Opened on 7 July 1942,  and designed to house non-commissioned officers and soldiers, the accomodation consisted of tents. 

 

On 1 August 1942 there were 2,465 prisoners of war present in the camp, the number rising to 3,970 by the following 30 September. On that date, according to Italian records, the camp held 2,224 British prisoners of war, 1,737 South Africans, 3 Middle Easterners, 2 Indians, 3 Serbs and 1 of an unspecified nationality. (Source http://www.campifascisti.it) The camp leader (Man of Confidence) in this period was South African Sergeant Major Barlett, 2nd Divison Headquarters. (Source, testimony of Corporal William James Wood, South African Medical Corps, in WO 311/1207, The National Archives, London. )

 

Map to show site of camp

Photograph of area occupied by camp, looking south

In anticipation of the winter, the War Ministry had intended to transform the accommodation  from tents into wooden or masonry barracks. However, by the end of August another decision had been taken, that is,  to dismantle the tents, suspend the operation of the camp throughout the winter and transfer the prisoners of war elsewhere. (See  Camp Reports page.) On 10 December 1942 the International Red Cross Committee informed British Red Cross Society that PG 60 had been closed.

 

From the testimonies of the prisoners it is known that as from mid-November 1942 the prisoners were sent to PG 65 Gravina in Puglia, PG 52 Coreglia Ligure (Chiavari) and PG 70 Monturano near Fermo in the Marche region. An International Red Cross Camp Inspection document relating to PG 70  (WO 361/1901), dated 17 December 1942, states that

 

'Camp now holds 5737 prisoners, many of whom transferred from PG 60 which has been abolished'.

 

On 31 December, 1942 an order was issued for some works to be undertaken to enable the camp to be reopened, but by March 1943 it was still closed, hence on 23 April 1943 a proposal was made to use 200 prisoners of war from PG 82 Laterina to complete the necessary modifications. In particular, it was proposed to

 

'move the boundary fence, erect the tents on the terraces to the north and south of the new area using the central space for meetings and as a sports ground for prisoners'.


The  date on which it was re-opened  is not known, but the camp was emptied again during the latter part of May 1943, the prisoners being sent to northern work camps, in particular to PG 106 Vercelli and PG 112 Turin.

 

In early August 1943 it was once again being used to house prisoners of war, as can be seen from a document  held in the Italian Archives which gives details of  supplies which had been delivered to the camp.  Carabiniere Edo TOSCHI, who escorted prisoners of war by train all over Italy, describes his arrival with the last batch of prisoners to be held at Colle di Compito:

 

I remember the camp at Colle very well...I arrived at the camp during the August of '43 - I don't remember the exact date, I was not quite twenty years old. There were nine of us carabinieri and a marshal, whose name was Micheli.

Inside the boundary fence there were four wooden barracks and some large tents, which looked like barracks themselves...inside there were..I remember 1,200 prisoners, or perhaps 2,200 - we had escorted them to the camp and it was re-opened. What the previous one was like I can't say. The prisoners were all black, except for one who was white, and he was always on his own...I was at the camp for little more than a month...

(Testimony in Italo Galli I sentieri della memoria : il campo di concentramento di Colle di Compito : i documenti e le voci dei testamenti, Firenze 2005, p. 140)

 

 It would seem from the evidence of carabiniere EDO TOSCHI  that the prisoners were in the main black South Africans whom he had accompanied north from Puglia – almost certainly from PG 85 Tuturano where, according to the Italian War Ministry,  in March 1943, the last date for which numbers are available,  1070 of them were being interned.

 

THE ARMISTICE

8 SEPTEMBER 1943

 

When the camp was re-opened the commandant was Colonello Vincenzo CIONE.  On 10 September 1943, upon his refusal to hand over the camp, the newly-arrived occupying German forces  shot  Colonello Cione  and two other Italian soldiers with a burst  of machine-gun fire .

 

Italo Galli (see above) indicates that someone - perhaps a soldier or a carabiniere - opened the gates, thus making it possible for many of the prisoners to escape during the confusion which followed.  Another  source indicates that the prisoners escaped during a mass break-out.

 

Reno FREDIANI, a life-long inhabitant of the area, described how four black South African escapers were helped by local people, though in this case they had escaped from a train and not from the camp itself:

 

The first black who arrived, he was called Emilio... a South African...he knocked on the door and we opened it and gave him a slice of bread...I don't remember what year it was but there were the Germans...he told us that he had been in the camp and that they had been put on a train bound for Germany...he had escaped from the train and didn't know what to do next, but he met a woman who told him to go up into the hills...there were four of them up there... someone took them food.

(Testimony in Italo Galli  I sentieri della memoria : il campo di concentramento di Colle di Compito : i documenti e le voci dei testamenti, Firenze, 2005, p. 103)

 

The same source which reported the mass breakout also indicated that  local people welcomed the escapers into their homes. This indicates that the colour of their skin was no barrier to the hospitality they were offered. 

It is known that the prisoners being held in the camp in July were South African, all but one of whom was black, but in his book Italo Galli give the names of three British escapers who were helped in this way.  They were

 

4393025 Private G E H Bolland, Green Howards

1984168 Sapper J W Baker, Royal Engineers

1577911 Gunner Leonard S Hill, Royal Artillery

 

All appear in WO 392/21 as being held in PG 82 Laterina, but it is likely that they had been sent from this camp to one of its associated  WORK CAMPS at Lappato in the commune of Capannori, and that they had escaped from there at the Armistice.

 

Janet Kinrade Dethick March 2020

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