Following confirmation of the Italian armistice on 9th September 1943, A.A.Jones escaped from an Italian prisoner of war camp in Fontanellato, Northern Italy. Partnered with a doctor, Norman Rodgers, Jones travelled South on foot for approximately 6 weeks, eventually reaching the Allied lines on 25th October. During this journey, Jones and Rodgers received assistance from Italian civilians in the form of food and shelter, but were forced to keep moving to avoid capture by the German military.
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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[Photograph – no caption: three young men standing in a field. One is drinking]
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[Handwritten note by Keith Killby: A.A Jones. Donation of manuscript by his widow, Mrs Joyce Jones from Bedford.
November 5th. Arrived BARI. Interpreter. Lt. SPINOZA.
January 26th. To REZZANELLO
March 30th. To FONTENALLATO [Fontanellato]
September 8th. Had just sat down in the Hall for an evening’s Bridge with GUSSY PEARCE, GORDON CLOVER AND JOE DRAYSON, when a shudder of excitement ran through the building. The Italians had been seen with arms around one another and “Finito” on their lips. Lt.Col.de Burgh made a very good statement. He had seen the Commandante who had said he had no information nor had he received any orders.
September 9th. Early breakfast. Wrote Joyce. No roll call!!
5.B.O’s [Battalion Orderly Sergeant ?] parade – Armistice confirmed – Pack to move light, Germans may arrive to take over the Camp. If Camp is vacated it is anticipated that Allied landings will enable us to return in a day or so. Gap made in field wire. EDWARD BARDELL and I had our bottle of “Special Vino”. A Squeeler (WHEELER) every two hours. About 10.30 DOC.NORMAN RODGERS (7 St. Crescent Avenue, Filey, E.Yorks) and I go into courtyard to continue our extended discussions. Within 5 mins. the Italian soldiery is running in all directors, the main body making for the Nunnery wall. Guards go, gates wide open. Officers with some effort recall Iti ‘s (?) to slit trenches. Our alarm sounds, upstairs for kit; marching away in Companies within 10 mins. One officer with a sprained ankle is on a mule! Ite civilians maddeningly friendly “Be courageous”!!! a 4 mile march to a bund reconnoitred this morning by Lt.Col.MAINWARING. Companies disperse. Italians start to bring us food, including Red Cross parcels. The Bosche arrived at the Camp at 1400 hrs. he tried to appease his disappointment by laying it waste. The Italians finished clearing it.
September 10th. The Italians still bring us food. I felt ill during the night – Not used to such excitement, and sleeping in the open. I keep thinking of all my kit nicely packed – shall I see it again?
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September 11th. Thank heaven food still arrives. I decide to partner DOC.ROGERS, not TOBY GRAHAM-DAVIES-GILBERT both 12th R.H.A.(HAC). CARLA AND BRUNA bring us civilian clothes, and insist upon my stripping to put them on. My brand new F.S. cap goes under a bush. Taken by these two girls, in a most efficient manner – outrider ahead – to a farmstead 4 kms. across country. Hear B.B.C. Italian News. Doc and I sleep in the straw.
September 12th. We lay in the fields by day, returning to a small farmhouse for a meal mid-day, and then again at last light. Norman’s Italian very good with the farm workers. I meet the woman who subscribed the grey/green flannels I am wearing. Her son is a P.O.W. in Egypt. Lt.Col.GIBBS 6th QUEENS in the area. Chicken for lunch. This can’t last.
September 13th. Lt.BIRBECK. Photographs with the PADRONE. I bury my snaps and letters, just keeping a few. Warning at midnight that G’s coming into village tomorrow. Navigation by CAPT. BARSHALL (HAC), moved West across BOLOGNA – PIACENZA road and rail. G’s on road. Got into an ammunition dump – 39 steps – just like a Sherlock Holmes thriller. Estimate 7 miles march.
September 14th. During day laid up; with Fascist Blackshirt guard firing their carbines at intervals. Very hot. Left at 1830. Col.Gibbs made a good contact at a farm. Tenants most friendly. Good meal and sleep.
September 15th. Got away at 0100 hrs. good moonshine. Doc and I leave Col.GIBBS as he tries a bit of impossible going – about 0300. “Going” became hilly, down in a valley we came across a poor farm, just as the sun came up. Gave us a good breakfast; We are 2 hrs from PELLEGRINO. Walked on until 0800 hrs. laid up until 1700 hrs. Three miles on we got bread and milk and a clean up. 5 a.m. lights of FORNOVO. at 2100 hrs. in bright moonlight crossed two streams of the TARO river. Had to take boots and socks off. Passed railway – tricky few minutes. Norman wet and very cold. A barking dog kept us out of farm buildings, so we lay down on straw.
September 16th. Invited into barn at dawn and given milk. Pushed on 4 miles then lay-up in wooded country. We are North West of FORNOVO-BERCETO road, it is found later that our incorrect map is taking us too far West. On at 1630 hrs, lovely sunny day. Beautiful country, but it leads us into a difficult valley. A woman showed us the way, and took us to a house where we get a good meal and clean up. We are shown to a house near the main road and shown our way which leads straight into the mountains, crossing a stream over a very shaky wooden bridge. Night of difficult country, steep mountain side one of which we found impossible to scale. Midnight and we are in lovely meadows on the mountain top. We have a two hour nap under a bush.
