The Italian Armistice

Discussion in 'All Anniversaries' started by vitellino, Sep 8, 2019.

  1. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    76 years ago this evening news of the Armistice was broadcast in Italy.

    I have posted here what this meant for three prisoners of war:

    Fred Hirst, 2/5 Sherwood Foresters in A Green Hill Far Away, Lane Publishers, Strockport, 1998.
    Fred was in a work camp near Pietraviva, attached to PG 82 Laterina


    ...on the 10th September we were called on parade by the Italian Officer, and he informed us that Italy had signed the Allies' terms of surrender two days ago and that Allied forces had landed on the Italian mainland. We would now soon be free to join our own people Since the Italian Army was still responsible for our safety he asked us to remain calm and to stay in the camp area until Allied troops arrived. At last, we would soon be going home. Jubilation at this news knew no bounds. We began singing and flinging our arms in the air with relief. Local inhabitants flocked to the gate shouting their delight that the war in Italy was over. Vino found its way into the compound and merriment went on late into the night, and we were joined in this by the Italian guards who had indicated for some time that they and the majority of the Italian people were fed up with the war.

    Next day we were taken by the guards on a walk into the village where we mingled with the inhabitants who treated us more like heroes than prisoners. They made it abundantly clear that the war for them was now over and that they blamed it all on to Mussolini and the fascists. Everywhere there was celebration and relief, and expressions of hope that we would soon be home with our loved ones. Feelings of freedom, which had been enhanced by the walk into Pietraviva, became firmly entrenched in our minds, and that evening just as it was getting dark Ronnie Ford and I pulled back the barbed wire between the fence and the building and ran from the camp across the fields and made our way to the village. There we were feted and fed with bread and cheese, and vino. I was not much of a drinker, and Ron was determined to limit his intake also and we were happy to join in by just having a social glass of the red wine. We were invited into several houses and we enjoyed it immensely. We enjoyed the freedom of movement and our morale was high. We did not feel to be prisoners of the Italians any more. We felt that we were their friends.

    Sadly this euphoria was to come to an end. The next morning the stout figure of the Padrone' (farmer) came bustling in to the compound in a very agitated and excitable state. We could not understand at first just what he was saying, but we did understand the word 'Tedeschi '(Germans) which frequently punctuated his sentences. We called our interpreter over to translate, and what we were told was not good. It seemed that the Germans, instead of getting out of Italy now that the country had surrendered, were instead pouring troops in as fast as they could.

    ... Ron Ford and I ...made our preparations to leave. We collected what belongings we wished to take and moved out as soon as possible. We thought it imperative to get far away from the farm in case the Germans had arrived at Laterina , found our location from the records there, and came looking for us. Therefore, on 12th September 1943, Ron and I and a another chap, an Irish Guardsman, left the farm camp, passing the hill which had been our place of work for the last three months.

    J. Keith Killby, SAS, In Combat, Unarmed, Monte San Martino Trust, 2013, who escaped from PG 59 Servigliano.

    After about three weeks in this camp we heard the villagers making a great deal of noise and dancing until very late. Rumours were flying. And then we heard that there had been an armistice. The Italians were out of the war. On those sorts of occasions it is my stomach that feels things and then the feeling begins to ricochet around my body. Excitedly we all moved onto the playing fiield, which ws usually used by a few prisoners at a time. Everyone appeared drunk, though no-one was. The playing field became extremely dangerous as cricket, baseball, soccer, and rugger were all played at the same time and around each other...all that day we argued with the Italians. We wanted to get away but they insisted that we should stay and that they, in any case, would look after us. We had our doubts about that. Orders had been secretly sent through to all camps that prisoners should remain until Allied troops reached the camp. Many camps were thus complete when the Germans to take control of them.

    By evening we had broken holes into the walls. Some who tried to get away had shots fired over their heads. One Italian sergeant major came in and discussed the situation with us, and in an extremely friendly but highly excited tirade told us not to get excited. Never have I felt so like a phlegmatic Englisman. The SAS, though newly arrived, took the initiative and, just before dark, began to go out.

    We could hear from within the camp orders that all could go. The orders wer given in the most most emphatic and precise terms to the guards that they were not to fire. They didn't. They joined us in leaving the camp.

    Tom Carver, describing what happened to his father Richard, Royal Engineers, at PG 49 Fontanellato, in Where The Hell Have You Been Short books, London, 2010.

    ...after breakfast came an order to prepare to move out at short notice. Everyone was told to take only one day's worth of rations. As we only expected to be out a few hours, such was the unreality of the situation, we didn't take so much care in selecting articles to take with us as we might have done... Two guards sent by Vicedomini (the Camp commander) they'd seen a German convoy heading towards Fontanellato. Colonel de Burgh (the SBO) ordered everyone to line up by their companies on the exercise field. Richard rushed upstairs to try to recover the stash of Red Cross chocolate that he had been hiding for just such an eventuality, but he was pushed back by the crowds heading the other way.

    "The Germans are moving fast," de Burgh announced as men poured out of the building into the field. "They apparently know that the orphanage at Fontanellato contains a large number of British officer prisoners."

