‘A great deal of help from an Italian’: Norman MacLucas

That tribute was paid by Norman MacLucas after his escape from a PoW camp.

His daughter, Valerie Fanning, describes how, in 2011, her family set out to track down the relatives of the Italian in question and express their gratitude.

Ian started it but it was Penny’s idea.

He Googled and found Mac’s MBE citation. We hadn’t seen that before. It named 4 places he went to – Campo di Giove, Palena, Ateleta and Spinetti.

Penny said “Let’s try and follow his escape route. It was a mad idea – we were all over 60 – but in the end we did it – 9 of us including Penny’s son Gideon.

Mac – Norman MacLucas – was captured in Tobruk and imprisoned in Chieti when our two eldest sisters were very small. They couldn’t come so we took their photo with us – Mac in his Camerons uniform – kilt, Glengarry – our mother in a rather fetching 1940’s hat and the two little girls. The photo went everywhere we did.

We met in Sulmona on a sunny May afternoon – May as his birthday was May 14th. We knew only that after the Armistice Mac was moved with the other POWs from Chieti to Sulmona. There he hid in the roof of his hut before escaping into the mountains. He and his companions chased a pig, killed and ate it. When they reached the River Sangro he swam across and met some Canadians.

We met Tonino Cicerone, son of partisan, Roberto Cicerone, and historian Mario Setta who had agreed to help us. They were sure he must have had help. Our first stop was the camp – long yellow huts, green guards towers, Monte Morrone looming above.

Ian said “I can’t understand this route! Spinetti is nowhere near!” Palena too seemed wrong. We contacted local ex-pat, Anne Fontecchio. “Are you sure it’s not Staz di Palena?” she asked and of course it was! The Staz (station) is west of Palena, on both the river and the railway line. And Spinetti? “Perhaps he meant Madonna dello Spinetto” said Anne – an archeological site near Quadri on the river. We had the route. Over the next few days we drove to each of these places, finally understanding how hard a journey it had been .

Tonino , Mario and a colleague brought us a book – Il Quarante Tre. This listed POWs and the Italians who helped them. Ian searched for Mac’s army number. And there it was along with the name Ettore Colelli from Campo di Giove! Tonino phoned the Mayor. The family stilled lived there. We met them the next day – Elda who had been 20 and Gino who had been 5.

Back in England Brian Lett, former chairman of the Monte San Martino Trust, found Mac’s debrief report for us. This told how Mac and others had been digging a tunnel at Chieti. When the prisoners moved to Sulmona 15 remained in the tunnel. Mac and Lt Pat O’Brien, who had removed their badges of rank, avoided going on the ration strength and made a hiding place in the roof of their hut. The Germans found a hole in another roof and started to dismantle roofs on either side, stopping only when night fell and saved their hut.

On 3rd October when the prisoners were moved to camps in Germany they and two others were in the roof. By 7 October their water had run out. They escaped through six wire fences and trekked through the mountains to Campo di Giove where they found a little hut and received “a great deal of help from an Italian”.

This, we assume was Ettore Colelli to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude. Without him four of us and our children might not be here.