Long Gone—But Not Forgotten

Peonies in bloom at Rose Hill Cemetery—Bloomington, Indiana

Today is Memorial Day here in the United States, a national holiday for honoring those who lost their lives while serving in the Armed Forces.

On this day, families and others wishing to pay respects to the fallen soldiers visit their graves, sometimes bringing flowers. Originally known as Decoration Day, the time each year for “strewing the graves of Civil War soldiers—Union and Confederate” with flowers was effectively promoted by Mary Anne Williams after the U.S. Civil War. Eventually, the last Monday in May became a Federal holiday.

Each year at this time, I visit one of the oldest cemeteries in my community, Rose Hill Cemetery, where a profusion of peonies bloom just in time for the holiday. These perennials are most concentrated in the oldest part of the cemetery; the largest peony clusters are believed to be well over a century old.

There are many graves in Rose Hill of soldiers from both the First and Second World Wars, as well as those of men and women who served in more recent wars and conflicts. The surnames are very familiar to me, and I reminded that many people I know have had relatives who went to war.

On Camp 59 Survivors, this is an appropriate day to remember three Americans who escaped from P.G. 59 in September 1943, but who did not return home.

Each was killed by Germans or fascists while traveling through enemy-occupied Italy.

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Stephen Hargreaves—A Story and Two Postcards

The day after I posted “Stephen Hargreaves—A Soldier Comes to Light”), Steve’s daughter, Julie Barkway, wrote again:

“It is strange how little snippets of conversation keep coming back to us every now and again,” she said. “There was an anecdote that my father used to tell us that went along the lines of something like this:

“He was travelling along some heights in Tunisia with his troop, when they looked down on a very quiet village. My father and a driver took a jeep down to investigate while the rest gave cover from above. Finding the place deserted, both men were heading back to the jeep when a Stuka came diving out of the sky and dropped a bomb which landed between the two men. My father recalls the scream of the plane coming down and then this warm, floating experience, as he was thrown into the air. It seemed to last for an age.

“After a while, he opened his eyes, but said he couldn’t see anything in front of him at all nor could he hear a single sound. He got to his feet, checked himself over, and found no injuries at all. His only conclusion was that he was dead and having an afterlife experience. The driver who had been with him suddenly appeared in front of him like a ghostly white apparition. His mouth was moving like he was trying to say something but my father heard nothing but a ringing in his ears.

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Joe Mandese’s Longest Battle

Joe Mandese in Italy with four fellow P.G. 59 escapees: at rear, left to right, are Peter Calvagno, Edmond Petrelli, and Mandese; in front, left to right, are Tony Spicola and Phil Vacca

Last week Bobby Canon notified me that an article about his grandfather, P.G. 59 POW Joe Mandese, appeared recently in AL&T magazine, a publication of the U. S. Army’s Acquisition Support Center.

Read “The Longest Battle” online.

For the article, Bobby’s sister, Kelly Tisch, was interviewed by staff writer Cheryl Marino.

Kelly explained how her grandfather’s military service inspired her to pursue a civilian career in the Army. She shared how traumatic memories of war and imprisonment haunted Joe throughout his life. “For some people,” the article explains, “PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] symptoms may start later on, or they may come and go over time.” For Joe they were an ever-present burden.

Through her close relationship with her grandfather, Kelly saw first-hand the importance of the Army providing quality, accessible mental health resources to veterans.

“My grandfather [and his sacrifice] is a reminder that there is nothing more important than keeping our Soldiers equipped and safe,” Kelley said. “Professionally, I want to continue to learn from others and be a change agent in any way I can.”

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Stephen Hargreaves—A Soldier Comes to Light

Sjt. Stephen Hargreaves

Occasionally I come across the name of a soldier whom I know little about, other than that he had been interned in P.G. 59. Such was the case with Sjt. Stephen Hargreaves, whom I found on the Alphabetical List eight years ago.

