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A page in Robert Dickinson’s journal,”Servigliano Calling,” is dedicated to “next-of-kin” parcels received.
Relatives of Allied prisoners were allowed to send one package four times a year to their loved ones. How this process was conducted in Canada was described in an Ottawa Citizen article about the services of the Canadian Red Cross Enquiry Bureau on April 26, 1944:
“There are 6,365 [Canadian] prisoners and internees on record whose next-of-kin are issued quarterly labels for personal parcels by the Department of National War Services….
“As soon as a man is officially declared a prisoner of war, another pamphlet is sent [by the Red Cross Enquiry Bureau] advising the next-of-kin what to do about parcels and enclosing the latest postal regulations.
“The bureau also receives reports from the supplementing committee of the Red Cross by which it is enabled to keep in touch with the next-of-kin who have difficulty in making up their quarterly parcels. One of the duties of the Red Cross is to see that the parcels are up to their full weight and it is through these reports that the liaison officers of the Red Cross branches are able to offer help to those in need of it.”
Red Cross Parcels distributed in Axis camps during the war were essential to the Allied POWs’ survival.
Robert Dickinson describes the eagerly awaited parcels in his diary; it’s clear that interruptions in parcel distribution were times of anguish.
Italian historian Giuseppe Millozzi, in his dissertation, Allied Prisoners of War in the Region of the Marche and Prison Camp at Servigliano, notes the following:
“English, Canadian and also New Zealand Red Cross sent to POWs various parcels some that contained clothes, tobacco and other necessities but the most important ones were food parcels that helped POWs to survive with the meagre Italian rations. Parcels coming from Canada and New Zealand were the richest as in those countries there was no food rationing such as in England that was under the constant threat of German bombing.
“Food parcels that had reached the camp were not enough for everybody and therefore they were divided among POWs. During the distribution of them, the Italian authorities usually punched food tins to prevent any the POWs from storing them for use in an eventual escape. POWs use tins of food, tobacco etc. as exchange goods; furthermore they recycled all the empty tins as the metal was very useful to construct a great variety of utensils.”
Robert Dickinson recorded parcels of cigarettes received in his “Servigliano Calling” journal.
His girlfriend Ida was the primary supplier of cigarettes. Others came from his family and from his regiment in Lincoln, England.
Player’s brand tobacco was manufactured by John Player’s tobacco company in Nottingham, England. Higgs Bros. was a tobacconist shop in Lincoln.
Comments below in italic are from Robert’s diary.
No. 1. Received July 23rd. 200 Players From Ida.
Jul 23rd  First big parcel, just right have got no cigs. 200 Players from Higgs, no senders name.
Read the rest of this entry »
Received 21st. August 1943.
Girl in the Dark.
Murder for Christmas
Grapes from Thorns
The following passages from Robert Dickinson’s diary in “Servigliano Calling” convey the importance of books to the prisoners. The nighttime reading aloud of books in Robert’s hut was welcome escapism—even worth risk of punishment!
Denis and I bought a Penguin book “Crump Folk going Home” costing 20 Lira. A good investment, have now access to practically all the books in the camp. Reading aloud at night because of the bugs not letting one sleep; starting at 10pm till midnight.
Daily Ration Scale W.E.F. 22nd. December 1941. (In grammes per head daily 50 grammes = 1¾ oz.}
Daily Ration Scale W.E.F. 13th. March 1942.
This page with two charts from Robert Dickinson’s journal, “Servigliano Calling,” shows Robert’s awareness of basic nutritional needs and his meticulous effort to ensure those needs were met.
The food categories in the first chart (December 22, 1941) are:
Meat, rice or macaroni, oil or fat, tomato, grating cheese, table cheese, vegetable, sugar, coffee subs., biscuit, bread, and wine.
The food categories in the second chart (March 13, 1942) are slightly different. Vegetables listed are in dried form, and the chart lacks biscuit and wine categories.
On March 12, 1942, Robert wrote in his diary, “News of drastic cut in rations.” And on the following day he recorded, “Rations cut by more than half!!” The second chart reflects that severe cut.
