F. Malcolm Benitz Page last modified:
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F/O F.M. Benitz - “Benny”
PG-78, Sulmona, Italy
March 1943
(Source: C. Le Bas)

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“Il Sentiero della Libertá
Freedom Trail”

The annual 3-day walk retraces the trail of the partisans & POWs who escaped to Casoli in the winter of 1943-1944.
The first stage of Malcolm’s earlier escape follows the same path, as far as the Grotta del Cavallone.
(Map modified by P. Benitz)

Frank Malcolm Benitz, DFC
Escape from POW Camp
Sep-Oct 1943

During WW-II, Malcolm Benitz enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a volunteer, becoming a pilot.  When Italy capitulated, on September 8, 1943, he was a POW in a camp, P.G. 78, at Fonte d'Amore, near Sulmona, east of Rome.

Of the 3,000 POWs at PG-78 (Prigione di Guerra / Prison of War), Malcolm was one of several hundred who got away successfully during the chaos that followed when the Italian camp guards abandoned their posts.  According to Malcolm, the Free French wanted to stay and fight the Germans, hoping the Allies woud drop them arms.  According to others, the new Commanding Officer (Major Cochran) ordered nobody was to leave.  Regardless, many POW’s left immediately.  Malcolm stayed on a few days.  He spoke Italian which made him useful to the senior officers, in particular to find them food.  He later said the officers were more concerned with eating well than getting away.

Missing message.

Note by Malcolm to Dr. Sciuba
(Source: P. Benitz)

Malcolm recorded his escape in a diary, beginning on September 8.  His escape had two stages.  The first was simply to avoid recapture by the Germans.  On Sunday September 12, warned that Germans were approaching, he, Major Cochran, and a great many others climbed into the Morrone mountain range immediately behind PG-78, joining a large group of fellow escapees of various nationalities.  Following the request of Italian partisans, the group split into smaller units.  Malcolm, with several officers and NCOs, went south past Pacentro and Campo di Giove; they then crossed the Maiella mountains via the Guado di Cóccia (pass) and took refuge in the Grotta del Cavallone (caves), in the Aventino river valley across from the village of Taranta Peligna, arriving on September 20.  He stayed there almost three weeks, fed and cared for by the partisans and shepherds.  (In reprisal for assisting POWs and partisans, the Germans later razed the village, destroying every building except its church.)  He visited Campo di Giove at least twice, staying overnight at the homes of Dr. Sciuba and his brother-in-law, where he would listen to the BBC radio broadcasts for news of developments, particularly of the Allied advance up Italy.

The second stage of Malcolm’s escape began on October 9 when he decided to “go on”.  Not an easy decision for he was hampered by his left leg; wounded in April the year before it was still weak.  Leaving the grotto, he walked south-west to Palena, crossed the Fiume (river) Aventino and headed south to San Pietro Avellana, where he then turned east; after crossing several rivers (Trigno, Fratta, Biferno), following paths through the farm fields as if he was a local, begging and scavanging for food (given the risks, the Italians were incredibly generous), avoiding towns occupied by Germans, he eventually reached Ripabottoni on October 13.  Advised there were Allied troops nearby, he had to “leg it” three miles to the train station where he met a “platoon of the Green Howards on recce”.  He had walked at least 80 km.

Malcolm had a few narrow escapes and adventures that are not recorded in his diary.  We include them below, after the diary.

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Malcolm’s Escape
Sep. 8 - Oct.8: PG-78 (Fonte d'Amore) ⇒ Grotta del Cavallone
Oct. 9 - Oct.13: Walk from Grotta del Cavallone ⇒ Ripabottoni

Villages mentioned in his diary or listed in his notes are highlighted;
he passed by many without entering.
(Road map of Italy, 2004: distances are in kilometres, altitudes in metres;
modified by P. Benitz
)

Malcolm’s Diary:

Page Image Transcription Notes

Sept. 8 – 13, 1943
Page 1

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P.G 78.PMg300

Wed. Sept 8th? Armistice.

Thurs 9th  Camp handed over to Major’ Cochran.  Whole camp paraded on f-ball ground & he spoke.  Compounds opened up.  Perimeter lights taken away.  Free French brought d-john Vermouth up to our compound & had Americans enteraining – guitar & singing.

Friday.10th – All quiet. Went

11th  Still waiting for news.

Sunday. 12.  Went around 2 villages south of camp after lunch.  Dixie Brooks & 4 Free French Officers.  To trade chickens.  At 6 p.m. Just prior to practice alarm real flap occurred. Iti Colonel had instructions to hand camp over to Jerries & advised us to leave it.  Camp empty in record time except for odds & sods, Major C. & signaller remained on look-out tower till 7:30 till Iti Captain, told jerries were in Badia Village.  Moved up from 1st point into trees on lower slope of mountain.  At 11. oclock several returned to camp & collected Red X. parcels & kit.  Carabs patrolling in civilian clothing. Slight looting.

13th  Moved up mountain to new

[Page back is blank.]

P.G. - Prigione di Guerra (Prison of War)

P.G. 78 – was/is located in the village of Fonte de’Amore, about 4 km. directly north of Sulmona, by road about 6 km.  One of several villages along the foot of the Mgne del Morrone mountain ridge that runs NW to SE, east and north of Sulmona.  Some buildings still exist – unchanged inside.  See map & photos.

d-john – slang for a damajauna – glass “bottle” of 5, 10, or 20 litres, typically encased in a wicker basket .

