David Olusoga presents the history of A House Through Time.
A new season of the popular British television series A House Through Time begins tomorrow, April 8, on BBC 2 TV.
Each year the series focuses on one house, telling the story of all the individuals who have lived in the house since it was built, as a way of exploring both British and world history.
Episode 4 of this season, airing on Monday, April 29, will feature the story of Camp 59 internee John Bell.
I first became aware that John Bell’s home would be featured last July, when I heard from an archivist at Twenty Twenty Television, which produces the series. Tracey Li wrote, “The house we are focusing on in this series is in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England.
“During part of the first half of the twentieth century the house was occupied by an individual called John Bell who fought in the Second World War and was held as a prisoner of war in various locations in Europe, including Camp 59 Servigliano.”
I had no documentation of John Bell having passed through Camp 59, but Tracey and Hugo MacGregor, production director for the John Bell episode, kindly answered my questions.
John Bell arrived in P.G. 59 on January 29, 1942, and was held there for 13 months before being sent to Camp 53 (Sforzacosta) in February 1943.
Hugo said John Bell kept extraordinary diaries of his time as a POW, with an entry for each day from his capture in 1941 to his release in 1945.
“John Robert Bell,” Hugo wrote, “was in the Northumberland Hussars C Squadron. He was captured in North Africa at the end of Operation Crusader, in December 1941, as part of the 7th Armoured Division.
“He was sent to Benghazi briefly, then to Tripoli (by boat), then to Capua (in a holding camp for a week), then finally sent to Camp 59 (Servigliano), then on to Camp 53 (Sforzacosta). After the Italian surrender, he didn’t escape and was surrounded by German forces.
“He was then sent to Stalag XVIIA near Vienna, with a brief spell in Stalag XVIIIA, before finally being sent to Stalag VIIIA (Gorlitz).
“As the Russians approached, he made the Long March back to West Germany, where he was rescued and flown back to Britain. All this is described meticulously in his diaries.”
In writing last week to let me know the date the episode on John Bell would air, series producer Mary Crisp said, “His story is amazing—so powerful.”