Ronald McCurdy—Escaped to Switzerland

This photo of British gunner Ronald McCurdy (left) and a fellow prisoner, who we believe is his friend Percy, was sent in a letter from P.G. 59 to Ronald's parents.

An address on the back of the photo bears the numbers 14/48.

Occasionally, the return address on a postcard from P.G. 59 will include a hut number. In this case, I believe the numbers 14/48 refer to Hut 14, Section 48.

Another example of referring to huts and sections—and even bed numbers—is in “Douglas Allum’s Camp 59 Prisoner List.”

Ronald’s daughter, Rona Crane, explains, “My Father was born and brought up in North Wales. Chester is not far over the Wales/England border.

“My Grandparents moved to Chester just before the war due, I think, to my Grandfather’s work. They returned to North Wales after the war.

“I now live in South West Wales due to my Husband being originally from the area.”

Rona shared what she knows about Ronald’s POW experience:

“My Father escaped and got to Switzerland, where he was housed in a hotel and then sent home.

“When he escaped he went with a few others, but they were tracked by the Germans with dogs. He and his friend got away by getting into a river, and the others got split up and I think were either captured or shot.

“I have a letter from a family who hid my father above their business—a garage. He said they took big risks for him, as the Germans used to call in their vehicles and he could see them through the cracks in the floor. 

“I think he may have been there for longer than intended. My Mother says that he was a week late meeting people for the next stage of his journey due to the presence of many Germans, but he was very relieved to find that someone turned up and checked on him every day.

“[For the journey] he was dressed as an Italian and, luckily, he had thick, dark hair (we have strong Irish/Welsh roots). A woman took him on a train to wherever was next. They had a close shave when the Germans boarded the train for a quick check around, but he blended in.

“We know he crossed the Alps and, as others state, he was helped by locals, nuns, and monks.

“He made it over with his friend Percy.

“They were exhausted, cold, and hungry. And they were not sure if it was definitely Switzerland. They gave themselves up to the border guards and, to their relief, they had made it to Switzerland.

“Then they were taken to a hotel in Lucerne and were well treated and fed by the Swiss.

“He got back home sometime in 1944, so estimating that he escaped in September 1943, we think he was quite a few months getting to Switzerland. I think he said he was in the hotel for over six months.

“He mentioned that he was very annoyed when the British army was going to take a big sum of money out of his pay to pay for the hotel in Switzerland. I don’t think they did in the end, as there must have been a lot of angry ex-prisoners who had, like him, been virtually starved for two or three years.”

Although I have no evidence that Ronald was in any camp after P.G. 59, it would have been unusual for him to go north if he escaped from Camp 59. Prisoners in the Marche camps typically hid in the mountains, headed for the lines in the south, or made for the Adriatic coast.

It seems more likely that Ronald was transferred to a camp in the north where prisoners were employed in farm labor. Prisoners who escaped from northern camps were helped by locals to escape to Switzerland.

“My sister and I are planning a trip to see the camp and trace his route,” Rona said.

After his return home from Switzerland, Ronald received this letter from the Corciarino family, who had hidden him above their automotive garage.

M. Corciarino
Novara
Via dei Mille, 12 – Telefono N. 29.23

Dear Sir,

We hope you’ll have reached your home safe and sound after many vicissitudes you passed through during the time you were prisoner in Italy. We are the members of the family of Novara: the last who gave you hospitality in your travel toward the Switzerland. We always remember you and we’ll be very pleased to receive your news. Our best regards to you and your family.

Your sincere friends
Corciarino

Novara – 20-10-45 [20 October 1945]

Novara is 25 kilometers north of Mortara, where P.G. 146 was the hub for an array of working camps. Each “satellite” camp had a number. We know that at least two of the men on Ronald’s list—Douglas Walter Allum and George Tudor—were transferred directly from P.G. 59 to P.G. 146. They arrived 3 June 1943 and both worked at satellite camp 18 (P.G. 146/18).

On 10 September 1943, the guards allowed the men to leave, and Douglas and George eventually made their way to Switzerland.

“My Mother says my Father did farm work locally. [In his notes from the camp is an] account of hours of work and wages paid in lira, including getting paid with a spoon.

