Andrew B Stewart was captured at Alamein in June 1942, and spent some months in prison camps in North Africa. From there he was transferred to Italy – firstly PG 75 at Bari, then PG 85 at Tuturano, and from 27 May 1943, PG 70 at Monturano – where he was held until the Italian armistice took place in September. On 16 September 1943, Stewart, along with Harry Corbett and Eric Cook, walked out of the camp early one morning. They walked some distance from the camp, and spent the next month in various farms, helping out with work when allowed to. Stewart and Cook left for the Torrente Menocchia, where an escape boat was planned for 24 October. Although on nearing the location, it was obvious that the Germans were on to the plan, so they fled.
At some point he got separated from Cook, so Stewart was now on his own. Over the next few weeks he tagged along with various companions, with whom they would sometimes walk 20-25 miles daily. One of these companions was the Canadian Bert Ramelson. Together they spent a few weeks on the farms of the di Camillio brothers just outside Frisa. Finally the Allied forces made their way to nearby Lanciano, and on 4 December 1943, Stewart managed to reach them. Going via Bari, Taranto, Sicily, Bizerte and Algiers, he made it back to Britain on 3 January 1944.
Editors Note: not all of the text from the scrapbooks is presented on this website, aspects which did not relate to Italy have been edited out. Please contact the Trust if you wish to see the whole content.
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 pages 1-2]
[Photograph with caption] “The Road Home”
A. B. Stewart (See page 13)
“Younger end” at Middle Farm, 1947.
[Digital page 3]
Camp 70 Monturano
Major Parker MO officer I/C [medical officer in charge]
200 or 300 out of 8,400 had escaped.
Walked out to go south west
2nd day Mario Morelli, 16 years, near Monteleone
Stayed in valley of Aso a month. Philippo
2nd SAS. Plan for Torrente Menocchia.
18th Oct postponed to 22nd. Very many POWs in area.
Usual flap. Meet 2 Carabinieri.
Chieti. Got lifts (?). Meet Bert Ramelson
Near Sangro. Walk past a German.
Next day pass a group of Germans & Italians
(crossed Pescara by boat)
2nd March Frisa 1 1/2 miles from Lanciano
with 3 brothers di Camillio Michele & 3 daughters Consilio & Vito.
Germans lay telephone lines.
Communist & spoke languages.
They fool 2 lots of Germans thinking of capturing them in spite of searching obvious English kit.
Ack-Ack [Anti-Aircraft] around: Shelling got close.
Dug a shelter. More & more people crowd in.
Germans advise them to dig deeper. Shelling & gun fire
Meet Indian Troops & next day Canadian.
One man recaptured & taken back to Monturano
escaped when Kittyhawks distracted the Guards
[Digital page 4]
Had money (English?) in camp (Some camp money was issued for wine & fruit).
Captured June 1942
Retreated from Mersa Matruh.
Saw British vehicles but with Germans
Stood up to Germans
Found Italian money in desert
[KK [Keith Killby] contacted Charlie Shaw]
[Digital page 5]
Notes A.B. Stewart Tape Returned in 1947
Met Bert Ramelson
?NRO said they had been in touch with HQ we were to stay put.
Stay neatly in camp any attempt to get out would be court martialled for desertion.
Handful of us. ABS says 20,000 POW (8,000)
Sub mariner Eric Cook.
Attempt to rescue by SAS
On loose 6 months or so
1 ship they sank full of POWs
Went back after war.
Convalescing from Malaria
Arrived Greenock 03/01/1944
POW in N.A. [North Africa] Got malaria in southern Italy.
Camp was an old ‘jam’ factory.
Square biscuits with weevils
1 man said it was not fair to his fiancee.
Sub mariner came up every night to change Battledress?
“Not so impractical to get a boat & got through the lines”
Sangro very depressing countryside.
Flat country (near coast) so turned back.
Former secretary of Communist Party
& [1 word illegible] to moving POW
[Digital page 6]
Town (Lanciano) bombed so many nationalities sheltered around.
Very inefficient German AC/AC [Anti-Aircraft] near.
Picked up by party of Germans while in front area but companion talked their way out of it.
Met Linesman repairing communications
Morning after attempted rescue by SAS (near PSG [Porto San Giorgio]) was a fiasco
Got over ‘Pescara & a dirty big road’ can’t remember how got across.
A long way with 2 Italians in alcoholic haze
Kept out of villages.
Porto San Giorgio. Marched through Naples a rather pitiful sight.
Semi starvation in North Africa. In 1st camp in marshy camp & picked up malaria.
In motorcycle club at Monturano
Never saw any Red Cross personnel. Red Cross parcels. Raisins? 1st parcels made people sick.
[Digital page 7]
Resume. The Road Home. Late A.B. Stewart.
Manuscript and Tape. Given by Mrs Judy Stewart. Nov. 1990
Seemingly captured in retreat to Alamein.
Manuscript written January 1944. Tape made shortly before his death in 1985.
After rough months in N. Africa as prisoner to S. Italy (Capua 7). In PG 70 Monturano at Armistice. M.O. [Medical Officer] acting as Camp Commander had presumably received the secret order sent to all camps for he gave out ‘I’ve been in touch with neighbouring Camps (Servigliano and Sforzacosta) and we’ve decided to remain ‘put’. You’ll be allowed out on pass during the day but behave yourselves, for the peasants are simple folk and very poor. Our troops should be here soon but until then discipline is very much necessary and anyone who leaves will be posted as a deserter and court martialled on rejoining our own lines. We’ve got an alarm system in operation in conjunction with the Italians and if we see any sign of Germans making their way, the camp will be cleared and we’ll make our own way down in organised groups of fifty or a hundred.’
British Guards were substituted for the Italians but as they let too many go the Italians were put back on. They however slowly drifted away, ABS says 2 or 3 hundred escaped. (He also says in tape 20,000 in camp. Believed figure 8,000.) Page 4 for Silviano read Servigliano where walls of camp are still intact and the hole we made to escape repaired. Members of No 2 SAS sent in to help POWs get away from coast from Torrente Menocchia. 50 or more trying to make for the coast got fired on and scattered. (Torrente Menocchia was scene of the most successful evacuation of POWs etc Night 24/25 May. See Manus. of Eric Moss also of PG 70 and Mick Wagner. 127 picked up by chance when the landing craft had given up searching for them on a beach further north. With so many helped by so many more Italians were not given away is amazing. ABS and his lot’s intended departure was known all around.
ABS set off originally with 2 Italians on the run trying to make it home at Bari. Quick progress with their help but when he met up with other POWs they disappeared. ABS slowed his pace and finally settled down with a family group about 1/4 mile from Frisa, 1 1/2 miles from Lanciano. His companion, a Canadian Jew, it would seem spoke Italian and German. ABS soon had a knowledge of Italian. With that they bluffed Germans – mostly signallers* – around them and often encountered them. Their clothes were old mixed Italian but ABS had army boots, repaired by the only cobbler he fortuitously met at the right moment. They did some work and dug a large shelter for the family, which in the end expanded by refugees numbered about 40. Gun fire and attacking aircraft seemed nearer and nearer. A German looked in and advised them to make the shelter deeper. The eldest brother, who had been in the 1st War, came and told them there were some allied troops near. They found Indian troops (8th Ind Div) and next day the British slowly rolled over them after the bells of Lanciano had been peeling. 3 brothers were Vito, Philippo and Michele Consilio.
*Also a German AA [Anti-Aircraft] Gun with a rather lethargic crew of 2 who were more interested in chickens, edible and human, than firing.
On tape ABS talks of the humiliating march through Naples of scruffy, half-dressed and starving POWs. Talks of the beauty of the mornings and the hill top villages. ABS unable to remember how they crossed the complex of river Pescara, road and railway, which to all seemed to be the main hurdle south.
Main feature is how the battle slowly rolled over them. Not found elsewhere.
[Digital page 8]
‘The Road Home’ Andrew B. Stewart.
This version has added to it several ‘unedited’ jottings. These are of value for it reflects therefore how POW’s mind was actually working: daydreaming about what he would do when returned, of his hobbies, of a big breakfast (‘Nasty habit of Italians not having a breakfast.’), of what he might be able to afford, etc. His discovery of literature and his opinions of ‘isms’ – seeing the good in the principles of communism and distrust of Christianity as taught by much of the church, etc. If Stewart had had time he might, on reflection, edited much out and few in their memoires have recorded those thoughts which were in the minds of many.
Though in desert in October 1940, he was not captured until the Alamein debacle – June 1942. Suffered the appalling hardships of the prison compounds in the open desert in N. Africa. Though he says he arrived at Naples, he was taken south to PG 85 near Brindisi – again very bad conditions. He notes the kindness often of the Italian people even before the armistice. He estimates POWs in Monturano as 7,000 and also 8,500. Against orders he, rightly, escapes from there. The Morelli family near Monteleone help him. Stewart’s main account is of living with Italians while they are shelled just behind the lines and numerous encounters with Germans, infantry, signallers, etc, coming and going in the area. His laconic account of those days includes how once, when the house full of women was being shelled, he helped and chivvied them to the shelter. Finally as the Germans are retreating all around, he goes to find a Sikh Patrol, but when they withdraw he does not go with them but back to the Italians, as he had not said goodbye to them, and consequently in the night is badly shelled again.
[Digital page 9]
THE ROAD HOME: ITALY 1943
[Photograph with caption] A.B.S. – 1942
Wartime photo circulated by A.S.S. [Annie Stewart, his mother] when A.B.S. went missing.
Have you seen this man?
Andrew Bell Stewart
[Digital page 10]
By Andrew’s wife “Judy” after his death in November 1985.
Andrew was always very conscious that some of the wording in his Italian account was rather immature in places and he had marked several passages where he realised it needed revision or deletion – but this is just as he wrote it.
At the end of The Road Home, he had written “Notes for re-writing”.
- The beginning and the end are poor. Casual reference should not be made to people and events not explained. e.g. Bis & Hilary on Page 3 [Page 1 of The Road Home].
- The bit on Italian food could be worked into the context of the tale. Also Eric and the POW ship.
- Would it be possible to combine with this tale of the escape a brief outline of the capture and POW life. It could be in two parts “In” and “Out”.
- Get Bert Ramelson to correct details.
- Eliminate schoolboy stuff on Pages 73, two items [paragraph 6, page 20 of The Road Home] and Page 61 [“coshing” on Page 17 of The Road Home].
He obviously had in mind to write it up into a book sometime, but never did.
[Digital page 11]
These notes have been transcribed from the original handwritten exercise books in the years after my father’s death. They are presented here in five parts (the last book having covered two separate notebooks).
In addition, there are three appendices comprising maps of the relevant areas of North Africa & The Mediterranean and Italy, together with an account of his capture and the period immediately afterwards.
Part 1 Scrapbook No. 1 (Mental Meanderings)
Part 2 Scrapbook No. 2
Part 3 Scrapbook No. 3
Part 4 Scrapbook No. 4
Part 5 The Road Home
Appendix 1 North Africa & The Mediterranean
Appendix 2 Italy
Appendix 3 P.O.W.
The original books have various pencil notes, obviously added when my father read through them afterwards. These annotations are marked in italics in this transcript and are placed as close as possible to the original position – some were written sideways on in the margin or squeezed between two lines of normal text. Where the spelling of a word has been unclear (e.g. due to the handwriting) in the original notebook, I have had to try to guess, if it isn’t repeated elsewhere. Where I have come across something that is clearly written but definitely misspelt, I have copied it verbatim.
Along with the original notebooks, there are three additional items:
- a short piece taken from the Financial Times of 29th June 1966 about Bert Ramelson.
- six small printed pages cut from a book – origin unknown – with an article by Douglas Walter headed PRISON CAMP. To these Dad has added “This is PG 70”, along with various other comments.
- a cassette tape of Mum and Dad talking about various things, including “Italy”, shortly before his death. As far as I know, this is currently the only recording of either of them.
Richard Stewart [his son], December 1993
[Digital page 12]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 1 – MENTAL MEANDERINGS
Page 3 On Necessity – Tripe
Page 3 On Boating – Tripe
Page 4 On Doing Nothing – Tripe
Page 6 Budding Poet
Page 7 Breakfast For A Christian
Page 8 Design For Living
Page 10 London Eating Houses And Pubs
Page 12 “Cobbers Cabin” – Tripe
In this book I mean to jot down such thoughts, plans and ideas as occur to me during moments of leisure, in the hope that on some future occasion they may help to recapture something of my present life. As a prisoner of war, although several hours daily are spent at classes, yet I have on my hands much time which can only be devoted to rumination – daydreaming, if you will – so if what follows seems not worth the reading, please remember this.
Bari, Southern Italy. February, 1943.
[Footnote] Scrapbook No. 1 – Page 1
[Digital page 13]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 1 – MENTAL MEANDERINGS
Bari, PG 75.
10th February, 1943.
Today’s luxury, said Dr. Johnson, becomes tomorrow’s necessity. With us, however, the reverse applies and the necessity of yesterday is now for us pure luxury.
Breakfast, for me, was always the most enjoyable meal of the day – that is, when I wasn’t unduly hurried. There were occasions in London when I overslept and had to race straight off to the office on an empty stomach; which had the invariable result of making me irritable. It was remarked upon, strongly, by Rube and others. Now a cup of coffee constitutes my breakfast, with maybe one Service type biscuit on Sundays, if we’re lucky. One can get used to such changes without liking them; has to do so, indeed.
Cutting out smoking was hard but after the bad spell at Benghazi when the issue was a couple of “Nationale” on alternate days and the price of smokes was prohibitive, the situation has improved. Today we get each week, twenty two “Nationale”, half a cheroot and one third of a packet of pipe or cigarette tobacco (Italian) and (Red Cross issue), fifty Players. The “Nationale” I exchange for cheroots at a rate of four per cheroot and with the Players I try to buy Players pipe tobacco at twenty per ounce. I’ve become quite keen on the cheroots and generally manage to get about ten halves weekly (that’s how I smoke them). On my “restoration” I can see myself rivalling Winston Churchill in my fondness for cigars, but it’ll have to be Manikins, not Coronas yet awhile. Yes, I’ll be adding to the smoke screen left behind at Cockshoots’ Directors Meetings one of these days!
[Subsequent annotation] 22/07/1943 My God! Did I write this!
[Digital page 14]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 1 – MENTAL MEANDERINGS
BREAKFAST FOR A CHRISTIAN
Bari, PG 75
13th February, 1943.
It is now 7.40 pm on a Saturday evening; the weather has been clement; the skilly thick with rice, carrot and new potato. The afternoon meal being particularly tasty as it’s a “meat day” today; in addition I had a small quantity of meatloaf cut up in mine which proved to be a particularly successful experiment. I have just finished my evening meal consisting of one Service biscuit spread with processed cheese and half a loaf (take it easy, that’s only 3 ozs) cut into sandwiches – margarine, plum jam, Italian cheese, meatloaf and salt. The lot washed down with a draught of God’s own wine, or Corporation brew, or, if you prefer it so described, just water. A goodly scoff, indeed! And now to cap it all I am comfortably ensconced on my second-storey bed, writing this and puffing contentedly at a half cheroot. (Yes, friend, you may trouble me for a light.)
[Digital page 15]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 2
Page 2 Making Money
Page 3 Shares
Page 4 Visit From The Vatican
Page 4 Highland Holiday
Page 8 Ambition
Page 9 Trials Bikes
Page 9 Faces
Page 9 Pen Pals
Page 11 The Bed Next To Mine
Page 12 Bangpop II
Page 13 Desert Raids
Page 15 Who’s What And Where
Page 16 Contents Of Red Cross Food Parcels
Page 16 Nice Habits
Page 17 Castrol “R”
Page 19 ‘Beam For Sale
Page 19 Sidelights On Greece
Page 20 Colonial Characters
Page 21 Rough Riders Ramble
Page 23 Country Pubs
Page 24 Soho Eating Places
Page 24 POW Ailments
Page 25 POW Pastimes
Page 26 Figs Up!
Page 26 Army Songs
Page 26 “The Stuka Parade”
Page 26 “I Ain’t No Use For The Women”
Page 27 “Waltzing Matilda”
Page 27 “Australian Homestead”
Page 28 “A Soldier Came Home Late One Night”
Page “Cheer Up My Lads, Bless ‘Em All” *
Page “They’re In The Air” *
Page “Dug-Out In Matruh” *
Page 28 Profit Or Loss?
Page 30 Variety
Page 30 The Scaur
Page 32 Proposed Collection Of Verse
Page 32 Fire Days
Page 33 Tailpiece
* Never written.
[Footnote] Scrapbook No 2 – Page 1]
[Digital page 16]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 2
VISIT FROM THE VATICAN
28th February, 1943
On the 26th of this month we received a visit from several high Catholic dignitaries, including the Bishop of Ireland, who are touring POW camps on behalf of the Pope.
During the course of his very friendly address, the Papal Enuncio, an Italian, said that at other camps he had noticed the men brewing up tea at all hours of the day. “My advice to you” he continued “Is – brew up for the present, and prepare for the future.” Now, to my mind, that is the soundest advice any POW can receive. Here we are, not very fit physically, none too well nourished, yet with time on our hands and nothing compulsory to do. Thus it is that I am trying to maintain my mental faculties by attending classes on German, Italian and Psychology, Debates, General Knowledge contests and Spelling Bees (?) as well as reading and writing these jottings. My health by regular exercise – only walks at the present stage, games will come when I am stronger; and making the most of the food. It is most important to accept the situation as one finds it and to make the most of it, keeping one’s mind fully occupied, otherwise one is apt to brood on the injustice of life in general.
Yes, a pleasant visit, well meant and well received.
[Digital page 17]
18th March, 1943.
The guy who first said that Englishmen have inexpressive faces should pay a visit to PG 85. You can always tell when the skilly is a few minutes late; you’ll see groups of anxious looking fellows gazing towards the cookhouse but immediately the bugle blows their faces clear, there’s a joyous cry of “Skilly Up!” and a frantic dashing hither and yon.
Again, today a large batch of mail arrived and you can pick out at a glance those who received a letter. Their eyes shine, they wear a large grin and complete strangers are apt to tell you intimate details of their family affairs. The general atmosphere, despite pouring rain, is cheerful. We can stick any amount of this life provided the mail comes through.
18th March, 1943
Here at Tuturano there are no classes and somehow I’m not in the mood to read over or study the notes made at Bari. Consequently I have had to devise other means of passing the time, and big “gripes” are the result. Thus there is one fellow I seek out when I want to discuss boating, another politics, another motors, another “eats”, and so on. About half a dozen motor
[Footnote] Scrapbook No 2 – Page 9
[Digital page 18]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 2
cycling enthusiasts have been found and we’ve had some grand yarns.
