After his capture in Tunis W.J Darville was taken to Italy and held in Fontanellato, where he was pleasantly surprised to find sprung beds with sheets. He fled the camp at the Armistice and hid with local families. He describes periods of being constantly on the move, while dodging the Germans and asking for assistance from the contadini. His story includes details of the local countryside, Italian mountain villages, lanes, routes and way of life. Despite not being captured Darville had to succumb to the practicalities of his shoes falling apart and he was forced to give himself up. He was taken to Stammlager Camp in Germany before being moved to other camps around Germany.
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.
[Digital page 1]
[Cover Page – not transcribed]
[Digital page 2]
[Contents page written by Keith Killby – not transcribed]
[digital page 3]
[Photograph with caption] Lieutenant W.J Darville, 2nd Battn. Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment. Prisoner of War, Germany
13th April 1943.
Captured at Hunts Gap, Tunisia, at about 10.30.
Later taken through [illegible] to Ferryville. Interrogated there with Dougie Turner. Joined up with Porky Young and walked to a wired-off area on a hill just into the town. Spent the night in a French civil prison cell with Young, Dougie and CSM Dick [illegible]
Awakened early and taken by lorry to Tunis. Picked up Reg Selby and several lorry loads of troops en route. Put in a German camp in Tunis with a number of
[digital page 4]
Americans including a colonel from Texas. About 4 o’clock in the afternoon we were marched through Tunis to an ex-shoe factory and handed over to the Italians. Met Ian Fenton and Taffy Evans.
At the shoe factory. About 400 OR [Other Ranks] and eight officers. Joined by Jack Wright, Toney Emery, Jack Hyde, an Italian sergeant interpreter procured us wine and such cakes etc. as were available, he was a good type and spoke English well, having lived in Cairo for a long time.
Left the shoe factory early in the morning by lorry. They took us to Tunis harbour. Passed an ambulance convoy and Tunis airfield, the latter had been severely bombed and was covered with piles of smashed up German aircraft.
Ferried out to lighters to an Italian ship, the ‘Bellona’, an ex-French boat captured at the French capitulations. Tunis harbour was full of partly submerged shipping, one large boat had completely turned turtle.
During the afternoon, the harbour was raided by the RAF. Germans put up a smoke screen.
Sailed at about [illegible] at 10 am. The German AA gunners on board opened up at a formation of bombers escorted by Spitfires. A Spit shot down one of the two Junkers 88’s that were escorting us. All the Italian soldiers were bare-footed and wearing lifebelts ready to jump over board. The troops were kept below in the hold. We were given a small mess room in the stern.
[digital page 5]
Sighted Naples early in the morning and docked about midday. Naples docks had been very badly hit by bombs. Whole areas were flat. We landed at 2 pm and walked to a train about 500 yards from the quay. Entrained and moved off about an hour later. Passed through Caserta and reached Capua station about 6.30 pm. Met by a large guard of Ities and marched up to the camp. Searched in the officers and Porky had a row with a fat Carabinieri Tenenti (this old bastard apparently made himself unpleasant to all British officers). Passed to the officers’ compound and met Vic Amos and Paddy Coulter. Vic introduced me to Ronny Lewis-Heath and gave me some biscuit porridge.
Slept the night in the mess hut on a table with two blankets.
PG 66. Drew my first Red Cross parcel, Canadian. Shared with Reg. Wrote off a letter. Had a hot shower. About a hundred English and thirty French officers in the compound. Several thousands of ORs in other compounds. SBO Major (later Lt. Col.) Webb, New Zealand army. Captured in [illegible].
My twenty first birthday. [one line illegible] odd glass of ‘Red Billy’. Not an altogether happy birthday
[digital page 6]
Left Capua at 2 pm. After being searched by Carabinieri. Marched to the station. Damned hot. Train left about 3.30. Two coaches attached to a civilian train. We were seven officers and one Iti guard to a compartment. Reached Rome at midnight.
Arrived in Florence at about 7 am, Bologna about midday. Stayed in Bologna station for over two hours. Reached Modena about 5 pm where the party for Camp 47 left us. They included Tony Emery, Jack (Alec) Hyde, Lord Brabourne. Palma at 6 pm and finally Castel about 6 pm. Detrained here and walked about five miles to the village of Fontanellato. Suffered acute pains in the stomach all the way and held up the column for about ten minutes at one point. On arrival at Camp 49 we were met by a reception committee, searched by Carabs and shown our room. I was amazed at the spring beds and sheets. It seemed too good to be true. Had a very good meal about half an hour after arrival. Also some very excellent cocoa on the steps when we arrived.
Registered as a POW number 623. Wrote a letter and met up with Vic Amos, Ronny Lewis-heath and several others.
[digital page 7]
Went into Parma by civilian bus with three others for an X-ray at the hospital. Had been unwell for some time. Arrived back in camp about 1 pm and heard that Sicily had been invaded.
During the past weeks I have received several letters, the first since leaving Scotland, also done some sun-bathing and read a large number of books. There has been, and still is, much talk and speculation as to coming events and optimism is running high.
Tonight we heard of the Italian Armistice. Lt. Col. De Burgh addressed the camp in the main hall. He said that so far it was only a rumour and we were to carry on as usual and await further developments. It all sounded far too good to be true.
At nine o’clock this morning the SBO paraded the camp and informed us that the camp commandant Colonello Vicedomini had informed him of the armistice, also that we now held the keys of the camp. A plan had been agreed upon
[digital page 8]
whereby on the approach of the German troops the camp would evacuate to a stream running along in a gully some four miles away. If this were necessary the bugle would blow the British army alarm. All kit was to be packed straightaway.
The bugle went at noon and the camp fell in and marched out through a gap in the wire at the end of the playing field within five minutes. We reached the RV safely and spent the night there after hearing that German troops had looted the camp and were still there. The civilians brought us bread and vino and some Red Cross food from the camp.
The most fantastic stories of landings, advances and the Germans were brought in by the Ities all last evening and late into the night. All this day we remained in the gully with more stories coming in to the afternoon. Reg went off in civilian clothes. We made hiding places in the banks and under the bushes.
