Chief Petty Officer Henry William Cantle

 

National Archives catalogue reference - WO 208/3320/65

 

Name: CMX 59227 Chief Petty Officer Cantle, Henry William, R.N.

Unit: H.M.S. Bedouin.

Captured: Off Pantelleria, 15th June 1942.

Escaped: On way to station, Chiavari, 13th September 1943.

Left: Gibraltar, 27th May 1944.

Arrived: Swindon, 28th May 1944.

Date of Birth: 30th May 1916.

R.N. Service: Since 28th February 1939.

Peacetime Profession: Royal Navy.

Private Address: 126, Sidcup Road, Lee, London, S.E.12.

 

(Map references are to series ITALY, 1:250,000).

 

1. CAPTURE.

 

H.M.S. BEDOUIN was torpedoed off PANTELLERIA on 15 Jun 42. More than 200 of the crew were rescued after having been in the water for seven and a half hours, and were taken by an Italian Red Cross ship to PANTELLERIA, whence after ten or fourteen days we were moved to SICILY. In SICILY we were kept for four or five weeks in a transit camp at CASTELVETRANO.

 

2. CAMP IN ITALY.

 

Camp 52 (CHIAVARI) from end Aug 42 till 8 Sep 43.

 

3. ATTEMPTED ESCAPES.

 

Nil.

 

4. ESCAPE FROM COLUMN OF MARCH (near CHIAVARI).

 

The Commandant at Campo 52, in announcing the conclusion of the Armistice to the P/W on 8 Sep 43, said that he, his officers, and his men would defend us from the Germans. At midday on 9 Sep, however, three lorry-loads of well-equipped German troops took possession of the camp without the Italians offering any resistance. As the Germans came into the camp a few of us tried to leave from the other side, but were stopped by the Italian sentries. The Germans were very nervous and appeared to be expecting that there would be Commando landings to help us. Throughout the first three or four nights the Germans kept firing their Tommy-guns and sprayed the camp several times. During the first three days six P/W (no names) were wounded while lying in their bunks.

 

On the night of 10 Sep I made my first attempt to escape. I dropped out of a window and crawled along a depression in the grass till I reached the wire. As I had to break the wire with my hands, it took me some time to get through three sets of wire. Just as I had broken the last set of wire I was seen by a German patrol. I was taken before the duty officer who, having heard me admit that I had read and understood the order that no one was to escape, said there was no excuse for me and that I would be shot in the morning. I was put into solitary confinement. Each day, however, my German guards were changed, and by the end of my third day in the cells the guards did not know the reason for my being there. I was let out of the cell at 0600 hrs on 13 Sep, being told to fall in on the road outside the camp at 0800 hrs in a party leaving for GERMANY.

 

I joined the party, which was the second to leave the camp. After we had been marching for about an hour on the road to CHIAVARI (Sheet 16, P 23) a bus came towards us. The Germans made the bus pull into the side of the road to let us pass. I closed up to the guard in front of me and, covered by Sgt.-Major William WARD, South African Forces, I walked round the back of the bus and got into it. the bus was full of passengers, who seemed scared but willing to try to hide me, and I sat down on the floor, where I remained till the column of P/W had passed.

 

On the bus was the Italian wife of a Swiss. She had lived in the United States and spoke English. She gave me the jacket and beret of her 14-year-old son, who was also on the bus, and I removed my battle dress, under which I was wearing khaki shorts and an Italian military shirt. The woman invited me to go to her house at ISOLONA (P 2446), and we arrived there about 1300 hrs, having passed the camp on the way. Outside the camp the bus was not searched by the Germans, as had been the case for several days before.

 

At ISOLONA the woman gave me civilian clothes and a meal. She said that, as the countryside was in a turmoil and crowded with Italian soldiers making their way home, it would be easy for me to travel. She suggested that if I wished to make for ROME, she would buy me a ticket and put me on the train that evening. I decided, however, to wait as ISOLONA for another 24 hours in the hope that British troops would arrive in the neighbourhood. That night I went to live in the woods near ISOLONA and remained there for the next five weeks. All the village knew of my presence, and were so keen to feed me that I sometimes had as many as three dinners a day. There were no British ex-P/W in the district till the last week of my stay there, when Sgt. John LANGDON, R.A., arrived. By this time I had, through my Swiss woman helper, got in touch with a foreign doctor, who said he could find me shelter with an Italian resistance group. After two meetings I accepted the doctor's offer, and it was arranged that LANGDON should accompany me.

 

Guides were sent by the resistance group with bicycles to take us to their headquarters at M. CAPENARDO (P 3435). We were also accompanied by the doctor's daughter, who rode on the cross-bar of one of the bicycles and flirted with us as we were passing the camp. At the headquarters of the resistance group we met Pte. KENNARD DAVIS (S/P.G.(It) 1888) who on the evening of his escape had been befriended by two nieces of the doctor. After about a month at the headquarters of the group LANGDON and KENNARD DAVIS decided to try to get to FRANCE, while I decided to go to CHIAVARI and consult my Swiss woman helper at the home of her mother. Our decision to move was due to the fact that carabinieri and Fascists had heard of the existence of a group in the region of M. CAPENARDO though I do not think they knew of our presence there.

