Campo 52

Campo 52

My parents recently took a trip to north-west Italy, to visit Chiavari, near Genoa, where my mum’s father was held as a prisoner of war during WWII. Growing up I had known little about my grandfather’s time as a soldier, or as a prisoner of war. Doing the research for my parent’s trip was fascinating, as is the reason behind their visit.

My grandfather, Horace Wade was 27 years old when he became a trooper in the 6th Royal Tank Regiment (Corps). The 6th RTR, based in Libya, took part in ‘Operation Battleaxe’ on the 15th June 1941, a disastrous operation for the British troops, with Rommel’s 88mm guns destroying half of the British tanks at Hell Fire’s pass.  Trooper H Wade was recorded as one of those missing, believed killed in action. However, he’d survived. Another soldier described the moment as a great flash of flame coming through the tank turret and the “Come out! For you, the war is over” request. My grandfather was a P.O.W.

From Libya the P.O.Ws were transported north to Italy, to work camps spread throughout the country. My grandfather’s home for the next 2 years was to be ‘Campo 52’ by the village of Pian de Coreglia, Chiavari in the North-West. Between early 1941 and July 1944 when the camp was liberated, Campo 52 would house in total over 15,000 English, New Zealand and South African P.O.Ws.

The prisoners held with my grandfather at Campo 52 slept in bunk beds in 44 wooden barracks, and had a refectory, library, infirmary and a theatre. Food supplies, managed by the Red Cross were intermittent and prisoners were often left hungry – cigarettes and alcohol were much valued as a bartering tool for additional rations.

Campo-52

War diaries of P.O.Ws during WWII tell of workcamp life being at best, rather mundane but my grandfather was able to spend some of his time painting and drawing camp life. Over 3 years as a P.O.W he produced over 70 paintings and sketches, most  of which are now in the archives of the museum of the Royal Tank Regiment at Bovington, Dorset. Recently a new display cabinet has been fitted and displays 14 A3 size copies of  the pictures pegged onto barbed wire for added effect.

Campo-52-2

His paintings are both evocative and light hearted. They include fellow prisoners reading in their bunks, receiving letters from home, and putting on Pygmalion in the camp theatre, with one sergeant looking rather fetching dressed as Eliza Doolittle. Then there are those that bring to life the reality of living behind the wire.

Campo-52-5

Campo-52-3-916x1221

Campo-52-4

After about 2 years in Italy, he was transferred to Upper Silesia in Nazi Germany, which is currently in southern Poland, to work down the mines.  Here my grandfather painted the grim faces of men waiting for the ‘cage’ to take them down the mines and the darkness of the tunnels. It was a hard and dangerous life, one which would see him have his left leg crushed in a mining accident which resulted in him having his lower limb amputated.

Mines

Whilst many of his paintings are of camp life, he also painted the landscape, the buildings and the beauty of Italy. All that is now left of Campo 52 is a commemorative plaque on a bridge next to where the camp had been, but my mother hoped that the buildings and landscapes he painted might remain.

Chiavari-italy

73 years after my grandfather painted Pian de Coreglia’s tiny village church, the dramatic basilica, il Santuario di Mont Allegro in nearby Rapallo and the Soglio d’Orero, a church high up on a hill opposite the camp, my parents decided to visit, to see his paintings in real life and to get a sense of what he endured.

Chiavari-3
Thanks to my grandfather and his paintings we will never have to forget.

Horace Wade

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14 Comments

  1. 16/10/2015 / 8:07 pm

    This is incredible!

    Oddly, I got a lengthy email from my dad today telling me all about my Granddad’s time in the war, but we have nothing like this. It’s amazing.

  2. ruth
    16/10/2015 / 9:48 pm

    Beautiful paintings and sketches

  3. 18/10/2015 / 8:25 pm

    What a fascinating piece of family history. Thank you for sharing.

    x

  4. Angela Hopper
    02/03/2016 / 1:01 am

    Thanks Kate – it’s due to your research that Dad & I visited Italy and had such a rewarding time discovering so much of what he’d drawn. & painted while a POW xx

  5. Thelma whiston
    02/03/2016 / 8:39 am

    An amazing story that makes one feel very humble. How wonderful that the paintings and drawings survived the war and are still telling a story.

