Antonio Zagnoli, The Airmen’s Guide

“This photo was taken at Poggio di Casola on September 26, 1941. From left, standing, are Ireneo (brother of my grandpa), my grandma Felicita, and my grandpa Sante; from left, sitting, are cousin Vittorio, my aunt Ada, my uncle Umberto, and my father Antonio” —Marco Zagnoli

Marco Zagnoli recently wrote to me from Italy about his family’s support for Allied airmen in 1943–44. 

“My father told me that he—at the age of sixteen—helped British airmen who were evaders or escaped from prison camps to pass the lines and reach the Allied troops,” Marco said.

“Also, my grandfather provided help, hiding the airmen at our family farm called Poggio di Casola, Castel di Casio village, near Porretta Terme (Bologna). 

“On the British military maps of the area—to which my father could get a look—our farm was marked as ‘a family that helps British troops,’ or something similar.” 

Aerial view of Poggio di Casola, 1933

The airmen, Marco explained, turned up individually at the farm over time. 

“My father guided airmen more than ten times—maybe twelve.

“After hiding each British soldier and refreshing him, in the early morning (3.00 AM), my father led him into the chestnut woods, reaching and staying on the ridge of the mountains in order to avoid German soldiers. They passed on the ridge over Suviana Lake, Badi, Taviano, and continued south towards Pistoia.

“As a meal they only had a loaf of bread and at times a slice of cheese.

“Once on the hills surrounding Pistoia, my father left the airman and went back to Poggio by way of the chestnut woods. 

“My father didn’t know the way the airman had to go in order to cross the front line and reach the Allies, but I think the airman knew the next place to go in Tuscany.”

The mountains Antonio lead the airmen though were in the northern sector of the Apennines (Appennino settentrionale), specifically the Tuscan-Emilian subchain. 

On this contemporary map, Marco has indicated in green the route his father took in guiding the airmen to the hills above Pistoia. Poggio di Casola is noted by a circle near the top of the map.

Detail of the area between Pistoia and Bologna on a silk RAF pilot’s “escape map”

It occurred to me that the map the airmen were carrying might be a silk RAF pilot’s map, or “escape map.”

During the war, Allied paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines in Italy on special missions and to make contact with the Italian resistenza. On the ground, the men were on their own. A map of the area, printed on silk, was standard issue for these men. It showed local features, such as roads, rivers, and villages. 

My friend Kirsty McBeth had recently purchased one of these vintage maps at auction. She kindly photographed a section of the map for me that includes Pistoia and Bologna— and the area between, where Poggio di Casola was located. Although the map provides a great deal of information, it’s not detailed enough to show individual farms, so the nature of the “military map” Antonio caught a glimpse of remains a mystery.

Antonio Zagnoli, circa 1942–43

I asked Marco if he was confident the soldiers were airmen.

“Yes, absolutely,” he answered. “Also, my uncle confirmed it.

“Each airman came by himself, not with other airmen, in different periods. 

“Each soldier told the members of my family that he knew that to reach the Allied lines he had to ask for help, food, and hiding at a farm in Gaggio Montano (left bank of the Reno river) and then cross the river and ask for help, food, hiding at our farm (right bank of the Reno river), and then to be guided by a member of my family through the mountains to the Pistoia district. 

“Our family doesn’t know how the airmen knew that at our farm—and at the farm in Gaggio Montano—they were sure to be helped and not betrayed. As a matter of fact, some of the neighboring farms (Prati, Torraccia) at that time were owned by fascists. 

“The airmen all knew that my family was Christian and against fascists and Nazis. It was indicated on the maps, my father told me.”

Marco said no one in his family knew which one of the farms in Gaggio Montano provided assistance to the airmen. The airmen didn’t share that information with the family.

“The front line was constantly in the move,” Marco explained. “On their way north, the Allies set Pistoia free on September 8, 1944; Florence a week before; Arezzo on August 16th; Ancona on July 18th; and Perugia on June 20th.”