Changed into civilian clothes with Porky, Dougie and several others and set off with a woman and number of boys as guides for a village several miles away. The idea being to split up in a certain area and hide up in barns and houses
[digital page 9]
until the position became clearer. Met an old Iti who spoke some English, he informed us that the place was full of Jerries. We split up, some went off in one direction and our party made back to the riverbed. Reached there without trouble and changed again into battledress. Soon after Col. (Squealer) Wheeler arrived and said he could billet us locally. Again changed into civilian kit and moved. I was feeling pretty bloody and was sick several times. Split up into twos and threes and went off to various houses. I went with Donald Flemming, a doctor and captain in the RAMC. We arrived at the house under the guidance of the owner, one by name of Poppi. It was a typical small-holding of the Iti peasant, a wife and two children, the odd cow and a bit of land.
A drink and then to bed after a stroll round the ground with Poppi and the children. We slept in a bedroom with a pile of what in one corner and a rickety single bed in another, one in the bed and one on a pile of sacks on the floor and a very good sleep it was too!
Awoke fairly early feeling very refreshed. German transport could be heard moving along a road some distance from the house but as it was not likely to come in our direction we were not greatly worried. After a breakfast of the inevitable bread and milk we went out into the fields and spent the rest of the day under
[digital page 10]
the grapevines, but our aim in life was to follow the last instructions and advice given us, and remain well out of the way of any Germans. Spent the night in a bedroom after a supper of meat well soaked in oil and, in my opinion, horrible, and a bottle of vino. According to Poppi, the Germans have issued a decree that any Italians found helping prisoners will have their houses burned down. There are all sorts of stories of shootings and burning going around.
This morning we met several others who told us a plan whereby we were to make our way tomorrow to a tomato factory on the other side of Fontanellato where a lorry would meet is min the evening and convey us into the mountains in the vicinity of La Spezia. In view of the great flapping we agreed to sleep out in the field this night and set off about midday tomorrow. Obtained several sacks from the Poppis and a promise of food to be brought in the morning. Passed quite a good night with no alarms.
We spent the morning in the place where we had slept, keeping one chap on the watch. About midday we moved off and across a road to a small hut where we met up with several others. From there we moved off in pairs, it was a considerable distance as it was necessary to avoid the villages. At one point, when having just crossed a
[digital page 11]
Road, a German car appeared but we flung ourselves into the long grass but it passed on. Every house we passed offered us bread and vino, the peasants could not do enough for us. We arrived in the area of the ‘Tomato Factory’ in due course and found several other small groups waiting around in the grano turco. After considerable waiting and much flapping we were told that the driver had taken flight and refused to take us. We then split up into several parties, some going back to the farms from which they had come, others returned to the river and our party decided to make for the mountains. We procured the services of an Italian army deserter to guide us across the railway and the Via Emilia, both of which were considered very dangerous as they were in constant use by the Germans and thought to be patrolled. However, we set out and ambled across fields, along tracks, ditches and roads, at one road junction a number of people appeared from a house with stories of a landing at La Spezia and two girls attached themselves to us as guides. They came with us for about a mile, then took fright and begged us to stay in a field of corn and not attempt the crossing. The Iti ex-soldier was also very scared but we decided to continue and the girls left us. After crossing another road and climbing up and down an old sunken road, we eventually came to the railway. This was very tricky as we had arrived slap up against the station that the Iti promised us to miss. In addition, a train had just pulled in and quite a number of people were about. It was about 1 am
[digital page 12]
by now and with just an old pair of trousers and a ragged cotton shirt it was not too warm lying about waiting. We eventually reached the tracks by making a detour of the station and crossing another road. We were about to cross when another train was heard approaching. This meant lying on our faces while the thing passed. It was a longish train of cattle trucks going north. Eventually the crossing was made and then began the worst part of all. Firstly a number of large buildings appeared and they had to be avoided by going through several gardens and a small wood. Doing this silently was no easy matter. When we arrived beside the road we were confronted by a high and strong wire fence, the top strands being barbed. About half the party were over this when a long came a German car and everyone had to take cover pretty rapidly. After this had passed the rest of us climbed the fence and I tore my hands pretty badly on the wire, as did the rest, but we were all too intent on the job for that to worry us. Having crossed the road in pairs we joined up again and ran for the nearest vines. Hardly had we reached these when the sound of marching and singing was heard, and lying among the crops we listened to a column of German troops march past singing. After this, the Iti, who was still with us, was so frightened he wished us all farewell and we continued alone. We covered about two kilos and then decided to rest under the vines until dawn so as to get the situation a little clearer.
