Bill Garton’s story sees him on route to Palestine along with his regiment, the Sherwood Rangers. He jumps overboard when his ship is bombed near Crete and is eventually rescued by the Italians. He ends up in PG 78 near Sulmona, where his story gives an account of POW camp life.
After the Italian Armistice he is transported by train to Germany where Bill and two other POWs escape by jumping off the train at Celano. Bill describes his journey back to the Allies with the help he gets from Italian civilians, including the Raneri family. The routes he follows are ancient pathways and trails that have been used for centuries by Tanshumance and Saminite civilizations. His journey ends when he finally makes contact with Allied forces and is sent back home just in time to meet his family for Christmas 1943.
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.
Garton, b [Redacted] by on Scribd
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‘HOME FOR CHRISTMAS’
Excellent account with maps and illustrations produced by Victoria Carton on Bill’s diction. Also history of Transhumance – the transit from summer to winter pastures and the paths that took the shepherds and their sheep from the Abruzzi to the plains around Foggia.
BG was in the Sherwood Rangers with horses and shipped to Palestine. (See Ranfurly ’To War with Whitaker’. Got off Crete on HMS [His/Her Majesty’s Ship] Hereward which was hit. BC jumps into the sea and picked up unconscious by the Italians. Via Rhodes, Athens and Corinth Canal to Bari. Up to Bolzano (?) and then down to Sulmona. Caught up in the turmoil of Germans taking over. Needing valves for a radio they try in Sulmona when getting the bread ration. Another visit to the bakery and valves are handed out alternatively with bread rolls. Four days to wind the transformer but it worked.
Among the last to be taken by train to(wards) Germany. BG first to get through hole in cattle wagon but hauls himself back in as the train was going through station with German soldiers on it. Then three jump near Celano and find the Ranieri family who hide and help them. Detailed map is found for them and decide to head south. Two Italians going to market take them on their cart. They are on the route of the migratory shepherds. Find the fire and hut of another POW. They move through Villavallelunga (many POWs passed through there). Meet an Englishwoman who is married to an American who has gone through the lines.
At Opi they stay with the barber and then on to sleep in a shepherd’s hut. Through a German billeting area and then queue at a water tap behind a German officer in uniform. As they go to cross the Volturno river they pass a German tank and many Germans and then in a village two women sitting outside their house, having recognised them for what they were ask them to stay for lunch.
Near Gallo an old woman rides a donkey in front of them to show them the way and when some Italians will not take over from her she produces some strong Italian. She finally finds for them a shepherd who will lead them through. They meet the front line post of the Americans and sleep rough with them but in the morning queue for the huge American breakfast. When there are some remarks about feeding scruffy Italians to which Bill firmly replies ‘I hope that no one is under the misapprehension that I am not British.’.
Back down the line they are driven to the American Security police who direct the driver to the ‘compound’ until they proclaim they are British Escapees not German or Italian POW’s.
Via Caserta, Naples, Algiers and Liverpool Bill gets home in time for Christmas.
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TRANSLATION; Extract from ‘Cronaca della Marsica’ Saturday, 8th September 1990 “Bill returns to his friends who hid him for 3 weeks in 1943. A 40 year long embrace – German prisoner saved by the Celonese.
CELANO. He returned to Italy after so many years – more than 40 – to find and embrace the Ranieri family from Celano who helped him during the war.
This is the story of Bill Garton, today a distinguished 70 year old Englishman, who in October 1943, at the age of 23, was fighting in the war in Europe and after being captured by the Germans, managed to escape, together with two other English prisoners, from the Nazi train which was taking him, with many other English prisoners, to a concentration camp in Germany.
Their escape took place at a level crossing not far from the gulf of Celano, and the three took refuge in a neighbouring dwelling. It was there that they were found by Domenico Ranieri, who despite the danger took the three in a cart to his house which at that time was the wool makers in Celano.
Bill and his companions were hidden in a cellar owned by the Sforza family. They remained hidden there all day, and only came out in the evening to eat together with the Ranieri family who protected them. The danger of being discovered was always very great and in fact one evening in November 1943, while they were eating, two German officers actually broke into the house during the meal. The soldiers were looking for wool and as was their custom, without being invited, they sat down to eat.
Bill Garton today remembers with a smile on his lips that moment of terror. “We stayed calm, well aware that if they had been found out, they would have killed everyone, including the Ranieri family, who had offered secret hospitality. Fortunately, by staying calm everything went well and the Germans went away without discovering anything. It is nice to tell the story today.” So today, Bill Garton, accompanied by his wife, Vicky, revisited all the places he had passed through during the escape. From Celano in fact the three prisoners, having stayed at the house of Domenico Ranieri for three weeks fled to Naples, via Piedimonte, and once on board reached Liverpool by boat at Christmas 1943. Ever since then Bill Garton has kept in close written contact with the friends in Celano and after so many years has returned to find them.
The emotion is great said the nice Englishman with a moustache. I have met Irvin, Egidio and Tonino Ranieri with their sisters Assunta, Olga and Elda, who at that time were all much younger, and we have had a very emotional intense encounter. Of course, many things have changed, but with a little bit of remembering (memory) I managed to recapture the feeling of those days in 1943 which at the same time were terrible, because of the danger of being recaptured, and beautiful because of the awareness that we were being protected by great friends. There were also other Celano families who at the same period in the second world war sheltered English soldiers who were hiding from the Germans, even being aware of the risk they were taking, and this shows that in Celano, as in other parts of Italy, very many people were prepared to risk their own lives to save prisoners who were escaping from the Nazis.”
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[Detailed map of Western Italy showing Naples, Gaeta and the Golfo di Gaeta.]
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[A photocopy of the map taken from a magazine in the Ranieri household dated Oct 1943 showing Western Italy. The escape route that Bill Garton took is marked in blue.]
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HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
After more than 50 years, I am asked to record Bill’s escape from Sulmona POW camp. The beginning they say is a good place to start – but where and how? The following snippets of information I have gleaned over the years and I have seen Bill’s notes and maps. Hopefully it will all come together. It would seem appropriate to start in 1938:
At the age of 18, after the Munich fiasco, Bill, together with friends, volunteered to join the County Regiment, the Nottinghamshire Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry. The situation with regard to Nazi Germany was serious and when war was declared on Sunday morning, 3rd September 1939, the Regiment was already in the Barracks at Newark. In due course each trooper was issued with a Boer War sabre, a 1908 Lee Enfield Rifle and a horse!