Sulmona – is directly east of Rome 3/4 the way across Italy next to the Parco Nazionale della Maiella, in the Abruzzo region.

Iti – slang for Italian, is pronounced ‘Eye-Tie’.

Jerry (jerries) – slang for German.

Badia Morronese – village 1-2 km. north of Fonte d’Amore.

Carabs – abbreviation for carabineros, the Italian national police (per other sources: often not Fascist).

Capitano Pilota Francesco Santoro - the Italian camp commandant; joined the partisans, captured carrying messages to the Allies, he was tortured & shot by the Germans, 23 October, 1943.

Sept. 13 – 15, 1943
Page 2

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2

position below 1st Water Point. Hodgson Sgt Shaw, Brown, Briggs & Harry Powney there.  Went down at 3:30 through village & got mule & on to camp.  Camp had been rifled. Got mess food & crockery & kit & went up to Reg’s point.  Met Major C. & left stuff there.  Slept up above at our position. 

Tues 14th  At 6 am. Gerries started shooting from Badia.  After series of prolonged bursts we cleared out up to 1st Water Point.  Dixie returned to Major C. & they came up ½ hr later, Jerry climbing hill up path telling people to go back to camp.  Climbed up to 2nd w. point Stream of prisoners. V. hot. had water Maj. Cochran sent message with runner to Chester Guest & then he, Dixie, Hodgson & Hamilton & I climbed up through scrub & scaled mountain.  reached top at 3 p.m. (3 hrs climbing.) Went on down to small Valley & layed up in beech trees.  Met some O.R.s there who had found water well over the ridge.  Went & got water. met Michelino’s son, who gave me some bread. Came back & had Klim for supper.  Chilly night.

15th Brewed up & went to well &

[Page back is blank.]

O.R. – other ranks, i.e. not commissioned officers. 

NOTE: Valley mentioned would be on the far (east) side of the Morrone mountains. 

Michelino – see notes on Oct. 2nd

Klim – Milk spelt backwards.  Dried powdered milk in aluminum cans, it was included in the Red Cross parcels sent to POWs.

Sept. 15 – 16, 1943
Page 3

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3

on to camp night in trees beyond.  Facing south – (Pacentro & C. de Giova)  Spent all morning locating shepherds & arranged to slaughter 5 sheep.  In afternoon .3.p.m. Butchered in a small gully.  Michelino did it all & let us have axe & pots & sheep skins from his hut.  Lamb “asado” for supper & liver stew & spuds!  100%!  We split into 5 groups for feeding 32 of us there.  In evening we had look at valley below & Yugoslav Major & Johny the Greek came & palavered & went back to their spot over the hill.  Heard that 200 had been rounded up from Chester’s camp.

16th  Moved farther into the woods.  Made a recce before dawn.  Gunfire & explosions heard below. (Learnt later explosions were camp lorries being destroyed by Itis to prevent Gerry getting them.)  Michelino came in afternoon 3 pm. & I went with him & Yugoslav doc down to Camp di Giova village that evening.  Long hike.  Met Dr. Sciuba & listened to B.B.C. on brother in laws radio.  V. good supper.  Met several people.  Borrowed civ. clothes & after meeting Mich. outside village walked back up mountain.  Reached

[Page back is Oct.19,
page 17.
]

recce – reconnoiter

Pacentro – in the valley, south of the end of the Morrone mountains, is 6 km. south east of Fonte d’Amore and 5 km east of Sulmona.

Campo di Giove – at the foot of the Maiella mountains, is 3 km south-east of Pacentro.  It lies in a small valley of its own at 1064 mts (above sea level) To have seen this village from north of Pacentro means Malcolm was up high in the mountains. 

Meters above sea level:
Sulmona – 405 m.
Fonte d’Amore – 450-500 m.
Pacentro – 680 m.
Cansano – 835 m.
Campo di Giove – 1064 m.
Guado di Coccia – 1674 m.
Palena – 767 m.

Dr. Torinto Sciuba – was the POW camp doctor.  He practiced medicine in Sulmona and had a summer home in Campo di Giove.  See his letters to Malcolm (1947) & to Peter (2003) below.  Sadly, he died in early 2004 before we visited.  His son, Lando, became a lawyer and was once mayor of Sulmona.  See photos.

Sept. 16 – 18, 1943
Page 4

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top at 4 am.  Rested in barracks.  V. tired.

17  Went back to camp & rested up all day.  Decided to go down in evening.

When getting dark reached Shep’s barracks  Rod, Bob Firth, Al Spears there: had a brew.  Yugoslavs set-off at 7:30.  60 odd.  all in civilian clothing.  9 of ours tacked on to them.  We left at 8:00 & after going down track ½ mile too dark to follow so layed up & waited for moon at 12:?  Met shepherd who had been sent to guide us down.  Gave us 1000 lire from Iti Captn.  Took roughly 2 hrs to reach bottom.  Split there.  Left 8 behind, & we 8 went on down separately met across valley at bottom & on through woods & fields to near where Yugoslavs camped in middle of woods near water. 3.30.

18th  Germans in woods at 6 a.m.  We had just got up & moved to a spot away from Yugoslavs.  2 shots & rounded them up.  I left my shoes & was separate from our bunch.  Met up in afternoon & v. pleased too!  In evening we went across to villa woods nearer village.  Took Sgt. Williamson down to road & then on down to village  Passed 2 gerry sentries.  Village in flap 

[Page back is Oct. 17-19,
page 16.
]

It appears that Malcolm descended off the south end of Morrone mountain ridge and continued south along the flat main valley for he mentions farm fields.  The valley splits south of Sulmona.  The south-east valley rises into the foot-hills of the Maiella mountain ridge and is for the most part wooded (in 2004 – see photos).  He likely followed this valley and crossed the hills north-east of the village of Cansano to reach Campo di Giove. The village he mentions on the 18th has to be Campo di Giove for he visits Dr. Sciuba’s brother in-law at his house – which was in Campo di Giove.

