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Five months wandering around Italy evading Fascist and Nazi police and soldiers, sleeping sometimes beneath manure heaps and living more or less "off the land," might have left a mark on many people, but Gunner Hanley Wilson, of Whangarei, looks, and feels, none the worse for this experience. Gunner Wilson, who returned home with the latest draft of ex-prisoners of war, escaped several times from Axis custody and for a while was in the hands of the Russians.

It was during the confusion following the armistice between the Allies and Italy that some 1000 British and Empire prisoners broke away from a camp near Genoa. Many were soon rounded up when the Fascists had—to quote Gunner Wilson— "got over their scare," but he ana five others got away to the north and spent many weeks on a large estate owned by a prominent Fascist. Here they were treated moderately well. Food Avas plentiful during the summer and skimpy in the winter, but they owed much to the ministrations of an Italian nurse who brought them food and medical supplies. Life moved very slowly because there was little recreation beyond a pack of cards, which soon wore out, and it was necessary to sleep in daytime to avoid being "spotted" and recaptured.

Eventually the Fascist on whose property they had been hiding became alarmed and, possibly fearing reprisals, handed over Gunner Wilson and his companions to the military, who took them off to Venice where they were interrogated by the Germans and sent to the Reich.

Encircled by Russians

In the final stages of the war Gunner Wilson, with other Allied prisoners, was moved from Freiburg to Dresden, and then to Pirna, where he and Private J. King, of Palmerston North, escaped the guard and were at liberty for a day before being clapped in goal by an SS detachment. They saw Flying Fortresses smashing a railway station and a bridge across the Elbe, one bomb striking a house quite close to them. Moving them by night, the Germans took them across the Czechoslovakian frontier to. a point where the Russians had started a gigantic encircling movement.

"We were trying to link up with the Yanks, but we were caught in the area under the control of the Red Army," said Gunner Wilson, He added that their guards in the latter stages of the flight from Germany were mostly elderly men, members of theVolksturm, who found it impossible to keep up with their more vigorous charges.

"When we asked the Russians for food they said 'Help yourself,' pointing to shops and stores left by the Germans and Czechs. The Russians took anything they wanted."

Gunner Wilson said the Allied prisoners made their needs known through Russian slave labourers who had been in Germany and acted as liaison officers. The prisoners were kept in the town for some days as the Russians desired the roads to be clear for military operations. At length they were placed on trucks and joined up with the Americans at Karlsbad and then Regensburg. "From then onwards we did not walk," said Gunner Wilson. They were flown to Rheims, given American clothing and food, and then flown to England.

Gunner Wilson left New Zealand with the First Echelon. He was evacuated from Greece and captured near Sidi Rezegh in 1941.

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Bibliographic details

KIWI'S "HOLIDAY", Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 179, 31 July 1945

Word Count

KIWI'S "HOLIDAY" Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 179, 31 July 1945

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