Lance-Sergeant John Gordon Langdon
National Archives catalogue reference - WO 208/3324/64
Name: 1488410 L/Sgt Langdon, John Gordon.
Unit: 81st Battery, 25th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, 50th Division, 8th Army.
Captured: 1st June 1942.
Escaped: 13th September 1943.
Left: France, 22nd September 1944.
Arrived: U.K., 22nd September 1944.
Date of Birth: 17th February 1915.
Army Service: Since 9th October 1939.
Peacetime Profession: Employee of Shell Company, in Sierra Leone.
Private Address: 2 Acacia Road, St. John's Wood, London, N.W.8.
I was captured on 1 Jun 42 about 25 miles South of GAZALA in LIBYA. Our brigade was completely surrounded by the Germans. We were handed over to the Italians and taken by them to TRENTO, arriving on 15 Jun. From there we were sent to a Transit Camp about 15 kms. from BRINDISI, where we arrived on 17 Jun. After three weeks we were taken to Campo 65 (GRAVINA) where we remained until Jun 43.
2. FIRST ATTEMPTED ESCAPE:
Shortly after arriving at Campo 65 I began to organise an escape with Sgt. KIDD and one of his Sappers. We worked at the plan for three months, gradually cutting a hole through the wire fence. We had saved up food from our own rations. During Mar 43 we expected to get away. One night we went to our hole in the fence, but the guard was waiting on us. We suspected that our plan had been given away.
3. SECOND ATTEMPTED ESCAPE:
On 30 Apr 43 Sgt. KIDD and myself made another attempt from Campo 65. We smuggled ourselves on a working party by having two others take our places. We planned to hide in an uncompleted building on the way to our place of work. Sgt. KIDD was unable to get away, as he just was ahead of the guard. He tried again on his return journey, but ran into an Italian worker and was returned to the working party. I stayed in the house until night and then moved out in the country. I was wearing battle dress, and had very little food with me. I travelled across country. I met several Italian civilians, who, however, did not take very much notice of me. The food question became critical so I approached a farmhouse, where I received food and wine. On my third day out I went to another farm, and met several young Italians who gave me food very reluctantly. After I left two of these fellows followed me on horseback, each armed with a shotgun. One of them fired at me, but did not hit me. I gave myself up in the hope of being able to talk myself out of my difficult situation. however, they held me until the carabinieri arrived. I was taken to POTENZA (ITALY, 1:250,000, Sheet 42, O 52) where I was questioned as to my method of escape. I gave the Italians a very fictitious story of how I had climbed across the fence. They took all my personal belongings, which I never received back. When I was returned to the camp at GRAVINA, the Camp Commandant was waiting for me at the fence, and I had to demonstrate how I got over. The two guards at that part of the fence were arrested and put into a cell just beside mine. I nearly got lynched by them. I received eleven days' detention.
In Jun 43 I was moved to Campo 52 (CHIAVARI). I stayed there until 13 Sep 43. This was a very difficult camp from which to escape, and during my time no successful escapes were made. After the Italian Armistice the Italian Colonel in charge of the camp promised that he would defend us with his 260 men against any German attempt to take over the camp. On 9 Oct sixty Germans arrived, disarmed the Italians who offered no resistance, and occupied the camp. There were about 3,000 P/W in the camp.
On 10 Oct the Germans began to evacuate us in groups of about 1,000 with the intention of sending us to Austria.
I was in the last party of about 700. We were taken on 13 Sep to the station and put into cattle trucks, about 25 to each. Our car was the only one which had no wire netting over the ventilator. We left in the afternoon and went via GENOA to MILAN.
I had a strong string in my possession which I attached during the night to the roof of the truck. Around midnight I let myself out through the ventilator just as we were passing a bridge round a curve. Sgt. KNOWLES, of my Regiment, jumped with me. We were about 3 kms. outside CREMONA (Sheet 11, K 82). Another man (Tpr. SMITH) had jumped a little after us, and later that night we joined up with him.
We moved away from the railroad, and shortly afterwards went to an isolated farm. We were made very welcome and received food and wine and civilian clothing. We stayed the rest of the night at the farm, and on 14 Sep we moved South again, always keeping away from the main roads. The local Italian population was very friendly towards us, and supplied us with food. On the way we met up with another man who had jumped from the train before us Pte. FRIEMAN, a South African. We felt that the party was getting too big so we split up. I went with KNOWLES, and FRIEMAN and SMITH went off together. We did not hear of FRIEMAN or SMITH again.
KNOWLES and I walked South towards the mountains. On 20 Sep we arrived again in BARDI. Near the town we met a Scotsman whom we knew as "JOCK". JOCK and KNOWLES did not want to go any further, and remained in BARDI. I remained only a few hours there. I met an Italian who spoke good English and who was very helpful to me.
