Cyril Kennedy

Petty Office, Royal Navy

Cyril Kennedy was born on 15 December 1911 and lived in Liverpool before the war. He was a Petty Officer in the Royal Navy. Cyril was captured, together with the crew of the HMS submarine Oswald, in the Messina strait on 2 August 1940. The submarine had located a convoy of merchant ships and moved to attack it but was intercepted by the destroyers escorting it. Soon after, it was rammed and sunk by the Italian destroyer Ugolino Vivaldi. Of the 56 members of the crew, 53 were captured, and three lost their lives.

At first, Cyril was transferred to Taranto with his crewmates. Then, to a camp on the island of Poveglia, in the Venetian lagoon in front of Malamocco. The prisoners were evacuated at the end of October, and Cyril attempted to escape. He and three other prisoners, Lt. Pope (ex-Oswald), Stoker Petty Officer Oaks (ex-Oswald) and Lt. Waters (Fleer Air Arm) hid on the island. They were hoping that, in the general confusion, the Italians would leave them there. However, they were not lucky, and, after four days of searching, the Italians finally recaptured them. As a punishment, Cyril was imprisoned for 30 days in a cell in PG 78 (Sulmona), where he remained before being moved to PG 102, near L’Aquila, at the end of June 1942.

Cyril oversaw a construction crew tasked with building a «district bank of Naples» in L’Aquila. The results, he noted, were underwhelming: «as there was no skilled labour on the job, the results were rather incongruous». The dynamic 31-one-year-old soon became assistant camp leader. Thus, he was among the officers informed by the Italians, on 10 September 1943, that the Germans had occupied some barracks not far from the camp. They told him that, as a precaution, the Italian personnel wanted to evacuate the prisoners to the nearby mountains. The mass escape, thus, was executed in good order, but Cyril did not want to stay with the leading group of escapees. As the group was marching, many smaller groups left it. One of those was a three-person party made of Cyril, Dodge, and Clark, two riflemen of the Second Army. They were without food, money, or civilian clothes: their prospects did not look especially good. The only things they had were their uniforms.

However, the local population helped them. The Italians exchanged their uniforms for civilian clothes and provided them with bread «to supplement our fare of grapes and nuts». The farmers housed them at night, allowing them to march during the day. Their journey lasted 21 days, as they passed by Benevento and Avellino, where they learned of the position of the Allied troops and decided to go to Castellammare to meet them.

On 2 October, between Marigliano and Somma Vesuviana, the three stumbled across a patrol of the 11th Hussars, looking for Marigliano. Cyril acted as an interpreter between them and the local Italians. Having passed the front line in this way, Cyril was finally free. He and his companions were brought to Castellammare and then to Salerno on 4 October. Then, he was shipped to Bougie, which he reached on the 6th. Finally, he was sent to Gibraltar via Algeri and Marrakech, reaching British soil again after more than three years of imprisonment in Italy.

  • TNA, WO 208/3315/7, Account of escape of D/JX.130287 Petty Officer Kennedy, Cyril, R.N., H.H. Submarine Oswald, 1943.