Winchester, Patrick Logie


Patrick Logie Winchester’s story begins with personal background about himself and his military training along with observations of world events that led to World War 2. He was sent to Egypt and took part in several battles against Rommel’s Nazi forces. He was captured in May 1941 and sent to Montalbo P.O.W camp and from there to Fontanellato. He spends several months as a P.O.W in various camps and describes his time in captivity.

He escaped after the Italian Armistice in September 1943 and describes his life “on the run” with several other English P.O.W’s in the Italian mountains and countryside. He was re-captured December 1943 and was transported to Oflag 79 at Brusnwick. He describes conditions there including a bombing raid which occurred shortly before he was liberated by the Americans on 12th April 1944.

The full story follows, in two versions. The version in the first window below is the original scanned version of the story. In the second window below is the transcribed version in plain text.

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‘JOURNEYINGS’: 1939 to 1946

Patrick Logie WINCHESTER

‘JOURNEYINGS’ Patrick Logie WINCHESTER, Aptly titled as few went to more fronts in the ‘middle’ East. With brother in O.T.C [Officers Training Corps] at Watson High School and University at Edinburgh in O.T.C [Officers Training Corps] at Larkhill with brother and soon commissioned. Almost sent to Norway while tropically kitted but in March 1940 across France to Marseilles and Egypt to take part in O’Conner’s great advance. In Alex at Christmas when it snowed and shipped to East Africa. Wounded at Karen [Google Maps] but back in time for its fall. Back with the 4th Indian Div to stem Rommel. (* Troops in E. Africa. 4th and 5th Indian Div, Sudanese Defence Force, Cape Corps (Coloured), French Foreign Legion, Belgian Cavalry – with lances and a mixture of old planes.) Captured May ’41 and have interesting trip to Tripoli and bombed on ship in harbour. Naples, Rome where on buying a paper [word mistyped on original doc] sees photo of himself as P.O.W entitled ‘Gli Australiani terribili’. At Montalbo P.O.W Camp given rousing welcome by the Greek Officers there. Radio in Camp – it was suspected that Father O’Flerty (Rome Network) as Papal visitor had brought them an alarm clock ! Sent to Fontanellato. Exits with Jim Driffill a Captain and former S. Major and Ben Mills. They soon give up night marches. With no maps they get near Pontremoli but then veer east. Go on towards Borgo San Lorenzo and Fiesole. They share two beds one for two on the floor, the other for wife husband and then one of them. The daughter had been put in a cupboard. At Fiesole they knock at a more important door and are well fed. After the man of the house walks with them to flaunt himself with them in the square – he is the ex Fascist Mayor. Next morning they see Florence below. Through to the Marche they find an old Fascist Bureau with a very useful map which they take off the wall. Near Macerata a little man promises to bring help next day but suspicious they move out early. Near Camerino they stay 3 days and Winchester becomes a shepherd.

Winchester is ill and ‘il dottore’ is sent for but he is a doctor of music. They meet 12 Chinese off a boat in Naples they are making for the Adriatic. Having steered clear of Germans they find at Amatrice that they have only just left. They pass Campotosto an hear firearms. They are warned of a fascist Forest Guard but when they meet him, though armed they crowd him off the path and they ride off with ‘carbonieri’ on their donkeys near the Campo Imperatore. Walking along the flat north side of the Gran Sasso they see several fires of houses being burnt. They are lucky to find the way over the Pescara River by the wall of the damn but have to sign, as others did, the ‘visitor’s book kept by the Dam Keeper – to his own danger. They soon negotiate the rail and road link between Rome and Pescara. Begin to find even Italians in caves as their houses have been destroyed. They watch from 200 yards away a German gun firing. Between Camp di Giove and Valico di Forchetta they are recaptured. Taken to Sulmona Camp and then by cattle truck to L’Aquila and about to board the train there it was bombed 8th December ’43 with many POW’s killed. By lorry to Spoleto. During the night a senior officer – a Major an well spoken and so becomes S.B.O. [Senior British Officer] to the horror of the South Africans for he is Indian, They go off by cattle truck to Moosberg for Christmas. First to Pilsen and then to Oflag 79 at Brusnwick which suffers in bombing raid – 3 dead and 40 wounded. Americans arrive on 12th April. Has in his possession ‘For you the War is Over’.

Maps show his JOURNEYINGS.

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‘JOURNEYINGS’: 1939 to 1946

Patrick Logie WINCHESTER

‘JOURNEYINGS’ Patrick Logie WINCHESTER, Aptly titled as few went to more fronts in the ‘middle’ East. With brother in O.T.C [Officers Training Corps] at Watson High School and University at Edinburgh in O.T.C [Officers Training Corps] at Larkhill with brother and soon commissioned. Almost sent to Norway while tropically kitted but in March 1940 across France to Marseilles and Egypt to take part in O’Conner’s great advance. In Alex at Christmas when it snowed and shipped to East Africa. Wounded at Karen [Google Maps] but back in time for its fall. Back with the 4th Indian Div to stem Rommel. (* Troops in E. Africa. 4th and 5th Indian Div, Sudanese Defence Force, Cape Corps (Coloured), French Foreign Legion, Belgian Cavalry – with lances and a mixture of old planes.) Captured May ’41 and have interesting trip to Tripoli and bombed on ship in harbour. Naples, Rome where on buying a paper [word mistyped on original doc] sees photo of himself as P.O.W entitled ‘Gli Australiani terribili’. At Montalbo P.O.W Camp given rousing welcome by the Greek Officers there. Radio in Camp – it was suspected that Father O’Flerty (Rome Network) as Papal visitor had brought them an alarm clock ! Sent to Fontanellato. Exits with Jim Driffill a Captain and former S. Major and Ben Mills. They soon give up night marches. With no maps they get near Pontremoli but then veer east. Go on towards Borgo San Lorenzo and Fiesole. They share two beds one for two on the floor, the other for wife husband and then one of them. The daughter had been put in a cupboard. At Fiesole they knock at a more important door and are well fed. After the man of the house walks with them to flaunt himself with them in the square – he is the ex Fascist Mayor. Next morning they see Florence below. Through to the Marche they find an old Fascist Bureau with a very useful map which they take off the wall. Near Macerata a little man promises to bring help next day but suspicious they move out early. Near Camerino they stay 3 days and Winchester becomes a shepherd.

Winchester is ill and ‘il dottore’ is sent for but he is a doctor of music. They meet 12 Chinese off a boat in Naples they are making for the Adriatic. Having steered clear of Germans they find at Amatrice that they have only just left. They pass Campotosto an hear firearms. They are warned of a fascist Forest Guard but when they meet him, though armed they crowd him off the path and they ride off with ‘carbonieri’ on their donkeys near the Campo Imperatore. Walking along the flat north side of the Gran Sasso they see several fires of houses being burnt. They are lucky to find the way over the Pescara River by the wall of the damn but have to sign, as others did, the ‘visitor’s book kept by the Dam Keeper – to his own danger. They soon negotiate the rail and road link between Rome and Pescara. Begin to find even Italians in caves as their houses have been destroyed. They watch from 200 yards away a German gun firing. Between Camp di Giove and Valico di Forchetta they are recaptured. Taken to Sulmona Camp and then by cattle truck to L’Aquila and about to board the train there it was bombed 8th December ’43 with many POW’s killed. By lorry to Spoleto. During the night a senior officer – a Major an well spoken and so becomes S.B.O. [Senior British Officer] to the horror of the South Africans for he is Indian, They go off by cattle truck to Moosberg for Christmas. First to Pilsen and then to Oflag 79 at Brusnwick which suffers in bombing raid – 3 dead and 40 wounded. Americans arrive on 12th April. Has in his possession ‘For you the War is Over’.

Maps show his JOURNEYINGS.

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Captured ?Alamira 1942
Escaped Sforzacosta Sept 1943
iii money allocated to M.S.M Trust
3. Awful camp at Benghazi
?Nolly has dysentery. Into hold of ship
4. Campo 85 at Tutarano near Brindisi
Camp at Benevento and then Capua PG 66
5. Red Cross parcel and moved
Sforzacosta PG53 – an old factory.
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11 Sept 1943 7437 POWs in Camp. Many conflicting reports on actions in camp. Orders from Whitehall.
12 [2 lines illegible]
12 x 15 Best [4 words illegible] from Camp
Passed Fiastra
20 At Monte Falcome. Duke left his two companions to be hidden by a farmer with [3 words illegible] daughters.
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Difficult to summarise as the report of exit from Sforza Costa and down around [Mam?].