—•♦•—

Farmers & shepherds risked their lives by aiding escaped POWs:
Michele Del Greco, a shepherd in the Morrone mountains, was captured & held by the Germans.  They accused him of aiding 56 escaped POWs & executed him in Sulmona on 22 December, 1943.

Sept. 18 – 19, 1943
Page 5

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5

Gerries patrolling.  Doc. took me up to b. in law’s house.  Supper – news.  Gerries complained about black-out.  Out through back entrance & up to crowd.  We pushed on up through woods up v. steep slope of mountain, & to near top.

19th  Rested a while in trees & then made recce over top to Shep’s.  Had goats milk & bread, marvellous!  Arranged for slaughtering 1 sheep that evening.  Went back & layed up.

In evening we went over, met 7 Sgts who had come over the steepest mountain at night – Dr. S: & Dom came up on mules with Michelino at sunset.  Told us of the Grotto.  Remained around sheps cot waiting for moon v. chilly.  Goats milk & cheese all around.  At 2:30 slaughtered a ewe & decided to carry it without skinning Left at 3.a.m. with sheps lad to guide us.  ½ way up ewe too heavy so skinned & cleaned carcass.  Made Grotto on other side by dawn.  Had expected something better but locality excellent, & water near.  Went back with shep’s lad & found water holes ½ mile away.  Brought water back & had a v. good stew.  Sgt. Stubbs off. as

[Page back is Oct. 15-17,
page 15.
]

It appears that Malcolm crossed the Maiella mountains via the Guado di Cóccia (pass, 1674m.).  A short stretch of the path on the climb to the pass involves a very steep scramble up rocks amongst trees. (The ski lift wasn’t there in 1943, and we didn’t use it in 2004!)  On the far (east) side, the path descends via a steep broad valley facing the village of Palena across the Fiume (river) Aventino.  After descending, Malcolm apparently turned north-east along the western slopes of the Maiella mountains to the Grotta del Cavallone.
Grotta del Cavallone: Used by many escaped POWs and the Italian resistance, it is today preserved as a monument to the partisans.  It can be reached by ski lift.  (See photos.)
Taranta Peligna: This village, across the F. Aventino from the grotto, was razed by the Germans in retaliation for assisting the partisans & POWs.  Every building except the church was destroyed.  The villagers lived in the nearby grotto & caves while they rebuilt.

Sept. 19 – 25, 1943
Page 6

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6

cook.  (Fleas in shep’s abounding found I was crawling.)  Some had taken 40 winks in double decker & picked up 100s.

20th ]  After stew we all slept.  In evening Hardy (Hodgson) took Sgt Williamson & Sgt Duffy back to sheps for the rations Doc was sending.  Went down with them as far as our water point to show them it.  Slept well.  Communal bed.

21st Tues. ]  Donato came up in evening from Campo di G. & told us Hardy & lads taken by Gerry previous evening at lower water hole.  Shepherds there & Gerries also – (Gerries kept them there 3 days.).  D. had brought two women & lad’s sister & 2 mules loaded with 5 days rations.  Bread, meat, mac. bacon, lard, apples.  6 of us carried it up from the woods.  Big meal! Fista di San Mateo..

22 ]  D. brought water barrel on mule.  Rested up all day & brought it up in evening.  Hamilton & 2 Sgts left at 6 p.m. for Foggia.

23 ] – 25th  Remained at Grotto.  Kept look out.  Water at dawn & Sunset.  Pasta & Potato Stew twice a day, bread & cheese.

[Page back is Oct. 13-14,
page 14.
]

Foggia – where the Allies were thought to be, is – on a straight line - at least 150 km. SE of the Grotto.

Sept. 26 – 29, 1943
Page 7

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7

26th Sunday.]  Rained Sat night.  Went down to get potatoes & found Donato had come to appointed spot & had signal out.  Had brought rations.  News good.  Chilly cloudy day.  Rained again at night.  Sent message to Doc & asked for pr boots as mine worn out.  Suggested going to village next evening.

27th ]  Cold day – no signal from D.  Built lean-to roof – stopped wind.

28th ]  Rained Monday night & all day Tues  In evening went for water with Stubbs & Glozier – Major C. spotted signal at 5.30.  He & I [9?] went straight down.  Found they had left.  Raining.  Saw Will & 4 Yugos. at Caselo.  Two fellows hunting took us along line towards village – v. dark.  Had supper at 1st one’s house, next caselo (33) Ministerio – full up  Went on along track to near village, & guided in .  Met Doc. & brother.  Remained at their house.  Bed. Very good supper.

29th]  Bath & clean clothes!  Chicken for lunch!  Went off at 2 pm with Donato to fetch others down.  Reached top at about 4.  Brought everything down.  Stayed while at Donatos sheep corrals before dark & then

[Page back is blank.]

Caselo vs. Cásoli: Caselo, mentioned on the 28th, is almost certainly a cluster of houses near Cansano.  I believe it is not a misspelling of Cásoli.  When pronounced in Italian, the names are distinctly different.  Also, on the 30th, Malcolm mentions that at a meeting the villagers and those of Cansano agreed to warn each other by firing shotguns if Germans approached.  Cásoli is 30 km north-east on the far side of the Maiella mountains – hardly within hearing distance.

