Facts and fiction

The story of escaping prisoners of war, and the bravery of the Italians who sheltered them, continues to fascinate, as two books published in 2015 testify.

Both differ from the usual accounts of PoW escapes after the Armistice in 1943, which are factual memoirs written by the prisoners themselves, in that the narratives have touches of fiction, to a greater or lesser degree. Captured by the Enemy is described by the author Crystal Aceves as creative non-fiction, in that although it is a totally true account of the escape of her American grandfather, Carl Leroy Good, from Servigliano camp in the Marche, creative elements such as conversation and characters have been added to help recreate events.

The other book is Far Away by Victoria Blake, who also writes crime novels set in Oxford and is the sister of the secretary of the Monte San Martino Trust, Letitia Blake. Far Away is a lightly veiled account of the escape from Sulmona of their father Robert Blake, who after the war became a celebrated historian and Oxford college head and was ennobled as Lord Blake. Other elements in the book drawn from the family’s home life in Norfolk have enabled Victoria to create a post-war storyline.

The relationship between the two main characters in the novel, Michael and Harry, also owes something to real life. While held in the PoW camp, the two men combine to write a book. While Michael produces an autobiographical account of his war, Harry writes a fairy tale that centres on a quest for identity.

In this fiction, the two men have different fates. This is an echo of a real-life friendship, as Harry is loosely based on Dan Billany, who was a prisoner at Fontanellato along with David Dowie. When Billany and Dowie themselves escaped they took with them nine exercise books containing the manuscript of The Cage. Sadly, neither man returned from the war but the manuscript was returned to England and published.

Members of the Monte San Martino Trust will feel very much at home as Far Away draws to a conclusion, because woven into the story is an account of one of the Trust’s annual lunches. Victoria Blake, who herself attended one of these, is extremely observant.

Captured by the Enemy, by Crystal Aceves, can be obtained through the author’s website, www.crystalaceves.com

Far Away is available through Amazon and through www.troubador.co.uk

John Simkins