Captured at Sidi Azeiz in September of 1941, Major Evans was imprisoned in Campo 29 at Veano, near Ponte Dell Ollio, just south of Piacenza in the north of Italy. Following his recapture after an audacious escape from a tunnel that was dug from a starting point in the middle of the camp compound, Major Evans subsequently fled with others into the Italian mountains following the Italian capitulation. He walked 500 miles towards the allied lines before holing up on the outskirts of Vallepietra, a little village east of Rome where, as senior officer, he was responsible for the welfare of other prisoners in the area.
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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The Wartime diary notations (8th September 1943 – June 28th 1944) of escaped POW Major H.M. Evans, No 23291 Royal New Zealand Artillery.
Captured at Sidi Azeiz in September of 1941, Major Evans was imprisoned in Campo 29 at Veano, near Ponte Dell Ollio, just south of Piacenza in the north of Italy. Following his recapture after an audacious escape from a tunnel that was dug from a starting point in the middle of the camp compound, Major Evans subsequently fled with others into the Italian mountains following the Italian capitulation. He walked 500 miles towards the allied lines before holing up on the outskirts of Vallepietra, a little village east of Rome where, as senior officer, he was responsible for the welfare of other prisoners in the area.
All aspects of this document are protected by the Copyright and may not be used by anyone in any form without the written permission of the copyright holder and then only for the purpose agreed.
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Notes on Diary of Major. Hilary Evans R.N.Z Artillery.
PG Camp at Veano to liberation at Vallepietra – outside Rome. See Newspaper Cuttings of Camp.
8th September. Hear of Armistice. Breaks down the wire of POW camp, but Evans’ does not go until 10th September after assuring that batmen wish to go on their own. N.B. There is no mention of any order to stay put. Must assume that the order never reached the Camp. (Does G.Lett mention it?) Goes generally south and sleep in barns. POW’s have Red Cross food but slowly come to rely mostly on Italian supply. Stay in a cabin for a few days.
23rd September. Meet L/Cpl with two Italian Soldiers going home, near Carrara. Soon meet woman from Carrara who says Germans are occupying the home of this soldier.
2nd October. H.E. parts from his companions and is content on his own going generally south and east – along the ridge of the Appennines. (Purposely H.E. writes no names of specific places or people)
25th October. Meets 3 Dutchmen on doorstep. (Obviously Fritz Glaser, Hans Catz and Mike Van Danziel)
1st November. All Saints Day, goes to Mass. Above San Sepulcro, passes Pietralunga. Sleeping in barns etc. mostly, sometimes shares a bed with head or house or son. First snow.
18th November. Meet Loftus Peyton Jones. On 28th they cross the Rome Avezzano road and rail and come to Vallepietra.
13th December. Evans is getting money from the Rome network and distributes it to POWs and Italians helping them.
19th December. Loftus is ill while lambs are being born in the stalls beneath them.
10th January. P.J. and Evans move out of village to caves. In such circumstances the tension rises often between them though sticking together.
24th January. Evans promises to help an Italian to get to alter after war (which he did)
25th January. Move back to village.
1st February. Back to Caves.
3rd February. Germans surround and plunder village. One person shot. Podesta (Mayor in Fascist language) is temporarily arrested. Snow news from Anzio not good.
25th February. Peyton Jones leaves to try to get through lines.
1st March. 10 inches of snow. Last of Tea. Often hears battle (Cassino?)
10th March. Evans is still living in Cave. Meat 6 shillings a pound (over 50p per kilo. Average wage in England around £500 per year?) Eggs 8 per £. Evans’ sunbathes by day and it snows by night. Hears news of impeding 2nd front? Well known that Anzio had got stuck. H.E. often goes back into town and visits ‘pills’ (chemist?) and ‘picture frames’ (oculist?) Evans sees a lot of another POW (Metcalfe) – but suspects he has stolen Evans’ comb – typical of tension and concern for small and rare things.
3rd May. Evans’ birthday – 38.
6th May. Metcalf returns having had no luck in getting through the lines.
25th May. 8 months since leaving Camp. Food more difficult to find. Planes continuously overhead. Nerves are getting a bit ragged.
6th June. Evans goes and finds Indian Troops and leads them to attack German soldiers.
10th June. Evans leaves for Rome, seemingly taken by Armando (Rotundi?) in a car – or perhaps together in a car. Evans meets O’Flaherty and General Fredyberg. Sees Pope.
17th June. Goes via Nappes, Taranto to Bari.
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[illegible handwritten text in margin]
September 8th 1943. Excitement among the batmen in the garden. Dinner is nearly over and it is 8 p.m. Then the great news. An Armistice with Italy. Our period of incarceration is over. The Commandant Came in later and said he was awaiting orders and shook hands with Fanshawe and Younghusband.
9th September. Gates open all day, we broke down the wire this morning and stretched our legs over the countryside. Will the Boche come to take us? Some sleep out all night in case. I decide to go tomorrow. [handwritten text] I still cannot understand why I took the risk.
10th September. The Commandant says he is worried about how long he is to protect us. That’s a joke. Nearly half his force have changed into civilian clothes and gone home. Younghusband calls a meeting and said he relieved the Italians of responsibility as from 2 p.m. and that those who wish may leave. He and a few other deadbeats are staying behind. I join Scruffy and Willie and we leave for the mountains at 12.05. We sleep out this night. Cold!
11th September. We move on without breakfast and have it in the next village. We meet S. M. Fairy(?) and his party, and Napier and Co. All people are friendly. Keep to the mountains. My buddies are very unfit, not good campers. Many Ite [Italian] soldiers on their way home. A number of civilians speak English. A bit of excitement crossing a road patrolled by Jerries. On to Leggio. Heard the London news. Our forces a long way off. [illegible handwritten text] [handwritten text] 500 miles
12th September. On again, always up. Alto. Sleep in another and third barn this night. Plenty of straw, and have an overall wash in the nearby stream. Starting to eat again.
10th September. Before leaving the camp, I decide to ask Aussie the officers servant who had looked after Bob and myself. The British would not be a complete army without their Officer servant. If he would care to accompany me into the Mountains and be safe South. He said he had already made plans with some of his lads. [1 sentence illegible]
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13th September (day 4). The priest again in the next village at which we stopped was most kind. Loaned us his radio and his sitting room to make a map and heated water for our tea. A newly married couple with a radio entertained us later on the same evening and cooked all our breakfasts the next morning.
14th September (day 5). Made fair progress this morning. Scruffy very tired. We were lucky to travel in the afternoon with a couple of civilians with mules, they put our hand luggage on the mules and helped us to get to another barn at their village that night. The people put on a good meal for us in the local pub and gave us eggs in the morning with bread. The pub keeper helped us up the mountain on the morning of 15th.
15th September. We made a good run round Santo Stefano in which we know there are a few Jerries. While resting after lunch an Ite [Italian] stopped and spoke to us and later persuaded us to use a log cabin of his nearby and rest for a few days. We got some straw for our beds and some bread in a local village.
16th September. Cold last night, we have no blankets. I went Thursday to the village at 1300 hours today to meet an English speaking bloke. He gave me two loaves, cheese and pears.
[illegible handwritten text in the margin]
Friday 17th September. Just returned from a good wash. A cow ate my underpants which I had just put out to dry. Scruffy met two boys from Santo S. [Stefano] who are going to bring us radio news. Wonderful news. We cannot make up our minds about trying to get a boat and sail down to our forces, the huns are reported to be all along the coast. Bread, cheese and potatoes, enough for three meals, arrived this afternoon. Made a door for the cabin. Bully and potatoes for tea. Went to bed 20.30 hours.
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Saturday 18th September. Kept a fire going all night and were much warmer. A heavy thunder-storm started soon after breakfast. It is still raining. The roof only leaks in about six places. We are lucky to have a roof. We got a Genoa paper of 16th yesterday. Our forces are moving slowly. Had some pasta and potatoes given to us in the afternoon. Walked around the mount for exercise.
Sunday 19th September. We were awakened by two Ites [Italians] with bread and milk at 7 a.m. All are very good. Toast and tea for breakfast. Bathed in nearby stream. I went for a walk in the afternoon to Mt. Lena (?) Brought back seven ragazzi from S.S. who are going to bring us some meat tomorrow. Potatoes and meat roll, bread and jam, cocoa.
Monday 20th September. Spent a warmer night by keeping the fire going. Got wet looking for a mule. Met three people from S.S., one going to Calabria. Our girls did not turn up with the meat.
Tuesday 21st September. A cold night. Got up twice to replenish the fire. Many visitors and food, much of which we had to refuse. We plan to leave tomorrow if we get a map. Had lunch with Luigi. He was very cut up when we said cheerio. Map tomorrow. Started to rain.
Wednesday 22nd September. A warmer night. Fried tomatoes for breakfast with toast and tea. Still raining slightly. Scruffy and Jimmie played cards all morning.
Thursday 23rd September (day 14). On the road again at 8.30. During the next few days we met a British L/Cpl travelling with two Italian ex soldiers, all in civilian clothes. One whose home is in Carara was intending to take the Cpl with him to wait at his home.
Friday 24th September (day 15). After some talk between us he agreed to take all there with the idea, with his home being near the sea, that we would obtain a small boat for us to sail to either Naples or Corsica.
Saturday 25th September – Sunday 26th September. All went well till we reached a village a day’s march from our destination where our friend met a lady he knew quite well at C. When she told him that Jerry was living in his home he packed up completely, said he was going no further and so ended our boating scheme.
Monday 27th September We decided to go south and endeavour to pan through the actual line as the battle moved northwards.
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Tuesday 28th September. [No typed entry]
Wednesday 29th September (day 20). Got wet to the skin today. Saw some Jerries. Walked through a river and had trouble getting dry. All paura!
Thursday 30th September (day 21). A little rain today. Finished up in a good village and slept in a double bed with the L/Cpl. Had a very good meal here. Senzi complimenti!
Friday 1st October (day 22). Started well with a light breakfast but had trouble with the Carabinieri [Italian Military Police Force] later. I got his underpants in the finish.
Saturday 2nd October (day 23) Fine. I lost my companions twice. I never found them the second time. Perhaps just as well. Happier on my own. Slept on dried leaves with ???
Sunday 3rd October (day 24). Started early. Mass at 8.30. Up and down all day. Plenty to eat. A young mother took me to her home for the night and fed me well.
Monday 4th October (day 25). Put my watch back an hour. Set off after a breakfast of hot milk and bread. Kept going all day and had plenty to eat, including apples. I finished the day at the home of an Ite [Italian] who spoke English with a broad Scottish accent. I had supper and a warm bed here.
Tuesday 5th October (day 26). Another lovely day. Set off after milk, bread and grapes. My late companions passed as I was at breakfast.
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Wednesday 6th October. Montefigatari. Did a good day’s walk and saw plenty of our planes. I am to spend the night with very poor folk. I will send for tobacco and coffee. I slept on the floor in the same barn as the rest of the household. Hot milk and [one word omitted] for breakfast. Met a Lieu [Lieutenant] from my battery in a village, high up in the mountains, from 47. Clifton gone to Germany. We join forces after lunch and carry on. Plenty to say.
Thursday 7th October. I spent a poor night in a shed with 10 Italian soldiers. Had my shoes repaired and set off again after coffee and bread. Ken is not well and has gone to Germany.
Friday 8th October. (day 29). Henry Slyfield and I finished up at a [one word omitted]. Had a good meal and heard the radio at 9.45. Slept in a little shed with two cripples. Warm and comfortable. Rain.
Saturday 9th October. Met two S.A.’s from 47, disgusted with N.Z.S.B.O [New Zealand Senior British Officer]. Light rain fell during the night. Staying put for awhile. Rained all day. Never moved. Had a good meal in the evening. Heard the radio at 9.45. Rain holding up our troops at Capra.
Sunday 10th October (day 31). Left early. While on a road for a few minutes, we were surprised by a full truck of Jerries. In the matter I lost Henry and never found him again. I spent the night with some English and Americans who had been shot down in a Flying Fort. They were being well looked after, but there was too many in one place. [handwritten text] At this early stage the Armistice, P.O.Ws were many and littered all over the place, with no good ideas as to what to do next.
