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A rededication service for Private Lionel Brown, 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment, and Privates Daniel Hollingsworth and Thomas White, 1st Battalion The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) took place this past week. The three, having escaped from Italian prisoner of war camps during WW2, were shot along with I.S.9 agent Mario Mottes, near the village of Montedinove, Italy.
Read an official Ministry of Defence news story about the event, “Bravery of 3 World War 2 soldiers shot for escaping from a POW camp finally recognised after nearly 75 years.”
Read also “Heros Honored” by The Sun.
On this site, read “War Crime—the Ponte Dragone Executions” and “Ponte Dragone Deaths—A Second Report” for the details on the Special Investigation Branch war crime investigation into the soldiers’ capture and execution.
A page from the Ponte Dragone Special Investigation Branch (SIB) file
On May 16, 1945, Sergeant W. Mottram filed a formal report on investigations into the Dragone Bridge execution of three British soldiers and an I.S.9 agent (see “War Crime—the Ponte Dragone Executions”).
Twenty-two days later, SIB Captain E. Lister issued a memo concerning the event that is more concise, but offers additional details and clarifications.
Lieutenants Fischer and Rommel were identified as officers of the Montalto Marche detachment of the “Brandenburgers,” the group implicated in the crime. Fischer was officer in charge, and Rommel was his second in command.
A possible close family connection of young Lieutenant Rommel to Erwin Rommel was clearly of interest to the investigators, as twice in the report the lieutenant was referenced as a nephew of the late field marshal.
Decades later, this connection is just as intriguing. In 2001, a day after the release of the secret war crime file for this incident, the Guardian did a story entitled “Rommel’s nephew linked to war crime.”
The River Aso between Petritoli and Ortezzano, in Fermo Province—a few miles downstream from Ponte Dragone, where three ex-prisoners of war and an Italian I.S.9 agent were executed in March 1944
In dark of night on March 10, 1944, three escaped British POWs and an I.S.9 agent involved in Ratline evacuations of POWs to Allied territory were executed on the Dragone Bridge. Ponte Dragone is three miles from the village of Montedinove. Earlier that day, the four men had been captured and interrogated by officers of the Montalto Marche branch of the German S.S. Brandenburg Regiment.
One year later, members of the Allied Forces’ Special Investigation Branch (SIB) conducted an investigation into the matter.
According to Italy: Imperial Prisoners of War Alphabetical List, Section 1, British Army, the POWs who were killed had been interned in two camps:
Gunner Lionel H. J. Brown (Parachute Regiment, Army Air Corps) had been interned in P.G. 70–Monteurano, near Fermo, Ascoli Piceno.
Private Daniel R. Hollingsworth (The Buffs, Royal East Kent Regiment) and Private Thomas White (also of The Buffs) had been interned in P.G. 53–Sforzacosta, Macerata.
These killings are referenced in the recent “Service in Italy for Three Soldiers” post on this site. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission announcement refers to the killings as having occurred at Ponte Del Diavolo. However, the official account references Ponte Dragone as the site of the killings.
Ancona War Cemetery
The following graveside rededication service announcement is from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).
A rededication service for three soldiers who were killed in Italy in the Second World War will take place on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 in Ancona War Cemetery, Italy. Private Lionel Brown of the Parachute Regiment and Privates Daniel Hollingsworth and Thomas White of The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) were Prisoners of War and whilst being transported with Sergeant Mario Mottes (an Italian soldier) were shot on March 10, 1944 at Ponte Del Diabolo [Ponte Dragone]. They were originally all buried as unknowns in Montedinove Cemetery. However, the soldiers were later transferred to Ancona War Cemetery and now have individual named headstones.
The service has been organised by the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre and will be attended by family of Privates Brown and Hollingsworth. The Parachute and Princess of Wales Regiments will provide support.
Mario Mottes was an I.S.9 agent who was working with Allied forces in the rescue of escaped prisoners when he lost his life. See “Honor Recommended for Mario Mottes.”
Identification of the British soldiers who were shot at Ponte Del Diabolo [Ponte Dragone], as well as work on confirming the identity of Mario Mottes, seems to have been due to the work of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Huggan, OBE.
Possibly from The Wishek [North Dakota] Star
Circa April 1944
“Somewhere in Italy for five months, between October, 1943, and March, 1944, a North Dakota man, Sgt. Arthur T. Sayler of Wishek had been fighting his way back to Allied forces after being a prisoner in Italian camp 59 since his capture at Tunisia March 10, 1943.
“His parents, Mr. and Mrs. F. J. Sayler of Wishek, had received no word since getting a letter written July 28, 1943, until word came from the war department April 8, informing them their son had reported back for duty March 25.
“No authentic details of his escape are known here.
“Sgt. Sayler entered the army April 10, 1941. He received basic training at Camp Claiborne, La. [Louisiana], and before going overseas in January, 1942, was stationed at Fort Dix, N.J. [New Jersey]. Northern Ireland was his first station overseas. From there he was sent to North Africa, and participated in the battle for Tunisia at which time he was captured. He is assigned with the infantry.”
See also “See also “Arthur T. Sayler—Capture and Escape.”
After Elwyn “Buck” Vanous passed away on January 7, 2011, his obituary in the Bismarck [North Dakota] Tribune began, “Today we remember a true American hero and a North Dakota Cowboy.”
Like many soldiers of his generation, Buck Vanous identified first and foremost with his service to country and his roots.
Buck was born in 1916 and grew up on his family farm near the small town of Driscoll, North Dakota. He was drafted into the Army in 1941, and he served in combat during World War II.
The obituary says Buck was captured in North Africa and was a POW in three prison camps for a total of one year and one day. He then escaped and walked across Italy, traveling at night, until he reached friendly lines. He received medical care and was sent home.
