Tom Lockett’s Escape

Historian Richard Pursehouse sent me the news article I’m sharing in this post, published in The [Cannock] Advertiser in December 1943.

Parts of the article are included in a previous post on Frederick Thomas Lockett, “Tom Lockett—Two Months To Freedom.” Thanks to Richard, I’m sharing the article in its entirety.

Also, I’m sharing more images of Tom and a postcard from his daughter, Josie Shemwell.

Repatriation papers for Tom and his friend Tommy Knight shed further light on their path to freedom.

Exciting Escape from Italy
Penkridge Man Hid in Oven from Germans

The [Cannock] Advertiser
Saturday, December 18, 1943

A SERGEANT IN THE PARATROOPERS, whose home is in Penkridge, and who was a prisoner in Italian hands for nearly a year, escaped from a camp in the north of Italy in September, and arrived home recently.

He is Sergt. Thomas Lockett, eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. F. Lockett, of Teddesley-road, and when an “Advertiser” reporter interviewed him this week he was wearing physical training plimsoles. He explained that from the time he escaped until reaching the Allied lines he covered between six and seven hundred miles on foot. His feet were still too sore for him to be able to wear boots with any comfort.

This is how Sergt. Lockett told of his escape: “We heard on September 9 about the Allied armistice with Italy and on September 14 I and a pal of mine, whose home is in the Isle of Wight, made our escape only a few minutes before the German troops took over. The Italians had told us we must remain in the camp until the arrival of the Allies, and they fired at us when we escaped.”

Ten Week’s Trek

He and his friend exchanged their battle dress for Italian civilian clothing, and then began their long trek southwards. “It took us ten weeks to reach the Allied lines, and three-quarters of our journey lay through mountainous country,” he continued. “We walked at night, finding our direction by the stars, and by day we slept mostly in the woods and barns. Ninety per cent. of the people gave us food if we asked for it. Some were quite friendly. But others would not help us for fear of German reprisals on themselves and their families.”

Hid in Bread Oven

Sergt. Lockett described how one day the Germans searched the farmhouse in which he and his friend had sought refuge. “We hid in a bread oven. They only bake twice a month in Italy, and we happened to get in when the oven was cold.” The Germans were in the house two hours, and they ordered the householder to cook them some spaghetti. When they asked if there any British prisoners in the building and the Italians said ‘No’ and they called them liars, the women began to cry.

“I could hear my heart beating,” added Sergt. Lockett. The Germans must have been tipped off by the Fascists that we had been seen in the neighbourhood.” On several occasions they narrowly missed being captured by German patrols, and they had to cross no man’s land before reaching the Allied front line positions, but once in friendly hands it was only four days before he was on his way home.

Wounded Three Times

Sergt. Lockett was in the Territorial Arm before the war, and was called up in September, 1939. Serving first in the infantry, he volunteered for the paratroopers about three years ago. On October, 1942, he was sent out to North Africa, and was captured by the Germans on December 2 the same year. “We were working behind the German lines,” he said, “and the unit was badly smashed up. In trying to get back to our own lines I was wounded three times by mortar shrapnel, and could not move. We had fought against German paratroopers for five days, and when we were captured they patted us on the back, and congratulated us on our fighting.”

He was sent to the German headquarters at Tunis, and then handed over to the Italians. After spending a month in a Sicilian prisoners of war camp, he was transferred first to a camp near Naples, and then to the one in North Italy from which he escaped. He said he was much better treated by the Germans than by the Italians.

While a prisoner, Sergt. Lockett met Trooper Barrie S. N. Anderson, a commando, in hospital. He was the only son of Dr. G. N. Anderson, or Penkridge, and later died.

Sergt. Lockett, who before the war was employed first by Mr. Plant at the Central Supply Stores, Penkridge, and afterward at a Government site, is hoping to remain in the paratroops if he is fit enough. He is twenty-two, and married, his wife being the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. H. Webb, of Woodbank, Penkridge. He has a brother in the Royal Marines.

