced before issue. About ⅔ of a Red Cross parcel was taken by the general mess, the remainder went to the individual who could put the unopened tins into his personal store, if he so wished. He could also put tobacco or cigarettes, unopened, into this store. My job was to keep the books and store of this personal side; Eric Hagen worked with me and it gave us quite a lot of work. De Cesare was the Italian officer i/c Red Cross stores, and at the end he had an assistant, Zuaglia, a miserable but well-meaning Italian learning to speak English.
The security measures at Gavi were pretty thorough and well-advertised. A squad of Carabinieri spent their time inspecting all quarters to see that no tunnels were started – but we did fool them on several occasions, not always for long. In addition, fairly thorough room and personal searches were carried out quite frequently. I suppose that from March 1942 to July 1943 I was personally searched once a month, at a minimum; but this excellent system had one defect.
1942-43 was also notable as the year of reprisals. All clothing which appeared in any way civilian had been confiscated long ago. But it was frequently possible to get this marked in paint with a P.G., which satisfied the Italians and did not do much damage to the garment. Now the Italians decided that the patches and marks put by the British on the clothing of or that issued to Italian prisoners was degrading and insulting – so as a reprisal we were to wear red patches on back of jacket and knee of trouser. The patching didn’t worry us much, and we sent in every possible garment from pants and vests to great coats. The effect was to use up the Italian supplies of thread – so they discontinued after doing about 90%. We did gain, however, since the Italians produced a sewing machine for the work, and our tailor was able to use it for repair jobs, etc.
[Editor’s note. Original PAGES 82 and 83 are MISSING]
[Digital page 44: headed ‘Germans in Gavi Village’ and ‘Italian Armistice’],
a small detachment but unmistakable evidence. We realised that the chances of our going to Germany in the event of Italian collapse were considerable. This was a constant topic of conversation. Needless to say, the Commandant assured us that this would not occur.
The Italians were all very excited when Mussolini fell from power. Even to us it looked as though the end might come at any moment. It seemed fairly clear that the Badoglio government would make a peace as soon as possible, and that they were merely trying to get some terms. The Germans in our area began to appear in strength. During August a number of German units passed through the area, and of course it was an important position with regard to the railway and road communications from Genoa.
The German officers in the village came up to our camp on 2 or 3 occasions. Most of the Italian officers clearly hated them, but the Commandant appeared to be playing on their side. On one occasion the local German Division Commander, a Major-General, visited the castle; presumably with a view to its H.Q. possibilities and to keep an eye on us. The German divisional H.Q. were a few miles away at Ovada.
At about 1945 Wednesday 8th September we were all in the mess at dinner. The Italian troops in the courtyard below were listening to their wireless. From the confused noise which followed, we gathered that the Italian armistice was in force. This news was confirmed by two Italian officers. I was hardly able to finish the food on my plate. At 20.30 we heard the broadcast by Badoglio repeated over the wireless.
De Cesare was the Italian orderly officer, and he managed to continue the evening routine. I had now changed to the Top Compound; and by
[Digital page 45: headed ‘The Germans take charge’]
21.00 the two compounds had been shut off for the night. Stala, a gunner officer, and one other Italian, both well-disposed, came up with us and remained discussing the situation. The S.B.O.[Senior British Officer], Brigadier Clifton, N.Z.E.F. [New Zealand Expeditionary Force], tried to clarify the situation by talking with de Cesare; he was unable to see the Commandant who had chosen to be officially absent. The weak point in our position was the presence in the village of a company of German troops. The S.B.O. decided that we were not in a position to take action, and that we should have to wait till the following day. This decision and the continued vigilance of the guards meant that we could do nothing.
Early the following morning an Italian exercise party had a brush with a German patrol, as it approached the village. Both Italians and Germans fired. I had just got up, 07.30, and heard a few shots and a grenade. This was sufficient to put the Italians on the defensive.
A few of the Italians were prepared to do a little fighting. They had strong defensive positions. The Germans held the approaches to the castle and waited for a parley. The Commandant handed the castle over without more ado, though our help had been offered. By 11.00 the Germans had taken over. They disarmed the Italians, sent some officers and the troops to a camp at Novi, kept the Carabinieri for guides and posted German sentries in the former Italian positions.
