“I wonder if you can help me,” Mary Tretton wrote to me today. “My father died many years ago and never talked about his years in the war. We had no idea he had been a prisoner of war until just prior to our mother’s death.
“At the time you listen, but don’t ask questions—just so many now are running around in my head.
“The only clue I had was many years ago we were discussing places to go on holiday, and I suggested Tunisia. He said, ‘Why would you what to go there, the bowels of the earth.’
“I thought at the time it was a strange thing for Dad to say, but I never asked why.”
We know that Francis “Frank” James Ironside was interned in P.G. 59. He was recorded as such in the Alphabetical List compiled during the war.
Mary wrote, “As far as I know, Dad enlisted—or he might have been conscripted—in 1941 (not sure about the actual dates) and joined the Royal Artillery (RA) as a gunner in an anti-tank regiment. He was deployed into North Africa under Eisenhower as part of Operation TORCH on 10 November 1942, just two days after the invasion was launched.
“This fighting in the desert was brutal and as an anti-tank gunner he would have been in the thick of it on the forward edge of the front line. From what I now know, I’m not surprised he didn’t talk about it much!
“He was declared ‘Missing’ (aka Missing in Action) on 4 December 1942, but it was not until 29 January 1943 that this was changed to be ‘Missing believed to be Prisoner of War’—six weeks of believing that he had perished for the folks at home. He was then reported to be a ‘Prisoner of War in German hands (Germany)’ and held in Italy, (POW Camp 50 Cavalleria, Genoa). This camp, near Rome, is listed as a ‘storage centre’ or elsewhere as a ‘Quarantine and Clearing Camp,’ so it may well be that he wasn’t there for very long, or he was made to work for the Germans. Which was not allowed under the Geneva Convention, but it most certainly did go on!
“Finally, he was reported as no longer being a POW on 16 June 1945, although the Record Card indicates ‘Escaped and in Allied hands, South Italy’ on 10 May 45.
“It might be that he had been moved to Germany and I can’t find this record yet. The bottom line, though, is that he was a POW for two and a half years and that was hard for anyone.
“The information I have was gathered with the help of a kind gentleman who just has a great interest in history and loves the challenge of research.”
I could only confirm for Mary that for a time her father was in P.G. 59. And I pointed out the “(XVIIIA)” after her Dad’s name on the record she shared suggests he was a prisoner in the German stalag Oflag XVIII-A Lienz/Drau. He might have been transferred there by the Germans after Italy capitulated in September 1943, or he may have escaped and been recaptured by the Germans.
I asked Mary to tell me about her father’s personal life.
She continued, “As a young man, prior to the terror of war….
“Dad was born 30 November 1920 in Macduff, Banffshire, Scotland. He was eleven when both parents died—in 1931 and 1932. He was the eldest of five children who were all split up. He went to live and I guess work on his uncle and aunt’s croft—I’m assuming in the MacDuff area—before joining the army.
“When he came out of the army, as far as I am aware, he trained as a bricklayer and moved in with his sister in Invergowrie, Nr Dundee.
“Dad married my mum, Sarah McCandless, on 2 July 1947 in Dundee. They went on to have four children—Elizabeth, Mary, Frances, and Walter—and they moved to Bradford, West Yorkshire, for work 1964.
“He died 24 October 1988 in Bradford, West Yorkshire.
“Mum was born 29 March 1920, in Whithorn, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. She died 17 April 2007 in Bradford, West Yorkshire.
“Dad had a difficult life—being orphaned at eleven, going through the nightmare of war, and then loosing his life to cancer in his mid-sixties—but he was the kindest, sweetest man you could meet, and I’m very proud of him.”