I kept on South alone, and reached SOGLIO, near which Campo 52 is situated. There I met an Italian woman who had lived in America for 16 years. She befriended me, and I stayed with her for 20 days, resting up. One day I went right into the former P/W camp and got in touch with the Italian Quartermaster there. He supplied me with civilian clothing from a stock which had been left behind by the P/W. I also received from him food and cigarettes. I visited the Colonel who had formerly been Camp Commandant and gave him a piece of my mind about the way he behaved when the Germans arrived and took over the camp.
In SOGLIO I met Petty Officer CANTLE (M.I.9/S/P.G.(It)1942) who had been hiding there for some time. CANTLE was in touch with a Swiss resident in the District. In the middle of Oct the Swiss supplied us with two guides and two bicycles and we were taken to the village of CAVI (Sheet 16, P 33). On the way we were stopped by two German patrols for not having lights on our bicycles, but each time we just rode round them and, fortunately, they did not shoot. From CAVI we were marched into a camp, just outside the town, which was the headquarters of a Resistance Group. Here I met Pte. KENNARD DAVIS (M.I.9/S/P.G.(It)1888), who had been there about three weeks. He had escaped on the march from Campo 52 to the railway station. We remained at the camp until 25 Oct. CANTLE then left and went to stay with a friend in CHIAVARI (Sheet 16, P 23).
CANTLE's friend in CHIAVARI supplied myself and DAVIS with food and clothing and 2,000 lire. We left on 2 Nov 43 and walked through the hills to BUSALIA (Sheet 16, O 96). There we met an Italian who spoke English. The Italian agreed to get us railway tickets and take us to GENOA. We had no identity cards at that time. We arrived in GENOA in the afternoon of 3 Nov and stayed all night at the apartment of a friend of the Italian. During the afternoon the R.A.F. bombed the city and we had to go into a large public shelter, where DAVIS was nearly caught by a German guard for lighting a cigarette. The guide bought us some respectable clothing and railway tickers towards FRANCE. We left next morning. We had to wait over two hours on the station and were nearly caught again by the control. We travelled third class, which consisted of cattle trucks with seats in them. The same evening we arrived in IMPERIA (Sheet 15, T 29), about five minutes before curfew.
We left the town at once and went into the hills. We walked all next day, and on the evening of the second day arrived in TRIORA (Sheet 15, O 0109). We had been told that it was practically impossible to get into FRANCE along the coastline, and decided to try to make our way through the mountains. We again met up with an English-speaking Italian, who helped us to bribe two Italian guides to take us across. It was too late in the season to attempt the trip by ourselves. We walked for a day and a half through the mountain passes which are used for smuggling and we arrived completely exhausted in FONTAN (Sheet 15, N 81) in FRANCE. We stayed there one night and then made our way South again towards the coast through BREGLIO (Sheet 15, N 80) and arrived in SOSPELLO (Sheet 14, S 79) about two days later.
We tried to contact someone who spoke English and were sent to a small hotel, where the owner spoke a little English. He was very unfriendly and did not give us any help, claiming that he was not a De Gaullist. Many Germans arrived who were on a manoeuvre in that area and we had to leave the house by a rear window. Walking down the road we were stopped by a German sentry who, however, spoke as little French as we did and who was only concerned to get us off the main road while the manoeuvres were going on.
We stopped several hours in the bushes until the Germans had moved on, and then made our way towards NICE. We stopped at the town of DRAP (Sheet 14, S 68) whence we took the tram into NICE. We arrived on 12 Nov. We wanted food, but had no French money. We made our way to a small restaurant in the dock area, where we tried to exchange some of our money. A Frenchman who was eating there recognised us as English. He gave us food and arranged for us to have a room at the restaurant. Next day (13 Nov) he came back with another Frenchman who spoke English very well and had gone to school in WEYBRIDGE. When the second man had satisfied himself as to our identity, he took us to his flat in NICE and looked after us exceedingly well. He seemed to be very wealthy.
We remained in NICE for three weeks, during which time we were moved round from one flat to another for security reasons. We hid during the day and went out only in the evening. Ultimately we were taken by a Frenchman to ANTIBES (Sheet 14, S 46) to a family there. The Frenchman had told us that he would take us to PARIS, whence we would be flown to U.K., but this never came off. I stayed in ANTIBES for about two weeks. KENNARD DAVIS left a few days before Christmas for NICE to try to make arrangements to get to Spain. He was unable to return to ANTIBES, as the bridge over the river VAR was bombed by the R.A.F. that day. He left NICE and went to MONTE CARLO. This was the last I heard of him.
From ANTIBES I went with my helpers to CANNES, MARSEILLES, and AVIGNON (FRANCE, 1:250,000, Sheet 37, S 98). In Mar we got in touch with the F.F.I., for whom I worked till I made contact with American troops about the middle of Sep 44.
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