I asked Marco why he thought the airmen chose to travel south to cross the lines, rather than to make their way to Switzerland, the route chosen by many escapees in northern Italy. 

He replied, “I have to point out that in 1943–45 the bridges over Po river (that divides in two parts the Padana plain (i.e. the main part of northern Italy) were either destroyed after bombing or strictly controlled by the Nazis. So if an Allied soldier found himself on the right bank of Po river, it was not possible—or was very, very dangerous—for him to cross the Po, reach the Alps, and then try to cross the border to get into Switzerland.

“The Padana plain didn’t offer many hiding places because it was—and still is—a flat land of fields with few woods. Moreover, the cities and towns were strongly controlled by Nazis and fascists.

“The option to go south was dangerous, but a soldier could find his way through woods and mountains, keeping away from towns and crowded places.

“Longer, but safer.

“And going south made it possible to cross over to land controlled by the Allied army, like your father did.”

Marco pointed out that a third option, staying put, was also dangerous for the airmen, as they ran a risk of being betrayed.

“The journeys would have taken place in the period starting August 1943 and ending in September 1944,” Marco said. 

“I am sure of it, because:

“A. Before August 1943, my father and grandpa were in Milano. My grandpa was a railway worker and also a farmer/landowner of a tiny farm, and they suffered July’s aerial bombardments of Milan. They only went to Poggio in August, when the aerial bombardment was reduced. The rest of my family had yet to move.

“B. The Nazis occupied Porretta Terme in August or September 1943, and retreated in September 1944, after harsh fighting on the mountains north of Gaggio Montano and Riola, which faces Porretta Terme.

“C. On September 26, 1944, the Allied troops of the Sixth South African Armored Division conquered Passo della Collina (which means ‘the Hill’s Pass’) that links Bologna district with Pistoia district. Then, on October 10, 1944, the XI Battalion of the U.S. First Infantry Division set Porretta Terme free.

“From fall 1944 through spring 1945, five Sherman tanks were based on our hill and the soldiers lived with our family. 

“All the members of my family have since referred to the period passed with the U.S. soldiers with a sense of gratefulness to the Americans who brought with themselves freedom, food, coffee, and cigarettes.

“My father died on February 1982. The only members of my family who were living during the war and are still living are my uncle (the youngest brother of my father) Umberto (born 1932), who was a boy during the war, and my second cousin Vittorio (born 1926).”

Recent view of Poggio, 2013

“I am in possession of a certificate of gratitude, signed by Field-Marshal H. R. Alexander, awarded to my father,” Marco continued.

“I had seen this certificate before, but unfortunately I had looked only at the back”—where the document has an Italian translation. “It was not completed, so I thought it was of no importance.

“I said to myself, ‘Why didn’t my father get this certification? Very strange.’ 

“Then last year, in putting old paperwork in order, I had a lucky strike and looked at the front.” 

On the English-language side of the certificate is penned in stylish calligraphy the name “Zagnoli Antonio di Sante.”

“So I then started researching the story behind this certificate,” Marco said, “until a search on the internet led me to your site.”

“I suppose that the certificates—issued to a select group of Italians who had risked their lives to protect escaped British POWs and evaders—were issued after a preparatory phase, as the sequential number suggests.” 

Antonio’s Alexander certificate
The back of the Alexander certificate

This certificate is awarded to Zagnoli Antonio di Sante as a token of gratitude for and appreciation of the help given to the Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen of the British Commonwealth of Nations, which enabled them to escape from, or evade capture by the enemy.

H.R. Alexander
Field-Marshall,
Supreme Allied Commander,
Mediterranean Theatre
1939–1945

“My father at the age of 30, taken in Galliate (Novara district, a town between Milan and Turin, south of Lago Maggiore). The reason of the picture taken in Galliate, is that in my family many have itchy feet, so after WW2 my father worked and lived in Galliate, not far from Switzerland. Nevertheless, he kept strong ties to his roots.” —Marco Zagnoli

A Reflection on Heroism and Humility

Antonio and Domenica Cavaciuti

“There is a certificate of gratitude hanging in my grandmother’s house in London that was awarded to my great-grandfather, Antonio Cavaciuti,” Sophia Boeri wrote to me last month. 