Jock Mackay is one of the most interesting. A quiet, unassuming gamekeeper from Inverness, about 35-40 years old. He’s a keen motorcyclist who has ridden in the “Scottish” for the fun of the thing and if I keep at him much longer, he’ll be entering again. He’s no fool, isn’t Jock; very much the reverse, in fact; knows how to look after himself and goes through life almost unnoticed in his quiet yet shrewd way. We talk together chiefly of the “Scottish” but also of shooting, dogs and life in general. Gamekeepers live well, as you would expect, and occasionally Jock would have “bully” beef as a change from pheasant! His father worked as agent at Castle Milk for a spell.
“Goldie” is a Jew: was in the Palestine police before joining the Commandos; quiet, possibly because his English is halting; is an expert on biology; not an easy character to judge.
“Jim” was fruit farming for eight years in the Vale of Evesham, later worked in a garage; did a little grass tracking on a KTT Velo, also a little trials work; has a delightful accent, an air of permanent surprise and is quite knowledgeable on motors. Spends his time making handles for tin trays.
“Dusty” is about 25, a Parachutist from London; is another motor enthusiast and a speedway fan; the war has unsettled him and he wants to wander; is cheerful, intelligent and has had some interesting experiences in the desert, but doesn’t gripe about them.
Sam Ashby is 35 or so, a London Stock Broker who was also a Special Constable during the blitz. Maybe inclined to gripe, he’s nevertheless an expert on London pubs and eating houses – he held me spellbound for an hour or more with a graphic description of the a la carte dinner at Gennaro’s. Makes tremendous trifles out of his Red Cross parcels; runs the “Lousy Housy”; has an extensive general knowledge; wants to run a country pub – he’d make a grand landlord, a cheery soul and a good leader.
“D-D” is the boating expert. Six years in the Navy, later a Roneo representative; rather superior (RHA [Royal Horse Artillery]) and favours his best friend, as “Tec” (?) Haylett would have said. Wants to breed dogs in the country.
Joe has been my cobber since our capture: partly Irish but mainly Lancashire; a regular with his “eight” just completed; had a hard time before joining up (“everything happens to Joe”) and knocked around England a bit; keen on motors, aircraft, good books; has his own views in most subjects; fond of his bed, is Joe; conveniently deaf in one ear; has surprising fits of energy during which it’s advisable to hold onto anything fragile; has got the “wanderlust”; also a girl at home, so, like me, one day he wants to see more of the world, the next to settle down, again like me, not at his best immediately after rising, when we sometimes snarl at each other; otherwise we hit it off together very well. A very steady file on the whole; even tempered; obstinate; easy going; takes life as he finds it, cheerfully; always losing things; philosophic; face like a friendly chimp; a fellow “Barling and Barry’s” devotee.
“Jock” is another Scot, whose bed is opposite mine. All day and every day he sits like the Sphinx. Never speaks, never moves. I believe he breathes.
“Lofty” is about 23; a Cockney: six foot tall and thin as a lath; dry and humorous at times; croons, Bing Crosby fashion; recites “There’s a green eyed goddess (or little idol)”; sings “Frankie and Johnnie” in the most dismal manner.
[Footnote] Scrapbook No 2 – Page 10
[Digital page 19]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 2
“Smithy” is definitely a civvy. Has had a variety of jobs; works when necessary; knows what is meant by a “moonlight flit”. Amusing (as distinct from humorous).
“Clarry” (?) is another “non-specialist” pal, like Joe; a YMCA member; keen on games, hiking. We see a lot of each other and chat of this and that. As you’re liable to read this, Clarry, maybe I’d better leave it at that!
Hilary Machen is about 30; family man; worked on electric power cable; writes in his spare time – three unpublished novels, many unpublished “shorts”, but has had “shorts” accepted by Penguins and (I think) “John O’London’s” and “Strand” or similar magazines. Quiet and well read: when his family grows up (he married young) wants to convert an old lifeboat and sail round the world with his wife – probably will, too. Attends the “Doves”, listening to A. P. Herbert. Really interesting.
“Big Business” was manager of a chain store in peace time; takes himself very seriously indeed (once told me, in all seriousness, that, “these fellows, altho’ I treat them as friends now, would be proud to shake hands with me in civvy street); a bore, but a good speaker, intelligent and probably a success at his job altho’ my idea of a failure in life as he doesn’t seem to know how to enjoy himself; seems proud of the fact that overwork caused him two nervous breakdowns; talks of the POW’s duty to his country and duty to his wife – convenient conscience; was in an Officers’ Shop and tried for a commission in the Catering Corps! He organised the General Knowledge and Spelling Bee contests. It takes all types to make a world and such men as he have a definite place. Yes Sir, He’s a Man Who Gets Thing Done.
With “Jerry” (?) I discuss politics and economics: fortyish; a shopkeeper; has read a little; well meaning and a thoroughly good fellow who would reform the world; but is a typical muddled thinker and that saw about “a little knowledge” applies.
“Atty” (?) is a RAF Sgt A/G [unidentified], about 23: keen club cyclist and interested in athletics – he knows all the records for years back: doesn’t seem very keen on flying.
“Susy” (?) is the third member of our parcel trio; we’ve “mucked in” all along; very slow; a miser with food (gloats over it): no mind of his own: annoying at times but we three get on as well as any trio, which is not bad considering our temperaments and how closely we live together; straightforward and has no real views.
THE BED NEXT TO MINE
19th March, 1943.
Our first night at PG 85 the bed next to mine was occupied by an Englishman; the next night by a Syrian from the French Foreign Legion; the third by a Turk in the RASC [Royal Army Service Corps]; whilst the present holder is a Geordie in the Parachutists. Not a bad variety.
[Footnote] Scrapbook No2 – Page 11
[Digital page 20]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 2
CONTENTS OF RED CROSS FOOD PARCELS
22nd March, 1943.
|1)||12 ozs||Bully beef.||16 ozs||Meat & veg. or Cornish pie|
|2)||10 ozs||Luncheon meat.||10 ozs||Meatloaf or galantine|
|3)||7 1/4 ozs||Salmon.||8 ozs||Bacon or pilchards.|
|4)||3 1/4 ozs||Sardines.||10 ozs||Tomatoes or carrots.|
|5)||4 ozs||Cheese.||3 ozs||Cheese.|
|6)||16 ozs||Butter.||8 ozs||Margarine.|
|7)||16 ozs||Jam or marmalade.||8 ozs||Jam or syrup.|
|8)||4 ozs||Tea or coffee.||2 ozs||Tea.|
|9)||8 ozs||Sugar.||6 ozs||Sugar.|
|10)||16 ozs||Milk (powdered) (Klim or Cowbell).||Large tin Nestles condensed milk.|
|11)||6 ozs||Dried prunes.||16 ozs||Apple pudding.|
|12)||7 ozs||Raisins.||10 ozs||Rice pudding.|
|13)||5 ozs||Chocolate.||4 ozs||Chocolate.|
|14)||Packet||Salt & pepper.||——–|
|16)||16 ozs||Biscuits.||8 ozs||Biscuits. (Army type – 12/14)|
Canadian parcels seldom vary. English vary in meats, puddings, sometimes have coffee, cocoa, Ovaltine, Curry, Bemax, Yorkshire pudding, oatmeal, dates, etc. & there are different brands.
Hard to say which are best – they’re all good. You can make trifles from the Canadian but English puddings and hot meats are fine & Yorkshire pudding mixture can be used for cakes with cocoa. Issue is one parcel per man per week.
24th March, 1943.
As one might expect, I have picked up certain habits since being a POW which definitely “let the side down, chaps”. I’m not ashamed of them, for they are for the most part induced by hunger, but nevertheless they wouldn’t look pretty at home and will have to be dropped.
Coffee grains and tea leaves I always eat and enjoy. Tea leaves actually taste to me something like Shredded Wheat when the tea has had sugar and milk in it. (Of course, our sense of taste is not to be trusted – the daily skilly, which goes down well, would be unpalatable in normal circumstances.) Margarine and jam we spoon joyously on their own, whilst Nestles milk appeals so strongly that the majority eat a tinful neat within half an hour of receiving it, leaving none for their tea. Orange peel I eat, but then I always have done, despite Mother’s warnings of grievous consequences. Cabbage stalks rejected from the cookhouse saved the situation on one particularly bad day at Bari – the first week there, with thin skillies, no parcels, KD [Khaki Drill] clothing and December weather was possibly our worst period. At Benghazi, had anyone dropped a fag end (which no one did) there would have been a
[Footnote] Scrapbook No 2 – Page 16
[Digital page 21]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 2
stampede. Thanks to a regular issue of English tobacco the smokes situation is back to normal, or almost so, tho’ in the last eight months my Barling has burnt fig leaves (at Bari) and dried grass (at Benghazi) in addition to “dog ends” of all sorts and even, as a curative – most effective – string.
Delousing is taken as a matter of course, but we’re managing to reduce them. Until recently it was not unusual to catch twenty a day on your shirt, whilst fleas and, to a less extent, bugs, are also with us. Incidentally, fleas and lice don’t seem to agree. Thus when you have fleas, you’re not likely to have many lice. Fleas seem to win, as a rule. Lice are easy to catch, but breed in large numbers, whilst fleas are very nippy little fellows. But neither of these are as unpleasant as the Matruh bugs – big, fat, juicy ones which used to drop from the rafters in the W/T [unidentified] dugout onto your blankets with a dull thud.
It will be a real pleasure to sit down at a table again and use a knife, fork and plate. The Red Cross parcels are reintroducing us to normal English food, but at Benghazi we never saw anything beyond the stodges, bread, bully, coffee, sugar and ghee. For five months we went without such ordinary items as matches, butter, milk, jam & tea (imagine an Englishman deprived of his tea!).
Every day I can feel myself improving now, thanks to the Red Cross and better skillies, and we’re all putting on a little weight. Incidentally, the permanent staff and those on double skillies, get fat and puffy – it doesn’t look too healthy. If the improvement continues, we’ll be well nigh normal when freedom comes.
[Digital page 22]
31st March, 1943.
Our physical condition has improved appreciably since our arrival in Italy, and we are not falling such easy victims to sickness. But at Benghazi we were in a very poor way indeed, due to lack of nourishment.
The main trouble was undoubtedly dysentery. About 90% of us must have had it, some very badly indeed and there were several deaths. The medical supplies were short and the hospitals overcrowded, so that men were not accepted for the hospitals until they had had a five day starvation treatment. Thus on their entry they were in no state to put up a proper resistance.
When the epidemic was at its height the latrine area was covered with men who had to sleep there and in the morning one could always find visible evidence that others had been “caught short”. Our M.O. [Medical Officer] described it as the worst epidemic he had known for 20 years.
Jaundice and sandfly fever were fairly common. Every one suffered from “blackouts” – on rising suddenly, your head would swim, you’d feel dizzy and could see nothing for a few seconds. The slightest cut turned septic: skin diseases developed, possibly due to scratching when fleas and lice irritated. When the colder weather came we seemed unable to control our kidneys – in December 1942, I frequently had to nip out eight times in the course of a night.
In Italy there were a few more deaths, the result of the hardships endured earlier. Now, however, things are not bad. Boils and septic cuts are still common and there was a scabies scare which resulted in about fifty men being moved to hospital. This is a malarial district so previous sufferers are being given tablets as a preventative. We are even regaining lost weight – all surplus flesh was lost in Benghazi, many twelve stoners coming down to about nine – you can tell “Benghazi legs” a mile away – matchsticks!
[Footnote] Scrapbook No. 2 – Page 24
[Digital page 23]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 2
I myself have been fortunate – no dysentery or other sickness, just the “blackouts” and desert sores. As to weight, I’ve probably lost say half a stone: it’s most noticeable about the hips, shoulders and thighs. It shouldn’t take much to restore me to normal.
2nd April, 1943.
The problems connected with food very largely occupy our time – discussions on the relative merits of various Red Cross parcels, our own preferences, home cooking, what we’re going to eat on our return; the actual cooking and preparation of tinned foods, this we all do, highbrow and lowbrow alike. Food is the first essential but after answering its demands to the best of our ability our individual natures lead us along separate paths.
Those with a musical bent are fortunate, especially if they have their own instruments, and surprisingly enough, several of the lads at Benghazi had managed to retain accordions, banjos and one even had a saxophone. A band was soon formed; later singers and comedians were forthcoming and at this camp there are two or three separate concert parties. Eric Hurst, a young Jewish intellectual, has written a few excellent lyrics and equally good tunes – “Only forty dollars a week”, “Your heart and mine”, “Nightingale Waltz” and others. Hilary Machen writes short stories of a pretty good standard. Hurst and others produce a newspaper which is very artistically written in flowing script and posted up on boards; but its subject matter is naturally limited and it doesn’t make interesting reading – rather like a school magazine.
Numerous folk keep journals or diaries; others sketch – camp scenes and portraits chiefly; others ponder over mathematical problems, play chess, draughts, cards; and we all read whatever we can lay hands upon. The handymen make mugs, plates, knives, forks, stoves, ovens and so on from tin. We mend our own clothes – make them, even; do our own washing. Some people go in for wood carving, making chessmen, engraving pipes, making casks, the Cross. A few have proved expert knitters!
At Bari, where facilities were good, the officers gave daily talks and we had classes on almost every conceivable subject – languages, maths, shorthand, psychology, motor engineering, commercial art, building construction, etc. Quite a young university, in fact!
At Benghazi was an auction and several lads took to trading – buying articles from the guards and reselling at exorbitant prices – onions, smokes, matches, dates, etc. There fires were allowed all the time and we used to produce amazing dishes out of our own bread and bully – stews, fries, rissoles, cakes, porridge and what not.
Recently we’ve been given footballs, cricket bat and ball, facilities for deck tennis and basketball: a fair proportion make full use of these. But mainly we walk round and round the pen or sit out when the sun shines talking interminably, flogging every subject threadbare, and thinking, sometimes to some purpose, more often just letting our thoughts drift.
When the weather is unpleasant, 75% of the lads get into bed and sleep, but this is beyond me. I’m writing a lot – in addition to these notes I’m attempting a series of articles suitable for the motor cycling press. The trouble is they’re not suitable!
[Footnote] Scrapbook No. 2 – Page 25
[Digital page 24]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 2
3rd April, 1943.
“Pay’s in” comes the glad tidings. Next it’s “Figs up” and a general dash to the canteen.
Our pay is one lira per day, paid out twice monthly and figs cost 20 lire per kilo (2 1/2 lbs). As there’s very little else worth buying and we live for the day, more or less, the result is a general all-round scoff. Figs are tasty and you could go on eating them till Judgement Day. But eat a pound or so, then have a drink and they swell up inside you in a most gratifying way – you can indulge in the luxury of staggering around wearing no belt, your pants held up by internal pressure.
What pigs we’ll make of ourselves on our release!
6th April, 1943.
In the next few pages are the words of one or two songs which go down well in the canteen when the beer flows freely. They look childish and full of bathos, but a “sesh” seems most successful when interspersed with the bawdy and dismal; and the tune is the main thing.
There’s always a sentimental one about Mother, too, which invariably jars my feelings.
“THE STUKA PARADE”
(Tune: “Easter Parade”. Origin: Tobruk sign.)
See them all dive-bombing, from dusk till early morning
Around Tobruk they’re storming, it’s the Stuka parade.
All the boys take cover till the raid is over
Then they’re all in clover when the Stukas start to fade.
The Ack-Ack lets them know, that if they come too low
Their picture will be seen on the “Killed in action” page of a Berlin magazine.
And when we’re over eighty, and we get back to Blighty
We’ll all recall the nights when we’d a Stuka parade.
“I AIN’T NO USE FOR THE WOMEN”
Origin: Boy jilted by fiancee; worries so joined Argyle Regt.; volunteered for Palestine where he was shot by an Arab and died. His C.S.M. [Company Sergeant Major] wrote the words and set them to music.
I ain’t no use for the women, they laugh at you when you are down.
I ain’t no use for the women, for a true one can never be found.
If she had been all she should have, we should have been raising a son.
But instead he is pushing up daisies, ‘neath the old Palestine sun.
It happened one day down in Acre, where most of the fighting’s been done.
He lay just where we found him, shot down by an old Arab gun.
As he raised himself up on his elbow, the blood from his wounds did flow red.
And turning to us his old comrades, these were the words that he said.
[Footnote] Scrapbook No. 2 – Page 26
[Digital page 25]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 2
Oh bury me out in the desert, beneath the old Palestine sun.
Oh bury me out in the desert, but don’t breathe a word to my mum.
So we buried him out in the desert, where Allah can watch o’er his grave.
And we think of him our old comrade, his life for old England he gave.
And now that we’re back in old Blighty, we think of the things we have done.
We think of him our old comrade, shot down by an old Arab gun.
(The Aussie’s song.)
Once a jolly swagman came unto a billabong
Under the shade of a Coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and he waited till his billy boiled.
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda,
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me
And he sang as he watched and he waited till his kettle boiled
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.
Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed it with glee
And he sang as he stuffed that jumbuck in his tucker bag
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.
NB Billabong – waterhole. Jumbuck – a lamb. Swagman – tramp. Waltzing Matilda – to carry your bag. Coolibah – Aussie tree.
Twas in an old Australian homestead, with the roses round the door
A girl received a letter just newly from the war.
With her mother’s arms around her, she gave way to sobs and sighs
For as she read that letter, sure the tears came to her eyes.
Why do I weep, why do I pray.
My love’s asleep so far away
He played his part the dawn that day
And left my heart in Suvla Bay.
Now she’s joined a band of sisters beneath the cross of red
To always remain faithful to her lover who is dead.
The people they felt sorry for this Sister dressed in red
When she told them the sad story, of her lover who is dead.
Why do I weep etc.
[Footnote] Scrapbook No. 2 – Page 27
[Digital page 26]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 2
“A SOLDIER CAME HOME LATE ONE NIGHT”
A soldier came home late one night
And found his house without a light.
He went upstairs to go to bed
When sudden thoughts came to his head.
He went into his daughter’s room
and found her hanging from a rope.
He took a knife and cut her down
And on her heart these words were found.
I wish my baby had been born
Then all my troubles would be o’er.
So dig my grave and dig it deep
And place white lilies at my feet.
Now all you maidens bear in mind
A soldier’s love is hard to find.
And if you find one good and true
Don’t change the old love for the new.
PROFIT OR LOSS?
7th April, 1943.
It is said, somewhat smugly, that one should profit from adversity, and so I’ve attempted to draw up a balance sheet showing how nine months as a POW has affected me. It’s not easy to judge. Physically we are inevitably the losers. Poor food, sickness, unhealthy living conditions and lack of exercise have taken their toll, but by looking after myself, and with a little luck, no irreparable damage need have been done, despite the dismal views held by the pessimists. For myself, I am convinced that a month at home will see me back to normal. Good food and exercise will do the trick.
Mental stagnation and how to overcome it is the main problem. Reading books which require a little concentration, I find I can assimilate, say, a couple of pages, normally, but on completing the third I find I’ve no idea what it’s all about and have to turn back and re-read it carefully. This makes studying hard, unless one is really interested in the subject when this difficulty doesn’t exist. Health is bound up with one’s mental state, thus I hope that return to full health will see the full restoration of our mental capacities. I firmly agree with Josh Billings that in this life “a good set of bowels is worth any amount of brains”, but for all that I’m no physical fitness “run round the block before breakfast” fanatic. Walking, fresh air and a few games will do me.
