September 1942

 

H202 Lucca

 

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

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.

I was eating my well cooked ration of rice when the Sergeant-Major in charge of the medical personnel approached me and said, 'You are going into hospital.'

'I stared at him blankly. Surely I was in hospital already ? He repeated his statement and added, 'You're lucky !' I knew then that I was to go into the town Hospital at Lucca, some eight miles away.

'Pack up your kit,' continued the Sergeant-Major , 'you 'll be leaving in a quarter of an hour.'

I looked at the small haversack beside me and at the clothes I wore. They were my sole possessions.

'I'm ready now,' I replied.

'Right !' he answered. 'Come along and I'll fill in your papers.'

I finished my rice quickly, wishing that I could linger over it, and prepared to follow him. Rising to my feet I had to pause momentarily and wait for the blackness before my eyes to disappear.

At that stage every man in the camp was suffering from malnutrition, and to stand up quickly was to court disaster ; a 'blackout' was the inevitable result.

' proceeded to the far end of the hut and sat on the floor while I answered questions. It seemed that my whole past history must be given before I could forsake the camp hospital for the town hospital. Not that it worried me. I would have answered questions all night in order to make the change. 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. In due course the form was filled in and the Sergeant-Major said : 'The ambulance is outside now; you had better climb in and wait.'

I picked up my haversack, said good-bye to a few friends (feeling meanwhile like a rat deserting a sinking ship) and stumbled outside to the ambulance. There were two stretcher cases, one acute appendicitis, the other bilharzia, and if there had been more stretchers they would have been occupied by other cases equally urgent. As it was, we sat as best we could on the seats inside the ambulance and propped up those who were too weak to sit upright.There were no lights. At half-past eight the ten of us were driven out of the camp.

November 1942

 

As has been said on the HISTORY PAGE, when PG 60 was emptied in November 1942 the men were sent to one of three camps:

PG 52 Coreglia Ligure near Chiavari in Liguria

PG 70 Monturano near Fermo in the Marche

PG 65 Gravina in Puglia

Before this date some prisoners had already been transferred to the POW hospital in Lucca, H202

 

PG 52 COREGLIA LIGURE

 

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

We heard news of the successful (2nd) battle of El Alamein of El Alamein here and, on 8 November 1942, we heard of the Allied landings  iin Tunis.  We realised that despite all the hopeful rumours we heard, that the war had a few more years to run yet.

At last we were ushered into 3rd class coaches again for a shorter journey to Chiavari, a seaside resort on the west coast south of Genoa. . Having arrived there we had a 16km march inland to Camp 52  which was situated in a valley in mountainous terrain; scenically it was rather beautiful. We even had to cross a small bridge over the little river (the Entella, Author's note) to enter the camp.

Here we were issued with battledress uniforms, greatcoats and boots by the Red Cross and our morale improved considerably. This camp, although lacking in space for outdoor sporting activities, was regarded as one of the best camps in Italy. Privates were eventually all dispatched to working camps and we remaining NCO’s soon organized inter-hut bridge, chess and spelling bee and general knowledge quizzes. A few lectures were given as well as Church services by lay preachers. All in all life was quite endurable here, though rather cold in winter with no bungalow heating. We were being issued with half a Red Cross parcel per week and a whole Xmas parcel and a whole Canadian parcel for New Year. My 21st birthday (22nd November 1942) was celebrated in this camp by the cooking of a cake consisting of boiling together well-broken Canadian biscuit, a little butter, Klim, raisins, sugar and water! (The ingredients were all from a Canadian half parcel.)

It was the first time I had encountered frozen earth and snow, but I was not impressed! By now some good concerts were being produced – instruments thanks to the Red Cross. The Xmas pantomime was a great success and on Xmas Day the It is gave us each an orange as a Xmas gift. We also could now start a library with books from the Red Cross and, as the weather improved, tenniquoits and volleyball were played. We were issued with paper camp money with which we could sometimes buy tomatoes and onions from the Italian canteens, as well as stamps to post one aerogramme a week home. They took about 14 weeks to reach Cape Town and, of course, were all censored before leaving the camp.

