After the Italian surrender, three young British POWs (Charlie Paice, Snowy Whitehead and Harold ‘Tommy’ Tomkins) escape from Camp 53, heading for the Allied line. Vowing to keep together, they are helped along their way by many Italians who (at great personal risk for themselves and their families) provide them with shelter, clothing, food and, last, but not least, a lot of wine!
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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Alan Paice sent MS written by Lawrence Whitehead, travelled with Harold Tomkins.
Escaped from PG53 Sforza Costa. 7000 in Camp. Told to remain at Armistice – one man in turmoil cut his throat. Italians tell them to remain but on 15th Guards disappear and 3 walk out. Senior B.O. broadcasts from camp for all to return. Aim for Campobasso. Pass Migliano (Magliano). Change into civvies near Montegiorgio. Scatter as German patrol is seen. LW is ill so stays at farm, the other two in outhouses near Appignano (NE of Ascoli).
Over Tronto. 2nd Oct under bridge of road to Ascoli. Earthquake. Over Vomano. Going towards Penne. Find 5 Yanks parachuted in to help POW to get away from Pescara but decide it sounds too good (which they hear was true). Page 35. Meet the ‘great hurdle’ Pescara Rome road rail and river. Decide to use rail bridge. Go between Chieti and (Grand Maille); in fact Gran Sasso. Pass Fara, cross Sangro, hear many Germans in Archi. Get north of Agnone. A lot of German traffic on road to Agnone. Though splitting up they are spotted by German on bridge but manage to evade.
They risk taking the services of two suspicious guides who lead them and a few others over sheep tracks and finally on 30th October to Canadians and then taken to Campobasso just behind the lines which was their known objective when they set off. (As it was K.K’s [Keith Kilby] who followed much the same route possibly a day or two ahead and who got captured at Agnone, escaped in the night and a week later with Allied vehicles in sight across the Biferno he was captured for 4th time.)
The whole gives good atmosphere of living off the Italians and chancing some sort of ‘bed’ and food would be found each night. Listening to statements and rumours and trying to evaluate each piece of information!
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[Handwritten comment] This is just an aside, but quite a record.
Service and friendship record of Whitehead and Paice; quite interesting.
1937 Met at the RTC [Railway Training Centre] Depot, Bovington Camp. Posted to the 5th RTC Perham Down.
1940 Active service France. Sailed for the Middle East.
1940/1941 Desert Campaigns, “Benghazi Harriers”. Siege of Tobruk. Back to the Cairo area, re-equipped, and another desert trip. Paice captured, Sidi Rezegh tank knocked out, Whitehead captured two weeks later. Paice to Italy via Crete and Greece. I saw Geoffrey Bullet in Benghazi as POW.
1943 We met up again at PG 53 Macerata and escaped together.
1944/1945 Joined the Glider Pilot Regt., posted to different squadrons. Whitehead took part in the Rhine crossing.
After the war, Whitehead to New Zealand and Australia. Paice served on in the G.P.R. and R.T.R., commissioned and retired 1966.
We are still great friends.
[Handwritten comment] Both in our eighties.
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Submitted by, Alan Paice
Compiled from “jottings” by Lawrence (Snowy) Whitehead.
Fellow travellers, Alan (Charlie) Paice, Harold(Tommy) Tomkins
Sgt A Paice 7881617
PG 65 PM 3450
Received September 3rd 1942 PG65
Below: Signatures of our hosts during the week’s stay near Appignano [Signatures illegible]
[Note to the side of the page] – Carried by me during our escape, signatures – Italian hosts.
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The long awaited news of the armistice between Italy and Great Britain was announced over the loud speakers during the evening of the eighth of September 1943. How can one begin to describe the feelings of men who for the past few years have been subjected to enemy propaganda over the apparent reverses in almost all spheres of the war. Also the bombing of their homes; we feel helpless under these conditions.
It can probably best be summed up in the reactions of one poor fellow who after even hearing this good news, was found in a state of despair having attempted to cut his throat.
The real significance of this news is that the Allies have landed in Italy and are making good progress; this is the reason that the Italians have decided to give in. This means that should the chance to escape arise there is a good chance of it meeting with success.
The senior medical officer has taken over the camp; instructions have been issued to the effect that we are to remain calm and await the arrival of our troops. Attempting to escape considered a courts martial offence. This was later proved to be misguided advice, as the camp commandant was hoping to hand us over to the Germans. Also at this time our troops are some
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eight hundred miles away. Discipline in the camp is relaxed; band concerts carried on until midnight; housy- housy, crown and anchor, pitch and toss were in full swing. Brewing up is going on almost continuously, but the Italians are still guarding us.
It is now the twelfth; our patience is becoming exhausted, and the warrant officers have told the medical officer to instruct the camp commandant to release us. We are not to be released so certain elements have decided to force his hand. During the afternoon blankets were draped over the wire, and the wire cut in several places; by evening it was obvious that a big break was to be attempted. At dusk at least two thousand men are gathered in groups around the compound. What optimism; some carry suitcases, some with kit bags, and others with rolls of blankets. Even the Italians worked this one out, and the commandant ordered all to disperse within ten minutes or the sentries would be ordered to open fire. He may well qualified this remark by adding if they can get their guns to work.
To the best of our knowledge no one escaped this night.
Campo Concentromento PG 53 situated approximately five kilometres west of Macerata on the east coast of Italy south of the port of Ancona.
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Approximate number of prisoners 7,000; the following account of our adventures is composed from jottings in my diary. Our journey of some five hundred kilometres through enemy occupied territory took us southwards. We spent some five weeks on the run and finally penetrated the two “front lines”, to obtain our freedom.
From a copy of Lawrence Whitehead’s diary I have attempted to include some aspects of our adventure as seen by me. I am in no way a writer, or typist for that part; the reader must excuse my literary, and typing indiscretions. The credit for the record of this adventure must go to the diarist who kept the diary to say the least under adverse conditions.
Alan (Charlie) Paice
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Introducing Alan (Charlie) Paice, aged 25 5th Bn Royal Tank Regiment, married, and lives near Eastbourne Sussex.
We joined the army together, and up to the time of our capture had never been parted for any length of time. Captured at the tank battle of Sidi Rezeigh 23 November 1941. By an extraordinary stroke of luck arrived at Camp 53 only three weeks before our break. Having come in from a working party on a farm near Foggia, where a useful working knowledge of Italian had been gained.
Harold Tomkins (Tom) aged 23 R.E.M.E., married, lives in Hinckley Leicester. We palled up when he arrived from camp 73, captured Tobruk.
Laurence E Whitehead (that’s me) aged 24, live in Stock Essex, captured 20 miles south of Tobruk 9th December 1941.
We three have decided to stick together in the event of a possible escape.
Wednesday 15th September 1943, during the afternoon at about 1530 hrs, we are playing cards in the compound when someone remarked on the absence of the guards. There is much speculation on this, but the most likely answer is that the Germans are in the area to round up young Italians as well as us.
We hurry to the barrack block and pack up what kit we think is necessary; besides a change of
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underclothing, we each carry a Red Cross food parcel. We wear our battle dress; Tom and Charlie have decided to carry their greatcoats. A final drink of Klim (powdered milk), and Nestles is concocted, spooned a tin jam, bid farewell to our POW pals, and at 1650 hrs dodged through the compound gate, and took to the open road, or rather the open fields.
Quite a number of other prisoners are setting off in small groups, but the majority are staying behind to await events. One fellow soon got into the mood of his new found freedom, and is singing “Face the open road and swing your way to happiness”.
Not possessing maps or compass we are simply heading in a southerly direction with the sun, and the mountains as our guide. Our aim is to keep on a course between twenty and thirty kilometres from the Adriatic coast.
When about a mile from camp we can hear the senior British officer speaking over the camp address system. He orders all men to return to camp, and is calling for volunteers to mount guard. We thumb our noses, and bid farewell to captivity, “and are heading for home”.
The reader may think that this trip was one big Jolly, but this is not meant to be a tale of heroic exploits. We are regular soldiers of the King; our duty is to escape if possible. This is our great moment; we have made the break,
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back on active service, and like all good soldiers making the best of what lays ahead.
Escaping is not an exercise one normally gets much practice at, or training for. Many attempts are abortive for one reason or other, probably because of bad planning, bad luck, or through taking unnecessary risks, or a combination of all. We are to find that luck is to play a large part in all this, and so the basics seem to be, choose the right moment, do not take foolhardy risks, and above all “Stay Free”.
To this end we were successful in that we survived the hazards of moving through enemy occupied territory for several weeks. Ending in the rather hair raising experience of penetrating the two front lines at night, and linking up with our troops near the town of Campobassa.
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We are finding it very heavy going plodding over ploughed fields, negotiating ditches, and hedges not to mention climbing hills. The reader must realise that we have been subjected to a very limited diet, the effects can well be described in that the action of getting up from sitting on the ground has to be undertaken in easy stages. Any failure to observe this rule often results in a blackout, and return to terra firma. Fitness wise Charlie has a start on us, as he has lived quite well on the farm; but that is another tale.
After walking some twelve kilometres twilight overtakes us, and we nervously approach a farmstead, and wonder what the reaction of the folks will be. We have decided on a plan to lay up at night, and take a cross country route during the daylight hours. By this method there should be less likelihood of stumbling into enemy patrols or camps. The success of this plan will depend a lot on the reception we get from the Italians, mainly the peasants on the way.
This night we are to be lucky, being made welcome and provided with a supper. The meal consisting of – bread, meat, coffee, and as we are to learn the ever flowing vino. Charlie’s ability to converse is going to be a great asset, as we have been able to spend a couple of amusing hours in conversation. We are also able to get a picture of the general situation around the area. We retire to bed on a pile of straw in the carthouse
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and we finally go to sleep with the feeling that this is all too good to be true.
