I'll start then...

03/20/2010 - 05:40


 I'm researching PoWs in Italian camps during WW2 and their Italian helpers. I post periodically on this same topic, because I think it is a fascinating and unique event. There were PoW camps throughout Italy, and after the Italian Armistice (Sept 1943), many thousands of Brits, S Africans, N Zealanders, Americans etc just walked out into the surrounding countryside. It was expected that the Allies would sweep up through \Italy and so they would soon be reunited with the troops.  Actually it took a year of carnage for the Allies to dislodge the Germans - the casualties probably outdoing those of D-Day and the battles through France. Those in the Italian campaign were unfairly known as the "D-Day dodgers" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D-Day_Dodgers Anyway, as a result, the escapers had to make a decision - Stay put and wait for the Allies to reach them Start walking south to meet up with the Allied troops Go north and escape over the border into Switzerland Join up with a local partisan band Undoubtedly almost none would have survived without the help of Italian contadini who, in defiance of German orders that those caught helping be shot and/or their houses burned down, sheltered, fed and watered anyone who came to their door. I am collecting accounts, particularly in the Marche region, of those who went through this experience.  Without exception they speak warmly and movingly of their Italian hosts.  Some stayed for months, helping with the farmwork in return for shelter.  Others moved on swiftly, accepting food but diligently moving on towards the Allied lines. Many bonds were formed between the escapers and their helpers, some of which lasted a lifetime.  Others never spoke of their wartime experiences, and it is only now, as children and grandchildren decide to research, that memories are being recorded.  Often these descendants regret they never spoke to their fathers and grandfathers about this before it was too late. My neighbour Luigi remembers as a young boy having an English escaper, known only as Frederico, live with his family for 6 months.  My researches uncovered a photo of a "Fred" from the nearby camp at Servigliano.  Luigi tells me that's not his Fred, but he does recognise him as someone who was sheltered by his neighbour just down the road.  Sadly Fred passed on a year or so ago, but his wife is still alive, though frail, and I'm hoping to get more info from her to add to the story. I recommend these websites for a bit of browsing on a wet day - they contain many stories and mementoes.  The fact that they are written by non-professionals adds to their immediacy and poignancy. http://camp59survivors.wordpress.com/ - read the story of Robert Dickinson and his notebook covered with flattened Red Cross cocoa tins, which contains some wonderful poetry - try starting here: http://camp59survivors.wordpress.com/2009/01/06/robert-dickinsons-last-letter/ or look in the Italian section of http://pegasusarchive.org/pow/frames.htm and find Sgt William (Bill) Cooper's account of his escape and journey through the mountains down to Rome. If anyone's interested, I'll try and post some individual stories here.  Just one for now: Dany Billany, who in his day had some fame as an author of detective stories pre-war, was imprisoned in Fontenellato, near to Bologna (the same prison as Eric Newby - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Love-War-Apennines-Picador-Books/dp/0330280244 ).  He wrote a book whilst incarcerated, together with his friend David.  They escaped together, and stayed with several contadini whilst moving South.  They completed the book whilst on the run, and left the manuscript with an Italian family.  They didn't make it, and their bodies were never found. His family were devastated, but about a year after the War, a package arrived from Italy.  It contained Dan's manuscript and a letter explaining that he had asked that it be posted back to his family when it was possible to do so. The manuscript was eventually published as "The Cage", and was a bestseller

 Annec - thanks for the posting - brought back a few memories My Dad was a D Day Dodger.  He never ever really spoke about his war - and I only ever remember hearing him sing the song once, when he was well lubricated after winning a hard fought criket match [a local Cup Final, I think] - the whole pub was silent as people joined in or just hummed along He was 'lucky' as he fought his way right up the spine of Italy to the North, where [I believe] he worked with the Partisans, and he was never a POW   I keep meaning to get his war record, and perhaps visit some of the places he fought.

  Fascinating stuff Anne, thanks for posting it. We have Italian friends in the next village who sheltered a soldier for 6months during the war, he was called George and has also died recently, his widow and son visited last year and there are still strong ties between the families. It is amazing to contemplate the courage of these people who risked certain death if it was ever discovered. There were public hangings in the village of Montepone a reminder of the fate they would suffer if found out. A

  Thank you Anne for the moving stories. Many lives were saved by humble, ordinary peopled who risked everything to help and protect fellow human beings. Bearing in mind when all this took place, most of them will be dead by now. It is important to keep their memory alive.

A fitting and worthy first post in this group. Facinating stuff. It's true that there has always been more of an emphasis on the campaigns in France and we don't get to hear half enough about the campaign in Italy. Tours of the battlefields and cemeteries in France are common but I don't know if similar tours are done in Italy. The usual mention of the war and how it affected Abruzzo in the guide books generally relates to the damage done to towns and cities and the dismay at the modern rebuilding done after the war.Would love to hear more individual stories.

