Guardsman Rowland Hewison of the Coldstream Guards was awarded the Military Medal for his personal courage whilst serving with a band of Partisans operating in the Province of Piacenza in 1944. His unusual circumstances are related in a short account he left at his death along with a number of very rare photographs of POWs on the run and serving as Partisans. In addition, an exchange of letters between his widow, Mrs Grace Hewison and Keith Killby flesh out the details.
A further letter written by “Rolando” – the name by which he was known to the Italians – to an unnamed representative of the Italian Government shows his disappointment at being “too late” to be conferred “Freedom Fighter” status in spite of a wealth of proof that he provided.
Having been taken prisoner at Tobruk he ended up in Camp 146 at Villanterio. On escape he began to walk south to join the troops but winter closed in and he remained in the Bobbio area being fed by the Italians for which he offered his services in every way he could. He joined with 2 British officers in uniting a force of Partisans and, as well as distracting the Germans by blowing up communications, they organised an escape route for POWs hiding in the north of Italy.
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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Important contemporary photographs
Guardsman Rowland Hewison, M.M. [Military medal]. Very rare award of M.M, while serving with Partisans. Brief outline by R.H. but knowledge of both officers (BR) with whom he served in partisans is confirmed. Citation and Original photos taken at the time of partisans and girl who spied for them, who was shot by Fascists, and of a German, whom R.H. captured and who was later exchanged for a VIP.
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Rowland (centre) outside “hut” built in the mountains and known only to a few trusted friends.
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This photo shows the platoon of partisans on Count Sforza’s territory, which, as mentioned previously, he objected to. Extreme right is myself – fourth from left is our only machine gun, obtained when I shadowed a Battalion of German and Fascist soldiers between Pieno and Bobbio. When three of them at the rear of the column became detached from the column, I approached and they surrendered voluntarily providing us with a machine gun and, after interrogation, a further three partisans.
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Rowland 2nd from left – Captain Gregg holding the baby – presumably the local priest is in between – and other partisans.
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Picture shows Long Range Rifle and on left the three soldiers who surrendered, on extreme right myself, and in the background is a view of the Trebbia Valley.
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Photo-copy of Partisan Cap Star showing number 10,552. My number was 52 which was the number of partisans at that time. The additional number of 10,500 was added, to, hopefully, make the Germans think that the opposition was greater than it was.
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Lastly but not least, a photo of myself (Rowland) taken on leave, leaning on the railings surrounding Ezbekia Gardens in Cairo.
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Photocopy of Partisans Identity Card – front and back view.
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This is a photo of our Girl Spy who was later executed by the Germans. RIP.
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Photo of Captain Greg – “Ganna” – Italian version of Gunner. On left ‘courier’ and on right is a Piacenza official on a rare visit.
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Photo of a captured German S.S. Officer, who was later, reputedly, exchanged for an Ex-Government Official.
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Diary account of Hewison
“I was taken prisoner at Tobruk, then to a camp which was a graveyard in Derna, where I was shot at twice for giving the ‘V’ sign. After this I was interned at Bengazi for three months where I was very ill with dysentery, but no treatment given and finally taken to Tripoli and from there across to Sicily. I ended up at Camp 146 at Villanterio, where I eventually got work on a farm, which I hoped would build up my strength again so that I could then escape. By working hard I earned the respect of the owner, a German, and when the time [came] for escape, he supplied a list of towns to pass on the way home, also an old cape and hat to partially disguise me. However, having escaped with one companion, we decided, instead of walking 50 miles to Switzerland, to walk down through Italy to link up with our forces, as they had by then landed in Sicily.
