Reginald Skinner—P.G. 59 and Beyond

A spread from Reginald Skinner’s notebook

On the inside cover of his POW notebook, Reginald Skinner recorded his name, rank and company, as well as his bed and hut assignment in P.G. 59:

R.E.J. SKINNER. PTE.
6097228 BUFFS
BED. NO 1019 9 HUT.
CAMPO 59. PM. 3300
ITALIA.

Reginald Skinner of the Buffs

Recently Hannah Angell wrote to me from the UK. 

“My daughter has been doing a school project on WW2,” she explained. “My grandfather was a prisoner of war in Italy. After doing a little research, I believe he was a POW in Servigliano. I have attached some pictures of a pocket notebook from his time there and a picture of him. His name was Reginald Skinner. 

“My grandfather passed away eight years ago and he was a man of few words. He never shared any stories from his time in the war. All he told us was he was a POW in Italy and escaped to Switzerland. 

“The only memory he ever shared with me was when he had a toothache an Italian soldier took him away and they ripped the tooth out of his mouth! 

“He was in North Africa before Italy. I’ve found records with dates of capture and when he was interviewed in Switzerland.”

Hannah’s records show Private R.E.J. Skinner of the Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) served in the Western Desert of North Africa. He was captured on 15 December 1941. He was in at least one other camp after Camp 59: P.G 133 in Italy’s Po Valley. It was common for British prisoners interned in P.G. 59 to eventually be transferred to work camps in northern Italy, where they labored on farms—often in rice fields. 

Following escape from P.G. 133, Reginald crossed into Switzerland and was interviewed by authorities on 16 September 1943. 

Hannah continued, “My Aunty said when my grandad made it to Switzerland he was put up in a hotel. Many years ago he returned to Switzerland to find this hotel, but it had been knocked down. She seems to recall him mentioning that he did some work on a farm. I wonder if after he returned back to Britain he was posted out to Greece, as I found a record online which indicates he was there in 1944. My step cousin from Australia has been up in his attic and has sent me some photos of my grandad and I will attach them to this email.

“My family are so thankful and amazed by all of this and we are so grateful you want to add my grandad to your website. If it wasn’t for my daughters WW2 project I may have never found any of this out!

“My grandad’s hometown was Worthing,” she said. Worthing is a seaside town in West Sussex, England, at the foot of the South Downs, 10 miles west of Brighton, and about 18 miles east of Chichester.

“After the war, my grandad worked many jobs. He was a bricklayer, a carpenter, and a painter and decorator by trade. He also did gardening. He was a life-long supporter of his local football club, Brighton and Hove Albion. He sold season tickets, raffle tickets and match day programmes door to door. After he died, his ashes were laid to rest at a memorial garden at the American Express Community Stadium, Brighton’s home ground.

“My grandad worked until he was 84 years old. Once he stopped working, his health declined. He passed away on 21st October 2012 at the age of 92. 

I have attached a picture of my grandad as a young boy and the other is a picture which looks as though it was taken before the war. 

Reginald Skinner after the war
Reginald Skinner as a boy

Letters

Several pages in Reginald’s notebook are filled with lists of letters he received, while other pages contain lists of letters and cards he sent. For each item received, Reginald details the date the letter was sent from England and the date he received it. A typical letter sent from home took from three to four weeks to reach the camps. 

Giuseppe Millozzi notes in his dissertation, Allied Prisoners of War in the Region of the Marche and Prison Camp at Servigliano, that each prisoner was allowed to send every week one postcard not longer than 10 lines and one letter not longer than 24 lines. Reginald took full advantage of that privilege, sending an impressive 146 pieces of mail while a prisoner (75 letters and 69 postcards). He received 107 letters from home.

I asked Hannah if she recognized the correspondents.

“Phill is short for Phyllis, his first wife,” she wrote. “Harold and Ron were my grandfather’s brothers. I’m afraid none of us know any of the other people or the addresses.” 

In the list of letters and cards sent, Reginald noted one telegram sent—to Phill on 19 August 1942. I was very surprised to see this. The circumstances surrounding a POW being granted permission to send a telegram from the camp must have been extreme. 

