Ronald William Raby escaped from Salmona Camp in September 1943 with R.J and C [unidentified] and succeeded in reaching the Allied lines in October 1943. His tale paints a graphic scene of rural Italian life in this period as well as German military tactics in defending their lines.
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]
Ronald William Raby. Escaped Sulmona and got through lines
13th Sept. Up MARONE Mt. Shepherds help. Women mend trousers at SANTA EUPHAMIA.
15th Charcola Burners. 16th Go to PRETORIA
18th Collect parcels from Aqua Frieda. 21st CARAMANICO.
7th Oct. Contact Capt MeKee ‘commando dropped by parachute.
Given lire, 8th Oct Engaged Antonio as guide but woman stops him. Set off with Italian and see others (POWS?)
10th Oct. Left C(ampo) di Giove. Crossed Palena main road to Montanero – gets big pasta on birthday.
11th Oct. Go towards Quadri stay at Hotel in Boreilo.
12th Oct. 13 left in pairs for Rois del Sangro. Set off for Freins.
13th Oct. Crossed 2 roads with convoys on. Met German. Gildo went to him &. others got away. Knock at house but 1. says Germans inside
14th Oct. Nino turns up. Crossed Trigno. First turned away and then G’s throw grenade into next door.
15th Oct. Reach hill in sight of Palata and Montecelone.
16th. Missed patrol by 10 yards by lying in a swamp. Nino caught, rest scattered. Nearly hit German gun position, ‘started to crawl last 1.5 miles to Montecelfone. Entered it at 1 a.m. Smell of death, pass corpse, dodge Germans – one drunk – ran back to main street where Padre lets them in.
17th. Crept from Padre’s house after dawn and after 5 miles walk we arrived at our troops.
EXCELLENT IN DETAIL OF TRYING TO GET THROUGH FRONT LINE.
[Digital page 2]
Diary of Escape from Prisoner of War Camp at Sulmona, Italy: September / October 1943
By Ronald William Raby
[digital page 3]
September 12th, Sunday
Washing when alarm went at 6.0 pm – finished washing, strolled to Eric but compound empty. R.J, Cec and I up hill. R.J. and I returned for kit at 7 pm. Up mountain at 8 pm. Full moon. On top with 68th sergeant at 3 am. Returned for R.J. Tottering with stanco (tiredness). Together again by 7.0 am Monday. Mt. Morrone – 10,000 feet.
September 13th, Monday
Hit shepherd’s hut 9.0 am. Fresh goats’ milk cheese and bread. Over mountains. Met Italian soldier and sailor, guided us to the Rocke. Slept there in loft.
September 14th Tuesday
Left for further mountains. Hit Santa Eufamia in afternoon to change to ‘bulgese’. Stood 8 hours in pants whilst womenfolk patched trousers. Slept in stable.
September 15th Wednesday
Up mountainside to old man’s fields. Split up at 3 pm. Cec to SE for food. R.J. and I other side to wait. Set off in evening for coast. Lost on forest slopes of huge ravine 3000 ft. Wolves about. Crawled back. Charcoal burners’ daughter singing in moonlight. Directed us to bridge. Didn’t find so slept 3 hours in shepherd’s hut and then to San Crotia for brekker.
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September 16th Thursday
11.0 am found track to ravine bed. Washed clothes then swam in river. 4.00 pm off up ravine again. Couldn’t find way out and by midnight too dangerous to continue. Slept 2 hours on track. Bitterly cold. Returned to starting point and brewed at 6 am. Determined on bold bid for mountain and at 11.0 am struck Di Condre. Grub with dialect female – borrowed mule and up to grotto. Rested till 5.0 pm then bid for Pretoria. Lost in second ravine forest. Heard wood chopper and met Donato. Took us back to Di Condre to eat pasta and sleep in loft. Many rats.
September 18th Saturday
Shepherd’s hut by fountain – laid up till night. Evening 3rd go for Pretoria. Met New Zealanders 8 km from Pretoria and informed 300 Jerry there. Posed as civilians and collected 8 parcels from Aqua Frieda. I wished to go on but overruled by RJ and C and mountains too dangerous to climb alone. Back to hut with parcels. RJ finished so C and I set off again for Pretoria at 5.0 am for kit left with New Zealanders. Back at 2.0 pm. Calculate did 27 hours non-stop and covered 37 miles.
September 19th Sunday
Laid up after above and slept in hut.
September 20th Monday
Lounged and attended feet.
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Asinder, Josephine, Angela found us and invited us to Caramanico but didn’t go. Slept in dialect female’s loft.
September 21st Tuesday
Lounged at fountain – Row with R.J. for bossing. C went down to Caramanico to see what was doing.
September 22nd Wednesday
Split up parcels. C returned with OK report. R.J. remained. C and I to Caramanico and stayed at Pasquale Martini. Fabbro. Remained there 17 days. Met Blackie and Maestro, Laura, Irma, Anjulia, the Pastorella, Laura, Theresa.
