Category Archives: Robert Dickinson

Packages Sent from Home

A page in Robert Dickinson’s journal,”Servigliano Calling,” is dedicated to “next-of-kin” parcels received.

Relatives of Allied prisoners were allowed to send one package four times a year to their loved ones. How this process was conducted in Canada was described in an Ottawa Citizen article about the services of the Canadian Red Cross Enquiry Bureau on April 26, 1944:

“There are 6,365 [Canadian] prisoners and internees on record whose next-of-kin are issued quarterly labels for personal parcels by the Department of National War Services….

“As soon as a man is officially declared a prisoner of war, another pamphlet is sent [by the Red Cross Enquiry Bureau] advising the next-of-kin what to do about parcels and enclosing the latest postal regulations.

“The bureau also receives reports from the supplementing committee of the Red Cross by which it is enabled to keep in touch with the next-of-kin who have difficulty in making up their quarterly parcels. One of the duties of the Red Cross is to see that the parcels are up to their full weight and it is through these reports that the liaison officers of the Red Cross branches are able to offer help to those in need of it.”

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Red Cross Parcels

Red Cross Parcels distributed in Axis camps during the war were essential to the Allied POWs’ survival.

Robert Dickinson describes the eagerly awaited parcels in his diary; it’s clear that interruptions in parcel distribution were times of anguish.

Italian historian Giuseppe Millozzi, in his dissertation, Allied Prisoners of War in the Region of the Marche and Prison Camp at Servigliano, notes the following:

“English, Canadian and also New Zealand Red Cross sent to POWs various parcels some that contained clothes, tobacco and other necessities but the most important ones were food parcels that helped POWs to survive with the meagre Italian rations. Parcels coming from Canada and New Zealand were the richest as in those countries there was no food rationing such as in England that was under the constant threat of German bombing.

“Food parcels that had reached the camp were not enough for everybody and therefore they were divided among POWs. During the distribution of them, the Italian authorities usually punched food tins to prevent any the POWs from storing them for use in an eventual escape. POWs use tins of food, tobacco etc. as exchange goods; furthermore they recycled all the empty tins as the metal was very useful to construct a great variety of utensils.”

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Cigarette Parcels

Robert Dickinson recorded parcels of cigarettes received in his “Servigliano Calling” journal.

His girlfriend Ida was the primary supplier of cigarettes. Others came from his family and from his regiment in Lincoln, England.

Player’s brand tobacco was manufactured by John Player’s tobacco company in Nottingham, England. Higgs Bros. was a tobacconist shop in Lincoln.

Comments below in italic are from Robert’s diary.


No. 1. Received July 23rd. 200 Players From Ida.

Jul 23rd [1942] First big parcel, just right have got no cigs. 200 Players from Higgs, no senders name.

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Robert Dickinson—Books and Readers


Received 21st. August 1943.

Girl in the Dark.
Murder for Christmas
Grapes from Thorns

The following passages from Robert Dickinson’s diary in “Servigliano Calling” convey the importance of books to the prisoners. The nighttime reading aloud of books in Robert’s hut was welcome escapism—even worth risk of punishment!


Jul 9th

Denis and I bought a Penguin book “Crump Folk going Home” costing 20 Lira. A good investment, have now access to practically all the books in the camp. Reading aloud at night because of the bugs not letting one sleep; starting at 10pm till midnight.

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Robert Dickinson—Calculating Nutrition

Two charts:

Daily Ration Scale W.E.F. 22nd. December 1941. (In grammes per head daily 50 grammes = 1¾ oz.}

Daily Ration Scale W.E.F. 13th. March 1942.

This page with two charts from Robert Dickinson’s journal, “Servigliano Calling,” shows Robert’s awareness of basic nutritional needs and his meticulous effort to ensure those needs were met.

The food categories in the first chart (December 22, 1941) are:

Meat, rice or macaroni, oil or fat, tomato, grating cheese, table cheese, vegetable, sugar, coffee subs., biscuit, bread, and wine.