“I recently began to enquire about the history of this certificate to my family. My grandfather passed away before I was born and so I was never able to ask him directly about the certificate. My family don’t know too much about the story behind it—all that they’ve been able to tell me is that my great-grandfather helped to protect British soldiers during World War II and that his actions were deemed to be very courageous, especially considering that he had nine young children. 

“I began to search for more information on the internet and came across your website, so was hoping that you will be able to provide me with more information about the actions of people like my great-grandfather.”

I told Sophia I would like to share their great-grandparents’ story and asked if she would send me a few photos.

Sophia wrote again a couple of weeks later. “Sorry about the delay in responding to you,” she said. “It took a while to sort through many boxes of family photos!

“I have attached a picture of my great-grandfather’s Alexander certificate, a photo of Antonio and Domenica, a clearer photo of Antonio and a photo of all their children together.

“I have managed to find out the following so far: Antonio and Domenica Cavaciuti lived in the village of Rusteghini, which is in the municipality of Morfasso and the province of Piacenza in Italy, with their nine children. They lived a very humble life working on their farm.

“Apparently, they sheltered British soldiers in their stable.

“I would like to be able to find out more about what they did to help these soldiers and who the soldiers were that they protected.”

The children of Antonio and Domenica Cavaciuti

Sophia identified Antonio and Domenica’s children as (left to right in the picture above) Rita, Giovanni, Giuseppina, Teresa, Andrea, Maria, Rachele, Giovanna, and Ugo. 

“Unfortunately, Ugo passed away when he was just 10 years old,” she said. 

“Of the remaining children, only Giovanna and Rachele remained in Italy—the rest became economic migrants as they moved to Paris and London. My grandfather was Giovanni—he originally left Italy to move to Paris with his sisters Rita, Giuseppina, and Maria, and his brother Andrea. He then decided to move to London, where he joined his sister Teresa. 

“After Antonio passed away, the decision was made to give the certificate to the only son remaining, my grandfather Giovanni, which is how the certificate made its way to London.”  

Antonio Cavaciuti

The certificate is creased from being folded, as if carried in someone’s pocket at one time. It was ultimately framed and displayed, however the story of the family’s heroism has faded over time—the details forgotten.

The wartime episode is a testament to the Cavaciutis’ humility—when the escapers wandered onto their property, Antonio and Domenica acted on a principal of deeply-felt humanity. Sheltering the men was likely a natural, spontaneous impulse.

Nazi retribution for helping escapees was swift and severe. They were risking their lives—and the lives of their children. I have no doubt they realized this.

The Alexander certificate attests to their heroism. It is a document Antonio and Domenica’s descendants can rightly be proud of.

The Alexander certificate

This certificate is awarded to Cavaciuti Antonio as a token of gratitude for and appreciation of the help given to the Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen of the British Commonwealth of Nations, which enabled them to escape from, or evade capture by the enemy.

H.R. Alexander
Field-Marshall,
Supreme Allied Commander,
Mediterranean Theatre
1939–1945

William McBeth “On the Run”

Photo of William McBeth's family
William McBeth with his family, circa 1965. Granddaughter Kirsty McBeth says, “He’s the gentleman on the right and my dad [Donald McBeth] is the young lad with the tie. He married my dad’s mum, who was separated and already had an older daughter, who is the other lady in this picture with her husband and her son and daughter.”

William Harkins McBeth was never a prisoner in P.G. 59.

In fact, he was captured by the Germans in Italy on 3 October 1943, one month to the day after Italy signed the armistice with the Allies. By the time William was captured, POW camps across Italy had dissolved—the captives having fled into the countryside or been transported to Germany.

William’s granddaughter Kirsty McBeth is in the process of piecing together her grandfather’s wartime story. She shared with me some of the documents she’s gathered so far. 