Sept. 29 – Oct. 1, 1943
Page 8

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8

on into village.  Sgts fixed up well at Dr b-in law’s house.  Big meal at Docs & then Dixie & John to school to sleep & Major & I to previous place.

Thurs 30th ]  Flap at 9 a.m. Moved out & remained on hill with wood cutters  Returned & found Dixie & John had spent day in a hay loft   Heard wireless.  Supper & slept in School house.  4 rooms.  All men of the village met at 10.00 pm. to discuss defence of village if Gerry attempts reprisals for no one reporting for mil service.  4 Hr shifts of guards at entries to town & shotgun communic. from Cansano hill, as well as Telephone.  Heard all as our rooms adjoining hall.  Slept well.

Friday 1st  Sent off message to Genl’s house with Doc’s nephew.  Suggesting attempt at something.  After lunch went around hills outside vill & drew a map, with Domenico.  Saw Gerry car go in to Cansano village & Campo di G. villagers flap out to fields!  Also under bridge when train passed out & saw Gerries hanging out of windows!  Had been up to see Sgts in morning.  Raining in evening  Sgts. fixed up OK.  fed well, radio & bed.  P.T.O.

[Page back is Oct. 1-2,
page 9.
]

Domenico – Likely Domenico Silvestre, an active partisan leader, mentioned prominently (with photos) in John Esmond Fox’s book “Spaghetti & Barbed Wire” (1986) in which Fox recounts his WW-II experiences, including as a POW at P.G. 78.

Oct. 1 – 2, 1943
Page 9

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Quiet night.

Sat Oct 2nd.  Got up 6 a.m. Dixie & John going out.  Had sausage Kim, & bread for breakfast.  Back to bed till 9.  Up.  Shave & over to Docs.  Major C. & I strolled up to. Sgts location up on edge of woods.  Kids picked blackberries for us.  Sgts OK. there.  Back for lunch 1 p.m. Siesta.  4 pm Docs house meeting of Lawyers etc, some from Trieste.  Very theatrical.  Heil Hitler etc.  Vino & cigarettes!  Some scheme for getting “radio transmittente” from Rome.  Rather fantastic as no one knows how to operate one let alone assemble one.  Decided to go to Foggia with Donato.  Returned to Digs & later Doc & Donato came up & discussed. 6 days walking only during day. 1 large river to cross at Fiume.  3000 lire for journey.  Promised 50,000 buono if get through O.K.  He knows paths well.  Major C. decided to go to see Brigadiers.  At 8.00 listened to BBC news. – S. Severo – Vicena? “Successful advance continues”.  Russia 4 more towns “Ground only impediment now.”  Major C. off by 8.20 with 2 lads & bikes.  Sgts OK.  Suppered & saw them to their stable.  O.K. there.  Decided that they move out in future as family afraid

[Written on back of page 8.]

Fiume – is river in Italian.  Heading south from Campo di Giove Malcolm would later cross F. Aventino near Palena, F. Sangrio south-west of  Ateleta, F. Trigno is the largest with a wide valley, crossed south of Trivento, and F. Biferno east of Castelbottáccio.   All these rivers empty into the Adriatic sea.  See photos and map.

Partisans mentioned by Malcolm: In addition to Dr. Sciuba and his brother-in-law:
Domenico – first mentioned on 1st Oct.  See notes to page 8.
Donato – first mentioned on 21st Sept.
Michelino – first mentioned on 14th Sept.

Oct. 2nd , 1943
Page 10

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Sat. Oct. 2nd  But they will feed them Hut said to be O.K. (see tomorrow.)  Dixie & John in when returned at 9 pm.  V. brassed off & stuffed with roasted maize! Lads brought excellent supper up but they couldn’t eat.  Prepared for trip tomorrow – Supposed to start 5 a.m. if major Back.  Leaving stuff with Major Cochran. – Diary of Dinghy ride gongs, Photos & letters -  Adresses v. important as necessary to contact some of these lads re- log-times, photos, & beenos.

(Gerries sent notice – 15 classes to report by Oct 10th as no one shown up so far –.)


Cyril G.B. SmithSgt.RASC.
Joseph T. Clare  “R.A.
Thomas Graham  “D.L.I
Sidney Glozier  “RTR (5th)
Alf   Stubbs  “R.N.F.
   
Major F.H.G. Cochran 
Transvaal Horse Art 
SAA.  
D.E. Deans.Lt.(Dixie.)
    S.W. Borderers.
   
John Agnostopolous  P/ORH.A.F

[Page back is page 11.]

RASC – Royal Army Service Corps

R.A. – Royal Artillery

D.L.I. – Durham Light Infantry

RTR – Royal Tank Regiment

R.N.F. – Royal Northumberland Fusiliers

SAA – South African Army

RHAF – Royal Hellenic Air Force

S.W. Borderers - South Wales Borderers

WRNS - Women’s Royal Naval Service

Page 11

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F/O Frank Malcolm Benitz

    J.15035 Royal Canadian Air Force

Ex. 104 Squadron


William Agar Benitz (Father)

    La California

       F.C.C.A

          Argentina


Mrs Hale   Next of Kin

    River Plate House

    Finsbury Circus

       London


Miss Margaret Douglas   ← !

c/o Bank London & S. America

  Tokenhouse Yard

    London. SW1.


Eugene H. Hodgson.

    West Mount

       Montreal – Canada.