Monday 11th October (day 32). Left the Yanks at 10 and made a lunch at 11.30. A cool day. I like it on my own. I intend to go to the really high country and wait up for a week. [handwritten text] It is hard to find a reason for some of my planning at this time.
Tuesday 12th October (day 33). Met Ward of Auckland last night with his Scottish pal, pretending to be a Captain and a Lieutenant.
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I had supper with them at an E.S. man’s place and spent the night in an open barn. [handwritten text] The Italians treated Officers a bit better than other ranks.
Wednesday 13th October (day 34). Left at 7. Ward is going to rest up for awhile. Got a via! via! at midday from a scared Italian, but some bread and apples a little later from another. Stopped at 6p.m and had a thermos of tea. Slept on bracken in a barn. No house near. [handwritten text] All this is a bit hard after the comfort of the previous camp.
Thursday 14th October (day 35). Got going at 7 a.m. I am writing this on the top of a high hill with a cross on it and I have a fine view of Pistoia and my route. I am just resting after going under a main road via a culvert over which I have seen 100 or so Jerries go in trucks. Gave my New Zealand address to a chap who gave me a Fungi lunch. [handwritten text] I deliberately omitted recording the names on my route in case I ever finished up with a record of my contacts.
Friday 15th October (day 36). Spent the night on straw and had a loan of a blanket. Boiled water supplied. Bread and apples for breakfast. Later on this morning, I met 2 N.Z.’s in the railway. They may call on me at. No. 9. Crossed a main road and had difficulty in finding somewhere to sleep, took French leave in a barn after dark, on hay.
Saturday 16th October (day 37). Left without seeing anyone at 7 and did a good morning’s walk. Have just finished lunch high up on an empty casa; malted milk with bread and cheese, walnuts and raisins, and coffee – not bad at this stage. Breakfast not so good –dry bread and a pear water, fredo! 2 p.m., on with the dance! I am picked up by a little girl at 3.30 and taken to see 4 O.R’s [Other Ranks] who have been here for 3 weeks, and decide to stay till Saturday. Have a cold in the head.
Sunday 17th October (day 38). Shown as Friday 15th October (day 36). A warm sunny day, had a warm night, a warm drink, and bread for breakfast. Maize meal and fungi for lunch, and a via alarm at 2.30. Tears mingled with the bread and grapes they brought us. I went my own way and found a good home for the night with a good meal and 2 blankets to sleep on. Augusta’s father to write me later.
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Saturday 16th October (day 38). Left with bread and cheese at 7.15, seem to have a tough route but safe. I heard yesterday that Italy had declared war on Germany. That should make Adolf tremble! A little rain in the afternoon. I waited till 5 before crossing a much used road and got to shelter at 6. Slept in a bed. Grand! It looks like rain for tomorrow.
Sunday 17th October (day 39). Rained all day, stayed put. Time drags when not walking. Can hear Jerries trucks from here.
Monday 18th October (day 40). As it was still raining, I was persuaded to stay. Phew! At about 11 suddenly saw three Jerries at the window. The old lady had rushed in to warn me and sent me up to the loft where I stayed for an hour or a year, difficult to tell. I was worried about my bags in the kitchen. The old man came up when all was clear and I got the Via! Got dried out later in the afternoon, Broke my thermos. Picked up at 5 and dried, fed and bedded down comfortably with 4 blankets. Italy for thin dogs!
Tuesday 19th October. Fine. I’m waiting for some milk and bread, worth waiting for too. Put in a good day and saw quite a number of Jerries in trucks while waiting for a chance to cross the Florence-Bologna highway. A warm day. I finished at 6 and was given a hot meal and slept in with the cows! Pigs next time?
Wednesday 20th October. Promise of a good day. Nice to be in the fresh air after last night. A good day. I was unable to get shelter at 5.30. Too many townies, but o.k. at 6.15.
Thursday 21st October. Spent a good night in bed with the son of the house, he did not kick or snore. Tea and toast for breakfast and got steak and fungi at a railway house. I was given safe passage through the village by the daughter of the house at noon. Just in time for a hot meal in the evening and a bed in the barn later. Jerry missing things!
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[handwritten text by Keith Killby at top of the page]
3 Pages from a letter by Malcolm Evans about history of his Father’s camp at Veano
It’s strange that the whereabouts of the camp at Veano (Campo 29) has remained elusive when it housed so many allied prisoners in the war and most interestingly I found that, even some locals who live near it today, were not aware of its wartime history.
The building, which you’ll note from the “guest list’ I sent, housed many officers and their retainers (did they all have batmen?) plus another hundred or so guards, is still standing and is in good condition.
It’s owned by the Catholic Church and is situated among trees on a hill at Veano, not far from the town of Ponte Dell Ollio which is south of Piacenza. It was originally a seminary where young men were taught to be priests, but was converted into a prison camp sometime around 1940.
The building is very substantial – three storeys high, made of brick and mortar and is formed in the shape of a “T” with six-bed dormitories filling the upper floors, with sundry other facilities, mess hall and kitchen on the ground floor.
The head of the “T” runs roughly north and south and is enclosed on top by a big walled courtyard about the size of a footy field. The stem of the “T” also encloses a walled courtyard on its north-facing side with an open courtyard on its south-facing side. Buildings set on the base of the “T” extend north and south also but comprise a chapel and caretaker’s quarters which are really ancillary to the main building.
The corridors are all tiled in the Italian style and the building doesn’t look more than fifty years old. The courtyard on the northern side of the T’s stem is attractively cobbled and has a well as its central feature while the tiled roof above has a clock set at its apex. The courtyard on the other side is tree filled and shady.
The whole complex was enclosed by a double barbed wire fence when it housed POWs. Brigadier Clifton’s book describes the amount of wire used as substantial – no less than he would have expected from a commandant who, he writes, was an engineer.
I’ll keep an eye out for another copy of Clifton’s book for your archives. It was published by Cassell and Co Ltd of London in 1952 and has a foreword by Lord Freyberg. It’s a good yarn and includes a number of interesting photos including one developed from film taken from a dead German photographer’s camera, showing the author meeting with Rommel soon after his capture.
My father’s tunnel at Veano was begun from a shaft dug in the middle of a vegetable garden they’d made down at the southern end of the “Footy Field” courtyard. He said in a later interview that the exertion of quickly burying the T-chest that formed the shaft’s foundation put him in bed for a week.
I remember him saying that as the tunnel idea was his plan, he felt duty bound to spend more time in that pit than others and he also described a bellows arrangement he made from an old boot to pump air.
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The Italians were observed prodding the ground with steel lances one evening, so they must have suspected that something was afoot. And our genial old guard says they knew that a tunnel was being dug because POWs who went out as fat men on the daily walks, came back somewhat slimmer after depositing tunnel tailings along the paths they trod.
If you are able to have published the list I sent you of personnel who were there, it would be great to hear from any who recall those days.
The Veano building which is seldom used these days is in mothballs, but all the iron beds are still there and occasionally it hosts school parties on summer camps. It would make an excellent hostel for those retracing the POW escape trails that have become popular out of the UK in recent years!
I have enclosed a map detailing the camp’s position, a couple of photos which I took of it and copies of stories about visits made earlier by others interested in its wartime purpose.
For most of my time visiting Veano in October last year, I was shooting video film for a documentary I am involved in preparing. In fact I’m going back in February to shoot some more footage and this time, to follow my father’s footsteps in the mountains in more detail.
I’m thrilled at your suggestion that a member of the Rotondi family might be eligible for a bursary from the Trust and if it can be arranged, I would like to include it in the film I’m making. I will send off the particulars to the Rotondis by the same mail carrying this letter to you.
Could you send me details of the way the bursary award system works and tell me if it would be possible for us to host the recipient here in New Zealand?
I enclose also a copy of my father’s wartime diary for your records and enclose some sketches I have done of the tunnel he and others dug to escape from Veano in early 1943. Figures vary between eight and fourteen as to how many got out that hole and all except Evans were caught within hours of escape.
The others insisted on sticking to their original plan to catch the train even after they knew they’d been rumbled and had seen truckloads of Italian soldiers heading to the station to cut them off. Evans on the other hand, took to the hills and was only caught four days later when at dusk, two Caribinieri on cycles jumped him.
The old guard we spoke to remembered the night of their escape vividly and described the escapees exit like watching rabbits scooting out of a burrow. With great good humour he said he could see his job “disappearing before his eyes”.
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After his return to the Camp, Evans was put in solitary – a bit of a joke as the other prisoners removed the hinges at night to let him out and then popped him back in the morning before the guards came in.
It was only a few months later that the Italians capitulated and all the prisoners had the chance to escape.
In his diary you’ll note that Evans writes that many of the prisoners took to the hills immediately after the armistice was announced and that others stayed in the vicinity of the camp till they had got their bearings.
According to the old guard, Admiral Sir Ragner Cowan, the 71 year old who was a prisoner there and who was the POW patriarch of Campo 29, was given a full Italian military guard of honour as he left the premises.
The old guard claimed that he (the guard) was instrumental in persuading the camp Commandant to let the prisoners go rather than demand they stay under Italian protection, and that as a consequence the Commandant had to go into hiding for fear that the Germans would shoot him.
My father’s account is a little different, recording that the commandant had said he’d protect the POWs from the Germans and that the prisoners said “Like Bloody Hell you will” and broke the fences down.
For many years when I was a little boy, we had hidden in a high up cupboard at our home in Tauranga, a little Berreta pistol which Dad had taken from a guard at Campo 29 when the Italian armistice was announced. The guard had complained and the SBO (Colonel George Younghusband) had ordered him to give it back.
When Evans refused he was told that he’d be reported to the war office after the war. “Then on that basis Sir,” said Evans “I’ll take it!” “You’ve been nothing but a bloody nuisance since arriving here!” said Younghusband. “l thought that was my duty!” said Evans and left.
Dad’ s diary also mentions his association with Monsignor O’Flaherty and the monies that were channelled to escaped prisoners through him. He also mentions the Monsignor giving him a tour of St Peters after the Allies liberated Rome.
Interestingly enough, although the Evans family you mention meeting in Poverty Bay all those years ago is probably not related to me, Dad was for a while, a drover himself somewhere down that way.
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Friday 22nd October. Breakfast of bread, cheese and grapes, washed down with wine. Stopped at 12 for lunch. I boiled the billy for malted milk with bread in it, had Bread and jam, honey and grapes, and cocoa to finish up with. There are not many who can still turn on a brew of tea or cocoa with dried or condensed milk. A lovely day and I found a nice spot beside a babbling mountain stream. Our people still seem to be having difficulty over Rome. On with the dance – one hears of very few of our chaps about here. Pushed on all afternoon to go down to cross a road and pass a few scattered houses in one of which I learned as I was among them, were 30 Jerries. I wasted no time up the opposite hill and did 3/4 of an hour in the dark until a suitable haven was reached. A hot meal and a shakedown in the hay when here.
Saturday 23rd October. An ancient woke me at 6. I made myself a meal of malted milk and a drink of coffee and milk. I am now looking for a good spot to cross a road I thought I had crossed yesterday. A lot of Jerry horse transport have just passed. I went underneath. An Italian civilian who saw me come out from the culvert seemed to think I had mined the road. I now seem to be sitting on top of the world, a great of view of Mt. Falterona. Will rest till two. I went too far this evening, got lost in the dark, and took a long time to find the house I was making for. Beans and their pods for supper. It gave me a bad night and I am weak as a cat this morning.
Sunday 24th October. Taking it slowly, a breakfast of bread, grapes and wine does not help much. A wonderful day. I understand we are not in Rome yet. 2.45. Took the morning off to wash 2 N.Z. singlets, a shirt, pr socks, and a handkerchief. I am now waiting for everything to dry. I lunched on sop of malted milk, toast, butter and honey, with tea. Not so bad for the 45th day out. Took it very quietly this afternoon, did not feel up to any dinner tonight; after showing my maps (or is it snaps?) went to bed.
Monday 25th October. I left at 8 with pane [bread] and two apples. Met 3 Dutchmen on the doorstep. They had had some great experiences. I later met two E [English?] lieutenants. I am going quietly and now have another road to cross. It was easy, saw a snake kill a frog. I went easy till I was invited to stop for the night at 4.30; very poor place, fungi and bread for tea. I had an apple, bread and polenta for breakfast.