Books being almost unobtainable and facilities for study non-existent, my present standbys are the daily walks, a reasonable spreading out of the Red Cross food and the cooking we can do on the three weekly “fire days”, writing (which helps towards keeping a clear, reasoning mind), odd conversations to pass time, and, more than anything, my growing friendship with Hilary Machen. He is one of the few people in the camp with whom I can
[Footnote] Scrapbook No. 2 – Page 28
[Digital page 27]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 2
enjoy a chat on subjects which are not merely trivial – literature, social reconstruction, religion, any of those subjects which the normal Englishman considers taboo. There are other such folk here, of course; some of whom I don’t know; others whom I know so well that we have a thorough knowledge of each other’s views and further discussions with whom would be a boring repetition on both sides.
Hilary, however, is a most interesting personality, one of the few R.C. [Roman Catholic] intellectuals (not a nice word) I’ve met, thus doubly interesting. To begin with, he has had a literary upbringing. His father, Arthur Machen, is himself an author who some years back enjoyed a limited vogue in Britain and the U.S.A. as “the Welsh R.L.S.” (tho’ I must confess that altho’ the name seems familiar, I know nothing of his works). As a result Hilary has met such men as Walter de la Mare, Belloc, Chesterton, and A.P. Herbert, but I’m glad to say he makes no pretence of mixing with them as an equal. We share a liking for boating, Bentleys, the type of pub where the surroundings and talk are a greater attraction than the swilling down of beer (not that the quality of the drink is unimportant), country life and the simple way of living as contrasted to dreary suburbanism and equally annoying sophistication. He is well educated (Merchant Taylors) yet is guilty of no more than an intellectual snobbery, if that, and has the charm of manner which a genuinely good public school gives. I read his short stories and offer criticism, such as it is worth. His writing is to my liking, on the whole: possibly too long winded for “shorts”, but with a sort of attractive sadness which I find hard to describe. “The Three Comrades” has it, so has Hardy, so, to me, has the plaintive call of hill birds; but it’s not by any means fully developed yet.
His wife and family are living in a caravan in Pembrokeshire; they intend continuing so after the War. In short, I value his friendship as I did Dandy’s.
I’ve strayed from the point, rather, but all this shows that my character is still developing. Like all POWs, I’ve gained in patience and learnt to make the most of small blessings. My understanding of character has increased: hardship has brought forth many virtues and many petty vices: it doesn’t behove me to criticise others unduly for I’m not unaware of little meanness in myself which didn’t exist before – I’m hoping to lose them. One has to struggle to remain tolerant of other’s failings for they become very obvious thro’ close contact. Above all, one learns to seize one’s opportunities with both hands, too often ignoring the next man when doing so. Yet altho’ we live in a “from day to day” fashion we’re not content to let the future look after itself as we did in the Army where one’s time was more fully occupied and all our wants met without effort on our part. Yes, we’re better fitted to look after ourselves but also far more selfish. One is willing to share the last smoke with a friend but only if he has not been improvident: certainly not with a stranger. Rather than borrow, one does without. We say we’ll never grumble as long as our bellies are full but personally I don’t believe this.
I don’t think that the majority will show much sign of what they’ve been thro’ six months after their return. Most of the failings will vanish of their own accord. The virtues, too, will go unless one is aware of them and consciously strives to retain them.
[Footnote] Scrapbook No. 2 – Page 29
[Digital page 28]
30th April, 1943.
Three days weekly we’re allowed fires and here’s what we cook of the Red Cross food.
In the mornings, thick porridge and tea. Tea again in the afternoon. In the evening the big meal, any of the following: heat up the tinned stew and veg.; fry bacon, sausage or meatloaf; toast or fry bread; scramble eggs or make omelettes, sometimes with the sausage, etc. in it; cocoa or coffee; Yorkshire pudding (we’ve had none yet) can be made into a cake with the addition of cocoa or jam or fritters can be made. It’s all simple but most enjoyable. We use stoves made from tin with Klim tins as billy cans, pudding tins as frying pans. Some of the stoves are elaborate, having ovens for baking and other places for frying, boiling and toasting. One stove is like a kitchen range, four feet long, with space to boil a dozen Klim tins, others are small and neat, whilst some folk find an open fire as good as any.
[Footnote] Scrapbook No. 2 – Page 32
[Digital page 29]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 3
Page Marriage And Me (Pages 1 & 2 missing.)
Page 2 PG 85
Page 3 Authority
Page 5 Salmon For Supper (Fiction.)
Page 7 Mrs. Beeton At Benghazi
Page 7 Credo Nunc
Page 10 Don R. In The Desert
Page 13 Homo Sapiens
[Footnote] Scrapbook No. 3 – Page 1
[Digital page 30]
[Title] PG 85
18th May, 1943.
Tuturano POW camp lies in the S.E. corner of Italy, five or six miles from the sea and near Brindisi, in what is reputed to be a malarial district. It is also said that all this country, now under cultivation, was but recently recovered from marshland and, indeed, the general appearance seems to confirm this.
The camp itself surrounds a large old whitewashed stone farmhouse which, with its adjacent outbuildings, is now used as a barracks for the Italian guards. It is divided into two separate parts, “Piccolo”, housing the working prisoners, and “Grande”, where we idlers live. “Piccolo” is on the Eastern side of the farmhouse and is about one quarter the size of “Grande” – it holds three huts for the men, as against twelve. Each camp has its own stone latrines, wash houses and offices.
We are kept in by a double fence of barbed wire, about ten feet high and patrolled by sentries armed with rifles – and bread, for much bartering goes on and the feeling is, on the whole, one of mutual good will. To the best of my knowledge, there has been no attempt at escape, probably because irksome restrictions are reduced to a minimum and Red Cross food supplies regular. The ground is bare earth, trampled hard and very like the Western Desert, so that a wind blowing from the North creates a dust storm as it passes over the open space of the football field. The huts are rather overcrowded for they hold 100 men each, sleeping on double tier beds. Close to and inside the wire runs a narrow flower bed where cactus plants grow, and there are carefully tended flower gardens by the hospital and in the farm yard.
As to the surrounding country, skirting the Northern boundary is the dusty white road from Tuturano village. Beyond, the slightly undulating land stretches as far as one can see, unbroken by hedge or fence; and at this time of year (May) it is a waving sea of ripening corn, green faintly tinged with golden brown, with here and there a patch of dark brown ploughed land and small plantations of trees. The road is unfenced and at its edge, against the background of the corn, grow dandelions, mayflowers and vivid scarlet poppies. It carries very little traffic, this road, and that largely horse-drawn traps, bearing the peasants, laughing, brightly clad girls and silent, suntanned men, to their work in the fields. Each passing vehicle raises a small cloud of dust, which slowly settles, whitening the nearby corn.
Inside the Western fence are a few cork trees, their trunks stripped of bark, and stone buildings. Here one can always find a secluded and sheltered corner in which to browse; and in the cool of the evening Hilary Machen and I are wont to sit, talking and watching the sun sink to rest in a brilliantly coloured sky, the light strangely luminous. Beyond the fence is a wood of cork trees where the undergrowth sprawls thick and tangled. In the S.W. corner tomatoes have been planted.
The aspect from the remaining two sides is similar to that from the Northern except that
[Footnote] Scrapbook No. 3 – Page 2
[Digital page 31]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 3
[Diagram showing the layout of PG 85 Tuturano]
on the East the land dips into a shallow valley and there are rather more trees, planted in long rows.
Apart from its unhealthiness, it is a good camp, with an air of geniality. Its size, “Grande” is 750 paces around the perimeter, helps to ease that penned up feeling and the evening stroll, with the crickets chirping and the air still, will remain as one of my pleasant memories of POW life.
[Digital page 32]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 3
MRS. BEETON AT BENGHAZI
4th June, 1943.
At Benghazi our usual daily food ration was one hot meal (a solid stodge of rice, tomato puree, cheese &/or dried veg, about one pint), 1/2 tin of Italian bully (somewhat aged and not infrequently “high”), one loaf of soggy bread (about 400 grammes) with occasional small issues of salt, sugar, ghee (an Indian fat) and coffee. Half our fifteen weekly Italian fags were used in the purchase of small bundles of wood from the Indians or Negroes who went out on working parties.
In view of the state of the bread and bully it seemed safer to cook them, so my meals were after this nature.
For breakfast, “porridge” made of grated bread and water, with salt when available: or perhaps bread toasted or fried in ghee: also coffee.
For tiffin and supper, either the stodge (it came up, if at all, at midday or 5 p.m. on alternate days) or a stew. This stew was known as “Benghazi ‘ash” and consisted of bully, grated bread and anything else available – such as salt, ghee or garlic and on one memorable occasion, an onion: also one slice of toast and coffee.
When the stodge was not forthcoming we were given an extra half tin of bully and made another stew. For a short period, the bread was replaced by two packets of British biscuits, broken & alive with weevils, or two Italian biscuits, also with “live meat content”, but such trifles bothered us not one whit. Indeed, the biscuits were a very definite improvement on the bread. At this time English bully was issued in place of the Italian, one English tin being the equivalent of two Italian. During our last few weeks at Benghazi there was a fuel shortage so there were very few stodges. When we left the salt lake camp for the roadside pen we tore down one of the fences to get wood: the guards were indifferent.
Once I made bread & bully rissoles which looked good and tasted bad. When we were without coffee, the common substitute was bread crumbs, burnt black, but Joe insisted that a nearer approach to the real thing was toast dipped in hot water – then dried & eaten, of course. People with dysentery sometimes cured themselves by eating nothing but burnt bread. Some folk just had the one meal a day, a grand stew with everything in it.
Throughout the 4 1/2 months at Benghazi we were always hungry. Hope kept us going: some folk died.
[Digital page 33]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 4
Page 2 The Lizard
Page 2 The Eternal Triangle (Short story.)
Page 3 A Letter Home
Page 4 Misunderstandings
Page 4 Comments on Communism
Page 6 Comments on Christianity
Page 8 At “The Stretchers Arms” (Fiction.)
Page 10 A Motor Cycle Album
Page 11 Third Time Lucky?
Page 12 Betwixt and Between
[Footnote] Scrapbook No. 4 – Page 1
[Digital page 34]
[Title] A LETTER HOME
23 June, 1943.
My dear Mother,
Life is very pleasant this morning. I am resting after three days pretty hard work on the mag. Breakfast was sufficient, my pipe is drawing smoothly. Beside me, in the shade of a tree, lies a book (E.M. Forster’s “Howards End”) so good that I hate the thought of finishing it. Shortly my good friend Hilary will arrive. [How I wish you could share with me the charm of this country: the distant, luring mountains; the cultivated hills nearby, mellow & softly folding, like the Sussex Downs or the Malverns; the warm sun & the cool breeze, rippling the leaves; the flowers; the hum of insects & the chirping of birds; the scurrying lizards; the small, stone towns, church dominated, merging into the hilltops; the cloudless blue sky; the faint drone of a passing plane. At night I look at the hills & long to lie there, on my own, beneath a canopy of stars. Yet always, at the back of my mind, lurks the feeling of restraint. But there is much to look forward to: freedom & reunion with my own folk & country.
And looking back at the last three years, life has been good to me: the freshness & vigour of those early days in the Army; new acquaintances & physical well-being; the journey out; the fascination of strange lands & peoples; the queer draw of the Western Desert; solitude, excitement, leisure; Egyptian nights; the hardships of last year; the rebirth, the upbuilding of the last six months; new outlook & interests; more, new & deeper, friendships; the appreciation of books; the pleasure of writing. Yes, I should return, a wiser but in no way
[Footnote] Scrapbook No. 4 – Page 3
[Digital page 35]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 4
sadder man, viewing life from a changed, more balanced, standpoint. And it will be to a changed England. The countryside will be much the same, but the people different – it must be so.
[Digital page 36]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 4
THIRD TIME LUCKY?
20th August, 1943.
A month ago Mussolini fled and now the fall of Sicily is officially admitted – we always know these things have happened long before the official announcement, sometimes before they have actually happened! Relief seems imminent.
This is the third time on which release has been at hand. We were moved from Benghazi on 11th November 1942, four days before its fall. For over a week the road had been crowded with Axis vehicles in full retreat & as we were marched through the town to the boat, the civilians were evacuating. We were praying that the RAF would bomb the boat as they had done an oil tanker three days previously – it was still burning steadily in the harbour. Nearly five months had we been hanging on, doing our utmost to remain behind, whilst the sick & weak-hearted were eager to get away to the better conditions prevailing in Italy. We hoped that when our troops advanced (it was “when” not “if”), the Axis transport system, known to be weak, would prove incapable of moving us. The disappointment left us very dispirited & we were in no physical condition to attempt an escape. In Tripoli much the same thing happened, except that the margin was not so narrow.
In Benghazi, Tripoli, Naples, Bari, Brindisi, in fact, everywhere we have come into contact with Italian civilians, they have shown not hostility but kindness, giving us cigarettes when we had none: above all, their utter weariness with the war was evident. Italy has been at war for 10 years without break – Abyssinia, Spain, Albania, then World War 2, and there is no profit to show for it all. The people want to resume their normal lives, the soldiers to quit the army. Personal vindictiveness has gone. The common enemy is the war.
Thirteen months had I been in Italian hands when Mussolini was ejected, yet I saw only three Fascist salutes given, & no enthusiastic blackshirts, so the change of regime was expected. Indeed, we predicted it six months and more ago. It was obvious, yet when it came it was a shock, just as the declaration of war was, and of peace will be. With the advent of Badoglio we expected peace and no doubt would have had it but for the presence of Germans in the country. The Italians are in an awkward situation. They have no hopes of victory and nothing to gain from fighting, knowing that their towns will be bombed flat, but – the Germans are in the country. It is like being in the dentists’ waiting room – they know there’s something unpleasant to go through before they can have comfort, and the sooner they get it over, the better.
Thus we read the situation, here in the camp. As I have already said, when Mussolini went we expected hostilities to cease, and so did our guards. One of the sentries, scarce able to contain himself for excitement, told me that peace had been signed. On both sides of the wire, hopes were high and rumours rife. Now our optimism has sunk to more reasonable levels. The end must be near – any hour, possibly, two or three months at the most. But because of our previous disappointments, we try to occupy our minds with other things and not to dwell on the matter. It is unlikely that we will be moved to Germany if the Italians can prevent it, for we are of some use to them for bargaining purposes. Thus we can expect reasonable treatment from them to make up for the possible shortage of Red Cross food – the railway system is likely to be so overworked and upset by bombing that we’ll be lucky if any more parcels arrive.
But we’ll put up with that gladly if the third time proves lucky!
[Footnote] Scrapbook No. 4 – Page 11
[Digital page 37]
[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 4
BETWIXT AND BETWEEN
12th September, 1943.
An Armistice was signed with Italy on 3rd Sept and announced at 9 p.m. on Wednesday the 8th. We were expecting some such news at any time this year & had been doing so for some months, so the shock was not great.
For Hilary & me the evening was unusual. We were sitting in our usual corner of the camp, where the hospital stands & it is consequently fairly quiet, listening to a well worn gramophone playing some equally well worn records of Bing Crosby – music which I hadn’t heard since my capture, 14 months ago. The guard in the sentry box just above us was a tough looking merchant for an Iti & in the dusk his outline looked Roman. At intervals came the mewing of a kitten. We looked everywhere but couldn’t locate that kitten and finally decided that it must be the sentry amusing himself. We reckoned that maybe it was the Party cry of the Via-ists or the Illuminists, both of which parties, of course, have now gone into voluntary liquidation.
Well, at 9 p.m. we heard a hum of excitement which gradually swelled into a roar of tumultuous cheering, so we ambled round to see what was what. “Peace!” we were told. “La guerra e finito!” said the Itis, and in a few minutes the camp leader announced it over the broadcasting system. I was pleased, naturally, but not effusively so. The band started to play some typically British songs, & the crowd joined in – “Lights of London”, “Loch Lomond” and so on. But the brewers kept on brewing. We walked around for a couple of hours, chatting disjointedly & not listening to each other, then around midnight I turned in, pretty tired & feeling slightly sick – just as one does after a near shave on the road. However, it was a couple of hours before I dropped off to sleep, dreaming of Woodford & my homecoming.
The excitement has died down now & it is apparent that we may be here for some weeks yet so I’m getting back into a revised routine. Some privileges have been granted; there are no longer any forbidden zones in the camp & walking and river swimming parties go out. Behaviour has been reasonably good though, of course, some louts had to ruin some nearby vines & crops; but that’s thoughtlessness, not vindictiveness, the sort of thing townsfolk do in the country every Bank Holiday. Bartering is flourishing, tho’ forbidden.
On the Thursday a rumour was prevalent that Jerries were in the neighbourhood, & my friend Hilary decided he’d be safer on his own, so away he went, returning today, three days later. He got out at 10 p.m. – I was at the Motor Clubs’ “Club Night” – after talking an Italian sentry round, and walked until 8 a.m., reaching a farm at the foot of the Apennines, about 30 kms away. There he was right royally regaled, & on learning the true situation, he came back, his explanation satisfying the authorities here. Shortly after his departure it was announced that folk leaving the camp would be classed as deserters. Lots of men have got out since then, either to relieve their pent-up emotions or to make their way to our own lines – it is thought that our troops have landed at Ancona 30 miles north.
Personally I think it is best to stay put. Escapes upset discipline, which is very necessary just now, and furthermore, with a little vino inside, one might go haywire and do much harm to the attempted British-Italian reconciliation. The actual danger of roaming around outside is slight, although our camp leaders pretend otherwise. But the things are now organised in the camp to cover all eventualities & another few weeks or thereabouts should see us all out, so what’s the use? True, our troops only hold the foot of Italy & there are
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[Title] SCRAPBOOK NO. 4
Jerries in this district, but they are mostly heading North at high speed, & they can hardly move us even if our system of outside scouts breaks down. It would need 300 tightly packed lorries or 8 trains to transport the 8,400 of us, and they can’t manage that, unless the situation deteriorates considerably. Nor is it likely that they will bomb us. They can have few planes to spare on targets of such little importance as POWs, it would lead to reprisals, & furthermore the Jerries are not a futilely vicious race.
A wireless set was secretly constructed in the camp early this year, so that our leaders have been hearing the BBC programmes, which are now being relayed over the camp broadcasting system. It was a closely guarded & well kept secret.
