Summary of Dan Ranfurly
An extract from ‘To War with Whitaker’ by Countess Ranfurly, which describes her husband’s escape to the Allied lines. The Earl of Ranfurly was held in a prison camp at Vincigliato north east of Florence with Ted Todhunter and others when the Italian Armistice was announced on 8th September 1943. Prisoners were moved to a monastery at Camaldoli by an Italian General to hide them from the Germans.
The Allied Advance did not materialise and Ranfurly stayed for four months at Rio Salso with Rudolph Vaughan and others. This story is marked by the informative details of Italian peasant life, the people he met along his escape route, and life on the run. The extract is © The Estate of Countess Ranfurly.
The full story follows, in two versions. The version in the first window below is the original scanned version of the story. In the second window below is the transcribed version in plain text.
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Account of Earl – Dan Ranfurly. (Extract from ‘To War with Whitaker’ by Countess Ranfurly.
See also ‘Neame’s ‘Playing with Strife’ and ‘ Orebaugh’s ‘The Consul’. Ranfurly captured with Neame and O’ Conner with them and other H. Ranks in P. Camp and on same as Orebaugh to escape from Tenna River’s mouth. The Commanding General in Florence, at the Armistice got them all of Castello Vincigliata and away into the hills, hidden and helped in Monastries by monks. When the Generals plus Air Marshall Boyd get away by sea (with the help of Ferguson – sent back for them – and Spooner) the remainder are helped again by Cagnazzo, a Jew, who had helped them and gone with them with his life by boat and 10 others, returned to help them get away also by boat. Good description in ‘The Consul’. Towed into Ortona Harbour by fishermen.
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[Handwritten notes by Keith Kilby]. Lord Ranfurly’s capture in desert with Generals O’ Connor & Neame and then escape through hills of Italy after Armistice and away by sea 1943. From “To WAR with WHITAKER” by Countess Ranfurly.]
[Printed title] What Next?
15th May 1944 Algiers
When Dan arrived he looked thin and drawn. Only a few things he does clue me how, for months, he has been living; he smokes his cigarettes down to the tiniest stubs so they nearly burn his finger-nails; he spreads his butter on bread or toast so that you can hardly see it; and when we switch on the radio for news he leaps up automatically to turn it down. So many things we have grown used to are a surprise to him – jeeps and so on.
When we talk there is much he does not know about and cannot easily follow. For two and half years he got only the news we wrote in parables, or Italian propaganda. And for the last ten months he has been out of touch with the war and the world – hiding in the mountains under terrible conditions.
Yesterday we went to the General’s house to say goodbye to John Combe and Ted Todhunter who were being flown to England. Then we went to the NAAFI [Navy Army and Air Force Institute] to buy socks and shoes and other kit for Dan. When he arrived his clothes were almost rags. Even in rags Dan looks elegant.
Today I returned to the office and felt surprised to find the war is still going on. General Jumbo was very kind. He said that I could have indefinite leave to go to England with Dan and
that I could come back to my job afterwards. General George Clark wrote a paper to this effect:
The Countess of Ranfurly, PA [Personal Assistant] to the Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean Theatre of Operations, accompanied by her husband, The Earl of Ranfurly, a recently escaped Prisoner of War from Italy, is visiting the United Kingdom on leave. It is required that she may, with her husband, be accorded facilities to return AFHQ [Allied Forces Headquarters], BNAF [British North Africa Force], on conclusion of her leave.
(Sd) J.G.W. CLARK, Lieutenant General,
Chief Administrative Officer. AFHG [Allied Forces Headquarters]
We dined with the General and toasted the French and General Juin who have cut the Gustav Line in Italy. General Jumbo leaves for Caserta tomorrow. I am to hand over to Jean Thompson of the ATS [Auxiliary Territorial Service] who will do my work while I am away.
16th May 1944 Algiers.
After dinner Dan told me how he got captured (1). Whitaker came and sat with us to listen to the story:
When General Neame took over command of Cyrenaica you’ll remember that the Abyssinian war was still going on and that General Jumbo was taking an Expeditionary Force to Greece.
