Robert Dickinson kept a diary from November 23, 1941 to September 3, 1944—from the date of his capture by the Germans until six months before his death.
Robert titled his diary “Servigliano Calling.”
The diary chronicles Robert’s transfer from camp to camp, his escape, and his involvement with the Partisan resistance movement. In the diary, Robert details day to day activities and events at the Servigliano camp, including football matches, camp cooking recipes, mail and food parcels received, special holiday activities, and escape attempts. “Servigliano Calling” also includes drawings and poetry created by fellow prisoners.
Some time after the war, the diary was discovered during renovations to a farmhouse in Gassino, Italy—a house where the Partisans had hidden Robert—and it was returned to Robert’s family.
Parts of “Servigliano Calling” are shared here by Robert’s nephew, Steve Dickinson, who transcribed the calendar. The binding of the diary cover (shown above) is made from Cocoa tins. According to Steve, “Even to this day the diary has a slight aroma of Cocoa.”
The page shown below is the diary’s title page.
This is a record of the main events which took place after my capture by the Germans near Gambut Aerodrome on Nov. 23rd 1941.
Captured by the Germans at 8:30 in the evening near Gambut Aerodrome about 12 miles south of Tobruk.
Handed over to the Italians and joined up with approx 2,000 other prisoners, then transported to the ‘Pen’ a barbed wire enclosure about 50 miles from Tobruk, being bombed and shelled by our own forces on the way.
Arrived Derna at 6 O’clock in the evening, still sleeping in the open without ground-sheet or blankets, rain and very cold.
Arrived Benghazi prison camp at 5:30 in the evening feeling hellish hungry
Letter card home and Red Cross
Birthday, ½ mess tin of watery macaroni, ¼ tin of Bully (Iti) and 1½ rolls of bread
Boarded a destroyer along with 100 officers and 150 men, split up from Pollard and most of the ‘Boys’, only 4 of us together now. Hellish night, believed to be chased by the ‘Navy’, everyone seasick.
Arrived Tripoli at 5 O’clock in the evening and taken in lorries to Tarhuna about 50 miles, arriving at midnight.
Met 4 of the guys from the Battery and found they were captured 2 days before I.
Hair cut right off!! and a shower bath, also blankets issued. Firsts nights sleep with any covering for a fortnight, but on a tiled floor no ground-sheet or mattress.
Christmas Day, food just the same, bar for a lemon. Luckily I exchanged my cheap wallet for 20 cigs. Or else the boys and I would not have had a smoke.
Forty of us taken to Castel Benito aerodrome and by plane at 2 O’clock in the afternoon and arrived at Trapani in Sicily at 5pm; from there taken to a new camp being erected; and found only one tent with 116 POW’s already in.
Finished erecting the second tent and half of us move in, league of nations tent personel consists of Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, 1 Indian (Sikh), 3 Polish, 2 Greeks, 2 Libyans and of course English; in all 72. Everyone talks in their own languages or dialects. What a row!!
Still helping to erect the camp, work all day and one gets 10 cigs
(½ Lira); if no work no cigs! I generally work although water and sludge over one’s boots. Always raining; myself always wet and cold; and with sleeping in loose straw and having no water to wash with, all of us lousy.
Iti’s roused us out at 2:30am, issued biscuits and Bully. Believed to be going to Italy. False alarm.
At last leaving this horrible place, feeling very ill, cold and stomach trouble. Left camp at 2am and arrived at Messina at midnight, travelled by trains; stayed the night in an Air Raid shelter.
Left Messina at 9am and boarded a ferry boat arriving at Villa S Giovanni; a little while later being only a few miles across. 10:30 left for Naples
Still on the train, always stopping and shunting, passed mount Vesuvius and changed trains at Rome; feeling hellish hungry.
Arrived at this camp Servigliano at 6pm. Well up in the mountains, beautiful mountainous scenery for anyone interested in such; as for myself far to hungry. 2 rolls of bread and a spoonful of jam.
Hot shower, actually the first was in 24 days, and sheets!!!!!! Food a little better but not enough.
After an extra bad night reported sick with acute diarrhoea, given 11 pills of 4 different kinds.
Feeling worse, sick again; after a quick inspection found to be seriously run down and ordered a 7 day course of egg injections. I wonder if the Orderly has ever darned a sock, terribly clumsy. English Orderly, Italian Doctor.
First Red Cross Parcel, just in time; half starved and so thin all of my ribs stick out, most of the other chaps the same.
Last of the injections, can hardly sit down, am full of eggs and holes; also last of the parcel. First pay day since being a prisoner, 13½ Lira, bought a pen and ink also my first matches and cig. Paper.
Pay 10 Lira, bought 5 packets of notepaper and envelopes for this book costing 9 Lira, 2 boxes of matches.
