A Treasure Trove unveiled
Author Janet Kinrade Dethick hails the achievement in making the files of the Allied Screening Commission Index (ASC) accessible. Although digitisation is in its early stages already the first files are uncovering fascinating stories about Italian helpers
Some years ago, during a tête-to -tête post-event dinner at Servigliano, Anne Copley, of the Monte San Martino Trust, told me of her campaign to convince the American authorities to pull the Allied Screening Commission Records out of the archives and make them available for general consultation. Hence it was with great interest that I learned in September 2024 that her efforts, together with those of Sir Nicholas Young, MSMT chairman, and fellow MSMT trustees, had borne fruit.
These records contain the requests for compensation made by Italians who had incurred expenses in helping escaped prisoners of war. Index cards with the helpers’ names are now online and it is currently possible to search them for name but not content, hence only those who know the name of the family who assisted the serviceman they are interested in can find the relevant card and access the contents of the file. This in itself is not always a problem: for example, the Escape and Evasion Report of L/Bdr. John Johnstone Livingstone, a former internee at Servigliano who escaped from PG 146/19 Vigevano, gives the name of the Italian who helped him, and with it I turned up the index card relatively quickly via the link Anne had provided. What is essential now is the addition of prisoners’ names, which will only be possible if each index card is tagged.
Anne had also sent me the files containing the first forty-seven claims and was looking for some assistance with the tagging. I declined at first, because on looking at a few examples I had found some errors. An American airman with an eight-figure service number who belonged to the RAF seemed an unlikely combination, as I knew from other research work that RAF numbers have either five or six digits. Fortunately, elsewhere in the forty-seven claims files there is another one referring to the same airman which puts the record straight. I was unsure, and still am, as to whether or not these errors should be corrected in the tags.
With these misgivings I subsequently changed my mind about helping and have registered as a Citizen Archivist. I have yet to commence! Why did I have a change of heart? Possibly because the files I had already consulted were crying out for assistance. Some contained long-held secrets just waiting to be revealed, others confirmed what I already knew or suspected, and a few threw new light on what had happened in the wake of the Armistice.
My interest in prisoners of war goes back to 2011, when I began to investigate the bombing by the USAAF of a railway bridge at Allerona, near Orvieto, on 28 January 1944 at the precise moment that a train carrying prisoners of war was crossing it.
On this train there were some members of the crew of HM Submarine Saracen. This submarine is my ongoing project, and I discovered to my surprise and delight that in these first claims there are references to three of them: at last I have found out how A/Sub/Lt. Roy Charlton Elliott managed to escape from the camp he was being held in, PG 122/25 in Rome. Before I read the claim the existence of this camp was unknown to me, but Lieut. Ugo Belli, the Camp Commandant, describes how at the Armistice he led submariner Elliott and some other prisoners out, contradicting an earlier version which asserted that they had broken away from a prison-camp party being marched through the back streets of the city. (A/Sub/Lt. Elliott took refuge in the Vatican and died there in a fall from a window in March 1944.)
The other two, A/P.O. Reginald Martin, RN and Ldg. Sto. Cecil Flood, were two of five prisoners assisted by Roman butcher Giovanni Ceccarelli. The identity of Ldg. Sto. Flood had completely baffled the ASC member who had filled in the claim form. Unable to find the submariner in the International Red Cross prisoner-of-war lists (TNA WO 392/21) issued in August 1943 before Saracen had been scuttled, the compiler had written the initials UDF (Union Defence Force) in pencil next to his name. I already knew about Ceccarelli, as in his memoirs, held in the Submarine Museum at Gosport, UK, Ldg. Sto. Flood had confirmed every detail in his account, including how the five escapers had been successfully hidden during a raid on the premises by the Gestapo.
Two other names which leapt out at me were those of South Africans Private. P. J. Crinall and Spr. R. Carter, helped at Farnese (province of Viterbo) before being betrayed and summarily executed. They had almost certainly been tortured, as when I consulted War Crimes File WO 309/366/1, which covers the subsequent investigation, two pages were still closed to the public, the opening date being given as 1 January 2024. The two soldiers are buried in Bolsena War Cemetery along with the some of the victims of the bombed train.
Regarding this latter incident, the claims include the story of a group of four escapers who had initially been in lodgings with Antonio Meucci near Tivoli to the east of Rome. In January 1944, they had departed in an attempt to reach the Allied lines but had been recaptured, sent to a temporary camp in a carabinieri barracks at Frosinone and then to PG 54, Fara in Sabina, from where they had been put on the train. Having escaped during the bombing they returned to the Meucci household, bringing three others along with them. One of the newcomers was American soldier Private G. Partridge. He too is not registered as a PoW and it is likely that he been taken prisoner in the December offensive near Venafro, which had led to the capture of a friend of mine’s father and his platoon, all of whom also had ended up on the train.
This list of people or events I already knew about seemed endless. Anne too had a similar experience. She seemed quite overwhelmed by the one-off chance of finding a file in the first forty-seven cards referring to the six Indians sheltered for nine months at Villa San Sebastiano by Romano Berardi, a fact well documented in Italian sources and about which she is extremely well informed.
As far as my own research into prisoner of war camps is concerned, File 22 has opened up another chapter in the story of camp commandants or other officials who helped the internees to escape and then fled themselves. It holds the claim put in by Capt. Vincenzo Galluccio, who wrote:
On Sept. 8th 1943 I was serving as officer interpreter for the English Language in the prisoner camp No. 10 at Acquapendente…on the morning of Sept. 9th I went out of the camp with all the non-commissioned officers…and showed them the road they had to follow…soon after our return to the camp the German soldiers surrounded it. Notwithstanding, during the night, about 25 English and South African POWs could go through the barbed wire which I had previously broken at a given point. I myself fled that same night…
The other stories revealed in these forty-seven reports, such as the misfortunes of the brave helpers, will have to be told another time.
Janet Kinrade Dethick
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