P.G. Luft – Stalag-Luft ?

Missing Nov. 22. Tripoli.

   Last letter from his home end of June.

Next of Kins OK. One arrived.

To cable parents & send cigarettes to Germany for him – in case.  Captured by Gerries Sept. 20th

[Written on back of page 10.]

William Agar Benitz – Malcolm’s father (Estancia “La California”).

F.C.C.A. – Ferro-Carril Central Argentino

Mrs “Mol” Hale – Malcolm’s step-aunt  (sister to Eileen, WABz’s second wife).  Malcolm adored her.

Margaret Douglas – from a near by estancia (“La Panchita”) in Argentina, Malcolm had a soft spot for her (see stockings, p. 16 & 17.)  She was in the WRNS and, unknown to him, worked at Bletchly Park.

 

NOTE: This is the last page written in blue ink.  The rest of the diary is written in pencil on the back of the previous pages.  Considering the change from ink to pencil, and the confusion in dates (was Oct. 2nd actually Oct. 9th ? – see page 12), I have concluded that much of what was written in ink was written from memory or copied on Oct. 2nd / 9th and the original diary and other personal effects were left with Major Cochran of the SAA (see page 10).

Oct. 9 – 11, 1943
Page 12, left column.

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Sat. 6 am. Major C. & Wheatley Joseph & Donato – up Pasadena – Top at 8:30  Decided to go on.  Took Joseph’s great coat.  Near Palena – X road  Gerry traffic – up to Valle di Terra by 4 pm over mountains to small Paese where stopped night Bed. Sausage & Eggs. (On to Tratura Reggia)

Sun. Left at 6:30. Swapped great coat for coat & vest. Crossed river by Gerry camp & road.  On to San Pietro Avelano.  Lunch & shirt saw map.  On to Vasto Gerardi.  Stopped at hut beyond village v. cold.

Mon At daybreak

[This page was written in pencil sideways in 2 columns.  This is the first column.]

NOTE: The first entries in pencil are recorded with no date. The Saturday listed here has to be Saturday October 9th, not a continuation of Saturday October 2nd, otherwise the entry makes no sense.  In addition, it would be the 9th when counting the days back from the 13th when Malcolm resumes dating his entries.

Sat. (9th): Campo di Giove, over the Guado di Cóccia to Palena, then mostly south going up the valley of the F. Aventino and across hills; stayed the night at a paese (village), very likely Gamberale, see his lists of towns (below).

On Sun (10th),  Continues in the general direction of San Pietro Avellana.  Crosses the Fiume (river) Sangro.

San Pietro Avellana – is 22 km straight south of Palena and 6 km east of Castel di Sangro.

Vastogirardi – is 7 km straight east of San Pietro, however, the roads are very winding.

Oct. 11, 1943
Page 12, right column.

Missing image.

men) picked up tratura Reggia & crossed highway – Truck bombed by bridge & tree felled by canonar shell.  Through deserted roads over to Pietrobontante.  Crossed highway & on across Fiumo Trigno.  Had to detour because bridge mined & Gerry guard – got to Salcito after long detour soaked through.  Gerry cars everywhere.  Stopped night with family on Tratura 18 kids.  Slept in hay stack in barn.

[This page was written in pencil sideways in 2 columns.  This is the second column.]

Tratura Reggia – Have not found any place or translation for Tratura Reggia.  Based on context, it could be the name of a road or trail.

Pietrabbondante – is 12 km east of Vastogirardi

Salcito – though only 11 km east of Pietrabbondante, reaching it requires a descent to the Fiume Trigno, then a steep climb up to Salcito.  (see photos).

Oct. 12 – 13, 1943
Page 13, left column.

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Tues Up at 8 am  On along tratura down across river, met 3 It. soldiers who had come from Greece Aquila 45 days one.  On along tralura accross road by Gerry artillery  Saw first Spitfire, passed Castel Bostaccio empty – Gerries looting  Down to R. Trivento.  bought 2 turkies 200 & accross dam to farm on hill.  Gunfire heard.  Turkey for supper.  V. messy place  Slept in haystack.  Gunfire all night up at 6

Wed Up at 6 am.  bridge blown up

[This page was written on the back of page 12, in pencil sideways in 2 columns.  This is the first column.]

First river mentioned is likely the Torrente Fratta, a large stream that is about 1/3 the way between Salcito and Castelbottácci - high rolling countryside, dotted with farms.

Castelbottáccio – is 17 km. east of Salcito.

R. Trivento – is a mistake, the river east of Castelbottáccio is the F. Biferno.

Oct. 13, 1943
Page 13, right column.

Missing image.

Shaved & Turkey breakfast

Through that day by 3 p.m. _ _ _  after 1 or 2 hazards were taken care of _

[This page was written, on the back of page 12, in 2 columns. This is the second column.  First line is written in pencil; the note in black ink was most likely added at a later date.]

Through - Malcolm likely meant he had made it through the German lines by 3 p.m., when he met the Allied troops. (Wednesday Oct. 13th)

Oct. 13 – 14, 1943
Page 14

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13th  Left Vall.s house by Biferno R at 11 a.m.  Skirted Morrone Village – Gerries seen looting outlying houses – S. Side found Trallure Reggia & on to Rifabotone no Gerries there.  Saw demolitions  Heard our troops were at the station.  Went there post haste 3 miles?  Met a platoon of the Green Howards on recce _ Joined them & up to their HQ.  On to their HQ.P  met Col. ? & Brigadier of 78 Div.  on by lorry to village picked up 9 ORs. 8 came from P.G. 78.  On to B.H.Q. for night met other officers.  Some from N, others from Chieta.  Supper & blankets on verandah

14th  9.a.m. In lorries to Foggia, Int Off.  Lunch, on to AHQ 8th Army, at Lucia.  Met G.I. Ops. Col Williams.  On to RAF.  AHQ.  met W/Co. Searle & S/Ldr Graham S/Ldr. Overton & F/Lt. Lewis.  Wrote report.  Had dinner at No 1 mess.  met

Air Comm       ops

  “      “           Admin

Pork for dinner.