Thursday September 16th, and really on our way; progress had been slow yesterday. After a wash and a cup of coffee with our hosts, we give one of the regazze “le regazze”, the girls, a bar of soap and we are on our way again.
We have not travelled very far before being waylaid by an old boy who insists on getting us all but sloshed on vino. He tells us how the Germans raided Macherata, looting, and rounding up all the young Italians; this of course explains the panic at the camp.
Later we learned that all POWs at the camp, and those rounded up in the area were transported to Germany.
There is no need for us to go hungry just now as grapes, peaches, and walnuts are in abundance. On entering the village of Mighlano there appears to be something of a reception committee awaiting us, scores of children led by a young girl, who is now escorting us up scores of steps to what appears to be a monastery.
On entering we are given a glass of wine, and the French girl has produced a quantity of clothes from which we are to select our new habit which is to form our disguise. What a trio we turn out to be. Tommy looks like a mixture of a miner, and an out of work bank clerk. Charlie well
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we cannot place him; he is wearing boots and puttees, a pair of Greek pantaloons cut down to shorts. I am wearing an oversize jacket, check shirt and a trilby hat. They tell me I look like a costermonger. If only the folks at home could see us now; more people have arrived including a blonde who insisted on bestowing a kiss on each of us, and on this high note we continue our journey.
A few kilometres on we arrive at a small stream, a tributary of the river Litti; this will provide us with the opportunity to have a washdown and to wash our socks. A swim would seem to be good idea; being shallow we have a good laugh as Tom comes up with mud all over his face. What is that song ‘Mud mud glorious mud”.
Charlie feels ill and has been sick several times, most probably the cumulative effect of the fresh fruit, and overindulgence in vino. A most encouraging incident as we continue our way; on seeking directions we have actually been taken for Italians, our disguise must be good.
Late afternoon now, our thoughts are on where to spend the night; an old boy assisted by two young girls to load a hay cart has definite possibility. Joining in and completing the load relating a tale of woe we are soon invited back to the farm to stay the night. After introduction to the lady of the house a substantial supper is provided; for a night cap two raw eggs beaten up with sugar is to say the least something new.
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After a chat with the family, it is time for us to retire; our bed tonight is to be a heap of maize in the carthouse. One may think that this is a bit rough, but the choice is this or on the ground under the stars. For the past couple of years it has been hard boards and a blanket.
This morning Charlie feels better; after a wash and shave at the pump, there is an invitation to join the family at breakfast. This proves to be a real mixed bag, fried vegetables, pork, vino and another raw egg in sugar. Well fortified we bid farewell and set off, heading for the village of Montegiorgio; we are told that an English Captain lives there with his wife and family. We enter the place with some trepidation as we have no idea what to expect, breaking our rule using the highway rather than keeping to the fields. Our first encounter is with an armed Carabinieri; there is no retreat; we must just walk on and hope that our disguise passes its second test. We are allowed to pass with no more than an enquiring glance. Finally locating the Brit, he appears as a typical Italian in civilian attire. The advice to us is to get out of the place as soon as possible as German patrols pass through daily. He himself is thinking of leaving the place. After taking a glass of vino with him and his wife, we parted with some of our precious stock
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of English cigarettes, and headed off again to the open fields.
On reflection, how do three soldiers on the run with little knowledge of the language find an English family in a small town come village; “We did”. A stream to be forded; luckily a farmer is about to cross with an oxen and cart; it would seem that the bridge has been mined, or bombed. At practically every farm we come to the ever present vino; it is very difficult to refuse, as they all get most upset. We slowed one old boy down by giving him a chunk of jelly from our Red Cross parcel; he has no teeth and as far we know he is still chewing away trying to work out what it is.
A minor hazard looms up; we have to cross a main road; there is no cover around here so it will have to be a quick look around and across. Across and have made the cover some fifty yards away, looking back only to see a truck load of Germans passing along the road. “Phew” that was a bit close. This is an area where there were two prison camps, PG 59 Servigliano, and camp 70. Passing a farm some young girls of the household have asked us to stay; also at the farm is an Italian soldier; he was sentry at the camp 59 when I was there. It would seem that all the prisoners at camp 59 were set free, but the Germans took over camp 70 complete.
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Our clothes are beginning to show signs of wear; in particular the seat of my pants and one of the daughters is a dressmaker and has offered to repair them. There is much giggling and blushing, ‘on their part”, as I retire behind a pig pen during the repair operation. Not much food here but we are allowed to sleep on a heap of maize husks in the yard. This proved not to be a very comfortable bed and I spent most of the night propped up against a tree.
After a good morning’s progress we have time to take a meal from our own rations; we are of course saving them in case we run into lean times. During our siesta time taken in the shade of a grape vine, some women who have been working in a field nearby invite us back to the farm for a meal. They served us heaps of macaroni, and some very good vino to wash it down. The hospitality is great; we are having to dispose of some of the bread and fruit that they give us. Added to this is the abundance of fresh grapes and peaches just waiting to be picked.
A quiet lane offers some relief from trudging across field, a relief indeed as the terrain is very undulating and makes very heavy going. Taking to the fields again we encountered two Americans working in a field, one is very drunk and they tell a tale of being captured by Germans this morning. The tale goes that the German shook them by hand and gave them a bottle of
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wine. The American pointing to the east said go North and you can’t go wrong. In spite of this piece of valuable advice from our American allies we decide to continue our journey south. This little episode reminds Charlie of the night of his capture. During the interrogation the German officer with shrug of his shoulders said “Well, we have the Italians, and you have the Americans”.
A number of our men wandering around here; we have encountered ex-prisoners from the camps 59, 53 and 70. They assure that if we are caught in civilian clothes we are sure to be shot; very comforting advice indeed. Little do we know that in the next few hours this theory may well be put to the test. Getting dark now we must once again look around for somewhere to spend the night.
Calling at a farm ostensibly for water to drink, but really in the hope that we will be offered shelter for the night. This night our companions are to be the sheep, and oxen, our bed a pile of straw in the stable. This farm is near the road, and our hosts seem to be rather nervous, and not too happy with our presence. Sunday 19th Sep., up with the sheep rather than the lark, emerging from the straw and the stable, rather shattered to see a German armoured car cruising along the road about forty yards away. We decide to play it cool, when all of a sudden all hell is let loose. The family
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are rushing around shouting “via via” and we all know what that means; we grab our kit and head for a copse about four hundred yards away. This is open country and we can see another patrol car coming in our direction; they must see us. We keep going Charlie in the lead, slithering and sliding into the copse; suddenly Charlie has vanished. Tommy and I stop ourselves from following; Charlie is on a ledge some twelve feet below us and beyond him another twenty foot drop; his pack has gone over his head and down to the bottom. Tommy and I are a few yards into the wood lying low in long grass. Our activities have obviously aroused the patrol’s interest as we can hear them moving about; in fact we have just seen the tips of bayonets moving along suggesting rifles slung at the shoulder. Nothing for it now but to keep low and await events; from time to time scuffling is heard which indicates someone’s presence. After some three hours during which time Tommy and I played crib, and Charlie had a sleep, we decide that the time has come to make a move come what may. To our relief the coast is clear, the noises having been made by hens scratching around. Well who was to know; the hens were certainly not the ones carrying the rifles and bayonets. Charlie is hauled up by his water bottle strap, the pack recovered from the bottom
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of this small ravine, and once more on our way. Although we have not covered much ground the day’s tension has exhausted us and the welcome sight of a stream will give us a chance to relax and recover our composure. With tomatoes, and cucumbers growing nearby it will be salad for tea, but first to bathe in a shallow stream. One must remember that we are sleeping rough, and the only garments we remove, if any at all, are our boots so every opportunity has to be taken to attend to our toilet. Running repairs have also to be attended to in the form of washing and darning. Another couple of hours walk, and a likely farm looms up, and we are again made welcome. This turns out to be some welcome too, as they ply us with fried tomatoes, macaroni, cheese, nuts, grapes and peaches. The vino is good too, we are becoming quite the connoisseur on vino, and between us put away a few bottles. Well it is Sunday after all and we might have been drinking German coffee.
Monday morning 20th September, we have ‘the morning after feeling too’; my mouth really is like the bottom of the proverbial bird cage, in spite of sleeping under the stars. Having spent the night in a cart under two huge trees trained in the form of an arch. It was some tight squeeze too, a question of breathing by numbers, and when one turned we all turned.
Our hosts provided us with some breakfast, and
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after the usual niceties back to the task of escaping. Very rugged and undulating area, and we marvel at the way the ploughing is carried out. No mechanisation here; it can only be done using oxen, so steep in places that they are down on their haunches; clods of earth go rolling down the hillside causing minor avalanches.
A snack at a farm at lunch time, and a check on way ahead indicates that we have problems this afternoon in that we have to cross a stream and a major road. A bridge further up stream is believed to be guarded. Not too bad, the stream; it looks to have a hard bottom, and the flow is not too strong. So in we go kit held high, waist high to Tommy and I, chest high to Charlie, we have a laugh about this. A quick skedaddle across the road into some bushes across a field and set down. Luckily the sun is shining and our clothes can dry before moving on. We must press on; a brief stay at a farm for a quick snack and back to the hills and dales. Have made good progress and as dusk approaches, a new venture; not a farm this time but a very nice looking detached house; a welcome is extended; we are to stay here the night. One of the young fellows living here claims to have been a prisoner on the Russian front. In conversation he mentions that the Russians do not take German prisoners. Thank goodness ours is a more civilised war. Bubble and squeak for supper, and justice is
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done to it. The evening sessions take on the usual pattern in the form of a continuous stream of questions – how old are you – are you married – are you brothers? We are all fair in appearance. They cannot fathom out why Tommy and Charlie do not have any children. Where do you live – is everyone blonde in England. What is London like, and did the bombing do much damage – do you drink vino in England – what are your names, and what part are you from. Tommy and I are already becoming familiar with such phrases as – Ha appetito lie (are you hungry), Quanti anni ha lie (how old are you) and Dove andare (where are you going), and the answer to that one is always to Inghilterra. Another essential part of our vocabulary – Vuole lei del vino (would you like some vino). No prizes for knowing the answer to that one.