Living mostly on grapes stolen from vineyards and at times managing to bluff the peasants with what Italian I had picked up on the farm that we were Italians returning to Naples, we at times got given pieces of bread. This at one time almost proved our undoing for we were spotted by a Fascist Colonel who told us who we were and who he was as he was dressed in civilian clothes. However as he saw I was about to disarm him, he decided to help us through the town to get even with the Germans who had shot his son as a deserter the previous evening. We were transported through ‘Beljioza’ on a cart driven by a deaf mute and almost got caught by Fascist and German troops, remembering just in time to give the sign of the cross as we passed a cemetery. Again, after crossing the main Genoa road early one morning, I got caught in a barbed wire fence, but on hearing transport approaching, I just managed to get free in time to pick up a matlock and start working as a lorry load of Germans went by. Thank goodness for the old cape! By this time the rivers were becoming swollen and we could only cross the ‘Trebbia’ [South of Piacenza] by ford under the noses of German sentries on the bridge. After two days of waiting we managed to cross in the midst of a flock of sheep who were driven into the water and just made the crossing in between convoys travelling on the main road to Bobbio.
By now winter had arrived and we had to give up but we managed to find a few friendly Italians who did their best to tell us who were Fascist and who were friendly. As it was now snow everywhere we were allowed to sleep in ‘Paolo’s’ barn and felt safe as we thought no-one would come in such bad weather. Had bread and milk given us each morning at 11am and this almost led to our recapture. Fortunately that day we had been invited to the house opposite Paolo’s and we looked out to see the Fascists surrounding Paolo’s. As the penalty for harbouring any escaped P.O.W. was death, we decided to leave the comfort of the barn and take to the mountains. We built a hut there and only a few trusted friends knew of its existence. We slept in a different place each night, often a cowshed as there was always a pile of leaves there for bedding. We were hunted continually and were often hungry. The Germans sent two of their agents posing as escaped P.O.W.’s and although some of the Italians were suspicious, the keeper of the Botago at La Costa gave them permission to sleep in his barn. Next day at dawn, the Germans hit the area, they searched and terrified the whole area. Youths were transported to working camps in Germany, some as young as 15 who thought, because of their age, they were safe.
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We kept close to the searchers and as each Piazi was searched we hid near it knowing that they would not have time to search the area twice. So it went on, on and off all winter. The owner of the Botago was taken away to internment camp, his wine poured all over the floor and his house destroyed, our position became worse. At one time 200 troops, tanks and spotter planes failed to trap us and many Italian youths died.
I returned after days without food to old Paolo’s house to let them know I was safe. When they saw me, the old Grandmother fainted and consternation prevailed. They had heard I was dead and were having what I suppose could be called ‘a wake’.
I set out to help where I could. I became known as Rolando and became the poor man’s’ vet. I cured cattle, some in a way that amazed me – much of it because of dialect difficulties. My ‘fame’ spread, but of course there were failures too. I also became a ‘mechanico’, repairing sewing machines, which to some was their only means of livelihood. Anything broken required my attention – ‘Rolando will fix it – God willing’. Most of this work was done in secret at night. I visited the sick and dying, one being the father of one of my helpers who had gangrene. I could do nothing to help as there were no medicines available and I had to watch him suffer for over a month before he was relieved of his pain. I told them of happier times to come when the English arrived and got rid of the Fascists and Germans. I tried to encourage them to fight back and not pay their taxes in goods which had to be taken to the markets and handed over to the Fascists.
A small band of Italians headed by their leader ‘Rosso’ under the guidance of a Yugoslav communist, roamed the mountains. They killed and plundered Fascists’ homes and occasionally had brushes with the Germans. Many an old score was settled on the pretext that the victims were fascist. Anyone with goods or wealth soon had their ‘visiting card’. It became obvious that soon something would have to be done to band the Italian youths together. Many had escaped from the plains to seek refuge in the mountains and it became imperative that they be banded together to make them into an efficient striking force to worry the Germans and deploy more of their troops from the front line. This seemed impossible for me to deal with on my own as my companion decided to go his own way and wait for our forces to overrun the area, but I’d had enough of running and hiding and decided to hit back. I’d already had a brush with Rosso when I reprimanded him about his brutal treatment of a Fascist Colonel who was led like a prize pig round the villages, his moustache pulled out with a pair of pliers, kicked, beaten and finally killed with a pick axe, although they were well armed with guns. I met up with two escaped officers and the first efficient patriot units were formed. Towns were captured, a raid on San Damiano airfield provided a transmitting set. We built a landing strip and arranged signals for drops or ‘Lanchos’ by our aircraft. Bridges were blown and lines of communication were cut. It was quite eerie waiting each night for our code sign on the radio, ‘Isla De Verde’, which meant it was our turn for ammunition and supply drops. It was a sad moment for us and Captain Gregg (Ganner) when Captain Mackenzie (Mac) with five of his patriots failed to return off patrol. We found their bodies the next day and with heavy hearts, interred them in a lonely graveyard in the hills outside Bettola.
