This week Anne Copley, who has been researching former POW Jack Bishop, visited Reading University, where the archive of the publishers Leo Cooper is held. The Cooper archive contains a file on the publication of Jack’s book In Pursuit of Freedom, including attendant publicity. The book was published in 1977.
Anne kindly shared several images of Jack for this post. “Jack was born 1910 in Bristol and enlisted in the Royal Navy when he was only 16,” she explained. “When he returned from a German prison camp he was demobbed, and for the rest of his working life he worked in the Granaries of the Bristol Port Authority.”
A comfort in battle and prisoner camps, pocket Bible lands home after 70 years
John Bingham and Mary Blaxland The Sunday Telegraph (London, England) 7 March 2015
Newspaper captions: Clockwise from left: the Bible’s inscription alongside a picture of L/Cpl Albert Douglas and wife Ellen; the Italian Servigliano labour camp; Sapper George Alan Boanas; and Mr Douglas and his wife on their wedding day
IT WAS a special delivery more than 70 years in the making—from the battlefields of North Africa and a series of Prisoner of War camps to a village social club in Hampshire.
When Margaret Boanas handed over a small leather-bound wartime copy of the New Testament to Paddy Douglas last month, it marked the fulfillment of an undertaking linking both of their fathers since 1943.
Richard Minshull, a member of the family of P.G. 59 internee Albert “Paddy” Douglas, sent me the Sunday Life (Belfast, Northern Ireland) article featured in this post.
“The one strand/theme that appears to come through Albert’s story is his commitment to faith. During his period of time as a POW in Campo 59, he became friends with Sapper George Alan Boanas (1907665) and passed his Bible on to him.
“George looked after this Bible throughout the rest of his time as a POW and vowed to give it back. Later, George’s family pursued Albert’s family, and in 2015 they met up to hand back the Bible to Paddy. When they met, George’s family gave their story.”
Here is a letter from Albert ”Paddy” Douglas to his wife Ellen—his first letter sent as a prisoner of war.
050993 L/Cpl. A. Douglas Prisoner of War 14/4/41 [14 April 1941]
My Dearest Darling,
I am now a Prisoner of War. I was captured in Lybia [Libya] but I am keeping very well and am getting treated alright. These people are very good to us, and you have no need to worry about me. I am O.K. and I hope this war does not last much longer, so that we can be together again in a very short time.
Tell my father and mother I am doing fine.
If you have not had word from the War Office, get in touch with the International Red Cross London.
Your Loving Husband L/Cpl. A. Douglas Prisoner of War XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXO
A People’s Courage: Civil resistance in German-occupied Italy, a book by Italian researcher and author Filippo Ieranò that was first published in Italy as Antigone nella Valle del Tenna, has been recently translated into English and published by London-based Monte San Martino Trust. It is available for purchase online.
A People’s Courage is described in this way:
“In September 1943 the quiet, rural region of Le Marche, in central eastern Italy, was thrown into turmoil by Italy’s Armistice with the Allies. The region’s prisoner of war camps were holding about 22,000 Allied servicemen who had been captured in North Africa. At the news of Italy’s surrender many of the prisoners escaped into the countryside. Hunted by the occupying Germany army and Italian fascists, they were in danger and in desperate need of food and shelter. They threw themselves on the mercy of ordinary people, in the main subsistence farmers, who themselves risked severe punishment, even death, if they were caught offering protection. Through interviews with members of the Italian families who hid escaped prisoners, historian Filippo Ieranò describes the tension and fear that afflicted the region until the Allies arrived to liberate it. He makes clear, too, the sacrifices made by these farming families, known as contadini: though poor, they shared what little they had with their unexpected guests. The Monte San Martino Trust, a British charity, today honours the protagonists in this remarkable story—one of courage and of great generosity in helping former enemies—by granting study bursaries in England to young Italians.”
In 2012, researchers at Northwestern University shared a study in the Journal of Neuroscience that indicates when a person remembers an event, their brain network changes in ways that alters later recall of the event; the next time the event is remembered, the person might recall what was remembered the last time rather than the original event.
Over the years Paddy would have shared his story many times, so it’s understandable he might recall details a bit differently by the 1970s, even if the story as a whole is consistent with the story as told by Robert.
Also, in the article Paddy recalls Robert’s surname as Brown, not Brawn, and gives a different street name—which, sadly, led to his failure to find Robert when he searched for him in Sheffield after the war.
Here is the text of the article:
Nightmare journey of a missing ‘desert’ rat
Posted as ‘missing’ in 1941, Belfastman Albert Douglas was actually on the terror trail to freedom. To-day he is spending his holidays retracing his wartime route through Switzerland and Italy where he was on the run from the Nazis. Before he left he told his story to ERIC WILKINSON.
