D/SSX.29017 Able Seaman James (Jim) Frederick Wilde of the Sahib and D/SKX. 316 Leading Stoker Cecil William (Bill) Flood of the Saracen both furnished a description this camp.
A.B. Wilde's story was written by C.E.T. Warren and James Benson in a volume entitled 'The Broken Column. The Story of James Frederick Wilde's Adventures with the Italian Partisans', published by the Adventures Club, London, in 1966. Here is an extract:
They arrived at Rome at four o'clock that afternoon, and were marched from the main-line station to the terminus of a smaller line. There they were split into two equal groups, and the party with which Wilde found himself was told to board a battered and ramshackle train. When they asked about their shipmates they were assured they would meet them later.
Their journey lasted two hours, until they reached the wayside halt of Manziana. From there they were formed into columns and marched off.
Photograph Enzo Gilini
''It was a beautiful, warm evening,'' Wilde recalls. ''We forgot how tired we were as we crossed this magnificent countryside, with its woods and fields. Then, after about three-quarters of an hour, I began to grow anxious. I thought that maybe we were being taken to some quiet, out-of-the-way spot to be shot. Then, thank heavens, we saw the villa.''
They were now some seventy miles north-west of Rome a about twenty miles inland, and the building they were approaching was white and elegant, with no sign of barbed wire, sentry boxes, or other symbols of a P.O.W. camp.
Capitano Mario Cuneo
Courtesy of his grandson Robert M. Stephens
If this in itself held a suggestion of improbability, their welcome verged on absurdity. They were greeted by an English-speaking Italian captain who was the essence of apologetic solicitude. Would they care to bathe before dining? He was very sorry that they would have to share three bathrooms between them, and that there was not sufficient space to allow for separate bedrooms...
Dinner consisted of meat and pasta, with a choice of red or white chianti, followed by apples, grapes, and peaches, then coffee and cognac. The very excellence of the meal aroused further suspicions, and Wilde felt that the two warm, clean, neatly folded blankets with which he was issued could easily serve as a shroud.
One reassurance came from the men of Splendid, who had been at the villa for some time: to take conditions at their face value. The Sahib men did so, and as the weeks passed Wilde found that his health improved, he put on weight and acquired a deep suntan. There was a certain amount of cleaning and polishing to be done at the villa, but nobody pretended that it approached hard work.
Ldg Stoker Flood wrote up his own memoirs, unfortunately unpublished, entitled 'Thanks are not Enough' and held in the Submarine Museum, Gosport. He records their arrival at no. 1 Marina Maricamp.
Photograph: Enzo Gilini
We must have travelled about thirty miles and it was dark by the time our train stopped at a small station called Manziana. We were about to be marched off, and were requested not to sing or make any unnecessary noise going through the village. The civilians requested this.
We left the station, marching for about half a mile up a straight road, and then turned off into what seemed to be a drive. We followed this for a further quarter of a mile, going through wooded country, and finally ended up in a clearing where there was a large country house and a compound with a solitary hut. Once inside the compound, we were told to sit on the grass.
The camp commandant and subordinates came forward and we received a formal welcome, being told that we were in an interrogation camp for submarine crews and that as soon as they had recorded us with the Red Cross we would be allowed to write home. Coffee was brought out from the camp kitchen and after this refreshment we were allowed to retire.
(It seems likely that they were never recorded with the Red Cross. However, some letters did arrive home:
Information has been received from Mrs. Glayds (Gladys) Lee, wife of... P.O. (Cook) John Vernon Lee, that on 24 February, 1944 she received a letter from him from Camp No. 1 Marina, Italy, stating that he was unhurt and well, was being well-treated and that he expected to be moved from the camp very shortly. Source: ADM 358/2173 The National Archives
The letter would have been sent before 8 September 1943, the date of the Armistice.)
Ldg Stoker Flood continues:
On entering the hut, we found that it had been flimsily partitioned off to form small rooms, each capable of housing half a dozen men, but the number was determined by the number of two-tier bunks in each room. Our bedding consisted of a palliasse filled with straw and a blanket.
The following morning we took stock of our new abode and found a notice nailed to the wall of our small room telling us that the woods surrounding the camp were mined. Nothing else, but it served to warn anyone who had similar thoughts to mine of escaping.
We were allowed to walk around the compound until we were mustered for a hair cut. This left us void of even a scrap of hair on our heads, and yet the barber ignored the beards of my shipmates. It left them looking as if their hair had slipped down onto their face, and provided us that were clean-shaven with a good laugh, and in the end the bearded ones were begging the barber to remove their beards.
After we had managed by a series of actions to convey to the guards that we needed to visit the toilet we were allowed outside to wash and to perform the usual ablutions. It was a very beautiful setting that met my eyes, and under different circumstances I could have spent my life there. We were completely enclosed by woods, and on such as day as this, with the sun pleasantly warm and only the birds singing to break the silence of the countryside, one could envy its owner.
Janet Kinrade Dethick
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