H.H Drew’s story is in the format of diary entries. These start on 8th September 1943 during the Italian Armistice where he was already being held as a P.O.W in Sulmona. He escaped with others during the Italian Armistice where they split up into groups. His diary entries then give details of his life “on the run” in the mountainous Italian countryside and the aid that is often given to them by the Italian civilians as well as details of enemy Nazi activity. His diary entries end on 14th October 1943 when he managed to re-join the British Forces.
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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H.H Drew’s escape from Sulmona Sept 1943
‘Joe’ Drew who organised the Sulmona reunion for over 50 years
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HH DREW’S ESCAPE FROM SULMONA, SEPTEMBER 1943
September 8th 1943
Armistice heard at 4.30 from civilians through wire. Football match. Guards still there.
September 9th 1943
British officers took charge (mostly Quislings) Parade 2.0 on football pitch. Speech: Allies in Rome, Allied commission at Pescara but meanwhile British military discipline.
September 10th 1943
Look out for Germans, Organisation as military establishment.
September 11th 1943
More organisation. Preparations for evacuation in case Germans came. Light kit got ready. (Italians still there.)
Sunday September 12th 1943
Civilians come into camp to sell and exchange eggs etc. for soap etc. sort of Arab barter market. Hot day. Walk in afternoon beyond penitentiary with George. At village of Bardia Germans with motorcycles. On way back met people (Italians ahead) evacuating the camp. Camp empty on return. Picked up kit and hurried up the mountain through olive groves. At dusk slept up on the mountain without rejoining rest of camp fellows. Victorio (who in the quarry used to work the winch) happened to meet me and gave us some food.
September 13th 1943
Up early. Re-joined others further up mountain. Among pine trees. Camp fellows split into various groups on mountainside each in charge of an officer. Lay about on ground. Sgt Major Philip wanted me to go interpreting. Row. But I went with him and Captain Parmento to interpret with Germans if they came. Had to leave George. Went slightly down-hill. Down to camp at 10 for water and Red Cross parcels (hour’s walk) (met man sent down the mountain by an officer to get the officer’s autograph book!) Camp being looted by Italians. Found some invalid parcels. Midday Germans approached. Left for mountain in a great hurry. Afternoon spent in great heat on mountain. Saw dust of motorbikes on roads in valley. Just before dark returned once more to camp to get water with Sgt Canning. Washed. Saw K???? (S???? nephew: news correspondent). Camp cleared out and looted. Collected a few chattels (knife, fork, belt). (Kit was up on mountainside with other interpreter party.) Slept on ground halfway up hill
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September 14th 1943
Early walked up to rest of party. Reached them 7.0. Had some biscuits and chocolate. (No cooking.) Decided to get further away from camp. 10.0 Saw Germans approaching in force on the road in the valley, firing between them and Yugoslavs who had seized Italian ??? Machine gun fire from N.W [north-west] and S.W [south west]. Germans came round behind. Panic.10.30 picked up kit and made off. Row with interpreter officers who wanted to keep us.
I was with Canning and Wade (RAF) [Royal Air Force] who was also at post. Others had haversack and blanket. I had pack blanket and water bottle. Threw away Army boots and put on boots received from home. A few bits of food from Red Cross medical parcels. No maps.
Made south for about 1.5 hours. Lay up in woods for rest of day in sight of railway. Came down to valley in the evening to [be] near village. Slept under some trees with other P.O.Ws. No plans but wanted to cross valley.
September 15th 1943
Met Italian who reported no Germans. Entered village. Civilians gave us food and water. Report of tank battle in Aquila between Germans and British. British expected in Sulmona (5 miles away) by 10. Hung around. Entered empty house in woods where Free French had been kept. Ate figs. Cooked a few potatoes. A few more prisoners came in. Some chased by Germans who ordered them back to camp at once. Otherwise they would be machine gunned. Left before 7.0 (expiry of German ultimatum). CW and I left in a hurry. Other ? returned to camp, hoping to be relieved by British in few days. We decided to take no risks. Cut through woods to find water point. (Germans claimed they had all points). If Gs had bring them [?] would have hoped to make a dash for it again on way to camp. But no Gs. Dashed back from 2nd village with water into fields. Italians stopped us and warned us to hide in vineyards. Brought us some food and water. After dark moved by full moon across valley (probably S). At roads waited until G vehicles passed and then dashed across. Kept to fields. River. Dry but with steep banks. Reached spur on other side of valley about 3.0 or 4.0.