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Rosso was made Chief of Police in Bettola by the communist leader. Captain Gregg was called away to a secret meeting with A.M.G.O.T. [The Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories] agents and I was left alone with our patriots. There was much rivalry to outdo each other’s achievements in the battle for power between zone commanders. I little thought that power meant so much to leaders like ‘Montenegreno’, ‘Rosso’ or ‘Barbera’ and I never knew just how much work Captain Gregg had to put in to uphold the British prestige, until I was left in charge. With Captain Mackenzie gone, the only British influence in the zone was held by myself and Captain Gregg, (Ganner to the patriots), and when he was secretly called away many thought he had forsaken them. I could not tell them the truth under oath and so only I stood between right and wrong. Gregg and I set out to sell the British way of life to the Italians, we tried to be fair and fight fair and to achieve the same results as others were, by torture and murder, and I think we did too. We gained respect by his leadership and a cloud settled over our detachment when he disappeared. During the time Gregg was away the heat was on. I was shot at in Bettola in the dark and miraculously escaped being hit and held prisoner. One of our patriots was disarmed and cruelly beaten by Rosso’s thugs on some trumped up charge. I was ordered to move from Gregg’s well planned position, forward into tricky bad guerrilla country, but I obeyed as I couldn’t lose face at this stage. It seemed the communist fraternity was out to belittle our work. I knew Rosso was responsible for the attack on my life and when I met him face to face in the Albergo Grande in Bettola I branded him as a murderer and with the attempt on my life. He sneered and didn’t deny it, proving he had the backing of the strong communist leader who had put him in charge as Chief of Police, there was nothing I could do. With my bodyguard of patriots and Captain Orlando, an ex Italian Airforce officer, who was my second in command, on one side and Rosso and his thugs on the other, I threw an open challenge to him to fight fair in a duel at once in the street outside with his choice of weapons. This way I thought I’d at least have a fifty – fifty chance of survival instead of ending up with a bullet in my back. First though I Insisted we had our meal and hoped the suspense would help me to break his nerve and make him a less formidable opponent. At the crucial moment Gregg returned tired and worn out by his long walk to and from his secret rendezvous, over 100 miles over rocks and mountains. I never was so glad to see anyone in all my life, even I had begun to have my doubts of ever seeing him again, not because I doubted his loyalty, he was a true British Officer and his devotion to duty was unquestionable, but so many things can happen when you’re travelling through German and Fascist territory and I’d begun to fear the worst. He was immediately surrounded by a group of patriots in the hotel and I waited for my chance to approach. I walked smartly up to him and saluted. He said “Don’t be a ruddy fool Hewison, sit down and let’s eat, I’ve got something to tell you”. In the excitement I’d forgotten about my duel and looking round found Rosso and his henchmen had slipped quietly away. Later I explained the situation to Gregg, he was furious at me for moving our detachment onto dangerous ground and it appeared the flanking arrangement I had been promised by the communist leader had not been carried out, in other words, I was to supply a safety screen with our patriots to act as a warning to their command. Gregg sorted it all out and we moved back into our former position.
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After one heated exchange a meeting was arranged by letter between Gregg and Montenegreno both to meet unarmed at an appointed village. I was instructed by Gregg to cover him from inside an old barn in case of treachery, such was the distrust and tension at this stage. Rosso was moved with his band and given the post of Chief of Police at Borgotard, 50 miles away.
