War Crimes—Sorting through the Accounts

British researcher Brian Sims recently sent me an interesting affidavit from the British National Archives (file WO 311/1336), “In the matter of German war crimes and in the matter of the death of ‘George Godfrey’ in Italy about March, 1944.”

About a week later, Anne Copley mentioned to me that in the commume of Montelparo a British escapee variously called George or David was shot while running from the Germans/Fascists.

I began to wonder if this George or David might be George Godfrey or another fellow named George mentioned in the affidavit, as Montalto delle Marche is very near to Montelparo and Montalto is where the war crimes mentioned in the affidavit occurred.

Here is the full text of the affidavit, given by Forrester Hart:

In the matter of German war crimes and in the matter of the death
of ‘George Godfrey’ in Italy about March, 1944.

I, Forrester HART, with permanent home address in Barnsley Road, Dodworth, New Barnsley, Yorkshire, make oath and say as follows:

During the War I served with the R.A.S.C. [Royal Army Service Corps] and was serving with that Unit, attached to the Royal Artillery (Medium), in North Africa. My rank was Acting Lance Corporal and my regimental number T/230944. On the 21st June, 1942, I was taken prisoner by the Germans on the fall of Tobruk.

At the back end of July or the beginning of August, 1942, I, along with the other prisoners, was taken to a transit camp at TARANTO, via Derna and Bengazzi. About a fortnight later I was transferred to No.65 Camp, near Barri, where I was detained approximately 10 or 11 months. In June, 1943, I was taken to MACERATA Camp. About this time the Italians Capitulated.

On my first attempt at escape from MACERATA Camp, I was captured by Germans outside the wire. The second attempt was made from a train leaving the Camp but I was picked up by the Germans in a day or two. I made a third attempt one night at 7.0pm when placed aboard a train, which I believe was bound for Germany. I managed to get the door open and jumped out and succeeded in getting away, accompanied by a ‘paratrooper’. I do not know his name but I think he told me he came from The Cottages, Glencraig, Scotland. We roamed around the country and joined up with a PARTISAN BAND, with whom were five British prisoners. I do not know their names and the only information I have is that one came from Wales; another from the Isle of Man, and there was also a big “JOCK” amongst them. Following several scraps with the enemy, the Germans surprised us one morning, several were killed and the others taken prisoner, but I got away on my own.

I subsequently made my way to MONTALTO, arriving there about the first week in December, 1943. I there met several British prisoners, same as myself, dodging about the place. I do not know there names as I was with some only a few hours and with others some days. I was living with the rebels and was in MONTALTO about the 30th March, 1943, when the German S.S. raided the village. I was hiding in an old chimney but was not discovered. Whilst looking through a slit in this chimney, a German Officer and 6 or 7 soldiers passed close by escorting an Italian Officer and a Greek girl. I knew the Italian Officer as he was in charge of the partisans and I believe he came from Ancona. I also knew the girl, as she had acted as interpreter. Whilst passing me, the German Officer said to the Italian Officer in Italian, “The red flag. You will be shot instantly”. I did not see the Italian Officer or the girl again.

I succeeded in reaching the mountain top above MONTALTO and could see the Germans in the village down below. Following the raid, I saw them line up 25 or 27 rebels on the mountain road, which runs below Montalto Church The rebels with rifles had to sling them across their backs; all had to place their hands on top of their heads; and 6 or 7 Germans, in charge of an Officer, machine gunned them from behind. After being shot, they were picked up and piled on a heap on the road side. I was less than 1/2 a mile away and could see everything plainly but could not identify any of the Germans taking part in the shooting of the rebels. I sat on the mountain top until the Jerries had left, then went down to the scene of the shooting. Stood looking at them was an old priest in tears. His name was Father Antonio. He told me to clear off as it was too dangerous. The dead rebels were all dressed in assorted civilian clothes, their bodies were piled up, one on top of the other, and covered with blood. I did have a look at them but not a close inspection as the priest told me not to interfere for my own safety. I did not recognise any of the men shot, but on account of their position I was unable to see all their faces. Apart from the priest, I knew two other Italians who would have witnessed the shooting as they were amongst the villagers, old people, etc., who were allowed their freedom in the village. One was named TALIMONTE GUISEPPE, of CHESABOLONGO, and the other was an Italian, who had spent some time in American and spoke English. I do not know his name but he was one who directed the rebel band. I stopped around the mountain and met an Italian, who was making carbon in the woods, He told me the names of some of the men shot. The names he gave me were definitely Italian. He stated that they had been buried at Montalto Church but some of them had been moved to their homes for burial.

I was later captured in the vicinity, following another battle, near a village of about 12 houses. I was taken with other two British soldiers – names unknown to me – to the German Headquarters at CAMERINA. I was interrogated by the O.C. [Officer Commanding] and another Officer. After interrogation, we were put into a yard for some food. In the yard were the Germans who were in the village of Montalto; those who took part in the shooting of the rebels; and the German officer and men, who had taken the Italian Officer and Greek girl away. I especially recognised the Germans, who had passed close to my hiding place with the Italian Officer and the Greek girl. I did not learn any of their names.