[handwritten text] Fritz Glaser, Hans Catz and Mike Van Danziel [these names refer to the three Dutchmen that Evans met on the doorstop on the morning of 25th October]
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Tuesday 26th October. Rain and mist till 8, then cleared up. I have just had coffee, bread and a [one word omitted] cheese at a wayside cottage. Jerry half an hour away, so what? I can hear the distant conflict. I saw quite a number later, crossed a road and made friends with a farmer and stayed the night.
Wednesday 27th October. Off again at 7 after a breakfast of chestnuts, bread, cheese and grapes, and wine too. I crossed a principal road after a little difficulty and nearly got copped by a Jerry walking along it by himself. Now up Mt. Verna. A poor day. Just reread Marg’s last letter and Jim’s. Stopped at 5 and spent the night where there was also a Yugo Slav.
Thursday 28th October. Got away early after an Irish breakfast. A cold bleak day. Met a lady at 12 who sent me to her home where I was given lunch by a real Italian beauty (ugly?). Bread and oil, tomatoes which I had pinched, vinegar, chestnuts and walnuts, and the father later took me some distance on the safest path. Dried out after a shower in a little shepherd’s shelter and spent the night in company with two Slavs.
Friday 29th October. Rested today in a hut with 4 English O.R’s [Other Ranks] and a Slav. Slept in the same place as last night, and intend to rest again tomorrow. A Slav doctor said the swellings in my neck are just glands and are nothing to worry about.
Saturday 30th October. Rained off and on all day. Read a little, bunked in with a Slav during the night. The Air Force raided the town of Perugia at 8.
Sunday 31st October. Fairly comfortable night, a few showers tonight and today.
1st November. The Feast of all Saints. We were all called for at 8 a.m. and carted off to mass. Afterwards a family took charge of us all, one to each, and entertained us for the day, which was fine.
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2nd November. In a bed last night, with a lot of fleas. Twins in the neighbourhood last night. A few sore heads after the feast. A great day, returned to the hut in the hills.
Wednesday 3rd November. Laurie’s (?) birthday. Fine. No umbrella. Will move in an hour. News poor. Had a good day, a nice lunch – fried polenta and 2 slices of bread and jam. I made a cup of tea. Crossed the Rome-Berlin highway at 5 and finished at 6.15 in the moonlight. Bacon, potatoes, bread and wine for supper. Slept in the fienile [hay stack].
Thursday 4th November. Left at 7.5. A beautiful day. I am writing this right above Sansepolcro. I can hear bombs or gunfire somewhere. Not much cover on these hills. At 1.30 St. Francis gave me a very good 3 course luncheon. I met 2 Italian officers. News the same. Slept in a barn just below main highway. Cold.
Friday 5th November. A miserable morning. Sun came out later. Hills all running the wrong way. Plenty of bread and uva to eat. Called at house in the evening, found a Carab [Military Police] there. Stopped at dark, a good supper and shared a bed with the small boy and some big fleas. A priest gave me apples.
Saturday 6th November. Cold but fine. Called at a house to make a brew of cocoa, was given cold bacon, sausage, bread and a big piece of cheese. Resting in the sun for half an hour. I was stopped at 4 by a farmer doing his ploughing and persuaded to stay with him. Scrambled egg and minestra for supper.
Sunday 7th November. Left at 8, a cold morning. I got a view of Pietralunga later and was taken in tow by two women and youths. They led me to a priest’s house where I stayed for several hours and had a good meal. Stopped by the rain at 5. A good supper. Got a hat at the priests.
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Monday 8th November. Found that a tin of N.Z. honey was stolen during the night. Protested in vain. Rain stopped me at 8.30. Waiting for it to stop in a farmer’s house. Bad weather has set in now. Had a miserable day. Stopped at a small house and stayed the night. I could see the sheep below through holes in the floor. The pig was brought into the kitchen for his supper. I slept with the husband, the wife with the kiddies. Up at 7. The pig was back for his breakfast. A little snow and sleet today. Made several calls to dry out and stopped at a pressing invitation to stay the night. Slept on maize leaves on the floor with big brother.
Wednesday 10th November. Spent a good night. I had an egg and tomato omelette for breakfast. Walked in snow this morning. Kept warm and I have a singlet still in reserve. Dried out at 10.30 and had a snack with a butcher’s son with a gun for Fascists. Very wet for the feet. Stopped at another invitation at 3. I have been walking for 2 months today.
Thursday 11th November. Fried meat for breakfast. Away at 9. A beautiful day but very wet for the feet. A good trek and finished at 5.30. A good supper and a bed for the night. Ancona seemed to be receiving plenty of attention during the evening, Mother was sick.
Friday 12th November. Fried meat and chips, an apple, bread and wine to start the day, with a loaf, meat, apples and noce for the road. A great day, the snow looks good in the sun. Passed Gualdo Tadino. All looks very peaceful, but somebody got raided this morning. One of the best days. A main road took a bit of crossing and I had to wait till nearly dark. Spent the night with poor folk who were visited by two Jerries in the afternoon. Slept with the old man. Waded a river near the road.
Saturday 13th November. Up at 6. I had cocoa, bread, butter and apple for breakfast. Away by 7. Allbare hills now. Put in a really good day, cold but fine out. I finished up above the snow line in a small village with snow all around. Had a good supper and slept in with the cows.
[digital page 17]
Sunday 14th November. On the road at 7. All in the house still asleep in bed. Very cold wind, snow melting and wet. Stopped at a priests house at 8.30; had toast and coffee, a wash and then to Mass. Waited for midday meal which was good – a leg and wing of a fowl, pasta asciutta, wine, bread, apples and pears. Was given an old coat. Left at 2, had a very bad 3 hours in the snow and wind. Sopping wet at 5. Dried out and had bread and grapes for supper, then to bed in a hay loft.
Monday 15th November. Snow and rain made the going difficult today. Had a good breakfast. St F. again did his stuff. A short day.
Tuesday 16th November. Slept with the cows last night. Cold! Snow melting wet underfoot. Another short day. Bought an umbrella L.30. Persuaded to rest the remainder of the day. Rain. Looking forward to meeting our people. Got directions from two afforestation chaps.
Wednesday 17th November. Left early on an empty stomach but stopped after an hour and made cocoa. I was given cheese, and later apples, bread and walnuts. Met 3 English officers resting up, had lunch with them. Stopped at 4.30 with some very nice folk and had a good tea.
Thursday 18th November. Quite a lot of snow about now. Took it quietly today. Had supper with a priest and later another with the people who put me up. Had running repairs made to my/ shoes and got away at 9. As I was going out of the village, I was accosted by Loftus E. Peyton Jones, R.N. [Royal Navy], and I am walking with him now. Put in some hard hours walking in deep snow, and stayed the night in a village snowed in.
[handwritten text in left margin]
November 1943 – 25 February 1944
Nov. 12 days
Dec. 31 days
Jan. 31 days
Feb. 25 days
Total 99 days
Friday 19th November. I had another tough day getting out of the snow. I finished up at 5. Still with Loftus. News is scarce. 10 children!
Saturday 20th November. Put in a very good day’s walking just on the snow line. Lucky to get plenty to keep warm in the hay loft with Loftus, only separated at night.
[digital page 18]
Sunday 21st November. Hot milk and toast for breakfast. The weather good. Just before crossing a busy road I had a lunch of fried liver, bread and wine. Sighted a doubtful Carab [Carabinieri] and I was taken in tow to an isolated farm near Termini and had minestra and frled meat for supper.
Monday 22nd November. Waited for a pig to be killed, had polenta and fried meat, bread, and wine again. I was away at 10.30 and I am writing this while waiting for it to get dark enough to cross a busy road. There is a number of Jerries loading Benzene [chemical used as an additive for fuel and explosives] below us. I got over at dark and finally found food and a shelter for the night near the Rieti Aquila highway.
Tuesday 23rd November. Raining today, resulting in Loftus getting wet. We enjoy plenty of meals on the road while he dries out at different houses. We do not get very far. I slept in a bed at the local Osteria and get well fed. We met an Indian Army officer and a S.A. [South African] private. 52!
Wednesday 24th November. Loftus Joins me at breakfast and has a second. An English Captain and a S.A. O/R [South African Other Rank] stay on in the village. I buy a frying pan. A poor day.
Thursday 25th November. Took the wrong turning and spent two hours struggling in the snow and hail and then had to turn back to a casetta where we were made welcome. Rain, hail and snow today. I did not move. There was a big storm in the evening. The fire was kept going all day. I can see the sheep below through the big gaps in the floor.
Friday 26th November. A beautiful day, had a good morning going over a snow covered pass. I get picked up and persuaded to stop.
Saturday 27th November. Have a haircut and running repairs made to my shoes. I have the evening meal with the hairdresser-boot maker. I am told that it is folly to continue but decide to push on.
[digital page 19]
Sunday 28th November. Set out at 5.30 and badly misdirected but are putting in some good walking. See a number of our planes. An Aspro puts Loftus right after a bad night. Crossed the very busy principal strada Avezzano-Roma. I found a small hut after an hour’s hunt. No supper. Woke at midnight, cooked some toast. Loftus keeps the fire going.
Monday 29th November. Away at 7. Give a boy 10 Lira for some polenta. Take the wrong track in the snow and later find the right one. Sleep in a bed with Loftus, at a village called [one word omitted]. [handwritten text after omitted word] Vallepietra.
Tuesday 30th November. Move to a good cabin in the valley, near a village looks good. Had a talk with an Iti [Italian] Captain Bertie who said he will keep us posted with the news.
Wednesday 1st December. Bertie this morning says the Jerry winter line is broken and the 5th Army is attacking. 26 Yankee fighters have just passed overhead. We are promised Rome by Christmas.
[handwritten text by Keith Killby regarding the noted 5th Army attack] Yes, but in east near Adriatic.
Thursday 2nd December. A great day. Plenty of fighters in the air. Picked up an E.O/R [English Other Rank] and a S.A. [South African]. Brought them to our cabin. Through Bertie, I later received a note from Sgt Jones in Rome regarding messages to relatives.
Friday 3rd December. Overcast. The Aussie Airman was 20 minutes late. To see Bertie this afternoon.
Saturday 4th December. Wet. Had a hot bath in a tub, washed shirt, underpants, socks etc. Got soup, salt and a promise of coffee (wheat). News good. Warm nights.
Sunday 5th December. Dull. We are doing quite well in the casetta. I had supper in the village. I got the grain for coffee, bought spaghetti and flour, 1 onion and a little fat for 90 Lira. Moonlight walk back.
[digital page 20]
Monday 6th December. No more news about the 640 gun barrage. Sickness in the village! Typhus? Typhus. 3 newcomers and Jerry is pulling out. Got a little more flour and salt. The English C.S.M. [Company Sergeant Major] a bit of a guts, 11 potatoes to my five. Loftus still going strong.
Tuesday 7th December. A little rain again. Feeding very well. Went into the village and tried to get radio news.
Wednesday 8th December. Three months since the Armistice. Festa in the village. I went for a climb up the mountain after lunch. Spoke to an English Gunner who was in Greece and at Maadi [Egypt]. No news today.
Thursday 9th December. No sun, difficult to say what the planes are flying about. I went into the village with Loftus to hear the 4 o’clock news. Little change. 11 kilos from Cassino and approaching Lecara on the E [East] coast. Also had supper.
Friday 10th December. (11th day) Dull. I made the lunch today. Fried onions and steak, boiled spuds [potatoes], bread and N.Z. cheese for me. I went into the village to hear the radio with St. Williams.
Saturday 11th December. (12th day) A beautiful day. I walked to the top of the mountain in 1 ¾ hours, a great view. Loftus and L/Bdr [Lance Bombardier, Royal Artillery] Leslie have supper at [one word omitted] and brought back the news. A fortnight to Christmas.
Sunday 12th December. (13th day) Snow on the high spots last night. We keep warm at night. Jerries turned back from the village after reading the infection notice.