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[Black & white map showing the United Kingdom and Europe. There are green, yellow and orange circles covering the map showing where Patrick Logie Winchester travelled during his experiences in World War 2]

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[Black & white map with the following caption ‘Western Desert and Cyrenaica’. There are red lines on this map depicting where Patrick Logie Winchester travelled during 1940 and blue lines for where he travelled in 1941]

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[Black & white map with the following caption ‘Eritrea and Northern Abyssinia.’ There have been some hand drawn additions to the northern edge of the map showing the Red Sea plus the continuation of railway lines to Gebeit and Port Sudan]

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JOURNEYINGS – 1939 to 1946

Friday, 1st September 1939 was a fine late summer morning at Balquhidder here the family had been on holiday in a rented cottage “Beannach Aonghais” (The blessing of Angus) which boasted a modern installation of a Calor Gas cooker, otherwise oil lamps and candles but no electricity. Consequently there was no wireless – the modern portable radio sets were bulky in those days – and the newspapers kept us informed of what was going on in Europe. Paddy had returned Newcastle – upon – Tyne in the holiday car, a Wolsay Wasp 8 H.P. saloon, where he remained for the next six years with the North Eastern Electrical Supply Company, being an active member of the Home Guard in his spare time and latterly manning a 3.7 inch Anti-Aircraft gun at Whitley Bay at nights.

My Mother, Robin and I decided to walk the four miles into Strathyre to buy a “Scotsman” to discover that matters had taken an ugly turn with German troops invading Poland. The previous autumn of 1938 had seen the Nazi invasion of Austria and Czechoslavakia with Neville Chamberlain’s brave effort to avert war when he returned with an agreement signed by Adolf Hitler that this was the last of German territorial demands – it at least gave a year’s breathing space. In 1938 Robin would have gone straight into the Royal Artillery and I would have been in the infantry, preferably the Royal Scots (some of my contemporaries who did join the Royal Scots ended up in Singapore and Hong Kong as Prisoners of War).

Since the early 1930’s with the Nazi rise to power it was becoming evident that, in spite of the League of Nations, there was almost certainly going to be another war. So at school and university most of our generation had this in mind and were members of the Officer Training Corps [OTC]. Robin became the second senior cadet as Company Quarter Master Sergeant at school in the George Watson’s O.T.C, and three years later when I left school in 1938 I had been Company Sergeant Major. While reading for his Honours English Degree at Edinburgh University, Robin had joined the University Battery and finished as a Sergeant, and in my first year in Forestry I also joined the Battery becoming a Lance Bombardier and obtaining my Certificate A Artillery (Robin had his Certificate B). In those days the University Battery had the honour of firing Royal Salutes from Edinburgh Castle, and I took port in one on the King’s Birthday, being No.2 in the gun detachment and pulling the firing lever on the One O’clock Gun.

On that memorable morning in Strathyre, however, our thoughts were far from ceremonial duties and it was obvious what turn world affairs were about to take. We all three decided there and then to pack up at Balquhidder and return to Edinburgh that evening. My Mother remained at No.1 Braidburn Crescent throughout the next six years and took an active part in Air Raid Precautions being a part-time Air Raid Warden, and also was a voluntary gardener at the Royal Botanical Gardens. She also applied to the A.T.S. [Auxiliary Territorial Service] to help with Physical Training but could not be guaranteed that she would not be posted away from Edinburgh.

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On Saturday 2nd September 1939 both Robin and I went down to High School Yards (part of Edinburgh University where the O.T.C. [Officers Training Corps] had its Headquarters) and after a medical, being sworn in and receiving the King’s Shilling, enlisted in the Royal Artillery. Next day on Sunday 3rd September 1939 war was declared as Germany had not withdrawn from Poland, and just after Chamberlain’s speech to the Nation on wireless, the first Air Raid warning was sounded in Edinburgh – on this occasion only a reconnaissance plane.

The rest of 1939 and until May 1940 was something of an anti-climax with the Phoney War in Belgium and France and the false security of the Maginot Line and leaflet dropping raids by both German and Allied air forces. Robin, since he held Certificate B, was commissioned straight away as 2nd. Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery and was posted to 115th. Field Regiment, R.A. [Royal Artillery] which was a Territorial Army unit from Leicester, undergoing training at Borden in Hampshire. Early in 1940 his unit was posted to the British Expeditionary Force in Belgium and Robin saw action in the retreat to Dunkirk, managing to bring his troop of guns right to the coast before they had to be abandoned after being spiked, and he returned to Britain in a destroyer flotilla leader, H.M.S. [His/Her Majesty’s Ship] Codrington.

After that, now being a Captain, he defended London with a Troop of old French 75 mm guns in conjunction with a Company of Guards, before rejoining the reformed 115th. Field Regiment, R.A. [Royal Artillery] in East Anglia where he was Brigade Major for a while before the Regiment went to India and eventually into action again in Burma where he was a Major commanding a Battery of 25 pounder guns. At the height of operations he was flown to Mandalay to take command, as Lieutenant Colonel, of 9th. Field Regiment, R.A. [Royal Artillery] which post he retained until repatriation in 1945. It was during this period that he got mixed up with, but never met, a Colonel Winchester who was commanding 9th. Field Regiment, Royal Engineers.

In September I was rather kicking my heels, helping with sandbagging peoples houses and the Princess Margaret Roae Hospital, and at night watches at Watson’s College in case of air raids, until early October 1939 I was posted to 122nd. Officer Cadet Training Regiment, Royal Artillery at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain near Amesbury in Wiltshire. Our intake consisted of 40, mainly undergraduates from Oxford, Cambridge, London, Exeter and Edinburgh, who had been in various O.T.C’s. [Officers Training Corps] and was named Course No.2 as those already there as Course No.1 were the gentlemen cadets from the Royal Military Academy (“The Shop”) who were training to be Regular Army gunner officers at the outbreak of war. Half of Course No.2, which included the eight Scots from Edinburgh, were housed in Hut 12, a wooden building still under construction with a coke burning stove in the middle. The ablutions for the first few weeks were troughs with cold water taps in the open air and bucket latrines with hessian screens – somewhat chilly by early November when the buildings were more or less complete. There was a time lag in getting ourselves kitted out, and although we had battledress and side hats with a white band, for some reason Course No.2 remained fiercely civilian and only wore army boots and caps with overalls on top of our civilian garb during the whole time spent in training over the five months. The 1939-40 winter was bitterly cold with snow for long periods – the

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buses couldn’t run from The Stonehenge Inn to the pack way for quite a while – and our training with khaki painted coal lorries towing obsolete 18 pounder guns and 4.5 inch howitzers by Figheldean, Winterbourne Gunner, The Bustard and Lavington Tower was memorable.

When we passed out with our commissions on 2nd March 1940 the choices open for a posting were

  1. B.E.F. [British Expeditionary Force] in France (currently static)
  2. Training at Artillery Establishments in U.K. (we had just been on the sharp end of that)
  3. India to join regular Indian Army units (rather too far away from likely action at that time)
  4. Egypt (which was nearer and nicely warm after that winter)

Seven of us put in for the last option and greatly to our surprise were on embarkation leave as soon as our end of course leave expired, and at the R.A. [Royal Artillery] Depot in Woolwich by 15th March 1940. While at Woolwich Draft R3JD was very nearly sent as reinforcements to Norway, complete with tropical kit and solar toupees, but did eventually reach Egypt via channel steamer “Duke of York” from Southampton to Le Havre, train by Paris and Lyon to Marseilles and then M.V. [Motor Vessel] “Devonshire” to Alexandria, calling into Grand Harbour, Malta at dusk for only one hour (nobody allowed ashore) which was frustrating. In Cairo the first evening we changed from our home barathea service dress into khaki drill only to find that everyone else had changed into S.D. [Special Duties] from K.D. [Khaki Drill] as it was still April !! Next day four of us, Dick Kettle (Rugby & Cambridge), Pat Windham-Wright (Eton & Oxford), “Nellie” Wallace (London) and myself (Watsons & Edinburgh) were posted to 31st. Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, a regular unit that had been in the Middle East for several years, stationed at Mena [Google Maps ?] in full view of the Pyramids.

We were now incorporated into 4th. Indian Division and spent April until December in intensive desert training, feeling rather useless during the days of Dunkirk in May and the Battle of Britain in September, but now sure of some action since Italy had now joined the Axis. On 9th December 1940 we were in Wavell’s First Push when the Italians were pushed back to Benghazi, being pulled out to go to the Sudan while the Australians and New Zealanders continued the desert offensive. My main recollections of this were the intense cold at nights, burying my radio operator, Gunner Jones, who had been machine gunned from the air in the back of my G Truck, laying out the guns of E Troop in a sandstorm (using a compass rather than the director, artillery, MK [Mark], V), two batteries of guns almost wheel to wheel in full view of Italian artillery at Tumar West firing with our Troop Commanders up Ladders, Observation at the gun position – a sight which could have come straight out of the Battle of Omdurman ! – and the long columns of dejected Italian prisoners moving eastwards on foot guarded by only one or two infantrymen with fixed bayonets wearing tin hats.

After Christmas in Alexandria (when it snowed !) we sailed from Port Said in M.V. [Motor Vessel] “Dunera” through the Bitter Lakes to Suez and the Red Sea to Port Sudan. The Red Sea Hills were most arid and spectacular, and also the train journey through the

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thorn scrub with ‘jebels’ rising sheer from the plain with ostriches and vultures to be seen. We ended up in Kassala, lately evacuated by the Italians, and moved into Eritrea. The dried river beds, where you could dig in the sand and find water, lined by forking Dom Palms, the thorn scrub and high mountains were beautiful after the Western Desert, I remember sleeping one night under a very large Baobab tree and hearing all the queer noises of the various inhabitants within.

