I received a note recently from Marco Soggetto, who lives in Northern Italy.
Marco is engaged in a difficult historical search, concerning a small group of Allied soldiers who escaped from Italian camps and tried to reach the Swiss border through Italy’s Aosta Valley, on the Western Alps.
“They climbed the highest mountain chain in the whole of Europe,” he explained, “without being trained or equipped to do so, and as an alpinist I know how difficult this may be.”
One of the prisoners in this group came from Camp 59. He was Charles John P. Bradford, a British rifleman from the Rifle Brigade, 6915262. He was born March 8, 1918 and he died in 1989.
I asked Marco if he would send me detailed information about his research that I could post on the Camp 59 site. This morning he sent me the following note, which tells of his research and also is a request for assistance from anyone who may be able to help him in his quest for information.
If you know anything about any of the soldiers he mentions, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will share the information with Marco.
Camp 59 Survivors administrator
Escape through the Alps
Allied soldiers on the run between Piedmont and the Aosta Valley
April 15, 2012
To the kind attention of the public of Camp 59 Survivors website,
Good evening from Biella, a small town in the northwestern part of Italy.
I am writing this short article and request for information on the very kind suggestion of Dennis Hill, webmaster of the nice and impressive website dedicated to deepening the history of Camp 59.
I am a researcher—both for work and in my free time—and I’ve spent my life under the stars of two different and powerful passions: mountaineering and history.
These two great, fascinating interests first captured me in a difficult search between August 2009 and the following Christmas. In a few words, after many years spent on the Western Alps in the beautiful Aosta Valley, I found the wreckage of a legendary plane, which crashed during the Second World War on the Dame di Challand (Ladies of Challand) group at about 2,900 meters above sea level.
I have been lucky enough to discover its type, a Vickers Wellington Mark X, and then its code number, the LN466 from 142 Squadron. In the end, I made contact with the families of the five brave men of the crew in Australia and the United Kingdom.
Following this hunt, I published a book, Operation Pointblank. Bombardamenti Alleati nel Nord-Ovest. Translated into English, the title is Operation Pointblank. Allied Bombings on the Northwest.
While engaged in the first, amazing stage of my search—trying to learn what type of plane crashed up there—I found, bought, and read tons of old journals, books and essays, diaries and manuals.
I found no references at all to my wreck. Instead, I received something quite different.
And that’s why I am writing you this evening.
Hidden in a badly-damaged book, partially ruined by dampness, I found a pamphlet, written in 1945 by a local priest who was a member of the local Resistenza (the partisan forces group that fought against fascists and Germans). In the pamphlet, he described some of the activities he took part in during the war—cruel and bad things—put down in his correct French language.
His principal task seemed to be providing help and assistance to Allied soldiers who, having escaped from Italian camps after the Armistice, were trying to reach the Swiss border or simply to disappear until the end of the conflict. His tale left me completely surprised and astonished; they were stories of incredible power and human impact—stories so full of a brutal, desperate force, that I could never forget them.
So I started this new search from the end of the previous one, even if the effort was really harder: I had no more wrecks or remaining parts to submit to the judgement of historians and experts, professors and archeologists. I had to find and follow the few tracks left, about seventy years ago, by a small group of men on the run.
This I had to do, not in a great town full of archives, historians, and witnesses, but from where I live in the Alps.
I spent many months and, above all, many nights, working on this problem. My main aim would be, of course, to learn more about the individual soldiers I am looking for—the ones mentioned by the priest in his tale—and the best and only way to do this is to find their existing families.
In order to do that I followed the well-tested procedures I established during my previous work on the story of the last flight of the LN466. I searched both the web and the international archives, looking for any possible contacts; I bought hundreds of books in Australia, Great Britain and elsewhere. I wrote to the most reknown historians of this field, and to historical and veterans associations; in the end, I contacted local newspapers and websites in order to spread my search near the original birthplaces of these soldiers. This led me to members of some families, while for others I am still patiently searching.
My project is, of course, to describe as deeply as possible the soldiers’ stories, their war experiences from the moment of their capture to their liberation. I am mostly attracted to the time they spent on the Alps, while on the run, and by the contacts the men made with the Italians of the Aosta Valley who, in spite of the terrible risks they faced, always tried to help them. In effect, whoever helped an Allied soldier was immediately sentenced to death, executed on the spot, and his village completely burnt. This was a double sentence of death by starvation, for many families on the mountains, always used to the worst conditions of life, were dependant on the woods, cattle and and their simple equipment to survive the long, hard winters.
The principal protagonist of the tale was an English soldier, Rifleman Charles Bradford, whose family I luckily contacted in Great Britain; he spent some time at Camp 59 Servigliano before escaping and reaching the Aosta Valley.
I am still looking for additional information and, above all, for contact with the families of these former prisoners:
VX33706 Walter Austin Parker, Cpl., 2/24 Battalion, 9th Division
Born October 3, 1913; captured at Tobruk. He reached Switzerland on October 16, 1943.
VX1552 Gordon Roy Whitham, P.te, 2/32 Battalion, 9th Division
Born August 5, 1917. He reached Switzerland on November 18, 1943.
WX11411 Thomas William Fletcher, P.te, 2/32 Battalion, 9th Division
Born on June 21, 1913; captured October 31 at El Alamein.
WX14411, Victor Johnson, 2/32 Battalion, 9th Division
Born March 13, 1917. Killed in action on September 14, 1943.
6025940, John Sidney Monk, P.te, 2/5th Battalion, Essex Regiment
Captured at Deir el Shein on July 1, 1942.
152248, Edmond Trevelyan Lockett (sometimes also “Lochett”), driver, Royal Army Service Corps (RASC).
Born August 10, 1914.
I kindly ask your help in this search and remain, of course, at your disposal for whatever further information may be needed.
Thank you and kind regards,