We organised the escape route for British P.O.W.s hiding in the north of Italy, this was Gregg’s mission with A.M.G.O.T. When this was achieved I finally decided to make my escape by the same route, hoping then to join A.M.G.O.T. to be parachuted back into northern Italy to help escapees and shot down airmen. Gregg stayed on two weeks in case of any stragglers. After a hazardous journey, I finally reached the American troops at Levigliani, exactly one year and three months from escaping. I was driven to a British held town north of Florence where I requested to join A.M.G.O.T. but was refused as I had to be interrogated later to prove I wasn’t another ‘Joyce’. I was then taken to a special camp in Florence for ex P.O.W.’s. My old civilian clothes were burnt and I was issued with battledress, followed by a square meal. We were asked if anyone wanted to see an M.O., I accepted as I had a nasty rash, was taken to hospital in an ambulance for treatment, but ended up in a V.D. ward full of American negroes. After a week the mistake was found and I was returned in American uniform to the wrong rest centre. I painted the town red with a Canadian Sergeant recuperating from war wounds, he supplying the money, I supplying the Italian language. We were picked up by Red Caps and placed under arrest. I was taken by a Coldstream Guards officer in a truck under escort as a deserter. When asked where they were taking me they said “Back to the Battalion”, I said “Where was that?” to which they replied “Where do you think it is – where did you leave it?”, I said “Tobruk”. After I explained circumstances I ended up in the officer’s room in Florence. I was given double rations of cigarettes and chocolate and came away with his best shoes as a present. I was driven back to the correct camp and the Officer there said “Glad to see you back, we’ve been awfully worried about you”. I was taken to embarkation camp in Naples to be interrogated but told I couldn’t join A.M.G.O.T., had to first return to England and could try there. Back at Pirbright I was told once a Guardsman always a Guardsman, but I would be trained for Japan. I was told I would be recommended for the Military Medal. They had considered D.S.M. but as I was not a Sergeant or W.O.[Warrant Officer] this could not be considered.
I visualised having to parade before the Battalion to be presented with this, but it was presented to me by a postman at a farm cottage in Buckinghamshire, two years after official notification in the London Gazette.
I would like to add that at all times we had the full cooperation of all Roman Catholic priests where ever we went and in whatever circumstances we met them”.
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[handwritten memo by Keith Killby]
Memo re Rowland Hewison M.M. Died March 1995.
Sent 2 lots of photos and letter sent by R.H. to obtain from Italian Government some recognition
Letter is critical of Count Sforza
Mrs H says Notebook in existence
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[Handwritten note : Letter sent by Guardsman Rowland Hewison].
Firstly, very many thanks for your letter of 11th October 1991.
I am obviously very disappointed to learn, that officially, your Government have ceased to consider all applications for military achievements during the German occupation of 1943-1945. Even more disappointing is the apparent lack of recorded documentation as to the activities of the Partisan movement which was so effective against these occupying forces.
I respectfully submit to you now the following brief, which along with accompanied photographs I ask you to submit to your Government.
All I ask for now as in the past is to be officially recognised as a Freedom Fighter and therefore be able to wear the Freedom Fighters medal. All the following events must be recorded somewhere or remembered by someone who can support my memories.
Reference – LANCHOS
Whilst operating in the surrounding area of ’Bettola’ I dug in a detachment of partisan troops overlooking the castle occupied by a Count S’Forza who requested an interview with me to remove them from his terrain because of the danger of his property being damaged in any crossfire with the Germans. Attending with me at the meeting was Captain Orlando and my Platoon Sergeant, an ex-Alpino soldier. We decided not to accede to his request and, after finding his stores bulging with provisions of Flour, Sugar and Tobacco, my superiors adjudged him to be a German collaborator and instructed us to seize 8 bullock carts of provisions which we re-distributed to the local people. We acquired a horse which came in very useful for me to journey to the ‘dropping zone’ at Pradovera, unfortunately on the last occasion I used the horse to transport me to ‘La Costa’ I arrived hurriedly at midnight and asked the owner of the ‘Botega’ to feed and water the horse in readiness for my return journey the next day; but was woken with the news that the horse had died of a heart attack and had I any objection to them disposing of it. I said I would be pleased if they could bury it for me. They said “Bury it! We want to eat it”, and so it was distributed out to the local piazis’. There must be some 60 year olds who as children remember their diet changing from ‘cheese-less polenta’ to ‘Carne’ in the villages of ‘La Costa’, Verana, Lobbia, Cannadelle and Pianadelly.
