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’s numbered log of the 54 Red Cross parcels he received as a prisoner is noted below in bold type.

Almost all of the Red Cross parcels Robert received were from England and Canada. He occasionally listed the parcels’ contents—especially early in his internment or when the contents were unusual, as with the Christmas parcel, the one from New Zealand, and the one made up of “American bulk food” from Argentina.

A few excerpts concerning the food are drawn from Robert’s diary. These excerpts are in italic.

1942

Jan 18th

Arrived at this camp Servigliano at 6pm. Well up in the mountains, beautiful mountainous scenery for anyone interested in such; as for myself far to hungry. 2 rolls of bread and a spoonful of jam.

No. 1. Received 28th. Jan. 1942. English.

1 Tin of Bacon. 8 oz.
1 Tin of Boiled Beef & Veg. 12 oz.
1 Tin of Beans. 10 oz.
1 Tin of Sardines 4 oz.
1 Tin of Margarine. 8 oz.
1 Tin of Milk. 13 ½ oz.
1 Tin of Oxo’s. 6 [stock cubes for making broth or flavoring gravy]
1 Tin of Tomatoes. 4 oz.
1 Tin of Syrup 16 oz.
1 Apple Pie. 16 oz.
1 Packet of Cheese. 4 oz.
1 Packet of Biscuits. 8 oz.
1 Packet of Sugar. 6 oz.
1 Packet of Cocoa 4 oz.
1 Packet of Tea 2 oz.
1 Bar of Chocolate. 2 oz.
1 Bar of Soap.

Jan 28th

First Red Cross Parcel, just in time; half starved and so thin all of my ribs stick out, most of the other chaps the same.

Mar 12th

News of drastic cut in rations.

Mar 13th

Rations cut by more than half!!

Received 14th of March. 1942 Canadian 1 between 3!!!

Mar 14th

At last food 1/3 of a Canadian Food Parcel, big mistake only 600 arrive for 2,000 men.

Mar 24th

Two Red Cross officials visit this camp, the first time anyone of this type has been near the place, thought we were having a parcel weekly. Saw we were all half starved and said that they would get food sent in bulk, also washing arrangements, at present 1 tap per hut (144 men).

Mar 25th

Clothes from Red Cross , not enough to go around, luckily in the draw received a white towel, wish it had been a loaf of bread. Sleeping very badly, wake up regularly with pains in the stomache.

Received 3rd of April English 1 between 2!!

Apr 3rd

Good Friday, and a jolly good one too, received half an ‘English Food Parcel’, feel a bit better in the stomach.

Apr 6th

Two letters from Ida; finished parcel.

Apr 14th

Clean sheets and a pair of socks, why isn’t it food. I never imagined anyone could exist (I must not say live) on ¼ pint of coffee, 1 roll 7 oz , 1½ oz cheese and 1 scoop of macaroni, but now its proved; many men fainted while stood on check parade.

Apr 18th

Urgent telegram sent to Geneva, backed by the M.O.’s asking for food parcels, chaps getting too weak to walk about. Stay in bed until nearly dinner time and back again by six at night. Every time a person faints it is marked, when anyone reaches 10 they are kept in hospital, I believe that is the system. Thank god of a beautiful home to go back to and that mail has started.

No. 2 Received 23rd. April 1942 English.

1 Tin of Herrings. 15 oz.
1 Tin of M. V. & Beans. 10 oz.[M. V. would be “meat & veg”]
1 Tin of Meat Roll. 10 oz.
1 Tin of Beans. 10 oz.
1 Tin of Oatmeal. 8 oz.
1 Tin of Plum Jam. 10 oz.
1 Tin of Margarine. 8 oz.
1 Tin of Milk. small
1 Tin of Parkin Biscuits. 8 oz. [a soft cake made from oatmeal and molasses]
1 Packet of Biscuits. 8 oz.
1 Packet of Figs. 6 oz.
1 Packet of Sugar. 6 oz.
1 Packet of Tea. 2 oz.
1 Bar of Chocolate. 4 oz.
2 Bemax Bars. 4 oz. [a bar made from wheat germ]
1 Packet of sweets. 2 oz.
1 Bar of Soap.

Apr 23rd

Food!!! An English food parcel all to myself, the second one in 5 months; according to Red Cross officials it should have been 20. Went to church.