When it became light enough for
[digital page 13]
[4 words illegible] we were horrified to see yet another road only a matter of yards away and what was even worse was the fact that it was already being crossed by quite a number of people. We hastily concealed ourselves and then decided to risk it and cross by pairs, as it was still some eight miles to the foothills. The crossing was affected without mishap and all the party joined up in the field on the far side, where we decided it would be better to move in pairs some distance apart. By the noise of traffic and people talking we realised that we were in an area more populated than previously and having skirted another farmhouse we were confronted with yet another wood and this time there was no doubt that the vehicles moving on it were Germans. The party was now separated over a considerably [one line missing] Hugh Flemming and I saw one pair get across OK and decided to try it, although there were several houses about and about half a mile along the road we could see a fairly large village. By following the line of the vines we arrived at the edge of the road and were about to climb down and over the ditch when we were confronted with a German soldier who had escaped our notice. He was walking along the edge of the road towards us, rifle over his shoulder. It was no good attempting to run as he was too near so we began pulling up the ‘granó turcó’ and trying to look like workmen. He must have been a dope because although he was obviously suspicious he just walked on with an occasional backward glance. After he had gone about a hundred
[digital page 14]
[one line illegible] along the way we had come. However, this road had got to be crossed so we made another attempt a short distance away and this time succeeded in getting across one at a time. Having once done this the one object in life was to find somewhere to lie up until night as it was much easier to move in the dark. After a bit, we entered a field that was being ploughed by a labourer and a boy of about sixteen and saw in the distance a house and yet another road. After a brief consultation we decided to ask the advice of the labourer and risk the consequences. Hugh knew a few words of Italian, I none at all. The man turned out to be extremely friendly when we told him we were English officers and we sat under a tree and Hugh gave him his last English cigarette. After a few minutes an old man arrived with a young girl, the ploughman told us that this was the farmer and so we asked him if we could sleep in his hayloft and then go on at dusk. He seemed agreeable and we accompanied him and the girl back to the house. In the yard we met another old man and several women and children. They all talked together and stood looking at us. We were very thirsty and asked for some water and when they produced a bucket full we drank most of it. This was a feat that they never ceased to wonder at and talk about, they had never seen a human drink so much water before. After this they took us into the house and gave us some bread and milk and wine. While we were eating this, there arrived a girl of about twenty, plump, blonde and rather nice. She spoke
[digital page 15]
English with a strong American accent and told us she was an American, she was very proud of this. Her people were Italians who had emigrated to the USA where she was born. The unfortunate girl had been on a visit to Italy when war broke out and could not get back. We had a talk with her and explained where we came from and everything. She then told us that the people of the house said we could stop for as long as we wished and hoped we would. As our one aim was to keep out of the way and lie up, we accepted instantly and so began our life there that was to last for nine weeks. After some more talking they showed us the loft and we settled in to sleep. It was now about 11 o’clock in the morning.
16th September – 25th November.
Neither my memory or the space I have left are adequate for me to write out the doings of the next two months day by day. Therefore I will record briefly those things that stick in my mind and those that led us to take the decisions we did.
For the first few weeks we lived in the hayloft by night and worked out in the fields by day. It was the grape-picking season and we went out with the parties and worked at this all day. It was quite safe as we mixed in with the others and so long as we kept clear of the roads, everything was fine. It was a peculiar situation to see columns of Germans, lorries and cars, continually moving around and to be right in the middle. At first we were scared they might be suspicious but after a few
[digital page 16]
days it became a case of familiarity breeds contempt. Hugh’s Italian improved by leaps and bounds, partly by the school books he borrowed from little Angela and partly from the help of the people themselves. Even I began to understand a little. The grape-picking with Ferrmina, Luisa and the rest is something I will never forget. Lunch was usually brought out to us by the children – minestra, bread, wine and apples. The day’s work finished around 7 pm and after loading all the boxes of grapes onto the cart drawn by two oxen, the whole party made its way back to the house. Here we washed and then went in for the evening meal with the family.
The evening when, after supper, the old Padrone took us up into his little room in the top of the house and produced ice cream, after which we set to some rather heavy drinking, Lucia, Ferrmina, Armando, the Padrone, Hugh and I. What a party that was and what a beautiful hangover next morning.
The Sunday afternoon when we lay under the vines and were startled by a noise shouting ‘Hello boys!’, ‘Where are you boys?’ and it turned out to be the first visit of Bratislava, or whatever his name was.
The day the aeroplane dropped leaflets proclaiming the return of Mussolini, or the way the people tore them up and cursed the Fascists.
Now things began to get worse and more dangerous, the Fascists began to organise and eventually we agreed it would be better to remain in hiding in the house by day and the loft by night.
The first visit of the Countess and how she brought us money and clothes and said everyone thought
[digital page 17]
it would be about two months before the British and Americans arrived and that the best thing was to hide up where we were.
The locking ourselves in the small room and the children coming in to see us. The flaps when Germans were reported in the next house and we dashed out into the fields and hid in the beans. The care taken to conceal us from strangers coming to the house.
The haircuts by Francesco from Turin.
The evenings when we played games with the kids and the girls. The Ring Game and the forfeits we had to pay.
Then polenta for supper.
The big flap when it was said that all Noceto knew we were in the house and the packing and preparing to leave. The tears of the whole family and the last-minute plan to keep us upstairs and open up a secret hideout. Ferrmina’s father and how he opened it up and made a lid for it. The last night downstairs when we said goodbye to Santo and Aranista’s family. Zio Pio and the big drinking session that night with Lucia and Elida.
The next few days spent in Lucia’s room and then the move into our own. The terrific boredom and how we tried to pass the time reading, learning Italian and drawing. The days when Angelo baked the bread and had too much to drink.
Changing my boots with the uncle from Parma for his shoes. Hugh doing the same with the husband of the ‘mad sister’.
The day the three nuns came to see us and the other visit by the ‘brat’.
[digital page 18]
How those who had been told that we had left gradually knew we were hiding upstairs, had come to see us.
The evenings when the children and Lucia and Elida came up and the rollicking about on the bed.
How we dressed Hugh up in Lucia’s clothes and went downstairs.
The Sundays, usually bad days, and Ferrmina’s visits, when I showed her the ‘bar room’. ‘Black Sunday’ when the Fascist in uniform arrived and we hid in the hideout under the floor and listened to him talking in the room below, also the ‘toppolini’ in the hole.
The visit of the Padrone’s son and all his wild yarns and fears.
The night visit when we went downstairs and found the son and an Iti who had escaped from Austria. First plans for leaving.
The failure of the plan to go to a village in the mountains.
How the old men went out on bicycles to look for a ‘posto securo’ – a failure.
The visit of the other son of the Padrone and the plans to leave. Sorting out clothes.
The idea of going by car to Parma, afterwards changed to Pontremoli.
The last evening, how we gave Lucia our address and my ring and notebooks to keep until after the war and how she cried. How we later went downstairs with Giuseppe, Angelo, Annesto and drank the ‘vino vecchio’ and later when Lucia, Elida, Pia, Angela, Gena and the others came in.
How I promised young Pia a gold ring with two jewels after the war.
[digital page 19]
Up about 5.45 am with terrible hangover from the night before.
Saying goodbye, little Angela trying not to cry, Pia sleepily kissing me, Elida still in bed with Tonino and Adrianna.
Downstairs, the eggs Gena beat up for us and how we could not eat them owing to too much vino the night before.
