William Percy “Bob” Hill. Bob’s daughter-in-law Gillian feels this photo might have been taken while Bob was a prisoner.
Information for this post is from Gillian Hill, who lives in Beldon, Western Australia.
“My father-in-law was a POW in WW2. He was William Percy Hill, 1st Battalion, Rifle Brigade (Army No. 6917847), Gillian wrote. “He would have probably either gone by the name Bob, or Percy, rather than William.”
Bob was British. His address at wartime was 7 Emanual Road, Northwood, Middlesex UK.
He was captured in the North African Desert at Antelat, Libya, on January 23, 1942.
“Bob had a book on the Afrika Korps, “Gillian wrote. “He has handwritten notes throughout the book. He mentions he was attached to 7th Armoured Brigade as spotter for tanks in a bren gun carrier: ‘Last carrier left out of 44. Only 6 of us left.’
“He also mentions that he met Rommel in a field hospital.
“He was held in transit camp 66 in Italy and then moved to camp 65.
“His service record on June 2, 1942 indicates, “reported by POW; W.O. ref O.R. 53765 [probably War Office reference to Other Ranks 53765] lists Camp 65. His service record does not say that he was in any other camps.
“The next record has no date but says Bob reached Southern Italy and was in Allied hands July 14, 1944.
“We actually have the first two letters he sent home to his wife Pearl when he had reached Allied hands. One is dated the July 12, 1944 and the other a week later, on July 19, 1944, so we know the date he reached Allied hands is fairly accurate.
“What I will now relate is only 2nd and 3rd hand, as Bob would not talk about the war with me, and died shortly before Rodney (his youngest son) and I got married, 29 years ago.
“Bob actually escaped twice, but I am not sure which of the camps he was in the first time he escaped.
“Apparently Bob could speak some Italian, as he used to trade the boots and cigarettes Pearl sent him in his Red Cross parcels for Italian lessons from the guards. He was quite tanned from being in the desert.
“There was some construction work of some kind going on in the camp. He and a fellow prisoner (I do not know who) turned their jackets inside out and put them on. They both grabbed some tools and I think Bob put a coil of wire over his shoulder.
“They walked up to the guard at the gate, told him in Italian that there was something wrong over at the officers quarters and they were needed over there to fix it.
“The guard wanted to check with the officers quarters but Bob bluffed him, telling him he would get into trouble if they did not get over there quickly to fix the problem. So the guard let them go, and they walked out of the camp.
“They were both recaptured. I am not sure how long this took.
“When Bob escaped the 2nd time, he decided to go alone as this would mean more chance of him actually getting away and not being recaptured.
“He made some sort of knife out of a jam tin, and had himself sewn into a rubbish sack. The rubbish dump was just outside the camp, but close enough that he would be seen by the lights.
“He survived the prodding of the bayonets on the truck, and was dumped with the other rubbish on the dump.
“Bob lay in the sack until dusk and cut himself out of the sack with the knife he had made. We don’t know how long he was on the run, but we do know that he walked through a stream or river at some stage. We also know he was hunted with dogs, but don’t know if it was this time or the earlier time he escaped, or both. Up until the day he died he hated German Shepherd dogs.
“He got as far as Montelparo in the Le Marche region and couldn’t go any further. A family of farmers gave him shelter. He knocked on the door of the Antidicolo family house and explained who he was and asked could he have some food and water. He knew the head of the house would face consequences for sheltering him. The son of the family was a prisoner of war in England at the time and they knew he was being well looked after, so Giovanni told Bob that he could become his son and be Roberto Antidicolo.
“The husband and wife were Giovanni and Filomena Antidicolo. They had three daughters and a son.
“Filomena Antidicolo [or Antodicola], I believe outside a cave where Bob hid,” says Gillian.
“At one stage the Germans came to the town to search for escaped POWs. Bob went to the priest in the Church of San Michele, and asked if he would hide him. First he was hid in the crypt, but Bob felt that this wasn’t a good place to hide, so he asked the priest if there was anywhere else he could hide. The priest took him up to the bell tower and then brought the ladder down. Bob hid on the beam that held the bell.
“While he was in the bell tower the Germans came to the church and set up a machine gun post in the bell tower. This was just below him. The Germans did not find him.
“Some time later a spy sent a message to the escaped POWs in the area that on a beach on a certain night a submarine would pick them up and take them home. Bob thought this was a bit suspicious, so lagged behind everyone on that night. He saw all other others being captured again by Germans on the beach. We believe this was in March 1943.
