Summary of Ronald McCurdy
Ronald Edmund McCurdy was captured in Ajdabiya in Libya, during Operation Crusader, the object of which was to relieve the Siege of Tobruk in Libya. He spent time in Camp 66 Capua, and then in Camp 59, Servigliano, and later to Mortara, where he was sent out to work in the local fields cutting rice. After his escape he was helped by the Coricarino family en route to his escape into Switzerland.
Ron’s file comprises copies of his PoW file and personal army documents. Many years later Ron recounted his story to his wife, which is also presented in this file.
The full story follows, in two versions. The version in the first window below is the original scanned version of the story. In the second window below is the transcribed version in plain text.
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RONALD EDMUND MCCURDY BORN 1915. Number 1710062 Gunner Royal Artillery Unit 122 Light A.A. (Sheffield Based)
17/10/1940 Called Up enlisted Kimnel Camp, Bodelwyddan, North Wales.
Arrived Egypt 22/04/1941 North African Campaign.
28/12/1941 Captured in Agedabia, Lybia. (Italian name) now known as Ajdabiya Libya. Location is South of Bengazi and SW of Tobruk. 1.
Agedabia was on a crossroad (probable a sand track) and was on the route to go in many directions through Libya.
Operation Crusader (as this battle is known) began 18/11/1941 to 30/12/1941 when Ron was captured this particular battle was nearing an end.
Operation Crusader was one of many battles to try to relieve the Siege of Tripoli. This battle was fought by General Auchinleck against Rommel.
Ron would have been part of the 8th Army.
This battle was chaotic for both the allies and the axis troops but did result for the first time in pushing Rommel back from Tobruk.
The allies lacked equipment, patrol and supplies but were better supplied than the axis though the Germans had superior tanks and arms.
Rommel retreated back to a defensive line just South of the Agedabia Road to Bengazi. Cutting off many of the allied forces.
Conditions were really bad from 17th to 27th December due to heavy rain and flooding. Due to the conditions it was difficult to travel and the necessary supplies for the allies could only be maintained as far as the Agedabia/Bengazi road.
Ron and his group were cut off by Rommel in this area.
Operation Crusader alone lasted 42 days and resulted in the following casualties:
Allies killed 2908.
Allies wounded 7300
Allies missing 7400
The numbers on the Axis side were much worse.
Ron’s war record shows that he was reported missing for a few months until he arrived in Camp 59 Servigliano Italy. The War office were then able to inform his parents that he was a Prisoner of War in Italy.
Circumstances of capture.
“Surrounded by enemy tanks and motorised infantry” 1. Escape and Evasion report.
Ronald in conversation with wife Gwyneth after the war stated that they were sent off without proper directions, maps and compasses getting lost and low on petrol and supplies they decided
when dark to stay put and they slept under their trucks for the night laying on their boots otherwise
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they tended to get stolen by the locals who were brilliant at creeping into the camps without alerting anyone. When daylight broke they found that they were surrounded by Rommel’s army. Ronald stated that he met Rommel who spoke to him and shared some meat with the men. Ron always admired Rommel he felt he was an honourable soldier and he treated the prisoners well.
As there was no petrol and supplies further than Agedabia they probably needed to hole up with the hope that a supply would reach them.
Most of the very senior ranks in the British Army were trained as Cavalry in WW1, they had no experience of running a Desert War with tanks and guns.
When men were called up they were trained in trench warfare and avoiding mustard gas attacks applicable to WW1 but they were not equipped and trained to fight in the desert. Ron’s army record states that he was trained for warfare involving mustard gas.
Organisation of the British and allies fighting in North Africa began to improve when General Auchinleck was brought in by Churchill to take over. General Auchinleck had to stand up against Churchill and refuse to start Operation Crusader until supply lines were sorted bringing in food and water and though they waited a few months to get organised they still struggled in the harsh conditions of the desert.
Douglas Allum and George Tudor who feature on the www.camp59 survivors website and who are named in Ron’s memorandum book were captured at the same time in Agedabia and according to George Tudor’s escape and evasion report they were cut off by the Germans. They also followed the same route through Italy and eventual escape to Switzerland.
Record of Imprisonment. Escape and Evasion Report.
