Four American Airmen Cross the Lines

The following POW repatriation reports were prepared by MIS-X Section, POW Branch, of the U.S. War Department.

They are courtesy of the United States Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA), Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama.

Staff Sergeants Everett C. Shelby, Jr.
and Anthony T. Fryt

EX Report No. 51
9 December 43

Escape by Staff Sergeant Everett C. Shelby, Jr., 6954930, AC, 17th Bomb Group, 34th Bomb Squadron from Camp 59, Servigliano, Italy

Missing in action – 17 July 43
Date of capture – 18 July 43
Reported P/W – 24 August 43
Escaped – 14 September 43
Rejoined Allied forces – 6 November 43 at Villa Santa Maria
Previous interrogation – British 8th Army at lines – 12th Air Force
Arrived in USA – 7 December 43, Newport News, Virginia
Home address – 511 Hobson Street, Weatherford, Texas
Age – 24
Length of service – 3 years, 11 months

Ex Report

Staff Sergeant Anthony T. Fryt – Engineer and Gunner, B-26
Staff Sergeant Everett C. Shelby, Jr. – Tail Gunner, B-26

Sergeant Fryt was engineer and gunner of a B-26 of the 17th Bomb Group, 34th Bomb Squadron based at Djeida, south of Tunis. The other members of the crew and the information concerning them are:

Pilot – Flight Officer J. L. Weaver – returned to USA
Co-pilot – Flight Sergeant Theodore A. Helterbrand – P/W Stalag Luft 3, Germany
Bombardier – Staff Sergeant Joseph Teresi – returned to USA
Radio Operator – Staff Sergeant John C. Cannon – P/W Italian camp, unstated
Tail Gunner – Staff Sergeant Everett C. Shelby, Jr. – returned to USA

On 17 July 1943, the plane left its base to bomb a target in Naples. The target run was made and the plane was hit by flak from anti-aircraft batteries. The left engine was hit and was feathered but the plane began to drop in spite of the fact that the crew threw out everything they possibly could. They continued on for about 45 minutes and were forced to come down in the Tyrrhenian Sea some miles off Naples. They got out the life rafts and climbed on board just before the plane sank. Sergeant Fryt was suffering from cuts and bruises and had a wrenched knee.

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Sergeant Theodore A. Sanning

Over the past several months, I have been in touch with Andy Beckerson. In his initial email, he wrote, “I am researching Theodore Sanning, now dead, who is my wife’s father. My wife is named Theodora, but everybody calls her Teddi, after her father.”

Andy and Teddi live in Taunton, Somerset, in the UK, but they have grandchildren and other family members in the U.S.—in Illinois, and in Jefferson City and Kansas City, Missouri.

Andy explained early attempts to trace Theodore through military records “met with the standard response regarding the great fire at the St. Louis Army Records Office in 1973.”

“The attached photograph is of Theodore, his wife, and first-born daughter,” Andy wrote. “We estimate the date of this to be around March–May 1944. The little girl was born three days before Theodore’s capture on December 6, 1942.”
 
Following the war, Theodore worked in manufacturing in Winsfield and Kansas City, Missouri. He died on November 16, 1981, and is buried in Marys Home, Missouri.
 
Theodore is survived by three daughters, one son, six grandchildren, and six great grandchildren.
 

This picture of Theodore and Evelyn, both in uniform, was taken on their wedding day.

Theodore Adolph Sanning was born March 24, 1919. He enlisted in the U.S. Army on August 6, 1940, shortly before the draft commenced. He signed up at Jefferson Barracks at Lemay, Missouri. Basic training was also conducted at Jefferson Barracks.

On Theodore’s enlistment record in the National Archives, his education is listed as “grammar school”; civilian occupation—“semiskilled chauffeurs and drivers, bus, taxi, truck, and tractor”; marital status—“single without dependents.” His Italian POW card indicates he was a farmer.

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Wartime Wanderings, 1939–1945

Loftus Peyton Jones during the war

James Peyton Jones wrote to me last month about a recently published memoir of his father’s military service during the Second World War. First Lieutenant Loftus Peyton Jones was captured at sea and for a time was a prisoner of war.

“He was a POW in Italy, first at Camp 35 in Padula and then at No. 19 in Bologna,” James explained. It was from P.G. 19 that he escaped in September 1943.

“My father wrote this memoir primarily for family members in 1993. After he died in 2000, we received a number of requests for a copy from other friends and people he had known, and thought it might have more general interest and value as a way of honoring those of his generation (both in the services and the Italians who helped them during their escapes). We didn’t have the original files, so I re-created them and added some additional photos and copies of documents I found in my father’s archive in an appendix.”

James published the newly-edited memoir this spring.

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Tom Lockett’s Escape

Historian Richard Pursehouse sent me the news article I’m sharing in this post, published in The [Cannock] Advertiser in December 1943.