Luxury indeed, a bed is being made up in the house; we really are in luck. Yes we have had a good night’s sleep for a change; after performing our ablutions breakfast is served. Now for another treat, the farmer takes to the barn to show his pride and joy, a new born calf. An early start, glad of the good night’s rest as the country is really rugged; we never seem to be on level ground. The exercise is certainly improving our stamina as we are feeling very fit. It is surprising that we do not catch cold, as at one time we are all soaked in perspiration, and really steaming,
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and a few minutes later are on the top of a hill being fanned by a cool breeze.
Lunch in a field, and a chat with an old lady who has produced some vino and a goats milk cheese for us to take with us; luxury indeed a real delicacy. Another good day’s progress; not much in the way of habitation around here and an isolated barn will provide the shelter we need for the night. Off to a good start and making good speed until an old fellow is encountered; it turns out that in his youth he spent some time in America. This seems to be not an unusual pattern, as many in their youth went to the States, made a bit of money then returned to their native land again. It is great fun to hear him punctuate his sentences with such expressions as ‘god-damn’ and ‘son-of-a-bitch’ when speaking in Italian. He has a special brew for us, vino bianco with distilled aniseed, quite illegal but what a brew; real fire water. Fortunately for the way ahead is good descending into a valley which for once follows our general direction. Stopping for siesta someone comes up with bright idea of mixing the following concoction, nestles milk- lemon curd – and ovaltine. What a sickly brew; nevertheless we brewed a nice cup of tea, the water boiled in a biscuit tin. Followed by toast, a shave, and washdown, washed our socks and are feeling civilised once again and ready for the road.
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During the day we have encountered several fellows from various camps; their information is that our camp PG 53 was taken over by the Germans during the evening of our departure day. There are many young Italians from the town of Ascoli hiding out here also, here to avoid being rounded up by the Germans and taken away to work in labour gangs. Little consolation for us as we rely on being taken for Italians in any likely confrontation with a German patrol.
We are experiencing our first major setback to progress, as the locals advise us that it is unwise to go on as we are bound to run into either Germans or the carabinieri who are around here in some force. The situation cannot be too bad as we have been invited to stay at a farm nearby. A spot of supper then a vino session outside sitting in a cart, we later use as our bed for the night.
Familiar groans this morning from Tommy and Charlie, “Oh my head” and on the ‘wagon’ from now on . Not a pun, we slept in a cart. What a hope.
We have returned to the stream this morning; in view of the local reports it is time to take stock once again. Company today as a party of women have come down to the stream to do the weekly wash. Very primitive, reminiscent of Arabs in Egypt; a little soap and the articles are bashed on the stone slabs in the stream, the
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running water provides the rinse. They very kindly undertake to wash our towels and shirts, almost like home. I have slept all morning, not feeling too good; Tommy and Charlie have been out on the scrounge, and return with great chunks of bread and pockets full of walnuts. At midday our lunch is shared with the washerwomen; it transpires that they are from the local farms. An invitation to stay at one of the farms is readily accepted; we are made most welcome with a good supper of fried tomatoes, and salad with cold pork. Wish I could join in the banquet but have not felt well all day. Charlie makes up for me; I am sure that he can eat one more potato than a pig. The ‘padrone’ farmer and head of the household is some lad, has a real boozer’s nose and a mischievous twinkle in his eye. A real Antonio and keeps ribbing me for not eating anything. A bed of straw has been prepared for us in the barn with the cattle.
A really bad night for me, have been sick some five times, feeling very low and dehydrated. Antonio has suggested that we should stay at his farm for a while; it is agreed that we must take advantage of his kind invitation. The plan is that we disperse to the valley during the day, and return to the farm at night.
This is a great household, twelve adults and four children, if only we could repay them for their kindness, but the padrone will not
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even let us do any work. Around mid day one lad has come down to take us back up to the farm for a meal. A meal has been prepared, macaroni and meat, fruit and of course vino; not for me this time and some boiled milk is prepared. Back to the valley, and pass the afternoon playing three handed bridge, and solo, before returning to the farm as dusk falls. An interesting interlude as we admire the craftmanship of two men making a barrel; some most peculiar tools are being skillfully used. The family are really doing us proud; it breaks my heart to see the others tucking into rabbit and fried potatoes, and me still on the milk.
These evening sessions are really amusing and interesting; the menfolk all sit at the table, and the women to the side of the room. From this rather second class position they are summoned to attend to the needs of the men, otherwise taking little part in the activities. Charlie’s power to converse increases daily and the conversation becomes most interesting as we are now on the subject of religion. Tommy and I can follow the chatter but our speech is very limited.
Another bad night for me, feeling weak and so remain on the straw in the barn, whilst Tommy and Charlie return to our retreat down in the valley, taking with them two bottles of vino for sustenance. This is a worrying time
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for us, because if anything should happen we could be split up . I could be caught up here at the farm, or the others could run into trouble down in the valley. Our main concern is for the family here should I be found here at the farm. They know this too and the women are very, very frightened but still prepared to take the risks. We, Tommy and Charlie, are down in the valley, and have spent part of the morning helping with the cattle and repairing a fence. Our main success has been in teaching the young lad to eat a peach without making a fearful noise. A welcome sight during the afternoon; Snowy has come to join us which means that he must be feeling much better. Evening clouds gather; will soon be dark and can now return to the farm, for our evening meal which has become the routine now. Before the meal we are joined by the girls who have just returned from confession. “Let us hope that the Father is on our side”. All are required to join in the family prayers. After the prayers Antonio asks Charlie what he was praying for, and he was quick to respond ‘more Vino’, no doubt having seen Antonio topping up his own glass during the session. During the talks we learn that the Italians are being offered 1,500 Lire for every British Soldier handed over to the Germans, notoriety at last; our hosts just laugh it off. For us just one more headache.
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Sunday 26th September, it is raining hard and we are allowed to stay in the farm area; the morning is spent mainly in the cattle sheds entertaining the children. In the afternoon a most interesting visit to the wine cellar. Antonio proudly displays his barrels of vino, with the huge barrels, and the apparatus for the various stages of fermentation; it all mounts up to quite an impressive display. A walk around the farm completed what might be a normal Sunday afternoon in the country at home.
Further down the valley there are a number of English, and American fellows hiding out and decide to pay them a visit. They seem to be enjoying themselves as there are a number of young girls from the local village of Appignano . We consider this to be rather foolhardy as the Germans are known to be in the vicinity. Proof of this is that the young Italians are also hiding out. We are told that the Germans in Ascoli are being harassed by the Italians; thoughts go through our minds: how is the battle going; are our troops advancing, and how long to freedom. Back to more pressing a subject, food, so back to the farmhouse. There is to be a special supper tonight to celebrate ‘The feast of St Mary’, chicken, fried potatoes, and a dish which looks and tastes very much like dandelion, preceded of course by special prayers for the occasion.
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Tommy is not so well this evening, but Charlie is going great guns; these vino sessions are really becoming a test of endurance. Hurrah for me, I have found my appetite, and thirst; can join in once again.
After another night with the cattle; it is back down to the valley for the day; the lad came down around mid-day with food and a bottle of wine; we have slept most of the afternoon and it is now dusk. The cattle have grazed in the valley today, and we help to drive them back to the farm. This is the first time that we have seen animals that look anything like an English cow; the others are oxen that do the farmwork of ploughing etc. As a result they have very little energy left to produce milk. At the present time work on the land is almost at a standstill due to the dry spell which of course has been good for us. Monday has been washday and the women have again washed some of our clothing.
Tuesday 28th September, no milk in the coffee this morning; the calves broke loose and helped themselves; they must have been very quiet about it as they did not disturb us. It has rained heavily during the night, and is still pouring down now; good news for the farmer, but bad for us. At least we are allowed to remain in the barn spending the time playing cards, and a little club swinging with a couple of short hoes. During the afternoon Antonio proudly displayed his farm
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implements, which prove to be quite modern by his neighbours’ standards. Tommy is given some tobacco leaves; Antonio grows it to smoke in his pipe, explaining that the leaves are small due to the dry summer. This evening we are to take the cattle down for watering; much to the delight of the lads, hanging on to a cows tail I am dragged knee deep in the mud.
Wednesday is to be our day, at last being allowed to work; the day is spent cleaning, carrying, bagging and weighing wheat. The act of cleaning is done by throwing the grain into a large sieve suspended from a ladder. The manipulation of which is not so easy as it looks. Recording is done by cutting notches on a stick. In all some 35 Quintets are cleaned and bagged up. Needless to say we are kept well supplied with vino, topped up with some special brew of boiled vino, tasting not unlike a dark sherry. The women are delighted as we have given them a day off work.
Both Tom’s, and my trousers are just about falling apart, and the family have replaced them; this is most generous as clothes like most other things are at a premium. Supper has been well earned this day; among the odd items seen around the house is a very basic form of bed warmer, a cradle arrangement keeps the blankets up allowing hot embers to be placed in a pan inside.
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Another morning’s work has involved helping the farmer fell some dead pear trees; these have been attacked by a beetle the larva of which appears to be between one and three inches long. Two more trees are ready for felling, but will survive the time being as there is no moon. The reason behind this superstition seems rather obscure. This afternoon we are down in the valley to visit the lads hiding out there; their news is that our troops have captured a number of airfields around the area of Foggia. Charlie has some vivid memories of that place, having worked on a farm in that area. Taken to Foggia to have a tooth extracted, ‘no Pain killers’, only to be caught up in an American saturation bombing raid. His first experience of the way bombing has developed; they flew over at about twenty thousand feet, and just opened the doors and let them go. The results, terrifying.