Still no parcels in; feeling rotten always hungry. Pay day, bought jam and cheese.
First concert given by 59’ers, a jolly good show considering no music or extra clothes.
Still reporting sick with diarrhoea, put on diet rice, just! “kill or cure”. Rice boiled in water and water drained off, deadly stuff.
News of drastic cut in rations.
Rations cut by more than half!!
At last food 1/3 of a Canadian Food Parcel, big mistake only 600 arrive for 2,000 men.
Second concert given by the 59’ers, two Plays. “The Monkey’s Paw” and 2 acts from the “Merchant of Venice”, very good. Parcel finished, not so good.
Taken off the diet, thank goodness; not enough food to give me diarrhoea; actually feeling better, but oh! so hungry.
Third concert, a variety show; helps to break the monotony of this hellish place.
Two Red Cross officials visit this camp, the first time anyone of this type has been near the place, thought we were having a parcel weekly. Saw we were all half starved and said that they would get food sent in bulk, also washing arrangements, at present 1 tap per hut (144 men).
Clothes from Red Cross , not enough to go around, luckily in the draw received a white towel, wish it had been a loaf of bread. Sleeping very badly, wake up regularly with pains in the stomache.
At last the long awaited mail!!! Every one about has had it for weeks. 4 letters, 1 from Ida, 2 from home and one from Olive.
Pay day, want more paper for this book; none in the canteen; or else the Iti’s refuse to sell it now they have cheap note books.
Real ‘April Fools Day’ First football match 20 min. each way, only the Cooks any good, the rest too weak.
Shower, my 3rd one.
Good Friday, and a jolly good one too, received half an ‘English Food Parcel’, feel a bit better in the stomach.
Two letters from Ida; finished parcel.
Sports Day! Doc. Cut out all events over the 220, ran or rather walked in the ‘egg and spoon race’, football now 10 min. each way. Bugs!!!, bitten by bugs every night. Just got rid of lice now all the beds are full of bugs. What a life!
Letter from home, still very hungry. Started having ‘black outs’.
Letter from Ida, everyone nasty tempered and rumours of food parcels; wish they would hurry up! People always boasting of what they ate in civilian life, impossible amounts. Am still ‘mucking in’ with Dennis although nothing to muck in with a good chap.
Clean sheets and a pair of socks, why isn’t it food. I never imagined anyone could exist (I must not say live) on ¼ pint of coffee, 1 roll 7 oz , 1½ oz cheese and 1 scoop of macaroni, but now its proved; many men fainted while stood on check parade.
band instruments arrive, 4 Lira sopped out of everyone’s pay. Choir gave a concert.
Urgent telegram sent to Geneva, backed by the M.O.’s asking for food parcels, chaps getting too weak to walk about. Stay in bed until nearly dinner time and back again by six at night. Every time a person faints it is marked, when anyone reaches 10 they are kept in hospital, I believe that is the system. Thank god of a beautiful home to go back to and that mail has started.
Took my first Holy Communion since arriving in this camp.
Pay 9 Lira, bought bottle of ink (2½ days pay), also 50 Gold Flake! and news of a parcel within 2 days.
Food!!! An English food parcel all to myself, the second one in 5 months; according to Red Cross officials it should have been 20. Went to church.
Letter from Ida!, news very bad: Norman ill
Today being Sunday decided to have a decent meal for a change (Dennis and I). Went to bed directly after church and commenced with a roll of bread and a tin of bacon, followed by a Yorkshire Pudd. with strawberries in syrup that was supposed to be the finish; but our stomachs won and we finished off the remains of the 2 parcels in this order, every article being the last! Spooned the condensed milk then the jam followed by 15oz tin of Herrings in tomato sauce; rest of the margarine (spooned), Chicken and Ham Galantine; tin of baked Beans, feeling a little better but a few more tins would find a good home here.
Iti’s in uproar; kept on parade while huts searched, found a tunnel; but not the right one, suspect somebody of splitting to the Iti’s.
Big search again, this time found the right tunnel. A few more days and half the camp would have walked out. The Commandante complimented the men on the digging; the tunnel finished off by miners pit-props as well one could walk down it.
Up early and locked out of barrack rooms while all personal kit searched, all food taken also empty tins and cardboard boxes. Jail now full up. Reported sick with thumb; cut it last Sunday.
Cooks chucked out of the cook house by the Iti’s because of the tunnel (food & wood). New cooks rotten! boiled the macaroni until it was just like paste for wallpapering; loud cries of ‘Throw them out’ from all angles; starving as it is can’t afford to spoil what bit we do get.
Poltace on thumb; managed to get half of the old cooks back in the cook house; hellish hungry.
First letter sent by Ida also one from Jim. Doctor lanced my thumb; ticked off an Orderly for giving it the wrong treatment.
