Major-General Michael Denman Gambier-Parry

 

National Archives catalogue reference - WO 208/3320/48

 

Name: Major-General Michael Denman Gambier-Parry, M.C.

Unit: 2nd Armoured Division.

Captured: Mekili (Libya), 8th April 1941.

Left: Vincigliata (Florence), 10th September 1943.

Date of Birth: 21st August 1891.

Army Service: Royal Welsh Fusiliers 1911-1924, Royal Tank Regiment since 1924.

Peacetime Profession: Regular Army.

Private Address: 38 Abingdon Court, London, W.8. (Tel: Western 2319).

 

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

 

1. CAPTURE:

 

I was captured at MEKILI (LIBYA) with my Headquarters on 8 Apr 41.

 

2. CAMPS IN ITALY:

 

VILLA ORSINI : 14 Apr 41 - 25 Sep 41.

VINCIGLIATA  : 25 Sep 41 - 10 Sep 43.

 

3. ATTEMPTED ESCAPES:

 

Nil.

 

4. JOURNEY FROM VINCIGLIATA:

 

We heard of the Armistice from the Italian staff after dinner on 8 Sep 43, and were asked not to tell our own staff till the following morning, when the official announcement was to be made. Next morning (9 Sep) we were asked to stay inside the castle. The sentries were kept on the wall - not, it was explained, to keep us in, but to keep the Germans out. We were allowed all our belongings, and Red Cross parcels were brought in to us. The Italians were extremely friendly.

 

About 0900 hrs on 10 Sep a message was received that Lt.-General CHIAPI, Commander of the Defesa, an administrative command with headquarters in FLORENCE, would like to see us in uniform in FLORENCE at once, and we were asked to be ready within half an hour with all our kit. We were then taken by car and lorry into FLORENCE. Our party consisted of 11 officers and 14 other ranks. The officers were:-

 

Lt.-Gen. NEAME.

Maj-Gen. O'CONNOR.

Air Vice-Marshal BOYD.

Myself.

Brig. VAUGHAN (S/P.G.(-) 1923)

Brig. COMBE (S/P.G.(-) 1921)

Brig. TODHUNTER (S/P.G.(-) 1922)

Brig. STIRLING

Brig. ARMSTRONG

Capt. RUGGLES-BRISE.

Lt. Lord RANFURLY (S/P.G.(-) 1943)

 

The officers of the party were received at the FLORENCE headquarters by General CHIAPI who made a short speech, expressing regret if we had found some of his measures repressive, but saying he had only been doing his duty. On his own responsibility, he said, he had much pleasure in releasing us. He asked if we had mufti, and we said we had a little. He and his staff seemed to be worried about the probable arrival of the Germans in FLORENCE in the near future and about the uncertainty of the whole situation. The General said it was difficult to advise us where to go, but after some consideration he said he thought that, as a start, the best place would be AREZZO (Sheet 23, R 23). He explained that he did not think it would be possible for us to get to ROME because a German motorised division was reported to be at CHIUSI between AREZZO and ROME. The General said that he would give us a special train and that we had better start not from the main station in FLORENCE, but from the CAMPO DI MARTE, a suburban station.

 

We left in our original transport for that station, accompanied by one of the camp staff (Tenanto JANICELLI), who had previously been rather unpleasant to us, but who now became very helpful. Among other things he said he would try to hide the bulk of our kit in the castle, or put it into a bank in FLORENCE. I do not known what happened to our kit.

 

At the station we were still in uniform, and while we were waiting for our special train the Italian crowd at the station divested themselves of articles of their own clothing and gave them to us, refusing anything but a few cigarettes in payment. We were now transformed into civilians of a sort. Later the guard on the train, discovering that the pair of trousers I had got were too tight for me, gave me his uniform trousers.

 

The special train, which consisted of an electric locomotive and two carriages, took us to AREZZO. At the station here we were met by a young Italian officer representing the local military commander. We were taken by car to the Italian headquarters in the town - a sort of training school at a barracks. Here we met the Italian Commander, a Colonel or Brigadier, who was completely "gaga" and terrified of the Germans, whom he did not intend to resist. We said that our idea was to disappear into the mountains and farm ourselves out on the local farmers and peasants, but he vetoed this on account of the risks in which any helpers would be involved. He then sent for the Prefect of Police, who was as helpful as the Commander had been unhelpful; and who at once suggested that we should go to the monastery at CAMALDOLI (East of PRATOVECCHO, Sheet 19, R 1668), the seat of one of the houses [approximately two words blacked out] ...lese Order. He himself volunteered to go to the monastery and make arrangements for receiving us, and explained that it would be unwise for us to move out by road till evening, because the Germans were to some extent using the main road.

 

It was arranged that young Italian officer guides in mufti should take us out in groups into which we had already organised ourselves. This was done, and at 1900 hrs we were picked up on the main road North of AREZZO by two motor buses which had been sent by the Prefect of Police. Just after we started in the buses we met the Prefect of Police and his assistant returning from the monastery. We reached the monastery about 2200 hrs. and were put into the hospice. Here separate rooms were allotted to the officers, and the men were accommodated in dormitories.

