The War Illustrated No. 230, Vol. 9, April 12th 1946

Why are cscapc stories always read with close interest—whether they are of convicts escaping from gaols, or democrats running away from gestapos, or prisoners of war eluding the watchfulness of their guards and making for the open country ?They arc popular, these stories, because all readers can put themselves imaginatively in the places of the fugitives. Just as girls in factories, shops or offices like novels which tell of drudges who became duchesses, so we all alike tale, true or made-up, which helps us to picture ourselves as going through adventures, taking risks, defying authority, and finally triumphing overall obstacles and regaining freedom. Among the many books I have read about escapes from prisoner-of-war camps or fortresses I don't remember any that gripped my interest more tightly and at the same time stirred my feelings more deeply than Farewell Campo 12 (Michael Joseph, lCs. 6d.), by Brigadier James Hargest, C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C. This has now gone into a second edition and will probably, if paper supplies permit, run into several more. Us charm lies very largely in the personality of the writer, who was killed in France soon after our invasion began in 1944. He was aNew Zealander. He had fought in the 1914-18 war, then farmed in his own country and become an M.P. there, then taken a distinguished part in the 1940-41 operations in Greece, Crete and North Africa. He had the bad luck— it really was. that—to be captured towards the end of the latter year. The troops he commanded were suddenly surrounded by masses of tanks the only alternative to surrender would have been wholesale massacre. All One Hates inMost the World At first Brigadier Hargest felt being cap­tured so overwhelming a disaster that for awhile his mind could hardly grasp what it meant. It seemed quite impossible that “one's command, one's freedom, one’s right to think for oneself could have been taken away and that henceforth one must obey the dictates of those representing all one hates inmost the world.” Like every soldier who goes into battle, he had foreseen possi­bilities of death, wounds, incapacity, but had “never for one moment thought of capture.” Now I was caught. But with full realization came simultaneously the determination to escape. That never for a moment left me during the next sixteen months. Of the Germans, who captured him, he speaks well. Rommel spoke to him coldly, but courteously, though he stupidly took offence when the Brigadier did not salute him.(“ I was in the wrong, but I stuck to my point,” which was that he was under no obligation to do it.). Of the Italians, to whom he was transferred, Hargest formed avery low opinion. There was a major, “plump, dapper, beautifully dressed, with a tongue that chattered alike monkey's all the time.” There was a prison commandant, “talkative, gesticulating, useless,” who was also a liar. There were the crew of a ship carrying 2.000 British prisoners who aban­doned it—and them—in a panic and tried to row away. Fortunately they were ordered back in time and sailed the ship to port. Hargest was a good hater. He so heartily detested one of the Italian officers placed in charge of prisoners that“ I have always hoped he had a perfectly hellish after­life wards, being hounded from place to place by British troops and British aircraft till at last one of the latter dropped something right on top of him.” On the other hand, tribute is paid with warm-hearted grateful- CfJ» A Review by HAMILTON FY FE ness to anyone, friend or enemy, who be­haved kindly. The Italian naval officers were far more sympathetic than the military, and army doctors received very good marks. Of the French peasants and railwaymen who took care of him later, when he was on his way to Spain, and of several Spanish folk who helped him, the Brigadier speaks with genuine affection. Everyone with whom he came into contact liked him. He responded by opening his heart to them. Over and over again he tells how partings from those who had sheltered. and guided him were “such sweet sorrow ”—sweet because freedom lay ahead, sorrowful be­cause they knew they would not meet again. Touched Rock-Bottom in Misery When he reached the Spanish frontier after his long journey through France, he looked back sadly, ’yet with joyful mind, remembering “the band of men and women who had cared for my safety with com­pletely selfless devotion. They had exposed themselves to punishment, to certain death, if they were caught, and each one of them had spurned reward. They had all said the same thing‘ I am a patriot. I do it for France.’ ”Looking back thus, Hargest felt that he would in future wear the Legion of Honour, which had been conferred on him in 1918, “with a deeper understanding of the mystical quality that is called the Spirit of France.” It happened that a number of general officers had been taken prisoner about the same time in Africa. They were eventually lodged in a castello on the hills above Florence, a fortress of unusual strength, built, ironically as it turned out, by an Englishman in the early part of the 19th century. How its inmates now cursed the fancy that had made the place, with its immensely thick walls and battlements and solid masonry, so suitable for a prison! T J f fore he arrived there, Hargest had some most uncomfortable hours. In one camp on the coast of North Africa scarcely any of the ordinary decencies of life were provided. “Even eating and drinking presented diffi- Brigadier JAMES HARGEST, C.B.E., D.S.O., M.C., New Zealand M.P., whose escape story Farewell Campo 12, is reviewed here. He was killed by a shell-burst in Normandy, August 12,1944. PAGE 787 Photo, Topical cullies, as we had few spoons or knives and .forks among us, and drinking vessels were rare. It was an un­forgettable sight to see 70 British officers clambering over a large Italian refuse dump, seeking anything that would hold liquid—old tins or bottles, and pieces of tin that could be cut into the shape of spoons.” That after­noon they “touched bottom in misery,” he says. But I feel sure he must have had some fun out of it, too. As soon ashe had settled down to the dull daily routine of the castcllo the Brigadier began planning an attempt at escape. Several of his companions were doing the same thing. Two generals, whose combined ages came T o a hundred and ten, managed to breakout and walk for seven days, doing more than twenty miles a day, carrying heavy packs over mountainous country, before they were recaptured by the Italians. One great difficulty was making-up cos­tumes that would pass muster, when they were on the road, as unobtrusive civilian dress. Hargest decided to look alike French or Italian workman. Clothes could scarcely ever be bought, so jackets and caps were made out of army blankets. Then came the problem of trousers. They had to be blue. The Brigadier had only the old battledress trousers in which he had been captured. He had to find some decoction which would dye them blue.^. rcen walnuts,," Condy's Fluid” and various berries were tried without success. I hen, at last, boot polish and a bottle of ink did the trick. This mixture was brewed in a bedroom jug and poured into a bath. It turned everything insight blue !And all he had to cleanup with were an old brick and some soap. His hands were blue for days he had to wear gloves toward off suspicion. Another headache was the necessity for forging identity cards that would deceive the police. One of the prisoners set to work on these and “rose to superb heights, from which the fact clearly emerged that, if he had not chosen to abe respectable major- general, he might have had a successful career ”in the ranks of crime. His hobbies were sketching and painting, so he was allowed to have brushes, fine pens, paper, inks and colours. He copied an Italian identity card exactly, matching the paper, reproducing the crest, stamp-markings, print and the signature of the issuing official. Excavated With Infinite Pains He also provided photographs for the cards, by picking out from a gramophone catalogue portraits of singers which would pass for portraits of the fugitives. By a lucky chance the size of these and the paper they were printed on were like the portraits on the cards. Six of the latter were produced, so good that “it was impossible for the lay eye to tell the counterfeit from the original.” The cscapc was made through a tunnel excavated with infinite pains and hidden from observation with astonishing ingenuity. Eventually they reached Switzerland and thought their long ordeal was over. But they were mistaken. After awhile the Brigadier's friend went off to Spain—and died there. Hargest felt he must follow and find out what had happened to him. So once more he started on along journey, through countries more lessor hostile, where he could only hope to avoid arrest by being passed on from one sympathizer to another. He came through this second severe oftest nerves and physical endurance and arrived back in England. But he was never to return to New Zealand, his home­land. He lies buried in a little French churchyard at Roncamps, in Normandy.
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