Category Archives: Robert Dickinson

“Servigliano Calling” Poem #27

This short work is the only poem by J. R. Cromley in Robert Dickinson’s “Servigliano Calling” diary.

It’s a simply stated—but heartfelt—observation.

It’s Principle Makes the Man

A man without principle
Is as a tree with no leaves,
A rose with no perfume,
Torrid day without breeze.

For principle is the spirit
Of the man that’s within,
Should he lack this fair jewel,
He makes life a sin.

Let it burn like a beacon,
Through his daily life;
He can make it a signpost
Midst trouble and strife.

“Now what is this principle?”
Fools often shout.
It’s the inner-man
Guiding the outer, about.

“Servigliano Calling” Poem #26

Aside from the entertainment provided by C. A. Hollis’s “Our Prison Canteen,” this poem is interesting as a snapshot of one aspect of prison life—the long wait in line to be served at the canteen and the disappointment when supplies sell out!

Of interest, too, are the foods the poet lists as available at the canteen.

Historian Giuseppe Millozzi has this to say about the Camp 59 prison canteen:

“The camp shop was open at the following hours:

• Morning 8.00 – 10.00
• Afternoon 13.30 – 16.00

“As time went by, besides the usual items, the shop started to sell wine and more and more POWs called it canteen. Takings were used to cover part of the camp expenses.”

Our Prison Canteen

In our camp, there is a queue,
Of men eternally waiting.
And if you want ought, you’ll wait too,
Each hour, fresh hopes creating.

Polony, oranges, cheese, and jam,
Will there be enough
To serve these men, and also me.
Now “Tutti” do your stuff.

The system’s bad, and blooming slow,
Two Italians, only serving,
Hooray!, only a hundred more to go.
It really is unnerving.

Perhaps one day, I’ll reach the door,
Before they’ve sold right out,
Maybe tomorrow they’ll have some more,
Till then, right turn about!

Salami, oranges, cheese and jam,
I never get a “Smell”,
With all these men in front of me,
Oh! “Tutti” go to hell!

“Tutti” was the nickname given to a Rhodesian, who acted as interpreter at the Canteen.

Note: Tutti in Italian means “all” or “everyone.” Polony is another name for Bologna sausage.

“Servigliano Calling” Poem #25

“The Link” is one of six poems by C. A. Hollis recorded in Robert Dickinson’s journal.

The “capturing chains” that link letter writer to reading prisoner is an unusual way to acknowledge the humanity that allows mail between loved ones to flow even in the worst of situations.

Perhaps the grateful serviceman pictured is a self-portrait of Robert.

The Link

There’s a time when we are happy,
T’is the happiest hour of the day,
When our capturing chains link us
With our homeland far away.

This link brings words of comfort,
Of friendship, and good cheer,
It brings to us the fondest thoughts
Of all who hold us dear.

They come from Town and City,
Wherever freedom flows,
The message that keeps us smiling
The smile, once surrender, froze.

They help us to remember
Each English hill and dale,
And each night our hearts whisper
Thank God for our mail.

“Servigliano Calling” Poem #24

“Army Slang!!!” by C. G. Hooper-Rogers and Alec. Forman is the only poem in Robert Dickinson’s journal credited to two poets.

C. G. Hooper-Rogers authored two other poems that Robert recorded in “Servigliano Calling,” and Alec. Forman (or A. Forman) authored three other poems.

The colloquialisms in this poem might have been lost to time except for their having been defined here.

Army Slang!!!

You’ll hear these words in any mess,
The meanings they are hard to guess;
“Pass the muckin”, you’ll hear a mutter,
When all meant is pass the butter.

If mess-orderlies do they duty,
They’ll keep you supplied with “Rooty”,
Supplied with Rooty? what’s that? you said,
Why rooty’s only just plain bread.

“Char and wads”, you hear them yell,
T’is a thing all Naafies sell;
Hindustani is from whence it comes,
They’re only ordering tea and buns.

“Tucker”, “grub”, “konner”, “skof”,
Food is all they’re talking of,
“Pawney” now that is a snorter,
But that and “moyer” is only water.

With “eating irons”, you play a tune,
The instruments—knife, fork and spoon,
“Gunfire please”, you’ll hear a shout,
When tea is being talked about.