Hannah explained, “The only reason we think he may have done this is because Phyllis left him while he was in the war. Their daughter Janet died and she left their son Reg with his grandparents. 

In 1942, Reginald sent three Christmas letters: to Phill, his mother, and “R & J.” Hannah clarified, “‘R & J’ would be his children, Reg and Janet. We know Reg was born in 1938. We are unsure of Janet’s birth year, but we think she was younger than Reg and possibly born after my grandfather left for the war. Reg also passed away in 2016.”

Eight addresses are written in the notebook. Unfortunately, names are not listed with the first four addresses. However, Reginald’s wife, Phyllis E. Skinner, lived at Church Cottages Aldingbourne, Aldingbourne, Chichester, Sussex. So the first address might be hers or her mother’s:

1 Hill View
Nyton Road
Aldingbourne
Chichester

Hope Cottage
Stretton
Alfieton
Derbyshire

24 Slindon
Arundel
Sussex

14 Center Court
Worthing

Here are the four addresses with names:

E.W. Mardell,
“Avondale” Larkfield,
Nr Maidstone, Kent

SJ Plumb,
Pannells Ash Farm,
Pentlow,
Nr Sudbury,
Suffolk

G. Reeves,
146 Moulscombe [Moulsecoomb] Way,
Brighton Sx. [East Sussex]

C. Salter,
30 Warwick Road,
Walthamstow,
London E17

Letters Received

Here is a breakdown of mail Reginald received:

One page lists 23 letters from home; 11 were from “Mum,” 10 were from “Gran,” and there were one each from George and Alex. The first letter was sent on March 23 and received on May 4. The last was sent July 10 and received August 3. Unfortunately, on this page he did not note the year.

On another page, Reginald records 22 letters from home; 13 were from “Gran,” 6 were from “Mom,” and there were one each from Harold, Mrs. Pheby, and Mrs. Ocher. The first letter was sent on July 17 and received August 4; the last was sent August 21 and received September 7. Unfortunately, on this page Reginald did not note the year.

On another page, he lists 22 letters from home; 10 were from “Mum,” 11 were from “Gran,” and one was from George. The first letter was sent on August 22 and received on September 7; the last was sent November 13 and received December 6. On this page he also did not note the year.

On two pages of the notebook, Reginald lists 40 letters received in P.G. 133; 23 were from “Gran,” 14 from “Mum,” and one each were from Harold, Alex, and Phill. The first letter was sent 7 May 1942, and received 24 June 1942; the last was sent 12 January 1943 and received 22 January 1943.

Letters and Cards Sent

Here is a breakdown of letters and postcards Reginald sent:

On one page, he records 23 letters and cards he sent; 12 were letters and 11 were cards. Eight were to “Mum” or “Mum-Gran,” seven were to “Phil,” four were to “Gran,” two were to “George,” and two were to “mother-in-law.” He sent the first on 7 April 1942 and the last on 26 June 1942. 

On two pages, he records 46 letters and cards he sent; 23 were letters, 22 were cards, and one (to “Phill”) was a telegram. Eleven were to “Phill.” Nine were to “Gran” and 11 were to “Mum.” One was to “Grans.” Three were to “Mum-Gran” together. Two were to “Harold.” One was to “Alex.” One was to “Uncle Fred.” Two were to “Mrs. Pheby.” Two were to George. One was to “Janet.” One was to “R-J” One was to Mrs. Ocher. Three of the letters (to “Mum,” “Phill, and “R-J”) were listed as Xmas letters. The first was sent was on 3 July 1942 and the last on 4 December 1942. 

On two pages, he records 48 letters and cards sent; 26 were letters and 22 were cards. Twelve were to “Gran” and 15 were to “Mum.” Four were to “Harold. Three were to “Grans.” Three were to “Alex.” Two were to “Dad.” Two were to “Uncle Fred.” Two were to “Paymaster.” Two were to “Ron.” Two were to George. One was to  “Phill.” The first sent was on 11 December 1942. The last letter recorded on the first page was sent in February 1943. However, Reginald did not record when the letters/cards recorded on the second page were sent. 