The phoney war, where no immediate action took place, saw Bill and his comrades in a training camp in Malton in Yorkshire, and then at Christmas 1939 the Regiment was encamped at Brocklesby Park, near Grimsby, the estate of Colonel, Lord Yarborough.
On 10th January 1940, the Regiment with over 1,000 horses, was on the move for overseas. It was very cold and bleak, according to reports at the time the coldest recorded since Waterloo in 1815. Trains took them from Brocklesby Station to Southampton, where they boarded ferries which took them over the channel to Cherbourg. Train again to Marseilles. Winter was at its worst, with much snow. Boat again to Palestine where they docked in the dark and rain at Haifa. The Regiment disembarked the following morning in warm sunshine.
They moved to Rehovoth and were billeted in tents with the Royal Scot Greys, who still had their homes. More training.
In February they again moved to a tented camp in Latrun, which is on the main road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
During March they moved to Karkur, Palestine. Moral is high, but everyone knew there was no place in the British Army for cavalry, but during the training period there were many hair raising instances, for example :
The Regiment was on trek and had stopped for a rest at midday, when without warning, the horses stampeded – soldiers and horses were hurt and there was much destruction. Then, during that night it happened again – Bill was not hurt.
The Regiment was called out to quell riots in Jaffa – the Palestinian Jews were unhappy with the British Government’s White Paper. Concrete roads are not the ideal ground for cavalry charges. Horses at the trot, or galloping, slid all over the place and there were troops with broken limbs. Bill was again lucky, it was the sabre troops who took the brunt of this action.
A notice appeared on the Regimental notice board to the effect that an Intelligence Troop was being formed and asked for volunteers. It was expected that experienced reservists would take this up, but no! When the sergeant major went to the tent for the name of the volunteer, all the ‘old soldiers’ pointed to Bill and said he is the one you want – fait accompli. The old adage of never volunteer for anything was paramount. The Intelligence Troop was manned by territorials only. The knowledge gained at this period, which involved map reading stood Bill in good stead later on.
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In June 1940 France capitulated and Italy declared war on the Allies. The mechanisation of the Axis armies was at last recognised and the horses were removed from the Regiment and sent to the Remount Depot at Nathaniya. There were many very upset cavalrymen at this time.
In July 1940, The Nottingham Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry moved to Peninsula Barracks Haifa to train on coastal guns. Some time later the Regiment became an Armoured Regiment, but first, cavalry squadrons were disbanded and replaced by batteries.
The Regiment was dispersed to various projected hot spots – Tobruk and Cyprus. Bill was in Y Battery and was sent to Cyprus. He found the sojourn in Cyprus very pleasant, food was good, and the temperatures balmy. In January 1941 the battery returned to Port Said and together with B Battery was despatched by boat to man the coastal guns and defend Crete.
The disastrous Balkans offensive was at its height and Greece was attacked in early April. Evacuation was ordered on 1st May and many retreating remnants of the ill-equipped Allied forces arrived on Crete. One contingent of the Sherwood Rangers was engaged on coastal defences between Canea and Suda Bay; another at Suda Bay entrance, and the third, with Bill, at Heraklion. Six inch guns were established at the three camps having previously been taken from the bombed Crusier HMS [His/Her Majesty’s Ship] Liverpool. On May 19th 1941 the German offensive against Crete started with the island being bombed and strafed all day. Ships in the harbour were also attacked. Air attacks continued the next morning and then German paratroopers were dropped. The parachutists were badly mauled in the Heraklion area. This state of affairs existed in most of the battle areas. A crucial factor was that the runway on Meleme airfield west of Canea was left in working order and the Germans were able to use this to bring in heavy equipment. With the approach of moonlit nights the Royal Navy, without air cover, was in a vulnerable position. The Germans had 1200 planes operational in the area, the figure for the Allies was 36, and these had been quickly annihilated.
On May 28th 1941 the order was given to withdraw. Y Battery trekked a couple of hours via the coast to Heraklion Harbour. Bill was equipped with 400 rounds of ammunition in cloth bandoliers worn over each shoulder (reminiscent of a Mexican bandit), A few days earlier, along with his comrades he had lined up and signed for 50 rounds of ammunition. Now that the evacuation was in the offing, the Quarter Master issued ammunition to all and sundry, against a signature, and, of course, quoting the last three digits of their official army numbers. He carried a haversack, a Le Enfield Rifle and a camera.
They boarded the destroyer HMS [His/Her Majesty’s Ship] Hereward, and were packed like sardines in a tin. He was separated from fellow Sherwood Rangers by the sheer influx of personnel. At around midnight, they set sail for Alexandria. Due to engine trouble on another destroyer, the progress of the flotilla was slow. In the morning the flotilla was subjected to bombing raids by Stukas and Just before 7 a.m. on 29th May a bomb hit its target, went down the funnel of HMS [His/Her Majesty’s Ship] Hereward, and the order was given to abandon ship. Bill was down below when all the lights went out. In the darkness he joined the orderly evacuation and made his way up to the dimly lit mess deck. He climbed on to a table, got through a manhole cover and out on to the deck. Stukas were still making bombing runs and it takes little imagination to realise the disastrous situation.
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Approximately 11 miles to the west was the island of Crete and to the East was Karpathos. He realised that people already in the water were being swept to the south by the current. He had the foresight to take off his boots and the cloth bandoliers from round his shoulders (the rifle, haversack and camera, had been left below) and he lowered himself into the water from a rope hanging down the side of the destroyer. He had already seen a mess bench floating in the sea and grabbed it. His first reaction was against the coldness of the water. Leaning face down on the bench he struck out away from the Hereward. Exploding bombs from the Stukas made the water vibrate and there was the risk of shrapnel. The remaining ships in the flotilla continued their journey.
He spent five hours in the water and eventually a motor torpedo boat drew alongside him. A rope was thrown, which he grabbed – from then on he was unconscious and had no recollection of events. He came to in a bed (later he found he was in a school in Karpothos which had been converted to hospital use) he asked for ‘nero’ (Greek for water) and was more than shocked when a voice said “these are not Greeks mate they are Ities” He had to face the realisation that he was now a PRISONER OF WAR In Italian hands.
In the evening, still wearing the army issue shorts, he was taken to the harbour with other survivors, and in due course they boarded an Italian destroyer. They docked on Rhodes and the label round his neck indicated he was to be hospitalised. After a week or so, he was given clothes and transferred to a Prisoner of War camp where he stayed for about three weeks. The Prisoners of War were then put in the hold of a boat which took them to Leros. They were transferred by barge to a former Italian cruise liner. The accommodation was good, bunks had been put into the main dining room and there was an exercise deck. The liner made Athens and took on provisions. It then sailed through the Corinth Canal, Gulf Korinthos, Ionian Sea, arriving at Bari, Italy, on June 22nd.
