The pent-up demand from MSMT members for a get-together, following the cancellation of the annual meeting in 2021, was evidenced by strong support for the lunch held on 10 November 2021.
Ninety supporters enjoyed this overdue celebration at the Royal Overseas League in London. Among them were 20 guests who were attending the annual lunch for the first time. But there were also many who form the core support of the Trust. In his welcome address, Nick Young, the chairman, mentioned several including three generations of one family – Pamela Rogers, the widow of Major-General Norman Rogers, a PoW at PG49 Fontanellato, her daughter, Emma Adams, and her grand-daughter, Ruth Jones. The lunch was organised faultlessly, as ever, by Christine English and Letitia Blake.
After holding a moment of silence to remember those who have passed away, both in wartime and during the past two years, Nick Young hastened to reassure supporters that the “camp entertainment committee”, as he termed the Trust’s key workers, had by no means been idle during the pandemic. Among the activities he mentioned were the three successful Zoominars, including the most recent, held on 31 October, which had dealt with the little-explored topic of the 8,000 Indian PoWs in Italy. The Zoominar was viewed by people from 10 different countries. “We are now MSMT International,” he said.
Another huge success has been the digitisation of the Trust’s archive of PoW memoirs. Over the past five years 183 stories have been uploaded, leaving only 10 still to go online. The focus is now on collecting memoirs of the Italians who hid PoWs on the run. “It is not just the derring-do of the escapers that gets recognised but the bravery of the Italians who helped them,” said Nick Young, who then referred to the 1.5 million pages of records collected by the Allied Screening Commission, which was responsible for identifying these helpers after the conflict.
“The Brits were going to burn this archive, which is held at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington DC, but the Americans stepped in to house it,” he said. The Trust is investigating with NARA the possibility of digitising this immense treasure-trove. “It is a living and breathing memorial and part of a growing Trust effort to research this extraordinary story,” said Nick Young. He then called for a round of applause for the archive team of Christine English, archivist Nicola Waddington and IT consultant George Mitchell.
The microphone was then passed to Anne Copley, one of the trustees, for her keynote speech on PoWs who were not officers but came from Other Ranks (ORs). Her talk distilled the research for a book that she is writing on the subject and which will help to balance the picture of Allied PoWs. This has been skewed by the fact that the vast majority of PoW memoirs were written by officers.
To read Anne Copley’s notes for her talk, click on the pdf below.