The arrival of the car and the final farewells.
The drive as dawn was breaking with old Giuseppe beside the driver. Arrived at the hills and approach to the bridge.
The Fascist troops on guard and how we left the car and walked past them, looking extremely bogus.
[MAP SHOWING FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS]
[digital page 20]
Giuseppe re-entering the war and driving away a very shaken old man.
We walked across the bridge knowing that several Iti soldiers were on the road behind us and expecting to be shot at any minute. Having crossed and looking back, we found they had given up and we continued past the railway station and into the town. It was still pretty early and very cold and as we had neither hats or coats we had a lot of queer looks. We walked quickly through the place and along a road parallel with the river, after about a mile we turned off up a narrow side road. We walked on and on, getting farther into the hills at every step. Eventually at about midday we found ourselves overlooking a valley, with a river and fair-sized villages centred round the only bridge. While we were considering what was best to do, two workmen called to us and when we joined them they said we would be fairly safe if we walked quickly across the bridge, through the village and up a road leading away up the far side of the valley, we could see all this from where we were standing. We decided that the only thing to do was to risk it so set off down the hillside towards the bridge. On reaching the road we met several groups of people who gave us long stares but we crossed over the bridge without event and hurried into the village. The net five minutes were very trying and I expected to find myself looking at the wrong end
[digital page 21]
of a gun every moment. However, we drew out of the busy part and reached the turning off up the other side of the valley without mishap, although by the looks people gave us, it was obvious they guessed what we were. We climbed the steep road as fast as possible and soon were looking down onto the village far below us. After going another mile or so we rested for about an hour and then set off once again. My right leg was giving me hell and my feet were very sore due to the bloody Iti shoes. After climbing continuously for some time with the surrounding country getting wilder and more rugged at every step we eventually arrived at the top of the valley and could look over into the next one. This [one line illegible] to be populated more thickly to the left, the way the road ran. We observed a river and what appeared to be quite an important road running along the bottom. After observing all this we then noticed an isolated building away on our right. It was a good mile from any road and we decided to make for it in the hope of getting somewhere to sleep as nightfall was coming on. It was a nasty business getting there as the ground was very muddy and also we were moving along a ridge and the wind was damn cold whereas before it had been very hot with the sun. As we neared the place a group of men were seen digging just off the track, one of them came over to us and asked us what we [one line illegible]
[digital page 22]
English officers and asked if we might sleep for the night in the hay barn and then go on at dawn. Although they seemed sorry for us and gave us bread and vino, they refused us shelter, but told us of a small cottage about three kilos farther on in the hills. We continued on and suddenly came upon a party of men armed with rifles. Both sides stopped and looked but apparently they were as keen on avoiding us as we were them, for they shoved off in another direction. After a bit we came to the top of a ridge and saw a small house about half a mile in front. When we reached it Hugh went to the door and I looked for a barn. The man of the house was out but his wife invited us in. The kitchen was large, dark, bare but warm and the latter was all that interested us for we were about all in. Eventually the husband arrived and we explained ourselves to him. He was a very good sort and consented to keep us for the night very willingly. The evening meal was served, it consisted of minestra, brad, cheese and water – not very interesting but damn good for anyone really cold and hungry. The family consisted of husband and wife, two children, one boy and one girl, also an old woman and later her husband (they were the parents of either the younger husband or his wife).
[digital page 23]
After the meal, the family got down to work, the little girl began her school homework and the rest began various jobs including spinning, wool sorting and thinning out, knitting and mending, everyone joined in.
The light was supplied by a lamp hanging from the ceiling. We sat on a wall bench in the corner near the [illegible]. About nine o’clock they began to pack up for bed and we expected to be left in the kitchen, but after some talking the husband took us upstairs and gave us a bed, which I think was probably the best in the house. The boy slept in a small bed in the corner. This ended a very full and exciting day.
We awoke fairly early and found all the family up and about. When we attempted to move about we were stiff and sore as a result of the exertions of the day before. My feet were particularly painful and I had several blisters – those shoes again. We went down and had some milk and bread and then sat in the kitchen. After a bit Hugh asked the man if we could stay with them another day and rest ourselves a bit. He agreed quite willingly to keep us until the next morning. Later on we went out and tried to walk a bit but were so stiff as only to
[digital page 24]
manage about a hundred yards. We sat on the hillside for an hour or so and then returned to the house. An elder daughter was there, she worked somewhere close by and left shortly afterwards. The midday meal consisted of polenta and cheese and we put away as much as possible. The afternoon was spent beside the fire. The only thing that happened was the arrival of an elder son, he had come home for the weekend, having to walk many miles from the farm where he worked. The evening was spent much the same as the previous one: if anything one went to bed even earlier. The two boys slept in the small bed, one each end and the eldest snored loud and long the entire night.
Up fairly early to find the stiffness had somewhat worn off but my feet were still raw in places and damn sore. I covered the worst parts with pieces of a handkerchief. After a breakfast of milk and bread the women gave us a loaf each and a piece of cheese and then the men took us outside and from a point overlooking the valley, gave us instructions as to the best way to continue our journey. So far as I can remember we were warned against certain villages owing to Fascists and also the road as being dangerous on a Sunday. After this the entire household took us by the hands and wished
[digital page 25]
us good luck and then we departed.
I shall never forget those people, they were some of the poorest that we met and yet were only too pleased to give us lodging and food. After leaving the house we walked off along a track that continued on along the ridge overlooking the valley. It was a fine clear morning after a sharp frost but the snow was frozen hard making the going somewhat tricky off the winding, rutty track. After going about a mile we had to make a long detour to avoid a village, this necessitated the crossing of a small river that ran in a deep gorge and was rather difficult and took some time to accomplish. We walked on for two or three hours, during which time we crossed another valley and came in sight of the road again. This time we found it necessary to cross a larger river, and to do so we had to get on to the road and over a bridge around which was clustered a small village. After some difficult going across more or less cultivated ground we reached the road and bridge. It was a risky business, for all we knew there might easily have been a guard there, or a post of some sort in the village, but we were getting used to that sort of risk. A group of youths by the bridge asked us if we were English, and as it was no use denying it, we admitted we were, whereupon they all exclaimed ‘Bravo! Bravo!’