A wash in the stream; it is getting dark and so back to the farm. We all seem to be fit again and as we walk back the prospects of moving on are considered. Back at the farm one of the sons is busy hacking out the centre of a log to make a pig feeding trough. A very basic tool is being used, and it is obvious that task is going to take a long time, but then life is very calm here and there is time for everything.
It has also been baking day today, and in
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a truly rural style a large brick oven is fired with wood, the embers then removed, and the dough placed inside. The result a very pleasing and nostalgic aroma permeates throughout the house. After a full, if not hectic day we hit the ‘straw early’.
Midnight, Antonio and the two sons arrive in a state of panic; a telegram has been received from Ascoli to the effect that the Germans are arriving in Appignano, our local village tonight. We hastily gather our things together, cleared away improvised bed of straw, and prepare to head for the open country. In spite of the danger Antonio has decided that we can spend the rest of the night in a special hide-out already in use. A straw stack has been hollowed out, and hidden there are items of any value from the house and also grain. Not exactly commodious accommodation, but better than being outside under a hedge. Very cramped and uncomfortable and we are pleased to hear the rustling of straw as the entrance is cleared, and very relieved to see Antonio and not the Germans at the entrance.
After stretching our cramped limbs we move into the cellar where the family is gathered; our stay has come to an end, and after a final glass of vino bid our farewells. It must be realised that this family have been taking great risks in harbouring us. The Germans are known to be very ruthless in dealing with people that do not
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comply with their orders. We have heard stories of women being taken at random and shot, just to set an example to the remainder of the people. There is also the fact there is a useful ransom to be gathered on handing over any ex British prisoners of war. They have been wonderful, and after much handshaking, and weeping, not without considerable sadness on our part we bid our farewells.
To clear the village it is necessary to move down the valley using the cover of what wooded areas were available. Then to get back on course up a steep climb to regain the high ground. We are just about exhausted and have stopped for breakfast and a rest. The food of course is a final offering from Antonio, and family. Still quite early, and up until now we have been shrouded in mist, which is now beginning to lift. What a wonderful view we have; over to the west are the mountains of the Appenine range, and as the clouds roll by there are glimpses of Mount Fiuri. Down to our left lies Appignano with church spire dwarfing the remainder of the houses clustered around the church. Away again to the right stand the tree covered Ascention Mountains; to the south are the farmsteads with their orderly rows of olive trees and grape vines; this is our line advance. The curtain has been raised, the sun is up and on our way. To keep clear of the village approaches, it is a must to take an almost direct line negotiating all obstacles as the
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terrain presents them, up and down a number of ravines; the sun is really hot today and sapping our strength. This is one of the problems with our route; there is this range of mountains run down the centre of the country; the rains have carved these large valleys on their way down to the sea, and we are crossing them all the time. Around noon now, and for a break decide to call at a farm to check on the local situation; not only do we get news that the way ahead is clear, but a snack of bread and meat.
Evening; approaching time to slow down and think about resting place for the night; a working party picking grapes are worth a try. Reception rather hostile and need considerable persuasion before inviting us back to the farm, and an invitation to stay the night. Soon the news gets around and folks begin to gather from the surrounding farmsteads. A girl invites us along to a neighbouring house to listen to the English news. This turns out to be a very clandestine affair as listening to the English news is definitely ‘verboten’ by the Germans. We are very excited at the prospects of hearing ‘Blighty News’; disappointment as the English version has finished. Charlie manages to follow the Italian version; it appears that our troops are continuing the advance, and that the price on our head is now Lira 1,800. A dish of macaroni,
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a glass of vino; we listened to some dance music then away to bed in the cart shed.
Saturday October 2nd, and off to a good good start; our route for once follows a stream and we follow its course to pass under the main road to Ascoli. This road is in constant use by the Germans, and extra caution is needed. Then next the railway negotiated, now to tackle the river Tronto; no use looking for a bridge as the chances are that it will be guarded. It does not appear to be too deep, so it is back to the old routine, boots off and slung around the neck, slacks rolled up and kit held high; no need to have bothered to roll our trousers up as the water is up to our waists. Luckily there is not much flow; these road, rail, and river complexes are becoming a problem. On the high ground beyond, a snack is taken during the drying out process. Off we go dry at last, then down comes the rain; so much for the province of Ascoli. The rain has not been too bad, but now as evening approaches it is raining heavily, and getting cold. Shelter tonight by hook or by crook.
Shelter indeed, taken in by a very friendly farmer; relations arrive, and a real session is in progress. I have dropped out early followed by Tom, but Charlie is pressing on only to be outflanked by one of the old boys much to his
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disgust. This old timer has been to America and has a great philosophy on life. He keeps repeating, “a long time ago for two days I work, work made me ill, so I no longer work, me like wine, me like macaroni, me like play cards, but me no like work”. Two others have also been to the States, and to demonstrate their command of the English language keep muttering, Dog-Garn-It, and Son-Of-Bitch. Expecting to retire to the carthouse as usual, delighted are we to be taken to a bedroom with a real bed. Be it the vino or the bed we all slept well.
Sunday 3rd October; still pouring with rain and we are allowed to remain in the room. Passing the time playing rummy, it is after the third hand that the house starts to shake. The whole house is rocking and cracks are appearing in the ceiling and walls; amid falling plaster we soon realize that the area is experiencing an earth tremor. Time to move and move we did for the door only to find that it was jammed; when eventually freed Tom and Charlie got stuck in their haste to get out. Outside there is a terrible commotion, and all are heading for the village church; this provides little sanctuary as part of the roof has fallen in. Fortunately no one has suffered injury, but the wailing and sobbing of the women is very distressing. Earth tremors although commonplace in this part of the world, are new to us and can be a frightening
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experience. Nothing that we can do, and the rain has stopped so off we go.
Keeping to the road for a while which takes us through a small village, our attention drawn to a procession of girls attractively dressed in white. This we are told is a weekly event to speed the coming of the end of the war. In fact for us it certainly speeds up the tempo of the war. An invitation to take a glass of vino at a house, finds us sitting outside and are soon surrounded by the locals, including these charming young ladies. The dreaded sound of a motor cycle, a German motor cycle and side car with the familiar sight of the passenger clutching his machine gun. We hold our breath and sit tight, ‘no choice in fact’. The patrol passes on its way; they must be dedicated men to pass such a bevy of beauty. Needless to say that calls for another quick one, and our departure from the road. In fact as we turn off the road it calls for a quick dive through a hedge as yet another patrol is coming our way. Could be the same one returning; maybe they are not so dedicated after all. It has been tough going all day, but we have pressed on and made good progress. Sheltered in a barn for the night and it is now Monday 4th.
Great excitement this morning; it is about nine o’clock; overhead are some twelve familiar looking aircraft, now peeling off diving on to
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a target some two miles to our front . The sound of machine gunning and bombing is music to our ears as we are sure that the planes are ours. A check with the locals; the most likely target to be a bridge on the Teramo to Pescara road. This road runs east to the coast, and we are about nine kilometres from the town of Teramo, where there are believed to be some 5,000 Germans stationed. After a snack at a farm, we now have to cross a main road . Meeting up with an Irish fellow from camp 53, Charlie knows him, we take him along with us to negotiate our next obstacle. Luck is with us in finding an almost dried up tunnel, normally taking a stream, allows us to pass under the road and the railway. Not before taking cover as a German ambulance passes along the road. Fortunately the road and the railway swing away from the river and we can cross it via a small bridge. The locals tell us that the air attack was on a train and that some nine Italians have been killed. We are sorry about this as the only Italians we have met of late have most friendly and helpful.
Climbing out of this valley we reach a point commanding a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside. Away to the east down the valley we can actually see the sea ‘Mare Adriatico’ some twenty kilometres away. There are German car passing along the road below us, our planes flying overhead; this really calls for a noggin
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in celebration when we can find a suitable vintage vino.
Bid our Paddy pal farewell and set off down the valley that fortunately winds its way southwards on our course. The going is much better and manage some three hours of walking before resting. Tea time calls for a brew of tea to wash down, toast, tomatoes, and bramble jelly. Still ekeing out our precious Red Cross parcel reserves. Although by no means downhearted with our progress, the sight of our planes, and the general military activities stimulates hope that a ground push is in the offing, and we may not have much more ground to cover.
Another road and railway complex to be negotiated but no real problem as there is plenty of cover around. Calling at a farm house as usual ostensibly checking on our position, but really seeking food and shelter, we are soon invited to stay the night. No vino here, and Charlie takes his belt in a couple of notches. Not a very comfortable night as our straw bed is only a few feet from the oxen, one of which is a bull. What with swishing tails, grunting pigs, the rats scratching and squeaking, ‘Old MacDonalds Farm’ must have been peaceful by this standard. However, after a breakfast of fried tomatoes, soon on our way and ready to tackle the rather watery problem of crossing the river Vomano. It seems to be running quite
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fast but it must be forded here where trees and hedges will provide the cover we require. One must realise that these situations need some careful thought and consideration. Being three a majority decision is taken, as quite often we are not unanimous in coming to our conclusion. On this one Tom and I are in agreement to make the crossing here; Charlie is not too keen, most likely logical reason being that it looks (is) rather deep and, he stands at five feet four, at a definite disadvantage. So be it, boots off in we go with kit held high; must work out as to why we take our boots off because they always seem to get full of water anyway. It has been touch and go but we have made it, quickly up the bank and behind a hedge to empty the water from our pockets etc. Good progress until around midday; a young fellow has invited us up to his house where we lunch on bread, meat and wine.
Two hours later and some distance on we are eating macaroni in another house. No decanted vino here but are taken to the cellar where huge barrels of fermenting vino make the whole atmosphere very heady. The vino is sampled through long hollow canes; we sample, but are not keen on the taste at this stage. On our way again and cover some seventeen kilometres along the road to Penne, before turning off to seek some shelter for the night.
