Jack Bell - Italian prisoner of war camps

Running time
2 min 22 sec
Date made
Department of Veterans' Affairs


Went to Parma hospital which is outside of Milan and there was an escape attempt made. I said 'Well I can't do much but I can sell my watch and try and buy some food.' So I asked an Italian orderly and showed him my watch, of course, it was a Swiss watch, a Siema but he didn't know it was full of sand and didn't keep good time but still it was my twenty-first birthday present so I kept it. So I swapped it for two bars of Italian chocolate. So I gave them to skipper. The attempt was foiled anyway.

The little orderly was sent to the Russian front and I was sent to Gravina, which was a punishment camp [in the] south of Italy near Bari, for two weeks punishment. Unfortunately it was a starvation camp. There were six people dying a week in it. They dwindled down from 3000 to 1200 by the time I got from Gravina to Tripoli, these poor people. The weekend ration. I got six cabbages and six broccoli for 600 men for two days. That was the ration, no meat, but we had a bit of pasta, a bit of rice and tomato paste, so the cook just boiled it and we ate it as a gruel.

And water was only on for two hours. You didn't have showers. There was no such thing as showers in this camp and you had to make sure you had a Dixie of water so you had enough water to drink and wash with.

After that they sent me up to a little place called Udine, Grupignano, Italian prisoner camp, and there were nearly 3500 Australians and New Zealand prisoners of war, a few Gurkhas, some boys from Cyprus, Indians, but mostly it was a colony or as they called it, a dominion prison camp. Probably, I would imagine, by the time that we were transferred to Germany, there might have been sixty air force in it, that's about all, might have been a bit more but it wasn't many.

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