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September 17th. Walking into the dawn find ourselves at POGNETOLO, and strike a main road. Along it until 2 miles East of CORNIGLIO. This is a bottleneck valley. On at 1600 hrs met two decent families, one gave us food and money. Doc. got his shoes repaired. Night under cover on the hay.
September 18th. On our way at 0800 hrs. Steep ascent to SAN MATTHEW where we met a batch of devotees repairing an old pilgrim chapel. Norman met a colleague. Steep descent to SELVANIZZA: it rains; we find we have brought along the wrong sack from the Chapel. It’s contents – wool – we hand into a house where we have a small meal. We have our names and numbers. Through RAMISETO along the road, pass our first Carabinieri, the whole village turn out when it is learnt we are English. Given food, but there is a Fascist scare, and we taken 2 miles to a sheep barn. We have 2/3 hours sleep and then push on, about 2300 hrs. Crossed road and river East of BUSANA. Down a very rocky gorge.
September 19th. On to district of MINOZZA [Minozzo], it is Sunday and we are walking through villages as the inhabitants go to Church. Towards tea-time we pick out our objective ahead and after 2 hours walk we reach it and find the people quite friendly. We sleep well.
September 20th. Norman examines a T.B. case, but we manage to get off about 0800 hrs. CHIVAGO [Civago]. Day of wind and rain. Doc was shaken when an ancient recognised his accent. In very mountainous country, passed two of the highest Apennine peaks. Have ex-army Corporal “VIVA LA PASTA-SHUTA” as a guide to the main road, he gives us some of his papers, and takes us to a contact. We are well treated, but have many rats on our bed of hay.
September 21st, Pieve Pelago. We have a third companion to FLORENCE – the power cable. As I write we have warning of 3 Jerries, near river just below us. A snack then a detour – avoiding action – over bad going. Sat 20 feet above main road watching passing German transport. Pushed on hard, over peak, to hit ABETONE. Rain started and darkness overtook us as we walked through beautiful pine woods. Lovely to find a small peasants’ house. We spent a very good night.
September 22nd. Our host took us along for 8 kms. as he was on his way to market. Learn there is a price on our heads 1.1800 or £20. Only small mountain paths, very slow and indirect progress. Rain most of the day. In the evening an hour along a wrong path led us to a very remote farm. Spent the night “on a bed”!! Today we have passed North of our first objective SAN MARCELLO.
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September 23rd. Pushed on at 0830. Heard air-raid alarm about 1100 hrs. Crossed SAN MARCELLO railway line near PRACCHIA. Got a good lunch in a village, then on to SANMOME [Sammomme]. Crossed railway at 1700 hrs. Norman saw two Carabinieri 40 yards away. Very luckily we managed to slip up a steep path as they came towards us. Our way leads up a hill until we hit the PISTOIA-BOLOGNA road. We find a working party of 20 Jerries leaning on a postrail looking down upon us. We manage to get into the area of a farm. So it is true that this road is being fortified. We hide up in a spinney. Norman makes a good reconnaissance as it gets dark, and discovers we are just below a traffic control point, he goes within 10 yards of it. No moon, and we found difficulty in crossing the road. Eventually it was decided to follow Doc’s route through the village. I do the trip in my socks. Over by 0100 hrs.
September 24th. Slept for a few hours on a bed of wet ferns. Doc gets a laugh at my expense when the sun comes up. I’m not cheerful and look somewhat like a super-tramp. Down mountain side, and we find a good track which is going in the right direction. Good for 10 kms. We have a bath and shave and wash our clothes in a stream. On to LOGOMANO along a track which gave a wonderful view over the plain of FLORENCE. A miserable contact in the village, at the Agents house.
September 25th. We shook the dust from our feet at 0730 hrs. Hit railway south of VERNIO about noon. Armed Carabinieris and some Jerries about. We make a 3 mile detour going into the Town. Rain. Up steep hill, got trousers repaired. On to a grand contact, a large family, just like the farmers at home; so different from the usual Italian “contadino”. Good food, and a bed on the straw with sheets.
September 26th. Got socks mended – on at 1000 hrs. Doc. delighted to find a well laden fig tree. Much rain; then a high wind. During the day crossed two rivers, two “strada provinciale” and a railway. Got onto a minor road after tea, made many miles before dark. At lunch today threw away Doc’s haversack. Had some difficulty in finding a lone house -poor contact. We are between FLORENCE and BURGO SAN LORENZO [Borgo San Lorenzo].