They’re quite interesting, and I’m eager to share his story on this site.

William was born 1 February 1915.

“My grandfather lived in Glasgow and moved through to Edinburgh when my dad was around four,” Kirsty wrote. “His family had a carter business in Glasgow which was basically transporting coal. I think my grandad was a driver.”

William had just turned 25 when he enlisted in the Army in February 1940. Early in the war he was in North Africa, serving with 1 SAS (the Special Air Service—a special forces unit of the British Army) and the SRS (Special Raiding Squadron).

An SAS researcher whom Kirsty contacted wrote to her, “Whilst a member of ‘A’ Section 3 Troop he was involved in three operations. One of these was in the Desert but I am unable to pin it down to which one. The other two were at Capo Morro di Porco and Augusta in Sicily. His final action with the SRS was in Termoli in Italy on Operation Devon where he was captured on 3 October 1943.”

After capture in Termoli, William was interned in a POW transit camp at Frosinone, Italy, from October 6 to 16, before being put aboard a train bound for Germany—a train he was to escape from 11 days later. 

“I have his escape and evasion report, Kirsty wrote. “He was on the run in Italy from October 1943 until June 1944.”

Here is William’s story, as written in the report:

Account of escape of 173497 Pct McBeth, Harkins William, No. 3 Troop, Special Raiding Sqn., 1st S.A.S. [1st Parachute Regiment]

Capture:

“I was with a party which was landed by sea behind the enemy lines at TERMOLI at 0200 hrs on 3 October 43. By 1000 hrs our section was completely surrounded by the Germans and we were ordered to surrender.”

Camps in which imprisoned:

P/W Transit Camp (FROSINONE) 6 Oct – 16 Oct 43.

Attempted escapes:

“A few days after I was captured I joined a party of about ten men who were planning to escape. We knocked a hole in the corner of the wall of the courtyard in which we were imprisoned and it was agreed the whole party would leave the same night. The first man out, however, was immediately arrested, so that our mass escape had to be abandoned.”

Escape:

“On 16 Oct we were put into a cattle truck, with an armed sentry at each end, en route for GERMANY. Our journey was very slow owing to damage on the line.

“I escaped from the train at 0230 hrs on 27 October as it was slowing up to pass through MESTRE. The three men who jumped with me were Pct. Robert MacDONALD, L/Cpl. WOODS, S.A.S. and a private of the Battle Patrol. We had managed to cut a hole in the side of the truck with the aid of our pen knives large enough for one man to put his hand through and unfasten the wire which held the bolt of the door, and, having done so, we seized the first favourable opportunity we had to escape.

“After we left the train, we decided to split up. Pct. MacDONALD and I headed for PADOVA [Padua] and reached a small village called BORGORICCO, eight miles North East of PADOVA on 29 Oct. Here we stayed for three days with an Italian family, who supplied us with civilian clothing. We set out again walking South about 1 Nov. Five days later, as we were approaching ESTE, MacDONALD left with the intention of heading for BOLOGNA. I continued on my own, for ROVIGO after crossing the river ADIGE at BARBONA by bridge which was unguarded. From here I went to SALETTO on the river PO, where I persuaded a boatman to take across. I by-passed FERRARA and continued on to MINERBIO, FAENZA and FORLI. From here I continued along the foothills to SAN MARINO. Somewhere South of FORLI I met two New Zealanders, one of whom was Frank JOSLING, L.R.D.G., and we continued together to SASSOFERRATO  and FABRIANO, where I left them.

“About the beginning of Dec I reached MACERATA where I stayed with a family for two days. On 11 Dec I came to a town near TERAMO called VILLA RIPA where I remained until 20 JUNE 44. Twice during this time I tried to reach the Allied lines, but though I got as far as CHIETI the first time and PENNE the second time, was forced to turn back on both occasions.