  6. 19/05/2016 / 7:26 am

    Hi. I love serendipitous co-incidences. Three days ago I was visiting the site of Campo 52 with my husband and daughter. I am a kiwi. My uncle was in NZEF 7 Anti Tank and like your grandfather, he was captured in Nth Africa (during Operation Crusader late Nov 1941). He was in Campo 66, 52 and 57
    ( which we will visit today) and then moved to Stalag VIIIA in Gorltz where he sadly died aged 25 in Jan 1945. That evening I thought I’d do a little more research and discovered your blog. We are spending a month travelling through Italy and Germany visiting the site of all 4 camps. I had taken a photo of the St Onereo church up on the hill that is so similar to your grandfathers paintings. I was wondering if it is possible to see more of his beautiful watercolours online somehow

    • lovefrom
      19/05/2016 / 9:16 am

      Hi Karen, wow! That is amazing, I was really hoping that this post would help find others and I’m glad it has. I have lots of photos of the paintings which I will be able to share, many of them are of people, with names too. I will send you an email directly if that is ok? Kate

  7. Stuart King
    25/07/2016 / 8:12 pm

    Hi Karen
    My father was there and was George Arthur King of the Royal Navy and from Norfolk
    He was on HMS Bedouin before being taken as pow to Chiavari
    We wNt to visit!
    Can you advise as to places to see and any e siting sites?
    Great to read!
    Thank you
    Stuart King

    • Karen Brook
      25/07/2016 / 10:01 pm

      Hi Stuart
      I can forward you quite a lot of info including the contact details of the local historian who was 11 years old when PG 52 had allied POW’s. He still has the stamp album NZ, Aust, British stamps given to him by the POW’s. Can you email me karen.brook@xtra.co.nz and I will put some things together for you.
      Kind regards
      Karen

  8. Geoff Muir
    29/01/2017 / 3:05 am

    Kate,
    Found your site today and as Karen says “serendipitous co-incidences” as we are to meet in a couple of weeks to talk about PG 66 & PG 52!!
    My father, Maurice Muir, #890, served in the New Zealand Army as Regimental Stretcher Bearer in 24 Battalion and was captured in December 1941 at Sidi Rezegh in North Africa. He was awarded the MM for protecting his RAP from friendly fire.
    He was transported to Italy as a POW, initially to Capua (Campo 66) near Naples, then to Campo 52 in mid February 1942, He subsequently was moved in late June 1942 to Campo 202 to work as a Medical Orderly in the newly established POW Hospital in Lucca.
    In April 1943 he was repatriated to the United Kingdom with a party of about 400 wounded & protected personnel.

    My father, Maurice Muir, #890, served in the New Zealand Army as Regimental Stretcher Bearer in 24 Battalion and was captured in December 1941 at Sidi Rezegh in North Africa. He was awarded the MM for protecting his RAP from friendly fire.
    He was transported to Italy as a POW, initially to Capua (Campo 66) near Naples, then to Campo 52 in mid February 1942, He subsequently was moved in late June 1942 to Campo 202 to work as a Medical Orderly in the newly established POW Hospital in Lucca.
    In April 1943 he was repatriated to the United Kingdom with a party of about 400 wounded & protected personnel.

    We are planning to come and stay with Gianna P. Peirano the Stea Margarita Guest House, Pian di Coreglia, Coreglia Ligure. Gianna tells me that the Guest House is in the Villa that was within the camp and used for Officers accommodation and as the infirmary for the prisoners. Your Grandads paintings will be an inspiration for us.
    Thanks
    Geoff

    • Stuart King
      04/06/2018 / 10:25 am

      Hi
      If you’ve read the comments you’ll know my Dad was there too
      I’m going to be in NZ in Feb!
      My sons got dads warlog so we’ll see if your dad is on his list!
      Kindest Regards
      Lest we forget
      Stuart

      • Karen Brook
        04/06/2018 / 7:42 pm

        Hi Stuart
        Will you be spending anytime in Auckland when you are visiting next February?. It would be interesting to catch up .You can contact me on my email karenjbrook@gmail.com
        Kind Regards
        Karen

  9. Belinda Smith
    31/05/2018 / 11:35 pm

    Hi Kate
    It was lovely looking at the photos your Grandfather painted. My Grandfather, Paul Henry Peillon, no. 41551, NZ Medical Corp, 6th Field Ambulance, 5th reinforcements was taken prisoner and went to PG 66, then transferred to PG 52.

    I have been in contact with Geoff (email above) and he thinks my GF along with his father then was transferred to PG 202 before being repatriated. I am facinated by his story, mainly, I think, because I have so little information. He died a year after returning to NZ a very sick man and my Grandmother died when I was 5 years old. My mother was only a child at the time of the war so only remembers what a 10 year old remembers.
    Regards
    Belinda

  10. Karen Brook
    01/06/2018 / 6:45 am

    Hi
    I found Kate’s site back in 2016 when we were travelling through Italy and Germany visiting the sites of the PIW camps where my kiwi Uncle was.(his details are in my 2016 posts above)
    We are back in UK on holiday and 2 weeks ago I spent a wonderful morning at the Bovington Tank Museum viewing all of Horace Wade’s watercolours and his sketchbooks-what priviledge to be able to see them all. They provide such a personal insight into POW life in PG 52 then in Gernany
    Kind regards
    Karen

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