Summary of Norman Rogers
This document is an Obituary published in the Daily Telegraph in March 2011. It describes in brief Major-General Norman Rogers’ career throughout the war and thereafter. The obituary covers his early life, service as a regimental medical officer, his capture in North Africa and incarceration in PG49 Fontanellato. After the Armistice Rogers and Arthur Jones walked 400 miles as the crow flies until they reached an American unit near Venafro. Having been repatriated, Rogers continued to serve until the end of the war, after which he had a long and illustrious career in military and civilian hospitals. He died in 2011.
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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This document summarises the life and career of Major-General Norman Rogers. Details are taken from his obituary published in The Daily Telegraph, 10 March 2011.
Norman Charles Rogers was born in London on October 14, 1916. He was educated in Alexandria, Egypt, and the Imperial Service College, Windsor. He graduated from St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School in 1939, after which he volunteered for military service.
At the outbreak of war Norman Rogers was commissioned into the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and posted to France with 131 Field Ambulance. Taking part in the evacuation from Dunkirk, he was mentioned in despatches.
In 1941 Rogers was a regimental medical officer (RMO) in North Africa, on attachment to 4th Royal Tank Regiment. During the battle of Gazala in June 1942 Rogers’ unit was surrounded and they came under heavy shell fire. When the crew of an anti-tank gun was hit, Rogers collected the wounded in his truck. He was returning with the wounded to a field ambulance when he was intercepted by a German armoured car and taken prisoner.
Like so many of the allied servicemen captured in North Africa, he was transferred to Italy and ended up in a prison camp at Fontanellato, PG49, near Parma. In his memoirs, he wrote that the camp contained a remarkable variety of characters, ranging from the strait-laced to the raffish. The camp also housed people with a wide range of abilities and there seemed to be experts on everything from physics to forgery. In his memoirs Rogers noted that “the student could learn fascinating details about low-life east of Suez or the Danish system of pig farming.”
After the Italian Armistice in September 1943, the commandant of the Fontanellato camp opened the gates and the prisoners marched out in companies before separating. The PoWs generally sought either to travel to neutral Switzerland or to move south to meet up with the advancing allies. For his ‘long walk’ (probably about 800 miles in all), Rogers joined up with Capt. Arthur Jones, who later became Tory MP for Northamptonshire South and then Daventry.
They skirted La Spezia, crossed the Arno east of Florence, and walked up and down the Apennine range, avoiding villages wherever possible. They used sheep tracks, knocked on the doors of isolated houses of shepherds and peasants, slept in barns and dodged German patrols. The Italians fed, sheltered and sometimes clothed them. However poor they were, they were always ready to share what little they had. Rogers found them voluble, often unreliable, but generous, kind and brave.
Towards the end of their trek, they were approaching the Volturno River, near Venafro. Here the Germans were establishing a new defensive line and blowing up power stations, tearing up railway lines, demolishing houses to block roads and blasting craters in hillsides for gun emplacements. Norman and Arthur realised that they were in no-man’s as they passed through the village of Raviscanina, which was empty.
Up on the high ground there was a castle which was being shelled by the Germans. As they were making their way there through a narrow alleyway, an old woman shouted at them to stop. She warned them that she had watched the mines and trip wires being laid and told them that a boy had been killed there the previous night.
Following cautiously in her footsteps, they got though the minefield. Climbing up the ridge, Jones, who was a gunner officer, noticed that they had been spotted by a German forward observation
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officer and were in a very exposed position. Fortunately, they managed to surmount the crest without mishap and ‘crossed the line’, reaching the positions of the 36th “Texas” Division.
“Say, who are those guys?” a GI shouted, for they looked like a couple of brigands.
“We are British Officers,” Rogers told him.
After a moment of stunned silence, the GI exclaimed: “You must have come through the German lines! What does it feel like?”
Norman Rogers estimated that they had covered almost 400 miles as the crow flies, but he had maps and notes which indicated that the tortuous route that they had followed had taken them more than twice that distance. The two companions were able to give the Americans a lot of valuable information, after which they were searched and sent under armed escort to be debriefed by British intelligence officers. The American colonel apologised for the precautions. “These Germans,” he said, “are mighty clever people.”
Eventually Rogers was flown to Algiers and he returned to Liverpool by troopship. As dawn was breaking on Christmas Eve, he finally arrived home to surprise his parents.
Subsequently, in June 1944 Rogers took part in the Normandy landings, serving as RMO to the 1st Battalion Black Watch. He was twice mentioned in despatches but after being wounded in the leg, he was evacuated to England. After recovering, he re-joined the battalion, serving with it until the end of the campaign.
After the end of the war, Rogers returned to civilian life and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, with posts as house surgeon at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, then surgical registrar in Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, followed by an appointment as senior registrar at the Queen Elizabeth and General Hospitals, Birmingham.
Rogers rejoiced the RAMC in 1956 and worked in military hospitals in Chester, the Middle East, Catterick and BAOR. He was the Director of Army Surgery from 1969 to 1973 and, after retiring from the Army, was clinical superintendent and later consultant in the Accident and Emergency department at Guy’s Hospital.
From 1983 to 1986 Rogers was civilian consultant surgeon to the British Military Hospital, Iserlohn, and at the BMH, Munster, before finally retiring. Having settled at Kidlington, Oxfordshire, his great interests were history and literature and he derived much enjoyment from reading and walking.
A man with strong Christian beliefs, Rogers attended St Mary’s church, Kidlington, every week until his last illness and was an active supporter of the Monte San Martino Trust. Rogers was actively involved in this charity that awards bursaries for English language study to Italian students in recognition of the courage and generosity of their compatriots who aided thousands of escaping Allied POWs.
Major-General Norman Rogers died aged 94, in 2011.
Photograph: Rogers (centre) and Arthur Jones with a GI after negotiating a minefield to get to the American positions.