BRITISH PRISONERS OF WAR IN ITALY:
PATHS TO FREEDOM

by Malcolm Tudor

Image: British Prisoners of War in Italy: Paths to Freedom by Malcolm Tudor, Emilia Publishing.

Introduction

I first came to write my military history books as the direct result of my family's experience of the Second World War.
     In September 1943 the Allies landed in southern Italy. The Germans occupied the rest of the country and installed the deposed dictator, Benito Mussolini, as head of a puppet Fascist republic.
      I had relatives on either side of the front line. My British father was a soldier with the advancing 8th Army, while my Italian mother and grandparents lived in the village of Castell'Arquato, province of Piacenza, within the Fascist north.
      The local area was the scene of the greatest prisoner of war escape in Italy. At noon on 9 September over 500 British and Allied servicemen marched out of camp 49 Fontanellato, just before the arrival of a German column sent to capture them. Amongst the brave Italians who helped the escapers were my mother and grandparents. At the end of the war, they were awarded the 'Alexander Certificate' in recognition of the help they gave to 20 British and South African soldiers, which enabled them to escape or evade capture by the enemy.
      My father, Quartermaster Sergeant Kenneth Winston Tudor, arrived in Piacenza with the liberating 8th Army in May 1945. He met my mother, Clara Dall'Arda, when she was working as translator for the Allied Military Governor. My parents were married in Swindon in 1948 and moved to my father's hometown of Newtown, Montgomeryshire, where I was born.
      I grew up with stories of war and escape. The window shutters of my grandparents' house in Castell'Arquato were still peppered with bullet holes. On 5 April 1945 the partisans had routed an enemy force sent to blow up the river bridge. The fighting had spread into the garden.
      I decided to find out more. I was able to meet some of the comrades of the escapers whom my family had sheltered and spent many hours of research in the British National Archives at Kew.
      It was the logical next step to collate the precious information. And so in 2000 my first book, British Prisoners of War in Italy: Paths to Freedom, was born. It went on to sell hundreds of copies. I was pleased that amongst the earliest readers were many of the former prisoners of war in Italy, who immediately gave it their stamp of approval. This new, expanded and revised edition brings the story up to date, while retaining the popular elements from the original.
     I am proud of my Anglo-Italian heritage. In my books I cover the life and times of some remarkable people. It is a pleasure to share this experience with readers from all over the world.

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Winston Churchill, wartime prime minister from 10 May 1940 to 26 July 1945, wrote in his classic six-volume history, The Second World War:

In the weeks following the September armistice officers and men of the Italian Army stationed in German-occupied northern Italy and patriots from the towns and countryside began to form partisan units and to operate against the Germans and against their compatriots who still adhered to the Duce. Contacts were made with the Allied armies south of Rome and with the Badoglio Government. In these months the network of Italian resistance to the German occupation was created in a cruel atmosphere of civil strife, assassinations, and executions. The insurgent movement in central and northern Italy, here as elsewhere in occupied Europe, convulsed all classes of the people.
     Not the least of their achievements was the succour and support given to our prisoners of war trapped by the armistice in camps in northern Italy. Out of about eighty thousand of these men, conspicuously clothed in battle dress, and in the main with little knowledge of the language or geography of the country, at least ten thousand, mostly helped by the local population with civilian clothes, were guided to safety, thanks to the risks taken by members of the Italian Resistance and the simple people of the countryside.

      As a young war correspondent in South Africa in 1899, Winston Churchill had been captured during a Boer attack on an armoured train.
      He reported: 'I left the State School's prison in Pretoria by climbing the wall when the sentries' backs were turned momentarily. I walked through the streets of the town without disguise, meeting many burghers, but was not challenged in the crowd.' Churchill jumped onto a goods train and hid under sacks of coal. He left the train next morning and eventually knocked on the door of John Howard, Manager of Transvaal Collieries, and asked for help.
      The stranger replied: 'Thank God you have come here! It is the only house for 20 miles where you would not have been handed over. But we are all British here and we will see you through.' Churchill was hidden in a coal mine and then on a train carrying bales of wool. He was able to escape to Lourenço Marques in Portuguese Mozambique.
      Winston Churchill's youthful experience as a successful escaper guided British policy towards the prisoners of war at large in Italy more than four decades later and informed his tribute to the Italians in his memoir.
      This is the story of those wartime escapers and their local helpers, providing both an overview and a wealth of examples of the fascinating interaction between two diverse groups of foreigners, divided by war but united in humanity.

Copyright © Emilia Publishing 2015

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