General Living Conditions

 

Several South African prisoners  left diaries, wrote their memoirs or gave evidence to the War Crimes Commission:

 

108866 Gunner Kenneth J. Breakey, SAA (South African Artillery)
After being taken prisoner at Tobruk Gunner Breakey travelled from Benghazi via southern Italy and was sent to PG 60. He arrived on 31/7/1942 and was allocated to Section M. He noted in his diary as early as August 1942 that

 

'this camp condemned and we might go to Rome'.

 

111247 Bombardier Ronald Philip Abercrombie Myburgh, 4th Battery,  2nd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, SAA

Bombardier Myburgh had been captured to the west of Tobruk and had passed through PG 51 Altamura before arriving at PG 60 Colle di Compito:

Here conditions were bad; overcrowded tents, a very meagre water supply for 4000 men, no Red Cross parcels, great heat and mosquitoes as the camp was on marshland. When it rained we were swamped and eventually the camp was condemned by the Red Cross and dysentery was rife... a Tommy who was caught stealing a mate’s pair of boots and was thrown bodily into one of the open latrine pits. We even tried eating grass here!

 

109351 Bombardier Harry Rose-Innes, 5th Battery, 2nd  Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, SAA

Camp 60, in its own way, was a Hell Camp. A square of marshland enclosed by barbed wire, it lay in a valley in the centre of Italy. Officially, it was known by the resounding title of 'Campo Concentramento N. 60'. As far as we were concerned, 'Concentramento' was right; four thousand British and Dominion prisoners-of-war were huddled together in tents, 3 ft. 6 ins. high, in an area roughly two hundred yards square. Camp 60 was a place where men lived like animals, in the midst of 20th Century culture.

During the month of August 1942, the sun beat down mercilessly upon the semi-naked bodies of a band of scare-crows. Men had lost up to 60 lbs. in weight though they had wolfed the rations that had been supplied. Weakness had been accentuated by dysentery and malaria - for which there was no medical relief. Such conditions brought out the worst, and the best, in Man.

Men crawled over stinking rubbish heaps, rotting in the sun, and ate what they could find. Men were thrown bodily into trench cess-pools, which served as latrines, by comrades whose rations they had stolen...the men in the camp had passed the time as best they could. The hours had dragged wearily by, as they did every day. Those who had been lucky had managed to wash themselves and their clothing in the two hours during which there had been running water: those who had been less fortunate had removed most of their clothing and searched for lice, hoping that when night came they might sleep undisturbed. Vain. hope! Men had dug for peat near the latrine - the only source of fuel with which to feed their pitifully inadequate cooking fires.

When eventually the sun disappeared behind the nearby hills the camp lay back gasping, and prepared to shiver through the hours of darkness. All night long there would be activity. Movement was never stilled when men's bladders were weak, when their rations were composed mostly of water, when dysentery was rife and taking its toll.

Sunny Italy plaything of novelists and poets. Playground of tourists and terrorists. To us prisoners in this Hell Camp, picking lice from our clothing, sleeping on straw on sodden marshland, starving and weak, it appeared as a nightmare only too real. We could hardly be expected to appreciate the finer qualities of land, people and culture.

At the end of August the camp had been visited by a representative of the Red Cross, who had condemned it as unfit for human habitation and had demanded the immediate removal of the men confined there. An operation that was to take four months to accomplish.

 

(From Harry Rose-Innes, The Po Valley Break, Valiant Publishers: Sandton, Republic of South Africa,1976)

 

The Camp Hospital

In PG 60 there were several prisoners who were members of the South African Medical Corps (SAMC). As such they were entitled to repatriation as protected personnel under the terms of the 1929 Geneva Convention, which also included similar provisions for sick and wounded prisoners of war. Repatriation was finally arranged on an exchange basis in a neutral country.

Among them were 12247V Sergeant James Bennett, 170596 Sergeant George Harold Hogg, 278876V Corporal Theodore Francois Maeder and 176721V Corporal William James Wood.

