Category Archives: G. Norman Davison

A Season for Visits

John Davison, his family, and new Italian friends explore the grounds of the old Cararola farm, where Norman Davison was at first assigned to work and where he later found shelter.

Steve Dickinson and Dennis Hill were among visitors to Camp 59, where Steve’s uncle Robert Dickinson and Dennis’ father Armie Hill were imprisoned. At center was the hole in the wall—since mortared shut—through which many prisoners escaped from the camp.

For three individuals who have an intimate family connection to the prisoner-of-war camp at Servigliano, this fall was a unique time for discovery.

John Davison this year made contact with descendants of Giovanni Bellazzi, the northern Italian farmer who sheltered his father, escaped prisoner G. Norman Davison. Giovanni and his friends helped to arrange for Norman’s safe passage to Switzerland.

Norman had been a prisoner at Camp 59 before he was transferred to camps farther north, where he was required to work on farms.

In early September, John and his family visited the town of Vigevano and experienced a thrilling welcome. (See posts In Their Fathers’ Footsteps, Part 1 and Part 2).

Then, at the end of September, Steve Dickinson and I were among visitors to Camp 59 in Servigliano, where Steve’s uncle Robert Dickinson and my father Armie Hill were interned.

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In their Fathers’ Footsteps—Part 2

This post contains a second installment of news coverage in l’informatore of the Davison family’s visit to Vigevano, where escaped prison-of-war G. Norman Davison found shelter on the farm of Giovanni Bellazzi.

September 2, 2010
l’informatore

Caption for top photos: Some pictures of the day at Piazza Ducale and the Cararola house

Lower photo: Mariella Bellazzi, during the meeting on Sunday

War stories

Vigevano—A book, In the Prison of His Days, came to us unexpectedly, but thanks to this chance occurance we have uncovered an exciting story. This adventure, set against the backdrop of World War II, stars some of our fellow citizens who, risking their own lives, led English prisoners to safety in Switzerland. On Sunday, sons of the characters in this story met and together traced the courageous lives of their fathers.

The Englishman John Davison came to Vigevano to get to know the children of the brave men who saved his father 65 years ago

A meeting on the thread of memory

“In visiting these places we retrieved together the memory of our families”

A story of courage came to light through a book. The adventure of the British soldier Norman Davison saved with the help of a few courageous Vigevanesi.

A few days ago, children of the characters in this touching story met. John, the son of the English gunner, arrived last Sunday in Vigevano, where he was greeted by Mariella and Carlo Alberto, children of Giovanni Bellazzi, who in 1945 ran the Cararola farm, and Gigi Pistoia, friend of the Bellazzi family.

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In their Fathers’ Footsteps—Part 1

In September, John Davison, accompanied by his wife Lesley and daughter Eleanor, traveled from their home in the UK to the town of Vigevano in northern Italy for an exciting, much-anticipated adventure.

They visited the places where John’s father, G. Norman Davison, had hidden following his escape from imprisonment, and they met descendants of the brave Italians who had sheltered and fed Norman and several other POWs until it became safe for them to cross the border into Switzerland.

Regarding the trip, John said, “The best thing of course was meeting Mariella, Giovanni’s daughter and her family, and also Mario who was 8 years old at the time—he remembered my father and the other soldiers who Giovanni helped.”

The local l’informatore newspaper covered the Davisons’ visit. Here, translated into English, is the first installment of that coverage.

For a story about John’s first contact with the people of Vigevano, read the May 29, 2010 post, L’informatore on the Davison Rescue.

August 30, 2010
l’informatore

Caption for top photo: Group photo at the Cararola farm: John Davison with his family (center) and Mariella Bellazzi, Gigi Pistoia

Caption for photos at center: Some pictures of the day. Above, left: Mariella Bellazzi shows the six lire that her father had given to Norman Davison. Right, John Davison presents a copy of his father’s book to Carlo Alberto Pistoia. Below left: an emotional, smiling John Davison. Below right: the son of the British soldier—whom the Vigevanesi at the Cararola home helped to escape—with assessors Andrea Ceffi and Giorgio Forni.

65 years later …
A story of courage and friendship

Yesterday afternoon, a thrilling encounter occurred between the children of wartime protagonists—a meeting between a British soldier and some brave Vigevanesi

VIGEVANO—We started to tell this story a few months ago. A story of courage and friendship that had bound British soldier Norman Davison to Giovanni Bellazzi, Gigi Pistoia, Teresina Andreanne, and Lidia Stoppino of Vigevano. The adventure—until recently only the personal memories of its players—was brought to light thanks to the children of those “heroes without medals.”