September 27th. Saw FLORENCE quite clearly this morning. On at 0830 Rain, a very miserable day for us. Met LTS. RINGDAHL (INF) & RUSHMERE (A.A.) U.D.F. (When we got in we heard Rushmere had got through 8th Army front). They had met GORDON CLOVER WILLIAMS three days before. After lunch rain lifted and we risked walking along a road. Crossed FLORENCE – FORTI railway. Norman took us over the river ARNO by a weir. We go towards FLORENCE and find ourselves in the beautiful Classical country. Good contact for sleep, but only bread to eat, there must be very little food available.
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September 28th, Florence. A never to be forgotten morning. Our contact tells us of an English speaking Count living 500 yards away. We decide to risk visiting him, and are very well received, feeling just like conspirators. We are visiting COUNT BRASI FOGLIETTI, CASTLE OF MONTE ACUTO. Given a wonderful hot bath and some clothes and above all a map with a meal of ham and eggs to follow, which means so much to us. It is grand to be surrounded by civilisation again. Our hosts are four, The Count, his wife, mother and sister. We are asked to contact: SIR THOMAS WILSON, Late U/Secy for the Colonies: LADY MARKHAM-KNEL, SLOAN SQE, or WOMEN’S ARMY AND NAVY CLUB. The husband of the Count’s sister is a P.O.W. in India, she seems awfully nice – very nicely dressed. We are on our long long journey by 1300 with a picnic lunch of rabbit. We don’t go far before we set upon it. It starts to rain and we are very miserable, mud to the tops of my boots. Heaven know how Norman manages in his shoes. Thank goodness we hit a good contact.
September 29th. Off at 0815, very wet under foot. Made RAGNUNO [Rignano]. Ran into a Carabinieri patrol. Jerry truck overtook us in one of the village streets. Our sack is good camouflage. We spent 2 1/2hrs. getting to RAGNUNO [Rignano], where we met one of the employees of last nights contact. He made it in three quarter hrs. So our journey lengthens. Spent 1/3 of the day taking avoiding action. Fair contact in evening.
September 30th. At 0830 hrs. moved on towards BUCINE. Grapes have now replaced blackberries as our staple fruit diet, plus apples, pears, peaches and figs. Got our fill of figs this afternoon, they made my mouth quite sore. Arrived in a village and were closely looked at by a Carabinieri cycle patrol. Fine reception at village shop, they guessed we were English. Given food, and an ex-soldier guided us to West of BUCINE. Made an excellent contact in the evening, evacuees from FLORENCE. Good meal of meat and cheese.
October 1, Fojano. Cheese and so called whisky for breakfast. On at 0830 hrs. guided by our host past the house of a Fascist. Good going on a road, but the risk of meeting Germans is a bore. Through a village, where we are greeted with “Good morning”. This is sternly ignored. Sent along a river bank East of MONTE SAN SAVINO, passed rail and road. Lunched under shade of trees; most pleasant. The road walk has played havoc with our feet. Norman’s are badly blistered. Mine are not too bad. Washed feet in river before going on. Going along this river bank is very comforting. cannot lose the way, and there is a good path. How lucky we are to meet the woman who sent us this way. Just before dark we hit the main canal. Best days distance to date. Estimated at 20 miles.
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October 1 continued
Made a good contact near the canal, a large family, where I tried my hand at mashing grapes before they were put into the vat. Given a bed in the cattle barn with twelve beasts, too hot, humid and smelly for sleep. Took bedding into the stable yard. The wretched dog barked for an hour. Rain eventually drove us inside again, but it seemed a little cooler now.
October 2. Off at 0730 hrs. the canal took us over two roads on which there was German transport. Near a railway bridge we were lucky to hear the voices of the Carabinieri Guards, above us. We found a bridge under the rail 300 yards to our left and carried on. Asked: “What are you selling”. Doc in his glasses must look like a tallyman – I his carrier. It appears we are not on the main canal, but on one which feeds it. We are taken up into the hills West of our route, so we turn South East and strike another river which leads us to the CHIUSI LAKES. If we took notice of what the Italians tell us the Germans are everywhere and our task impossible. They exaggerate and most of the information they give is quite inaccurate. We go to a farm for water to find that the farmer’s son is out shooting with three Germans in the immediate vicinity. To get out of the area quickly, we have taken a distinct dislike to it, we make good speed by going along a railway line for two or three miles. A fair contact where Norman met a Medical Student in hiding.
October 3. On at 0815 hrs, crossed Rome-Florence line and Strada Nationale. Breakfasted on bread, tomatoes and salt. Norman’s left heel is badly bruised, he has to walk on the ball of his foot. He possesses lots of determination. We both got merry on old and new wine and then slept it off. Crossed two roads carrying German transport. Down into valley of the CHIANI [Chiana] River, turned East leaving MONTELEONE on our left this has brought us more South than we intended. Along river for 8 or 9 kms. It is dark before we look about for shelter, but our luck holds. Norman very very weary, but we make a good contact. This we learn is within 500 yards of Germans in billets.
