Recognition of Bastiano Crescenzi

Sebastiano “Bastiano” Crescenzi

I received an email this week from Maurizio Roscetti, who lives with his wife, Valentina Crescenzi, near the village of Canneto Sabino, between the city of Rome and Rieti.

Maurizio wrote, “I am in possession of a certificate of gratitude signed by Field-Marshall H. R. Alexander, awarded to my wife’s great-grandfather, Crescenzi Sebastiano, called by all ‘Bastiano.’

“I’m a lover of history and I would like to deepen my understanding of the history of this certificate. I was completely unaware of the story behind the certificate until a search on the Internet led me to your site.”

Bastiano lived in Canneto. He was a soldier in the First World War, Maurizio explained. Born in 1885, he was 59 years old in 1943–44. Franco Crescenzi, Bastiano’s son (Valentina’s grandfather), was too young to serve in the Italian army during the Second World War, and Bastiano was too old to fight.

Maurizio wrote, “My father-in-law, Sebastiano—given the same name as his grandfather—said that Bastiano saved a group of English soldiers from an ambush prepared by German soldiers near the city of Fara in Sabina. The English soldiers would certainly have died, if he had not warned them!”

Today, a reminder of the war exists nearby. “Near Canneto there is a street called “the street of the English” (strada degli Inglesi),” Maurizio wrote, “because, during the Second World War, after the liberation of Rome, the Allied forces in order to continue the liberation of North Italy, built a new street where before there was a little muletrack—the English Army had many tanks that needed to pass from there!”

The “Alexander certificates,” signed by Field Marshal Harold Alexander, commander of Allied forces in Italy, were issued to Italians who had risked their lives to protect escaped British POWs and evaders (soldiers evading capture in enemy territory) during German occupation of their county.

Bastiano’s Alexander certificate reads:

This certificate is awarded to Crescenzi Bastiano as a token of gratitude for and appreciation of the help given to the Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen of the British Commonwealth of Nations, which enabled them to escape from, or evade capture by the enemy.

H.R. Alexander
Field-Marshall,
Supreme Allied Commander,
Mediterranean Theatre
1939–1945

Louis VanSlooten’s Story


Louis VanSlooten before going overseas

I have known Louis VanSlooten’s son Tom VanSlooten since 2008.

Tom was one of the first family members of Camp 59 POWs I met when I began my research into the camp’s history. I met him through email the same month I began this site.

Tom’s dad was living and active then.

At the time, Tom wrote, “My father has been writing his story off and on for many years and has recently started writing again. It has been a difficult task for him. He told me just a week ago when we were at our family cabin in Northern Michigan that he has spent 65 years trying to forget what happened, and now is having in some way to go back and relive it again to write it all down.”

Louis came close to finishing this memoir before he died in 2011. His granddaughter (Tom’s niece) Jessica Lyn VanSlooten edited and completed the story, which I am pleased to share in this post.

The story is full of excellent detail. Of particular interest to me are the attentiveness and lifesaving efforts of the camp medical doctors, Captain J. H. Derek Millar and Adrian Duff. In his research, Giuseppe Millozzi references Dr. Duff as having cut his own arm, collected blood, and then donated it to his patient through a rubber tube. As it turns out, Louis was a witness.

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The Camp 59 Tunnelers

Thick, well-guarded walls must have seemed an impenetrable barrier to the prisoners of P.G. 59. But miners in the camp envisioned another way out.

In his dissertation on Allied Prisoners of War in the Region of the Marche and Prison Camp at Servigliano, Italian historian Giuseppe Millozzi described a dramatic breakout from P.G. 59:

“Twelve POWs had managed to escape through a tunnel on the night between 11 and 12 September 1942. They were all recaptured and put in close confinement cells for ten days.

“Inspectors also reported that three POWs – Kuhn, Lacey and Well – had been charged with crime and therefore brought to trial. Red Cross delegates would have checked that the court-martial complied with the Geneva Convention.

“Gilbert Broadbent, an ex pow who was interned first at Servigliano and then at Sforzacosta, in his book Behind Enemy Lines, recounts the escape of the POWs in September:

“‘On this occasion, the tunnel started from n. 1 hut on the north side of the camp (…) . Men who had been miners, helped to make the tunnel. (…) The date for the attempt was the 11th and rumour quickly spread around the camp in the familiar words ‘tonight’s the night’. Early the following morning we all knew that 11 men succeeded in escaping. Many more had been ready to go, but Cpl. Holland, a big man, had unfortunately knocked in the sides of the tunnel and it took two and a half hours for the rest of the party to dig him out.’”

(Gilbert Broadbent, Behind Enemy Lines, Bognor Regis, Anchor Publications, 1985, pp 105-106.)

