Frances (Bill) Parker was serving with the New Zealand Division in the Western Desert when he was captured in July 1942 by troops of the 21st Panzer Division. After being interned in various North African camps, Parker was shipped to Italy, spending the first very uncomfortable months at Bari. Subsequently, he was sent to a labour camp called Acqua Fredda Campo 78/1, a satellite camp of PG78 Sulmona. After the Armistice, Parker and a group of 7 other New Zealanders left the labour camp and headed for the mountains, trying to make their way to the Allied lines.
They came to a village called Capracotta, where, over several weeks, they received great kindness and sustenance from the locals. They were eventually betrayed by a man pretending to be a guide through the German lines, who told the enemy of their existence and the help provided by Italians. This story is remarkable for the detailed description of the death of two of the Italian helpers. It also describes the villagers’ amazement at Bill Parker’s return many years later.
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.
[Digital page 1]
[From a letter to Keith Killby dated 10 January 2000]
….We, a group of eight New Zealanders left our labour camp 78/1 Acqua Fredda at the time of the capitulation. We decided we’d been behind the wire long enough and didn’t think much of our accommodation, food and job, so decided to take a hike while the Italians decided what they were going to do. Our base camp was 78 Sulmona. We found they had been taken over by the Germans, so we headed for the mountains, decided to make our way to the lines.
After walking for 5 or 6 days we finally came to Capracotta. We initially looked after by a Mrs Yaselli who advised us to stay and wait for our troops, who at this time were at Foggia. Being sick of climbing mountains, this suited us fine. Mrs Yaselli got in touch with the Fiadino brothers who took us to an old church, San Luca, where we stayed for about a month.
The Fiadino brothers found out we were known to be in the church by the Germans. Then they took us to a stone hut on a side of a hill above their home. There we stayed until recaptured by the Germans. We used to stay in the bush by day and go to the hut at dark, where the Fianino wives used to bring us a hot meal at night. From here we were taken via various camps to Germany….
(Extract from article on Capracotta.com dated 12 October 1999)
In July 1942 I was serving with the New Zealand Division in the Western Desert. At this time, we were trying to hold Rommel’s advance into Egypt. On July 17th 1942 I was captured by troops of the 21st Panzer Division and 190th Light Infantry Division. I was taken to El Daba PoW camp and then to Mersa Matruh PoW camp where I was handed over to the Italian Command. I was taken from Matruh to Tobruk and from Tobruk to Benghazi. From Benghazi I was shipped to Italy via Greece and the Corinth Canal. We landed at Taranto and from here were taken to Altamura near Bari. After spending several very uncomfortable months there, we were sent by train to Tuturano where we stayed until Christmas. From there we were sent to a labour camp called Acqua Fredda Campo 78/1. Our parent camp being Campo 78 Sulmona.
At the time of the Italian Capitulation the guards on our camp were very excited and uncertain about what to do. Eight of us took advantage of their uncertainty and decided to try and make our way back to our parent camp Sulmona. To get to Sulmona we had to go down into the valley below our camp and cross a range of hills. Sulmona was on the other side. I left the party in the valley and crossed the range. When I reached a position close to the camp wire, I could see that the Germans had taken control of the camp. I went back over the range to where my party was waiting. We decided to make our way via the hills to Foggia where our troops were and after taking a general line of direction we set off. We always seemed to be crossing valleys and climbing hills and at one stage we crossed a part of the Appennine Range. To do this we were well above the snow line and up there we met
[Digital page 2]
goat herd tenderers. No matter where we went, we always met Italians in unexpected places and it was impossible to go far without meeting someone.
One morning while we were standing on the slopes of a hill, we were approached by two civilians who spoke very good English. They talked with us for a while and agreed that our plan to keep to the hills and head for Foggia was a good one. Across the valley we could see a hill at the top of which was a large Cross. Around the hill was a road leading to a village at the top. Down in the valley was a stream. We followed along the banks of the stream flowing in the valley to keep out of sight of the road in case German transport used it.