Apr 26th

Today being Sunday decided to have a decent meal for a change (Dennis and I). Went to bed directly after church and commenced with a roll of bread and a tin of bacon, followed by a Yorkshire Pudd. with strawberries in syrup that was supposed to be the finish; but our stomachs won and we finished off the remains of the 2 parcels in this order, every article being the last! Spooned the condensed milk then the jam followed by 15oz tin of Herrings in tomato sauce; rest of the margarine (spooned), Chicken and Ham Galantine; tin of baked Beans, feeling a little better but a few more tins would find a good home here.

May 11th

Definite news of parcels in, Iti’s refuse to dish them out for fear of the chaps using the food to escape with; they want them all to go into the cook-house.

May 14th

50 Gold Flake issued. Battle over food parcels still going on.

May 15th

Agreement over parcels: to dish them out twice a week (1 between 2), all tins punctured, now that the hot weather is here food will go bad in punctured tins in a very short time.

No. 3. Received 16th. May 1942 English

1 Tin of Herrings. 15 oz.
1 Steak & Tomatoe Pudd. 10 oz.
1 Meat Roll. 10 oz.
1 Tin of Carrots. 10 oz.
1 Tin of Apricot Jam. 10 oz.
1 Tin of Margarine. 8 oz.
1 Tin of Milk. small
1 Tin of Oatmeal. 8 oz.
1 Apple Pudding. 16 oz.
1 Pkt. of Biscuits. 8 oz.
1 Pkt. of Sugar. 6 oz.
1 Pkt. of Cocoa. 4 oz.
1 Pkt. of Tea. 2 oz.
1 Bar of Chocolate. 4 oz.
2 Bemax Bars. 4 oz.
1 Bar Soap.

May 16th

Food Parcel!!! And news of more parcels being in the store, also letter from Ida.

May 20th

A big day, up at 7am; handed in one blanket. 7:30 drew food parcel and a shower bath at 2pm, to perfect the day a letter from home. Made first Fig Pudding, ½ loaf (3½ oz), 3 figs and one spoonful of Golden Syrup, mixed up into a stiff paste and steamed in a 50 Gold Flake tin, really fine!

No. 4 Received 23rd. May 1942 English

1 Tin of Sausages. 8 oz.
1 Tin of M. V. 10 oz.
1 Tin of Galantine. 10 oz. [a cold dish of boned, stuffed meat]
1 Tin of Beans. 10 oz.
1 Tin of Plum Jam. 10 oz.
1 Tin of Margarine. 8 oz.
1 Tin of Milk. Large
1 Tin of Oxo’s. 6
1 Pancake Mixture.
1 Pkt. of Biscuits. 8 oz.
1 Tin of Ovaltine. 4 oz.[a milk flavoring made from malt extract, sugar, and whey]
2 Tins of Sugar. 6 oz.
1 Pkt. of Tea. 2 oz.
1 Bar of Chocolate. 4 oz.
1 Pkt of Mints. 2 oz.
1 Bar of Soap.

May 24th

Denis lucky with parcels, 1 next of kin and 1 cig. parcel. Gave me 1 pair of Pyjamas, 1 face flannel, ¼ lb of chocolate and 40 Players. Roll on my parcels. Started playing Bridge, could do with some decent cards.

No. 5. Received 30th May 1942 English

1 Tin of Bacon.
1 Tin of Curried M. V.
1 Tin of Beef Roll.
1 Tin Tomatoes
1 Tin of Lemon Curd.
1 Tin of Drippings.
1 Tin of Milk Powder.
1 Tin of Yeatex.[yeast extract]
1 Tin of Biscuits.
1 Pkt. of Raisins.
2 Tins of Sugar.
1 Tin Tongue Paste.
1 Pkt. of Tea.
1 Tin of Coffee.
1 Tim of Curry Powd.
1 Bar of Chocolate.
1 Bar of Soap.

No. 6. Received 6th. June 1942 English.

16 Articles.
New items.
Steak & Veg.
Marmalade.
Salmon.
Peas Fosters (Lincoln) [sweet peas canned by A. W. Foster and Company in Bardney, Lincolnshire]

Jun 10th

Still getting parcels weekly, bones still showing, especially thin in the face. Band gave an open air concert, very good.

No. 7. Received 13th. June 1942 English.

