Category Archives: Robert Brawn

Robert Brawn—the “Escape to Happiness”

Robert Brawn

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.

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Brawn/Douglas—A Reunion of Families

In 1943 Robert Brawn and Albert “Paddy” Douglas escaped through the Maloja Pass (pictured here) into Switzerland. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons / Böhringer.

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. 

The two POWs never met again. 

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