“Lybia Transit 28/11/1941 to 02/02/1942”.
The date of the 28/11/1941 must have been a typing error as we know from all other records Ron was captured on 28/12/1941.
There were various temporary camps in Libya. Notorious for the harsh conditions. Lack of food water and very unhygienic condition. Sickness including dysentery was rife.
Reading books and reports on the website WW2 talk it appears that many men never spoke about the conditions in the North African transit camps as they were too traumatised to recall their experiences.
“66 Capua 02/02/42 to 04/02/1942”.1
This is an Italian Prisoner of War transit camp not far from Naples.
Gwyneth recalls Ron saying that they were held in an old castle and put in the dungeons in very damp conditions causing him to have a serious chest infection. From his record he was only at Camp 66 for two nights was a temporary tented camp. This caused me to search further into where Ron was held in a cell.
Ron would have been brought by ship from North Africa most prisoners were shipped out from Derna or Benghazi they were shut into the hold the conditions were terrible and most men suffered illness.
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It is quite likely though Ron only refers to Libya Transit that he stopped off in Sicily before reaching Naples and camp 66. Reading through other reports of men captured in North Africa around the same time that they were put up for a few weeks in Camp 98. Around 50 miles from Palermo.
Camp 98 between November and up until June 1942 was at Castelveltrano.
Reading the book ‘The 21 Escapes of Lt. Alaster Cram’ he stated that he arrived at a Camp in the small town of Castelvetrano. He was housed in a seventeenth century convent originally constructed for San Francesco di Paola’s Order of Minims it was stripped bare during the unification of Italy, and after that used as a barracks, school a refugee centre and now a prison. Lt. Cram escaped from here and was on the run for a few weeks in Sicily before re capture.
It was also mentioned in a further conversations on a various websites that the men were taken to Camp 98 and locked in a cell so many men in one cell that they could not sit down.
Ron in conversation with Gwyneth had spoken of being locked in a cell in some sort of fortified building. The conditions were very bad and the cell was very cold and damp (This would have been during January 1941). Ron had said that the conditions caused him to become very ill with a chest infection.
The search for the camp with cells proved difficult as there are many reports from men who were sent to camp 98 after June 1942 when it was a tented camp at San Giuseppe Jato but on further research I found that Camp 98 was moved to the tented camp on 22/06/1942.
Many American soldiers captured in North Africa stated that they had been through the tented Camp 98 before being moved on to Camp 66 and then most on to Camp 59 Servilgliano.
“Caserta Hospital 04/02/1942 to 28/02/1942”. Escape and Evasion Report.
We know from the report above that two days after Ron arrived at Camp 66 Caserta that he was admitted to hospital.
Ronald’s condition must have been very serious as he stayed in hospital for nearly one month.
Caserta was in the town nearest to the camp 66.
Gwyneth in conversation with Ron says that it was run by the Red Cross and more like a field hospital. Many men in the hospital had been badly affected by the desert war in North Africa and if there was any bombing or loud noises happening it was very common to find the patients who were able to move asleep under their hospital camp beds.
Many men died in the North African transit camps as there were no medical facilities. Many more died of illness in the hold of the ships transporting them to Italy. More again lost their lives as the ships were bombed by the allies as enemy ships.
I spoke to a war expert a few years ago who told me that Ronald probably had a 25% chance of surviving the North African Campaign, the transit camps, the sea journey to Italy, life in as a POW in Italy and then a successful escape to Switzerland.
“66 Capua 28/02/1942 to 12/03/1942”. 1
Ron after the hospital stay was moved back to 66 Capua which was just a temporary camp sorting out the arrivals in Naples ready to move them on to various camps around Italy.
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“59 Servigliano 12/03/1942 to 08/06/1943”. 1
Many British prisoners were moved around this time to Campo 59. Reading reports from others prisoners they were transported in cattle waggons by train. This camp was situated in central Italy at the village of Servigliano it was an old internment camp from WW1 and consisted of the usually army huts. For further information and photographs go to www.camp59survivors website. Photos also in document
“146X1X Mortara 08/06/ to 10/09/1943”.