 

We stayed at CAMALDOLI from the night of 10 Sep till midday on 14 Sep. During this time we heard a considerable amount of rumour and even some direct news about German movements along the main road from AREZZO to RAVENNA (M 53) which passes through the village of SERRAVALLE (R 2666) about two miles from CAMALDONI. At this time all the German movements were Northwards, and we got the impression that the Germans were pulling out.

 

On 14 Sep we left the monastery. The Fathers planned that the main part of our party should be put out to farms on the other side of the Apennine watershed, near the village of CASANOVA, and we were taken there by one of the Fathers. It was arranged that Generals NEAME and O'CONNOR, Air Vice-Marshal BOYD, and Brigadier TODHUNTER (who had a good knowledge of Italian) should temporarily go to the head house of the Order at EREMO, near CAMALDONI, where they could keep in touch with the British news by wireless. General NEAME asked me to take charge of the rest of the party, and with it I crossed the APENNINES. We went to live at various farms, at all of which we left chits saying we had received help.

 

About ten days after our departure there was a scare at EREMO and General NEAME and his party moved to another area - LA SEGHETTINA, near CASANOVA. Gradually some of the other officers were moved to that area and General NEAME asked if I would remain in the CASANOVA area with two officers (Brigadier ARMSTRONG and Capt. RUGGLES-BRISE). I did so, moving after a time to STRABATENZA (R 2978), where I lived alone on a farm. I acted as officer in charge of that area, and distributed among the farms the Other Ranks who were coming in, having at one time as many as 25 under my care.

 

About the end of Sep some of the men started moving South. The officers of the original party, who were still under General NEAME's command, felt that it would not be long before Allied troops arrived and did not make plans to leave. At this time General NEAME was in touch with an Italian organisation, through which we hoped to be able to join the Allies. This organisation provided us with money.

 

In the last week of Oct there was a German raid on LA SEGHETTINA, but the Germans were seen approaching, and General NEAME and his party took to the woods. It was felt, however, that this raid might be repeated, and General NEAME's party came to STRABATENZA area about 31 Oct, and accommodation was found for them. A message was, however, received that Generals NEAME, O'CONNOR, and CARTON DE WIART could be got out, and that all would be fetched in a short time. Generals NEAME and O'CONNOR, accordingly, went back to CASANOVA.

 

By this time the men were gradually moving South - some because they wanted to go, and others because the Italians were getting restive and food was scarce. I consented to their going because we were by then too thick on the ground.

 

About 7 or 8 Nov a guide who had been with Generals NEAME and O'CONNOR and Air Vice-Marshal BOYD returned with a note from General NEAME telling me to stick to the organisation. The guide also had a verbal message from the organisation that four more of us should go to a rendezvous at BAGNO (R 37), whence we would be taken by bicycle to the coast. Brigadiers COMBE and TODHUNTER, Lt. Lord RANFURLY, and myself, being the four fittest members of the party, went to BAGNO on the appointed date, but found there were no bicycles. We returned to STRABATENZA.

 

About 20 Nov we received a letter from the organisation saying that there was a plan on foot to get us all away to rejoin the Allies in about three weeks. This plan, however, did not materialise. At the beginning of Dec it began to be clear that our organisation was in trouble. We heard that some of its members had been arrested and that the supply of money was beginning to fail. Towards the end of Dec I was visited by two representatives of the organisation who gave me a certain amount of money and promised more. The promised money did not arrive, and we heard nothing further at that time from the organisation.

 

About Christmas Italian partisans appeared in the village, and I met the commander. They knew of our organisation, but did not know what was happening to it.

 

On 6 Jan 44 a Greek whom I had previously met arrived unexpectedly at STRABATENZA, saying he had been sent by a British organisation working from ROME, and it was decided that Brigadiers ARMSTRONG and STIRLING and myself should go with him to ROME.

 

On 7 Jan we accompanied the Greek to BADIA A PRATAGLIA (M 2969). We spent the night there, but next morning our guide failed to meet us, as arranged, at the bus. We accordingly returned to STRABATENZA. On the way I met a farmer who had previously helped us, and gave him a note for an Englishman who I had met in BADIA.

 

Early on 9 Jan the farmer returned with a note from my English friend saying that the guide's alarm clock had failed to go off on the previous morning and he had been too late to meet us at the bus. The note also said that the Greek now thought that there was too many, and that if I were in BADIA by 1800 hrs he would take me alone to ROME. I decided to accept this offer, and walked back to BADIA, where I met the Greek.

 

Next morning (10 Jan) we went by bus to BIBBIENA (R 2458) and thence by train to AREZZO, where I spent two nights. Here we were joined by a young Italian Officer (who was wanted by the Germans for hiding arms) and by Mrs. BOYD, a British resident in FLORENCE, who had moved to AREZZO and had been helping British and American P/W in the district.

 

We left AREZZO for ROME on the night train on 12 Jan. I was hidden in ROME from the day of my arrival until 5 Jun, when the city was occupied by Allied troops.

 

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