Prisoners of War

There was a large Italian prisoner of war cage in the Garrison and in the early days of the war all were hopeful of early release by the Germans, but after the fall of Tripoli, more and more despondent. These prisoners had largely been captured in the battles of Wavell, so they had been there a long time. They were mainly of peasant stock, but there were same rarities. We had working for us a coppersmith who said his name was Arcangeli, he only spoke German. The other Italians said he was a kraut hiding in their ranks. It is more likely that he came from one of those towns on the old Austrian border lost in the peace of 1918.

Later we were to acquire as labourers a couple of small mountaineers from the Swiss border who spoke neither German nor Italian but Romanch, thoughtlessly left behind by the Romans. The denizens of prison camps develop grievances real or imaginary, which turn them awkward. They run away and generally cause trouble. Our lot used to collect cartridges lost on the old range on our site, make bombs of the cordite, and then let them off outside my office. One grievance was pay.

According to the Geneva Convention of those days the rank and file, if working, should have received 10 pence a day, and Tradesmen 10 shillings. The lesser sum was paid but not the larger. One suspects that the Authorities were not eager to pay up. They had it seems demanded a trade test carried out by so far an impossibly competent Examiner. They still worked regularly around the Garrison, I suppose to keep their hands in.

I learnt this when I went to see the Camp Commandant about our Coppersmith. I studied the rather terrifying document at length and it finally dawned on me that although I didn’t fill all the qualifications, I met most of them. A form was filled in and sent off. After a delay and to my great surprise I was approved, not only for the Coppersmith but for the whole lot which included plasterers, bricklayers, plumbers and God knows what else. As if I hadn’t enough to do already. I should have remembered the old army advice “Never volunteer!”

In particular there were two types who catered for the cold winters of Egypt. They were building fireplaces and chimneys in all Mess buildings of any size in the Garrison. The fireplaces were great Baroque structures equal to the wildest church extravaganzas of their native land. As a matter of taste they should have been failed, but I passed them on the technical skill. Dash it. I had once built a sundial of bricks in my back garden, greatly admired by the neighbours!

So the bombs and fires stopped as a thank offering for my services and all was peace until one day the POWs were in the charge of naval warrant officer known as f he Marasechelo, who did not work. He appeared in my office about lunchtime in a fine old state, he had lost two of the  prisoners. Despite a search the two Romanch speaking Mountaineers were nowhere to be found. This was monstrous. They had all been instructed by the camp committee to behave themselves at Adullam Camp as a show of gratitude for the trade tests.

Calming him down we had another search, and there at the end of the camp were the two beauties deep in an excavation with their arms round each other, singing like Larks and enjoying the warm midday sun. They all lost their lunch over them. The last I saw of the two culprits was them being booted up the road by some guards. Weeks afterwards I had to dispense with the services of the prisoners. The Authorities ordered more Guards. The place was nice and tidy. The Transmitter built by Arcangeli and my people was finished and handed over to SOE. Really there was nothing more for them to do.

I never had anything to do with German POWs until the last days of the North African campaign when I was sent to Rhodes to examine some rather advanced 300 Meg equipment. This carried a Teleprinter channel to their comrades and speech channels across the islands to the mainland and thence to Vienna and Berlin. These people were technical and we talked the same language. They were also proud of the link, which at that time was about as good as any you could get.

Later in Egypt my last job before coming home was a much more difficult one. A camp of mainly rabid Nazis was preventing the others from listening to the news of German defeats by organising shouting matches or even murders. Somebody was buying up all the loudspeakers that they could find and I was providing a driver stage from a big (modified) transmitter.

I came across a third category of prisoner, who I didn’t even know existed, by accident in a huge camp in an obscure corner of the Canal Area. There were several hundred of them and they were merchant seamen who had refused to accompany their ships to a War Area.

Eric Vast (MICYF) – April 1999.

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Popular pages

Get your amateur radio licence - Find out more about amateur radio licence training.
Month on the Air - G3MGQ's popular monthly DX contest/expedition list.
Wilf Gaye Memorial Cup - The clubs annual operating event in the memory of Wilf Gaye M0GYE.
St. Richard's College Buildathon/STEM/ARISS - HERC attends St. Richard's Catholic College for their various events surrounding the Tim Peake ARISS contact.
G3BDQ - John Hey's Rare QSL Cards.
Sussex Electronics Radio Fair - SERF Sussex Electronics Radio Fair 2016.
Vital Spark - A selection of articles re-published from the Vital Spark.
RSGB News - Find out how to get RSGB news on your mobile or PC.
Experimenters Corner - A selection of Proteus projects by Bob Gornal (G7DME)
BBADL - Bath Based Distance Learning Course.
Conquest Hospital Radio - Presented by HERC member Antony (G4CUS).
Radio Rallies 2016 - An up to date list of radio rallies scheduled for 2016.
Club QSL Cards - A selection of QSL cards the club has received over the years.
Other Newsletters - Excellent newsletters and magazines from other clubs.
TX Factor episodes - Take a look at the TX Factors YouTube videos.
John Taplin - A bio of the late John Taplin.

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BSARS - Brede Steam Amateur Radio Society

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