[digital page 26]
Continuing along the road we had a conversation with a girl on a bicycle. She left us at another small village and we plodded on. After going another mile or so we were stopped by a well-dressed man with his wife and son. He assured us he was a friend and said he had had two Americans in his house for some days, but people had become suspicious and they had gone. He told us it was dangerous to keep to the road as there were a lot of people about, it being Sunday. After this we followed the riverside that ran parallel to the road and some three hundred yards from it. It was very cold by now and the sky was grey and cloudy. We stopped about two o’clock and drank water from a stream – since lunch. My feet were almost unbearable by now and altogether I felt quite ill and very miserable. At about 4 pm we came to a farmhouse or collection of houses beside the river and asked a man if we could stay the night. He held some talk with several others and eventually said he would show us the way to a house where we would stop. However, his directions were vague and after walking back the way we had come and not being able to find the place, we decided to make for a collection of houses on the top of a steep hill above the river and road. That was a nasty climb in our exhausted state and I dropped some way behind but caught up again at the top.
[digital page 27]
The first place we tried were sorry but said no. As we were making for the next houses we caught up with an old man and Hugh explained to him. He said that his three sons were prisoners of the English and because of that he would give us food and shelter for the night. We walked with him to the houses and into a stable containing three cows. He told us to sit there until it was dark and then we could go into the house. His wife gave us some water to drink and a girl came in and milked the cows. We sat on two stools against the wall and nearly dropped off to sleep. Shortly it was quite dark and the old man fetched us to the house. We entered a small kitchen and sat down on a bench before a ‘stuffa’. After a few minutes the girl who [one line illegible] and began preparing a meal. She was the daughter by name Angelina. Another elderly man was also there, he had been POW in Germany in the last war. A son also arrived after a bit and eventually we all went up several steps into the next room and had a meal. Very good minestra followed by potatoes, meat and bread, also some wine. The rest of the evening was spent in the kitchen, wound the fire talking to the old people and the girl. They rigged us up a bed with a mattress and blankets on the bench in the kitchen and we slept soundly. The old man was up about six and by seven we had washed and were ready to move on. They gave us some breakfast and bread and [one line illegible]
[digital page 28]
went on our way. The men came with us for about half a mile and have us directions as to the best way to proceed. We got down onto the road and made along it towards a bridge over the river. Having crossed this, we left the road and began climbing up the mountainside. Eventually we reached a track running round and overlooking the village that we had been advised to avoid. We followed this and it led us to another valley. It was quite sticky going, with a drop of many hundreds of feet down to the valley below. After another thirty minutes or so to a very steep and [illegible] re-entrant which caused us to descend into the main valley. This was very hazardous for me owing to my sore and blistered feet. When we reached the bottom and had crossed a stream we found a track and made up our way up the valley and parallel with the river. After another mile e came to a small village and decided to go through it. No one stopped us and we were leaving it behind when a woman came running after us. She was Iti but had been in New York for four years a long time before and spoke a little English with American accent. She put us on the right track and offered us bread. Among other things she referred to ‘that god-damned Mussolini’ and ‘the tinker Germans’. We wished her farewell and continued on our way. About one o’clock we passed through another small village built on a rock and just passed it we sat on the grass and ate our bread and cheese. The weather was good and the sun shining.
[Digital page 29]
After an hour we moved on again. The track led along the mountainside and was very rough with many streams to be crossed. We had been going solidly for about three hours before the next human habitations appeared in sight. These were a series of stone huts with low doors and no windows. Also we began to see people moving about among the trees. Another half mile brought us to a village whose name I remember was “Castel Rolls”. Hugh asked at several houses for somewhere to sleep but we had no luck. It was getting cold and late now. Also we were damned tired and hungry. Another village could be seen about a mile further on and we were told that people there would put us up for the night. We climbed a very steep hill after crossing the river and reached the village just as the light was fading. Hardly anyone was about and such people as there were shook their heads. Everywhere was grey and cold and water running over the cobble stones, and I felt very miserable. We tried the last house in the village and after talking among themselves they agreed to let us sleep in their hay barn. There was a very old man, tall and rather gentlemanly looking, although they were quite poor by our standard. He spoke a few words of English, having at one time been to America, but not enough to converse in English. There was also two young women and several chaps. One of the women had a baby of about eighteen months. We climbed into the hay and remained there for some time. It
[digital page 30]
became very cold and I was shivering like hell when someone came and told us to come into the house. The kitchen was very warm and we crouched over the fire. They told us to take off our shoes and dry them and I was certainly glad to be rid of the damned things. When we had warmed ourselves they took us into the next room and produced a large bowl of soup. It consisted of chestnuts and bread but was very hot. I was hungry as hell and wolfed three plates full. It is something I will never forget, that soup warmed me through, and filled me. If it had not been for that and the warmth of the room I think that I would have been very ill, if not dead. [one line missing from scan] after the meal we went back to the kitchen and spent the rest of the evening drowsing over the fire. One of the fellows played a large mouth organ and we talked to the old chap. An old woman (whether his wife or not, I cannot remember), was spinning and the others playing with the child. The shoes dried, but also split and the soles and uppers had gaping hold between them. Altogether I felt as though to do on was not only asking for trouble, but also physically impossible.
We retired into the hay loft and the old man came with a lantern and gave us a sack each and a rug between us. We were soon asleep but it was very cold later on and we spent a miserable night.
[digital page 31]
Next morning we examined our shoes and Hugh’s were still in quite good trim but mine were almost useless. The family took us in and gave us some bread and milk, also many directions as to the way to go. One of the girls came with us for a short distance and pointed out the track we were to follow.