So when you hear these words again,
Your face doesn’t screw up in pain,
Remember that we soldiers roam,
To other lands besides our own.

“Servigliano Calling” Poem #23

This ballad of heroism by Bdr. P. G. Whapples would have had special significance for Robert Dickinson, who was himself a gunner in the Royal Artillery.

The crest Robert drew to illustrate this poem is the same crest that adorns his grave marker at Milan Military Cemetery.

The Artillery’s motto, “Quo Fas et Gloria Ducunt,” translates “Where Duty and Glory Lead.”

The Gunner

Come sit by my chair lad, I’ll tell you with pride
Of my brave Gunner comrades who fell at my side,
Who stuck to their posts—the smouldering guns
Spewing destruction to those vile hated Huns;
In that thick desert heat—no where else can compete
Only Egypt and Lybia (one’s out in his feet)—
Through the smoke and the shell from my side came a yell;
I looked at old Brummy-Stone, dead as he fell;
Our No. one gone—leaving five, four, and three,
And a good pile of Ammo and with it was me.

The Jock gave a shout and said “Pal, count me out”
There’s a pain in my legs—the Devil’s own gout.
With a quick glance at Mac he was there on his pack,
With his “Scotland Forever ye’ll nae see me back”;
With our gun going well but leaving just three;
We were madmen from Hell when a sniper caught me.
I was game for a “do” but “lie still” from the two
Made me realize—my soldiering was though.
The Gerry came on in spite of the strain,
Towards our old gun-pit, but those two remain;
Old Jordie is hit, I could tell by his grin,
Just as I guessed—a great gash on his chin.

He was told to lay off but said “not on your life!
All’s fair in war but not to my wife;
It’s just them or me; I’ll not move an inch.”
He died like a Hero, not even a flinch;
Poor old No. three was doing his best
When all of a sudden the whole Gun went west,
But not by the Gerry—but old Number three
With a round in each end he destroyed it you see.
So listen! my lad—if a soldier you’ll be
Join up and be proud of the ARTILLERY!

“Servigliano Calling” Poem #22

The elaborate script, art deco typography, and art that decorate the titles of poems in Robert Dickinson’s journal, “Servigliano Calling,” are worthy of special attention in their own right.

Compare the drawing below of a Camp 59 lire to an actual Camp 59 lire bill; it is accurate down to the signature of Commandant Enrico Bacci.

It only takes a glance at Robert’s 1942 Christmas postcard home to his Mum, Dad, and younger brother Len to recognize Robert’s own artistry in these poem titles.

The brilliant, satirical “And They Pay Us a Lire For That” is one of three by Harry Stewart (or H. Stewart) in the journal. It’s one of my favorites.

Historian Giuseppe Millozzi had this to say about payment for work accomplished in the camp:

“Approximately fifty POWs worked in the administration of the camp. Being workers, they were entitled to double ration of food. A prisoner was the barber and he received a 60 liras pay per month. Among POWs there were numerous tailors and shoemakers who worked for a monthly pay of 30 lira.”

And The Pay Us a Lire For That

I’m really quite glad I’m a prisoner of war,
Although it seems silly to state,
We’re doing much better than ever before,
We’re far the best off, up to date,
We all look resplendent in clothes that are new.
We get lots of sauce and rice in our stew,
And we’ve none of our blinking “Arbieten” to do,
And they pay us a Lire for that.

The cookhouse fatigues here are really quite good,
And easy, or so I am told,
That’s I should say, if you dodge chopping wood,
And inside you get from the cold,
You go round and stir up a pot when you please,
And then help yourself to a large lump of cheese,
And if the stew’s thin, add a pair of split peas,
And they pay us a Lire for that.

They really look after our health quite a lot,
And look to our comfort and needs,
And p’raps when the Red Cross man’s looked at the spot,
We might get some sensible feeds,
We might swop the white wine again for the red,
And instead of muster, count us in bed,
They may even make’ em flour the bread,
And they pay us a Lire for that.

So really, I think we’re a fortunate swarm,
And just think how nice it will be,
Lazing around when the weather turns warm,
Just knocking back pints of sweet tea,
But now it’s quite warm in these beds without doubt,
And I lie there in luxury thinking about,
The poor “Iti.” sentry who’se freezing without,
And they pay us a Lire for that.