In action again at Agordat, still with our old 18/25 PDR [Pounder] MK [Mark] V split trail guns, while 5th. Indian Division attacked Barentu, the Italian forces withdrew on a new ‘autostrada’ nobody knew about (our maps were a copy of a very old survey) and we next engaged at Cheren. Initially a one battalion front for 2nd. Cameron Highlander who were generally supported by 105/119 Battery which I was in, the Battle of Cheren was eventually won as a two divisional front nearly eight weeks later. The fearsome mountainous country was difficult to fight in, the climb from the valley of 1,500 feet to Cameron Ridge was almost vertical amongst granite boulders and everyone who went up had to carry either two gallon tins of water or spare radio batteries. The baboons native to the area were responsible for numerous counter attack alarms, and it was while up at the Observation Post that I was wounded in the right arm (we’d had one O.P. [Observation Post] Officer killed and two wounded in the previous four days). The Battery Captain, “Prince” Elliot, came up to relieve me, and although I was walking wounded, the Medical Officer in the Regimental Aid Post in the railway tunnel sent me back to hospital because of loss of blood. This was where the Cape Corps – mostly Cape coloured men – came in. They did a marvellous job, having driven their vehicles all the way from South Africa to the Sudan, they were tirelessly keeping them running bringing up ammunition and food and taking back wounded. At Tessenei a Royal Engineer Colonel called me off the truck to give me a large whisky, talk about the front at Cheren and take a look at this chap Winchester – it was his name too ! Probably the sapper that Robin had contact with in Burma. I ended up after a train journey at l6th. British General Hospital (an Oxford unit) at Gebeit halfway back to Port Sudan, to find myself in the bed next to Dick Strannack, my Troop Commander ! When we were fit, he and I left with another 31st. Field Captain, Henry Hall, and had an interesting round trip of the Sudanese Railways – by Atbara to Khartoum and then Gedaref to Kassala. All types of scenery, Nubian desert sand, black cotton soils, thorn scrub, ‘gabels’, tall grass and bush fires. We hitched our way back to 31st. Field in time to be in action again when Cheren fell. Because the German Africa Corps were now in the Western Desert and pushing the British and Commonwealth forces back, because of our extended lines of communication, to Tobruk, the 4th. Indian Division was pulled out of East Africa and we returned by a pilgrim ship, the “Ethiopia”, in rather cramped conditions to Suez. As all the rotating valves on the recuperating systems of our old 18/25 pounder guns had rattled to pieces with the intensive firing during the Eritrean Campaign, we took over a complete battery of new 25 pounders just arrived in Suez from under the noses of two rather junior officers who didn’t know how they were going to explain this to their Commanding Officer when he arrived !!

The Eritrean Campaign was so very different from the early days in the Western

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Desert – the mountainous terrain for one thing, the crack Italian troops (the Savoy Grenadiers, ‘Bersaglieri’ and ‘Alpini’) and very accurate artillery who had fought well and inflicted casualties, the strange mixture of 4th. & 5th. Indian Divisions, Sudanese Defence Force, Cape Corps, French Foreign Legion, Belgian cavalry (I actually saw then riding past carrying their lances !), big black buck niggers from Chad who had marched across and kept their greatcoats on when even the Indians were in shirt sleeve order, and the obsolete R.A.F. [Royal Air Force] Hawker Hardy and Gloster Gladiator biplanes. It was hard fighting at Cheren and one felt privileged to have taken part in such a campaign.

From Suez to Heliopolis, where we just had time to calibrate the new 25 pounders (and a round of golf at Gezira with Joe Ewart, a contemporary of Robin’s at Watsons and who later was an aide to Field Marshal Montgomery – he was also Kate Coalmer’s [not 100% sure on surname] brother-in-law) before moving up into the desert again as part of 22nd. Independent Guards Brigade with Coldstream and Scots Guards into ‘Baggush’ Box. Africa Corps were moving in on the Egyptian Border, bypassing Tobruk which was holding out. The Border was being held around Halfaya Pass by 3rd. Battalion Coldstream Guards, 105/119 Battery of 31st. Field R.A. [Royal Artillery], a squadron of Matilda’s of 4th. tanks and out on the flank above the escarpment the armoured cars of 11th. Hussars. Eddie Morgan took over from me as Gun Position Officer in E Troop on 24th May, when I went up to the top of the escarpment as Forward Observation Officer near Halfaya Pass. After quite a lot of firing on 25th and 26th the Platoon of Coldstreamers withdrew and were good enough to inform me and my O.P. [Observation Post] Ack [Acknowledgement], Bombardier Thompson, that they were going, so we decided to withdraw also as the German tin hats were just appearing on the other side of our wadi. My last order was “Fire on the Forward O.P. [Observation Point]” which Eddie very kindly queried on the phone to see if I really meant it !! Having got down through some rather inaccurate small arms fire to the bottom of the escarpment to the Battery Command Post where I saw Jim Driffill, I went up again to the Coldstream Battalion H.Q. [Head Quarters] to be ready to man a new forward O.P. [Observation Point] if necessary. Their Colonel was waiting for the codeword “Daffodil” to retire, and when this came through early next morning the Coldstreams left their position on the escarpment so I went to the stone sangar where Bob Parrott was at an O.P. [Observation Point] and as the German tanks and infantry were now within a couple of hundred yards, I ran over to two guns sited on top of the escarpment and ordered what was left of the detachments to withdraw down to the plain taking their breech-blocks with them, and then Bob Parrott, who no longer had any communications through to his guns on the plain, scrambled down the escarpment. It seemed quite quiet down there – until suddenly a voice “Tommy – kom to me” and the German infantry were mopping up stragglers. Four gunner officers (Jim Driffill, Ben Mills, Bob Parrott and myself), six gunners and forty two Coldstream guards, all N.C.O.’s. [Non-Commissioned Officer] So we were in The Bag !! You never expected that – wounded or killed, but a Prisoner of War ? never entered your mind. That was Uncle Jamie’s birthday, 27th May 1941.

Our trip along the North African coast in the back of a large flat diesel lorry was most interesting, the nights being cold as we had no blankets but adequate rations of biscuits, Italian tinned meat and black coffee. By-passing Tobruk

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which was still holding out and later relieved by 8th. Army (we were never part that formation being Western Desert Force) we four gunners officers were kept in small room in a fort at El Adem for about a week where we were joined by two Australians, Keith Fraser and Pete Pedersen, who had been living with the Senou until captured, and it was they who brought the unwelcome visitors who were with us for several months until finally eradicated at Montalbo, our final destination in Italy. However, locating and picking off lice before killing them between ones finger nails provided something to do during our long idleness. It was also while talking to two very young German panzer officers that we learnt that Russia had entered the war – on the Allied side !! Past Derna and down the escarpment into Cirenaica and a coastal plain where agriculture of a sort was taking place. We were in Benghazi for about a fortnight, when the next batch of British POW’s (about a dozen) caught up with us – mostly Royal Tank Regiment. It was here that I was on cookhouse duty one day and thought it would be easier to use water from the saltwater supply to make the stew of camel’s meat. It took a long time to live that one down, and dirty looks followed me until the next decent meal. The original six of us were moved on first, passing through the quite fertile land of Tripoli seeing a few old ruins of the Carthage that was, to end up in a small town called Tarhunah south of Tripoli in a tobacco growing area, so we had something to smoke once more. I also found a friendly Italian orderly who filled my hip-flask with brandy of a sort for the few ‘piastres’ still in my pocket. As soon as our recent comrades from Benghazi turned up, we were moved on again – just as well because the plumbing and water supply (on for an hour night and morning) under pressure with six of us and later we heard that with the dozen it had been pretty awful in the villa. The six of us spent a night in barracks in Tripoli, with some friendly ‘Wop’ Artillery officers who gave us grilled steak and beer for breakfast before we were taken aboard our transport, a small merchant ship, where we re-joined the other ranks and had as our quarters the open upper deck. We lay in harbour all day until at dusk a flight of aircraft, with navigation lights on, flew low over the harbour wall strafing and bombing everything in the harbour. These were Blenheims stationed in Malta and we later met up with Squadron Leader George Good and his air gunner, Eric Applebee who led this sortie, in our camp in Italy. After the first shock and realisation that we were still alive and afloat the worst part was the smoke screen put up by the attendant naval vessels – thick sulphurous fumes which got at my throat, the first wheezes since leaving England over a year before.

The voyage was uneventful, although our hopes were raised at the sudden appearance of several small ships on the horizon – could they be the Louis Mountbatten and his renowned destroyer flotilla ? – but they turned out to be the fishing fleet from Panteliaris which we passed.

