Category Archives: Robert Dickinson

Celebrating Family Ties

A Dickinson family outing to the beach. At front are Robert, youngest brother Len on the lap of his mother, and his father. In back are brothers James and William.

On this occasion—the Thanksgiving weekend, when American families gather to feast, remember the past, and meditate on their blessings—I’ll pause for a moment to reflect on the universality of family ties.

Here are three families—British, American, and Italian—who have connections to prisoners from Camp 59. The stories of Robert Dickinson, Marino Palmoni, and Armie Hill are well-covered in a number of posts on this site.

In celebration of this holiday, here is an international family album.
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“Servigliano Calling”—A Return to Camp 59

Robert Dickinson kept a diary, titled “Servigliano Calling,” from the date of his capture by the Germans until six months before his death (November 23, 1941 to September 3, 1944).

Robert arrived at Camp 59 on January 18, 1942, and a year later—on January 24, 1943—he was transferred to Camp 53 in Sforzacosta.

Robert’s log for his year in Servigliano is a fascinating, candid record of daily life and events in the camp.

I first learned about “Servigliano Calling” though e-mails from Robert’s nephew Steve Dickinson in April 2008.

Referring to Camp 59, Steve wrote:

“My uncle spent some time there during WW2, but was later transferred to another camp in Northern Italy. At the time of the armistice he walked out of that camp and fought with the Italian partisans until his death towards the end of the Italian Campaign.

“However, during his stay at Servigliano he kept a diary like many of the POW’s. This was found during renovations in a farmhouse [in Gassino, Italy] where the partisans had been hiding him some time after the war and returned to the family. It details the day to day events in Servigliano, football matches, escape attempts, cooking recipes, poetry, etc….”

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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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“Servigliano Calling” Poem #34

This poem by Cpl. D. Nevitt brings to a close the posts of prisoners’ poems recorded in Robert Dickinson’s “Servigliano Calling” prison camp diary. There are 34 poems in all in Robert’s journal.

In this poem, “To the Editor of Picture Post,” Corporal Nevitt expresses dismay at the complaints of soldiers at home over the deprivations they feel they are suffering.

Compare their situation to the lot of soldiers at war, Nevitt says, to realize where true hardship lies.

To the Editor of Picture Post


The other day, whilst on an O.P.,
One of your pages I happened to see;
An article there gave me such a surprise,
That at first I could hardly believe my eyes.

“Twas from a poor soldier way back o’er the sea;
I’m sure we all send him our deep sympathy;
He’s twelve miles from town, that’s a long way, I’ll say,
For I walk almost that for my food every day.

It’s not just for one but for others I speak,
For I’ve heard they only get one dance per week;
Now one week itself is a long time I know,
For the last dance I went to was twelve weeks ago.

They must sleep on the floor, which causes them aches;
We’re lucky, we only get scorpions and snakes;
Sugar is scarce, so their tea’s not too grand;
They should see what’s in our tea—both sugar and sand.

But sarcasm aside, it takes me to tell
That with their ack-ack guns they’ve done very well;
But next time they moan they should hold back their horses,
And think of the boys in the Middle East Forces.

Note: O.P. is perhaps a military operating procedure. Ack-ack is slang for anti-aircraft fire.

“Servigliano Calling” Poem #33

This poem by H. Stewart is a rousing defense of the reputation of the British Army’s Seventh Armoured Division. The division was known as the “Desert Rats” and its mascot—a red jerboa—is displayed on its insignia.

“The ‘Seventh Armoured Div’” is one of three poems by Harry Stewart in Robert Dickinson’s journal, “Servigliano Calling.”

The “Seventh Armoured Div”

I once wrote a poem, which brought forth comments,
From different fellows in tank regiments,
Who said I was sadly deficient of sense,
Just because I stood up and put it to you,
That the Seventh Armoured Div. was out on the blue.

And one fellow, quite heated became,
And said ’cos you’re captured, you’ve no cause to blame,
This famous old Div., and subtly its name,
In vain I protested that all of us knew,
That the Seventh Armoured Div. was out of on the blue.

He said he was joy-making back at the base,
Persuaded a second we were holding this place,
Whilst we were retreating six different ways!
“You Machilé yes-men”, he said, “couldn’t do
Half that the Seventh Armoured Div. did out on the blue.”

He said “To point out the fact that he’s here,
Showed the Seventh’s life ain’t all skittles and beer”;
But he left his Mark 2 back at Agadabia!
The fact that he’s here is quite clearly true,
But the rest of the Div.’s still out on the blue.

However, we’re hearing queer stories again,
About loosing our tanks, and generals, and men,
But all good “prigioniere” are sifting the “gen”,
And if all the rumours are true—good enough,
At last the Seventh Armoured Div. is doing its stuff!

Note: The phase “all good ‘prigioniere’ are sifting the ‘gen'” seems to mean that the attentive prisoners are weighing incoming information about the war.

