Millar, JHD


This account starts with Dr Millar’s journey to Egypt, although the original script also contains a charming description of life between the wars followed by Millar’s training to be a doctor and his peripatetic existence providing medical support to various units at the beginning of the war. He went to Egypt by way of Nova Scotia and South Africa and Millar was eventually captured in the Western desert. Having suffered appalling conditions in North African and Italian PoW camps, Millar was transferred to PG59 Servigliano. He describes in graphic detail the extremely poor living conditions and his inability to fulfil his role as a doctor because of the lack of basic medicines and other supplies.

Millar was responsible for defying the War Office command to stay put and after the Armistice, and was instrumental in securing the release of all prisoners at Servigliano (including Keith Killby). He then gives an account of his escape through the Italian countryside back to the Allies and includes a horrifying case of reprisal by the German forces for helping Allied escapers.

See also Keith Killby’s own account for details of his own escape from Servigliano.

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.

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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[Notes by Keith Killby on a brown envelope]: Important Dr Millar, MBE [Member of the British Empire]. Engineered breakout from Servigliano. Also Frank Howard Jones, RAMC [Royal Army Medical Corps] who got away with him.

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written for his family

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[Editor’s note: This version of the memoir starts in the middle of a sentence on original page 4. The first three pages of the memoir relate to the First World War and can be consulted in the original by contacting the MSM Trust]

The Second World War

At the end of August, preparations for war were obvious. Air raid shelters were going up, the army was being mobilised and on the 1st of September, Lenox’s regiment, the 51st Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery was mobilised at its headquarters at Preston Pans. I went from Gullane to see them off before they embarked for France. It was a very emotional time for everyone. On Sunday 3rd December, while in Dr Kirk’s sitting room at Gullane at 12 noon, I heard Mr Chamberlain announce that we were at war with Germany. I went off to see an old man. While in his bedroom, his housekeeper rushed upstairs and said “They are coming”. I could not see any Germans through the window. She had heard on the wireless, that an air raid was expected on London. This was a false alarm. On 4th September, I contacted the BMA [British Medical Association] and asked them to arrange for me to join the RAMC [Royal Army Medical Corps], and I got my commission about two weeks later.

About a fortnight later I got a telegram telling me to go immediately to the Royal Artillery Regiment at Saltburn, near Invergordon. A few days before I had bought my uniform. Until 1940 we wore a khaki uniform, which is now only worn on formal occasions. Highland soldiers wore the kilt with short jackets. As I was leaving the Buckingham Terrace flat, another telegram arrived saying “if you have not already left, proceed to Kirkwall in the Orkneys”, I decided that I had left.

The camp at Saltburn was a dismal place, near the sea, very exposed to the east winds. I luckily lived in a house, but most of the men and officers lived under canvas. The duties of a medical officer were minimal, a sick parade at 8am which was finished in an hour. Occasionally after that I did sick parades for odd companies of the Seaforth Highlanders, but had little to occupy the rest of my day. I only wish that I was interested in fishing at that time. I bought a Cairn Terrier puppy, who snuggled into my sleeping bag each night. One evening I was told that the Colonel was coming from Edinburgh for the weekend and to keep my puppy out of sight, as he hated dogs. After dinner the puppy managed to slip into the mess, where we were all sitting. He had been out on the wet earth, and immediately rushed up to the Colonel, and jumped onto his knee and put his head into the Colonel’s glass of whisky. There was a deadly silence whilst we watched the puppy steadily drinking the whisky. “The dog is alright” came the comment. He was given more whisky until he was staggering about. I thought it was best to let them carry on as he was now a firm favourite in the Regiment. He was a confirmed teetotaller from then on.

In December 1939, we suddenly got orders to move the Regiment to Poole we, to act as Air defence for the North Sea Fleet. This fleet had been trying to find the German pocket battleships. Some of the Destroyers were running short of fuel so the Admiral decided that the fleet should go into Loch Ewe to refuel. Unfortunately, the battleship Hood struck a magnetic mine as it was entering Loch Ewe, and was badly damaged and needed some repairs before going down to Portsmouth for full repairs. It was a difficult journey. The guns were very large ones, made for the First Great War with iron wheels. They had

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to be towed across very narrow twisty roads to the West coast, but it was done successfully. We had no searchlights. It was hoped that the Germans would not know that the fleet was in Loch Ewe, and that the steep hills around the loch would make it difficult for the ships to be bombed. At Inverness station, there was maximum security. Anyone going north was checked. We were all told to keep the knowledge of Loch Ewe secret. There were 57 ships there, it was a wonderful sight. We were entertained on board several ships.

I asked if I could take communion on Christmas Day, and I was invited onto the Hood, accompanying the Shore Captain. After communion on a room below deck, a morning service was held on deck, with the full Royal marine band playing. It was a magnificent sight. The Hood was the pride of the British Navy, built way back in 1924, but still a magnificent ship. The mountains were all heavily covered in snow, and the whole atmosphere was dramatic and deeply emotional. About a year later, the Hood was sunk by a direct hit from, I think, ‘The Bismark’. There were only about six survivors from about six thousand men.

By April 1940 I was fed up with being stuck in the north of Scotland, and after repeated applications, I managed to get myself posted down to England to a Field Ambulance, which was being formed in Knutsford in Cheshire. The Field Ambulance was a happy unit, and there I met a lot of good friends. Ronnie Gordon, who was a paediatrician in Sheffield later, joined us: He had just been in Dunkirk and got the MC [Military Cross] for his work there. Also other friends, that I have kept in touch with, but you wouldn’t know them.

The CO [Commanding Officer] was a nice old chap of about 40. As I had been in an OTC [Officers Training Corps] I was put in charge of training them in drill, and organised most of the route marches. I really enjoyed this. Battle dress had now been issued, it was very hot to wear in summer. One day the CO [Commanding Officer] asked for volunteers to be interviewed for a Commando. I went to York for the interview. From the questions, an extremely athletic doctor was wanted. I was told, we would be raiding the enemy coast and there was small chance of getting back. They finally selected a doctor, a chap who had been in the Olympic Games. I was really rather relieved I had not been chosen. Several of my men were chosen and joined the Army Commandos.

The summer of 1940 was the finest that I remember. After nine months of war, the Germans and Allies really doing no fighting, the Phoney War, it was called, suddenly ended. The Germans attacked Norway, and soon afterwards launched their Blitzkrieg in France. Our troops fought gallantly, but we had no decent tanks, and very few aircraft. The Germans had developed the Dive Bomber. They attacked anyone on the roads, including civilians by the thousands. Our troops managed to get home from Dunkirk, but had lost all their weapons except rifles.

France had surrendered and I feared that Mr Chamberlain’s government might do the same. It was a terrific relief to everyone, when Mr Churchill became Prime Minister. His personality on the wireless certainly united the whole nation. It was the only time I can recall, I was intensely proud of being British.

At the end of September, I went on a week’s leave with Mother and Dad to Pitlochry Hydro. One evening I noticed all the Officers in the large sitting room were leaving and I was the only one left there. That night the code word Cromwell had been sent out. This was the signal that a German invasion was expected and all the other officers had been recalled to their units. It was a false

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alarm I was far too far away to be recalled.

The winter of 1940 was, of course, the time of the air Blitz on London and Coventry. I had been on a gas course in Salisbury, and when the train arrived in London, there was a heavy air raid. The shrapnel falling on the glass roof of the entrance to the station sounded like hail stones. It was not surprising that many people were killed by antiaircraft shrapnel, going through their skulls and into their brains. That morning The Guards Chapel got a direct hit, and several hundred men were killed.

In June 1941, I was posted to go overseas. I was pleased, but sorry to leave the Field Ambulance, I had made many friends there. I was posted to the School of Tropical Medicine in Liverpool. On arrival we saw the most awful sight, Liverpool had been bombed for seven successive nights. The whole of the city centre was flattened. The sight and smell was quite dreadful. Volunteers were asked to be lookout on the roof for firebombs that night. I had been wandering around Liverpool having a look at the whole place, and when I got back at about 10.30, I was told they had been looking for me everywhere. I was not going on a course, and had to go back to my unit, and get embarkation leave. So that was the end of that little jaunt, I had embarkation leave.