It’s alarming to see the drop in rations for several categories from one chart to the next. The second chart, for instance, lists a reduction of meat from servings on five days a week to only two, and the portions on those two days are smaller. Rice or macaroni servings and bread are substantially reduced in the second chart. Oil or fat are a little reduced, but quantities of tomatoes, cheese, vegetables, sugar, and coffee are similar in the two charts.
Do the charts reflect what Robert actually consumed in a given week in the camp, or the balance he hoped for, given the scarcity of food in the Camp 59? The reference to “grammes per head” suggestions that he had his “chums” in mind as well as himself.
The following two letters were sent from Robert Dickinson’s stepmother to Denis Crooks’ mother when the two sons were overseas during the war.
Robert’s mother—also the mother of his brothers James and William—died young. Robert’s father, Leslie Dickinson, married again—to Nellie, the author of these two touching letters.
Leslie and Nellie had a son together, Len Dickinson. Letters and cards Robert sent while in service to his little brother Len are posted elsewhere on this site.
Thanks to Denis’ daughter, Maggie Clarke, for sharing this material.
Pictured above are Robert Dickinson (left) and Denis Crooks.
The 12 letters in this post were sent to me by Maggie Clarke, Denis Crook’s daughter.
Ten of the letters were among those Denis sent to his parents while he was interned at Camp 59–Servigliano. The final two were written in Camp 53–Sforzacosta. The letters are a testament to the deep friendship between Denis and fellow prisoner Robert Dickinson, who is mentioned in each of the letters.
Denis also is frequently mentioned in the log of daily events in Robert’s prison camp journal, “Servigliano Calling.”
The two men were, as Denis put it, “best of chums” from January 1942 to May 1943. When Robert was transferred from Camp 53, it would be the last time the two men would see each other, as Robert did not return from the war.
In addition to reports of what Denis and Robert were up to, the letters provide a wealth of information about daily life in camp—invention and refinement of the “blowers” the men used to warm food, the concoctions that they created from Red Cross parcel contents (see also “Robert Dickinson’s ‘Campo 59 Cookery'”), and details of a camp-sponsored “grand carnival” (see also “Carnival Time”).
(No. 11) April 12th. 
Dear Mother and Dad,
I received another two letters last week—no. 50 dated 4th. Feb. and letter-card dated 30th. Oct. and then today I had a letter-card (no. 3) dated 1st. of March, so I was very pleased. After I had written my last letter on Easter Sunday we received another Red-Cross food parcel, one between two. I and my friend Bob were very lucky, we had an apple pudding (tinned of course) and with it we each ate a pound of jam which we had bought at the canteen; we get paid here and can buy cheese and jam at the canteen. Gee! was it good!!! Amongst other things we had ½ lb. oatmeal, so on Monday the cookhouse made porridge for those who had oatmeal, and that was jolly good too. I hope these parcels come fairly regularly now. [missing text] had an extra 8 o’clock service last Sunday morn… [missing text] that. There were over 100 chaps there. The padre has [text missing] evening services every evening at 7:30 for about 10 minutes. I hope you are receiving my letters every week now, we write regularly every Sunday. Please thank everybody for their greetings, and for being so good to you at home, it must have been very worrying for you. Remember me to Michael and Joan Field, and also to Elsa and through her to Ron Gilbert. Yes, I do smoke a little, it helps to pass the time, so I’d love to get some cigarettes. We have an Italian issue every week, and also 50 English with each parcel. Glad your back is O.K. Dad, keep it up! Lot of love and kisses from Denis xxxxxxx
Denis Crooks, photo taken in Camp 59.
In February, I received a note from Maggie Clarke in England.
Her father, she explained, was Denis Crooks, one of the servicemen whose poetry was included in Robert Dickinson’s “Servigliano Calling” prison camp journal.
Maggie wrote, “I have just downloaded and read the ‘Servigliano Calling’ camp poems of Robert Dickinson and had to write to let you know that Denis Crooks, who wrote three of them, was my father. I was so excited to read these poems, as I never knew that he wrote poetry—he certainly never wrote any after the war—and even my mother was not aware he did this.