“My Father died relatively young at age 64.

“My Grandmother, who lived to make 100 years, always told me that his wartime experience killed him young. She said that he never properly recovered from chest infections caused by the damp conditions in the winter. He also lost most of his teeth and was very thin on his return home.

“After his return from Switzerland, the good old army gave him a few weeks off—then he was back in, but given an easy job as a driver. I believe he drove a colonel to Arnhem just after the liberation, to observe and help with trying to sort out the mess. He must have experienced some awful things.

“I have his discharge papers. He was finally properly discharged in 1953, but was still on call up around the time of the Suez crisis. He decided enough was enough and was medically discharged from any further duty.

Concerning Ronald’s friend Percy, Rona writes, “I am not sure if they were captured together in North Africa or met in Italy.

“My Mother thinks that Percy was with him in the garage.

“Percy and my Father stuck together and crossed the Alps together, so I guess they would have been on the train together. Though I suppose they could have done the train journey separately for safety and met up in the next place, which could be likely, as my Mother is positive my Father was taken on the train by an Italian women, as it was a better cover to go as a couple.

“Frustratingly, we only know that he is Percy who escaped with my Father. 

“My Mother cannot remember his surname, but she kept in touch with Percy for many years after the war, and she says he lived in London. She used to send off Christmas cards to him.”

“We think it is him in the photo, but are not sure.

“Percy is not such a common name, so if you do find this name on any list associated with Camp 59 please let me know.”

I have a couple of thoughts on who Percy might be.

According to the Alphabetical List, there was a trooper S. Percy, Royal Armoured Corps, in P.G. 59. This might be our Percy, if the men called him by his surname.

However, I am more inclined to favor a second option:

There was a Charles Percy Baddams in P.G. 59. He was a gunner in the Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery. He was captured 3 December 1942 in Tourba, Tunisia. He was in P.G. 59 from 3 March 1943 to 3 June 1943, when he was transferred to Camp 146 in Northern Italy, where he was employed in farm work at satellite camp 26 (Torre D’Arese) until his escape on 10 September 1943.

He made his way to Switzerland, arriving on 28 October.

This could nicely parallel Ronald’s experience. That fact that Charles apparently included his middle name when referring to himself—most men are listed without a middle name or simply with a middle initial—makes me suspect he used Percy as his preferred name.

This item appeared in a local newspaper after Ronald was captured.

Chester Gunner in Switzerland

Mr. and Mrs. J. McCurdy, Parkgate Road, Chester, have received news that their son, Gunner R. E. McCurdy, R.A., who has been a prisoner of war in Italy since December, 1941, has escaped to Switzerland.

Gunner McCurdy is 29, and was a manager in North Wales for Wooler and Sons, public works contractors.

Names and Addresses

Ronald kept a list of addresses of fellow prisoners in a copy of the Christmas 1942 calendar booklet distributed to POWs in Italy by Pope Pius XII. See “Ray Kestner’s ‘Christmas Book’” and “Charles Simmons’ Calendar and Address Book” for other examples of using this booklet for addresses.

Thirty-one of the 32 addresses are British. One is an Italian address:

Sig. Luigi Moscara
Casoli per
Gambarana
Provincia di Pavia

The name of the comune seems to be spelled Gambara, but I could not find a comune of that name in the province of Pavia.

However, there is a comune of Gambarana (population of 254 in 2010).

I asked my friend Carlo Fierens, who lives in Northern Italy, for his take on this addresss.

He wrote, “What an interesting puzzle! The only town in the province of Pavia with a name that could resemble what is written would be Gambarana (a very small village I never heard of). I think that’s likely to be the case. Don’t be fooled by what comes before that: ‘Casoni per’ could be translated with ‘[big] houses to…’ meaning probably a group of houses of farms on the road leading to Gambarana. It could be written by someone who didn’t know the exact address but was pretty confident that the postman (or whoever was to locate that) could find the place just from that description. I found that there is still a route in the Pavia province that is called ‘Strada Provinciale SP 123 dei Casoni’ so it makes perfect sense to me.”

Luigi Moscara might have been the owner of a farm that served as a satellite camp where Ronald worked. Or he may have been a local Italian who provided help when Ronald and Percy were on the run.