“Shortly after this Bob left the area and joined up with Marshal Tito’s partisans.
“Bob’s Army Form B179D in his service record (the heading on the form is ‘For use in cases in which the disability is claimed to be due to exposure or other adverse conditions’) states ‘nerves and stomach trouble caused by lack of food and [being] constantly chased by enemy while trying to reach allied hands.'”
Under the “amplification of statements” area of the form, Bob stated:
“Taken prisoner January 24th 1942. Lack of Food and bad conditions caused me to have malaria and yellow Jaundice. On escaping I was in bad Health. I joined Italian and Yugoslavian partisans for 6 months. March 21st 43 my comrades got killed by German SS troops, after that lived in a cave on a river bed, not being able to move about through Feeling weak.”
Bob returned home to England safely. in 1958, Bob and Pearl emigrated to Australia.
Bob and Pearl Hill with their youngest son, Rodney, on the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, 1949.
Amelia and her two sisters, Berta and Maria, with Pearl Hill, 1949.
Ian McCarthy of Casa della Memoria in Servigliano, Italy, was included in an exchange of e-mails that became a several-party dialogue with Gillian. Ian suggested the story of Bob’s refuge in the Montelparo church was the same as one described in Filippo Ieranò’s interview with Amelia Antodicola in Antigone nella Valle del Tenna (published by the Marche Regional Council in 2002).
The account also matches an incident described on this website, entitled “A Hiding Place.”
Ian graciously translated Amelia Antodicola story from Italian for Gillian. Here is the account in English, followed by the original in Italian:
‘He Hid in the Bell Tower’
From the interview with Amelia Antodicola
Montelparo, July 2001
I was about 22 years old when news came of the armistice. Everyone greeted it with enthusiasm saying: “The War is over! The War is over!”
A few old people who understood more than us youngsters, said: “Let’s hope this is not the beginning of the end.”
If I’m not mistaken it was a holiday, because in the village there’s a little church where we celebrate St. Mary precisely on that day. We went and everyone was talking about the armistice, and saying that the Americans had already landed. Many were happy but there were also some who were worried. However all were hopeful that the war would end. Instead Germans began to be seen around together with the fascists, and also partisans.
We knew that the partisans had made a group at Sarnano, and at Montelparo the fascists went around undisturbed. There was a certain Roscioli, their leader, and what he didn’t do only God knows.
When they opened the Servigliano Camp the prisoners came out: they were Americans, English, Slavs, Russians, a bit of everything. At first they went with a certain tranquility around the houses, many came also to Montelparo, few however in the village, many instead asked to be hidden in the country. We lived in the centre of the village and there too the people acted to help the prisoners. So Mum and Dad said that we could take one too. Thus it was that we met Robert.
Dad came home bringing along this young man, who was always polite and well-behaved. We put him in a small room upstairs and he ate with us. He didn’t speak much Italian but we could see immediately that he was an educated person. He was a good-looking young man, tall, of the English type. We were five children plus Mum and Dad. Elio, the eldest of us, had been taken prisoner in Sicily by the Americans.
The first day we gave him something to eat and then he washed and put on civilian clothes. Just like a normal person. We welcomed him as one of the family. He was very happy.
The first days, although with a certain prudence, he went out around the village and met his friends, but everything happened secretly because Germans were starting to be seen with the fascists and we risked reprisals. But the partisans, who had got organised in Sarnano, also met with the prisoners every so often.
Prisoners continued to arrive for several days, looking also in the village, but they were accompanied into the countryside by the farmers, so that they could keep them hidden. In the evenings in general they could move more safely and met in the village to talk with each other.
Robert stayed all the time at our house, and went out only when we knew there was no danger. Some farmer’s houses were set fire to because someone had been a spy or the Germans had found something compromising, something that enabled them to understand that a prisoner was hidden there.
There was also the case of an Englishman, David, an intellectual, who I saw being shot outside the village. Poor man. We were coming back home along a country road, my sister and I, when we saw this David running. We recognised him and greeted him: “Ciao David”.
He answered us, although only briefly.
Then, a few minutes after going round the bend, we heard a round of machine-gun fire. Terrified, we ran home, but immediately the news spread that David had been killed.
We knew that he lived with some farmers in the country; they told us that when he heard the noise of the German trucks, he immediately ran away. The family that looked after him was very worried, but David managed to get a long way away and no-one could understand where he was hidden. At the place where he was hit there is still an iron cross that commemorates him. He was buried in our cemetery, then, after the war, his family had the body exhumed and took it back to England.
