By Lieut. E. F. Carron, M.M., The Connecting File, October 1946
This is an attempt to portray to the readers some of the various experiences of an escaped P.O.W.
At the time of the Invasion of Sicily the writer was Pl. Sgt. of 9 Pl. "A" Coy., then commanded by Capt. (now Major) R. G. Liddell, M.B.E.
Late the afternoon of 1 Aug 1943, the Germans had counter-attacked the "Hampshires," (a battalion of the 23 Malta Bde. which was an independent Imperial Bde. working with us), and had driven them back some distance retaining command of Regalbuto and the high features northwest of it.
The troops moved forward; we learned that it was to be our job to take by stealth and hold these three prominent high features. Should we run into difficulties we were to fall back and at dawn the 25's would plaster our objectives, softening up Jerry for us.
"A" Coy. moved forward, picking their way through the town which was supposed to have been cleared and finally passing through "B" Coy. at the foot of a small cliff which terminated in the first high feature. At this time we came under L.M.G. fire, and a moment later the gun on a tank started blasting down the street, it seemed we were to have quite a warm welcome.
The Coy. Comd., after determining where the fire was coming from sent a Pl. around in a left flanking movement to silence the tank gun.
As we started off we heard the Coy. Comd. fire at some characters, however as we picked our way through and up to the cliff the firing slackened off somewhat. The Pl. Sgt. was leading the point section and after scaling the cliff we found ourselves in a position to assault the high feature which had a small tower affair on the summit. At this point we came under fire from 2 Brens from our right flank! At the moment we roundly cursed our sister Pl. for firing on us; however later we found that the fire had come from captured weapons.
We assaulted the hill, took the little tower and had the feature. Now if all had gone well, the other Coys. would have moved through us to strengthen and consolidate our positions.
However the tank was still firing on the other Pls. of the Coy. so something had to be done quickly.
The Pl. Comd. knowing that speed was essential took two sections and went after the tank, the Pl. Sgt. with 1 section went about clearing the position. It should be mentioned here that as all things take time, it was very close to first light by now. After the initial surprise the Germans started to feel out our positions and apparently was fully aware of our low numbers.
At dawn, down came our 25's, ranging I believe on the tower. The Pl. Comd's runner, coming back to tell the Sgt. to fall back, was captured. First light came with an isolated section of 9 Pl. far forward of any support. With light we saw that the town was occupied in strength, on our right were dug in tanks hull down on the reverse slope, on the left a "42" started to make things uncomfortably warm. About this time the Pl. Sgt. made a quick dash into the tower and climbed up a circular staircase for a good O.P. - a round of A.P. coming through the tower from a dug-in tank however made it not the ideal spot to tarry.
Rejoining the section the Pl. Sgt. found that his Bren group had been over-run and by now the remainder of the section was completely cut off and Jerry fast making things uncomfortable. For the next two hours Jerry with the odd pasting of our own 25's to help out, made the situation appear rather dark brown, and finally, with no help forthcoming, and his tanks, captured Brens and 2 M.G. 42's to support him Jerry over-ran our positions and we found ourselves P.O.W.:
We were quickly taken well back and bundled into a P.O.W. cage. Here we were fortunate enough to get treatment for our three wounded men and get them taken off to hospital. Later one of these Grigas (D.C.M. - the Bren gunner) and a chap Rocke (who was sent back about the same time with a bad case of dysentery) managed to escape and made their way back through the British lines.
Shortly after we were machine-gunned by our own planes and a Britisher and two Americans killed.
In Messina, during the confusion caused by another air-attack, we managed to escape, but were recaptured shortly after taking a wounded companion into a first aid station.
Our next stop was Capua (P.G. 66) where we escaped again - getting clear for two days before recapture.
Again we managed to give them the slip while being marched through the streets of Capri to P.G. 73; but the foolish behaviour of our fellow P.O.W. led to our recapture as we were no match for the Germans in our weakened condition. Here it might be mentioned that our RATIONS left a great deal to be desired; my own weight having dropped from 210 to 164.
However, our mistakes had taught us that we must make more thorough preparation for our next break to insure a clean get-away.
The following night while en route to Germany in freight cars we decided to try again. A few handfuls of pebbles in the toe of an army sock makes a very effective cosh; so with the guard out of the way we had only to kick the barbed wire from the ventilator, wait for complete darkness, get around the outside guard and jump Again we had forgotten one factor, the speed of the train! My companion was stunned landing however with luck I dragged him clear of the tracks.
Getting our bearings we found that we were on the edge of an air! field. Here unguarded we found five planes; with nothing but a rather crude knife we sabotaged them so they would crash in flight This was rather easy with three which had a stressed fabric covering. However, the transports were more difficult.
As it was not too long before day break we were soon on our way luck seemed to be with us for we got clear without further mishap.
From our previous attempts we knew that it was essential to get into civilian clothing as soon as possible. So while the first Eyties were not too eager to donate theirs they certainly did look odd with what we left!
Again taking our bearings from Verona airport, we made an attempt to get south but found it impossible to cross the Po with an; hope of success.
Later we again made our way north, into the foot-hills of the Alps. Passing through such small towns as St. Pedro and Capo de Ponte, we made our way to the Pass D' Apligar which was the only unguarded spot at which we could cross the Alps successfully.
During this time it was necessary to travel during the hours of daylight as the country was under curfew and the German permitted no civilian movement at night.
Finally when only a few miles from the Swiss border we waited for a foggy night and crossed without too much trouble.
In Switzerland we were called Internees but were allowed all privileges of the Swiss Army and certainly not kept under custody or anything of that nature.
We were organized much as a large detached unit with Officers, N.C.O.'s and men from every country in the Empire. We, of course, were allowed no military training, but got around that by calling a route march an organized walk, or a stipulated place of parade a rendezvous, etc.
With the landing in Normandy and the American landings south, some of us made our way through the Belfort area thence with Americans to Marseilles. From there by Lyons, Paris, we soon found our way back to the U.K.