Category Archives: Prisoners—Camp 59

Reginald Skinner in Switzerland

Escaped Allied POWs bask in the beauty of their Swiss harbor

Many Allied soldiers who escaped from prison camps in northern Italy in the fall of 1943 made their way safely to neutral Switzerland.

Reginald Skinner was among them.

Reginald’s granddaughter Hannah Angell doesn’t know in which Swiss community he found shelter. Other POWs represented on this site found refuge in Alpine resort villages such as Adelboden, Arosa, and St. Gallen.

Reginald kept the following photographs as reminders of his time spent Switzerland.

(See also “Reginald Skinner—P.G. 59 and Beyond.”)

Reginald Skinner—Notebook Poetry

A poem from Reginald Skinner’s prison camp notebook

Reginald Skinner’s prison camp notebook contains seven full-length poems. (See “Reginald Skinner—P.G. 59 and Beyond.”)

The poems are:
Reflections of a P.O.W.
Appreciation
The Fireside Fusiliers
The Mirage
Evening
The Long Range Desert Group
A Father’s Story to His Son

Reginald did not record the authors of the poems, but some of the poems appear with attributions in other prisoner’s notebooks, most notably Robert Dickinson’s “Servigliano Calling.”

“Reflections on a P.O.W.” is in G. Norman Davison’s diary, and the same poem also appears in “Servigliano Calling” with the shortened title “Reflections.” See “Camp 59 Poets.”

In addition, “The Mirage” and “The Fireside Fusiliers” are in “Servigliano Calling.” All three poems are credited there to Cpl. D. Nevitt. (See “The ‘Servigliano Calling’ Poets,” “‘Servigliano Calling’ Camp Poem #8,” and “‘Servigliano Calling’ Camp Poem #10.”)

Of course, it’s entirely possible Reginald wrote some of the poems in his notebook himself.

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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.”

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Niel Nye—A Clergyman’s Perspective

Niel Nye

Chaplain Niel Nye, Royal Air Force

Today is Easter Sunday, and I can’t think of a better day to add a post on Niel Nye, who was a chaplain in Camp 59, to this site.

On a deep, personal level, Niel felt Easter represented hope and renewal. As a Royal Air Force chaplain, it was that spirit that he sought to impart year-around to soldiers fighting in France and North Africa, and to the interned POWs of P.G. 59.

I’ve mentioned him on this site before.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from David Osborn, who wrote, “I was researching family history for a friend of mine (Christopher Nye) when I came across this page which amazingly contains a letter, handwritten by his father Niel Nye:

“Letter from P.G. 59 Chaplain ‘Niel’ Nye”

When David contacted me he had already shared the page with Chris, and he told me Chris “was absolutely delighted to read the letter, and he recognised his father’s handwriting instantly. He is extremely grateful to Ms. Stewart that she shared the letter with you—it is a priceless piece of his family history that he would otherwise never have known existed.”

David put me in touch with Chris, and Chris and I exchanged a number of emails:

“My dad was a remarkable man who had a remarkable war.” Chris wrote. “After he escaped from P.G. 59, he had an exciting four months travelling south to meet the American forces as they drove north. He had several near misses and I recall him telling me of his adventures when I was about six, sitting in a bath that became colder and colder (but I didn’t notice, as I was so wrapped up with his story!!). When he got back to the UK, his adventures continued: he was appointed chaplain to Bomber Command, then went across to Europe a few days after D-Day. He was one of the first British officers to relieve Belsen concentration camp and, after the German surrender, set up a leadership training college in Hamburg to help with the German reconstruction. When he finally returned to England, he was appointed as vicar in three different parishes (Clapham, Morden, and Maidstone), and then joined the Archbishop of Canterbury’s staff as diocesan missionary. He was finally appointed as Archdeacon of Maidstone. He retired in the 1980s and died in 2003. His obituary in the London Times covered half a page!

“I will look out his biography which is hand typed (so I can’t easily send it electronically) and will post you a paper copy, if you like. It’s not brilliantly written (to quote your docs, he was never that academic!!) but it covers the basics of an interesting life.”

I was thrilled to receive the manuscript in the mail about a week later. It’s a fascinating, candid, frequently intimate account of his experiences—spiced throughout with rich humor. From his first memories of childhood in Bromley (in Greater London, England) to a very active retirement after leaving his position as Archdeacon of Maidstone, I was captivated by the tale!

Today I’m sharing the several chapters that cover Niel’s wartime years.

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Francis “Frank” Ironside—A Hunt for the Past

a young soldier

Francis “Frank” James Ironside

“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!

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A Haven in Smerillo

an old Italian woman carries a bundle of sticks on her head

Letizia Galiè in Del Gobbo

This story has a remarkable heroine—Letizia Galiè in Del Gobbo, who lived during the war in the Marche comune of Smerillo, roughly 10 miles from Servigliano. Days after the prison camp breakout from P.G. 59, she was approached by two ragged, hungry American soldiers.

Widowed just seven years earlier, Letizia was left alone to provide for and raise six children. Yet she did not hesitate to welcome the escapees into her home.

Marco Ercoli shared the story of his grandmother’s courage and humanity with me.

He wrote, “My grandmother, Letizia Del Gobbo, hosted in Smerillo two American prisoners escaped from Camp 59 in Servigliano. She remembered just their names: Michele, whose his parents were Italian emigrants, and Beo.

“They arrived in Smerillo on September 1943 and remained there until June 1944, when the U.S. Army moved into the Marche region.

“The family Del Gobbo in 1943 was made up of my grandmother Letizia, widowed in 1936, and three sons—Antonio, Giacomo, and Giuseppe—and three daughters—Maria, Chiarina, and Palma (my mother). Antonio had lost a leg in 1940, when he was 17, and they were very poor.