A little deviation is called for here. Bill’s 21st birthday was on 21st June 1941. He ‘celebrated’ as a Prisoner of War on an Italian boat in the Adriatic, with a meal consisting of a mixture of rice and beans!
After disembarkation at Bari they were transported by train to a camp at Capua, which is inland north of Naples. The weather was hot and the accommodation in tents was spartan and basic. On July 12th they were moved, by train in cattle trucks, up the west coast, to Prato al Isarco, which is a few miles up the Brenner Pass from Bolzano. At first they were put into a barn with multiple bunks, and then later into huts in an adjoining field, which was surrounded by barbed wire on which hung tin cans. A modicum of civilised procedures were established here, with sports, instructional classes and concerts organised by the Prisoners of War themselves.
The terrain was difficult and at the beginning of Autumn and before harsh weather hit this mountainous region, the POWs were taken by passenger train, travelling down the East coast, to SULMONA, which is a small town on the main railway line between Rome and Pescara. They arrived during the evening of October 25th 1941, and were taken by lorry from Sulmona station to POW camp Fonte D’Amore, PG Camp 78, (Campo Prigioneri Di Guerra No, 78) situated at the foot of the Morrone Mountains. Personal belongings were examined and then huts were allocated. HUT 64 was to be home. For how long? A very sobering thought.
The occupants of the camp had made a big flat area at the foot of the camp where organised games of football etc. took place. Concert parties, theatre and a band offered some entertainment. Educational classes, where POWs imparted their knowledge, were popular, and Bill was able to further his interest in radio.
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Despite the privations of POW life, and the inadequacy of the two meals per day, friendships were forged. Bill, Denis, Tony and Jock formed a syndicate. They shared Red Cross Parcels, which were life savers. Everything was utilized. Cans which had contained beans, rice pudding, etc. were turned into drinking mugs, by the addition of handles. Other cans were opened out and made into a brewing stove and a small table. Cardboard boxes and packaging was used as fuel for brewing. Brews of Red Cross tea became a ritual.
For some reason the Italian guards occasionally made raids on brewing stoves. On one such occasion whilst Bill was making tea, the stove was confiscated, and he was ordered to accompany the barrow piled high with brewing stoves. There was a guard at the front, a POW pushing the barrow, with Bill at the side, and bringing up the rear some way back another guard. Turning sharp right round the end of a hut. Bill realised the door was wide open, so he smartly retrieved his stove from the barrow, put it in the hut, and before the rear guard appeared he was back in position.
The need for combustible material meant that at times laths from bunks disappeared, and the Italian authorities, to safeguard the fabric decided to introduce supplies of wood. Cigarettes were the main source of barter. Bill being a non-smoker was in a happier position than most.
Some time in 1942, Tony, a Marine, and Jock, Royal Navy were both repatriated in an exchange with Italian naval personnel. Bill and Denis continued to make the best of it and they shared their interest in radio technology. Rumour and counter-rumours were rife about Allied progress and the subsequent landings in Italy.
September 8th 1943: POWs playing football were told by Italian civilians shouting through the wire perimeter fence that an armistice between Italy and the Allies had been declared. The following day all POWs marched to the football pitch and were ordered by the Senior British Officer to remain in the camp, until suitable arrangements could be made. However, if, in the meantime, German units approached the camp three ‘Gs’ would sounded by the bugler, and it would be up to every man to make his escape.
The evening of Sunday, September 12th, the camp was calm, with most POWs eating a meal of soup, when the three ‘Gs’ were sounded. Bill, together with everyone else made his way up the mountains where a very uncomfortable night was spent. At daylight on the 13th it became known that the ‘German Army’ consisted of two soldiers on a motor bike with side car. They had by then left the camp.
Bill and a dozen or so others returned to the camp, with a view of organising themselves to make their way south. On the way to their hut they found that the Red Cross Parcels Store had been broken into – parcels and their contents were strewn across the floor, they had been picked over for chocolate and tins of condensed milk. On arrival at their hut, flies had taken over, due to leaving the remains of the previous evening’s meal. Kitting themselves out for a trek south under the present circumstances seemed to warrant first of all to clear the mess. It was agreed that some POWs would clear the hut of left over food and others would rescue some of the Red Cross Parcels. Bill and Denis had managed to acquire two eggs during their moments of freedom and when the mess was cleared a fine meal of egg, Red Cross bacon, and a cup of tea was partaken by them. By this time it was evening, so the decision was made to leave Sulmona Camp early the next morning.
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September 14th : They had slept outside and awoke to a fine sunny morning. To their dismay Corporal Stapley, standing near, said “… you are now POWs again, the Germans have taken over”. Needless to say they were washed and dressed at the double and with three colleagues wandered into the next compound. They walked between the top two rows of huts and before they had got very far a German patrol with Tommy guns came towards them. They were not intimidating, and enquired about the water being turned on. Bill and his friends explained that the control was outside the camp periphery. They retraced their steps and as they stepped into the open space to approach their hut, all hell broke loose – spandaus, mausers, Tommy guns etc. opened up. By instinct they made a dash towards the hut. They understood later that the firing was not taking place inside the camp but up the mountains and that underneath the barrage German infantry were rounding up escapees. Over 70% were forced to return. They were now GERMAN PRISONERS OF WAR.
Cathray, a friend of Bill and Denis had acquired a wireless set, minus it’s 5 valves from the Italian guards workshop The Sgt. Major in Bill’s compound was able to acquire Italian lira, and a plan was formulated. The British cook’s personnel were in the habit of going into Sulmona daily with a bread wagon, and they made the initial enquiries about the purchase of valves. Cathray joined the bread wagon one morning with a view to picking up the valves but the Italian civilian indicated that they were not to hand. Denis joined the wagon in the afternoon on the same errand, but still no luck.
The next morning, Bill made the trip. It was grey and raining. The wagon pulled up outside a bread shop in a narrow street. The POWs with the German guards alighted. Down the side of the shop, leading to the bakery, was a 5ft. wide tunnel lit by a few electric light bulbs. The POWs formed a line down the middle of the tunnel, leading from the bakery to sacks near the road. At intervals at the back of the POWs stood the German guards. The bread rolls were passed hand to hand along the chain, and every now and then a valve appeared which Bill put into the front of his battle dress blouse.