Then, last week I heard from Julie Barkway (née Hargreaves).

Julie and her husband Peter had just returned from holiday in Italy. There they had visited the P.G. 59 memorial site where Julie’s father, Steve Hargreaves, has been interned.

“We were very unfortunate with the weather, which obscured the surrounding mountains. We didn’t have a tour and the museum was closed, so we just looked around ourselves and used what information Peter had found.

“I found it to be a very emotional day that really brought home to me what the soldiers must have gone through as young men. To be on the run at such a dangerous time in a strange country—and totally dependent on others for food and help—required bravery and courage. And, of course, a lot of luck.

“I am so grateful to those kind souls who helped them at great risk to themselves. They, too, showed enormous courage.

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The POW Camp Up the Road

Italian POWs and U.S. Army staff during construction of a POW chapel at the Camp Atterbury WWII internment camp. Photo—Indiana Historical Society

Thirty miles up the road from my home in Bloomington, Indiana, is a military base operated by the Indiana National Guard.

Constructed in 1941, Camp Atterbury originally spanned over 43,000 acres.

During World War II, troops from across the United States were sent to the camp for basic and advanced training before being sent to overseas battlefields. Four U.S. Army infantry divisions were located on the camp.

In the 1940s Camp Atterbury had the largest hospital in America, spanning 47 two-story buildings. As many as 85,000 wounded soldiers were treated there.

In a quieter 45-acre compound on the west side of the camp, Italian—and later German—prisoners of war were interned. In April 1943, the first prisoners to arrive were Italians captured in North Africa. Internment of Italian prisoners was relatively short, as they began leaving soon after Italy’s surrender in September 1943.

The story of the internment of Italians in southern Indiana, and the importance POWs as laborers on local farms, was told in a 2016 blog post by Annette Scherber for the Indiana History Blog (Indiana Historical Bureau of the Indiana State Library).

I’m pleased to share a link to: “Corn, Tomatoes, & POWs: Hoosier Agriculture During World War II.”

The Camp Atterbury compound held up to 3,000 POWs, making it similar in capacity to P.G. 59, which during the Second World War held as many as 2,000 Allied prisoners.

A note of explanation to those outside of Indiana: the term Hoosier is a nickname for a person who is a native of Indiana.

Four Months Until the Grand Event at P.G. 59

View from the hilltop comune of Santa Vittoria in Matenano, five miles from Servigliano

It seems that just yesterday I advised followers to “mark your calendar” for a September 2023 eightieth anniversary celebration of the Italian Armistice—and subsequent POW camp breakouts. (See “Mark Your Calendar for September 2023.”)

Amazingly, we are now four months away from this wonderful event, co-sponsored by UK-based Monte San Martino Trust and the Escape Lines Memorial Society (ELMS), in conjunction with Casa della Memoria in Servigliano. Details of the program are set and excitement is growing!

The September 7–10 program will be packed with activities that you can pick from, but there will be plenty of time for socializing and discovering local food and wine as well.

A Special Reason for Americans to Attend

In January 1941 the internment camp at Servigliano, which had been constructed as a First World War POW camp, reopened as P.G. 59. The first prisoners were Greeks; but soon the Greeks were transferred and the camp filled with Allied soldiers who had been captured in North Africa.

Records show that through the end of 1942 there were only a handful of Americans in the camp, but beginning in January 1943 there was a sudden influx of American captives.

By the end of August 1943, 236 of the 490 noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and 814 of the 949 enlisted men in the camp were American. (See the MSM Trust/Istituto Nazionale Ferruccio Parri website Allies in Italy for a month-by-month count.) By then most British and Commonwealth soldiers had been transferred to camps farther north, including work camps in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. So at the time of the September breakouts, P.G. 59 interns were overwhelmingly Americans.

Over the years many Americans have shared with me how a father, grandfather, or uncle had escaped from P.G. 59. Some of these contacts had visited Servigliano; a smaller number had connected with descendants of the Italians who protected their family member on the run.