On entering Naples harbour we had a good sight of Vesuvius with a small plume over it before being escorted by a ‘Tenente’ by rail to Rome, where the six of us dressed in desert garb had to keep up with him as we hurriedly walked across the tracks [word missing from original doc added this] to another railway station. It was here that the ‘Tenente’ bought a 5th August, 1941

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copy of an illustrated weekly magazine called “Falange e Legione” which was a Fascist publication, and there in a photo were a villainous looking pair of ‘Prigioneri di Guerra’ in a Flat lorry in Libya, captioned “gli Australiani terribile” – Jim Driffill and myself !! The main line train (electrified) was very smooth and a quiet journey got us to Piacenza, then road transport to Pianello and a short walk up to Montalbo where we entered our permanent Campo di Concentramento P.G.Numero 41 in the old monastery and the gates closed behind the six of us.

This was a hexagonal building three storeys high on the highest point of Montalbo village with an hexagonal internal courtyard and a tower overlooking the surrounding low hilly countryside of vineyards and maize fields with other little hilltop villages visible all around. On a clear spring or autumn day you could see the snow-capped Alps of neutral Switzerland to the north.

When we arrived, the only inmates were forty Greek officers and a dozen other ranks in the cookhouse, and only one, Georgi Georgopolus, who could speak any English. When the four British gunners and two Australian infantrymen, all in a rather scruffy state, entered the dining room, we were given a standing ovation by the Greeks ! Surprising, because although British forces had gone to help Greece against the Nazi invasion, the operation had been somewhat catastrophic. This was late summer and we now had an adequate diet of cheese, fruit, tomatoes, rice and pasta, eggs, bread, milk and coffee. One memory of this time was being invited to the evening vino session with the Greeks and dancing folk dances, usually chains connected by holding handkerchiefs by candle light. The Greeks, however, were soon moved on. One very frustrating episode was the arrival of half a dozen British P.O.W’s taken prisoner by the French in Syria !! By some diplomatic wangle they were sent on to Switzerland after a week and then repatriated.

More British and Commonwealth officer P.O.W’s appeared until there were about 200 in all. Mostly infantry, tank crews (Jimmy Gardner was a regular Canadian Army officer who came over early in 1940 to join British 4th. Tanks – eventually in 1970’s he was Major General commanding Canadian Troops in Europe), and gunners from the desert, British and Anzaac [Australian and New Zealand Army Corps], R.A.F. [Royal Air Force] air crews, and R.N. [Royal Navy] from submarines and the Fleet Air Arm, and after the fall of Tobruk in 1942 many South Africans and the 2nd. Cameron Highlanders (whom the Africa Corps had allowed to march out through the perimeter wire into the Bag with their pipes playing as they had fought right up to and after the South African commander had surrendered). The mixture of backgrounds of all these P.O.W’s, was tremendous and it really was incredible how everyone put up with each other and created a real camaraderie in the camp, except I’m afraid the South Africans with only one or two exceptions. They were mainly of Boer stock speaking Afrikaans all day, and many enlisted from the Police Force.

The 1941/42 winter was rather grim – was October before a local tailor made us battledress to wear instead of our khaki drill shorts and slacks – and food was less adequate until Red Cross parcels got through, and also clothes and tobacco parcels from home. There was a little Camp Shop, which I helped to man, selling Italian

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pipe tobacco (one brand only), cigarettes in various grades, ‘Populare’ (pink packets) ‘Nazionale’ (grey packets), and ‘Macedonia’ (yellow packets), as well as toothpaste, razor blades, pipe cleaners, marmalata and ‘torrone’ bars, and for some reason onions.

Summers were warm but winter was cold and misty in these foothills of the Apennines. There was a very restricted area outside the building on three sides only hemmed in by the perimeter wire and sentry posts where we could walk, and the courtyard was generally taken up with volley ball games. Once a week at the most a party was taken out for a walk, in a column of threes with many armed guards either side. The route was generally along the ridge from the village and this passed the War Memorial to Italians who fell in 1915-18 war when they were allies of Britain. When we passed this, the senior officer always marched us to attention and we would eyes left to the Memorial – much to the surprise of the Italians. I had one pleasant walk with a Sergeant down to Pianello to the dentist, but we didn’t really have much contact or see much of the outside world. The continuous dinging and donging (only one note each) on the many little church towers on a Sunday, and the 5.30am singing of the ‘contadine’ in autumn as they passed to pick the grapes – “Contadinella bruna, tu es comm’e la luna …” – reminded us that we were shut off from ordinary things.

We did, however, have more reliable news via Radio Londra on the secret wireless set whose location is still unknown to me. New readers went the rounds [not sure ?] of the rooms when no ‘Carabinieri’ were on the prowl. I suspect that the parts came in via the Vatican, because early on we had a visit from Monseiguor O’Flaherty who, on leaving, thrust a box into the Senior British Officer’s hands saying “Sure it’s an alarm clock that the Pope is after sending you”. And the Italians didn’t bother to search it.

The regular officers felt their captivity most, as it was interfering with their career in the Services, and there were also of course those who delighted in intrigue and were ever ready to play the cloak and dagger game. There were several escapes and attempts, but they were all brought back (alive unlike Germany) and luckily nobody was killed in spite of trigger happy sentries. The Italians were very keen on keeping P.O.W’s within their camps, otherwise the Commandant and senior officers would find themselves posted to the front in the desert. Suddenly being outside in a country one didn’t know without fluent Italian and Switzerland the only possible escape route didn’t really seem very feasible to many of us, who rationalised that as P.O.W’s we were at least eating rations and keeping troops tied up as sentries.

Everyday routine was monotonous – ‘reveille’, roll-call outside drawn up in “cinques” for the ‘Carabinieri Brigadiero’ and interpreter ‘Tenente’ to count on their own independently, followed by a bowl of milky coffee and the day’s ration of bread, a large size bread roll. Morning generally playing volley ball or walking back and forth, midday meal pasta or rice with fruit, and the afternoon reading or sunbathing when appropriate, an evening meal of cheese and fruit and then another roll-call before the night’s vino in our “bar” overseen by Tony Austin R.T.R. [Royal Tank Regiment] (met him again

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on a Dorset farm early in 1970’s). The vino was always “rosso” and local, and often very rough. By common consent it was graded as a one, two or three ‘shudderer’ based on the initial sips – if you could down the first glass, you probably didn’t notice it for the rest of the evening. One day the ration for two days was delivered at once and as the bottles were required back, tomorrow’s half was stored in old black pans from the kitchen. When emptied next day they were a beautiful bright copper inside !! What did that vino do to our innards ? Eventually someone got a gramophone and up-to-date records like “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, “Moonlight Cocktails”, and “My Sister and I” played over and over. One of the better acquisitions by the submariners, who had been on the China Station pre-war, was a Mah Jong set. There was a rota for certain rooms to have it, and many afternoons were passed enjoyably playing this with Meadow Dick (a R.E.M.E. [ Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers] major called Field Richards) and many others. For exercise and feet warming Highland Dancing came to the fore with the advent of the Cameron’s, lead by Jimmy Bain and Abe Mitchell and music from a quiet little old fiddler whose name I cannot recall. I had got a few interested before this, and so there were a few who knew the basic Scottish steps. Amongst us we had a born entrepreneur called Bill Rainford, a tail gunner in a Wimpy who had to bale out over the desert. He had had about a dozen jobs in a year in Canada and was a ‘Gestetner’ salesman at the beginning of the war. He set up an agency to do or obtain pretty well anything for anybody called “Opportunities Limited” and it was through this that I started making collars and pockets for issue shirts out of the tails and sleeves, and embroidering rank pips and crowns. He also organised film shows (his preview descriptions which he gleaned from the sentries hardly ever tied up with what the film was actually about) and a couple of variety shows which were really very good, especially the one with Tommy Pitman singing “Ship me somewhere East of Suez”, (Tommy Pitman was the legendary 11th. Hussar who was the first P.O.W. taken in his armoured car many miles behind the Italian lines on reconnaissance).

The most humorous event, however, was extremely serious to the Italians. One boozy evening when the vino was flowing well we started singing the Red Flag. News of this was flashed to H.Q. [Head Quarters] in Rome – the British officers at Montalbo had turned Communist !! The ‘Tenente’ Interpreter, Graze Ermilindo, took it all terribly seriously, while his Sergeant was splitting his sides behind his back. For the honour of the British Forces it was agreed that we had been singing that good old carol about a Christmas Tree – Oh! Tannenbaum. This was almost swallowed but the Commandant insisted on all twenty or so concerned going over to the ‘Commandantura’ offices and singing Tannenbaum to him in pairs ! Jim Driffill and I did our duet in due course, somewhat short of the right words. The outcome was that everyone in turn had a two day spell in the cooler in solitary confinement – quite a rest really, and rather special meals sent over by the British Other Ranks in the cookhouse.

At the beginning of 1943 several small P.O.W camps were amalgamated and we found ourselves in the “Orfanotrofio” at Pontanellato near Parma (C.C.P.G. No. 49) [can’t find abbreviation] with others from Rezzenello and other camps, about 1,000 in all. We were now

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down on the plains of the Po Valley, amidst maize fields, and had a large recreation field open between morning and evening roll-calls behind the building which was of modern construction, five storeys high and well appointed although the beds and height of wash basins were in keeping with smaller people. During the hot summer the camp became a real holiday camp, with sports in the field, reading and sunbathing, good food, regular Red Cross parcels and better vino and vermouth on a ration ticket system. This was when my embroidery of cap and regimental badges, including a blue, black and white dolphin for Eric Newby, came to the fore payment being in vino or vermouth tickets. The perimeter wire wasn’t quite so near and there was less sense of being cut off. It was obviously too good to last (I even tried to learn Gaelic from Padre MacDonald from Islay and a Doctor from Lewis but they didn’t really understand each other’s variations) and when news of Mussolini’s downfall and the Italian Armistice of 8th September 1943 with British landings in the south took place, most of us expected the easy option of sitting tight as the Germans abandoned Italy and withdrew – but they didn’t, and re-formed all along the line.

