During WW II, the British and American Red Cross societies recognized that families who received notification of their sons’ capture would be in need comfort.
In times of war, that comfort was best provided by straightforward information on the conditions in prison camps.
The following items from the August and October American Red Cross bulletins sent to families provide just that sort of information about Camp 59.
Thanks to Al Rosenblum for sharing these bulletins with me for the site.
Prisoners of War Bulletin—American Red Cross
Illustration: Bales and cases of clothing sent by the American Red Cross for prisoners of war are stored in bonded warehouses of the International Red Cross Committee awaiting rail transport from Switzerland to Axis camps.
Prisoner of War Camps in Italy—No. 59
By Frank Abbott
One of the largest prisoner of war camps in Italy is No. 59, situated near the ancient town of Ascoli Piceno, which before the war had a population of some 25,000. Ascoli Piceno lies in the valley of the river Tronto in mountainous country about 90 miles northeast of Rome in the direction of the Adriatic coast. Mountain peaks rising over 3,000 feet are visible to the north, west, and south of Camp No. 59. For many years before the war the Ascoli Piceno region was a popular one for tourists from other countries.
The latest information available, based on March of this year, shows that there were nearly 2,000 prisoners of war in Camp No. 59—mostly British, but including 445 Americans, of whom 77 were noncoms and 368 privates. All the prisoners had been captured in the North African campaign and had only recently arrived at Camp No. 59. The camp leader, at the time of the visit, was Sgt. Major Hegarty (British). Besides Camp No. 59, there is also a military hospital for American prisoners of war at Ascoli Piceno.
Because of the urgent need for clothing at the Italian camps to which prisoners of war from North Africa have this year arrived in fairly large number, the abundant stocks of clothing at Camp 59 were drawn on to help supply other camps. This left Camp 59 without reserve supplies, but these have since been built up with the shipment of 500 coats, 500 pairs of trousers, 400 pairs of shoes, 400 pairs of socks, and other supplies from stocks held by the International Red Cross Committee in Switzerland.
Shipments of Red Cross standard food packages and next-of-kin parcels are also reaching Camp No. 59 regularly. American Red Cross food packages were among those reaching the camp, but it is probable that at first American prisoners of war in Camp No. 59 received food packages from English or Canadian stocks already in the camp. As has always been explained in this Bulletin, there is a reciprocal arrangement between the British and American Red Cross societies by which American prisoners share in British supplies whenever they reach a camp that has not yet been stocked by the American Red Cross with food packages and clothing.
Religious Services and Recreation
Religious services are conducted regularly at Camp 59, and at the adjacent military hospital, by an English chaplain.
Food and tobacco rations, it was reported, were being distributed according to regulations, while 127 prisoners engaged in various kinds of work in the camp were receiving extra rations. Tailors, barbers, and cobblers working in the camp receive wages for their labor.
The water supply was adequate for the men to have showers.
Decided improvement, the report concludes, has been made at Camp No. 59 during the past year. The grounds, however, are still muddy after rain, but work is now in progress to improve this condition. A British prisoner writing from this camp last fall said: “The country looks lovely, and it is a jolly good tonics to see such a sight, especially the thousands of bunches of grapes hanging on the vines. We can buy grapes, pears, tomatoes, melons, peaches, etc., in the camp canteen.”
Prisoners of War Bulletin—American Red Cross
This information appear in the “Note on Prison Camps” column of the bulletin:
Camp No. 59—Italy
In a report on Italian Camp No. 59 in our August issue it was stated that most of the approximately 2,000 prisoners of war in this camp were British and that the American prisoners numbered 445—comprising 77 noncommissioned officers and 368 enlisted men. A later report indicated that a substantial number of British prisoners had been transferred from No. 59 to work camps and that the number of American prisoners in Camp No. 59 had more than doubled.
As of early July (the date of the last report) some American prisoners in No. 59 had begun to receive letters which had been addressed to them at Camp No 66 where they were previously held.
A Letter to Home
The following anonymous letter was one of several from POW camps in Germany, Italy, and Japan that were included in the October 1943 bulletin.
Camp P.G. 59, PM 3300, Italy
May 4, 1943
This leaves me feeling fine. I received an American Red Cross food parcel and cigarettes today and, boy, did I enjoy them! I haven’t received any mail yet, but I would sure love to hear from you soon. Well, maybe I will see you before long for it looks like everything is going fine now. It can end any day now for me. Hope you are well and doing good. Tell everyone hello, and that I’ll be back some day. I guess I can call myself a lucky boy. I’ve had some dangerous escapes.