“On 20 Jun the Germans began to retreat along the main roads in the area and I was able to slip by unnoticed. I contacted Italian troups between PENNE and TERAMO the same day, but they were unable to help me and I continued South on my own for five days till I reached TORINO DI SANGRO where I was sent to a Repatriation camp. From here I was sent first to FOGGIA and then NAPLES, where I was interrogated. I sailed from Naples in Aug and arrived in the U.K. the same month.” 

According to the report, William departed Naples in August 1944 and arrived in Liverpool in the same month.

A separate “Recommendation for Awards” document acquired by Kirsty has an additional detail regarding the escape: 

“At the time the train was slowing up to pass through MESTRE; although their departure was noticed and the sentries opened fire, no one was hit.” 

The same document confirms the date William arrived at Torino di Sangro was 25 June 1944.

Near the end of his trek to the Allied lines, William passed through territory escapers from P.G. 59 Servigliano would have traversed, as the camp was directly between Macerata and Teramo.

William’s cross-country journey was truly remarkable—the distance from Mestre to Torino di Sango being about 560 kilometers (348 miles). The landscape was rugged and the threat of being captured or shot constant. 

We understand now that many soldiers of the Second World War who, like William, had been in combat and who were prisoners of war experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—for which, sadly, there was no treatment.

“He died in the seventies, but I know that he suffered from his time in the war, Kirsty wrote. “I think he was remembered as a good dad, provided for his family, but obviously struggled with what happened to him.”

I am grateful to Kirsty for sharing her grandad’s story and allowing me to post it here.

I searched online for information about the transit camp at Frosinone, but found few references to it. 

The most vivid account is a short description of the camp in Chapter 6 of a memoirs entitled “Bill Clark’s War” on BBC’s WW2 People’s War site (Pat Jones, contributor):

Bill Clark recounts:

“Eventually we were sent back to a place called Frosinone, a little south east of Rome, where the road wound round and round until you arrived at the top of the hill. This road was bombed many times and it was our job to fill in the craters as they appeared. Frosinone turned out to be a miserable prison. The guards were demoralised; there were no Red Cross parcels and no cigarettes to be had by Germans or P.O.W.’s. Rations were poor, yet the camp commandant decided, when he realised it was almost Christmas [1943], that he would honour us with his presence together with his officers and try to organise some sort of party. The difficulty was that being hungry; having no drink or cigarettes does not help to generate a party spirit. However, among the P.O.W.s were many nationalities, so a representative from each country gave a national song or did a turn of sorts. We had been round the lot, the French with ‘J’attendrai’, the Italian soldier with ‘O Sole Mio’, the Dutch, Belgian, Yugoslav etc. when the call came up for a German song, but the Germans wouldn’t have any of it, so I got up, much to the surprise of the room, went to the front and sang the song ‘Die Lorelei’ which I had learnt at school and knew to be a folk song and therefore well known in Germany. It was about a mermaid seated on a rock on the Rhine, singing to lure the sailors and so wreck their boats. Well I got through the first verse and then the Germans joined in and we must have sung about 10 verses before it finished. The Germans as well as fellow P.O.W.s were impressed, although that was practically all the German I knew. However, it got us an extra bread roll each, whether it really had anything to do with that I’m not sure, but many of the P.O.W.s thought I could speak German fluently and I had a job to convince them otherwise.”*

*WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar.

Regarding the Battle of Termoli, a warlinks.com page on the battle helps us understand William’s role in the offensive.

The Special Raiding Squadron in which William served conducted beach landings over three days, 3–5 October 1943, Williams’ unit, No. 3 Troop, being the first of these assaults:

“3rd October, 1943 – S.R.S. with No. 3 (Army) Commandos and No. 40 Royal Marine Commando land and attack Termoli. The Special Service Brigade under Brigadier J. Durnford-Slater, DSO took the beach area and town, with casualties, their opponents being German parachutists. Captain J. Tonkin’s S.R.S. section was surrounded and captured in the town, he later escaped.”

See also Wikipedia’s entry on “Operation Devon.”

