Escaping has ceased to be a sport - A Soldier’s memoir of Captivy and Escape in Italy and Germany, Frank Unwin MBE

Escaping has ceased to be a sport - A Soldier’s memoir of Captivy and Escape in Italy and Germany, Frank Unwin MBE

Although a great many accounts of life as a POW have been published over the years, Frank Unwin’s story still manages to be fresh and different. The story falls into three clear sections (not the same as the three parts here) – his time as a POW in Italy, his time as sheltering in Italian villages in Tuscany, and his time as a POW in Germany. All three of these topics are ones that are rarely covered. I don’t think I’ve read any other lengthy accounts of life as a prisoner of the Italians. I have read other accounts of life as an escapee behind enemy lines in Italy, but they have all been written by men who joined up with partisan bands or SAS led groups, whereas this is a story of life hiding out with local support. Finally Unwin’s time in Germany was very different to that of the officers who have written the majority of POW stories. Instead of spending all of his time in a POW camp, he was put to work, first in a concrete factory and then in the associated quarry. While it was indeed legal to use private soldiers as labourers, and Italian and German POWs in Britain worked in agriculture, there were strict rules on which sort of work could be done, and on working conditions, none of which were being met here.

The section has made the biggest impact on me is the period that Unwin spent being sheltered by the local farming communities in the mountains of Tuscany. A brief visit to a friendly farm house while attempting to move south towards Allied lines turned into a much longer stay after he began to suffer from serious nose bleeds and was forced to turn back. He (and others) were taken in by the local community, sheltered and fed, at great risk to their new Italian friends. When Unwin finally decided that it was time to make another attempt to reach Allied lines each of the local communities actually held meetings to try and convince him not to go!

The switch in tone when he fell into German hands after the attempt to move south failed thus comes as something of a shock to the system. By the time he was in German hands the war had turned against them, and their attitude to POWs had hardened (at about the same the recaptured escapees from the Great Escape were being murdered). Life in the forced labour camps was much harder than life in the more familiar POW camps (although later Unwin passed two concentration camps and saw how Soviet POWs were being treated, so was aware that many people were suffering far more). We finish with his experience of the long march to freedom, when the Germans forced POWs to move backwards and forwards across the country in an attempt to keep them captive for as long as possible, ending with their liberation by American forces.

This is a fascinating account of a very different experience as a POW and evader to the more familiar officer accounts, and is well worth reading.

Chapters
Part I: Italy
1 - Capture
2 - Laterina Prisoner of War Camp No.82
3 - Borgo San Lorenzo Working Party
4 - The Tunnel
5 - Freedom
6 - I Leave my Companions
7 - Pietraviva
8 - My Introduction to Montebenichi
9 - Village Life
10 - A New Home, but Danger is Never Far Away
11 - The Decision to Leave
12 - Departure from Montebenichi
13 - La Fortezza da Basso
14 - The Transit Camp at Mantua
15 - Leaving Italy

Part II: Germany
16 - Stalag Xia, Altengrabow
17 - Jesabruch factory
18 - The Lazarett
19 - Anhalt Quarry
20 - More Thoughts of Escape
21 - Personalities and States of Mind
22 - Factory Jobs
23 - The Salt Mine

Part III: The Tide Turns
24 - Welcome Glimmers of Hope
25 - The Long March to Freedom
26 - Home at Last

Author: Frank Unwin
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 272
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2018


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