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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Seeking John Jarrett’s Italian Father

John Jarrett and siblings; John is on the right, with the crossover straps

Just last month, I posted an unusual story of a South African family who is seeking information about their Italian grandfather, who was a POW working at a local farm when he met their grandmother, Katarina Koopman. See “Searching for Italian POW Guerrino Bari.”

I was surprised to hear so soon afterward from Nicola Jarrett, who is also trying to learn about an Italian grandfather who was a POW during the war.

“My dad is the son of an Italian POW,” Nicola wrote. “It wasn’t until recently I realised that some POWs moved through camps. The camp where my grandma met the man in question was Normanhurst Court Camp 145, in East Sussex, UK. It was a mixed camp of Germans and Italians.

“As far as we know, he was either working on a farm in Robertsbridge, East Sussex, called Walter’s Farm Poppinghole Lane, or one close by. My aunt, now passed, could remember my grandma waiting in a field [for him] at the end of the lane.

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Salvatore Mirabello—In His Own Words

two cards with Italian addresses

The family of Nazareno Marani assisted Salvatore Mirabello and the men with whom he escaped from P.G. 59.
Pietro Marani was Nazareno’s father.


Nazareno Marani
Frazne [Frazione] Molino
Monte S. Martino
Pcia [Provincia] Macerata
Italia

Pietro Marani
Via Lama
Grottammare
Ascoli Piceno
Italy

“My grandfather, Salvatore Mirabello, was an American POW at Camp 59 from approximately January through September of 1943,” says Nikki Morello.

“We have some exciting pieces of history we’ve saved from his experiences, including his biography—spoken by him and handwritten by my grandmother.

“I’d be happy to share any information to continue the understanding and preservation of this piece of history. I am also struggling to find details on the family who kept him safe while he lived in Italy from September 1943 through the spring of 1944. I have been scouring the Internet and Ancestry.com but with misspellings and no living memories—my grandfather passed several years ago—I’m coming up blank. I would greatly appreciate any recommendations or assistance.”

I wrote to Nikki, “I take it your grandfather is the “Sam” Mirabello referred to in ‘Simmons’ Address Book—the Americans‘ and ‘A Southward Migration.'”

She replied, “‘Sam’ is most definitely him. I’m guessing he identified himself by saying he was Salvatore ‘Sam’ Mirabello and became ‘SS’—we’ve seen it on quite a few things throughout the years. His actual name was Salvatore Vittario Mirabello.’

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Searching for Italian POW Guerrino Bari

Left—Guerrino Bari’s son Thomas Fortuin at age nine or ten. Sandra says, “This is the only photo that we have from his childhood.” Right—Thomas on his wedding day.

Earlier this spring, Sandra Hoffman asked me for help in locating her grandfather’s family in Italy. 

“We are from Franschhoek in South Africa,” Sandra wrote. “My grandfather (my father’s father) was/is Guerrino Bari. He was a Prisoner of War in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

“We know for a fact that he left the country after the war, and my grandmother had no communication with him after that. We are hoping for an image of our grandfather and maybe contact with surviving family members.”

I asked Sandra for more detail.

She continued, “I am a South African citizen, as was my grandmother. Guerrino Bari was one of the big group of prisoners that was sent to South Africa during WW2. He was sent to the town of Stellenbosch to work on a farm. It is in the Wine Country, and the Italian POWs used their knowledge and skills to build cellars and houses on the farms. 

“My grandmother lived/worked on the Koopmanskloof farm. 

“My father never knew his father. Grandma said that my grandfather took a photograph of his son before the group of Italian POWs were sent back to Italy. Grandma put my father up for adoption, and the new family changed his name and surname. We will never know if his father enquired or searched for him, due to the adoption.

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Oscar Ruebens and John Withers—Escape Reports

At left, Oscar with wife Virginia E. Howell; at right, Oscar in 1940

Sergeants Oscar Ruebens and John Withers served in the same unit of the U.S. Army’s First Division in North Africa. In December 1942, they were captured together at Long Stop Hill. Both men were sent to P.G. 98 on Sicily and then transferred to P.G 59 Servigliano.

The friends left Camp 59 together during the mass breakout on September 14, 1943, and they made their way to the Allied lines in less than two months.

I first posted about Oscar on this site in February of last year, “Oscar Ruebens—Snapshots from the Past.”

I have since been in touch with Oscar’s youngest daughter, Laura Turner, who kindly sent me snapshots, news clippings, and documents. I will share some of these in separate posts.

For this post, I am sharing Oscar and John’s repatriation reports.

Mentioned briefly in Oscar’s report is John Turner. I believe this is John Leon Turner (“John Leon Turner, Royal Canadian Air Force“).

The POW repatriation reports were prepared during WW2 by MIS-X Section, POW Branch of the U.S. War Department.

The reports are courtesy of the United States Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA), Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama.

Oscar C. Ruebens

EX-Report No. 65
16 Dec 43

Sgt. Oscar C. Ruebens, 12016749, Co. C, 18th Inf., 1st Div.
From – Camp 59, Servigliano, Italy

Missing in action – [not recorded]
Date of capture – 23 Dec 42
Reported P/W – 9 Jan 43
Escape – 14 Sep 43
Rejoined Allied forces – 11 Nov 43
At – South of Atessa, 78th Div.
Previous in interrogation – Br. I.O. Hq.; Am. I.O. at Bari; Am. I.O. at 23rd; Repl Bn., Algiers
Arrived in USA – 8 Dec 43, Newport News, Va.
Home address – R.D. #1, Shortsville, N. Y.
Age – 23
Length of service – 3 yrs., 2 mo.

