Thick, well-guarded walls must have seemed an impenetrable barrier to the prisoners of P.G. 59. But miners in the camp envisioned another way out.
In his dissertation on Allied Prisoners of War in the Region of the Marche and Prison Camp at Servigliano, Italian historian Giuseppe Millozzi described a dramatic breakout from P.G. 59:
“Twelve POWs had managed to escape through a tunnel on the night between 11 and 12 September 1942. They were all recaptured and put in close confinement cells for ten days.
“Inspectors also reported that three POWs – Kuhn, Lacey and Well – had been charged with crime and therefore brought to trial. Red Cross delegates would have checked that the court-martial complied with the Geneva Convention.
“Gilbert Broadbent, an ex pow who was interned first at Servigliano and then at Sforzacosta, in his book Behind Enemy Lines, recounts the escape of the POWs in September:
“‘On this occasion, the tunnel started from n. 1 hut on the north side of the camp (…) . Men who had been miners, helped to make the tunnel. (…) The date for the attempt was the 11th and rumour quickly spread around the camp in the familiar words ‘tonight’s the night’. Early the following morning we all knew that 11 men succeeded in escaping. Many more had been ready to go, but Cpl. Holland, a big man, had unfortunately knocked in the sides of the tunnel and it took two and a half hours for the rest of the party to dig him out.’”
(Gilbert Broadbent, Behind Enemy Lines, Bognor Regis, Anchor Publications, 1985, pp 105-106.)
This photograph from the British Prisoners of War Relatives’ Association News Sheet, June 1943 issue, identifies British prisoners Eric Cooper (Streatham), M. R. Powell (Birmingham), Bill Parker (Dulwich), and W. D. Greenhalgh (Prestwich, Manchester) as prisoners in Camp 59.
This News Sheet was brought to my attention by Brian Sims, who accessed a copy of it in the British National Archives.
There is possible mention of three of these prisoners on the site currently:
John L. Turner of the Royal Canadian Air Force mentions a Royal Air Force pilot by the name of Eric Cooper in “John Leon Turner—Survival in Italy“:
“A friend in hiding 6 miles away, in another farmhouse, R.A.F. Pilot Eric Cooper, was in the same shoe destitute condition, so Turner, wearing borrowed native footgear, sloughed through mud to get his pal’s shoes fixed also.”
Camp 59 escapee British Lance-Sergeant Robert Henry Collins mentions the whereabouts of Royal Air Force Sergeants Parker and Greenhalgh in his repatriation report (in “Details on Remaining 10 British Escapees”).
Parker and Greenhalgh are listed in a section of the report entitled “late news of whereabouts of escapers”:
Sgt. Parker, RAF—last seen on September 17 near Amandaley
Sgt. Greenhalgh, RAF—ditto
Sergeant Collins does not say whether the sergeants were escapees from Camp 59 or another camp.
During WW II, the British and American Red Cross societies recognized that families who received notification of their sons’ capture would be in need comfort.
In times of war, that comfort was best provided by straightforward information on the conditions in prison camps.
The following items from the August and October American Red Cross bulletins sent to families provide just that sort of information about Camp 59.
Thanks to Al Rosenblum for sharing these bulletins with me for the site.
Prisoners of War Bulletin—American Red Cross
Illustration: Bales and cases of clothing sent by the American Red Cross for prisoners of war are stored in bonded warehouses of the International Red Cross Committee awaiting rail transport from Switzerland to Axis camps.
Prisoner of War Camps in Italy—No. 59
By Frank Abbott
One of the largest prisoner of war camps in Italy is No. 59, situated near the ancient town of Ascoli Piceno, which before the war had a population of some 25,000. Ascoli Piceno lies in the valley of the river Tronto in mountainous country about 90 miles northeast of Rome in the direction of the Adriatic coast. Mountain peaks rising over 3,000 feet are visible to the north, west, and south of Camp No. 59. For many years before the war the Ascoli Piceno region was a popular one for tourists from other countries.
The latest information available, based on March of this year, shows that there were nearly 2,000 prisoners of war in Camp No. 59—mostly British, but including 445 Americans, of whom 77 were noncoms and 368 privates. All the prisoners had been captured in the North African campaign and had only recently arrived at Camp No. 59. The camp leader, at the time of the visit, was Sgt. Major Hegarty (British). Besides Camp No. 59, there is also a military hospital for American prisoners of war at Ascoli Piceno.
A photograph of Camp 59 shot when the camp was occupied by Allied prisoners during World War II
This photo was taken from near the main gate (perhaps from the top of a building or a sentry hut), looking southwestward through the full length of the camp.
Rows of prisoner’s barracks are to the left and right. The small, shorter buildings between the barracks are latrines.
The photo may have been taken at roll call—the time each morning when the men were lined up outdoors to be counted.
The interior of the camp as it appears today
Both of these shots are from the same southwestward perspective as the archival image above.
This two-page memo from the U.S. War Department contains instructions for families on how to prepare packages to be sent to prisoners of war and civilian internees overseas.
The memo is from Matt Brazil and Bonnie Jacobsen (née Brazil), whose father, Staff Sgt. Matthew P. Brazil, was a POW at Camp 59. Matthew’s family undoubtedly used these guidelines in putting together parcels for him.