We went on alone along the mountainside and rounded a bend into the next valley. Here we were confronted with a river and no bridge. After walking up and down a bit I found a spot where a number of rocks stuck out of the water and by jumping from one to the other succeeded in getting across. Nevertheless I got quite wet, especially my feet. After Hugh had crossed we continued up the far track and up the [4 words illegible]
It must have been quite high because there was a good deal of snow about. The going was very difficult as we had lost the track, and concentrated on getting to the top to see what was over the other side. We were faced by another deep valley running along our front, with a road and river in it. Below us was a small village and we began to descend in that direction. It was then that the sole of my right shoe came off completely, leaving me just the Upper flapping round my ankle. The ground was very uneven and mostly gravel with water running in it and so the going was bloody. By the time we reached the outskirts of the village it was obvious that I could not continue in this condition. We spoke to a woman, who, although, very sympathetic
[Digital page 32]
could give no practical assistance. After a bit of talking we agreed to separate, Hugh to continue walking up the valley and I to go into the village and attempt to procure some form of footwear. If successful, to continue and if not, then to give myself up to the Carabinieri who we knew were stationed in the vicinity. I made my way down to the road and then down into the village trying at several places and speaking to several men. Some asked me if I had money but all seemed either afraid to help or incapable. Eventually I found myself outside the Carabineri post and in desperation gave myself up to the young fellow on duty. He took me in and we talked for some time – he was very friendly. A woman and a young girl (about seventeen and by name, Adrianna) were there. The woman was preparing a meal [1 line missing from the scan] at midday the woman, man and myself ate a very good macaroni dish, bread cheese and water. It was some time after this that a brigadier (Corporal) arrived by car. He started off by shouting about and trying to find out where I had come from etc. However when he saw that that would get him nowhere he calmed down and eventually became quite affable. About 5pm another Brigadiero arrived. He was apparently the commander of the post and was a very good chap. He gave me cigarettes, newspapers, and talked a lot. At first I was suspicious of him but he was genuine enough. He assured me he was no Fascist etc etc.
A Catholic priest came in to see him and was very friendly. Also a chap who was apparently the local taxi driver and he gave me twenty cigarettes. About seven o’clock we had a very good meal, meat, soup, bread and, especially
[digital page 33]
for me a bottle of vino. After this we returned to the office and talked and smoked for quite a long time. Eventually they made me up a bed of forms and a mattress and a pile of blankets in the kitchen and we all retired for the night. The name of the village was [space left blank in the original].
About 5am I was awakened and asked to get up as we were leaving for Palma by car very shortly. I got up, washed, and was given some bread and milk in the office. The senior Carabiniero then gave me forty more cigarettes and three loaves, and we talked for a short time. He said that once outside we must not appear friendly etc etc. while it was still dark the car arrived and three of us, the decent one, the youngster and myself got in. There was a number of other passengers and we were pretty crowded. The distance was, I believe, about sixty kilometres. All along the route whenever we passed a village there were dozens of people trying to get a lift. When we eventually reached Palma we went to some Carabinieri Headquarters and then to the German Headquarters. Here I was taken into an office and questioned by an English speaking German. He was very civil and correct. He said I would be taken to the Citadel where there were several other English officers, and later to Manover. We entered the car and drove to the Citadel. This place was an old fortress in the town, occupied by German troops. Inside I was handed over to an N.C.O [Non-commissioned Officer] and after waiting in the guard room for a short time was taken into another part, up some stairs and into a cell. There I first met Dennis Field, Geoff Barber and Pat Vine. There was also a Greek there and another rank who had been a batman at 49. (a very poor type). The cell next door was crowded with Italians and a Chinaman whilst on the ground floor were cells containing all sorts of people including Austrian deserters, Italian civilians, Greek
[Digital page 34]
[Two lines missing from scan]
others old men. We were fed by queuing up out side, I believe twice a day. Food, on the whole was not bad (far better than we were to get later on). I was able to get a wash and shave and attend to my feet as they were in pretty bad form. The washing facilities were primeval. Water ran permanently from a pipe and partly down the wall in the latrine. (Italian Pattern).
We stayed there for three or four days more, during which time we were joined by “Bingo” Banks, “Bertie” Roberts, Harry Dowson, Richard Yorke and several other ranks. The cell became very crowded. On Saturday evening the German troops who lived above held a sing song and kicked up a hell of a noise until late.
This day we were moved to Mantova. The journey was made by long [at least one line missing] travelling. We were guarded by two Germans and one Iti. We arrived at Mantova and a dismal dreary place it was, not far from the Po. The camp was four large garages with wire around them and a house outside served as the German office. The Kommandant was a German Captain. There was a very poor type of South African there as an interpreter. The camp inmates consisted of the Italian garrison of Ellie – lock stock and barrel, a bunch of Iti officers accused of being pro-Allied, some British O.Rs, a few [1 word illegible] who, like us, were re-captures. Greeks, Yugoslavs and all sorts of odds and ends. We were told we would not remain for longer than one week. The food was very poor and scanty. Other officers there were Col King, Col Lancaster, Col Stray, Major Jones, Lts Tony Hill, Eric Watson, Donald Futnel and
[Digital page 35]
Doc Abrahams (U.S Army)
Later we were joined by Adrian Barber and Dick booth. The conditions here were appalling – the washing, the lavs, cookhouse, everything.
We were told after a few days that we would have to remain longer as the [1 word illegible] had been bombed. A few Red Cross Diet Parcels turned up.
Today we left for Germany. About midday we were marched through the town to the railway station, Italians, British etc after a search. The civil population was out in strength, shedding tears and calling out “Sempre coraggio” etc. We were heavily guarded. Some of the Italians’ wives and families were there and it was a dismal affair seeing them turned away by the Germans. A coach had been provided for officers, O.Rs in the cattle trucks. One old man of over eighty was taken as a hostage. The train left eventually about 5pm. I was in a compartment with M.J Strap Futnel, Abrahams and Dick Booth.
10th-12th December – On the train.
We passed through Bolyano which had been heavily bombed, but very accurately – northwards to the Alps and the Brenner. The country was very picturesque. We crossed the Brenner at night and there was bright moonlight on the snow. We reached Brennero at midnight and passed down the Austrian side as dawn broke. We reached Innsbruck early on and were given soup and biscuits and coffee by the German Red Cross. Then we went on the outskirts of Munich and hung about in the sidings until eventually we arrived at Moosburg Station at dusk and were told we would not de-train until morning.