Monday 13th December. Had a row with the Sgt [Sergeant] over not turning up in time to cook the cabbage. He is poor value and spent 80 Lire on tobacco for himself when we are short of money for food. The radio is out of order. Giovanni returned from Rome with L. 3000. Not enough. I wrote to [one word omitted]. Some dirty work over the money.
[handwritten text by Keith Killby] From Rome returned who?
[digital page 21]
Tuesday 14th December. Spent the day trying to pay the 3000 Lira out fairly. Told the 2 boarders to Via! Leslie let our patron’s son go without giving him some coffee.
Wednesday 15th December. All money paid out, no easy job. Had lunch at R[one place name omitted]. Loftus has bugs. I had supper in village. Radio news poor. Everybody very disappointed. Only 2 now.
Thursday 16th December. Had bacon and egg, fried bread, and coffee for breakfast, I also had some spread. Chopped a bit of wood this morning. A daughter of our patron cooked our midday meal. Much better on our own.
Friday 17th December. Went in late to pay a few more ladles their due. Some job. Came home with Loftus who dined with our patron. Rainy and dark. Loftus fell down a bank with no ill effect.
Saturday 18th December. Only a week to Christmas. I am kept busy with prisoners asking for aid. Went into town for supper and to pay out some more soldi [money]. Arrange to buy farina, grain, [one word omitted], and potatoes. Rats leaving the sinking ship. Bertie and Co and the Yankees made a present of my [one word omitted]. [one word omitted] sent our address in again, hope they get through.
Sunday 19th December. Aircraft busy early this morning. I saw forty odd bombers of ours. Mrs [surname omitted] came out to make our lunch. Loftus not eating quite so much as usual; he was sick last night. Fleas are a damn nuisance Cold night. New lambs being born underneath us every night now. A great day, sunny and warm.
Monday 20th December. Rainy and dull. Tried to buy some maize flour, domani! Stayed home all day. The smoke gave me a headache. The mayor says all must via. 3 Yankees called about a Christmas party and money!
[digital page 22]
Tuesday 21st December. The Canadian Sgt. called while I was shaving to go and pay his patron for a week’s food. Fine again. Paid 300 to our late boarder’s patron, 125 salt, 100 Farina, 800 to departing friends. 350 to pay up for the maestro’s guests. Made arrangements to hear the radio in peace. Had an extra supper of 2 pork chops, bread and wine. The picture framer right on top of his usual form. Jerry called today to see the sick with milk. Wants to billet 20 for Christmas.
Wednesday 22nd December. Wet all day. Bought farina after lunch. Loftus slacking on the work side. Had a hot bath in a cauldron and changed into clean clothes. Have caught lice from Loftus. Did not go out tonight, too wet.
Thursday 23rd December. Snow on the heights during the night. Wet. Had a poor haircut by a woman at G [one place name omitted] in town. Lice!
Friday 24th December. Dull day. Joe and his party returned. Two meals in town tonight. Went to Mass at midnight.
Saturday 25th December. A fine day. Thinking of those at home – hope they got my message. Had [one word omitted], chicken and meat. Sent out for lunch by [one name omitted] (H. Lup).
Sunday 26th December. Fine. Jerry collected the sick.
Monday 27th December. Feast of San Giovanni. Had a good supper with [one name omitted]. A few planes about today.
Tuesday 28th December. Fine with a very cold wind. News of a Jerry deserter in town today. Walked to see the Yugoslav. Officer. He was out, but he called later to see me. Had supper with Louie and later a bit of chicken with pills (?)
[digital page 23]
Wednesday 29th December. Up at 7.30, took the ointment to the Yank. A cold rainy day. We have sunk the Scharnhorst. I feel our position here is getting more precarious every day. No lice today. The L/S [Leading Seaman or possibly Lance Sergeant] wants more money for his patron and is waiting for Piscara to be taken.
Thursday 30th December. Dull, in town for our evening meal, and met the L/S with his companions. with a bright lantern on the way home, sparks!
Friday 31st December. Quite a bit of snow about today, had supper with [one name omitted] because 2 Jerries were in town and did not go to Benediction for the same reason. The year’s score was 32-32.
1st January. A howling blizzard last night. By the fire all day. Had supper with his worship and a nice one too. No news. The light poles were blown down. A lamb nearly frozen.
2nd January. Beautiful day, went with P.J. for a walk up the mountain, both a.m. and p.m., and find a shallow cave. I stay at home in the evening. Loftus and I had a few words about the milk. News is better.
Monday 3rd January. Up at 7.15, Loftus an hour later. Get away to our cave at 10.5, Loftus tired. A beautify day, we sunbathed at midday and worked without clothes above our pants.
Tuesday 4th January. Were taken to see another cave, much better. We started improvements. Supper in town. Snow everywhere.
Wednesday 5th January. A terrible day, snow and wind. My shoes are poor in the snow. Paid out to most 200 per man.
[digital page 24]
Thursday 6th January. I went up to the cave again. The wind is very, very cold. Paid the Yanks 2200 Lira, and paid out to the balance of the prisoners patrons. Supper with pills.
Friday 7th January. A fine cold day. I went to the cave again. Curdes is back again. I refused to pay the L/S and his friends anything on leaving. Supper with Mama. Distribute the bread.
Saturday 8th January. A feeling of unrest in the air, a rush by prisoners to have boots repaired. Had a few words with Curdes. Supper with pills. 2 prisoners caught today! Will leave for the grotto tomorrow.
Sunday 9th January. Up at 7.10, difficult to get Loftus moving, he is [one word omitted]. A good breakfast, then packed just in time before the Via! came after the Yugoslavs had called. They nearly walked slap into Jerry near the Campo Sancto. Arrived at the cave at 10.50, Loftus turned up 20 minutes later. I had the heavier load. He left some of his bedding behind.
Monday 10th January. Managed to keep warm during the first night. A cold day, but we have a good fire going all day. We melt water from the snow. Plenty of wood and rations for a week. [one name omitted] called while we were having lunch and was much affected at our situation. We move our bed nearer the fire and make up a large fire before retiring.
Tuesday 11th January. I got up at 4.30 to make up the fire again. I was not cold. Loftus said he was cold early this a.m. and I asked him why the hell he didn’t get up and get the fire going. Lazy again. A breakfast of fried sausage and toast, and wheat-coffee. [handwritten text] Aussie and Metcalfe found us.
Wednesday 12th January. Another wonderful day. John called with a nice minestra for lunch and 2 bottles of wine from [handwritten text] the doctor. [note by original transcriptionist] (looks like pills again). Also 2 pork chops and a loaf. I made a new dish of bread, beans and potato for supper. Coffee, milk and sugar with bread before retiring.
[digital page 25]
Thursday 13th January. I got up at 6.20 and went down the mountain for fresh water. Loftus still asleep when I returned. Sausage and fried bread toasted pizza for breakfast, with coffee and sheep’s milk. Loftus playing at washing up. Saw 50 bombers.
Friday 14th January. Down for water again this morning. I thought I heard someone on the mountainside. Imagination, I guess. A [Aussie] brought some minestra, bread and fat. A glorious day spent sunbathing for some hours. A heavy mist hid everything after 6.
Saturday 15th January. Our bed is very hard. Down for water again this morning. More sunbathing – a great day. How long are we to live like this?
Sunday 16th January. Another fine day. John called before lunch and had a bite with us. Still doing a little sunbathing. Went into supper with [one name omitted]. Met the picture-framer who gave us the news, such as it is. Cassino still seems the stumbling block. Found four E. [English] POW’ s at our late abode when we arrived there and sent them off. Got back to our mountain home at 2 a.m. The moon helped us find the way.
Monday 17th January. In bed till 11 a.m. Lunch of fried onion and boiled potatoes, toast and ersatz coffee. Sunbathed afterwards. I am enjoying David Copperfield [popular English novel by Charles Dickens] very much. Planes and sounds of bombing most of the day now. The battle seems a little closer.
Tuesday 18th January. Up at 8.30, another bright day, windy and fresh. Sugar beet and potatoes for lunch. A [Aussie] called this afternoon with a parcel from the innkeeper. More planes and sounds of war.
[digital page 26]
Wednesday 19th January. No visitors today. More sunbathing. One is continually thinking of the strangeness of our position here and wondering how it will end. We had a very good minestra for lunch and there was enough left over for breakfast tomorrow. We always seem to be ready to retire at about eight.
Thursday 20th January. I was up at 7 and I went down to fill up a can with water. Loftus just stirring when I got back. A wonderful day spent sunbathing again. I can hear the sound of the bells around the necks of sheep and goats and I can see the planes making strange patterns in the sky. It all makes things seem so unreal. I am just going to cook our dinner. Had a few words with Loftus over taking my scissors. He hid them when I turned up. A funny beggar! How one longs for some new clothes, something different than the type of food one has been used to, something definite to do, instead of this day to day uncertainty. We have to go further to gather snow now as the sun is melting it all. I have just counted 78 of our bombers on their way back from a Job. Pizza for tea again, and in bed by eight.
Friday 21st January. I heard gunfire continuously from 4 a.m. Planes about at. 7.a.m. Another beautiful day. No visitors far two days. A [Aussie] came today. I saw a fighter shot down, nationality unknown. Planes about all day. Wonderful sunbathing. Received a note from the picture-framer regarding new boots. I am to see him Sunday evening.
Saturday 22nd January. Down for water at 7 a.m. Loftus just crawling out when I returned at 8.20. Another cloudless day. Fighters busy at 7.30. The noise of the battle is definitely nearer. We will have to move soon, I hope. It is difficult to know when.
Sunday 23rd January. I have heard the sound of gunfire since 4 a.m. It has been continuous, along with the sound of planes. Sunny but cloudy today. We are going into the town tonight. I hope the news is good. Hurrah! The news brought by the early morning caller [one name omitted] is confirmed. A landing has been made near Rome and latest radio news is we are four K. from Rome, with very little opposition. I think we are as good as free. We slept in the casetta, the first time for a fortnight. Everybody wildly excited.
[digital page 27]
Monday 24th January. Up at 6.45 and arrived at the grotto at 8.20. Have decided to try and organise a raiding party, and will go into the village to try and find rifles and grenades. I met an Italian L/Col [Lieutenant Colonel] who promised to help find arms. Bertie is very much at the fore again and is very keen to lead all POW’s to Rome at the right time. Had dinner with Hkeep (??? ) I made the offer about N. Z. I am to pay fare and £ 1 a week. News fair to good. Slept at the grotto at 2 a.m.
25th January. Did not rise till 11.30 a.m. Dull and cloudy. Was upset t o learn that the Yanks had been driven back in places. The new force is 20 miles South of Rome. Bertie brought back regards from H.O’F [O’Flaherty?]. Our Christmas greetings went on. Will stay in the grotto for a few days longer. Will pay another 200 Lira per man tonight. Money is getting short. Very difficult to see in the city, and rain made things worse. Will sleep in the country house tonight.
Wednesday 26th January. Snowing hard when we got up at 8.30, but cleared by 10 when we went to bring down most of our things from the cave. I am not altogether happy about moving down again so soon. The news yesterday was good – two columns are now moving against Jerrie’s rear. Paid off the remainder of the ladies in the evening. Supper with [one name omitted]. [note by original transcriptionist] Hkeep? Tonight the FBO omit items broadcast in the Italian news.
Thursday 27th January. Fine with a cold wind, a number of planes about. I spent a miserable day trying to keep warm. Still a little snow about. Supper [one word omitted]. Spent some time with Bertie and the L/ Col. Called on the big shot.
Friday 28th January. Fine and warmer. A little sunbathing. A few planes about, but very little sound of bombers. Supper with pills. A change of singlets for Loftus. Bertie out. Home at 11.15.
Saturday 29th January. Another wonderful day. Planes active early. No encouragement to make any action against Jerry. All too paura (?). Radio news last night poor. Oh, for a Div [division] of paratroops. Had a haircut and a long talk with the picture-framer. Supper at pills [handwritten text by Keith Killby] Chemist?
[digital page 28]
Sunday 30th January. Wonderful weather. March is the bad winter month here. Loftus and I went for a 2 ½ hours walk down the valley. The going was difficult round the contours. Dinner at the big shot’s with the Lt/Col. Later had a talk at Bertie’s. There is a rumour that we have also landed at Pescara.
