“Courage of the Very Highest Order”

The following letter recommending formal decoration of an Italian youth was sent to British authorities from “the field” of Italy in January 1944 by Captain B. G. McGibbon-Lewis, The Black Watch, Royal Highland Regiment.

The letter is a moving tribute to 18-year-old Franco Scoletta, who valiantly served I.S.9 (‘A’ Force) in escaped POWs rescue operations.

The document, from the British National Archives, is courtesy of Brian Sims.

Franco Scoletta

This Italian boy of 18 has worked with me since September 15th, 1943, up until December 1st, 1943. I picked him, whilst escaping from German-occupied ITALY, on the train from ANCONA to PESCARA. He told me he was disgusted with ITALY and the inhabitants and his one object was to reach and work for the BRITISH in whatever capacity they saw fit. When I was enrolled as a temporary member of ‘A’ Force I brought him with me. I arranged he should be paid 2000 Lire a month and he could receive 1000 Lire per P/W as arranged for all ITALIAN agents on operation SIMCOL. He has refused to accept any of this on the grounds that his motives are not financial. He accompanied Major McKEE, M.C. and myself on our first operation for 14 days and proved himself to be of invaluable assistance. He showed no fear when crossing the lines and was willing to do anything we asked of him. Frequently he had to approach ‘doubtful’ ITALIANS and he never refused any order or request given him. On our return we went to GULIONESE to pull thorough the lines the P/Ws we had left on the other side. SCOLETTA went through again and was responsible for some twenty to thirty getting through safely. He was captured by the GERMANS with 5 P.O.Ws, and by driving into a WADI not only escaped himself but enabled the P/Ws to do so as well. He then returned with a sprained knee to me with four P/Ws. Within two days he was back the other side again and succeeded in liberating the remains of an American Bomber crew. On each of these occasions he brought back Military Information of great use which I handed on to 36 Brigade, this included details of gun positions and mines on that front.

Again on Operation Ratberry he accompanied Major McKEE and me. Throughout this operation he showed courage of the very highest order. He drove a cart loaded with kit hidden in sacks along roads used by the enemy and through towns occupied by both Germans and Fascists. He never missed a Rendezvous with us and proved invaluable. In point of fact he drove this cart alone for 100 miles in enemy occupied territory. Nor was he unaware of his fate if he were caught. On December 1st, 1943, he was involved in an engagement with the Fascist and managed to get our cart away and get it out of the road. As he was trailed by the enemy he pulled up at a cottage within two miles of the engagement and began destroying all stores of a military nature, maps, compasses etc, as he thought our fate was sure. Whilst doing this he was discovered and fired on. He escaped and succeeded in getting back to MONTE GIORGIO where he reported what had happened. Lt. RANIERI told him it was his duty to return to TERMOLI and report. Despite the fact that he had every excuse to return home to MILAN for at least a short visit, believing both MASON, McKEE and I to be dead, he immediately did so. He was taken by the Germans en route and again escaped. He got into ORTONA hospital and remained from about December 8th. until its capture by our troops there. 400 Refugees were in there and only 40 came out. His party of some sixth spent the whole time in a room at the end of a corridor with the GERMANS in the rooms on one side and the CANADIANS on the other. He spent the last four days there with no food, no water and 9 dead bodies in a room with no window or door to open. He managed to contact two Canadian soldiers who dropped down a pipe into the corridor: one was killed and he hid the other until the situation became so bad the people could no longer remain in the room; there were several wounded from shrapnel etc. He then led the whole party out and luckily, into the hands of the CANADIANS. He reported to TERMOLI immediately and told his story. He has since been in hospital with an acute attack of scabies collected at ORTONA hospital. He has expressed his desire to continue his activities immediately [when] he is better. That is, in short, his history since he has been with ‘A’ Force. In other matters such as behavior and security his conduct has been excellent and he is thoroughly trustworthy.

I cannot speak too highly of his courage and devotion to duty which is quite extraordinary in someone of his age and nationality. His sole desire is to do all he can for the BRITISH. He is not a soldier and [as he] has never been trained as such, except by me, this is all the more extraordinary. I have never known him to refuse any jobs however hazardous.

I know that nothing would please him more than some form of recognition from us.

I should like to recommend him most whole-heartedly for a Decoration for gallantry and devotion to, for lack of a better word, the BRITISH cause.

B. G. McGibbon-Lewis.
The Black Watch. R.H.R.

In the Field 15.1.44 [January 15, 1944]

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