Nearing the road we saw a horse and car driven by an Italian civilian whom I asked in my very broken Italians if there were Germans in the village. Having told me the village was clear I asked him for directions to get to Foggia and also food for my party. At first, I think he took us for Germans but after I had been talking to him for a while he wanted to know if I was English. After telling him we were all New Zealanders he took us to his house, which was situated below the village and gave us food. This was the house of the families Fiadino. There were three brothers all of whom were married and had families. I do not remember their Christian names.
Later, one of the brothers took us up to the village of Capracotta to the house of Mrs Pia Jaselli. Mrs Jaselli, after having listened to our plans, suggested we should sty in the area and wait for our troops whom at that time, were progressing rapidly up Italy. After having walked up and down the mountains of Italy for the last week, we thought this was a very good idea indeed.
In the afternoon we returned to the home of the Fiadino brothers and stayed the night. The next day they took us into the bush (bosco) behind their home. After about an hour’s walk, we came to a Church built into the side of a cliff. I think this was called the Church of Saint Luke. Behind the church, also built into the cliff, were very primitive living quarters. A little below it was built a new Church of concrete blocks and in a valley below we could see a village. This was the village of Saint Angelo, I think.
We lived in the small living quarters behind the church at night and in the daytime we used to explore the bush to find our way about. Visits to the village of Saint Angelo were made to keep a check on any German movements in that area and twice a week we went to Mrs Jaselli for news and supplies. I met some of Mrs Jaselli’s friends here, one of whom was a school teacher.
Two of my party decided to stay at the home of the Fiadino brothers and help on their farm. Some days later one of the Fiadino brothers came up to the Church of Saint Luke and told us we had been reported to the Germans by someone in Saint Angelo. We packed up our few possessions and went with him to a shepherd’s stone hut on the slopes of the mountain above the Fiadino house. During the day we would go up into the bush and at dusk the Fiadino women brought us a hot meal which was the bet food I have ever tasted. I can never say how grateful we were for the food these women gave us.
[Digital page 3]
After a few days in our new position I went back to the Church area to have a look around. Where we had been staying, we found German newspapers which showed a German patrol had been sent to find us.
From this time on we saw increasing German activity and the Germans were starting to collect in ever increasing numbers in this area. Fortunately, we were still able to go to Mrs Jaselli who kept us informed of the progress of the British Forces and who also gave us food. Culverts were being blown up and light anti-aircraft guns were being sited.
At this time, it was decided it would be safer for all concerned if the two chaps working on the Fiadino farm were to rejoin us. This they did and from then on until we were recaptured the Fiadino women supplied us with a hot meal each night.
One night around dusk I went down into Capracotta and as usual made my way to Mrs Jaselli’s house under which was a garage. A door from the garage led up into the house, this being the route we normally took when visiting. On arrival, I found Mrs Jaselli waiting at the garage door. She told me that the Germans had occupied the village and that she had the German officers billeted in her house. This was the last time we went freely to her home. However, she still sent us food and cigars supplied by the Germans.
Returning to the shepherd’s hut, I warned the rest of the party and told them to be very careful so as to not be seen in daylight by Germans or Fascist sympathisers. During the day we went up into the bush and kept a watchful eye on the road long which German transport was now running.
Our troops were getting much closer and we could now hear the shelling and bombing.
One afternoon while up in the bush, one of the Fiadino brothers brought to us a party of British soldiers and an American airman and also a Sicilian guide. This guide was a cripple. He had a club foot. We were told this guide was going to lead the other party through the German lines to the British troops. At this time, we had no reason to suspect him, so we arranged that after he had led this party to safety, he was to come back for us and lead us through the German lines for a payment of 10 lire each. They stayed us in the hut that night and left to go through the German line, at Agnone, the following day. All we could do now was wait.