 

I arrived in CHIAVARI before LANGDON and KENNARD DAVIS and went to the house of the Swiss woman's mother. When the two others got to CHIAVARI they were seen in the street by one of the carabinieri from the camp. After eluding him they met the Swiss woman, who brought them to her mother's house. They remained here till evening, when the Swiss woman and I escorted them to the bus. The woman and I then returned to her mother's house, where the woman stayed for only a short time before going to her own flat in the town, where her children were living.

 

At 2230 hrs a party of Italian police arrived at the mother's house, and arrested the mother, a woman of about 80, a man lodging in the house, and myself. We were taken to the civilian prison, where I declared myself as an escaped P/W from Campo 52, giving only my name and number. There were only Italians present. When they failed to get me to say where I had been since my escape, they sent for the Germans, and a German officer and about six men arrived. The German officer tried to interrogate me, but with little success, as he did not speak any Italian and the Italians did not speak any German, while neither spoke any English. The German wanted to know where I had been and who had been feeding me, and I said vaguely that I had been in the mountains. The Swiss woman was brought in, the police having got her address from her mother, but she and I refused to recognise each other. Eventually, however, the old mother admitted to both the Italians and the German that the daughter had been in her (the mother's) house while I was there. The Swiss woman then told them the circumstances in which she had met me, but maintained that as a Swiss subject she could entertain whomever she pleased in her house. The woman, her mother, and the lodger were kept in the civil prison. The German officer said he would take me back to the German barracks so that I could be questioned in English. At first the Italian police refused to hand me over, but eventually the Governor of the prison expressly ordered that I should be given up to the Germans.

 

5. ESCAPE FROM GERMAN BARRACKS (CHIAVARI).

 

The Germans put me into solitary confinement in their barracks in CHIAVARI. On the third morning there I managed to escape. There was a guard outside my cell, but I had been studying his movements, and about 1000 hrs. I heard him leave the corridor in front of the cell and walk round to the German living quarters which were at the other side of a hall behind the cell block. From my cell I could hear plainly what was going on. I wrenched out the staple which held up my bed when it was not in use. With the staple I broke the wire on the inside of the inspection grille in the door and broke the clasp with which the outside flap of the grille was fastened. I then put my arm through the grille and unbolted the door. The bolt had not been padlocked. When I got outside I bolted the door and closed the grille.

 

I walked from the cell to the end of the building furthest from the cell and also from the place to which the guard had gone, crossed the courtyard to the outer wall of the barracks, and crouched down behind a pile of builders' rubble. I stayed here for about two minutes and, after having a look round, doubled across to another barrack building adjoining the one from which I had escaped. This building was quite near the outer wall. I took a leap at the wall, but as it was about 11 ft. high, I could not get over. I returned to the rubble for a rough stool which was lying there. I placed the stool against the wall, took a running jump, leapt off the stool, and just managed to reach the top of the wall. On the other side was a back garden.

 

From the garden I got on to a road and made my way back to the home in CAVI (P 3133) of members of the resistance group with which I had previously stayed. I then returned to their camp at M. CAPENARDO. I now joined up with three other ex-P/W whom I had previously met in this district. They were:- A.B. John EDWARDS, H.M.S. BEDOUIN; Dvr. Arthur EVERETT, R.A.S.C.; and s South African (Christian name probably RICE). For the next six weeks (till 23 Dec) they and I alternated between M. CAPENARDO and MONTE DOMENICO (P 3635).

 

About the middle of Oct I had met Gnr. UNGER (S/P.G.(It) 1890) in the house of the members of the resistance group at CAVI. After our first meeting UNGER had returned to stay with Italian helpers at NE (P 3340). UNGER re-appeared in Nov at M. CAPENARDO, accompanied by Leading Seaman BRIARD. UNGER had been reconnoitring for a journey South, but without success. The day UNGER re-appeared we were transferred to MONTE DOMENICO. The others went on, but that night UNGER and BRIARD remained at the resistance group headquarters at M. CAPENARDO, while I went down to CAVI to get the latest reports, having heard that the Germans were likely to arrive shortly in the district. I rejoined UNGER and BRIARD next morning and the three of us went towards MONTE DOMENICO. En route BRIARD decided to make for FRANCE, while UNGER decided to investigate the PISA district. I carried on for MONTE DOMENICO.

 

UNGER re-appeared in the district during the first week in Dec, accompanied by L/Cpl. John VIVIER, South African Forces. There were now repeated panics in the district, which was occasionally visited by the Germans and by Italian Fascists, and we had to keep moving from hut to hut at MONTE DOMENICO. In view of this, UNGER and I decided that it was both dangerous and uncomfortable to remain; also we were no longer useful to the resistance group. (I had previously assisted the group by cleaning and distributing arms to hiding places, but this work was now completed.)

 

6. JOURNEY TO FRANCE.

 

UNDER and I decided to make for FRANCE. Our journey is as described in UNGER's report except for the following detail:- UNGER and I became separated not near GRIMALDI (as stated in his report) but before we passed through IMPERIA (Sheet 15, T 29). We had spent the night off the main road and in the morning in getting back to the main road became separated and did not join up again till near S. LORENZO (T 1592).

 

[Note: I have yet to trace Unger's report.]

 

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