I am enclosing photos of the German officer whom I captured at Pieno in the Trebbia Valley. This was not a chance encounter but was ordered by my superiors – evidently a high ranking official of the Badoglio Government of the 1920s was interned when the Fascists took power for 30 years. He was released at the time of the Italian Armistice but was unfortunately picked up by the Germans. Although we offered 200
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Fascist prisoners in exchange for him, they refused. It was suggested that maybe they would exchange him for a German Officer. So my superiors requested me to try to capture one, which I did, and I understood at the time that this exchange was successful. So somewhere in the archives this must be recorded. Also, I am enclosing a photo of our girl spy (may God rest her soul) who crossed the lines frequently to pass on troop movements and any information from the other side. Unfortunately she was captured and publicly executed in the square at Ponte Del Olio by having a machine gun muzzle placed in her mouth and fired when she refused to divulge any knowledge of the partisans or their whereabouts – again must be recorded.
On the hillside 2 kilometres outside Bettola stands a church where I helped inter my Commanding Officer, Captain McKenzie of the Black Watch, also killed in action with his entire patrol of partisans – must be recorded. Also photo of Captain Gregg – Tank Corps, together with a partisan courier and presumably a Piacenza official, at one of our meetings. I was not in the photo as I was asked to take it.
This is all the information I have at my disposal to prove I was a “Freedom Fighter” and, if none of the brief above can be found in any archives or remembered by anyone, I must then consider the matter closed.
Thanking you once again for your kindness and prompt replies to my request.
Sleep on Piacenzians and Viva Italia
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[Handwritten Letter. Sent to Keith Killby from Grace Hewison of Bicester.]
9th May, 1995
Dear Mr Killby,
Am enclosing donations to the Monte San Martino Trust made in memory of my late husband ex Guardsman Rowland Hewison M.M. Coldstream Guards who sadly died two months ago.
He was a member of the Escaped Prisoner of War Club and through this he got to know about the Monte San Martino Trust. He was so often telling us of the help he was given by many of the Italians when he first escaped and later when he served with the Partisans, and this is why we now send our donations to that Trust.
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[Handwritten Letter. Sent to Keith Killby by Grace Hewison]
2nd June, 1995
Dear Mr Killby,
Many thanks for your letter of 16th May. I am enclosing a copy of his citation when he was awarded the Military Medal. He was not in touch with the Trust but had heard about its work through the Army Escaped POW Club.
He had left a few notes but didn’t really give any names of those who helped him – only Christian names. His two commanding officers in the Partisans were Captain McKenzie of
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the Black Watch (who was later killed) and Captain Gregg of the Tank Corps. He did apply to the Italian Embassy in 1991 for official recognition as a “Freedom Fighter”, but although he was able to give them enough proof that this was what he had actually achieved they said that regrettably his application has come too late. He also brought a few photos back with him but these have no names on them.
Am sorry I can’t be of more help but at times it was difficult to get him to talk about those times, and of course I have forgotten a lot of what he did tell me.
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THE MILITARY MEDAL
No. 2660313 Guardsman Rowland Hewison, Coldstream Guards.
When the Germans entered Tobruk on 21st June, 1942, Hewison made two unsuccessful attempts to get through the enemy lines.
At the time of the Italian Armistice he was in a camp at Villanterio (No 146). After taking part in the mass breakout on 9th September, 1943, he went with one companion to Pradovero. From March to November 1944 he served with a band of partisans operating in the Province of Piacenza, and during the last four months of this period he acted as second in command to a British officer. Hewison’s work has been praised in the following words:-
“During all this time (August to November 1944) he showed a devotion to duty and a sense of responsibility far beyond that expected of an Other Rank, together with an extraordinary degree of personal courage under most trying circumstances. This was an inspiration to the Partisans and did much to enhance the reputation of the British. A characteristic example of his disregard for personal safety was during September 1944 below Pieno in the Trebbia valley, when he captured and disarmed in daylight and single handed, a German Haupfeldwebel of a Panzer Regiment, not more than one hundred yards from trucks on the roadside containing approximately eighty Germans.”
