Part typewritten, part handwritten account by Jack Needle, which starts with a short account by Jack Siswick of Jack Needle’s capture.
Jack Needle along with his friend “Dai” were able to walk out from P.G. 54 (Fara-In Sabina) in September 1943 shortly after the Italian Armistice as the Italian soldiers guarding them abandoned their positions. His account is presented in diary style until he was recaptured on Friday March 3rd 1944. His diary entries from March 3rd 1944 to May 14th 1945 concentrate mostly on the treatment he was receiving for his injuries and prison life in general. He is liberated and released by the Americans at the end of April 1945. Arrives back home on May 12th 1945.
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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Diary of JACK NEEDLE. From Escape from FARA-IN-SABINA P.G.54 to after 3 month re capture trying to disarm Fascist and wounded. Taken to hospital in Rome and then hospital in Germany. Dated and spaces only for names of individuals. Sat 11th Sept. Italian Guards left Camp and then 5 p.m. all walked out. Goes with Dai and another called the ‘Col’ but are pleased when later he goes with others. Walk hard and fast first day and get to ravine where, JN says some 600 POWs are. Main problem water. They have brought food with them, take grapes but have to beg for food. It seems Italians not too friendly at first but later certain families in and around Moricone (very slummy). Hide, sleep in caves and very seldom in house but with so many in area very dangerous as there are plenty of Germans – being not far from Rome. End of September rain and no further water problem. Often make ‘Burgoo’ – figs and bread boiled together. See Rome and St Peters in the distance. Endless rumours of landings but hear Allies are at Campobasso. Cut a lot of small trees for firewood – for fires in caves. Boots are the main problem. A couple from Rome bring some ‘shoes’. Dai makes sabot’s. Eat some mutton which upsets them. Some leave so get better cave. Hear of several being recaptured. Message given to man from Rome is broadcast on Vatican Radio for family. Receive money – passed on to Italians feeding them. Family from Nerola is taken to Germany for housing POWs but JN and Dai often visit villages around Monte Flavio, Moricone, Montelibretti. They hear of Anzio and that O’Conner and Neame – generals have escaped near them – not true they were in the Marche and got through there. They hear of Anzio – and often sound of battle but rumour of landing at Civitavecchia not true. 31st Jan further supply of clothes, food and money from Vatican. Weather warm 5th Feb. Meet two former POWs in Fara 54 who had been recaptured but escaped when train was bombed on bridge over river. Weather turns bad again but they have to keep out of caves – for fear of searches by day. Many accounts of visits to villagers in evening and food given many – but most bread, sometimes potatoes. Finally end of Feb ‘44 they are well booted and prepare to move off but Diary ends 27th Feb as Jack Needle is recaptured after being wounded trying to disarm Fascist come to collect them. He tells the others to go but Dai waits hidden to see him taken away by horse – to Rome Hosp. and then Germany. See other papers.
Also in Envelope copy of Letter from John Siswick dated 27.7.44 to J.N.’s parent s recounting how J.N. was wounded but insisted the others got away but JS lay hidden and saw him taken away on a horse and told JN’s parents he would be taken to Germany. Account and diary of JN in hospitals in Rome, on train, then Freising (Hosp. to Muisberg and after cure in Mooseberg but gets to ArbeitsKampf in Munich and so flies home later than those in Camp.
Came into Archives early 2001
via Mrs Margaret Needle widow
Copy sent to Mrs M.N April 2008
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Excellent Letter dated 27.7.44 from John Siswick who had escaped with others from Fara-in-Sabina? and met up with others including JACK NEEDLE describing to the parents of NEEDLE how they lived outside the camp and then when a Fascist found them at JN’s instigation they tried to disarm him and Needle was wounded. They however managed to get away but Germans come to support Fascist and hide up. One goes for a doctor for JN as a bullet was lodged in his thigh. JN insists that the others get away as there was ‘no sense in them all being captured’. Siswick remains hidden near, in spite of the rain, and sees him taken away on a horse. Siswick speculates (correctly) that after treatment in Italy he would be taken to Germany.
Other information [2 words unclear]
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[Handwritten letter from John Siswick to Mr & Mrs Needle (parents of Jack Needle) dated 27th July 1944.]
[Notes in the top left corner say ‘ read after section ‘R’]
148, [word unclear] Terrace
27 April 1944
Dear Mr & Mrs Needle,
First I must apologise for delaying so long before answering your letter. Really I am ashamed because I think I can appreciate your feelings having seen in my own parents the results of a 10 months spell without news of me. My only excuse is that on top of the hurrying about here, there, everywhere visiting all my friends, I am making arrangements for my wedding which is to take place a week today.
Here then is the story.
On Sept 11th we all broke camp expecting the British forces to appear on the scene within a short time. This hope soon faded & since the Italian peasants were giving us food we settled down to wait. By this time we had split up into little parties of 2, 3 or 4 & we made ourselves as comfortable as possible in
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caves on little thatched cabins. We went to a nearby village called Monteflavio in the evenings for food.
Early in November I learned that Jack & his friend Dai were living only a short distance from us. From then on we met regularly. Shortly after this it began to be cold & Jack & Dai left the cave that they had been using & were given sleeping accommodation in a stable at Monteflavio. It was an excellent arrangement for them.
They had plenty of straw & were given more blankets by the Italians, in the mornings they had breakfast & went out for the days taking food with them – often more than enough. They used to return to the village in the evenings for supper, a chat with the Italians around the fireside (both Jack & Dai spoke Italian) & bed in the straw.
The names of this principle benefactors were Sistilio & Rosa Rosarti & Augusto Ugolini.
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I forget Mrs Ugolini’s Christian name.
About mid-February. The villagers began to grow scared. They were afraid of the consequences if Jerry or the Fascists should find out that they were helping British prisoners. So Jack & Dai, George, Ron & I moved our quarters to a beautiful little valley half-way between Monteflavio & Montonio Romano. (George & Ron were my 2 friends). Here the five of us lived together resting out of sight amongst the bushes by day & sleeping & doing our cooking in a little cabin which was just big enough to hold us. My birthday occurred during this period & we celebrated with pancakes, chips & a bottle of Vino. Food was sent down to us occasionally from Monteflavio & in addition we made frequent trips to Montonio for more.
I should mention too that the Italians had given us clothing – old & patched, it is true, but as good as they themselves were wearing.
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On March 3rd the tragedy took place. We were discovered at about noon by a couple of Fascists one armed with a revolver. We played about waiting & watching for a chance to get at him. When the opportunity came, Jack flung his greatcoat over the head of the Fascist. Instantly we all dived for his revolver but he managed to pull the trigger. Out of five of us piled on top of the Fascist at that moment Jack was the one to be hurt.
It seemed only to have nicked the flesh on his left hip for within 2 or 3 minutes he was able to bend his leg. We made plans hastily & decided that we should return to the cave where Jack & Dai had lived before. It would have been excellent hiding & we thought to nurse Jack back to health in no time. Jack with assistance was able to hobble away & I with George & Ron stayed to look after the Fascists, to give Jack & Dai a good start & later to bring on the kit.
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Probably 10 or 15 minutes later he, who had been armed, broke away. He ran like a deer, we could not have caught him up & the revolver was jammed so we had no means of stopping him. Almost simultaneously we heard rifle shots & German voices crying “Halt” but in the direction opposite from that in which Jack had gone. We could do nothing but take cover in the bushes & wait for darkness. Had we tried to find Jack then we should only have been seen & served to discover Jack too who unable to travel fast must certainly be in hiding too.
The only consolation was that the Fascist would have to return to his HQ [Head Quarters] minus his identification papers, station cards, money, jacket, boots & trousers, plus a badly battered head.
When it was turning dark Ron & I went to find Jack & quickly succeeded. He was lying fairly comfortably in a little cabin. But our
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hopes of curing him ourselves were squashed for the bullet was lodged at the back of his left thigh. Though not serious it was definitely a case for a doctor. Dai had already gone to fetch one. I took Jack his kit to him & some food but he would not allow me to stay with him lest I too be caught. And it would have served no purpose to give myself up too, though I considered it, because I should have been unable to stay with him in captivity.
However I remained as close as I could though it rained heavily & saw early next day about 14 men arrive at the cabin in which he was lying, watched them put him on a horse & lead him away up the hillside to Monteflavio. There was nothing more I could do or could have done.
Need I describe my feelings? It was so bitterly unjust that the one to take the initiative should be the one to suffer & worse to lose his freedom. It is due to your son’s action that
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I am free today. Unfortunately Dai too was captured in attempting to bring assistance. Yet we too suffered because for many days the villagers were too scared to give us food & with only unpleasant thoughts to go to bed on hardly slept. We were constantly on the run, once we climbed over the top of a mountain high up in snow & for a week lived in a pitch black cave coming out only at night for water & firewood. At least Jack did not suffer that.
Your son is a very brave man, one I shall respect as long as I live.
I went a night or two later to Monteflavio to find out what had eventually happened to him. It seemed the villagers had made him very comfortable during the short time he was there before he was taken away for attention by German Medical Officers. He was very cheerful & had said he was happy that my two friends & I were still free. I’m glad he never knew what a miserable
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state we were in.
That then is the story. It will cause you pain I know & I’m sorry. My mother advised me to tell you everything. She had 10 months without news of me so I respect her judgement.
So you see in the circumstances it is not really surprising that you have not heard from Jack. He would probably be kept for a while in Italy before they attempted to move him to Germany & knowing the mail arrangements for Prisoners of War as I do I should think it would be quite a time before he would be allowed to write. But I expect you will hear anytime now. I wrote to Dai’s mother when I first wrote to you & she replies to say that they have already heard from Dai. But of course he would be removed to Germany almost immediately.
You must understand that you must treat this letter as confidential. There are still other men in enemy occupied territory living
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much as we did & the less that is known of their movements, the more chance they have of returning safely home. Indeed I am inclined to hope that Jack is one of them. If they kept him in Italy until he was fit there is a possibility that he escaped again when they attempted to move him to Germany.
Please let me know as soon as you hear from him.
Yours very sincerely
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Diary of JACK NEEDLE after wounding in struggle with Fascist who had come to give him and others away after their escape from FARA-IN-SABINA. See also account by John Siswick watching at a distance as the Germans took him away on a horse. First back to FiS. (3.3.44) then 2 1/2 hr operation in Tivoli Hosp. Then San Sepulcro when Lord Lascelles is brought in, then hosp train to Breising – Hosp camp near Mooseberg in Germany. Red Cross parcels. Over 6 weeks on crutches. Moves to Mooseberg. Mentions Benny interpreter (remembered by K.K.) Gets to Arbeits Camp). Released 20th April but not being in M. Camp did not arrive in Eng till 12th May. Home 14th. Interesting detail on how much care was given by Italian and German Medics.
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Diary March 3rd 1944 – May 14th 1945.
Friday March 3rd 1944. Wounded.
Monday March 6th 1944. Arrived Fara Sabina Camp once again.
Wednesday March 8th 1944. Saw Dai for last time at camp.
Thursday March 9th 1944. To Tivoli, then Cittaducale Hospital. In bed for 6 weeks. Walked a little for 2 weeks then.
Thursday April 27th 1944. 2 1/2 hr. operation on the artery, and the bullet removed. Pain for 5 days.
Friday May 5th 1944. Some stitches removed. Heel badly blistered and very sore.
Monday May 8th 1944. Spent 3 bad days and nights with heel. Today Dr. cut away the skin of the huge blister, and removed rest of stitches (11 all told). Wound hard & inflamed, so cold compresses.
Friday May 12th 1944. 10 weeks are up, & I’m still in bed. Heel very tender, so cold compresses continue.
Saturday 13th May 1944. Hell what pain! Today bad skin removed from heel, leaving a large area of ragged raw meat.
Tuesday May 16th 1944. Operation wound no longer bandaged, but still slightly hard. Heel raw, but Dr, says O.K. As soon as that is better I can walk. 10 mins. sun ray treatment for wound. (During operation I lost 1 litre of blood – surgeon was covered in it, sister told me afterwards.)
[The surgeon had expected some drainage reaction after operation, because he had cut a ‘wound’ of 1½ – 2 in. low on the inside ankle, but nature ignored this ‘aid’ and decided to drain on the back of the heel.]
Monday May 22nd 1944. Finished sun-ray treatment yesterday. Only my heel to get right now; but this will take at least 3 weeks.
Thursday May 25th 1944. One month ago today I had my op. I feel grand now and get about a bit. The doctor himself told me what a
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dangerous operation I had had, and he is very pleased at my quick recovery.
Whit Sunday 28th May 1944. Well I’m still here.
Thursday June 1st 1944. Exactly as the 3 months here are ended, I move on to Assissi. I thanked Stabsgart. Dr. Berchtold. Many good wishes from all. Sr. Dr. Glas (an Austrian surgeon) is also mentioned in my file as regards my op.
Two Tommies here. I hope to keep with them now. Saw African ‘Paul’ again – he bought me my views of Assissi.
Thursday June 15th 1944. Left Assissi at 2.30 a.m., and have come to small town some 40? further North – San Sepolcro (130 km? from Florence).
Sunday June 18th 1944. Rain, so daylight move, some 60km. through lovely mountains (like N. Africa) to Bagno di Romagna Here Lt. Lord Lascelles brought in as prisoner, to great excitement of guards and local population. Have managed to hobble along a bit lately, with a stick.
Tuesday June 20th 1944. Bypassed Florence and arrived at modern hospital at Forli at 11:30pm.
Thursday June 22nd 1944. Arrived 6am at Verona after 10 hr train journey.
Friday 23rd June 1944. Arrived civil hospital at Mantova (37 km. from Verona) by ambulance – beds, sheets, good food, and nurses!
Saturday 24th June 1944. Left early on a hospital train. Managed to wangle a centre stretcher bed so that I had a good view through the windows. A marvellous journey through the Brenner Pass – rail, road and river crossing and re-crossing each other all the time.
Arrived at Freising (near Munchen) hospital 7am. Sunday morning. Here is an American doctor. Was issued with 1 American Red Cross parcel, and 1 Eng. Invalid parcel each. Prima!
Wednesday 28th June 1944. Weighed yesterday – 65.7 kg. by Sept 14th reached 74 kg.
Thursday 29th June 1944. Given a copy of the New Testament by Red Cross, and gym kits.
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Monday 3rd July 1944. 1 American parcel.
Wednesday 4th July 1944. White flannel shirt and pyjamas, shorts and pair slippers from Red Cross. My heel still discharging well, but not so much as at Assissi.: dressed daily and cleaned.
Friday 7th July 1944. 10 weeks since op. – heel looks the same – I am not to do much walking.
Friday 14th July 1944. Received an Ocarina today, from Red Cross.
Saturday 15th July 1944. Four days of wet bandages – my heel does not discharge so much now and does not look such a big wound.
Monday 17th July 1944. English parcel from Hove.
Friday 28th July 1944. Finished with wet bandages today (12 all told). ‘Burnt’ the wound with a caustic stick because the tissue is growing out too much. Heel has finished discharging after 13 weeks.
Monday July 31st July 1944. My heel ‘burnt’ again – made me dance for ages afterwards. The pencil used is one used for burning off warts and corns – and this on a raw wound! Canadian Red Cross parcel.