De-trained early and marched to the Camp Stammlager 7A.
[Digital page 36]
We were taken into a hut at the far end of the camp and searched. It was my first experience of dogs and guards. I saw a hut packed with Serbian women and children, all mixed up with men. They were said to be partisans. It was my first sight of Russians.
I was horror stricken at their starved, ragged and generally terrible condition. I saw a Russian knocked down by two Germans and a dog turned on him.
I was marched off to a hut and had our civilian clothes taken from us. I was given a pair of green trousers, an old Belgium tunic, with one arm missing, a French great coat, and a light hat. In fact I looked exactly like the Russians. When these changes had been effected and we had filled in some forms in another hut, we were marched down the main roadway to a compound and into a hut. [1 line illegible]
American O.R’ Permanent Staff, about 40 altogether. There were also a few odd officers, Padres, American officers, John Scott, Jenkins and a few more. R.S.M Burgess, of Capua days was there. In the afternoon we received ½ Canadian parcel each – that was good!!
We remained in that hut until just before Christmas when the prisoners from ?Leros etc arrived. The officers were in a small compound on the other side of the camp and we went over to join them. While we were in the Permanent Staff Hut there occurred the “Tom Brown” incident. The Leros people struck us as a very queer crowd and we did not get on too well. For Christmas we received one English xmas and one Canadian Parcel each! Parcels were issued unopened.
The ?S.B6 was Colonel (Charlie) Brown M.B.E. Christmas was a miserable affair, the
[Digital page 37]
only good thing being the fact that food was plentiful, thanks to the Red Cross.
27th December – 19th January 1944.
At Moosburg in the ‘Leros’ hut. It was a very miserable time. I managed to procure a pair of wooden clogs, and give Eric Watson his shoes back. I went on walks whenever it was feasible to borrow some boots. Several hundred other officers arrived and were put into the other end of the hut. Tony Emery was amongst them. There were several rumours of moving to various permanent camps but none came off. It was the ‘Chieti’ story and the much maligned Colonel Marshall. Several concerts were led by Tony Watson. There were doubtful stories of Major Cassels. The ?resigning of the Serbs. Trading for bread with the sentries. The news and Williams, Mike, Myers and Stafford. Dick Booth’s coffee. Adrian and ‘down the hatch’. The twelve bed blocks. Hubert Waltho. The eventual order to move to [1 word illegible]
Left the compound about 9am and marched to be searched in the hut we first entered on arrival. Gave cigarettes to the Russians and some soap to the Serbian women locked up opposite. Searching was over by about 2pm and we marched to the station. We received some bread and sausage on the way. The train consisted of cattle trucks with some straw on the floor, but there was not much. There was a stove in the middle, two guards in each truck, and 38 or 40 prisoners. About half of those in our truck were Indians but two sentries were quite decent chaps and we soon had the stove alight. The train started after some time and we were on our way.
20th January – 25th January.
On the train. We travelled all over the place and it was impossible to travel direct owing to the bombing of the RAF
[digital page 38]
and the Americans. [rest of line illegible]
Dresden, Karlsbad etc. The sentries were very good at stealing coal for the stove whenever the train stopped. We had very little food from the Germans but were allowed to keep our food parcels, so we were all right. We traded with the sentries cigarettes (mainly Dravas) for bread, beer, combs, pipes and all manner of things. The weather was very cold and there was some snow. There was much shunting and jolting. We passed through a part of Czechoslovakia. Eventually we reached Mahmirch Truebau in Moravia (Sudetenland) about 5pm on the 25 January. We detrained in the station and marched in darkness through the town. The going, for me, in clogs, was pretty awful and the distance was considerable. When we arrived at the camp we were checked in, in parties of about twenty and marched down to the Main Building. Here we were searched in the Canteen. After that we were [1 line illegible] Our group got together and went off in one batch to one of the bungalows (huts). We eventually found ourselves in a room for ten. We were Geoff Barber, Pat Vine, Eric Watson, Donald ?Futrel, John Scott, Dennis Field, Henry Ross, Henry Arrow-Smith-Brown, Harry Dowson and myself. We were issued with a brew and some bread as well as soup and Goon cheese. The beds were double-deckers, pillow, pillow case and blue and white check bag. We also had two small towels, an eating bowl, mug, knife, fork and spoon. One table, ten stools, a store in the corner, and some cupboards. We got to bed as soon as possible but spent a very cold night.
This day was spent rushing around the camp, registering (POW 1926VIIIF) (Red Cross 1660)
[digital page 39]
drawing our ?pans and parcels from the store, and most important of all, drawing some clothes. We were issued with a battle dress, boots, 1 vest, 1 pants and a pair of socks. We also got a hot shower in the afternoon. It was a wonderful feeling to lie in decent clothes once again but best of all to feel good in solid footwear.
Later in the day Dougie Turner appeared. He had been in the camp for about 6 weeks and gave me the news that Jack Collins and Teddy Crouch were also there. Off we went to see them – it was good meeting up with those chaps again. It gave one a feeling of once more being linked up with one’s own world.
26th January – 30th April.
These three months were spent in Oflag 8F. Most of the time I spent in the company of Jack Collins, he and I struck up a real friendship. We had much to discuss – the battle and our capture. I learned the details from his [1 word illegible] as well as my own. The death of poor Peakes, of which I was very sorry to hear.
I attended lectures on various subjects for a time but most of all I read books. We lost Dennis and Harry as they moved into the Main Building and that left just the eight of us in the room, which was very pleasant. Everyone got on very well really. Pat screened off the attic stairs and made a passage with the cupboards, giving us more privacy. I looked after the room’s canteen account and fetched the beer on ‘beer days’. The theatre was excellent, both the building and the shows and acting, and we thoroughly enjoyed everything that they put on.