And now for some incidents of the past few months. Elsewhere I’ve mentioned the two suicides which took place shortly before our arrival. There has been another since then, also a case of insanity (not the first) & one unfortunate fellow selected PG 70, of all places, to change sex! The lad going crazy illustrates how callous we’ve all become. He slept two or three beds from me, & one night, around midnight, he sprang up & dashed out of the building, yelling at the top of his voice. I half woke, learnt the cause & was asleep again before he’d been put in a strait-jacket and carried away. In the morning it was mentioned casually; a couple of days later it was shelved. The Army hardened our feelings & POW life completed the course, and in honesty I must confess that the misfortunes of others bother me not one whit. I understand & appreciate them, of course, but any show of sympathy is largely artificial. You could alter the proverb from “all sorrows are bearable if there is bread” to “other peoples’ sorrows are nothing if I have bread”. Not very nice, but there it is, & it will change when we get back to our normal lives.
I’m completing the fourth number of the Auto Club magazine, not for circulation, but just to occupy my time & to prove to Wm. S. [unidentified] that I’ve not been completely idle. I’m also planning big things for my leave, though I suppose it’ll be very steady, really, due to the petrol rationing.
Roll on the boat!
[Subsequent annotation] 7th Nov. What’s that about not counting chickens?
Thursday, 13th Sept, 1943.
The Iti guards have gone home, so the alarm system must now be useless. So at 5 o’clock this morning, I left camp with Eric Cook & Harry Corbett meaning to hang on outside until the 8th Army arrives which everyone expects will be in 10 days or so.
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[Title] THE ROAD HOME
25th January 1944.
Here’s the tale of events since shortly after the Italian Armistice.
In PG 70 all was optimism and confidence. Major Parker, our MO [Medical Officer], took over and explained the position as he saw it. “I’ve been in touch with the nearby camps” said he “and we’ve decided to remain “put”. The position is just as if we were in barracks in England. You’ll be allowed out on pass during the day but behave yourselves, for the peasants are simple folk and very poor. Our troops should be here soon but till then discipline is very necessary and anyone who leaves will be posted as a deserter and court martialled on rejoining our own lines. We’ve got an alarm system in operation in conjunction with the Italians and if we see any sign of Germans making this way, the camp will be cleared and we’ll make our own way down in organised groups of fifty or a hundred.”
This sounded reasonable, except the last bit and I was in full agreement. The Italian guards were taken off and the Coldstreams were substituted. Very fine! The Iti officers used to walk backwards and forwards in front of the Coldstreams in order to enjoy that super salute. But after two or three days it was found that the Coldstream boys were looking the other way when anyone wanted to nip over the wall, so back came the Itis on duty.
By this time perhaps two or three hundred out of the 8,400 had “escaped” and we thought them foolish. But by Wednesday, 15th September most of the Itis had deserted – arrears of pay it was said – and it became obvious, to those who thought about it, that the alarm system was no longer to be trusted. By Thursday I hadn’t altered my early views but that afternoon I sewed pockets inside my shirt and prepared my kit – just in case! Around 5 o’clock I went round for a chat with Harry Corbett. “I’m leaving tonight” said he. “Are you?” said I “let’s go out for a stroll and talk things over”. Some weeks before, I’d remarked to Bis, a propos our “near miss” at Benghazi. “It’s all very well waiting for our troops, but the final effort will have to be on our part”. So it didn’t take me long to make up my mind – it would be fun, anyway and a walking holiday was just what I wanted. On our stroll we met Hilary with Jimmy Fitzgerald, about a mile out of camp. I asked H. what about it, stressing the holiday aspect, but no, he didn’t think he would – he’d been out for three days already and had had his fun.
Three sergeants – Motor Club Members – were thinking of coming with us and would let us know at midnight after hearing the Late Night News (BBC). They decided to stay and at 5 a.m. on the Friday, Harry came round with Eric Cook, a submarine lad, and we were ready. I carried in my British Army valise, B.D. [battledress] slacks, khaki shirt, 2 pairs of socks, a towel, a British Army side cap, my notebooks, all the available tobacco, and a little tinned food. Leaving behind everything else, including overcoat and blankets, because from what Hilary and Daunton Duff had said, we wouldn’t need to “rough it”. I was wearing K.D. [Khaki Drill] shorts, Italian shirt and jacket, and, of course, army boots, rather badly worn.
No guards were visible – probably asleep – so we just marched straight out, heading south west. We intended making for the foothills of the Apennines, about 20-30 miles away and waiting for 10 days or so, by which time we expected the 8th Army would have arrived. It was a pleasant prospect and we were in the best of spirits, for at long last we’d shaken the dust of the Prison Camp from our feet and were striding out on our own.
The morning was cool, the sun not yet having risen, which made the hilly going much easier. Two miles away, on a hilltop, we turned round to take our last look at the camp,
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nestling in the valley below. There was no sign of activity there, but from a few farms little spirals of smoke rose lazily upwards. We carried on, jubilant.
Four hours later we had covered perhaps 10 miles and sat down to rest, sweating under a strong sun after our unaccustomed exertions. Tactfully, we had halted near a farm, and as we had hoped, were invited in to feed – the first meal we’d had for 15 months sitting down to a table and being able to eat as much as we wanted without fear of going short the next day.
Breakfast over, we continued on our way and at regular intervals were stopped by farmers and invited to drink – vino is very refreshing on a hot day. All the time we were keeping a fairly sharp lookout, walking in the cover of wooded valleys where possible, crossing lanes with totally unnecessary caution – in fact, behaving like Boy Scouts at play. Lunch we enjoyed at another farm, where we stayed till the cool of evening found us on our way again. At that farm I left my jacket in payment. As dusk was falling, we hove in to a third farm where we amused the family by brewing tea, which the Itis don’t drink, and spent the night.
Following the same direction next day, and, of course, avoiding all towns, we eventually landed up at a farm belonging to a middle aged soldier who had spent some years in Libya immediately after World War 1 and whom we christened Benghazi Joe. We spent a pleasant evening drinking and exchanging reminiscences of the Western Desert. He was an amusing old rogue and fond of his liquor.
In the morning his son – Mario Morelli was the name – took us to a neighbouring farm, friends of his and we stayed with them, very happily, for four or five days. I liked the family very much indeed, better than any others I met. There were really two families, as is usually the case at these farms. The head was a very straight, kindly man, quiet spoken; his wife the typical Italian mother, hardworking and generous. One son away in the Army; an unmarried daughter of 18, rather young for that age but easy on the eye – Genina was her name, and very nice, too; then a married daughter, her husband and child, likewise decent folk.
These people made us hide in a spinney in the mornings. Mario, who liked work about as much as his father, used to come and talk with us. At this stage, our command of the language was almost negligible, but Mario was a bright lad – about 16 years old – and we got on much better with him. After lunch we repaired to the shade of a nearby walnut tree and there reclined with the family and the local lasses, who were much amused by us. Evenings we lent a hand with the work, though they wouldn’t let us do much. One of the men would nip into the nearest town (Monteleone, I think) for news. They were a bit worried because Germans were collecting corn in the district, but were happier after we’d changed into civilian clothes. I swapped my B.D. [battledress] trousers for a black striped shirt and slacks, far too small for me. Harry did likewise but Eric kept to his B.D. trousers – it was the shorts that made one conspicuous.
This happy stay came to an end when the family told us that there were Germans near and as they were obviously nervous there was only one thing to do. We left with tears all round – Italian women always cry when you leave them, unless yours has been just a passing call.
After we were safely away from the farm, we laid up under cover, doing perhaps another mile in the evening before being invited in by folk whose daughters we had met under the old walnut tree.
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Wed. 15. Decided to leave camp after short chat with H.C. [Harry Corbett]. Reason – pleasure of walk, weather good, fruit plentiful, little chance of Jerry moving us, but no wish to sit still & wait for him. Plan – get 15 miles west, near Apennines, then lay low until our troops arrive. Bis not coming. Iti guards gone.
Thur. 16. Left at dawn with H.C. & Eric Cook, taking a little tinned food, plenty of Iti tobacco & Red Cross clothing for exchange. Struck south west, walking from 5 to 9, had breakfast at farm. Continued till 1, had dinner at farm, rested till evening, then walked few more miles to another farm where we spent the night. Plenty of vino on the way. People friendly.
Fri. 17. Followed valley a few more miles, with stops for refreshment. Spent night with “Benghazi Joe”.
Sat. 18. Lying up on a farm. Doing some work in the evening but hiding in the morning.
Wed. 22. Plenty grapes, peaches, apples, walnuts and almonds. Good food – spaghetti, bacon, tomatoes, pepperoni, potatoes, vino. Wearing Iti clothes. Pleasant folk, simple, straight & generous. Signorine v. g.
Up till now we had met eight other POWs: four English, four American. We all agreed that as the 8th Army was motorised and we weren’t, the best thing was to let them cover the distance separating us. However, the next evening we kept on walking after dark, eventually pulling up on the approach to a largish valley (the River Aso) which looked as though it might hide an arterial road. We weren’t too happy about it, but managed to find shelter with a local builder who spoke a little English, having lived for some years in America. He gave us some excellent ham.
Daylight showed a fair sized road and river in the valley and a town on the hilltop the other side. We were still suspicious, and accordingly went up the valley for a mile where we found a wood, with apples and grapes in easy reach. So we hid there till evening, considering matters. The Aso valley runs west to east and from where we were, a couple of farms were visible, about a mile from the road (north of it) and considerably higher. There was plenty of cover about, woods and valleys, so it seemed a likely spot. Accordingly we strolled up there and were duly invited in. This valley was to be our home for the next month.
We spent three days with the bottom farmer, Galliano. He was unusually tall and well built – probably a six footer – and had been a sentry at Silviano [Servigliano] POW camp, which held about 1200 men, largely Americans but with an English officer (whom I later met when in Catterick Military Hospital with malaria). This camp, he told us, had been evacuated after the Armistice, then Jerry came and rounded up a number of ex-POWs. But the very first night the Jerry sentries got drunk and all the boys slipped out over the wall. Most likely an exaggeration. Due to his absence and a naturally lazy disposition, Galliano was poor so we weren’t too happy about staying with him, especially as they had a newly born child. So we were glad when, after the third day, the next farmer up said they’d better accommodation – we’d been sleeping outside by a haystack – and would take us, and there we remained for three weeks or so. Philippo, the farmer, was a very energetic fellow, always trotting about on seemingly unnecessary errands. In contrast to Galliano’s, his farm was very well looked after and so were his three young boys. His wife was a good looking woman of about thirty, efficient, strong as a horse, and given to saying “Mamma mia!” which I found amusing.
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Right from the first day here we insisted on working, partly to get fit and partly because it was the only repayment we could make for their hospitality. And they certainly did us well – we had coffee regularly until their slender sugar supply was exhausted, and ate like hogs. There was plenty of work to be done – hoeing (“zappa”), tree felling, picking apples and beans, shilling beans, stripping corn cobs and a hundred and one other jobs, but chiefly grape picking.
All the five nearby farms were friendly and we used to work on them all, being fed by the man for whom we worked and returning to Philippo’s lean-to to sleep. It was all arranged for us. This grape picking was great fun, the highlight of the year. The neighbours band together for this job and there’s a great deal of backchat and banter and you munch grapes solidly all day long. In this district the grapes grow on wires strung between trees so most of the time you are working up ladders in precarious positions.
The grapes are put into boxes and transported by ox drawn sledges to the farm (if sledges aren’t used, the women carry the boxes, weighing a cwt. or so, on their heads and trip away up the hills) where they are weighed and the landlord takes his half.
The wine making must be done the same evening and, of course, you must choose a dry day, otherwise the wine will be ruined. The grapes, black and white mixed, are put into a 12 ft. wooden vat and either trampled underfoot or, if you’re a fairly wealthy bloke, put through a sort of mangling machine. The juice is run off and boiled in a copper cauldron, then transferred to wooden barrels for storage. Then you put the trampled grapes in a press to squeeze out the last drop of juice.
Like all the best jobs in Italy, winemaking is reserved exclusively for men. It’s great fun and quite hard work, carting gallons of wine around. You sit round the fire like a band of brigands, eating apples you’ve boiled in the wine, drinking last year’s wine, and thinking of future drinking. Around midnight, the good wife calls you in for a slap-up dinner of chicken or rabbit, then out you go again.
The new wine isn’t drunk for about 21 days and even then it’s not good, but in the meantime they drink a non-alcoholic, sweet wine, which, I fancy, is just plain grape juice, unfermented. The wine gets good after 5 or 6 months and by the time it’s a year old is fairly potent – a couple of wine glasses full will cheer you up considerably, five will make you sing.
They also dry a few bunches of grapes in the oven to make raisins which are reserved for the Christmas celebrations.
We really had a splendid time here and were very popular with the Italians. There were two German scares, caused by Galliano who was rather nervy. He came dashing up and told us to hide. Then in an hour he comes along, says the coast’s clear now, and laughs at us, trying to make out we’re scared. Once, when we were on the bottom farm, we saw a German truck stop by a roadside house, a half mile below, and the occupants get out to steal two pigs. These were the first Germans I’d seen since escaping.
Galliano was amusing to begin with, but before long Eric and I had had enough of him – he was too windy. He and Ronwaldo (a deserter from the Bersaglieri, who lived at the farm above ours) used to rag Philippo’s wife unmercifully. She liked it. Ronwaldo was a cheerful sort and so was his father. We were with him one day when one of the kids ran up to say that Galliano said there were Germans around. “Germans” said the old boy “then come with me” and he took us home for a drink. He was forever trying to get us drunk.
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The farm above Ronwaldo’s was sheltering an American POW, “Johnie”. Johnie lived like a lord and never did a stroke of work. They’d dug a hole in a haystack for him and he used to lie in that most of the day, vegetating. We strolled up for a chat fairly often. His parents were Polish.
Down in the valley, where the farmers were much richer, there were a dozen more POWs and an Italian woman was “organising” them. She brought us a basket of peaches one day.
Well, before long, Eric and I got a bit restless. We wanted to know what the 8th Army were up to. Galliano kept bringing us news which someone else was supposed to have heard on the radio. Pescara had fallen, he said. A few days later it was “The 8th Army is only 10 miles from Pescara”. Then 15 miles from Pescara. Obviously it was all rumour. So one Sunday Eric and I went down to a largish house in the valley and heard the BBC News in French. The 8th Army was nowhere near Pescara. We didn’t like it, though Harry seemed content to stay where we were indefinitely.
A few days later we met some POWs who said they’d met a British Paratroop who was rounding up POWs to take them away by sea. They’d come some distance on the strength of it, but it was all too vague for our liking. Soon afterwards, we heard that there were Paratroops quite near, so Eric and I went out and contacted one. He was British all right (2nd S.A.S.) and he told us his story. Twenty of them had been landed from an L.C.I. [Landing Craft Infantry] and for the first 10 days they’d not been able to contact a single POW. The Italians, seeing fully armed soldiers wandering around, thought they were Germans and swore there were no British near. So the Paratroops got hold of civilian clothing, pretended that they themselves were POWs, and had no further trouble. There must have been hundreds of POWs around the Aso valley.
The plan was to get down to the mouth of a stream (the Torrente Menocchia) slightly south of the River Aso on the 22nd October. There we would be billeted and organised into groups ready for the boat which was due on the 24th October. We considered this plan. Harry thought it was a German trap and wouldn’t touch it. Eric and I agreed that it might be, but, having seen the Paratroop, were fairly confident that it wasn’t. We said we’d decide after hearing next Sunday’s BBC News. If our troops were still south of Pescara, then we’d join in the scheme. (Pescara was 100 miles south of us.)
Sunday came and the news was bad. Two Roman Catholic priests we met at the house with the radio – they spoke English – confirmed what we feared, that the British advance was hardly an advance at all. So that decided us. Harry, however, decided to stay. He said he might move in a few weeks, travelling down the Apennines, which was obviously the safest route, and would try to join up with a party of Sicilians, of whom we’d seen several – deserters from the army who were walking home. Most of the other POWs in the valley, including Johnie and some more Americans, decided to go.
The Italians advised us strongly not to go. The main danger was that the Germans or Fascists would hear of the scheme. All the peasants for miles around knew of it and one might talk too much. However, that was a risk that had to be taken, and the whole scheme was so cheeky that I thought it might easily succeed. Anyway, there was only one Fascist in the district and he was universally hated and feared. They said he’d rounded up a few POWs already. We might as well go along, and if it smelled too strongly, then we’d try to get through on our own. I didn’t see much sense in hanging on, for the winter would start in six weeks or so.
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[Title] THE ROAD HOME
On the 18th October, Eric and I set off, after a terrific farewell dinner the previous night at Ronwaldo’s. We followed the River Aso some six or seven miles, encountering several others, mostly Americans, on the same journey. Our turning off point was a dam below a large house called La Rocca and here we were stopped by a Sergeant Major from PG 70, who had escaped after the arrival of the Germans and who was thus able to give me news of friends. He told us to turn back and return on the 22nd as the district was oversaturated with ex-POWs and the plans had accordingly been altered. We’d learnt something about Sergeant Majors in the last 18 months, so instead of turning back we went to the nearest farm and stayed there – there were none of our boys in the nearby houses.
For three days we worked here, leaving early on the morning of the 22nd. The Torrente Menocchia was the next valley south and our boys had worn a regular road by the side of the stream. A few miles down we ran into 30-40 Americans and a few English. There had been another change of plan and we were to rendezvous near the beach on the 24th as Jerries had picked up a couple of ex-POW officers near the river mouth, and the Sergeant Major of Paratroops had shot up some of the Jerries. So we went south until we found a house without POWs and stayed there overnight. In the morning we met three others, a RAF lad, a Sergeant of Infantry (Sherwood Foresters – Bradley – he got through the same day as me) and a R.E. [unidentified] who was a member of the Derby Pathfinders Motor Cycle Club. The latter knew the Buxton trials area and we yarned away till 6 p.m., when dusk fell and we had to be on our way. A shot rang out close by – obviously an Italian having a pot at the illusive zebre (hare), but a Yank came up certain it was the Germans. We reassured him – if Jerry had got wind of the scheme he’d let us get right down before starting any fireworks! A number of the Yanks were visibly shaky on this stunt and I got a poor opinion of them.
We reckoned we were all of 10 miles from the sea, but after only an hour’s walking – Sergeant Bradley leading – we ran into a pocket of 40 odd men. We were told we were only an hour’s distance from the sea and had orders to stay there till eleven.
This smacked rather of a Sergeant Major’s tricks – someone wanted to get down in time himself, yet not have too many others with him in case he was crowded off the boat. We certainly weren’t making above 2 m.p.h. due to the darkness and difficult going, so the five of us pushed on. Sergeant Bradley soon retiring gracefully to the tail.
I began to grow optimistic as we met scouts who told us all was well. There was no sign of trouble but every dog for miles around was howling his head off. The river meandered all over the place and it was not till close on midnight that we met two Paratroops in full regalia. The difficult stage now confronted us. In the next half-mile we had to cross the road (the Via Adriatica) and the railway onto the beach, making a detour as the bridge over the stream was said to be guarded. The Paratroops had marked the early part of the way with string and we were to be guided in parties, the first party having just left. Meeting these Paratroops was reassuring, but whilst we were chatting, a couple of rifles cracked. “Carry on” said the Paratroops “and if trouble develops, give it a miss tonight and return tomorrow or the following night. The boat will be there.”