At the beginning of November 1944, Hewison was guided with other prisoners of war to American troops at Levigliani.
[Handwritten addition in margin : Officers when in Partisans Capt. McKenzie Black Watch (later killed) and Capt Gregg of Tank Corps]
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[Letter to Keith Killby]
26th June, 1995
Re Guardsman Rowland Hewison MM: I have no record of him personally but I do know about the 2 officers mentioned: Capt A.Mackenzie, Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, and Capt T.D.Gregg, RTR – a Scotsman, as it happens, and an Irishman. I have little doubt it would have been the latter (who was in touch with Gordon Lett in the field and who contacted No 1 Special Force when he came out through the lines in December 1944) who put Hewison up for the MM. Mackenzie had been killed in action with the partisans in October.
You will find 2 personal tributes to Mackenzie in Vol 1 of the published proceedings of the 1987 Bologna gathering, in which he is referred to as Captain Mack (p 295 et seq). He and Gregg were both in the camp at Veano from which they escaped together after the armistice into the Apennines in the province of Piacenza where they helped form an early partisan band in that area in the Spring of 1944. Gregg came to command
one of the Garibaldini units (in the 60th Brigade) operating in the Val Nure; and it was probably in this unit that Hewison would also have served. Gregg got in touch with Gordon Lett in October 1944 and made use of his radio facilities for passing information back to HQ 1SF.
After he came out through the lines in December 1SF were keen to take him on and send him back but the Army would not release him. In the event they sent in Stephen Hastings in Feb 45 to act as BLO [British Liaison Offcer] in the Piacenza area – see Chapter 7 of his recently published memoirs, “The Drums of Memory” (Leo Cooper).
I know little more about Capt Tresham Gregg beyond that he was born in Dublin in 1919 and that he was a Regular Army Officer in the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment. I have no idea what became of him after the war nor whether he is still alive.
By all means pass on any of this to Guardsman Hewison’s widow.
Re Capt Terry Philipsz (sic): he escaped with Williams from Fontanellato and they were together in the mountains in Apuania during the winter of 43/44 and the following summer. They got in touch with Charles Holland’s mission and through him arrangements were eventually made for their exfiltration through the lines with an A Force guide. But when the time came in November 44 Philipsz decided not to leave but to remain behind in the area. From then on he became a member of Holland’s Mission TOFFEE and acted as an assistant BLO with the partisan formations in the mountains of Apuania on the border of the provinces of Parma and Massa-Carrara.
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[Handwritten Letter. To Mrs Hewison, Bicester from Keith Killby]
28th June, 1995
Dear Mrs Hewison,
Having been away I am sending my belated thanks for the further information you have sent. I am sending on a copy to Christopher Woods whose book on the Partisans is I think complete but he will let me know if he has information of Rowland’s group.
This is the time when most students come over – we have six at the moment.
Again thanks and best wishes,
[Handwritten Letter. To Christopher Woods from Keith Killby]
Mrs Hewison has produced this letter that Guardsman Rowland Hewison wrote presumably at the end of 1991 but to whom?
It would seem rather incredible without the M.M Citation, which I sent before. Apparently they blew up communications in the area of Bettola, Ponte del Olio and Bobbio and his name to other partisans was Major Rolando and Bandito Rolando on ‘wanted’ posters. Captain Orlando of the Italian Air Force was his number two.
Again, only reply if you can link up any other information.
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[Handwritten Letter. To Keith Killby from Grace Hewison, Bicester]
Dear Mr Killby,
Many thanks for your last letter. I am enclosing photos (or rather copies) that Rowland brought back with him. One at least shows Capt. Gregg but none seem to show Capt Mackenzie. I know Rowland met Capt Mack’s mother, at least on one occasion, when she visited London after his return. I can find no record though of any further contact with Capt Gregg. Rowland, I know, volunteered to go back to Italy but the army decreed otherwise and started training him for Japan. However, luckily for us, V.J day came along before this happened.