Wednesday August 2nd 1944. Every Wed. a gramophone recital. ‘Les Sylphides’ today – grand!
Monday August 7th 1944. English parcel & 100 cigs.
Monday August 14th 1944. American parcel (Christmas one) & 120 cigs.
Wednesday August 16th 1944. Get out for an hour each day – I give my heel the benefit of the glorious sunshine we’ve had for the past week. So ‘we’ have gone past Paris and made good progress in the S. of France landing!!
Monday August 21st 1944. English parcel & 100 cigs . Heel still discharging so no Stalag (ordinary POW camp) till I can wear boots.
Wednesday August 23rd 1944. Heel encased in ‘plaster of paris’ bandage – so here for another 2 weeks at least. Hurrah 12 letters.
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Wednesday 23rd August 1944 (cont.). What glorious weather – endless sun for days.
Saturday 26th August 1944. George Symonds left Freising on Repatriation.
Monday 28th August 1944. Yesterday heel stank, so had plaster off today. English parcel & 100 cigs.
Tuesday 29th August 1944. Again ‘Plaster of paris’ – for 14 days?
Monday 4th September 1944. English parcel & 100 cigs.
Friday 8th September 1944. How happy we were 1 year ago – ‘Home for Christmas’ we thought. Today had plaster removed – not a bit better. Cannot help worrying about it. Have used crutches since Aug. 23rd and will continue to do so, to give heel a chance.
Monday 11th September 1944. How excited last year! Wonder where Dai is now. 1 English & ½ Invalid supplement each. Foot needs to be burned several times again. Find my bath-robe and pyjamas (loaned) very good this cold weather.
Friday 22nd September 1944. Paid 3.10 marks.
Wednesday 4th October 1944. Birthday. Quite a good day – 3.o’clock Party. Ron and Dennis (birthday card) had CAKE made.
Tuesday October 10th 1944. Without crutches once more after 6 ½ weeks. Am spending 4 busy, yet happy days cramming Morius Vallet with English. Dennis wants to learn French! Good for me.
Saturday October 21st 1944. Had some operation gut removed from my groin (about 2 in. so should cease running, says Dr. Kremer (American MO [Medical Officer] here working under the Germans). Have been playing a bit of table tennis lately, and left foot aches, so have put boots on for the first time in 8 months. Bridge daily with Pop, Hoakie, and Bill . Great fun.
Monday 30th October 1944. A quick change – to Stalag VII A
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– 35 weeks after shooting; Here for a time I hope – stove and hot water – mucking with George.
Monday 6th November 1944. Here a week – good. Enjoyed the service last evening. Airborne padre (Arnhem).
Tuesday 7th November 1944. Get out 3 times a day, weather permitting. Pooled all Food stuffs with George.
Tuesday 21st November 1944. Leaving for compound soon. Leg OK except for nerves at times.
Thursday 24th November 1944. Left camp hospital and finished up in no. 3. Barracks like a galley-ship. Sleep on floor – no bed boards but happy. Nice shower on Friday. No work till Dec. 15th. After 38 weeks I leave hospital. Walking OK but limp if I try to run.
Sunday 26th November 1944. Sam Platt (police) took me over to see George. Life OK with all these friends. Continue 2 visits a week. Seen ‘Band Wagon’ -The Captivators’ are too good for such a place. Have had 2 violin and piano recitals.
Friday 15th December 1944. Report sick today – ‘non-arbeit’ ticket expires today.
Tuesday 19th December 1944. Saw Dr. today and got ‘no work till 1st March’. Am to do sweeping-up in here, so OK. Saw a German film ‘The man who was Sherlock Holmes’ – good.
Sunday 24th December 1944 (Christmas Eve). Church am. Bridge afternoon. Boiled puddings with ingredients from Red Cross parcels. Service – Community singing, then’ Captivators till midnight. Swept up and bed 12.45.
Monday 25th December 1944 (Christmas Day). 8.15 Holy Communion. Visited Bert and Mickey. Air-raid alarm. Mashed potatoes and chunk of meat-beef-issue. Lovely sunny, frosty weather. Football match- Eng. 4 Serbs 3. Coffee with Charlie. A Brew race; Barrack room-round compound-poured out – winner in 3.57 mins.
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Tuesday 26th December 1944 (Boxing Day). Lie in until 9.30. Brew up and share. Afternoon tea with Charlie. Bridge and bed at 10.0.
Thursday 28th December 1944. Saw ‘The Nelson Touch’ at the French theatre – v. good.
Sunday 31st December 1944 (New Year’s Eve). Church. Concert – B.W.B’s ‘Hamper of Happiness’. Bridge. Snow at last.
Wednesday 3rd January 1945. Concert by Captivators , Bonny and ‘Jake’ the saxophonist from Ray Nobles Band, and a piano accordionist who has played before the King and Queen.
Friday 5th January 1945. Christmas + parcel Marvellous!
Friday 12th January 1945. Again an ‘internal’ move – am now in no. 33 with G.
Wednesday 17th January 1945. Settled down well to a routine ; a.m. read while George goes for hand massage. p .m. cribbage (made a peg board yesterday) after several turns round compound. Then further turns till brew at 4.0. Bridge of an evening and alternating ‘out’ for supper. Time passing pleasantly. Sleeping better, though fleas abound here.
Friday 2nd February 1945. ‘Non-arbeiters’ move out to open compound. Sunny and very warm – sloppy underfoot.
Monday 12th February 1945. My cough continues. Cold weather back again. George in bed today with his. Rain rain rain.
Wednesday 21st February 1945. G. has ‘non-arbeiter’ ticket for the duration. He is on list for repatriation – fingers still troubling him.
Thursday 22nd February 1945. Still good weather – snow going again. Sorry to hear Denys died last night. A long raid today – saw Lockheads by the camp.
Sunday 25th February 1945. Great sight – single-engined fighters swoop over camp! Surely a push has begun on W.F. [Western Front]
Saturday 3rd March 1945. What before next March 3rd? Had a filling replaced by German dentist at camp.
Thursday 8th March 1945. Received a letter from Dai’s sister, Marian yesterday. Couldn’t sleep and made decision I took this
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Application to join Dai at A.K. 3911.
Saturday March 10th 1945. German communique admitting being driven to the East bank of the Rhine at Cologne.
Thursday March 15th 1945. My application not refused – so any day now, when a posting available.
Friday March 16th 1945. New boots (9) – shirt and vest.
Monday March 26th 1945. Went for interview with ‘Arbeiter-Officer’; not there, so left particulars. Interpreter ‘Benny’ doesn’t expect any results – must wait and see.
Good Friday March 30th 1945. Started work in cookhouse – spud fatigues – good eating POW’s dream!
Easter Monday April 2nd 1945. Finished with the drudgery. Troops doing well – hope they head for Munich. Hundreds of POW’s coming in from other camps – threatened to be overrun. Marching mostly. 300 men in each half – 50 odd sleeping on the floor. Camp getting terribly over-crowded.
Saturday April 7th 1945. Arrived AK 3911 – brought on train by a guard. Dai had ‘disappeared’ into the city 2 days before! seems OK here. May work at a brewery.
Sunday April 8th 1945. Good church service. Have met many I knew in Italy. Have enjoyed myself very much so far; living conditions really good. 6-8 to a room – all self-contained – w.c. stove, beds, tables, chairs etc. What a grand change from the crowded camp.
Saturday April 14th 1945. First week’s work not too bad – sack-carrying, tiling, winding a winch etc.
Thursday April 26th 1945. Dai back in again. Sorry he has been so unlucky, or is it for the best? War news so good. A year ago tomorrow since my operation.
Saturday April 28th 1945. No work this morning – too wet. News that war in Bavaria is over. Little excitement till Yanks come.
Sunday April 29th 1945. No planes – only spasmodic artillery, so front not so near as we think . Are troops at Dachau?
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POW on the roof. No noise of war. 8:30pm. Since about 5pm gunfire increasing. Great excitement – tanks appearing. Intermittent sleep in shelter. Moosburg released?
Monday April 30th 1945. Yankee armoured car came to camp at 3.30 pm. SO WE ARE FREE! Wonder what George is doing in Moosburg, and Dai in town. This evening went out and helped a painter to carry back some Austrian cigs. A sing-song and tea – fine. How long till I see home end of May?
Tuesday May 1st 1945. Snow and cold. 2in. During the night. Walked round the rubble heap that was Munich. A few souvenirs found in the already rifled [abbreviation unclear]. All people plundering – Germans as well as foreign workers, Russians, Dachau men, French etc. – after wine especially. Several fights. No news of when we go yet. All cars being driven by POW’s. We come and go freely. Yanks give you anything you want. They are embittered against the Jerries.
Wednesday May 2nd 1945. Living on our parcels still. Intend to go to a farm for some eggs now – will pay with tea.
Thursday May 3rd 1945. May be here 2 weeks yet, while organisation for flying us back is made. Mobile showers arrived this afternoon. We came under Army C rations today – so goodbye to Red Cross parcels. How impatient we all are!
Friday May 4th 1945. Fellows settling down more now, yet anxious to be off. But must have identification and de-lousing certificate. Put some foreign cigs. and tobacco away for Dad to try.
Sunday May 6th 1945. Freed a week. Awaiting planes now.
Monday May 7th 1945. WAR in EUROPE is OVER at 0241 hours, and signed at Rheims. Hope to hear Churchill and the King this evening. Planes have been arriving all day.
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Friday May 11th 1945. Very browned off on V.E. [Victory in Europe] days. Heard rumours that all at Moosburg (my previous camp) are home – do hope so. Soon news of old friends there. Should have been away today, some 2-3 hours ago, but do really expect to go after a most painful wait of 11 days.
Left Munich 1:00 hrs. Arrived Nivelles (by Brussels 3.10 ). Deloused, kitted out and paid £5. Off tomorrow about 7.00am in Douglasses.
Saturday May 12th 1945. After a delightful journey in a Lancaster bomber (12.30-2.15) we landed at Oakley near Oxford. Grand and unbelievable – crossed coast over Beachy Head. Spring blossom on the trees most beautiful. Home tomorrow night?
Monday May 14th 1945. 4.30pm. arrived home!!!
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Observations while copying the Diary. October 1979
1. I have kept to the diary lay-out and language, because I feel it emphasises the monotony of the life so well. Pages of it make tedious reading with the endless repetitions of daily life activities (or, more likely, lack of them.)
2. Notice how we lived on hope of a rescue – the rumours of our troops’ positions meant so much to us.
3. The importance of having a fire.
4. The generosity of the Italians.
5. Surprise at having ‘cascaras’ with me!
6. When sleeping in the open, the misery of sheltering near the rock-face for hours in cramped conditions in inclement weather.
7. The need to be near a water-point, but not too near, in case of searches.
8. Frequent use of Italian words coming naturally from our daily ‘conversations’ with the workpeople. Their spelling mostly suspect.
Applies to complete diary, of course.
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REFUGEES from P.G. 54.
Saturday 11th September 1943
The night before we had heard that Jerry was in control of Rome. Our forces fighting north of Naples. Italians in charge of us ready to flee. This morning they left us to our fate, all except a few officers. We have no pickets so we roam the place at will. Dai & I go through a hole cut in the wire & set off across the valley in search of grapes; it was grand – we could not carry all we came away with. Many of our fellows followed the cowardly Italians & were fleeing into the hills; these we were meeting on the way back. So many were leaving that Padre Wiles addressed us & said we were all right for food for 14 days, not to panic but to await orders & leave if necessary in organised parties. Dai & I have the usual shower & then comes another order – to leave in an organised party for the hills at 5.00pm. Immediately we packed remaining stuff – final split-up of parcel stuff. Dai & I to stick together. Paddy Fenessey put us in Sgt. (Phil) Woodall’s section, but could not stop long with him as it turned out. We at once set out down to the stream & grouped properly there. Very glad to learn soon that with our lot were Padre Wiles, “Cheesie”, Gascott & Iti officer in KD, [Khaki Drill] also “The Black Mamba” (RSM). [Regimental Sergeant Major]
We left the stream at about 6.30pm. after a ‘brew’ & passed through two villages – just turning off the main road 1½ hours before Jerry came along. We hear that he caught some of the stragglers. “The Colonel” was a drag on us – no go in him still, we made him pull himself together.
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We marched on till about 11:00pm along a very rough path; by a dried-up river valley; slept on the side of a hill adjoining mountain slope, in among bushes. Here we discarded slacks (battle-dress) & underclothing – all unnecessary kit – all my books except
Off again at 4:00am; moon down; Dai a real brick plenty of go in him & wonderfully sensible & resourceful; must have been an excellent NCO. [Non-commissioned Officer] No wonder all his men liked & trusted him.
We have with us 2 greatcoats, 1 Iti blanket, 2 small haversacks, 1 kit-bag & 1 tin (Dai’s make), attaché case full of grub:-
3 tins Army biscuits
1 ½ lbs butter
½ lb margarine
1 oz tea
2 oz coffee
Tin of Allenbury’s
½ tin Ovaltine
1 ½ tins Nestles Milk
1 ¼ tins Klim
1 tin egg flakes
1 pkt. Canadial biscuits
¼ lb chocolate
1 tin peasants
½ lb sugar
3 pkts. Health Salts.
Nearly all this was Dai’s!! How grateful I am – can never repay. Stiff climb in the dark this morning.
Sunday 12th September 1943
Halted at about 8:30am; had half a mug of tea & a few biscuits; only sipped water from bottles since everywhere is waterless. Off again at 9:30am. Had not gone far when we were halted in blazing sun on side of mountain – is Jerry in village ahead? Any chance of water? On our right a ravine where same dry river bed lines – is there a pool of water left among the rocks?
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Decision made to split up into groups & fend for selves, for Gascott comes back to tell us that there is no water in the village ahead. Dai decides to go straight down into the ravine & behold, we find a little water (left from thunderstorm of last Saturday week). We brew up 6 times today; tea, Horlicks, coffee etc., Water was soon diminished by hundreds of others finding it. How long will it last? Is Jerry behind us in the last village? There is no water ahead; there will soon be no water here.
We believed & hoped that the English & Americans were fighting Jerry at Tivoli, south of Rome. May they soon come this way & relieve us. We are right for two days’ water supply (desert rations) when this fails us. Perhaps a thunderstorm? Something must save us from being captured again; we are refugees now & hope they (whoever they will be) will see our red patches.
We think we are about 35 miles north-east of Rome at present in the ‘wadi’ & near this almost depleted water supply. I have confidence in Dai – hope he has no bad turn or return of malaria. My left boot is worn to the upper. Dai cut canvas from inside “Colonel’s” haversack & fixed me up with outside protection. Nearly dark now & some “mozzies” – guns heard occasionally; (blasting).
Monday 13th September 1943
Slept well. Breeze blows up the valley during the day & down at night; no dew but cool; harvest moon nearly full; no noise of battle. Up early & filled pots from ‘settled’ water & while preparing ‘brew’ the ‘Colonel’ decides to go & get fruit up the valley among the vineyards that we hear are there. After the brew he sets off with Dai’s towel. Dai & I reconnoitre water situation up the ravine & find a few more small & rapidly diminishing places among the rocks with many fellows camped around. There are about 600 of us in the whole ravine.
