D.B Simpson was held in PG 70 Monturano. He describes his two escape attempts as amusing and ending in fiasco. He was unprepared and ended up back where he started from. He passed through the village of Rapagnano where a local warned them of an approaching German patrol and he recounts swimming in a river where some Italian women stood by their clothes and refused to leave. His second escape attempt was thwarted by a steel floor to the train wagon in which he was travelling.
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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D.B Simpson. In camp at Mont Urano [Monturano]. Major Parkes instructed us to stay. Simpson with some others leave but with little food, no maps, no information and no Italian. They kept away from Italians and foraged and kept away from any farm. After 4 days they find they have gone in a circle so go back into the camp for a night. Germans arrive the next morning and it has become, ‘Keep cool, calm and be collected’. DBS tried again to escape whilst in a wagon to Germany. Other PoWs objected but the under floor of the carriage is made from steel.
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ITALY 1943 – ARMISTICE
From time to time small parties of new arrivals came in to Camp 70 at Monte Urano and brought us news of the progress of the war, particularly of the campaign in North Africa. Later in that summer we learned of the landings in Sicily and began to speculate on when there would be the invasion of the Italian mainland. This came in September and within a short time Mussolini’s Fascist government had fallen. There was plenty of rumour, but little real information and no one really seemed to know what was happening: on all probability this period was just as confusing for the Italians as it was for us.
We eventually herd that a new government had been formed headed by a Marshall Badoglio who made a separate peace with the Allies. After a little while the Italian guards ad their officers drifted away and left the camp to the prisoners, but we had no information on how the situation was developing.
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For the first time for most of us we learned that there was a Senior British Officer in the camp, a Major Parkes of the Royal Army Medical Corps. He addressed the camp over the public address system instructing everyone to keep ‘cool, calm and collected’ – a phrase for which he was to be remembered subsequently – and guards were posted in the watch towers, though I have no idea what their instructions were.
Personally I did not like the idea of staying in camp, nor did my friend Harris and several other prisoners in our group, so we decided to get out and see what the situation was. We had not made any preparations for this eventuality and it is hard now to say what we expected to achieve. We had no plan, no maps. No information about German troops, no food, no outside contacts and none of us could speak Italian, but outside the gate was freedom and we would see how things developed.
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What happened could hardly be judged as a serious escape attempt. It was an interlude sometimes [1 word illegible], sometimes amusing and ending in fiasco. We had decided that we should avoid using any roads because of the possibility of meeting German vehicles or patrols, so we had to make our way through the countryside. As we had no Italian speaker or money, or anything to barter and no idea of the attitude of the local population, we felt that we could not approach any of the farms for food.
This meant that we had to forage for whatever we were going to eat. This was not difficult because there was an abundance of grapes and tomatoes to which we could help ourselves, but this was hardly a satisfactory diet, and over-indulgence in these things that we had not seen for years soon resulted in upset stomachs. The other problem was that because of the hilly nature of the country, making our way around fields avoiding dwellings or turning back if we came to a road, it became increasingly difficult to travel in a general desired direction.
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However, we were free and to some extent carefree, sleeping rough and washing in streams, though it was hot work scrambling up steep fields and through undergrowth.
There were any number of incidents: on one occasion we were helping ourselves to some grapes when a man came out of a house. Seeing us he shouted ‘Sacramento’ and went back into the house, emerging again with an ancient gun which he waved in the direction in which we were rapidly disappearing. In spite of this and our intention to avoid any habitation, for no particular reason that I can remember, three of us went into a small village on one of the hills – I believed it was Rapagnano, but it might have been another village – and wandered around getting some suspicious looks. We were just going past an alleyway when a hand plucked my sleeve and a voice hissed ‘Tedeschi, tedeschi. We shot into the alley and after perhaps half a minute a German patrol went by. I never saw anything of the person who warned us,
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whoever it was – he was taking a great risk and was probably careful not to be seen. In a rather lighter vein one morning we came upon a mountain stream which had formed quite a large pool. We stopped off and went in and found it was deep enough to swim a few strokes. We swam and messed around for some time and were beginning to feel rather cold, for though it was September, the water was very cold, when a group of Italian women appeared on the bank where we had left our clothes. We shouted at them to go, but they just laughed and waved back to us. We stayed in the water a bit longer, but there was no sign of them moving and we eventually had to climb out amid screams of laughter from the women to retrieve our clothes. We were all conscious that after about half an hour’s immersion in icy water, our ‘equipment’ cannot have made much of an impression.
On, as far as I can recollect, the fourth day after leaving the camp, we found ourselves on a high point and looking in one direction recognised the camp in the
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distance. How we had come to that position I have no idea, but we must have become completely confused as to directions. We were tired and hungry and realised that our wanderings had become rather aimless, so after some discussion, we decided to return to the camp and hope to get some food and see if there was any news. We got back into the camp and found that most of the prisoners had accepted the instruction to stay put, but with very little idea of what was going on though there were plenty of rumours. We did not like the situation, but decided to settle down for the night and decide in the morning how we would make another attempt to get away.
We had no premonition that the decision would not be left to us. I remember going quite early the next morning to the main gate and seeing a group of figures approaching. Rather incongruously they looked like the illustrations that appeared at that time of creatures from another plant. They were grey, masked and goggled and covered in dust
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from head to foot. However, if I had any real doubts about their identity they would have vanished on seeing the Schmeisser machine pistols they were carrying. They were a party of a German motor cycle battalion which had been sent to secure the POW camps in the area. They had probably travelled through the night on dusty roads, hence their rather weird appearance. The camp was surrounded and Spandaus were already set up in the watch towers: there was no question about it, we were once more ‘in the bag’.
Major Parkes’ instruction was now rephrased with some bitterness as ‘Keep cool, calm and be collected’.
I made one more attempt to escape which was also abortive. When we were put in trucks to be taken to Germany I was able to conceal along my few belongings a ‘dog’ from some scaffolding to work that had been going on in the camp (this was a sort of double-ended spike). After we had been travelling some way I started to attack the floorboards of the
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wagon with this, with the intention of making an escape opening. This aroused considerable objection from most of the other prisoners in the wagon, fortunately the few who backed me up were able to quell this and I continued until I found that the wagon had a steel floor on which the wooden boards were laid. Frustrated again!