Padre sent to senior officers camp, ‘bugs’ getting to be a menace “Stand To” from 10pm to 2am regularly now. Wish I had a book to read.
Definite news of parcels in, Iti’s refuse to dish them out for fear of the chaps using the food to escape with; they want them all to go into the cook-house.
Portrait drawn by Sgt. Bist a London artist.
50 Gold Flake issued. Battle over food parcels still going on.
Agreement over parcels: to dish them out twice a week (1 between 2), all tins punctured, now that the hot weather is here food will go bad in punctured tins in a very short time.
Food Parcel!!! And news of more parcels being in the store, also letter from Ida.
Out of the gates for the first time, a walk in the country approx 4 miles, a marvellous feeling but now very tired! 75 guards for 140 of us. The third letter from Ida in the last 4 days.
A big day, up at 7am; handed in one blanket. 7:30 drew food parcel and a shower bath at 2pm, to perfect the day a letter from home. Made first Fig Pudding, ½ loaf (3½ oz), 3 figs and one spoonful of Golden Syrup, mixed up into a stiff paste and steamed in a 50 Gold Flake tin, really fine!
First games arrive in huts.
Denis lucky with parcels, 1 next of kin and 1 cig. parcel. Gave me 1 pair of Pyjamas, 1 face flannel, ¼ lb of chocolate and 40 Players. Roll on my parcels. Started playing Bridge, could do with some decent cards.
Sleeping every second night on the concrete floor because of the ‘Bugs’ taking up most of the bed. Helped Dennis to make a fire-place out of empty Red Cross food tins: Tools: broken pair of scissors, a nail and a heavy stone.
T.A.B inoculation. Sold 25 Gold Flake for 8 Lira, bought Cherries.
Still getting parcels weekly, bones still showing, especially thin in the face. Band gave an open air concert, very good.
Bought 2 bundles of firewood (11 Lira), a good letter from Ida.
Second inoculation, the after effect deadly.
A great day: at last received my next of kin!!!, just what I wanted. Bought 4½ lb of cooking onions, try to eat them like apples because of being so hungry. I fully realize now that I had never been hungry before becoming a Prisoner of War, when ever thinking it in civvy street, was just a farse. Mother told me so many a time.
First art lesson under Sgt. Bist.
My first game of football; pretty duff, chase after the ball and on reaching it just fall down having no strength to kick it, a draw 2 – 2.
Party of Aussies left the camp, 2 Tommies changed places with 2 Aussies and 1 was recognized at the station and sent back, kept on parade until 11pm while searching for the Aussie; no news of the second one.
Played football again for the section, got beat! Ron finished my slippers made from Iti Puttees and a Red Cross box cardboard.
New Padre arrives R.A.F.
Denis and I bought a Penguin book “Crump Folk going Home” costing 20 Lira. A good investment, have now access to practically all the books in the camp. Reading aloud at night because of the bugs not letting one sleep; starting at 10pm till midnight.
Being Sunday; dress parade all round; civilian shirts of all colours; hair greased and shoes polished. Boxing show, naturally the cooks put up the best show. The room ‘Book Reader’ put in jail for reading aloud and being out of bed at 11pm. Iti’s are scared that we are planning an escape. Always dropping in day or night. If out of bed at night in the ‘nick’ one goes; what a scramble sometimes, the signal is ‘red light’, hide all tools and look innocent.
First try out with new oven, huge success: inside measurements 9 inches long, 6 inches wide, 6 inches high. Sliding shelve, hinged door and 3 walls outside mud, then hot air cavity inside, takes 2 of us to carry it up to the brewing spot. Reading at night continues, new ‘reader’.
No food parcels! After a run of 2 months have run entirely out. Doing a lot of titles and sub titles for different chaps books similar to this.
Muster parade, deliberately blown up in the middle of the Church Service. Padre carries on but is stopped by the Iti’s, men all around the door held it fast, all sent to the ‘mush’. Padre confined to his room. Armed guard in for the night service.
Another tunnel suspected; turfed out with all kit and beds at 7am while Iti’s search, tapping floors, nothing found.
First big parcel, just right have got no cigs. 200 Players from Higgs, no senders name.
Food parcel, Canadian. Sent my watch to be cleaned.
Denis received his 2nd next of kin, shared his chocolate. Bugs very ferocious at night.
First letter from Mrs Topham. A new invention in the camp ‘a Blower’. Denis has got cracking and has made lots of improvements and now we have a blower. Affair of wheels and belts and a fan. Turn the wheel slow and get about 1000 revs a minute, guaranteed to burn charcoal (other peoples embers), socks and even sawdust.
Food parcel, 1 between 4!!! No more in store. News of big food shortage in Italy; from Iti Padre.
