Serjeant Joseph Groves—Fallen in Pito, Italy

12 Tory, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, UK—the home of Joseph and Phyllis May Groves. The photo is courtesy of Jonathan Falconer, who comments, “I suspect he only lived there briefly after they married in June 1940 and before his regiment was posted overseas the following month to Egypt. Even so, he is commemorated on Bradford-on-Avon’s war memorial in the town centre.”

The Grave of Joseph Groves in Ancona War Cemetery.

The inscription on the marker reads:

777836 SERJEANT
J GROVES

11TH FEBRUARY 1944 – AGE 36

[The crest of the Royal Horse Artillery is carved within a cross]

IN MEMORY OF MY DEAR HUSBAND WHO DIED FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM FOR ALL

Sjt. Joseph Groves was captured in North Africa, interned in PG 59, and was killed in Italy four months after his escape from the camp. Some records, including the marker at Ancona War Cemetery, indicate he died on February 11, 1944. In fact, he was killed by soldiers of the German Brandenburg Regiment on March 11, 1944, during a surprise ambush at Pito, Italy.

In December, Pam Groves wrote to me, “I am the niece of Joseph Groves who was a prisoner of war at PG 59 in Italy. He escaped and then was captured again and taken to the outskirts of a village and shot. I understand this was classed as a war crime, as he was unarmed.

“He was given shelter by a Slav family in the village. I am wondering if you have any more information on what happened to him or photos of the Slav family who helped him. I know this is a long shot, but no harm in trying.

“I may be able to help with names of two men who were with Joseph—W. O. Barker, who I think was American, and the other one was Evens, but that is all I know.”

Pam provided these additional details:

“He was Sergeant Joseph Groves, 777836, 2 Regiment, RHA [Royal Horse Artillery]. We are of the understanding that the villagers buried him, and then later the army exhumed his body and reburied him in Ancona War Cemetery.

Pam said, “I had some help from a gentleman called Jonathon Falconer, who contacted me on Ancestry. Without him, I would know nothing about Uncle Joseph.

“I do not have family documents. My dad never spoke of his family, as they were put into an orphanage at a very early age. We did not even know dad had any brothers till we started doing Ancestry, so you can imagine how we feel to find out all this information. That is why we are so desperate to get a photo, but not holding out much hope. I do have some paperwork on the war crimes what Jonathon sent me.”

Pam is wondering if a regimental photo exists.

Pam introduced me to Jonathan. He explained, “My interest comes originally from the fact that Joseph Groves is commemorated on my town’s war memorial at Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire. I researched and wrote a book about the men whose names appear on the memorial, Names in Stone, which was published in 2009.

“As far as I have been able to ascertain,” he wrote, “Joseph and Phyllis had no children. An ‘in memoriam’ notice posted in the local newspaper after the war didn’t mention children, but it did note siblings (although not by name).”

That notice is from the Wiltshire Times, February 12, 1949. It reads:

“GROVES.—Cherished memories of our dear Husband, Son and Brother, Joseph Groves, who gave his life for his country on Feb. 11, 1944.—Ever in the thoughts of his loving Wife, Phyllis, Dad, Mum, Sister and Brothers.”

I introduced Pam to my friend and fellow researcher Anne Copley, who posted an inquiry on WW2Talk for us.

Joseph’s Royal Artillery attestation record was offered by a contributor. The record reveals Joseph was born on Christmas Day—December 25, 1909—in Cross Town, a chapelry in Knutsford parish, Cheshire. His trade on enlistment is given as farm laborer. He enlisted on January 18, 1928.

Plaque commemorating the March 11, 1944 conflict at Pito, Pozza, and Umito.

Anne also quickly discovered online a plaque memorializing the defeat of the partisan resistance in Pito, Pozza, and Umito—it was during that atrocity that Joseph lost his life.

The municipal committee for commemoration of resistance in Acquasanta Terme dedicated the plaque on April 25, 1966.