18 Articles.
New items.
Irish Stew.
Lardex.
Pepper
Custard Powd
Prunes in Syrup.

Jun 19th

A great day: at last received my next of kin!!!, just what I wanted. Bought 4½ lb of cooking onions, try to eat them like apples because of being so hungry. I fully realize now that I had never been hungry before becoming a Prisoner of War, when ever thinking it in civvy street, was just a farse. Mother told me so many a time.

No. 8. Received 20th. June 1942 English.

16 Articles.
New items.
Pork & Beans.
Marmite Cubes.
Sultana Pudding
Butter Scotch

No. 9. Received 27th. June 1942 English.

17 Articles.
New items.
Minced Steak
Fig. Pudding.
Ovaltine Tablets.

No. 10. Received 27th. June 1942 English.

15 Articles.
New items.
Creamed Rice.
Raspberry Jam.

No. 11. Received 4th. July 1942 English.

18 Articles.
New items.
Mixed Vegetables.

No. 12. Received 11th. July 1942 English.
15 Articles.
New items.

Jul 18th

No food parcels! After a run of 2 months have run entirely out. Doing a lot of titles and sub titles for different chaps books similar to this.

Jul 23rd

First big parcel, just right have got no cigs. 200 Players from Higgs, no senders name.

No. 13. Received 25 July. 1942. Canadian.
15 articles. Standard.

1 Tin of Corned Beef. 12 oz.
1 Tin of Meat Loaf. 10 oz.
1 Tin of Salmon. 8 oz.
1 Tin of Sardines. 4 oz.
1 Tin of Milk Powder 16 oz.
1 Tin of Jam. 16 oz.
1 Tin of Butter. 16 oz.
1 Pkt. Prunes 5½ oz.
1 Pkt. Raisins 7 oz.
1 Pkt. Biscuits 16 oz.
1 Pkt. Sugar. 6 oz.
1 Pkt. Cheese 4 oz.
1 Pkt. Salt
1 Bar of Chocolate. 5½ oz.
1 Bar of Soap.

Jul 25th

Food parcel, Canadian. Sent my watch to be cleaned.

Jul 26th

Denis received his 2nd next of kin, shared his chocolate. Bugs very ferocious at night.

No. 14. Received 1st. August. 1942. Canadian.

No. 15. Received 7th. August. 1942. Canadian.

Aug 7th

Food parcel, 1 between 4!!! No more in store. News of big food shortage in Italy; from Iti Padre.

Aug 17th

Letter from Ida; with news of death of Grandma Hand on the 22nd of July.
Also April letter with a photo in, still no food parcels.

Aug 27th

One weeks supply of parcels in.

No. 16. Received 29th. August. 1942. Canadian.

No. 17. Received 8th. September. 1942. New Zealand.
17 articles. Standard.

1 Tin of Lamb & Peas. 14 oz.
1 Tin of Lamb & Tomatoes. 16 oz.
1 Tin of Peas. 21 oz.
1 Tin of Cheese. 16 oz.
1 Tin of Chocolate. 4 oz.
1 Tin of Butter. 16 oz.
1 Tin of Jam. 14 oz.
1 Tin of Honey. 16 oz.
1 Tin of Café au Lait. 13½ oz.
2 Tin of Tea. 4 oz.
1 Pkt. Prunes. 6 oz.

Sept 8th

New Zealand food parcel.

Sept 9th

Coloured photograph of Ida!!!! Stupendous, words aren’t written to describe it. Not very lucky with parcels; but one can not be lucky in everything.

No. 18. Received 23rd. September. 1942. English.

No. 19. Received 30th. September. 1942. English.

No. 20. Received 7th. October. 1942. Canadian.

No. 21. Received 14th. October. 1942. Canadian.

No. 22. Received 21st. October. 1942. English.

No. 23. Received 28th. October. 1942. English.

No. 24. Received 4th. November. 1942. Canadian.

Nov 6th

Denis’s Birthday; big scoff lasting 24 hrs. Eat and then when feeling hungry eat again; what a change.

No. 25. Received 11th. November. 1942. Canadian.

No. 26. Received 22nd. November. 1942. English.

Nov 23rd

P.O.W one year; altered quite a lot; but will be able to pick up once I get out of the bluepencil place (I hope). Food parcels 1 per 15 days. Deadly!