Immediately, I got the train to Crewe, .and waited for about three hours for a train to Newcastle, as we were stationed near there. I then got my leave pass of one week. I had to wait at Newcastle station for about three hours to get the 2pm train. I duly fell asleep and missed the train and had to wait for the 6pm to Edinburgh.

After my leave I reported to Aldershot, where I waited about doing nothing, just playing tennis, messing around, till we were told we were moving. We were fitted out with tropical kit, mainly consisting of a topee, which everyone threw into the sea when, we finally arrived in Africa. One day we were all told to start our journey on a troop train. The train gradually filled up with troops and officers of various units. It was very hush hush and the blinds were drawn on the train. When the train stopped for a station at any time, the doors were opened straight away and chaps got out, getting packets of sweets, cups of tea, and the security didn’t matter tuppence.

On arriving at Liverpool, we all walked to the ferryboat carrying our kit. Anyone could see our topees on the back of our packs. We crossed over the River Mersey to Birkenhead. After that we embarked on a ship, and sailed to Glasgow. We then reembarked on the Windsor Castle as part of a large convoy of fast ships, all capable of doing 20 to 24 knots, to try and evade the U boats, which had been sinking vast numbers of ships that spring. I don’t know how successful that was, but it was a lovely ship. The food in the Officers mess was quite ludicrously good, considering the country was eating bare minimal rations, and we had all the luxuries, because the food had been brought from abroad, I don’t know where from, and never taken off the ship, so we were not taking food away from the civilians at home.

We sailed down the Clyde on a beautiful evening, passing close to Mull on the right. One of my friends was able to point out the house in which he was born. He was too sentimental to stay on the deck at sunset. About the third night out, after dinner, I was looking forward, and there was another vessel right in front of us, and next thing, we banged into it quite hard, enough to knock you off your feet. We managed to reverse slightly to disengage. The Warwick Castle

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sailed off to re-join the convoy, leaving us on our own. We were all ordered to life boat stations, and waited there for several hours, while the engineers doubly checked the front bulkheads, to ensure it was watertight. We later heard that 12 of the buoys had been torn off, and there was a hole 8 foot wide. We were left with one armed merchantman as escort. The Captain decided the ship was not going to sink and after consultation with the War Office, or Admiralty perhaps, decided to go on rather than come back to Scotland. We went as far north as the ship would go apparently, and kept in dense fog, and came down the coast of Newfoundland. After about five days, going at about four knots, we arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia.

There we were all moved off to Aldershot camp in Nova Scotia. We had a wonderful six weeks there. The local doctors were very hospitable to some of us who were doctors. It was lovely summer weather, and I spent two weekends with a Dr Hal Taylor and his wife, at their bungalow beside a lovely lake. One day one of our doctors asked a Canadian doctor “Why are the Canadians fighting for Britain?”. The doctor thumped the table, really red in the face and said “We are not fighting for you young man, we are fighting for our king”. At that time Nova Scotia was frightfully patriotic for the Monarchy. The King and Queen had visited Nova Scotia in 1939, and were a tremendous success. There was an interesting sporting event, when the British officers took on the Canadian officers, and what happened was you had to do a certain thing in a certain time, and if you did that you got certain points for your team, so everyone had some reason to participate. If you were not good at 100 yards, you got a point for high jump, long leap, and various other things. It was quite a surprise, we British officers beat the Canadians quite healthily, even though we did not think we were in hard training.

After about six weeks, we were told we were moving, and The Stratheden {P&O} Liner came from England to take us off. No-one told us where we were going, the ship went south, apparently along the American coast to escape German Battleships which were looking for Merchant ships. After about five to seven days, we landed at Trinidad. We never saw Trinidad properly, because we were not allowed off the ship. We saw farms from a distance. The ship was terribly hot, and had no ventilation, and you can imagine how stuffy it got. We had to keep our portholes closed at night time, and keep our lights off, in case we drew the attention of any enemy shipping.

We were pleased to sail again, although we had a long sail. It was some weeks until we got to South Africa, a wonderful sight. We were warned, we were getting close, and so we got up very early that morning, and watched and suddenly saw a mountain on the horizon, which got larger and larger. It was Table Mountain, terribly exciting. When we arrived there, it was lovely weather, end of November, and we were royally entertained by the civilians. All troops were disembarked there for three days. Masses of people came to the Dockside and took every soldier to their homes for all three days, returning to our ship each evening. I went with another chap to a lawyer and his wife, who were from Scotland. We had a gorgeous day there, taken around Table Mountain and into the country. It was wonderful to see that lovely country, and we spent two more days with them. All the troops were warned not to go to District 6. In spite of that three soldiers disappeared, they were found stripped.

We then sailed on to Durban. We were not allowed to disembark there

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and were rather fed up. There was a French ship quite near us, carrying native troops, who had not been allowed to disembark, and threatened mutiny if we were allowed to land. We then sailed to Aden, which was not very exciting and very hot, we did not land and just saw tourists in the distance. Then we went straight to Suez, up the Red Sea and landed at Port Taufiq, then taken by train to Cairo.

All the doctors in the draft were interviewed by an older officer. I was posted to a hospital near Alexandria as a trainee physician, because I had my MD [Doctor of Medicine]. I was not trying to be heroic, but I said I would have liked to have gone up to the Desert to see what the fighting was like, and see how tough it was in the Medical unit, thinking it would only be for about six months. I was posted to a vacancy in the 4th Division field ambulance, an Indian Field Ambulance at Mersamatroub, before this I had one day’s leave in Cairo. I decided to spend my day looking around the city, and I thought I would see the Pyramids on my next leave. I lived to regret that. I thought Cairo was a very romantic looking place, full of British officers. Everyone treated the Egyptians like dirt, and looking back now, it was pretty disgraceful how we treated them. Reid’s Hotel which is a classical Victorian hotel was the headquarters for the Generals particularly, though anyone could walk in. You saw the odd Maharajah there and I saw The Maharajah of Mysore.

Approaching the Western desert was terribly exciting. We went by train to Alexandria and then got onto the small, narrow train which led to Mersamatroub. The little railway went right along the coast, one track, and going along there in gorgeous weather. It was the end of November, when the weather is not too hot, and somewhere in the distance you could see a line of camels and people riding them. It was all a very romantic picture. We sped up to our base, which was about 100 miles from Alexandria, past Alamein which you heard about later in the war, and joined my Field Ambulance. Here were the headquarters of various regiments.

On arrival, I reported to the CO [Commanding Officer] of the Field Ambulance. Conditions were primitive. Stukas came daily, and strafed us frequently. The 4th Indian division had been through the whole of the Abyssinian campaign, and so were seasoned troops. Our brigade consisted of the 2nd Cameron’s, The Mahrattas, and the Rajsputani Rifles. Our field ambulance had four companies with two officers and about thirty sepoys. The sepoys were a mixture of Hindus and Moslems. There had to be two kitchens, one for each religious group. The Field Ambulance was only split up when there was a battle. Only one medical officer was Indian. All our supplies had to come from Alexandria. In our mess we ate very large, hard biscuits, and the Indians knew how to convert these into curry. Chickens were kept in the unit, and used about once a week to vary the curry a bit. The food was terribly strictly rationed. Water for purposes of washing was very strictly rationed. You could only get one glass, which was less than one pint, and you had to do your teeth, then shave and then wash your hands, and any other part of your body you could get water to. It was strictly adhered to, as it was the only water you got, apart from drinking water, which was very necessary.

My Company Commander was a very nice Canadian, who unfortunately had got into a very tense state. In those days our field ambulance carried brandy. If people got shocked they were meant to be given brandy. There was no question of any drips, or anything like that in those days, and he was acquiring it

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quite illegally, of course, and drinking it himself. He got blotto every night, so he was quite useless. He had been through a tough time in Abyssinia. I found I had to make decisions myself quite quickly, though I was very new to dealing with a field ambulance of this kind.