Monday 31st January. Another sunny day. The quietest day for a long time. More sunbathing. I made polenta for a late lunch at 2. [one name omitted] killed a lamb. We are told of a pamphlet regarding 3 fires and decide to move back to the cave.
Tuesday 1st February. Fine. I call for the two English Sergeants and move up to the grotto, then up on the flat at the top to gather wood. Supper with hkeep? Loftus with John.
Wednesday 2nd February. Fine. Up top early and make Aussie late as usual. All the gang eventually arrive. Difficult to make smoke in the evening. I meet a Lt [Lieutenant] of P. We discuss everything and I take them in for a meal. Later meet 3 New Zealanders, one of whom was Brigadier Hargest’s batman. A Fascist scare during the evening. J [John] had a J [Jerry] and a F [Fascist] at his casetta during the day, just as well we were not there. Decide to lay low tomorrow. Get to the cave at 11.30.
Thursday 3rd February. Fine again. Tragedy! I learned the following when I went down at 6 p.m. to [one word omitted] casetta. This morning, at daybreak, Jerry surrounded the village and then went in searching for prisoners. Rooms were turned upside down and a great deal of food was taken. The prodista was arrested and later released. [one name omitted]’s brother was shot while trying to leave the village to go to his farm, and another man was wounded in the leg. [one name omitted] was much affected. Needless to say, Loftus and I returned to the cave instead of going into the village for our evening meal as usual. This is exactly what I have told the villagers would happen if they encouraged prisoners to live in the village. It is no comfort to see my words come true. I blame the whole affair on Fascist spies. The entire village was convinced that Jerry would not come here again, although several trucks have come here by taking the wrong turning off the main road. I will go down after dark for our food.
[digital page 29]
Friday 4th February. We are completely hidden in cloud, but I can hear many planes overhead. I went down at 5 to get food and water, and noticed someone in Ben’s place, but went on to [one name omitted]’s. Everything locked up so went back to Ben’s. On creeping up to the door I heard voices in a strange tongue. I think Yugoslav. I went around to the far side and looked through the slats in the roof, and saw two strangers and a British greatcoat was hanging up. They may have been Jerries so I crept away and returned to the cave. Loftus thinking they were Yugoslavs. Bed at 9.
Saturday 5th February. A strong wind all night and thick snow on the ground this morning. We miss having the news. Loftus may get some tonight. A [Aussie] came up for me at 4 and I found the Lt/Col and friend at the casetta when I arrived there. At last the [one name omitted] is going to insist that nobody is in the village by day or by night and food is to be sent out. I hope he is empathetic about it. The moon makes everything as bright as day. Made a pizza when I got back.
Sunday 6th February. Bright with a strong cold wind. Went over the mountain for a load of wood with Loftus. Smoky conditions in cave. Breakfast 9.30, Pizza at 12, lunch at 5.30, pizza and coffee at 7.30. Bed 8.30. Aussie called and woke us at 10.10 for information.
Monday 7th February. Windy and more snow. Went over the top for more wood after lunch. Loftus went for rations. Have learnt the morse code in two days. Loftus back at 7.30 with a loaf from Belinda and milk etc. from [one name omitted]. Bed at 9.30. Men dressed in white snow uniform asking for their companions. Fascists! No news. 2 Sergeants called.
Tuesday 8th February. Warmer and little wind. 5 months loose today. How much longer, Oh Lord. We hear the noise of guns all day and most of the night. I am going to teach Loftus shorthand. He went down for water in an hour. Pizza for tea. Started to snow.
Wednesday 9th February. A warmer night, 6 inches of snow this morning. The wind blew snow into the frying pan when I was cooking breakfast. I chopped a little wood. The guns are still booming. Shorthand and morse [code] in the morning. The trip to the casetta and back to the cave was the hardest I have done.
[digital page 30]
The snow was very difficult. Bertie wanted 1100 Lira for the 5 in Snyman’ s party for spuds. Made a pizza with half a lemon in it. Good. The news we got was not good. Nearly 3 weeks since the landing and no movement.
Thursday 10th February. In the cave all day, alternate sunlight and cloud. Quieter, a few planes about. More snow. Loftus hates it.
Friday 11th February. Snow and cold, hard wind all day. Loftus to have gone for food, but too much snow. Got in a little wood, our major problem now.
Saturday 12th February. Snow 3 inches deep in some places outside the cave. 1 ½ outside the sack curtain. Dug a path to find wood, and did the same in the afternoon. Loftus jibbed at the snow.
Sunday 13th February. We got up at 10. A bright morning. We shaved and had an egg for breakfast. All very quiet. The day turned out bad, very miserable. I went to bed after dinner to forget my blues.
Monday 14th February. A brilliant day, no wind, snow melting fast after our coldest night. Snow blew in around the fire and on to the foot of the bed. I twice had to tell Loftus to get up to light the fire for breakfast, which he finally did at 10, and then I had to chop the wood. No sound of gunfire or planes. Loftus to go for food this evening. He got back at 8 p.m. and said he found the going very difficult.
Tuesday 15th February. A brilliant morning, a very cold wind developed at about 3 p.m. We both went for a sack of wood over the top of the mountain. Dinner of broth, beans, sugar beet and pizza, and vine. We halve another egg for breakfast. Greater air activity – no news last night. A [Aussie] stole some of our bread.
Wednesday 16th February. Very windy night and bright morning. We discuss the slow rate of advance of our forces and decide to try for the line soon if nothing happens in the near future, even if it means possible recapture. P.J’s shoes have given out again. I’ll take them down tonight.
[digital page 31]
Thursday 17th February. Clear and cold winds, spent most of the day in the cave. I do all the chores. A few planes about and the sound of gunfire most of the day. Morse and shorthand.
Friday 18th February. Clear and gusty. A better night after tearing our bed material yesterday. I made the return trip down to [one place name omitted] cabin for food in 2 hours. There was nobody there. A [Aussie] left some 5 minutes before. No news.
Saturday 19th February. A warmer night, and a sunny morning. We were up by 8.15 and I am writing this sitting outside the cave in the sun. The noise of the guns is constant. It was lightly snowing at 3. I managed to get Loftus to go out after wood. Gunfire continued on into the night. A strong wind got up just before we retired 8.30.
Sunday 20th February. Bright with a strong wind. Gunfire not too intense. We hope for news tonight. It was the same as 2 weeks ago – Farina only. We have not seen John for some time.
Monday 21st February. A sunny day with a light and cold wind. Parker called just as we were going to have lunch. He infused a little brightness into the cave and is doing a hard job trying to feed 17. He will call back on Wednesday with Howes for money.
Tuesday 22nd February. Sunny and cold. Sounds of gunfire all night. It died away about 10 a.m. We went into the village for the first time since the visit by Jerry. Had a very good meal with hkeep(?) Loftus got very little for his proposed trip. Supper with [one name omitted] and we left at 11p.m, arriving at the cave at 1 a.m. Made a hot drink and went to bed. The news last night was poor – we have had reverses at the new bridgehead and we are now in somewhere about the same place as the first 48 hours. Heard a little of what Churchill said in parliament regarding the war in general.
Wednesday 23rd February. Up at 10. Loftus tired. Sgt Thomas and companion called regarding money for their lady and repairs to boots. Today is the first day of Lent. Sounds of intense gunfire most of the day.
[digital page 32]
[handwritten notes by Keith Killby regarding some significant events from Evans’ diary entries]
Loftus left 25th February 1944 – Page 27
Met 18th November 1943 – Page 12
Page 17 – Loftus [four words illegible]
[This page number corresponds with Evans’ first meeting with Loftus]
Page 18 – Lt. [two words illegible] a few words [two words illegible]
Page 19 – Loftus [four words illegible]
[At this point in Evans’ diary Loftus is noted as being ill]
Page 20 – Loftus [four words illegible]
[At this point in the diary Loftus is starting to recover from his sickness]
Page 21 – Had some words with L. about [one word illegible]. [two words illegible]
[strikethrough handwritten text at the bottom of the page]
Evans from Australia
[digital page 33]
Thursday 24th February. Bright. Sgt Thompson called to see if he and Thomas could accompany P.J. on his attempt to get through the lines. No! P.J. went into town to forward his arrangements, arrived back at the cave at 1.05 a.m. I made a brew and toast. Very windy.
Friday 25th February. Still windy. Loftus to go tonight. We went into town to make final arrangements. I had a meal at pills. [handwritten text next to pills] Chemist? I spoke to the bigshot there and the Lt/Col [Lieutenant Colonel] and parted from P.J. at [one place name omitted] at 20 to 12, arriving back at the cave two hours later. The darkest trip I have made. Well, I am now on my own for or a while anyhow. I may get Howes to join me later. The news was very non-committal. I feel Loftus has an almost impossible task. We both should have gone immediately when the news of the landing reached us. I wish him luck.
Saturday 26th February. Got up at 11.30 to find a light fall of snow over everything. It was melting quickly. No gunfire today. I wonder where P.J. is now, not the best of days to be out and about, though it looks brighter over his way. I did not find time to miss him. Wood, water, cooking fills in the time.
Sunday 27th February. Another overcast day. Time slips by doing all the chores. Went down to the cabin where I met Aussie who John told me later was patting over his usual hard luck story, with 500 Lira in his pocket. He arranged to call for me tomorrow and to go up to see Parker together. I went on into town for dinner and spoke to the picture framer who wants to know what is the matter with the bridge-head people. Hkeep put me up a few dainties before I left, and Mama gave me a pot of gnocchi! Back to the cave by 12.45.
[note by original transcriptionist in left margin]
Just occurred to me that the person whom I have transcribed as ‘Annie’ is really ‘Aussie’. Or are there two people?
Monday 28th February. Aussie arrived a 11.30. A very poor day – the wind was terrific and bitterly cold. We found Parker and he is well. P. [Parker] is talking of leaving on the 4th March, and Aussie says he will go too.
Tuesday 29th February. Awoke at 1.30 a.m. to find water dripping in from the roof on to my bed. Lit a fire and rearranged things. Dried everything out later when the day cleared, the sun came out, and the snow was nearly all melted.
[digital page 34]
Wednesday 1st March. The first of the month, and what a surprise to find 10 inches of new snow outside the cave and still falling. The sound of gunfire was renewed and [one name omitted] told me when I went down for food that we are 11 miles from Rome. Perhaps! Snow in many places and is over 2 inches deep on the track down. I made my last cup of tea yesterday, and with all the doings, sugar and sheep’s milk. It was quite a good feeling, putting the sugar and milk in as of old.
Thursday 2nd March. Still snow everywhere, but melting fast. Did a bit of washing, singlet and towel and socks. No news of Loftus. Jerry in Trevi. Aussie did not keep his appointment at the rendezvous yesterday. No gunfire but more planes today. Must go out for wood, stocks are getting low. There is plenty of wood, but it is best to chop late in afternoon when nobody is about.
Friday 3rd March. A bright morning. Distant gunfire most of the night and a few planes about now. I doubt if the pilot overhead will have a better meal than I did yesterday. Minestra with pizza, fried potatoes and steak, it was fine, all my own work. I have in the larder enough for a week of flour, (maize), a little white, pasta, meat, potatoes, sugar beet and bread, and salt of course. I have enough milk for another day and plenty of grain coffee, half a sausage and some lard and a pint of olive oil.
Saturday 4th March. Another foot of new snow this morning. A dull misty day with more snow. Distant gunfire. I am doing a major repair job to my pants, they are nearly done. I wish I had not changed for my khaki. Hope it is brighter tomorrow. Snow 3 inches deep in places when I went for wood, and cloud completely obscures everything. I am quite cut off from the world.
Sunday 5th March. A little more snow during the night. Cold. The drips from the 20 inch thick rock roof are less. Made calzone for dinner. A little duro, perhaps too much water. After bright sunshine part of the day, snow fell at 4 p.m. and I decide not to go down today. Spent the late afternoon reading my meditations. The guns have continued all day. I knocked the glass out of my watch last night and not knowing that I had done so went back to bed and the hour hand was caught in the bedclothes and broken off. Fortunately it is possible to tell the time with the other and the stump left.