As usual, 2 or 3 nights later, we went down the mountain for our hot meal and then to our hut for the night. We were all asleep by about 8 o’clock because being unable to have a light or fire, we used to go to bed at dark.
We were awakened by shots being fired into the hut and having no option other than going through the hut door because the hut only had one door and no window. Outside was a German patrol and with them one of the Fiadino brothers. Later we discovered that the club-footed Sicilian had taken the German Patrol to the Fiadino house and the Germans had forced the brother to take them to our hide-out. It seems that this cripple was paid by the Germans to go out collecting groups of escaped prisoners of war. He posed as a guide and led the groups to a German Field Headquarters.
[Digital page 4]
The 3 Fiadino brothers were badly treated by the Germans and with us were taken to Capracotta to the German HQ which was the house of Mrs Jaselli. We were held overnight at this house by the Germans. Next morning, we were loaded onto German transport and were loaded off on the side of the road. The eldest of the Fiadino brothers was a bit slow in getting down off the truck so a German gave him a push, sending him over the edge of the road and down a hill. The Italian kept his balance and kept on running although the Germans fired everything they had at him, but he kept on going and later we heard he got safely away.
The other Fiadino brothers were separated from us and we were locked up in another building in which we found the other party that had left us accompanied by the crippled.
From here we were sent via PoW camps in Chieti and Aquila. We were put on a train here and went on to Germany via the Brenner Pass to a PoW camp at Moosburg Stalag 7A, 8th November 1943.
We eventually heard that the 2 Fiadino brothers who remained prisoners of the Germans were tried and shot.
A Visit of Gratitude
A former New Zealander prisoner of World War II came back to Capracotta to visit the site where he had found shelter during the war.
It’s common knowledge that during the days immediately following the Armistice of September 8th 1943, many PoWs escaped from the concentration camp Fonte d’Amore in Sulmona, wandering in the countryside, trying to join the Allies, where were going north up the peninsula.
Trying to hide from the Germans, some of these PoWs often received help and shelter from the local peasants. Those Italian peasants often shared whatever food they had, although not enough for themselves, and despite the threat of death by the Germans. We also know that in Capracotta, on November 4th 1943, the brothers Rodolfo and Gasperino Fiadino were executed for their instinct of humanity and charity that led them to help some prisoners.
Fifty-six years have passed since then and on October 20th 1999, a lively 81-year old man Frances Bill Parker, showed up, unexpected, accompanied by 2 of his 6 children, Francis Jr and Lindsay.
Leaving everybody speechless, he pronounced, ‘I am the reason for the death of the Fiadino brothers; before my own death, I HAD to come back to render them respect.’ After the first moments of astonishment, we spent the whole day with him.
He told us he was from New Zealand, and that he had found shelter at the Fiadino’s, together with 8 of his countrymen, after escaping from Sulmona in 1943. The details he recalled were consistent with the tragic facts already known among the people of Capracotta. He left us with a first version of a diary, with the promise of adding more details.
[Digital page 5]
He asked us to take him the grave of the Fiadino brothers and to the site of their execution.
He also asked, despite his weak legs, to see the farmhouse and to walk one more time along the path that led to his stone refuge.
That very same path he had walked many times to meet the Fiadino women who brought him food.
That same path he walked that night of cries, despair and beatings, when he became again a prisoner of the Germans, this time together with his benefactors.
He has travelled more than 15,000 km and more than 23 hours to pay his tribute to the land and to the people who helped him in such a desperate time of his life.
Many ex-PoWs have come back to Italy after WWII and many have now a close relationship with their benefactors.
Many prisoners’ personal accounts have been written and are now a very important part of our local history.
Other ex-PoWs have founded Trusts that offer educational stages to their descendants who show interest in learning the English language.
All this is done with the hope that later generations will understand the sacrifice of their ancestors and will appreciate the freedom they now take for granted, having never experienced the horrors of war.
Thank you, Bill.
Thank you for coming back, as a free man, to this place. Thank you for the lesson you have shared with us.