October 4. This morning we continued due East along the river bank, across rail and road. We took it slowly as Norman’s heel is still painful, but made a fairly good distance over high rolling country. Towards evening we got the first lift of our journey – 3 miles to the Strada Nationale – in a pony cart. Saw a very suspicious looking character on the way. Crossed main road, then returned to go along it for two miles. Had one scare from a Bosche truck. Two houses refused us shelter because of Carabinieri patrols. At the third 10 live, produced 2 eggs, walnuts, and bread freshly baked in the ashes.
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October 5. Left before dawn. It takes us an hour to get across a very hilly stretch of country. Finished the bread for breakfast. A much needed rest 8 kms. short of TODI about mid-day. Washed our feet and socks. As I write and dry my feet in the sun, Norman gets the dope from a chap watering his cattle. Doc’s feet are raw in many places, mine are sound – just ache after a day’s walk. We are asked into a house, and in our pose as Italian soldiers are given tomatoes in oil, and vino. The latter is pressed upon us and the “Medico” is tipsy again. The man’s a menace. It makes his Italian very fluent and he insists upon playing trains as we walk along. Sighted TODI on its hill at 1600 hrs. Left it to the East as we made for the River TEVERE which we cross in a boat as it gets dark. The trip cost us 4 lire, and we make a total of twelve Italian soldiers to have crossed today. Good contact, who as we arrived were having a meal of bread and grapes. They gave us some cheese with our meal. Their son is in hiding in the hills. Norman did an examination and gave advice; the young daughter had a septic foot. This I think was the factor which decided our fate for the night. It was such a comfortable bed.
October 6. This morning the good lady mended my socks; all Ites will drag the holes together with cotton. Darning seems to be an unknown art. Washed and shaved, coffee for breakfast. On our way at 0815, passed CAMARATA about 1130 hrs. A warm sunny day. Few grapes now. Asked by a bright young thing if we had contraband goods in our sack!! Twice today Norman has had to tell a heap of lies to confirm us as Italians I play my part as coming from GORIZIA or TRIESTE by remaining dumb and certainly looking so. Had to jump off a secondary road very quickly to avoid an oncoming German staff car. Luckily some wood-cutters were near which gave us camouflage. Sighted TERNI – 1700hrs. – some 10 miles away. Walking speed normal today. Crossed ROME- BERLIN road at last light. After two refusals good contact; eggs and tomatoes for dinner. Slept on grandfather’s bed in a straw barn.
October 7. Light rain. On at 0800 hrs. Everybody’s first thought is that we are English, there must be few Italian escapees about now. Our way lies below high escarpment which reminds me of Table Mountain at The Cape. We sat down to eat when we were brought some almonds and cake, by a young fellow about 20 and a girl aged about 18 years. In the rain they later brought vino and directed us to a shelter 100 feet above where we sat. We go up to find a small stone cabin and it is here I write. Light rain continues and we are visited by a man and his daughter; The girl we have seen before. They suggest we remain with them until the British arrive. We agree to remain for a few days and thank them for their kindness. Their name is –
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October 7 continued
PROFILI – CESI NEAR TERNI.
The fellow aged 20 is the son of the family.
Reasons for staying with them:
a) It is said that the Germans are forming a line AQUILA [L’Aquila] – RIETI – TERNI. We are just North of it.
b) The weather seems to have broken. This is the weightiest consideration.
c) The rest will give our feet well earned respite, and enable us to build up our strength. Get Norman’s shoes repaired.
d) This contact seems good and reliable, and the offer made without any requests on our part. B.B.C. news available. Remote position, with a back door to escape through leading into the mountains.
A truly wonderful meal arrived at 1445 hrs. a huge bowl of PASTA and some vino. Thank God and PROFILI for such food. Why are these people so kind to us. At last light moved 100 yards to another stone cabin. This is about 5 feet in diameter. Pancakes and vino at 1900 hrs. and an hour later cakes and vino. It’s grand to be treated like this. Father seemed a bit grumpy but he brought us leaves to put on the floor, and some coverings. The Bosche visited the nearby village during the evening. Our hosts are not as “flappy” as most of the Ites.
October 8. I find myself restless and a little miserable this morning. Why this is, with the treatment we are getting I can’t explain. The early morning mist and rain soon made room for the sun.
My “Little Gel” (with acknowledgements to Norman) brought water at 0830 hrs, and coffee with cakes some half-hour later. I sent my shirt and the ‘joint’ towel to be washed.
I then had a quiet hour sunning myself on a stony ledge; Wrote this, read J’s letters of which I have three left, and looked through my photographs. A little sentiment is not a bad thing at this stage. I think of Joyce telling her I am safe and sound.
Large bowl – note the adjective – of spaghetti at 1500 hrs. Two visitors from the village who arrived at tea-time, brought us vino, bread, fish and meat.
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October 9. Washed and shaved; sent vest and pants to be washed. There was a large fire in TERNI during the night. We both did some overdue repairs to our clothes. Breakfast at 1000 hrs. we thought the little gel would never arrive. Doc’s shoes taken to be repaired. During the afternoon we get a shock as a snake 3ft 6ins long glides past our doorway.