September 16th 1943
Hid up under blankets all day. Cover was bad and feared we would be seen. G [German] reconnaissance planes always on look out for stray prisoners. Got no new water and had no food that day. Left 6.0 to 7.0 at
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night. Cut across spur into deep rocky valley the other side. Railway cut deep into mountainside. One train. Lost all sense of direction. Ran by surprise into 2 Italians evading the curfew. Walked & climbed up very rough mountainside for about six hours to plateau. At last found spring. Its gave us a bread which we eat with the water. Its left for their village. Tired. Stayed in ruined shack. Cover bad so moved on. Raining. Broke into hay loft and hid in hay.
September 17th 1943 (near Campo de Joy: Cianzo ?)
Farmer came in the morning and worked below. No food. In the late afternoon farmer came up. Bad moment. He found us (he had heard us) and was probably more afraid than we were. Decent young man who told us to stay. His wife came from village (where they both lived) at dusk. She posted look outs and guided us to empty house 3 miles away. Wash bowl of macaroni, bread & apples waiting for us. Great meal at 9.0 Waiting 2 hrs. Filled up with water. Raining as we set off. Met 3 It soldiers walking home to F???. Walked with them. Change of plan. Now walked N.W instead of previous W or S. Rocks, woods.
September 18th 1943
Stopped at 6.0 Shared some bread with Its. Lay down. One It contacted shepherd & got some milk. Hid in woods in cave. After dusk walked on with Italians through open country (they had a map). Crossed deep valley.
September 19th 1943
Crossed vineyard and filled up with grapes. Reached cave after only about 5 hours. Lay up that day. Discussion with Its. One seemed to be a fascist. Suspicious. Soon after dark decided to leave Ites and make South. Walked hard all night. 3/4 moon. Got back to district where we met Ites on 17th.
September 20th 1943
Lay up under some rocks all day. Found spring. Met another shepherd who gave us some cheese & let us milk a cow. Set off at dusk. Crossed railway. Saw one train. Walked up gully of beech trees (still no map). Just before dawn met charcoal burner.
September 21st 1943
Stayed with him that day. He cooked us some poor but very welcome macaroni and vegs. Others came to chop trees but we hid. Walked on at night through beech trees. Open plateau. Parkland with grass (near Prescocastauzo near Roccorasso)
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September 22nd 1943
Outlying farmhouses. Waited in the woods till dawn. Contact with farmer who let us sleep in his straw. Gave us cheese, milk & bread. Exchanged clothes with farmer. Got big hat and some civilian clothes. Felt safer. Left 7.0. Waning moon. Across open grassland. Cart track. Avoided villages by cutting off into fields. Bogged. Reached main road, spied out the land. Little traffic & eventually decided to cross. 11.0pm. Crossed railway: high embankment. Climb up into hills once more. We were working on a bearing on a mountain to reach Sangro. Scrub, dense scrub, then forest. 3.0am heavy dew. Very miserable. Lay down to sleep in our blankets. Ate some cheese we had brought.
September 23rd 1943
Very miserable in mist. Stumbled on after about 7.0am. Crossed mountain pass down the other side through grass & beech woods. Villagers on the crest of hills. 9.0am weather better. Slept among the trees. 9.0pm started down gentle slopes towards the Sangro. Picked maize cobs, grapes, figs. From hill we looked down on the glistening Sangro. Went down, crossed railway. Waded Sangro midnight (stripped from waist downwards). Shallow river about 4ft deep. Swift & cold. Walked up dry creek and rested under bridge to put clothes on. German convoy of vehicles began crossing bridge. Kept quiet. Two trucks stopped waiting for another truck. After 3/4 hr trucks went on. Much relieved. Walked up sandy creek. Pines. Slept in woods on outskirts of San Pietro. 5.0am.
