Author(s): Ken Fenton
These two volumes bring together "many fragments of history, commencing with the POW's experiences at Prison Camp 57, Gruppignano".
Before the Italian Armistace of September 1943, thousands of Kiwi and Australian soldiers were held in POW camps in Northern Italy.
This is a detailed and fascinating account of the ANZAC involvement in WW2 in Northern Italy.
What happened in northern Italy over the years from 1941 to 1945 affected the lives of thousands of New Zealand and Australian servicemen, caught up in the maelstrom of events that were taking place in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations. Ken Fenton has been able to draw on many recollections of Anzac ex-servicemen, along with his personal knowledge of northern Italy during World War 2, as a young soldier with the 2nd NZ Division. His two volumes give a detailed insight into the varied fortunes of those initially imprisoned, and into how escapers from among them later coped with the exigencies of war-torn Italy. They were confronted by many difficult situations resulting from the actions of the warring regimes. Before the Italian Armistice of September 1943, thousands of Aussies and Kiwis were held in the prisoner of war camps of northern Italy, particularly in the notorious Campo 57 at Gruppignano. There the physical and mental states of those incarcerated were under considerable threat. Some Anzacs were fortunate to be transferred to the farm work camps around Vercelli in the northwest, or around and beyond Torviscosa to the northeast. This is a book that is both macro and micro. It looks into some of the higher policies and decisions that affected both Anzacs and Italian civilians It is also contains many accounts by both servicemen and civilians who speak naturally and candidly about the situations in which they found themselves, accounts which have not been modified to any extent. In doing so, it extends our historical records and enables many who have been relatively silent over the years, to have their views heard.
After the Armistice many escaped from the farm work camps and existed in northern Italy for long periods before being able to cross the alps to Switzerland, or to British hands in Yugoslavia; or at war's end, to be liberated as a result of combined actions of the British 8th Army and the US 5th Army against mainly German forces. Escapers often depended on the assistance given by Italian civilians who themselves often struggled to exist in deteriorating situations where irregular bands roamed the countryside, such as along the northern frontiers. In the north east, Carnia was especially hard hit by the arrival of Hitler's mercenaries, the Cossack Army. The plight of the civilian population often became intertwined with that of the military, and the stories about Kiwis and Aussies have often been told against such a backdrop. The general purpose of this book of two volumes is to bring together and describe the mostly individual or small-group activities of a quite significant number of Australian and New Zealand soldiers, filling in many of the gaps left by official war histories. For the most part it is not about units of the 2NZEF or AIF, but rather about a quite remarkable generation of young men who performed with great fortitude under circumstances mostly beyond their control. These were the lost legions of Anzacs in whose ranks we find men like John Peck AIF, Frank Gardner 2NZEF, Frank Jocumsen AIF, David Russell 2NZEF, Arch Scott 2NZEF, Peter Macgeorge and Bert Townsend AIF, Bill Grainger 2NZEF, Jack Banton 2NZEF and many others whose names appear on the roll of more than 300 named in the Index of Servicemen at the rear of Volume 2. Among them were some who suffered greatly while in the hands of the Fascist State. The fighting regiments, battalions and companies of the 2NZEF and AIF were well represented in northern Italy, - by 1945 many were with 2 NZ Division at Trieste and Gorizia; Prior to that, individual escapers operated along the frontiers, or as early as 1941, were in the prison camps of the north. The parent units of these men included : 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 NZ Infantry Battalions, , 18,19 & 20 NZ Armoured Regiments, NZ Divisional Cavalry Regiment, 7 NZ Field Company , 8 NZ Field Company, 4, 5, 6 NZ Field Regiments, 7 NZ Anti Tank Regiment; 2/7, 2/12, 2/15, 2/17,2/21, 2/24, 2/28, 2/43, 2/48 Aust Infantry Battalions, 2/3 Aust Light Anti- Aircraft Regiment , the 2/3, 2/7, &2/13 Field Companies, the 2/1, 2/10, & 2/15 Aust Field Regiments, 2/3 Aust Anti-Tank Regiment. This book describes the repressive measures taken by the German High Command of Field Marshal Kesselring in order to deal with insurgents of one kind or another. The measures taken invariably involved the civil population and even the smallest of hamlets might not escape retribution. These were extremely harsh measures and were claimed to have a legal basis under the provisions of some codes of military law of that era. Original German operation orders are provided as examples. Italian families made immense sacrifices in many ways. They fed manpower to their Fascist Government's war machine for operations in Russia, the Balkans and the Mediterranean; and produced manpower for the Fascist Socialist Republic of northern Italy, and also for the insurgents of the Resistance . Ordinary Italian families had to suffer not only the German occupation of their towns and countryside, but also the sometimes ill-advised actions by partisans and action squads during the civil war. Particularly in the central and eastern border regions of the North, they had to cope too with Allied air attacks on cities, towns , roads and bridges. There is some discussion about how the Italians explained this calamity to themselves and to succeeding generations. The Italian Resistance movement had occupied the centre stage immediately post-war. However, as the decades have passed by, the guerrilla side of its activities has become subject to a more critical examination and debate by those seeking a balanced assessment.
Born 1924.Served in the 2nd New Zealand Division , Italy WW2 in combat engineers. Graduate of Armed Forces Staff College Norfolk Virginia 1968. Graduate in Civil Engineering University of Canterbury. Majored in Italian language and Literature, Victoria University of Wellington.