On two pages, he records 28 letters and cards sent from P.G. 133; 14 were letters and 14 were cards. Eleven were to “Mum” and 10 were to “Gran,” One card was sent to “Harold” and one card to “Harolds.” One card was to “Mrs. Horne,” one card was to “Alex,” and one to “Ronns.” The first sent was on 2 June 1943 and the last sent sometime after mid-August (the dates for the final six letters sent aren’t noted). These are apparently the last letters he sent before his escape from the camp.

Lists of Red Cross parcel contents on a spread from Reginald’s notebook

Red Cross Parcels

On several pages of Reginald’s notebook he lists contents of Red Cross parcels he and a fellow named Bill received. “My grandad never spoke of ‘Bill’ to anyone,” Hannah told me, “but it would seem from reading his notebook that he was a close friend, presumably from the camp.”

1st Red Cross Parcel

Own:
Steak Pudding, Sardines, Lemon Curd, Strawberry Jam, Galantine, Beans in Tomato, Cheeses, Biscuits, Dripping [fat and juices that have dripped from meat during roasting], Tea, Sugar, Milk, Sweets, Chocolate, Tin of Oranges, Soap

Bill’s:
Herrings, Bacon, Honey, Meatloaf, Peas, Tin Biscuits, Margarine, Fruit Cocktail, Black Current Puree, Cheeses, Biscuits, Tea, Sugar, Milk, Soap, Chocolate

2nd Red Cross Parcel

Own: 
Meatloaf, Meat & Veg [meat and vegetables], Plum & Apple Jam, Herrings, Baked Beans, Ginger Nuts, Oatmeal, Margarine, Tea, Sugar, Milk, Figs, 1 Pastall [a Pastille is a medicinal or confectionary lozenge], 2 Fig Bars, Chocolate, Biscuits, Soap

Bill’s:
Boiled Beef & Carrots, Meatloaf, Bacon, Baked Beans, Apricot Jam, Creamed Rice, Margarine, Marmite Cubes, Biscuits, Custard Powder, Tea, Sugar, Milk, Chocolate, 2 Pastalls, 1 Fig Bar, Figs, Soap

3rd Red Cross Parcel

Own:
Sausages, Meat Roll, M&V [meat and vegetables], Tomatoes, Apricot Jam, Cream Rice, Large Milk, Sugar, Biscuits, Sweets, 1/4 lb. Chocolate, Raisins, Tea, Soap, Margarine

Bill’s:
Bacon, Syrup (small), Meat Roll, M&V, Margarine, Custard Powder, Tin Biscuits, Mustard, Apricots, Tea, Sugar, Large Milk, Chocolate, 2 Fig Bars, Butterscotch, Soap, Ovaltine

4th Red Cross Parcel

Own:
Bacon, Meat Roll, M&V, Beans in Tomato, Raspberry Jam, Lemon Curd, Tin Figs, Cheese, Nestle’s [condensed] Milk, Marmite Cubes, Sugar, Dripping, Sweets, Tea, Coffee, Biscuits, 1/4 lb. Chocolate

Bill’s:
Sausages, Meat Roll, M&V, Peas, Sultana Pudding, Strawberry Jam, Creamed Rice, Milk Powder, Ovaltine, Sugar, Marmite Cubes, Sweets, Pepper, Salt, Chewing Gum, 1/4 lb. Chocolate, Margarine, Tea

5th Parcel

Own:
Bacon, Meat Roll, M&V, Tomatoes, Plum Jam, Paste, Cheese, Nestle’s Milk, Fig Pudding, Biscuits, Margarine, Sugar, Tea, Ovaltine, 1/4 lb. Chocolate

Bill’s: 
Bacon, Meal Roll, M&V, Beans in Tomato, Plum Jam, Apricots, Milk Powder, Sugar, Tea, Marmite Cubes, Dripping, 2 Fig Bars, 1/4 Chocolate, Ovaltine, Biscuits, Oatmeal

6th Parcel

Own:
Salmon, Meat Roll, M&V, Pea, Cheese, Syrup, Margarine, Nestles Milk, Ovaltine, Chocolate, Biscuits, 2 Sugar, Apple Pudd., Tea, Tomato, Juice

