Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Salusbury Kynaston Mainwaring

 

National Archives catalogue reference - WO 208/3315/3

 

Name: 30735 Lieut.-Colonel (war subs) Hugh Salusbury Kynaston Mainwaring, D.S.O.

Unit: Royal Artillery, H.Q. 8th Army.

Captured: Mersah Matruh, 7th November 1942.

Left: Algiers, 18th October 1943.

Arrived: Whitchurch, 19th October 1943.

Date of Birth: 22 Jan 1906.

Army Service: Since Apr 1927..

Peacetime Profession: 10th Hussars: later stockbroker.

Private Address: Greenage, Llanfyllin, Montgomeryshire.

 

I was captured at MERSAH MATRUH on 7 Nov 42 while out on a reconnaissance party with Major R. CARVER, R.E., from 8th Army H.Q. We ran into a road block and were captured by the 90 German Light Division. After capture we were taken to "CHARING CROSS". After about four hours here we were sent to H.Q. Afrika Korps, which were midway between MERSAH MATRUH and SIDI BARRANI. We were here for two hours and were then passed on to Panzer Army H.Q. just South of Landing Ground 122, near SIDI BARRANI. I was here for the night (7-8 Nov) and next day was flown from Landing Ground 122 n a JU 52 to GAMBUT, between SOLLUM and TOBRUK. Here I was transferred to another JU 52 and taken to TOBRUK. From TOBRUK I was flown in an Italian aircraft to an unknown landing ground 30 miles South of BRINDISI.

 

On 8 Nov I was sent to Campo 75, the Transit Camp at BARI. I was at BARI till 30 Nov, when I was moved with 33 senior officers to Campo 38 at POPPI, near FLORENCE. I was here till 30 May 43, when I was transferred to Campo 49, between PARMA and PIACENZA.

 

I was in charge of the organisation of this camp for any emergency - invasion or the probability of transfer to GERMANY. We ran the camp with two different staffs - one under the S.B.O. and Adjutant for normal organisation, and the emergency staff run by myself and the G.2. For an emergency the camp was organised into a H.Q. company consisting of all the specialists, four ordinary Companies, and a batmen's company. The Companies were also organised into Platoons and Sections.

 

News of the Armistice reached the camp about 2000 hrs on 8 Sep. About 2200 hrs the Italian Commandant came in and had a frank discussion with the S.B.O. (Lt.-Col. DE BURG, R.A.), at which I was present. He said that the situation was most obscure. He had heard that fighting was taking place between the Italians and the Germans in PARMA and PIANCENZA, and that the headquarters to which he was responsible at PARMA had been attacked and communications cut. His latest orders were to resist the Germans should they approach the camp, and he said that, although he had not had specific instructions, he presumed this resistance was also to prevent the P/W being taken over and moved to GERMANY. He asked if the camp was organised and ready to act in an emergency. He was told it was. He therefore said that should the camp be approached by the Germans in numbers too large for his small camp garrison and the weapons at their disposal, he had it in mind to allow the camp to escape, and that he would recall us to the camp if he considered this action would be in our interests. He further said that he had a patrol out on the roads to PARMA and PIACENZA. He guaranteed to keep the S.B.O. in touch with the situation throughout the night.

 

Nothing occurred till 0730 hrs, 9 Sep, when the Italian Commandant again came in. He said that the situation had deteriorated, and asked that I should be allowed to go alone on a reconnaissance to find an area in which the P/W could be hidden. He gave me a map, and indicated the direction he considered the best. I left the camp at 0800 hrs, and found a most suitable place along the banks of a small river, where there was very thick undergrowth. This was about six miles from the camp. I returned at about 1200 hrs, and within ten minutes the alarm was sounded, the wire cut, and all P/W, organised as I have already indicated, left the camp for the river. They numbered about 420 officers and 120 batmen. Everyone got out, including the sick and people with broken legs. Those who could not walk rode on ponies.

 

Within half an hour of our departure the Germans arrived - strength reputed to be 80 - and after little or no fighting, the Italian garrison, including the Commandant and four of his officers, were taken prisoner and removed.

 

Captain CAMINO, the senior Italian interpreter, accompanied the P/W, and was of enormous assistance during the next 48 hours.

 

The Germans were reputed to have been very angry on finding the camp empty. It is reputed that the Commandant told the Germans that there had been a mass breakout and that P/W had scattered over the country beyond his control. The Germans ransacked the building, sold the food to the inhabitants of the village, and removed anything they required. They then left, leaving about 12 men in the building. No search for P/W was made that day.

 

All the P/W lay concealed throughout 9 Sep, the night of 9-10 Sep, and 10 Sep. During the night of 10-11 Sep Companies were further dispersed along the river bank, and two companies moved some six miles South preparatory to crossing the main MILAN - BOLOGNA road into the hills overlooking SPEZIA on the following night.

 

By the night of 11-12 Sep all P/W had been dispersed, in the first instance by Companies, then into Platoons, then into Sections, then into small parties or individuals. About 20 remained in the camp area, considering that lying low was safer than moving at that time. When the whole camp was dispersed Captain CAMINO offered to take Lt.-Col. DE BURG, Lt.-Col. WHEELER, and Capt. PHILLIPS with him to his home in TURIN area, leaving me with Lieut. LASCARIS (a Greek who had been serving as C.S.D.I.C., Middle East) and Lieut. BLANCHARD (a Belgian, who had enlisted in the British forces in EGYPT and had been doing a special job with the "Arab Legion".