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Bob Smith’s Adelboden Album

This set of photographs was taken in Adelboden, Switzerland, after Robert Smith’s escape from Italy.

The three photos above are all dated August 1944.

Because we know that G. Norman Davison was in Adelboden for a time (he arrived during the winter of 1943-44 and departed in October 1944), and that Patrick Cahill escaped to Switzerland and may have been in Adelboden, we have studied these photographs for servicemen bearing a resemblance to either man.

In the snapshot of the strolling men, we think the fellow in the middle might be Patrick Cahill. Of this image, Dean Cahill writes, “The man in the middle does bear a resemblance to my grandfather. We have some post-war photos in which he seems to walk with the same swagger.”

The other two photos were apparently taken on a patio of a hospital or hotel. In the center photo, Bob is at left—apparently smoking a cigarette. In the bottom image, he is on the right. We don’t know the identities of anyone else in these photos.

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L’informatore on the Davison Rescue

Since publishing his father’s memoirs last year, John Davison has continued to search for information about the people in northern Italy who protected Norman Davison and arranged for his safe passage to Switzerland.

This spring, Anne Copley told John that she had discovered a Web site dedicated to the resistance history of Vigevano—La Resistenza a Vigevano—and John’s subsequent contacts with this historical group led to a Vigevano newspaper’s research and publication of a two-page story on Norman’s rescue and the brave Italians who risked their lives to protect him.

L’informatore‘s report, translated into English, is below.

Courage and gratitude

L’informatore (The Informer), April 22, 2010
Commentary (“Coraggio e gratitudine”)
by Margherita Natale

We want to tell you a beautiful story, of those who, in the midst of so much misery and penury, keep true human values in their hearts. In a society which rewards highest the scramble for worthless honours and tin medals, here’s this book, written by an Englishman—Norman Davison—dedicated to a group of citizens of Vigevano who, in October 1943, saved him and his friends from raids by the Germans in the woods of Ticino, and arranged for their safe passage to Switzerland.

This was an episode we had not heard of, as it had been kept private by relatives of those who had taken part in the adventure. Their reserve and modesty is a sign of their honor.

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Camp 59 Poets

Bernard Petrulis’s story in the previous post ends with the poem “Prisoner Son,” which is one of the poems recorded in Robert Dickinson’s journal and presented on this site as “Servigliano Calling” Poem #4.

In Robert’s journal, F. Chiltern is credited for the poem.

The poem is also recorded in Edward Smith’s book of poems, and there, too, it is credited to F. Chiltern.

Alan Petrulis wrote that the poem “came from a small notebook full of poems in my father’s hand. I had thought he may have written them in camp but I was very apprehensive about ever attributing them to him.

“My father’s book contained nine poems: Unholy Conflict, Prayer of a Soldier, Wishful Thinking, Doubtful Future, Prisoner Son, In a Desert Outpost, Far Away Dream, Tribute to Women in an Air Raid, and The Gunner.”

Some of these poems are in Robert’s journal.

Of the nine poems, “In a Desert Outpost” is in G. Norman Davison’s notebook. And although “Prisoner Son” is recorded in Norman’s notebook—yet a fourth appearance of the poem—there the title of the poem is “Diplomacy” and the author is F. Chilton (not Chiltern).

Norman recorded an address for F. Chilton in his notebook:

F. Chilton
8, Alfred Road
Sheffield

This is Norman’s mate Fred Chilton. The two were sent to North Africa on the same boat, were captured together in Libya in April 1940, and were transferred from camp to camp together, eventually ending up in Camp 59. After their time in Servigliano, the men were sent to separate camps and, after escape from their respective camps, both made their way north to freedom in Switzerland. They were later reunited in their hometown of Sheffield. The story of the friendship is recounted in Norman’s memoirs, In the Prison of His Days.

There are more poems in Norman’s book: “A Point We All Agree,” “Ten Little Foreign Lands,” “A Little Toast to Love,” “Reflections of A P.O.W.,” and “A Tribute to The Women of Blighty.”

Of these, “Reflections of a P.O.W.” is the same poem as “Reflections” in Robert’s journal (though the poem is a slight variation).

“A Tribute to the Women of Blighty” is also in Robert’s journal. Again, some of the wording is different.

These poems convey so freshly and intimately the prisoner-poets’ longing for home and loved ones, pride in country, and feelings about war and the experience of captivity that it is a moving experience to read them again so many years after the war.