We were lucky in having a ‘Capitano’ interpreter with an English wife, and therefore well disposed to the British, who with the S.B.O. Colonel de Burgh, a tough old warrior from the Irish Black and Tan days, persuaded the ‘Commendante’ to sound the alarm and let the entire camp march out in organised company’s as soon as German forces were spotted heading for Fontanellato. Thus we had twenty four hours to come to terms with being outside on our own again and to decide what kit to take. A newly soled pair of army boots (three months later my toes were through the end), battle dress and an Angola drab shirt, with chocolate and maximum tobacco and one tin of cigarettes was my decision and when the trumpet sounded we formed up in the exercise field, noting that the sentries in the guard tower all had a suitcase beside them. We met some of them later in civilian clothes around the village as we marched out in our company to the assembly area which was a string of woodland by a stream. This was the last time I saw Eric Newby, mounted on a horse or mule because he had damaged his leg during recent athletics. Here we waited for several hours while scouts reported on the lay of the land, and eventually after dark our company continued south along the wood to cross the main railway line in platoons, afraid of iron toe caps hitting the rails, and then within a few hundred yards crossing the main road, the ‘Via Emilia’, keeping a look-out for headlights. Once over, we split up again into sections or less. Jim Driffill (an old regular Sergeant Major who was commissioned and now a Captain) and I decided to go together, but were joined by Ben Mills at the last moment. So off went three rather nervous gunners into the dark countryside after two years sitting securely behind wire. That was the end of that episode as an Italian ‘Prigionero di Guerra’ – one of great frustration, much boredom, some immensely good company, amusing and frightening at times, but always uncertain about the future except that Britain and her Allies would eventually win.

We walked southwards into foothills until dawn, then laid up in a small chestnut coppice away, we thought, from habitation. Before noon, however, we saw children’s

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faces on the edge of the wood and we were discovered by the local “bambini” who were informed that we were “inglesi”. Shortly afterwards grown-ups arrived with bread and cheese for us and the most enormous bottles of vino. We thanked them profusely and explained that we really wanted to remain hidden rather than return with them to the village, and eventually they left, and we partook of the food and drink. It was truly dark by the time we were in a fit state to start walking again. For the next few days we moved rather slowly by night and remained hidden during the day, although we asked for food and information in more out of the way villages when we learned that Radio Londra said that there had been Allied landings at La Spezia as well as in the south from Sicily. We therefore aimed towards Bergo Val di Taro until one night on a track beside the railway we heard someone whistling “Roll out the Barrel” – it was a sentry near the mouth of a tunnel. Had the British reached here already ? The guard house was obviously a signal box where much talking was going on – rather guttural – and as the sentry passed the lighted window it was obviously a German helmet – so much for our hopes. Almost at once a figure was bundled out of the signal box and crossed the line coming up the track towards us. We had frozen, on either side of the path, but he evidently sensed our presence, hesitating before scuttling up the track past us within a few feet. We hastily climbed the hill above the tunnel and spent an uncertain and chilly night – I tried to get what shelter was possible from the wind in the middle of a juniper bush. Next day we decided that travelling by day and resting at night in proper shelter would be more sensible. Near Berceto we learned that there was no more news of the landing at La Spezia and after a night in a loft above some sheep (the noisy blighter’s ground their teeth all night) we crossed the Passo della Cisa about 3,000 feet above sea level. As this was a major road and we had to stick to it over the highest part, we had to keep our eyes skinned. One German staff car appeared when fortunately there was a round tower handy and we just kept walking round it out of sight of the road !

On reaching Pontremoli we decided that there really had not been a landing at La Spezia so decided that we must walk southwards towards the allied advance in the south, keeping along the Apennines and hoping that the advance would proceed up the valleys with the front passing over us up in the hills. Accordingly we sought instructions and were advised to make for Castelnuovo. This route was along the southern side of the Apennines and therefore we were climbing up and down the spur ridges all day long as we kept up from the main Serchio valley. After meeting two or three parties of ex P.O.W’s walking in the opposite direction, we reconsidered our route and further enquiries elicited the information that it was Castelnuovo nel Monti and not Castelnuovo di Garfagnana that we should be aiming for, on the northern, not the southern, side of the Apennines ! It was near our Castelnuovo that we had straw strewn on the kitchen floor for us to sleep on, a perfect nuisance for the kindly peasant folk to clear up again next day. We had decided that it was preferable to sleep in a byre with the warmth of the beasts rather than inside the farmhouse and being woken at 5 am when life on the farm began. On this occasion, however, our place to be let out into the byre resulted in the straw being brought inside for us !

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Having no map our route was somewhat erratic and we headed north-east towards Castelnuova nel Monti keeping to tracks and very minor roads. We had more than once just missed running into the ubiquitous German B.M.W motorbike and sidecar patrols and we felt rather vulnerable once when accepting a lift on a horse and cart for several miles on a small road. Luckily we met no Jerries ! Our sense of direction was somewhat lacking, as we suddenly found ourselves in the main street of a little town, Pievepelago, and a gesticulating little man hurriedly pushed us into a house on the corner and upstairs to a room

where he firmly shut the wooden shutters – rather too obvious we felt if the “Fascisti” or “Tedeschi” were really about in force. After some time, during which we were given something to eat and drink out of their meagre ration, a young man appeared who was to guide us to Sestola about 15 miles by road round a prominent hill called Monte Cimone about 6,500 feet high. We were surprised that he set off in the opposite direction to the signposts for Sestola (but really nothing in Italy really surprises you) and at Fiumalbo took a track which got smaller and steeper as we realised we were climbing up Monte Cimone. Near the top, where there was a ‘Refugio’, he pointed out a small footpath over the shoulder which should lead us down to Sestola, and said goodbye. It all seemed a rather elaborate way to keep us out of sight of Germans on our way to Sestola ! However, there were marvellous views, and one time while sitting on the track side admiring them, I nearly lost all our worldly goods. Not much, but battledress tops, cardigans, razor & soap, a bit of loaf and some cigarettes in a tin meant a lot. They were in an old sack and having taken it off my shoulder, it started rolling over the track – luckily quick off the mark I got it before it careered downhill on the other side. That night in the farm we chose near Sestola, the atmosphere was much more relaxed and a great deal of vino was consumed.

The majority of our hosts were peasants, as we were keeping away from towns and off the major roads, and their kindness was really unbelievable. The ‘Inglesi’ had been their enemy until a few weeks ago, and they faced very real danger from the Germans if caught assisting us. Yet their good heartedness was enormous – and as soon as one of the womenfolk said “Ah ! poverini ! ” we knew we were in. The opening gambit was always “Buona sera – noi siamo tre ufficiali inglesi. Permesso stare qui sta notte per favore ?” and we rarely had to ask twice and only on one occasion was it at three different farms.

We moved south-eastwards along the northern foothills of the Apennines near Porretta, Castiglione dei Popoli to the Passo della Futa and then south towards Borgo San Lorenzo and Fiesole. It was still up and down over the spurs from the main ridge but every now and then there would be a useful mule track, about 6 feet wide, cobbled and a step every 6 feet or so. Much of the woodland on the Apennines slopes is sweet chestnut, some of it fit for timber as quite often we came to a rack cut through the woods and heard the swish of a load of logs descending on a cable-way at the rate of knots. Locals presumably knew to keep out of the way ! Many of the trees were old and shaken so made good fuel wood while younger coppice growth was [final words obscured]

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to the local populace was the supply of chestnuts, eaten roasted or raw, or ground up to make a chestnut flour baked into “padini” – rather brown in colour too sweet. We always heaved a sigh of relief to get away from chestnut woods to maize and wheat areas where the bread and ‘padini’ were more natural. The diet was good, mostly a main midday meal “minestra” which was a vegetable soup generally with beans in it, bread and cheese and always enough vino of very differing qualities. Food was obviously short but it was always willingly shared and was adequate.

It was near Porretta that we finally decided that all eyes were not searching for us, a very real feeling of nakedness when initially on the run. In the valley we had to make a major crossing of main road N.64 from Bologna to Pistoia, the River Reno [Google Maps ??] and the railway. There were German vehicles going up and down the road, and the river with no bridges in the vicinity was quite wide and exposed to view. The road turned out to be easy as we found a large culvert to crawl through, but out in midstream (fortunately the water was only up to our knees) it felt very unsafe with our backs in full view to all those Germans in their trucks, and it was with a sigh of relief that we just walked over the railway track as no trains were in sight. We agreed after that that the German temperament was such that the ‘Wehrmacht’ would not bother us unless troops had been specifically ordered to look out for escaped P.O.W.’s.