September 24th 1943
Met farmer who gave us some eggs which he got up from his farm about midday. Went into San Pietro in the evening after farmer told us there were no Germans. Well in centre, crowd collected. Woman took us into back garden for about an hour. Then she gave us some food. Waited in a barn for some Italians expected at 3.0am who were moving south. Fascist boy of 10 threatened that he would fetch his fascist father & the Germans down at the station. 8.0pm left village in great hurry. Reached tracks through woods. Walked for 3 hours without moon. On “sheep track” from Foggia. Slept in the woods. Damp & cold.
September 25th 1943
6am wet & cold so decided to walk by day. Walked all day through woods (beech) across a river & a road. Passed only
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two large farm houses. But we didn’t dare go near them. Eat some bread from San Pietro and boiled tea for first time. Slept for 2 hours at midday. Blackberries. Walked on at 3 pm and crossed hill. Road & electric tramway below us. Met farmer. Asked for Foggia. He pointed out what way we should go & showed us landmark. Reached outskirts of San Pietro “of abundance”. Doubled round the station in order to avoid possible Germans. Decided to rest for the night. Difficulty in getting anything to eat. Persuaded an unwilling man to give us some bread. Stole some grapes. Slept under low wall. German car lights from the road played towards us but didn’t reach us.
September 26th 1943
Woke 5.0 am. Crossed valley & reached Trigno. Had to cross road in daylight, unpleasant. Met girl & boy who had stolen figs. Shared them. Crossed Trigno on stepping stones. Met four from PG 78, Brewed more tea. They then went on ahead. Climb up steeply in heat. Met Italians taking child in basket to doctor 20 miles away. Met farmer who gave us eggs, cheese, bread & tomatoes. First food for 36 hours. Climbed on until midday. Open & so dangerous country. Then a another valley. Half way down stopped at fountain with some washerwoman and boiled the eggs. Washed clothes for the first time. Boys came down from big house on hill to see us. Invited Sgt [Sergeant] to walk up to listen to Italian news. We followed later. Lovely big house: lawns, deck chairs etc. belonging to surgeon from Rome. He gave us large room to settle down in. Shaved. Gave us wine & ‘petit beurre’ biscuits. Listened to Algiers radio in cellar. Amazed that line was so far south. (South of Foggia). Big meal of spaghetti etc. plus cherry brandy. Bath & bed with sheets (three in a bed).
September 27th 1943
Got up at 8.0 am. Decided to rest for a day. Went up into the woods for the day returning only for meals (midday & evening). Excellent food from black market (?). Rumours of Germans so decided to spend the night in an outhouse.
September 28th 1943
Up early & decided to push on loaded with food & a small map. Children took us on our way. Tender wavy farewell. Reached bottom of valley (tributary of Trigno). Rocky, desolate. At 2.0 pm decided not to go on. Slept under trees.
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September 29th 1943 (Castel Bottaccio sul Biferno)
Woke 5.0 am. Climbed up to top of hill on the other side to scattered hamlet. Caught up with some Sicilians making south. Italian speaking American warned us not to go on as Germans were on ridge. Urged us to join so-called partisan movement. (He sounded like a racketeer). Pushed on fearfully. Again caught up with Sicilians in a pub. Drank wine. Reached fountain 5.0 pm. Others shaved Boiled eggs. Reached cutting in the trees which the farmer on 25th had showed us as landmark on horizon. Rheumatism in knee. Open country down towards the Biferno. Crossed roads in great hurry. Reached well. Miller’s wife came to well. Spoke. Went with her through woods to mill where we rested. On to village on top of hill. Stopped as we arrived by mass of people coming towards us to welcome us. Couldn’t move in crowd so sat down in the street. Crowd showered us with bread & wine. Miller’s wife took us to her house in the village. Crowd invaded house. We were first English to go to this village hence the excitement, she lit fire & we had Italian meal. Miller & his father & his son of 6 & the three of us sat down while Miller’s wife & the old grandmother hovered around & served the men. (The women had their meal in the kitchen.) Sausage & macaroni. Plenty of wine. Bed at midnight in a shed on straw. Serenade on guitars.