Denis received 3rd next of kin, also 2 book parcels.
Letter from Ida; with news of death of Grandma Hand on the 22nd of July. Also April letter with a photo in, still no food parcels.
Denis received cig. parcel: 100o dished out in a week, no luck.
One weeks supply of parcels in.
New Zealand food parcel.
Coloured photograph of Ida!!!! Stupendous, words aren’t written to describe it. Not very lucky with parcels; but one can not be lucky in everything.
Remittance of £25 home.
Escape!! 11 men escaped through a tunnel in No. 1 hut between the hours of midnight and 4:30am. Only 11 because 1, the ‘P.O.’ was stuck for 2½ hrs. The tunnel only being similar to a rabbits; about 50yds long and he a giant. 4 captured by 6am. Iti’s amazed, counted like sheep for the remainder of the day. Tunnel started through a concrete floor and came up under the parcel shed.
Turned out with all kit while rooms searched for tunnels; canteen closed: no parcels. 5 more prisoners caught leaving only 2.
Hair cut short by order of the Iti’s; new Padre arrived
Iti’s in a flat spin over the 2 P.O.W’s. Civilian shirts, pullovers and plain pyjamas, canvas shoes and boots taken by the Iti’s. I have said goodbye to them. Identification particulars taken.
Watch returned from repairs, costing 20 Lira. Food Parcels.
Back pay from Sicily, 22 Lira!!!
Escaped P.O.W. caught, leaving just 1.
Last of the P.O.W’s caught, 1 of the party died in the camp hospital.
Second next of kin, chocolate! Big swindle over pillows; supposed to have been filled with special grass; being so little in them most of us put extra straw in; have had to take it out and pillow weighed. If an ounce under weight must pay for a new lot; mine under weight.
All Bricklayers on parade; asked for 20 volunteers for work outside; promise of good food; had a job to get them; boo’d by the rest for volunteering to work for the Iti’s.
Bishop of Auckland visits camp.
Lecture on ‘mind and matter’ by Bishop Gerrard.
Bishop leaves the camp after confirming a couple of fellows.
Still being turfed out 2 or 3 times a week with all kit while huts searched for tunnels.
Photo taken; am pleased I don’t look so thin as I did.
Dennis’s Birthday; big scoff lasting 24hrs. Eat and then when feeling hungry eat again; what a change.
Reported sick with blood poison, hot poltace on the arm, plaster on the neck.
Builder’s repairs in barrack room; half the walls pulled down in search of wood for brewing. The brew must go through even without wood, someone has to fork out an old pair of socks or a shirt.
No food parcels in; just when it is getting cold Good news about the war; hurry up with the 2nd front this coming spring I hope.
Out for a walk the second time; about a mile each way; 100 guards for 200 P.O.W’s. Red Cross official visits camp, back issue of Iti cigs, 100; big school of cards.
Now have about 1,000 Ita ‘tabs’, still playing.
Have got the ‘blues’, spent all my money on wine; slightly under the weather, do hope my letter card was alright, anything to break the monotony.
P.O.W one year; altered quite a lot; but will be able to pick up once I get out of the bluepencil place (I hope). Food parcels 1 per 15 days. Deadly!
Christmas cable home.
Birthday; not so big as Denis’s because of parcels being fortnightly. Half mess tin of wine, 1 loaf, ½ jam pudding, ½ cake made with service biscuits and raisons. Covered with cream made from milk, butter and raspberry jam.
Photo pinned to letter, hope it arrives OK.
Bad feet! Chilblains or rather ‘frost’; lots of chaps the same.
Visit by High Official of the Vatican City; gift to the camp of 2 accordions.
Big parcel from home, 120 Players; 19 left after passing round. Now had 2 Kin and 2 Big.
Visit by Italian General, in Com. 9th Army.
Christmas Parcel! Very good, to last a fortnight the same as usual.
Big Day! 3rd next of kin! Won soap box in Christmas raffle and finished a perfect day with 2 letters, 1 from Ida, 1 from home.
Christmas here at last, up at 6:30am. Holy Communion 7am; tea 8am; tea and chocolate biscuits 10am. Steak and macaroni (parcel), 1 lb Christmas Pud with condensed milk on and tea at 12 noon. Bridge 1:30 to 4pm with tea and ¼ lb choc. 2 oranges and sweets, not forgetting lots of English tabs. Christmas cake with cream and tea 6:30pm. Played Monopoly and finished the night with a sing song. A very good day, but give me Lincoln on a ‘Good Friday’!
Coffee pots and mess tins collected and issued with earthenware bowls. Iti’s short of metal.
Concert and dance in No. 4 hut; a good show.
Christmas is finished, so is the food, roll on the 4th.
Invalid food parcel (1 between 4).
Dennis received next of kin, big scoff of chocolate!