Ron in common with many of the British prisoners were moved around June 1943 further North to work on farms. Mortara was the centre of a work camp the prisoners were billeted onto various farms South and West of Milan. It is actually Mortara but in the escape and evasion report it is spelt incorrectly. The X1X following the camp number indicates it is Camp 146 but satellite camp 19. This was located at Vigevano( Ron mentions Vigevano later). For more information on the work camps go to the Pegasus Archives on line there is a comprehensive list of the work camps all began with the number 146 and the following number refers to the farms or areas the prisoners were sent to work.
We know from Ron’s conversations with Gwyneth that he cut rice this is consistent with many other reports. There is a large rice growing area to the South of Milan.
They were treated a lot better on the farms as they had access to rice, milk and fruit all produced locally. Most prisoners by this time had lost 3 stone in weight and it took time for them to recover their strength to work in the fields for long hours. From various reports though they appeared to be a lot happier with their conditions this was also confirmed by Ron in conversations.
Report on final escape and subsequent journey until taken over by organisation. Escape and Evasion Report.
“On 10/09/1943 the Italians allowed us to leave the camp and I stayed in the area living on various farms until 22/11/1943. We were then put in touch with an organisation and taken into Vigevano”.
Help Received from Italian People. Escape and Evasion Report.
“Luigi Moscara, Casonia, Cambana, Pavia. 1Gave food and clothing and kept approx.. 1 month to 22/11/1943 1
Inhabitants of village Morsela. All gave assistance whenever possible. 10/09/1943”
Escape information. To include Last part of journey to Switzerland which is not mentioned in main report. Information of organisation. Escape plans in or outside camps during capitulation. Escape and Evasion Report.
“ We were taken by train from Vigevano to Novara and thence by train again to Domodosola. We spent the night in a convent. The guides then left us and we proceeded by ourselves (a party of 12) and crossed the frontier at Camedo”.
Was very well organised and their H.Q. appeared to be at Vigevano. One of the principal organisers was the manager of a big transport business in Vigevano”.
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In Ron’s wartime papers is a letter from the Coricarino family written to Ronald in June 1945.
Marco Coricarino had a car garage business in Novara. Ron in conversation spoke about the time he was hidden above the garage and fed by the family. The Germans would come in to have their vehicles fixed and Ronald and his friend Percy would look through the floorboards and watch them below.
Ron did not mention the Coricarino family in his escape and evasion report but spoke to Gwyneth about how well they looked after him until it was safe to move him on. Ron had given the escape and evasion report 01/08/1944 and may not have remembered the details of the Coricarino family at the time.
Ron spoke about being on a train accompanied by a woman from the resistance. He had a close shave when the Germans came onto check papers but the woman did the talking and he kept quiet but blended in as he was dressed in Italian clothing.
I have subsequently found through records of the Novara partisans history group that Marco Coricarino was part of the partisan network. I would assume that the Principal organiser referred to by Ron who had a transport business in Vigevano would have been working with Marco Coricarino.
Ron spoke to Gwyneth about some parts of his time evading the Germans in Italy.
He spoke about hiding in a river from the Germans who were rounding up escaped prisoners and using tracking dogs. Ron and his friend Percy hid in a river to prevent the dogs from continuing to follow their scent.
Ron spoke to Gwyneth about a time when he was given an address to stay at a mill but as they warily approached they saw the Italian Miller hanging dead from the mill wheel apparently he had been collaborating with the Germans resulting in escaped prisoners being caught and the partisans shot.
The locals decided to punish him for his actions.
Ron and Percy had a lucky escape as they were the next people to take shelter here.
He recalled some of the prisoners being caught and taken away by the Germans.
Many of the prisoners who were hiding on the farms who got caught were then moved to German or Polish camps by train in cattle waggons. They spent another 18 months as prisoners in very harsh conditions and many more perished. A few managed to jump from the trains and escape once more.
Ron spoke to Gwyneth about how kind the Italian farming families were to the prisoners and allowed them to hide in their farm buildings and provided them with food and clothing. This is confirmed in his escape and evasion report he mentions the villagers in Morsela.
Ron spoke about arriving late for one rendezvous and being so relieved that the partisan meeting him had checked every day until they actually arrived.
It was possible that he was holed up in the garage in Novara for longer than expected.