A sufficient number having collected – 20 or so – we followed our guide. We had covered perhaps 400 yards or so and were in the middle of a tomato plantation when there was a burst of Tommy gun fire. We paused and a second burst caused a slight panic and some of the boys ran back. Bradley, the RAF lad and I fell flat, waiting. In a few seconds we heard the first party coming back fast and shouting as they came. That meant the game had been given away so we upped and legged it.
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Having lost Eric in this mix-up, the RAF lad and I decided to stick together and get away from the rest. This was difficult, for in a panic like this, people will follow anyone blindly. We retraced our way up the river knowing that the majority had decided, should trouble arise, to get as far away from the river as possible. We stumbled on all night, talking as we went. We decided to return to the river in the morning to see whether a second attempt was worthwhile. Obviously it would be risky but very few of the lads would try it, which would improve our chances. By this time we had gone astray up a tributary and halted. It was wet and cold (dew, not rain), we were tired and a wasp crawled up my trouser leg and stung me on the calf. I’d had that happen the week before in a farm. We carried on and exactly the same thing happened again. I got mad. Around 5 a.m. we lay down to sleep in a haystack.
An hour later the farmer found us and had us in to breakfast and to dry our boots and socks, which were sodden. Breakfast over, we returned to the river but it was deserted. The farmers met our enquiries with blank stares, suspecting we were Germans. They knew nothing, they said: there had been no English there. This although many of them were actually engaged in ploughing up the path our feet had trampled the night before. After a while we met a POW, himself a Paratroop. He’d been in the first party, which had run into trouble on the road and told to scatter. He’d been told there were Germans about this morning but thought it was probably our own Paratroops. Later we met a Yank Air Force man who’d been in the same party and confirmed the story. He said he’d been shot in the forehead, a glancing shot – it was a slight bruise, probably a bullet had kicked up a pebble which had hit him. He was going back to a farm he knew there, to wait until he was collected by one side or the other.
We thereupon made upstream, meeting a 19 year old Italian Air Force man. He also had been in that first party and after the firing had gone up the road to investigate (so he said), where he had spoken to six Fascists, armed with automatics – no Jerries at all. The three of us spent the night at a farm.
In the morning, the RAF lad decided to return to a farm 20 miles back where he’d left some kit. I was undecided. Then the farmer reported Germans near so we separated and moved off. I intended to do as circumstances indicated – either stay working at a farm or try to get through on my own. My boots were in no fit state for a long walk which might be over the snow covered Apennines. So when the very first farm I passed through revealed a cobbler at work in an outshed, this seemed a sign straight from the good St. Christopher. He patched up the soles and I’d no further hesitation.
It was a glorious feeling, striding out on my own through that land of hills and sunshine, with the prison camp behind me, the wind in my face, and home ahead. Fifteen miles away to my right towered the rugged Apennines, the peaks glistening white with snow. All about me lay the foothills, plentifully studded with trees, intensely cultivated, white farmsteads at frequent intervals. On nearby hilltops nestled small towns, medieval in appearance. To my left, I caught glimpses of the blue Adriatic, 10 miles distant. What a country and climate for a walking holiday, and what a prize at the end! Can you wonder that as I walked I sang old Scottish tunes? “The Road to the Isles”, which we used to sing when heading north on holiday, and “Rolling home”, a tune which was always on my lips when riding home from London.
I had been swinging thus merrily along for some four hours when I espied ahead of me two figures dressed in natty suitings of the Monty Burton type and carrying cheap suitcases. I
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caught up with them when they stopped to pick and eat grapes and we fell into conversation. They had come down from Genoa where they were Carabinieri (police), but being 19 years old had been conscripted for labour in Germany. Not relishing the prospect, they had made their way round the north of Italy, down the Adriatic coast and were heading for Brindisi, their home town. So we joined forces: I, because it would make things much easier for me; they, because once we were in English occupied territory, I would put in a good word for them.
For a week we remained together, making about 20-25 miles daily including detours – perhaps 15 miles as the crow flies – and running roughly parallel to the coast, about 5-10 miles from the sea. Every day we made an early start, usually at 7 a.m. after a light breakfast, continuing till 9-10 a.m. when we would call in for a light snack and a few glasses of wine. Then on again till 1 o’clock, more food and wine, a further snack and wine towards 4 p.m. and the final halt for the night about 5.30. Every peasant we met we asked “are there any Germans about?” If there were, we would either be directed or led round the danger spot. The only times care was necessary was when crossing the asphalt road, railway and river which lie at regular intervals side by side in the valleys, leading inland. We saw several Germans on such roads, from close quarters, and once, carelessly jumping down the bank onto a minor road, we were nearly run over by a baby Fiat carrying two Germans. There were Germans in many villages, which we avoided and for the most part we kept to the open country or bridle paths (trattore). “Campagna, campagna. Sempre la campagna” said the peasants (“Stick to the country”). Nevertheless we passed through several villages where we created something of a stir, with our pitiful tale, and were surrounded by the locals. I usually passed as an Italian, an Alpini, being somewhat of that build.
Near Pescara the air was filled with the noise of continuous loud explosions and we felt sure it must be the front, but it was only Germans blasting defences and engaged in demolition. Beyond Pescara the people shook their heads when they learnt our intention. It was not possible to pass the front, they said. “Ah! Poveri genti!”
My two companions were good lads, if somewhat dramatic. In the evenings we would pull into a farm yard and park ourselves, in dejected positions, at the bottom of the outside stairs leading to the living quarters. (In these parts the ground floor is often devoted to shippens, etc.) When the Signora appeared on the balcony, we would begin our tale of woe.
“We have come from Genoa” we used to say. “For a month we have been walking. Walk! Walk! Walk! All the time. Can you spare us lodging for the night – anywhere will do. Bread we have with us.” Shakespearian tragedians had nothing on us! With practice we developed just the right note of pathos! It never failed and we were always given a good supper and either a good bed or straw and blankets in the stables. “One day good, next day bad”, we said, and it worked out that way.
Then after supper we would chat with our hosts and my two friends would display their city finery and their police handcuffs and automatics. I wasn’t too happy about those automatics because I didn’t believe they dare use them, yet if we were caught and found to be armed, we might get shot.
The walking was fairly hard, for the weather had begun to break and the ground was slippery, besides being all uphill or downhill. However, as we had from 15 to 20 glasses of vino daily, we were continuously in good spirits and sang most of the way. I found they knew several popular British songs – “Woodpecker Song” and my favourite “La Paloma”, among
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others. We sang and whistled our way through these provinces – Ascoli Piceno, Teramo, Pescara, and into Chieti. Near the town of Chieti we met some South Africans. They had been released at the Armistice, got down to the front, been recaptured, taken back to Chieti POW Camp, escaped the first night & were now waiting for our troops. We also found one or two Italian Army vehicles & motor buses, hidden from the Germans under haystacks and branches.
Whenever possible, we got lifts – on bullock carts, horse drawn traps or anything. Every fig tree we saw, we dived at and stuffed ourselves with the fresh fruit. On the second day we ran into a tobacco growing area and never after that was I short – there was always plenty to be had, uncured and uncut, in the form of partially dried leaf. Previously I had had to do without, or smoke some substitute such as the bark from vines.
On the morning of the seventh day of walking, we were having our mid-morning snack, when we espied through the door three figures walking towards us, fairly obviously British. We went out and Cosimo (?) spoke to them, receiving an answer in fluent Italian. I revealed my identity and they came into the house for a bite to eat, my two Italian companions remaining chatting outside.
Their leader was a Canadian called Bert Ramelson, a tank driver in the 7th R.T.R. [Royal Tank Regiment], and a forceful sort of fellow. The second was Captain Fish, R.A.M.C. [Royal Army Medical Corps] and the third Jack Halford of R.E.M.E. [Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers]. All three were from PG 53, Macerata, and communists. They had been on another unsuccessful Paratroop rescue attempt from below Pescara and were now trying to get through on their own. Bert told me that Fish had seen one of the Paratroops, gone up to him with outstretched hand, saying “I’m Fish of the Medical Corps.” “Are you?,” replied that joker. “Well, I’m Chips of the Paratroops. Here, take this,” and he threw a bag of First Aid kit at him.
We chatted for an hour, then went out and lo, my two companions had gone! I wasn’t greatly surprised, because we were now only about 8 miles from the River Sangro and our troops were not very far from the river, so that things were getting hot and I was doubtful if my companions dare carry on. Probably they laid up somewhere close, though not too close because there were Jerries billeted at several nearby farms. I’d seen a German notice about looting on a house door a quarter of a mile back. I was burnt up at their sneaking off without a word although I could understand their action – it wouldn’t have been so good for them if they’d been caught helping a POW. However, on second thoughts, maybe I was well rid of them. They wouldn’t have been so hot in an emergency. At the sound of a truck they’d hide, whereas I thought it better just to stand around looking like a farmer. I’d tested this when a lorry load of Jerries passed about 25 yards from us and the Jerries hadn’t looked at me twice though they all saw me. If they’d spotted someone hiding, it would have given the show away. So I tagged on with the other three for the time being.
Half way through the afternoon we were approaching a farm on the top of the rise overlooking the Sangro. We had crossed 3 or 4 roads, all bearing Jerries, but in the country we had seen none. The country had for the most part been flat, with few farms and those mostly evacuated. It was depressing and ominous. When only 20 yards from this farm, an Italian came out, saw us and violently gesticulated that we were to go away. We were a bit fed up so we went up to see what it was all about. He told us that he had Jerries living there, that the district was dangerous and that only that morning, two folk had been shot trying to cross the river. We didn’t altogether believe him, but we couldn’t stay there, so we went round the farm to the right and had only gone about 100 yards when Fish told us to duck as
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he’d spotted a Jerry sentry patrolling a lane the same distance ahead.
Now Fish and Jack had been having one or two silly little arguments about nothing at all, so I judged his nerves must be on edge and accordingly didn’t really believe him. So I suggested that we sit down under cover of a tree nearby and have a conference, which we did.
We decided, prematurely perhaps, that the crossing was unsafe in this area and that it might be better to go further inland where we could wade through – we had been told that due to the recent rains, the river was deep and wide here. The immediate problem, however, was to secure accommodation for the night and we therefore began to retrace our path down the slope. On the opposite side of the valley, half a mile away, were two men engaged in tree felling and I remarked to Bert that they looked vaguely German. Neither Bert nor I had seen Fish’s sentry, so we weren’t worrying overmuch and were not keeping a very careful lookout. Down the slope we went, through some willows, slap into a Jerry carrying a bundle of twigs and branches on his shoulder. “Buongiorno” said we and walked straight past him. He said nothing and once past him we breathed a sigh of relief and grinned at each other.
Next minute we stopped grinning, for 20 yards away from us on the path were two more Jerries and four Itis, sawing logs. We’d no option but to walk straight up to them, hoping to pass them as we’d passed the other. But it was not to be. The Jerries couldn’t speak Italian fortunately, but one of the Itis stopped us, addressing Bert.
“Where are you going? Are you soldiers?,” he asked.
“No” said Bert, “we’re not soldiers and we’re going to our home town, Crechi.”
A few more questions, readily answered by the glib Bert, and Jack and Fish who had lagged behind, drew level.
“Bah” said I, which is a noise the Italians use, meaning “let’s be off.”
“Buongiorno” said Bert, and away we went.
“Buongiorno” echoed Jack and Fish, without stopping.
Out of sight, we mopped our foreheads and grinned again. It was incredible. The Iti had remarked on Bert’s accent, to which he had replied that being from Crechi naturally his accent wasn’t local. Now, in appearance I can easily be mistaken for an Italian, but not Bert. He’s too hefty. And Fish was obviously clad in someone else’s clothes and had big horn-rimmed glasses which no Iti would wear. And Jack, hatless, revealed his blond hair! I put our good fortune down to three things, the element of surprise, Bert’s ready replies and the fact that we were heading north, not south.
I asked Bert how he’d thought of Crechi so pat and he told me that he’d stayed near there for a while with a rather rum farmer. This bloke used to refer to St. Elizabeth di Crechi and as he did so he’d stand up and raise his hat very solemnly. This stuck in Bert’s mind and after a while it became a standing joke between us, and we used to do it ourselves.
We wandered on a short distance till we met a farmer who put us up for the night in a shed some distance from his farm and gave us bread and cheese. He apologised for the poor fare, saying food was scarce as the Germans had stripped them, and for the poor hospitality as he’d housed three British up to the day before yesterday, when they’d left him and the same afternoon he’d seen them led away under escort. We knew that an Italian found sheltering a POW was threatened with death, then his farm was burnt. Not that we’d known of any actual
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instance of this happening, but nevertheless that was the penalty, so one was grateful for any help, however small.
In the morning we retired to the cover of a wood and talked things over. I was the only swimmer of the four and Bert has a fear of water so that ruled out crossing the river there or going down to the coast and trying to find a boat, a scheme I’d been considering for some while.
The previous day we’d spotted gun emplacements and we deduced that the Sangro would be the next line of defence and consequently right up to the Apennines there would be Jerries building fortifications. Bert was in favour of staying where we were for a time, though how he hoped to cross the river, I don’t know. I was for going back either to near Pescara in the hope that the Paratroops would make another attempt, or for about 10 miles, there to await our troops. This district was too hot for me. Even as we spoke, we could see Jerries working across the valley and I thought we’d tried our luck sufficiently. Further, where we were was liable to be in the fighting line when our boys got to the Sangro. My theory was that Jerry would hold the Sangro strongly, then when that was forced, he’d retire to the next big river, the Pescara some 30 miles north. (I’d crossed the Pescara by boat as had the others.) So 10 miles north we’d miss the heavy fighting and have time to get friendly with the local Itis and not get thrown out if things got dangerous.
[Subsequent annotation] 2nd March. As things turned out, the Sangro was the winter line of defence, but Jerry didn’t streak back to the Pescara. In fact, even now, 2nd March, they’ve not gone back that far. But otherwise the reasoning was pretty sound.
We also decided that four people together were much too conspicuous, hence we’d split up. Accordingly, that afternoon Jack and Fish went away together, heading for the farm the three of them had stayed at three or four miles north of Lanciano, say 8 miles from here. That left Bert and me, still undecided what to do. Now Bert, with his fluent Italian, was a useful guy to have around and I didn’t want to lose him so I spoke to him thus.
“Bert” said I, “you’ll do better on your own, speaking Italian and it’s easier for one man to get in at a farm.”
But no, he wouldn’t have it. One man on his own gets lonely and scared, he said with truth. So we started back together the way we’d come, past a straw hut where two women, ejected from their home, were living, back over that depressing plain, back to the hills near Lanciano. In a village in that area a woman invited us into her house where we fed and were going to sleep until a neighbour warned us that some Jerries were prowling near. Thereupon our hostess led us to a cave they’d dug in the face of the hill. The entrance was some 5 feet square concealed by bundles of twigs and there was a main passage leading perhaps 15 yards in, with little compartments on each side. There was straw on the floor of these compartments and we slept in one covered with blankets. It was damp and I caught a cold.
We slipped away bright and early in the morning, keeping our eyes skinned and had only gone a couple of miles when we were invited to breakfast by a farmer who lived just below the village of Frisa. This farm was on the southern slope of a hill, commanding a good view to the south and of Lanciano, one and a half miles distant, was hidden from view from above by trees and had good places of concealment in vineyards and in some bamboos by a wee stream. It seemed a good spot and as it happened, we never had to ask to stay, they just
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kept us as though it was the most natural thing in the world. We worked the first day but hardly at all after that, partly because when they learnt Bert was a barrister, they wouldn’t hear of it.
I will now give a brief outline of the three brothers di CAMILLIO, with whom we stayed.
MICHELE was the prime mover, and we slept at his house and were fed by him two days out of three. He is a married man of about 45, not a very pleasant type, being rather mean and a slave driver, though to us he always behaved very well. His wife and three daughters (ages 10, 14, and 17) were typical Italians, which means decent, kindly folk. CONSILIO lived with his family in a part of the same house. He was the youngest, about 30, and his wife, the widow of an elder brother, was about 45. He had a stepson of 14, and 3 (I think) children of his own. Altogether, he was a rather insignificant character. VITO, age about 50-55, was hardly on speaking terms with Michele, who had deprived him of some land by a lawsuit. He was rather simple but in many ways the best of the three. His six or so children were all incredibly dirty and cheerful, and he was very poor.
To resume – after working one day for Michele, he told us to hide out during the day in Philippo’s shack, a straw affair used for shelter during rain. Philippo himself had a strip of land here but lived over towards Lanciano. We were to hide thus because the Germans were picking up men to work on local defences so that our civvy clothes were no longer of such benefit, and the Italian menfolk had themselves to go into hiding fairly frequently. If the Jerries had seen three men working together they would probably have picked us up, whereas seeing Michele alone, with his family, it was not so much worthwhile. Usually Jerry went to one of the villages where he could collect a lorry load of men, but it was not easy, for the Itis had sentries posted and more than once we saw them scampering away over the hills after the warning had been given. Even when he had got them they were slippery customers and on one occasion, he found on reaching Lanciano that of the twenty he had collected, not one was remaining. Eventually, in desperation, he took over a village and locked all the menfolk in one building, taking them as and when required. He used to pay them for work, but it was a very small sum. He even made Philippo’s mother, who was very old and frail – she looked about 80 – assist in unloading heavy articles from a lorry. She was a game old sort and seemed tickled at the absurdity of it when telling us. There were plenty of Germans in this area, though not very many in the immediate vicinity of the farm. The nearest to us were the A.A. [Anti-Aircraft] crews at a farm on the hill to the east of us, 400 yards away. There were two guns and, we were told, about 20 men. The village of Frisa was for a time a German HQ. The hill to our south, three quarters of a mile away, had Germans billeted in the village and in several farms. Lanciano was thick with them. It was therefore not really safe for us to wander about much, and in fact we never went to Frisa nor went beyond the limits of the valley at the bottom of the hill, and the bridle paths at each side, nor did we venture on the main road which bore a fair amount of motor traffic – German, of course.
Every morning after breakfast at 9-9.30 we went down to the shack and it was quite a problem to pass time. Tobacco was plentiful in dried leaf form and this we used to cut and I’d smoke it in my pipe whilst Bert rolled cigarettes. Matches were almost unobtainable so we used to smoke in relay, lighting the pipe from the cigarette and so on, all day. For paper, Bert had to make do with newspaper. After a while we fixed for one of the kids to bring out a glowing ember at mid-morning or else one of us would slip down to Vito’s. Apart from that we’d yarn and argue or read the kid’s school books or old newspapers. Bert borrowed a book on Italian law which Michele had – he would have a book like that. I suppose he got it when
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he did Vito out of the land their father left. I was very tickled at the look of slow disgust which spread over my communist friend’s face as he read the Fascist cum Catholic propaganda with which the Itis are fed. It seemed to me one of those curious incidents which add so much to the humour of life, to be sitting there, with Jerries all round and the artillery booming away in the distance, reading books intended for children of under ten. Those school books even introduced Fascist propaganda into the arithmetic lessons.