News of movement to Camp 53.
After being up all night (no bedding) left 59 at 9am. Travelled in cattle trucks and reached 53 at 7:30pm. Grim!, beds 3 high, 500 in our room and no parcels in. Already 6,000 in camp and more to come!
Met 1; 237th chap. Lots of news
Food 1/7th of a Christmas parcel; food parcels expected at any time.
First jam. Letter from Ida!
Visit by official of the Vatican (same joker that visited 59) leaving gifts from the pope.
First food parcel in this camp, just in time everyone run down.
Big search by the Iti’s, rings, watches, lockets etc.. taken away, hid my watch successfully.
200 more POW’s arrive from 59 and 300 more expected.
Walk down to river, great!! Wrote letter to Ida! Sentry shot and killed a POW for having his foot over the inner trip wire 50 yds. away from the wall and that lined with soldiers. It happened about 5 pm.
Arts and Crafts exhibition; Dennis got a consolation prize for the ‘Blower’ 3 months old at that. I got a 3rd prize in the games for my pack of cards, 5 Lira.
First band concert in barrack room; jolly good show, Freddy Williams leader of the band. Been with all the leading bands, Henry Hall’s for a long time; Clarinet terrific!!!
American bulk food; after 1 week without any, lots of chaps dying.
During the night 2 POW’s escaped, both 59’ers, the first to escape from this camp. Shook them, now they shake us. Big check parades and searches; caught 20 miles away; 1 had escaped from 59 before and he was recognised and caught by the same Carabiniere as before.
Sheets taken away; a reprisal for not giving the Iti’s sheets; now two blankets bust.
Meningitis!!! threatening the camp 4 died in last 24hrs due to overcrowding; all windows to be open day and night; average 4 a week ‘pneumonia’ and ‘malnutrition’ M.O’s claim there are 3,000 too many in the camp, 8,000 and still they come. 1,100 sleeping and living in one room, all beds 3 high; deadly camp, roll on the boat.
Big parcel from the Regiment, 120 Players about time; have had lots given to me by the other chaps. Always getting, am never able to pay back, some chaps have had 30 cig. parcels.
4th next of kin. 5 ¾ lbs of chocolate!!!
Hot shower, 1st since July nearly 10 months, should get them weekly now, the camp will soon be finished; I hope! Men have been here nearly a year.
Big party of Medical Orderlies leave the camp for repatriation, also a few invalids. Received my first letter addressed to this camp 17th March.
New boots issued by the Red Cross size 9’s; was captured in size 10’s! but feet like everything else shrunk, I believe I could do with 8’s; my canvas shoes I wear tied up with string and paper in the toes.
Big party of volunteers leave for work with the civy’s. Just for extra food; Grim!!
3 red patches 4 ins. square put on clothes above the right knee and in the middle of the back jacket and coat already a piece cut out of the sleeve of the coat; blue!
Good Friday once again a lucky day, this time 500 Players from ‘Ida’ the best mail sender in the world’ am top mail receiver in our crowd because of Ida!!!
Holy Communion being Easter Sunday.
Apparently not getting enough volunteers for working party’s; now detailing men! I am detailed!!! And Denis not on the list; a split from the finest ‘mucker’ imaginable, not once a row in 15 months.
Over 2,000 men have left the cap over the past week; for working camps.
Up at 4am and after a big search; amounting; to tipping all ones kit into a big heap; and then telling one to move off before one has half a chance to straighten; anyway; got this passed and diary’s are poison to the Iti’s; Jail if caught. Finally left with half a parcel at 10am.
After 22hrs in train arrived at Boronzo; then split into 2 party’s of 50 men and marched 6 miles arriving at a farm house in the centre of a village (Casanova) about 11am. Given 2 sheets, 2 blankets a pillowcase and pillow; shown into a small room above a barn; full of double tier beds; small gangways having to walk down sideways although we are all thin; managed to get a top bed near a window.
The farmers come round; they are sure we are all volunteers and all farm workers; when asked for farm trade put down ‘horse driver’ tossing up between that and ‘Cowman’. Lots of bread for English soap.
Split up into 5 groups of 10, 4 groups going out to work, but not the group I am in; on double rations though and more besides; no parcels in.
Started work loading hay after walking 2 miles to the farm and 2 miles to the hay; finished 6pm. 1½ hrs. to walk back to farm! very tired, Mosquitoes everywhere owing to all the rice fields swamped with water. Women working in the water from 4am to 4pm!
Leave camp at 7am, work from 8am to 12:00 and 2pm to 6pm. Back to camp at 7:30pm. Blisters and a sprained wrist; but plenty of food. Farmer’s wife voluntary adding rice and beans to our rations (and of course cooking them) and 1 roll of bread; all farmers not getting bread.