A list of satellite camps in Italy, compiled by Brian Sims from repatriation reports of POWs who escaped to Switzerland, is on The Pegasus Archive website. Thirty-nine P.G. 146 satellite camps are listed, although the satellite numbering goes as high as 83, suggesting the list is far from complete.

Gambarana is 30 kilometers south of the P.G. 146 Sforzesca hub—close enough to have had a satellite camp.

Here are the names and addresses in the book:

J. Ashbiden
24 Church Street
Sutton-on-Hull
E. Yorks. [Yorkshire]

W. Isaac
14 Poplar Grove
Sculcoates Lane
Beverley Road
Hull
Yorks. [Yorkshire]

C. H. Greenslade
42 Fourlands Rd.
Idle
Bradford (Yorks) [West Yorkshire]

J. Kendal
36 The Oval
Salterbeck, Workington
Cumberland

J. Sunderland
35 Shakespeare Avenue
Carr House Estate, Todmorden
Lancs. [Lancashire]

Sydney C. Hesketh
95 Hampstead Road
Fairfield
Liverpool, 6

W. Hilton
16 London Rd.
Oldham

S. Hopcroft
77 Moonshine Lane
Southey Green, Sheffield

E. L. Pollock
37 Whitefield Rd.
Sale
Ches. [Cheshire]

W. Snoddon
61 Lloyd St.
Everton
[61 Lloyd Close, Everton, Liverpool]

T. W. Lister
The Vicarage [Tally-Ho Lane]
Guiting Power, Cheltenham

J. W. Babbington
72 Alpha Rd.
Chingford, London, E4

H. Stephenson or Stephenoon
33 Spital St.
Sheffield 3

G. Tudor
34 Ruskin St.
Briton Ferry, Glam. [Glamorgan] S. Wales

D. W. Allum
17 Ashcombe Road
Wimbledon, London S.W.19

R. C. V. Byne
10 James Gdns.
Wood Green, London N22

Duncan Townsend
49 Sandford Grove Road
Sheffield, Yorks. [South Yorkshire]

A. T. Lipscomb
37 Winifred Rd.
Green Lane
Dagenham
Essex

G. French
24 Pakeman House
Pocock Street, Southwark
London SE 1

A. R. James
Castle View, Harmby
Leyburn
Yorkshire

J. Bryan
21 Stockfield Rd., Streatham
London, SW16

J. Hill
19 Westbury Rd.
Forest Gate [London]

A. Jenkins
25 Howard Road
Cricklewood [London]

F. Marks
18 Kemps
Hurstpierpoint
Hassocks, Sussex

J. Brack
c/o Mrs. Duplessis
46 Claverton St.
Victoria [London] SW 1

A. Tomlinson
3 Marine Promenade
New Brighton

Sig. Luigi Moscara
Casoli per
Gambarana
Provincia di Pavia

B. K. Jones
3 Bromfield Place
Penarth, Glam. [Glamorgan, S. Wales]

G. Evans-Hughes
Brigeilfod
Llangwm, Corwen

Lt McKenzie
District H.Q.
Moorlands
Elmfield Rd.
Gosforth

Gnr. McKenzie J. W.
“D” Company
No 1 ASTU
Becketts Park
Leeds 6

Mrs See Board of Trade
Raleigh Home
Dalton Sq
London SWI

Camp Affiliations for POWs Listed

I matched names on Ronald’s address list to listings in the Alphabetical List. Overwhelmingly the men are shown to have been interned in P.G. 59. A few others were listed at P.G. 65, 53, and 66. Others had no matches in the Alphabetical List.