We were left to hold Cyrenaica with the 9th Australian Division, an Indian Motor Brigade and part of General Gambier-Parry’s Armoured Division. We were short of everything. General Neame always thought the enemy would attack and that this time there might be Germans to reckon with. I think I wrote and told you that General Wavell and General Dill, then CIGS [Chief of the Imperial General Staff], flew up to discuss this in March.
On the 1st April the enemy launched an attack on our slender forces at Agheila. By April 6th we had fallen back.
The Australian Division was holding a defensive position on the escarpment east of Barce and the Armoured Division were swinging back on the El Abiar—Mekili Axis before
[Footnote]: (1) I wrote down Dan’s story in shorthand then typed it out later for his Mother.
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German armoured thrusts in the south. The Indian Motor Brigade was at Mekili. At our Operational Headquarters at Maraua it was exceedingly difficult to keep abreast with the situation as we only had one wireless set, so on the morning of April 6th General Neame and I went over to the 9th Australian Headquarters to see General Morshead. Later we looked for General Gambier-Parry but he was on the move and we failed to find him. It was very hot and our car boiled incessantly. At six-thirty we arrived back at Maraua where General Dick O’Connor and Brigadier John Combe were waiting anxiously. We tried again to telephone our Rear Headquarters at Derna Aerodrome and to get the Armoured Division on the wireless but they were both moving and we failed to contact them. While we were eating bully, General Morshead came in with a bottle of whisky; he was cheerful as ever and said his Division was packed up and ready to move.
At eight-thirty that night we left Maraua and set out for Temimi. General Neame drove his car and took General O’Connor, Brigadier Combe and a driver with him. I followed with two soldiers and all the kit in a Ford Mercury van. I had to drive like hell to keep up with the General. We were stopped many times by traffic blocks on the road and it took two hours to reach Giovanni Berta. A Military Policeman directed us off the main road on to a desert track which bypasses Derna. The dust was awful and there was an immense amount of traffic. After an hour, when we were held up for several minutes, I got out of the van and walked forward to the General’s car. John Combe climbed out to talk to me and just as we met we heard a man shouting. It was very dark and we could see nothing. Suddenly a figure loomed out of the blackness and the next thing I knew was that he had stuck a Tommy gun at my middle. He shouted something incomprehensible and then more figures appeared. They were Germans. I heard John Combe whispering to the Generals in the car to get down on the floor and take their badges of rank off. More Germans came and ordered the others out of the car. They herded us all into a nearby hollow We found a lot more British there. We were surrounded by machine guns on fixed lines and guarded by sentries armed with Tommy guns. When anyone moved tracer bullets sprayed in every direction; it was impossible to escape.
All through the night we stayed there praying that the Australian Division, which was behind us, would come along. When dawn came we saw that we had been ambushed by a
small German column with a few tanks, armoured cars and half-track vehicles and several hundred men. For three nights we stayed in that hollow. On the third day we were taken in trucks to Derna and handed over to the Italians. When the Generals’ identities were discovered they were told that they would be flown to Europe at once. That night we plotted to take the plane over in mid-air. General O’Connor would take an airman as ADC [Aide de Camp] and General Neame would take me. We reckoned that if the whole party went in one plane there would not be room for more than four guards and that once we had disposed of them we could force the pilot to hand over the controls. We rehearsed our plan from all angles taking into consideration every possible seating arrangement on the plane. We had one revolver which was strapped to a very private part of General O’Connor’s anatomy. My job was to knock out one of the guards. It was exciting waiting.
When the dawn came an Italian officer told us that only the Generals would go by air. Our plan had failed. The Generals went off that morning and the rest of us were put in trucks, twenty in each, and taken to Bengazi. We remained there a week in appalling conditions. Forty or fifty officers were crowded into each small hut and not allowed out for anything. There were no washing arrangements and we were given a dog biscuit and a tin of bully between two of us a day. We were terribly thirsty as they gave us practically no drinking water. We all got dysentery. The Italians would do nothing for us unless the Germans were around. At the end of a week we were put into rows and rows of Fiat lorries. Nigel Strutt, who had lost an eye and was lame, came with me. We drove for five days and were not allowed off the trucks for anything, except at night when we drew up and lay down on the ground. We became quite numb from being jolted and cramped and from getting so little to eat and drink. We were taken to Subrato, twenty miles beyond Tripoli, and put in prisoner of war cages. We were given two plates of soup a day and became very weak. The Italians treated us abominably; they even stole things off the prisoners. I reported this and was sent to the orderly room. The Camp Commandant gave the thieves six months and me two packets of cigarettes; he delivered the sentence lying in bed.