[digital page 35]
Monday 6th March. A much better day. A bit difficult getting wood with the snow up to 4 inches deep in places and the axe getting a quarter inch edge. Will get a file from John. Went into town at 5 first to [one word omitted]. Had polenta at [one place name omitted] (Roses’?), then to [one place name omitted], then hkeep, then the [one place name omitted], then to Roses’ before coming back here with a full load enough for week or more. No news. We are still in the same places. Very hard getting back late night. Had a haircut. All very good to me.
Tuesday 7th March. Bright again. Quite a few planes about up to 11. No gunfire, I hear Hitler says he will make Rome another Stalingrad! Meals continue to be of a very order, any comparison with camp fare is odious. All 3 pair of socks clean. I was lucky to have these given me. I had difficulty getting wood in 3 inches of snow on a 45 degree grade. A good fire in the evening kept me up till 9. Very late for the cave.
Wednesday 8th March. Up at 9. The mice at one of my bags annoyed me that much. A bright day with a cold wind. Breakfasted on fried bread, an egg, toast and coffee, made with sheeps milk and what grains roasted. No complaints’. One plane just passed, little gunfire. I think I’ll have to have a pair of pants made out of my blanket. My present ones are like the Dutch boy’s, all patches, and falling to bits fast. I had to put a handful of snow from the porch into the washing up water to cool it. All water made with snow except a water bottle full on days when one goes for provisions. Gathered sufficient wood for 3 days in the early evening.
Thursday 9th March. A bright day with a cold wind. Yesterday proved one of the busiest days for aircraft. Today not a single one. It is hard to understand. Little, or no gunfire. Nearly a third of the month gone. I wonder where P.J. is. He was to send an aircraft over if he made the trip successfully. Marg and the boys must wonder where I am and what I’m doing. I never thought to be so long loose in the mountains. I wonder why Howes does not come over. Snow too deep? Went down to the casetta. [one name omitted] insisted that I go into town with him for supper; nice polenta. The picture framer gave me the latest news. 1000 bomber raids on G. The Russians 75K from the G. border. Alexander satisfied with things at the bridgehead, both E and G radio say that conditions there are impossible. USA turning out 350 planes per day. Strikes in Northern Italy.
[digital page 36]
Friday 10th March. A warmer day. Short bursts of heavy gunfire. Meat which includes all bone, windpipe etc., and is now 6s. per lb, 12/6 kilo. Salt is obtainable about the same. Eggs 2/6 each. Whoope. I had one for breakfast and there are two more in the larder. Metcalfe sprang a surprise during his visit here this afternoon. John Dean stayed with his people when he was in England on holiday. Metcalfe had a narrow escape when their submarine was hit, and has had some exciting times in MTB’s [Motor Torpedo Boat]. M’s birthday.
Saturday 11th March. Fine with little sun. Have just finished my breakfast and wondering what to do next. I had to empty out the large water container yesterday and put all my food in it to outwit the mice, who seem very hungry. Let’s get the washing up done first. Later did a little renovation to the fireplace site, chopped wood, had fried potatoes and sausage for dinner, pizza for tea. Overcast in the evening, went to bed at 8.30.
Sunday 12th March. Snowing. It does not look as if I will go to town tonight. A 2/6d egg for breakfast. One or two explosions, otherwise quiet. Snow kept blowing in while I was having my breakfast. What a life! At 3.30 p.m., conditions were almost impossible with the wind so I went to bed.
Monday 13th March. I am writing this while waiting for the snow to melt and boll for my bath. After retiring yesterday I stayed in bed, except to get out and wind my watch, till 9 this morning. The wind which had blown a gale all night had died a way and there is not a cloud in the sky. My clean clothes are airing in the sun, and I have got the wood in for the day. There is no gunfire but I have counted over 80 of our bombers as they passed. It continued fine. Metcalfe called. I paid his lady 100 Lira when I went in later to town, where I had a little polenta with [one word omitted] and a dinner with [one name omitted]. [note by original transcriber] (pills again? chemist?) The picture framer is sure after hearing a speech by Roosevelt that there is something going to happen within a month. I got back to the cave at a quarter after midnight – went straight to bed. Easter Sunday 9th April.
Tuesday 14th March. Cloudy at 6.30, cleared later with a fairly strong wind. 24 bombers just passed, all returned later with formation a bit ragged in places. Did a little in the way of camouflage. Smoke from the fire is becoming noticeable on the face of the outside rock.
[digital page 37]
Wednesday 15th March. The day started fine but became hazy later with a light, cool breeze. A little gunfire. The snow is melting fast and, with a few more days like these last two, the path should be clear of snow. Vain hope – it was falling again at 5 p.m. and the guns were going full blast.
Thursday 16th March. The wind continued all night with a light fall of snow. The day is clear, the wind bitterly cold. I wonder where P.J is, and Aussie with Parker. This wind makes smoke conditions bad in the cave. It cleared up in the late afternoon. I went down to [one place name omitted], received bread with meat and clean washing. The news from the picture framer was that all is good, [one word omitted] [note by original transcriptionist] (tari contento?)
Friday 17th March. Up just before 8. A beautiful clear day. 12 bombers passed at 9.30. Ours, I presume. I do a bit of mending to my jacket in the sun. 32 of our fighters have just passed overhead. They have all just returned. Metcalfe called in the afternoon and stayed till 6. I then chopped a bit of wood and made a pizza for supper.
Saturday 18th March. Up again at 8. Saw a mouse climb up the cauldron to my food and raised it all on to another tin. A sunny day. I finished repairs to my jacket and stayed in the sun till it set behind the mountain at 4. A cattivo (?) wind then sprang up and made smoke conditions bad. To bed by 8.
[handwritten text in right margin, referring to the word cattivo] bad
Sunday 19th March. A bright calm morning. Planes up early, before 8am. 34 of our bombers passing now and going north-west. I am sitting in the sun waiting for my shaving water to boil. The warm sun is melting the snow fast and I can hear the bells on sheep goats and cattle as they come up the mountain to feed. 10.16 a.m. and all the 34 bombers are returning. It’s great here – they never seem to lose any. They must have left a nasty mess for someone to clean up this nice morning, it must have been at Rieti, Turin seems to be too far. 12.22 p.m. Another 24 bombers passed in a north-west direction. P.J. would have liked the sun here today. The bombers all came back at 12.53 p.m. Spent all day in the sun. John called for a little while at 1.30. I went into the town for supper and had two. One at [one place name omitted], and the other at hkeep. Feast of Saint Joseph. Arrived back at the cave at 1.12 a.m., with 10s worth of eggs, (4) wine, bread, rice, and sugar. For lunch tomorrow, I picked up sausage, lard and potatoes. The picture framer told me that the Cassino offensive had been going for three days. We have occupied nearly the whole town and the Russians and Romanian representatives are talking together in Cairo.
[digital page 38]
Monday 20th March. Another beautiful day. One mouse caught in John’s patent trap. 24 bombers passed at 10.38. Cloud conditions set in and I never saw any more. Metcalfe called at 2.30 and stayed till 6. I suspect him of taking my comb. I could not find after a previous visit and now his hair, never previously tidy, is well combed. Aussie paid 1600 Lira for a new of boots and left with Parker on the 5th. The O/R’s [Other Ranks] on the 6th.
Tuesday 21st March. The sun is trying to pierce the clouds. 3 mice have been killed in John’s trap. A little music from guns this a.m. It never really cleared up. Hard to spanare.
Wednesday 22nd March. At 6 there was one inch of new snow everywhere. At 8.30 the sun was shining in a cloud. Less shy and I sunbathed till nearly 3 p.m. Metcalfe called while I was getting some lunch ready. He gave me a butt of an old comb, said his better one was in another coat. He left at 6. The guns were really active today and sounded nearer. 4 mice to date.
Thursday 23rd March. A little more snow and great deal of wind during last night. The sun is bright at 12 but the wind remains. 5 mice. I have a feeling the situation is improving. The roof is leaking again, less severe this time. Saw Mr and Mrs [surname omitted] at the country house. News good? brought back 2 eggs and milk. Made a pizza con fagoli. Buono.
Friday 24th March. The night was so cold that the frying pan on my bed to catch drips from the roof was frozen to the side by an icicle from the handle made from drips. A sack over my feet was stiff in one place where water had fallen on it and frozen. All fast and embers in the fire were hot enough to start the fire from. The morning is sunny and I did a strip tease and sunbathed until nearly 3 p.m. Later went down to Metcalfe, sharpened my axe and got in a bit of wood when I returned. Bed at 8.30.
[digital page 39]
Saturday 25th March. A fresh fall of snow and the wind blowing a gale this a.m. What variations up here. I am huddled by the fire, thawing out after gathering snow for water and some more wood. I have enough money left to pay 400 to all, with 300 or 400 as a reserve. There are now [the remainder of this sentence is omitted]. Things are difficult. Metcalfe called and left when I went down for water at 5.30. I went down for water at 5.30. It started to snow again at 6.30.
Sunday 26th March. What a night! Snow and wind. There was a little snow on the foot of my bed at 8 when I got up to make a hot drink and toast, and a bit of pizza. I made up the fire and went back to bed until 10 when I had a fried egg, bread, and pizza, with the last of my milk in the grain coffee. Sunny, but cold, and the wind is still strong. Gun flashes from the direction of Sora last night. It cleared in the afternoon so I got spruced up and went down to town at 5.30. Had minestra with [one name omitted] and supper with hkeep. The latest news seems to indicate a 2nd front any day. Churchill and the King have reviewed the troops for the job. They must only be waiting for the weather. I heard Churchill review the war over the last year. He is certainly trying to finish the job quickly and to make England a better place for afterwards. Received several gifts of sausage, fat and potatoes. Got back to the cave at 1.20 a.m. A new moon tonight.
Monday 27th March. As arranged, Metcalfe called early and we went to the Carsale. Howes was not there, having moved nearer C. I wrote asking him to join me as he is on his own. A great walk on a great day. On my return to the cave, I found someone had stolen bread, sausages and a bit of emergency ration. I thought it might be Aussie. Went down the mountain side to intercept him but found no sheep or goats.
Tuesday 28th March. A fine, cool day. John called and was very disgusted at my loss yesterday. Stayed to lunch. Metcalfe called later and left at 6.30. A few planes about today. 8 mice.
Wednesday 29th March. The guns have started up again today. I am sunbathing again.
[digital page 40]
Metcalfe called late in the afternoon and left when I went down for water at 5. Gunfire continued on into the night.
Thursday 30th March. A bright morning with a cool breeze. Have just finished a breakfast of fried pizza and an egg, toast and wheat coffee with milk. Better than the poor guys in Germany [Evans’ is most likely making reference to the Allied Blockade of Germany, which restricted supplies of minerals, metals, foods and textiles to Nazi Germany from 1939-45]. Clouds gathered at 2 when it was too cold to continue sunbathing, so I returned to cook lunch. Odd jobs kept me busy till 6 when I went down to see what J. had for me. We are supposed to have advanced 6km towards Rome. Jerry is expected to come to the village today. No more mice. A wolf took a goat and hid near me today.
Friday 31st March. My cave was hidden in cloud when I got back last night and today is dull and cloudy. I was completely hidden after midday. Metcalfe called about 3.30 and stayed until early 7. Leslie-Williams and Synman and Co. say they are set up for ten days at least. News in town was that we are 20km from Rome.
Saturday 1st April. At 8 the sun seemed to be doing a 1st of April touch, for it was out for ½ hour then vanished for an hour. Now at 10 it is shining brightly. Breakfast is finished, fried sausage and pizza, bread, coffee and milk. It seems that more sunbathing is to be the order of the day. I wonder whether we will make an April fool of Hitler this month. A wind got up at 2, and Metcalfe called about then. Two of Sgt. Thomas and Thompson’s friends called earlier for a chat.
Sunday 2nd April. An extremely cold wind last night. 15 inches outside the cave this morning. Sun very warm. I tried to make friends with a robin. I went into town with Metcalfe as far as Pan’s (?) house. A meal with John and [one name omitted]. I was loaned Life and Death, written by an Italian, by Peter. Brought back very little. Spoke to Leslie. He is set up for a week and the Snyman party is set up for three weeks. Got back to the cave at 1.05. News the same.