October 7th Thursday
Contacted Capt McKee of commandoes dropped by parachute. Gave us lire and a compass and instructions to make our way back.
October 8th Friday
Engaged Antonio as guide, but women stepped in and wouldn’t let him take us. Enormous trouble with everyone who wanted us to stay.
October 9th Saturday
Said goodbye to family – Pasquale, Anjulia, Gildo and Pasquale junior and Cliff, Blackie, R.J. and I set off and Ralph (D.L.I). The others
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refused to go. Hard walking among mountains brought us to Campo di Giove by dusk. Night on kitchen floor.
October 10th Sunday (birthday)
Left Campo di Giove at 4.30 am. Guided over mountain pass. Crossed Palena main road at noon under bridge. Missed Jerry by a hair. Ate grapes in afternoon. Walked main road – beat Jerry convoy to cover by 2 seconds. Guided by young Iti to Montenero. Big pasta meal and wine in honour of my birthday. Slept in stable loft.
October 11th Monday
Left Montenero at 5.30 am against Iti advice and struck out for Quadri. Wet through in rain. Split into two’s for safety and C and I went alone. Crossed main road above Quadri just in time to avoid convoy and finished at hotel in Borello. Met 7 Italian sergeants making for Bari. The others all turned up too.
October 12th Tuesday
We left Borello at 6.0 and proceeded in pairs at intervals for Roio del Sangro. Arrived lunchtime and It is after hearing villagers’ advice refused to come further, except 3 – Nino, Gildo and Marcello. C and I took Gildo and Marcello and set off at 2 pm with guide (last we saw of RA Capts). Climbed huge mountain at back. Bitter gale. Hit main road at 4 pm
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but no cover and too many Jerries so lay ins tone hut on mountain till dusk – numb with cold. Chewed bacon. Crossed road safely and set for Freino. Walked and climbed against gale for 6 hours but missed objective in dark and finished for night at forest house. Absolutely buggered.
October 13th Wednesday
Found Freino 6 miles south of us. Crossed two main roads after careful watching. Convoys very numerous and Jerries everywhere, shooting livestock, terrorising It is and searching for prisoners. On march in afternoon – came face to face with Jerry. Gildo went to him whilst we scarpered before he could draw his gun. Threw kit away for speed. C all for returning Caramanico but we determined to go on. Found G and M, recovered kit and went on. G had bullshitted the Jerry and got away with it. Spitfires being fired at by ASA saved us again from being picked up. Knocked on a house door for food. Iti who opened up said Jerry inside and we just got away in time again. Finished up dog tired in a house in midst of a forest – met 2 other English escapees.
October 14th Thursday
Nino turned up with account of shooting –
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added him to party. Made for San Felice. Crossed Trigno with boots round our necks. Jerry warned us of his approach several times by his shooting etc. at everything in sight. Got to San Felice at 6.0 pm. First house wouldn’t risk sheltering us with Jerry so near but 2nd try am. Slept in hay.
October 15th Friday
Lounged through day awaiting guide to take us through 2nd line of defence. Having meal when heard explosion 20 yards away. Jerry hand-grenading the house next door for fun – just got out the back way in time. Set out with two guides at 6.30 pm, very piano piano. Several alarms but no trouble and reached hill in sight of Palata and Montecelfone by 2.0 am.
October 16th Saturday
Left guides and continued slowly throughout night and morning towards Montecelfone. Missed patrol by 10 yards lying in bushy swamp – patrol decided to skirt it. Proceeding were hailed by Jerry. Nino caught, the rest scattered. C and I ran straight for Jerry gun position. Found out in time and had to lay up underneath brushwood pile 8 hours, scarcely daring to breath. Huge
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Goat fleas eating us with dreadful impunity. Our people shelling Jerry position 50 yards away – uncomfortably close. C never been under fire before. Crept out at dusk and started to crawl last one and a half miles to Montecelfone on hands and knees. Missed 2 Jerries with dogs by seconds. Very shaken because of dogs. Now in Jerry front line. Halfway up field lined with woods I coughed. Half the Jerry army shouted and gun nests in woods opened up, missed us by 5 feet – tracers. Continued very shaken in case he sent out a patrol. [illegible] at 1.0 am village much knocked about and smell of death strong. Heard baby crying and finally persuaded family we weren’t the Tedeschi – let us in. decided to go on. Passed Jerry on back in street – decided he was dead – heard another call us from house – ran round corner to outskirts of village. C remarked ‘[illegible] trenches Ron’. Jerry machine gun nest 2 yards behind in bushes covering road, heard us and let fly. He was drunk – tracers over our shoulders. We ran back to main street, knocked up padre. Whilst standing in doorway Jerry, pissed, came up street, snarling like a dog and
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shooting at everything in sight with tommy gun. Padre opened door and we stepped in when he was 10 yards away. Slept at padre’s till dawn then crept from town.
October 17th Sunday
Arrived our troops noon after 5-mile walk.