After ten days at Subrato we were put on a train and taken to Tripoli. Our men were locked in trucks with the windows damped down – forty in each truck. It was terribly hot. We
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were marched five miles from Tripoli to the docks and put on a ship. Much to our surprise we were given first class cabins and good food and were allowed on deck for exercise. A German officer came every day, clicked his heels, and offered us cigarettes. In three days we reached Naples. We were taken across the town in buses. I became ill on the slow journey north and had the utmost difficulty in marching five miles from the station to Sulmona prison camp. That was the bloodiest month I ever spent.
Whitaker and I stared at each other in horror as Dan talked in his straight, non ostentatious way.
19th May 1944 Arundel Castle
Great news: we have captured Cassino. The Poles took Monastery Hill. How marvellous and how brave. It must have been a hideous struggle. I hope General Anders is all right.
Today Dan and I drove down the steep twisting road to the docks and threaded our way past iron derricks and great wharfs to the Master of the Port’s hut where a launch lay alongside. We chugged out past a French destroyer and a hospital ship to the Arundel Castle. Nearby lay the Altmark, a Swedish ship just back from Marseilles carrying some 850 British wounded prisoners of war who are repatriated.
From the boat deck we saw many ships lying inside the submarine net, their balloons straining lazily on their cables The white houses of Algiers rise steeply above the harbour and we picked out our cottage high on the hill. It looked the size of a cigarette box. After boat drill in life-belts and a quick lunch we stayed on deck and watched Algiers and the forest disappear.
Out at sea we joined twelve large liners and a destroyer escort.
This ship is crowded with a great many Italian prisoners who are being taken to England to work as a Pioneer Corps: some survivors from a ship which sunk off Algiers recently, British soldiers going home on leave or being retired; two murderers who are returning to do ‘life’; and a considerable and very nice crew. The Captain told us it will take about a week to reach England – he is making a great detour in the
Atlantic for reasons he explained. I am anxious to reach home in time for the great day but can’t share this impatience with anyone.
Dan and I spend most of our time in our tiny single cabin which has two bunks and only enough floor space for one to stand at a time. Everywhere else on the boat is overcrowded and noisy – the Italians sing and play their mouth organs all the time, poor devils. At night when the ship is blacked out it is incredibly hot but Dan and I are sublimely happy. I try not to think about the Atlantic, the Empress of Britain and Toby… Our Steward advised us to sleep in our clothes.
Today Dan told me of his escape and I wrote it in shorthand and then typed it out on my portable typewriter to show his Mother:
On the evening of 8th September 1943 we were playing bridge when the Italian Commandant came into the castle and told us that an Armistice had been made with the Allies. We were all terribly excited. Early next morning General Neame saw the prison Commandant and demanded that the sentries be taken off the walls and the gates opened. The Commandant refused to do this but after an argument consented to face them outwards in case the Germans should come; he also agreed to get in touch with the Commanding General in Florence at once. By this time we had fetched money from our secret hiding places and collected all the stores and civilian clothes we could muster. Later in the day the Commandant returned to say that the Commanding General had ordered that we should remain in the camp but we were on no account to fall into German hands. We at once made plans with the Commandant so that we could block the main entrance if the Germans came and escape by a ladder which was placed against the battlements. At dusk Ted Todhunter and I pushed our way out of the camp, past the sentries and listened to the BBC news in the guard room – the first time we had heard it for years. That night we hardly slept at all, the suspense was devastating and the Italian sentries reported movements of big convoys of vehicles through Florence and the valley below us. We watched from the tower of the castle.