Here are the affiliations:

J. Ashbiden
There is no match for this name.

W. Isaac
Camp 59 – Isaac, W. – Drv. – T/4758172 – R.A.S.C. – R.O. No. 29

C. H. Greenslade
Camp 59 – Greenslade, C. H. – Drv. – 4757913 – R.A.S.C. – R.O. No. 29

J. Kendal
There are two POWs named J. Kendall in the Alphabetical List (none spelled Kendal):
J. Kendall – Camp 53 (Sforzacosta) – Sgt. – 759164 – R.A. – R.O. No. 5
J. Kendall – Camp 65 (Gravina-Altamura) – Pte. – 3711024 – K.O.R.R. – R.O. No. 18

J. Sunderland
Camp 59 – Sunderland, J. – Tpr. – 7910326 – R.A.C. – R.O. No. 3

Sydney C. Hesketh
Camp 59 – Hesketh, S. C. – Sgm – 2350330 – R. Sigs – R.O. No. 10

W. Hilton
Camp 59 – Hilton, W. – Gnr. – 1567671 – R.A. – R.O. No. 6

S. Hopcroft
Camp 59 – Hopcroft, S. – Gnr. – 1482642 – R.A. – R.O. No. 6

E. L. Pollock
Camp 59 – Pollock, E. L. – Bdr. – 891647 – R.A. – R.O. No. 5

W. Snoddon
Camp 59 – Snoddon, W. – Gnr. – 1566870 – R.A. – R.O. No. 6

T. W. Lister
Camp 59 – Lister, T. W. – Tpr. – 7911951 – R.A.C. – R.O. No. 3

J. W. Babbington
Camp 59 – Babbington, J. W. – Cpl. – 6700562 – R. Bde. – R.O. No. 24

H. Stephenson
Camp 59 – Stephenson, H. – Sgt. – 1082238 – R.A. – R.O. No. 5

G. Tudor
Camp 59 – Tudor, G. – Sgm. – 2591183 – R. Sigs. – R.O. No. 10

D. W. Allum
Camp 59 – Allum, D. W. – Sgm. – 2585112 – R. Sigs. – R.O. No. 10

R. E. V. Byne
In the Alphabetical List, R. E. V. Byne is identified as interned in P.G. 66 in Capua, seems the likely match:
Camp 66 (Capua) – R. E. V. Byne – Gnr. – 1529644 – R.A. – R.O. No. 6
Although R. E. V. Byne is identified as interned in P.G. 66 in Capua in the Alphabetical List, Brian Sims has documented this POW as R. E. Byne (same service number) and indicates he was in P.G. 59 at one time. See “More Commonwealth Inmates of P.G. 59.”

Duncan Townsend
Camp 59 – Townsend, D. – L/Sjt. – 1479176 – R.A. – R.O. No. 6

A. T. Lipscomb
Camp 59 – Lipscombe, A. T. – Gnr. – 921774 – R.A. – R.O. No. 6

G. French
Camp 59 – French, G. T. – Rfn. – 6969194 – R. Bde. – R.O. No. 24

A. R. James
Camp 59 – James, A. R. – Gnr. – 1568410 – R.A. – R.O. No. 6

J. Bryan
Camp 59 – Bryan, J. E. – Drv. – T/223011 – R.A.S.C. – R.O. No. 29

J. Hill
Camp 59 – Hill, J. – Drv. – 255418 – R.A.S.C. – R.O. No.29

A. Jenkins
Camp 59 – James, A. R. – Gnr. – 1568410 – R.A. – R.O. No. 6

F. Marks
Camp 59 – Marks, F. G. – Tpr. – 5733538 – R.A.C. – R.O. No. 3

J. Brack
Camp 59 – Brack, J. – L/Sgt. – 319428 – R.A.C. – R.O. No. 3

A. Tomlinson
Camp 59 – Tomlinson, A. T. – Gnr. – 1566874 – R.A. – R.O. No. 6

B. K. Jones
Camp 59 – Jones, B. K. – Tpr. – 7888188 – R.A.C. – R.O. No. 3

G. Evans-Hughes
There are no POWs by the name Evans-Hughes listed in the Alphabetical List.

J. W. McKenzie
Camp 66 (Capua) – McKenzie, J. W. – Sgt. – T/2812672 – R.A.S.C. – R.O. No. 29

Images

1 thought on “Ronald McCurdy—Escaped to Switzerland

  1. lorenzomorganti

    It seems to me that the Italian address written by Mr McCurdy could be ” Casoni dei Peri “, a very small group of houses near Garbana (fraction of the comune of Gambolò), located between Mortara and Vigevano. We’ll keep you posted on further information.

    Dott. Lorenzo Morganti, Istituto Storico della Resistenza Novara

    Reply

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