Saturday finished work at 12:00; loaf from the farmer’s wife and 4 for a bar of soap! Went for a swim; really fine.
Made 2 cheese pies from the insides of 7 loaves and 10 days cheese issues for supper, for dinner 2 fried eggs 2 loaves.
Strike on different farms for better conditions; our farm to finish at 5pm. 1hr for dinner and dinner brought to us. On some farms because of no extra bread prisoners walk off the job and back to camp and the guard with fixed bayonet follows behind.
Feast day no work.
First parcel in this camp; Canadian untouched, no tins punctured. 50 cigs. Mosquitoes a menace biting all night long.
Saturday told to work 8 hrs., but after a morning of arguments about working in water (working in rice fields for first time) and working Saturday afternoons; walked of the job at 12 noon; the only farm to do it.
No work for the past week, apparently got the sack for being too British; not working till six and for walking of the job Saturday dinner time 5 out of 10 have got it; still getting double rations and my mucker ‘Peachy’ still working, what a joke a prisoner of war getting the sack.
At last a letter; from home, roll on 1 from Ida. 22 out of 55 have now got the sack. Still on working rations; actually have 4 loaves a day regularly. Grim here for walking; if not working! The yard about 22 ft. long by 10 ft. wide; can only get out once a week; am looking much better; bones practically all disappeared now, mosquitoes deadly!
2 days ‘Muck Leading’ on a different farm; have got my horse now.
6 letters; 3 being from Ida.
1 days work thrashing Oats; good news of a landing on Sicily. A terrific air raid in this area; about 10 or 15 miles; rice girls sleeping about 50 of them all scared. Hole in the ceiling (small) where rice girls pass through wine and fruit.
Big water fights ‘Eric’ big personality put in the water trough with 6 taps running; all clothes on of course; for telling us all too many times how ‘Bradman’ got his record score.
Mosquitoes a curse, no sleep until after 2am.
1 days work weeding. ‘The big noise of the village’ his garden; gaurds coming in for English haircuts, news still very good; should not be long now.
Big row; thrown water on one of the guards we don’t like.
Strike from work because of no pay and no canteen for 2 months; 1 thrown in the ‘mush’ nearly in myself; although 1 officer and 10 guards had to fetch Carabiniere in.
Work as normal Carabiniere searching for coffee, soap and too many cigs; as the men go to work big price from civvy’s for all three. News of Mussolini chucked out?
New POW arrived, originally a 59’er escaped from a nearby camp, sent here for his punishment, he’ll get it from mosquitoes bites, hellish hot day and night; deadly place. Now 2 sentry’s on at once.
Eric’s Birthday, made a big 3 tier cake containing 1½ lbs. of biscuits, 1 lb of ???? milk, 1 lb butter, 1lb jam and 3 packets of raisins; all this on or in! Wish Denis was here for this.
1 Canadian; ¼ invalid food parcel, news of leaving! All non workers and rebels!
Left Casanova walking 10 miles to Vercelli; 18 of us. Once again I loose my ‘mucker’; been with me actually since first captured; but not mucking in all the time.
Left Vercelli by train receiving 2 letter on the train. Travelled 25 miles approx and arrived at Chivasso about 11am.Walked 10 miles to Gassino, camp 112/IV both walks taking 4hrs.
New mucker ‘Eric’; Yorkshire, married, mad on cricket but a jolly good lad. Told this camp is a camp of correction. When threatened with the ‘mush’ it is ‘the house of confinement’ 120 in the camp, when work begins, will be navvying! No mosquitoes, but can’t sleep for toothache, what a life!
Shower baths in the camp, actually the best camp I have been in, no parcels or mail yet; or work!
40 men picked out for work, I am picked all manual workers, 7 other Brickies as well; working just outside the camp on a canal; the civvy’s have been on it 8 years already.
Strike from work, because the Iti’s want to put parcels in the cookhouse. Finally dished out 1 between 7, work continues.
First letters to this camp. 9, 6 from Ida.
First Book Parcel as a POW. 3 decent books.
Still working, bringing about a stone of apples back to the camp daily; (nicked of course).
Took a day off work pleading sick, but throwing the medicine out of the window ; news special: have already invaded the south.
Got the sack; then refused to give it me, because I was so pleased working with a lazy civvy so I refused to work.
Went sick with supposed strain in the back. 17 out of 40 workmen sick and 7 strains. Iti Doc. Saw through it and its work or 30 days in the ‘mush’. Extensive test finishing up by drawing a knife blade across my stomach and being laid on my back. I didn’t know when to say oooh or jump. Mail 12 letters, 8 from Ida.
Continued evening! Playing bridge and in comes the long awaited news Armistice! Spoilt a perfect 3 trump hand; but why worry. Hit my fist such a whopper up the wall; skin off the knuckles. No sleep.
