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The three-page letter featured in this post was sent to me by R. J. McMahon’s daughter Linda Vaness. On receiving his WW II service medals, R. J. realized he qualified for one additional honor—an Italian Campaign Star.

This letter explains his justification for receiving the Star. As the text is written longhand in a single block, I’ve taken the liberty of dividing it into paragraphs for ease of reading.

I asked Linda if, in response to the letter, her father had received the campaign medal.

“Yes, Dad did get the Italian Star,” She replied. “We have had all of his medals set into a special jarrah (Western Australian hardwood) frame and his grandson has inherited them.”

7 May 1954
R J McMahon
Yalbra Stn
C/O Glenburgh
Via Mullewa
WA

Dear Sir,

I received my Army medals and I thank you for same. In the box with the medals you forwarded a document with the different medals written on it and on the bottom of one side under the heading of time spent as a prisoner of war, it says, that an escapee or evader who took part in operations against the enemy is considered for the award of the Campaign Star.

Well, sir, from the time I got away from a prison camp in southern Italy in September 1943—the camp, by the way, was PG 59–PM 3300 at Servigliano—I spent nine (9) months behind the lines taking an active part in operations against the enemy. As there were none of my own officers with me I cannot get one to verify any of my statements.

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What follows is the second installment of R. J. McMahon’s autobiography, 1939–44. This post covers his experience in prison at Servigliano, escape, his involvement with the Partisans, and his eventual return to Australia.

Inside the prison walls were about 14 huts and each hut contained 50 prisoners. These huts were the most unstable constructions around and would shake with the slightest movement. When we were in bed they would shake us to sleep. The beds were two-tier bunks made with wooden slats about 6” apart. The mattresses we were issued with were a good kapok style, which were fairly comfortable and [we were issued] plenty of blankets. Having sheets on the bed was a big surprise, as we never had sheets in our own army. The last sheets we had enjoyed were prior to leaving Australia. At the end of the first week we had them taken off us and sent away to be cleaned, and we were issued with another set. Our sheet issue ran out at the end of the second week, when we mustered at the collection point waiting for another lot. The Italian in charge informed us there would be no more sheets as they had found out that the Australians did not give their prisoners sheets so they wouldn’t give them to us.

Six mates and I stayed in this prison camp for 12 months before succeeding in finding a way to get out. We tried digging our way out, emptying the soil down the sewage system and flushing it away. It was only sand and you had to take a chance on whether it fell in or not. There were a few blokes who did escape through a tunnel, but they were caught shortly after and brought back.

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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.

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