So far the September weather had been kind and was holding up, but near Castilignone dei Pepoli thunderstorms broke and it rained for almost three days. We got very wet but dried off in our chosen farm then followed the local custom of using a very large green umbrella every time we ventured outside as we staid put for three days. The daily sorties were essential as there was no sanitation at all in most of these hill farms (although many had electric light thanks to Mussolini’s enlightened electricity grid like his improved road systems and electrification of main railways). The locals used the woods or the byres or pigsties, and offered us empty maize cobs in lieu of loo paper ! We preferred fallen leaves, especially the large chestnut ones. It was here that we tried our hand at spinning using a distaff. Every woman and child walked about doing the chores using one all the time. It was primitive, a stick split with a knife so that a stone could be inserted and also the un spun wool and once you got the yarn forming it was rather like a yo-yo. Most of my time was spent rejoining the thread when it broke.

It was somewhere near Borgo San Lorenzo that two gastronomic events left a lasting memory. One farm in the hills was somewhat short of victuals, however they did produce a crust and some cheese. It was all right if you didn’t look at it too closely – one knows that there are mites and life in cheese but half inch long grubs rearing up on end like Medusa’s hair was – almost – too much, but not when you are hungry. After all, the beasties are just made of and full of cheese and it all tasted good if you didn’t look.

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The other was on a more productive farm, still with several sons (probably lately returned in a hurry from the army), and a good supply of maize. This was our first encounter with “polenta”, a porridge made of maize flour. As all assembled for ‘minestra’, the cauldron was lifted off its hook above the open fire and emptied completely on the scrubbed wooden table top where it flowed like lava until it solidified somewhat. Grated cheese, tomatoes and fungi were then scattered on top. Everyone grabbed a fork and started eating, working in towards the middle – we obviously ate least due to a slow start.

It was not far from Fiesole that, contrary to normal practice, we knocked on a more town house type of door and found a very different class of person but the same kindness. Obviously well off, we were given a hot bath (we had washed occasionally in rivers) and some old clothes which we were glad to have. I got a very useful woollen vest, long sleeved and fleeced up inside and a poplin shirt, Ben Mills had been having trouble with his shoes now pretty well past it and was glad to have a new pair – initially, until he had them re-soled with wood like a clog which almost crippled his feet. Jim Driffill got a stylish jacket, which was very smart – the only thing that disturbed him was that there was no collar to it. The owner of the house, ‘Signore’ Neri and his two women (wife and her sister we thought) then took us to an open space on the edge of Fiesole and walked about with us in very full view of anyone who was watching. It turned out that he had been Mayor of Fiesole (in Fascist days) and the local Partisans, mostly Communist, were rather gunning for him (literally) so he felt a little show of how he was helping the ‘Inglesi’ would not go amiss. We then went to a rather nice villa (probably also owned by him) for an excellent meal mostly fungi (which we had helped an old retainer to pick in the dusk near to the villa) and pasta with some excellent vino. There were a couple of other British P.O.W.’s there who seemed to have dug themselves in rather well, and we felt were really sponging on this family with no intention of moving on. Also an Italian naval officer (out of uniform of course) who was most amusing although he had little English and was just sitting tight wondering what would happen next – often wonder what did happen to him. Next morning we had breakfast on the terrace where a marvellous sight met our eyes – all Florence out there on the plain below, clustered around the Duomo and the Campanile. We hadn’t realised we were so near a large city like Firenze, so set off forthwith, keeping to byways, more or less east keeping north of Poppi where Campo Concentromento P.G Numero Cinque was – the camp to which all the inveterate escapees were eventually sent.

Somewhere near the Passo di Mandrioli we spent one peculiar night, all in beds. It was a poor place but the elderly couple insisted on us sleeping in the house. The young daughter was put in a cupboard to sleep, Ben and I had her single bed, and Jim was part of a threesome in the big bed with the master of the house firmly between his wife and Jim. All in one room and it took a lot of will power to keep straight faces next day before we left. We always slept soundly whatever occurred, as we had always had a full days exercise.

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We dropped down into the Savio valley at Bagno di Romagna, which turned out to be a larger town than we had expected. I think it was here that we took refuge in an empty stone building which said it had been a centre for the ‘Juvenitsa’ or Fascist Youth Movement. On the wall was a decent scale map of Marche, Umbria and Abruzzo, all the easterly and southerly parts through which we would now be walking. We decided to acquire this useful sheet about two feet square, and it surprised us all how guilty we felt in pulling it off the wall, pocketing it and going on our way ! Having been in Tuscany most of the way from Pontremoli, we were now in Marche, rather less fertile looking, and would be into Umbria near Gubbio north of Assisi, and the wild Abruzzo north of the Pescara river.

Entering Marche from Bagno di Romagna we had a very long climb, albeit on a minor road, ever upwards to a charming little town perched on the high plateau called Casteldelci, then on towards Pennabilli, It was here that I took up the offer of having my khaki battledress trousers dyed black over night. Unfortunately next morning they were not quite dry and my legs were black too for many weeks. It was also here that a jovial young priest exchanged a leather belt for my army webbing one which he buckled on under his surplice with great pride – hope it did not get him into trouble with the Germans later.

Next day on the way to Macerata we were surprised to meet a paratrooper in camouflage jacket and red beret looking lost in the hills. Evidently several had been dropped to help ex P.O.W’s and then make their way back to the Allied Lines. Didn’t sound very sensible as they were extra mouths for Italians to feed, they looked conspicuous in uniform and some had been demanding food at gunpoint not exactly helping the natural goodwill of the peasants. He couldn’t do anything for us, we didn’t want to be made more noticeable by him, so we parted company, but not before he told us that some P.O.W’s were being evacuated by motor launches or submarines off the Adriatic Coast. We were at this point only 20 miles from the Republic of San Marino and wondered about trying to get in there, but thought that their neutrality was probably not being respected by the Nazis (heard long after the war that San Marino was in fact neutral and that we would have been interned if we had got in). At Macerata we were in a house on the edge of the town and made discreet enquiries about the escape line to the sea. Much rapid talk among the family in Italian, some appeared to be in favour, some not, then a messenger was sent and came back with a rather unprepossessing little man who said he had to make another contact and would be back about 4 am with a guide to take us to the Adriatic coast. He then departed, and we were not much encouraged by seeing him talking to others along the street, nodding his head towards “our” house. This was one night we did not fall immediately asleep and conferred in whispers – this was an area where there were known to be Fascists and there was no saying we were not about to be handed over. In the end we did a literal midnight flit. Managed to get out of the house without disturbing anyone (luckily no dog – or turkeys, which we had already discovered were an even noisier give away) and walked fast out of town and lay up in a barn, which hadn’t too many rats running about – for the rest of the night.

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Another imponderable – did we judge these Italians right ? Could we have been on our way home by sea, or quickly behind bars again or simply eliminated ?

Having decided not to go towards the Adriatic Coast, we set off towards Sestino and Borgo Pace on the fringe of the Alpe della Luna where once more we met friendly people on a small farm, though very short of food. Some rather wizened apples and small walnuts was all that they could spare us. The old grandmother here had on ingenious central heating of her own. An earthenware bowl full of glowing embers, renewed at intervals from the fire, which she placed on the floor under the chair when she sat down and draped her long black skirt over all. It was here when chatting to two of the smaller children we were surprised when they informed us that “noi siamo due bastardini” – this evidently could mean orphans as well as little bastards !

To Pietralunga, skirting Gubbio and Nocero we found an intriguing self supporting little farm towards Camerino well off the beaten track. There was a saltwater well and also a freshwater well, a flock of sheep, a cow or two, maize and vines. The old lady spun wool and weaved cloth for clothing and a few extra hands were welcome to her husband so we stayed three or four days. I was given the “peccori” to look after which meant driving the thirty or so sheep out and down the hill to some grass on the flat below, staying with them until evening and then hopefully getting the right number back home again to be shut up for the night. Jim and Ben were helping gather in the maize, the bright orange cobs being hung up in bunches in the kitchen roof beams most decoratively. Also tried my hand at spinning, on a machine, and winding up yarn. There was vino available all the time and at times one had a longing for a drink of water, Jim was highly amused one day when I was having a ladle of water out of the copper pan when I was told “Non beve aqua, Patrizzio, beve vino” and I just snapped back “I’ll bloody beve aqua, if I damned well want to !” all with a smile on my face and no hard feelings on either side. We asked the old boy one day in which direction Rome was and he pointed due north. We knew it was roughly south west from us and then realised that the road he would take from his farm went due north to meet the main N.3 road, the Via Aurelia, from Fano on the Adriatic to Rome. The break from being constantly on the move was good for us and it was an interesting and entertaining experience although we could not have stayed put like that with one family for any length of time as some ex P.O.W’s did.

Near Camerino Ben’s shoes were giving out and we found a cobbler who advised replacing the soles with wooden ones which he did (he hadn’t any leather anyway). Poor Ben was now dry shod but walking on these rigid soles was most uncomfortable. It was here that we were offered a little meat with some pasta but declined on the grounds that they had little enough for themselves, but really because I had seen some rather long bony tails being thrown out that looked remarkably like rat tails.