On that day the Germans also searched the village, but Robert, fortunately, had time to hide.
Robert was married and had two children. He often told us about his family, his wife Pearl, saying that she was a good housewife, and loved her family. In the winter evenings, we sat around the fire and, just as we talked about our lives, he talked about his. As the weeks passed he had started to learn Italian; I, instead, was stupid not to agree when he said: “Amelia, I’ll teach you English.” I replied: “What need have I for English?!”
He was always well-behaved.
One terrible time a hundred or so Germans surrounded the village, because a rumour had spread that Montelparo had become a partisan stronghold. This wasn’t true, because the nearest to us, if I’m not mistaken, was in Sarnano. So, many of them came. We were warned by the sister of a big-time Fascist leader who lived further down: she called my father who was a blacksmith and, with the excuse of getting him to adjust the door, told him that the Germans were about to come.
Robert immediately fled and, passing by the priest’s house, hid in the bell tower. Everyone gave a hand to hide the prisoners, and the priest too, Don Giovanni Mecozzi, did his bit; he pretended to never know anything, poor man, and told him to be very careful because he was afraid that, if they’d found Robert, they would have burnt down the tower. On that day the Germans were nasty and looked around thoroughly, but without finding anything. Some stopped to admire the view of the valleys and the mountains from the square below the bell tower, while Robert looked down on them from above.
What saved us was the intervention of a man, a certain Vecchioli who was from Rome and had married a woman from Montelparo. As he spoke German, he began to talk to the commander and in the end managed to convince him that there were no partisans in Montelparo, that it was a tranquil village where there was no danger. So then they asked several families to take in 3 or 4 Germans each, to give them something to eat; so, while Robert was hidden at the top of the bell tower, four Germans came to our house to eat. In the afternoon, after drinking a bit, they started to sing happily in their language and everything went back to normal. When evening came they got back on the road.
I must say they were respectful in our house, even though we were very afraid. Certainly the Germans were better than the Fascists, arrogant and revengeful. Sometimes we heard the “repubblichini” [as the forces loyal to Mussolini were known] detain and beat young men who hadn’t reported for military service, while Robert at home trembled with rage.
Other times, if warned in time, Robert and the few prisoners who were in the village went into the country to hide, especially in a place called Lame, because it was full of caves and creeks covered in woodland. Then, if the danger continued, the same farmers took them food and gave them news.
The biggest danger came however from the Fascists, who were frightened by the American advance, and often used the Germans for personal revenge.
In the summer of ’44, when the German army began to retreat, we saw lines of vehicles travelling along the road and everyone feared the worst, but under the village the soldiers started to sing to let us know that they had no evil intent. They passed by and went away.
When the Americans arrived, all the prisoners came out to meet and celebrate in the village. I think that by radio they were invited to report to the various commands and each went his own way. Robert went away he had to report to Ascoli but he promised to return. When we said goodbye he was emotional, but he kept his word. In fact he was the only prisoner of Montelparo to come back after the war. He had started to write us letters, then one summer day in ‘47 he came with his wife and children. Together we went to see the places were he had hidden, and he pointed out to his wife the top of the tower where he had found shelter during the search by the Germans, and the caves in the country.
We remained in contact with him for many years, then the letters became less frequent and finally stopped, but a little while ago, through a grand-daughter who knows how to use the Internet, we managed to find out that he is dead and that his children live in Venezuela.
Much time has passed, how many risks! We were always afraid of being found out. Robert too was anxious about us, and feared for our family. When we went to bed we used to think: “Who knows if they’ll come looking tonight?” But we never thought of putting him out.
Mum used to say: “Poor boys, they can’t be blamed for this cursed, evil war!”
In those days, after the Liberation, partisan groups passed through to capture fascists who had collaborated with the Germans. One morning we heard loud calls: it was Mario Snoriguzzi. All terrified he told us that the partisans had looked for him at home and that he was escaping. Mario was a fascist, but not like Roscioli, he was one of the many, fascist but not fanatic. So Dad got him to hide in the wine cellar, under the house. After a while, the partisans arrived looking for him, and among them was a certain Angelici from Servigliano, whom my father had taught the blacksmith’s trade. They asked about Mario but Dad answered that there was no one there, and told them not to worry and to go away. So we found ourselves also protecting a fascist in the wine cellar with the partisans on the ground floor.
Much time has passed.