Lucky at the first farm, what a family they turn out be; there are among others nine children
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under the age of ten; a very happy household and adults agree to celebrate with us the sighting of the British fighter planes. Very amusing to hear us all chanting “Una Apperechi, Due Apperechi etc” after each glass of vino, small glasses needless to say.
Away to a good start this morning, 6th Oct.; no breakfast but shortly after crossing a small river, chatting to an old boy who finally got to the question we had been waiting for ‘avere fame’; the answer is yes, we are always hungry. The fried eggs and tomatoes went down very well. On the road at the moment leading to the town of Penne some twenty kilometres away; very tempting as the going is easy, but we must adhere to our escape plan, and take to the country. This has its rewards as a nice little creek provides cover and facilities for a wash and rest. The socks are washed, and while Tom and Charlie raid a nearby tomato patch I can set to work and get a brew going.
Resting while the socks dry, then off again; as the sun begins to sink; our position is due west of Penne; we must give that place a ‘wide berth’ as the Germans are known to be there in force. The locals tell us that there is, or was an officers’ POW camp there; looks an interesting place situated quite high up, should provide some grand views.
Once again the problem is shelter for the night;
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although most days are quite warm the night can be very cold, a bit like the Western Desert.
A casual ‘buono sera signor’ and we are soon in conversation with an old boy carrying out some very primitive threshing, using just a forked stick. A night’s shelter in his barn is secured. Very welcome shelter indeed, as it has rained in the night and is still raining now. Ah well as the saying goes every cloud etc; an invitation to breakfast of fried ‘pepperoni’ red peppers.
We are keen to get away from this place as it seems to be a bit of a mad house. No men around and the women rush around and even Charlie cannot understand what they are muttering about. A young girl keeps coming up to me and just stares as if in a trance; the cats rush about as if puggled, and when a dog came in it was belted with a frying pan. A very ‘misteriosa’ household indeed; rain or thunder we are glad to be on our way again.
Very heavy going indeed; the soil turns to mud very quickly; not much progress today as much time is spent sheltering at farms. In most instances food and or vino is offered, and we also take the opportunity of assessing the local situation. It would seem that many people are on the move; the Germans are raiding Penne and the surrounding farms, for food and anything else to support their war effort. Bad of course
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for the Italians, but indicates that the German lines of supply are not too good, but then they are experts at this type of warfare.
The next episode in our adventure had to be recalled from memory after reaching our lines just in case we should be captured and the diary fall into enemy hands.
Talking to a farm labourer he tells us that in a house nearby five American Parachutists are laying up. At first we declined to believe this as much of this sort of ‘gen’ has proved a figment of the locals’ imagination. He sounded so emphatic about it that we decided to investigate. Setting off towards the house we are some five hundred yards away and can see two men in uniform coming towards us on the same track. Too late now to change our minds; are they the Americans or have we walked into a trap. Soon we are assured as the men call out ‘are you British’ in unmistakable American. Yes they must be Yanks; we almost shake each others hands off, and ‘Do these Lucky Strike taste good’. Walking back to the house and bombarding them with questions, ‘How is the war going’ ‘When will the Allies reach this area’. Back at the house are two more Americans; the whole place looks a virtual armoury, tommy-guns, automatic pistols and knives all over the place. With this lot they must have come by glider. It would
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seem that they have been flown in to help the many escaped prisoners to take a short cut to freedom.
We are given three hundred Lire and an out line plan of the rescue. A boat is putting in to Pescara (a local port) on the nights of the 4th- 6th- 8th- and 10th of this month between midnight and one am. Escapees are to collect on the beach, and at a pre-arranged signal go aboard. The information and instructions are very vague and will need very careful consideration. We know for a fact that Pescara is teeming with Germans. Other information is that there is a food and cognac dump some ten kilometres away; this sounds much more interesting, so on leaving the Americans set off in that direction.
The day has gone very quickly and it is already time to seek shelter; soon our feet are under another table and enjoying a supper of macaroni. After considerable deliberation it is decided not to go to Pescara; having come so far on our own initiative we felt sure that we can succeed.
On return to freedom we learned that the boat venture was a complete failure; the Germans were prepared; men were fired on and many injured.
Friday 8th October, after supper we slept well in the fowl house, up early before the cock
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crowed, or had any other bright ideas then on our way; our progress soon interrupted by an old boy with a welcome invitation to breakfast on fried peppers and eggs. A great character he also has been to the States; he implores us to stay, but duty calls. We have enjoyed the pleasure of being waited on by his daughter; in spite of all this luxury we accept an excellent glass of wine, a loaf of bread, and away.
Tommy not feeling too well, and we have to lay up for while; eventually the area of the food cache looms up. After extensive enquiries at various farms we seem to be out of luck, so it is back to vino, and the basics.
Made good progress today; it is now nearly dark, and we shall have to take the first thing that comes in the way of shelter; a very run down farmstead provides bread and olive oil, plus shelter in the cartshed. Being near the river the mosquitoes are rather a pest.
Saturday 9th October, no breakfast around and so after helping ourselves to some figs set out to dry in the sun, on our way. Passing a cottage we are hailed and offered coffee, these folks have taken us for countrymen. Suddenly the girls rush from the room. When they returned and Charlie had convinced them we are English they explained their sudden disappearance. They had become suspicious, and thinking that we
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might be Germans had gone to hide their rings, and other valuables. Moving on it is necessary to pass within half a mile of a German occupied village. Suddenly the sound of a motor cycle and over the hedge we go; relax it turns out to be an Italian. Ahead now is a major road, railway, river complex running across our route, the river running north east and into the sea at Pescara from which the town gets its name. We must contact as many people as possible to gather all the information we can. The Pescara dam is about a kilometere downstream and is sure to be heavily guarded.
At a farm another of the American stay adventurer keeps us in fits with some of his outbursts. While we tuck in to his vino and water melon he quips, “When the English come a here, I’me gonna tell the boss to getta broom and sweep out all the tedesci and kill every one of the dog garn son-of-a-bitches”, “Yes by Jesus Christ”. In another outburst of American-English, “My old woman all time wants to know what the English look like, now she see you, she like you very much yes by Jesus Christ”.
This is quite a busy farm; the women are busy baking bread, and the men treading grapes in the making of vino. Grapes are tipped into a sloping trough affair, where the men tramp
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around in their bare feet; the juice is drawn off in a bucket. The skins are then placed in a press where the remaining juice is extracted; what is then left of the skins is used as manure. This particular procedure produces vino bianco. Supper on macaroni and grape juice, a bed of straw in the cart house completes our day.
Sunday 10 October, we breakfast on raw eggs and peppers; an attempt at tea making results in just about a catastrophe. A two oz packet provided by us is used to make three cups of tea, no milk but lashings of sugar. One girl tastes it and says it tastes like tobacco, is walking around the room muttering ‘tabac tabac’. The old boy is pleased as Charlie explains to him that he can dry the leaves and smoke them; lets hope we are well away when he tries it out.
We have enjoyed the stay here but mixed with pleasure, we gathered valuable information on how to circumvent the hazards ahead. The road crosses the river lower down in open country affording no cover should a German patrol appear. The river is flowing much too fast to attempt to swim it; there is a metal railway bridge over the river; this has got to be our only way across.
After the usual council of war, plans concerning scatter routes, rendezvous should we become separated, and order of march. Charlie
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is to lead followed by Tommy with me bringing up the rear. While awaiting my turn, chatted with some fellows from Camp 59; they are going to stay this side and not take the risk.
First across a minor road, then on to the railway bridge; we hope that the information on train timings has been correct. No mean problem creeping along the iron structure in Army boots; all over, now to cross the main Rome to Pescara road. To effect this operation we have been able to recruit the aid of an elderly woman and two children to act as scouts, as well as advising us on the best place to cross. Now about twenty yards from the road and at the foot of the bank leading up to it. Suddenly a call from our lookout and we freeze under the lee of the bank; we are virtually in the open as three lorry loads of troops come down the road towards us . This could be it, has our luck run out, do they not see us or just not interested. Whatever the answer we’re very relieved to see the lorries vanish around a bend in the road. The all clear given again, its up and across making for the high ground beyond before pausing breathless, only to see more lorries passing along the road below.
Pressing on and as evening approaches it starts to rain, sheltering in some farm buildings, a welcome invitation to stay the night. This family is also making vino, and we join in to help. Tom and Charlie are helping with the grape
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press and I join the ladies in carrying the baskets of grapes. Well when in Rome etc. I try carrying them on my head as do the natives, but no joy, revert to the more conventional method as we know it.
The hospitality has been very good here and it is mid-day before we move on; we have been glad of the rest after yesterdays activities. A steady climb is rewarded by some wonderful scenery; to our right stands the Grand Maille mountain, and away to the left the feature on which stands the town of Chieti. We wonder how many got away from there as Chieti housed a prison camp for officers. Time for snack of bread and cheese; ahead and below us we can see many German vehicles on the move. From information gleaned it appears that they are returning from the front line area. Descending from the hill, crossing a minor road, then fording a small stream, constantly observing the movements of German vehicles. We must have seen some fifty of them today. Passing through a small village are invited to take a drink in the ‘local’. Chatting over a glass of vino, the owner, who claims to have been a monk, directs us to his brother who will put us up for the night.
The brother has been to America and has remembered quite a bit of English, and like most of the peasants that we have encountered has no
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love of Mussolini. Saying ‘if I had him for five minutes, I would kill heem’, ‘after I kill heem I stab him fifteen times or more’. We wonder why fifteen times, and are glad that he is friendly towards us. It has been interesting to be shown the various ways in which they have hidden the grain from the Germans, including false floors and double skinned walls; after supper a chat over a glass of 1930 vintage vino, very smooth.
Monday 11 October, a shave and breakfast, very civilised, spend some time listening to the old boy’s tales, and experiences in America . Another late start, ten o’clock before heading off in the direction of the small village of Fara; luckily an encounter with some young Italians warned us of the presence of Germans there. In fact they seem to be in most of the villages now; it is really becoming a game of hide and seek.