Moving south towards the Monti Sibillini, I felt ill one day, with abdominal pains and having difficulty in keeping up with the others. That night we were in a barn sleeping in the straw and next day I just couldn’t get up. Three old crones

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came to inspect me at Jim’s request and talked about pleurisy and using hot cups on my back and chest. One also remembered that there was a “Dottore” staying in the village, so I opted for a visit from him. He appeared in the evening and it turned out that he was a Doctor of Music – he must have wondered why he was being brought to look at the “Inglesi”. After another night’s sleep, I felt much better and we set off before the cups could be heated over the fire.

Mornings and evenings were getting cool and wintry and we were glad of all the food we could get. At one inn at Castelsanangelo all they could offer us in the morning before setting off was a glass of vermouth ! Not the best start to walking in the Monti Siblllini. However that evening at a farm near Castelluccio we had a real treat – mashed potatoes and garlic – it was superb. The farmer couldn’t understand us eating potatoes which to him were for feeding to the pigs. Next morning he gave each of us a three inch square of pigskin with fat on it to waterproof our footwear. After a token dubbing of boots, we ate the rest of the fat. Getting clean after such an operation was always difficult as there was hardly ever any hot water or soap, but I don’t remember feeling particularly unkempt, probably because no one else did a lot of washing either. Although now near the end of October there were days good enough for a wash in a river, which we tried to do at least once a week, and shaved every three days or so.

On our way to Arquata, another charming little hill town, we were surprised to meet about a dozen Chinamen “palaleling” Italian with a Chinese sound to it. They were the crew of a ship interned at Naples and were now making their way to the Adriatic coast. Having steered clear of Germans for some time we were brought up with a jolt at Amatrice one evening. We had had a good day’s walk and final climb to this little hill town to the outskirts when we saw German troops in a lorry and attendant motorbike & sidecar patrols in the street. We hurriedly made for a barn on the edge of the town to hide in. Not before we were spotted, though fortunately by Italians who came to tell us the “Tedeschi” had been based on Amatrice for several days and had been foraging around in the surrounding countryside but were now leaving – it was the tail end of the column we had seen. We were provided with food and vino and just stayed put in our comfortable barn until morning. Next day we walked beside the Lago dl Compotosto hearing small arms fire in the hills – whether German or “Partigiane” we never found out – and had our first [misspelling in original doc] good view of the Gran Sasso d’Italia.

These magnificent mountains rise to nearly 8,000 feet, well wooded on the lower slopes amongst the rather barren Abruzzo countryside and now largely a “Parco Naturale”. In Pietracamela where we stayed one night we were warned about a local Forest Guard who was known to be still a Fascist. Sure enough next day in the woods we saw the green grey uniform of the “Militzia Nationale Forestale” complete with Alpine style Robin Hood hat, and a large pistol in his belt. He was a dour looking character and we were upon him so suddenly that we just all three got very close to him and walked along each side and behind him hemming him in. He looked quite uncomfortable (in spite of his pistol which he kept a hand on) and was quite eager to go off at the next track branching away, so we just

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hurried on and changed direction a bit to get to a different altitude. We later fell in with some genial “carbonieri” with their mules who were on the way up to the coppice woods near to the Campo Imperatore to collect their charcoal. They were beautifully black of face and hands and gave us solid lumps of their cold ‘polenta’ to eat with vino which appeared from nowhere. They insisted on the three of us riding on the mules up the very steep mountain tracks and at times we rather wished that we were walking. Once on the plateau of coppiced beech and oak, they loaded up sacks of charcoal and were off down again, leaving us with their comrade in charge of the current burn of the traditional beehive shaped piles of wood. There were two huts here, the one the charcoal burner was in made of poles and turv [complete word missing] and the other one, which was empty, of corrugated iron. The three of us started the night in the tin one but as the wind got up and increased in force, we were summoned into the other one where all four now were nearly asphyxiated as there was a charcoal fire burning in it all night. The ‘carboniero’ was in and out all night attending to his burning in the full gale now blowing and we spent a rather uncomfortable night – better, however, than if we had stayed in our original hut which was blown flat by the morning.

Next day walking along the high flattish ground on the north of the Gran Sasso we had extensive views and realised from the columns of smoke that many farms were being burned – later we heard that anyone falling out of line with the Germans was being turned out and shot if helping any P.O.W’s or Italians on the run. One of results was that many dogs were roaming the lower ground, and we thought little of the two large beasts following us at about 100 yards all morning until we realised how far up the mountain we were and away from normal habitation. in the long run it turned out that our canine companions were wolves.

The next obstacle on our route was the Pescara River with its attendant main road and railway to cross. The obvious way over this rather wide river was by a hydroelectric dam somewhere between Torre de Passeri and Chieti we were advised, but was it manned by German troops ? Now coming off the high ground of the Gran Sasso we were again in more fertile country of maize and vines and many small farms still surviving the German scorched earth regime. We arrived quite near the Pescara river on November 13th, San Martini’s Day, when the new vino made in the current year is broached and tasted. Our slow and careful movement from farm to farm towards the dam was made slower and less careful by the ‘contadines’ insistence on our tasting the new vino of 1943. Eventually my good army training prevailed, and remembering that “time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted” I left Jim and Ben with their vino in a nearby farm and set out to see what was afoot on the dam over the Pescara. No rifles or German tin hats to be seen, and in the control room was one oldish Italian who quickly informed me “niente Tedeschi” and produced a large dated ledger which he was keeping as a diary with names and dates of all P.O.W’s etc. who had crossed the dam. His own personal insurance for when the Allied Forces arrived !! Going back for Jim and Ben who were even happier when they heard what the situation was, we all three made our somewhat erratic way to

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the dam, signed the register of P.O.W’s and reached the other side. First the railway, although trains were passing, was relatively easy and then the road with a fairly constant stream of German military vehicles was negotiated by means of a large culvert once again. This seemed to be a good day’s work and feeling we were in need of rest we stopped at the next village, San Valentino, and slept like logs.

Next day we realised that food was really short, what with German foraging, and all we could raise was a sort of canvas shoe bag half full of nuts and apples. Pressing on we found we were between the Montagna della Maiella and Montagne del Morrone which by mid November were now covered with snow although none yet lay in the valleys. We began to see pitiful groups of very aged peasants huddling in caves and behind rocks who had been turned out of their villages as the Germans burned all houses they did not actually require for themselves. We were now about 20 miles north of the River Sangro where the front had become somewhat static several weeks beforehand, so our hopes of a rapidly moving British force had faded. The minor road we took south from San Valentino unfortunately turned out to be a dead end petering out into the snows of Monte Maiella. There were two possibilities either to go on over the snow covered mountains, or return four miles to the road junction to Caramanico. Luckily I prevailed on the other two, who had not much experience of mountains, that with little food and our inadequate clothing a night up in the snow was asking for trouble, especially as evening was coming on, so we went back to the other road.

Next morning, having finished our nuts and apples, we took the better road by Caramanico and Santa Eufemia over the Passo San Leonardo. It was now becoming very evident why the British advance had slowed down. Even on the very minor roads every tree on the upper side of the road was laid in by axe ready for felling across the road and all the innumerable little bridges had explosives in place ready for blowing. Hunger was now becoming very real and at this stage we tried eating acorns, not very appetising or satisfying even when roasted in a small fire. That afternoon while walking through oak woods we suddenly heard gunfire, and quite close. We soon come across German medium artillery. From a couple of hundred yards in the undergrowth we watched one 10 cm Medium gun in position on the edge of the wood firing several rounds. Whether it was engaging an actual target on the Sangro front or just registering targets for withdrawal in the future we never found out. It was good gun drill at any rate. Shortly after this we came upon a newly built wooden hut on the hillside with nobody in the vicinity. In fact it looked as if it had been recently evacuated in a hurry as outside were two or three heaps of food, discarded from mess tins, lying about on the grass. Never before has chicken with pasta tasted so good and we scoffed the lot, oblivious of its source. The hut also seemed to be a godsend for shelter that night so we stayed there.

That night it rained – and it did rain – and we soon found that the construction of the hut was not very sound. We all moved from place to place throughout the night trying to find a drier spot without a continuous drip falling on one. By the morning, it eased a bit and we realised that this was it – the day we had long [final words on last line of page obscured]

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in the hills for a more fluid front as there was no shelter nor food and a very real German presence was all around. So we decided to go forward hoping to meet a British patrol or to make it across the Sangro – or failing that return to a relatively comfortable life in a P.O.W camp if we were picked up. And the last is what had happened by midday.

The valley seemed very open now and we came across the odd British 25 pounder strategically placed by the Germans positions beside the road to take on any advancing Allied forces. Somewhere between Campo di Giove and Valico di Forchetta scouting round a bend in the road we suddenly saw two German soldiers who spotted us at the same instant. One ran back to his truck parked nearby to collect his rifle while the other advanced towards us and it seemed prudent to “hands a hoch” and explain that we were British officers escaped from a P.O.W camp into the truck we went and a few miles down the road to their H.Q. [Head Quarters] at Pescocostanzo, in the unburned half of the village.