“Yet they had the strength to host—at great risk—the two Americans.

“Only Antonio, 96 years old, lives still in Smerillo. The others have all died.

“Two years ago, Ian McCarthy [of La Casa della Memoria] gave him a filmed interview.” Also, Pasquale Ricci, an Italian with an interest in the escape stories, has written about the Del Gobbo family in his book 9 Settembre 1943: Lo Sbando e La Fuga.

“I am writing a short story about the experience,” Marco said. “When I finish it, I will send you an English version. And I’ll send you photos of Antonio (called Ntontò) and my grandmother Letizia (“nonna Litì”).

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Salvatore Mirabello—In His Own Words

two cards with Italian addresses

The family of Nazareno Marani assisted Salvatore Mirabello and the men with whom he escaped from P.G. 59.
Pietro Marani was Nazareno’s father.


Nazareno Marani
Frazne [Frazione] Molino
Monte S. Martino
Pcia [Provincia] Macerata
Italia

Pietro Marani
Via Lama
Grottammare
Ascoli Piceno
Italy

“My grandfather, Salvatore Mirabello, was an American POW at Camp 59 from approximately January through September of 1943,” says Nikki Morello.

“We have some exciting pieces of history we’ve saved from his experiences, including his biography—spoken by him and handwritten by my grandmother.

“I’d be happy to share any information to continue the understanding and preservation of this piece of history. I am also struggling to find details on the family who kept him safe while he lived in Italy from September 1943 through the spring of 1944. I have been scouring the Internet and Ancestry.com but with misspellings and no living memories—my grandfather passed several years ago—I’m coming up blank. I would greatly appreciate any recommendations or assistance.”

I wrote to Nikki, “I take it your grandfather is the “Sam” Mirabello referred to in ‘Simmons’ Address Book—the Americans‘ and ‘A Southward Migration.'”

She replied, “‘Sam’ is most definitely him. I’m guessing he identified himself by saying he was Salvatore ‘Sam’ Mirabello and became ‘SS’—we’ve seen it on quite a few things throughout the years. His actual name was Salvatore Vittario Mirabello.’

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Oscar Ruebens and John Withers—Escape Reports

At left, Oscar with wife Virginia E. Howell; at right, Oscar in 1940

Sergeants Oscar Ruebens and John Withers served in the same unit of the U.S. Army’s First Division in North Africa. In December 1942, they were captured together at Long Stop Hill. Both men were sent to P.G. 98 on Sicily and then transferred to P.G 59 Servigliano.

The friends left Camp 59 together during the mass breakout on September 14, 1943, and they made their way to the Allied lines in less than two months.

I first posted about Oscar on this site in February of last year, “Oscar Ruebens—Snapshots from the Past.”

I have since been in touch with Oscar’s youngest daughter, Laura Turner, who kindly sent me snapshots, news clippings, and documents. I will share some of these in separate posts.

For this post, I am sharing Oscar and John’s repatriation reports.

Mentioned briefly in Oscar’s report is John Turner. I believe this is John Leon Turner (“John Leon Turner, Royal Canadian Air Force“).

The POW repatriation reports were prepared during WW2 by MIS-X Section, POW Branch of the U.S. War Department.

The reports are courtesy of the United States Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA), Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama.

Oscar C. Ruebens

EX-Report No. 65
16 Dec 43

Sgt. Oscar C. Ruebens, 12016749, Co. C, 18th Inf., 1st Div.
From – Camp 59, Servigliano, Italy

Missing in action – [not recorded]
Date of capture – 23 Dec 42
Reported P/W – 9 Jan 43
Escape – 14 Sep 43
Rejoined Allied forces – 11 Nov 43
At – South of Atessa, 78th Div.
Previous in interrogation – Br. I.O. Hq.; Am. I.O. at Bari; Am. I.O. at 23rd; Repl Bn., Algiers
Arrived in USA – 8 Dec 43, Newport News, Va.
Home address – R.D. #1, Shortsville, N. Y.
Age – 23
Length of service – 3 yrs., 2 mo.

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Ronald McCurdy—Escaped to Switzerland

This photo of British gunner Ronald McCurdy (left) and a fellow prisoner, who we believe is his friend Percy, was sent in a letter from P.G. 59 to Ronald's parents.

An address on the back of the photo bears the numbers 14/48.

Occasionally, the return address on a postcard from P.G. 59 will include a hut number. In this case, I believe the numbers 14/48 refer to Hut 14, Section 48.

Another example of referring to huts and sections—and even bed numbers—is in “Douglas Allum’s Camp 59 Prisoner List.”

Ronald’s daughter, Rona Crane, explains, “My Father was born and brought up in North Wales. Chester is not far over the Wales/England border.

“My Grandparents moved to Chester just before the war due, I think, to my Grandfather’s work. They returned to North Wales after the war.

“I now live in South West Wales due to my Husband being originally from the area.”

Rona shared what she knows about Ronald’s POW experience:

“My Father escaped and got to Switzerland, where he was housed in a hotel and then sent home.

“When he escaped he went with a few others, but they were tracked by the Germans with dogs. He and his friend got away by getting into a river, and the others got split up and I think were either captured or shot.

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Following the Trail of Bernard Evans

Bernard Evens beside an ambulance he drove in North Africa

In the Alphabetical List of POWs in Italy published by the British during WW2, Lance Corporal C. Bernard Evans, T/115699, Royal Army Service Corps, is listed as having been interned in P.G. 53 Sforzacosta.

However a single card sent home from P.G. 59 is evidence he was also interned in Servigliano. A drawing on the card is dated 26 November 1942.

“We don’t have any letters that my grandad wrote home—just the postcard,” Bernard’s granddaughter Clare Mason, of Staffordshire, England, wrote to me.

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