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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 7, No. 7 July 26, 1944


Salient met affable, fair-moustached Signalman Cyril, ex-V.U.C., in the Terminus. Likes a pot, talks easily when drinking.

Captured after a year in Egypt and Syria, during a night attack by the British (then up to Alemein), in a nine-month camp-shifting tour he saw Benghazi, Tripoli and Camp 75, close to Naples; looked in at Tutorano's Camp 85; finally settled at a New Zealand working camp (78/1), overlooking the recently important Pescaro valley and river. His comments on the camp: "Conditions in general very good, and the Italians sufficiently kind. Our main problem—food. Until Red Cross parcels became regular, we fed poorly in all but the working camps (double rations)." Cyril emphasised the importance of these parcels, hoped this was sufficiently understood at home.

With the armistice on 8th September, Italian guards were pleased but bewildered; two days later sloped off to their families. Over-ruling protests of loud-voiced officers, our boys walked out. Advised and assisted by the local populace, they hid around the then German-free area. Two weeks later Jerry turned up, recaptured many. The rest trickled south, early in October; Cyril and his pals travelling in uniform were picked up by a German ack-ack team, 15 miles north of the British lines.

It look an interview with a Crete-campaigning Major-General, who had met New Zealanders before, to establish them as ex-prisoners, not paratroops. The Germans returned them to Camp 21, at Chieti. This was fortunate. Ex-prisoners had built an efficient escape tunnel, unknown to the camp authorities, known to a British naval commander travelling with Cyril. The attempt was made, but the tunnel had collapsed. Then they tried low cunning, lying in their foxhole for four days. When the hue-and-cry was over and the guards relaxed, the Anzacs climbed over a wall and made for their Italian friends near the Popoli Pass and 78/1. Installed and fed in mountain caves, they waited for the nearing artillery to reach and pass them. Three months later they were still waiting: it was evident that a winter line had been established; the mountain must go to Mahomet. After three more snow-bound months, early in March, a guide of the Italian underground ran them through the lines. By the 20th they were in British hands on the Adriatic front.

The village below the cave-dwellers was Austrian-held. Treason flourished, desertions were rife. Among the escaped prisoners in the hills was a student of Vienna University; he was recaptured, publicly shot in the village square. His last ringing, memorable words: 'I am not a German, but an Austrian; I am not a traitor, but a patriot. Long live Austria.'

Another deserter, knowing the mountains, offered guidance to the British; the snow alone prevented it.

Our signaller's message: 'We owe our escape to Italian peasants and town dwellers. In spite of the death penalty for whole families, in spite of a completely German-controlled food supply, a British P.O.W. is sure of food, shelter, and assistance in an Italian home."