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There are rumours of our forces being 50 miles south of Rome & also 17 kilos from it in another direction: (Port of Rome?).
We set back a lot happier & decide to come down the next evening at the same time & bring water-bottles. It was dark soon after we got back & we boiled some potatoes & had a brew, the Colonel had prepared for us; we call it tea, but it’s hardly more than hot water – yet how we enjoy it!
Tuesday 14th September 1943
We slept well again. Got up before the sun was very high – we being in a ravine do not get many hours of direct sun at all. We first of all re-boiled the potatoes & then wrapped them up in a towel & blanket to keep warm while we went to look for water lower down where ‘Rogger’ & ‘Happy’ are. We found Rockham there & he gave us water in our ‘dixy’, two Klim tins & biscuit tin. While Dai saw to the brew of ‘tea’ I opened a tin of Nestles & messed about with the breakfast. It was grand too – boiled spuds in jackets with salt & dry bread – very sweet it tasted. Leaving the Colonel to boil the other spuds (using the same old water), we set off up the ravine where Wilf went yesterday. We ravaged some fig trees, got a few grapes, annoyed an Iti & his wife but ‘Non parlare Italiano’ & off we went. We got a drink off a donkey-man & Dai ‘flogged’ his old shirt for 600 gramms. of pané (about half a big flat one).
While we packed it up the owners went on, leaving a donkey tied to a gate. We decided not to pinch a small barrel, but Dai looked in a sack on the donkey’s back & pulled out of it a new Angola shirt. This was flogged when we got back for as much bread again & a little chunk of ‘formagio’. So we are well off for food for several days – all we want to look sharp about now is the water.
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After filling out pot from a small muddy pool lower down, we settled down in the shade to write these. The time was about 12.00pm midday. Gascott goes into the village every day in civvies for wireless news.
The afternoon was spent lying on our backs on the shady side of the ravine eating apples & grapes. We bought a bucketful of water from one of the ‘upper end’ civvies for 2 pkts of tobacco & let the other three have half of it. Saw a woman with a goodly dish of chips & roast chicken, also a huge round tart affair. She wanted overcoat or trousers or boots – No sirree. Our boots are wearing out fast on this rough river-bed. Our part of the ravine runs from N-S, & after 200 ft. of steep rising turns from N-E & from S-W. The steep sides are beautifully wooded so not much sky is seen but it is a marvellous blue. Large butterflies, wasps & hornets abound. We laid out the figs to dry in the sun & set out at about 4:30pm for the village end again. We took the three bottles & my shirt in case of any luck. Had to wait a bit while last convoy of girls & lads talked before another convoy of water-bearers came; we went up to the bridge for it. Barrels were brought on donkeys in carts; to RC [Roman Catholic] priests were there. Women brought food of all sorts & Dai & I ‘gate-crashed’ as much as possible & brought back enough bread for supper & the next day, potatoes, fruit (peaches & figs etc.), & an onion, also salt which a girl would make us have. Some were cutting bread slices & other women were loading them with fig jam, & giving away small pieces of delicious cheese. We brought back some bread & jam for the Colonel. I got a little olive oil in my mug so we hope to fry a few potatoes in it. Had several sips of wine while there, only some 12 to 15 of us so were lucky. We decided to move lower down nearer the water supply & the very kind villagers.
Wednesday 15th September 1943
The ‘Colonel’ has gone off this morning up the valley.
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The Colonel returned just before us & had done very well indeed with grapes, figs & lovely apples. The latter we sorted carefully & put all we possibly could inside Angola shirt & in kit-bag, for they will keep; we are going to dry figs in the sun too; we eat them before a brew each day since they are very sweet & ‘thirst-making’. After seeing nearly the last of our water-hole drained by the ‘visitors’ we decide to empty the two little ones into the smaller one nearer to us; we did so but mostly mud – we passed it from one to the other over the rocks in a few tins & tin mugs. After camouflaging it well with branches that charcoal burners had cut down some time ago, we decide to let no one else touch it, just the six of us, (three came down to it soon after we did). In case of sudden thunder at night we look for a place of ascent to safety out of the dry bed which would soon become a roaring torrent. We would wish for a storm so that we could hold out much longer. I wondered if the kit we had discarded the night before was still there, so Dai & I decide to go back to the copse ‘on spec’. We soon covered the ground which was rough on our boots; found a lot of our boys down there so expected our kit to be gone – it was! I began to fill my shirt with figs from a nearby tree when I saw some boys carrying water. They gave us a drink. Soon a number of women, young & old, girls with glass bottles, little barrels, watering-cans, & even donkeys with water-barrels appeared. As we approached them a woman came towards us saying “Inglesi, Americano, amico”, etc. We said “Si, si” very officially & she gave us some potatoes & two apples. A girl behind gave us some pieces of bread; Dai had already got two pieces off an Iti who was scrounging around. We had several welcome drinks. Dai asked a girl to bring him the next day a bottle, for he only had the cocoa-tin! The villagers are very kind & helpful, bringing water & food all the time & taking nothing for it. They do not want us to go as far as the road.
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Shall pack up today & move down at daybreak tomorrow. If the people cannot keep up the bread supply they should still manage the water & we are well set for food for the next week or more. No news yesterday except that the English know we are here; Germans are jamming radio stations. Several men are on the move in both directions this morning; ‘wogs’ are going by now & again with donkeys, trying to sell water for tobacco or clothes. This afternoon we lay on our backs in the shade eating fruit; Wilf brought back some lovely white grapes. This evening we went right down to the bridge & had cooked meals brought up & plenty of water. Decided to go down nearer the bridge first thing next morning. Had a talk today with a woodcutter of Monteflavio who gave us bread & water. The village beyond the bridge is called Moriconi.
Thursday 16th September 1943
Up early, & went down to our new position before breakfast. Scouted round a bit but decided on the original spot in a corner of a depleted orchard by the ‘Wadi’. Soon cut down branches for shading us from the sun; meantime the ‘Colonel’ went for water & came back to tell us we should have to move on since the villagers were not allowed to feed us any more – orders, we think, from the Germans who daily send patrols through the village. So we pack up, discarding all fruit that won’t carry & eat figs, apples & grapes all day; had three unripe pomegranates & a few very sweet almonds.
Friday 17th September 1943
Got up at about 4:00am & breakfasted on bread & butter & then set off. It was a rough, hilly climb to Monteflavio & we arrived at about 7:00am. We are now camped in a ‘wadi’ & are six minutes from the village water supply. We shall stay on here as long as possible, water & food being available. Dai’s boots are very bad; a kind old cobbler nailed some gaiters on them for him this morning.
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This whole village is worse than any slums in England for poverty. The ‘Colonel’ fetched some water this afternoon & we washed, shaved & did our socks, so feel a lot better. An old man & woman have promised to bring us some food in the morning! The ‘Colonel’ brought back plenty of potatoes for us & some bread for himself; he in invited out to hear the 3:00pm English news the next day. We fed well & retired early, sleeping on the stubble at the side of the ‘wadi’. Fellows next door tried to move us on by suggesting different things – afraid obviously that we may cut their food supply.
Saturday 18th September 1943
Up early this morning & in the village for water at 8:15am. Saw a beast being cut up in the square – looked like a cow with calf. Back to breakfast of boiled potatoes & ‘coffee’ prepared by ‘Colonel’. Dai & I set off for the wood up the mountain path & saw Padre Wiles & RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major] Mamba coming down to the village. Had a grand view of the wooded mountains; brought back the framework of a thatched goat-hut that had been blown down. Hope winter does not compel us to build a similar shelter. Darned Dai’s socks while he patched up ‘Colonel’s’ shorts. The ‘Colonel’ was a long time away, & we later learned that he had been scoffing a number of prepared meals in different houses. We boiled some potatoes & had coffee. There are rumours of the Gestapo (Carabinieri) & Jerry combining to round us up; there is a scare on in the village since two Carabinieri were seen there in the morning. ‘Colonel’ brought no potatoes back, only bread for himself & water. Dai & I decided to move up to where we had seen a small thatched hut that morning where we had found wood for the fire.
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First of all we dashed into the village to get some “mungaree” before having to clear out for a day or two perhaps. Dai asked for & got some bread – had already obtained a small piece from a ‘segnorita’ going along a path with food on her head while we were awaiting the “Colonel”. Next we passed a small group of people down a back-way – I tackled them warily for a “avare poco pane” etc., & we were invited. in to a small, poverty-stricken house: one table, two chairs, low fire-place, bare floor, & rows of Indian corn-cobs hanging from the ceiling. Two or three women came in with bits of bread while the owner was giving us someone’s supper of fried potatoes, also some to take away. Jolly pleased & in luck once more. Returned to the hut. The “Colonel” kipped inside, Dai & I outside. We tried coats a different way but were still cold – higher up the mountains now of course. Somebody came very late & was apparently disappointed that we had pinched his sleeping quarters. Slept in some straw outside.
Sunday 19th September 1943
Rose as the sun came over the mountains to warm us. Had coffee again & bread & potatoes from last night’s visit, & then set to work to rig up .shelter behind that of the “Colonel’s” – didn’t take long, floor strewn with ferns. Hope to sleep warmer tonight if still here! Will go into village again tonight to scrounge & obtain water if no “Tedeschi” (Germans) there. We set off & soon met three fellows hurrying away from the village. About five Jerries had arrived & the alarm had gone up just as they were going to have a meal. They lived near a water point over the mountain & we decided to go with them & fill our bottles there. Ate a few blackberries but not so tasty as the English variety. Were nearly back with the water when we met two shepherds who said that Jerry was searching for prisoners with rifles. We decided to leave our newly made home at once & head higher up the mountains. Glad to see Wilf (“Colonel”) still there & our kit. He had been scared at the shots & was relieved to see us. We had a small drink of coffee – Wilf had spilt the rest in his anxiety – & were soon off. A rough & steep journey. We slept in a small steep & stony ravine, leading down to one of the fossa in the steep valleys. Removed as many stones as possible but did not sleep much. It was cold & there were creepy things & fleas we had picked up at the last shepherd’s shelter.
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Monday 20th September 1943
Were sleeping not far from a lesser frequented path than usual that these mountains abound in. A horseman ‘woke us’ to tell us not to go into Monteflavio. We had a little breakfast and then looked for a place away from paths and up the side of the mountain nearer water point. Found good place below a rock and among a few trees, facing S.W. Planes and big guns all day in Rome direction – later, heard we had landed at Ostia. Dai made grand covers for both my boots although he was fagged out through lack of sleep. We had no brew so as not to show smoke. Removed stones for bed and though low cloud came up expected rain did not fall and we slept warmly and soundly; used Angola shirt for extra warmth – woke at times with sore hips. No birds, – hare, few lizards, wasps, many ants; a few beautiful flowers, wild mint, thyme, sage and lavender. Can see Tiber river flowing across plain S.W. towards the sea – also visible in evening sun.
Tuesday 21st September 1943
Got up early and went for water before breakfast and hoped to get some bread. Filled up OK from a little trickle into two stone troughs on side of deserted hills. On our way back we clambered up to workmen ploughing the steep stony soil with oxen and primitive wooden ploughs on which they stand to get depth when not rocky. Second attempt brought us luck. Hope we can see same fellow tomorrow and get some more bread. Breakfast consisted of bread and butter and some Horlicks – solid since exposed. The ‘Colonel’ went off, we cleaned ants out of food, had wash and shave and ·I picked * two little flowers to press. Dai to mend his boots today. Hope to enjoy some more potatoes soon. Have decided to eat one Halibut Liver Oil capsule daily. Air noise as yesterday and in same direction.
Dai somewhat fractious – nothing went right with him – no hot brew (for fear of smoke) partly the cause, and no fresh supply of food. Still, he repaired his boot with some more gaiter and was OK before bedtime. Looked like rain again and did start once or twice during the night. Got more stones out of bed and loosened soil so had better night. Was warm, but itched all the time – ants I suppose.
Played a very half-hearted game of crib this afternoon.
Wednesday 22nd September 1943
Got up to fetch water and hoping to see yesterday’s friend on the way back. Determined to tackle anyone we saw en route for food. Did extremely well. One old shepherd on a donkey gave us a piece of white bread also a small piece of mealy bread and two apples. Later on way back Dai had a lot of potatoes given him. I tackled a man on horseback at same time and had promise of some bread tomorrow. Found our friend and he had brought us some beans, bread, potatoes and fruit – really excellent. We hid the earlier acquired stuff on the way up to him. He was ploughing high up on the stony mountain side with his two oxen. We learn that Jerry has left the village. Hope to see this man again in the morning to confirm it and then move back to hut nearer Monteflavio. He has invited us to his house for a meal tomorrow night. What luck! Have had last brew of solid Horlicks (powdered by stones, but it set on contact with water), and are now boiling beans. Wilf has gone off scrounging and to fetch more water. Still the noise of planes and bombs in Rome direction. Am getting used to the bells round the necks of the sheep, goats and oxen, also to the incessant calling and whistling of the shepherd’s boy. The countryside is really beautiful – if only we were not so insecure and the future more clear! There are so many conflicting reports; still fighting at Salermo and Naples we believe.
* See among souvenirs
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Hope soon to drive the enemy from Rome and then we shall be OK. Our boots are so bad. Food and water situation is good. We read a little of The Musical Companion, played some crib, boiled half the beans for hours – very filling. ‘Colonel’ went for water and came back to say he was to meet a workman first thing in the morning. Dai and I decided to hide our kit so that it would be safe when all left in the morning.
Warm breezes, rain keeps off. Ominous noises every now and again – Jerry blasting?
Thursday 23rd September 1943
Best night out yet; no ants disturbing. Off earlier and tracked down all we saw – kilo of bread altogether. Came back to large breakfast of beans, bread and jam, figs and some milky cheesed slices from the ‘Colonel’s’ store. Dai also had two grand slices of bread with potatoes, onions and meat in the middle. This we ate near the water-point. Off to Monteflavio soon. Hid. all our kit; found a * snake’s cast skin. Left early and took the path over the mountain. Had eaten very well and did not feel hungry. Went into the village for water. A girl carrying some in a zinc bath gave us some and told us to follow her up for some food. The first crowd of women who saw us (two feeding babies) beckoned us in and gave us food, unfortunately a cold and unappetising dish of macaroni and then an old, old woman’s fried mealie-meal cakes; they were ghastly and she was so proud of them. They loaded us up with potatoes, apples, cooked beans and bread and we left the village hurriedly before anyone else could get hold of us. We hid the stuff in the ditch where we had first camped and waited by the path for our workman friend. We were relieved to see him for it looked very much like rain. He took us home to his wife and little nephew. They sleep and live in two rooms at the back of a room apparently belonging to another family. Sole furniture consisted of a table and three chairs. The wife was busy sifting meal flour. All baking is done at a communal bake-house. Mealies hung in two rows along the ceiling. The woman put above the stick fire a cauldron of water and busied herself preparing a pan of food on a small ember fire upon the left hand side. We saw a basinful of snail shells on the floor and guessed the worst. Yet when cooked they tasted grand done up with tomatoes and quite a good gravy. In the cauldron we watched her put mealies and beat up a thick mixture. When done, (all the beating kept her head over the fire and made her terribly hot), she plopped it out onto a white board covering the table where it stayed almost solid. After a few minutes she cut it up by skilfully plying some thread. Three more fellows were shown in so instead of four of us there were seven sitting down to supper and yet there was ample. The slices of mealies soaked the gravy up nicely and were very filling. Halfway through the meal six more fellows arrived and the busy woman set to work to give them food as well, grating cheese over the slices of mealies left. We stood to eat our lovely new bread and cheese and they sat down. I felt ashamed that they should have stopped, seeing that there were now thirteen to feed and only two had been expected. We were given bits of bread, solid mealies and white, a piece of cheese, some dried peas and a plate of cheesed mealie slices to take away. The man came out to show us clear of the tricky village whose streets and roads are not more than age-old, filthy hen and pig runs. Went back over the mountain; arrived without mishap and slept very soundly.