“Si Nascose sulla Torre Campanaria
Avevo circa 22 anni quando si sparse la notizia dell’armistizio. Tutti l’accolsero con entusiasmo dicendo:”La Guerra è finita! La guerra è finita!” Qualche anziano che capiva più di noi giovani, diceva: “Speriamo che questo non sia il principio della fine”.
Se non erro era un giorno di festa, perché in paese c’è una chiesetta dove si festeggiava S. Maria proprio quel giorno. Noi andammo e tutti parlavano dell’armistizio, che gli americani erano già sbarcati. Molti erano contenti ma c’erano pure alcuni preoccupati. Comunque tutti erano speranzosi che la guerra potesse finire. Invece cominciarono a circolare i tedeschi insieme ai fascisti, e anche i partigiani.
Si sapeva che i partigiani avevano fatto gruppo a Sarnano, e a Montelparo i fascisti giravano tranquilli. C’era un certo Roscioli, il loro capo, che quello che non ha fatto lo sa solo Iddio.
Quando si aprì il Campo di Servigliano uscirono i prigionieri: erano americani, inglesi, slavi, russi, un po’ di tutto. In un primo momento questi andarono con una certa tranquillità per le case, ne vennero in tanti anche a Montelparo, pochi però in paese, molti invece chiedevano asilo in campagna. Noi abitavamo nel centro del paese e anche lì la gente si mobilitò per soccorrere i prigionieri.
Allora babbo e mamma dissero che uno lo potevamo prendere anche noi. Fu così che conoscemmo Robert.
Babbo entrò in casa portandosi dietro questo ragazzo, che si dimostrò sempre gentile ed educato. Lo sistemammo in una cameretta di sopra e mangiava con noi. Parlava poco l’italiano ma si vide subito che era una persona educata. Era un bel ragazzo, alto, tipo inglese. Noi eravamo cinque figli più mamma e babbo. Elio, il maggiore di noi, era stato fatto prigioniero in Sicilia dagli americani.
Il primo giorno gli offrimmo da mangiare e poi si lavò ed indosso abiti civili. Come una persona normale. Lo accogliemmo come uno di famiglia. Lui era molto contento.
I primi giorni, seppur con una certa prudenza, usciva per il paese e si incontrava con i suoi amici, però tutto accadeva di nascosto perché cominciarono a vedersi i tedeschi con i fascisti e si rischiavano le rappre.
saglie. Ma anche i partigiani, che si erano organizzati a Sarnano, ogni tanto si incontravano con i prigionieri.
Per diversi giorni arrivavano prigionieri che cercavano anche in paese, però venivano accompagnati nelle campagne dai contadini, affinché li tenessero nascosti. La sera in genere si muovevano con maggiore sicurezza e si ritrovavano a ragionare tra loro.
Robert rimase sempre a casa nostra, e si allontanava solo quando si sapeva che non c’era pericolo. 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.
Quel giorno i tedeschi rastrellarono anche il paese, ma Robert, per fortuna, fece in tempo a nascondersi.
Robert era sposato ed aveva due figli. Ci parlava spesso della sua famiglia, della moglie Perla, diceva che era una brava donna di casa, amante della famiglia. Nelle sere d’inverno, ci mettevamo vicino al fuoco e, come noi raccontavamo le nostre, lui raccontava le sue. Col passare delle settimane aveva cominciato ad imparare l’italiano; io, invece, stupida a non dargli retta quando mi diceva: “Amelia, ti insegno io l’inglese”, gli rispondevo: “Che me ne faccio dell’inglese!” Era sempre educato.
Una volta, terribile, un centinaio di tedeschi circondò il paese, perché si era sparsa la voce che Montelparo era diventata una roccaforte dei partigiani. Non era vero, perché la più vicina a noi, se non sbaglio, era a Sarnano.
Così ne vennero in tanti. A noi ci avvisò la sorella di un gran fascistone che abitava più giù: chiamò mio padre che faceva il fabbro e, con la scusa di farsi aggiustare la porta, gli disse che i tedeschi stavano per venire.