The POWs and German guards wandered back towards the road and wagon. Bill went into the shop with the British sergeant who asked if everything was all right. Bill replied that he had not had chance to check. The sergeant took Bill back along the tunnel, which was by now deserted, into a little room on the right. There, Bill checked the valve numbers against the list, found them to be correct, re-inserted the valves inside his uniform, came out of the room, nodded to the sergeant, whereupon the sergeant returned to the shop and surreptitiously paid the Italian supplier. They then boarded the bread wagon and returned to the camp. The operation had been tense, but had passed without a hitch.
A room in one of the huts on the bottom compound was used as a workshop. The chassis of the wireless had most fortunately the numbers of each valve stamped against each socket. The valves were inserted and the power switched on, but NO – no sound. The only possible measuring instrument they had was an electric light bulb in a socket with a flex. Denis used this and in due course concluded that the mains transformer was faulty. When the power was disconnected a faint smell confirmed that the transformer had burnt out. It took one day to unwind the transformer to get to the short on the heater windings. All the insulation was saved and a fellow Prisoner of War made a winding machine from odd bits of wood and wire to rewind the transformer. It took four days to do this and then the set was switched on and if worked. The BBC could now be heard.
The British camp administration considered that a discreet hide out should be found as a wireless reception room and Bill, Denis, Cathray and John were established in the top officer’s compound. They found that trying to pinpoint positions and movements of the Allied forces from the BBC news bulletins was very difficult. Allied Forces had landed on the toe of Italy on 3rd Sept and Salerno on 9th Sept. On one occasion they understood that the armies were in one position but that 24 hours later they were on the periphery and a day later approaching the area. However, news bulletins were hand written and passed from hut to hut.
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24th September 1943 : The Germans started transporting Prisoners of War from the camp to Germany in cattle trucks. The first batch left on the 24th, and the last on the 3rd October. Because of the radio it was somehow arranged that Bill, Denis, Cathray and John would be among the last to leave. Unfortunately when they were queuing to board the train, the foursome were split, Bill, Denis and Cathray were put into one truck and John, who had the radio, was put into another. They did not see John or the radio again.
Prisoners of War were cramped, but could sit on the floor of the cattle truck. The door was on rollers, and after some time a chap sitting near the door found that it was not locked and tentatively opened it a little. Bill who was sitting next to him said “wait until dark”. This reaction was due to an incident when a previous batch of POWs had arrived at Sulmona Station for transport to Germany, a passenger train had travelled through at speed and three POWs had tried to get aboard. One lost his grip, fell and hurt his leg, another, also unsuccessful, hurt his shoulder, the third got a grip and looked like making his escape, but a German corporal emptied his Tommy gun into the poor fellow – the camp shower block was used as a mortuary. Bill had realised that the cattle trucks were similar to those he had seen in American films with a caboose built on the top, where the brake man sat to control the speed when going down steep gradients. Whilst waiting on the platform he had seen a German corporal in that position.
Before evening shadows, the train stopped and the inmates of each truck were in turn allowed out on to the side of the track, with armed guards standing at the ready. Eventually, Bill and his comrades climbed back into the truck. The German corporal slammed the door shut banged the bolt into place and shouted in perfect English “There are no sportsmen in here”!!!
As night fell there was activity in the truck where Bill was travelling – someone had a pair of pliers and efforts were being made to remove one of the cast iron grilles, which was held in place by four 1″ inch diameter nuts. Three bolts were eventually removed, but the fourth proved awkward and a group using the grille physically levered the nut and bolt out of its housing.
Bill, Denis and Cathray decided they had had enough and were going home for Christmas. They made their way to the opening, leaving their kitbag’s but retaining haversacks which they had around their shoulders. Bill was given a helping hand and was first out of the opening. He lay along the frame, but he realised that the train was going through a station complex, with white side tracks and lights on the platform with good visibility. He also saw two armed guards coming towards him as the train was carrying him towards them. He came back inside so fast his left boot top caught on the frame and he was left hanging upside down. He was quickly unhooked by those standing nearby.
They waited until the train began to decrease speed and then Bill was up, out, and after hanging momentarily on the side of the truck, pushed himself out and clear. He says it is quite different jumping from a bus – he was about four feet in the air and did not want to stumble in the wooden track sleepers. He had overstretched and came in contact with a buttress to a retaining wall and was temporarily knocked out. He remembers seeing the two rear red lights of the train moving away from him. He gathered himself together and then joined up with Denis and Cathray.
It was by now dark – not pitch black, but there was no moon. They had no idea where they were, other than in central Italy. They had moved south away from the railway line when they saw a light in the north. They decided to investigate. Returning to the railway line and a level crossing they walked up a road towards the light. It came from a small building with two rooms, one above the other, and the light came from a small open window on the second floor. They came to the conclusion that it was not a German post. Denis went forward and said “Bonne Sera, noi llnglisi Prigionieri di Guerra scappare Tedeschi” (Good evening, we are English Prisoners escaping the Germans). An arm came out of the window indicating a back entrance. Eventually, a door opened and they went up a small stairway. Two Italian youths, also ‘scappare Tedeschi’ were there. They all slept on straw in a downstairs room.
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The next morning food was brought for the two Italians and the presence of Bill, Denis and Cathray was made known. They were told to stay put. In due course food was provided and they were told that they were on the outskirts of CELANO. Later a man about 40 years of age appeared and offered to take one of the party and arrange for the other two to be given accommodation elsewhere. Bill, Denis and Cathray had thoughts of marching south to the Allied lines and no thoughts of settling down in accommodation. Within the limits of language they emphasised that they had no wish to be split up and the good Samaritan left without feeling offended.
About 4 pm that afternoon the good Samaritan called again and he intimated to the three that they should follow him. Dressed in battle dress uniform they walked up a hill towards Celano. They were led inside a cafe where they sat at a table and were offered wine or coffee. There were half a dozen Italian men drinking in the cafe – they seemed to make a point of not noticing what was going on, although the guide was known to them. Leaving the cafe they continued along the road, turned sharp left down a side road and then right, into a newly built house of generous proportions. The Good Samaritan introduced himself as Sig. Dominico Ranieri, and proceeded to introduce his wife, two daughters and four sons. In due course a very appetising meal was provided in the dining room.
Later that evening, about 10 pm in the dark they were taken outside and shown a three storey building situated about thirty yards away. They were led into a ground floor room where they were to spend the night. The window was blacked out and when the light was switched on they saw a room half full of sacks. Sig. Ranieri manufactured woollen garments, and the sacks contained wool from the sheep ready for the knitting machines. Next morning’s investigations showed that the other room was used as a stable for a pony. A flight of stairs between the rooms led upwards from the door they had entered and this stairwell was used to store wood – it was jammed full of tree trunks and branches. Further up was the first floor with the front door opening on to the road they had traversed the day before. This door was not visible to them because of the stored wood.
