A Season for Visits

John Davison, his family, and new Italian friends explore the grounds of the old Cararola farm, where Norman Davison was at first assigned to work and where he later found shelter.

Steve Dickinson and Dennis Hill were among visitors to Camp 59, where Steve’s uncle Robert Dickinson and Dennis’ father Armie Hill were imprisoned. At center was the hole in the wall—since mortared shut—through which many prisoners escaped from the camp.

For three individuals who have an intimate family connection to the prisoner-of-war camp at Servigliano, this fall was a unique time for discovery.

John Davison this year made contact with descendants of Giovanni Bellazzi, the northern Italian farmer who sheltered his father, escaped prisoner G. Norman Davison. Giovanni and his friends helped to arrange for Norman’s safe passage to Switzerland.

Norman had been a prisoner at Camp 59 before he was transferred to camps farther north, where he was required to work on farms.

In early September, John and his family visited the town of Vigevano and experienced a thrilling welcome. (See posts In Their Fathers’ Footsteps, Part 1 and Part 2).

Then, at the end of September, Steve Dickinson and I were among visitors to Camp 59 in Servigliano, where Steve’s uncle Robert Dickinson and my father Armie Hill were interned.

Robert, like Norman Davison, was transferred from the camp before the massive escape occurred. All three men escaped from their respective camps in September 1943.

In time, Norman returned to England and Armie returned to America. Robert, tragically, was killed while fighting with the Partisans in March 1945—just three months before the end of the war.

My partner Mark and I spent two days in London before meeting Steve Dickinson at Stanstead London airport on September 25. Together we flew to Ancona, on the Adriatic coast of Italy, and drove inland to the comune of Montefalcone Appennino in the foothills of the Sibillini Mountains.

During our four days in the Marche region, we met incredible people. Chief among them were Anne Bewicke-Copley and David Runciman, who were our gracious hosts and tireless tour guides. Anne and I had written to each other for a year. She had aided in translation of documents, tutored me in Italian culture and geography, and had helped with a bit of investigative work “on location” in the villages around Camp 59.

Aat van Rijn of the Netherlands, now a resident of Montefalcone, was a part of our group. During our stay he prepared several gourmet meals—the memory of which we will all savor for months to come.

We met Marino Palmoni and his son Antonello. As a young boy, Marino discovered escaped prisoners hiding in the bushes near his home.

The Palmoni family protected the prisoners, who included Americans Luther Shields and Louis VanSlooten (See posts Marino Palmoni on the Sheltering of the POWs, Luther’s Reunion with the Palmoni Family, A Surprise Reunion, Luther’s Note of Thanks, and Luther Shield’s Story.)

Marino and Antonello brought us to the old Palmoni farmhouse and together we explored the wooded area on the heights above the home where escaped soldiers hid in caves.

We met Ian McCarthy—my contact at Camp 59 since December 2006—and camp historian Filippo Ieranò, who is the current president of Casa della Memoria, the Camp 59 memorial association.

I returned with photos, stories, and vivid impressions of the area, which I’ll share in individual posts here soon.