In November the Eighth Army was on the offensive, under the command of General Auchinlek, The Auk. The German army, under Rommel, had been in the desert for about nine months, and had driven us back to El Alamein, and now we were advancing. The German army was equipped with the latest arms, including far better tanks, which had a range 100 yards longer than ours, and far more armour piercing than ours. Also Rommel was always with the forward troops, while The Auk stayed in, or near Cairo.

We never functioned as a field ambulance, while I was in the desert, but life was not at all dull. The desert was quite an extraordinary place. One day, we were sitting down in the sand, and it had been raining quite hard about half an hour before, and suddenly out of the ground popped two snakes, they were Hooded Cobras. Indians knew far more about them than we did. They were thoroughly frightened of them, because they were highly poisonous, and we had to despatch them fairly quickly. A Pathologist used to wander around, collecting the heads of these Cobras, and showed us the not very small head. Under that was a sack which contained a vast quantity of poison. He showed us what looked like a scalpel that shot out from their mouth and injected a lot of this poison into anything they attacked. Also they could move might quickly.

One day I was detailed to meet our D.A.D.M.S [Deputy Assistant Director Medical Services] about 15-20 miles away by a map reference, but I was told that the field ambulance had no compasses, so I had to use the pocket compass, my father had given me before I left England. These compasses are affected by motor vehicles, so I had to stop the Land Rover every few hundred yards to get my bearings. To my great relief, I got to the spot exactly and met my colleague. We walked a few yards away from the drivers, and suddenly a German plane came over a low level and dropped bombs. We all dived to the ground. On getting up we found one of the drivers dead. He had no external wounds, and had been killed by the blast, poor chap. The bombing and machine gun shelling from the German planes was incessant. The Germans had complete air supremacy.

One morning the senior surgeon from the divisional H.Q. [Head Quarters] later Professor Ian Aird, of the Postgraduate Medical School, came to our company and told us that the A.D.M.S [Assistant Director of Medical Services] wished us to go to a point west, about 100 miles away, and gave us the exact line to take, having been told that was the brigade axis. At about 4:30pm I saw a camp that had recently been evacuated. A poor little puppy was looking frightened and a sepoy reluctantly picked it up. We had seen no one on the way, but we saw some distant figures in foreign uniforms, and thought they must be prisoners. The sun was setting on our faces, and we had no binoculars, none were issued to non-combatant troops. We drove on towards them and the next minute, a shell shot one of the lorries, parallel to mine. I told my driver to turn round, and he tried to turn round in a hurry, but of course he stalled the engine doing that. The next minute there was intense machine gun fire, the Italian infantry was racing across and shooting at us from all sides. We got off our lorries to avoid being hit. It was very unpleasant being machine gunned. We were all unarmed, my gun was at the bottom of my suitcase. Several men were wounded, we had to surrender. Fortunately, one of our sepoys raised a white

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handkerchief to surrender, which they accepted. The other M.O. [Medical Officer] had chest wounds and was very cold, and I gave him my sweater.

Prisoner Of War

Afterwards, we were shelled by our own guns for about an hour. We two M.Os [Medical Officer] were put in a truck with an armed guard. On the way we were shelled again and told to get out of the truck. The driver, an armed soldier and ourselves sheltered near the road. It was dark by this time, I would have run away, but the other doctor was unfit to move suddenly, and I feared he would be damaged, if I went on my own. That was the only chance of escaping gone.

We arrived at an army camp at Derna. A very unpleasant Italian officer tried to interrogate me. He ordered me to unwrap a sepoy’s roll of clothes and inside was a Kukri knife. “What is that for?”. He asked me. “I will give you three guesses”, was my reply. In Abyssinia, sepoys had used them brutally on some of the Italians. An Italian soldier was ordered to take another soldier and myself up a path, and told us to lie down in the open all night. The next morning we were very cold and wet. It had been raining all night, and we had no food or drink for 24 hours. As I was being marched to a truck, a tall Sikh P.O.W. came to attention, and gave me a very smart salute, which you would never expect now, but the pride of the British Empire was still great then.

We were taken to Benghazi. The camp there was huge and terrible. A large open hole in the ground was the sole lavatory, covered by flies and bluebottles. Dysentery was rampant, and a lot of prisoners were very ill. All P.O.W’s taken by the Germans, or the Italians were in the same camp, and were all P.O.W’s of the Italians.

Fortunately I was taken off to an Italian Destroyer. There, the naval officers made us as comfortable as they could, using the officers mess room for us to sleep on the floor. An Italian officer asked me to give him his monthly intravenous injection. I agreed to this, on condition that I would be allowed to visit all the other rank P.O.W’s in the hold each day, and use their meagre supply of medicines and bandages, as they were needed. One morning the Italian officer accompanying me on my daily visit, took me onto the main deck and said “There is your British navy”. There were many half sunk ships there. It was in Suda Bay in Crete. There, we took on a large number of New Zealanders. We then went through the Corinth Canal to the Adriatic, and landed at Taranto. After a short train journey, we arrived at Bari. The Officers were marched through the town to a transit officers camp. The crowds jeered and spat at us on the way.

The camp consisted of wooden huts, with beds close together. The hut I was in was mainly filled with New Zealand officers from Crete. They had all their kit, I had only the clothes I stood up in. It got very cold in January and February, I was the first one to be really lousy, having got the lice in Benghazi. During the three and a half months there, I had no change of clothes, one handkerchief, one sodden pair of desert boots, and one pair of worn out socks. There was just one blanket on our beds, and almost starvation diet, life was pretty miserable. There was nothing to read. Everyone mainly talked about food, particularly what you would like if you had one good meal. My choice was

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bacon, eggs, etc. I saw no actual physical brutality there, except for one officer shot dead on the direct order of the Commandant. Two officers had escaped the previous night through the double wire fence and had been recaptured. The Commandant had them paraded in front of the other P.O.W’s, and offered them freedom from punishment if they showed him how they escaped. They showed him the hole they made through the inner wire. While through the hole, he ordered a soldier to shoot them. One was killed and the other wounded. This was reported to the British Red Cross. After the war ended The Commandant was tried and then hanged.

In March, Aiden Duff arrived in our camp, from hospital, where he had been treated for a nasty chest wound. He had been weighed before leaving the hospital and was 9 stone. Normally he was over 15 stone.

We suddenly were told that we were being transferred to an other-ranks camp at Servigliano. We had one armed escort. We had to walk to the station. On arriving there we had great difficulty, in even lighting a cigarette, because we were very weak. We arrived at Porto San Giorgio the next morning. The escort carried some of our money, and we persuaded him to buy a large bottle of brandy and a huge cake. This was all finished by the time we got there. The escort got his share. We got a small train to Servigliano. The camp had a 20 foot wall around it, and it had been a P.O.W. camp in the Great War. Again the huts were wooden. We were installed in the Sick Bay and had five British Army orderlies. Two padres arrived, Neill Nye and Jim Mathieson. There were two bedrooms, one of which Aiden and I shared. The P.O.W.’s were largely regular soldiers and early conscripts, on the whole a good crowd. We were all lousy. The most common sight was men sitting outside their huts on a fine day, with their trousers in their hands inside out, burning the lice eggs in the seams, it was awful. The camp had no effective delousing apparatus. Bedbugs were endemic in the camp, they lived in the woodwork, they were foul creatures, and were a nuisance at night.

