Richard Crawsney Partridge

WO 208/3324/166

Richard Crawsney Partridge, a Welsh farmer serving in North Africa, was captured in Benghazi on 28 January 1942, before his 22nd birthday. In Italy, he was transferred at first to PG 66 Capua and then to PG 35, Padula, where he remained for more than a year (March 1942 – June 1943). During this period, he and other PoWs dug a tunnel «about 80 yards long, [which] ran beneath the floor of a room, ending in a cornfield». The first group of diggers managed to escape, but they were all recaptured in about two weeks. The second group, which included Partridge, could not even try, as the guards discovered the tunnel after the escape of the first group.

Finally, he was transferred to PG 19 Bologna, where he immediately started digging another tunnel under the mess hall. However, «before it was completed, the Armistice was declared». The Germans took over the camp, and Partridge and his companions decided to draw six names to determine who would hide in the unfinished tunnel.

The six were: – Lieut. CROSS, Worcestershire Regt; Capt. BLACKMAN, Lieut. HARRIS, Royal Engineers; a Russian Paratrooper Lieut. Peter (? NAUMOFF) (surname forgotten), myself, and one other officer who backed out at the last moment. The five of us hid in the tunnel chamber for 30 hours. Then, the heat and the stuffy atmosphere drove us out. We got through the tunnel into the canteen and then out through the broken wire under cover of darkness. This was 11 Sep[tember] 43.

Partridge and the Russian paratrooper headed towards Rimini but were intercepted by some Carabinieri in the village of Brisighella. After two days in a cell, they were passed over to the German garrison of Forlì.

We stated we were private soldiers, and we were taken to the Artillery Barracks in BOLOGNA where we worked in the armoury. Our party of 45 worked on rifles, and we arranged to remove the bolts from every other rifle we handled. This was done successfully, and we were also able to steal tools.

One week later, the PoWs were loaded onto a train headed to Germany. However, they soon devised a plan to escape using the tools taken in Bologna: «we managed to remove the ventilators from the closed truck in which we were travelling and on the night of 24 Sep[tember] 43 Pte. MOORCROFT, South African Forces, and I jumped off the train near TREVISO and went into the mountains».

On 5 October 1943, the two escapees ran into two partisans near Conegliano, who brought them to a hut in the mountains. Partridge and Moorcroft remained there for some time until the arrival of another Allied officer, a Seargent Major coming from the partisan command of Brescia (most likely a liaison officer). The officer stayed in the area for a while, requesting supplies and arms to be dropped on the partisans’ positions and then moved to Udine. Moorcroft instead left for Brescia, probably to bring a message to the partisan command. «This was the last I heard of either of these two men»..[1]

Partridge moved to the village of Miane, where he joined a partisan band led by an Italian officer and an Allied officer, Captain John Heslop, who led some 50 former PoWs. However, after a German attack during which a few partisans and all the HQ documentation were captured, the band disintegrated, and Partridge moved again, this time to the village of Pielungo on 26 December 1943, where he remained for three months. «I was given shelter by a rich Italian who was living at SAN VITO AL TAGLIAMENTO (UDINE). He had helped many other escaped P/W».

When spring arrived, Partridge moved again, and at the end of April, he returned to Miane, where he joined a Communist partisan band. His idea was to rejoin Heslop and, indeed, «I eventually found [him] living in a hut in the woods. He was being supplied with food by the local people». Partridge settled in Pezzo (sic.), where he joined another group of garibaldini. «We blew up railways and made several attacks on German garrisons». The band grew to 200 men, but Partridge decided to leave the area. He had learned that a British officer, «Beckett», had been parachuted near Pielungo, and he wanted to meet him.

«Beckett» was the nom de guerre of Count Manfred Czernin, a scion of the European aristocracy. Czernin was also a member of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and was in Friuli to contact the local partisan bands and organise them. Partridge met him while he was a guest of the Osoppo brigade, perhaps near Pielungo (where Czernin landed). The agent decided that it was time for Partridge to go home and tell the Allied commands what he had learned while living with the Italian partisans.

On 8 June 1944, therefore, Partridge left with a group of 10 British and South African former PoWs. The group marched with little rest. They crossed the Tagliamento river and reached Cividale del Friuli. They then crossed the Isonzo at Caporetto. Finally, they moved to Chiapovano, where the 9th Slovene Korps was stationed. Here, they met two British liaison officers who told them to move south, deeper into the Balkans. The group passed through San Pietro and Postumia and then crossed into Yugoslavia at the end of June.

Partridge was thus evacuated via plane on 27 August 1944 and reached Bari, from where he was quickly brought to Monopoli, where the SOE HQ was. Here, he was interrogated by Colonel Wilkinson and Lieutenant Brown (both members of SOE) and then brought back to Bari. Partridge was considered useful because he remained in Bari for about a month, and the SOE commands considered sending him back to the Dolomites with a radio as a liaison officer. However, it was decided that «the scheme was not worth pursuing, owing to the changed Allied positions» (the end of the Allied offensive on the Gothic Line).

Partridge was thus able to return to the United Kingdom. He left Naples by boat on 8 October 1944 and reached Liverpool on 20th of the same month, almost three years after being captured in Libya.



TNA WO 208/3324/166, Partridge, R C. Escape/Evasion Reports: Code MI9/SPG: 2662.



[1] It is unclear whether Moorcroft ever arrived in Brescia, but there was a former South African PoW named Moorcroft among the men of the «Gela» British liaison mission on Mount Grappa. Unfortunately, we do not know whether Moorcroft survived the brutal Nazi-fascist attack against the local partisans on the Grappa in September 1944.