After escape from Camp 59 on September 14, 1943, Armie Hill and Ben Farley traveled south together and reached the British 8th Army, near Termoli, on October 15.
During this month-long journey the soldiers were assisted by a number of Italians.
In his two recorded accounts of the escape, Armie describes the help they received from the Bianchini family.
Two Bianchini addresses are recorded in his address book:
Porta Romana N18
Armie explained that the Bianchinis “…owned a place in the city, but this [the home in Roccafluvione] was out in the country—kind of like a hiding place or like a resort.” By contrast, Porta Romana is one of the six historical quarters of the city of Ascoli Piceno.
A woman who marries in Italy does not take her husband’s surname, but keeps her own family name. Therefore, Angelo Bianchini would likely have been Angela’s brother, cousin, or some other blood relative.
The addresses of two other Italian families are recorded in Armie’s address book.
I know nothing specific about Rocco DiPasquale in Roccamorice (Pescora), and Vincenzo DeThomasis in Abbateggio (Pescara). But their inclusion in the address book is evidence that they were helpful, and the addresses are a documentation of the route Armie and Ben traveled on their way south through Italy.
When my dad showed me these addresses years ago, I asked if he had written to the Italians after his return to the U.S. He said no, but he added that after the war people looked forward—and perhaps the Italians wouldn’t care to be contacted.
The Bianchini Family
Armie described the Bianchini family in detail in his 1976 account of the escape. After Armie and Ben walked through Roccafluvione and were threatened, they were befriended by a priest and a group of sympathetic locals, who saw to it that the two soldiers were protected:
“They told us to follow a boy, and the boy led us to a farm. At that farm we were kept for several days. We were told to climb a ladder into the hayloft. Then the ladder was removed and it was returned only when we were to climb down. The owners of the farm were an older couple. The boy that helped us lived there with them. Two young girls, their granddaughters, lived there also. Two years earlier the granddaughters had come from Canada to visit, but when Mussolini took control of the country he forbade anyone to enter or leave. These people were very kind. They fed us and saw to our every need.
“One day the boy told us he knew of a good place to swim. We went with him and swam naked. When we returned we found the woman crying. The Germans had been through taking men and she wondered what had happened to us.
“The Germans often came through towns and machine-gunned the streets and took by force as many men as they needed. They loaded them into trucks and took them away to work or to fight for them. We had seen them do this. At first there was crying, but when the firing began all grew perfectly still. Resistance meant death.
“The Germans were offering a 3,000 lire reward for aid in capturing an escaped prisoner—dead or alive. Immediate death was dealt to anyone who helped an escaped prisoner. We didn’t want to cause trouble for these people so we left as soon as we could. They all cried when we left. The older folks gave us 50 lire to take along, and the children gave us money, too—another 50 lire—when their grandparents weren’t around. They didn’t want the grandparents to know about it.”
Armie described the same rescue by the priest in Rochafluvione in his 1987 account of the escape:
“Children milled around us. We ran a block or so and left them behind, and then suddenly there was a priest standing right in the middle of the street. He opened his gown and he put his hands around us. He said a prayer. He talked to some of the Italians. One of the Italians could speak English, and he said that the priest wanted us to follow the children—they would lead us away and hide us.
“So we followed them and they took us up the side of a mountain. There was a nice house there and there were some people there. We were introduced us to them. They were very nice—an older grandfather and grandmother. Their daughter lived in Canada, and her children had come to Italy to visit their grandparents. Mussolini laid down a law that nobody could leave Italy. The children had to stay with their grandparents. Their mother was still in Canada.
“The grandfather got a long ladder and he told us to climb to a loft in the hay barn—which was about 20 feet high—and hide in the hay. Then he took the ladder down. The next day they put the ladder back and they gave us food. We were there for several days. They fed us, even though they didn’t have much to eat themselves. The man seemed like he was a richer Italian, and this was just his hidden camp. He owned a place in the city, but this was out in the country—kind of like a hiding place or like a resort.
“They were very good to us, and they wanted us to stay with them. They said they would let us know when the Americans were coming. We expected the Americans or British to come any minute, too. But then the old man bicycled to town—to the post office—and he came back very excited. He said there was a sign on the post office wall declaring that prisoners had escaped from the prisoner-of-war camp. A reward of 3,000 lire was offered to anyone who could capture or give information on the escaped prisoners—whether dead or alive.
“And he said the news was that anyone who helped the prisoners could be sentenced to death. He was pretty excited about that. Ben and I told them, ‘We don’t want to endanger your lives. You have been very kind to us. We’ll leave right away.’
“The old man said, ‘I’ll get a guide who can take you over the mountains.’
“Our guide was an Italian soldier who had either gone “over the hill,” or was just on furlough. We didn’t ask him which. He couldn’t speak much English, but he could speak a little. If we would follow him, he said, he would take us away from the village and farther from the prisoner-of-war camp. We knew that they would be searching for us close to the camp. The farther we could get away the safer we would be.
“The Italian, his wife, and the grandchildren all hated to see us go. Even the children were saying ‘Stada qua! Stada qua!’ which in Italian means, ‘Stay here. Stay here.’ They wanted us to stay, but we didn’t know when the Americans would be coming. The grandparents gave us 50 lire of Italian money. And a little later the grandchildren, who had their own savings, also gave us 50 lire. They didn’t even tell their grandparents about it. They just gave it—that was really nice of them.
“We said goodbye and thanked them as best we could. I had quite a bit of French money and American money. I may have given them some of it—I think I did—and then we left there.”
According records Armie kept in his notebook, he and Ben stayed for three full days with the Bianchini family. They arrived on Friday, September 17 and left on Tuesday, September 21.