Raining again, and sheltering near a farm and are invited in to lunch which turns out to be a really grand occasion by the usual farm standard. We are seated on chairs, serviettes provided, and waited on by the daughter of the Padroni. The conversation is interesting and most helpful; the farmer has moved up here from Fara; the Germans are using this area for vehicle repairs. This place overlooks the village and we can see considerable activity down there.
Still raining and we have decided to stay
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here for while, and spent an interesting afternoon chatting with the daughters who can speak a little English. Class indeed, as we have not come across this before in the younger generation. I am told by one of the girls that on returning home, I should get married, as being unmarried is bad for the head. A strange philosophy indeed, but a good opening gambit when ‘chatting up’, must remember this one.
Tuesday 12th, last evening the Padroni left us, but we were allowed to stay on. A very restless night; the rain has now stopped so on our way . News is that two escapees were recaptured yesterday in this area. We have also encountered four South Africans from camp PG 10; they are just laying up. Pressing on between a village and the mountains, this is a very sparsely populated part no farms in sight; this means that on stopping for a snack we have to dig in to our reserves. Great, we have found some cheese three weeks old but very tasty. We are fairly near to a road; just as well that we are not on the move, as two lorry load of troops pass by; two Germans are looking our way and must see us but do not take any notice. There seems to be a certain single mindedness about some of the German troops. Charlie recalls an incident when a captive on the island of Crete. Someone had cut the wire with pliers; the soldiers were sent on a blitz, were suppose to look for pliers. The fact that
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laying about his tent was a bayonet, and fighting knife did not seem to register as anything to worry about.
Our heading is on the line of the village of Palumbaro, quite large and conspicuously on a hill. The sun has now set; it looks very much like another night under the hedge, luckily there have not been many. One chance encounter, an old boy with a little American – English, ‘they love to practice it on us’, and we are on our way back to his house for shelter. He relates to us that there has been a lot of trouble down in the local village. Some German troops have been harassed by the locals. In retaliation they set up some six machine guns around the place shooting at random, and have already killed and wounded several people. This fellow seems to be quite calm about it; supper on macaroni, figs, grapes and nuts; slept in the carthouse and have made an early start.
Passing Palumbaro a lucky encounter with a young fellow has saved us from walking into a troop position. He has also given us information, and a plan of an area where ammunition is being stored or manufactured; this information could be of interest to our Intelligence on our return. Again the problem of crossing a road and river running parallel with each other. There is a lot traffic on this road, but at least some trees will provide cover. We move warily along the bank
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until opposite some bushes on the other side; no sound of traffic so its up and over, into the bushes on the other side. Just as we entered the bushes a jarring revelation that we had failed to spot a parked lorry load of troops further up the road. No place to hang around, to remove boots etc.; it’s straight into the river, (how deep). Charlie has almost vanished; luckily that was the deepest spot. More lorries are moving along the road; out of the river, up the bank breathless and soaked, into the bushes; have we been spotted? Well at least we have water between them and us. Several more lorries have pulled up behind the other parked one; we continue to scramble up the bank until a good vantage point is reached, and to our relief safety. From this lookout we are able to observe and dry out; there is an almost continuous stream of traffic to, and from the area believed to be the ammunition dump. The lorries resemble very much the Bedford we used for ammo in the desert.
Dried out and feeling after a snack much warmer, pressing on and after rounding a hill only to find ourselves confronted by another busy road to cross. Usual drill look for a spot with cover on each side of the road, then wait; a break in the traffic and over we go. As we emerge from the bushes a quick check shows that I have torn my trousers, Charlie has even
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more scratches on his legs; Tommy has N.T.R. this time. It would seem that half the Italian nation has visited America at some time to work, as we encounter another old boy and are offered a night’s shelter. Well into October now and the evenings are getting quite cold; we are hoping that our freedom is not too distant. Some strange bedfellows on this farm, most amusing to see a pig playing together with a dog.
Last night we slept in a straw shed; at least we spent the night there; it was very cold indeed, and is taking us most of the morning to thaw out. Through a hole in the wall that serves as a window German vehicles can be seen using the road. The two women of the house are very frightened, but in spite of this a huge bowl of macaroni is produced for us as well as the family. We know the drill now; the bowl is placed in the middle of the table, and positions are taken up around it, leaving room for right arm to manoeuvre. Etiquette goes by the board; you grab a fork and get to work; before you can get your second wind the bowl is usually empty. In the early days of the trek we used to get left at the post, but not now, as we can brandish a fork, belch, smack our lips as good as any of our hosts.
Very hilly and close country now; just as well as the place is teeming with Germans; cover takes priority at all times. One old lady tells
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us a story of how five English were captured yesterday, giving a gory account of how three escaped again, and the Germans cut the throats of the other two. Delightful little tale just what we need to cheer us up, not to be taken too seriously. It does show the fear that these people have of the Germans. Feelings run very high as the farms are raided, taking anything from chicken to oxen, and including farm implements.
Last night proved to be one of the most unpleasant since leaving the compound; tried houses and a farm but could not get shelter. We eventually found a shed but with no covering it was very cold. It is cold up here as we are well above sea level. One old boy did take pity on us and gave us a glass of vino, with bread and olive oil. Not at our best this morning, but our luck has changed; an old lady has invited us into her house. Thawing out in front of the fire we enjoyed some roast potatoes. On our way again, still climbing; there is a lot of military traffic around; luckily the grass is quite high and we are able to quietly drop down as they pass.
The sun at last, and a wonderful view as we can see the river Sangro winding its silvery way down to the Adriatic. Lovely view it may be but to us another major obstacle to our progress. Taking a rest, Charlie makes contact to check on
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the local situation; not too good, the road below is patrolled; this is bad news for us as it means that the Germans are all around us. Fortunately we are near a wood and can take refuge in it. Late in the afternoon now; there is a house not far from the wood, possible shelter for the night. This turns out to be quite a hide-out, as a party of Italians from Rome are living here, and over a glass of wine and some bread we introduce ourselves. Among the party there is an Italian officer from the navy, and a doctor. As we chat there is a sudden disturbance from a frantic visitor proclaiming that the Germans are searching houses nearby. This is no place for us; bidding a hasty farewell we head back to the wood. I am slightly hampered by a large loaf of bread given by the doctor’s wife.
Still climbing and we soon become enveloped in cloud, not very pleasant as the prospects are of a night in the open, until we stumble on what looks like an empty house. It was empty but is now occupied by some twenty young fellows from the surrounding villages, here because the Germans have occupied their houses. A welcome invitation to join them and we are given ham and bread and share the fire. It looks fairly safe here as they have arranged a system of lookouts, and some are armed with revolvers. They mean well, but we cannot see them hanging around
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very long should the tedesci arrive, for that part neither shall we.
October 16th, not a bad night considering that our bed was a stone floor; we must be away early as the news is that some thirty escapees and young Italians were rounded up yesterday in a nearby village. There is also the disturbing news that the Germans are walking around in civilian clothes looking for young Italians; remember we are in Italian gear. Working around the edge of a wood we come upon an old woman digging potatoes, ‘don’t any of the men work’; there is nearby a fire smouldering away, and it is not long before we are sitting around the fire eating roast spuds. The future being a little uncertain we take a rest and slept for an hour in the wood. On the move again and making one of the now more frequent checks at a farm house.
What a welcome, bread, cheese, and honey the latter tasting particularly delicious. As we well know the Germans are very active around here; this family is looking after some nine escapees who are hiding up in the wood; it is recommended that we join them. A very generous gesture is made in replacing Charlie’s worn out slacks. Up in the wood we find the party consisting of four South Africans, and five Britishers. Well hidden among among the trees in a covering of branches; unfortunately the
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branches do not keep off the rain which is falling quite heavily; at dusk a party from the farm arrive with food.
That was a bad night; we are all cold, wet and most uncomfortable; we are soon about and the priority is to get a fire going to thaw and dry out. Around midday the girls arrived from the farm with food in the form of cooked ground maize, and raw potatoes. The afternoon is spent rendering down wood for the fire, and roasting spuds. The evening is spent chatting around the fire; it transpires that the other fellows are from the Sulmona prison camp.
A little better night, but not surprisingly Tommy and I have developed bad colds; we must be missing our vino nightcaps. The war is certainly closing in on us; during the night the sounds of explosions, probably bombing, then this morning four fighters pass overhead; we believe them to be American. We can only hope that they will clear some of these Germans of this area. Times are bad; we have come down to smoking beech leaves, must not smoke too much or we shall defoliate our cover! I wonder what the nicotine content is. The three of us have wandered down to the stream for a wash and brush up, must have anticipated a banquet as the girls have arrived with boiled potatoes, bread and mutton boys, what a feast. The girls have explained how they have had to drive
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their sheep and cattle into another part of this wood for safety. Comforted by our feast, and after a chat around the fire we soon settle down to sleep. Not for long as the cold wakes us up again and so we rekindle the fire, and we three play cards in the light of the flickery wood. All is quiet, and around mid-day the girls arrive with more food. These girls are very brave, it is a tough walk up through the wood, and they will not let us go down to collect supplies, saying that it is too risky. We and they know that if they are caught there is the possibility of them being shot, and or their farm being burned down. As we contemplate the possible consequences we can hear machine gun fire on the other side of this wood.
We seem to be pinned down at the present time, spend the afternoon just mooching around; Charlie did go down to the stream for a wash. Dry bread for supper tonight, ah well better than no bread at all; a reasonable night’s rest may have been a little warmer or maybe we are getting acclimatised to this jungle life. Now the afternoon of the 20th., Ralph, Taff, Tom and I set out to find something to eat; we ventured out of the wood to a farm where an old lady gave us a slice of bread each. Nearby is an orchard, duly raided and almost a kitbag full of apples gathered. Returning with precious booty we seem to run into just about every
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thorn bush in the wood. The apples turned out to be so hard that we had to bake them in the fire, and so for another night under the stars.