The food in the camp was very poor. The rations were extremely small, and if it hadn’t been for the Red Cross parcels, which came very intermittently to start with, the health of the officers and men would have suffered more. We never had any fresh fruit, there was no adequate vitamin C in the diet. The result was if the troops got a boil, or some skin lesion, which was very common, a boil would grow into a carbuncle in no time. They also got septicaemia very quickly. The only treatment we had was Sulphonamide, and we were only allowed to issue one tablet three times per day, until the stock got too low, then we could issue none. We had several cases of Appendicitis, I think eight in all, with one death. One chap, Sergeant Miller got a bad case of appendicitis. I got the Italian doctor who said he had to go to hospital straight away. I am not sure where the hospital was, but it was obviously a few hours away by ambulance. They dithered and did not get him away, he had obviously got peritonitis by this time, and was really very ill. I said his only chance was if I could do an Appendicectomy myself. He dithered, and said he would, obviously have to ask the Commandant of the camp, I was refused permission. They even put a sentry on, so that I could not go into the Sick Bay, and do anything for him. The poor chap was eventually moved to hospital, where I was told he died.

A few days later, I was brought in front of an Italian Court Martial for insulting the Italian army, and they said they were going to send me off for trial

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by criminal court and put me in prison, but they decided to give me two weeks confined to my barracks. This was ridiculous. I was confined to my room, sometimes there was a sentry outside and sometimes there wasn’t. I just nipped out through the window and had a wander around, then came back in again. I reported this to a Mrs Bromley Davenport, who was the person in charge of the Red Cross for Italy. I got a reply to say that these events had been noted, and would be dealt with at a later stage. Letters were sent to us which hinted what could happen one way or another about events occurring in the camp. At the end of the war I went to the Scottish Command in Edinburgh, and the Colonel said the Commandant had been arrested, and said was I prepared to go to the war crimes trial in Italy. Of course I was, I was flown to Italy just after the war, and how things had changed. We landed initially at Marseilles to refuel, and eventually made our way, ultimately by car, to Naples and Rome. We had one night in Rome, which was very nice, and then went on to where the trial was being held. Obviously it was the medical officers fault, and not the Colonel’s. No one was actually imprisoned, or anything like that. It was an interesting experience, and showed fair justice.

The men loved having a game of football. They were hearty, but not that fit. As a result there were several fractures, including one or two Potts. The first one had a Plaster of Paris applied, and having done quite a lot of fracture work at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, before the war, I decided to make a walking iron. I got one of the Italian soldiers to help. He was very proud that his father had known a British solider in the First War, and was always very obliging. He got a long piece of metal to make the walking iron, which was managed to bend and fix to this chaps plaster. A few days after this I was told by the Italian doctor, this was amazing, and he reported it to the Commandant and all the senior medical staff officers. I was asked to go with the soldier to an office, where about half a dozen senior Italian medical men were. At least one was a Brigadier, I think, and they had never seen a walking iron before, extraordinary. They were much impressed.

Aiden Duff and I got on very well indeed. We were completely contrary characters. He was quiet, pleasant, and with an equable nature. He had just qualified with no experience, and he was quite happy to let me be in charge of the sick bay. Initially, we had just two parsons. One was Neil Nye, very hearty and not very academic, but a very keen R.A.F [Royal Air Force] chap. The other was Jim Mathieson, who had been a Free Church minister brought up on Skye. He had a rather dour, but pleasant sense of humour, a charming character. Neil and he got on increasingly well, again totally different characters. The result was that, after the war Jim Mattieson became a member of the Church of Scotland, and was quite high church. Then a dental officer appeared, he was found to have been in my field ambulance, when he was captured. One day he said “Why are you looking so miserable?”. I said I wasn’t very happy here. He said “You are damned lucky, if you hadn’t been captured, you would have been put in charge of that company, and that company got a direct hit”. The new company commander and several other officers were killed, so that cheered me up a bit. We a bit of a party towards the end of our captivity, and I am afraid no one got on with him very well. He was very rigid in his views about everything, totally inflexible.

Morale in the camp was very low in 1942, particularly when Tobruk fell.

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50,000 British soldiers surrendered to the Germans. We thought we would probably win the war one day, but that might be years and years before that happened. Things cheered up when heard about the news that had filtered through about the invasion of Tunisia, and then, of course, the landing in Sicily, and then the advance into Italy proper.

Then suddenly, I can’t remember exactly when it was, about July, I think, 1943, the Italian government collapsed. Messages were sent out from the War Office to most camps, though we didn’t receive one, that there was an Armistice, and the Italians would protect us from any attack from the Germans. I thought this was quite absurd. Just after this our Regimental Sergeant Major, who was from the Irish Hussars, and was responsible for the internal discipline of the camp, came to see me. He literally broke down, saying he could not take responsibility now, and he needed an officer to be in charge, and the chaps thought I should take charge. I knew exactly what to do, and I was quite pleased to do this. I made enquiries, in the next day or so, from an Italian intelligence officer, who was a nice chap. He spoke good English, and I asked him what communications we, as a camp, had with the outside. He said there was no communication at all, so I said, the Germans could suddenly arrive, and he said yes. I had a Parachute Regiment escaping map, and I got one or two of the soldiers to make copies of the map, so it could be distributed around the camp. I told the sergeant major, to issue all the Red Cross parcels, and anyone wanting new boots, to get them, where possible.

In the last six months, we had quite a number of American soldiers, who were brought into the camp as prisoners. They had one of the huts. I told them the position, that they were combatants, and I was not, and I wanted their advice. I would leave them for five minutes, having told them the position, that we had no communication with the outside, and what would they advise us to do. They came back about ten minutes later, and I got the reply I feared I would. They said, we should go out ourselves on 24 hours notice. So I said “That just means we may stay here until the Germans arrive, that will be a bit late”. After a further chat, I said that in that case, we were going to leave the camp today, and I would go and see the Commandant, who was outside the camp wall. I wanted a sergeant and about fifty men near the gate, so that if I did not come back in half an hour, they would come and get me out. Once I was outside the camp, on my own, I could easily be arrested, and that would have been a bit more trouble. I went to see the Commandant, who was an old colonel. I said I wanted the gates opened, and he said rubbish, so after a bit of dramatic knocking and thumping his table, he surrendered to me, and said “All right, I will open the gates provided that you sign a document, to say you have taken full responsibility”. I said “Okay, I’ll do that”. I was a bit scared, because I knew that if I was recaptured, I would get a nasty time from the Gestapo. It was signed. There was a little firing at that time, before the gates were opened, our troops were getting a little excited, as were the Italian soldiers. The gates were opened an all the chaps were told to evacuate the camp. I forgot to mention, I did address them all before I went to see the Commandant, and told them what I was going to do. I decided I could not stand to be a prisoner of war any longer, and feared that most of them would end up as prisoners of war in Germany.

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I thought I would like to have the company of a British soldier. I chose an NCO [Non-Commissioned Officer], Corporal Jones. He was a corporal in the sick bay, who I thought might know a bit more about getting through a minefield, and that sort of thing, than ever I did. This was rather than going with Aiden Duff, who I didn’t feel had the absolute urgency to get away, as I had. He was retaken a few days later. I saw all the chaps out of the camp, we went with them. I left a greatcoat, and anything British like that, and just took a blanket. That was a great piece of equipment, you could use it as a tent, or to keep yourself warm. You could dry it in the sun when it was wet, and to me it was invaluable, as of course, was the Scotsman’s plaid in the old days. Howard Jones and I walked that night till late, and then just lay down and slept till nine or ten the next morning, awaking to children who were giggling and looking at us down on the ground. It was difficult to know what to do. I met several soldiers from other camps who had come back to be near the lines. The front line was the Sangro river, and that was about 100 miles south of us. When you got down there, the town peasants were too scared to give anyone any food, and it was a very difficult thing to have to circulate right round inland to get back to our lines, because of the minefields. Two armies had been locked trying to cross this river for something like six months.