Work as usual Officers orders. Why worry, took my pillowcase and brought back ½ stone of tomatoes. Arriving at work found the civilians not working, so returned at once. Serious news, Jerry at Genoa, expected at Torino (9 miles away) anytime, told to pack only necessary articles and be ready to escape; everyman for himself; 3 escaped before the word was given, brought back by Iti’s. Muster parades all night.
Iti’s packing kit and throwing rifles away, Jerry at Torino and all main points. 8pm gate open. Free man, but for how long? Walked in a party of 9; 5 miles, slept in a wood; rain!
6 O’clock in the morning; hearing shots Ron and I went to look where and what; joke only 200yds from the camp; crept up to 2 women and a girl and they brought us civvy clothes and took us home. Hell of a job passing fascists; my trousers being a foot short. In a big room and the people will feed us till the English arrive, a week like this and the boys will be here. Food: roast chicken, eggs, rice and grapes.
People scared stiff of Jerry, all ready to bolt if he comes to stay in village. 10pm, 50 yds. up the street to listen to the English news, deadly just taken Brindisi; American news announcer kept repeating “The axis is dead”. I hope so; came back 1am carrying our boots.
Jerry passing through this village in convoy all night. 3 English books from Torino; Bill the Conqueror the best by P.G Woodhouse.
5 POW’s caught in the church! Creeping out for a walk when dark for a few minutes.
Fascist shot and killed a civilian near by, can only talk in whispers because of lodger and of neighbours don’t know we are here.
Watching (through a crack in the door) Jerry take a search light away 50 yds. from this room.
After having numerous bunches of grapes a day in place of cigs, grapes now finished!
Getting fed up of this life; no room to turn round and no walk when the moon shines or it rains; sleeping on a feather bed on the floor (tiled); my bones ache.
Feast of ‘Amici Morti”, ½ bottle of wine and 3 cigs!!!
Heard big daylight raid on Torino, a leaflet dropped in the garden; at last lodger leaving, slept in room above us for 2 months but doesn’t know we are here; very cold!
Snowing hard for 8 hrs. roll on the boy’s; no walking deadly, sleeping rotton.
Moved into next room, half size 18ft by 9ft. now have a bed; sheets! And a wood stove. Can only have a fire for an hour or so a day because of the scarcity and dearness of wood; looking deadly.
Big night raid; 11 bombs dropped here (Gassino) 7 dead. Roll on the boy’s, have gone back to what I was soon after first captured, thin in face.
My 3rd Birthday as a prisoner, 10am bread and milk, dinner Tagliattelli; chicken and fried onions. Supper; Tagliattelli, fried cabbage, nuts, 8:30 special Custard Cream and biscuits, nuggat, bottle of wine, 3 cigs!!! Very cold staying in bed until 2pm, back again between 8 and 9, have got a rotten cold.
Biggest raid yet; 300 planes!!! Fiat works hit, also a school and hospital, local people took it bad. Gina at school not returning until 7:30pm.
Snow for the 2nd time; no walk deadly! Have nothing to pass the time and always cold, still getting 2 reading books a week, they last 1½ days, 5½ of hell.
My first hair cut for 15 weeks; cut by Gina
This seasons wine ready, have it with meals daily.
Have worn a track in the garden, it starts suddenly and finishes suddenly 75 paces long. Have now to wander about in the fruit trees, have no coat, very cold, my trousers behind out and one knee; have asked for a patch.
Bath and clean clothes; second shirt washed.
Christmas here once more, Ravioli (some meat balls) white bread!!! Broth; and fried cabbage; wine; sweets and smoked 5 cigs, having 25!!! Walnuts and Chestnuts for the past 4 months but not today.
Must never forget; how good this dear lady is; still feeling rotten; pills and honey!
4 months of this life; have never been out in the daylight. The Boys not at Rome yet, still hellish cold, freezing every night when we are out.
Shop apparently thinks they are eating too much bread, now having white bread, home made.
Fascists searching for conscripts, Gina’s cousin ran away.
Up at 8am all ready to bolt if the Fascists come searching here; roll on the Boys.
Killed the pig; liver for supper!!
Snowed for 2 days, 6 ins. deep; no going out grim; all one has to look forward to although it is freezing cold.
Ida’s Birthday; Oh for a letter.
In bed with Influenza; temperature. Brandy and pills; the lady worried, fire lit at night!
6 months here; feeling much better; looking like ‘death warmed up’ a little warmer inside, much warmer outside than in. Getting up at 9am P.T. for ½ hr. Can not get out in the sun; naturally can’t get well, would like to push off anywhere.
Walking for an hour at night, weather and moon permitting; tired out after 1hr. Sleeping a little better. No appetite.