They spent 10 days or so with Sig. Ranieri and his family. Bill was most anxious to be off, but they were well fed, had good sleeping accommodation and in due course Sig. Ranieri provided them with civilian clothing, which had been obtained, by barter, on the black market in Rome. Their army kit was buried one night behind a wall where renovations were being made to a shop. Bill had a suit and cape and because of his fair hair, a cap. Denis and Cathray were dark haired. Denis investigated why a wireless belonging to the family was not working – he discovered the reason – an electrocuted mouse! This caused some hilarity. They spent most days out of the way at a small holding, to the south of Celano, away from the railway line. They walked there and returned to the house in the evening.
One midday they were asked to return to the house and walked into the dining room of the Ranieri household. Sig. Ranieri was in conversation with a large ‘Germanic’ looking man. The initial sighting of this visitor gave them a shock. However, he was an Italian helping escaped Prisoners of War. There were six hiding in a cave on the N.E. side of Celano. It transpired that he had been an administrator of Italian agricultural machinery in Libya (this was picked up by Denis during lunch time conversations). As a result of this visit, a map of Central Italy was found in a magazine, detailing the territory they would have to traverse. It was found to be exceptionally useful in the days ahead.
Every day that passed was a step towards winter – the Allied armies were to find snow/cold/wet/mud more daunting in Italy than in England. The general outlook of Italians was that ‘in two weeks’ time the Allies would arrive’, so take it easy, relax – out there is peril and danger when wandering around in a country where every bridge, road, rail, river, and most villages had German guards.
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However, the Germans did indeed take a hand in breaking up their sojourn in Celano. They awoke one morning to hear German being spoken in the room above. Luckily, the stairwell being used as a wood store had prevented the German contingent from exploring downstairs. Bill, Denis and Cathray made their way back to the house, ensuring that no German patrol was snooping around. It was time to go. The penalty for helping POWs was death for ALL the family. Posters to this effect had been posted all over Italy and there was no doubt at all that the Germans meant what they said. (The Commander of the Sulmona POW Camp had been shot for allowing POWs to leave the camp, and some years later it was learned that six families, men, women and children from a village south of Sulmona had been shot for helping POWs).
14th October: Heartfelt thanks and fond farewells were expressed to the Ranieri family. Arrangements had been made for them to spend the night in a farm shed. Before dawn a farmer and his wife who were going to market, collected the three lads and took them by horse and cart to TRASACCO. The party arrived at dawn and they were set down near the market on the south side of the town.
The map had been marked with the route, taking them west over the mountains and then south down the western plain. In due course a track led them through the foothills towards the west, and after climbing for some time, at about 3.30 p.m. they came to a precipice, only to realise that there was no way down. They retraced their steps to the well-trodden track where they had been that morning. There were Italians walking along the track, and Bill soon became aware that, despite his Italian suit, his sun-bleached hair and blue eyes left no Italian in doubt that he was ‘Inglesi’.
They were now at COLLELONGO. An Italian who had lived in America was delighted to find that the English/American language was not too different and took them under his wing. A meal was provided. The illumination was by lanterns. It seemed that their new found host had rounded up all the village maidens to keep them company during the meal. Bill says he never knew whether they came willingly or not, but the host kept up a good rapport and made remarks such as : “no need to worry about a cold winter, we can make sure you have a warm bed”. After a satisfying meal the girls disappeared and blankets were produced – one apiece – and they were led to a small building with a good matting of raw to sleep on.
The next morning dawned fine and once again thanks were expressed for the hospitality and kindness – the south beckoned and they were on their way.
(Unknown to the three they were about to follow the ancient saffron route, Transhumance and Samnite Civilizations, starting at Aquila and north of Sulmona, the trails merge at Celano, and then go south via Pescasseroli and Opi, over the Sangro to Piedmonte a’Alfe. Here the trail divides, one going south and east to Foggia, and the other south and west to Naples).
The road was well defined and in the evening they came to a small brick built shrine. On inspection they realised it offered very little comfort or shelter, so they moved on. The road gave way to a woodland path. It was getting dark and in the distance on the left they saw a fire in front of a peculiarly shaped wooden hut. There was no one in sight. The nearest end of the hut had a door type opening and the room was about six foot square, with a plank fixed to the wall acting as a seat. It was blocked off from the remainder of the hut, which was about 30 foot long, by a wooden partition. They stoked up the fire and were having a snack when they heard footsteps coming along the route they had travelled. Because it was dark they could not see who it was, they were illuminated by the fire. When level with the fire a man stopped, looked them over and said “Hello, how are you?” He said his name was Jack, an escaping POW from a camp north of Sulmona. He decided that he would join the threesome and stay the night.
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In the morning, the sky was blue, and the foursome were about ready to continue their journey, when they heard the sound of Italian voices and laughter. A group of men and women, covering a wide age range, appeared. There was a party atmosphere, and they intimated that they knew the path and would be happy for the lads to join them. By midday they had reached the top of the path, crossed over the other side of the mountain range and at this point they parted company with the Italians.
Later in the afternoon they were in the region of VILLA VALLELONGIA. The path led them to two houses – the first was closed and empty. Jack climbed up a stairway leading to the verandah and said that the door was not locked. They all went up and saw what looked like a ladies bedroom, with a colourful eiderdown on the bed. They decided to look at the next house, the roof of which could be seen through the trees. There was a family in residence. The man was from Rome with his wife and two children. For the first time the reception was cold. There was no offer of food or drink and the vibes suggested that the party should leave. Bill says that in view of the posters regarding retribution for anyone helping POWs it was understandable, but unusual. They retraced their steps. They could see a detachment of German soldiers manning an artillery piece in the distance down the hill. Jack decided to make his own way and Bill, Denis and Cathray spent the night in a wood shelter in a field. In the morning Jack rejoined them. He had obviously spent the night in the empty house as he was carrying the colourful eiderdown over his shoulder.
They headed south and after a while they could see the German detachment on parade. They continued travelling down the west side of a mound. Jack decided to take another route and their last view was to see him striding away over to the west with the colourful red eiderdown shining very brightly.