On the 10th the Commanding General in Florence sent
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two lorries to take us to his Headquarters. We wore our British uniforms; our haversacks were filled with escape rations and our few civilian clothes. As we came into Florence people crowded the streets and cheered us. Perhaps they thought we were the vanguard of the British Army.
German Officers were driving about in their staff cars. We still had a guard, an armed Italian Officer and a Sergeant in each lorry. On arrival at Italian Headquarters Italian Officers and German liaison Officers craned out of the windows to see us.
The General said that he had been given orders that we were not to fall into German hands and that he was to defend Florence against the Germans. As he had no troops, arms or ammunition and there were two German columns within half an hour of the city the only thing he could do was to send us south by train. He asked if we had any money or civilian clothes and was astounded that we had both: he had searched the castle so regularly for them.
We drove to the station, dumped our kit on the platform and began to change into our civilian clothes. The Italians on the station thought this was a great joke. They locked the gates in case the Germans should arrive and swapped our uniforms for some of their clothes. Cigarettes and chocolates were bartered for caps and coats. I got an old tweed coat and a ticket collector’s cap for a hundred cigarettes By the time we had finished we looked an extraordinary sight. The train took two hours to arrive. Waiting was terrible.
Our first stop was Arezzo where the Italian Commander had been given orders to meet us. He told us that the Germans had cut the railway line at Chiusi a few miles to the south and we could go no further by train. We asked him to find billets for us in neighbouring farms but he piled every difficulty in the way. The Germans were so close his one idea was to be rid of us. After an hour or more of useless argument an officer rushed into the room and said that the Prefect of Fascist Police
the Italian was outside. The Commandant nearly died of fright. Before any of us could do anything the Prefect came in. He said he knew who we were. There was an uncomfortable silence and then he said he had come to help us He was immensely practical and in a few minutes he had made a plan.
He said we must hide till dusk when he would send transport to take us to a monastery in the mountains. The monks would hide and feed us. We walked out through the streets of Arezzo in small parties. Three miles down the main road we turned off into the fields which, at that time, were high with Indian
corn. We spent an uneasy afternoon wondering whether the Fascist would betray us.
At seven o’clock we cautiously approached the rendezvous and were all surprised to find trucks waiting for us. We piled in and started off along the main road from Arezzo to Bibbiena where we branched off into the mountains. At the Monastery of Camaldoli we were given a genuine welcome by white Benedictine monks who had prepared us a huge meal, and comfortable rooms. Though the monastery was high up in the mountains it was easily accessible from two directions so General Neame arranged a system of watches from positions where traffic could be spotted some minutes before it arrived. Night time was, of course, the most dangerous and I for one felt very uneasy all the time we were at Camaldoli. Ted Todhunter discovered a Dutch Baron who lived with his English wife about three miles down the road and he and Dick O’Connor went every day to listen to the news on their wireless. Soon we realised that the Allies were not advancing as fast as we had been led to expect by the BBC. Meanwhile more and more German convoys moved along the valley below the monastery. We decided to go further into the Apennines, away from roads and communications.
On September 14th four Generals went to the Monastery of Eremo further up the mountain to keep some contact with the outer world. The rest of us walked over the watershed and down into Romagna. A monk called Don Leone, who had a flowing beard and twinkling eyes and carried in his haversack a flask of the strongest wine, guided our party over precipitous barren country to some poor farms on a windy ridge. We all slept in a tiny schoolhouse. It was a terrible climb for Brigadier Armstrong who has a game leg. There was not enough food for our large party to live in that miserable village so we dispersed in small parties and stayed in rich farms over a district of ten miles. The Generals from Eremo joined us. Someone had betrayed them and they only just escaped from the monastery before the Germans arrived.
The news they brought was dismal. The Germans were strongly reinforcing Italy, the possibility of the country falling into Allied hands quickly was gone. We must prepare ourselves to make our way south on foot. Somehow we must keep out of German hands until we could get more concrete news of the military situation.