Note: Arbeiten is German “to work.”

William Redman—Captivity, 1941–45

William Redman was one of 20 men recorded in Robert Dickinson’s Address List in his journal, “Servigliano Calling.”

To date we have learned more about three of these fellows: Fred Druce, Jack Davies, and now William Redman.

In February, Jo Millard of Littlehampton (Sussex, England) wrote, “I have been researching my family tree, and I always knew my Mother’s brother was a prisoner of war in Italy but never knew where, as he very rarely talked about those days.

“Just by chance I stumbled onto your site and saw his name and address. So I now have a little bit more of the puzzle that is my family.”

Two months later, Jo sent her uncle’s story, which she found archived at the local government records office.

William’s POW Story

In due course, I joined up and very soon found myself in the Middle East, where I met up with Sef [William’s younger brother] in Cairo. After a short spell in the Artillery base, which was at Heliopolis—the biblical “City of the Sun”—I got posted to a unit somewhere up the desert. I was miles away from anywhere and after a while our captain warned us to be ready to move “up to the wire,” as the sappers would be cutting the wire for us to go into Libya.

The wire was a monstrous affair, quite eight feet high, four feet at the base, and tapered up until it finished at two feet at the top. It was one mass of barbed wire. I met up with a chap who had been with the Long Range Desert Group. He came with us to the quarry in Germany [the quarry—described later—was a work camp in Grimma, Germany]. He told me that they ranged all over Libya and as far as he knew the fence was all around the country.

We went through the cutting and turned south. There, in the vast uninhabited interior, we spent our time on maneuvers, getting ready for “the big one.” We had several skirmishes with the Germans and Italians whilst we prowled around there. Not too bad. I cannot remember if we lost any men. Then one day we were ordered to pack and go north to take up our positions for attacking the Germans, who were dug in around Tobruck. It was in November 1941. We opened up at about 10,000 yards according to our No.1, who timed another gun’s shell explosion. It was the commencement of the Battle of Sidi Rezegh. The 6th Tanks came through our guns, and their commanders, with their heads out of the turrets, waved gaily to us as they rolled on towards the enemy.

Continue reading

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

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.

“Servigliano Calling” Poem #21

“There’ll always be an England….” by G.A. Crawford is one of two works by this soldier-poet in Robert Dickinson’s journal, “Servigliano Calling.”

We know G.A. Crawford to be George A. Crawford of London, as Robert recorded his address in the book.

There’ll always be an England….

In days of old, when ships like these
Sailed upon the sea,
The brave courageous tars aboard,
Kept old England free,
Names like Drake and Raleigh,
Nelson and Hawkins, too,
These were the men who made us,
Masters of the blue.

The spirits of these men still live
To haunt our ships today,
Inspiring the deeds of valour on,
“Rawalpindi” and Jeori’s Bay”,
And when our force is mustered,
Confident we can be,
The men aboard our ships today
Will be masters of the sea.

Jack Davies’ First Aid Book

Jack Davies is another of the 20 men whose addresses are recorded in Robert Dickinson’s “Servigliano Calling” journal:

Jack Davies
11. Clent Avenue. Maghull.
Off Dods Lane. Liverpool.

I heard from Lorraine McLoughlin in October of last year. She wrote:

“I am just writing, with much excitement I must say, to find that I have information about POW Jack Davies of Camp 59.

“My mother was Jack’s daughter-in-law.

“Jack’s son, Rick Davies, was my mum’s (Ivy Davies nee Hindley) first husband.

“My mum is now 94 years of age but still remembers nursing her father-in-law, Jack, at 11 Clent Avenue, Maghull, before he died.”

A second note from Lorraine, two months later, informed me that her mother had passed away in early December.

Lorraine kindly shared scans of the covers of Jack’s St. John’s Ambulance First Aid Book. She wrote that it “was obviously with Jack during his time at the camp—as it has the camp address in the back cover.”

The inscription reads:

Pte 7597368
Campo P.G. No 59 3 Secttro 3 A/34

Jack was in the RAOC (Royal Army Ordnance Corps), a corps of the British Army that dealt exclusively with supply and maintenance of weaponry, munitions and other military equipment.