* See among souvenirs
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Friday 24th September 1943
Usual rounds this morning after hiding kit. I took two ‘dixies’ as well as the three bottles to the water point. Had little bit of bread given us by the optimistic ‘donkey-man’. Dai went up fields to return plate and to tell ‘Sestilio’ we would bring him some socks and soap tomorrow. Up to now have given him 20 AOI’s and 20 English cigarettes. Good breakfast on bread and butter and the cheese mealie slices and threw the old woman’s beans and bread away after finding they had gone sour – ‘Colonel’ was sorry to lose all that! Had a nap and then Dai set to work to cover boots with tin. Weather glorious again. Now about 1:00pm and no aerial activity or noise today.
Dai worked hard all afternoon – broke off after doing one boot for lunch of few figs and mealie cheese slices. I upset Dai by an unconsidered remark about the unnecessary use of thread, but cleared up alright later.
Saturday 25th September 1943
Have been at large for a fortnight and the 5th Army still battering around Naples. Our boots cannot last long in this country. Thank goodness the rain keeps off. Grand views of plain and hills alternately in mist at different times of the day. Up at daybreak after good warm sleep. Waited at foot of village mountain path no workers arrived, seemed ‘fishy’. I set off to spring and was filling up (two other fellows also there) when I heard Dai tearing down over the stones towards us. He had seen a young civvy running for his life from the direction of the spring, shot in the wrist and too scared to have it bandaged. Dai expected us to be caught and came quickly to give himself up too. We filled up, had a hasty swill and then back. Several shots heard but difficult to tell direction in the hills. Had quick brew and them covered the fire. Decided to lie low. Wonder how many Jerries in village and if workmen will return as usual tomorrow (with bread) and if enemy will fail to find our all-important water-point. Who knows?
Time now about 10.30. May have egg-flakes tonight and celebrate our fourteen days freedom. Played quiet game of crib and then had a nap among the trees. Decided to risk a fire between some trees
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and boil some spuds and have our egg-flakes. Enjoyed a good meal and off to bed. Looked like rain.
Sunday 26th September 1943
Must have begun to rain about 3:30-4:00am. Had to get up and shelter as well as we could by the rock. Deadly time till dawn. Hard job to light fire and a very heavy journey to water-point. Clouds very low at times – right down on the plain and in the valleys. Blanket and day-shirts wet. We kept fairly dry and warm. Decided weather would not clear up today and dry our bed-places so packed once more and moved down to a shepherd’s cabin – others nearer the water-point were already inhabited by our blokes we noticed. Luckily no-one had moved into ‘ours’ yet though later several came on ‘spec’. Three of us kipped down fairly well though unable to stretch out full length. Kept warm on dry grass and bracken inside – no ‘livestock’ troubled us. Shall stay on here if possible till warm weather returns and then back to our safer spot. This is near too many paths.
Monday 27th September 1943
Up early to catch workmen. Cloudy and cold wind but no rain during night. Very lucky to have this cabin. Some men came armed with their huge umbrellas but not Sestilio; obtained a little bread. No Jerries in village though some yarn about their killing the father of the wounded lad, and also telling us to get to next village because Jerry is going to search this place. We are going to trust to our hiding-place if he does and not go on – our boots won’t stand it. Still unable to get any radio news. Where are our boys we wonder? ‘Colonel’ gone to Monteflavio for grub hope he is successful.
While he was gone we boiled and ate some spuds. He returned before having reached the village for· Gerries are there again. Played crib and dried blanket and shirts in wind. Looked like clearing up. Walked to water-point after supper to warm up before going to bed.
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Tuesday 28th September 1943
Rained in the night so stayed in till. quite late; rain spotting heavily through leaking roof. Managed to get a brew going at last. Wet and thoroughly cold day. Dai did a little of music test. A good storm came up after our daily game of crib and thinking it late we hurriedly brewed and battened down for the night. Heavy thunder, but it quickly passed over and the sun came out. An Iti woodcutter woke us (apparently he hoped to spend the night there) and talked to Dai some time, finally giving him two pieces of bread. (By the way, our daily diet is as follows – ‘dixy’ of water about 1 ¾ pts. boiled and level teaspoonful of Nestles; later two level spoonfuls of “Cowbell” added – lucky to be able to it after so long – chunk of bread each with a little butter we still have with us, then an apple or pear if any have been given us, or sloes or blackberries. A similar meal between 5 and 6:00p.m. First thing every morning is to track down everyone we see for bread.) Up we got and Dai and I went for water to get warmed up.
Very uncomfortable night – some wooden stick or pole hurting in whatever position and unable to stretch more than ¾ length and a stone for a pillow.
Wednesday 29th September 1943
Cold and miserable day though not much rain. Removed wood from bed. Dai and I went bread-hunting – the ‘Colonel’ does very well. Dai a little ‘off colour’ after bad night. Game of crib. Early to bed and more comfortable but fleas again.
Thursday 30th September 1943
Woke to see blue sky and it has been a lovely day so far (4:00 pm) I covered the bottom valley but men arrived just after dawn in sixes and sevens so I only got enough for one meal for us. Dai did fairly well and choked Wilf off – storm of rivalry about to break. During breakfast a boy went along the hillside on pony-back. Dai was setting off after him and the ‘Colonel’ went at the same time – words but not blows thank goodness. Dai and I packed up and left him to it – am glad, for he was a drag right from the start and never a pal. All would have been OK had he split his spoils into thirds as we began doing. We returned to our old place beneath the rocks, prepared hide-out for kit, fetched all important
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our big logs – settled down OK – bed wet yet, but kept turning soil with a stick : sun lovely and hot but a few clouds about ; still I have no doubts about it it’s clearing up.
Occasional rumours – “Badoglio says he’ll clear all Jerries out in 5 days and then Americans only 70KM from Rome” but, generally, all goes back to “Still fighting at Naples”.
If only Dai and I had good boots we’d walk the 200 odd KM. SE towards Naples along the side of the Appenines. Hear bombs occasionally, and saw 7 or 8 enemy fighters, crib now.
Later prepared ground for bedding – dry oak leaves and wild thyme – slept well. Woke to see frequent flashes Rome-way and hoped artillery duel had begun – but no – rain came and we had to get up at about 5:00am – nothing much came as we sat huddled under the all-too-meagre shelter of the leaning rock, so we kipped down again till dawn.
Friday 1st October 1943
Up early. I did quite well ‘pané and fruit hunting’ and Dai,
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as usual saw (name eradicated) who badly wanted ‘Tabae’.
Turned out a miserably wet day, so we were glad we got our shave (long overdue) in immediately after breakfast. Kept fire in OK (Hope to do so, day and night, for matches are hard to procure – just and odd one now and again).
Had toast midday to save 1/3 tin of fast disappearing butter.
About 4:00pm rain stopped and we went off through mud to the water-point, taking dixies, + soap to have a wash there.
Saw [ne] talking to ‘Colonel’ near cabin and went across. I return for his tobacco and Dai told [n.e] that Wilf was ‘No Bono’ etc (though [ne] had just given him some more bread – for the three of us!) – so that cleared up ‘Non Domire Cabano Odessa – montagne soo! Etc’
Told Wilf we would be moving down later, just to sleep, as we came back from the water-point.
Saw, at same time, three fellows who had been hanging-on near Moriconi – say had to move out because Jerry was splitting up families
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when he discovered them feeding us!
Turned into a good sunset, so decided to stay put. It was a terrible drag back from water-point, especially with great-coats on – we obviously lack meat and other concentrated foodstuffs. Still – bags of pané, some fruit, hot watery drinks and my capsules should keep us fairly well, even though stamina is getting low – after all it can’t have been very high after a POW existence for the previous 15 months. Made a ‘leafy & thyme’ bed again & had a good night. (We are gradually eliminating the huge fleas picked up in the cabin.)
Saturday 2nd October 1943
Up early and set fire easily going with dry leaves and twigs. Dai hid kit and off we set. (I go down other paths while Dai goes to share all comers with Wilf.) I did very well – several chunks of bread and quite a lot of figs, apples + pears. Several have got used to seeing me and bring me something extra to their own daily rations.
One ‘boss’ of woodcutting gang looks like Robert Taylor and I think he can speak
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French – will try him next time. They told me it was fiesta tomorrow so no ‘laborare’ – but would see me again on Monday.
Had a good morning – a fine breakfast from two slabs of mealy bread that Dai had got.
He made a pané ‘kit-bag’ out of my towel – we must have 4 (about 3 lb in weight) loaves in stock. It is now about 12:30pm (noon) – toast soon, then crib.
Sun gradually cover over till rain set in just after we had got to bed – so up and down to the shelter. Dry – but a very cold wind (we) made coats fit badly since dark and many draughts holes – resulting in giving Dai a chill in stomach.
Sunday 3rd October 1943
Fine, but cloudy at daybreak. We came back at once I was glad to be able to get a fire going without a match. All day sun hidden by low misty cloud – we lived in clouds all day – but decidedly warmer. Dai went to see [ ] and got several pieces of bread.
We eat enormous meals – some bread had got wet, through last night’s rain so we made a ‘burgoo’ of it – hot and very filling.
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Latest news – ‘British and American forces have taken Naples at last (and are at Formia?)? Hurry up – our boots let in mud and Dai’s right boot has a hole through to little toe now.
Went down for water. Had a good night in old position.
Monday 4th October 1943
After a good night’s sleep (though Dai’s stomach troubled him, due, I think, to petrol-toasting apples eaten last thing) up at daybreak and off to our posts. Unfortunately fire did not keep in. What few matches we have are spoilt by damp – heads all coming off. I had so much bread given me that I had to take off my shirt to put it in – this I hid and wore my pullover and great-coat. A half-dozen women and girls came along woodcutting and the promised me ‘Mungaree domani qua’?
Robert Taylor does speak a little French and he may call me tonight on his way back and give me and food he has left. His ‘gang’ gave me great armful – 1 piece with 2 bits of meat
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in it!! Dai was given a piece that had been dipped in olive oil and he also gave me a chicken’s wing got from [ ] this morning! We are to have a good boiling of peas later and are drinking Allenbury’s today – (bought a month ago in camp for 20 cigarettes).
Sun gloriously warm again. Hope to have settled weather till after “relieved”. Dai still not well , so is sleeping – am writing this about 11:30 by ‘fuoco’. I wonder what will have happened before my 28th birthday, and where I shall spend that?
Needless to say Dai is annoyed at ‘spoiling’ today – but one of my ‘cascaras’ should soon put him right.
Kit out in the sun drying – loads of pané but how monotonous bread and water does become after 3 weeks and more of nothing else : still we are grateful that we have had enough to fill us each day and have not gone hungry : a tramp’s life is not too bad when he gets as much as we do for begging. We average as
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much bread each week now as we had issued to us each month in camp.
Dai didn’t feel really well at noon; so after an Allenbury drink he lay down again and I set off for water. On my return he was up and feeling better; and had been breaking up firewood. We cooked the eggs and boiled half the peas, and made a jolly fine evening meal, finishing in the light of a new moon with BUTTER on McCORMICK BISCUIT! ‘Robert’ called me before supper and had a piece of ‘oily’ bread and a bunch of white grapes which Dai and I enjoyed very much. The others in the ‘gang’ gave me bits and pieces left and an elderly man who speaks pretty good English asked me from the other path if I would like some ‘potatis’ – also gave me some matches – altogether, a very good day.
Tuesday 5th October 1943
Slept well – weather more settled though clouds play about among the hills each day just before sundown. Finished the Allenbury’s and had ‘polenta’ – cheese and some very tasty bits of fresh bread (with aniseed) from the ‘usuals’. ‘Robert’ brought another bigger bunch of white grapes : women too possibly bread from Indian corn – or more likely a piece [one line of text is obscured]
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and Dai came down with me.
Shaved and in afternoon to water-point – washed feet and socks. Oh, forgot – one man gave me a little cooked ‘chicken’ – but too small I think, even for a pigeon. All full of the good news of our advance. Are we going to cut across from east coast to Rieti and cut off Rome from the north?
Ate well again and had boiling of spuds.
Wednesday 6th October 1943
A good night – we must go to bed between 6:30pm and 7:00pm. When the sun sets – still we are up before 6:00am of a morning. Enjoyed eating new bits of bread. Have so much pané that we are taking down a shirt-load to 3 or 4 fellows near the water-point.
Soon to make a ‘burgoo’ – boiled bread, sweetened with figs. Water pm and had some sharp green apples given to us. A fine night till about 4:00am [Thursday 7th] when heavy rain set in. Heavy squalls till about 3:00pm. Dai and I crouched uncomfortably by the rocks keeping as much kit dry as possible. The heaviest rains so far. Fire kept in miraculously and we managed
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when rain eased to keep peas simmering. We ate well and to our fill – biscuit ‘burgoo’ for breakfast, then the peas and toast after the rain and bread and butter for supper – the last of the butter – nearly a month, good eh? Some (½ lb?) margarine now, thank goodness. Did a little mushrooming and had a little boiling of the find. Bed at ‘Colonel’s’ though a fine night.
We live in our pullovers now. Do not find time for a game of crib now – too busy scrounging, preparing and eating scoff.
Friday 8th October 1943
Latest news – Jerry repelled our attacks – not what we want to hear. A grand day but drizzle at times – we are living too near the clouds. Went over another hill to see [ ]. His wife working hard with him in the fields women all out helping the men now – rush season on to get sown and ploughed this month. Women clear stones away ( a back-breaking job – like shifting pebbles from a shingle beach, only the stones are larger), or remove briars with picks and break up the ploughed soil. Men sow as the Biblical characters + plough the grain in with slow oxen. [One line of text is obscured]
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Enjoyed another fig and bread ‘burgoo’ – boiled the sliced figs first – much better. Am going to enter all places my ‘Musical Companion’ has been with me, on the fly-sheet.
Cold later. Played crib with great-coats on. Slept well at shelter.
Saturday 9th October 1943
Completed OK one month of ‘outlawry’. Went early to see Sestilio before breakfast – did a little labouring till ‘signora’ came – grand – 5 forks and we sat round the copper boiler she had brought, full of hot ‘polenta formaggio’, ‘pomadora’ and ‘sale?’ – we made an excellent breakfast.