“We have all my Dad’s POW letters written home and Bob is mentioned in so many of them. They were so close and I know he was devastated when they were split up. I’m sure they kept each other going in those bad times.
During this time of year, as we devote time in our kitchens to preparation of holiday meals and mouthwatering pastries and desserts, consider for a moment how our imprisoned soldiers craved their favorite foods from home—probably more during this season than at any other time of year.
It is any surprise that the prisoners attempted to recreate some of these dishes, using their daily camp rations and items from the precious Red Cross parcels?
Three pages of Robert Dickinson’s journal, “Servigliano Calling,” are devoted to recipes, ranging from a compote and spreads to pies and fig pudding.
The situation called for some invention—fruit pie crust made of a paste of grated bread mixed with margarine for example.
Cooking was done handily on the camp cook stoves built by fellow prisoners from scraps of tin and shoelaces.
Although Robert titled this section of his journal “Campo 59 Cookery,” the last recipe, “Campo 53 Rarebit,” is evidence that the culinary experiments continued after his transfer to Camp 53 Sforzacosta in January 1943.
One of the poems in Robert’s journal, “Thoughts,” by C. G. Hooper-Rogers, contains a list of sorely missed foods from home. Of his yearnings, Hooper-Rogers writes:
“All I’ve got to do is think, / Of all I used to eat and drink, / And the phantom foods I used to like, / Haunt me all the blinking night.”
Red Cross Compòte
¼ spoonful of sugar
1 spoonful of milk powder
2 spoonfuls of cocoa
(Custard or jelly powder can be added)
Break up the bread into coffeé mug and just cover with water. Soak well until soft. Add other items separately; stirring in well. When finished allow to set (if possible!!) Sugar may be added as desired.
1 spoonful cocoa
1 spoonful milk powder
½ spoonful sugar
Mix the milk powder and the cocoa in the coffeé mug and add water, stirring well into a stiff paste add sugar.
Coffeé Spread (Method as for Chocolate Spread.)
1 spoonful coffeé
1 spoonful sugar
3 spoonfuls milk powder
Camp 59 and the blog dedicated to it
Coming upon their POW relatives on the web leads these two to Servigliano
Il Resto del Carlino
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Caption: Englishman Steve Dickins[on] and American Dennis Hill in front of the wall through which their uncle and father managed an escape. [Note: Steve’s uncle Robert was transferred from Camp 59 before the September 1943 escape; however, around that same time Robert escaped from the camp where he was held.]
MEMORIES—The meeting between an American and an Englishman, the son and nephew of two interned soldiers
They wanted news about the Servigliano refugee camp, from which their relatives fled in 1943. In doing research on the Internet, the two discovered the blog “Cam[p] 59,” dedicated to the prisoner of war camp in this town. That’s how Englishman Steve Dickinson and American Dennis Hill began a “virtual” friendship, which brought them to Servigliano yesterday—to share their family stories.
Steve’s uncle Robert, a British soldier, was captured in Africa and interned at Servigliano. “I found his diary—a sort of copybook of the Red Cross—where my uncle recorded all his activities through the war and until his death. I read those pages and decided to retrace his steps. When he arrived at Servigliano, on 18 January 1942, he described the landscape as charming, though he explained that hunger did not allow him to enjoy the place.
“At Servigliano he found consolations—his first shower in 24 days, and clean sheets. He escaped through the hole in the wall and headed north, aided people of the area. He became a partisan and settled in Gassino Torinese, which is where he died. His body rests in the Milan war cemetery.”
Armie Hill’s story is different. Dennis’ father was an American soldier who was captured in Africa in 1943 and transferred to Servigliano. “My father escaped through the hole in the wall caused by the bombing,” Dennis said, “But he headed south—to meet the Allies—and he returned home. He recalls in his story [receiving help from] Don Giuseppe Ciabattoni, the rector at Roccafluvione.