Now perhaps I’d better say a word or two about Bert. He was born and brought up in Alberta, Canada, his father being a fur dealer. Bert became a barrister, earning his keep during the University vacations by selling magazines and working on the railways and farms. He practised law for a couple of years in Canada then joined the Canadian company of the International Brigade in Spain, where he was a Captain. Either before or after that, I’m not sure which, he had spent four months in Russia & had also been in Palestine studying the collective farming systems there. Returning to England, he had married a girl called – Jessop, who is an official of the Communist Party in Leeds, & thro’ influence, had got a job in Marks & Spencer, becoming a manager after nine months service – during the war. He was captured at Tobruk and in Italy had been interpreter to a party of Australians doing farm work in the Brindisi area. He’d organised these Aussies so that they did a minimum of work and each day each man did his little act of sabotage, which was to cut down and bury one vine. They worked for a large landowner and by calculating the amount of pay given to his peasants, and the amount he had to pay them, it was fairly easy to find out just how little they needed to do yet still show the landowner a slight profit, thus making it worth his while to keep them. Bert could speak Russian, Ukrainian, Spanish, German and Italian fluently. In various prison camps he had organised communist activities, as had Sam Botes and others at my last camp, PG 70. Quite a character in fact.
So much for Bert. As you can guess, it was easy to start an argument with him, but just about impossible to beat him at it. He was very dogmatic and could only see things from the Marxist angle. However, if you want to get things done, you’ve got to be like that. Sympathising with the other man’s point of view often results in nothing being done. That’s me, folks.
Bert told me a number of interesting things about his trip down. Near Pescara, some weeks before, he and a friend had met an American Paratrooper, who said that the same night a boat would put in at the mouth of the River Pescara on a rescue stunt, at midnight. So they wandered down until near the town when they saw that the river ran clean through the town which is on the coast. This seemed queer, but they decided to carry on and went right through the town centre, reaching the beach at dusk. All that night they sat there, shivering with cold, and not a sign of the boat, or of Jerry for that matter. Towards dawn they went back along the main road leading inland, and had just skipped over the hedge to avoid a Jerry sidecar outfit which was pulling up near them, when they met an Italian. This man said he belonged to a band of rebels, showed them an automatic, and promised to lead them to the HQ. This he did, and HQ proved to be a farm with American Paratroopers mounting guard outside. Here they told about last night’s episode, which caused some merriment. The rescue attempt was to be tonight not last night, and it wasn’t the Pescara river, it was the next one lower down!
These Paratroopers had collected about 100 POWs, and being plentifully supplied with Italian money, had dished some out all round. That evening they made their way down, guided by a well bribed Italian, and duly arrived on the beach. Once again an all night wait went unrewarded, but this time, there were 500 men on the beach. Most of them had come down every night for a week and the only thing to answer their signals had been a German E
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Boat – there had been an interchange of shots and it had put out to sea again.
After this Bert had met the famous Count Luigi. This man was a Yugoslav (I think) civilian internee, who on his release after the Armistice, had practically taken control of a village. His personality, said Bert, was very like that of an American high pressure car salesman and he did just whatever he liked in that village. He billeted 100 British POWs in and around it, arranging with the local tradesmen to send out supplies daily, secured blankets from – of all people – the Carabinieri, and even taxed the wealthier inhabitants to help pay for all this! He ran up a huge bill at the hotel, gave the landlord an I.O.U. and told him everything would be all right – he was a personal friend of General Alexander, or Montgomery. Luigi kept up this good work even after Germans were billeted in the village but in the end somebody had given the game away, but the warning was sent around and everyone had got away. It was at this village, I believe, that Bert had met Fish and Jack once more – they had left camp together, but the latter two had wandered down in a zig-zag fashion, climbing the Gran Sasso, for some unknown reason – certainly not because they liked climbing.
Leaving here, the three had walked some miles further down and had put up at a farm north of Frisa. It was a fairly large place, with a wireless, but the farmer confined them to their room all day, deeming it safer. Here Bert had given Fish a lecture on his duties as a communist, for Fish was too lazy (and lacked kit) to give medical aid to the Itis nearby. However, we learnt from Jack when we met again in the British lines, that this lecture had had its effect, for when these two were together after leaving us, Fish had built up quite a nice little medical practice (unpaid) near Lanciano.
Well, our first fortnight here passed by without much excitement, in fact, it was deadly dull. It was cold in the hut and we got very impatient sitting there all day and we were in two minds about moving on, especially as Michele was getting into a terrible bore, for in the evening he chattered away interminably. As Bert spoke Italian so much better than I, I left all the talking to him and he had to bear the full burden of Michele’s loquacity. I don’t think the family knew I could speak Italian at all. My Italian was only pidgin anyway, though I could understand it quite reasonably well.
We used to look forward to every third day for Vito fed us then and his pastasciutta had a very pleasant flavour of garlic. Vito himself had spent some years in America twenty odd years ago and still retained a few words of the language. He was a very likeable old chap and had served through the last war with the result that the present fighting didn’t disturb him in the least.
We would discuss with him the sounds of the distant battle and try and make out what was happening. One day we would hear that our troops had crossed the Sangro, the next that those who had crossed had been wiped out. Rumours varied from day to day and we could rely on nothing we were told. We would say to Vito “well, where are the English today?” and he’d puff at his little clay bowled, bamboo stemmed pipe and say “I tink dey come”. We’d say “when?” to which his invariable reply was “Bye ‘n bye, bye ‘n bye!”
After about 10 days a Jerry line party laid several lines in the vicinity. There were actually five fastened onto our house and one passed within 20 yards of our hut.
It therefore behoved us to take great care for they called at the farm most days to munch apples and drink a glass of wine. Several times we had to hide in the vineyard, but before long we stopped worrying for none of them could speak Italian and they weren’t looking for
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anyone. Around teatime odd Jerries would call at the nearby farms to collect a chicken or two. Vito suffered the loss of several chickens this way. Almost invariably the Jerry would pay about a quarter price and get a receipt, because looting was forbidden. One day a Jerry was trying to get such a receipt from Vito’s wife, but she said she couldn’t write. “OK” said the Jerry “make a cross”. So Mrs. Vito, playing dumb, makes the Roman Catholic sign of the cross and the Jerry went away in despair, minus receipt.
One day about five o’clock, Bert and I were sitting in the hut, arguing away, when one of the kids came dashing up. “Run, run” he says, very excited. “Tedeschi!” We get up to have a look and see Michele and Consilio, bent double, running in the vineyard, so, as usual, we make off in that direction. “No, no” says the kid “go that way” and he points to the stream on the east side of the farm. This means we have to cross an open field and we are half way across this when we hear someone shout “Halt!” We look round and there are three Jerries, all armed with automatics and one of them carrying a couple of chickens. We are about 30-40 yards away and therefore safe from pistol fire so I am in favour of carrying on – at the double. But Bert says “You go on” and turns back and begins to stroll towards them. I decide to go back too, because it’ll be easier to explain if I haven’t fled. I come up to one of the Jerries who says “Perche avanti?” which is hardly Italian (perche = why, avanti = forward, and the equivalent of quick march). I pretend not to catch on and say, questioningly “Avanti?” and begin to go away. “No No” says he and he’s grinning a bit at the result of his linguistic effort. So we join the others.
The fellow with the chickens is about forty years old and looks fairly easy going. He starts to question Bert whilst the third bloke, who is only young and a nasty, suspicious minded looking bit of work, goes over to the hut where all our kit is hidden.
“Let me see your papers” says the Jerry.
“Papers” says Bert “why, nobody carries papers nowadays.”
“Oh” says the Jerry and he talks things over with his pal in German. Bert of course understands perfectly what they are saying but gives no hint of this.
“Why are you afraid of the Germans?” asks the Jerry.
“Then why did you run away?”
“Well, we saw some other folk running so we ran too.”
They are not satisfied with this, so
“You’d better come along and see the Commandant” says the Jerry, so reluctantly we get going. After about 20 yards Bert stops.
“Look” he says “Why take us to the Commandant? We’ll only get into trouble. Now if you want us to work, tell us what to do and we’ll do it. Show us a trench” he continues enthusiastically “and we’ll dig it for you.”
The Jerries talk things over for a bit and I can see they don’t really want to be bothered with us, they’re thinking of supper and those chickens.
“All right” says the Jerry “Beat it.”
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[Diagram showing the layout of the di Camillio brother’s land near Frisa]
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“Grazie, signor” we say (that is my only contribution to the talk) and we touch our hats and go down the lane past Vito’s.
We have hardly gone thirty yards when we hear that hateful word “Halt!” again. We turn round and my heart sinks into my boots as we see the third Jerry, whom I had clean forgotten, come running out of the hut carrying a tin in each hand. This means that he has found our kit, which has all sorts of English articles amongst it, and it seems as if the game is up. I am beginning to consider coshing these guys for they are not very tough and have put their automatics away. However, they come up to us and hold up one of the tins. It is a tin of Peek Frean’s sweet biscuits from a Red Cross food parcel and has a label in English on top.
“This is English” says the Jerry, uncertainly.
“I don’t know. It isn’t ours” says Bert and I think this silly, for it obviously is.
“You are English from the front.”
“Nothing of the sort, we’re Italians.”
They talk amongst themselves. The young chap is for taking us along, but the elder one who speaks Italian and seems to be in charge doesn’t want to be bothered. They look at the second tin, which is Italian Army bully.
“This is Italian, isn’t it?” he asks.
“Yes, that’s Italian” says Bert.
The Jerry hesitates a moment, then hands the tins to us.
“Here. You can go” he says.
“Grazie signor” we both say.
We walk away at a normal pace until we are out of sight, then run like hell along the lane in the valley and work our way round to the bamboos by the wee stream east of the house. We chuckle over this lot and we cannot really understand how we got away with it. My opinion is that the Jerry’s Italian was not sufficiently good to understand all of Bert’s fluent flow of language and furthermore they must have been pretty hungry and keen to get home. The amazing part is when I go back to pick up the kit. Both our bags have been opened and in Bert’s there are several more Red Cross tins, whilst mine holds five notebooks full of writing in English, a pair of K.D. [Khaki Drill] shorts and shirt (army issue) and away at the bottom, my army side cap. This is the only side cap I’ve had in the army and I’ve kept it feeling that it’s lucky. The Jerry who searched this kit must be plain daft, in my opinion, to miss these things.
Towards dusk we go back to the farm and tell them casually what happened, though they saw most of it. We treat the matter very lightly and the result is that they are convinced that we’ll pass anywhere as Itis and after that the situation at the farm is much easier and they don’t worry so much. We explain that if we’d stayed in the hut there would have been no trouble and that to run, as the kid told us to do, is fatal. The next few days passed without incident though our aircraft came on the scene, constantly patrolling. Sunday provided the only change in routine, for it is a day of rest, and one or two of the locals would come in for a chat. It was also the only day of the week when we ate meat, fried rabbit or chicken. One night we had a celebration, for the news came that Lanciano had fallen. We didn’t believe
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this news, which turned out to be wrong, but we’d no objection to the celebration.
All this while the sound of battle seemed to be drawing nearer and it began to seem a possibility that the Sangro had been crossed. Our planes began to come over in twelves at intervals of about 10-15 minutes, the fighter bombers going for traffic on the roads and the four engined bombers concentrating on a spot near Lanciano. At night odd planes came over and in the mornings we would find the tinfoil anti-radiolocation strips and pamphlets. One of these pamphlets was in the form of a news sheet and called “Front Post”. Another asked where the Luftwaffe was and a third just set out the daily menu of German POWs in Canada. They were all in German and Bert used them to roll cigarettes, paper being scarce.
Our house began to fill up, too. A new family arrived, consisting of an old lady crippled with rheumatism, her daughter, whom we called Miss Misery on account of her gloomy forecasts, and the latter’s baby. I believe their house had been requisitioned by the Germans and we were a little worried lest ours should be as well.
One day Michele told us that there was an Englishman at his sister’s on the hill across the valley, a POW like us. We went over & this fellow told us the most jumbled & contradictory tale. He spoke Italian in a dialect no one was acquainted with, but no other language as far as we could make out. He didn’t understand us, he said, because he was a South African and spoke American. What town did he come from? Jerusalem! We never discovered what he really was, but he was too obviously stupid to be a German agent, so we didn’t worry.
All this while our neighbours the A.A. [Anti-Aircraft] gunners had been behaving in a most extraordinary way. They scarcely fired a shot, even when the planes were right overhead and all the other guns in the district were blazing away. Most of the day we could hear them playing away on the accordion and sometimes singing. One evening two of them passed in company with two girls who were not of the peasant type. The farmer at whose house they were staying told us that they had four girls from the brothel at Lanciano there, that they were drunk most of the day, and that they fed their rations to the pigs and lived on Italian food, one chicken daily between two men. He had told them that he was a poor man and if they took his rabbits and chickens they were taking his livelihood, so after that they got their food from neighbouring farms, which showed that they had some decency left.
All this while the shelling was getting closer and closer and the bombing was uncomfortably close, too, but there was no sound of small arms fire, which would indicate that our boys were really close. The long range shells were whistling overhead, and this was rather eerie because we could neither hear them fired nor explode on landing, just the whistle high overhead. We called them “the express”, as they didn’t stop locally. Twice the Navy came in and shelled Lanciano and the direction the shells were coming from led us to false hopes before we tumbled to it. Because of the approaching danger we made a shelter, dug in a bank a yard or two from the house. It was roofed with logs about nine inches thick with a foot of earth on top and would house over thirty people.
We had been working on this one morning when four of the A.A. boys slipped over for chickens, so we slipped into the vineyard behind the house. We watched them leave, cross the valley and begin the climb to their house. Then one of them began to yodel very expertly which brought out one of the girlfriends.
“Yoo hoo! Alberto!” she sang out and Alberto yoo-hooed back. Right out of the blue came the whistle of a shell and as we fell flat we saw it burst right where we had last seen
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Alberto. The shrapnel whistled past our ears and a little barrage started. We made our way in short bursts between shells to the shelter. There were no more yodels from Alberto and later we learned from the farmer that the first shell had landed 10 yards from Alberto and the boys, who were showered with soil but unhurt. They didn’t come over after that and I believe they took to living in their shelter. These were the first shells to land near us, about 150 yards away, and cut down a few fruit trees but did no further damage.
Our hosts were getting scared, but not Vito, who didn’t bother to make a shelter. His house, being lower down the valley was safe but all the same he got odd shells within 50 yards, which didn’t worry either him or his numerous family. The A.A. [Anti-Aircraft] farmer and his family moved into our house and we had forty people staying with us. We all slept in the downstairs rooms, men one side, women the other. Excitement grew and Michele began wailing that all our shelling and bombing was at random and merely killed poor innocent Italians. Actually, in our valley two Italians were killed whereas the strafing of German motor transport was, from all accounts, pretty successful. It was mighty exhilarating to see the fighter bombers spot their target then peel off one after the other in a high speed power dive, drop their bombs and open up with their cannon. With dive bombers you can always see where they’re going to lay their eggs, but the high level bombing of the “quattro motore” was not so comfortable, though one could generally see the bombs leave the plane. Usually the Italians were too bewildered to go into the shelter. When things got bad they would go down on their knees and gabble prayers.
The nightly family prayers were a complete farce and it was all we could do to keep a straight face. Michele did the leading and the others joined in with the response – in Latin of course, which they didn’t understand.
“Ave Maria, Santa Maria, gabble gabble gabble” would go Michele.
“Gabble gabble gabble” came the response. All the time they would keep up their ordinary talk – “Go and feed the rabbits”, “What have you done with the apples?”. Towards the end they usually got down on their knees and Michele would take the opportunity to poke the fire. When they were very worried they went through their prayers twice. It was all meaningless. They didn’t believe that anyone but R.C.s [Roman Catholics] were Christians and in fact they had no idea of life outside their own little circle. Michele’s good wife would shake her head in speechless amazement when we told her of trains which ran underground, of stairs which moved, of ships which had shops and cinemas on them. I believe she thought it all rather unnatural and of course nothing would shake them, or any Italian, from their belief that all Americans are millionaires. They rather wanted Italy to become a sort of American colony so that they too would grow wealthy.
[List of Italian terms]
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The original notebook no. 1 finishes at this point, continuing in the second notebook.
Another family came to stay with us – the Italians from the A.A. [Anti-Aircraft] post farm – though as a matter of fact, our house was in a more dangerous position, theirs being slightly behind the crest of a hill and consequently protected from shellfire. Perhaps it was that they feared lest our recce [reconnaissance] planes had spotted the Germans and that attack from the air might result, or perhaps they got some queer sort of moral support from the fact that Bert and I were British, thus immune from British shells!
Then one morning we had visitors, four Italians making their way down to British occupied territory. One of them was a journalist who, on the abdication of Mussolini, had written an anti-Fascist article, for which he had been gaoled when the Germans assumed control in the north. We were very crowded that night and I could not but marvel at the Italian hospitality, unquestioningly taking in extra guests when we already had so many. It is true that the womenfolk had to do without the evening meal so that the four newcomers should not go hungry, but this is the Italian custom, and one could not protest. In the morning they carried on their way and we heard of them no more.
The situation had now changed so much that we no longer troubled about Germans, because the fighting was drawing nearer and nearer, and both we and they were only interested in preserving our own skins. Their nightly visitations in search of chickens ceased, but on the other hand, the linesmen were out constantly, repairing lines damaged by our shells. We always seemed to be meeting them. Once when I was at the back of the farm and Bert was engaged in deepening the shelter, he felt someone inspecting his handiwork over his shoulder. He looked round and there was one of our German friends.
“It is good” said the Jerry, speaking in German “But make it deeper.”
Then followed five minutes of comedy and much gesticulation, Bert pretending not to understand, before at last he nodded comprehension. We were very flattered to get the approval of a German on our shelter. That same morning I sheltered under a tree with two of the linesmen, while our fighters flew slowly overhead, looking for a target.
Evening came and Michele, Bert and I went down to the valley to collect pepperoni. Three Germans passed within twenty yards but said nothing. Then I went back to the farm with a full basket, leaving the others to collect more. I had not been back above a couple of minutes before the artillery opened up and the shells were dropping really close. They were all women and children at the farm except me, so I began dragging them into the shelter between shells. I shooed one girl, who was getting hysterical, out of one door, and she immediately shot in through another. All told, I had a high old time before getting them all to the comparative safety of the shelter. I would get one lot in, run a couple of paces towards the house, hear the whistle of the next shell and leap about five yards in reverse, absolutely automatically, no thought required. Then just as I was congratulating myself on a very noble piece of work, and thinking that if I was the bloke who dished out George Medals for rescue work, I would reserve one, or even two for myself, I remembered the old lady who was crippled. No, she wasn’t in the shelter so that meant another journey, as my conscience wouldn’t let me rest. She lived at the far end of the house, and my feet touched the ground about twice on the way there. She was crouched before the fire, sobbing and praying, but she came willingly enough, though slow as a snail, shuffling one foot a few inches in front of the other. Me, I was like a cat on hot bricks. Had I the wings of a little dove, thought I, far, far away would I fly, and I wouldn’t stop to pick daisies on the way, either!