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Young Partisan William Scalabroni

William Scalabroni in 1942. Mattia De Santis says, “One year later he would be a partisan in this place.”

Mattia De Santis from Ascoli Piceno, Italy, wrote to me two weeks ago, “I’m the nephew of two partisans that were in Ascoli between September and October 1943.

“My grandfather, William Scalabroni [also a partisan], told a very short story on video about himself and his comrades who helped two Italian officers and also a group of POWs from Servigliano to reach the road going south during the German attack on Colle San Marco.”

The video can be accessed through Storia Marche 900, a website devoted to the history of the liberation movement in the Marche.

“Maybe you would find the story interesting, even if it’s just a little reference,” Mattia wrote. “It is in Italian, but I can help to translate it.

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Tom Alman—Back Home in Western Australia

Ray Worthington (son of P.G. 59 escapee Les Worthington) and Linda Veness (daughter of escapee Jim McMahon) discovered and shared this 1944 news article with me this week.

Kalgoorlie Soldier Escaped Twice

Sunday Times (Perth, Western Australia)
Sunday, 24 September 1944

Welcomed home to Kalgoorlie during the week was A.I.F. Pte. Tom Alman, son of Mr. and Mrs. Les Alman, of Egan-street. Tom Alman has put up an unique record for he escaped from Italian P.O.W. camps on two occasions.

Prior to joining up in 1941, Tom had his own carrying business here. He served right though the Middle East and was unlucky to be captured by the Germans at El Alamein, in July, 1942, and taken to Benghazi, Lybia [sic] where he remained five months.

Then taken to Italy, he remained in a p.o.w. camp until December 14, 1943, when in company with four other prisoners of war, all Western Australians—Jack Allen, formerly employed at Masseys, Kalgoorlie; Jim McMahon, from Reedys; L/C L. [Leslie] Worthington, of Wiluna; and J. [Jimmy] Feehan, of Geraldton—he escaped and hid in the Italian mountains. Tom and Jim McMahon joined up with a band of rebels, and stayed with them three months.

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Charles H. Ebright

Charles Herbert Ebright

On January 28, I posted on this site a list of 51 escapees who were helped by Domenico Mancini, an Italian. (See “Domenico Mancini—A Key Italian Assister.”)

According to Allied military records, Domenico Mancini “had helped American and British prisoners in every way possible after their departure from POW camps by giving them food and shelter.”

One name in particular on this list stood out to me—Charles H. Ebright of South Bend, Indiana.

I live in southern Indiana, and South Bend is about 200 miles north of my home.

I searched online for any mention of Charlie, and quickly discovered his obituary on the Palmer Funeral Home—Guisinger Chapel website.

Charlie had passed away just 12 months earlier, in January 2017. Staff at the funeral home kindly put me in touch with Charlie’s niece, Angie Brechtel.

Angie and I exchanged several emails, through which she shared the following memories of Charlie with me:

“I came into Charlie’s family 15 years ago when I married his nephew Craig. Charlie was a fixture then. Everyone said he attached to me because I was a lot like his first love and wife, Viv.

“He did not have children, so we were the only family he had. When he became ill, I stepped in. I saw him several times a week, took care of all his finances, which led to my becoming his power of attorney, healthcare representative, and all that goes with it, for a little over 10 years.

“As his health declined, my visits and responsibilities increased.

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To Talk or Not To Talk

pow_instruction_r72

Tomorrow is my father’s birthday. He died in 2000, but had he lived, he would have been 100 years old. He was born on February 9, 1918, to Finnish immigrants in a lumber camp in Michigan’s heavily forested Upper Peninsula.

I’m dedicating this post to his memory.

The document pictured above, issued by the U.S. War Department, entitled “Amended Instructions Concerning Publicity in Connection with Escaped Prisoners of War, to Include Evaders of Capture in Enemy or Enemy-Occupied Territory and Internees in Neutral Countries,” is dated August 6, 1943.

The document stresses the need for secrecy about information relating to the POW experience, and it lays down guidelines.

It states, “Information about your escape or your evasion from capture would be useful to the enemy and a danger to your friends. It is therefore SECRET.”

Former prisoners, on their repatriation, were required to sign the form.

The poor condition of this copy suggests my dad carried it folded in his pocket or wallet for some time after his return to freedom.

The form instructs servicemen to not disclose, except to certain military personnel, the following information:

(1) The names of those who helped you.
(2) The method by which you escaped for evaded.
(3) The route you followed.
(4) Any other facts concerning your experience.

“You must be particularly on your guard with persons representing the press,” it says, and “give no account of your experiences in books, newspapers, periodicals, or in broadcasts or in lectures.”

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