[digital page 41]
Monday 3rd April. A wonderful day, plenty of sunbathing and reading. Good to get [one word omitted] books after six months. Few planes but plenty of gunfire. No more mice. Went for water.
Tuesday 4th April. Another hot day and I went out in the sun early. A few planes about, a little gunfire. Stones rolling down the mountainside day and night. Metcalfe came at a few minutes to three just as I was getting some dinner. He had just seen a large snake and said he was [one word omitted]. He left soon after 6. After tea I enjoyed the moonlight for a while.
Wednesday 5th April. Another sunbathing day. Gunfire most of the night. It clouded over early and remained dull all day. Made the best pizza yet, [one word omitted], potato and a little fat on the top, under tin.
Thursday 6th April. Practically a cloudless sky. Sun hot and snow only remaining on the Northern slopes and a few higher places. 10.15, no gunfire or planes yet. All quiet on the Western front. John called. I went down for food. Put my watch back an hour. John and I talked of snakes. A stranger passed.
Friday 7th April. A perfect morning, breakfast over by eight and out into the sun. Bagni di sole. A late spring seems to have arrived at last. John called. Jerry seems to be sending everybody to the front, he is leaving all the villages. Metcalfe called later and said that 2 Jerries had been into the village yesterday and had also been to the waterworks near where I get my water at the bottom of the mountain. They asked about x prisoners. Good Friday. No buns.
Saturday 8th April. All dull day. More gunfire today than ever before. [one name omitted] called and confirmed Metcalfe’s story and after lunch took me to another cave. I moved over in the evening. He though the other too well known and too near the path.
[digital page 42]
Sunday 9th April. Easter Sunday. Dull and later rain. The gunfire was just as intense during the night. At the moment I am hidden in cloud. I will go into town later. It makes a good change after the solitude. Had dinner at [one place name omitted], paid a few ladies their 100 ps (?) and saw the picture framer, the Lieutenant Colonel and engineer at [one place name omitted]. Supper of trifle and wine. To go into town again on Thursday to see the Lieutenant Colonel. Raining when I set out for the new cave, but after talking to Metcalfe, who was waiting for me on the trail for some time, it stopped. Arrived at the cave at 10 to 3, rather weary. No news. The gunfire was out as arty duels. [one word omitted] doing great.
Monday 10th April. A fine fresh morning after the rain and I sunbathed until 2.30. Later I gathered stone for a wall and wood and leaves for my mattress. Went down for water at 6.15. Heard Metcalfe chopping wood on the way back. Bed at 9. Rain.
Tuesday 11th April. A little cloudy. The sun soon dries everything. Am now getting some more sun and can hear the church bell from the village. Heard a cuckoo last night. The owls hoot every night. Have seen no more foxes. Had the 2nd half of the cooked food I got on Sunday night. Damn good. Metcalfe called and stayed until after 8. Bed at 10. Rain.
Wednesday 12th April. Sunshine again this morning. Can hear a cuckoo and four or five lizards are everywhere. The waiting for something to happen is maddening. No gunfire yesterday or so far today. 23rd January, the bridgehead was made near Rome and they are still there after 2 ½ months, and I thought 2 ½ days would be more like it. Metcalfe called again. Rain set in so I did not go for water.
[digital page 43]
Thursday 13th April. Sunshine again, I hope it continues. Can hear gunfire in the distance and automatic fire quite close. A practice range probably. Metcalfe called and we went down together. He went to town and I only went to the casetta, because there is now a 9-6 curfew in town – Fascists in uniform and armed. Life becomes more difficult. I wonder how M. got on. The Russians are still advancing. Good show. St. C. led me straight to the cave in pitch.
Friday 14th April. Hot sunshine, no clouds, sunbathing of course. Metcalfe called again in the p.m. He said that he was warned about the curfew but was able to go in and make his calls, have three meals, one of [one word omitted], collect his food and he set out by 9. I took sacking down to [one name omitted]. No one tested the Jerry threat to shoot anyone who went out after 9. I don’t think there were any of them to do it. No news. Jerry went round at 3.
Saturday 15th April. Fine. Half the month gone and nothing doing. A bit of gunfire this morning and a lot of flashes last night. I can hear the bells of a herd of sheep or goats, or both coming up the mountain. I arranged last night to go to the casetta tomorrow at about 3. Gnocchi for lunch, bread and wine. Metcalfe cannot stay alone and called again. Cristo.
Sunday 16th April. Fine again. I cut my hair this morning, not the back. 8 fighters passed a few minutes ago. The invasion people must be waiting for another moon. How the months slip by. I got to [one place name omitted] at 5, but nobody had called to see me and put in the time till Metcalfe whistled at 10 a.m. talking. The only bit of news was that all of Romania had been occupied? Quite a bit of gun and air activity to be seen tonight. Home at 11.45.
[digital page 44]
Monday 17th April. Another day – fine. What to do? Metcalfe was told last night that 200 Jerries were coming into the mountains to look for English prisoners. So what! 24 bombers have just passed with a large escort of about the same number of fighters. A record day for gunfire which went on into the night. M. [Metcalfe] called. 7 young men went down the mountain this afternoon, perhaps Fascists.
Tuesday 18th April. Gunfire not quite so strong this a.m. The sun is trying to pierce the clouds which are trying to rain. 12.30. Entirely enshrouded in cloud. Can see nothing. 2.05. Lightning, thunder, rain and heavy hail. No sunbathing. After Metcalfe left at 8, a perfectly clear sky.
Wednesday 19th April. Dull and grey, with clouds below my cave. Little gunfire. A thoroughly miserable day. M.C. [Metcalfe called?]
Thursday 20th April. Went down for water at 7. Clear and bright, promise of a good day. A little gunfire. Leaves are out on the trees near the water, but not up here yet. Rain twice during the day. M. [Metcalfe] came and we went down the mountain together. He went to the village and I to [one place name omitted]. On Monday, the German radio said we had been pushed back in places towards Nettuno. On Wednesday, four Fascists, armed, took cows etc. A Brigadier meeting them on their way out, finding they had no order for their action, made them return all. Back at [hour illegible].10.
Friday 21st April. The hottest day yet for sunbathing, while it lasted. M. [Metcalfe] came and also A. [Aussie], the former stayed until 8. They said there was no news in town, only two Fascists. 24 bombers passed.
Saturday 22nd April. Dull and light showers. It looks better towards the south-west. Gnocchi for dinner. Later, a strong wind got up and continued all day. M.C. morals of English youth terrible.
[digital page 45]
Sunday 23rd April. Brighter but wind continues. May go into town tonight. I did and arrived at 7.30. A.J. ambulance arrived a quarter of an hour later to take away some sick. I stayed put until 10.40 when I left with M [Metcalfe]. 1 sausage and 8 potatoes for lunch from the mercato, and pasta, fagoli oil, bones for broth, vino from the [one place name omitted]. Milk, eggs and farina from [one place name omitted]. News of a combined offensive by the [one place name omitted].
Monday 24th April. Fine and warm. The picture framer said last night that Jerry knows that there is a major here. Perhaps. M.C. Fairly quiet.
Tuesday 25th April. Another sunbathing day. John had a little lunch with me and said that a rumour was in town to the effect that para troops were near here with clothes and boots for P.O.W.? A fraulein is supposed to have been up to Curdes’ place and Louie thought she was Italian and told her where he got his food and where! M.C.
Wednesday 26th April. Rain during the night and wet conditions this morning. I spend nearly the whole day reading a Grammatica Accelerata sold to an Italian here when he went to America. Little gunfire. M.C. and wet conditions pertained all day.
Thursday 27th April. Trying to clear, a damp windy night. A rat gave me trouble during the night too. Will make a trap today. Cold again. M.C. and left for town at 6.10. I went to see John. 40 Jerries in town yesterday, very young. M. [Metcalfe] came up to the cave at 11 p.m. to say that he was leaving tomorrow with all the S.A.’s. The para troop story seems to be true.
Friday 28th April. I went to M’s cave in case he did not wake, and then to the 3 E [English?]. Met them on the trail. Alf had returned with new boots and underwear. I went to speak with Snyman as arranged and he did not turn up. Returned to see Alf and arranged to leave tomorrow at 10. I will investigate the possibilities of a successful trip through the lines. Back [one place name omitted] at 2.30 p.m.
[digital page 46]
Saturday 29th April. Up with the cuckoo. Had breakfast here – pizza and milk with J. The 3 E were ¾ of an hour late. Four strangers were waiting to come with us at the village, also an Austrian deserter. Away at 11, 4 others caught up a ½ hour later. Got to our destination just before 6. Alf lost his way. Saw a few Jerries and heard them waste ammunition. The Sergeant seems to have been doing a good job. The last party to leave for a while goes today. Saw a lot of old faces there. Left at 8, got to J’s at 1 after having an episode with three unknowns. Left J at 2, very tired when I got here. Must have walked for at least 12 hours. No gunfire.
Sunday 30th April. Fine. J called and persuaded me to go to town in the evening as I had to get water in any case. Had a nice meal with Berlinda and spoke to the big shot, the picture framer and Colonel. The Russian offensive is imminent and the bridgehead has been reinforced. Home at about 2. Little or no gunfire.
Monday 1st May. Fine. Got up at 10.30. Mum must be thinking of me for the next few days. It has not been a very happy day for the village. Jerry arrived about 10 and has been shooting up things all day. J came but did not know what it was all about. Last shots at 8.15 p.m. No gunfire.
Tuesday 2nd May. Fine again. Thing are much the same as yesterday, but no one out with their flocks at 1.30. About 50 Jerries passed on either side of my hideout. Not very pleasant. 8 were within 100 yeards of me and in full view. They joined the others lower down. No more excitement, only shooting.
Wednesday 3rd May. My birthday, 38. My 5th away from home and family. Clear and sunny. The church bells were ringing early, all seems quiet. I hope so. It is difficult to keep one’s spirits high when living in a cave alone. Some flocks are out and about, I can hear the bells. A friend called and said A [Aussie?] has been taken away, also a one-armed man. I am surprised about the way J is behaving. The last shooting was about 9. At 10, I had 5 visitors and was worried till I knew exactly who they were. They were looking for another grotto.
Thursday 4th May. Fine. Peace seems to have come over the valley again. No shooting today. A few planes about and muffled gunfire since yesterday evening.
[digital page 47]
Friday 5th May. Probably the hottest day since Xmas. I had a good dose of it. A few planes about and a little gunfire. I went down for water. A few sheep and goats about. Nearly normal again. (7)
Saturday 6th May. Light cloud, cooler. Still a little gunfire. The moon was very clear and bright last night, nearly full. The cuckoos sometimes seem as if they have been over wound and cannot stop. I feel that something must happen this month, time is passing so quickly. M. turned up at about ten, all in, and is quite convinced that it cannot be done. He was also disgusted.
Sunday 7th May. Fine and warm. M. wants to stay with me. I am now nearly hidden by the new green leaves and there is only a small patch of snow on the opposite slopes. M. has gone to see his provision merchant and, if out of luck, will go north. Out of luck, leaves in the morning. Impossible to get any more food here. I will try and buy on the trails in the mountains and may even have to follow M. and go north again.
Monday 8th May. M. left this morning with the last of my bread. I hope he does better up there. It is hard to know what to do for the best now. Something must happen this month. I have moved to another hideout and I am nearly out of food. Returned all roba.
Tuesday 9th May. A dull day. Cool. Bed hard. Share a big hole with a bee. Made a new fireplace and cooked nearly the last of my beans. Quite a deal of gunfire today. My spirits are a bit low.
Wednesday 10th May. Dull and showers during the night. A lot of those trying to get through must have been caught from all the reports. Difficult to get any news now. What to do? 8 months away from camp and it has been pretty hard going.
Thursday 11th May. A much brighter day after the last two dull and hilly ones. Distant gunfire continues and a few planes are about. A look in the mirror has convinced me that my wife would not know me in my present state. Terrible. In the evening, I collected leaves for my mattress.
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Friday 12th May. Warm sun at 8.15, then it took an hour for the mist to clear away, which came up from the valley. It is filling in time which is so awfully difficult.