    Three Gs were blown by the camp bugler and Vicedomini ordered his guards to cut the barbed wire at the back of the exercise field. Company commanders reported their charges present and de Burgh announced the order of march...As the Italians stood to one side in an impromptu guard of honour, the prisoners of PG49 marched out three at a time, saluting to the SBO as they passed as if they were on a parade ground.

    It took some time for 600 men to pass through the small gap in the wire. At the back, Richard and his engineers waited anxiously for their turn. The moment seemed increasingly unreal. Any moment they expected to hear hoarse shouts of "Alt!" and the running of feet behind them in the orphanage, but nothing came. The Germans had stopped eight miles away to organise the evacuation of four labour camps — had they headed straight for the camp, they would have arrived with the escape still in progress.

    ...To walk through the wire was like stepping through a looking-glass. It was a hot day; small puffs of cloud clotted the blue sky. After months of trying to escape with tunnels, in the end the men of PG49 had simply walked out.


    Please add to this with any personal/family details if you have any,

    Vitellino
     

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    Last edited: Sep 8, 2019
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  2. Robert-w

    Robert-w Well-Known Member

    I wonder what the effect of the news was on Italian POWs in Allied hands who remained POWs although significant numbers volunteered to be given what was called cooperative status which involved waiving their Geneva Convention rights so that they could be used on war work for which they got paid better and could live in an unguarded hostel rather than the camps
     
  3. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    I don't know but someone out there will have looked into it, I imagine. There's quite a bit of correspondence on the POW thread at the moment about POW camps in the UK - it might be worth contacting someone who has contributed to that thread.
     
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  4. Robert-w

    Robert-w Well-Known Member

    And I'm someone but no answers
     
  5. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    It happens to all of us - then something appears out of the blue.

    Edited to say: I've just found an article by Michele Strazza and translated the relevant part.

    Italians held in British camps, while experiencing better situations than those interned in Germany, were considered only as cheap labour. Given the derogatory name of "Wops", deriving from the anagram of "Pows" ("prisoners of war") and the English transposition of the term "guappo", even after 8 September their condition did not improve much.

    The British authorities, in fact, were careful not to recruit Italian soldiers to send them to fight the Nazi-fascists, continuing to hold them back to exploit them especially in agricultural work, where they were considered much more reliable than the other prisoners.

    Moreover, the Italian government was not very interested in their condition and, even after the war, continued to consider them "bargaining chips" for accreditation with the Allies, fearing the moment of their return to their homeland for the consequent problems of reintegration into work.

    Furthermore, the Italian soldiers were regarded with contempt and distrust by the civilian population especially because of the relations they had with British women and on which His Majesty's government was anything but lenient. In fact, there were many girls who, in an 'interesting state', could not even resort to 'shotgun marriages' due to the opposition of the authorities.

    Source: Insolvibile I., Wops. I prigionieri italiani in Gran Bretagna (1941-1946) - Napoli, ESI, 2012

    Elsewhere the article goes on to point out that the prisoners were divided amongst themselves, some supporting the Governmento of Badoglio and others the government set up by Mussolini at Salò.
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2019
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  6. Robert-w

    Robert-w Well-Known Member

    Thanks for this - there are already some very good academic papers in English on British attitudes to the Italian POWs - it's actually a bit more complex. What is lacking is much about what the Italians thought. BTW there was an official investigation into the degree of Anglo Italian interaction and the offspring so produced. The stats indicate that it's something of a myth it did happen but not that much. Most farmers were glad of Italian labour but regarded them as often too much of the barrack room lawyer and needing too much supervision. They preferred the Germans who came later who they regarded as less pleasant natured but if given an order got on with it. Most Italian officer POWs were not sent to England but to India as it was reckoned that any real dissension etc was likely to come from them and they couldn't be used for work anyway as per the Geneva Convention

    But as I said originally, there is nothing bout the Italian attitude when Italy became a co belligerent but they remained POWs
     
  7. vitellino

    vitellino Senior Member

    In the same article there is information about the attitudes of officers and men being held in Kenya:

    After September 8, in the POW camps for Italians in Kenya, new conflicts arose between the 'badogliani' and the fascist prisoners. Hence internal clashes and riots.

    (It should be noted that immediately after the armistice the King and Field Marshal Pietro Badoglio escaped to Brindisi, behind Allied Lines, leaving the country without a government.Badoglio had replaced Mussolini after his downfall on 25 July and had signed the Armistice - my comment.)

    According to the data provided by General Guglielmo Nasi, who had been imprisoned in Kenya himself, this was the situation in the individual camps:

    Eldoret (3,500 prisoners), three quarters were for the king and a quarter for Mussolini;

    Londiani (3,500, mostly officers), four fifths for the king, one fifth for Mussolini;

    Nairobi (3,000) almost all for the monarchy;

    Naivasha (10,000) a small percentage remained fascist;

    Burguret (10,000) only about fifty soldiers remained loyal to Mussolini;

    Gil Gil (3.500) the opposite happened, 80% declared themselves fascist;

    Ndarugu (7,000) only 350 fascists

    Mitubiri (3,500) 150 remained loyal to Mussolini.

    In Zonderwater camp (South Africa) amongst the 70,000 Italian soldiers captured by the British during the first African campaigns, were to be found (quote) 'those nostalgic fascists who were to be feared the most'.

    This shows quite clearly the lack of consensus, which reflected the opinion back in Italy.

    Vitellino
     
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