Although resting we are impatient to go on, and have almost decided to go tomorrow:
a) We are rested, have had good food, and repaired ourselves.
b) It is obvious that many in the district know of our whereabouts. Sooner or later we shall be given away.
c) The weather seems to have improved.
d) Desirable to get into a more southerly and remote position.
e) Good news of 8th Army.
f) The weather will be much colder and rain more frequent at the end of the month.
Today it is fine and sunny with heavy clouds over the mountains and on the horizon. For lunch – meat, spaghetti, potatoes and bread. We feel some regret at leaving people who are so good to us and make our lot so much more pleasant. This must not be allowed to influence our decisions. Then, surely this enthusiasm cannot last long, and again we are loathing this inactivity.
Norman’s shoes return very well repaired, we are hoping they will just see the journey through. Our visitors today, one of whom was a Doctor who had been in Russia with the Italian forces; He took part in their hasty retreat, brought us 2 bread flans and some raw meat which we had roasted in the evening. The Capitano Medico gave us reliable B.B.C. news.
A heavy shower at last light. My “little gel” very charming this evening. Made us orange sticks to clean our nails!!
October 10. A fine morning so we are off!!
I’m feeling quite excited about it. We returned the bedding to the house when we went along to say thank you and goodbye. All the family are surprised, and I felt they were a little shocked at our leaving them when they had been so good to us. The little girl came rushing from her bedroom to prepare us coffee and to cut us each a piece of that jam sandwich we have come to like too much. She has tears in her eyes as we say “ARIVEDERCI” – Goodbye – to her, and her brother. We owe them both a heavy debt.
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October 10 continued
On our way now and we make the steepest ascent of the trip to date as we climb N.E. into the mountains. Then down a steep water gully to cross railway TERNI – SPOLETO. Just before crossing the main road we come across a camouflaged dump of petrol (?) in equivalent 40 gallon drums.
I was amused today when Norman’s account was queried to the extent that he “admitted” we both came from GORIZIA.
A water gully leads us between two villages and down to the river NERA, which is swift flowing with blue mountain waters. A bridge is found half a mile upstream then into the hills again.
Good contact at dusk, a fine meal and then a bed for the night.
October 11. Off at 0800 hrs. at first we experience steep paths which makes our speed very slow. Cool wind with cloudy sky, mountainous going. This makes our routes very roundabout and at last we are forced on to the road, which we hit 7 km from LEONESSA. Spoke with a charcoal burner who tells us that there have been no Germans on this road for some days. All is fine until when within 1 km. of the town we hear a motorcycle approaching. We were over the hedge and hiding behind it in a twinkling, but are too slow. The cycle stops on the road near us. Faces appear over the hedge – they are in civilian clothes – our hopes soar. We are offered food, and then with relief learn that they are civilians and anti-Fascists in no mean manner. The party consisted of four men, driving a three-wheeled cycle and connected with the charcoal business. They had learnt that British Officers were in the vicinity from the burner with whom we had spoken. We were warned against Fascists in LEONESSA, but very soon they offered to drive us through the town. What luck we have, first good, then bad, then very soon good again, and our spirits soar, sink and soar accordingly.
We feel grand as we are whisked through the town, horn blaring, past all the evils that would put us back behind wire if they could. To us it seemed as if the whole populace had turned out into the streets to gape at us.
The obvious boss of the party put us on a side track which he said led to POSTA. We push on at utmost speed, but rain forces us to leave the muddy path and make our way to the main road, which we hit 9 kms. from LA POSTA. It is dark when we reach the town, so we risk walking through it. The only attention we draw is from a Bosche soldier leaning over the river bridge and he only gives us a casual glance. Left turn, to put us on the road to MONTEREALE, and by now we have made up our minds to walk through the night so that we can use the roads. We have a two hour rest at the house of an employee of one of the electric power companies, and are given bread and tomatoes. Also told of a good route along which we can use the pylons as our guide.
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October 12, Caratignana [Caratignano]. We pushed ourselves hard until 0400 hrs. when luckily we found a straw barn, in which we slept for 3 hours. Estimated distance of the walk – over 60 kms. in the last 20 hrs.
On at dawn to another house belonging to the Electricity company. All such houses were of the same pattern. Here the people were nervous, but we were able to dry out a bit and were given bread, cheese and apples for breakfast.
As we follow the power line we are told of a party of Britishers laying up in a cabin. We decide to visit them and after a cold reception, are well treated by four South Africans:
89701 BDr. E.L. HUGO
278920 PTE. J.P. HUGO
198188 PTE. P.J.ROODE
195494 PTE. G.J.B.GROENEWALD
We spend a restful day which we need badly, washed and ate well mainly off boiled potatoes. Sunny with slight wind which increased and moved round until its direction was North. In the evening our hosts went off to eat in the village. We had a grand evening by the fire, eating our fill of bread, potatoes and grapes. Slept in rye straw with the fire going all night.
October 13. We push on having got as much information from the South Africans as we could. It appears they had made two attempts to get past the GRAND SASSO [Gran Sasso], but had been forced to turn back. We leave at 0700 hrs, it is a lovely sunny morning with a cool wind. Crossed AQUILA [L’Aquila] – TERAMO Road about 0830hrs. and got on to a path which leads below the GRAND SASSO [Gran Sasso].
