Author Archives: Dennis Hill

P.G. 59 Internee’s Home to be Featured on A House Through Time

David Olusoga presents the history of A House Through Time.

A new season of the popular British television series A House Through Time begins tomorrow, April 8, on BBC 2 TV.

Each year the series focuses on one house, telling the story of all the individuals who have lived in the house since it was built, as a way of exploring both British and world history.

Episode 4 of this season, airing on Monday, April 29, will feature the story of Camp 59 internee John Bell.

I first became aware that John Bell’s home would be featured last July, when I heard from an archivist at Twenty Twenty Television, which produces the series. Tracey Li wrote, “The house we are focusing on in this series is in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England.

“During part of the first half of the twentieth century the house was occupied by an individual called John Bell who fought in the Second World War and was held as a prisoner of war in various locations in Europe, including Camp 59 Servigliano.”

I had no documentation of John Bell having passed through Camp 59, but Tracey and Hugo MacGregor, production director for the John Bell episode, kindly answered my questions.

John Bell arrived in P.G. 59 on January 29, 1942, and was held there for 13 months before being sent to Camp 53 (Sforzacosta) in February 1943.

Hugo said John Bell kept extraordinary diaries of his time as a POW, with an entry for each day from his capture in 1941 to his release in 1945.

“John Robert Bell,” Hugo wrote, “was in the Northumberland Hussars C Squadron. He was captured in North Africa at the end of Operation Crusader, in December 1941, as part of the 7th Armoured Division.

“He was sent to Benghazi briefly, then to Tripoli (by boat), then to Capua (in a holding camp for a week), then finally sent to Camp 59 (Servigliano), then on to Camp 53 (Sforzacosta). After the Italian surrender, he didn’t escape and was surrounded by German forces.

“He was then sent to Stalag XVIIA near Vienna, with a brief spell in Stalag XVIIIA, before finally being sent to Stalag VIIIA (Gorlitz).

“As the Russians approached, he made the Long March back to West Germany, where he was rescued and flown back to Britain. All this is described meticulously in his diaries.”

In writing last week to let me know the date the episode on John Bell would air, series producer Mary Crisp said, “His story is amazing—so powerful.”

Nathaniel Halliday—Bailed from Halifax Bomber, Captured

A Halifax Mk III bomber in flight

On November 18, 1942, Flight Sergeant Nathaniel Halliday (Royal Canadian Air Force) participated in a bombing mission launched from the Royal Air Force station at Graveley, in Cambridgeshire, England—the target: Turin, Italy.

He would not return for nearly two years.

According to an M.I.9 report, the crew of his Halifax bomber consisted of:

Wing Commander W. C. Robinson (pilot)
Flight Lieutenant M. Middlemass (first navigator)
an unnamed Australian wireless operator
Flight Sergeant Potter (fight engineer)
Flight Sergeant Bruce (tail gunner)
Flight Sergeant Butler (mid-upper gunner)

Nathaniel Halliday himself was the flight’s navigator.

Their mission accomplished, the aircraft was hit by flak on its homeward journey, 10 minutes after leaving the target.

The crew bailed out, and the following day Nathaniel was captured just north of Turin.

A detailed account of the Halifax DT488 mission is on Pete Tresadern’s excellent 35squadronresearchgroup website:

Nathaniel was held in Turin for five days. He was then held in an interrogation camp in Rome from November 23 to December 12.

On December 13, he was transferred to P.G. 59 Servigliano, where he was interned until the mass breakout from the camp on September 14, 1943.

“I moved with Flight Sergeant Moran via Santa Vitoria, Monte San Martino, to Montefalcone,” Nathaniel explained in the report.

“We stayed here from 18 September 1943 to June 1944. On 19 June, we moved to Castel di Croce, where we made contact with a British soldier named Brooks, who put us in touch with further help.

“Our route home was Ascoli (on foot), and then by truck to Termo, and by truck and train to Naples. We were flown home from Naples, leaving on 13 July, and reaching the UK on 19 July.”

Nathaniel McClure Halliday was born on September 11, 1915—he was 27 at the time of his capture. His service in the RCAF began on November 5, 1940.

At Graveley, he served in the 35 Squadron Bomber Command.

His “peacetime profession” was salesman, and he lived at 3440 West 22 Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia.

This post is based on a report to M.I.9 (July 20, 1944) from the British National Archives that Brian Sims shared with me several years ago.

For other posts about Italian prisoners of war who were members of the Royal Canadian Air Force, read “John Leon Turner, Royal Canadian Air Force” and “Laurence Barker—Died for His Country.”

Oscar Ruebens—Snapshots from the Past

Oscar Ruebens, wearing round eyeglasses in these photos.

I received a message from Carrie Stevens last year on November 19. She wrote, “I am reaching out to you because I am the great granddaughter of Oscar C. Ruebens.”

Sergeant Oscar Ruebens (SN 12016749) served in the Infantry of the U.S. Army.

His Italian POW card, archived at the U.S. National Archives, indicates he was captured in Tunisia on December 23, 1942.

Given the date he was captured and the fact he was in the Infantry, it seems likely he was taken captive during the first battle of Longstop Hill, December 23–24, 1942.