For two days and nights German Panzers had saturated Mechili, a desert fort in North Africa, with shells until very little of it was above ground. In the morning like the “desert rats” they were, 500 men crawled out of their holes and were ordered to surrender. Outnumbered, bewildered and disheartened they stood wondering what the following years held for them.
Tim Brawn shared with me this narrative written by his father Robert.
Escape to Happiness
When reading this, remember I was a young man when it all happened, I was unarmed and therefore any risks taken could have had no repercussions—and the events took place in a world at war.
Firstly, I must stress that I’m no hero and therefore the story contains no heroes, but it is the truth.
Secondly, if from time to time I say we and not I, it is because for part of the journey I had the company of an Ulsterman, (Paddy) Albert Douglas.
At the time of the overthrow of Mussolini and the return of the monarchy, I was in charge of a working camp of 100 British POWs at a small village on the banks of the river Po in the fertile Po valley, growing crops and rice. The POWs worked on local farms, and as camp leader (capo banfo) it was my job to act as liaison with the detaining power, see that what the POWs were asked to do was within the terms of the Geneva Convention referring to POWs—and what I didn’t know about the Geneva Convention I made up! How I came to be in the north of Italy is another story.
In September 1943, the Germans were pouring vast numbers of troops into the north of Italy under Field Marshal Kesselring to fight the Italian Campaign, and to keep as many Allied troops occupied and therefore away from the European second front—which was overdue.
This story begins with two POWs during wartime whose lives became intertwined, and who formed a tight friendship in Italy.
Corporal Robert Brawn (1433896, Royal Artillery—from Sheffield, England) and Lance Corporal Albert “Paddy” Douglas (T/150993, Royal Army Service Corps—from Belfast, Northern Ireland) were both captured in North Africa. They were interned in Feldpost 12545 and P.G. 59 Servigliano before being transferred north to the Po Valley working farms of P.G.146/25 Chignolo Po.
They escaped captivity on 8 September 1943, met up again on the run, and then made their way together to Switzerland—arriving on October 30.
After the war, the men returned to home and family life.
Robert married his fiancée, Betty Wray, in 1945, and together they had two children—a a son, Tim, and a daughter, Debby. Betty had had her own war service at home—she was cited in Sheffield newspapers as a hero for collecting the dead and injured in an ambulance during the blitz on Sheffield when she was aged 17.
Albert and his wife Ellen had their son Albert, who like his father also goes by the nickname of Paddy.
I’d like to give a shout-out to Janet Kinrade Dethick for the two most recent books she has authored. I’m pleased to now own these two excellent volumes.
Some Corner of a Foreign Field: Deaths behind the Lines in Italy 1942–5 was published in 2022 and As if he were my brother: Italians and escapers in Piedmont, 1943–1945, was published in December 2021. The first book concerns POWs who met their deaths in enemy-occupied Italy. The latter covers the assistance escaped POWs in the Piedmont region received from local families and individuals.
Both of these books represent the type of academic excellence I’ve come to expect from this author. She is a meticulous researcher and a seasoned interpreter of WWII military records.
Janet has written several books and created more than a half-dozen websites. For more on her background and accomplishments, visit janetkinradedethick.weebly.com.
Some Corner of a Foreign Field: Deaths behind the Lines in Italy 1942–5
Here is the publisher’s description of this book:
“Even after capture, the full horrors of war still persisted. Bombed and strafed by our own planes, and shelled by our own artillery, the words ‘For you the war is over, Tommy,’ had a hollow ring … November 1942, after five months in Suani Ben Adem, we sailed from Tripoli, en route to Naples. We were held in the hold of a coal boat, battened down, with only a few buckets for sanitation purposes. Packed in like sardines, we would have had no chance of survival, had the ship come under attack from the Royal Navy, not an uncommon occurrence.”
“These are the words of Private Bill Blewitt, 1st Battalion, The Sherwood Foresters, captured near Gazala in the Western Desert. He survived his capture, but over a thousand did not.
Ten years ago, in August 2013, I wrote a post on this site, “Peter Grillo—Surgery ‘Sans Anesthetic,’” concerning a harrowing operation P.G. 59 prisoner Peter Grillo had for appendicitis. At the time, Peter’s son Roy and I knew that after Peter had been interned in P.G. 59, he eventually ended up in Stalag 2B Hammerstein, from which he was liberated at the end of the war. (See “Liberated Comrades-in-Arms.”)
What we weren’t sure of until recently was his actual dates of internment and where Peter’s surgery had been performed. We weren’t even sure whether the operation was in Italy or Germany.
I discovered the missing details recently through accessing Peter’s Italian POW card on the U.S. National Archives (NARA) website. (These identity cards were created and maintained by the Italian Ministry of War during the war as a way for the Italians to maintain records on the prisoners—and to meet basic requirements of the 1929 Geneva Convention.)
From Peter’s card I learned that after P.G. 59, he was held in three additional locations in Italy.