 

35912 Private J. L. Bryson, 2nd South African Anti Aircraft Regiment, SAA

Private jack Bryson's son records that he was captured at Tobruk and sent to PG 60 Lucca. From there he was moved to H202 and then to PG 52.

 

PG 65 GRAVINA IN PUGLIA

 

90565 Lance-Bombardier Royden Henry Halse, 2nd Anti-Tank Regiment, SAA

Lance-bombardier Halse was in the group of prisoners who left PG 60 by train on 13 November.

 

105772 Gunner John Adriaan Joubert, SAA

Gunner Joubert  wrote in his diary that:

13.11 - A man T.C. Lee died this morning on his way to the station.

This news had obviously reached the remaining prisoners who were still in the camp awaiting transfer.  Of his own journey Gunner Joubert wrote:

16.11 - Left Colle de Compito, arrived at camp 65 on 18.11 - in bitter cold weather to find no parcels awaiting us.

 

108866 Gunner Kenneth J. Breakey, SAA  was also  in the contingent which left PG 60 for PG 65, Gravina in Puglia, on 16/11/1942.   He reported that the prisoners were transported in bitterly cold weather in unheated cattle trucks, arriving at their destination on 18/11/1942 to find that they had no heat, food or bunks and had to sleep on the cement floor.

 

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

The men were transferred in the majority to camp 65 at Altamura where the living conditions were considerably better, we slept in bungalows and had wooden tier beds, and the food was more plentiful, and Red Cross parcels were reasonably regular. Water was the problem as usual, but there were facilities for hot showers. Generally this camp was a vast improvement on camp 60...

 

176721V Corporal William James Wood, SAMC

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.

When we arrived at 65 we were told by the men there that 65 was considered a hell camp, but in comparison to camp 60 camp 65 was a great improvement in all respects. The food was considerably more plentiful and we were accommodated in stone buildings, which though overcrowded at last offered protection from the rain and cold. Red Cross supplies was (were) comparatively well organised and a fair amount of clothing was available...

PG 70 MONTURANO

 

Among those sent to  PG 70 were 1924576 Sapper Leonard Cliff, Royal Engineers and   915214 Gunner Frederick Spencer Barkham, 68 Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery.  Gunner Barkham had been captured on 22 June 1942 at Tobruk. He wrote in his Escape and Evasion Report that 

 

We had orders from Major Laird of the regiment to destroy our trucks and guns - then we made our way to the beach where we were hoping to see the Navy. Whilst swimming the next day a German Patrol found us; took us POW.

 

After being held in a camp in Benghazi between 30 June and 27 July 1942, he was shipped ot Italy and detained in PG 60 from 1 August until 22 November, when he was transferred to PG 70.

 

May 1943

The prisoners who were taken out of the camp in May 1943 appeared to have gone to one of two work camps:


PG 106 Vercelli

PG 112 Turin

 

Guardsman John Ronald Parry, 3 Coldstream Guards

During May 1943, I was transferred, together with xxx and 73 other British Prisoners of War, from Lucca to a Working Camp at Turin.

 

2937054 Private William 'Waggie' Wylie, 2nd Cameron HIghlanders

The International Red Cross Committee, Geneva, informed Private Wylie's grandson on 29.08.2019 that according to a list received by them on 06.07.1943 he had been  transferred to POW camp n° 106 (Vercelli, Author's note) on 21.05.1943Despite this, they  had registered him  as being present in PG 60 in document WO 392/21, issued in August 1943.

 

After the Armistice 

8 September 1943

 

In Hiding

 

2937054 Private William 'Waggie' Wylie, 2 Cameron Highlanders

After the Armistice Private Wylie was hidden with two other soldiers by a family at Montelupo in Piedmont. From a photograph he brought home it appears that their name was Giribaldi. He remained in hiding until the liberation.

(To date it has not been possible to locate Montelupo, which may have been a farm or a hamlet. A family named Giribaldi at Montelupo Albese have explained they they were not the people who had hidden Private Wylie, and Montelupo Fiorentino in Tuscany has been ruled out as it is in the wrong location.)

