PoW's experience in Sulmona, Italy

Discussion in 'Prisoners of War' started by clivetemple, Jun 7, 2009.

  1. clivetemple

    clivetemple New Member

    I'm reasearching the old boys on my school roll of honour and came across this piece in a local newspaper published in 1943. This chap is the brother of a boy on our roll of honour... a sad post script is that their father was killed in WW1. Hope you find it interesting...


    Repatriated from Italy

    Sergt. H. P. Macdonalds adventures

    The first Woking prisoner of war to arrive home from Italy under the repatriation scheme is Sergt. Harvey Paul Macdonald, RAMC, son of Mrs Macdonald, Walnut Tree Cottage, Kingfield. He reached home on Easter Monday, a few days after the third anniversary of his wedding. He is now enjoying 28 days leave, and his wife who works locally, is having a short holiday. They were married at Folkestone three years ago. ‘I still feel a little bewildered at being back in England’ he told a ‘News and Mail’ reporter.

    Sergt. Macdonald who is 27, was born in Woking, and is an old County School boy. After serving four years apprenticeship at Boots, Chemists, Woking he became assistant relieving officer at Sharrard House, Woking. He joined up a few days after war broke out and was sent to Egypt in December 1940. Four months later he was taken prisoner by the Germans at Fort Mechili. After 3 ½ months travelling and in transit camps, including an exciting journey in the hold of a ship while the RAF flew overhead, the prisoners reached their camp at Sulmona, near Rome.

    The first six months, Sergt. Macdonald told our reporter, were very dull but afterwards they began to settle down. Letters and parcels from home began to arrive regularly, and the prisoners began to organise things. They formed a library and study books were sent out from home. They also arranged sports, lectures and games. The guards did not interfere very much, and Sergt. Macdonald spent much of his time in private study. He was on the committee of the camps dramatic society, which just before Christmas last year produced Priestley’s ‘I’ve Been Here Before’. In which he acted. The dramatic society was very strong and had many enthusiastic members. There was also a debating society to which Sergt. Macdonald belonged. Sports included ‘passball’ an American variety of netball, but much more exciting. ‘As first aid officer’, said Sergt. Macdonald, ‘I always had to deal with cuts and gashes after this game’.

    The prisoners built their own football ground by excavating and levelling rough ground. This took them over a year, but no-one regretted the trouble. International matches between Australian, Canadian, Irish, Scots, South African, US and English teams were played each Saturday.
    The camp was set on the side of a mountain amid wonderful scenery. In spring the valley was filled with blossoms and the mountains were capped with snow. It was apparently a very healthy spot, for there was very little illness. Food was very short in Italy, but the Italians did not grudge giving the prisoners what they had.
    Sergt. Macdonald paid a great tribute to the Red Cross. ‘They were marvellous’, he said, ‘You can’t appreciate how much they do for the prisoners. The parcels containing food and toilet articles are so welcome. The Red Cross really make life worth living, particularly during the first few months. We all said that when we came home we would do everything we could to further their work.

    April 6th 1943 is a day he will not forget. As he was studying mathematics an officer came up and touched his shoulder. ‘You’ll be going home next week’, he said. Two days later he was on his way back to England.

    The journey home was not uneventful. The night Spezia was raided by the RAF their train had to wait in a tunnel for eight hours until the worst of the raid was over. When they emerged the mountainside seemed to be ablaze with incendiaries and a big tanker was ‘going up in smoke’. While they waited in the tunnel the railway behind them was blown up.

    The journey home took just over av fortnight, and they arrived in England on Good Friday. The first thing Sergt. Macdonald did was to send a telegram to his wife. This was the first she new of his return although she had been hoping against hope that he might be among the prisoners sent home.
    Sergt. Macdonald’s younger brother, Flight-Sergt. Hamish Wheeler Macdonald, RAF, was killed in a flying accident while on active service in March and this sad news had to be broken to Sergt. Macdonald on his return home.
  2. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    Very interesting to read. He appears to have been part of this batch.

    Attached Files:

  3. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    And this final article supplements the original post

    Attached Files:

  4. clivetemple

    clivetemple New Member

    Thx Kyt, where did you find the other articles?
  5. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    They are from the Times archive, which I have access to
  6. Heidi

    Heidi New Member

    Great storyline.
    It' rare to hear things in an Italian pow camp! Does anyone know ,if Itains treated there pows better than any other axis side???In my opinions, I would think so!
  7. clivetemple

    clivetemple New Member

    It would appear so. I'm quite interested in the way the press reported these things. No attempt to discredit the Italians.
  8. Kyt

    Kyt Άρης

    Discrediting the Italians would have been counterproductive in regards to POW swaps. Dilpomacy would have dictated that a degree "respect" was shown, at least in public, so as to allow for more such exchanges. At the time of this swap there was no knowing how long the war would go on, and the swap occurred almost 3 months before the invasion of Sicily, and 5 months before Italy's surrender.
  9. Heidi

    Heidi New Member

    That;s what i had thought! That the Italians were more kind to there POWS than other Axis nations (Germany & Russia Japan)
  10. Antipodean Andy

    Antipodean Andy New Member

    Of the books I've read involving prisoners of the Italians, I've never come across any real animosity between the parties involved. That's not saying the prisoners were happy with their situation of course. In the same theatre, the same can certainly not be said for the Vichy French.

    A pretty generalised comment, I know, but that's how I see/remember it.
  11. tjrmovieman

    tjrmovieman New Member

    I am a collector of Movie Star fan mail and have an envelope from Sulmonia from a Sgt. L.W. Hatherly from the 149th Sqdr. Does anyone have any info about him
  12. waterlilys

    waterlilys New Member

    Thank you so much for posting the series of articles about the return of the Sulmona POWs, it mirrors the account my father in law gave about leaving the camp (P.G. 78 - Campo 78 at Sulmona) and especially their hiding under a tunnel until they were safe from the raid. He also talked about men with special skills from back home sharing their knowledge... they would teach classes to the others. My father in law said that how he learned about electricity, and used those skills in his home rewiring etc. He also couldnt say enough about the International Red Cross, he felt they wouldn't have fared so well without them. They were dependent on those packages arriving. His name was Richard Tossell of Woolacombe, North Devon, he was an ambulance driver among other things.
    They asked him to rejoin after his POW return as they desperately needed tank transport drivers to the front, as he had experience with driving those big double decker buses from Barnstaple to Ilfracombe Devon. I believe he was with R.A.S.C. R.A.M.C, but havent confirmed that yet.

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