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After the signing of the Armistice between the Allied and Italian forces in September 1943, security was relaxed in Camp 59 and the prisoners broke out and fled into the countryside. Armie Hill was among the men who escaped camp through a hole that had been battered in the prison wall.
Armie’s Escape Map
In his dissertation on “Allied Prisoners of War in the Region of the Marche and Prison Camp at Servigliano,” Giuseppe Millozzi explains that British Captain J.H.D. Millar had kept hidden during his captivity a copy of a British SAS (Special Air Service) “escape map” of Italy. The maps had been printed on large handkerchiefs.
At the time of the breakout, copies of this map were hastily drawn. When Armie left the camp he had the following map, drawn on prison aerogram stationery. Most likely this map was copied from Captain Millar’s original map. Note that rivers were drawn in blue pencil and roadways in red.
Armie’s First Account of the Escape
I made two audio recordings of the prison experience with Armie Hill, who was my father. The first recording we made in 1976 and the second in 1987. Armie felt that he had left too many details out of the first recording, and so years later he was willing to retell the story and fill in those additional details.
Here is the 1976 account of the escape:
“The night of the escape was a mass confusion. I don’t really know how the escape came about, but at 10:30 in the evening men were running through the camp, calling out, ‘They have come to take us to Germany.’
“Someone must have taken control of the gate, and someone had battered a hole in one wall that was large enough for a man to escape through. Many of the men had slipped through this hole soon after the confusion began. I had been without food and water at Kasserine when I was separated from the army. I knew enough to prepare for this escape. I found two canteens—a British one and an American one—and I filled them with water. I found a sack and threw all the food I could find into it, and then I then crawled through the hole.
“On the outside the confused men didn’t know which way to go. I told them to just begin walking—to get as far away as possible before day. I felt it would be wise to either pair up or travel alone, but not to move in large groups. Numbers are easily noticed and captured, and if one or two were caught at least we wouldn’t all be recaptured.
“I saw Ben Farley. We decided to travel together. Ben was a Kentuckian. He and I hadn’t gotten along especially well earlier. Ben was among the men I had charge of in the camp. Once I was passing tobacco to the men and I had some black tobacco, which no one wanted. Ben said he’d take it. So the next time I passed out tobacco I gave the black to him and he was angry and said he didn’t like it.
“Ben hadn’t taken along supplies, so I gave him one of my canteens.
The following letters were sent by Armie Hill to his mother from Camp 59.
Armie was a son of Finnish immigrants Jack and Hilda Hill. Jack and Hilda met in Saint Louis County, Minnesota and lived in various farming and logging communities in Upper Michigan and northern Wisconsin. Armie was born in a Michigan logging camp.
Armie was the third of 10 children born to Jack and Hilda, and the eldest son. When his father died unexpected in 1937, Armie, then only 19 years old, took on a major role in caring for and supporting his family. In August 1938, Armie, who had been working since he graduated from eighth grade, purchased 40 acres of cleared land for a small family farm. With help from his brother Vernon and uncle Ivar, he built a log home for his mother.
Armie received an induction call in December 1940 and reported to duty the following month. He left home expecting to return in a year, but when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Armie suddenly found himself in the Army for the duration of the war. Vernon went into the service, too. The absence of her two eldest boys was a great hardship for Hilda Hill.
Armie’s letters from Camp 59 betray a longing for the Wisconsin farm and a lonesomeness for family and neighbors. He imagines what is going on on the farm, “cutting the hay and hoeing the potatoes.” He inquires about his siblings. Armie’s four oldest sisters (Lillian, Mae, Tina, and Hilma) had left home and were working in Chicago and New York City. Ivar and Edith and Frank and Fannie were Armie’s uncles and their wives.
Armie mentions receiving Red Cross parcels once a week and offers reassurance that he is being well cared for.
Each POW was entitled to send one postcard and one letter from camp each week. The letters were an early form of aerogram, a lightweight piece of paper that became its own envelope when folded. Note the shape of the following aerogram sent by Armie Hill from Camp 98 on Sicily to his mother.
The following postcard was sent by Armie to his mother from Camp 59. Note the letters and cards are lined with 24 lines and 10 lines, respectively, thereby limiting the writer’s message space. Note also that the correspondence bears the stamps of both Italian and U.S. censors.