[Written in pencil, back of page 6.]

F. Biferno -

Morrone del Sánnio – sits on a hill surrounded by open rolling farm land.

Ripabottoni – is 10 km. south-east of Castelbottáccio.  The train station is another 3-4 km.

Chieti – is 40 km north-east of Sulmona, inland 10 km from Pescara on the Adriatic coast.

Foggia – city inland about 30 km from the Adriatic coast, is 60+ km. south east of Ripabottoni.

AHQ – Army Head Quarters

B.H.Q. – Battalion Head Quarters

F/Lt. – Flight Lieutenant

G.I. Ops -

HQ.P

S/Ldr – Squadron Leader

W/Co – Wing Commander

Oct. 15 – 17, 1943
Page 15

Missing image.

15 ]  Went round to 8 Army Ops. with Lt Braithwaite to Termoli  met Col Summonds & Capt McKenna & some escapees.  Saw where counter attack took place on 6th Oct.

Back by 7 pm.  Dinner & bed.

16 ]  Up & off by jeep to Bovina – RAF Commi Sqn by Fairchild to Bari.  S/African pilot.  To T.A.F. S/Ldr Thair - on to 15 Army Group Major Fillingham, Capt Champion & Major Barham. CR. on to Airborne Div by Fairchild  Took Capt Champion  Had lunch at Offs mess & met Col ______ G I. Ops.  Back to 15 Group. with them & talked plan. as to TAF.  Met Air Comm arranged for Recce next day.

17 ]  Around to T.A.F.   G/C. _____ S/Ldr _____ & F/O Fogarty of 225 Sqdn.  Detailed briefing   Wrote message.

[Written in pencil, back of page 5.]

Termoli – on Adriatic coast at mouth of F. Biferno.  Canadian forces suffered many losses when they were countered attacked by Germans on Oct. 6th.

Bari – large city mid-way up the Adriatic coast.

NOTE: The plan was to drop arms and supplies to the Italian resistance and escaped POWs in Sulmona and Campo di Giovi.

F/O Fogarty – name added by Gertie when she typed up these same notes

Recce – reconnoiter

CR –

Fairchild – light aircraft.

F/O – Flying Officer

G/C – Group Captain

T.A.F. – Tactical Air Force

Oct. 17 – 19, 1943
Page 16

Missing image.

In to Bari for first time.  Later in for a dinner & drinks with Major Fillingham at Hotel.  V.Good.  back early.

No Recce owing to cloud.

18 ]   Around to T.A.F. & then to Airodrome. Met pilots who had flown over spot 20 mins no signs of life.  Back to T.A.F.  G/C ____ decided to have 2nd Recce in evening weather permitting.  In to Bari bought cosmetics & stockings for M.  Have borrowed £6.10 from Fillingham.  Hair cut.  Bints. no Ops.

McKenna came in evening from Termoli.  Bags questions.

19 ]   Went out to Bari aerodrome at 10. am.  with Capt Champion  Met Col. Airborne Div.  Saw S/Ldr MacLean about flying with him.

[Written in pencil, back of page 4.]

M — see page 11.  70 years later (2012), Margaret still remembers the black stockings.

Oct. 19, 1943
Page 17

Missing image.

19 ]  Had a look over a Lightning.  Spit. S/Ldr rang up TAF. G/C Birch that their recce was abortive 20 minutes over Campo di Giove no sign of life.  Back to N. Section 15 Army Group.  Decided to cancel everything  To TAF.  Saw Air/Comm Huddlison who said to report to G/C. Satchell at POW. Depot Bari _ Met Lt Galbraith & in to Bari.  Checked in.  Room at Hotel.  Bought stockings.  Dinner at Imperial  Major Fittingham.

[Written in pencil, back of page 3.]

Note: Per Dr. Sciuba, they did drop cigarettes and chocolates, probably when they dropped Malcolm’s message.  See Dr. Sciuba’s letters.


Malcolm’s Tales:

These anecdotes came to us from Malcolm, Gertie Traill (his wife), and first cousin Frank Watt (a great friend, Malcolm nicknamed him Watto; they often swapped war stories late into the night over endless wee whiskies).  Here are some of those stories regarding Malcolm’s escape.

First half of his escape:  (The first days after leaving the POW camp.)

  1. Butchered Sheep:  Shortly after leaving the POW camp Malcolm, being the only one who knew how, butchered and barbecued a sheep for a large group of fellow escapees.  However, they had neglected to ask permission of the shepherd, who naturally alerted the authorities.  The escapees were forced to abandon their mutton in their haste to get away.  Malcolm kept the shepherd’s knife as well as the sheep’s ear-tag — which by coincidence had his initials inscribed on it: FMB.  He kept that tag for many years on his key-ring, as a good-luck charm.
  2. Water:  The more cautious escapees would go down to the rivers for water at night; those that went down during the day risked being captured or shot by the Germans.  The manner in which Malcolm spoke of this suggested he had witnessed or seen evidence of shooting.
  3. Shoes:  At a rest stop with a group of fellow escapees (Sep.18?), Malcolm removed his shoes.  While taking care of a call of nature in the privacy of some bushes, the rest of the group was rounded up by German soldiers.  He stayed hidden, praying the Germans would not notice the unclaimed shoes and come searching for their owner.