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We also have his original Partisans Cap Star and identity card but these I have put aside with his other medals for the family.
In his citation for the Military Medal it states that for four months he acted as second in command to a British Officer, this being Capt Gregg.
Trust this may be of interest to somebody.
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[Handwritten Letter. To Keith Killby from Grace Hewison, Bicester]
Dear Mr Killby,
I don’t know if the enclosed information will be of any help to you but it’s about all I can find. He did write down a few incidents which happened but no names or even places where these took place. Sorry I can’t be of more help.
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Particulars regarding partisan service during the 1939-1945 war.
Service comprised mainly of organising and receiving “Lanchos” of arms for distribution to fellow Partisan units in the Piacenza area. Blowing up of communications and bridges in the areas of Bettola, Ponte del Olia, Bobbio and severely attacking any troop movements on major roads to Front and La Spelgia. His name to the other partisans was Major Rolando but when the Germans put up their ‘wanted’ posters – dead or alive – he was nicknamed Bandito Rolando. His second in command was Captain Orlando of the Italian Air Force.
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[Letter to Mrs Hewison from Keith Killby]
26th July 1995
Dear Mrs Hewison,
My thanks again for some very interesting and rare material. Photos of POWs on the run are rare but I know of no others of those who became partisan.
Let me first get my interpretations right. In the one with the Trebbia Valley in the background Rowland is almost prone on the extreme right while in the other larger group he is standing on the extreme right with his hand on his hips and wearing a Beret. In that second one Rowland obviously has very dark hair but where he is prone on the ground while having very black hair he looks very young and rather Italian.
If I am right he had a great advantage over me for though he was not short like the Italians I was over six foot and though I had some ill fitting clothes I had to keep my size 12 army boots so that when I was captured for the fourth time and trying to be a stupid Italian the German officer just looked down and asked whether I was British or American.
In the large group photo Captain Gregg is obviously one of those squatting down.
When next writing to Christopher Woods I will see whether he wants copies – which I can easily get done but also about the rareness of such photos and also of British awards given to British soldiers while serving with the partisans.
Though what you have sent me about Rowland may be small in quantity, especially for the two reasons mentioned above, it is highly valued and I am assembling it so that it will become a valued section of the Trust’s archives.
Of course you should keep original items for your family I would appreciate a photocopy of both sides of his partisan identity card.
Have been very busy recently meeting and entertaining some of the students who have been over. It is good to see how they enjoy their visit and the school and they always express their appreciation at being given the opportunity to come over.
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[Handwritten Letter. To Keith Killby from Grace Hewison, Bicester]
Dear Mr Killby,
My sincere apologies for not answering your last letter earlier but I was away from home when it arrived and have only just got round to sorting things out. You seemed to think that the photos were of some interest so I am enclosing copies of the others which were among Rowland’s possessions. I’ve also found a notebook in which he had jotted down some of his experiences so am now trying to sort these into some semblance of order and when I’ve done that and got it typed
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I’ll forward a copy.
You were right about where Rowland was in the photos. He was 6ft tall and in size 11 boots but as you say with being very dark haired he did look rather “Italian”, although you will see in his notes (when I get them to you) that at least one Fascist Colonel told him what he was, and he was lucky to get away again.
Again my sincere apologies for being so slow.
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[Letter to Mrs Hewison from Keith Killby]
23rd October, 1995
Dear Mrs Hewison,
You will think me extremely rude for not writing before to thank you for the further photos, which I feel are very rare – photos of POWs on the run, especially when Partisan, I have never seen before.
Also I am glad you have found a notebook of Rowland’s and it is very good of you to get it typed out for the Trust. When I have that I will try and put the whole together with the photos in a document which will be a valuable contribution to our archives besides being a very human memorial for Rowland for he so obviously remembered those days and the people with him until the end.