General Neame and I went to live in a village called Segatina which was typical of most of these mountain
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villages. A jumble of grey broken down houses lay along a bare ridge below steep wooded mountains. Each house was one storey high and the ground floor was divided between the kitchen and cowsheds. To our English way of thinking the houses were filthy. There were no sanitary arrangements of any kind. A nearby path on a steep slope had for centuries been used as a rubbish dump and local lavatory. Flies abounded. Several families lived in each house, all of them worked on the land. Every inch of the hillside was ploughed and terraced. Most families owned two oxen and in the village street were some chestnut trees which were highly valued. Our hosts, the Rossis, owned some beehives and so were richer than the other villages. Their house had a large kitchen with a deep fireplace over which hung a copper pot on a long chain. The fire was kept smouldering by putting one end of the branch of a tree in it, the other end stuck out into the room. The furniture was home made; the food was either soup with macaroni or spaghetti. On Sundays and Feast Days we sometimes had rabbit or even a chicken. General Neame and I were often hungry. In the house where Air Marshal Boyd lived they had polenta frequently – this is made from the flour of Indian corn. It was poured on to the table and a few odds and ends such as tomato and scraps of meat were spread on top of it. Then the whole family sat round with a fork apiece and ate their way to the middle.
When our village learned that the Germans were at Eremo they became frightened so we moved out into the woods where we built two huts of fir branches. Eight of us slept in each hut. During the day we went to the village to get meals. On the 29th September, when we had just sat down to eat, villagers reported that lorries had arrived on the timber road a mile away. We left hurriedly, and climbed the path on the opposite face of the hill to the road and lay down and waited.
We watched a party of men crossing the flooded stream in the valley. When they reached the path below us we saw they were Germans. It was pouring with rain. They squelched heavily through the mud loaded with packs and carrying light automatics. We crept back into the woods and before we had gone far we heard machine guns in the village. When night fell some villagers arrived with food for us. They told us we had been betrayed but the Germans had shot no one, they had only fired at some younger men who ran away.
It was no longer safe for us to remain at Segatina so once more we set out in search of shelter. We decided to remain in
the same district because we had got in touch with an agent who had recently come from the British lines, and with a political organisation of anti-Fascists who supplied us with money, clothes and boots and had a clandestine wireless. We had hardly reached Rio Salso when a message arrived saying an agent had come to help the Generals escape. He had a rendezvous with a submarine on the Adriatic coast seventy miles away in three days’ time. The three most senior officers, General Neame, General O’Connor and Air Marshal Boyd set off at once to make the attempt on foot and by bicycle after making hurried plans for the rest of us to remain where we were till the agent came back for us.
For the next four months I stayed at Rio Salso. Sometimes I slept in a barn belonging to Nereo Bertazzoni who lived with his family and niece Theresa in the ‘Palace’, otherwise I slept in the house of a poor widowed woman who lived opposite to Nereo. The Bertazzoni family were wonderfully kind to me. They always fed me. When food was short Theresa gave me a double helping because she said I was twice as large as they. Often there was nothing to eat. On one occasion she killed the cat which we ate with considerable pleasure. Its skin was sold for one hundred lire. Once a week the family went to market some eight miles away over the mountains. They always bought some little luxury for me such as a packet of cigarettes. My life became bound up in the pattern of the village. We breakfasted off bread, and coffee made from acorns or barley. The morning was whiled away talking to the villagers or helping with baking or washing. There was always a rumour to discuss which had gained fantasy as it travelled round the mountains. We lunched off soup and bread and then I would walk over to one of the neighbouring farms to discuss plans with the Generals. At dusk we supped off bread and sometimes a bit of rabbit. On the 5th November we were told the agent had come back for us and we walked for fourteen miles over the mountains only to find it was a false alarm. Imperceptibly we found ourselves in the grip of winter. Snow came and it was no longer possible to cross the mountain passes. We settled down to wait for the spring.
Time seemed to stand still.