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The barrage ceased and Bert and Michele returned. The shells for the most part had landed in between us and them, so they had had to fall flat, and in doing so, Bert lost my scissors, a crime for which I haven’t forgiven him yet. We inspected the damage and found a few more fruit trees down, one about 25 yards from the house. Shrapnel was everywhere. It surprised me how close together the shells landed and it began to seem as though our house had been specially selected as a sort of secondary target. Or maybe they just lined up their guns on it.
It was during this barrage that Michele’s middle daughter got badly scared. Previously she had shown herself indifferent to bombing, but on this occasion she was out in the fields by herself when the first shell burst, quite close to her. She came running in, white as a leaf, and trembling, and it was not until the next day that she recovered her spirits. An unpleasant experience.
The night passed quietly.
Some days earlier, when Bert and I were sleeping on our own in the front downstairs room, we had had a midnight scare. I was wakened by the sound of voices at the door. There were three or four of them, Germans, speaking loudly amongst themselves. I woke Bert and we slipped on our jackets – we slept in our clothes – picked up our boots and tiptoed out to the back room, a shippen. Here we put on our boots and waited by the door. The voices remained outside the house, but they made no effort to enter. After five minutes we heard them go away and then Michele put in a belated appearance to warn us of the danger. It was, as we had guessed, the linesmen fixing up another line. We went back to bed.
The next day opened with another short, sharp barrage near the house and breakfast was consequently delayed. We spent the rest of the day sitting around watching our planes, and I was vastly encouraged on observing that the bombs were now being dropped behind us. That morning and during the night we had heard the sound of considerable movement on the roads, and visiting Italians assured us that the vehicles were all moving back. We also thought we detected the sound of machine guns not far away, but with so much air strafing and light A.A. [Anti-Aircraft] in the neighbourhood, we could not be certain. Heavy A.A. had also appeared on the scene a mile or two to our rear, and in the afternoon, one of our “heavies” was brought down. For the past fortnight we had seen, on the average, 400-500 Allied aircraft daily and this was the sole casualty. Nor, in this period, had we seen any German planes, although I could not be certain of the identity of one hedge hopping fighter, and, in fact, rather fancied that I could distinguish the German cross, but it was over the crest of a hill before I could be certain.
A mobile German field gun fired a few rounds from a few hundred yards behind us, then silence followed until later when we heard it firing from considerably further away. It returned after dark, then went for good.
In the afternoon, an old man arrived. He was a farmer from near the Sangro, had been evacuated, and was now returning, believing that the Germans had gone. After a brief stop, he resumed his way, leaving us debating whether it would be better to go with him, or to stay. Our decision was to stay – a wise one, I think.
Shortly after midday, I went down to see what damage the morning’s shelling had done, and found that near the little stream to the left of the house, the telephone cables had been broken in several places, besides the usual damage to trees. In the middle of my inspection I heard the customary bellowing of the linesmen, and saw them approaching from the house. They had seen me on several previous occasions, of course, but nevertheless I didn’t want a
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prolonged interview, so when they halted fifteen yards away to repair a break, I held up the broken ends of the cable near me, pointed to another break and shook my head commiseratingly before carrying on a short way up the stream and working round to the back of the house.
We were sitting on the shelter when they returned – no halting for a glass of wine and an apple now – and when passing, spoke to us in German. We looked blank. They scratched their heads, and after several attempts, came out with
“Kaput. Sette volte.”
We sympathised appropriately. (Kaput is a much used word, German slang, I think, and has no exact English counterpart. It can be translated variously as, captured, destroyed, finished. Here it meant “broken” – the line – and “sette volte” is Italian for “seven times”.) They had been pretty quick over the repairs.
These lines were of particular interest to us because in an orderly retreat, such as the Germans appeared to be making, there is usually time to reel in all lines. Once one of the lines was removed, but our hopes were dashed when later in the same day, two new lines were laid. Also we kept our eye on the A.A. [Anti-Aircraft] post for any signs of movement, and were cheered to see a lorry by the farm. The farmer, too, told us that they were under orders to stand by, and had evacuated their four girls, possibly to prepare their next billet. This farmer was unlucky in that twice, when going from our house to his own, he had walked into a barrage, and he now refused to leave our house – let his livestock go hungry, his own life was more valuable! He was very scared and showed it. Once, after an air raid during which the rest of us had gone to the shelter, I found him in the house. He was lying against the wall, wrapped up in a thick mattress and holding his baby in his arms. It was pretty good protection against all but a direct hit and I wondered if he had learnt the trick from the Germans.
Vito called to see us after tea, a most unusual occurrence, and the animosity between him and Michele was very thinly veiled, though he accepted the glass of wine, after the customary vehement refusals, which common politeness forced Michele to offer him. I had noticed, when Eric, Harry and I were staying with Galliano, that an Italian always refuses the hospitality pressed upon him. Galliano merely refused with strangers as a matter of form, but with friends the refusal was definite, or at the most he would accept half a glass. The host pours the wine, intent on filling the glass to the brim, but when it is half full, the guest lifts his glass violently, throwing the bottle equally violently upward. We always expected to see something broken, but were always disappointed.
Well, being somewhat fed up with Michele, we were careful to address most of our conversation to Vito, and spoke to him in English, because Michele resented this accomplishment of his brother’s. Vito, too, thought he had heard machine gun fire and was altogether in an optimistic vein. His visit cheered us considerably.
Shortly before breakfast on the following morning, Michele called us to the door. On the path to our left, just beyond the wee stream, was a column of German infantry, walking in single file under the cover of the trees so as to be invisible to our aircraft. They looked very weary and were walking in silence, their eyes on the ground. We counted about 150 of them. Later the A.A. farmer, who had been over to his house, told us that the A.A. boys had left, but the infantry were in position near the farm. This news was both good and bad. It meant that the withdrawal was definitely on, but if the infantry remained where they were, we were
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likely to see fireworks. It wasn’t safe to move, because we would be under observation and infantry just returned from the fighting are much lighter on the trigger than, say, the Signals. So we just bided our time.
A couple of hours after breakfast, came the unmistakable crackle of a machine gun, with occasional rounds from a small gun, perhaps a two-pounder. It appeared to be a light skirmish, such as our patrols might be engaged in, and the sound came from our right, about halfway to Lanciano. There was no answering fire from the infantry we had seen earlier. The firing ceased after perhaps twenty minutes and there was only one other outbreak during the day.
Then came the news that the German infantry had only remained for a short time before withdrawing still further. It seemed that at last the great day had come, but we had endured so many previous disappointments that we kept our optimism in check and said little of our hopes.
Vito arrived on the scene at the same time as yesterday, with the news that Lanciano had fallen and the rumble of traffic and the ringing of church bells seemed to bear this out. I had always liked to hear the ringing of bells from Frisa and San Vito. Not even bombing and shelling prevented them from being rung at the appointed hours, but today they had peeled out joyously when they were not due. Vito had also been told that one of our patrols was only a mile away, so he, Bert and I sallied forth to investigate.
“We will bring back some tea and cigarettes” we said.
Down to the valley we strode, turning right at the bottom and following the stream. A solitary British gun was lobbing over shells in a leisurely sort of manner, and they were landing harmlessly in a wood on the hillside about three quarters of a mile on the Lanciano side of our house. Bert and I automatically and unnecessarily ducked as the whistle passed overhead, but not Vito. Not he! Italians we passed assured us that the patrol was still there, only a few hundred yards ahead, and right joyously we forged on.
Then – there they were! A couple of Bren carriers and two armoured cars, manned by impassive Sikhs.
“Hullo, there!” we shouted, and they smiled a dignified welcome, before leading us to their Sergeant, who spoke English haltingly. He questioned us briefly from our pay books (I was careful always to carry identification – pay book, identity discs and letters addressed to me at PG 70, so that if we should chance to be searched by Jerries, they would know us for escaped POWs and not spies). We were then taken to their officer whose command of English was considerably better. Were there any mines or booby traps about, he wanted to know? Then he told us that they had put a light German gun out of action on the hill opposite – Michele’s hill – and pointed to a burning haystack by a house opposite. The ammunition for the gun had been hidden in the haystack, he said. That was the skirmish we had heard in the morning. He told us that they would be going back in a few minutes and offered to give us a lift to HQ. However, we couldn’t very well go without saying goodbye to Michele after all he had done for us, so we said we’d return in the morning. So we went back to the men and got some tea from them but they had no cigarettes, being Sikhs and consequently nonsmokers. Then word came through on the radio that the patrol was to return, its mission having been accomplished. We watched them go and then set out for Vito’s, where we had a glass or two of wine in celebration. It was possible to hear and see our vehicles around Lanciano, and to hear tracked vehicles rumbling and rattling along the ridge on which lay San Vito.
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We told Michele the good tidings and there was great rejoicing. He killed three chickens for us, which was three weeks meat rations for the whole family, and we celebrated some more in the usual way. We turned in pretty late, with the music of British transport in our ears and it was some time before I fell asleep.
We were awakened at midnight by an almighty crash and the tinkling of glass as the windows came in. Then followed the wailing of women and cries of “Santa Maria”, “Gesu Cristo” and the gabbling of prayers. The barrage was too thick to nip out to the shelter so we went into the shippen which, being at the back of the house and strongly built was safer. Personally I was scared stiff – it had seemed that our troubles were over and then this happened!
In a quarter of an hour the firing ceased but we slept no more that night.
Bert and I cursed ourselves for the biggest fools under the sun. To be with our own troops, then to deliberately walk back into no man’s land! Why, when we came back, the shells were still hitting the hill on which we lived! It was deliberately asking for trouble and I was dead scared we’d get it.
After a while I went out through the front door, stumbling over a piece of fallen masonry as I did so. A yard in front of the shelter door was a small shell hole, but the shelter was intact.
Looking up, I saw that the top corner of the house was missing. There were other shell holes about. I brought Bert out to have a look, but we said nothing to the others, not wishing to cause undue alarm. They were still praying.
At four o’clock the guid wife began cooking the chickens, and Michele announced his intention of coming with us to a friend’s, south of Lanciano. There was much to-do as everyone prepared to leave.
As dawn was breaking we ate one of the chickens and Michele forced us to take another with us, to eat on the way. We changed my boots for an old pair he had and left one or two clothes. Previously we had given him two Egyptian pound notes, which was the last of the £E8 I had with me when captured. The various guests left. We helped the two brothers to collect the rabbits which were hidden down the fields where no German could find them. At eight o’clock something occurred – I forget what – which enabled Bert and me to leave on our own – we preferred this. There were handshakes and kisses and tears all round, and we left, laden with food and tobacco. We had given Michele a note addressed to the British telling of the help he had rendered us. Vito and Consilio had similar notes.
Then down to Vito’s (South American Joe, we called him) where we returned some clothes he had given us and left the balance of what we could spare. We had already had a fair amount of wine but egged on by Vito and his irrepressible family (and in no way loth) we now proceeded to drink a great deal more. Much too much, in fact. Leaving the house with unsteady steps and singing sonorously, we met up with two Sicilians who had been staying nearby and had arranged the previous night to accompany us. Bert was wearing a garland of dried tobacco leaves round his neck and to complete the picture, I fastened two bunches of grapes together and hung those round his neck, too. The effect was rather unusual.
Some way down the valley was some Indian infantry, crouched behind the bank, with rifles ready. We strode through them, still singing. It seemed the only thing to do, on this best of all good mornings. A sergeant wanted to know who we were. We told him.
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“Are there any Germans near?” he asked.
We waved our arms grandly.
“There isn’t a b- Jerry within miles!” we said and passed on our way, pausing only to borrow some cigarettes.
We passed more Indians, who stared at us strangely. Then we came to a small village where Philippo dwelt. He came out at the sound (not inconsiderable) of our approach, and invited us in. The whole village followed, so that the room was crowded to bursting point. There was much shouting and laughing, more toasts were drunk, and after the manner of a “milord Inglese”, we took out our newly acquired cigarettes and cast them amongst the multitude. A mad scramble ensued and taking advantage of it, we made our exit.
Greatly to Bert’s delight, the next people we met were Canadians, Tank Corps men. His pleasure increased when we learnt that one of the officers came from Alberta, Bert’s home town. Reminiscences were exchanged, as far as it was possible to carry on any conversation with anyone in Bert’s state of insobriety. In the midst of it, Bert drew himself up.
“I am drunk now” he said solemnly, “But please don’t think it’s a habit with me. Having heard the circumstances, perhaps you think it justified. Do you?” he persisted.
“Yes. I think so” answered the officer, equally solemnly.
We next enquired if there were any Artillery men around, for we had a word or two to say to them concerning last night’s performance, but as there weren’t, we contented ourselves by asking the Canucks to relay our message, which was bitter, very bitter. It concerned dimwits who persist in lobbing shells where there are no Germans, but friendly Italians and blameless POWs. After that, we tried to get some boots for Vito, who was hanging about in the rear, occasionally interrupting with interjections in his own version of the English language, which none but Bert and I could understand. None of the Canucks had spare boots with them, naturally enough, but Bert persisted in his efforts, being led from officer to officer. He was at his most persuasive, all to no avail.
And that about concludes the tale. We were interrogated at Brigade HQ and elsewhere, being treated like long lost sons wherever we went. It had taken me from the middle of September to the 4th December, ten weeks, to get through. Possibly if we had set out with the express intention of getting through, not waiting for our troops, and had taken the train to Pescara, which was quite a safe thing to do in the first few days after the Armistice, we could have made it in a fortnight. But such speculation is idle.
Later we met up with Fish and Jack Halford, and Sergeant Bradley (he of the Torrente Menocchia episode), all of whom got through on the same day as us. We went back in stages to Bari, by which time our party had grown to about thirty in number. From Bari to Taranto. From Taranto by L.C.I. [Landing Craft Infantry] (invasion barge) to Siracusa in Sicily. Thence, again by L.C.I. to Bizerte. Thence by the world’s slowest train – 5 days to cover 400-500 miles – to Algiers. Christmas there, leaving on Boxing Day and arriving in Scotland (Greenock) on the 3rd January, 1944. Six weeks leave a couple of days later.
Just one thing more. On the 5th December we chanced to meet Michele and gave him another note which would enable him to collect 2000 lire (£5) for “guiding us to the British lines”. We met him walking with a friend just south of Lanciano. We saw our first German plane that day, making a hit-and-run raid near the Sangro.
Completed at Rokeby Hall, Barnard Castle, on the 14th May, 1944.
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HOW THE OTHERS FARED
One of the first things I did on getting home was to redeem a promise to write to the relations of fellow POWs.
Hilary Machen, it transpired, must have escaped after I did, because after a long silence his wife heard from him in Germany, saying that he had got within a couple of kilos of the front line, only to be picked up by a German patrol. His letter arrived early in February.
Bert Bisbrown did not get out, but was moved to Germany, where he was put to coalmining.
Harry Corbett’s wife has heard nothing from him, though it is now May 1944. He got thro’ early in July 1944.
Eric Cook’s wife hadn’t heard from her husband, either, but late in February I got a letter from Eric in person. The morning after we got separated during the Torrente Menocchia fracas, he was picked up by Jerries and taken back to PG 70, where they put him in the punishment pen.
He made a couple of attempts to break out, getting fired on in the process, and eventually succeeded when our Kittybombers distracted the attention of the guards. After that he made his way down and so to Blighty. A very good effort.
Eric, by the way, was a member of the crew of the submarine which sank a boatload of British POWs on 13th November, 1942. That was the next boat after mine to leave Benghazi. He said they saw this Italian ship during the night, sent a torpedo into her and then started shelling. After that they sailed up to pick up survivors, if there were any. They got a shock when they found British & South Africans floating around. In all they picked up fifty and a few Italians out of a total of 850 POWs and they stayed around long after the Asdic warned of the approach of a boat and it was not until they could see the white foam from its bows that they left.
A very sound & decent sort of chap, is Eric. May we soon meet again.
ITALIAN FOODS & CUSTOMS
We found that Italian foods varied very considerably from district to district, even to the number of meals, for in some parts they do without breakfast, a disgusting custom.
The quickest breakfast I had consisted of an egg and a glass of wine. The egg was uncooked and eaten by making a small hole in the end and sucking. It was quite a refreshing snack. Wine, of course, is taken with every meal, sometimes watered down when it is old and strong and supplies are running low. In peacetime, they may drink more coffee, but during the war the lack of sugar has made this something of a luxury. It is a locally grown coffee, I believe, and very spicy. Milk is only drunk by babies, tea never.
Other breakfasts we had were – bread sprinkled with olive oil and salted; potatoes flavoured with tomato puree and peppini (a small red pod which is far hotter than pepper); pepperoni, tomato & peppini, almost too hot to eat; in the wealthier homes, ham and occasionally fried eggs. All frying is done in olive oil and they have no butter or margarine. Jam, a sort of preserve consisting of apple & grapes, is a luxury a few peasants can afford: it
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is called “marmalade”. Dried figs are kept for the winter.
The midday meal is usually the big meal of the day, though sometimes the evening meal is. Invariably it is a form of homemade macaroni. To make, flour & water are kneaded into pastry, rolled flat & cut into strips, about 18 inches long and as thick as a boot lace. This is boiled in water for 5 minutes, the water drained off, and it is then flavoured with olive oil, garlic & tomato, whilst sometimes grated cheese is sprinkled over it. This is the staple diet, eaten six days of the week. To eat it you don’t use any fancy tricks such as raising it above your mouth before dropping it in. You get a forkful and suck it in, noisily, with the olive oil dripping down your chin. This is known as “pasta” or “pastasciutta”. There are variations. Sometimes it is cut in small squares & a vegetable stew is made of it. The second course is either fruit (melon, apple, grapes or figs or nuts) or bread and sheep-come-cow’s milk cheese. There was also a soft variety of this cheese, a sort of cross with curds and whey, served as a sweet. The apples are sometimes roasted, in which event, five is considered a reasonable quantity for one man.
Sunday is meat day. As the fire grate is the old-fashioned open type, merely a flat space under the chimney, and there is no oven, meat cannot be roasted. (The apples are roasted by putting them under a reversed pan & piling embers – it’s all wood, no coal – around.) The meat – chicken or rabbit, very rarely mutton – is therefore cut into chunks and fried in olive oil, and very delicious it is; quite the tastiest way of cooking rabbit. It is eaten after the Sunday pasta, with bread, but without any vegetable. Hands are used, not knives and forks.