Second half of his escape:  (His 5 day walk from the Grotta del Cavallone to Rippabottoni.)

  1. Companion:  Malcolm makes no mention in his diary of being accompanied by another POW.  However, we have two stories in which he was accompanied, at least initially.  In the first story (from Gertie), Malcolm began his 5 day walk with a tall lean officer, but because Malcolm was short they made a noticeably odd pair.  They separated at the request of the partisans.  In the second story (from Frank), Malcolm also began the walk with a companion.  To reduce the risk of them both being captured, they took turns entering the villages to ask for food and directions.  One day his companion failed to return.  For some unexplained reason, Malcolm was under the impression his friend had grown tired of the hardships and had given himself up.
  2. Raw eggs:  When we, his sons were young, Malcolm shared the more amusing stories with us.  He liked to disgust us by describing how he ate eggs raw, sucking them from the shell.
  3. Germans in the house  From Malcolm: Knocking on the back-door of a farm-house one evening, it was opened by a very nervous member of the family who told him there were Germans in the house and to come back later.  It is amazing, given the circumstances, how incredibly generous and brave the Italians were.  That family risked very harsh reprisals, including death, had the Germans discovered them aiding an escaped POW.  Also, Malcolm was careful to hide the fact that he was a bomber pilot, for it was always possible his benefactors could have had a relative killed or injured in one of the cities bombed by the Allies.
  4. Mine field:  From Gertie: In his last dash to meet up with the Allied troops, Malcolm was guided through a German minefield by local children.

After his escape:

  1. Sofa safety:  From Frank: During the first days after reaching safety, Malcolm was still so stressed by his ordeal, that when the door to a room he was in was suddenly opened, he dove behind a sofa.
  2. Benny & his cash:  When he arrived back in London, Malcolm stayed with Mol Hale (his step-mother’s sister).  Apparently her phone rang off the hook with calls from his POW friends asking after Benny.  Flush with several months back-pay in his pocket, Malcolm generously picked up the bar tabs — until Mol took away his money, restricting him to a nightly allowance.
  3. Mike Le Bas:  Comparing war-time experiences, Malcolm discovered he had been in Bari the week after Mike, his brother-in-law, had passed through on his way to Africa.

Malcolm’s Notes & Maps:

Escape-1

Missing image.

Dr. Torinto Sciuba
Letterhead with his office address
(Source: P. Benitz)

Escape-2

Missing image.

Roads south of PG78
Sulmona, Pacentro, & Cansano
[See diary: Sep. 15]
(Source: P. Benitz)

Escape-3

Missing image.

Notes back of map
Terms needed to ask directions?
(Source: P. Benitz)
——♦——

Escape-4

Missing image.

Notes of BBC radio broadcast
[See diary: Oct. 2]
(Source: P. Benitz)
——♦——

Emden USI
Ruhr. Hagen.
8th N. Boli
  N - Fogg.
S Sev Neneima } road
Successful advance continues
Gerry U Boat off Pant
4 Russian Towns
Ground only impediment

Escape-5

Missing image.

Towns south of Palena
& phrases requesting directions

[See diary: Oct. 9]
(Spelling influenced by Spanish.
“Ted”=Tedeschi=Germans)
(Source: P. Benitz)

——♦——

Palena, Pietra Ansieri, San Pietro Avelano, (Pagliarone) Vecino, Aqueta, Pietro Bontante, Salcite, Triventi (Bosque) (Ted.), L'Ucite, Fiumo Biferno Ted?, Ripabotone, Santa Cruce de Magliano, San Paulo di Civitato, Toro Maggiore, San Severo
   — (Inverted ink) —
Camperale, Ateleta, San Pietro

Escape-6

Missing image.

Directions & map of
Pietrobontante, Trivento,
& R. Trigno

[See diary: Oct. 11]
(Source: P. Benitz)
——♦——

S Pietro, 7 Vasto girardi, + 12 Pietrobontante, + 11 Salcito (Trivento), 15 Lucito (Biferno R), 10 {Providenti, 13 Ripabotone), 10 Bonefio, 21 S Croce de Maglier
   ——♦——
Cross small River, road, & road on left
   ——♦——
Nichola Pontanillo
 Io Amico
 Paulo Musca
  Capracota

Escape-7

Missing image.

Officers met
Termoli, 15 Oct. ’43

(Found in notebook #2, side 1
Source: P. Benitz)

——♦——

        15/10/43
Col. Simmonds.  Termoli
Capt. McKenna.    ”
Major Fellingham
  N Section
C/O TAU HQ “A” Force
   HQ 15 Army Group near Bari

Escape-8

Missing image.

An introduction?
(Found in notebook #2, side 2
Source: P. Benitz)

——♦——

Amesbury '29-'321
Carroll Mather
 Myddelton.
 Rochampton.
  London S.W. 15

 

Malcolm’s trail in photos, 2004:

  We followed Malcolm’s trail in April, 2004.  We did his first stage on foot, as members (think: lag-alongs) of that year’s “Il Sentiero della Libertá” (Freedom Trail) walk, from Sulmona via Campo di Giove & the Guado (pass) di Cóccia, stopping at Taranta Peligna.  We followed his second stage by car, criss-crossing the beautiful Italian countryside in spring, from Palena to Ripabottoni and Santa Croce di Magliano.  (Photos of POW camp PG-78 will be on another page.)