These Germans belonged to a company from the local H.Q. at Novi. They were mostly young, and very tired, and had come across from South France in the last couple of days. It appeared the Germans had heard of the coming armistice, and their arrangements to cope with the situation had included detachments for most prison camps. We were now left pretty much to ourselves for 3 days. Having posted guards and interviewed the S.B.O., the Germans made arrangements for us
[Digital page 46: headed ‘First Party leave for Germany’]
to be victualled and left it at that. We were now able to go over quite a large part of the camp and to see details of the lay-out, which we’d never previously been able to get to.
In the next 3 days the place was a hive of industry with everyone preparing their gear for travel to Germany – and preparing not to go. Some 150 British troops were brought in, they had been in working camp detachments in the locality and had been unable to get away. (Gavi was the administration centre for quite a number of these camps).
On Sunday evening Tooes, an A.B. [Able Seaman] from “Oswald”, one of the orderlies, succeeded in breaking away from a refuse dumping party. After a variety of incidents he reached Switzerland safely. This escape led to a greater vigilance on the part of the Germans. We were mustered and counted for the first time (with the assistance of the Italians). The Germans in charge of us were under a senior Oberfeldwebel. On Monday 13th September their captain (von Shroeder?) came over from Novi and gave orders for us to be ready to leave in an hour’s time. The bulk of the camp were taken off by lorry at noon. They entrained at Asti and went across North Italy, and over the Austrian frontier at Villach. Their journey was pretty cramped and uncomfortable, with plenty of incidents.
I now found myself in a party of 70 with the S.B.O. [Senior British Officer] and those left in the Sick Bay. We were to travel on in a few days times. In the few remaining days at Gavi we saw the Germans at much closer quarters. They were all quite pleasant, mostly young and only interested in obeying their army orders and having a reasonable time. They treated us very well. We were able to keep most of our kit. A great deal of kit had been left behind, and the Germans proceeded to go through this and the Italian stores pretty thoroughly.
[Digital page 47: headed ‘Second Party for Germany’ and ‘To Germany’]
Our feeding and cooking arrangements were taken in hand by the Sick Bay staff, two brothers Frazer, N.Z. sanitary personnel. They were an excellent pair. John, the younger, very intelligent and hardworking, also looked after Don, who was a bit slow in the uptake. General Clifton was taken to the German H.Q. at Novi and rejoined us on Thursday 16th, full of the most extravagant rumours.
We left the castle at 14.00 and carried our gear the ¾ mile downhill to the road where we embussed. These were local buses, commandeered with driver. We were able to take as much baggage as we could carry, and were supplied with Italian packs, which took a good deal. Our Red Cross reserve stores were boxed up and brought on too. They were our main source of supply until we reached Moosberg; and we were also able to supply any other ranks who were tacked on to us.
The convoy of 3 buses, escorted by our castle guards and a detachment of S.S. Feldgendarmerie, went via Novi, Tortona, Voghera to Piacenza, where we turned into the former Italian depot barracks at dusk. The barracks were new, and similar in lay out to the big officer prison camps at Bologna and near Parma.
The Feldgendarmerie, or “Breastplates”, had rather a trigger itch, were very heavily armed, and, in addition, to 2 in each bus cruised around the convoy on motorcycle combinations with light M.G. They also had one police dog.
Around Novi we met many signs of the Germans. The main local H.Q. was Ovada; Novi, itself, had a large German Hospital organisation and the Italian depot was full of German troops. We saw some German manned Italian medium tanks. On one occasion in Novi we had to stop whilst baggage, which had been knocked off the roof of a bus when passing under a low bridge, was restored. It was
[Digital page 48: headed ‘Piacenza’ and ‘Mantua’]
then possible to talk to some Italian civilians. They just confirmed our impressions – the men were entirely apathetic, waiting to see who would win, unwilling to take on the Germans themselves; the women were occasionally more courageous and told the Germans what they thought of them.
In Piacenza we were given our first sample of German bread. This variety was very sweet, packed in cellophane and about 3 months old, but in quite good condition. The following morning we were off by 08.00 and drove to an airfield to the south-east of the city. As we turned off the road onto the airfield Hamilton did an excellent dive out onto the road and into the ditch – unfortunately he hadn’t realised that he had entered the aerodrome. He was collected without much fuss. We spent an hour on the airfield, expecting to be flown to Germany – but the reason for our stop was to collect petrol. We returned to Piacenza station, and felt we were about to be transferred to a train. However, we set off again, crossed the Po at Cremona, the bridge was well-guarded, with roadblocks and antitank guns, and reached Mantua about 16.00.