Robert subito fuggì e, passando per la casa del parroco, si nascose sulla torre campanaria. Tutti davano una mano per nascondere i prigionieri, ed anche il parroco, don Giovanni Mecozzi, fece la sua parte; fingeva di non sapere mai niente, poveraccio, e si raccomandava di fare molta attenzione perché temeva che, se avessero scoperto Robert, avrebbero dato fuoco alla torre. I tedeschi quel giorno erano cattivi e cercavano decisi, ma senza trovare niente. Alcuni si soffermavano ad ammirare il panorama delle valli e delle montagne dalla piazza sotto al campanile, mentre Robert da lassù osservava. A salvarci fu l’intervento di un signore, un certo Vecchioli che era di Roma ed aveva sposato una donna di Montelparo, questi, conoscendo il tedesco, si mise a parlare con il comandante ed alla fine riuscì a convincerlo che a Montelparo non c’erano i partigiani, che era un paese tranquillo dove non c’era nessun pericolo. Allora venne chiesto a diverse famiglie di accogliere 3 o 4 tedeschi ognuna, per farli mangiare bene; così, mentre Robert stava nascosto in cima al campanile, a casa nostra vennero quattro tedeschi a mangiare. Nel pomeriggio, dopo aver bevuto un po’, si misero a cantare allegri nella loro lingua e tutto tornò normale. Verso sera ripresero la strada.
Devo dire che furono rispettosi in casa, anche se noi eravamo pieni di paura. Certamente erano meglio i tedeschi che i fascisti, arroganti e vendicativi. Alcune volte sentivamo i repubblichini prendere e picchiare dei giovani che non si erano presentati alla chiamata di leva, mentre Robert in casa fremeva dalla rabbia.
Altre volte, se avvisati in tempo, Robert e i pochi prigionieri che erano in paese andavano nelle campagne a nascondersi, specialmente in un posto chiamato Lame, perché è pieno di grotte e di fossi ricoperti da macchia. Poi, se il pericolo si prolungava, gli stessi contadini gli portavano da mangiare e davano notizie.
Il pericolo maggiore veniva però dai fascisti, impauriti per l’avanzata degli americani, spesso usavano i tedeschi per le vendette personali. Nell’estate del ’44, quando l’esercito germanico cominciò a ritirarsi, si videro le file di automezzi che percorrevano la strada e tutti temevano il peggio, ma sotto il paese i soldati si misero a cantare per far capire che non avevano cattive intenzioni. Passarono ed andarono via.
All’arrivo degli americani, i prigionieri uscirono tutti per ritrovarsi e far festa in paese. Mi pare che per radio vennero invitati a presentarsi ai vari comandi ed ognuno prese la propria strada. Robert andò via, doveva presentarsi ad Ascoli, ma promise di ritornare. Quando ci salutammo era commosso, ma mantenne la parola, infatti è stato l’unico prigioniero di Montelparo a ritornare dopo la guerra. Aveva cominciato con l’inviarci lettere, poi un giorno d’estate del ‘47 venne con la moglie ed i bambini. Insieme andammo a vedere i luoghi dove si nascondeva, indicò alla moglie la sommità della torre dove aveva trovato riparo durante il rastrellamento dei tedeschi, le grotte in campagna.
Rimanemmo in contatto con lui per tanti anni, poi si diradarono le lettere fino a interrompersi, ma poco tempo fa, attraverso una mia nipote che sa usare Internet, siamo riusciti a sapere che è morto e che i figli vivono in Venezuela. Tanto tempo è passato, quanti rischi. Avevamo sempre paura che potessimo essere scoperti. Anche Robert si prendeva pena per noi, temeva per la nostra famiglia. Quando andavamo a letto pensavamo: “Chissà se stanotte verranno a controllare”. Però non abbiamo mai pensato di metterlo fuori.
Mamma diceva: “Poveri figli, non sono loro ad avere colpa per questa guerraccia maledetta!”
In quei giorni, dopo la Liberazione, passavano i gruppi partigiani a prendere i fascisti che avevano collaborato con i tedeschi. Una mattina sentimmo chiamare forte: era Mario Sorini. Tutto spaventato ci disse che i partigiani lo avevano cercato a casa e che stava scappando. Mario era un fascista, ma non come Roscioli, era uno dei tanti, fascista ma non fanatico. Babbo allora lo fece nascondere nella cantina, sotto casa. Dopo un po’, arrivarono dei partigiani a cercarlo, e tra loro c’era un certo Angelici di Servigliano, a cui mio padre aveva insegnato il mestiere di fabbro. Questi si informarono di Mario ma babbo rispose che non c’era nessuno, che andassero tranquilli. Così ci ritrovammo anche a proteggere un fascista in cantina con i partigiani al piano terra.
Tanto tempo è passato.
Dal colloquio con Amelia Antodicola del ’21
Montelparo, Luglio 2001