George Ernest Evans
Royal Regiment of Artillery
George volunteered in 1940 in Skipton, Yorkshire, when he was 24 years old and was enlisted in the Royal Regiment of Artillery. He was a butcher by profession and, after a period of training as a cook, was attached to the 4th Durham Survey Regiment. Afterwards, he boarded the ocean liner Reina del Pacifico, bound for the Middle East.
He served in Egypt, in the western desert, near the border with Libya. He was transferred to Tobruk, and there he was captured in July 1942. Their captors brought him to a PoW camp in Benghazi, where he complained about the abysmal living conditions and suffered from dysentery. On 16 November 1942, he was transferred to Italy, in an unidentified camp (most likely PG 70 Monturano), near Porto San Giorgio, in the Marche region. It was a great improvement compared with the desert: the PoWs received Red Cross parcels which helped improve their diet. In the winter of 1942, he suffered from a frostbitten foot, and he had a long convalescence.
He recovered only in May 1943 and decided to volunteer to go to PG 106 Vercelli as a worker in the rice field in the Po Valley. He remained there until 8 September 1943.
We returned to camp on the evening of 8 September to be told by the guard on the camp gate that the war between England and Italy was over and that we were all friends. Naturally, we were all shocked, and although the guards on the camp cleared off, the commandant remained. We went to the dormitory to consider what to do. First of all, we said the Lord’s Prayer in unison and thanked God for our deliverance. We surveyed the situation and decided, when darkness fell, to escape rather than stay in the camp.
During the night, the PoWs cut the gate’s barbed wire and George, with 12 other members of his work squad, fled from the camp. The escapees went to the farmhouse where they had worked up to then and spent their first night of freedom in its hayloft. They decided to wait there for more news and offered to keep working in the meantime.
They stayed at the farmhouse for about one week until German troops arrived in the area looking for escaped PoWs. They needed to decide what to do: «for one had no intention of becoming a PoW again».
With Maurice Brown, Joseph Dryhust and Patrick Meehan, George decided to leave for the hills near Biella. They never went hungry as, along the way, the population provided them with food. However, they declined the locals’ hospitality, fearing they could endanger their benefactors.
German planes flew over daily, dropping leaflets asking us to surrender and live in comfort in German prison camps. They offered a reward of 1200 lira (sic.) to any civilian who affected the arrest of any PoW.
They wanted to cross the Swiss border. Therefore, the four headed for the Oropa sanctuary, more than a thousand metres above sea level, where a group of escaped PoWs was organising the journey. However, George was fearful that his poor health and the lack of equipment could hinder such an arduous march. Thus, with his companions, he decided to descend and hide in a valley north of Biella with a group of Australian PoWs with whom they shared a ramshackle hut. The group decided to split as winter came to face the cold weather.
We continued our wanderings, and although, with the help of the civilians, things went very well, I knew in my own mind that this way of life could not continue. The news we wanted to hear was of the Allies landing and a quick advance with the German resistance collapsing, but this was not to be. We made contact with a civilian who directed us to a remote spot, Trivero (Valdilana), north of Biella, where we made contact with a party of six Jews who had suffered at the hands of the Fascist regime and were now attempting to form a resistance movement (partisans).
The partisans were friendly, offered them food and explained what they were trying to do.
The band gleefully accepted George as the head of a British unit, and he agreed to join the partisans, more so because it seemed they could provide the escapees with some stability. The band numbered roughly 10 Italians and four Englishmen.
A few days later, a German detachment arrived in the area. After prepping a small artillery force on the opposite side of the valley, they started to bomb the partisans’ position. As a result, the partisans decided to disperse to the mountains. George observed the enemy’s actions from his position: after the shelling, the German infantry pushed forward and burned the house they used as a base. During this action, the enemy intercepted and captured Maurice Brown.
However, by February 1944, the band had grown and even received some arms supplies. During the last days of the month, they moved north of Biella, near Borgosesia, where they liberated the village of Rassa. The partisans had a heavy machine gun installed at the village entrance. The weapon was functioning, but ammunition was scarce. After two weeks of peace, they learnt that the Germans were preparing for an attack. At two in the afternoon, the enemy, who had reached the outskirts of Rassa, was pushed back by the machine gun fire. When the partisans depleted their ammunition, George and the others were forced to retreat into the mountains. The Germans then came back with reinforcements and proceeded to burn everything. During this attack, Joseph Dryhust was captured, while Patrick Meehan fled and never returned to the area.
