John Leon Turner with the Partisans


This is a third article covering one of John Leon Turner’s service club visits—part of a national effort to promote sale of Canadian war bonds.

Read the first two news articles at “John Leon Turner, Royal Canadian Air Force.”

It would seem by references within this article that Leon’s presentation to the Waterloo (Southern Ontario) Kiwanis Club was in spring 1945.

Although the article reports Leon’s escape was from a German prison camp, he was in fact an escapee from Italian Camp 59.

Here is text of the article:

Prisoner of War Tells Club of His Life With Partisans

The Waterloo Kiwanis Club met on Tuesday evening with twenty-nine members on hand to listen to an address delivered by a repatriated Prisoner of War. As guests for the evening, Major Eric Thomas, having served overseas for four years with the Forestry Corps, attended the meeting with Rev. Sidney Wood, Flt. Lt. James Davidson, prisoner of war for eleven months was the guest of Henry Smith and Flt. Lieut. Sidney Mitchell came with his father. Rev. E. D. Mitchell. Flt. Lieut. Mitchell was a prisoner of war in Germany since last November, and has just returned home, as has Flt. Lieut. Davidson.

Mr. Jean Robert presented his report on Underprivileged Children. Mr. Bob Millinchamp reported that it had been decided to give out nasturtium seeds as a means of beautifying the town, but owing to the scarcity of the seeds, and the inclement weather this idea had to be abandoned for this season. However, next year, this scheme will be followed if at all possible.

Mr. Joe McDonald introduced the guest speaker, P/O J. L. Turner of Montreal, who enlisted in the Air Force in June 1940, going overseas in 1941, seeing action in practically all the fronts of warfare in Europe, being shot down over Italy and remaining a Prisoner of War for nineteen months. However, much happened from that date until his return to Canada in August 1944, which was to be his topic for the evening.

P/O/ Turner began by saying that he had had many memorable experiences in Italy, chiefly with his association with the Italian Partisans with whom he fought for several months as their leader. He escaped from the German Camp in September 1943 with several of his friends, and decided to make their way to the British lines, but in so doing, they ended up in the Italian Mountains, and were caught there by a furious snowstorm. His pals decided to return North to their former positions, but P/O/ Turner decided to keep on South to the British lines.

His praise for the Italian people was very high and said in all the nine months that he was forced to ask for food, he was only turned away three times, which shows their generosity in no uncertain manner. He made his temporary home in a small mountainous village for a while, until the Fascist rulers decided to call up all the lads for the army. The sixteen callable boys in this town went to P/O Turner for advice, which he gave. One way to keep out of the Fascist army and fight against their friends, which they were very much against, was to meet up with the Partisans, and make a mountain stand of it. This they decided to do, but the speaker was elected to go ahead of them and warn the partisans that they were desirous of fighting among them, and were not Fascist spies. He agreed to do this, and when they arrived at the camp, he was asked to accept the rank of Captaincy, which he did. He was now a full fledged leader of a group of Partisans.

Their two jobs were disrupting German and Fascist communications, which he said, we all understood, and the second was trying to keep the Italian Peasants from starving. These peasants, P/O Turner went on, are the poorest class of people he ever came across, living under a severe feudal system, owning nothing, and absolutely no chance of ever owning anything.

These peasants took great pleasure in regaining the stores, which the enemy had previously stolen from them. The partisans would wait until they knew that a granary, for instance, was practically full and ready for moving. Then, on a designated night, at an exact hour, all roads would be cut, all important Fascists would be visited, and the main body of people making the attack, would converge upon the town jail, where the booty was usually kept underground, crash in the doors, open the bins, and the peasants would scoop up the grain and hurry off home, and would very cleverly hide it from the prodding noses of the hated Fascists.

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