That morning I had put on my khaki Angola drab shirt with rank insignia and gunner flashes on it, on top of clothing thinking it might be useful when we fell in with a British patrol to identify ourselves. The German officer interviewing us was very correct, and friendly, and on giving my name, rank and number and P.O.W. camp he told me what regiment I was with when taken P.O.W. in 1941 !! The unit turned out to be a Parachute Regiment from Saxony, all good looking flaxen haired Nazi youths, who were patrolling these valleys to pick up Italians of useful age for manual labour and also the odd P.O.W. They gave us their palliasses to sleep on in the same room they were in, then some of the stew they were eating themselves and talked. Only one tried to talk Nazi politics and was quickly shut up by the others. As usual, the nearer the front line the friendlier the foe.

Next day taken by truck the way we had come, turning left (west) for Sulmona where we ended up in the one time P.O.W. camp where there were already one or two recaptured Camerons and Airborne chaps. Fairly spartan but adequate food and sound of small arms fire daily. Our sadistic guards told us it was our turn next. However, after a week we were loaded into a cattle truck (about 20 with the O.R’s [Other Ranks]) and went by rail to L’Aquila taking all night being shunted hither and thither to do the 35 mile journey.

After a couple of days a train was ready for the hundred or so P.O.W’s collected here and the O.R’s [Other Ranks] were marched down in the afternoon into cattle trucks. The officers were about to move off when an air raid took place resulting in shambles. The train of fuel tankers alongside the P.O.W. cattle trucks was hit and all locked inside perished. The Germans only allowed the older P.O.W’s left to go and help (the carnage being too awful for the younger ones in their eyes) and Jim certainly didn’t talk much about what he’d seen and had to do. Realising it would be difficult to get us on board a train, we were taken by lorry north to Spoleto.

This was a few huts on a little hill of olive groves just north of Spoleto, very much a [text on the rest of the final line is obscured]

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had come in who would be the new Senior British Officer. It was dark when he arrived, a tall very well spoken chap who had been at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, and it was quite a surprise next morning to see that he was a King’s Commissioned Officer in the Royal Indian Artillery, much to the chagrin of the handful of South Africans there. Then we were on the move again and said farewell to Italy as we moved out in our cattle trucks at night over the Brenner Pass to a large camp at Moosberg about 25 miles north of Munich. It wasn’t until 1993 (fifty years later) that I saw the Brenner Pass properly when Marion and I drove over it.

Christmas 1943 was very bleak. Short of rations and clothes. All the rags were taken off P.O.W’s and an issue made of trousers and tunics from all the varied countries overrun by the Third Reich. I managed to retain my black dyed battledress trousers and fleecy vest and was given a Yugoslav tunic – very ‘Rurutanian’ – double breasted grey with green trimmings. On the grapevine I heard that an old friend from Ledds [Leeds ?] of Robin’s vintage was in the R.A.F [Royal Air Force] part of the camp and was helping as a medical orderly. I got a message back to Ronnie Jefferson and went sick (supposed tummy upset) to get to the Medical Room but unfortunately Ronnie wasn’t there and we never managed to meet. This camp we slept in beds for twelve – three tier with four on each layer. We were a motley crew, in our various European uniforms, and it’s no wonder that the General and his staff straight into the Bag from the Greek Islands of Kos and Leros and still in fairly immaculate uniform asked one day “Are these chaps really officers ?” He and his party paraded for roll call twice a day outside in the freezing weather, whereas we had somehow arranged that we were counted inside in our sheds. The Russian prisoners were treated abominably, and it was said that the Germans once put a guard dog into their hut to quieten them. It did – as they ate it – and only the bones and skin came out of the other end of the hut. The Russians were crammed 50-60 per cattle truck, whereas British were 20 per truck plus two armed guards and a stove.

At the end of January 1944 we entrained once more and went via Pilsen (bottles of beer all round on the train by courtesy of the British P.O.W’s “helping” in the breweries) and Dresden to arrive at Marisch Trubau, evidently now Moravska Trebova, to the east of Prague and about 50 miles north of Brno. The two main memories of this trip were watching the railway twist and turn across miles of agricultural land in between little wooded hills, very much what I imagine Poland to be like, and the other our two German guards in the truck talking about their experiences in the cold of the Russian offensive, and stoking the stove with wood until the whole thing was red-hot up the chimney to the roof.

Marisch Trubau Oflag VIII F was a solid four storey block built for the ‘Wehtmacht’. The triple glazing in each room made it reasonably warm, and with a dozen in the room back to double bunks wasn’t too crowded. Meals came to our rooms so we more or less lived there for the next six months, after which, because of Partisan activity in Czechoslovakia, we were taken by rail in cattle trucks once more to Brunschwig. Because of the dastardly treatment of [rest of the words obscured]

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Canada, it was said, we were deprived of our boots and belts once in the cattle trucks and handcuffed. I had a pipe cleaning tool in my pocket and soon found that with it the handcuffs could be opened so this was silently passed round truck. On arrival we solemnly handed our handcuffs to the poor German guard (they are now short of troops and these tended to be old men) who was afraid disciplinary action and pleaded with us to put them on again, which we did and were then officially unlocked on the platform.

Oflag 79 at Brunswick was a set of high roofed buildings scattered amongst Scots pine trees and a pleasant enough place to spend the rest of 1944 summer. I got involved in scene shifting, lighting and odd jobs in the Camp Theatre and eventually was Stage Manager for production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe”. Much air activity, heard our first jet plane one day (diving for cover) and also a prototype V.1 Flying Bomb mounted below a small aircraft. Allied 1,000 Bomber raid on Brunswick dropped a couple of sticks across our C [word obscured] and innumerable incendiaries then anti-personnel bombs. Fortunately the first in our attics were all put out in spite of the following A.P’s by our people but several of the German barrack buildings burned merrily, assisted by P.O.W quietly using razor blades to slash the hoses the Germans were using. We got away relatively lightly with three dead and forty wounded while the German casualties were much heavier.

As the front approached Brunswick we could see the Tactical Air Force in action and hear self propelled guns coming in quite close at night and firing us with a short time of flight to their targets. It seemed prudent at this stage of the war to sleep in the cellars and then on 12th April 1945 (the day U.S. President Roosevelt died) the Yanks were at our gates and “liberated” Oflag 79. The first troops there didn’t even know there was a P.O.W. Camp in the vicinity.

After about a week we were flown out in a Dakota to Brussels then in the b [word obscured] bays (no seating) in Lancaster’s to somewhere in Buckinghamshire. After de-lousing and hot sweet tea we moved off in lorries to some depot and I remember how surprised we all were at the number of people lining the streets and cheering. Issued with a new battledress, gear and kitbag and a Rail Warrant we were deposited near the appropriate railway stations in London where I could ring home to tell my Mother that I would be in Edinburgh next morning. It seemed a long time since the Italians told us in 1941 “per voi la guerra e finito” (for you war is over) – well it was now when I had returned home to Edinburgh.

But it wasn’t really, because after a good leave with a visit to Strathyre and a journey to Winchester to visit an army Psychiatrist for five minutes who said “You’re all right aren’t you, old chap ?” and little else, I was back re-training at Catterick Camp in July, meeting Dick Kettle again who was now a Gunnery Instructor, with the prospect of being posted out to Burma. The Atomic Bomb dropped on 6th August 1945 made us all feel that this was the end of the type of warfare we had become used to and demobilisation began.

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While at Woolwich waiting for an interim posting, I met Robin just back from Burma quite by chance at Cita & Tiny’s house at Finsbury Park, and Hugh being in London, of course materialised as well for an evening of joyous reunion. Poor Cita didn’t know how she would be able to feed us all next morning, but she did. Having turned down a posting to Tilshed Camp on Salisbury Plain training Norwegian gunners, I eventually finished as Officer Commanding the Edinburgh University O.T.C. [Officers Training Corps] battery – full circle to where my life as a gunner had begun. Demobbed on 18th April 1946 in New York after my six and a half years in the Royal Artillery, a more travelled and hopefully wiser young man I was ready to take up my life in Forestry once more.

Having been urged by Angus, our recorder of Family History, for some years to record something in writing, my pen eventually hit paper about 1990 and the above was completed in 1996 being a factual account as far as I can recall without undue embroidery.

16th. January, 1997 (Patrick Logie Winchester)

Further Reading:
i. The Tiger Strikes – Govt. of India – Thacker’s Dress, Calcutta – 1942
ii. For You the war is Over – Gordon Horner – Falcon Press (Privately) – 1948
iii. Eastern Epic Vol.1 – Compton Mackenzie – Chatto & Windus – 1951
iv. 31st. Field Regiment, R.A. [Not sure what abbreviation I should use] – A Record – Owen N. Roberts – Northwood Press – 1994
v. Love and War in the Apennines – Eric Newby – Hodder & Stoughton – 1971

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[Very detailed black & white map of Italy. The route that Patrick Logie Winchester travelled while he was on the run from the Germans is marked in green with the caption Sept to Nov 1943]

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