Nov 29th

Birthday; not so big as Denis’s because of parcels being fortnightly. Half mess tin of wine, 1 loaf, ½ jam pudding, ½ cake made with service biscuits and raisons. Covered with cream made from milk, butter and raspberry jam.

No. 27. Received 6th. December. 1942. Canadian.

No. 28. Received 20th. December. 1942. Canadian.

No. 29. Received 22nd. December. 1942. English.
Christmas Parcel

Christmas Pudding. 16 oz.
Christmas Cake. 16 oz.
Steak & Tomatoe Pudd. 16 oz.
Steak & Macaroni 16 oz.
Chocolate Biscuits 8 oz.
Chocolate 4 oz.
Butter 8 oz.
Marmalade 10 oz.
Milk small
Sugar 6 oz.
Cheese 3 oz.
Sweets 7 oz.
Packet of Tea 2 oz.

Dec 25th

Christmas here at last, up at 6:30am. Holy Communion 7am; tea 8am; tea and chocolate biscuits 10am. Steak and macaroni (parcel), 1 lb Christmas Pud with condensed milk on and tea at 12 noon. Bridge 1:30 to 4pm with tea and ¼ lb choc. 2 oranges and sweets, not forgetting lots of English tabs. Christmas cake with cream and tea 6:30pm. Played Monopoly and finished the night with a sing song. A very good day, but give me Lincoln on a ‘Good Friday’!

1943

No. 30. Received 4th. January 1943. English.

Received 9th January 1943. Invalid 1 between 4

Jan 9th
 Invalid food parcel (1 between 4).

Jan 11th

Denis received next of kin, big scoff of chocolate!

No. 31. Received 18th. January 1943 English

Bonservizi Camp 53

Jan 24th

After being up all night (no bedding) left 59 at 9am. Travelled in cattle trucks and reached 53 at 7:30pm. Grim!, beds 3 high, 500 in our room and no parcels in. Already 6,000 in camp and more to come!

Feb 6th

Food 1/7th of a Christmas parcel; food parcels expected at any time.

No. 32. Received 13th. February 1943 English.

Feb 13th

First food parcel in this camp, just in time everyone run down.

No. 33. Received 24th. February 1943 English.

No. 34. Received 10th. March 1943 Argentine (Bulk Food)

Steak & Veg.
Corned Beef
Steak & Onions
Irish Stew
Biscuits
Butter
Marmalade
Honey
Sugar
Raisins
Soap.

Mar 10th

American bulk food; after 1 week without any, lots of chaps dying.

No. 35. Received 20th. March 1943 English.

No. 36. Received 27th. March 1943 English.

No. 37. Received 14th. April 1943 English.

No. 38. Received 21st. April 1943 English.

No. 39. Received 28th. April 1943 English.

No. 40. Received 8th. May 1943 Canadian.

No. 41. Received 15th. May 1943 English.

Received 20th
May 1943 Canadian. 1 between 2

Casanova Elvo Camp 106/XXV

No. 42. Received June 4th. 1943 Canadian.

Jun 4th

First parcel in this camp; Canadian untouched, no tins punctured. 50 cigs.
[Tins were routinely punctured to ensure that prisoners would not hoard them in anticipation of an escape.]

No. 43. Received June 11th. 1943 English.

No. 44. Received June 18th. 1943 Canadian.

No. 45. Received June 25th. 1943 English.

No. 46. Received July 2nd. 1943 Canadian.

No. 47. Received July 9th. 1943 Canadian.

No. 48. Received July 16th. 1943 Canadian.

No. 49. Received July 23rd. 1943 Canadian.

No. 50. Received July 30th. 1943 Canadian.

No. 51. Received August 3rd. 1943 Canadian.

Received August 3rd. 1943 Invalid 1 between 4.

Aug 3rd

1 Canadian; ¼ invalid food parcel, news of leaving!

Gassino Camp 112/IV.

Aug 5th

Left Vercelli by train receiving 2 letter on the train. Travelled 25 miles approx and arrived at Chivasso about 11am.Walked 10 miles to Gassino, camp 112/IV

No. 52. Received 19th. August 1943. Canadian.

Aug 19th

Strike from work, because the Iti’s want to put parcels in the cookhouse. Finally dished out 1 between 7, work continues.

No. 53. Received 24th. August 1943. Canadian.

No. 54. Received 31st. August 1943. Canadian.