All were contacted after they had arrived back home in South Africa in the spring of 1943 regarding a war crime alleged to have been committed by Colonello Cione and one of his subordinates at PG 63, Aversa, near Naples. However, none of the four had ever been held in PG 63 and they did not know Colonello Cione. This indicates that he was not Commandant of PG 60 at the time that these men were being held there, but was probably at Aversa.

 

All four described the conditions in PG 60 and the two of these reports are reproduced here:

 

12247V Sergeant James Bennett, Die Middellandse Regiment attd. to SAMC

I am an ex P.O.W. I was discharged from the U.D.F. On 12 /2/ 1943. I served in the D.M.R. (Die Middellandse Regiment) and was then attached to the S.A.M.C., but remained with the D.M.R. I was discharged with the rank of Sgt.

I was captured at Tobruk on 21.6.1942. arrived at Bari in ITALY on 15.7.42. I was then sent to Camp 60 near Lucca, and arrived there about a month afterwards.

 

The conditions at this camp were appalling. Living conditions consisted more or less of two waterproof sheets of Italian canvas to four men, and in order to obtain some shelter from the rain the men were grouped together in batches of from 30 to 40 and by pooling their waterproof sheets, which we buttoned together, we made a tent of sorts.

 

The camp itself was pitched on reclaimed marshland, this can be proved by the fact that the men obtained peat for cooking purposes about 4 feet down. Water was very scarce indeed. All ranks experienced the greatest difficulty in trying to keep clean. The general health of everybody in camp was bad, most men had colds of one sort or another, and many suffered from malaria. The malaria cases were removed from the camp and I do not know what happened to them. Food was very scarce and definitely insufficient.

 

The Italian Officer in charge of the camp was a Colonel, or Lt. Colonel, but I do not know his name.In my opinion he would have improved the conditions if granted the facilities, but he did not seem able to do anyting. While at this camp we received an Italian P.O.W. Newspaper - a kind of "News Sheet", in which it was claimed that certain camps in Italy were designed to be on the same basis as Italian P.O.W. camps in Allied hands in Egypt. In my opinion Camp 60 was one of these camps.

 

176721V Corporal William James Wood, SAMC

I am an ex P.O.W. I was discharged on the 30.9.45.

 

After passing through a Transit camp at Brindisi I arrived in camp No. 60 near Lucca in July 42. We stayed there until 18th November 1942 and we did not do any work whilst in this camp. Our camp leader was a S/M Bartlett of 2nd Div. H. Q. I was in charge of the S.A.M.C. Section. The living conditions during the whole of my stay in Camp 60 were exceptionally poor. There was no barrack accommodation, and groups of men were given Italian groundsheets to button together to form tents, tents which were far too small for the number they had to accommodate. 90 percent of the ground was marshy with the result that most men suffered from colds and persistent coughs, malaria subjects all had collapses and a number of these had to be moved to a special malaria camp.. It was in camp 60 that I developed a chronic cough which was later diagnosed as T.B. After having lost 50 lbs in weight in four months prior to the arrival of the first Red Cross parcels the men in this camp were living on a starvation diet and in consequence everybody lost a considerable amount of weight.

 

When we complained to the Italian authorities about the food and the living conditions we were told that our rations and the available accommodation was a form of reprisal on account of conditions existing in certain camps where Italian P.O.W. are kept by the Allies. After the first heavy rains when many of the tents were washed away and there was more sickness than usual some form of Italian commissioner visited the camp and they themselves were shocked at the emaciated condition of most of the men and it was not long before batches of men were being transferred to other camps, The group I was in, about 100 South Africans were moved to the south of Italy, to Camp 65 between Altamura and Gravina. This was in mid November 1942.

 

109351 Bombardier Harry Rose-Innes, 5th Battery, 2nd  Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, SAA

Bombardier Rose-Innes was one of their patients:

I remember that I was in one of the only two buildings in the Camp - the hospital. I was lying on a straw mattress on the wooden floor of the hospital hut. The lights were on and the orderlies were handing round bowls of rice. Their boots made more noise than usual as they threaded their way between the prone figures on the floor. The noise was unavoidable and hardly noticed by the men in their eagerness to receive the second half of the day's ration. The first half had been a small round loaf of bread, issued at eleven o'clock...