October 21st, the girls arrived early with our breakfast, which turned out to be the answer to the POW’s prayer, real solid macaroni. The prison camp diet has been the same each day, a wishy washy concoction of macaroni, tomato and water, plus one small ‘Pani’ loaf of bread about the size of a bun. Any complaint was met with the same answer, we were getting the same as the sentries, which to some extent was true.
The novelty, if there ever was any of living the life of a squirrel has gone and have decided to move on tomorrow regardless. From a vantage point in one of the tallest trees, we can map out the lie of the land. We can see that formidable river Sangro to the south, our next major obstacle. Taff and Ralph have been out on the scrounge returning with some bread and cheese which is duly shared. The girls have paid us a visit, and have kindly done some washing for us; they also brought some clippers and the lads have enjoyed the luxury of a trim; with my cold I am sitting this one out.
An early start this morning October 23rd, bid our farm friends farewell, they have been great, also pals from Sulmona camp; we set off for the south, and the next stage of our journey.
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We have had to backtrack a little to get back on course; in doing so a chance encounter with our acquaintances from Rome, first meeting some eight days ago. The doctor has given us directions in order to avoid the main concentrations of Germans. Before leaving he took some pictures of us all together with his family, and very generously gave us two cigarettes each. Having given him our addresses we hope that one day we may see these pictures.
Leaving the village of Petrefara to our right, our route takes us down the valley to the river Sangro. Advancing under cover of trees and suddenly three Germans have just emerged from a house just in front of us; luckily they are engaged in conversation and are not looking in our direction, and we quietly withdraw one by one. Changing, our course, it is now under the railway and down to the river. Fortunately there is plenty of cover and soon select a suitable place to cross. We estimate that there is about four feet of water, and not a lot of flow. Boots and socks off, and this time I am taking my trousers off as well. Not until across and looking back, we notice that two women have been watching our activities from the other side. A tragic revelation, I have lost the last cigarette given to me by the doctor, a Macedonia special tragedy indeed. Still using the trees as cover
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the road crossing has not been too much of a problem in spite of the almost constant stream of German lorries. Pressing on we encounter more young Italians hiding out; some were sentries at Camp 53. Continuing our way east of the town of Archi set fairly high on a hill, no place for us as we learn that there are many Tedesce there. We did manage to scrounge bread this morning, but there is not much going in the way of food, or hospitality, and no prospect of shelter for the night and so we press on. On hearing a number of explosions nearby we stop while Charlie makes a contact; it seems that the Germans are cratering the road. At least there should be no traffic and so across we go. It is almost dark now anyway; we are heading for a saddle in the hills that can be seen on the horizon. Not our policy to move by dark but tonight there is no choice but to keep moving. Moving in the dark now, skirting a wood and ahead can see a small fire burning, a very stealthy approach is required. Two old men are sitting beside the fire; it would seem that they are tending sheep that are at rest around them. They make us welcome, and we are pleased to accept the bread offered. They tell us that a field gun was set up in the wood yesterday, and are surprised that we have not come upon it. Certainly are having luck it would seem that we are not meant to be re-captured.
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As we sit chatting by the fire we can hear a convoy of vehicles moving along the road below, and above the noise the Germans can be heard shouting to each other. Finally we try to get some rest and sleep under a overhanging rock not too far from the fire.
Sunday 24th, the moon is now high and the time we calculate to be about 3 am., stretching our cramped limbs decide to move on. Progress not too good as we are really groping our way through this wood, and have stumbled on what looks like a steep ravine. Moving under these conditions is rather hazardous; we must lay up until dawn; Tom has already slipped on a rock damaging his knee which is now swelling up.
By the light of dawn we can see the wisdom of our decision to wait as there is a steep drop ahead and the going very treacherous. Down then a steep climb up to the saddle ahead, this route being our way through the mountains. Very high up now and above the clouds, but what a rewarding view as the rising sun brings the mountainside to life. The sun’s warmth now gradually dispersing the clouds to expose the church spires and the taller buildings. Now finally the whole countryside is laid out below us; no wonder people climb mountains for pleasure.
Glorious views may satisfy the mind but not the tummy, it has been a long hard night; we
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we must look for food; a distant farmhouse looks a likely source of a breakfast. Each day it be more apparent that that we are getting nearer to the battle zones. With the increased presence of the Germans the people are more and more frightened; although willing to give us food they do not want us to stay around the place too long. We understand this, and provided that we stay out in the fields food is usually forthcoming.
At this farm to our pleasure some freshly baked bread, this followed by raw eggs, cheese, and some apple wine to wash it down. The workers have now arrived and are taking us to a safe place to rest; being a fine morning we are soon asleep. The now familiar drone of aircraft awakened us around midday, away to the north some guns opened up on them although the shells burst dangerously close to the planes we are pleased to see them continue on their way it would seem to us oblivious of the flak.
This little incident over we are delighted to see lady of the house arrive with a large bowl of macaroni. During the ensuing conversation we learn that only yesterday the Germans rounded up some 100 oxen, 500 sheep, horses and a number of pigs. There is no compensation for the owners and constitutes a great loss as these people are not wealthy by any standard. The danger to us of course is that we can be innocently caught up in one of these raids, not as live stock
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but as potential Italian labour force. We have established our position as just north of Agnone; our troops are believed to be holding a line just north of Campobassa some sixty kilometres to the south east. Having decided to now move at night even more careful planning is required, and rest taken during the day. We are glad of the rest as Tommy’s knee is still swollen and giving him considerable pain. Charlie’s boots are wearing out, and mine are giving some trouble as I have nine blisters in all. All is tranquil for a while as we slept all afternoon.
It is now just before last light, and we have moved into a position overlooking the road to Agnona; there is a lot of German traffic on the road, and a sentry can be seen on the road bridge below. This calls for a ‘sit-rep’ from the locals; there is a farm nearby and the land runs to the road. On approaching the house there is a sudden exodus of the occupants, we have been taken for Germans. Not wishing to cause them more stress we continue on our way, not needing to replenish our stocks. Another contact is more promising; this man says that if we wait until dusk he will show us a safe way across the road. Well it has turned out to be a really black night, and there is no way that we can find a route across, the activities of the sentries preventing us from moving out
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into the open. A new plan is soon evolved in that we are to stay here the night, then move at first light around 0400 hrs. After a supper of cabbage, bread, cheese and a glass of vino we try to settle down on a shed floor to await the dawn. A very restless time for all; things are getting very difficult; the choices are to wait until freedom comes to us, or to continue to pit our wits against the enemy. Any doubts about our next move is soon set in order by the arrival of our new friend and guide.
Monday 23rd, around 0400 hrs, stiff from the cold, bleary eyed, and can think of many places that we would rather be than dodging the Germans by dawn’s early light. “No wonder the generals plan dawn attacks”. It is a slippery thorny route sometimes along the bed of a small stream; Charlie has taken to using a stick and is assured that it saves him many a tumble. This fellow knows the ground well and gets us across the road without further incident.
Our route now takes us along the valley beside a stream that runs into the river Trigno, trees and bushes provide plenty of cover. The cabbage of the night before is beginning to take effect, and in looking for a place to relieve ourselves we come upon some German newspaper that has been used for the same purpose. The paper has a recent date on it; this alerts us to the fact that there are troops in this area, probably guarding a bridge
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over this river course that we are following. A brief ‘O Group’ and we decide to continue on this course but at about twenty yards interval. Order of march, Tommy, Charlie, with me bringing up the rear. Tommy is passing under a bridge as Charlie approaches, on looking up spots a German soldier on the bridge obviously a sentry; Charlie signalled the danger to me and then quickly scuttled under the bridge with Tommy. The sentry has seen them, and is now looking over the parapet. I am in the open, and have no choice but drop into a ditch on my left; much to my discomfort it contains about four feet of water, I can see the sentry clearly as he is only about twelve yards away. Having only partial concealment should he look my way I shall have to submerge completely; luckily he is pre-occupied with his problem under the bridge, and walks across to the other side. This gives me a chance to signal the all clear to the other two, they make a return dash into some trees. The sentry has now called for help, and just as I clambered out of my watery hideout he arrives, forcing me to return. Probably believing safety in numbers they both go to the other side of the bridge, giving me a chance to withdraw. Needless to say at high speed with cold fear of machine bullets speeding me on my way. United again, and head up out of this valley at breakneck speed, in fact Charlie almost did, loosing his footing on the steep
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slope only Tommy’s quick action in securing a foot hold for him saved him from tumbling down into the steep ravine. Not stopping until well clear of the danger area, the sun is now up we can stop for a dry out, and breakfast on dry bread. Quite high up again now and from this vantage point are able to keep the troops under observation always a good stratagem where possible. Having borrowed Charlie’s shorts, and changed my socks, off again keeping well clear of the bridge.
Two Allied planes flying overhead are fired upon and spent shrapnel is falling quite close to us. We are pleased to find a welcome at a house in the form of bread, grapes, and apples, and our water bottle filled with wine. The latter not in the best of British military tradition, but common practice with French and Italian troops. Following the river course we encounter three Italians who turn out to be ex army officers; just about everyone seems to be hiding out. The river looks very tempting and so a swim is the order of the day. There are three other fellows laying up around here; they are from the prison camp at Sulmona and are hiding in a nearby wood. Surprised to find them still here as the camp was only a few miles to the north east. One of them a ‘Tanki’, Busty Perks heard the BBC news last night; it seems that the front line is only about fifteen kilometres away to the south. Fresh from our swim, after some distance head for
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a likely house; after the usual introductions we enjoy a snack of bread and vino, our brief rest rudely interrupted by the approach of some German soldiers towards this house. We are very quickly hustled out the back and away to cover. The locals’ advice is not to try to proceed any further as there is little chance of getting through the two front lines. Still on the move as it is difficult to get shelter, and have had several refusals. At last we are allowed to spend the night on a carthouse floor, at least it is cover.