The parcels are the American equivalent of what British prisoner Robert Dickinson, in his camp journal, “Servigliano Calling,” called “next of kin” personal parcels.
Here is a transcription of the War Department memo:
Services of Supply
Office of the Provost Marshal General
March 11, 1943
The Provost Marshal General directs me to inclose a label which may be used within the date stamped thereon for the purpose of sending a prisoner of war or civilian internee parcel. Should you desire to use the label, it is suggested that the following mailing package instructions be strictly followed.
During the war, a British publication, The Prisoner of War journal, provided reports on conditions in POW camps to families of prisoners at home.
The journal was published by the Prisoners of War Department of the Red Cross and the St. John War Organization, St. James Palace, London.
Scans of the entire issue of this Prisoner of War publication—along with other issues of the journal from 1942–44—were contributed to the WWII Memories website by Jim Wicketts and his daughter Louise.
The following two items—from the April 1943 (Vol. 1, No. 12) issue of the journal—are reproduced here with permission of the WWII Memories site administrator.
The two on the right are old school pals who met again at Campo P.G. 59.
Campo P.G. 59 P.M. 3300, Servigliano
There are nearly 2,000 prisoners of war in this camp. A new building is nearly completed for N.C.O.s [non-commissioned officers] (of whom there are almost 300). The open spaces and roads in the camp are described as very muddy, although a great deal of gravel has been laid down. The buildings are said to be warm and heating not absolutely necessary. Parcels are distributed fortnightly, and mail arrives rather irregularly. Clothing conditions are satisfactory. The water supply is reported to be still unsatisfactory; the new water main has not yet been installed. A British dental officer has been allowed to order the necessary material for treatment. (Visited December.)
Before traveling to Italy, I thought I had a good sense of what Camp 59 was like—the layout of the camp, construction of the buildings, and the encompassing brick walls.
Of course, no former POW’s story of how things were in the camp—or even actual photographs I had been sent of Camp 59—could convey so complete a sense of the place as I experienced on walking though the camp for the first time in September.
From within the walls, I could look in all directions, touch the soil, feel the autumn Italian sun on my skin, hear birds and see them flying overhead.
The camp today is a community park called Il Parco della Pace (the Park of Peace), with green lawns, shrubs, trees, and playing fields and courts for soccer, basketball, and other sports.
Italian historian Giuseppe Millozzi, in his dissertation Allied Prisoners of War in the Region of the Marche and Prison Camp at Servigliano, offers this description of Camp 59 as recorded in the Swiss Red Cross inspection report of May 1, 1942:
“The camp is formed of 16 wooden huts on concrete foundations. The rooves are tiled. Of those 16 huts (30m. X 10m.) 14 are occupied as dormitories, one as a store house, and another for recreation […] There are also three brick buildings; one used as a sick bay, another for shower baths and the third as a kitchen.”
Millozzi goes on to say, “Dormitories were sufficiently lighted thanks to 14 shutter windows, they had electric lights but there was no means of heating. Other ranks dormitories had 70 bunk beds, those for NCOs [non-commissioned officers] had 62 bunk beds. Each prisoner received a pillow, sheet (washed once a month in laundry), three blankets and a straw mattress which was regularly changed.”
From Armie Hill’s record of the men in Hut 4–Section 11, we can deduce:
There were 36 men in a section (including one man who was given the responsibility of overseeing the other 35). Men in the huts, or dormitories, were identified by “B. No.” (which might indicate bed number). Armie’s section numbering starts at 361, which is evidence that each of the preceding 10 sections were composed of 36 men.
The Red Cross report indicates the camp had a capacity of 2,000 men.
This note reads:
“SEC. No 11. received from Canteen 30 KILOS of onions at 3 LIRE per kilo TOTAL LIRE = 90 Lire To be payed on the 16/9/43.
“8/IX/1943 [signed] Armie Hill Sec. Sergt.”
This scrap of paper, which was both a receipt for onions received and an I.O.U. for payment owed, was in Armie Hill’s pocket when he escaped from Camp 59 on September 14, 1943.
Armie was the Section 11 “section sergeant,” the serviceman who was put in charge of the 35 American servicemen who lived with him in Hut 4—Section 11.
The date of the receipt is written 8/IX/1943, seemingly a combination of Arabic and Roman numerals. If this is the case, then the transaction date was September 8, 1943—the day the Italian Armistice was signed.
And the due date for payment was September 16, 1943—two days after breakout from the camp.
It’s interesting to learn the price on onions from this slip (paid for in special Camp 59 POW money, of course), and to know that at least on occasion purchase of food on credit was allowed.
In March of this year, ex-POW Neil Torssell sent me this diagram of a handmade Camp 59 cook stove. He labeled the parts of the stove: 1) fire pot, 2) air shaft, 3) blower pot with crank and fan blades, and 4) pulleys. Sketch 5 is a top view of the fire pot, showing supporting wires to hold the wood and fan blades under the wires for fast heating.
All parts were crimped together, he explained, as screws and solder were not available. Some of these burners were mounted on wood—when wood was available.