There were quite a number of Fascists to be seen about the place, also Carabinieri with white armbands. Manifestoes were stuck on placards calling on the Italians to register and join up in the name of Fascist Republican Italy. In Mantua the Germans also dropped pamphlets to this effect – some dropped in our camp. Earlier there had been street disturbances in Mantua.
Mantua sports stadium had been made into a temporary “cage”. Two or three hundred had passed through before we arrived; there were some 150 other ranks who had been in small working camps near Como and Bergamo. After the armistice they had tried to get into Switzerland, but had either been caught or decoyed into German hands. They were wearing the most annoying collection
[Digital page 49: headed ‘Cattle-trucks’]
of old civilian clothing. The cage consisted of the football ground, with the surrounding running track as the boundary. Cooking and other arrangements were very elementary. Our Red Cross stores were really the only supplies for all the British. Fortunately, the weather was very fine and there was no real discomfort.
On Saturday 18th we fell in at 14.00 for the 3 or 4 kilometre march to the station. This was pretty tiring – hot and dusty, and carrying all our gear. We passed one of the ducal palaces.
On our arrival at the station the Italian crowd showed a good deal of sympathy, which would probably have been real and helpful, if our guards had been less capable. They gave us quite a lot of fruit, etc. We now entrained in cattle-trucks. Really our travel was pretty luxurious, we were only 22 to a truck, provided with 2 benches, and with our baggage and some Red Cross stores each. During the journey we were even able to get out 3 or 4 times in 48 hours and to get water. On this train were about 200 British and some 4,000 or more Italian soldiers being deported. From now on we saw truck after truck of these miserable creatures, and the stations were filled with weeping women waving them goodbye. The Italian Red Cross was in evidence giving food to these troops, and they also gave us good white bread and fruit at several stations.
We reached Verona at 21.00, leaving at midnight. The night journey up to Trento, where we arrived at 08.00 was impressive. The train went slowly with frequent halts. A full moon lit the surrounding track only too clearly and showed a wild, rugged and mountainous countryside. The stops were due to dislocation of traffic. Some days before Badoglio’s Alpini divisions had been fighting in the Brenner and had managed to damage at least one of the bridges and to upset traffic
[Digital page 50: headed ‘Verona’ and ‘Brenner’]
to a certain extent. Milan had also held out against German troops for a couple of days. The news of damage to the track by Alpini was found out by the General and passed down through our 4 trucks in Hindustani, Swahili, Maori and some other South African native dialect.
During the night there were many attempts to escape. The S.S. guards on the train were tired and fed up, and shooting went on all night, either single shots or bursts. One truckload of our Gavi party managed to get safely out, most of them finished up in Switzerland, but some got clean away to England, etc. In all 32 out of 72 got away from the train, including Cram, who went to hospital in Bolzano. Two unfortunate Italians had to surrender just clear of the track; they were shot up and eventually unloaded at the next station.
In the early morning we passed Trento, which showed bomb damage to railway station and one road bridge. Bolzano was reached at midday, here the U.S. air-raid damage could only be seen in the surrounding houses. No real damage could be seen on the railway anywhere, but in the Brenner, itself, Alpini prisoners were being used as working gangs. At small stations the Italian Red Cross was feeding Italian prisoners and some of the Italian girls brought bread and fruit and water to us. These girls gave us a fair idea of the German control in the area, and their advice was sound. News of the war and landings in Italy was still wild and uncertain. At Bolzano we were alongside a train with British and U.S. prisoners from Salerno, their news was not very encouraging, but they all thought the Russians were doing well. A good many trains passed us going south, full of German troops, tanks, vehicles and oil.
We passed through the Brenner at 17.00, a lovely autumn day, the scenery there is fine; and came down into Innsbruck after dark. Our S.S. guards handed us over to older Austrian militia
[Digital page 51: headed ‘Moosberg’]
at the frontier – we were glad of the change.