I spoke to people moving from one village to another, but tried to find out some better way of doing this. The peasants were wonderful. The poorer a house you were in, the safer you were. They did take a big risk. We spent a few days in one peasant’s house near a village. The German troops had come into that village, searched it, and found a couple of prisoners of war in a house. They took the husband, wife, and their children straight to the centre of the village, and drowned them all in the well, as an example. This was an appalling state of affairs. Luckily, one day I met an Italian, an educated one and his name was Leno Papiri, and he had been very anti fascist. He said “I will guide you down to the coast and I will come with you to the coast, and then it is up to you after that”. We said fine. About that time, I was sitting in a cottage and I saw walking across a field opposite to us, a British officer and a soldier with him, his batman, and they came to the hut. They were fully armed and said “Is there a British officer living here?”. I said “Well I am”, and he said “We are SAS [Special Air Service] and we have landed to do a job”. I never asked them what it was. They also asked “Can you help get us out of this country?” I thought it was odd to ask me this. .Anyway, we joined up, they were fully armed and, of course, we were unarmed. I had lost my identity disc, and if I was caught, I would be treated like a partisan. There was no point in worrying about having armed chaps with us, we might as well risk everything. I gathered together about a dozen soldiers from around the area, who I thought were the type of men who were well disciplined, and told them that we were going to the coast, and if they wanted to come with us, I would lead them there.

We started off at 3 o’clock one afternoon. Leno stopped at a farmhouse at the corner of a crossroads, and knocked at the door, as he knew the owner. He welcomed us all in, sat us down, and gave us a good meal. During the meal, we suddenly heard a big lorry pull up outside, the Italian held up his finger for silence, and indicated for us to go to the next room. No one knocked at the door, they moved off and another one came. It was a convoy stopping at the

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crossroads. He then gave us a large bottle of crude brandy and we started walking. We walked all night, every now and then having to hide behind walls, when any patrols came past, because there was curfew, and you were liable to get shot up. I don’t know how far it was, but it was a long way. We had nothing to eat all night, but we had this bottle of brandy. We had short stops to have a swig out of it, passing the bottle around. Leno Papiri had to go back and said goodbye, and then we had a decision what to do. I hadn’t really thought it out very carefully. We walked to San Benedetto, and I was rather horrified that despite our scruffy and dirty appearance, several people passing, called us Inglesi soldiers. Most of the chaps hid up for the day. I got into the middle of the town, and it must have been several miles, as it was getting dusk, about 3 o’ clock and people were walking around the square. I had to take a slow and devious route to get there. I wondered what on earth to do, where we could find boats, and that sort of thing, it was impossible.

I heard an Italian walking past and he used one English word. I just tediously said to him, “Excuse me, can you help me, I am a British officer”. He said sure, he spoke with a broad American accent and he told me later he had been living in America. He had come over to Italy to see his family, and war had just been declared. In 1940, when the Italians joined the war, he was interned, and not allowed to leave. He was delighted to help us. I told him the position and he walked back with me, way up to the top of San Benedetto, and we collected the chaps, who walked back into San Benedetto in pitch darkness. We did not get there until midnight, so we had walked a long way in 30 hours. He had quite a small house, but he had a loft. His wife put some straw on the floor, and gave us what food they had. We just lay down, and I remember passing out. I was unconscious for at least 12 hours. One of the chaps showed me his feet, and there was no skin on them at all. Fortunately, my feet were very tough, but we had walked an awfully long way. We were told to keep quiet, and stay in the loft, which we did. They came to speak to us and said they were trying to make arrangements for us.

Eventually after about three, rather anxious days, as you can imagine in a German occupied town, the chap who had the house came and said he had everything arranged. “I have fixed it with the police”, who were more or less anti fascist by this time, “We will go off tonight”. Sure enough, he collected us all together. We went devious ways, over ditches and other things like that. One chap had a nasty fall, and cracked his head against a stone, and was very confused. He started to shout and say that he had to get out, and laid about us. He had to be silenced, and was dragged along. We could not afford to let German patrols know, we were wandering about the town, as there was a curfew. Eventually we got to the harbour. It was quite a nice harbour, with a pier and there were a couple of boats there, in the sea, not beside the harbour. They were both fishing boats, and there was quite a crowd of people waiting to be taken down to a territory occupied by the British army. A party of chaps went to the boats. They were obviously well organised and boarded the first boat, and soon after, the boat went. Then we said what about us, and the trouble was no one could work the engines. I asked all the chaps with me. There were other prisoners of war, apart from the ones who had come with me, also quite a few Italians who tried to escape, and no one knew how to work a diesel engine, until we got a 16 year old Italian boy who said he could do it, so we said fine. We

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rowed over to the boat. It was a small fishing boat. No one wanted to steer the thing, so I said “Alright, I’ll do it”. I had never done it before. It had a compass and a wheel, the engine started and went well, so off we went. First of all, we went east, for what I thought was a couple of hours, then we thought we would go south. We went south all night, and then suddenly at dawn, about 6:30am or so, I saw on the right a town. We were very near the coast. I woke up the S.A.S. [Special Air Service] officer, who was happily sleeping on the deck, as most of the other people were, and I said “What is that?”. He said “That is Pescara you silly fool, the Germans are sure to send out a patrol boat to us. The town is heavily occupied and it is only about 10 miles to the Sangro river, where there is a major battle going on”. We just kept plodding on south. Nothing came to us, except during the day, we had several planes swooping low down to us. They were Allied planes. We all took off our shirts and waved to them, so they would know not to bomb us, or shoot us up. As we came down further south, we suddenly saw gun fire going north across the river, and fire coming back. We realised we had got to the south of the Sangro river. We were obviously quite near the coast. We saw a village, and one chap said to land. I said no, as we didn’t know if the Germans had reoccupied it, and said we would go further south. We went down to the next village, which was obviously bigger, and this was Termoli.


At the quayside, was a British sergeant, in uniform. He helped us get ashore, and as I was going ashore, he said “You go with the Iti’s”. I said I was not an Iti, and I was allowed to go with the British soldiers. I was taken up to the officers mess, and this was the headquarters of the S.A.S [Special Air Service]. The C.O. [Commanding Officer] was a very nice chap. He asked if we wanted a drink, and we said yes. I was the only officer there. He got up, and got a bottle of beer, and gave me a glass of beer, a small glass, I think it was a cup. I was horrified by this tiny amount of drink, but I found out later that they were very short of beer, and he had borrowed a bottle of beer from the Sergeants mess. One of the young officers was looking at me and staring at my jacket. I said “Have I got something you would like?”. He said “I would love to have that jacket”. It was a dirty old Iti’s jacket. He said “I am going through the lines tonight, and it would be very nice to wear that jacket”. So I said you have anything you want, if you have the guts to go through the lines on a night like this. After that, I was asked to take a party of British soldiers, in a lorry to a place, roughly fifty miles south, where we would be put up for the night. We got to this town, I have forgotten the name, and I saw a place that was obviously the headquarters of a regiment, so I stopped the lorry and came to a house. It was the Officer’s mess of the regiment, and they were all properly dressed. I said “Excuse me, I’m sorry”. I told them my position, and they told me to come in. They were at dinner, and I was filthy dirty, scruffy, and felt very embarrassed, and also smelt dreadful. The CO [Commanding Officer] was charming, and invited me to have a meal, but I said I was sorry, I had all these chaps outside, who needed a drink and some food, and he told me where to go.

We went to this large palatial house, where we were given lots of clean blankets, and packets of cigarettes, which were very enjoyable. We were also given some food and drink, if I remember rightly; and slept that night with a wonderful feeling of complete freedom. We could lie there on a remarkably

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comfortable bed, when you had not had a bed for several weeks. It was a wonderful occasion, and I did not want to go to sleep, just lay there smoking, relaxed, and feeling absolutely wonderful. The next day, we got on to the lorry again, and drove right on down to Bari, where I asked to see someone about passing on some information. I had spoken to a lot of Italians about various things, including where there was a so called hospital, which they felt sure was a Nazi Gestapo headquarters. I had also been told the names of the German Regiments in the vicinity, and I had made a note of these things. I was taken for an interview with a chap who was from Edinburgh, and had been at my school, but about 10 to 15 years older than me. I actually got a bath there, and it was absolutely wonderful. I forgot to mention that before we were dispersed to various huts, we were all deloused, and showered, and given fresh clothes, so we felt better. It was wonderful to have a nice bath in the officer’s mess, and a nice meal, before passing on all the information. One bit of information he told me, was that at San Benedetto, the Air force had bombed a bridge, that was quite close to the chap’s house, where we had been staying. We said we had heard bombing, but had not seen a destroyed bridge. The next morning, I had another interview, and he told me “We have taken your word, and we have bombed that so called hospital, and the bridge has now been destroyed”. I was then despatched to the huts where the escaped officers were lodged, very primitive. We were there for about ten days. The boat that left San Benedetto before us was never seen again. What happened to it, nobody ever knew, but no survivors were ever found.