Then down the hillside to ‘la fontana’ – hoped to go pm to Monteflavio, but, about 4:00pm fell torrential rain for 20 minutes. We only just kept fairly dry, for rain dripped through the rocks. Ate some bread, standing, and then down to the ‘cabano’.
Slept OK and hung-on this morning till about 9:30am.
Sunday 10th October 1943
Ate same dry, cold toast in bed. Made an excellent ‘burgoo’ – figs, mealie-meal and bread – for ‘signora’ had given us some
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polenta and ‘formagio’ yesterday. Really excellent, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with out appetites. Both our boots let the mud through badly. Some more fellows near here moving S. today, for ‘news’ says ‘20 – 30 days’ – for we are still at Capua etc’ – still, who knows? I feel certain that two American fighters flew over here this morning.
Looks black again. Into Monteflavio today I wonder? Did a gun (quite near in these hills) go off just after dark last night?
Day kept fine, so went into ‘town’ – it was grand to see the people on a Sunday – pretty dresses in the vivid green fields; men in their Sunday – best playing ‘bowls’ in the roadway, and kiddies nearly playing tin-quoits (with money on the stone jack).
We went in at the bottom of the village and almost immediately a clean, dark woman beckoned us inside – clean, but same poverty-stricken interior. An old man and an older woman were there and they gave us a beautifully cooked meal – clear soup on thinly-cut new bread, and then potatoes, fried, with sage & thyme in olive oil etc.
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2 good glasses of Vino off the old man. We were then showered with beans, bread, + more Vino, ‘polenta farina’, potatoes etc. – Everybody wants to give you something – I was carrying the bread in a shirt (like a sack) & Dai, the rest in his sock and the other shirt, also the dixy. Hope to go in again Giovedi – then to see [ ] (who was surprised we hadn’t called on them, and, since we promised them ‘tutti’ when ‘Inglesi’ and Americans arrive, give us cooked breakfast in the mountain fields daily) the sister [ ] – sure to be some relation and [ ] – also same people who treated us so royally in Sunday.
Monday 11th October 1943
Ate too much! – Fig ‘burgoo’, beans, potatoes + bread. We spend all day boiling up stuff and scoffing it!
Rain threatens, so down to Colonel’s cabin again – cold wind from the north – full moon about now, so hope weather will pick up again. Roasted chestnuts.
Tuesday 12th October 1943
Spelt well – fire out after windy night. ‘My gang’ came unexpectedly and ‘Robert’ waited till I got down. Told
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him we had enough bread and asked for polenta and figs. He said we were encircling Rome and had landed fresh forces at Pescara (Vecuria, Aqiula Heard this morning our camp released by Jerry – no food for 3 days so ‘fend for yourselves?’. Also Jerry in Palombare wearing Iti civvies. Big eats daily now – not much bread – made a cake of polenta and figs this morning, and it is cooling on top of case.
Had polenta, ‘formagio’, + fungi for breakfast near the water-point this morning – terrific weight for her to carry all that way – 6 of us were replete.
Then over hillside for ‘mela’ (apples) promised yesterday by [ ] – round twice before finding him – wonderful day – sky cleared with brisk wind from the N, and good blow over hills – saw R. Tiber, our camp, and Roma, and to the sea, distinctly this morning. St Peter’s stood out well.
Much aircraft today again. Our boots are bad – Dai’s left nearly split across bottom – so canvas covering made again which will protect it for a day or two if it
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Got in a good supply of wood and slept very well – though strong, cold wind and we had to “put” on our KD [Khaki Drill] shirts over our knees.
Wednesday 13th October 1943
Breakfast (as usual now) – ‘chey al fresco’ – polenta, etc. plus olive oil which makes all the difference. Sun lovely and warm. A fellow with gun after hares came by and we talked to him, said we would be going into Monteflavio domain and he said he would give us fruit (perhaps jam!) [ ] by name. Wind dropped at night, and so very warm.
Thursday 14th October 1943
Beans and bread chey Sestilo and heard ‘we’ (army) were still at Capua and unable to cross swollen river with heavy stuff – so easily another month to wait – shall have to try and get some more ‘sabots’.
Gerry in village yesterday in vain search for young Itis for Labor Corps. Hope none in today so we can have a good “tuck in” there. Are not eating much in readiness.
Time seemed long and we set off about 2:00pm. Arrived about 3:30pm and children from village warned us back shouting ‘Tedeschi’ – we guessed they didn’t want us in till later,
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so we went into a cabin being built and waited till about 5:00pm – was quite cold too.
We went to [ ] and had apples, potatoes and a mealy-meal fig cake – 2 glasses of wine and slice of new bread, oil and salt – most excellent – then to 1 of the 6 [ ] and had a grand time – boy of 20 – student of Rome for a commercial future in steps of an Uncle in America was ‘in hiding’ at his father’s there and also a pal – a Sub-Lieutenant in Itis Boy’s Army – latter could speak English and the former, French – so got on well and learnt real position of troops by aid of a good map – near Campobasso (8th Army) and linking up with American 5th trying to cross swollen Volturna and then across the plains to Rome – due west – apparently ready for a major battle – so when? Good meal – spaghetti, beans + bread, meat, Vermouth, plus apples, grapes, beans, potatoes, spaghetti (+ oil, 3 cubes, salt, tomato purée) and slice of fat bacon to take away. To go there again next visit (also to [ ] – Tuesday next. [ ] saw us at 7:00pm and guessed we were coming, after having searched everywhere for us – Mrs S. put on a meal for
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us – rolled “imitation” spaghetti, brown peas (+ new bread) also more ‘Vino Rosso’. A good evening, (though couldn’t locate [ ] afterwards). Moon helped us back (polenta and cheese, too, off Mrs S.).
Unfortunately a raw spoilt night and most of the next day – nothing much only ‘my too much criticism’.
Friday 15th October 1943
Beans, bread and fig ‘burgoo’, cake, bread and marge and toast pm.
Learnt new card game – ‘Cricket’.
Every day now a continual drone of planes – (fighters) over the plain and around Rome. Slept well – all OK again.
Saturday 16th October 1943 – (5 Weeks out!)
Sky clouded during night and it is trying to rain now. Have holes right through both boots – so has Dai. The inevitable beans and bread at the field – Mrs. S washed clothes in troughs (no soap, just beating).
Began raining pm & kept on all night.
Sunday 17th October 1943
In bed till rain stopped late. Had time at old place for ‘burgoo’ and peas and then rain set in, heaviest of all. In the middle we decided to move down to cabin
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for rest of time since weather too bad now. Moved in teeming rain (boots squelching water and mud) to a cabin for 2 – floor wet since roof dripped here & there, but also because it was pouring in from the back – a small trench soon cured that. Spent a cold, miserable, sleepless night – fleas galore, terrific slope on floor etc.
Monday 18th October 1943
Spent whole day settling in new quarters. I never want to feel to miserably wet again as the week-end just passed. Wall built round door-less front etc. Bracken and wood picked and so a sleepless night again. Slope must be rectified – and fleas!
Tuesday 19th October 1943
Caught 20 odd fleas in great-coat seams! Levelled floor – so all of it wet now.
Picked more bracken + returned for old nuggets of wood. [ ] for breakfast. Thunderstorm just about 4:00pm – we much have been in the middle of the clouds. As soon as it cleared we went squelching off to Monteflavio. ‘Tedeschi’ scare, so shot down alley and arrival of motor-van saw [ ] in a ‘new’ house (drunkard who speaks good English) and then [ ] – frightened
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Gerry may come at 7:00pm-8:00pm. Saw some ladies and an old gentleman in the street – some commiseration from them about our boots. Oddly enough they stay now at [ ] – bombed out etc. from Rome (where Gerry requisitions everything).
Had slap-up meal there after leaving [ ] in pouring rain – with his great-coat, jacket and huge umbrella – meal and wine etc. Promise of boots or shoes on Friday when she returns from Rome again with her husband (who is wanted by Gerry I believe, and who speaks English). [ ] came after us there – we to sleep the night – ‘Bono’!
Same lady gave us pair on (Army?) socks each. Fat young lady as last week gave us ‘oil’, ‘salt’; etc. etc. – + ‘poco’ spaghetti – but bacon. What on Friday (if fine etc) we wonder?
Slept well in loft full of mealie-meal tops above [ ] stable. Up and off by 6:00am.
Wednesday 20th October 1943
Sorted out our fruit – dried figs and polenta etc. Breakfast as usual, ‘burgoo’ then bath in stream nearby (much nearer water-point too now). Then, while I was frying chips, I saw batches of 20 – 40 planes go over –
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jolly good. [ ] left pick axes here so will dig a good ditch round hut. It is ‘bono’ here now. Hope the weather holds up good. Boiling meat at the moment – just after some fried meat and chips – we certainly are living and feeling well now.
Cut down two small oak trees.
Thursday 21st October 1943
Up early, and dug a good little trench round cabin. After breakfast fetches a big bundle each of beech wood. Didn’t leave axe at night, so we made another little stone hide-out for rest of our kit, since ‘neighbour’ moving to cabin nearer the ‘town’.
Friday 22nd October 1943
Gloriously sunny day. Had a bill-hook and spent a grand morning felling and cutting up 4 small trees.
Afternoon, shave, bath etc. Evening trip to M. (waited for ‘Lan’ Arleson, to return bill-hook) – they returned about 4:30pm with a sheep! Saw many other prisoners in the village. Did fairly well by begging – polenta, ‘figgi secehi’, ‘fari’, ‘potati’ etc + also some tasty mealie-meal cake(hot) and salt.
People from Rome didn’t arrive till 8:15pm + then only the husband with 1 pair scarpi [shoes].
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white and brown leather low shoes. Back to [ ] for boiled ‘castagne’ (chestnuts) and Vino. Home here about 10:00pm, slept very well.
Saturday 23rd October 1943 – (6 weeks out now)
Shoes fit me well – soles are good. Dai has the bill-hook till we go in again on Tuesday evening.
This morning Dai made himself some wooden oak soles and fastened them over boots with straps. Hope they will be successful. Lou gave us a grand piece of mutton which we boiled and added a few cut up potatoes at end – very tasty.
Not much bread in the village now, but we are well-off for polenta, thank goodness. Shall chop beech sticks up now.
English and Americans still other side of Frosinone!! – ‘Piano Piano, Inglesi!’.
Just after dusk Gerry planes (in one’s & two’s up to about 50) went over. Ours came towards dawn to visit Rome area.
Sunday 24th October 1943
Spent a bad night – up 3 times and once very sick, so we got rid of mutton fat. Spent a lousy day. Dai poorly too. Had bad spell again on going back to bed – everything belonging to him as being abnormally
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big and vice-versa. Soon passed off thank goodness. We took some [aspirins] and feel better today.
Monday 25th October 1943
Weather still grand. Hope to get into village tonight. Trying to persuade cobbler to repair two of our boots by using leather from the other two. Do hope for success.
Iti for ‘Germans’ is ‘Tedeschi’ – so I suppose place where we live is spelled ‘Pelachi’ – no Pellecchia (we are near M. Pellecchia).
Well, a ‘scare on’ in village – deathly quiet – we were not allowed near – Gerry coming that way, taking young civvies, and prisoners & burning down all cabins. Dai and I got in and scrounged a bit after dark – too much ‘plonka’ though.
Tuesday 26th October 1943
Lou and two others did not return – captured we suppose – also [ ]’s bill-hook – bad luck. We went up to the ‘bosco’ for security and I had a look over the top of the hill towards the east. What a sight! Nothing but rolling hills and lofty mountains – barren of all living things it seemed, except for one or two funny little villages cramming
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lower hill-tops. Found a gigantic ‘fungus’ – easily one foot in diameter and standing over that much from the ground. Weather turned bad, so bed early.
Wednesday 27th October 1943
Quiet day spent, boiled the fungus and set off for village – no scare – did pretty well – [ ] took his loss pretty well (worried with toothache though) and had good talk to young air-force lads at [ ]. Felt queer in stomach – both of us on the way back. I spent bad night – sick again. Dai’s ‘plonka’ mush have been soused in mutton fat and not olive oil as I thought. Poor old stomachs – they will take a long time to get back to the old civvy street food in all its varieties. [Space is getting short and Allies at Isernia, so had better write smaller.]
Lucky for Dai an old man at [ ] took 1 boot of mine and is ‘to repair’ it by Saturday using leather from 1 of Dai’s boots. We called him ‘Sausage Face’ rather unkindly.
Thursday 28th October 1943
After bad night I spent a weary day. Whilst getting water about 8:00am a lone German fighter came overhead and machine-gunned the side of our hill – some 5 or 6 civvies (young
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fellows) had just gone up that way and apparently he had seen them – (did they run then?).
We decided to hide all except essential kit which we took with us at once up to our old hiding place below the rock. Since a search of these hills may be made any day now, we intend only to sleep in the cabin and get away here fine days – if wet, we stay put.
What a life – hunted all the time – as much risk from Gerry as if we were in active service – nay also, we risk our lives every time we go into the village for food – twice a week that is. [Later risked it every night for 8 weeks]. Returned just before a heavy thunderstorm – fire a real trial, but managed to cook a little meat and make our last milk-brew.
Friday 29th October 1943
Up early after D. had been up several times in the night with his stomach. We hid kit, and have brought food up here to cook today. Will Gerry search today – or ever? This evening 2 more from ‘grotto’ were captured – went into Monteflavio, so, out of 12 now only 3 left and they move on on Monday – and if so, Dai and I will go to the cave.
Saturday 30th October 1943
Out 7 weeks today. D still bad, so
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starving himself now, as the only cure.
Heard that upwards of 400 ‘Tedeschi’ had searched all day yesterday out from Monteflavio and taken young men working in the fields (500 taken, then entrained for Germany). We wore great-coats and took my pack which contains all our little worldly possessions in case we were captured – but none there, so a good, carefree evening. ‘Signora’ [ ] gave us ‘senna’ for Dai’s stomach, + some coffee (ready made) to take away. Got some bread, figs, beans and a few potatoes and had (from the meat girl) a slice of bread and jam! Grand, also glass of new wine. Cobbler made a good job of my right boot and lent D. a right shoe to wear on his left foot while he repairs that for Monday!
Terribly rough and tiring journey back – thank goodness for the stars.
Sunday 31st October 1943
Rumour that force of 500 – 2000 Germans to search Pellecchia district today or tomorrow, so D & I are hiding-up in old place. D still starving, after eating poor meal last night in M. I hope they (our forces) do come this way soon and get it over with. Both too weary to play cards. My shoes are wearing
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away quickly. I hope we haven’t to face much winter before being relieved. No planes or bombs heard these days.
Monday 1st November 1943
Momentous day for us. The remaining 3 (out of the 12) pushed E over the mountains. We ran over to gain possession and did it only by a few minutes ahead of ‘Ravine People’. We really are most fortunate fir it is ideal for two (3 at the most). The grotto is well hidden, has a water supply just below it, and is dry and airy, for a hole leads away at the back and this enables an indoor fire – never such comfort since leaving England! Above all, this can be burnt during darkness, without giving out any light.
At the moment we let it die down during the day, otherwise the smoke may give us away. Fleas are a trouble however, – about 50 being caught in 3 days here so far. [This written Wednesday]. There is ample room for storing kit and wood – in odd nooks and crannies – in short, ‘just the job!’.