There are only shepherds with their flocks high up on the mountain side, and a little tilled ground in the valleys. We consider that today we reach our second objective, AQUILA [L’Aquila]. We are as near to it as we hope to go. The third objective is contact with own troops. Pray to God we are successful.
ASSERGI is reached at 1400 hrs and saw up above, the funicular railway, and high up on top of the mountain, the hotel from which Mussolini was rescued by the Germans.
We met 3 O.R’s from the Camp at AQUILA [L’Aquila] who had laid up here since the armistice. Ten days ago one was retaken by the Germans and taken back to the Camp. He got away again and rejoined his companions. This confirms our theory that the four South Africans were unfortunate enough to be passing through here just at the time of a German round up.
Crossed main road at 1500 hrs. Today we have been eating walnuts which are just ripening in this district. It gets noticeably colder in the afternoons now, and the nights are very cold. We are in the mountains of course, and there is a Northerly wind blowing.
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October 13 continued
On past FILLETO [Filetto]: Norman insists as he always does on pushing forward, which has been a very good thing. It is suggested we spend the night in a grotto and we are led there by a woman. We hurriedly try to make a fire but we can only get green oak, so no fire and no roasted potatoes. Eventually we make a bed on dry weeds, but the cold gets hold of our tummies, and we feel we can stand the cold grotto no longer. We return to FILLETO [Filetto] arriving about 0300, and are lucky to find a peasant who is sitting up with a cow which is calving. We get a bed on the straw, and in the morning boiled potatoes.
October 14. On our way past the grotto we go in to clear it up and to hide away the empty anchovy tin which we opened last night in an attempt to cheer ourselves up. We learn that in FILLETO [Filetto] one inhabitant had been shot for helping the British. Saw AQUILA [L’Aquila] in the distance as we go up a path into the mountain, among a string of peasants going to their fields.
The weather is good which means that we must make all the distance we can each day. Our route lies through barren mountains, very lonely and remote. We pass a Yugoslav who is lying up, and have news of British forces 20 kms. south of CHIETI. With that news we decide to lay up if we get a good offer, but push on in the meantime, trying to find a place north of the river PESCARA.
We both find ourselves very tired today after the disturbed night, and perhaps the thought of our troops being so near slackens our efforts. Norman cannot go very much further. his shoes are in tatters and his feet obviously very painful. We walk very slowly. I have to keep waiting for him to catch me up. It depresses me to see the painful way in which he limps along.
Everybody we meet is scared of the Bosche, the paratroops from AQUILA [L’Aquila] have been let loose in this district. Recently they blew up two houses which had sheltered British ex. POW’s and several Itis were killed. So here, there is nowhere we can lay up.
Towards evening it rains and this on top of everything really damps our spirits. We touch a “new low”. The women are so scared that they refuse us shelter, although their sympathy for us makes tears run down their cheeks. Our last hope is a great success. A farm on its own where soup and a fire puts new life into us. Good bed on the straw.
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October 15. Cup of milk for breakfast. The mist lifts so we go, and our spirits with it; we see our path leading over mountain after mountain. Doc’s feet seem much better -“he’s as nimble as a mountain goat”. I wonder what we should have felt like this morning if we had not been taken in last night at the farm.
We pass east of OFENA and into a village where we are well received and given a good meal. Men and women weep over us, and ask us to stay with them. But we no longer feel like lying up, we have the urge to push on.
Many men in this district have worked in Canada so it is strange to hear echoing across the mountain side – “Where you go”. This is better than that awful phrase which has cursed our way, “Dove andare”.
We passed over a very high range at mid-day and could see way in the distance PESCARA and CHIETI with the sea beyond. Met two such typical English Other Ranks – ex POW’S – so calm compared with the Itis. If I had wished I could not have suppressed the thought; “Thank God I’m British”. Learnt that the S.A.S. are operating in the area.
Towards evening we make a good contact, two hours distant from the PESCARA River.
October 16. On our way at 0700 hrs. across railway and down to the river which has steep banks, in many places 50 ft. high, is very fast flowing and we are told is shoulder deep. We come across a minor road bridge, only to find just as we are about to get on it, that there is a well camouflaged Jerry truck with guard, on the other side. We make a hasty withdrawal. Considered crossing by pipe line at night, or by swimming which Norman advocates.
Decided against both and made up our minds to go west of POPOLI, then south on route to ALFEDENA given to the OR’s we met yesterday by a paratroop Officer.
Heard bombing of CHIETI.
I sit writing after a mad dash of 1 1/2 miles. We are across rail, road and river!! After the bridge above we turned
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north-west and were lucky to be told of the existence of a foot-bridge across the river. We afterwards met two girls, one of whom, was by a unanimous vote decided to be the prettiest we had seen in Italy. They invited us to their house for food, where we met an English speaking Italian who gave us good directions.