It was not just laziness which made me not reply before. In the middle of September I went to Italy for three weeks – partly to visit friends but also on Trust matters, I went to three Grammar Schools in the hill towns in the south which was the area through which so many of us passed trying to get through the lines. I spoke to very many students in those areas – sometimes in Italian but mostly to the classes where English was being taught. It was so very good to see their interest in what their families had done for us all those years ago. I think I was able to enliven their interest in the history of their country and of their people. At the end I was able to say in Italian “Thanks to your grand-parents I am here today” It left one of their teachers in tears.
I then went up to the Marche, to Monte San Martino and then made contact with three schools all of which wanted me to speak to their students in the spring. I hope I shall be able to ‘make it’.
Of course when I got back there was a pile of mail for me – and not all bills.
Have managed to get away some three dozen letters but I am afraid I left yours to near the end as I wanted to get my brain clear – not always easy these days – and read through the correspondence with you and the various pieces you have sent me on Rowland. I shall look forward to trying to put together a brief memorial to him.
I used to have relations who lived in the private village at
Rousham and so I was often down there sometimes going through Bicester – still
have some chairs I bought there. I still have a car but hardly use it. I hate
the battle that one has to have either on the motorways or in London. However
there are a few trains which come down to Bicester and I would be very pleased
to come down to discuss all that you have found of Rowland’s mementos say in
the New Year. In a couple of hours I am sure we could put together far more
than we can with a lot of correspondence, which includes my bad typing because
my handwriting was never good and I think it is kinder to expose my spelling
Again my apologies for the delay in replying to thank you for the further photos.
[Digital page 44]
[Letter to Mrs Hewison from Keith Killby]
16th May, 1996
Dear Mrs Hewison,
My apologies for not writing for so long. In the winter I never seemed to get on top of jobs to be done – mostly for the Trust. Now I have just returned from Italy where I spoke at schools to many students about what their Grandparents had done for us and now I am arranging for several to come over on Bursaries.
If it would be convenient I would still like to caII on you and hear anything more you can tell me or, perhaps, see his notebook. I hate driving now and so would most probably come down by train. There are some other friends I might visit in Bicester but would make no arrangements until I have seen what might be convenient to you.
I could call in the morning for coffee or in the afternoon – whatever is convenient to you. I would suggest a Monday to Thursday in either of the next two weeks – except 29th May. Perhaps I could ring you over this coming week-end to see what might be convenient to you.
J. Keith Killby
[handwritten note : KK never went]
[Digital page 45]
[Letter. Sent to Keith Killby by Mrs G Hewison of Bicester].
29 August 1996
Dear Mr Killby,
Very many thanks for your last letter. You sound as if you keep very busy and you make me feel quite lazy. However I have at last managed to get these notes typed up for you and only hope they may be of some help or interest to somebody. I can’t vouch for correct spelling of places named but had to rely on my husband’s memory for those. Am glad to say I feel a little better now but still find it difficult to concentrate on anything for too long at a time. Trust you will enjoy the rest of this somewhat erratic summer we are having.
[Digital page 46]
[Letter to Mrs Hewison from Keith Killby]
16th September, 1996
Please forgive me for not writing before to thank you for your letter with a copy of the notes that Rowland had made. They help to fill in several details.
I have been able to put a brief summary of Rowland’s papers and unique photos for the list of some 80 manuscripts documents etc which the Trust now holds besides the forty or more books.
When all the lists are completed I shall take up again their future. Some years ago when we only had a handful the Imperial War Museum showed an interest in them. Now however I do feel that they make up a unique collection on the help given to us when we were POWs on the run by the Italians. As such I shall ask if they can be kept together as a unit.
Once again I must apologise for not writing to thank you before but this is the busy time for students. Ten of them have arrived in the last few weeks and they have to be met at the Airport and taken to the families with whom they are staying, then I try to meet them during the first week of school to make sure everything is all right and then again I show them something of the National Gallery and take them to a Chinese meal. On Sunday five of them came here for lunch but I had told them I had no time to prepare a good meal but they were satisfied with a large ragu sauce and cooked spaghetti for themselves and I found some sweets.
All very enjoyable but a little exhausting.
All around you the country must be looking marvellous in this excellent autumn weather.