Each day so far we have been log and stick gathering so as to have a good old fire
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of a night (+ also daytime, during wet weather) and a stock for snowy days ahead.
It was hard work all day, but we shifted all across and went to village in the evening. Learnt that Bob Ellis & his mate were captured where two paths (leaving the village) meet.
In the future we are to avoid this junction and hope to find another way across top of mountains.
Fiesta (All Saints).
So no work. Wine had been drunk all day and feast of chestnuts in the evening. D’s boot not finished, so go in again Wednesday, all being well.
Tuesday 2nd November 1943
Settling in and eating a lot more each of us – so soon back to normal, we hope. Time flies when busy ‘house-keeping!’.
Wednesday 3rd November 1943
Up at daybreak again. Fire is excellent. We have not had to use a match on it yet, for it is always hot under the ashes. Usual wood gathering, breaking and stacking etc. and a flea hunt. D. has put a bit of leather across tip of my left shoe heel. Hope to go into village tonight, and
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a bit earlier to find a safer route. So bath now (too cold for a complete strip – just half at a time) just below the grotto in one of the many little stone pools. My word, how good bread, butter AND jam is!
Waited along path till ‘Tedesco Ufficiale’ departed then had a nice meal of rice, meat and chicory at the ‘Jam House’. Toasted cheese, polenta and meal at Fossy’s and then cheese-potato cake at the ‘Brown Bomber’s’.
Boot not done, so call again ‘Sabato’.
Thursday 4th November 1943
Lovely weather still continues. Armies near Frosinone and Formia. Sat outside for meals, after wood-gathering and also cards. Went up for more bracken and had oiled-bread given us. Good fire and roasted chestnuts in the evening.
Again heard our bombing of railway near Monterotonda and Fara Sabrina.
Friday 5th November 1943
Usual catch of 20-30 fleas each day! Saw young, fugitive sailor who came round here – hunting with [ ]. Gave me a comb and a Good Luck Madonna card – his name is Salvatore [ ] says he will come round tomorrow about 2:00pm and bring us
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some ‘Vino forte’. Had a good roaring log in for Bonfire Night – some 7ft long beech trunk!
Saturday 6th November 1943
Eight weeks complete.
Sunny again, but a cool breeze. Shaved etc. ready for the village.
Salvatore didn’t come – learned later he had gone back to Rome. Had about 4 plates of spaghetti, soup etc. at different houses!
Lovely moon to return by.
Mrs S. gave us a home-made (POW) kit-bag that Sessy had found, to release our summer shirts and asked if she could wash them again. Said OK Tuesday.
Sunday 7th November 1943
Up early – could suddenly at dawn. Washed our Angola shirts : snowed at night, after a pouring day. Drips in badly by fire, so have made a few little drainage channels above fire, hoping this will do the trick. Slept up a ‘shelf’ for remainder of the night.
Monday 8th November 1943
Snow! Thank goodness Dai got his second boot back OK Saturday night.
Cold and raw outside, so we are very lucky to have fire in the grotto, albeit we need several cans to catch drips from roof at many places. Ate very well yesterday –
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Brown Bomber gave us a large potato cake.
We toast mealie-meal cakes now.
Very dark in here and fire no good to see by. Good job we can eat beans etc. all day long to keep us occupied!
Tuesday 9th November 1943
Fine for trip to village. Had usual lucky evening and came back with plenty of pané. Mrs S. wants us to send her some woollen clothes (and Mr. wants some choc. too, I think) when we get back.
Wednesday 10th November 1943
Very cold wind continued all day. Gerry about in the mountains again, so we did not have tell-tale fire going till about 3:00pm then couldn’t wait any longer.
A good old warm-up and feed in the evening – chestnuts roasted in an old tin, Brown-Bombers’s soup, Mrs S’s ‘Biltong’ (smoked-dried horse-flesh) and bread and olive-oil.
We live OK now Mrs S. saw oil bottle and gave us some, as well as the ‘Bomber’ and the ‘Jam Girl’ gave us some more. Also touched lucky for 2 pieces of cheese this Tuesday evening when we tried some fresh houses.
Thursday 11th November 1943 (Armistice Day)
Cold wind has dropped, so want to get out in sun for a
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warm – must risk Gerry seeing us to do that. My hair must look nice at the back. It is 9 weeks on Saturday since it was cut. Each morning, after breakfast, we add to our stock of wood. Hope to hear any day now that Frosinone is ours, for ‘we’ are advancing quicker now, I believe.
Friday 12th November 1943
Slight argument about telling each other how to do things, but it passed off. D bad tooth-ache all day. Warm sun pm. Cards as usual outside.
Once more a good evening in M. Mr & Mrs S like us to stay awhile and chat.
Rumour that 5th & 8th Armies have met and closing in on Frosinone. Soup from ‘Brown Bomber’ again. Disposed of ‘Plonka’ (polenta slabs).
Saturday 13th November 1943
Slight frost this morning. Felching good big pieces of wood back each morning. 9 weeks freedom today. Fleas still a pest. D’s tooth not better yet. Lowest Gerry plane seen. A troop carrier came nosing it’s way along the valley just above our heads. Rear gunner could easily have hit us, but luckily he did not see us(?) for we sat absolutely still till cumbrous machine
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had gone – just overhead! Glorious sun.
Sunday 14th November 1943
Began to rain. Heavy thunderstorm at night. Rain continued (with sleet and snow at times) for Monday 15th and Tuesday 16th during which time we lived inside grotto and burnt our reserve wood. Drips all over the place, especially round the fire area – very distressing. ‘Shelf people’ washed out. Fine to go into M.
Wednesday 17th November 1943
Because of rain while in the village we stayed the night in Sessy’s barn. Up in moonlight at 4:00am next morning.
Thursday 18th November 1943
Breakfast then bed: heavy rain and sleet again. Fetched wood. Found ‘Top Story Murder’ on shelf. First 38 pages missing. Will dry book by the fire and shall read it whenever light enough.
Friday 19th November 1943
More wood from shelf. An old handkerchief to be used by whichever of us has a cold. Rain at times, but more sun. Caught record fleas today – 56!! Shall have killed 4000 by the time Monday arrives at the rate → 3 weeks in the grotto.
Moved fireplace into middle of grotto now to avoid drips, and is OK for warming feet; but deadly fumes about our heads while seated.
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Bad weather holding up the advance I suppose. D. very amused at the ‘M. flare! – old women go about roads in the dark with a piece of wood from the fire, swishing it low in front of them to make use of the glowing end to see by. [Seems to be no house sanitation in M. – everyone goes down to the river.]
We are definitely not going into the village till after dark for on Wednesday Gerry Officers picked up more of our fellows (and 50 hens). ‘Shelf people’ who were washed out on Sunday now live in a large cabin (thanks again to Sessy) and they tell us Johnny Siswick, George Revell + Ron are OK in cabin near them. Many see them at village tomorrow evening.
Visit ‘Colonel’s’ cabin and discover that they have gone – so we alone are left at Pellecchia out of a least 35 fellows. It is very quiet here – not a single person, or animal seen for days on end and then perhaps a sheep or goat-herd comes by.
Saturday 20th November 1943
Went to village again. Cadged a kit-bag of pane [bread] and saw George + Johnny outside the ‘Forno’ – local communal [bakery in] the village. Mrs S. out but discover then [1 word missing]
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she feared being searched or something, so back to make a meal of our own – first time we’ve missed a meal (except for the Monday night scare). Began ‘Top Story Murder’ – Anthony Berkeley. Boots repaired OK but ‘tops’ leather used and no studs so soon away.
Sunday 21st November 1943
Washed socks etc. – Dai busy trying to keep leather in his soles from tearing away – using wire staples. He had another bad toothache in the evening.
Monday 22nd November 1943
Sun again and no wind, so risked a bath down in the ‘wadi’. Darn socks and then more book.
Once again discussed ‘Going South’ – but we decided against it since weather is bad and boots no use.
Tuesday 23rd November 1943
More bombing Rome-way last night. Rain again, but risked M. and stayed the night. Investigated cabin in chestnut grove. Kit-bag full of pané again so decided not to come in again till Monday.
Wednesday 24th November 1943
Showery. 3 more off south – got names of villages off them in case we no them one day.
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Thursday 25th November 1943
Rain all night and all day so far – very dark in here.
Friday 26th November 1943
Cleared up and managed to sit outside a bit.
Saturday 27th November 1943
Fine again. Saw 9 fighters of ours in two’s – lot of AA [Anti Aircraft] around here.
Sunday 28th November 1943
Lovely day – warm and sunny.
Monday 29th November 1943
Friend of Lou’s & Ian’s turned up dressed in civvies. They had jumped the train taking them to Germany, some 100km north of here, and had come back to their friends – now gone, unfortunately.
Russia doing very well, and rumour that 7 train loads of Gerry armoured material went north one day. Is Gerry going to clear right out of Italy once we get Frosinone? Ha! Apparently hopeless is go south – no food, and easily caught.
Usual successful night at village though weather bad again – low cloud and drizzle. Stayed night and back in dry weather – Thursday 30th. Dai’s birthday tomorrow – 25. Heard a lot of our bombers go over yesterday – but too much cloud so only saw 9 bombers heading for coast N. of Rome.
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Wednesday 1st December 1943
Two inches of snow and cold wind to greet D’s 25th ‘compleanno’. Menu – double – fig ‘burgoo’, double-fig cake (own make) toast for breakfast. For lunch bread and cheese and bread and oil. For supper a ‘Bombers’ soup and meat and potatoes (savoured with peperoni, salt and garlic). Fruit – 2 pears each. Indulged ourselves in tin of Peek Frean’s + jam (saved up from last tin from ‘Jam Girl’). Played crib and finished off ‘Top Story Murder’.
Thursday 2nd December 1943
A glorious, sunny day. Sat outside by usual rock. Cards again.
Friday 3rd December 1943
Cloudy and showery again – cold. Saw some 40 four-engined bombers go over. Read some Musical Companion – Symphonies [word unclear].
Saturday 4th December 1943
Cloudy day but a good evening in the village. Had lots of luck – 2 pairs of old slacks from Mrs. S. – and invitation for Christmas Eve and Day staying in barn overnight; and a talk of cinema show coming. Drinks off old boot man opposite. Maracca (bill-hook?) lent for indefinite period to Dai by Match’s brother. Big bottle of oil given shop. Two lots of meat and fig [word obscured]
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[ ] again – wine (poor and bitter), apples, potatoes etc. and another old pair of slacks ‘for sleeping in’ (we left these at Mrs S’s). A French-Italian grammar book from ‘Robert’ which I saw at ‘Old Booties’. Macoroni to bring back from Mrs S. – and oil. ‘Bomber’ not seen – for [ ] meeting German Commander from Palombare to go shooting hares next morning in ‘our district’.
Rumours of American (or English) ambassador from the Vatican at Moricone giving people money for helping us. Is it a fraud? George’s note about men luring prisoners to village by such a yarn – Gerry capturing them and agents receiving lire for their trouble! Back the same night.
Sunday 5th December 1943
Up before light – had breakfast and let fire low as dawn came. Back to bed till 12:00pm. Heard no dogs or guns. Chopped a little wood later. Mrs S. wanted us to move to a ‘warm’ cabin nearer the village – but we prefer to stay here.
Monday 6th December 1943
Mild and rainy again. ‘Chilblained’ feet improving. Old trousers not too bad shall wear them next visit [word unclear]. Two [word obscured]
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bottles of ‘poco bono’ from [ ]. Stayed night.
Friday 10th December 1943
Brown Bomber had returned to Rome.
Saturday 11th December 1943
Glorious day. Spent all morning cutting each other’s hair.
Sunday 12th December 1943
Rain again. Sessy called early to warn us to keep in next day for Gerries on a ‘scheme’ – 38 had come on Saturday and taken a lot of flour from the mill.
Monday 13th December 1943
Breakfast about 3:00am and then back to bed. About 1:00pm Mrs S. and Maria came excitedly with a cock & bull story about us going to the village to eat and being flown to Naples : a parachutist had come for us!!
We took all down to village. (I had to return for books – one of which was the Musical Companion, but had it in pack all the time. Had good feast and wine, but fellow had been dropped by ‘chute’ and had brought maps and compasses, telling us it would take 14 days to get through. [This fellow already having done it once]. All this from Sam.
Since our boots are no good we saw no hope in this scheme and were disappointed.
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Apparently POW’s are flown from Naples to Eng – quite a different story. Tony said perhaps get our boots mended – so, if we do (and perhaps if we don’t) we set off SE Boxing Day?
Tuesday 14th December 1943
Came back to grotto for odds and ends and go back to village early and to stay in a cabin nearer village. Glorious day again.
Wednesday 15th December 1943
Sessy brought us to ‘Grand Cabane’ about 6:00am where Lou and Sam had stayed. Lovely sunny day and saw quite a lot of life – women fetching wood, goat herds, cattle drivers etc. Heard about boots being brought to village for us.
Saw ‘Man from Vatican’ at Sessy’s and gave him names for broadcast and ‘we are well’ to parents [Later wrote to say, message was heard and Mum & Dad told] and also note to effect we are without boots and decent clothes etc. This to be given to British Consulate and we were promised a rig-out either Monday or Tuesday next.
American consul gave us 50 lire each – we immediately gave the 100 lire to Mrs S.
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Visited all again – wine each evening and meat and bread. Slept at barn.
Thursday 16th December 1943
We are eagerly awaiting return of man from Rome and yet dare not get excited in case all falls flat. If we get the togs we shall move SE immediately after Christmas.
It is a big relief to know that all at home will know we are OK before Xmas. Sunny and warm again today.
Bruno wants Italian-English book. Nothing much to report these days – everything going on as usual.
Saturday 18th December 1943
Spent day at Johnny’s cabin. We spend grand warm nights in the ‘stalla’ – woken occasionally to hear rats scampering about nearby. Cassino rumoured fallen and in flames – Italians took it?
Sunday 19th December 1943
Glorious sunny day.
Monday 20th December 1943
Terrible day – low cloud and pouring rain. Slept late and made Lydia a rag doll. No boots. Will he come tonight or never?
Tuesday 21st December 1943
(Yesterday being 100th day of Freedom!). Found cabin for George this morning.
Was pleasantly surprised when about 10pm
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the ‘man from Rome’ plus a ‘signora’ and a ‘signor’ arrived. D + I had a pair of shoes each, handkerchief, red socks, pillow + long pants (blue ‘cottney’ stuff – leaving these for Sessy) also cigarettes and another 50 lire each.
Shoes fit well, though are slightly worn. Sessy gave some studs to put in D’s which have good leather soles. Mine are rubber and need no studs – only some stitching. Water comes in, but we feel sure they will see us through OK. Very cold all day. Already plan to go S. immediately after Xmas.
Wednesday 22nd December 1943
Rained all day and so stayed in village. Put down some extra words from ‘Dandy’ and sorted things out. Told George all about it at night.
Thursday 23rd December 1943
Rain again. Gerry reported coming to every house for 4½ lb pork, so we went up to cabin. Borrowed a large scale map from Jacky Troake and got all villages measured up. Read ‘The Seventh Man’ and ‘Round the Horn before the Mast’.
