- Contributed by
- Somerset County Museum Team
- People in story:
- John Salvatore Zuncheddu
- Location of story:
- PoW Camp No 44, Goathurst, Somerset
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 22 April 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Phil Sealey of the Somerset County Museum Team on behalf of John Salvatore Zuncheddu and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions
John Salvatore Zuncheddu was born in July 1920, at Burcei, near Cagliari, in the southern part of the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean. He left elementary school aged fourteen and worked as a labourer crushing stones for road making. Six years later, aged twenty, he enlisted in the Italian Army. He joined the 28th Regiment and went to Ravenna for his basic training.
When WWII started he travelled to Sicily for embarkation to Tripoli, Libya; he felt inexperienced and untrained for what was to come. Near Tobruk, in Libya, the British Army took him and his whole platoon prisoner without the Italians firing a shot. Although feeling apprehensive he was glad in a way, he now no longer faced the prospect of being killed or wounded. He was first sent to a PoW camp in Alexandria, Egypt, and after four or five weeks he was sent by boat to another camp near Johannesburg, in South Africa. A couple of months later the PoWs were dispersed to other camps, some to England, and others to Canada and America. John was happy that he was going to England and not Canada or America; he felt that at least England was on the same continent as his homeland. He left South Africa by boat arriving in Liverpool sometime in July 1941; from there he was taken to a camp at Acton, in London. In yet another camp he was questioned and asked, “What qualifications have you got?”
Eventually he arrived at a PoW camp [Camp No 44] just outside the village of Goathurst, near Bridgwater, in Somerset; at the time he thought that the camp held a couple of hundred prisoners, men from all different parts of Italy. The prisoners were housed in “this great big round thing”, a Nissen hut. They were asked if they were willing to go and work on the farms in the area. Less than a half of the PoWs agreed to work, and those who volunteered were called ‘co-operators’, and they were considered to be traitors by the other prisoners. Those who would not co-operate, some believing that Mussolini would triumph, and would have them shot when they eventually returned home, were still put to work, in gangs. The ‘co-operators’ were taken, in groups of twenty, by lorry each day to various places in the area to work, to places fairly near the camp, e.g., Langport, a town fourteen or fifteen miles away, or further afield, on occasions, to the other side of Bristol some forty miles away. The prisoners were given a ration of one packet of cigarettes a week and paid 5d [2.08p] a day if they stayed in camp. Those that chose to work outside could earn more, and spend the money in a mobile shop that came into the camp, to buy extra cigarettes or other goods. In camp plastic circular shaped tokens were used as currency, those marked No 1 were worth a 1d [.41p], those marked 5 were worth 5d [2.08p] and those marked 10 were worth 10d [4.16p]. The PoWs could write home to their families, leaving the envelopes unsealed so that they could be read and censored. There were no restrictions on the number of letters sent or received, but it sometimes took nearly a month for a letter to get home and for a reply to be received back.
After about six months John left the camp each day to work, carrying out general labouring jobs, which included hedging and ditching. One-time, at Martock, a village in South Somerset, he helped to construct a building. Later, he and another Sardinian, Nino, went to work at Washford, in West Somerset, where a Miss Thorner who ran White Farm employed them. Miss Thorner who spoke Italian, had often travelled in Italy before the war. The two men were fed and slept on the farm, sleeping in part of the granary. After returning to Goathurst for a while John moved out to another farm at Luccombe, near the coastal town of Minehead. Here he carried out general farming duties: cutting with a scythe and baling grass, and feeding the cows. The farm was isolated, and it was a long way to walk to the nearest Catholic Church in Minehead, and he became lonely. The PoWs were not allowed to make contact with anyone, and were restricted to a five-mile radius from their workplace. In their distinctive brown uniform with yellow flashes the police easily spotted them if they wandered too far.
John did not stay long at Luccombe, and after returning to camp for a time; he took another job at Burtle, a village on the Somerset Levels, at Lower [Watt] Farm working for Mr Ted Moxey. After a year: feeding the cows, milking them by hand, and cleaning the milking stalls, in 1945, with the war over, he was to be repatriated.
The PoWs were assembled at a camp at Wookey Hole, near the City of Wells, and prepared for their journey home. The authorities then decided that those who wished it could stay in England and be released, or they could travel home. John was shipped, via London, to Naples, and then, after a week sailed on to Sardinia. Just before he left Mr Moxey’s farm he was asked, “Would you like to come back and work for me?” and John replied, “ If you get a permit I come back”, and said he would write to Mr Moxey if he was unhappy after returning home. He had taught himself English using a book named The English in Three Months.
After a time working on the construction of a dam in Sardinia, mixing cement and collecting sand from a riverbed; he wrote to Mr Moxey and agreed to return to England if he organised and sent him a permit. After eighteen months at home, in 1947, he returned to Burtle. In the spring of 1950 he made another trip to Sardinia, this time to get married. On the 15th April 1950 he married Rosetta, the daughter of a contractor he once worked for, and he and his new wife returned to England to live and work; after a couple of years a baby was born.
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