Three helpings of Pasta and then the dash. The vino we had assured that Norman did not even feel his feet the whole way. News that Germans were nearby on a scrounging mission added to our possible speed.
On the road the German traffic was almost continuous. We are fortunate to be able to hop across during a lull. Six guns passed when we were only 50 yards over, lying well out of sight. This has been our most difficult crossing to date. Do hope our luck holds.
Our route leads us past a convent where a priest warns that the Bosche are in occupation. Then through a small oilfield which is guarded by Germans. We are walking right under his nose in this area.
On until dark when we put up in a hay barn. It’s a great relief for Norman not to have to make polite conversation. We are soon asleep after our supper of bread and cheese.
October 17. Rain this morning. Mended socks with wool unravelled from a glove. Jerry transport on the road 50 yards away. Breakfast of cheese, bread and almonds. Slight wind with the sun peeping through the clouds.
It’s impossible to walk over the hilly waterlogged land. At the next village, where fear of the Germans seemed to have numbed everybody, we learn that the Bosche have retaken eleven British POW’s this morning, from a village a mile away. They surrounded it during the night, posted L.M.G’s then searched it at first light. The transport we saw would be connected with this operation.
The Germans then went up into the hills with guns and mule transport. As we push hurriedly on we hear bursts of L.M.G. fire and see VEREY lights which are being fired some hundreds of feet above us.
When sheltering from a shower we meet four Britishers from SULMONA camp who have been in the district for a month. We make slow progress along the rocky mountainside, and hear many gun reports. We wonder if P.O.W’s are being hunted out. We are moving along the western side of the MAIELLA VALLEY, and have just heard that the firing is causing the occupants to leave their villages. Are we nearing the area of operations?
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A shell lands 400 yards away, and then a round of gunfire from four guns. We hustle up the side of the mountain. They might be firing at us!! Small arms fire starts further up the valley along our route, and then mortars open up. What is this?!!
We wait. Norman is optimistic that our friends are near, but nothing intense develops and after two hours all is quiet. The Bosche must have been holding a field day. They had given no warning to the local inhabitants, and we saw shells land among a flock of sheep.
The halt enabled me to get more wool unravelled. Moved on just before last light. The moon rises late, and we are in very broken country, with mud over our boot tops, so the going is bad. Our route is up a steep re-entrant, but when the moon comes up we find a good track, which leads us on to the road to PACENTRO.
We tip-toe through the village at midnight, and get on to the road leading to SULMONA. There are so many German signs, and so much telephone wire about, that after a two hour sleep in a barn we push on across the fields. The Peek Frean’s biscuits, our last emergency rations, are consumed. Whenever I sleep now I seem to dream about being recaptured.
October 18. We cross the main road, river and railway just as dawn breaks. Norman finds it more comfortable to walk without socks. Found a good contact where we wash our boots and trousers. We are muddy to the knees. Bread and milk for breakfast. Across the plain and up into the mountains. Just out of BUGNARA the kind ladies bring us eggs, cheese, apples, bread and vino, also a dish of cooked beans. The way leads up a steep hill, after an hour we turn off for a two hour rest. We talk with Italian ex-officers. Rejoin track and have our sack which is heavy with bread carried on a donkey. Learnt that after we passed it BUGNARA was occupied by a German H.Q. By nightfall we are on top of the mountain, and have our eggs for supper, sitting by a shepherd’s fire. It is cold, with an icy wind. The shepherds make room for us in their small hut.
October 19. A cold morning, but we warm up by a fire, whilst sharing breakfast with our kind hosts. We all ate out of the common dish. On at 0900, under an azure sky. Sighted SCANNO at 1030 hrs. In FRATTURA talked for a few minutes with two British who were resting there for the day.
As we went on a Bosche scavenging party is reported ahead and we see the Italians on our path scattering. We turn west across the main road, and then south again along a lakeside. This took us to SCANNO which we had to circle around as Germans were in the town. Left it behind at 1500 hrs. and got on a good track with Mount GODI on our left.
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The helpless way in which the Italians of all ages act, is maddening. They are quite useless and openly expect the Allies to liberate them without any effort on the part of Italy herself.
Today for the first time we saw some armed activity. 6 Spitfires drawing AA fire from somewhere East of SCANNO.
Arrived at a shepherds hut just after dark, and were given a good welcome. We had intended to push across the ALFEDENA-OPI road by night, but Norman had to go to bed right away with a troublesome tummy.
October 20. We both had a good clean up before leaving. It’s a lovely sunny morning. The “Shepherd in Chief” took us some way along our path and made enquiries about German gun positions reported on the roadside. We can get little definite information.
Our route leads us down a steep gully on to the main road. We let two Jerry vehicles pass and then made a dash for it across the road and river which we waded. It was about knee deep. The lay of the country forced us to go West for two miles in full view of the road, and it was tiring alternately walking along and dashing for cover. All types of transport – horsed – wheeled – trucked – motorcycles and bicycles. Normans tummy giving him a lot of trouble.