Bill’s
Salmon, Meat Roll, M&V, Tomatoes, Cheese, Syrup, DOMO [tinned milk powder—a product of Cow & Gate Limited, Guildford, England], Margarine, Cocoa, Chocolate, 2 sugar, 1 Fig Bar, Tea, Sultanas

7th Red Cross Parcel

Bill’s:
Herring, Sausages, Minced Beef, Lemon Curd, Honey, Peas, Diploma Milk [a brand of tinned milk powder], Margarine, Tea, Figs, Marmite Cubes, Cheese, Horlicks Tablets [an energy-boosting malted milk treat], Biscuits, Chocolate, Sweets, Salt, Choc. Bar

Own:
Galantine, Steak & Dumplings, Apricot Jam, Lemon Curd, Mixed Vegetables, Margarine, DOMO, Tea, Sugar, Paste, Horlicks Tablets , Raisins, Custard Powder, Chocolate, Sweets, Biscuits, Drinking Chocolate

8th Red Cross Parcel

Bill’s:
Salmon, Meat Roll, Stewed Beef and Veg, Syrup, Nestle’s Milk, Margarine, Healthy Life Biscuits, Marmite Cubes, Mustard, Chocolate, Tea, Sugar, Raisins, Cheese

Own:
Lusty’s Galatine, Bacon, Curried Beef, Damson [plum] Jam, Ginger Pudding, Nestle’s Milk, Margarine, Tomatoes, Cheese, Paste [made from meat or fish], Chocolate, Sugar, Tea, Biscuits

9th Parcel

Bill’s:
Sausages, Meat Roll, M&V, Carrots, Syrup, Nestle’s (small), Margarine, Creamed Rice, Apricots, Parkins [biscuits], Marmite Cubes, Pepper, Sugar, Chocolate, Sweets, 2 Fig Bars, Tea, Biscuits

Own:
2 Meat Rolls, M&V, Beans in Tomato, Tomatoes, Dripping, Syrups, Ambrosia, Cheese Paste, Biscuits, Yeatex [yeast extract], 2 Sugar, Raisins, Ovaltine, Chocolate, 1 Fig Bar, Sweets, Tea, Mustard

10th Parcel

Bill’s
Veal and Ham Roll, Irish Stew, Carrots, Margarine, Medal Milk, Greengage [conserve], Ham, Paste, Cheese, Raisins, Biscuits, 2 Sugar, Cocoa, Chocolate, 3 Fig Bars Tea

A spread from Reginald’s notebook

Foods Available to Prisoners in P.G. 59

On one page Bill jotted the following lines of poetry, followed by a list of prison camp fare, noting the weight of a typical serving in grams an ounces.

You may still be a prisoner
With nothing much to eat
But barley bread and biscuits
Macaroni, rice and meat
But you’ve still got the picture
And the war must finish some day
And from the news we’re getting
It’s not very far away.

List of Food While at Prison Camp

Bread – 200 grams – 7 ounces
Mac-or-Rice – 66 grams – 2 ounces
Meat (including bone) – 120 grams – 4 ounces
Cheese (table) – 40 grams – 1 1/2 ounces
Cheese (grating) – 10 grams – 1/3 ounce
Beans – 30 grams – 1 ounce
Tom-Concent [tomatoes, concentrated] – 15 grams – 1/2 ounce
Oil – 13 grams – 1/2 ounce
Sugar – 15 grams –1/2 ounce
Coffee – 4 grams – 1/4 ounce
Extras: jam, fish, orange, fennel, or onion

Commenced on 13/3/42 

I presume “Commenced on 13/3/42” is an indication that Reginald had recent arrived in P.G. 59 and access to these camp rations began on 13 March 1942.]

If this indeed represents what a prisoner was fed in camp each day, total consumption would be roughly 1,275 calories. According to the Mayo Clinic, a 25-year-old, somewhat active 5 ft/10 in male weighing 150 pounds (10.7 stone or 68 kg) has a daily calorie need of roughly 2,300 calories. It’s no wonder many former POWs have said Red Cross parcels and any food sent to them by relatives were essential to their survival. In camp diaries, men regularly wrote of gnawing hunger and they dreamed of bountiful meals they enjoyed at home before the war.

See also “Robert Dickinson—Calculating Nutrition.”

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