 

Lieuts. LASCARIS and BLANCHARD and I obtained civilian clothing from farms in the area. We had with us emergency rations - one tin of bully beef, one tin of meat roll, and one tin of biscuits among the three of us. We then proceeded to walk South to rejoin the 8th Army in the FOGGIA area. Our route was: S.E. across the VIA AEMILIA to South of PARMA - along the VIA AEMILIA and about ten miles South of it to beyond BOLOGNA - across to the North of the VIA AEMILIA direct to the coast at CESENATICO - along the coast approximately 25 miles inland to CASA CALENDRA, where we passed through the German line and made contact with the K.O.Y.L.I. at 0900 hrs, 13 Oct.

 

We had walked all the time except for 36 hours at CESENATICO, where we were trying to get a boat. Except at CESENATICO we never disclosed that we were British P/W, but came all the way as returning Italian soldiers. We were faced with the danger of capture by the Germans and of apprehension by the Italian authorities. The Germans had offered a reward of 2600 lira (or 20) for notification of the whereabouts of any British P/W. We therefore decided that, as far as possible, we must not disclose our British identity.

 

Lieut. LASCARIS is a fluent Italian speaker. Lieut. BLANCHARD is a good Italian speaker. I am a bad Italian speaker, and anything I said would at once disclose my identity and probably that of the others. We therefore decided to pose throughout the journey as Italian soldiers endeavouring to return to their homes in Southern ITALY.

 

The story we used was always the same, but as we moved towards the coast our point of origin had to be changed. The story in the later stages was as follows. We were three Italian soldiers (myself in the Labour Corps) who had been conscripted and absent from home for four years. When the Armistice was declared we were in ZAGREB (YUGOSLAVIA). We got on a train and went to TRIESTE, where the train was searched by the Germans for Italian personnel. Shooting took place and we among others were taken P/W with a view to our removal to GERMANY. This had been too much for me and I had had a nervous breakdown, the symptoms of which were complete silence except for muttering a few words about my family to my friends: I would not talk to strangers. After two days' captivity in TRIESTE we had managed to escape and had decided to do the remainder of the journey on foot.

 

This story explained why we had not taken advantage of the very disorganised railway service in ITALY after the Armistice, when everyone had travelled free and there had been no supervision by Germans or Italians. It also explained in the later stages why we had taken so long in getting South. The story about my silence was seldom necessary in the daytime, but had to be pulled out on occasion when sleeping at farms or getting an evening meal.

 

By careful acting and the positioning of myself on the outside of any circle and the continual talking of the two others, who made a good story in which the Italians appeared to sympathise, my silence in many cases passed unnoticed.

 

Lieut. BLANCHARD's accent in the later stages was not considered to be that of Southern ITALY. This was explained away by his own story of having been resident in EGYPT and elsewhere for the last 20 years and of having been employed as a waiter. As such he had cultivated an Egyptian-Italian accent.

 

Passing thus as Italians, we had no difficulty in obtaining the food and shelter which the Italian peasant was prepared to give to his own kind in the circumstances outlined in our story. The food consisted of bread, an occasional egg, a small piece of cheese, and permission to take fruit and tomatoes growing in the fields. When we asked for it we were given shelter at night time in outhouses, barns, cattle sheds, etc.

 

We appreciated that, provided we did not use roads and always kept on the move, we would run little risk of being picked up by the Germans or Italians. We therefore never went to a farm at night time till it was dusk.  We always left before sunrise. We moved all day, never resting for more than about half an hour in any one place. The only exception to this was at CESENATICO, where we contacted the priest, hoping to be put in touch with a boat for Southern ITALY. We told the priest the truth and he gave us shelter for 36 hours, at the end of which he was very much afraid that the carabinieri had got wind of our presence. We left his house at 0400 hrs next day.

 

We had with us a rice-paper escape map, and obtained from the priest three sheets of a motor map covering Southern ITALY. These were of great assistance in the later stages. We had no compass.

 

We had with us one razor, a shaving brush, soap, a comb, one needle and a reel of cotton. These were absolutely essential. Besides this we had nothing. We carried no packs or sacks.

 

I was dressed as an Italian peasant and could pass as such. This was particularly useful when a reconnaissance had to be made in presence of the Germans, as I could "join on" to the countryside and pass unnoticed. The other two were in ordinary civilian clothes in not very good repair.

 

I contacted the K.O.Y.L.I. at 0930 hrs, 13 Oct. I subsequently obtained transport and reported to 11 Brigade H.Q., where I found Major DE BUTTS, the Brigade Major, whom I knew well. He arranged transport to H.Q. 13 Corps, where I left Lieuts. LASCARIS and BLANCHARD, who were despatched down L. of C. to the P/W Collecting Centre in TARANTO area. I went straight to General MONTGOMERY, on whose staff I had previously served, arriving at H.Q., 8th Army at 1800 hrs, 13 Oct.

 

General MONTGOMERY despatched me to Allied Forces H.Q., ALGIERS by air (first priority) to report to General WHITELEY with a request that he would despatch me as soon as practicable to the War Office with a letter to D.M.O. I arrived at WHITCHURCH by at 0500 hrs, 19 Oct.

 

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