Later when we were to be embarked on a ship for home, I was put on a list for medical officers to do duties on the ship. I am afraid, I saw the CO [Commanding Officer] and said, I was quite prepared to look after ex prisoners of war, but not ordinary medical duties. It was an uneventful passage back home. We arrived at Liverpool without any fuss at all, on the way I got to know some of the officers. I got a warrant to go home to Edinburgh. It was wonderful to be back home again. Two days later I met Graham Warwick, who was ADS [?Army Dental Services] of the Airborne Division, and he asked me if I would be a surgeon in his division, but I turned it down. At that time, I did not have the nerve to do something like that, and I did not regret it either. I was sent for by the War Office, and had an interview there, and said I would like to be trained as a physician.

I went to Ketterick [Catterick] military hospital, which was under the command of an old friend of mine, Melville Arnott, who was a very outstanding physician, and later became the professor of medicine at Birmingham. I got the degree in three months, which is half the time it should have been, but I knew I would be going off to France before too long. Whilst I was there, I had an interesting week, I was sent to the Isle of Wight, where medical officers were trained to be the ships doctors on landing crafts. They were quite big landing craft, and you had to learn how to climb up and down the ropes, on the side of the boat. Also you were shown everywhere on the boat, where the sick bay would be, and so forth. One day in Ketterick [Catterick], I suddenly got a telegram from the War Office, telling me to proceed immediately to Portsmouth. I told the CO [Commanding Officer], and got a train, as soon as possible, to London and on to Portsmouth, where I arrived at about 9 o’clock in the evening. I reported to the officer in command, and then he said “Sorry all the medical officers have been put onto ships, and you will be in reserve”. The reserves for all types of units were stuck at a carefully guarded

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camp with wire netting all around it, and we stayed there hoping to goodness to get on a boat, and had three weeks of frustrated life there. After that, it was back to Ketterick [Catterick] for a very short time, and then I was posted down to Horsforth in Kent, then onto France. Life was very dull in that hospital, and I won’t bother to tell you about that.


We have come right to 1945 and the end of the war in Europe. I was put in command of a transit hospital in Lubeck, so I took part of my current hospital staff and went to Lubeck. We had taken over what appeared to be a sanatorium and we had to liaise with the Red Cross staff and move 10,000 ex inmates from Belsen and Buchenwald concentration camps. I mention this, because it is difficult to imagine how awful they were. They were, the so called fitter people from Belsen, in other words people who could obviously move. A lot of them couldn’t walk, and at least one hundred died in Lubeck. But anything to get them away from the concentration camps. I took some photographs of these really pathetic people, but I don’t know where they got to. They were in a little suitcase and I haven’t found that suitcase for years. You may find it one day. Some of them were lying there in bed, knees and hips contracted like pencils. You couldn’t straighten the legs at all, the joints were fixed. We didn’t know what they were dying of, we had no X-rays, or other facilities at this transit hospital, and just gave as good nursing as we could, with the help of the British Red Cross. A lot of female nurses came to help, and I was busy, not really doing medicine, but liaising with the Red Cross, to get these people over to Sweden. This was their sort of war effort, and they were going to rehabilitate them and nourish them up.

Towards the end of these six weeks, General Horrocks, who was the commander of the Ninth Corps, one day came to our camp. He came in his staff car, a tall handsome elegant looking devil, and came up to us and said “Your flag is upside down”. When we put up the Union Jack, I didn’t know which was the right way up. That was the only comment he made, he never said another word to me. He talked to the other officer about what they would use the transit hospital for later, and off he went. When the job was nearly finished, the Swedish doctor in charge, suggested that I should come over to Sweden for a holiday. I pointed out that I could not go to Sweden, because it was a neutral country, but I said, if I could have an invitation to visit the camps where the inmates were I would love to come. I managed to wangle this. I went to Corps headquarters, and spoke to the DDM, head of medical services, and I got permission from him in writing. I took John Eden with me, and that is how I met him, and we went over to Sweden. We had an absolutely wonderful time, they treated us like royalty. The first night, we had a dinner party, on arrival, there were the Union Flags and the Swedish flags at the end of the table. At about 10 o’clock they suggested it was time to go to the station, where the train would be waiting. We got into a sleeping car to take us to Stockholm, and the next morning the train arrived at about 7 o’clock. There was one solitary figure standing on the platform, with a top hat and a coat. I came up to him and saluted him, he said he was Baron Stornsedt. Every day in Sweden was fully occupied. One day

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the Baron took us up to the Royal Palace, and showed us all around. Another day a Swedish naval captain took us all around Stockholm by sea. We stopped at a beautiful hotel, right on the cliff side, where we had dinner at night. After this official visit, the Swedish doctor, who had been with us in Lubeck, invited us to stay with his wife and family at a tiny village, called Fairbacha. He and his wife had a nice little house there, and he even had a Union flag flying when we arrived. That was the sort of thoughtful thing they did, and they took us out in their sailing boat, every day for four or five days, going out to islands in the sea. He was a first class navigator. His wife had a baby, it was perfectly happy about five to ten miles out to sea in a small sailing boat, even though the water got a bit rough one day.

We went back to Germany by train. It was shortly after that I was demobbed.

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[Handwritten letter from Keith Killby]

Monte San Martino
28th May 2004
Dear Dr Millar,

Finally I can write to you to try to express my thanks and that of 2000 others for what you did 60 years ago.

I came ten days ago especially to take part in an exhibition concerning the Jews. For a few had been interned in the camp after us. I showed many groups of students around the camp, spoke at the closing session and in my almost forgotten Italian explained how the story of our escape should really be told.

When I had put up the plaque in 1993 to thank all Italians who had helped POW’s everywhere it reads 3000 had escaped as in a very authoritative book ‘A Strange Alliance’ it had said on one page that there were 337 POW’s in the camp but on the next that 1000 Americans had been in the camp. We, 25 SAS [Special Air Service], were the last to arrive. from Sardinia. Two weeks before the Armistice. (K.K. therefore concluded wrongly that the 337 POW’s should have read 3370).

I was in a barrack that was very near the back wall. After days of discussing what to do amongst ourselves and with the Italian guards I heard a noise outside the hut and found some of my SAS [Special Air Service] colleagues trying to make a hole in the wall who said they were going. I collected what I could and got in the queue. When the first SAS [Special Air Service] started to go out the Italian guards fired into the air, then the ?clearest order possible in Italian ‘Do not fire. Let them go!’.

Wrongly I had imagined that all the others had followed us through the hole when of course obviously all gates had been opened – thanks to your determination to defy the incredible stupid orders (perhaps initiated by Montgomery) which came down from MI5 [Military Intelligence] to all the camps which the O.C [Officer Commanding] of MI5 [Military Intelligence] refused to revoke until the day the Armistice was announced – too late to reach the camps!

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The only other Camp where the senior officer Colonel Hugo de Burgh defied the order and with the Italian officer ?engineered the exit of 600 officers. We have a book about them all try one of them and perhaps fifty individual accounts. De Burgh got to Switzerland but then returned to Italy to head up, until it’s closure, the Allied Screening Commission, set up by others hiding in Rome the day that Rome was liberated. It distributed a million pounds & hundreds of Alexandra Certificates to Italians who had helped POWs. (Many of our students have produced them from their family archives). Hugo de Burgh had a young A.T.S [Auxiliary Territorial Service] officer as his secretary – whom he later married. Lucy de Burgh has recently given us his diary showing how they had travelled – in immediately post war Italy – paying out large sums of money. Their son, also Hugo – was with his son on our first Freedom Trail which was opened by the Italian President Ciampi. Himself on the run through the lines with POWs.