 

...The conditions in the camp hospital were appalling, although the orderlies had done everything in their power to improve matters. They had no equipment, no medicines, no bandages. The long queue which waited patiently for attention each morning had to depart as they came - the better only for a few cheery words and some sympathetic advice.

 

(On 4 September 1942 he was moved to H202 Lucca. See 'Moving On' Page)

The Red Cross Parcels

 

There is a huge divergence of opinion in these personal accounts regarding the arrival of these life-saving parcels. The following account from the diary of 105772 Gunner John Adriaan Joubert, SAA, who was captured at Tobruk on 21 June 1942, arrived at Brindisi on 13 July and on the 27th left Bari for PG 60, indicates in his diary, transcribed by his grandson, that three deliveries were made between the end of July and 1 October:

 

29.7 - Received one parcel to five men, quite a good parcel.

30.7 - Worked for a painter received ten cigarettes in payment.

?.8 - Worked in cookhouse for the day + had a good meal for a change.

12.8 - Wrote home again for a change, have received no parcel for 7 days.

?.6.8 - had water and sweet milk today costing about 2 lire not much to eat but very welcome.

17.8 - still no Red Cross parcel, all the lads looking forward to getting one

18.8- Had two peaches + 4 tomatoes today costing me 1 lira it was very tasty indeed it also included 2 pieces garlic.

23.8 - Had 4 peaches +3 pears today (no)Red Cross Parcel

2.9 - Had writing paper today and wrote home, no signs of cigs which we have not had for over a week. Still no signs of the Red Cross parcels yet. Canteen fruit also getting very scarce now.

4.9 - Got Red Cross parcel today 1 to 2 men can have a good feed again.

6.9 - Oscar and myself had porridge for breakfast. Oatmeal supplied by parcel. Made an apple pudding and had a good dinner in the evening. A good day it was.

14.9 - The Rev. Burger and another padre has arrived in our camp.

15.9 - Musical instruments have arrived in camp for our entertainment.

16.9 - Red Cross representative paid us a visit today and promised a more even flow of parcels.

17.9 - We received a lot of canteen fruit today and had a good feed again for a change. I think it was it was only to make an impression    upon...

1.10 - Received one Red Cross parcel per man today Canadian type we all feel that we are living, and it is a real Godsend to us.

4.10 - Had Holy communion today the first since I joined up in the army.

4.11 - There is a general move on again where to no one knows yet. Had drunken mealie porridge this morning with boiled milk and how enjoyable it was.

11.11 - we observed a? muster? this morning as usual and it makes one think very far.

15.11 - Had holy communion for the last time at Lucca camp.

 

90565 Lance-Bombardier Royden Henry Halse, 2nd Anti-Tank Regiment, SAA, bemoaned their initial absence but commented favourably on the their arrival, presumably the consignment made on 1 October.

 

12247V Sergeant James Bennett, Die Middellandse Regiment, attached to SAMC

We were at this camp until about the middle of November 1942 and during that time we received very few Red Cross parcels.

Passing the time

 

109351 Bombardier Harry Rose-Innes, 5 Battery, 2nd Anti-Aircraft Regiment, SAA

Amidst this fight for survival a small band of men held classes in the scorching heat, their listeners squatting or sitting on the ground where there was space. Services were held each evening by Y.M.C.A. representatives and attended by over 400 men, bareheaded and silent...

During the day there had been two lectures, one on the Hire Purchase system, the other on Building and Contracting.

 

90565 Lance-Bombardier Royden Henry Halse, 2 Anti-Tank Regiment, SAA describes how an Agricultural Society was set up and a course of lectures programmed. He commented that the lectures were always well attended. He mentions another prisoner, Colin Law,  who

gave lectures on citrus farming, nursery work and citrus plantations.

 

Janet Kinrade Dethick March 2020