The survivors of this attack joined another partisan band, in which an Australian PoW fought. They remained in the Mera village for a while and then returned to the Biella area.
George was the only Englishman left in the formation, which did not have an official name but soon became known as «Banda Biella». He tried to contact and recruit other escaped PoWs in the area but without success.
The news from down south was depressing, and I was constantly thinking of crossing the border into Switzerland. The good news was that the partisans were becoming more powerful as we now had a motley collection of arms. I marvelled at where they came from. Our finances were almost non-existent, as we never robbed anyone, although it was heartbreaking when we purchased cattle from the locals as this was their only livelihood. They were told they had to sacrifice for the cause. (During my time with the partisans, I slaughtered one bull, four cows and numerous chickens).
During the summer of 1944, things looked up. In July 1944, two former PoWs, Joseph Fenton, a Scottish Guard and Percy Dunmore, Royal Signals, joined the band.
This allowed George to resume planning his crossing into Switzerland, although the partisan leader, Annibale Giachetti «Danda», asked him to stay. However, his journey to Switzerland did not go smoothly. After leaving the partisans, the three moved south of Biella to the small village of Arro. While George was away looking for food, Fenton and Dunmore were intercepted by the Germans. Realising they could not escape, Fenton surrendered and was captured, while Dunmore tried to run and was shot. George, alone, returned to the partisans.
In August 1944, the group received its first supply drop from the Allies. Some months later, Major Alastair MacDonald visited the formation in November. Although he did not reveal to George his mission (he was a member of the SOE), he said George could either cross the border or join his mission led by Colonel Bell and his squad.
This altered the whole aspect of life for me because I had a great knowledge of the local countryside and was suddenly kitted out with new battledress, boots etc. which gave me the feeling of at last doing something useful and positive.
MacDonald’s first task was to organise and distribute to the partisans the biggest quantity of weapons delivered to Italy by plane. This kept the men busy for a long time.
He then moved to the Aosta Valley. In fact, the local partisans and civilians had contacted Major MacDonald to destroy a bridge that the Germans used to transport supplies. MacDonald and Bell organised the sabotage, while George and other agents prepared and transported the explosive to the place. The bridge was blown up on Christmas Eve. It was a severe blow to the German supply network, and the enemy launched a ferocious rastrellamento (roundup) in Ivrea and the surrounding area. MacDonald himself was captured during this attack, and he eventually managed to escape and cross into Switzerland. Following Bell’s orders, George and his companions dispersed. The captain remained near Ivrea, waiting for the waters to calm down.
During the following months, George remained mobile and took part in many sabotages against the German’s infrastructures, destroying more bridges near Ivrea, Vercelli, and in the Aosta Valley. He fought with the partisans until the Liberation.
[…] At this time, anything travelling by road was harassed by the partisans. Things were moving very favourably for us, for we had made our HQ at Gressoney. Everything was going our way. Planes were arriving in daylight, dropping arms and supplies in the Biella region, so we decided to move down into Ivrea and await the arrival of the American troops. We were now in complete charge of this area and comfortable in the Hotel Dora when the Americans arrived.
- Roger Absalom, A Strange Alliance. Aspects of escape and survival in Italy 1943-45, Firenze, Olschki, 1991 (trad. it., L’alleanza inattesa. Mondo contadino e prigionieri alleati in fuga in Italia 1943-1945, Bologna, Pendagron, 2011).
- George Ernest Evans, A Bristish Pow becomes a Partisan, BBC people’s war, 8 novembre 2003 «https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/41/a2001141.shtml».
- Anello Poma, Gianni Perona, La Resistenza nel biellese, Parma, Guanda, 1972.
- Massimiliano Tenconi (a cura di), I ricordi di un soldato inglese, in «L’Impegno. Rivista di storia contemporanea» a. XXVII, n.2, dicembre 2007, pp. 23-31.
 This first contact was probably Silvio Ortona «Lungo», a partisan of Jewish descent who went to the Biella province from Milan with a small group of friends.
 This operation was probably tied to a series of military actions carried out by the Germans during October 1943 in the area. On 13 November, in Eurosia they burned three huts and arrested some former PoWs.