September 30th 1943
Stayed on with miller. Up 8.0. No breakfast. Walk about the countryside (vineyards, fields) Barber for nothing. Dinner at 12.0. Macaroni. Miller’s family tried to persuade us to stay until English arrived. Fascists made trouble to get us out. Miller stood up for us but decided to leave next morning. Supper with wine. Women again didn’t sit down with the men. Closets out in the woods. Wide view over the Biferno. Bed early.
October 1st 1943
Left 6.0 am. Wine & food in our sacks. Walk down to power station on the Biferno. Waded across the Biferno not trusting bridges then lay in sun & dried. Wine because overheated in sun. Stole grapes & figs. Sheltered spot, where we stopped for the whole afternoon. Packed up & met gypsies. Very keen on exchanging anything we had. Gave them some soap. Gypsies encamped: (men rode, women walked) lit fire, baked hedgehogs in clay. Mandolin playing. Cold. Slept around the fire with gypsies. Kept boots on for fear of thieves.
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October 2nd 1943
Gypsies making for Ripabottorni. where we wanted to go. Gypsies stole bread from farm. Farmers rushed round with guns. But it got no further than shouts and waving of arms. So we decided to part company.
Gypsies chased up valley with men riding, women running. Turned east, met man in woods. Warned us against trying to get to Ripabottorni on account of fortifications, roads, railways etc. Waited in woods, stole grapes. Rain. Found shack into which we crept for shelter.
October 3rd 1943
6.0 am. walked west towards Campobasso. Rough, heavy going always keeping south of main road. Farmer gave us some eggs, bread & grapes. Stopped at 5.0 pm. Stole grapes. Slept in woods.
October 4th 1943
5.30am. Found track. Met farmer who gave us macaroni with hazel nuts in it. Good meal. 2.0 pm pushed on, on his advice, towards Bojano. Moved along ridge with road down below with German motor cyclists. Saw allied planes for the first time. Found cave where we ate figs & grapes. Slept in mouth of the cave.
October 5th 1943
Left at about 6.0 am. At 11.0 reached road running north to Bojano. A lot of traffic so we lay up & watched it from the woods. (Our map showed only railways so it was of limited value). Waited the whole afternoon. Stole some grapes. Small moon. Crossed road at about 10.0 pm in darkness. After 2 or 3 hrs walking in dark we halted in the woods on the top of a hill.
October 6th 1943
Up at 9.0 am. Saw plenty of German activity. They were evidently living in the villages. Constant air activity. Machine gun fire in the distance. Hung on in the woods eating grapes & walnuts and the remains of some bread. At 3.0 pm. decided that there was no possibility of getting on so decided to go back. Re-crossed road at night between Bojano & Vinchiatuco and walked back through the night reaching the farmhouse of 4th at about 5.0 am.
October 7th 1943
Slept in woods until 9.0 am. Pleasant farmer again gave us food, including goat’s milk. Went picking grapes with farmer. Much air activity. 5.0 pm. left farmer with cheese & bread. Walked back all through the night round Campobasso to spot where we met the gypsies after crossing the Biferno on 1st. 3.0 am reached spot where we had slept with the gypsies & slept there again.
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October 8th 1943
8.0 am. walked on towards Ripabattani arguing that if gypsies could get through then we could too. 9.0 am, met old man Luigi with son, a priest. Long talk. Persuaded against Ripabattani. We knew by now that British had taken Foggia and were pressing north. Cold, wet weather. Luigi invited us to stay in a shed where he made bricks. He had vineyards etc. so we gladly accepted. Helped him with brick-making. Daughter brought down macaroni from village where they lived. His sister brought us some milk before evening. Slept on floor on straw.