The POW card indicates Oscar was transferred from Tunisia to PG 98 on Sicily on December 28, 1942, and to PG 59 Servigliano on January 23, 1943.

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Ernest Debenham—Downed after Convoy Strike

Flight Serjeant Ernest Debenham’s daughter Lesley shared this “photo on his wedding day to my mum, Ethel Mary Debenham (née Hoyle), who he had met through scouting before the war.

Lesley Woollacott (née Debenham) wrote late last month, “I have been looking for information about my father, W/O Ernest Debenham RAF 996601, who died in 1979. I know that he was a POW at Camp 59 Servigliano and somehow escaped. He was interrogated on return to the UK at 3 P W Transit camp on 22 January 1944.

“Unfortunately, my dad didn’t talk much about his wartime experiences. He was shot down in the Mediterranean (I think he would have been navigator/gunner) flying out of Malta and walked out across the wing of his plane to be taken prisoner of war.

“I understand that he escaped by just walking out of the camp, probably with another person, and they just kept walking. He could count to 20 in Italian and ask for a box of matches, and said they somehow passed German soldiers. He was assisted by an Italian family I believe, but I’ve no idea how he got back to the UK.

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Serjeant Joseph Groves—Fallen in Pito, Italy

12 Tory, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, UK—the home of Joseph and Phyllis May Groves. The photo is courtesy of Jonathan Falconer, who comments, “I suspect he only lived there briefly after they married in June 1940 and before his regiment was posted overseas the following month to Egypt. Even so, he is commemorated on Bradford-on-Avon’s war memorial in the town centre.”

The Grave of Joseph Groves in Ancona War Cemetery.

The inscription on the marker reads:


11TH FEBRUARY 1944 – AGE 36

[The crest of the Royal Horse Artillery is carved within a cross]


Sjt. Joseph Groves was captured in North Africa, interned in PG 59, and was killed in Italy four months after his escape from the camp. Some records, including the marker at Ancona War Cemetery, indicate he died on February 11, 1944. In fact, he was killed by soldiers of the German Brandenburg Regiment on March 11, 1944, during a surprise ambush at Pito, Italy.

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Edwin Rogers—A Soldier Returns

Edwin Rogers, as a staff sergeant on his return from overseas

I heard recently from Rita Chaney, who lives here in the U.S. in the state of Kentucky.

Rita wrote, “My uncle was a prisoner in CC 59 in Italy. His name was Edwin P. Rogers from Kentucky. His name is on the Dual Deck of Playing Cards.” See “Dual Purpose Deck of Cards.”

Ed Roger’s POW card, kept by the Italian government during the time he was a prisoner in Italy, is on the U.S. National Archives website.

That card indicates Ed was interned in P.G. 98 on Sicily (transferred to that camp from Tunisia on December 26, 1942) and in P.G. 59 (transferred from Camp 98 on July 23, 1943).

Although the date Ed was captured isn’t clear on the card—it’s either December 20 or 22, 1942—it seems likely he was captured at the first battle of Longstop Hill.

On the National Archives site, an additional POW record for Ed confirms the last camp where he was held was P.G. 59. Many escaped POWs were recaptured and sent to Germany. However, Ed seems to have successfully evaded recapture.

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Luther Vaughn’s Daughters Forge A Friendship with the Cesari Family

Luther and Anna Vaughn

Adele, Loredana, and Francesca share old family photos with Judy Ingersoll during Judy and Victoria’s 2006 visit in Italy.

In January 2007, when I first set out to research the story of Camp 59, I made contact with Ian McCarthy of Associazione Casa della Memoria—the memorial association of Camp 59 in Servigliano, Italy.

Ian provided historical background about the camp, and he put me in touch with Judy Ingersoll and Victoria Vaughn, two daughters of American serviceman Luther C. Vaughn. Like my father, Luther had been a POW in Camp 59.

Victoria and Judy had recently been to Italy to see the camp and meet members of the Italian family that hid and fed Luther after his escape from P.G. 59.

On March 8, Victoria wrote, “How thrilling to hear from you! It is like hearing from a long-lost brother, as our fathers were brothers in arms.

“Dad was in the 1st Armored Division, 27th Field Artillery. He was a staff sergeant on a half-track. He deployed out of Fort Knox, Kentucky. His name was Luther Claude Vaughn, and I think his nicknames were “Ark,” “L.C.,” and who knows what else. He was captured at Tabourba, Tunisia, on December 6, 1942.

“On our visit to Servigliano, we met one family member who was living when Dad was there, as well as the descendants who were the warmest and most wonderful people.

“In 1943, Luigi and Lucia Cesari had three children: Renzo, Francesca, and Elena. Their son Pacifico had died in the war.

“Renzo married Adele, and their sons are Claudio and Pierluigi. Claudio is married to Laura, and Matteo is their son. Pierluigi is married to Enrica, and their daughter is Genny.

“Loredana is Francesca’s daughter.

“It was fascinating that everywhere we went in the area, people who heard our story recalled a GI who was with their families for some period of time. The Italians really seemed to embrace our POWs who escaped from Camp 59.

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