Alter the clock. Now getting up at 10am and going to bed 10:30pm to midnight. P.T. twice a day 10am and 1pm. Walking after dark if weather permits.
Deadly! Grass too long for walking, leaving tracks. P.T. twice a day and running on the spot twice; bare feet on sacks; Our lady creeps in with the food bare footed. Neighbours still do not know we are here, although we see them daily, shutters only open about 6 inches, always half dark. Standing outside at midnight heard the ‘Nightingale’ singing.
Just received an Italian – English grammar book and 1 Italian grammar book; pretty hopeless trying to learn the language properly without an English – Italian book; but anything to pass the time.
Absolutely fed up with this life; packing up to clear off when Tina and Gina begged us to stop 2 more months; papers full of ‘second front’, but when will it start.
Hair cut! Our third in this house, started hay making; able to walk at night; had to stop running on the spot because of strain inside my knee.
Strawberries home grown delicious; served in wine not too keen! Also green peas fried in the pods! 5 months without fags.
First Cherries also home grown.
People came and took away the furniture from the room next door, held the door in case anybody tried to get in.
Asked permission to use an old jacket to mend my trousers, have now got 3 large blue patches; one on the seat covering the lot. Have already had to pull a pair of socks down, using the lot in darns.
Out in daytime for first time in 9 months; Iti’s searching houses for deserters, hid in the corn from 9am to 2pm with a blazing sun above, scorched. 2pm the lady brought us food and water and took us to a large cherry tree, had to jump into the corn twice because of people passing; back in the house at 11pm. Saw a big daylight raid. Good news! The English in Rome! Roll on the Boys.
The invasion is on; news of big landings in France!!
First pudding; made by Gina a red current pie.
The lady out, the first time since we came here; no walking at all the lady is scared somebody is watching. Lots of notices in papers about keeping POW’s or helping them, the penalty is death. News of new invention ‘Meteor of ??????’
Sunday once more, the lady thought someone would come and search the house, up at 4:30, crept out to the wheat patch. At 6.00am 2 men and 1 women start to cut the wheat. 9am rain, the lady got us back into the house, first creeping through oats and under grapes. Am now walking barefooted in the house to save noise and creeping on my toes.
Strike on at bif factory in Torino; have no kit, nothing to help pass the time away.
Jerry plane over the village distributing leaflets telling the people to go to work.
Toothache for the past week, still nothing to do.10 cigs just in time.
Searching all trains here, hear the young chaps running away; all ready to run.
Dominoes and Draughts, something to do at last. Diary and clothes wet through, been hid in the rain.
News of attempt on ‘Hitlers’ life, failed!!!
Group of Jerrys stationed near this village, 2 shot! big panic, everyone afraid. Left the house at 10:30pm with 6 eggs and a bottle of ‘vermouth’. Walked nearly a mile with the ‘boss’ and arranged to see him the following night same time. Till then not to sleep but get ready to run if we hear Jerry searching ; hid in the maize, couldn’t possibly sleep if wanted to do; bitter cold no overcoat.
8 O’clock still in the maize and a storm commencing, people hurrying home from work had to keep our heads down. One of the persons happened to be our good lady looking for us; 10 O’clock crept out soaked, just as if I had fallen into a river. Saw the ‘boss’ looking for us, still raining. Went back to the house, fresh slacks and vest and reay to run if necessary.
Out again, this time in a hide-out in an open fronted barn; a den made from bundles of wood, crept in 10:30pm; pitch black the hole covered with wood trapped, what a deadly feeling. 3 days and 4 nigts, not being big enough to stand, no opening, hell we can’t stand it no longer. Naturally no wash or even clothes off.
5am crept back to the house deadbeat. 9an civvys running through this yard, a search, we are running with them under the potatoes, this time back in the house at 1pm.
A curfew on at 9pm for the village. Grapes now ready. Our dear lady worn out with fear; we are off anywhere.
News of chance to join the rebels. Volunteered on the spot, car to pick us up.
Rebel ‘do’ washed-out, guarding too many roads to use a car.
Out in the maize to meet a ‘modern scarlet pimpernel’; spoke a little English, all fixed for the 17th. To meet us 5km from here with a car; then to Torino to change completely our clothes, after that who knows. To take no kit of any sort, having to leave this diary and photo’s, going to be buried in a tin box.
All ready for tomorrow; news of an invasion in the south of France. Will it spoil our show? My last entry no doubt.
Still waiting to go but the chance is poor, the foothills full of G.N.R & Jerry’s. News very good!
Made a pair of slippers out of cardboard and a pair of pants, the floor is too cold now for bare feet. Hurry up you English!
Electric Radio heard a news summary, very good, well into Belgium. ¾ hr later 9pm valve blew out, just our luck; now walking from 7am to 10 daily around the room.