 

The Escapers

 

90565 Lance-Bombardier Royden Henry Halse, 2 Anti-Tank Regiment, SAA

Bombardier Halse volunteered to go to a working camp and on 28 April 1943 was transferred north from PG 65 to PG 120/X, a farm known as the St Anna Estate in the Veneto Region near Chiesanuova.   On the 8th September  he and the other prisonsers  were put on to a train and taken to Padua, their administrative headquarters.  They were released by the Italian officers, who warned them of the approaching Germans.  After being sheltered for a time by a family, Roy and a friend made their way through Yugoslavia and arrived in Durrësi (near to Tirana in present-day Albania)in early December. From there they managed to get a ship to cross the Adriatic to join the Allied lines.

 

2662193 Guardsman John Ronald Parry, 3 Coldstream Guards

Guardsman Parry escaped from PG 112 Turin at the Armistice and moved between various groups of partisans operating in the eastern foothills of the Alps in the Canavese area of Piemonte. He remained in this area until the arrival of the Allies in May 1945. He was an important witness in a war crimes investigation (see Pte. Donald Russell below)

 

915214 Gunner Frederick Spencer Barkham, 68 Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery

It will be recalled that Gunner Barkham left PG 60 for PG 70 Fermo 22 November. From there he was transferred on 10 May 1943 to PG 62 Grumellino and then to PG 62/33, which was a laundry in Milan. He escaped from Milan on 11 September 43 and arrived in Switzerland on 21 of the same month. He wrote:

 

Whilst working in the laundry in Milan the Italians let us go free on the 11.9.43; we stayed in different places in the town for eight days. We, four of us met an Argentine gentleman who offered to take us to Switzerland. We decided to go. We left Milan on the 20.9.43 by train for Como – there we took the ferry-boat to Moltrasio. We stayed in Moltrasio for one night and then walked three miles to the Swiss frontier crossing near Bellinzona. Marco Bouzi (Busi) of Moltrasio, Como, directed us to the Swiss frontier on the morning of the 21.9.43. (Source Escape and Evasion Report)

 

765519 Sergeant Harry Arthur Burrows, Royal Artillery

Sergeant Burrows is registered as being held n PG 60 in WO 392/21. It is not known where he was at the time of the Armistice but his granddaughter comments that he escaped and made his way south and met up with Montgomery's troops. Given that these troops were advancing up the Adriatic coast it is logical to think that he might have been sent to PG 70 from where he had escaped. Unfortunately there is no escape report for him in The National Archives. To find out more it would be necessary to send for his service records.

 

2658732 Lance Corporal Frank Henry Bennett, Coldstream Guards

Guardsman Bennett also is recorded as being present in PG 60 in WO 392/21. However, his daughter indicates that from PG 60 he was sent first to PG 70 and then to PG 62/30. He does not appear in the prisoner register of September 1944, WO 392/1, and so it could be assumed that he was an escaper.

 

Recapture - The Stalags

 

109351 Bombardier Harry Rose-Innes, 5 Battery, 2 Anti-Aircraft Regiment, SAA was in H202 at the time of the Armistice, and together with another two patients he escaped from the train taking him to Germany. After various adventures he was recaptured and sent to Stalag IVB Mühlberg.

 

130967 Lance Bombadier Garnet Pendray Richards, 3 Field Regiment SAA was also sent to Stalag IVB Mühlberg.

 

108866 Gunner Kenneth J. Breakey, SAA

Gunner Breakey and all the prisoners from PG 65 and the other southern camps were moved further north in Italy during the summer of '43 in order to comply with the regulations of the 1929 Geneva Convention, which required camps to be a a certain distance from the front line. After the Armistice he was sent to Stalag VIIIC Sagan.

 

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

From PG 52 Chiavari Bombardier Myburgh was sent to Stalag VIIIA Gorlitz.

 

15912 Private J. Bryson, 2nd Anti-Aircraft Regiment, SAA

Haivng been captured at Tobruk Private Bryson was first held in PG 60 from where he was sent to the POW hospital H202 at Lucca, from where, after nearly four months, he was transferred to PG 52 Coreglia Ligure (Chiavari). At the Armistice he was sent to Stalag VIIIB/344, Lamsdorf.

 

105772 Gunner John Adriaan Joubert, SAA

From PG 52 Chiavari Gunner Joubert was sent initially to Stalag VIIIC Sagan and from there to various work camps.

