Michael Denman Gambier-Parry

WO 208/3320/48

Major-General Michael Denman Gambier-Parry, a long-standing member of the British Army (he enlisted in 1911), was captured by Italian troops in Mechili, Libya, on 8 April 1941 while he was commanding the 2nd Armoured Division.

In a few days, he was moved to Italy, at first to Villa Orsini (a separate officer accommodation in PG 78 Sulmona), where he remained for about five months, and then to PG 12 Vincigliata (Florence), where he was kept for two years, from September 1941 until the Armistice proclamation on 8 September 1943. In the camp, Gambier-Parry quickly made a name for himself for his artistic abilities as a musician and illustrator.

PG 12, located in a castle, was a camp for senior officers and their attendants. Living conditions were, therefore, better than elsewhere, and the number of PoWs was limited. Nonetheless, the Armistice’s announcement was met with preoccupation and general confusion:

We heard of the Armistice from the Italian staff after dinner on 8 Sep 43, and were asked not to tell our own staff till the following morning, when the official announcement was to be made. Next morning (9 Sep) we were asked to stay inside the castle. The sentries were kept on the wall – not, it was explained, to keep us in, but to keep the Germans out. We were allowed all our belongings, and Red Cross parcels were brought in to us. The Italians were extremely friendly.

The next day, the Generals were invited to Florence by the commander of the Difesa Territoriale, General Armellini Chiappi. Gambier-Parry, with 11 other officers and 14 other ranks, was taken to the city by car. With him were General Neame, Major-General O’Connor, Air Marshal Boyd, Brigadiers Vaughan, Combe, Todhunter, Stirling, and Armstrong, Captain Ruggles-Brise, and Lieutenant Ranfurly. They were all wearing their uniforms.

The officers of the party were received at the FLORENCE headquarters by General CHIA[P]PI who made a short speech […]. On his own responsibility, he said, he had much pleasure in releasing us. He asked if we had mufti, and we said we had a little. […] The General said it was difficult to advise us where to go, but after some consideration, he said he thought that, as a start, the best place would be AREZZO.

Guided by an officer from PG 12, Lieutenant Jannicelli («who had previously been rather unpleasant to us, but who now became very helpful»), the group left for the train station in Campo di Marte, as the Italians believed it was less monitored by the enemy and thus more secure. At the station, there was almost a race to help them:

[…] we were still in uniform, and while we were waiting […], the Italian crowd […] divested themselves of articles of their own clothing and gave them to us, refusing anything but a few cigarettes in payment. We were now transformed into civilians of a sort. Later, the guard on the train, discovering that the pair of trousers I had got were too tight for me, gave me his uniform trousers.

Chiappi organised the escape of the PoWs on a special train comprised of two carts and a locomotive, which brought the group to Arezzo..[1] Here they were invited to the local HQ, but the officer they met gave them an opposite impression compared with Chiappi: «[he was] a Colonel or Brigadier, who was completely “gaga” and terrified of the Germans, whom he did not intend to resist».

Nonetheless, despite his fears, the Italian officers organised the transfer of the PoWs to the Camaldoli monastery and personally went to discuss the plan with the monks. After his first day as an escapee, Gambier-Parry was safe behind the monastery’s walls at 10 pm. « We stayed at CAMALDOLI from the night of 10 Sep till midday on 14 Sep. […] At this time, all the German movements were Northwards, and we got the impression that the Germans were pulling out».

On 14 September, the group split to avoid drawing attention. Neame, O’Connor, Boyd, and Todhunter remained with the monks in the area, while Gambier-Parry and the remaining PoWs were guided beyond the Apennines and sheltered in farms near Casanova d’Alpe (Forlì).

Soon enough, Neame and the others also came to the same area, hiding in the village of Seghettina because the Germans were actively searching for them. Little by little, all the officers joined this second group in Seghettina and Gambier-Parry was left with only two other officers to coordinate the management of the former PoWs in the area between Casanova and Strabatenza, « having at one time as many as 25 under my care». In this way, Neame and Gambier-Parry became part of a network to assist escaped Allied PoWs organised by the Italians.

In the last week of Oct[ober], there was a German raid on LA SEGHETTINA, but the Germans were seen approaching, and General NEAME and his party took to the woods. It was felt, however, that this raid might be repeated, and General NEAME’s party came to [the] STRABATENZA area about 31 Oct[ober], and accommodation was found for them. […]
By this time, the men were gradually moving South – some because they wanted to go, and others because the Italians were getting restive and food was scarce. I consented to their going because we were by then too thick on the ground.


Neame, with two other high officers, left the area and was evacuated south of the frontline. At the beginning of November, it was supposed to be Gambier-Parry’s turn, and the officers went to a meeting in Bagno di Romagna, but the plan never came off. With Combe, Todhunter, and Ranfurly, therefore, he returned to Strabatenza. Another attempt was made on 20 November, but this, too, was a failure. Meanwhile, the enemy repression became more and more threatening.

At the beginning of Dec[ember] it began to be clear that our organisation was in trouble. We heard that some of its members had been arrested and that the supply of money was beginning to fail. Towards the end of Dec[ember] I was visited by two representatives of the organisation who gave me a certain amount of money and promised more. The promised money did not arrive, and we heard nothing further at that time from the organisation.

Disconnected from their network, Gambier-Parry and his companions can only wait. Only on 6 January 1944, « Greek whom I had previously met arrived unexpectedly at STRABATENZA, saying he had been sent by a British organisation working from ROME, and it was decided that Brigadiers ARMSTRONG and STIRLING and myself should go with him to ROME». The three decided to make an attempt, however, in the end, only Gambier-Parry left with the Greek, as the man «thought that there was too many».

The two passed through Bibbiena, where they caught a train heading to Arezzo. Once there, they spent two nights in the town. «We were joined by a young Italian Officer […] and by Mrs. BOYD, a British resident in FLORENCE, who had moved to AREZZO and had been helping British and American P/W in the district». On 12 January, the group took a train to Rome, arriving without incident. Gambier-Parry thus spent the following six months in the Italian capital, sheltered in a monastery. Only when the Allies finally liberated the city was he able to come out of hiding and return home after more than three years in Italy, at almost 53 years of age.

Campss related to this story


TNA WO 208/3320/48, M.I.9/S/P.G.(-) 1961: Name: Michael Denman Gambier-Parry, MC, Major General, 2nd Armoured Division, Royal Tank Regiment. Captured: Mekili, Libya, 8 April 1941. Escaped: Vincigliata, Florence. Arrived in the UK.



[1] For this act and other actions against the Germans, Chiappi was deported to Poland, where he later died of deprivation on 4 November 1944.