It is stated on the Novara Partisan website that a large presence of Germans flooded into Novara after Mussolini surrendered and in the months following more and more were being pushed up by the allies moving up from the South.
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There are many reports on various partisan websites regarding some of the farming families being shot for helping prisoners and many reports of how so many partisans sacrificed their lives helping to get prisoners to Switzerland.
Ron spoke to Gwyneth about staying in a convent which is confirmed in the escape and evasion report as being in Santa Maria (Maggorie) high up in the Alps and it was from here that a group of 12 walked to cross the border into Switzerland at Camedo.
Ron mentioned that he was with his friend Percy on his route to the border but they split up to cross. I would assume that the party of 12 mentioned in the report were gathered together in the convent would have split up at some point as they walked towards the border.
Ron mentioned that he and Percy split up to cross as they were not sure if the guards on the border were German or Swiss but they felt to tired and cold to go further so decided to take the risk. They were soon reunited and relived to have made it to Switzerland.
During this time Ron and Percy would have been dressed to look like Italian farmers and would have not been well equipped to walk from Santa Maria to Switzerland using sheep tracks. Ron in the escape and evasion report that the guides left them at Santa Maria. The conditions at the end of November must have been difficult. It has been reported that the winter of 1943 to 1944 was particularly harsh even by Alpine standards making the trek over the border very difficult.
Ron’s report states that he arrived in Switzerland on 26/11/1943. 1 There is a medical card record in German and Italian of him being deloused in Switzerland on 27/11/1943.
Ron spoke to Gwyneth many times about how difficult it was to control the lice and bed bugs this is also confirmed in reports from other prisoners. The Swiss obviously tackled the problem immediately.
Ron mentioned to Gwyneth that when he was in Camp 59 Servigliano they made ovens from tin in the Red Cross parcels. They would regularly put their clothes into the oven to try to kill the lice and bugs. They also used the ovens for hot water and cooking. This is consistent with other reports from the camps in Italy.
The delousing medical card in Ron’s wartime papers has a faint address on the cover Elizabeth L. Caenberger Rue L Eglise . There is another very faint word which I now realise is Montreaux.
Gwyneth in conversation with Ronald was aware that he stayed in a very large hotel it was high up with view over the lake. He was aware that the hotel became a conference centre after the war.
Gwyneth was not sure if it was in Lorcano, Lucerne or Lusanne.
On further research it appears that street names in Locarno are mainly in Italian and Lucerne mainly in German.
Lusanne names are in French and it appears the street is Rue De L’eglise, Anglaise. In Montraux.
Interestingly this street contains a large English Church which was possible a centre for the escapees to gather and sent to their various accommodation.
Ronald crossed the border near Lake Locarno but due to the volume of escapees it seems that they were billeted in different areas around Switzerland.
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I eventually discovered that Ron’s escape and evasion report states that the report was taken in August 1944 and the place it was conducted was Caux.
Further research showed that Caux is above Montreaux on Lake Lusanne.
The hotel is the Caux Palace and is the exact place that Ron described to Gwyneth. The hotel became and is still a well-known conference centre for World Peace.
Ron described it as being quite square in design differing to the look of the current hotel but on studying pictures of the hotel before the war it was exactly as he described. It has now been extended and turrets added to the wings
Ron talked about how he used to walk down to the village below (Montreux) and enjoyed having coffee and cake in the local patisserie a change from prison rations. During his time nearly one year in Switzerland he took various educational courses set up in the hotel.
It is stated that the Caux Palace hotel was set up for RAF and officers but Ron seemed to have been lucky that he was sent here. During the time the escapees were in Switzerland some were sent to resort to ski and some in the Summer to Caux. Most escapees were further North in Switzerland and I did wonder if Ron just happened to be on a break at Caux when his report was taken but the cover of the delousing card from 28/11/1943 does show the address in Montreux so it seems likely that he was in this area through his time in Switzerland. Ron did not mention any other area to Gwyneth as she feels he was at the Caux Palace for the majority of his time.
Ron returned to the U.K. on 23rd October 1944 as shown on his army record.
Ron returned to a camp near Robin’s Hood Bay near Whitby. It was normal after repatriation to get six weeks leave and double rations.