Tuesday 26 October, Charlie’s wedding anniversary; not much chance to celebrate, but at least we can have a swig from our water bottle of wine. Tragedy for me, I have lost my tooth brush. Leaving the house early we are told that if we cannot make any progress we can return. Following the river we then ascend to the top of a feature from where we have an excellent view of the forward area. There is another bridge further up the river, and we can see the sentries guarding it; there is considerable air activity and anti-aircraft guns are defending the bridge. In the distance can be seen the town of Campobasso, artillery fire is quite heavy and we can observe the target areas. Other heavy gunfire coupled with machine gun fire indicates a possible tank battle, oh for a pair binoculars. The front lines are clearly defined
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and it is obvious that we are going to have many problems. The conclusion is that we must hold up and await events; so engrossed are we in the study of the battle that we failed to observe a German patrol approaching our position; only the timely warning by some Italians has enabled us to withdraw, and hide in a ravine. There are several other escapees hiding out here, and among them two fellows I know from Camps 53 and 59. One escaped the other day from Aquila, having first been captured by the Fascisti and handed over to the Germans, attempted to get through the lines yesterday but had to turn back. The German second line is only three kilometres from here and they appear to be falling back, so maybe the lines will pass behind us, “We Hope”.
Washed and shaved in the river, and have decided to return to our hosts of last night. True to their word we are taken in and given a welcome supper of macaroni; we really were hungry. We are to spend the night at a neighbour’s house; it is raining heavily and we are very pleased to be under cover. Our bed is a pile of straw next to the pigs; during the night my trilby fell down and the pigs tried to make a meal of it, making it an even more sorry sight than ever. There are two families living at this farm, and they are taking turns in providing the meals.
This morning we are visited by two more escapees and have spent a couple of hours
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swapping information; it is still raining hard and too muddy to move around very much. We did manage to raid an orchard but other than that stayed around the farm all day.
Salad for supper quite a change from the usual menu, not that we are ungrateful for any of the food we are given. This old boy spent some of his early days in South America, and has been talking about Brazil and the Argentina all evening. Retired early for another night with the pigs.
Thursday morning 28th, during breakfast two Italians arrive one a civilian the other an ex sailor. They have produced a note to the effect that they have been sent to help escapees to get through the front lines. The note is simply signed 8th Army not too impressive. The locals are very dubious of them and consider them to be in collaboration with the Germans. The other fellow escapees around are of the same opinion, remembering of course that 2,000 Lire on our heads. After very careful thought we decide that we have travelled too far to miss such a chance, and will go along with their plans.
To safeguard, and or to help anyone else Charlie is to leave a note with name and regimental number, signed. Should all go well the guide will be given another such note to bring back. The plan is to set off in the late afternoon; the time has now come to move, we bid our
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hosts farewell, and set off on this our new venture, and this time not really knowing what is in store for us.
To set the scene, we appear to be in the area of the German second line of defence; we have first to negotiate an area of open country in the form of a shallow valley with a river running at right angles to our intended line of advance. This open country leads up to a wooded area on the other side. Our information is that the Germans have machine gun posts covering this valley.
Being late afternoon there is some activity in the form of land workers returning to their various bases. The plan is for us to become part of this general movement. Several of these men carry a mattock type of hoe used for breaking up the soil. This tool is known locally as a Zapper; some are provided for us to carry. We set off endeavouring to be as casually part of this local scene as possible. Needless to say there is nothing casual about our feelings, and the old heart rate steps up a gear.
All has gone well, crossing the river by an isolated bridge, then making for the sanctuary of the wooded area beyond. We shall never know if, or whether the Germans were interested in our little escapade, but we felt that those machine gunners were covering our every move.
Calling at a farmstead we collected two more
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Italians, a navy officer and his batman; they too are being taken through the lines. We can relax as to our present situation now being sure that our guides are genuine.
This group now formed we set off for an isolated farm house, this is to be our jumping off point. Another guide has joined us; he is familiar with the local terrain and will lead us through the night. The weather is terrible; although we have taken cover several times, all are soaking wet and are having to drag ourselves through thick heavy mud. At last the house looms up, and what a set up it turns out to be. The Padroni (master of the house) is a real scream; it seems that the guides keep him perpetually drunk in order to use his house. He has us in fits of laughter as he knows a few words of several languages and thinks he knows it all. Wandering around muttering “tuto lingu” in all languages.
For our benefit two chicken have been killed and prepared; some preparation, as they are just cleaned out then hacked down the middle, and placed in a large frying pan. Rather basic cooking, but tastes good anyway. We are not to know if it is a special concession or not, but Charlie is surprised to find that his portion includes the head complete with eyes and comb. The old boy thinks that the Italian captain is English and says that he speaks
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speaks very good Italian. We are to move on at 11pm so it is heads down on the floor to try to get some sleep, at least some rest.
Zero hour has come, and what a night it is, pouring with rain, and pitch black; in order to keep in touch we have fastened white strips to our backs as most of the journey will be done in single file. We are following tracks used only by the sheep and goats, and in many places it is traversable by them only. Slipping and sliding and being torn by thorns we make our muddy way; it is now about midnight; the guide says that we are through the German lines, and in ‘no mans land’ and considered safe to lay up until dawn. A shack provides some shelter, and are able to get a fire going, with attempts to dry our clothes. The plan is to rest here until dawn; sleep is impossible due to the cold and suspense. We feel sure now that our gamble has paid off, and that freedom will soon be ours.
Saturday 30th October, dawn and we are on the move again; not long before we have a scare, some shouting nearby; the officer and the guide have drawn their automatic pistols; the batman has hared off as fast as his legs will take him. Nothing comes of this and on we go. Before reaching a village believed to be occupied by our troops our local guide for the night returned. He has been great, in doing a marvellous job by getting us to this point.
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Rather a setback on reaching the village, as no troops are to be found; they have withdrawn or moved on. Another eight kilometres on and a small town shows signs of considerable activity. We are standing in the town square and lorries approach, yes and they are ours in fact Canadian, three of them parking up near to us. Charlie walks across to one of the drivers as he descends from his cab. The driver looks down and mutters “Buon Giorno”; in reply Charlie says buon giorno be damned, good morning to you we are British. The surprised driver exclaimed Jesus Christ lads I thought you were Wops.
What a moment, what an occasion, we have made it, we are free, with hearty handshakes all round; it is hard to realize that he is the first free Allied soldier that we have seen in some two years. Luckily for us this lorry is a provision vehicle and when the driver realises that we are hungry, ‘help yourselves lads’; this we soon did, tinned steak and kidney puddings, Irish stew and biscuits then we almost smoke ourselves silly on real cigarettes. There is an officer in this party; he is scouring the town to locate a flour mill that may be in working order, part of a public relations exercise. The lorries having loaded up with charcoal; we return with them to their base in the town of Campobasso.
On arrival at base the Italian officer and his batman leave us, while we go to the Canadian
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mess for a hot meal, then away to headquarters to make our reports. Here we are given a change of clothing, and enjoyed the luxury of a hot shower.
The next stage is the interrogation carried out by a captain of the Coldstream Guards. Having proved to his satisfaction that we are who we claim to be, the information is passed on regards the ammunition dump near the river Ventino. Now evening, having drawn blankets from the store, enjoyed another meal, it is now time to retire. What a twenty-four hours, I for one am almost too scared to go to sleep for fear of waking up and finding it to be all a dream, am sure the others must feel the same.
Sleep we did, then after breakfast down to the hairdresser; what a relief to get our mops off. Eventually transport arrived to take us on the next stage, to Foggia. A lump came to my throat as we said farewell to our guide; tears were streaming down his face as we gave him a kitbag full of goodies. A small reward for a great service rendered.
That concludes our little tale as prisoners of war and escapees.
From here we travelled to Foggia; what a terrible scene; there has been an air raid, the streets are cluttered with dead bodies, and devastation everywhere. This town is a main railway, and road complex. Then on to Bari were we stayed a few days, billetted of all places in a
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POW camp; some Yugoslavs are interned here. The catering officer turns out to be an old acquaintance from pre-war days at Perham Down, then corporal now captain Mick Fortune. Our billets are near a cemetery, now a ghostly sight as it has been bombed; there are bones and containers all over the place. From Bari we have written our first letters home.
Now in Toronto, from here we are to embark for North Africa; we take a walk around the town and go to the pictures. Great day, today we are to sail; walked down to the harbour only to find that there has been a hitch and we are not sailing after all. The comments on this little exercise, unprintable. Away the next day in, or, on a flat bottomed LST. tank landing craft. These vessels are like corks when empty of tanks, and we have a very rough crossing. One ship had its bows blown in by a mine. The convoy finally heaved to in the bay of Biserta due to the rough seas. We spent a night in a transit camp, a most unpleasant place. From Biserta a train journey of some three and a half days; we had to be self sufficient feeding, and brewing up in the carriage. One minor incident when we were shunted into a stationary truck. Several received injuries including Charlie who received a facial injury requiring several stitches.
Three days were spent in a waterlogged camp in Algiers, then moved a few miles out to a
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transit camp, where we contacted several other now, “Ex Prisoners Of War”. It was here that one evening the three of us consumed four bottles of three star brandy, the resulting hangover the next day goes without comment.
Not half soon enough the big day came when we boarded a ship, and joined a convoy for England and home. An uneventful trip, arriving in Liverpool 10 December 1943. One night in a transit camp then home for six weeks’ leave.
To conclude I would like convey my sincere thanks to Tommy, and Charlie for their companionship; no doubt we all got on each nerves at times, but all went well and ended well.
Footnote by Charlie, me Alan Paice.
The night that I was captured the German officer that interrogated me said among things ‘For You The War is over’. He must have been joking; after our return we lost touch with Tom but within nine months both Snowy and I had volunteered, and been accepted for the elite Glider Pilot Regiment and were flying light aircraft, and heavy gliders.