Another of the big meals, “polenta”, is a sort of porridge made of Indian corn. It is poured out onto a board and allowed to solidify, about an inch thick. Grated cheese is sprinkled over it. Then everyone gets stuck in and it usually amuses people to take their portions in such a way as to make maps or queer shapes, of the remaining “polenta”. Indian corn bread is also made under the reversed pan and eaten hot with the potatoes or “pasta”, mixed up with it.
Walnuts & almonds are the nuts mostly grown but during celebrations, “corn on the cob” is had, or more often little nuts – possibly Indian corn – heated over the fire. They give me a thirst.
Bread is baked once a week in the big outside oven. These ovens are of brick, and a hot fire is allowed to burn inside them for a couple of hours, then the fire is raked out, the uncooked bread put in and the doorway sealed with clay.
In some houses, the women do not sit down at the table with the men, and one glass of wine is sufficient for a woman, whereas a man will take up to four. Very often there are insufficient glasses to go round, in which case you wait for your neighbour to finish his before you can get a drink. The only knives in the house are bread knives & pocket knives. The only utensils for cooking, a cauldron, a frying pan and a couple of shallow pans without handles. For boiling water, apart from stewing, pot urns are used.
Furniture is the barest minimum. Plain wooden chairs and table, a chest of drawers come cooking board, possibly a cupboard. The plates go on shelves, the pans are hung up on the walls. On the outside walls, pepperoni is strung up to ripen, also tobacco on those farms where it is grown.
The house usually has four rooms per family. On the ground floor, the living room and
[Footnote] The Road Home – Page 27
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[Title] THE ROAD HOME
shippen, interconnected by a door thro’ which are wafted the odours of cattle, hens and rabbits. Upstairs, a bedroom and a storeroom, or maybe two bedrooms. The bedroom is the best furnished in the house, though only the parents have a “pukka” bed as a rule. Whereas in England, a girl saves up for her “bottom drawer”, in Italy she saves up for her bridal bed.
In the summer the women & children, & sometimes men, go barefoot, except to church. Then the women go barefoot until near the church before putting on their shoes. In the winter the women wear woollen stockings and wooden soled sandals, & the men boots. In the fields the men wear shoes consisting of a section of an old motor tyre, coming to a point at the toe.
All day long, inside & out, the men wear hats, either trilbies or “gor-blimeys”. It is also usual to wear the jacket slung over the shoulders cloak fashion, without putting one’s arms in the sleeves. The women wear colourful clothes & in place of hats, tie silk handkerchiefs round their hair, as was the fashion amongst sporting wenches in England a few years back. Instead of corduroy, or something of that nature, the men favour the sort of clothes, though of a poorer quality, that a clerk would wear in England i.e. black striped suits. They make vests out of a home grown cotton, also sacking. They are, in fact, very nearly independent of outside buying, except for sugar, salt, boots & some clothes. In place of nails and string – for building sheds or tying bundles of twigs – they use very pliable cane.
Their livestock is usually a couple of cattle – milk cows, a couple of sheep, pigs, perhaps twenty hens and a dozen rabbits. Bullocks are used in place of horses and in the hillier districts, sleds in place of wheeled carts. These livestock are not allowed to roam loose, but the sheep are taken out for a short time each day by the children. For food, the livestock eat whatever is going – apples, roots, grass, anything.
The average size of a farm is below twenty acres, & half the produce goes to the landlord. All the land is cultivated – corn, Indian corn, potatoes, tomatoes, pepperoni, beans, melons, vegetable marrow (for the pigs), and fruit trees are spaced at 20 yard intervals throughout. Between the trees, wire is strung and along this grow the grapes, or else the vines grow up bamboos in vineyards. The fruit is apples, figs & peaches for the most part. It is really more market gardening than farming as we know it, & sometimes all the land is turned over by hand. Not an inch of land is wasted, nor is anything that is grown – i.e. the fig trees are stripped of their leaves to feed the cattle.
The Way Out, by Uys Krige (Collins). A S. African who got out at the same time.
[Footnote] The Road Home – Page 28
[Digital page 67]
[Title] Appendix 1 – North Africa and The Mediterranean
[Map of North Africa and The Mediterranean]
[Digital page 68]
[Title] Appendix 2 – Italy
[Map of Italy]
[Digital page 69]
[Title] Appendix 3 – P.O.W.
This is not a day by day diary, for it is being written at our first transit camp in Italy (PG 75 – Bari), nearly six months after our capture. The events depicted, however, are still fresh in my mind, although already some seem barely credible, even to me.
Having rashly volunteered to remain behind with our rear party at Mersa Matruh, it was learnt on the 28th June 1942 that Rommel’s forces had cut the road further east, so at midday we pulled out, one of the last parties to leave, with the town under shellfire. Near Maaten Bagush the road was blocked so we drove a few miles southwards into the desert, only to find ourselves encircled. For the remainder of the afternoon we halted until advancing shellfire and Jerry infantry compelled our withdrawal towards Mersa Matruh. The main road was jammed with traffic and in a state of considerable confusion so a number of officers got together and a party, us included, formed, which at 11.00 p.m. made a break south down the “Road to Rome”. During this break there were two panic retreats caused by vehicles striking mines, but Capt. Brehaut managed to keep all but two of our little section together and we went forward. Due to the rough going, darkness and dangerous driving we were told to abandon our bikes – a wise decision, but a pity for I had been aiming at obtaining 10,000 miles from my old Norton and she was only 30 miles short of this figure. Anyway, I climbed into Brehaut’s P.U. [unidentified]; later we joined forces with about 100 vehicles which had some semblance of order. Eleven miles south we turned east and after only one burst of firing appeared to have broken through the ring for we encountered no further opposition during the night. At 6.00 a.m. we halted for a rest: it was misty; the mist rose; we were surrounded by vehicles (90% British); after a moment’s mutual hesitation they opened up with light artillery and small arms; a short brush and we were taken. There were few casualties.
At the point of a Luger we clambered out to be lined up, whilst the trucks, packed with “buckshee” stores from the bulk NAAFI [Navy Army and Air Force Institute] at Mersa Matruh, were whipped away before we had time to collect either our wits or our kits (all but Joe Atkinson who gathered both his small kit and an accidental shot in the arse, about which the Jerries were duly apologetic). We passed the day idly, chatting to friendly Jerries, who gave us a detailed and wholly erroneous forecast of the course of the campaign. A convoy of Fords was formed in the afternoon and we were driven direct to the road (about four miles) somewhere near Fuka. The run up to Charing Cross was interesting for we met the oncoming Axis troops using, for the most part, captured vehicles, the Italians jubilant, the Jerries indifferent. Our bombers were over during the halt for the night here. I managed a swim next day at Sidi Barrani, our first stop, but we were soon on the move again reaching the top of the escarpment near Capuzzo by nightfall. This proved a cold and dusty stop. On the following day we were handed over to the Italians at Tobruk POW pen: in their safekeeping we have since remained.
We had now gone over three days without food and with limited water. This and the rigours of the journey, increased by subsequent dust storms, accounted for much that happened during the three day pause in this pen. However, it was here that I ate the grandest stew ever, concocted by Doug Perry out of tinned British (Yes!) foodstuffs. And we got a never-to-be-forgotten tin of oatmeal which stood us in good stead for several later meals. By this time the section had acquired some blankets and with these plus a few greatcoats we made a communal bed – surprisingly warm it was. Incidentally, Geordie Graham’s truck appeared to get away when we were captured and since nothing had since been heard of his little party, it’s likely that he got through.
[Footnote] Appendix 3 – Page 1
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[Title] Appendix 3 – P.O.W.
On 3rd July, we took to the road again, packed 100 men to each 10 ton diesel and trailer – “standing room only” – reaching Dorna in the early hours of the following morning. A few hour’s rest and we were moving again after being issued with a tin of Italian bully and two biscuits, but water remained scarce. Each truck had two Libyan guards whom we would like to meet again. Around Dorna the country is very pleasant after the desert, hilly, well wooded and green, with a fair amount of cultivated land and “collective” farms. Every building bears a patriotic slogan, usually “Viva il Duce” – it’s very much overdone.
That same day we arrived at the Benghazi pen situated one mile east of the town, close by the salt lake. This pen, although crowded with Tobruk prisoners – maybe 20,000 of them – had no sanitary arrangements until our boys got cracking. It was divided into three sections, ours, the newest, and from time to time we moved out of one into another, then back, usually under the impression it meant “the boat”.
The early days here were a nightmare; periods up to 48 hours without a water issue; food irregular (one tin of bully and 400 grammes of soggy bread or two biscuits); fags (Iti) selling at 10 for £E1 with very occasional issues of one or two per man; nearly everyone suffering from dysentery in mild or bad form; men too weak to leave their tents; others scrambling to get out on fatigues in the hope of “bucksheesh”; lice and fleas; continuous hunger, boredom, frayed tempers.
But before long the organisation improved. We were put into groups of 50; a staff (police, sanitary, those concerned with issues, etc.) of our men was formed; groundsheet tents were issued – four sheets for six men; latrines, showers and a “Delouser” were obtained; issues became more regular and were improved. Life developed a routine. Here are some memory flashes: Joe, Sue and I – one bed out of three blankets; cropped hair and unshaven faces; brown bodies and protruding bones; dress just shorts, nothing else; men bartering over the fence with the Indians and Negroes – fags and clothing for wood and food; clothing and boots sold to Iti guards for bread and jam (bread at four 12 oz loaves for £E1, later 50 piastres, jam at £E1 a kilo, fags coming down to 200 for £E1); hot meals – when they came – 1 pint of solid rice flavoured with tomato puree, cheese and dried vegetables; bread fried in ghee; Benghazi ‘ash – bully and bread or biscuits boiled up, if we were lucky, with salt; one day never to be forgotten when I procured an onion to add to the stew – wonderful; picking up bits of salt from the adjoining salt lake thrown over by the guards; the daily “constitutional” with Joe – four circuits of the camp, as a rule; playing cards made from scraps of cardboard; appetising smells from the “staff’ compound; “Arts and Crafts” exhibition – wood carving, tinsmith’s work, sketches and suchlike; concerts in the moonlight; burnt bread coffee; the good spell when we got English service biscuits; biscuit porridge; biscuits alive with weevils; the smell of “blown” bully; Negroes chasing a jerboa (desert rat); petty thieving – cries of “stop thief” and a mad chase after him; rumours, rumours, rumours – our boys have taken Tobruk (at the least six times) – an Indian in a trance says we’ll be relieved on Sunday; cross-examining new arrivals – “Alexander says”; daily lectures and talks; the “market”; Crown and Anchor; tossing coins, Aussie fashion; the auction; lying back in the sun sucking an empty pipe; dreaming of home and making great plans for the future; dysentery, jaundice, skin diseases, sandfly fever and desert sores; the hospital too full to accept more men; fellows with dysentery sleeping by the latrines, on the run for weeks at a time; the death of Doug Perry from dysentery – the worst epidemic the M.O. [Medical Officer] has had known in twenty years; Bob Johnson and his squeamishness over food, eventually starving himself into hospital with vitamin deficiency; more wild rumours; men being moved to Italy, Tripoli or who knows where?; air raids and the subsequent fires; “you’ll know it’s our boys when it’s Wimpeys not Liberators”;
[Footnote] Appendix 3 – Page 2
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[Title] Appendix 3 – P.O.W.
the Spitfire – maybe a recce [reconnaissance] from Malta; tales of the Red Cross in permanent camps; homemade ovens and fire places; clothes made from scraps and groundsheets; hopes rising and falling; the rain and flooding; sand storms; the “hot-gospel” meetings; the Boer services and their dreary singing of “Stephanie”; attempts to escape.
Toward the end of September, we moved about a mile away to a new pen by the Tripoli road. By this time, all but 3,000 or so had been shipped or taken away by road. It seemed to us, however, better to try to remain behind for we were confident that our troops would retake Benghazi and although any move would almost certainly be to better conditions, nevertheless the immediate discomforts were compensated for by the hope of relief. Early in November, it was obvious both from the traffic on the road and from the news which new arrivals bore, that the push had started and was going strong. Meals got increasingly irregular; men were moved away but still we managed to hang on, our hopes alternating hourly. Then on Armistice Day we were marched to the docks – a real “Fred Karno’s army”, clad in rags, some of us barefoot, carrying tentage, tin cans, firewood, all sorts of flotsam and jetsam. Benghazi was being evacuated (five days later it fell) but that night we were shipped out past the burning wreck of an oil tanker which had been bombed four days earlier by a Liberator. By now disappointment had made us indifferent to our fate and we enjoyed the two day cruise to Tripoli under ideal weather conditions. The ship the “Monreale” had an Italian crew with Germans manning the guns, and very good fellows we found the latter.
Both at Benghazi and Tripoli (and later in Italy) we were well treated by Italian civvies whilst on the march, being given smokes as we passed. I think they realised how the fighting was going and we were a sorry crowd, half-starved, tatterdemallion and craving for a “drag”. There was that incident of the sweets on the Monreale too. To resume, at Tripoli, we were parked twelve miles outside the town and conditions were certainly better – a rice or macaroni meal at midday, coffee in the morning and meat (of a sort) with soup at 5 o’clock. The bread was smaller – say 200 grammes – and degenerated before long into a soggy lump. The weather was cold but blankets were issued and people tailored clothes therefrom. The guards (Italian) dropped the habit they had at Benghazi of letting off a few rounds to relieve their feelings. News of the fighting in Tunis came through, the Liberators began to appear but although rumours were rife, hopes were not so high. Once again we survived the first few moves, but on 27th November we were marched the twelve miles to the dock – quite a feat considering our physical condition.
At the docks we saw that Jerries can nip for cover just as fast as anyone when the siren sounds and we were told that the “Monreale” had been sunk on her return to Benghazi. This trip we were herded into the holds and kept there, so it’s as well we weren’t torpedoed – a sudden stoppage at night was said to be a “tin-fish”. It wasn’t a pleasant trip in any way but we were sufficiently tired to sleep well the first night. Arrived at Naples, we were given hot showers, deloused and entrained for PG 75 at Bari in the heel of Italy, doing without food for 36 hours on the way.
Bari is an improvement, decidedly, although we are still in transit. We have three blankets and a palliasse, wooden bunks, stone bungalows, Italian serge clothing, coffee at 7 a.m., skilly (rice or macaroni and fresh vegetables) at 11 a.m. and 4.30 p.m., 200 grammes (officially) of well baked bread – even though it is chestnut flour on occasion, cheese five times a week and meat twice. Actually there’s a racket over the bread and we only get about 150 grammes which is no more than twice the size of a Lyons breakfast roll and hopelessly inadequate. During the first few days here I picked up orange peel and cabbage stalks, so hungry was I – and smoked fig leaves too. However, the main improvement was that after a
[Footnote] Appendix 3 – Page 3
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[Title] Appendix 3 – P.O.W.
few days Red Cross food parcels really and truly arrived. For a spell we were rationed to one every fifteen and then one every twenty five days and it was not until February that we received one per week, which is the correct scale. On Christmas Day special parcels were issued, one between two men, and we had such a “scoff” as we had been dreaming of for months. Joe and I had breakfast in bed – coffee and two chocolate biscuits; tiffin – marge and cake; dinner – (in the evening, nicely set out but all cold) a tin of braised steak and macaroni, another of steak and tomato pudding; Christmas pudding with Nestle’s milk; chocolate biscuits, cake and sweets. It was wonderful and numerous gluttons were violently sick.
Tobacco issue was one half cheroot, one third packet tobacco and twenty two cigs weekly. Later we got 50 Players as well and real Players pipe tobacco too. Toc H members started classes on a variety of subjects. I took German, Italian, psychology and, for a short while, shorthand. Officers gave talks. A playing field was cleared. By February we had picked up tremendously and the weather was such that we could sunbathe in sheltered spots – the camp was surrounded by fruit trees and well protected from winds. There were concerts given by the officers and football played but the Benghazi boys were still too weak for the latter. Titch Wale went into hospital, all puffed out, with suspected food poisoning, and we heard, but were unable to confirm, that Bob Johnson had died in Bari hospital. The snag at this otherwise excellent camp was that the permanent staff were very selfish and wouldn’t put themselves out to help. For instance, it was weeks before they provided half a pint of hot water for tea at midday tho’ we were not allowed our own fires – nor could we have our parcel food heated up – they seemed to resent us. Rumours here were generally accurate for the officers controlled the news and we had fresh arrivals from Tunisia as PG 75 was a transit camp. We get paid too, one lire per day, and were able to buy figs, onions, matches, bootblack, notebooks, etc. But you cannot imagine what it meant to enjoy the simple necessities of life after five months without – butter, jam, real tobacco, matches, sugar, and to sleep on a bed of sorts.
Toward the end of February, things were improving all round so naturally we had to move. I had just received two letters from home – the greatest joy of all – when on 3rd March we entrained for PG 85 at Tuturano near Brindisi. The journey was a pleasure, across country colourful with fruit blossom and green crops.
In some ways PG 85 is an improvement. Our own cooks are at work and we get a full pint of tea twice daily and can heat up food. Parcels are regular, skilly much the same though having less vegetables, and after the roll call which is over by 8 a.m. we are not interfered with. But the camp is in a malarial district and living conditions are poor. I am lucky being in a grossly overcrowded wooden hut but the less fortunate are in tents and it’s been raining for a week. Time passes more slowly as we have no classes running and there is no library. After 10 days, 83 cases of scabies have been found, including Comrie, Burridge and Gilroy – they were said to be going into hospital, but didn’t. After a month at this side of the camp, “Piccolo”, we moved over to “Grande”.
In “Grande” were the band boys and others from Benghazi. Here was a library, concerts, singsongs, or a talk in each hut every night, sports (deck tennis, football, badminton), plenty of space. The weather picked up and we improved in health tremendously. I got friendly with Hilary Machen and all told it was the best yet. The Itis were very lax and there was much trading – bread for 15 fags. We had three months here, then were moved and on 27th May reached Monturano on (or 10 miles inland from) the Adriatic, opposite Rome.
PG 70 is a big camp. On our arrival there were 7,000 men here, housed in big brick
[Footnote] Appendix 3 – Page 4
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[Title] Appendix 3 – P.O.W.
buildings on 3 tier beds. It was dismal to begin with but improved with knowing – good library, motor club, classes, talks and so on. I started a monthly mag for the motor club and this, with other writing and reading, just about fills my time in. By June it was as warm as Egypt and one skilly daily plus Red Cross food is as much as we can manage. We had some good political meetings which were stopped.
By about 10-15 July, with Sicily in danger, the southern camps were being evacuated and we’ve now 10,000 folks here – far too many – let’s hope it’s not for long. Titch Wale, who went into hospital at Bari with dropsy, came in with the last batch. He’s fit again and says he met Bob Johnson in dock; Bob is still painfully thin, but he too is fit.
[List of German motorcycle terms]
[Footnote] Appendix 3 – Page 5
[Digital page 74]
[Title] Appendix 3 – P.O.W.
[List of German motorcycle terms, continued]
[Footnote] Appendix 3 – Page 6