Parts of the article are included in a previous post on Frederick Thomas Lockett, “Tom Lockett—Two Months To Freedom.” Thanks to Richard, I’m sharing the article in its entirety.

Also, I’m sharing more images of Tom and a postcard from his daughter, Josie Shemwell.

Repatriation papers for Tom and his friend Tommy Knight shed further light on their path to freedom.

Exciting Escape from Italy
Penkridge Man Hid in Oven from Germans

The [Cannock] Advertiser
Saturday, December 18, 1943

A SERGEANT IN THE PARATROOPERS, whose home is in Penkridge, and who was a prisoner in Italian hands for nearly a year, escaped from a camp in the north of Italy in September, and arrived home recently.

He is Sergt. Thomas Lockett, eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. F. Lockett, of Teddesley-road, and when an “Advertiser” reporter interviewed him this week he was wearing physical training plimsoles. He explained that from the time he escaped until reaching the Allied lines he covered between six and seven hundred miles on foot. His feet were still too sore for him to be able to wear boots with any comfort.

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P.G. 59 Internee’s Home to be Featured on A House Through Time

David Olusoga presents the history of A House Through Time.

A new season of the popular British television series A House Through Time begins tomorrow, April 8, on BBC 2 TV.

Each year the series focuses on one house, telling the story of all the individuals who have lived in the house since it was built, as a way of exploring both British and world history.

Episode 4 of this season, airing on Monday, April 29, will feature the story of Camp 59 internee John Bell.

I first became aware that John Bell’s home would be featured last July, when I heard from an archivist at Twenty Twenty Television, which produces the series. Tracey Li wrote, “The house we are focusing on in this series is in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England.

“During part of the first half of the twentieth century the house was occupied by an individual called John Bell who fought in the Second World War and was held as a prisoner of war in various locations in Europe, including Camp 59 Servigliano.”

I had no documentation of John Bell having passed through Camp 59, but Tracey and Hugo MacGregor, production director for the John Bell episode, kindly answered my questions.

John Bell arrived in P.G. 59 on January 29, 1942, and was held there for 13 months before being sent to Camp 53 (Sforzacosta) in February 1943.

Hugo said John Bell kept extraordinary diaries of his time as a POW, with an entry for each day from his capture in 1941 to his release in 1945.

“John Robert Bell,” Hugo wrote, “was in the Northumberland Hussars C Squadron. He was captured in North Africa at the end of Operation Crusader, in December 1941, as part of the 7th Armoured Division.

“He was sent to Benghazi briefly, then to Tripoli (by boat), then to Capua (in a holding camp for a week), then finally sent to Camp 59 (Servigliano), then on to Camp 53 (Sforzacosta). After the Italian surrender, he didn’t escape and was surrounded by German forces.

“He was then sent to Stalag XVIIA near Vienna, with a brief spell in Stalag XVIIIA, before finally being sent to Stalag VIIIA (Gorlitz).

“As the Russians approached, he made the Long March back to West Germany, where he was rescued and flown back to Britain. All this is described meticulously in his diaries.”

In writing last week to let me know the date the episode on John Bell would air, series producer Mary Crisp said, “His story is amazing—so powerful.”

Nathaniel Halliday—Bailed from Halifax Bomber, Captured

A Halifax Mk III bomber in flight

On November 18, 1942, Flight Sergeant Nathaniel Halliday (Royal Canadian Air Force) participated in a bombing mission launched from the Royal Air Force station at Graveley, in Cambridgeshire, England—the target: Turin, Italy.

He would not return for nearly two years.

According to an M.I.9 report, the crew of his Halifax bomber consisted of:

Wing Commander W. C. Robinson (pilot)
Flight Lieutenant M. Middlemass (first navigator)
an unnamed Australian wireless operator
Flight Sergeant Potter (fight engineer)
Flight Sergeant Bruce (tail gunner)
Flight Sergeant Butler (mid-upper gunner)

Nathaniel Halliday himself was the flight’s navigator.

Their mission accomplished, the aircraft was hit by flak on its homeward journey, 10 minutes after leaving the target.

The crew bailed out, and the following day Nathaniel was captured just north of Turin.

A detailed account of the Halifax DT488 mission is on Pete Tresadern’s excellent 35squadronresearchgroup website: 35squadron.wordpress.com.

Nathaniel was held in Turin for five days. He was then held in an interrogation camp in Rome from November 23 to December 12.

On December 13, he was transferred to P.G. 59 Servigliano, where he was interned until the mass breakout from the camp on September 14, 1943.

“I moved with Flight Sergeant Moran via Santa Vitoria, Monte San Martino, to Montefalcone,” Nathaniel explained in the report.

“We stayed here from 18 September 1943 to June 1944. On 19 June, we moved to Castel di Croce, where we made contact with a British soldier named Brooks, who put us in touch with further help.