Pic2004-01

Missing image.

Mountain ranges
(left) Morrone & Maiella (right)
From Sulmona hotel room

Pic2004-02

Missing image.

Flat fields east of Sulmona
Pacentro in the distant valley
(Day 1 of “Il Sentiero della Libertá”)

Pic2004-03

Missing image.

Sulmona in the distance (west)
PG-78 is beyond tip of
dark mountain on right
René

Pic2004-04

Missing image.

The trail ahead - first climb
Bringing up the rear.

Pic2004-05

Missing image.

Cansano, in the distance
Malcolm visited it while
at Grotta del Cavallone

Pic2004-06

Missing image.

Honoring the Partisans
of Campo di Giove

“Il Sentiero della Libertá”

-->

Pic2004-07

Missing image.

Campo di Giove
Maiella Mountain Range

Pic2004-08

Missing image.

The trail behind (west)
Campo di Giove
(Day 2 of “Il Sentiero della Libertá”)

Pic2004-09

Missing image.

The trail ahead (east)
Climb to Guado di Cóccia
(pass through the Maiella mountains)

Pic2004-10

Missing image.

On the trail
René

Pic2004-11

Missing image.

Trail back along mountain side
Campo di Giovi in distance

Pic2004-12

Missing image.

Campo di Giovi valley (west)
Taking a rest, Peter & René

Pic2004-13

Missing image.

Campo di Giove valley (east)
Ascending near Guado di Cóccia

Pic2004-14

Missing image.

Fiume di Aventino river valley
Descending from Guado di Cóccia

Pic2004-15

Missing image.

Descending into the Aventino valley
Palena across the valley
René

Pic2004-16

Missing image.

Palena across the valley (south)

Pic2004-17

Missing image.

Taranta Peligna
(From above, at base of skii lift
to Grotta del Cavallone.)

Pic2004-18

Missing image.

Grotta del Cavallone
Malcolm sheltered here nearly 3 weeks,
Sep.19 - Oct.8, 1943.
(Pic. source: Public domain, Luiclemens, Wikipedia)

(In 2004, we thought erroneously that Malcolm had not been to the groto, so did not visit it.  We recommend you Google its images; for Wikipedia, click: Italian or English.)

Pic2004-19

Missing image.

Close: Palena roof-tops
Far: Valley descended
from Guado di Cóccia

Pic2004-20

Missing image.

Fiume di Aventino
south of Palena

Pic2004-21

Missing image.

Aventino valley countryside
between Palena & Gamberale

Maiella mountains in the distance (north)

Pic2004-22

Missing image.

Gamberale in sight
(Many of the villages listed in Malcolm’s notes are very prominent, i.e. they likely served as landmarks)

Pic2004-23

Missing image.

Approaching Gamberale
Malcolm may have stayed here
the night of Sat. Oct. 9.

Pic2004-24

Missing image.

Gamberale homes
(Absent obvious 21st century
cars & store signs)

Pic2004-25

Missing image.

Ateleta

Pic2004-26

Missing image.

Leaving Ateleta behind

Pic2004-27

Missing image.

Approaching Pietransieri
from Ateleta

Pic2004-28

Missing image.

Approaching Pietransieri

Pic2004-29

Missing image.

Leaving Pietransieri behind

Pic2004-30

Missing image.

San Pietro Avellana ahead,
in the Sangro Valley

Pic2004-31

Missing image.

Valley above leading
to San Pietro Avellana

Pic2004-32

Missing image.

Hills & valley opposite
San Pietro Avellana

Pic2004-33

Missing image.

Broad valley between
San Pietro Avellana & Vastogirardi

Pic2004-34

Missing image.

Approaching Vastogirardi
from the west

Sun. Oct. 10: Malcolm spent a cold
night in a hut beyond the village.

Pic2004-35

Missing image.

Verino valley, on the way
to Pietrabbondante

Pic2004-36

Missing image.

Approaching Pietrabbondante
from the west

Pic2004-37

Missing image.

Approaching Salcito
from the west

A steep climb up from Fiume Trigno

Pic2004-38

Missing image.

Leaving Salcito behind
Maiella mountains at the far horizon (north)

Pic2004-39

Missing image.

Crop fields, between
Salcito & Trivento

Mon. Oct. 11: Malcolm slept in
hay filled barn past Salcito.

Pic2004-40

Missing image.

Passing south of Trivento
Fiume Trigno visible in distant valley,
(far right, north-east of Trivento).

Pic2004-41

Missing image.

Torrente (stream) Fratta
Malcolm calls it the “Fiume Trivento”.

Pic2004-42

Missing image.

Fratta river valley,
south-east of Trivento

Pic2004-43

Missing image.

Fiume Biferno
Tues. Oct. 12: Malcolm slept in
a haystack between
Castelbottaccio & the Biferno river.

Pic2004-44

Missing image.

Morrone del Sanio, from east
Germans were present,
Malcolm avoided it.

Pic2004-45

Missing image.

Approaching Rippabottoni,
from the west

Pic2004-46

Missing image.

Rippabottoni
Malcolm told of Allied troops
at nearby train station, Oct.13

Pic2004-47

Missing image.

Crop fields, between
Santa Croce di Magliano & Torremagiore

Malcolm travelled by lorry, Oct.13

Pic2004-48

Missing image.

Olive groves near Torremaggiore


© Peter Benitz (Benitz Family)