The capture of Termoli was beneficial to I.S.9 escaper/evader rescue operations. By November 1, a base of the of I.S.9 called the “Boating Section” was established at the port of Termoli by Major J. F. Fillingham. It was from this base that boat retrievals of escapers were conducted along the Adriatic coast—working in concert with I.S.9 field units that guided the POWs from the interior to the coast. 

For more on this, see “I.S.9 History—Operations in Italy, Part 1.”

William McBeth, 1948

Niel Nye—A Clergyman’s Perspective

Niel Nye

Chaplain Niel Nye, Royal Air Force

Today is Easter Sunday, and I can’t think of a better day to add a post on Niel Nye, who was a chaplain in Camp 59, to this site.

On a deep, personal level, Niel felt Easter represented hope and renewal. As a Royal Air Force chaplain, it was that spirit that he sought to impart year-around to soldiers fighting in France and North Africa, and to the interned POWs of P.G. 59.

I’ve mentioned him on this site before.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from David Osborn, who wrote, “I was researching family history for a friend of mine (Christopher Nye) when I came across this page which amazingly contains a letter, handwritten by his father Niel Nye:

“Letter from P.G. 59 Chaplain ‘Niel’ Nye”

When David contacted me he had already shared the page with Chris, and he told me Chris “was absolutely delighted to read the letter, and he recognised his father’s handwriting instantly. He is extremely grateful to Ms. Stewart that she shared the letter with you—it is a priceless piece of his family history that he would otherwise never have known existed.”

David put me in touch with Chris, and Chris and I exchanged a number of emails:

“My dad was a remarkable man who had a remarkable war.” Chris wrote. “After he escaped from P.G. 59, he had an exciting four months travelling south to meet the American forces as they drove north. He had several near misses and I recall him telling me of his adventures when I was about six, sitting in a bath that became colder and colder (but I didn’t notice, as I was so wrapped up with his story!!). When he got back to the UK, his adventures continued: he was appointed chaplain to Bomber Command, then went across to Europe a few days after D-Day. He was one of the first British officers to relieve Belsen concentration camp and, after the German surrender, set up a leadership training college in Hamburg to help with the German reconstruction. When he finally returned to England, he was appointed as vicar in three different parishes (Clapham, Morden, and Maidstone), and then joined the Archbishop of Canterbury’s staff as diocesan missionary. He was finally appointed as Archdeacon of Maidstone. He retired in the 1980s and died in 2003. His obituary in the London Times covered half a page!

“I will look out his biography which is hand typed (so I can’t easily send it electronically) and will post you a paper copy, if you like. It’s not brilliantly written (to quote your docs, he was never that academic!!) but it covers the basics of an interesting life.”

I was thrilled to receive the manuscript in the mail about a week later. It’s a fascinating, candid, frequently intimate account of his experiences—spiced throughout with rich humor. From his first memories of childhood in Bromley (in Greater London, England) to a very active retirement after leaving his position as Archdeacon of Maidstone, I was captivated by the tale!

Today I’m sharing the several chapters that cover Niel’s wartime years.

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P.G. 59 on Track to Become a National Monument

P.G. 59, during my visit to the camp in November 2010

I received exciting news yesterday from my friend Anne Bewicke-Copley, a Trustee of the Monte San Martino Trust in London. Senator Francesco Verducci, who represents the Marche Region in the Italian Senate recently put forth legislation to designate the site of former P.G. 59 POW camp in Servigliano a National Monument.

On Friday, March 5, the Senate Chamber passed the bill unanimously at its first reading. It now goes to the Chamber of Deputies for consideration. If the bill passes the chamber, as expected, it will advance to President Sergio Mattarella to be signed into law.

The following news item, written by John Simkins, was posted yesterday on the Monte San Martino Trust website:

The Italian Senate, parliament’s upper house, voted unanimously on March 4th 2021 for the former prisoner of war camp at Servigliano in the Marche to be made a national monument. The bill now passes to the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house, where it is expected to be approved and passed into law once it is signed by President Matarella.