At war’s end, he was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant.
Buck returned to North Dakota and married Helen Attletweedt in 1946. For years they farmed in the Driscoll area. The family lived in California for a while, but eventually returned home to North Dakota. Over the years, Buck worked in construction and cattle ranching. Buck and Helen had five children together before Helen passed away in 1966.
In 1969, Buck married Helen Jenner.
The obituary had this to say about Buck’s interests:
Arthur T. Sayler
“My father was an American who escaped from Camp 59 when the Italians surrendered,” Susie Wickman wrote to me from her home in Colorado last November.
“He lived in a cave with help from the Italian people, until he was approached by an Italian man who offered to take him and his partner back behind Allied lines. I am trying to find information about this man who helped my dad and “Buck” Vanous. [See “Elwyn “Buck” Vanous—P.G. 59 Escapee.”]
“I recall my dad said this man approached them and told them his story.
“He had been living in America, when he was overheard to say on the phone, ‘I’ve got the package’ during the time of the Lindbergh kidnapping. He didn’t have anything to do with that, but he was deported. He told my dad that he loved America and was helping the Allies all he could so he could get back to America.
“He asked my dad to sign something like a petition at the time, but my dad was suspicious and did not. I don’t know if he was a member of the Italian resistance, or what.
“I would like to thank this man, or his family, as well as to accurately capture the story. If anyone has any knowledge of him, would they let me know?
“I have my father’s POW disability statement where he mentions Camp 59 by name.
“We know the name of the family in Italy that helped him—the Catalano family. The Catalanos were from Le Piane, Abbateggio [Pescara]. They had twin boys who eventually emigrated to America, and my dad was friends with them his whole life.
“I am still in touch with one of them, Romolo Catalano.”
Arthur Sayler’s Story
The following account of Arthur’s experience is derived from the disability application Arthur filed after the war.
ARTHUR T. SAYLER
Army Serial Number 37025925
On April 11, 1941, at age 23, Arthur Sayler of Wishek, North Dakota, was inducted into the U.S. Army at Ft. Snelling, Minnesota. He was assigned to Infantry Company A, 135th Infantry First Battalion, 34th Infantry Division.
From there, he was sent to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, where the Louisiana Maneuvers of the Red and Blue Armies were conducted.
Gino Beer, with some girls at Farneta, near Montefiorino, 1944
I corresponded this week with Italian Michele Becchi concerning Gino Beer, who as a young man served in the fighting group headed by escaped POW Victor Styles. (See “Trooper Victor Styles—P.G. 52 Prisoner.”)
Michele Becchi researches WWII British Liaison Officers in Italy, ex-POWs, and downed pilots trying to reach the Allied lines. He is particularly interested in partisan warfare in his area of Italy, as well as Special Operations Executive (SOE) and Office of Strategic Services (OSS) missions.
Michele knows and has interviewed Gino.
Michele wrote, “Victor Styles was leader of a special ex-POW fighting group working for the ‘TOFFEE’ mission. I’m trying to find the names of other POWs and Italian partisan members of that group. Gino served in the group.
“I meet Gino Beer years ago, when I was researching ‘Operation Tombola,’ an SAS [Special Air Service] operation against a German headquarters not far from my town.
“Gino was an Italian Jew from Genoa; he and his family was persecuted by the Nazis and fascists due to his origin. After a brief spell with the Ligurian partisans, Gino and his family transferred to Modena, in 1944, to avoid death. But the situation worsened, and Gino was forced to join the partisans of the Reggio-Modena mountains.
Trooper Victor Kensett Styles
I received a note recently from Vic Styles, a nephew of Victor Kensett Styles. Trooper Victor Styles, Royal Armoured Corps (RAC), was captured in North Africa and interned at P.G. 52 Pian de Coreglia (Chiavari).
“Like a lot of servicemen, he did not talk about his activities in Italy—we only got snippets of information,” Vic wrote.
“He was offered a commission, and later he resigned and went into teaching.
“He did not trust any politicians or whizz kid bosses. He was a very good manager in the flats where he lived in West Hampstead London NW6. He coached the tenants to buy their flats through the legal jargon. He was extremely clever in administration and with his hands.
“In the 1950’s my father fell out with him about a car deal, and they broke contact with each other. So I got info—but not much—second hand.
“Victor complained that when working with the S.O.E. [Special Operations Executive] he was never paid because he officially had been in a POW camp.
“He married twice and was divorced. He had no children.”
Victor was recommended for a British Empire Medal (BEM) for his acts, but he never got it because his file was kept secret for 85 years under the Official Secrets Act.
Victor was honored with an Italian Star in 2007, and Vic feels he should also be recognized with an Italian Garibaldi Medal for his work with the Italian partisans.
“In 2001, I applied to open his file,” Vic wrote. “They agreed, and that’s what you see on this report.”
Trooper Harold George Knibbs
I heard earlier this fall from Don Knibbs, who lives in the village of Sheet, which is in Hampshire, in the south of England. He wrote:
“I came across the Camp 59 Survivors web site today. What a great shame my dad isn’t still here to have seen it. He was Trooper Harold George Knibbs of the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC).
“He was captured in June 1941 in the desert, close to Tobruk. He was transported to Italy where he spent time at Campo Concentramento Prigionieri di Guerra N.73, and Campo Concentramento PG.59.
“I’m afraid I don’t know the dates for when he was at each of the camps. I know from his records that he was still in Italy in 1943, but be was transferred to Stalag IVB at some time before Christmas 1944. I’m guessing that will have been after the Italians capitulated in September 1943.
“He had very few mementoes of the times, but amongst his many treasures was a currency note from Camp 59 (above).