About 10 days following interrogation, I was, with others, being transported South. We pulled up one night at a stone building, where there were German wounded. I was placed in a room on the third story. Beside the German wounded, there were two other British prisoners. There were two German Guards. We prepared a blanket and whilst one of the guards was in the latrine, one of the British prisoners slung the blanket rope out of the window and I slid down. I do not know the names of the prisoners, who assisted me to escape. I was recaptured by the Germans a week or two later. I was taken to Aquila and from there north to a camp I don’t know. I escaped from this camp and came across an Italian, who gave me directions, writing the following places on the back of a photograph, which I gave him: Laterino; Sansepolaro; Pietio Longo; Cancelli and Camerina, and thence to our lines. I stayed with the rebels until I got through the lines between Arezzio and Montevechi.

I do not know any British prisoner named “GEORGE GODFREY” but whilst at MONTALTO, there was a British prisoner named ‘GEORGE’. He was one of the eldest stayers, well known and liked by the rebels, who called him “GEORGO”. He was a great friend of Father Antonio and was also known to Talimonte Guiseppe. He was about 5′ 2″ and had a split upper lip. I saw him in Montalto before the shooting of the rebels but did not see him afterward. I did not see him on the day of the shooting.

I do not know any of the names of the British prisoners I came in contact with during my roaming Italy following my escapes. I did hear that five British soldiers had been shot at various places, widely apart, but in no instance at MONTALTO. In neither instance did I witness the shooting and in only one case did I see the dead body, that of a South African soldier at Pontynamo, about 150 miles from Montalto. I saw his friend following liberation and he informed me that he had reported the facts in this instance to the Military Authorities.

(SGD) Forrester Hart

Taken before me:

(SGD) Fred Page
Justice of the Peace.

12th September, 1946.

Additional Information

Brian Sims provided this information on the War Crimes file:

“WO 311 is a War Crimes series of files, along with a few others, such as WO 309, WO 310 and, TS 26. Forrester had obviously made note in his Liberation or Escape Report of the killings. The reason George Godfrey’s name was in inverted commas was that JAG [Judge Advocate General] couldn’t positively identify any man with that exact name.

“Escaped POW had their names “Italianised”. That didn’t help when trying to identify a man who had been reported as missing.

“In recent years the series WO 361 has been opened. These are Searcher Party files that relate the efforts that went into locating missing Personnel.”

Regarding George Godfrey, an account in Italian on the Storia Marche 900 website suggests Godfrey was killed on March 29, 1944 in a partisan raid on Germans and fascist militiamen at Sarnano:

“Lì l’agguato era riuscito e aveva comportato l’uccisione di 8 fascisti e il ferimento di altri 12. Per errore rimasero uccisi anche due partigiani del “1° Maggio”: l’inglese George Godfrey e lo slavo Dusan Labovic. In realtà sul numero di fascisti morti durante lo scontro esistono differenti ricostruzioni: per alcuni si tratterebbe di una cifra decisamente maggiore che si aggirerebbe intorno ai 45 uomini.”

In translation:

“…There, the ambush had succeeded, resulting in the killing of 8 fascists and the wounding of 12 others. Killed by mistake were two partisans of the “First of May”: Englishman George Godfrey and Slav Dusan Labovic. In fact, concerning the number of fascists who died during the battle, there are different views: some claim a much higher figure of about 45 men.”

Therefore, it seems that the “George” mentioned in the affadavit is someone else.

Amelia Antodicola on “David”

In 2001, Italian researcher Filippo Ieranò interviewed Montelparo resident Amelia Antodicola. In the following passage from that interview, the British soldier who is killed sounds rather like the story of the lad killed near Montelparo, although in her account his name is David:

“Alcune case di contadini sono state date alle fiamme perché qualcuno aveva fatto la spia o i tedeschi avevano trovato qualcosa di compromettente, qualcosa che faceva capire che lì c’era nascosto un prigioniero. Ci fu pure il caso di un inglese, David, un intellettuale, che vidi fucilare fuori dal paese. Poveraccio. Tornavamo a casa per una strada di campagna, io e mia sorella, quando vedemmo questo David che correva, lo conoscevamo e lo salutammo: “Ciao David”. Lui, seppur di sfuggita, ci rispose. Poi, qualche minuto dopo aver superato la curva, sentimmo sparare una raffica di mitra, spaventate ci affrettammo verso casa, ma subito si diffuse la notizia che era stato ucciso David. Sapevamo che lui abitava da alcuni contadini in campagna; ci dissero che quando si sentì il rumore delle camionette tedesche, subito si diede alla fuga. La famiglia che lo ospitava era tutta preoccupata, ma David riuscì a fare parecchia strada e a non far capire dove era nascosto. Nel luogo dove venne colpito c’è ancora una croce di ferro che lo ricorda. Venne seppellito nel nostro cimitero, poi, dopo la guerra, i familiari fecero traslare la salma e la portarono in Inghilterra.”

In translation:

“Some farmers’ houses were torched because someone had ratted, or the Germans had found something compromising—something that made ​​it clear that they had hidden a prisoner. There was also the case of an Englishman named David, an intellectual, who I saw shot out in the country—poor fellow. My sister and I were returning home on country road, when we saw David running. As we knew him, we greeted him, “Hello David.” Even in passing, he answered. Then, a few minutes after he rounded the curve, we heard a burst of gunfire. Frightened, we hurried toward the house; soon news spread that David had been killed. We knew that he had lived by some farmers in the country; they told us that at the sound of German trucks, he immediately took flight. The family who had sheltered him was worried, but David had been able to put enough distance between himself and them. It was not clear where he had hidden. In the spot where he was killed there’s still an iron cross in his memory. He was buried in our cemetery and then, after the war, the family transported his body back to England.”

I am extremely grateful to Brian Sims and Anne Copley, as well as Filippo Ieranò, for their contributions to this post.

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