Back to Servigliano. Though, then almost unknown, the S.A.S. [Special Air Service] were special troops who did rather mad things (I was only the Medical Orderly with them as I had volunteered ?as a parachutist.)

As I see it, it is probable that one or two of our W.O. [Warrant Officer] were putting pressure also on the Italians while you did the zeal and official work but possibly with your agreement, they started to make the hole in the wall. Though it is improbable that you remember it now, you agreed on their action for it would seem you were in contact with the S.A.S. [Special Air Service] as Giuseppe says you still have the silk handkerchief map which two S.A.S. [Special Air Service] (and R.A.F. [Royal Air Force] crew) were issued with!

I am so sorry that nobody had done the research at the Camp before – but then Giuseppe only found it when researching Bacchi.

In the annual report this year we put very little about Servigliano as we felt we could not tell the full story until Giuseppe [Millozzi]had presented his thesis and got his degree – which he has with honours.

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However it has often been mentioned – with photos before in previous reports and I will make copies to send you.

As I have said we have some 80 different books by & about POWs ‘on the run’ in Italy and some 200 manuscripts. They have been put in excellent order and listed by another Italian who got his degree with a thesis on POWs and Italians around Rome. The Imperial War Museum were sceptical about keeping out manuscripts together if the Trust decided – in future years – to offer them to it. Now having seen how well they are organised they have agreed they should be kept together and with them a list of the 80 books collected by the Trust.

I will write to you again when I have sorted myself out after 3 weeks in Italy. I am going on to the Trail at Rossono.

In war chance plays such a big hand. Though captured four times I felt I did not have a very dangerous war. I could not return ‘to my valley’ until 1961. Since then I have returned at least once every year.
Your action changed my fortune and future.
With grateful thanks
Very Sincerely
Keith Killby

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Copy of rough notes made at the time of K.K’s exit from Servigliano.

9th September 1943 (a.m.)

As I sat there I heard distant [word crossed out] but rowing cheering. I turned round and said ‘Is that it ?’. It was, the Camp was [word missing] towards the offices and a few guards were walking through [word missing] (of prisoners) that shook both their hands as their eyes sparkled so near to tears. The feeling inside me seemed to start from my stomach and then slowly work up and my whole body tingled. I had been there only 18 days, many 18 months some 28, what must they feel? The band was outside in the (blank ‘square’ but [word missing] probably the playing field outside the camp) and we all [word missing] [word missing] to where they were playing. After two numbers they came to [word missing] for which we had all been waiting – the National Anthems of The Allies – Canada, France, Poland, Russia, America and Britain. There were many strained faces and eyes that flickered as they heard tunes which spelt home and all it means some [word missing] [word missing] first time years.

The Scots of course were the first to have their own parade, the Cypriots and a combined British and Greek demonstration [word missing] by dances that looked so fatuous by being so similar to [word missing] reels. And the Poles played tunes the memory of which was too [word missing] for them before.

(Notes made on the left hand page after first visit back in 1961)

‘As the evening wore on our camp leaders tried to persuade the Italians to let us go. The Italians guaranteed to protect us from the Germans. We preferred to get out of the way & disregarded the instructions (followed in other camps which the Germans captured whole) from England to ‘stay put’. An Italian S.M. [Sergeant Major] telling us to keep calm – in his own excitement. The white on the hill that was oblivious to our joys as was the one [word missing] looked down on our capture (in Sardinia) had been of our [word missing]. Finally we made a hole in the wall (north east wall), and said we were going shots were fired. Italians ordered to fire and so we went off in the dusk. Many of us ill and quite out of training for hill climbing!

The crickets. The figures in the moonlight, odd parcels dropped. The awful strain of reaching the top of the next hill. (K.K. had bouts of malaria for over 2 months on arrival [word missing] Sardinia). It is too much for some. A fugitive in a foreign friendly land. 4 of us – 2 Americans and one other Englishman with T.B.

It continues with account of first entry to a house – of of the guards at the Camp and then the flood of food they brought to us. We had ended up just below San [word unclear, ?Giovanni] facing Monte San Martino.

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Dr John H.D. Millar M.B.E. [Member of the British Empire] 14th January 2003

First my apologies for not writing sooner to thank you for the excellent reception you gave to Giuseppe Millozzi and all the information you could recount to him. It will very much enrich his thesis and then be of great value for those who are interested in the history of the Camp at Servigliano.

My second apologies for sending you a copy of my letter to Howard Jones. I had intended to recount to you my memories on that vital though small part of our own history. Instead I am sending you the copy as once I started in on those memories I found myself going into more and more detail.

Like all P.W. Camps I expect when we arrived – on 26th August the Camp had many Medical orderlies and, fortunately, my malaria did not break out in the next two weeks. Several of us had caught it at a Camp in North Africa – near Algiers where it broke out while on the Depot Ship – for submarines – while there. I had to take some of the others to the sickbay and they could not come with us. Mine broke immediately I got out of the submarine and was too weak to paddle to the shore. It broke out again just before and after my fourth capture.

It may be that some of our N.C.O’s [Non-Commissioned Officer] were in touch with you and knew that you were desperately trying to get us released and perhaps you encouraged them to make a hole in the wall to put pressure on the Italians. Now having heard of your actions I expect there were others at gates or other possible exits trying to expedite the exit of us all.

I thought it was still daylight when I joined the queue to get out as soon as the hole was made but I remember (as in my notes at the time) how I wonder what the Italians thought with hundreds or prisoners walking past their houses in the dark. Next day we found at when they overwhelmed us with food and all the help they could possibly give us.

I have already explained to you about the Trust but since it began over a dozen years ago I have requested from the very many ex POW’s whom I have contacted any accounts that they have of their experiences especially while ‘on the run’. I understand from Giusseppe that one of your sons is putting

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together your papers and memoires. The Trust has here about 130 manuscripts, nearly 100 books written by or about POW’s ‘on the run’ in Italy. I have to summarise them all for the lists that have been made. At the moment they are being brought up to date by another Italian – from Naples – who used them to write his thesis two years ago – on POW’s and the Italians in and around Rome.

Two years ago an archivist from the Imperial War Museum came to see them and I think he and his No. approved as they have since stated that they would be pleased to have them on the terms we suggested that they should all be kept together in one section – that is to say the manuscripts, the books, where they have not got them already would go into the general library but a list of the books appropriate to the work of the Trust would be places with the manuscripts.

Only last year I was able to show the son of an Air Vice Marshall other photos of his father that he had not seen. Another time the granddaughter of a former Mayor of Rome sent me a photo of 3 British Officers (not succeeding to look Italian but very British men out for a stroll.) whom she and her parents had met in the hills. I linked the little she told me that she could remember and sent it to a Trust supporter who had never seen the photo. Another time a supporter – the daughter of a POW asked if anyone had met her father ‘Ginger Davidson’. A quick reply – to our Annual Report – came from a now retired General with a photo of him and other POW’s with partisans.

An obviously not very rich woman has sent £5 every year though I have been unable to give her any information of her brother who was in Servigliano. All I could do was to assure her that the Italians would have helped him as they helped all of us. I have not told her that five POW’s were shot not far from MSM (Monte San Martino) by fascists or Germans and the nearby nuns came out to bury their bodies. But of course he may have died miles further on. He could have been the very frightened individual that I found hidden in a cave near us at Monte San Martino but whom I could not persuade to come out and walk down with us.

Obviously I could go on for a long time. Let me however finish by thanking you very sincerely for the action you took which enabled some 2000 of us to escape and to witness the spontaneous generosity and courage of the Italians. Though I was to end up in Germany I had that experience which greatly enriched my life.

I would ask you to discuss with your son and daughter about the possibility of enriching our archives by adding to them your story.

