The grim story of Chieti

Imprisonment in wartime Italy was tough enough. At some camps conditions were much harder, and the regime more brutal, than at others.

Quite one of the worst was PG 21 at Chieti, in the Abruzzo region – a very large camp through which may PoWs passed, often on their way to other camps such as Veano and Fontanellato. It was overcrowded, with little running water, poor sanitation and, in winter, no heating. Shortage of food and warm clothing prompted debate in the House of Commons.

The story of the camp between August 1942 and September1943 is told in a book published in November 2014 and written by Brian Lett, a former chairman of the Monte San Martino Trust and the author of several books, including S.A.S. in Tuscany. He tells of suffering under a violently pro-Fascist regime. The first Commandant personally beat up one recaptured escaper. A pilot was murdered by an Italian guard following his escape attempt. Tunnels were dug, and the prisoners were even prepared to swim through human sewage to try to get out. Somehow, morale remained remarkably high.

After the Italian Armistice, in September 1943, the British Commander refused to allow the ex-prisoners to leave the camp. Germans took it over, and most prisoners were transported to Germany. Some managed to hide, and more than half of these subsequently escaped.

After the war, a number of the camp’s staff were arrested for war crimes, concluding its unhappy history.

An Extraordinary Italian imprisonment, The Brutal Truth of Camp 21, 1942-3, is published by Pen & Sword Military.

Brian Lett plans to take a small party to visit the Chieti camp between June 24th and June 26th 2015. Contact him if you are interested at escapetrail@aol.com