Leaving OPI on our right we turned south into the mountains. For some miles we followed a miniature railway and were given a basin of minestra [minestrone] at a turf hut where evacuees from PESCARA were living. The path became difficult to follow, and for half-an-hour we lost it. On our way back we were very lucky indeed to meet a boy with his donkey, who was taking food up to shepherds in the META district. I cursed the donkey for its slowness, but later regretted my haste, as it was he alone who chose the path, so we stumbled up the mountainside into the gloom and on through the darkness. It was a nightmare journey, pitch dark, no moon, the stars giving no light through the trees overhead. The path was rocky, and one stumbled, fell, turned an ankle, and swore continually. When nearly at the top the poor old donkey slipped its saddle and bags. It was too dark to replace them so we all went on, and eventually made our goal. A stone hut, amid masses of ragged rocks, where we took the rest we felt we had earned.
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October 21, La Meta. A cold sunny morning with white frost on the grass, Since yesterday noon, our way has led through a beech forest, with the leaves turning every imaginable gold and brown, we are in no mood to admire nature, but this META district is very beautiful. All our thoughts are of one thing only, pushing on and making distance. We find ourselves unable to sit over a meal for longer than a quarter-of-an-hour. We both feel better and more like speed this morning.
We call at a charcoal burners hut, and are warned that a party of Germans are within 100 yards. This seems impossible in such a remote area, but full of caution we get off the path and up the mountainside. A line-laying party of six goes by us, and after sharing the burner’s meal of POLENTA we carry on.
A little further on we stop to ask if all is clear ahead when a lone German comes walking towards us. We turn about and slowly retrace our steps. After going some 100 yards with Norman in the lead and having taken off his glasses, I could feel the Jerry just behind. I used what little Italian I know to good effect – “ASPETT UN MOMENTO”. Norman turned around, I stopped and the Bosche R.S.M. went striding by.
Luck seems to be with us as we follow the German telephone line, along the only track to PICINISCO. We leave the village on our right as we go down into the next valley. Here we had a good contact for food, with a retired fellow who ran four confectionary shops in England prior to 1930.
We crossed the river by a footbridge, and could see a small detachment of a horsed unit on the opposite bank. Over the Provincial Road, we come upon a straw barn 50 yards above it. We slept better than we anticipated among the oak boughs. Dawn seemed to come in a very few hours.
October 22. We ate bread and fruit with a wife whose husband had been away in North Africa for four years!! Then we met a charcoal burner who promised to guide us to within 12 kms of VENAFRO. We are taken to his house for food, a short nap, and then march from 1530 to 2130 hrs. Walking behind the donkey we will smell for days afterwards. Slept in his rude cabin.
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23rd October. Guns heard this morning…. as we approached plain. Retired for a bit into two houses. Passed through Tozzili [Pozzilli], Norman has … … the village is full of many vehicles. Some houses blown up. We are very lucky. Blasting on heights to the North, several ACK- ACK positions to the South. We halt about 1500 hours for a rest and to await darkness. The Italian news is entirely unreliable, we were told many times we held Venafro and felt very vague this morning, until we knew this to be definitely incorrect. Laying mines into river. The town appeared to be occupied by a German Divisional H.Q. As we proceeded we could see way down across the mountains to our right the monastery of Cassino. We crossed a railway track on which all the sleepers have been broken by the retreating Germans. We spent a night at Pozzili [Pozzilli], moving on after dark across the main road and the river Volturno. Boots and trousers off, water over our knees. There was a fair current and subsequently we laid up in a barn with the intent to go on when the moon rose. We in fact slept until dawn.
24th October. On past Capriati finding German transport on the road. Food was unobtainable so we were very lucky to find a lot of grape vines and an apple tree. On until we hit a village, in a cleft some tricky moments here getting past Germans. Doc refuses to bluff any more. In and out of houses on the steep slopes and on to where Germans are blowing up hydroelectric plant. We watched them for a bit and saw booby traps being laid at the main gate. Everybody is out in the fields taking as many of their possessions as they can with them, I feel a twinge of compassion only for the old and the babies. Got around hydro electric plant before the Germans had finished, on into the mountains again, a nice feeling. Soon nearing village where there were German patrols reported. No food obtainable, turned south for the hills and found a good cabin for the night. British reported(?) in Piedimonte. We decided we would go and have a look tomorrow. Battle sounds from that direction.
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25th October. We saw ahead German armoured cars patrolling their front and crossed their path during an interval. We were nervous that patrolling infantry might shoot us on sight and hearing the voices of American troops we hailed them. The response we heard was, “Gee, these guys speak English”. Our long journey was at an end. We were taken to a forward battalion headquarters, given food, Oh how welcome. Photographs were taken and then on to Regimental and Divisional Headquarters for interrogation. Back to Intelligence Headquarters for further interrogation. We reported a concentration of a German Headquarters, possibly a Brigade in Venafro suggesting that an air strike would be particularly appropriate. Here we enjoyed a good meal and slept. I dreamt that our walk is not yet finished. Very friendly crowd. Met Sergeant Wintrop-Crane Chicago (400) U.S.Foreign Office (Ipswich).