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Earlier this year, I heard from Linda Veness of Perth, Western Australia.
She wrote, “My father was a POW in Camp 59. He and four other Australians escaped together. My father was R. J. (Jim) McMahon WX4445, AIF [Australian Imperial Force]. His companions were Private Tom Alman from Kalgoorlie, Jack Allen from Kalgoorlie, Lance Corporal Les Worthington of Wiluna, and J. Feehan of Geraldton—all from Western Australia. There is an account of their escape in one of our newspapers.
“Also escaping with them was a Scot. He was a man named Tom Kelly (written on the back of a photograph) who was nicknamed “Jock”—how odd for a Scotsman! I have tried to figure out who he was, where he hailed from, and what happened to him, but with no luck.
“My father wrote an autobiography when he was about 70 years old—15 years before he died in 1999.
“I had grown up with stories about my Dad’s war experiences: never the grim bits, just tales of where he had been and the mates he had made along the way. When we lived in Geraldton, Western Australia, he would catch up every couple of years with all the chaps from the 2/28 Battalion when they had their reunions. It was a regular weekend, I can’t remember which month, but the weather was always pleasant. They had get-togethers for the adults and there was always a BBQ or picnic which their children could attend. I loved those days. The men were some of the ‘best blokes’ you could ever hope to meet. It seemed to be a part of my teenage years, waiting for that weekend.
Early this year I was in search of information about any New Zealand POWs interned in Camp 59. Bill Rudd, a former Australian WWII POW and creator of the excellent web resource ANZAC POW Freemen in Europe, referred me to New Zealand WWII veteran and historian Ken Fenton.
Ken wrote to me:
“I served in Italy during WW2 in the 2nd NZ Division, but was never captured, although there were occasions when I might have come close when on recce [reconnaissance].
“In the last six years I have become interested in the fortunes of NZ [New Zealand] and Aust [Australian] POWs, as I was asked to write a book about those who were detained at Campo 57.
“Most of the NZ and Aust POWs were sent to PG 57 soon after arrival in Italy, following brief stays in transit type camps, but a few drifted in over a period of time as they left Italian hospitals or for other reasons.
This clipping from a local San Benedetto Del Tronto (Marche, Italy) newspaper, commemorated the return, after two decades, of a favorite son—Nicola Lagalla, known to locals as “the earthquake.”
Nicola returned to San Benedetto when the hometown soccer team, Samb, was having a spectacular season.
Nicola’s daughter, Marida Parkes, in sending me the clipping, explained:
“When Samb climbed up the soccer ladder—because of their win—the town went berserk… they celebrated for weeks (as you do when you are Italian). Dad and mum flew to Italy for the festivities.
“Dad is fanatical about his soccer and Aussie Rules football. To this day he does not miss a match and will get up at all hours to watch.”
Sanbenedettese, the name for a person who is born in San Benedetto Del Tronto, is also the name of the soccer team—or Samb for short. Red and Blue are the Samb team colors.
Translation of the article:
NICOLA LAGALLA (earthquake)
“Today amongst us, we have chosen an enthusiastic, fanatical pureblooded Sanbenedettese who, from such a distance, has maintained his love not only for his soccer team, Samb, but also that of his hometown.
“He immigrated to Australia 20 years ago. With such distance between them, he missed his family and he has also missed his beloved team—Samb. The only comfort, as the newspaper reported on Tuesday, was that the Red & Blue team was promoted on the football ladder. Upon hearing this, he could not ignore the call to return to his roots and returned to San Benedetto Del Tronto for the festivities.
“He [Nicola] will remain here with us until the beginning of the next season/championship.”
Marida describes the photo above: “This is of dad and myself—yes, with a ‘boy coif.’ I was two years old and dad would then have been 29 years old. It was taken at San Benedetto, opposite the port.”
Below right: Nicola Lagalla in recent years.
I asked Mariada Parkes this week if her father, Nicola Lagalla, and his brother Liberato ever returned to San Benedetto del Tronto after their transport of the British POWs down the Adriatic coast. (See “Nicola and Liberato Lagalla—Rescue by Sea” for the full story.)
She replied, “Papà tells me that after he and his brother delivered the POWs to safety, their boats were tied up alongside an American ship in Termoli for approximately one month.
“The boats used to assist the POWs were the San Nicola—built by my nonno [grandfather] and named after my dad—and the Luigi Primo. My nonno purchased the second boat, which had already been named.
“Dad and uncle had no money and no diesel for the boats.
“After a while, the Americans supplied them with diesel so that they could take the boats out fishing. They fished off the shores of Termoli, Molfetta, and Barletta. They sold the fish at the fish markets in these towns and then returned to the ship in Termoli.
“There was a curfew at the time—and so, dad and uncle returned to Termoli every day no later than 5 p.m.
“A little twist—in Barletta, dad met a man who had previously been a POW in Tobruk for two years. This fellow was allowed to help dad as a deck hand.