The initiative is an important step in securing the future of PG 59 Servigliano, with its long, and in many respects, tragic history of holding prisoners. During the First World War the captives were Austrians; in the next conflict the inmates were captured Allied servicemen and Jews. It then became a refugee centre and is now known as Parco della Pace.

The bill was presented by a Marche Senator, Francesco Verducci, and supported by Liliana Segre, a Senator for Life.

Senator Verducci said: “The former prison camp of Servigliano is a symbol… part of a memory map that links countless cities throughout Europe. A map that must be traced and preserved, to hand over the memory of what has been. Memory needs places to live. A society that loses its memory remains blind, without identity and without a future.”

He added that the law was linked to the cultural and political battle to strengthen the study of history in schools. 

Supporters of the former camp have worked hard over the years to raise interest in preserving it, starting with the renovation of the former railway station, which is now the home of the Casa della Memoria. Marco Rotoni, the mayor of Servigliano, said that the Casa della Memoria’s committee, supported by the province of Fermo, intended to restore the former camp’s infirmary, for which a project had been presented to the Ministry of Cultural Heritage. It was also planned to develop memory trails. “As a municipality we have already approved the allocation of some funds and we hope that, thanks to the help of both national and local institutions, all these works will be able to see the light in a short time,” said Mr Rotoni.

The former PoW camp, through which passed thousands of prisoners and which is one of the best known in Italy, is the base of an annual Freedom Trail organised by the WW2 Escape Lines Memorial Society and co-hosted by the Monte San Martino Trust. The Trust was founded by Keith Killby, who escaped from Servigliano and found refuge at the nearby village of Monte San Martino.

Watch Senator Verducci’s presentation of the bill to the Senate on YouTube. (To view closed captioning in English or another language, select your language preference under “auto-translate” in “settings.”)

The barracks, or “huts,” of P.G. 59, photographed by Tony Vacca during his visit to the camp in 1968


Interior view of the wall photographed by Tony Vacca in 1968


To see other photos of the Camp 59 taken by Tony Vacca, see “Twenty-five Years After the Escape.”

Travis Fowler—Nearly Home

Travis Fowler’s grave marker in Worth County, Georgia

Travis Luther Fowler was born November 21, 1919, in the small town of Sylvester, Georgia.

His father, Jefferson Davis Fowler, was born the year the U.S. Civil War ended. He turned 54 in the year Travis was born. Travis’s mother, Charlotte Maude Mallard Fowler, was 17 years younger and J. D.’s second wife. Travis had 15 siblings—four sisters and 11 brothers (four of them half-siblings).

Like most boys, Travis was given a grammar school education, and then was expected to earn a living and help support his family. He worked at a local mill that produced textiles, likely woven from Georgian cotton. He married Eva Whittington Fowler.

Travis enlisted in—or was drafted into—the U.S. Army in May 1942 at the age of 22.

He was assigned to the First Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment (“Vanguards”). Travis would have little time for deployment preparation, as his battalion departed the New York Port of Embarkation on August 1, 1942, bound for southwest England. On October 22, it left England for the Operation Torch assault on North Africa.

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Shooting through—Stories of Campo 106 Escapees

cover of Shooting Through, by Katrina Kittel

Katrina Kittel’s book on the Campo 106 POWs’ escape stories

Shooting through: Campo 106 escaped POWs after the Italian Armistice, a remarkable book by Australian historian Katrina Kittel, was published late last year. I have been remiss in not obtaining a copy and giving it a mention here until now. It’s a first-class piece of scholarship and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Published by Echo Books, Shooting through is Katrina’s first book. It is available from a number of online sellers internationally, including Amazon.

Katrina Kittel lives in Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australia.

Since 2011, she has researched the wider cohort of some 2,000 Australian POWs in Italy during the war, while giving a refined focus to about 50 Australians who escaped from Vercelli camps on the Piedmont region of Northern Italy.

