George Albert Drew
VI Royal Tank Regiment
George Albert Drew was born on 15 February 1919 and was a banker by profession in the village of Wisbech, near Cambridge. As the war started, he joined the VI Royal Tank Regiment as a corporal and was eventually captured in Libya, near Sidi Rezegh, on 21 November 1941, during Operation Crusader. He spent the following month in a prison camp in Tarhuna and then in Tripoli. At the end of December, he was transferred to PG 66 Capua, then to PG 59 Servigliano, then to PG 53 Macerata, then to an unspecified labour camp and, finally, in June 1942, to PG 112 Turin. Specifically, to PG 112/4, Gassino Torinese. During this time, George changed camp almost every month.
After the Armistice between Italy and the Allies, on 8 September 1943, the guards allowed the prisoners to leave, and the PoWs left the camp in small groups during the following days. George left on the 10th with a small group of companions, reaching a nearby wood in San Mauro, where they hid for three weeks and then dispersed. The corporal remained alone with brigade lieutenant Davis, and the two of them took the way up the mountains, where they quickly met and joined a partisan band. However, in October, the partisans were attacked and forced to disperse. George and Davis, thus, went back to their hideout in San Mauro. Again, they tried to join a partisan band, thanks to the help of a local priest who sent them to Barge (near Cuneo). Despite their references, the partisan leader, whose name we do not know, refused to give them any weapons, and they subsequently left.
It was only in November 1943 that George was finally able to join the Resistance. He and his companion reached the village of Alpette (in the Turin province), where there was a mixed band of Italians, British, and Yugoslavians. He would spend the following 17 months with them. The band, just like any partisan formation, moved around frequently, and this brought George to various villages, including Lanzo, Chivasso, Arzola, Pont, Locana, Sparone, and Ribordone. In July 1944, in Ribordone, when they were running out of ammo, they were attacked by the Nazi-Fascists and were forced to go back into the mountains. However, on 22 July, they received some airdropped supplies from the RAF on Mount Arzola and went back to action. The group ambushed the enemy between Pont, Sparone, and Locana until they eventually depleted their ammo. The Germans responded to the partisan activity by concentrating troops in the area, and even finding food became difficult.
George and his group went back to Ribardone for some days at the end of September and decided that it was time to try and cross the French border. Undoubtedly, the food situation was getting worrying. «The Italian Lieutenant in charge of our band asked the advice of an Italian captain from the Tibordone valley, and this man said we should leave. Earlier in the summer, we had met an Italian alpine guide, who offered to lead our party over the mountains into France».
The group was formed by 30 Yugoslavians, five French, one South African, 12 Englishmen, and two Italians (George’s partisan leader and a guide). They left on 1 October, passing through Ronco Canavese in the Sona Valley. From there, they moved to the Colle di Bardoney and then to Cogne, where they hid in a mine. Then they went past Pont and the Colle del Nivolet. Finally, they made one last stop in Ballotta, housed in a malga (a mountain hut), to regain their energies before the crossing: «there was already a considerable amount of snow, and a blizzard put an end to our first attempt. One Englishman in the party suffered from a frostbitten hand. Several of the Yugoslavs wore only carpet slippers on their feet». Tied to each other to avoid getting lost, the men managed to cross the border on the 10th, at the Colle della Losa «in six feet of snow». «This region was unguarded, as the Germans considered it impassable. We crossed in the daytime».
In the Isere Valley, they quickly contacted Allied authorities who provided for them. After a while, they were brought to Grenoble and housed at the Savoy Hotel, where they found food and clothing. At 3 pm on 11 October, George took a train to Marseille and, on the 14th, a ship to Naples. Finally, on the 24th, he left again by ship to reach Liverpool on 2 November 1944, after one year as a prisoner and another as a partisan in Italy.
- TNA WO 208/3324/138, Account of escape of 7887693 Cpl. Drew, George Albert, 6th Royal Tank Regiment, 7th Armoured Div. 8th Army