Mrs S. changed our Angola shirts for 2 at the shop, and also dyed them black. Sessy’s army coat for Dai (30 lire). She is to do mine
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tomorrow. Feel confident about the trip if weather favours us. Only danger-point near is main road near Mandera . Later, from Frosinone onwards we shall have to be particularly careful.
Every evening do well here – go to 2 or 3 houses a night. Gina and Beldenie are nice girls and we have fun with the old man who speaks English.
Friday 24th December 1943 (Christmas Eve)
We were at Zio’s last evening when suddenly Sessy burst in with news that 3 cars of Gerries had arrived in the village. He had brought our great-coats and blanket for us to ‘seapare via!’ and promised to bring us food next morning.
We walked carefully along the muddy and drenched paths and alleyways to gain the cabin and nearly stumbled upon a car in the road. We returned and waited in the shadows. Dogs looked continually and we thought Gerry was going from house to house for pork. We waited till it began to rain and then crept stealthily down paths to cross road at shortest point for a ‘fosse’ we know.
We got across safely after having to keep close to wall while man carrying a lantern approached
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– he luckily an Iti.
We made our way quietly and move quickly along the stream and then painfully across sodden fields, some ploughed, others grass-land.
Eventually we circled round safely to cabin.
All the time we could hear dogs barking in the village and saw lanterns bobbing about. I jokingly said, ‘They’ve put 2 Gerries up in our cabin for the night’. Next minute as D. opened door a voice inside spoke – though, thank goodness, in Italian.
In we went and struck a match. There, snuggling among the straw, his head near the fire, was an unshaven tramp. Said he was wet through and had seen us go to the village whereupon he had come to the cabin to dry clothes and sleep. Purported to come from Vienna – seven years a soldier in Italy and now off to Cassino – but, as we saw next morning, was carrying a few tools – so a ‘hoboing’ mechanic? We gave him some bread and off he has just gone.
Lo, and behold – all our stealth in vain! The 3 cars were not Gerry’s.
Had an excellent meal when we came in.
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Mrs S. kept bringing things out and we finished up with apples and nuts.
Afterwards a tour of houses and pubs and finally all to Church at midnight. Dai had drunk too much and nearly went to sleep so we came out and he was sick before we went to bed. Very theatrical the service seemed.
Saturday 25th December 1943 (Christmas Day)
Another good day – warm and sunny and we went with Johnny and Ron to see their new cabin. Afternoon went visiting again; and had fresh clothes – and a tie so felt quite smart – these lent us for 2 days.
1. Christmas Eve all have large fires to warm the children.
2. Children bring smokey wood into house and are given money to take it out again.
3. No meat eaten until Christmas Day and
4. All to go to Church at midnight.
Christmas Eve meal at Rosa’s :- spaghetti ([word unclear] and fish) salad fritters, pancake, watercress, apples, nuts, wine.
Went to children’s Church ‘Service’ on Christmas Day, and saw an unbelievable spectacle.
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Noise like a children’s playground; and the priest yelling and ringing a bell to make himself heard and quieten the mob.
Children, one by one, sang or recited before a huge crèche which we could not see for the crowd. All went to [ ] for evening meal – macaroni, meat on bones, liver in thick oil and gravy, blood, fritters, sausage and rabbit, nuts and wine.
All seemed to go to bed early and no fun at Osteria – so we turned in about 10:00pm.
Sunday 26th December 1943 (Boxing Day)
Cold strong wind. Fiesta again today – but nothing doing till this evening since men working with the animals. Coffee again with sugar (Coffee made by roasting barley).
Last night had an orange between us at Zio’s – and chestnuts again.
Hope we have as much fun again tonight as we did Xmas Eve.
Today hope to see again Autoni’s father who speaks good (the best here) English. We have decided to stay here for his news report were good. Rumour, too of boats approaching Civitavecchia – but will try to hear
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radio ourselves this evening.
[Village characters: The Brown Bomber, Cow Face, Old Haddock, Beansee, The Mad Horseman, Sausage Face, Mrs S., Matches, Managea, Maraea, Bosco Girl, Shop Girl, Jam Girl, Old Blood, Mungee, Mungee’s Daughter, Zio, Mrs Stone, Gingel Girl, ‘You don’t know me’, and Due Mesa – there of course our names from them.]
We were in Zio’s when 2 Gerries came on horseback. We stayed put. Changed after dinner and went visiting.
At 5:30pm went again to Praesepio men only, so quieter. Children dressed up and recited and sang well – with more gusto and self-confidence than any English child.
One had a lamb on his shoulders. Three dressed up as the Magi, etc. P. kindly made us sit near the front – the only seat.
Not much doing after tea at Ugi’s (?potato and flour] macaroni) so bed early.
Monday 27th December 1943
Bitterly cold – fire no good in a cabin, so early to village – tea at [ ] – good, but spoilt by news Gerry expected next day or day after to surround village. Spent night in usual place and up at 5:15am and away once more
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to the grotto.
Tuesday 28th December + Wednesday 29th December 1943
Resumed old life at the grotto – some wood left and not many fleas thank goodness. Lovely weather.
Thursday 30th December 1943
At cabin again after yesterday evening’s grand first meal at Zio’s. Sat outside all day – no wind and glorious sun.
Friday 31st December 1943 (New Year’s Eve)
Cold wind and snow this morning. Up again about 8:00am. Got invite tonight at 6:00pm at Mungee’s. Cold in cabin. More book and Ita vocabulary. Good meal at Mungee’s.
Saturday 1st January 1944 (New Year’s Day)
Stayed in town all day – very cold wind. Had some glorious wine from friend of [ ] and tea there – broccoli fried in lots of oil and some fresh bread and cheese – good sweet figs to take away. “Wind up” on our return – so no drinks with the lads to celebrate New Year. ‘Buon Capitan’. Rather riled, but stubborn, we set off immediately for cabin. Shall sleep there all the time in future.
Another family from Nerola taken to Germany for having prisoners – so not fair on Sessy to stay.
Sunday 2nd January 1944
Slept late – drinks with old shepherd
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and meal at ‘Oggi’s’. Total of 11 glasses of wine – just OK. Hope to get in touch with school teacher on Tuesday. Warmer in cabin last night – big ‘wool’ pants though wind blowing.
Monday 3rd January 1944
Sunny and very warm – path icy, up to 1” thick, but this heat will soon melt it.
As treacherous as English weather in it’s quick changes – more pronounced even, because much hotter – now like a June day.
Have walked out to the Grand Fountain (5 ancient troughs) where women bring their washing in the summer when water is rationed in the village. Difficult path – all loose stones and rough water channels criss-crossing it. Distance some 5 kilos. Grand surprise this evening. We were about to leave Sessy’s at 8:15pm or so when Angelo’s nephew came bursting in for us to go up at once. There we found our 4 [word unclear] and a lady speaking to them in English.
She felt sorry for us at once – the sight of our tattered clothes and my old ‘tennis’ shoes. So before returning we were rigged out in new zip tunic, long trousers,
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socks, hat for sleeping. (mine like a lion’s skin) and a pair of boots each! We felt like dancing! All same size. D. has socks cut for his and I wear 2 pairs of socks and tuck trousers in out of the way of the mud. We wrote down what we needed and a message home and to BL (British Legation) to say we were staying in the district. Also had 50 lire each again from Swiss Legation.
Tuesday 4th January 1944
Stayed night in ‘stalla’ and off early to tell George and Johnny. Spent day there and returned early for hot bath. Hearts beat quickly in seeing a car approaching when we were too near to turn back, but it stopped and allowed us to lose ourselves in the alleyways they call roads and streets here.
Had cigs and matches and a soup and 4 oranges and 2 lemons. Only 4 pairs of boots brought, so we were lucky, and ‘Managea’s’ had no boots but did OK otherwise. Cold and very wintery again today, with more snow.
Wednesday 5th January 1944
Fire in cabin not too warming so are wearing great-coats – mine was finished being dyed etc. yesterday and has not shrunk like D’s.
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Boots have rubber soles – will they be OK on this rough ground? BL advises us not to try to reach Cassino – too dangerous.
Thursday 6th January 1944 (Twelfth Night) Epiphany.
Good day with plenty of wine. Erigo, S, Johnny, Ron, D. and I toured the Osterias and actually paid for litres in turns – good to have some money of our own.
Mrs S. put on a new frock for tea. D & I in an arguing mood, much to their amusement.
Friday 7th and Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th January 1944
Nothing to report. Church on Sunday morning. Heard Russia was 55 kilos inside Poland, and we had 30 or 36 Army Divisions ready in France. Eisenhower had gone to Eng for the invasion.
Plenty of ice about. Fountain overflowed in the square and boys & youths have made some grand slides. Pity our boots too bad to join in. After 2 days my left heel came away and I had that sewed. Now the artificial rubber soles in literally chipping away. D. has lost a piece of cardboard 2 layers up from the bottom rubber when he kicked a stone in the front.
Monday 10th January 1944
Rain and cold so stayed in bed-place
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and read. Mrs S. warned us not to come in [last word cut off right hand side] later since G. in – fetched charcoal again.
Mrs ‘Due Mezza’ has another saw – yesterday saw her working as usual, and the day before carrying 1 cwt sack of flour from the mill on her head. If nowhere to eat tonight we make our own meal if Mrs S. will permit. Cannot eat at hers everyday. We are looking better since living nearer the village and eating more sustaining food.
Tuesday 11th January 1944
Full moon last night. Did we invade France or will it be next full-moon?
Wednesday 12th January 1944
Into the village early to tack D’s boots.
Thursday 13th January 1944
In bed till towards midday when noise of planes got us up. Saw 10 high fighters causing smoke trails and then batches of 4-engine bombers – some 150-200 of them. Second wave came into AA [Anti-Aircraft] near us and one was shot down. Heard later that aerodromes near Rome were the objective.
Friday 14th January 1944
Heard raids in the distance. Went into village and had to circumnavigate back alleys since two G. Officers there – car on roadway near ——. Car moved off just before
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dusk. The days are lengthening in leaps and bounds.
Clocks are put back on the 21st – one month after shortest day (!No) Children take traps for sparrows which are eaten here – also men shoot them I believe.
Saturday 15th January 1944
We are wondering if another search will be made here – since a new Commander (SS man) [Schutzstaffel] at Maricone and he apparently has searched round there again; picking up 20 men in cabins – also another family taken from Montolibretti. Heard news last night – nothing spectacular, and hope to do so at least once a week.
Will write bulletin out for Johnny now. I wonder what sort of ‘festa’ the next two days will turn out to be? Hope to spend all day in village tomorrow – in about 9:30 for haircuts, then church, then wine??
Weather simply glorious now. I do hope Mum and Dad have received at least one of the Vatican messages.
Sunday 16th January 1944
Had a good day. Spent a long time at [ ] waiting for a haircut. Went in pub for bread and meat and in afternoon
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had some wine there. Raw in the evening and nearly left D. next morning, but things were smoothed out. I had been sarcastic about his Iti translations.
Monday 17th January 1944
‘Ouguori’ to all whose birthday it is – S. Anthony’s and S. Autonia’s. We went in early and saw the close of the Blessing of all the animals. The field at the bottom of the village looked like a fair-ground – mules, oxen, sheep, horses in great numbers to receive the blessing of the patron saint – St. Antonio Abate.
Later to Mass where 3 priests officiated with more than usual ceremony – 2 extra from the Convent at Moricone.
Immediately afterwards the ¾ life-size statue of S.Antonio (patron saint of the church and the village – thus making it a Great Festa Day here) was borne throughout the village on a platform on the shoulders of 4 men dressed in white gowns with red-edged collars – one being ‘Beansee’. St. A held a staff and a bell and sitting at his feet was a piglet. Children proceeded first – the boys, then the girls, in twos. Immediately behind
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3 servers carrying a cross. Then St A. and the 30 men who had brought the statue – some carrying prayer-candles. Then the 3 priests and an old man chanting, and finally all the women who cared to, joined in.
Some were ‘saying’ the rosary, others only smiled at all they passed (especially at us, who had never seen anything so funny for ages, and managed to watch the procession pass 4 or 5 times as it wound up and down every road – these specially swept in front of each house for the occasion!)
The rear was brought up by a nun who said the rosary with the women as far as they could hear her and respond.
We waited in [word unclear] for 3 hours for G. + R. but they didn’t come – yet we enjoyed the drinks.
Our midday meal was good – home-made macaroni. Sausage, fat, cheese and sweet wine. Tea at Sessy’s, & then U’s + A’s, and finally back, to sleep soundly till dawn.
Tuesday 18th January 1944
Grand day again. 25 three-engined bombers went over – ours or Germans? Eat at
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U’s tonight. 15 bombers gone over further E followed by AA [Anti Aircraft] so they were ours.
Wednesday 19th January 1944
Grand sight again today – and the 8th Army is supposed to have begun an offensive – 200 bombers (let alone fighter escort) towards Rome, and later 100 towards Rieti. Our circle of [word unclear] acquaintances increasing.
Thursday 20th January 1944
Glorious summer-like day again. Up about 8:30am to sound of planes and AA [Anti Aircraft] and saw 10 fighters wheeling low overhead – guessed, or rather hoped, they were ours, and waved to them – but could recognise no markings, though they came low enough to see us. Will this mean a search by Gerry, or a parachute basket with choc. Boots, etc.?
About 10:30am now and hoping to see another good raid today – usually about midday they begin. In ‘osteria’ on Monday ate a little horse-flesh- same as Mrs. S. gave us; smoked some weeks ago. ‘Old Denni’ came to the pub! – first time in life?
Friday 21st January 1944
Spent sunny day at MonteFalcone – site of the old village on a hill with steep ravines close to present site. Saw no planes. On return heard Signorina from Rome there – so
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went at once and had tea sugar and lemon. – First tea for 4 months – grand! Got 20 cigs each and an old blanket – ‘U.S’.
Saturday 22nd January 1944
Machine-gunning all day – heard munitions going up. AA [Anti Aircraft] behind M. Gennaro silenced – later we believed they moved off. Wireless bad – so believed we had crossed river and somewhere near Minturno.
Sunday 23rd January 1944
To church, and after heard we had landed at Nettuno, Angio? and at least 6 other places. We were sceptical, having been disappointed so many times before by the gullible Iti’s.
Anyhow, this time it turns out to be true – N. + S. of Nettuno. Will they soon be at Rome now? – all [word unsure] there – but Gerry too.
Monday 24th January 1944
Very foggy and cold wind till midday when cleared away before warm sun. Went to village about 2:20pm. Heard that a lot of Gerries moved into Moricone during the night and stopping the day – turning villages out so that they could sleep in their beds. Also armoured cars and tanks parked by the convent! Not safe to move by day. Heard reconnaissance plane after dark, and bombing
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all night. We are about 44km from Rome some 70km from Pellecchia.
Tuesday 25th January 1944
Planes again today. We hope for another landing by Civitavecchia to surround Rome completely. Wireless reception bad, but believe 1st Army has landed.
Lieut-Gen O’ Connor, Gen. Neil & Air-Marshall Boyd got away at the beginning of the landings – came through from Florence. Were these the three who passed through Monteflavio the other Sunday – ‘a captain, a doctor, + Lieutenant’ – going to get a boat at Civitavecchia. ‘Che lo sa’? People not afraid to speak up here – though talk about all being killed before English come.
