Tom Alman—Back Home in Western Australia

Ray Worthington (son of P.G. 59 escapee Les Worthington) and Linda Veness (daughter of escapee Jim McMahon) discovered and shared this 1944 news article with me this week.

Kalgoorlie Soldier Escaped Twice

Sunday Times (Perth, Western Australia)
Sunday, 24 September 1944

Welcomed home to Kalgoorlie during the week was A.I.F. Pte. Tom Alman, son of Mr. and Mrs. Les Alman, of Egan-street. Tom Alman has put up an unique record for he escaped from Italian P.O.W. camps on two occasions.

Prior to joining up in 1941, Tom had his own carrying business here. He served right though the Middle East and was unlucky to be captured by the Germans at El Alamein, in July, 1942, and taken to Benghazi, Lybia [sic] where he remained five months.

Then taken to Italy, he remained in a p.o.w. camp until December 14, 1943, when in company with four other prisoners of war, all Western Australians—Jack Allen, formerly employed at Masseys, Kalgoorlie; Jim McMahon, from Reedys; L/C L. [Leslie] Worthington, of Wiluna; and J. [Jimmy] Feehan, of Geraldton—he escaped and hid in the Italian mountains. Tom and Jim McMahon joined up with a band of rebels, and stayed with them three months.

Things began to get too hot then, so we disbanded and went back to the mountains,” he added. “However, spies gave me away, and I was recaptured a month later.”

Dressed in civilian clothes, he again escaped and by-passed the Italian lines by going though big mountainous country. A week later, he succeeded in reaching the Allied lines, “but for some time English troops in this sector were sceptical, and could not make me out, dressed as a civilian and speaking English. My treatment by the Italians when I was first captured was very bad. Later, when they realized they were beaten, their attitude seemed to change overnight, as they wanted to be on the winning side. Actually very few Australians managed to escape from Italy. The big camp all Australians and New Zealanders occupied was commanded by Fascists, definitely pro-German. Fortunately I escaped prior to the Germans taking over when Italy capitulated.”

Pte. Tom Alman concluded: “It’s great to be back home again. There’s only one place in life really worth while, and that’s home. The big thing we are all looking forward to now is for the war to finish and all of us are able to live a decent life once again.”

More Information

There is discrepancy in individual accounts as to when the escape occurred and how many men left together.

In his service record, Les Worthington wrote, “On the 10th September 1943, we heard that Italy was out of the war and our guards changed their uniforms for civilian clothes and went off, so on the 14th nine of us decided to escape if possible. The civilians gave us clothes and old hats and we waited until nightfall and all hid in the fields for two hours and then got moving south.”

In an autobiography written when he was 70 years old, R. J. McMahon explained, “I suggested to my mates, one Scot and five other Aussies, that instead of digging our way out we should try going over the top. We nutted this plan out and thought there would be enough time while the guards, patrolling the wall, were having their halfway talk and smoke, giving us about five minutes. … It was just a matter of climbing to the top of the wall using a ladder and diving over, doing a tumble to break the fall. … On a Sunday night in October 1943, we built the ladder and made our escape around 1 a.m. Things did not go quite to plan, as only four of us were over the top before we were spotted. I was the tail-end Charlie, and by the time I got over the wall there were machine gun bullets flying everywhere.”

It seems most likely the escape occurred on September 14—or between September 10 and 14—as the mass exodus of prisoners from P.G. 59 occurred on the night of September 14. September 14, 1943 was a Tuesday night. If the escape occurred on a Sunday night, as Jim McMahon suggested, perhaps it was on Sunday, September 12—two days after the men learned Italy had signed the armistice and two days before the mass departure.

See also “Jimmy Feehan and Thomas Penman,” “A Timeline of Les Worthington’s Service,” “Les Worthington—an Australian’s Adventure,” “Tom Kelly—Escapee from P.G. 59,” “Scottish Escapee Thomas Penman,” “R. J. McMahon, Part 1—Battle and Captivity,” “R. J. McMahon, Part 2—Escape and Beyond, and “R. J. McMahon—Case for A Campaign Star.”

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