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Monte San Martino Trust Celebrates 30 Years

Keith Killby in June 2012

The Monte San Martino Trust has celebrated its 30th anniversary this year.

Founded by Keith Killby in 1989, the Trust has provided hundreds of young Italians with English language study bursaries in England.

The educational bursaries are in recognition of the bravery and generosity of Italian families who assisted escaped Allied prisoners of war during the Second World War.

The Trust also keeps the escape stories alive through annual Freedom Trail Walks, a newsletter, and an online archive of stories. Most importantly, the organization serves as a rich British-Italian cultural bond.

At their annual Fontanellato Luncheon last month, the Trust celebrated its three-decade history with the release of a Monte San Martino Trust Thirtieth Anniversary Video, which is now accessible on YouTube.

The inspiring film features brief interviews with former POWs, Italians who provided them with protection, and students who have benefitted from the Trust’s educational bursaries.

The film was created by director Zak Jarvis, a Trust supporter and the great-grandson of Ernest Day, who was a prisoner of war Gavi.

Trust founder Keith Killby remained active in the Trust until his death last year at the age of 102.

For more information, visit the Monte San Martino Trust website.

Ronald McCurdy—Escaped to Switzerland

This photo of British gunner Ronald McCurdy (left) and a fellow prisoner, who we believe is his friend Percy, was sent in a letter from P.G. 59 to Ronald's parents.

An address on the back of the photo bears the numbers 14/48.

Occasionally, the return address on a postcard from P.G. 59 will include a hut number. In this case, I believe the numbers 14/48 refer to Hut 14, Section 48.

Another example of referring to huts and sections—and even bed numbers—is in “Douglas Allum’s Camp 59 Prisoner List.”

Ronald’s daughter, Rona Crane, explains, “My Father was born and brought up in North Wales. Chester is not far over the Wales/England border.

“My Grandparents moved to Chester just before the war due, I think, to my Grandfather’s work. They returned to North Wales after the war.

“I now live in South West Wales due to my Husband being originally from the area.”

Rona shared what she knows about Ronald’s POW experience:

“My Father escaped and got to Switzerland, where he was housed in a hotel and then sent home.

“When he escaped he went with a few others, but they were tracked by the Germans with dogs. He and his friend got away by getting into a river, and the others got split up and I think were either captured or shot.

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Following the Trail of Bernard Evans

Bernard Evens beside an ambulance he drove in North Africa

In the Alphabetical List of POWs in Italy published by the British during WW2, Lance Corporal C. Bernard Evans, T/115699, Royal Army Service Corps, is listed as having been interned in P.G. 53 Sforzacosta.

However a single card sent home from P.G. 59 is evidence he was also interned in Servigliano. A drawing on the card is dated 26 November 1942.

“We don’t have any letters that my grandad wrote home—just the postcard,” Bernard’s granddaughter Clare Mason, of Staffordshire, England, wrote to me.

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Capture and Escape of Carl Valentine

The following POW repatriation report was prepared by MIS-X Section, POW Branch, of the U.S. War Department.

The report is courtesy of the United States Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA), Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama.

Technical Sergeant Carl L. Valentine

EX Report No. 55
10 December 43

Escape by Technical Sergeant Carl L. Valentine, 14052008, AC, 376th Bomb Group, 514th Bomb Squadron from Camp 59, Servigliano, Italy

Missing in action – 16 July 43
Date of capture – 16 July 43
Reported P/W – 24 August 43
Escape – 14 September 43
Rejoined Allied forces – 20 October 43 at Marrone
Previous in interrogation- British I.O. Casacalenda; Am. I.O. 12th Air Force Headquarters, Tunis
Arrived in USA – 14 November 43, Newport News, Virginia
Home address – 720 Dehli Street, Bossier City, Louisiana
Age – 21
Length of service – 2 years, 9 months

EX Report

Technical Sergeant Carl L. Valentine – Radio Operator, B-24

On 16 July 1943, Sergeant Valentine left his base at Benghazi as radio operator of a B-24 of the 376th Bomb Group, 514th Bomb Squadron. The mission was bombing an airfield near Bari. The other members of the crew and the information concerning them are:

Pilot – 1st Lieutenant Samuel D. Rose – P/W Stalag Luft 3, Germany

Co-pilot – 2nd Lieutenant Ralph O. Grace – P/W Stalag Luft 3, Germany

Navigator – 2nd Lieutenant Millard John Kesler – P/W Stalag Luft 3

Bombardier – 1st Lieutenant Charles H. Madgley – believed to be a P/W

Engineer – Technical Sergeant William S. Nelson – P/W Italy, unstated

Assistant Engineer – staff sergeant Joseph E. Maleski – escaped but recaptured

Right Waist Gunner – Captain Nicholas Cladakis – believed KIA

Left Waist Gunner – Technical Sergeant Clarence H. Guyder – P/W Italy, unstated

Turret Gunner – Technical Sergeant Jackson M. Hughins – P/W Stalag 8B

As the plane was 20 minutes off the target, flying at 22,000 feet, and, with one engine not functioning, it was attacked by ME-109’s. The bomb run was made and the aircraft was hit heavily by ack-ack and was being followed by pursuit ships which knocked the other engine out and set the wing on fire. One of the pursuit ships also hit the left stabilizer. The signal was given for the crew to bail out. Sergeant Valentine’s foot was caught in the tail turret and Lieutenant Rose, who had set the controls to keep the ship from spinning, assisted him in bailing out.

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