“Our route home was Ascoli (on foot), and then by truck to Termo, and by truck and train to Naples. We were flown home from Naples, leaving on 13 July, and reaching the UK on 19 July.”

Nathaniel McClure Halliday was born on September 11, 1915—he was 27 at the time of his capture. His service in the RCAF began on November 5, 1940.

At Graveley, he served in the 35 Squadron Bomber Command.

His “peacetime profession” was salesman, and he lived at 3440 West 22 Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia.

This post is based on a report to M.I.9 (July 20, 1944) from the British National Archives that Brian Sims shared with me several years ago.

For other posts about Italian prisoners of war who were members of the Royal Canadian Air Force, read “John Leon Turner, Royal Canadian Air Force” and “Laurence Barker—Died for His Country.”

Oscar Ruebens—Snapshots from the Past

Oscar Ruebens, wearing round eyeglasses in these photos.

I received a message from Carrie Stevens last year on November 19. She wrote, “I am reaching out to you because I am the great granddaughter of Oscar C. Ruebens.”

Sergeant Oscar Ruebens (SN 12016749) served in the Infantry of the U.S. Army.

His Italian POW card, archived at the U.S. National Archives, indicates he was captured in Tunisia on December 23, 1942.

Given the date he was captured and the fact he was in the Infantry, it seems likely he was taken captive during the first battle of Longstop Hill, December 23–24, 1942.

The POW card indicates Oscar was transferred from Tunisia to PG 98 on Sicily on December 28, 1942, and to PG 59 Servigliano on January 23, 1943.

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Ernest Debenham—Downed after Convoy Strike

Flight Serjeant Ernest Debenham’s daughter Lesley shared this “photo on his wedding day to my mum, Ethel Mary Debenham (née Hoyle), who he had met through scouting before the war.

Lesley Woollacott (née Debenham) wrote late last month, “I have been looking for information about my father, W/O Ernest Debenham RAF 996601, who died in 1979. I know that he was a POW at Camp 59 Servigliano and somehow escaped. He was interrogated on return to the UK at 3 P W Transit camp on 22 January 1944.

“Unfortunately, my dad didn’t talk much about his wartime experiences. He was shot down in the Mediterranean (I think he would have been navigator/gunner) flying out of Malta and walked out across the wing of his plane to be taken prisoner of war.

“I understand that he escaped by just walking out of the camp, probably with another person, and they just kept walking. He could count to 20 in Italian and ask for a box of matches, and said they somehow passed German soldiers. He was assisted by an Italian family I believe, but I’ve no idea how he got back to the UK.

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Serjeant Joseph Groves—Fallen in Pito, Italy

12 Tory, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, UK—the home of Joseph and Phyllis May Groves. The photo is courtesy of Jonathan Falconer, who comments, “I suspect he only lived there briefly after they married in June 1940 and before his regiment was posted overseas the following month to Egypt. Even so, he is commemorated on Bradford-on-Avon’s war memorial in the town centre.”

The Grave of Joseph Groves in Ancona War Cemetery.

The inscription on the marker reads:

777836 SERJEANT
J GROVES

11TH FEBRUARY 1944 – AGE 36

[The crest of the Royal Horse Artillery is carved within a cross]

IN MEMORY OF MY DEAR HUSBAND WHO DIED FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM FOR ALL

Sjt. Joseph Groves was captured in North Africa, interned in PG 59, and was killed in Italy four months after his escape from the camp. Some records, including the marker at Ancona War Cemetery, indicate he died on February 11, 1944. In fact, he was killed by soldiers of the German Brandenburg Regiment on March 11, 1944, during a surprise ambush at Pito, Italy.

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Edwin Rogers—A Soldier Returns

Edwin Rogers, as a staff sergeant on his return from overseas

I heard recently from Rita Chaney, who lives here in the U.S. in the state of Kentucky.

Rita wrote, “My uncle was a prisoner in CC 59 in Italy. His name was Edwin P. Rogers from Kentucky. His name is on the Dual Deck of Playing Cards.” See “Dual Purpose Deck of Cards.”

Ed Roger’s POW card, kept by the Italian government during the time he was a prisoner in Italy, is on the U.S. National Archives website.

That card indicates Ed was interned in P.G. 98 on Sicily (transferred to that camp from Tunisia on December 26, 1942) and in P.G. 59 (transferred from Camp 98 on July 23, 1943).

Although the date Ed was captured isn’t clear on the card—it’s either December 20 or 22, 1942—it seems likely he was captured at the first battle of Longstop Hill.

On the National Archives site, an additional POW record for Ed confirms the last camp where he was held was P.G. 59. Many escaped POWs were recaptured and sent to Germany. However, Ed seems to have successfully evaded recapture.

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