Most have not made connections, but expressed a desire to one day visit Italy and see the camp. The trip, they tell me, is on their “bucket list.”

If this sounds familiar, I’d like to suggest this event could be the perfect time for your visit.

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More on Jack Bishop

Jack Bishop holding his memoirs, In Pursuit of Freedom

This week Anne Copley, who has been researching former POW Jack Bishop, visited Reading University, where the archive of the publishers Leo Cooper is held. The Cooper archive contains a file on the publication of Jack’s book In Pursuit of Freedom, including attendant publicity. The book was published in 1977.

Anne kindly shared several images of Jack for this post. “Jack was born 1910 in Bristol and enlisted in the Royal Navy when he was only 16,” she explained. “When he returned from a German prison camp he was demobbed, and for the rest of his working life he worked in the Granaries of the Bristol Port Authority.”

See also “More on the Escaped Prisoners at Fontanaluccia.”

Caption: Seaman Gunner Jack Bishop, who joined the Royal Navy in Bristol in 1927 aged 16, pictured with a friend Jan Pearce while serving with the submarine Perseus in Hong Kong in 1938.
Caption: This picture of Jack Bishop was taken by the Red Cross shortly before his abortive escape attempt from the castle Rezzanello. Jack sent it to his wife Irene and twin daughters who had moved out of Bristol to escape the bombing and were living with relatives in Camerton, near Bath.
Leo Cooper’s publicity photo of Jack Bishop

The Sunday Telegraph Covers the Returned Bible

The returned POW Bible story made headlines in both England and Northern Ireland. (See also “Bible Returned to Family after 70 Years.”)

A comfort in battle and prisoner camps, pocket Bible lands home after 70 years

John Bingham and Mary Blaxland
The Sunday Telegraph (London, England)
7 March 2015

Newspaper captions:
Clockwise from left: the Bible’s inscription alongside a picture of L/Cpl Albert Douglas and wife Ellen; the Italian Servigliano labour camp; Sapper George Alan Boanas; and Mr Douglas and his wife on their wedding day

IT WAS a special delivery more than 70 years in the making—from the battlefields of North Africa and a series of Prisoner of War camps to a village social club in Hampshire.

When Margaret Boanas handed over a small leather-bound wartime copy of the New Testament to Paddy Douglas last month, it marked the fulfillment of an undertaking linking both of their fathers since 1943.

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Bible Returned to Family after 70 Years

Richard Minshull, a member of the family of P.G. 59 internee Albert “Paddy” Douglas, sent me the Sunday Life (Belfast, Northern Ireland) article featured in this post.

Richard explained:

“The one strand/theme that appears to come through Albert’s story is his commitment to faith. During his period of time as a POW in Campo 59, he became friends with Sapper George Alan Boanas (1907665) and passed his Bible on to him.

“George looked after this Bible throughout the rest of his time as a POW and vowed to give it back. Later, George’s family pursued Albert’s family, and in 2015 they met up to hand back the Bible to Paddy. When they met, George’s family gave their story.”

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Albert Douglas—First Letter as a Prisoner

Albert and Ellen Woods (née McConnell) Douglas, wed in 1936

Here is a letter from Albert ”Paddy” Douglas to his wife Ellen—his first letter sent as a prisoner of war.

Albert’s first letter from POW camp

050993 L/Cpl. A. Douglas
Prisoner of War
14/4/41 [14 April 1941]

My Dearest Darling,

I am now a Prisoner of War. I was captured in Lybia [Libya] but I am keeping very well and am getting treated alright. These people are very good to us, and you have no need to worry about me. I am O.K. and I hope this war does not last much longer, so that we can be together again in a very short time.

Tell my father and mother I am doing fine.

If you have not had word from the War Office, get in touch with the International Red Cross London.

Your Loving Husband
L/Cpl. A. Douglas Prisoner of War

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