Jim Bourn was born in Darlington, where he also lived later in life. He served as a signal officer with the Fifth India Division but was captured in Libya in 1941. He was a prisoner at Padula, in south Italy, and then at PG19, Bologna. In 1943, at his third attempt, he escaped through a network of sewers and was sheltered for about a year before breaking through the Gothic Line to rejoin the Allies in September 1944.
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.
James (Jim) Bourn
Born 30th August 1917, Died 3rd January 2012, Aged 94.
Recollections of Aldo Prati, Bologna, Italy
As presented by Silvia Prati at James Bourn’s Memorial Service, 28 April 2012
To a dear friend. The story of our friendship.
It is with intense emotion that I am going to recount Jim’s extraordinary adventure.
In the beginning he was an English soldier searching for help but almost immediately he became a dear fraternal friend for me and all my family.
Our home was the “Lagune” of Bisano in Monterenzio near Bologna which is where Jim arrived when I was 13 years old. At the time he arrived I was intent on playing football with my brother when I heard a rustle that came from the wood that surrounded the house. I looked up and saw two people coming towards us, they were speaking a strange language, they were tired, suffering, unkempt, they had travelled a long way on foot and were soldiers. One of them spoke a few words to me in Italian, he asked me for water as they were extremely thirsty. This was Jim. The other was called Bernard.
I led them straight away to the big living room of the house and they timidly came in. There, in the living room, was only my uncle Pietro, an irritable and gruff person, so I ran to get my father. My father welcomed them warmly and got my sister Piera to prepare some good hot soup for them which they both very much appreciated.
After that my father surprised everyone by bringing into the room an old English military uniform. It had been worn by uncle Pietro during the first world war when he was saved thanks to the help of English soldiers in Anatolia.
This gave rise immediately to a friendly atmosphere between my family and the new arrivals. Later that day Jim asked my father how he could reach the partisans. My father strongly advised him against this as it was a dangerous enterprise due to the fact that the partisans were in continual conflict with the Germans. Jim then asked him how he could get to the area under the allies’ control. This was in Cassino (in the south of Italy) a very long way from our house. Our guests however decided to leave and for their trip we gave them food and blankets as winter was coming on. My father reassured them telling them that if necessary they could return and our house would always be open to welcome them.
And so 8 days passed, the winter arrived, it rained a lot and the temperature dropped. One evening my family and I were together in the living room when, very late, we heard a knocking on the door. There were Jim and Bernard, wet through, and Bernard was in a bad condition and had a very high temperature.
We opened up our bedroom immediately and let them warm themselves and rest. That night there was a very heavy snow fall and the snow continued to fall for the following three days and three nights. And that is how destiny brought Jim and Bernard back to our house.
My father suggested that they stayed and waited for the end of the war with us. In the meantime two American soldiers had also arrived at the Lagune. Their airplane had been shot down by the anti aircraft. We took them in, too.
The winter was long and our guests were many, so, as a precaution, we referred to them as the ‘hunters’. I was small and I had 6 brothers and sisters. Our father told us to call our guests ‘hunters’ so that there was no risk for them or our family. Nobody outside our family was aware of the fact that we had 4 soldiers hiding in our house.
In the meantime the front had moved nearer to us and in the village a German soldier was shot. The German waste no time in their retaliation. They captured 10 civilians and gave an ultimatum of a week for the guilty person to come forward. Otherwise the civilians would have been shot. On this occasion, Jim, who had a good knowledge of German, was really brilliant. On my father’s behalf, he wrote a letter of defence in which he assured that the 10 civilians were all employees of the Prati farm and he guaranteed their innocence. The German commander accepted the request to liberate the civilians who were subsequently released. This news, gave great joy to Jim and all of us.
Unexpectedly however the German commander advised my father that he and his troops would billet themselves in our house. And so reluctantly we had to move into the cellar but there was the grave problem of how to put our four friends into safety. Very rapidly my father got them to hide in a little space between two big outside ovens. He then walled up with brick and cement the little door that was the means of access to this dim little place. A small opening in the wall between the little hiding place and the cellar was made. Through this opening, it was possible to pass provisions to our four friends.
A week passed in this way and then our house was bombed and badly damaged, but miraculously the cellar and our friend’s hiding place resisted.
What I have just told you is only a small part but the most significant part of this incredible story which I wished to tell to dear David, his family and Jim’s friends.
Jim, my dear unforgettable friend, I thank you for your charisma, your ability, your friendship and affection that you have given to me and my family during your adventurous life.
Today I have the immense pleasure to remember you as one of the Prati family.