First off, thanks so much, Anne,  for the history thread as I am a retired history teacher who gravitates toward anything history related.  Your focus especially hooked me since I have the following family anecdote to relay. According to my sole remaining great aunt, Pierina, the Germans lined up an entire family in her mountain village to be shot as communists.  I was told the Nazis had a particular vendetta against communists of greater intensity than their hunt for Allied soldiers. Pierina emphasized the coincidental detail that this family all had "capelli rossi" (red hair which I inherited, btw) which marked them as Reds in more ways than one.  The terrifying effect of their public execution cannot be overstated.   But this simple war recollection begs further research in light of your topic.  The village, Montepiano, Lastebasse (VI), is really remote in the Val d'Astico, having no more than 40 families during the war.  With no paved road for the 1.5 km ascent from the main valley road, Germans seeking out this forsaken family had to be looking for more. . .I suspect both "partigiani" and Allied POWs.  Montepiano is on the way to Switzerland via Brenner pass. I'm going soon to this area for a genealogical visit as I research all my relatives' military records as members of the Alpini corps but my guess is the partigiani record has my civilian relatives as well.  These mountain folk are very proud of the partigiani. . .I could see it in my aunt's face as she recalled her war story. I think your Allied POW history will be enhanced by researching the partigiani as well. Here are some partigiani links with pics on these courageous people. . .you may have to use Google translate feature: http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resistenza_italiana  

Thankyou poeta You might be interested in this book "In the Prison of His Days" by Norman Davison http://www.amazon.co.uk/Prison-His-Days-Memoirs-Captured/dp/0956007589/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1271772553&sr=1-1 and http://camp59survivors.wordpress.com/2010/02/08/gunner-g-norman-davisons-memoirs/ which recounts Norman's capture, imprisonment and then assistance by partisans to get over the border into Switzerland. His son John has written to a local resistance organisation: http://www.vigevanoeresistenza.it/site/home/una-mail-dal-regno-unito-15-3-10 If you're in the area, you might look them up.  If you'd like to speak to John - who would I'm sure love help with his research - let me know   All the best   Anne

I don't know how to attach files here - but I recently discovered an account of the only occasion where partisans directly and victoriously attacked a Jewish concentration camp.  It happened at Camp 59, Servigliano in S Marche in May 1944, which had been a PoW camp up to the Armistice in Sept 43    The partisans called in Allied bombers who breached the walls and they then evacuated the Jewish internees who were then looked after by the local "Committees of Liberation"   If anyone wants a copy of the account given by the Jewish-Italian leader of the Monte San Martino resistance, Vito Volterra,  pm me.  Or someone tell me how to attach it here!

You'll see from above posts that I have been helping John Davison, whose father Norman wrote the book referred to above,  trace some of the Italians who helped his father. Norman was in Camp 59, Servigliano, Marche, but was then transferred up North on a work detail and ended up working in the fields for a farmer - Giovanni Bellazzi.  After the Armistice in Sept 43, Norman and his friends were hidden by Giovanni and were eventually escorted to the Swiss border and escaped.  Like many survivors, Norman never spoke of his adventures to his son, and although he planned to travel back to Italy in the 60's, his wife then died and he lost the will to do so.  John regrets the lost opportunity and would like to make up for it by visiting the families and places concerned. Norman did type up his story, and John eventually got it published after his father's death.  However he had difficulty in starting the search for the Italians who helped his Dad. Through the wonders of Google, I put him in touch with a website devoted to the Resistance in Vigevano, a town close to where his father was hidden.  As  a result the local Italian newspaper took an interest and traced the children of several of the key players.  In an echo of John's experience of his father's silence about those times, these children also said that their parents hardly if ever talked about what they had done.  John will be going out in August to visit and make contact with those families, to celebrate their bravery some 60-odd years after the event. I have copies of the Italian newspaper articles if anyone is interested.  I can't attach them here - so pm me if you're interested    

Just to add to teh above update, all the information is now available on http://camp59survivors.wordpress.com/2010/05/ That will take you straight to "L'Informatore on the Davison rescue" and after reading the first part, if you click on "Read the rest of this entry" you'll (surprise surprise) get to read the rest. And some further inside info - as a result of this publicity a fluent English speaking  grand-nephew of Giovanni Bellazzi had contacted John - and informs him that Giovanni's siter is still alive at 103!  I've wrned him that he is going to be doing a lot of eating during his August reunion! I hope this encourages others trying to trace their fathers' and grandfathers' experiences in Italy in WW2