In the early afternoon it started to drizzle and they took a deserted path which ran parallel with a road to pass PESCCASSEROLI. As they walked they saw two ladies approaching. They passed the time of day ‘bon journo’, to which they got a very low key reply. They continued a further fifteen or so paces when a clear English voice said “Excuse me but aren’t you English?” In amazement they stopped, looked round and retraced their steps. The taller of the two was English and the other was her Italian companion. Bill, Denis and Cathray explained their position, and learned from the English lady that her husband was American, a Civil Engineer in charge of the pumping station in the region. After the Allied landings he went south to see if he could be of any help. She said she would dearly like to assist, but the German commander for the area and his staff had taken up residence in her house, and there was no possibility of her offering accommodation. She kindly emptied her pockets, but all she could offer was a packet of cigarettes. Bill and Denis did not smoke, but Cathray was grateful.
They carried on through the grey day, the drizzle abated. The mountains were quite formidable and they eventually arrived near OPI, a village situated on the top of what looked like an ‘inverted ice cream cone’ mountain. The road was busy with German traffic and they decided to scramble up the mountain side. There would be the hazard of crossing the winding road – but, fingers crossed !
At one point a Mercedes German staff car occupied by officers passed by, but they were too preoccupied to take notice of three ragtag’s standing by the roadside. When they got to the village it was agreed that Denis and Cathray would go first – Bill’s English looks could be dangerous. He followed a few minutes later, but the street was deserted and he was unsure which way to go. A man appeared and beckoned Bill to follow. They entered a house. In a room were two elderly ladies dressed in black, together with Denis and Cathray. The man who had escorted Bill indicated that it would be inappropriate for three young men to stay in the house and that he would look after them. They left the house, the streets still deserted, and entered a basement. It transpired that the basement was part of the premises of the village barber. The shop opened on to the village square.
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On reflection, Bill thinks that they were a great strain on the barber’s slender resources – perhaps a butcher or baker might have been more able to cope, but he did his best and gave them shelter, for which they were very grateful.
At about four o’clock the following afternoon, they decided to continue their journey. They left by the front door. There was very little activity as they stepped outside, but after a few short steps they found themselves on the main street that ran to the right and to the edge of a steep incline leading to the valley below. This street was crowded with Italians and some German troops. A carnival atmosphere seemed to prevail. There were one or two glances in their direction, but no one yelled ‘Inglisi’ and in due course the assembly point was passed and they carried on down a relatively deserted part of the street. They eventually reached a navigable opening leading to a downward path. At the bottom they moved into a wood. It had by then starts to rain. They came across an Italian family who had turned a tree into a shelter. It was sparsely furnished and there were some farm animals. The family could offer no shelter, or information regarding accommodation.
It was found at this point that one of the straps on a haversack had broken and the trio then realised that the other haversack had been left at the barbers. The weather was dreadful so they decided to retrace their steps to the barber’s basement. It was raining hard by the time they had climbed to reach the main street. There were no signs of festivities and they re-entered the basement without difficulty. Needless to say the barber was quite perplexed at their reappearance. It continued to rain heavily during the night, but the morning dawned bright and sunny. Denis retrieved the haversack from the barber, they re-packed and again offered their thanks and said goodbye. Two Italian youths had arrived and indicated that they would be happy to act as guides. The party retraced their steps of the previous day and during the morning they were joined by Terry, an ex-POW on his way south.
In the afternoon they were walking down the valley. The two Italians were about forty yards in front of Denis and Bill, with Cathray and Terry bringing up the rear. They were walking round a copse of trees when Bill saw through the trees the two Italians running like mad into the wood to the right. A couple more steps and he spotted a stoutish German officer with a young woman. The German had seen them and was making a move to take his revolver from its holster. Bill and Denis dashed into the wood with the German firing after them. After a short while they stopped behind some cover to look and listen. The silence was deafening. They continued and eventually they met up with the Italians and shortly after they were joined by Cathray and Terry. At this point the Italian youths decided to go home.
The four continued their journey south.
In the evening they stumbled across a colony of displaced Italians – they recognised an ex-Italian guard from Sulmona camp. There was a dwelling in the background, but it was obvious that there would be ‘no room at the inn’. After discussion, one of the Italians volunteered to take them up the hill to meet two shepherds who had a hut. The two shepherds seemed very surprised to be considered as ‘hoteliers’, but were agreeable. The hut was a contraption of boulders and tree branches. Inside a fire burned and there was a shelf some two feet off the ground made from tree branches to be utilised as a bed. It took a great deal of re-arranging to ensure support for the body. The shepherds kindly provided sheep broth for supper. During the night a prowling wolf was heard and the two shepherds and their dogs left the fire and went outside to protect their sheep.
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In the morning, Bill, Denis and Cathray went on their way – Terry decided to go on alone. Mid-morning they were wending their way along a path with hedges each side. In due course, over the hedge on the left they saw a number of huts, not unlike those in Sulmona POW camp. The hut nearest the path was about thirty yards away and leaning against the door was an off duty German soldier, dressed in a shirt with riding breeches, without boots and puttees, but in his socks. The assessment was he had been on guard the previous night and had the morning off. A little further on was confirmation, a sight to bring back memories for Bill, a horse line with horses in head and rear leg halters. Sitting with his back to the path was the horse line guard peeling potatoes. It was obvious they were in a German billeting area. They walked on ….
They saw a farmhouse on the right of the path with three or four steps leading from the door to the path. As Bill, Denis and Cathray approached, the door opened and an Italian farmer appeared in friendly conversation with those inside. The door closed and as he turned to go down the steps he saw the three. He turned and shouted ‘Inglisi’ to the Germans inside. Fortunately, the inhabitants did not hear or did not understand. His momentum had brought him down the steps to face Bill, Denis and Cathray. He was a small man and the three encircled and glowered at him. He turned green – he was worried and exclaimed ‘Tedeschi bastido’. Bill and Co. snarled in Italian bad language and he smartly ran up a lane at right angles to the path, out of sight. The journey continued. There was a German officer drinking at a wayside tap. They queued behind him for a much needed drink, without incident.
They crossed a bridge into a village street. There was an inn on one side and a German tank blocking the road. They had to cross in front of the tank. Crossing a bridge spanning the River Volturno they followed a well-worn path where they spied a hut occupied by a number of German soldiers who were keeping an eye on the bridge. One of the soldiers aimed at a target in front of the hut with his sub-machine gun. Bill, Denis and Cathray were walking to his right when he opened up. With great presence of mind they continued walking at a leisurely pace, they knew that if they had run or increased their pace, the German would have made them his target. They continued along the left bank of the VOLTURNO and slept the night in a barn in MACCHIA.