The website describes the event, here in Italian and English:

In Italian:

“Lastra sulla rappresaglia dell’11/3/’44 su Pito, Pozza ed Umito – Acquasanta Terme

“All’alba dell’11 Marzo 1944 militari tedeschi appartenenti alla 6a Compagnia del II Battaglione del III Reggimento “Brandenburg”, guidati da spie fasciste, attaccarono i partigiani della Banda “Bianco” acquartierati nelle frazioni acquasantane di Pito, Pozza ed Umito. Sul numero dei Caduti, tra partigiani e civili, non si è a tutt’oggi raggiunto un numero definitivo. Tuttavia si oscilla tra le trenta e quaranta vittime. I nomi noti sono 37, tra cui 12 italiani, 20 jugoslavi (montenegrini), 2 greco-ciprioti, 2 inglesi ed un americano. La lastra (a Pozza) dedicata ai tragici fatti dell’11 Marzo 1944 è apposta sulla parete esterna sinistra della ex Scuola elementare di Pozza, sostenuta da tre ganci di ferro. Si tratta di una lastra rettangolare di marmo, disposta verticalmente, sulla quale è composta l’epigrafe mediante caratteri di bronzo in rilievo.”

In English:

“Plate on the repression of 11/3/44 on Pito, Pozza, and Umito—Acquasanta Terme

“At dawn on 11 March 1944 German soldiers belonging to the 6th Company of the 2nd Battalion of the Third Regiment “Brandenburg,” led by fascist spies, attacked the partisans of the “Bianco” band quartered in the villages of Pito, Pozza, and, Umito. On the number of the fallen, between partisans and civilians, a definitive number has not yet been reached. However, it ranges between thirty and forty victims. There are 37 known names, including 12 Italians, 20 Yugoslavs (Montenegrins), 2 Greek Cypriots, 2 British, and one American. The slab (at Pozza) dedicated to the tragic events of March 11, 1944, is affixed to the external left wall of the former elementary school of Pozza, supported by three iron hooks. It is a rectangular marble slab, arranged vertically, on which the epigraph is composed in embossed bronze characters.”

Another Italian document mentioned on the WW2Talk exchange provides details of what happened during the massacre at Pito, Pozza, and Umito.

On October 22, 2018, Janet Kinrade Dethick translated the main aspect of this document for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, as evidence for correction of death dates from February 11 to March 11 for the three soldiers buried there.

Janet has done considerable research on POWs in Umbria, where she lives, and on other camps on the western side of the Appennine Mountains.

Here is her translation:

Pozza, Pito, Umito, San Martino, Acquasanta Terme, 11.03.1944

Locality

Pozza, Pito, San Martino, Umito
Acquasanta Terme
Ascoli Piceno
Marche

Partisans of foreign nationality who fell during the fighting

Gregorio Kondaxis, b. 1896, Greek Cypriot

Peter Cross, English
Joseft Evans, English
Lorenz Parker, American

[Regarding the above three names, Janet explains: “Note that the three men were: Groves, Joseph; Evans, Reginald Peter; and Barker, Laurence Sidney (Canadian). The Italians have mixed up the names of the first two and the nationality of Barker.]

The three Milanovic brothers: Ilja, b. 1918; Veljko, b. 1920; Branko, b. 1922
Milo Lopicic, b. 1906, farmer from Ceklin
Dusan Vukotic, b. 1921
Vojo Lekovic, fell at Collefrattale
Malisa Gezovic, fell at Pito
Radosav Golubovic, b. 1923
Aleksandar Mitrovic, b. 1919, from Podlican
Jovan Karadaglic, b. 1907
Jefta Janko Bojovic, b. 1920
Marko Strugar, cl. 1917, farmer from Drusic
Dusan Vujovic, cl. 920, from Podgorica
Miketa Markovic, cl. 1915, lawyer, fell at Pito
Spasoje Djukanovic, b. 1911
Dragoljub Drasko Milosevic, fell at Pito
Andrjia Rajkovic, b. 1910, farmer from Rogam
Avram Bajramovic, b. 1916
Ilija Illic, b. 1920
Dragoljub Mitrovic, fell at Arola

“In the night between 10 and 11 March 1944, despite the snow, a large group of German soldiers, accompanied and led by fascists from the province and the municipality of Acquasanta, camouflaged in German pastrani and ski masks, went up to the villages of Pozza, Pito and Umito. The intention was to take by surprise, using a pincer movement, both the partisan band led by Captain Bianco and the inhabitants whilst they slept, preventing any possibility of escape.

