Grenadier John Myers, Royal Artillery, was captured at Marsa Matruh on 29 June 1942, when he was 23. Initially, he was hospitalised in Tobruk for a month. He was then transferred to a PoW camp in Benghazi, and, in October 1942, he was taken to Italy and assigned to PG 51 Altamura (Bari). The following month, he was transferred to PG 70, Monturano (Ascoli-Piceno).
John quickly joined a group of PoWs who were digging a tunnel to escape. After 12 days, the tunnel was ready; the soil was hidden in Red Cross boxes under their bunk beds. «We left the camp by night, but the first man found the guards waiting for him as he emerged from the tunnel and was immediately arrested. We were of the opinion that the scheme had been given away to the Italians by a P/W».
John remained in the camp until the day of the Armistice. The PoWs initially obeyed the «stay put order», which invited them to wait inside the PoW camps for the Allied troops to arrive. However, on 14 September 1943, «food was getting scarce, and I and Pte. Beaton, H.L.I., decided to escape». They broke out without problems, as the guards had left, but Beaton was immediately arrested outside the camp, as the two ran into a patrol of carabinieri while John managed to escape.
After three days on the road, he reached Montelparo (Fermo), where he met Private Samuel Parsons. The two were housed by a local farmer, who fed and clothed them. Samuel and John left on 20 September, heading toward Ascoli and hoping to cross the front line in the south. On 23 September, near Maltignano (Ascoli-Piceno), the two escapees were intercepted by two German armoured cars and a motorcycle.
The two cars passed by us, but as the motorcyclist approached us, he sounded his horn. We dropped to the ground. I immediately doubled back, cut across the road and made for the foothills. As I reached the top of a slope, I turned around and saw Parsons being taken into one of the cars.
John returned to Montelparo, where he encountered another PoW, Grenadier William Jones. However, their stay in the village was put to an end by a Fascist search on 11 November 1943, during which the two were recaptured and brought back to PG 70. Despite this momentary setback, John was soon able to escape again. On 18 November, the RAF machine-gunned the camp and, taking advantage of the confusion, John and 27 PoWs (including William) ran away. Not knowing where to go, John returned to his benefactors in Montelparo. However, once more, he was recaptured by Fascist troops on 19 December, together with 13 other escapees. This time he was sent to PG 53 Sforzacosta (Macerata).
John did not stay in PG 53 very long. He joined a group of PoWs who wanted to escape, and they started removing the bricks from the outside wall of their hut. Then, they dug a tunnel in the snow that was covering the ground and managed to break out on the night of 2 January 1944. Once again, John (with a companion, Private Bowman) returned to his benefactors in Montelparo, who welcomed him.
I remained here till Mar., although I did at one time join a local band of patriots who were forced to disperse when their camp was attacked by the Germans. During this period, also I made my way to Sernano, where I knew the patriots had their headquarters and was given a considerable sum of money from funds which had been dropped to them by the R.A.F.
On 21 March, the Nazi-Fascists searched Montelparo. They found and killed Sidney George Smith, Royal Signals, while John miraculously managed to escape capture. He reached Monteleone (Fermo) and then went back to Montelparo but, this time, the Italians were too scared to take him in, and he left immediately. He spent a few days on the run but soon returned to Montelparo, once things had calmed down, and was welcomed once again.
On 10 May , I left Montelparo with Pte. John Gianella, […] for the Allied lines. The next day, while we were resting at a farmhouse in Montalto, the house was surrounded by Fascists, and we were forced to give ourselves up. We were taken to their headquarters for the night and the next morning were sent to the civilian goal at Ascoli. There were many Italian political prisoners in the goal, besides Greeks, Chinese, and about 24 Allied prisoners – Australian, American, and British.
The money John had received from the Italians proved essential in allowing him to escape once more. In prison, in fact, John met a Yugoslavian major who had been sentenced to death because he was found in possession of a radio transmitter. The major suggested John could bribe a guard to send a message to the local partisans, who would organise their escape.
When I was captured for the final time, I had 59,000 lire on me, part of which I had acquired while working with the partisans and part which had been given me by my helpers at Montelparo. 30,000 lire were taken from me when I was searched at Ascoli, but I had managed to retain the remainder of the money. I accordingly approached a guard who was known to be pro-Allied in Sympathy. He said he was willing to contact the partisans for the sum of 3,000 lire, which I immediately gave him.
After a few days, in June 1944, the partisans who lived in San Vito (Teramo) swooped down on the prison, disarmed the guards «who put up little resistance», and freed the prisoners. John and the others were brought to their headquarters. «When we had all assembled, the leader of the band asked if we would help to capture Ascoli. Everyone refused, except for Pte. Tipping, K.O.R.R., and myself. We entered the town as the Germans were pulling out and were only able to take a few German prisoners». On the next day, the British vanguards reached the town and John was ordered to stay there; he helped the Field Security Section round up all the local Fascists (it is likely that he had learned Italian during his escape, which was a precious skill for this type of task).
John left Ascoli precisely one year after the proclamation of the Armistice, on 8 September 1944, and reached Naples. From there, he was taken to the United Kingdom on 22 September.