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Purchasing Casa Monti

an old italian brick house

Casa Monti

Ian McCathy of Casa della Memoria, the association dedicated to preservation of the history of P.G. 59, is spearheading a crowdfunding initative for community purchase of a historic building, Casa Monti, in Servigliano:

gofundme.com/f/acquisto-casa-monti

According to gofundme.com, “the big house is used by various community groups and currently to temporarily house young people in difficulty and migrants, and which also houses the Servigliano English Library. There is no set time frame for this project but we hope to achieve the goal within 1 year from August 2020. The aim is to preserve the social use of the property where other community projects can be developed.”

“The house was the original base of Casa della Memoria before we had the museum in the old station,” Ian wrote to me, “but it’s now used by other associations.”

For families of Allied POWs who were sheltered by courageous local Italians after the P.G. 59 breakout, this an excellent opportunity to show gratitude. I encourage you to support this worthy endeavor, and I will look forward to seeing many British and American names on the donor list in months to come!

Francis “Frank” Ironside—A Hunt for the Past

a young soldier

Francis “Frank” James Ironside

“I wonder if you can help me,” Mary Tretton wrote to me today. “My father died many years ago and never talked about his years in the war. We had no idea he had been a prisoner of war until just prior to our mother’s death.

“At the time you listen, but don’t ask questions—just so many now are running around in my head.

“The only clue I had was many years ago we were discussing places to go on holiday, and I suggested Tunisia. He said, ‘Why would you what to go there, the bowels of the earth.’

“I thought at the time it was a strange thing for Dad to say, but I never asked why.”

We know that Francis “Frank” James Ironside was interned in P.G. 59. He was recorded as such in the Alphabetical List compiled during the war.

Mary wrote, “As far as I know, Dad enlisted—or he might have been conscripted—in 1941 (not sure about the actual dates) and joined the Royal Artillery (RA) as a gunner in an anti-tank regiment. He was deployed into North Africa under Eisenhower as part of Operation TORCH on 10 November 1942, just two days after the invasion was launched.

“This fighting in the desert was brutal and as an anti-tank gunner he would have been in the thick of it on the forward edge of the front line. From what I now know, I’m not surprised he didn’t talk about it much!

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A Haven in Smerillo

an old Italian woman carries a bundle of sticks on her head

Letizia Galiè in Del Gobbo

This story has a remarkable heroine—Letizia Galiè in Del Gobbo, who lived during the war in the Marche comune of Smerillo, roughly 10 miles from Servigliano. Days after the prison camp breakout from P.G. 59, she was approached by two ragged, hungry American soldiers.

Widowed just seven years earlier, Letizia was left alone to provide for and raise six children. Yet she did not hesitate to welcome the escapees into her home.

Marco Ercoli shared the story of his grandmother’s courage and humanity with me.

He wrote, “My grandmother, Letizia Del Gobbo, hosted in Smerillo two American prisoners escaped from Camp 59 in Servigliano. She remembered just their names: Michele, whose his parents were Italian emigrants, and Beo.

“They arrived in Smerillo on September 1943 and remained there until June 1944, when the U.S. Army moved into the Marche region.

“The family Del Gobbo in 1943 was made up of my grandmother Letizia, widowed in 1936, and three sons—Antonio, Giacomo, and Giuseppe—and three daughters—Maria, Chiarina, and Palma (my mother). Antonio had lost a leg in 1940, when he was 17, and they were very poor.

“Yet they had the strength to host—at great risk—the two Americans.

“Only Antonio, 96 years old, lives still in Smerillo. The others have all died.

“Two years ago, Ian McCarthy [of La Casa della Memoria] gave him a filmed interview.” Also, Pasquale Ricci, an Italian with an interest in the escape stories, has written about the Del Gobbo family in his book 9 Settembre 1943: Lo Sbando e La Fuga.

“I am writing a short story about the experience,” Marco said. “When I finish it, I will send you an English version. And I’ll send you photos of Antonio (called Ntontò) and my grandmother Letizia (“nonna Litì”).

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