Veteran Stories:
Arthur Powell

Army

  • Arthur Powell (seated by the anti-aircraft gun, drinking from a white mug) and a gun crew from the 37th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment in Tobruk, Libya, 21 January 1941.

    Arthur Powell
  • The introduction to Arthur Powell's wartime log. It reads: "An explanation:- Having received this book in June 1944, ie some thirty-eight months after capture, I have tried to make a record of my past P.O.W. history and to leave room for the future. If, therefore, any part appears unduly abbreviated it is probably due to my cautious lack of optimism in assessing the length of the war, or lack of a good memory. So that any sketch map is liable to gross errors, but should convey the impression, retained in my mind of that place. The first half of the book is a personal record of camps and movement while the latter half contains souvenirs and accurate records. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED."

    Arthur Powell
  • An excerpt from Arthur Powell's wartime log showing his commission.

    Arthur Powell
  • A drawing from Arthur Powell's wartime log showing a cross-section of the prisoner of war camp at Rezzanello, Italy.

    Arthur Powell
  • A drawing from Arthur Powell's wartime log detailing his release from a German prisoner of war camp.

    Arthur Powell
  • As officers were not permitted to work while imprisoned in prisoner of war camps, maintaining a high level of activity was vital for morale. Thus, concerts, cabarets and plays were frequent occurrences and the men were involved in all levels of the production, from acting, to set construction, to creating costumes. On the left is a photograph of the men putting on Somerset Maugham's play "Home and Beauty." On the right is a photograph of the men's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado."

    Arthur Powell
  • The front cover, illustrated by Arthur Powell, of the fourth issue of the camp magazine "Rezzanello Review," January 1942.

    Arthur Powell
  • The front cover, illustrated by Arthur Powell, of the fifth issue of the camp magazine "Rezzanello Review," February 1942.

    Arthur Powell
  • A painting done by Arthur Powell's battery commander Major Fenton in the February 1942 issue of the "Rezzanello Review" camp magazine.

    Arthur Powell
  • An article, entitled "Too Many Cooks" from the February 1942 issue of the "Rezzanello Review" camp magazine. The articles were written out by hand.

    Arthur Powell
  • An article, entitled "Too Many Cooks" from the February 1942 issue of the "Rezzanello Review" camp magazine.

    Arthur Powell
  • An article, entitled "Too Many Cooks" from the February 1942 issue of the "Rezzanello Review" camp magazine.

    Arthur Powell
  • The front cover of the camp magazine "Padula Parade." The illustration depicts the monastery (the camp itself) and the surrounding countryside.

    Arthur Powell
  • While imprisoned in Germany, Arthur Powell wrote and illustrated a series of cartoons which he then compiled into a small book entitled "Inside Out." This is a cartoon from the book. The caption says, "Picture of an imaginary officer spreading imaginary jam and imaginary margarine on imaginary biscuits during the very real second week of a Red Cross parcel."

    Arthur Powell
  • While imprisoned in Germany, Arthur Powell wrote and illustrated a series of cartoons which he then compiled into a small book entitled "Inside Out." This is a cartoon from the book. The caption says, "No, he's just a guy that made bomb noises after black-out."

    Arthur Powell
  • While imprisoned in Germany, Arthur Powell wrote and illustrated a series of cartoons which he then compiled into a small book entitled "Inside Out." This is a cartoon from the book. The cartoon is entitled "Winter Fashions 1944." The top row captions, left to right, are: for Roll-Call, for Walking, for the Theatre. Second row captions, left to right are: for Reading, for the Mess, for Bed.

    Arthur Powell
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"And then one day I said, “Why don’t we have a camp magazine?” And they thought that was a wonderful idea. "

Transcript

So after I’d taken my final exam, high school certificate, I took the Army entrance exam, which included a medical test and an interview in record.  My headmaster must have praised me up to heaven because I got quite good marks in the interview.  And to my amaze[ment] I got in about 93rd out of 103, so I reported to this place in late August [1939].  I got out of school in July, and became a gentlemen cadet.  And then in September, my regiment was ordered to go to Egypt.

So when we landed there, we went to a camp in sight of the Pyramids and got all our equipment, everything.  In the beginning of December, we were sent straight up into the desert – we hadn’t been there long.  And we joined in, I think all regular people there then.  There was an armoured corps and an army division and an Indian division and then another corps.  And we spread our guns everywhere we could.  And then the 9th August [9 December 1940], at dawn, the attack went in.*

And that same – next day, the 1st [Royal] Tank Regiment [Royal Armoured Corps] was in Libya, already gone.  And we got one hundred thousand prisoners of attack.  So, after that, we just followed the units.  We were attached to an Australian brigade for a time.  And we followed them while they captured all the different cities on the way.

