In 1943, after parachuting into Sardinia to raid a German airfield, John Verney and several of his comrades from the British irregular forces were captured and sent to a POW camp in Italy’s Abruzzo region. As the Allies attempted to retake the country, Verney and two others made their escape. For months, they survived on the generosity and bravery of the local Italians who fed them and kept them hidden in haylofts and mountain caves—despite the scarcity of resources and the dangers they themselves faced by harboring English soldiers.
Twenty years after the war, Verney revisited the scenes of his imprisonment and escape, and the result is both an enchanting evocation of Southern Italy and an exhilarating story of wartime daring. He recounts the ironic upsides of being a prisoner of war (“for the first time in four long years, I was free to do entirely what I wanted, which was to read as much as possible and try to learn to draw and write”) as well as the anxiety aroused by the possibility of attempting an escape. He describes the extremes of boredom, hunger, discomfort, and mutual irritation that he and his companions faced after their escape, and the immense capacity for tolerance and goodness that they discovered in each other—and especially in the desperately poor Italian families who helped them. Verney writes with a deceptive ease and wit, which reveals a subtlety and a candor that make this book as penetrating as it is delightful.
John Verney (1913–1993) was a writer, painter, and illustrator. An assistant film director, officer in the North Somerset Yeomanry, and newlywed at the outbreak of war in 1939, he subsequently served in the Royal Armoured Corps and the fledgling Special Air Service. He fought in Syria, Egypt, Sardinia, and Italy. His other military adventures in the Middle East and Sardinia are told in his book Going to the Wars, also published by Paul Dry Books.