October 9th 1943
Up at day break after heavy thunderstorm. Germans requisitioning food in Castelino: one hour’s walk up hill. Allied planes began to machine gun roads. Risked walk up to village in evening by ourselves. Met oldish man who offered us food. Dirty man. Sat before fire while his wife prepared macaroni and hazelnuts. He took us for a walk in the evening to the woods for lavatories. Back at his house he turned out his daughter & wife. We then got into a large bed (Mick & I: Canning had gone off to another house) & the old charcoal burner got into bed with us. Unpleasant.
October 10th 1943
Early on this Sunday we returned to brick kiln. Luigi came down to hide his pig from Germans & invited us to spend Sunday with him at Castelino. Everyone playing a kind of skittles; plus wine. 11.0 am. church. As service was beginning Germans entered village so priest hid us quickly behind the altar where we stayed throughout the service. Women wailing outside at German requisitioning. We were hurried out of the church into the country. Worked our way round to Luigi’s village house. In the afternoon the R.A.F [Royal Air Force] machine gunned some thousands of eggs which had been requisitioned. Six men (including us) & four women (outside) sat down to a chicken & macaroni. Offered the head but chose another part. Slept on floor of his dining room in some blankets he gave us. 12.0 am Germans entered village to put gun in the village. We slipped out & went in pouring rain down to brick kiln.
October 11th 1943
Luigi came about 5.0 am. with a horse. The Germans were everywhere so he had come to hide us up the valley in a disused farm house three hours away. He went with us on devious tracks by long detour. Farmhouse on a rock. Hid up in
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the woods in the day & slept in the house at night. Woman came the 3 hours from the village to cook us some food.. Raided vineyard.
October 12th 1943
Up at dawn. Raided vineyard. Invited by farmer in out of the way farmhouse for food. Saw strange figure. German deserter ? He didn’t greet us. Scared. No possibility of going on. British approaching but didn’t know where. Germans in full occupation of Castelino. Luigi visited us with tomatoes, grapes etc. Slept again in farmhouse.
October 13th 1943
Up early & left farmhouse for woods. Looking back we saw Germans with mules entering the farmhouse so we got out in the nick of time. Canning watched farmhouse while Mick & I went up to find a hide out. Found ruined shack with cave behind it. Met Luigi. Went to out of the way farmhouse of 12th for some food in the evening. Firing in distance throughout day. Boy spied out & we went back to deserted farmhouse for blanket which was luckily still there. Met relation of Luigi who came from Ripabattoni with a few cows. His farm and the rest of the village had been entirely looted. Panicky. Pouring rain. Told of three drunk Germans in a farmhouse but we kept clear. Gave this relation some water & bread. Back to hide out. Bad night with fleas.
October 14th 1943
Villagers from Castelino said British were at Morone near Bonefro about ten miles away. But they were not certain. Canning decided to go with Italians to see if he could make contact with British. I & Mick hung on at the cave until 2.0 pm when a man came back with a note from Canning saying he had come across an R.A. [Royal Artillery] outpost but was not allowed back. Mick & I moved up hill. British artillery opened up, then German artillery. We were between the two so we lay very low. In a lull we moved to the top of the hill. Firing once more, including small arms fire in all directions. Lay Low. Reached Morone which the Germans had evacuated by taking the tracks down on each side of us. Village empty. Germans firing at village demolished church tower. We left in a hurry. As we were leaving met a patrol of Green Howards entering (5.0 pm.) Challenged. Patrol warned us that all roads were mined and that we must keep on the ridge & make towards a mountain. Patrol moved on. Crossed road & railway. Dark closing in. Artillery started again from German side. Very unpleasant. Walked on thin lanes on steep rocky ridge. Mist came up. Heard some sounds below. We shouted & reached another R.A. [Royal Artillery]
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outpost. Challenged & then entered dug out. Hot drink of tea. Taken for an hour’s walk to battle headquarters to [give] such information as we had of German gun positions. Put in a truck & reached Bonefro about midnight. Given beer & slept on a floor of regimental headquarters with Sgt [Sergeant] Major.