“Servigliano Calling” Poem #32

This is another of Cpl. D. Nevitt’s eight poems in Robert Dickinson’s journal.

Like several of the corporal’s other poems, “Escarpment Escapade” is a ballad of an event during the war.

Escarpment Escape:
An account of the June encounter

The dawn broke clear and crimson,
With a halo of golden rays,
As the Tommies woke up early,
For this was a day of days.
Today the “Wops” and “Jerries”,
Were to get a big surprise,
And not a pleasant one at all
By the look in those soldiers’ eyes.

At zero hour the trucks moved off,
Arcoss the yellow sand,
The sight they made, dispersed for miles,
Was nothing short of grand.
The men all joked as usual,
And sang any old refrain,
Although they knew that some of them
Would ne’er see dawn again.

They stopped, at last, to let the tanks
Wake Jerry from his bed,
He didn’t get hot coffee that morn,
But hot lead instead.
For above the roar of artillery.
Came the Besa’s deadly rattle,
And the men slide on their bayonets,
Then charged into the battle.

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“Servigliano Calling” Poem #31

This humorous poem gives a revealing peek into daily prison camp life—and behavior!

It is one of three poems by H. Stewart in Robert Dickinson’s journal, “Servigliano Calling.”

It wouldn’t quite do for the Ritz!

I’ve noticed since being “prigioneri” here,
That manners have gone by the board,
One often sees things done, quite coolly, that which
As a civvy one would have abhorred.
And really, we ought to remember these things,
Or one day our folk will have fits,
It hardly would do for the Berkeley, old boy,
It wouldn’t quite do for the Ritz!

To sit down to dinner without any shirt,
Is a habit of ours, I’m afraid,
And cleaning our teeth in a dixie of stew
And shouting rude words on parade.
You should say to the man eating lemons next door,
As pips in your coffee he spits,
It hardly would do for the Berkeley, old boy,
It wouldn’t quite do for the Ritz!

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“Servigliano Calling” Poem #30

“The ‘Bluebell’ Must Go Though” is one of eight poems by Cpl. D. Nevitt recorded in Robert Dickinson’s prison camp journal.

The “Bluebell” Must Go Through

I’ll tell you all a story
That’s ne’er been told before,
Of how our gallant merchantmen,
Are helping win this war.
T’is the story of a convoy,
Of a dozen ships at least,
That were bringing ammo and the “bluebell”,
To troops in the Middle East.

The Navy supplied an escort,
With some of their finest ships,
And the Admiral wrote out an order,
For this was a trip of trips.
“My men I send you a message,
To every ship and its crew,
No matter what may befall you
The ‘Bluebell’ must go through!”

“Though you be bombed by hundreds
Of Heinkels and Messerschmidts,
All must stick to their stations,
Even if the ships are in bits.
We may be attacked by cruisers,
By battleships and submarines too,
But never forget your orders,
The “Bluebell” must go though!”

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“Servigliano Calling” Poem #29

This gem of a poem is one of four by A. Forman (including one he co-authored with C. G. Hooper-Rogers) in Robert Dickinson’s “Servigliano Calling.”

The title of this poem plays on the popular idiom “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride,” meaning that wishing for or wanting a thing is not the same as getting it.

If Wishes were Horses

The Red Cross came to our prison camp,
To hear complaints and such.
Two thousand voices spoke at one,
Resulting in “plain Dutch.”

But with the help of interpreters;
Pro-Iti’s not the word,
He made some sense of all our din,
And this is what he heard.

Our first complaint was breakfast,
We miss our ham and eggs,
And by the time our lunch is up
We’re knock-kneed round the legs.

And then ten-thirty seems the time
For team fruit-cakes, and buns,
The tea we’ve got, so send the rest
Big, fat, and well baked ones.

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“Servigliano Calling” Poem #28

“‘Gonna’ Win,” is one of six poems by C. A. Hollis recorded in Robert Dickinson’s “Servigliano Calling” journal.

“Gonna” Win

When you’re feeling blue,
And you don’t know what to do,
And prison life to you seems such a bore.
When you’re feeling out of sorts—
Making hasty, bad retorts,
Just remember, that we’re gonna win this war!

Though you’ve lost your place in battle,
And you’re penned in just like cattle,
And your pride has been battered pretty raw.
Though you haven’t got your guns,
You’re still old Britain’s Sons,
And remember, that we’re gonna win this war.

You have done your little bit,
Though you didn’t make a hit,
Your pals are sure to add it to their score.
So lay a double bet,
It’s victory they will get,
For aren’t we going to win this bloomin’ war?

And someday you will find,
When you’ve left this life behind,
And the “Wops” have shown you where’s the door.
That you’ll say to your sons,
The new Brittanic ones,
Old England always wins a blinkin’ war!