At Innsbruck we had to change our wagon, the new one gave the impression of having square wheels. We arrived at Moosberg noon Monday 20th. The flat, dull countryside and rainy weather were very depressing. As we reached Moosberg, another train drew out. We saw one or two familiar faces from Padula – this was the party who had come up from Bologna a few days before.
Moosberg was a large camp and contained over 50,000 and administered as many more in outlying working camps. The administration on such a scale was good, and they coped well with the influx of several thousands from Italy. Our compound was in the centre of the camp and we were with some 300 U.S. troops and about 200 British, each with a few officers, and captured at Salerno. The British were Lancashire Fusiliers and Hampshires – (A.T. Hogg from Stanley ‘31 was their major).
We were now able to get a clearer view of the Allied landings in South Italy and particularly at Salerno. The news was encouraging. The permanent staff of the camp was French, they showed us what to do; with a certain amount of wangling it was possible to go into most places in the camp. There were compounds of Russians and Serbians, and over the way from us a number of British from Chiavari near Genoa. The place was pretty full of rackets. The man-of-confidence for our affairs was a sergeant, he billeted with a number of U.S. NCOs, who looked after our interests very well. We were able to get U.S. Red Cross parcels.
The next few days were spent finding out about the camp, about Germany, and about conditions of barter. The Exchange and Mart system was pretty good here; in fact, in range and scope it exceeded anything I’d come across even to the Black Market at Padula.
On Saturday Manning and I, in charge of
[Digital page 52: headed ‘Journey to Dulag’ and ‘Marlag’]
a one eyed Gefreiter, left for the naval camp. The R.A.F had also been sorted out and came with us to Regensburg. We spent some time in a Regensburg station air-raid shelter, which finished with a scene with the station police; the night in a A.R. shelter at Leipzig, which had been used as such by less cleanly prisoners and stank; and reached Bremen at dusk on Sunday 26th.
Bomb damage was pretty visible in Hannover, but not marked or serious elsewhere. The trains in the “rush” hours were crowded. We travelled to Tarmstadt by Kleinbahn, and then had a long walk out to the Dulag at Westertimke in the dark. Neither the Gefreiter nor any of the locals seemed to know the real way, and we just walked on until we reached some camp buildings. This proved to be the right place. Manning and I had expected to reach the naval camp, where we knew a good many people and were disappointed to find we had only reached the interrogation camp and were given separate cells.
However, we only spent 2 nights and a day in this tedious place, where we didn’t even get a proper interview, and were taken down to Marlag “O” in the forenoon of Tuesday 28th September.
Marlag was divided into an “O” camp for officers, and “M” for ratings, with a German Vorlager between the two. A few hundred yards away was the Merchant Navy Milag, which housed officers and men captured from merchant ships; Milag had a small extension for the Indian and Lascar personnel about a mile away. Both Marlag and Milag had separate Commandants of the camps, with a senior Commandant, also in charge of the area, at Westertimke, Lager III; all general administration was done at Lager III.
[Digital page 53: headed ‘Constitution of Camps’ and ‘Others up from Italy’]
Milag was pretty large, at times over 4,000, and very mixed in every sense of the word. Most of the small working parties in the neighbourhood came from here. Milag had a good hospital, staff and operating theatre – this hospital side was available for us as well.
Marlag “M” was composed mainly of chief and POs [Petty Officers] and leading hands; nearly all the ratings were at working camps. The numbers were 500 when I arrived and rose to 900.
Marlag “O” contained all the naval officers in Germany except for some 15, who had gone to a straflager at Oflag IV-C, and Fleet Air captured in Norway, France, etc, who went to Luftlagers. The numbers were 170 when I arrived and 350 in September 1944.
In addition, most of the Royal Marines, who had started in army camps, were able and chose to come to Marlag.
The officers and men had had their camps changed for a few weeks, I arrived 3 days before the change back to proper quarters. The Abwehr had suspicions of a tunnel and moved the officers out whilst they thoroughly investigated and dug a trench around the “O” camp. This trench was successfully used by the Abwehr to detect 2 tunnels later.
Manning and I found quite a number of old friends, but were surprised to be the first to arrive from Italy. The other parties had had longer waits in transfer camps. The remaining 13 from Gavi turned up about mid-October, and those from Bologna (ex Padula) in two large parties (total 80 approximately) at the end of the month under Captain Micklethwaite, who became S.B.O. The new S.B.O. shook the camp up quite a lot and generally improved the internal situation, which was somewhat conservative – the change was bound to come owing to the increase in size. However, he proved too turbulent for our hosts and went to Offlag VIII-A.