Tom Lockett (seated, left) with 2nd Parachute Battalion comrades

Tom Lockett in sergeant stripes

Josie shared a postcard her dad sent from P.G. 59. It is addressed to Tom’s mother, Mrs. F. Lockett, Teddesley Road, Penkridge, Stafford, Staffs (Staffordshire).

“24th June 1943. Dearest Mom Dad & all. Hope these few lines find you all in good health, am alright myself, longing to see you all. Have received no more mail from you yet and none from Olive for over a month. Hope everything is coming on alright and a good harvest this time. Cheerio for now. God Bless. Love to all. Tom”

Pages from Tom Lockett’s and Tom Knight’s repatriation reports

I am fortunate to have repatriation reports for both Tom Lockett and Tom Knight, courtesy of Brian Sims.

Both reports indicate Tom Lockett, Tom Knight, and a Sergeant Edwards (2nd Battalion, Hampshire Regiment) were together after the escape. Tom Lockett’s report indicates Corporal Jones (Royal Army Medical Corps) was also with them.

Corporal Howard Jones and Captain J. H. Derek Millar were in P.G. 59 at the time of the escape, and we know from Captain Millar’s autobiography, The Memoirs of J. H.D. Millar, that he and Jones left the camp together. Of the escape, Derek Millar wrote, “I thought I would like to have the company of a British soldier. I chose an NCO, Corporal Jones. He was a corporal in the sick bay, who I thought might know a bit more about getting through a mine field, and that sort of thing, than ever I did.”

In talking with Josie Shemwell, four years ago, she said, “My dad used to talk about Tommy Knight all the time, so they’d have been together escaping, obviously. I just wonder what happened with Tommy Knight. He was born in 1911, so he’d have been a good 10 years older than my dad. His private address in 1942 was 12 Hillside Road, Newport, Isle of Wight.”

Here is Tom Lockett’s account of the escape and their flight to freedom:

“Escape. From Camp 59, Servigliano on 15 Sep 1943.
The Germans were coming into the camp and Source got through a hole in the wall.

“Source was with three others:
Sgt. Knight, T.H., 2 Hamps
Cpl. Jones, R.A.M.C.
Sgt. Edwards, 2 Hamps.

“Cpl. Jones and Sgt. Edwards were left at Montefalcone.

“From Servigliano they went on foot to San Vittorio [Santa Vittoria in Matenano] and Montefalcone [Montefalcone Appennino] where Source stayed with a farmer for two months as Sgt. Edwards was ill with gastritis. The latter left Source and went to a Monastery. Source proceeded to Amandola and met British paratroopers (Capt. Powers and his batman) with whom they went to the beach at San Benedito [San Benedetto del Tronto] to get a fishing boat. None were available. Capt Miller [Millar], R.A.M.C. was in the party, and speaking Italian, he managed to find a Fascist Officer who told them where there was a motor boat. Eventually they got the engine of the boat going, with the assistance of two Italian youths and arrived at Termoli on 18 Nov 1943.”

This escape on the Adriatic Coast is described in “Nicola and Liberato Lagalla—Rescue by Sea.”

Read also “Captain J. H. Derek Millar” and “Captain Millar—Valor in the Hour of Crisis.”

Tom Knight’s report offers this account of the escape:

“Escape. From Camp 59, Servigliano on 14 Sep 1943.
The M.O., who was in charge of the British Section of the camp [Captain Millar], advised all Ps/W to try and escape. About 50 of them rushed the sentry box and got through the wall.

“Source was with:
Sgt. Lockett, F.T., Paratroop Regt.
Sgt. Edwards, 2nd Bn Hampshire Regt.

“Source last saw Sgt. Edwards at Monte Falcone on 24 October 1943. It is thought that he has not yet got through.

“Source’s story is the same as that of Sgt. Lockett, F.T.”

The only POW who meets the matches the brief description of Sgt. Edwards in the Alphabetical List is Sgt. R. H. Edwards, Army No. 5494760, Hampshire Regiment. No specific camp is listed for R. H. Edwards.

Concerning the time immediately after the escape, Derek Millar writes, ”It was hard to know what to do. I met several soldiers from other camps who had come back to be near the lines.” R. H. Edwards might have been one of these escapees from other camps, or he may have been in P.G. 59.

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