A band of Partisans had formed in the neighbourhood. They were of all nationalities, Italians, Poles, Yugoslavs, a few German deserters and some fifty escaped Russian prisoners. They roamed the mountains, looting the peasants’ dwindling stocks of food, stealing their beasts and making
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raids on the towns in the valleys and plains. They murdered Fascist garrisons and officials. No quarter was asked or given on either side. They spent most of their time looting. The Russians, though professed Communists, always refused to share their loot. At the end of January the Anzio landing took place and the Germans brought their troops into Italy from Greece. On their way to Anzio one battalion was detained at Forli to deal with our particular band of Partisans. Someone warned the Partisans to clear out of the district, but no one warned us. On the night of 29th January I was asleep in the widow’s house when she woke me saying there was a crowd of people outside her door. I got out of bed, dressed and tiptoed downstairs. German officers were in the kitchen, their maps spread out on the table. I crept to the back door; Germans were smoking on the step. I went back to my room and opened the window. More Germans were lolling against the wall beneath, I was terrified for the widow and her three daughters. If I was found I would be retaken prisoner but they would be shot. There was nowhere to hide so I got back into bed where my tallness would be less noticed.
The women were wonderfully brave. They talked to the Germans and every now and then one of them came upstairs to tell me what was happening. After what seemed an eternity I heard sharp German words of command, the shuffle of soldiers’ feet and the metallic clanking of equipment and weapons. I lay stiff wondering whether they would come upstairs. They went out into the street and started to move off in single file. There were about three hundred of them and by the time the last one had left it was too late for me to warn the other farmhouses. All night we watched and waited.
When dawn came Rudolph Vaughan and I filled our pockets with bread and climbed to a ridge where there was plenty of cover so that we could watch the neighbouring valleys. We saw squads of Germans moving about in single file. Shouts echoed up and down the valley with occasional bursts of light automatic. All day we watched. When night came we returned to Rio Salso. As we approached the village we saw the German column winding up the valley towards us. We hid in thick scrub. To our relief they did not halt at the village but pushed on over the pass out of the valley. The German expedition had been unsuccessful; no one had been killed and only two British soldiers taken prisoner. Some of the Generals spent an unpleasant day with Germans in their houses; John Combe had been fired at but escaped. For the
next two or three weeks I stayed in a lonely barn on the hillside two miles away. The nights seemed very long, and were exceedingly uncomfortable until Nereo managed to buy me some poison to kill the rats and mice that swarmed there.
All our plans waited on the weather. It was not until the beginning of March when the thaw came that Rudolph Vaughan, John Combe, Ted Todhunter, Guy Ruggles-Brise and myself set out on our long trek south. Two young officers who had been with the Partisans during the last few months came with us; they were John Kerin, a big burly Irish Sapper, and Jack Reiter, an American air force officer who had baled out of his plane over Foggia and dislocated both his thighs on landing. Before his legs had properly mended he escaped from an Italian prison hospital because there was talk of his being moved to Germany. He had managed to get fairly fit but his thighs were still partly dislocated. We left Rio Salso on the 5th March in a snowstorm. We got held up at Santa Sofia for a whole week because the snow was so deep.
On March 12th we started again. We had to 250 miles across high mountains before the 18th March to keep our rendezvous with the agents on the coast. We made very slow progress: there were main roads and rivers to cross and poor Rudolph Vaughan fell every few hundred yards, his game leg went through the snow like a snow-plough. He and Jack Reiter were an inspiration to us all. On the first day we covered the best part of twenty eight miles as the crow flies. That night I slept on a stone floor and slept well. Next morning Rudolph was so stiff we doubted if we could get him going. We were in the High Apennines and the snow had a hard crust which one stepped through sometimes up to one’s thighs. On the third morning we split up into a fit party and an unfit party, hoping that the former would be able to contact the agents and get them to wait for the others. I went with the unfit party. With my long legs I could eliminate many delays by going forward to find out the lie of the land. It was a point of honour that we should arrive not far behind the others. I will pass briefly over the next four days. We had a terrible journey; Jack and Rudolph were completely exhausted. Suffice to say that on one day walked thirty three miles and on the eighteenth we arrived at the rendezvous two hours before the fit ones.