21st October dawned fine and sunny and they walked along hill tops where trees and bushes provided cover each side of a track. Around midday there was an option, to carry straight on, or turn left into a village. There were two small houses one each side of the track some fifty yards down the hill. They decided that the village looked safe and approached the houses. The house on the right was occupied by two elderly ladies who were sitting on a tiled patio which led to the track. The time of day was exchanged, whereupon one of the ladies proclaimed ‘Inglisi’? The three wanderers stopped and carried on a pigeon English/Italian conversation with the ladies. After a short while an Italian male appeared, it transpired that he was an employee of the owner of the two houses. One of the ladies invited the threesome to lunch, which they graciously accepted. It was considered injudicious for them to stay while the meal was being prepared and instructions were given to the man to take them down the hill towards a large building – best described as a barn.
Half way down the hill the Italian pointed to a road on the other hillside which was the access road to this village. He explained that when the Tideschi (Germans) drove into view it took twenty minutes for them to get to the village square. They reached the barn, the inside of which had living accommodation of sorts but also lots of farm equipment. They were introduced to a young lady and her four/five year old son. They sat at a table, their guide stood nearby and the girl looked after her son, doing odd jobs. There was little conversation but they understood that the girls husband was serving in the Italian army. After about three quarters of an hour the guide indicated that lunch would be ready and they retraced their steps. They entered the house where their hostess was waiting to welcome them. The dining room was well laid out and they partook of an excellent meal. After coffee and expressing their grateful thanks they said goodbye.
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By 3 pm. they were on their way. They crossed a valley and travelled over hills SE to ST AGAPITO, then south over hills towards GALLO. It was dusk when they approached a farm. The farmer invited them to eat with his family. A good broth was served and later they were taken to a shed which had lots of straw where they spent the night.
22nd October: In the morning they were given breakfast and an elderly lady riding a donkey (Bill thinks she was the grandmother) guided them into the mountains away from the German HQ [Head Quarters] at Gallo. They climbed NE along a track behind the lady and donkey. They saw coming down the path towards them a group of men, fortunately Italians. The lady spoke to them (Bill gathered she was asking them to take over from her). When they refused and continued on their way, Signora gave vent, casting doubt on their manhood, their mothers, their upbringing, etc. She continued to guide them and they came to a house/shelter where a large number of men, women and children were standing about. Signora spoke to one or two groups and eventually she introduced a tall man wearing leggings, a wide brimmed hat and a cloak. It transpired he was a shepherd who knew the mountains and who would lead the trio through the German lines to the Americans. Many thanks were expressed to Signora and she was last seen astride the donkey returning to her family.
The shepherd guided them south skirting MT. MILETTO. They travelled down the side of the valley and they saw a hut which stood at the side of the path. The shepherd indicated that they should stay about 200 yards from the hut whilst he investigated. After a while he beckoned them to join him. There was an Italian in the hut who informed them that the Germans patrolled the valley early morning and evening (the time then was 10-11 a.m.) The German post at the north of the valley did not enable them to see anyone travelling south on the path from the hut. So, they set off south and at about midday came across a babbling stream which came down the hillside and under a little bridge crossing the path at right angles.
They had food, bread meat and water to drink, so Bill voted they stop for lunch. This was not approved of, being in the middle of no-man’s land, etc. etc. but the shepherd said that it would be nightfall before they reached the Allied lines, so they started their repast. They had almost finished when some half dozen men appeared along the path from the south. They were smartly dressed in navy blue dungarees and looked ‘military’. The time of day was exchanged, it transpired they were Italians, and after a few words they marched off. This was a false alarm, but the lads had been quite alarmed and there were derogatory remarks about the ‘no man’s land picnics’.
By mid-afternoon they were at the southern end of the valley, high up in the mountains and alongside LAKE DEL MATESE. As they started to traverse down a tarmacadam road, the shepherd indicated that the area had been mined, so they spread out and proceeded with great care. The road led to PIEDMONTE a’ALFE via ST. GREGORIA. and half way down they came to an hotel. Bill’s memory is of a blonde woman leaning out of a first storey window (later he understood she was the proprietress). A smartly dressed man wearing a navy blue blazer with brass buttons, dark trousers and polished shoes appeared at the front door of the hotel. His hair was straight and ‘brill-creamed’. He was the English-speaking proprietor. During the conversation he said that he knew the Americans in Piedmonte and would be happy to escort Bill, Denis, Cathray and the shepherd.
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What relief when they eventually arrived at the American Regiment’s Battalion headquarters. It was by now dark. They were briefly interrogated and escorted to a large tent occupied by many American soldiers. Everyone was friendly, and asked questions – from where, how long, etc. etc. Bill ever grateful to the shepherd enquired from the Americans to what extent he would be reimbursed. He was told that anyone assisting ex POWs through the lines would get money, a figure in dollars was mentioned for each soldier. The amount meant nothing to Bill, but he created a laugh when he said “Are we worth that much?”
The Americans said because of the proximity of the battle zone, they were unable to light fires, and, therefore, the only food available was K rations. They provided the party with boxes of food, which included sweets. Sleeping accommodation was not available, but as it was a warm night and there were hay stacks in the field, they were able to bed down reasonably comfortably. Bill remembers that he could not immediately fall to sleep and in due course he wandered over to where jeeps were parked. A radio had been left switched on and he listened for some time to an American station broadcasting dance music.
They arose the next morning 23rd October, the Americans gave them soap and towels and they had a quick wash. They were taken to join the breakfast queue. Bill was most impressed, they were given a divided tray with spaces for plates, a knife and fork, and a cup. After a little while the queue moved forward and a loud voice from the back of the queue said “Are we still feeding the Italian population?” Bill accepted that he and his friends were not in British uniform, but felt that some response was needed, he, therefore, retorted “I hope that no one is under the misapprehension that I am not British”. Silence! The breakfast was impressive – a choice of porridge or flapjacks with different toppings, egg and bacon, and coffee. On collecting this they were taken to a tree stump to partake of their meal. Straight ahead was the mess hall. Bill felt that there were politics at work as again he heard remarks complaining about the ‘Italian guests’. With his mouth full of breakfast, he was unable to retaliate.
After breakfast they were escorted towards a jeep and on the way Bill managed to have a few words with the sergeant, explaining that the shepherd was the chap who had brought them through the lines, at no little risk to himself, and that the hotelier had only been with them for a short time. They got into the jeep, the sergeant driving with a soldier up front. Bill, Denis, Cathrey and the shepherd sat in the back. They thanked the hotelier who then made his way back up the hill to the hotel.