 

2937740 Private William Nicol, Cameron Highlanders, was initally held in PG 60 following his capture after the fall of Tobruk. He appears in the WO 392/21 register but it is not known to which camp he was transferred. After the armistice he was transferred to Stalag IVG Oschatz.

 

1924576 Sapper Leonard Cliff, Royal Engineers, was recaptured after the Armistice and sent to Stalag XIB, Fallingbostel until the end of the war.

 

Killed

 

2935392 Private Donald Russell, Cameron Highlanders

On 28th July 1942 The Scottish Daily Record reported that Donald Russell, Cameron Highlanders, had been declared missing. His address was given as 43, Cramond Terrace. He gave a photograph of himself with his name and full address written on the back (43, Cramond Terrace, Springboig, Glasgow E.2 Scotland), to an Italian partisan. The partisan produced the photograph as evidence to the War Crimes Enquiry which was investigating the killing of a British soldier in Forno Canavese, Piedmont.

 

2662193 Guardsman John Ronald Parry, 3 Coldstream Guards, also testified. Here is part of his affadavit, found in WO 311/1262 Shooting of British prisoner of war Forno Canavese, Italy, 9 December 1943:

 

On the 21st June 1942, whilst I was serving with my Regiment at Tobruk, I was taken Prisoner and sent to Italy arriving in that country on the 6th August 1942. I was taken to a camp at Lucca, where I first met Donald Russell, a private in, I believe, the Cameron Highlanders. If it was not the Camerons, I am quite sure it was a Scottish Regiment. During May 1943 I was transferred, together with Russell and 73 other British Prisoners of War, from Lucca to a Working Camp at Turin. The Camp number was 112/1 and it was in the charge of Italians. On the 8th September 1943, Italy capitulated and on the 10th September 1943, every man in the Camp (75 of us ) escaped...

 

Guardsman Parry spent time with various groups of partisans. In one of these groups he met up again with Private Donald Russell, who unlike Guardsman Parry, had been given a weapon. Private Russell took part in an action against the occuping German forces and, having been taken prisoner together with 17 Italians, was executed with them at Forno Canavese on 9 December 1943 and buried in the local cemetery. Guardsman Parry continues:

 

I continued to serve with various Partisan bands in Italy until the end of May 1945, but during the beginning of that month, as things had grown quiet, I returned to Forno by myself. I went to the Cemetery there and saw, amongst other graves, a grave No.26 which bore the inscription: 'Donald Russell - English.'

 

He was transferred to Milan War Cemetery but is buried as an unknown soldier. The Private Donald Russell, 2935392, Cameron Highlanders, who had been held in PG 60 and was presumably the Donald Russell known to Guardsman Parry, is registered as being held POW in Germany in Stalag IVG Oschatz (Source WO 392/1 Imperial prisoners of War being held in Germany Register date: September 1944). Only when in 2021 the German Record cards (letter R) held in the National Archives are put online will it be possible to check on the identity of this soldier and reopen the case with CWGC and the Ministry of Defence.

 

3712896 Private George Stanley Haldane, King's Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster)

Private Haldane, whose last registered camp as shown on register WO 392/21 was PG 60, was one of the 75 men sent from there to PG 112 Turin as described by Guardsman Parry. In November 1944 he and twenty three other escaped prisoners of war, led by a group of partisans, set off from Ceresole Reale and headed for the Galisia Pass, intending to cross over the mountains to Val d'Isère in France. Caught in a terrible blizzard, all but one of the escaped POWs and two of the partisans perished on 10 November. (The CWGC gives the date of death as 12 November). When recovered six months later only eight of the bodies could be identified, one being that of Private Haldane. After being temporarily buried in France, all the victims now lie in Milan War Cemetery.

 

Repatriated

 

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

Sgt. A.A.Brodie, Sgt. C.H. Hogg, S/Sgt Wood and myself, with about 120 others, were repatriated under protected personnel from Italy to Cairo where we arrived on Good Friday 1943. S/Sgt. Wood, Sgt. A.A. Brodie and myself left by boat ''S.S.Mauretania'' and arrived at Cape Town about 20-23 July 1943. Sgt. Hogg returned to the Union by plane.

Corporal T. F. Maeder was also repatriated with this group.

 

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