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The grave of Private William Edwards, Assisi War Cemetery

In May 1944, British Gunners Leslie Wilkins, Ernest Bellinger, and Kenneth Howarth; Private William Edwards; and two other POWs who had escaped from a camp near Spoleto hid together near the village of Roselli, Italy.

In time the fugitives were discovered and the hut where they were sleeping was raided in the night by a band of fascists and German soldiers. William Edwards, was killed during the attack, and two others were wounded.

On June 3, 1946, Leslie Wilkins was interviewed by the Criminal Investigation Department of the Birmingham City Police, apparently in cooperation with a Judge Advocate General’s war crimes investigation into the case. That testimony was presented in an earlier post on this site, War Crimes—the Killing of William Edwards.

Late last week, I received a note from Janet Kinrade Dethick, a WW II researcher who lives in the Italian region of Umbria. She wrote, “I would like to update you on the research I have been doing on Private Edwards, who is buried in Assisi War Cemetery.

“Included in file WO, 311 / 1239, in addition to the testimony of Gunner Wilkins, are testimonies from two other men involved, 870438 Gunner Kenneth Howarth RA and 5337908 Gunner Ernest Bellinger, 107 Battery LAA, RA. There is both a handwritten testimony from Gunner Howarth, dated 10 May 1946 and a typed affidavit, dated 24 May 1946, whereas gunner Bellinger left an affidavit.

“Gunner Howarth states clearly that the six men involved had marched out of PG 115 at Morgnano, Spoleto (not to be confused with PG115/3 which was its satellite camp at Marsciano) at the Armistice (handwritten letter) and that he had been working in a cement works with about 200 other English POWs (Affidavit). HE ALSO GIVES THE DATE OF THE SHOOTING OF PTE. EDWARDS AS THE NIGHT OF 20 JANUARY, THE DATE ON THE TOMBSTONE.

“Gunner Bellinger confirms that the shooting took place in January and that the name of the hamlet involved is ROSELLI.”

I greatly appreciate Janet’s sharing of this information, as well as the photo of William Edward’s grave and recent photos of the area near to where the men hid and where William was killed.

Ernest Bellinger’s Testimony

Oxfordshire Constabulary
Statement Form, Watlington Station
23rd May 1946.

Name and address:
Ernest Edward Bellinger
Rye Farm Cottage, Near Abingdon, Berks.
Age: 24
Occupation: Groundsman

Ernest Edward Bellinger, after being sworn, saith:-

“I am a single man aged 24 years and live at Rye Farm Cottage, Near Abingdon. Berks.

On 20th June 1942, I was serving with 107 Light A.A. Battery, Royal Artillery, at Tobruk, Libya, and was taken prisoner by the Germans who later handed us over to the Italians.

In September 1943, when the Italians capitulated I was at a Prisoner of War Camp, near Spoletto, Italy. The guards left the camp and about 150 of us cleared off.

In January 1944, there were six in the group I was with, consisting of Gunner Howarth, Gunner Wilkins, Private W. Edwards, two other men whose names I do not know and myself.

We had been staying for about a month in a small hut in a wood near a small village called, Roselli, about 120 kilometers north Rome. Living on the land as best we could.

About 2 a.m. on 28th January 1944, we were all asleep in the hut I was awakened by gunfire, someone was shooting through the two small windows and the door of the hut.

One of the first shots must have hit Private Edwards, because I never saw him move afterwards.

Someone shouted to us in Italian to come out of the hut but without giving us time to get out, opened fire again, this burst of fire wounded the other two fellows whose names I do not know, one was shot through the lungs and the other through the leg.

We opened the door and got out of the hut. It was dark. There were about 12 Germans and Italians outside.

A German Officer appeared to be in charge of them. I think his rank was equal to Lieutenant, he was about 25 years of age, 6′ height, medium build, fair complexion, clean shaven and was dressed in German field grey Officer’s uniform, with silver braid round the collar and a steel helmet. He said, “Where is the other”, in Italian. We replied, “He is inside. He is wounded.” He opened the door and looked in the hut, then took the magazine from his rifle, attached a new one and fired the whole magazine of about 20 rounds into the body of Private Edwards as he lay on the floor.

As we were leaving one of the party threw a hand grenade into the hut.

Kenneth Howarth’s Testimony

This is the first page of Kenneth Howarth’s testimony, which describes how the men left PG 115 and which of the escapees stayed together.

I, KENNETH HOWARTH, of 56, Beechcroft Avenue, Long Lane, Bolton, so solemnly and sincerely declare that I am twenty five years of age, single and at the present time I am a Gunner in the Royal Artillery, my number is 870438, and I am undergoing training in the 18th Re-Settlement Unit, stationed at Witton Camp, Blackburn.

On the 3rd September, 1939, I was mobilized and joined the 53rd Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, and saw service in France and the Western Desert.

On the 6th June, 1942, I was taken prisoner at Knightsbridge near Torbruk and I was placed in prisoner of war camp in Sicily where I remained for about four weeks and I was then taken to another prisoner of war camp, number P.G. 54 in Italy. I was there about nine months when I was moved again to another prisoner of war camp, number 115 at Spoletto in Italy.

Whilst at this camp I was working at a cement works with about two hundred other Englishmen. It was at this time that the Italians capitulated and we were all marched from the camp with Italian sentries. We made for the hills around Spoletto and split up into small parties, I was with five other men, they were all English and named as follows –

No. 1 Leslie WILKINS, L.A.A., Royal Artillery, home address Hitchin, London, who is who is believed to have worked at the Three Counties Hospital, Middlesex, as a butcher.

No. 2 Ernest BELLINGER, L.A.A., Royal Artillery, Rye Farm, Abingdon, Berkshire

No. 3 Nicknamed “Ginger”, supposed to reside in the London area.

No. 4. Christian name Leonard, he was in the Pioneer Corps attached to the East or West Yorkshire Regiment, who lives somewhere in Yorkshire.

No. 5 Private William EDWARDS, 5th Battalion Green Howards, home address, Newcastle.

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The landscape near to where William Edwards was killed

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The outskirts of Roselli

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Of this photo, Janet explained, “In the background you can see the modern cement works which has replaced the one where the POWs were working.”

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