They were driven to the American headquarters at Telese and interrogated. From here they were allowed to send their first aero-graph to their families notifying them of their escape and safety. Bill’s memories at this time are of food (meat and two veg. plenty of gravy, followed by fruit pie and custard). After lunch the lads expressed their heartfelt thanks to the shepherd and having no money, they persuaded him to take odd bits of wearing apparel and the haversack. The Americans said he would be taken care of and reimbursed for the help he had given.
During the afternoon the three were on the road again by jeep, and at dusk arrived at Corps HQ [Head Quarters] near CASERTA – a front line established position. An artillery battle was taking place between the British/Poles and the Germans. The evening meal was already over and they sat in the mess tent whilst the larder was raided for their supper. It was now dark and accommodation was being discussed. It was decided to take them by jeep to a house being used by the Field Security Police. On arrival, the sergeant sounded the horn and a figure appeared. He said I have brought some POWs. The reply came “Put them in the compound” – they had been mistaken for German POWs. On explaining that they were escaped British POWs, they were invited into the house and provided with brandy and K rations, and they talked into the night. Bill says he remembers offering to take the Americans back along the top valley and show them the German positions – brandy talking. The Americans said their plans were being processed. During the night Bill suffered tummy troubles which stayed with him for some days. The American diet was far too rich after near to starvation diet for so long. However, he was soon to be on British bully and biscuits.
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On 24th October they travelled by American jeep to British Army Headquarters at NAPLES, on the way passing near to Capua and the POW camp where Bill was first interned in June 1941. (Some round trip !!) They were billeted in a hospice in RESINA, which had been taken over to accommodate ex Prisoners of War. It fronted on to the main road, which in normal circumstances was a tram route, and the long garden at the back ended at the sea shore. British army battledress was issued, but no hats. During the two weeks or so they were there they visited Naples and made a memorable visit to Pompeii. Bill remembers one occasion, whilst visiting Naples, he was stopped by a British officer who demanded to know why he was not properly dressed. He replied that to the best of his knowledge the original issue of headgear had gone down with the ‘Hereward’ in May 1941, and the Q.M [Quarter Master] Stores in Naples had no caps in stock. What more could be said! Another memory: Passing a pleasant relaxed time in a cafe, but later when Denis went for his wallet it had gone. Fortunately, there was nothing in the wallet of value.
7th November: they left Resina for a Transit Camp in Naples and the following day they boarded an American flat bottomed invasion barge. They were badly seasick during the voyage, and were very glad to land at Biserta, Tunis, where they again were taken to a transit camp. Everywhere was thick mud and the only transport on the move was American four wheeled drive vehicles.
11th November: they travelled by train in cattle trucks to ALGIERS. They arrived during the late afternoon on 15th November and were taken to the race course which was known as POW Transit Camp No.3. They visited Algiers and the impression Bill is left with is – sunny days and the French atmosphere pervading in the town. A boxing match was organised one evening with RAF [Royal Air Force] trucks providing transport. It rained very heavily on the return journey and he remembers being drenched to the skin.
20th November: they travelled to a rest camp at SURCOUF.
28th November: they left Surcouf and embarked on RMS [?Royal Mail Ship] Sythia at Algiers bound for Liverpool. The boat was very crowded and after the first couple of uncomfortable nights trying to sleep on deck, a fellow passenger, (Bob Higgins, who became a life-long friend), approached Bill and said that he had found decent sleeping accommodation. Apparently, 20 or so Chinese crew members occupied a large cabin, so they found themselves with a large number of ‘lodgers’. As far as Bill can remember the voyage was uneventful.
On 10th December 2.15 p.m. disembarked at LIVERPOOL. He stayed for the next three days in a transit camp, where formalities were undertaken. AND THEN –
13th December: Left Liverpool by train for NOTTINGHAM.
Bill had telephoned his parents with time of arrival etc., but even now things did not go smoothly. Bill had missed the connection at Birmingham but was able to catch a workers train the next morning.
He alighted at the local Radford Road Station and caught a trolley bus to his home half a mile way. One can only imagine the fond reunion with his mother, but his father, was waiting for him at the main line Midland Station. A dash by Bill to the Midland Station soon brought forth the happy family reunion and he was indeed HOME FOR CHRISTMAS.
A rider to all this must be made. Denis and Bill have remained firm friends over the years.
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THE ROUTE OF THE “TRANSHUMANCE” AND SAMNITE CIVILIZATIONS
The two regions of Abruzzo and Molise follows some original tracks. The tracks were actually the only means of communication in Abruzzo apart from the Trajan and Claudia Valerian main roads. These paths represented the link with Apulia and especially with the large sheep and cattle markets in Foggia, and were already controlled and taxed during Roman rule. After a period of decline following the fall of the Roman Empire, transhumance was resumed under the Normans. The Swabians and the Aragonese also controlled transhumance.
However it was Alfonso I of Aragon who issued rules and regulations for transhumance by establishing the width of the tracks and paths and by providing for resting areas to permit a comfortable tax free journey to Apulia. These tracks were created to allow a choice of routes and pasture lands for the welfare of the flocks.
One of the principal tracks was the one from Aquila to Foggia which linked the pasture lands of the Gran Sasso and its plateaux and slowly climbed as far as Lanciano, the centre of the sheep breeding economy, which paved the way for it to become a leader in the saffron trade together with Aquila in the 16th century. The track forks out, one arm leads to Sangro and the sea and runs alongside it. The other leads inland.
The CELANO track heads eastward and closely follows the same direction of the Via Tiburtina Valeria as fer as and beyond Collarmene, merging at times with the main road. After Sulmona, the track, like the present day road, had to climb the steep Rocca Pia slope, on past Roccaraso towards Pietrangieri, where it crossed The Sangro River between Pietrangieri and San Pietro Avellana, downstream from Castel di Sangro.
The PESCASSEROLI track started from a valley bordering the OPI region, reached ALFADENA, always keeping to the right of the Sangro and then branched out south of Castel di Sangro.
The track forked at one of the important trade and communication crossroads in the Abruzzo region, the famous Zittola Tavern a short distance away from the Zittola Bridge which crossed the Sangro. On one side the track branched out to follow the river’s south-easterly route, while the other arm headed towards Venafro, the Volturno River Plain, the Terra di Lavoro and NAPLES.
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[A detailed map showing the layout of the prison camp Sulmona POW Camp 78 where Bill Garton was held prisoner]
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[Black and white drawing of a small house just North of railway line crossing in which Bill Garton & his comrades spent their first night of freedom.]
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[Black and white illustration of some of the wooden huts and cookhouse at Sulmona POW Camp 78]