The Germans also sent [Erwin] Rommel** and the Afrika Corps.  They came up to the frontier war – of course, when they attacked we couldn’t do a thing.  And when they broke through we just ran as fast as we could.  Unfortunately, we finished up in the desert, way in the desert, and we found the Germans were already there.

So after a few days the commanding officer tried to get out.  The next thing was a white flag – we were prisoners.  The Germans came walking in and said, “For you the war is over.”  And so we sat down, there was nowhere to go.  We ate what rations we had, and the Germans stayed there, and then about two days later we woke up and the Germans are gone.  We were defended by the Italian army – they’d handed us over.  So we became their – came under the Geneva Convention for Prisoners of War.

We didn’t stop in Rome, we went up to the Po [River], a place called Piacenza [Italy].  And there we were bussed up to a little village in the hills, way in the north, a very small village [Rezzanello, Italy].  There was a church and a few houses and a pub.  But there was an old, old house building, which had been occupied by the British force in the First World War when we were allied [with Italy].  And we called it “The Castle” because it was that shape.

And, we settled in, we had all sorts of different accommodation.  We had some rations but at that time there was no real rationing in Italy.  So we went up to the officer’s mess and bought stuff from the canteen and contract outside and eventually started getting British Red [Cross] parcels.  And then the rations changed.

But the thing was, the Geneva Convention tells prisoners what they can do and the occupiers what they must do.  And they mustn’t take us, keep us anywhere near a danger zone.  But we had all sorts of privileges.  We had our money, we had letters to England, we could receive parcels and basically we really had to look after ourselves, occupy ourselves.  In each camp there was always a senior British officer, but none of us wore any rank.  Nobody saluted anybody, you were all on the same – all prisoners of war.

I got in with a signals officer and a chap from the [Royal Army] Ordnance Corps I think – three of us.  And then one day I said, “Why don’t we have a camp magazine?”  And they thought that was a wonderful idea.  So the ordnance officer thought about it and came up with a plan, what we should have and somebody to talk about what was going on in the camp, what was going on in the war, and anything else we could get.

And that [“Rezzanello Review” magazine] ran for nine months.  And we made four copies every month. We made four copies, by hand.  If an article didn’t fill the full page, at the end I put a cartoon in.  I did advertising at the end and a new cover every month.  And there were about 30 pages.  And everybody thought it was pretty good.  And the cartoons got very popular.

We had money.  In the first camp we had a little canteen, but didn’t sell much.  One of the padres was allowed to go to the local village and buy things for us.  If we put it in the book, he got it, and you paid for it.  And I often ordered paints and painting materials and stuff like that.

In June the next year [1942] they decided to move us to another camp, down south of Naples [at Padula, Italy].  We’d just got used to going on around there and then suddenly, the office told me that the Swiss YMCA had sent a big parcel of yellow writing paper.  Like, “Here you are, a magazine please.”

This time we made it [“Padula Parade” magazine] much easier to run.  We didn’t do quite so much work.  But the officer who started it was sent out because they blamed him for doing something naughty.  So it was just one officer and he ran this thing.  It’s all done by hand.  We had a man who could write ink properly and we wrote six copies.  And that lasted six months.

And after that, I got so used to these crosswords, cartoons [in the “Inside Out” comics created in Germany], I did a series based on it – a series in Punch*** on the characteristics of prisoners of war and just stuck them on the wall.

Eventually, the Allies landed in Sicily [on 9-10 July 1943].  We’d come into a war zone, so we had to go north.  But the [train] rails had been bombed so much we had to go all “zig[-zag]” over the place.  And at one station, an Italian man did this, indicating there’d been a landing at Anzio.^  He told us.  So we went up to Bologna and the camp had never been used... brand new.

But Mussolini had already fallen, and in September [1943] the Italians surrendered, gave up, they disappeared.  The Germans came in – “whoosh” – immediately and took over.  We were there for a few days and they decided of course they’ve got to take us to Germany.  When they got to [Gries am] Brenner [Austria] we stopped for another engine.  And some of us could speak German and spoke to the officer in charge.  They said “We are the SS" or something, “nobody escapes from us.”  At that moment a sergeant-major came up and said, “120 prisoners missing, sir.”

So we went to our little English camp and next to us were a camp of Americans.  Somebody cut the wires so we got to the Americans.  They taught us how to play softball properly.  And then, we suddenly looked out and there were the American tanks going past at high speed.  And the American army followed us, so we were free.

*The Allied Operation COMPASS (9 December 1940 – 9 February 1941)

**German commander in North Africa

***Satirical British weekly publication

^Allied landing at Anzio, Italy on 22 January 1944

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