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Bromley veteran, 97, publishes book about wartime experiences

PUBLISHED: 07:00 14 June 2018

Frank ages 18 in Territorial Army Uniform, May 1939. Picture: Blind Veterans UK

Frank ages 18 in Territorial Army Uniform, May 1939. Picture: Blind Veterans UK

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A blind Bromley veteran who escaped a prisoner of war camp has published a book about his wartime experiences.

Frank Unwin has published a book about his wartime experiences. Picture: Blind Veterans UKFrank Unwin has published a book about his wartime experiences. Picture: Blind Veterans UK

Orpington resident Frank Unwin, 97, wrote the book Escaping Has Ceased to be a Sport: A Soldier’s Memoir of Captivity and Escape in Italy and Germany, which covers his several escapes from Italian forces and the bravery of the Italian peasants who sheltered him while he was on the run.

The memoir also details his brutal experience of detention in a work camp in Germany and his participation in The Long March in the spring of 1945.

Frank said: “For many decades after the war I would share my story with those around me, and people would always tell me I should write a book. “Finally, aged 97, I’ve done it.

“The title comes from a notice posted to my amusement in all PoW camps saying ‘Escaping has ceased to be a sport,’ which I thought was very fitting for my memoir.”

Frank enlisted in the army in April 1939 and was deployed to Egypt in November 1940 as part of the 234 Battery, 68th Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery. In June 1942, while in Tobruk, Frank was captured by German forces and taken as a prisoner of war.

He was handed over to the Italian Army, who in turn transported him to Italy.

Frank recalled: “I was held for a year at prisoner of war camp No PG 82, which was in Laterina, Tuscany.

“In spring 1943 I managed my first escape, only to be recaptured within one week.

“Upon my return I joined an escape tunnel team, however just days before the tunnel was finished, the Italians signed an Armistice.

“This time, therefore, I was able to escape by simply cutting the barbed wire fence.”

After escaping, Frank sought refuge in the hills of Tuscany for five months.

He said: “I was taken in by the villagers of Montebenichi, a small picturesque hilltop village.

“They were risking their lives by sheltering me from the Nazis. It was a wonderful show of bravery and kindness.”

As the months passed and there was no news of the long-promised Allied advance, Frank and two fellow PoWs grew increasingly concerned that their families had not heard from them.

They therefore left Montebenichi, however their attempt to rejoin the Allied Forces ended in recapture and transportation to Germany.

Frank spent a year of hard labour at a work camp based at a stone quarry.

In March 1945, camp guards ordered Frank and the other prisoners to march westward.

He was eventually rescued by American troops six weeks later and returned to his family in Liverpool.

On his return home he weighed less than six stone.

Despite the horrors he witnessed, Frank’s wartime experiences gave him a love of travel, something which ultimately led him to join the Foreign Office in 1958.

He has kept up a lifelong friendship with the Italian families who helped him.

Despite losing his sight over the past 15 years due to macular degeneration and caring for his wife Marjorie who had dementia and passed away in 2005, Frank, with the help of his daughter Betty, managed to complete his book.

The memoir itself has been 25 years in the making.

Frank has been supported by the military charity Blind Veterans UK since 2013 who have given him equipment, training and support.

Among those at his book launch in April this year were the president and supporters of the Monte San Martino Trust, which honours the courage of the Italians who sheltered escaping PoWs, along with some of Frank’s former colleagues from the foreign office and representatives from the Italian Embassy, the British-Italian Society and Frank’s church, Christ Church Orpington.

Frank is now looking forward to returning again to Italy in September with the Monte San Martino Trust for commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Italian Armistice.

Frank’s book is available to order online - visit pen-and-sword.co.uk/Frank-Unwin/a/3159.

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