Saturday 13th May. The heaviest gunfire yet started about dawn and continued for about 2 hours. After, planes were about, and after that there was a period of silence. A fine day, terrible without news of any kind. Rations low and I will go up on the trails tomorrow.
Sunday 14th May. Much the same performance this morning, but a few more planes about during the day. No bombers for some time now. A beautiful day for a walk. I was away for about 4 ½ hours and had a job trying to find my way back, but I got some food and, perhaps what might be more important, some good news. We are supposed to be making an offensive on all fronts and are making good progress. There was also a rumour that perhaps we had made another small landing. The 8th Army are, it was said, doing particularly well. Planes were about till well after dark.
Monday 15th May. A beautiful morning. A few odd explosions, no planes up to 11 a.m. A long day. There are at least 15 hours of daylight now. At about 9.30 p.m. there were so many planes passing that it seemed a collision was certain.
Tuesday 16th May. A perfect morning as I got up at 6.20. I had some pizza and ersatz coffee, and then went up on top for a look around. No activity and the few explosions might have been anything. Back at 12.45. Cloudy now. A quiet afternoon and evening.
Wednesday 17th May. A warm morning with clouds. I heard gunfire this morning from a new direction (CSE). A few planes. There is no doubt things are doing. I saw flares, A.A. [Anti-Aircraft] and searchlights in the evening. Watered.
Thursday 18th May. A warm, sunny morning. Everything very quiet – that is what always confounds me. One day busy, the next like the grave. Cheers, 24 bombers have just gone overhead on a job, with 2 fighters, and that seemed to end the day’s activity. I got a little good for 3 days on the road up top.
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Friday 19th May. Warm and sunny. The radio is not giving anything away. I’ll try to pan the line when the battle gets nearer. Rain in the p.m. and most of the evening. A bird tried to pluck my hair out for its nest. Heavy gunfire, 24 bombers.
Saturday 20th May. I am just going to get up to see how my fire has fared. The guns are still going. Fire o.k. Cold conditions pertain again. I have to get inside my mattress of sack and dried leaves to keep warm, no place for Marg up here.
Sunday 21st May. Very cold again. I had to stay in bed all day to keep warm. I got food for a week going lightly and the news is good. We are moving towards Frosinone and are near Sora.
Monday 22nd May. Cold again, bed again. Saw 3 Flying Forts [Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, American heavy bomber] through a gap in the clouds, the first I have seen. Gunfire, bombs and machine guns going most of the day and night. Jerry must be getting it. A warmer night and the day has started bright.
Tuesday 23rd May. I have just seen 26 Flying Forts and earlier saw two bombs explode. I am wondering how noisy it is going to be in a day or two. Another 36 FF’s and about 12 strangers. Perhaps Mosquitoes [de Havilland Mosquito, British multi-role combat aircraft]. Another 18 bombers, type B24 and 36 [Consolidated B-24 Liberator, American heavy bomber and North American A-36 Apache, American ground-attack/dive bomber]. Cloudy conditions now, but the noise of many aircraft almost continuous. Light showers in the afternoon and thunder. Gunfire continued. (new moon?)
Wednesday 24th May. Gunfire continued most of the night but faded away by midday. Few aircraft. It poured from 6-9. I managed to keep dry, but my fire was swamped. Had dry bread for tea.
Thursday 25th May. Fine, no gunfire. A Few planes strafing the roads. What does it mean? Is Jerry pulling right back and is he being bombed on the road, like we were in Greece? Or has he given us a knock, but why the complete absence of guns from either side if the latter? One’s nerves are becoming a bit ragged under the strain of suspense. Watered at 9.15. Air busy later.
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Friday 26th May. Fine. Busy in the air this a.m. 50 bombers passed, fighters busy. Distant gunfire. I would like to know the exact situation. The strafing on the road leaves nothing to be desired, but that is all that seems to be happening. Perhaps this new moon is the one we are waiting for.
Saturday 27th May. A great day again. The strafing started early and is going strong as I write. I saw more Mosquitoes at 8 a.m. – six or so. This afternoon everything is as quiet as the grave. Aircraft busy in the early evening.
Sunday 28th May. Beautiful morning. Road strafing continues and distant gunfire. Difficult to tell exactly in what direction. Nearly 9 months since the fall of Italy, we have hardly moved at all, and the war is five years old. It’s terrible. 4 months at Cassino and 3 at the bridgehead. My left knee is not improving. A proper diet and exercise on the flat should put it right and perhaps a little massage. I wish it were possible to adequately describe the scene in the casetta I visited this evening. A low fire, light supplied by a burning piece of string in a medicine bottle of oil and spirit. 4 Italians talking of the latest events, the wife of one an interested but silent spectator, and myself. They talked till after midnight. I got quite a lot of food there.
Monday 29th May. The strafing has been terrific today and has been without pause. The news is good. We must be quite close to F. [the remainder of this word is omitted] and Sora now. I really think it is a matter of days now. Daylight up to 9.30 now.
Tuesday 30th May. A beautiful day. Heavy gunfire quite close all night and well into the morning. It had its quiet periods and the midmorning planes were busy as always. It seems near enough to be Alatri and Ferentino now. In spite of it all, the shepherd girl is on the job with her sheep and goats. What a day when I can cable Marg that I am free again. Day finished quiet.
Wednesday 31st May. Glorious morning and absolutely quiet, perhaps a holiday for all. I am always afraid something has gone wrong when it is so quiet. Two boys brought great news if true, to the effect that we had occupied Celano near Avezzano and were two kilometres from Valmontone. Things got busier this p.m. The Celano news was later denied by J who said we have Valmontone.
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Thursday 1st June. Great days now, hazy. A really noisy day, gunfire is coming nearer from three directions now. I saw bombers get some A.A. [Anti-Aircraft]. The road strafing continues. How impatient I am. Watered.
Friday 2nd June. Another great day. Except for road strafing and Jerries retaliation, all is quiet. It is hard to know whether to move or not, not knowing just where we are. J called and said that by Wednesday night’s radio we were in Sora and Frosinone, and possibly near Alatri. Stay put. 8.30 and the air force are still at it. The Luftwaffe has not been seen for weeks.
Saturday 3rd June. Good day. Road strafing and a bit of high level bombing this a.m. of the nearby roads. J. called with 2 eggs and said the advance continues. All expect to be free in a few days. Speriamo!
Sunday 4th June. Fine and cool. Not much activity. Spent the morning at a new game, drawing plans for a new home. J called at 1 p.m. and said that the Allied troops are less than 10 miles away. There is little sound of battle but Jerry must be just holding on sufficiently to allow him to get away as much as possible. The roads are crammed at night with stuff retreating. It might be tomorrow! Thunder, rain and hail at 10 to 6 for over an hour. Watered.
Monday 5th June. J. called at 6 a.m. to say P might call during the day if news is good. He lost five sheep in the storm last evening and was out to find them. The day is perfect. A few planes about but no road strafing, perhaps there is nothing to strafe. No gunfire. J. said it is possible that Rome is free. All very excited and are now willing to do something for x prisoners again. I think there is only the Yugoslavs and I left. P & O called with food and the latest news. Rome is in our hands. A Jerry Sergeant said they were going to another line at Florence. A bomb dropped at V. [remainder of this word is omitted] this a.m. but did not explode. A. [remainder of this name is omitted] called at nine to say the English were in the village.
Tuesday 6th June. I went into the village with J, all wildly excited. The English troops had not arrived but were reported to be in the nearest village, A [one place name omitted]. Just before lunch, Jerry and I was asked to go and get the English. I went within the hour and returned with a company of Indians. I offered to guide them up a roundabout way to where we could surprise Jerry.
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Wednesday 7th June. We left at 2 a.m. the following morning, and had quite an exciting time. We lost 3 dead, 1 wounded, and retired in good order. Later the guns mortar did their stuff. I now have less than the appearance of a tramp.
Thursday 8th June. Helping the Mahrattas [5th Mahratta Light Infantry, Regiment of the British Indian Army] to get going with the villagers and later did the same for the 12 Lancers [12th (Prince of Wales’) Royal Lancers, Calvary Regiment of the British Army].
Friday 9th June. Spent the day making my farewells. Mattalina very upset that the Indians trod on her maize.
Saturday 10th June. Fine. Left Vallepietra for Rome at 8. Walked and rode on a mule alternately to Piglio, then Armando secured a car, I the gas. Car broke down at 11.30 p.m. I went for help and slept under a truck at the camp of RE’s [Royal Engineers?] who promised to help us to Via 6 in the morning. Armando and Co slept in the car.
Sunday 11th June. Fine. Had bacon and eggs for breakfast. Got the tow to the highway and later another to start the car and arrived at Armando’s home at about 2 p.m. No light or water in Rome. Food scarce. Went to H.Q. 5th Army to report in. Ron Turnball in charge of prisoners’ repartition here and I will get his exact address tomorrow.
Monday 12th June. Went to H.Q. again and met General Freyberg and Sgeve Weir at the door. General shook hands twice and I told him I would like to stay with the Division for a while. Arranged to meet Mons O’Flaherty tomorrow.
Tuesday 13th June. Weather very hot. Mon O’Flaherty promised to provide me with a guide after lunch. Had a wonder tour of Saint Peter’s.
Wednesday 14th June. I went to the Vatican to see the Pope in public audience. He blessed all religious objects and said a few words in English. Amando got his friends to take us to see all the best churches in the afternoon. I bought a crucifix for 850 Lira and a rosary for Marg for 1,300 Lira. Very hot weather.
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Thursday 15th June. Fine and hot. Went to the Vatican to get the Pope to bless the crucifix and Marg’s rosary. Had a run around on Diana cycle. Met Hooky Mander. Water came on late.
Friday 16th June. Fine and hot. Left Armando at 7.30 and Rome for Naples at 11. Arrived at Naples at 6 p.m. after an uneventful trip. Much damage in most towns en route. Met two twenty-niners at hotel [Possibly two soldiers from the 29th Ranger Battalion (United States), who spearheaded the invasions of Sicily and Italy]. I am probably no 11 from there to make it. Wrote to Marg. Not an easy job, all seem to experience the same difficulty.
Saturday 17th June. Still in Naples. Did some shopping at the officer shop in the morning and rested all the remainder of the day.
Sunday 18th June. Helped the interrogating officer and went to Mass in the morning. Was very disappointed with Pompeii in the afternoon.
Monday 19th June. [no recorded entry]
Tuesday 20th June. Left for Taranto at 8.10 but did not get out of Naples till 4.30. The S.A.’s o the train were a bit unruly. Arrived at Taranto at 4.
Wednesday 21st June. Went to Bari after lunch. Stayed at the New Zealand Club.
Thursday 22nd June. Went to my first English picture in two years and 7 months.
Friday 23rd June. Still taking it easy at Bari. I did a bit of shopping at the officers’ shop and B.O.D. [Base Ordnance Depot]
Saturday 24th June. Bought more linen at BOD and got Wolfenden to ask a nurse to purchase a pair of shoes for Marg. Rested in the afternoon. Pictures again in the evening.
Sunday 25th June. Up early, mass at 8. Walked round the waterfront in the morning.
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Monday 26th June. Went for a sail in the afternoon, saw Hit the Ice [1943 film starring the comedy team of Abbott and Costello, directed by Charles Lamont] in the evening.
Tuesday 27th June. Returned to Taranto.
Wednesday 28th June. N. Mitchell turned up at 7.45. He had been in the L’Aquila district. I took him to Bari to see the M.S. Stayed the night at the club. Went to a show.
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[hand drawn sketch, P.O.W. camp. A guard is standing to attention outside a building and a prisoner is leaning out of the window above]
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[hand drawn sketch, outside of P.O.W. camp. A building is shown surrounded by a barbed fence, with an enclosed recreational area and a plot of land for growing fruit and/or vegetables]
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[hand drawn sketch, an exhausted P.O.W. asleep on a bed]
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[hand drawn sketch, a P.O.W tends to a plot of land in the camp while another P.O.W. is shown underground tunnelling, possibly creating an escape tunnel]
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[hand drawn sketch, a P.O.W. sits in a well constructed tunnel, using a periscope to look above ground]
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[hand drawn sketch, a P.O.W. is shown underground tunnelling, possibly creating an escape tunnel]