[Digital page 54: headed ‘Games’, ‘Weather’, ‘Gardening’ and ‘Accommodation’]
On arrival I was glad to find that my general condition was good and that playing normal games again came very easily. Unfortunately, I must have collected jaundice in my travels and spent November and half December in the Sick Bay. We were able to play soccer and a form of hockey and “touch” rugger on a reasonably hard gravelly ground. Marlag “M” had a much softer ground where a better game of rugger was able to be played.
In the summer we had basketball, softball and cricket. And in July a running meeting was held with some field events, and all distances up to one mile. Our track gave 5 laps to a mile, a very convenient size.
German weather was cold, wet and rather dispiriting after 3 years of Italy; the winter was so long and dreary, the summer so short – in various weathers we suffered from very unpleasant dust-storms. A novel feature to me, was the gardening possibility. We were able to get seeds and plants; some from German, mainly from Y.M.C.A. or Red Cross sources; quite a lot of ground was put down to vegetables, and the gardeners managed to supply a very good quantity of green salad, tomatoes, etc, and of course, the commoner vegetables. Most of the areas between the huts, except the parade ground, was turfed over, with flowerbeds in suitable places.
The German wooden huts were a standard design, mass produced and well thought out. They had two small rooms at each end, and 10 larger rooms. The small rooms were for senior officers, the others contained 8 or 10 in each. We had double wooden bunks, wood shavings mattress; a reasonable locker and sufficiency of tables and chairs; facilities for wash basins in the room, and communal bathhouse with shower and a water copper. The latrine arrangements, though standard in the
[Digital page 55: headed ‘Y.M.C.A. and Red Cross’ and ‘Theatre’]
country, are not such as I would recommend.
Each room had a coal burning iron stove, moderately efficient with a limited ration of coal briquettes, which was supplied regularly through the winter months. These briquettes were a form of compressed coal dust. They burnt easily and kept going for quite a long time, but didn’t give out much heat.
I was lucky enough to get into a room, in which I knew several people – they were all old hands and had the place very well fitted out and supplied.
The Y.M.C.A. were allowed to work in Germany, and the Swedish and Swiss branches sent a great deal of very useful material to the camp. This consisted chiefly of gear for the theatre and the band, artists’ materials, etc. The Y.M.C.A. representatives were able to visit the camp. Red Cross supplies were fairly regular depending on the state of the transport, and endeavoured to keep a reserve at hand. The Swiss Protecting Power came at regular intervals and was as neutrally efficient as ever.
Perhaps the most striking feature in the camp after my experience in Italy was the theatre. (Some camps in Italy had been able to put on shows, on occasion the Italians assisted with gear, etc). The standard of production and stage-management, stage effects and dresses, was very high, indeed. The materials used were in part supplied by the Germans and Y.M.C.A. Our hosts were pretty fair at allowing tools, etc, for all this theatrical work and for model-making. The productions ran through all the varieties possible: straight plays, musical comedy, drama, comedy and Shakespeare. The band provided jazz, light orchestra and serious productions with a Glee Club. In addition, we had a nightclub with fancy dress affair on two evenings.
A cinematograph with Talkie apparatus
[Digital page 56: headed ‘Pay and Administration’ and ‘Mail’]
was provided for the group of camps. Films were not very frequent, about every six weeks, and were either German with captions produced about 1937 or sometimes silent war films – the high spot was Katherine Hepburn in “Bringing up Baby”.
The pay arrangements in Germany were simpler and more economical. We were paid a sum between 60 and 120 Dm. depending on rank. As a Lieutenant I drew 81, though ranks between British and German navies do not quite correspond. To offset this, I was charged £5 on the Admiralty ledgers. The economy was caused by our rations being provided, we could not buy food, as compared with the Italian method of buying rations, food extras and fuel. The money became so much pocket-money.
After leaving Italy I did not get mail for some months. The Red Cross set up a sorting and readdressing office and I got a number of letters, which had been addressed to me in Italy in this way in January. I’d been able to write at Moosberg and, of course, at the end of September on arrival in Marlag, this letter reached home 15th November and I received a reply 22nd January. Letters took about the same time as in Italy – 6 weeks good, 10 weeks poor. In April, owing to air route being stopped from England, letters became very scarce and did not really start up again until July, when the air route reopened. Private parcels sent off to me up to end of February reached me in good sequence, and about ⅔ of numbers sent, up to the end of June. I got one clothing parcel readdressed from Italy.