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Monte San Martino Trust Reg. Charity 328352

Hon, Secretary Stephen Sims
Chairman of Trustees Brian Gordon Lett 
Correspondence Secretary Cav. Uff J Keith Killby OBE [Order of the British Empire]

Mr. Howard F. Jones, 12th January 2004
Dear Howard Jones,
Though we were both in close proximity within the walls of Servigliano Camp over sixty years ago and were both parachutists and Medical Corps I do not think that we met.

Your name has been given to me by Dr Millar via a young Italian who for his thesis – on POW’s and the Italians in the Marche – has been doing much research over here and found a small piece of paper in the archives of the Records Office at Kew. It gave the name of Dr Millar.

The Italian student has since been up to see him and heard his account of the exit of all us from the Camp thanks to the action of the Dr Millar.

We – some two dozen SAS [Special Air Service] were only in the camp for two weeks having been brought over from Sardinia where we had been to make diversionary raids on Sardinia just before the big landings in Sicily. Though I think we SAS [Special Air Service] were scattered around in various huts most of us were in what I call the top right hand corner of the camp. After, as I suppose we all did, arguing with the Italians and amongst ourselves I remember hearing a noise behind our hut and went out to find some of my colleagues making a hole in the wall. They said they were going. (The scar in the wall is still visible today.) I got in the queue and when some of them started to go out the guards fired – but into the air. Immediately a very clear order was given in Italian ‘Do not fire. Let them go’. Stupidly I had thought everyone had followed us out though the hole. Of course now I realise first that that order was really given by Captain Millar and most probably spoken by the interpreter who had been both putting pressure on the Camp Commander to let us go.

I also remember that it was suggested we made for Campobasso – of which of course we had never heard. Having stumbled weakly (still suffering from malaria which had knocked me out as soon as I got out of the submarine to land on Sardinia) during the night up to near Monte San Martino. After then days of recuperating and discussing with the [word unclear] [word unclear] [word unclear] the area, I set off with

[Digital Page 26]

(cont. from letter to Howard F. Jones)

two Americans and one English, whom we soon lost as he said he did not feel well – we thought he had found a good home where the daughter was the main attraction. From the very first morning we were plied with food and anything else the very poor people thought we needed – if they had it. We scrounged a map out of a school book which gave us with the help of the sun and the stars the direction to Campobasso. I could not return to the area and Italy generally until 1961. I asked a woman where two families lived below Monte San Martino explaining that they had helped me when we escaped. She replied that she had helped POW’s. I explained that there very many of us and everyone had helped us. She scrutinised me further and then said one was a ‘sanitario’ who spoke Italian. (I had tried to learn it from a book on the submarine to Sardinia and then acted as interpreter to s when captured. When I confessed that it could have been me she agreed and said that once I had asked her the name in Italian for a bandage she had replied Fascia – so I said I did not want to learn that as it was too near fascismo.

After some five weeks the two Americans and I were captured near Agnone and asked by the Germans why we were still in uniform – which I took as a hint if there was another time. Pleaded that the other two were ill – partly true I with my Red Cross armband and they were put into a private house at Agnone but on the second floor with three German medics whom I chatted up. (I had worked for three days for German wounded in the desert when captured temporarily and Rommel had come through our camp and learnt some German at school).

I pointed out the French window next to the ‘loo’ on the half landing to the two Americans and told them to go regardless of others if they got the chance. With Germans snoring on either side of me I woke at midnight, swung my feet into my waiting boots and crept down the creaking stairs, got on to a balcony, but it was too high so on to another and then away. Hidden in a barn for the next day of rain I as fed by a family and found clothes which did not fit my over large body and was hidden in a wood by day where the Germans came in the hope of finding a pig. It was too dangerous for the Italians helping me and I moved nearer the front hearing three guns firing and then only two I made for where I believed the other had been. I needed shelter for the night and was given it by the poorest family I had met. Moved out early and then finding a crevasse in the hillside too steep and weak with malaria I carried on and hit the last German patrol. My boots (no size 12 in Italy then) gave me away. I sat all day with the last German patrol shivering with malaria. I could see the windscreens of our troops on the hills opposite across the Biferno with Campobasso behind them. Montgomery waited another three days before advancing by which time I was in Rome’s notorious civilian prison.

As I am sending a copy of this letter to Dr Millar I have given all the detail as I expect it was he who suggested we made for Campobasso and that I nearly made it. I spent 18 months in Germany improving my schoolboy German and learning Russian from a Russian.

Now here comes the important question. Have you written your own account ? If so we would very much like a copy for the archives of the Trust.

The Trust in just over a dozen years has given some 250 Bursaries to young Italians from all parts but especially the Marche and Abruzzi in which areas many thousands were helped.

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[Handwritten note] File Dr Millar
21st January 2004
Dear Keith Killby,
Thank you very much indeed for your MOST interesting letter and booklet. I am enthralled by your personal account and stories from other ex-POWs! We must all be getting old in the tooth but now I feel much younger…

It was sad to read that your freedom was curtailed by ill health. Next time you must try and take a doctor with you.

Dr Derek Millar will surely give you a far more authoritative, thrilling and detailed account of the activities in Campo 59 at the collapse of Italy than I dare. He may tell of our peripatetic wanderings around San Vittoria, Ascoli, Piceno and San Benedetto… how he jumped out of a farmhouse window during a terra moto… prescriptions given on toilet paper for grateful tomato-bearing villagers and lots more, but probably he will not mention escaping piglets….

I went into the bag after a parachute drop outside Tunis in ’42 and was sent to CG59 via Capua CG66. Re-joined Allied lines in late ’43. Taken prisoner again at Arnhem ’44. Imprisoned at Neubrandenburg. Avoided Russian ‘release’ but was recaptured wearing some German uniform. Later released. Walked to the American lines on the Elbe.

I would liked to have re-visited the Marches and Abruzzi but the War/Colonial offices persuaded me to join the Kenya Police.
Very Best Wishes,

[Signature Frank Howard Jones]
P.S Should you see Dr Millar – avoid playing cards he’s just too good…
Where are the watch towers on the Servigliano wall ?
All through the night “Sentinella Nove – Alerta?”
“Alerto Sto” Et lal…..

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Dr John H.D. Millar, MBE [Member of the British Empire] 15th August 2004

As I will explain I had the intention of writing to you in a week or two to suggest that we might meet for lunch in Scunthorpe in the autumn.

However I have just heard the excellent news that your son is going out to Servigliano and also that you are sorting out your account of the time when we escaped. To my surprise I was able to get to Italy in May and June but I do not think that I shall be making it for the ‘vendemia’ this year – in the ‘60s I usually went and was found to be quite useful as I could pick the grapes that grew from small tree then without steps – which my usually much shorter Italian friends needed.

When I went in the summer I was escorted to check out by an Italian student who was staying here and met at the other end by Giuseppe’s father. Then after two weeks taken by him and a Napolitanian I have known, as Giuseppe, since his teens up to north of the Marble Mountains at Carrera where our Chairman’s father led a very effective international group of partisans.

It would have been a great pleasure to show your son around the Camp but I am sure Giuseppe can tell you everything I know as he for some twenty years often heard me recount my experiences there – as I did this year in conjunction with a special exhibition in the Town Hall.

Tell your son to confirm that there are still visible shards of glass on tops of the walls which was, as I am sure you remember, the normal way, in this country too to inhibit ‘climbers over’. For one error however I ought to explain. He will find a plaque that I placed at the gate to the Camp some 15 years ago. On it it say that 3000 Allied POW’s escaped. At that time one of the few books that had just been published which gives an overall picture had talked a little about Servigliano and it said on one page that there were 398 POW’s and then the next page that among those who escaped from the Camp were 1000 US. POW’s. So I presumed the first figure wrong, but I had walked down and through the Abruzzi with two Yanks. The whole reason and message on the plaque is to remind the young Italians of the day we were all so marvellously helped by ‘The Italian people of the countryside’.

I think Giuseppe has shown you the several photos I took of the camp when I first went back in ’61 but two of them are in the booklet which I enclose. A couple of years later I took – what was then a

[Original letter ends here]

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