The food categories in the second chart (March 13, 1942) are slightly different. Vegetables listed are in dried form, and the chart lacks biscuit and wine categories.

On March 12, 1942, 
Robert wrote in his diary, “News of drastic cut in rations.” And on the following day he recorded, “Rations cut by more than half!!” The second chart reflects that severe cut.

It’s alarming to see the drop in rations for several categories from one chart to the next. The second chart, for instance, lists a reduction of meat from servings on five days a week to only two, and the portions on those two days are smaller. Rice or macaroni servings and bread are substantially reduced in the second chart. Oil or fat are a little reduced, but quantities of tomatoes, cheese, vegetables, sugar, and coffee are similar in the two charts.

Do the charts reflect what Robert actually consumed in a given week in the camp, or the balance he hoped for, given the scarcity of food in the Camp 59? The reference to “grammes per head” suggestions that he had his “chums” in mind as well as himself.

Mrs. Dickinson to Mrs. Crooks—Letters

The following two letters were sent from Robert Dickinson’s stepmother to Denis Crooks’ mother when the two sons were overseas during the war.

Robert’s mother—also the mother of his brothers James and William—died young. Robert’s father, Leslie Dickinson, married again—to Nellie, the author of these two touching letters.

Leslie and Nellie had a son together, Len Dickinson. Letters and cards Robert sent while in service to his little brother Len are posted elsewhere on this site.

Thanks to Denis’ daughter, Maggie Clarke, for sharing this material.

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Robert and Denis—“Best of Chums”

Pictured above are Robert Dickinson (left) and Denis Crooks.

The 12 letters in this post were sent to me by Maggie Clarke, Denis Crook’s daughter.

Ten of the letters were among those Denis sent to his parents while he was interned at Camp 59–Servigliano. The final two were written in Camp 53–Sforzacosta. The letters are a testament to the deep friendship between Denis and fellow prisoner Robert Dickinson, who is mentioned in each of the letters.

Denis also is frequently mentioned in the log of daily events in Robert’s prison camp journal, “Servigliano Calling.”

The two men were, as Denis put it, “best of chums” from January 1942 to May 1943. When Robert was transferred from Camp 53, it would be the last time the two men would see each other, as Robert did not return from the war.

In addition to reports of what Denis and Robert were up to, the letters provide a wealth of information about daily life in camp—invention and refinement of the “blowers” the men used to warm food, the concoctions that they created from Red Cross parcel contents (see also “Robert Dickinson’s ‘Campo 59 Cookery'”), and details of a camp-sponsored “grand carnival” (see also “Carnival Time”).

(No. 11) April 12th. [1942]

Dear Mother and Dad,
I received another two letters last week—no. 50 dated 4th. Feb. and letter-card dated 30th. Oct. and then today I had a letter-card (no. 3) dated 1st. of March, so I was very pleased. After I had written my last letter on Easter Sunday we received another Red-Cross food parcel, one between two. I and my friend Bob were very lucky, we had an apple pudding (tinned of course) and with it we each ate a pound of jam which we had bought at the canteen; we get paid here and can buy cheese and jam at the canteen. Gee! was it good!!! Amongst other things we had ½ lb. oatmeal, so on Monday the cookhouse made porridge for those who had oatmeal, and that was jolly good too. I hope these parcels come fairly regularly now. [missing text] had an extra 8 o’clock service last Sunday morn… [missing text] that. There were over 100 chaps there. The padre has [text missing] evening services every evening at 7:30 for about 10 minutes. I hope you are receiving my letters every week now, we write regularly every Sunday. Please thank everybody for their greetings, and for being so good to you at home, it must have been very worrying for you. Remember me to Michael and Joan Field, and also to Elsa and through her to Ron Gilbert. Yes, I do smoke a little, it helps to pass the time, so I’d love to get some cigarettes. We have an Italian issue every week, and also 50 English with each parcel. Glad your back is O.K. Dad, keep it up! Lot of love and kisses from Denis xxxxxxx

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