Our troubles were not at an end. We were told we must go another thirty-two miles by the next evening. We managed to hire a pony and trap to take Rudolph and Jack the first ten
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miles. We started at four in the morning. We were now in the foothills of the mountains and had to keep to secondary roads to avoid trouble. This time my little party failed. We slept that night in a cow-stall and caught the others up at the rendezvous in the morning. A lorry was waiting for us and we climbed in and lay down on the floor. We drove to the Tenna valley from where we were to make our final attempt to get through the lines by submarine or MTB [Motor Torpedo Boat]. Passing through villages we felt painfully obvious to the people who hung out of upper windows. However no comments were made: the Italian people had become used to the underground business long ago.
During the next six weeks, in the dark periods of the moon, we made eight or nine rendezvous on the beach. Italian Partisans who had wireless sets in the mountains informed us when to go. We went in single file through fields to the coast eight miles away. We had to cross the main road and the railway which ran along the edge of the sea. At night the road was crowded with German transport and the railway was patrolled. We would lie down on the narrow strip between the railway and the sea while one of the agents went forward to do the necessary signalling. Sometimes we heard the powerful engines of an MTB [Motor Torpedo Boat] but they never seemed to see our signals. Sometimes when we least wanted illuminating the RAF [Royal Air Force] dropped flares by the Tenna bridge which seemed to be one of their particular objectives at that time. We whistled the German song ‘Lili Marlene’ to recognise each other in the dark. Each time we were disappointed and had to make the whole risky journey back again. About this time we were joined by Roger Cagnazzo, a Jew, and one of the most gallant men I ever met. He told us that after many adventures he had succeeded in getting General Neame, General O’ Connor and Air Marshal Boyd through the lines. Now he had come back to help us. In consultation with him we decided to purchase or steal a sailing boat. Fishing had been abandoned because of Allied air attacks and for six months or more all the boats were in dry dock or laid up on the sand. We had a hard time to find one and to get a mast, rudder and sails for it.
We moved down to a house by the Tenna bridge where lived the old Count and Countess of Salvadore. The Countess had already spent two years in a concentration camp for her pro-Allied sympathies but, nothing daunted, she had us all to stay while we were getting the boat ready.
On the evening of May 10th we slipped across the road and
collected various pieces for the ship. Jack Reiter and I took the mast. We passed under the railway by a culvert to the shore. The moon had not yet risen but we felt remarkably conspicuous standing there a couple of hundred yards away from the German convoys which rolled unceasingly up and down the road. We put the mast in place and the rudder. But when we came to move the boat it would not budge. For half an hour we sweated and pulled and pushed. Gradually the moon began to rise. Slowly inch by inch we managed to shift it.
Finally we got it into the sea. It floated. We got the sails up and were caught before a stiff breeze but then we discovered the boat was as waterproof as a sieve. If one put one’s foot on the bottom it went through. We began to bale. The wind freshened and blew hard. Everyone began to be sick. Water crept up above our ankles. We worked like demons to bale it out Then the mast broke and went over the side. After half an hour of sweating and cursing we hauled it back. British night-fighters zoomed over like pale ghosts. We continued on our way. So we sailed and baled through the night When dawn came we saw the tops of the Miella mountains above the horizon and knew we had travelled about seventy miles. The wind dropped when we were exactly off the end of the front line and we were becalmed. We got oars out and rowed. All the time we baled. Flights of RAF [Royal Air Force] came over. Two Kitty-hawks roared down to investigate us. We waved our shirts and prayed they would not strafe us. After circling three or four times at water level they left us alone. All through the day we rowed. We could see the shells falling on either side of the line. It seemed endless. In the early afternoon we saw some fishing boats and made towards them. By now we were almost waterlogged. One of them took us in tow. Somehow we reached Ortona harbour. It was wonderful to go ashore and feel safe.
30th May 1944 On the train to London
After being away from England for four and a quarter years it was exciting to sail up the Firth of Clyde on a fine summer evening. We passed Ailsa Craig. Seagulls escorted us home. A fleet of warships passed us – sailing out to sea: mine-sweepers, eight destroyers, four frigates, two cruisers and an aircraft carrier. The Italians chattered louder than ever and Dan, who
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