In July an exhibition of camp art was arranged. Most of the exhibits were paintings, oil and watercolour, and drawings. The standard was very high. J. Worsley had a small private exhibition. C.L. Broad put in a portrait he had done of me. There was a section for various types of embroidery, wool-work, needlework, etc. Woodcarving and model-making – both warships and
[Digital page 57: headed ‘Exhibition’ and ‘Camp Activities’]
model yachts. A small section of gadgets made out of tin; and a showcase for the theatre dressmakers.
The yacht-making reached a very high standard. It was fostered by a competition for soft ocean-racers – the camp sent in several entries by post to the R.O.R.Y.C. – the designers then proceeded to make models of their designs. Other designs were taken from various books on sailing with full diagrams and details. The models were sailed and experimented with on the small pond provided for fire-fighting purposes.
In the spring a German controlled loudspeaker was put up in the camp. On this we were given parts of the German broadcasts, music, etc, and in the evening the German News Commentary for English listeners, i.e. Haw-Haw (Haw-Haw came to the Dulag in April and interviewed several officers from the camp). However, the news commentary was always interesting! About April we were given a pamphlet for volunteers to join the British Free Corps and to fight against the Soviets.
During the summer a number of volunteers, (3 parties) went to spend a few weeks at a special camp in South Bavaria. This was a better relations camp at Schloss Steinburg between Regensburg and Passau. It was run by the German Foreign Office and had special facilities for accommodation, walks, etc, designed as a holiday camp. A rather similar but more limited and perhaps more propagandist camp had been set up in Berlin the previous year, to which 5 officers had been sent.
One of the snags to our wooden bunks were a small type of bedbug. I collected quite a number in July, August; they were no trouble in the cold months.
After the invasion had started we got some fresh arrivals in the crew of the Canadian “Athabascan”, and an M.T.B. [Motor Torpedo Boat] crew captured early July off Ynuiden.
[Digital page 58: headed ‘Italian Officers’]
Two Italian naval officers Pincetti and Ferrando, were put with us in the autumn months. They were Harbour Administration staff at Sibenik. I had job as interpreter for them till they went in early December to an Italian camp near Hamburg. They were difficult to accept.
Of course, both in Germany and Italy we had numbers of allied officers as prisoners with us when in small numbers, or in their own compounds, when more numerous. Perhaps the most striking of all those were the half dozen Serbs with us at Gavi. They were headed by a most eccentric Lieutenant Colonel Brancovic; Slobodan Drascovic, an intellectual but quite practical and very well educated; Dusan Maric, the most extraordinary of them all.
Maric was a most conspiratorial type, and was the real Montenegrin bandit. He is worth a book to himself, and introduced us to the national “Slava”. His relations with the Italian Commandant were peculiar, his whole attitude to life in prison was pretty odd.
[Digital page 59]
[Hand-drawn diagram of cloisters at Padula Certosa]
[Photograph without caption probably of a landscape view of the same cloisters]
[Digital page 60]
[Rough map of Germany and surrounding countries indicating the location of Marlag and Milag]
[Digital page 61]
[Rough map of Italy and adjoining countries with names of northern cities marked]
[Digital page 62]
[Hand drawn plan of Marlag]
[Christmas card showing a relief print signed John W. Boble depicting the accommodation huts at Marlag. The greeting reads “Christmas 1942 Wishing you a happy Christmas and a brighter New Year from Marlag”]
[Digital page 63]
[The address side of a postcard which may be the reverse of the Christmas card]
[An uncaptioned image of huts, probably Marlag]
[Digital page 64]
[Photograph of a building with cars in the foreground -captioned Padula, La Certosa]
[Photograph of a bridge in a hillside city captioned Gavi Ponte sul Lemme e Panorama]
[Digital page 65]
[Hand drawn plan of Sulmona Camp]
[Photograph of Sulmona Town 1981]
[Digital page 66]
[2 illustrations of Gavi entitled Il Forte and The old castle and fortress of Gavi 1942/43]