Ronald’s record shows that he had dental treatment in Whitby 02/05/1945 so he must have been back in the camp at that time.
Ron’s record shows that he was seconded to Disarm Flak Staff, 83 Group BAFO part of the RAF.
In conversations with Gwyneth Ron talked about driving a high ranking officer around Europe after the war ended.
Disarm Flak indicates that they were sorting out weaponry and equipment left behind. Records show that Ron continued in this role until 14/03/1946. Ron also spoke to Gwyneth about his time travelling around Europe sorting out weaponry left behind.
Ron told Gwyneth that he travelled through Europe including Denmark and in a conversation with myself my Father mentioned when we were watching a television programme on Arnhem during WW 2 he mentioned that he had gone to Arnhem after the liberation and he spoke to me how much the Dutch people had suffered during the war.
My Father hardly mentioned to me his time during WW2 but when I was a teenager I was lucky enough to be able to study WW2 history in school. Dad and I used to watch a television programme called All Our Yesterday’s. The documentary used a lot of old Pathé News Reels and he suddenly shocked me as he stood up from his chair and said that is my Battalion and I am there driving one of the lorries towing behind an anti- aircraft gun in the North African Desert. He then went quiet and did not say anything else. I realise now it must have given him a bit of a shock and brought back a lot of bad memories.
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My one other memory is that he would say you can easily judge a man’s character when you are hungry and relying on Red Cross Parcels to eat. He then went on to say that some men would eat all their supplies in on go and smoke all their cigarettes until they felt sick and other like him would try to save some of their food to make it last but would get continually harassed by those who had eaten everything in one go.
Records show that Ron was released from the regular army on 24/04/1946 to the reserves he remained in the reserves until he was discharged on 13/04/1953. The records state that Ron completed 5 years and 299 days in the army, 12 years 186 days including his time in the reserves.
The record shows on discharge that he held an equivalent of an HGV licence and he received a reference from his time with Disarm Flak that stated Final Assessment of Conduct and Character. Exemplary as recorded on release document.
Ronald’s Travels During The War
Sailed to Egypt probably Cairo or Alexandria via South Africa.
Through North Africa finally captured Agedabia (Ajdabiya) Libya.
Sailed from probably Benghazi or Derna. to Camp 98 Sicily.
Camp 66 Capua near Naples Italy. (Transit Camp)
Campo 59 Servigliano (Prisoner of War camp)
Campo 146 work farms near Mortara South West of Milan
Hid out in various farms around Morsela South West of Milan particularly with Luigi Moscara, Gambarana, Pavia.
Taken by the Partisans to Vigevano then onto Novara where hidden in the Coricarino garage.
Taken by train to Domodossola in the Alps.
Taken by mountain rail to Santa Maria. (Stayed in convent)
On foot through the Alps crossing the border into Switzerland at Camedo.
Switzerland, Caux Nr Montreux.
Transit through Europe to the channel. Crossed by ship to either Scotland or North East England then repatriated at a camp Near Robin’s Hood Bay nr Whitby, Yorkshire.
Leave for a few weeks before returning to camp.
Seconded to the RAF and drove through Europe sorting out weaponry.
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[Four-page copy of Ron’s PoW Report in which he reported back on the circumstances of his capture and escape, for which permission to publish on-line has been received from the National Archives.]
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[Image of Ron’s Soldier Service and pay book, 1940-1945]
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[Image of Ron’s Soldier Service and pay book, 1945]
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[Image of Ron’s Record of Service, 1946]
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[Image of Ron’s War Record, 1941-1945]
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[Image of Ron’s Pay 1940-1941]
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[Image of Christmas cards, religious card and of a one and five lira note]
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[Image of Ron’s Hospital Card]
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[Image of Ron’s delousing certificate]
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[Image of Ron’s Driving Permit, 1946]
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[Letter with envelope from M. Corciarino, hoping Ron has arrive home safely, Oct 1945]
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[Image of Ron’s army papers, including his medals, 1953]
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[Image of Ron’s discharge papers, 1953]
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[Image of Operation Crusader, Siege of Tobruk. Source unknown]
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[Image of Rommel apparently driving in the desert]
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[Map of Northern Italy showing Ron’s escape route to Switzerland]