Wednesday 26th, Thursday 27th & Friday 28th January 1944
Spent in reading ‘Flock of Birds’ by Kathleen Coyle & enjoying the summery weather – but book harrowing in the extreme.
Tuesday night witnessed heavy thunderstorm & hail, then snow, but picked up the next day. Since then has been really hot, with the sun burning one’s face- & this in January!
Planes over everyday – fighters and bombers. Civitavecchia seems always a target. Is another landing coming off there soon? We hope so, for
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this one landing is having a difficult time – some 40km S. of Rome and no place inland taken yet.
SS [Schutzstaffel] Commandant returned Moricone from Litoria and has demanded 30 cows and no payment. People not going to give them? Will Gerry take them and cause trouble here?
Saturday 29th January 1944
Outside again today – sun so warm it makes us sleepy. More books to read. 5th Army having a hard time – Cassino not taken yet, after 6 weeks – how long to take Rome? How much longer for us to evade Gerry + live on these generous people?
Sunday 30th January 1944
Grand day as regards weather and entertainment. Saw RS & 3 Iti officers from MonteLibretti. Singing + wine. We are to make sure of the S. first before taking Rome. Mist came up most beautifully in the sunshine from off the plain like clouds of white smoke. Some of us kidded ourselves it was artificial fog for another landing N. of Rome! Will there be a corridor at the end of Feb?
At loggerheads with D. again.
Monday 31st January 1944
Saw mist rising in morning sun – covering & leaving lower hills alternately & the village too, with Mt. Genara always cut in half – the summit remaining black in contrast to the nebulous vales
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between it & my place of observation.
Dai gone to village – boot repairs perhaps Important announcement: ate 2 lire ice-cream cornet + half a sparrow and 1 in. of sausage after macaroni yesterday! Early on Sat came the Signorina. S. Af’s knew but did not tell us. Since they were the first, they had 4 more coats and some blankets. Yesterday we saw her had 50 lire each – gave 1 to Mrs S. & the other to Mrs A. Also some sugar & a little tea. Will it be a treat without milk? Perhaps with some lemon again.
My left boot breaking badly & the other day I have to have long nails driven into both heels to keep them on.
Tuesday 1st February 1944
Only war news of importance now. Thick fog of last 3 days lifting – planes about again. Have cut line & road at Cistrona and are North of Campoleone – 18 miles from Rome. All night the ceaseless roar of artillery.
Wednesday 2nd February 1944
More cloud but great air activity. Bombs + AA [Anti Aircraft] all day long. Hope Rome is taken soon – before March anyway.
Is new landing part of 5th Army after au? 8th Army advancing along Adriatic coast too. Montgomery [word unclear] allied advance forces eh? May that start soon too.
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Never see any German planes now, thank goodness. Waves of bombers in 24s & 36s coming over all the time.
Thursday 3rd February 1944
Quiet day – no bombs heard or planes seen. Two carabinieri came to village. Rumour of a Gerry search on Friday or Saturday.
Friday 4th February 1944
Just missed running into a Gerry lorry come for carbon. Went back & waited till gone.
Saturday 5th February 1944
Nearly into village again when saw truck on Piazza. Big fuss – Gerries were stealing shoulders + hams from the houses in the square. The R’s had one of each taken. Other people quickly hid theirs. Number of lorry taken and the Commandant at Moricone informed.
Saw Fred Keeney – left for Cassino in Dec. and was in sight of the city + our guns when captured. Back at Fara Sabina camp saw old pals. George Keeble had jumped train 2 or 3 times & yet still captured. Ken Verseuil captured.
When Nettuno landing came the camp was cleared and then was bombed over a bridge – many killed since locked in. Fred escaped through hole blown in & crossed the river & was now making his way back to his old village. Food very bad & no parcels in the camps. Barley water, 1 loaf
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between 4. No cheese. On train had 1 loaf & Iti tin of bully between 5.
Sunday 6th February 1944
Cold dry NE wind continues. Church in the morning and then drinking here & there, had good time but was first time I drank too much and couldn’t remember all that happened. The wine was mixed too much and gave no warning that I had drunk too much. D. too very merry and argued with the priest – ‘Speriamo’ & ½ religion pinched from them. Heard later I smoked a cigarette – don’t remember about that. Am surprised because have drunk more at other times with no effect. 12-15 danger numbers – & huge glasses for wine compared with ours.
Monday 7th February 1944
V. cold wind – saw 36 bombers & stayed in bed a long time. Reading ‘Room 13’ – Edgar Wallace now.
Friday 11th February 1944
3 o’clock on a real English winter’s day. Time has gone its usual way since Monday, with its daily Gerry scares but with additional cold winds and at last snow – rain – snow & fog & a piercing wind veering all round the compass & drifting the snow higher & thicker. First fall 2 days ago was 4” & then frost, followed by a partial thaw & rain, while today sees drifts + a general fall of 6”, fog
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Many escapes from PG 54 while Lockheed’s machine gun & bomb rail & road between MonteRotondo and Fara Sabina.
Gerry Commandant came yesterday – twice – to see if there were any prisoners here. Answers always given in the negative. Many rumours of searches, or a Gerry camp here, or a hospital centre, so have arrange to move to John’s grotto if necessary, but do hope not.
Am ashamed to say we are not ‘camina’ as Russia is always (thank goodness for that) but are ‘fermato’ & even driven back. All hope now for another landing ‘[word unclear] Civitavecchia’ since Gerry has now a formidable army S. of Rome. He can move his transport unhindered in this inclement weather, but on good flying days we hear that the soldiers march down to the front in batches of 10’s & no transport is seen. We hope for big things the first weeks in March.
Saturday 12th February 1944
News not too good last night. Six Gerry Divisions vs two of ours. Gerry making big fuss about prisoners – took away big officer & questioned him for feeding POW’s. Local
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MO [Military Operations] the spy widely believed.
People warned us and brought us food for 3 days. We had to get out of cabin for fear of search and sat out by a wall in the cold wind and snow. After half an hour were fed up and decided to light a fire. While I was lighting it D. looked at village and saw Iti officers come in by car. Out we went again, doused fire & sat same place till they went away. Officer to make search Sunday with boys of the village of 23-24 class. Mrs A. wanted us to go to SA [check town name?] though we preferred to join the boys. Still she promised food on M. or T. & said there was plenty of cabins there.
Sunday 13th February 1944
After a cold, windy night we set off at dawn. Hot on arrival & hard work through the drifted snow, down the winding donkey tracks. All cabins near S.A [St. Angelo’s] full of POW’s or goats & sheep. After a wearisome morning’s scout round we have found one with straw in, though near the path frequented by [word unclear] engineers & Gerry who come to the water-point at S.A [St. Angelo’s] at infrequent intervals. Thus during the day all leave cabins for the woods – this weather!
We wish we had gone down to the boys now, & will very likely do so as soon as we can
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inform our “connections”.
Not much sun gets into this valley so a cold night tonight. Have bits of bread, bacon & figs & bottle of wine (& water).
Tuesday 15th February 1944
We are sitting on a sunny bank at 10:30am. The east wind has made our fingers cold, for the sun has not much power yet. The valley is narrow and deep through which runs a fast stream, the source of which is at S.A’s [St. Angelo’s].
Little gardens containing turnips & cabbages line one side of the this stream, though not in sight here for we are ensconced in among some evergreen bushes. The bank as seen above these bushes is dotted at the foot with hundreds of trees, supporting grape vines. A donkey path crosses from left to right further up. These orchards are arranged into little shapeless fields & some are ploughed & some not yet, & one or two never, so furrows flow in all directions.
One or two cabins are dotted about in the vineyards. Above the donkey path stretch more vineyards & fig trees growing in the small clearings among wooded patches of a severe slope. Other donkey paths go from left to right in a more zig-zag fashion since the slope is stiffer.
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Then the hill goes up almost sheer, with firs dotting the snow till they give way to a pale blue sky. Some planes drone overhead. Across the valley on the right, crowning a hill, is Montonio & sweeping neatly down from the village to the stream are rows & acres of olive trees. Yes, here we are, near St. Angelo’s, the ruins of an ancient monastery, the boundary point where 3 valleys meet of the 3 communes Scandriglia, Montonio & Monteflavio.
After 2 nights in a cabin some ¼ to ½ not from S.A’s [abbreviation unknown] we are awaiting tomorrow some more food and our other shoes, having contacted S.A. this morning. We intend going up near the village today and getting the shoes (for after 6 weeks Dai’s one sole has come completely away, being nothing but paper under the artificial rubber and quite rotten after the snow soaking in) and then go past and stay in grotto with Johnny etc. But S.U. [Salvage Unit] tells us this morning that police are searching M. district today so we have decided to hang on here now for food situation looks better. Jerry searched every house in M. from 8:30am till about 11:00pm last Sat. evening, kicking & beating in all doors – some 200-300 soldiers took part, but no POW’s found, thank goodness, so no family removed or anyone shot.
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We certainly spent a grand couple of months near the village and only missed 1 hot meal by not being able to go in the evening we spent at Pelecchia when a search was expected before Christmas.
We have now got over the shock of being uprooted again (especially coming on top of bad news from near Rome) and of what J. would do in the village; and who know? We may go back yet to the old grotto when they work out that way next month.
This afternoon we will try a trip to S.M’s [check] for food and perhaps sandals or boots and will try to change books with other POW’s if we spot any.
Pinched some cabbage leaves last night & had a little boil up in double Klim can found in cabin. Intend to change to drier cabin for rest of stay here & we hope to keep up these cabbage suppers.
Roll on France landing for we may have to get into Germany before we poor unfortunates get out of here. We have been miserable since last Sat. Can you wonder that we drank as much wine as possible when we had the chance?
When we arrived here on Sunday we noticed the grand smell of wine – saturated with old grapes I suppose.
Thursday 17th February 1944
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Back to the village for a refill, & the other 2 blankets. D. completely fed up yesterday. It is a rotten existence being homeless each day till dark & having to carry all – & it is especially noticeable after the excellent 2 months just ‘peacefully’ spent near M.
This morning we got some more grub from S’s uncle, including some cooked potatoes & vinella. So OK till Sunday for grub.
Montonian ‘griff’ has it that another army (100,000) has landed at Nettuno & another is on the way – a new landing? If correct, another fortnight should see us back in our old places again: speriamo. D’s sole completely away yesterday after 6 weeks wear & so we have had our shoes sent down. Perhaps repaired in M. by cutting up my old originals?
Sunday 20th February 1944 (160 days out!)
We are now 5 strong for on Thursday afternoon who should join us so unexpectedly but John, Ron & George, who had been told that they could not be fed at their old grotto – so very fortunate we didn’t go down to them after all. Our cabin houses us all comfortably so we are a happy band. Two go to most ‘connections’ every morning at S.A’s & the other 3 bring all kit over to bushes.
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Friday night went to make Girata in M. & soon hope the other 3 get food from [word unclear].
Yesterday saw S. & A. & had some tea, flour, soap, beans (brown & white), split peas, lemon extract, sausage, books & pencils.
Ron lost his voice yesterday due to a very bad cold. Wind is cold but sun welcome later on. Hope to get ‘maraea’ today. Saw Il Popolo di Roma for Friday + Jerry claims to have nearly wiped out our bridgehead & that Cassino attacks have failed.
Dai & I had also 266 lire each & so are now trying to arrange for a pair of boots to be repaired for 400 lire. I do hope we succeed.
About midday had my first bath (in the stream here) of the year. Saw S – food from Zio.
Monday 21st February 1944
Sat on sunny bank, but cloudy pm & slight snow as 5 of us play ‘Blacklady’. Saw A. Reports of 800 escaping from old camp when being taken to station because our planes attached the lorries. Also that 100 SS [Schutzstaffel] men sent to search, since previous searches have proved fruitless.
Tuesday 22nd February 1944
Johnny’s 24th birthday. Clouds cleared last night and frost this morning.
Yesterday took my boots to fellow who was pruning his vineyard asked him if he would take them into
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the village for repairs. We flashed 1000 lire to prove we could pay. Today ‘carnavale’ so perhaps no work on them. How we would have enjoyed being in M.[word unclear] today!
Wednesday 23rd February 1944
Snow and rain showers so soon returned to cabin. Good night’s sleep. George very fortunate in having boots repaired ‘gratis in [word unclear]’ – new leather & tips.
Thursday 24th February 1944
This morning I received by boots – look OK with new leather soles (though much patching above this layer) & some 100 studs – cost 500 lire.
Dai sent 150 lire up to him to repair his, using old boots for filling-in leather. So are J. G. & R. – 68 lire. If I can keep the studs replaced the boots will be OK for several months.
Weather fine today but cool breeze & not much sun. G & R got drunk in village & did not bring back much bread. What luck tomorrow night I wonder?
Friday 25th February 1944
Warmer weather, more cloud & wind & looks like rain. Too cold on Mt. Side so sat by stream. Food again from [word unclear]. Johnny got his boots back from same source for 500 lire. So 3 pairs of boots in 3 consecutive days – who knows if Ron’s tomorrow + Dai’s on Sunday. To pay ‘Sausage Face’ another 120 or 130 lire. Hope for good & safe food-quest tonight.
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On Tuesday we met S. who is to bring us some food on Wednesday and then whenever we want it and he’s taken back the bottle to refill with wine (vinella).
In the afternoon we set out from ‘S.M’s’ – a pleasant walk. The visit was worth the 20 min trip – the poplars nearby were glorious – definitely my favourite tree. After seeing the usual quadrangle & cloisters, and learning that only 7 brothers stay there (a poverty-stricken place) we set off back. Stayed in Philip’s alternative cabin. Mice raced up & down beneath our upturned trough pillow.
Yesterday we searched all morning for a cabin on this sunny side, but failed to locate an all-weather one not locked up. Played cards & I erased names from this diary. Asked woman for some soap.
We eat cabbage every day for we got some from a woman on the way back from S.M’s on Tuesday.
Yesterday was very tiring, climbing up & down, especially since we now have to carry about with us all our belongings – one carries pack of food & 1 sack of belongings and a rolled blanket; the other, the water-bottle, another sack (unless that has gone
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after great perseverance & no wasting time we got more than last time.
Sunday 26th February 1944
Turned out cold & wet, after a close – foggy dawn. Ron went into village & the 4th pair of boots came true in 4 days. Will D’s come next or a day’s gap? We saw a paper & Jerry claims nothing more. We have gained Aprilia & Littoria – is an offensive of ours on the way? Rumours that we have Albano – but I don’t believe it. Sleep well & warm at nights.
Sunday 27th February 1944
Sunny & warm again. Hope to see ‘Managea’ today & perhaps the Fascist office (?).
Yesterday was our 6th lunar month out.
Diary ends here for on Friday, March 3rd 1944 we encountered Fascists. Dai and I were taken. George, Ron and John got away and returned home in August. (See Johnny Siswick’s letter to Mum & Dad overleaf)
Did not see Dai for over a year since I was wounded and ‘In Dock’ for nine months and then excused work.
Released by Americans at Munich last day of April 1945
Arrived England May 12th.