There was the escape attempts and the non-cooperative roll calls. The Anti-Snoopers League Demonstrations etc. The food, full parcels, bulk issue and German rations provided between the
[Digital page 40]
[1 line of text missing]
enough for Bill Polock to dish up some very good food. The biscuit porridge at breakfast was a main stay during the cold period. As the week went past and Spring approached the weather grew better. In February and March we had some lovely days and some hardy types went in to the swimming pool. Jack used to come up and sit outside our bungalow and more often than not would stay to tea – those were the days of plenty. Then there were the first letters – what a relief it was to get news after so long.
The German news was read in the evenings in one room or another. The Russian [1 or 2 words illegible] caused great excitement and there was much speculation on the “Invasion”.
“The advent of the ?lurd”
The rugger and soccer games in the ‘sports field’ Obertst Von Flotor and the pistol waving nights. ‘Wehrmacht Day’ and the people coming for their soup! Altogether this was the best camp I had been in, in many ways, and we were comparatively comfortable and well-fed during our stay there. About the twenty fifth of April we had stories of a move. All sorts of places were suggested but eventually we found out that Brunswick was to be our destination. The Germans informed us that they were going to move the camp, and they did. Everything – beds, cupboards, theatre props, parcels, every concernable thing was to go. We slept on the floor but it was not bad. The camp was moved in about three groups on different days. John Laine went off on the advanced party, several days before us.
[Digital page 41]
[Rest of page is blank. Diary ends here]
[Digital pages 42 – 44]
[Pages not transcribed]
[digital page 45]
Contents of Canadian Red Cross Parcels
1. One pound tin of butter
2. One pound tin of jam
3. One tin of powdered milk
4. One tin of corned beef
5. One tin of meat roll (Kam or York)
6. One tin of salmon or pilchards
7. One tin of sardines
8. One box of biscuits
9. One box of prunes
10. One box of raisins
11. One bar of chocolate
12. One packet of tea or coffee
13. One packet of sugar
14. One packet of salt
15. One box of cheese
16. One piece of soap
Contents of New Zealand Red Cross Parcels
1. One pound tin of butter
2. One tin of corned beef or mutton
3. One tin of lamb and peas or tongue
4. One tin of condensed milk or coffee
5. One tin of jam
6. One tin of honey or syrup
7. One packet of biscuits
8. Two tins of tea (2oz each)
9. One ‘iron ration’ chocolate
10. One packet of peas
11. One packet of raisins
12. One packet of sugar
13. One tin of cheese (1lb)
14. One tin of salmon
[Digital page 46]
Contents of English Red Cross Parcels
1. One tin of condensed milk
2. One tin of margarine (1/2 lb)
3. One tin of biscuits
4. One tin of jam or syrup
5. One tin of M and V
6. One tin of meat roll
7. One tin of salmon or pilchards
8. One tin of cheese (2 oz)
9. One tin of egg flakes (2 oz)
10. One tin of porridge
11. One slab of sugar (2 oz)
12. One packet of tea
13. One bar of chocolate
14. One tin of cocoa
15. One tin of apple or ginger pudding
16. One piece of soap
These parcels often vary considerably – tinned bacon instead of M and V etc.
[Photograph with caption] Oflag 79, Brunswick, May 1944
[Digital page 47]
[Two photographs with caption] Oflag 79. Brunswick, August 1944
[Digital page 48]
[Two photographs without captions]
[Digital page 49]
[Three photographs with caption] Gate Theatre Oflag VIIIF Mahrisch Trubau
[Digital page 50]
[Four photographs with Captions] Gate Theatre Oflag 8F [and] Marhrisch Truban
[Digital page 51]
[Four photographs with Captions] Gate Theatre Oflag 8F [and] Marhrisch Truban
[Digital page 52]
[Two photographs with Caption] “Ah! Wilderness”. Brunswick, July 1944
[Digital page 53]
[Two photographs without captions]
[Digital page 54]
[Two photographs with Caption] “London Pride” – Barn Theatre. Oflag 79, Brunswick – August 1944
[Digital page 55]
[Two photographs with Caption] “School for Scandal” Barn theatre. Oflag 79. Brunswick
[Digital page 56]
[Two photographs with Caption] “School for Scandal” Barn theatre. Oflag 79. Brunswick [and] Brunswick 20 November 1944
[Digital page 57]
[Image of an ID card for Camp PG49]
[Image of, possibly a ticket, in German]
[Contact details in 1944 for]
Lt Reg Selby of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment;
Capt Hugh Donald Flemming of RAMC [Royal Army Medical Corps];
Lt Jack Collins of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment
[Digital page 58]
Lt Teddy Crouch, of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment
Capt G.K Baker of 3rd County of London Yeomanry
Lt. P.J Vine of 4th County of London Yeomanry
Lt Donald Futnell of RASC [Royal Army Service Corps]
Lt John Scott of 1st Indian A/T [Army Troop]
Lt Henry Arrowsmith – Brown of KRRC [King’s Royal rifle Corps]
Capt Joseph Mordel of the RASC [Royal Army Service Corps]
[Digital page 59]
Capt John Laine of R.A [Royal Artillery]
Lt Gavin Rowan Hamilton of Black Watch
Lt David Crane of the Sherwood Foresters
Capt Ian Lee of The Gordon Highlanders
Lt Herbert Dacker of RASC [Royal Army Service Corps]
Lt Henry G.T Ross of 1st SAA [Small Arms Ammunition?]
Lt Norman Carr of 4th RTR [Royal Tank Regiment]
[Digital page 60]
Capt Dennis Field of the East Yorkshire Regiment
Capt Roger Warner of 4th Ghurkas
Lt Eric Watson of West Yorkshire Regiment
Capt Donald Shaw of Cheshire Yeomanry
Lt Alister Leslie of the Gordon Highlanders
Lt Mike Brooke of West Yorkshire Regiment
[Digital page 61]
Lt D. Colwyn Williams of The King’s ?Gun Regiment
Lt Douglas Turner of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment
Lt Benjamin Mills of the Royal Artillery
Lt Cyril H Jones