“First they attacked Pozza di Acquasanta at dawn: they burnt the houses of all the peasants whom they accused of giving hospitality to the partisans, they stole food and money, and took prisoner all the young men they had met on their way. Eight of them—Emidio Collina, Pietro Patulli, Filippo Santini, Serafino Cesari, Vittorio Pedicelli, Loreto Santini, Mariano Castelli and Nicola Troli—were shot in front of their relatives’ eyes. A few dozen people were saved by sheer good luck. They had been imprisoned in a warehouse not far from the village, where they would probably have been shot, if the Germans had not received requests for help from their comrades who had reached Umito, where they had found the partisans of the Banda Bianco, on the ready. There was a violent clash, and the Germans lost about thirty men including their commander Rudolf Stegmeier. After he was mortally wounded his soldiers retreated, allowing Bianco’s men to disengage and climb the hill. The Germans then vented their anger on the civilian population, setting fire to the houses in Umito with bombs and flares. Two other civilians lost their lives: Nicola Donfrancesco and Anna Sparapani, a child of just eleven months.

“On the same day the Germans also went to Pito and San Martino, where they had killed two Slavs and seriously injured a young local, Francesco Nazzari who, while he was gathering the foliage to feed the sheep, was hit as he fled in fright, reporting a serious injury to his leg. However, the Germans brought him back home and the next day they took him to the hospital in Ascoli Piceno.”

Regarding the Slavs, Janet had this to say:

“It is fairly certain that they had escaped from one of two camps in the area which housed Slavs—PG 64 Colfiorito or PG117 Ruscio. The latter was a work camp.

“Although the camps were designated as POW camps, it appears that amongst the inmates of COLFIORITO there were some civilian internees—at the end of March 1943 there were 838 internees and the number increased during the summer of ’43. About 100 came directly from the Albanian camps of Lavaje and Klos. It was not until a fortnight after the Italian Armistice that those prisoners who decided to leave COLFIORITO did so.

“The prisoners held in the work camp at Ruscio left earlier and many were recaptured and sent to Spoleto gaol. There was a mass breakout of this prison in October with the connivance of the prisoner governor Guido Melis, arrested as a consequence, whose son Ernesto led a band of patriots (he was most careful not to use the term partisans), and the men disappeared into the mountains between Umbria and Marche. It is my guess that the Slavs killed at Pito belonged to this group. A large group of Slav partisans—the Communist Tito Brigade—had its headquarters at Cascia, only a few kms from Pito.

“Whereas some of the internment camps for Slavs in Italy housed women, I have no information as to whether or not this was the case with the two camps I have mentioned. The Slav ‘family’ who helped Sjt. Groves may in fact simply have been a group of Slav escapers.”

According to the register at Ancona War Cemetery:

Wt. Off. I Laurence Sidney Barker, r/62010, R.C.A.F. 37 Sqdn., died at age 24. He was the son of Sidney H. and Amy Nora Barker (née Dell) of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Sjt. Reginald Peter Evans, 6284269, 1st Bn. The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regt.) died at age 28. He was the son of Robert George and Eliza Mary Ann Frances Evans of Sheerness, Kent.

Sjt. Joseph Groves, 777836, 2 Regt. Royal Horse Artillery, died at age 36. He was the husband of Phyllis May Groves of Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire.

For more information on Laurence Barker, see “Laurence Barker—Died for His Country.”

The killing of Barker, Groves, and Evans is described in a post on war crimes investigations into the Brandenburg Regiment on this site. See the full post, “The Brandenburgers—War Crimes Investigations.” Here is the section of that post concerned with the killings at Pito:

SEE/112.

The killing of W.O. BARKER and others at PITO near NORCIA on 11 March 1944.

Early on the morning of 11 March, the village in which W.O. BARKER and two other British Ps.W. believed to be named GROVES and EVANS were living together with some SLAVs, was raided by German troops.

BARKER attempted to escape through a window and was shot dead. The remainder were captured, and later shot on the outskirts of the village. The Germans would be justified in shooting BARKER, but not the others.

There is evidence that

(i) The troops concerned came from the Villa Marina at ASCOLI PICENO.

(ii) There is nothing to show that the victims were armed, but on the other hand no evidence that they weren’t.

(iii) The description of the officer commanding the Germans again fits that of HOSSFELD.

(iv) There was no independent eye witness to the killing.

It seems more than likely that this is again the work of Leut. HOSSFELD who must have carried out this round-up immediately on his return from the round-up in which NEWTON and MAJESKI were killed.

Joseph Groves, Reginald Evans, and Laurence Barker were all interned in PG 59 in Servigliano.

View photos of the village of Pito on the Luoghi del Silenzio (places of silence) website.

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