An interesting insight into life in POW camps can be gleaned by this newpaper report when Ben Shepherd of Highclose Farm was repatriated, ?Oct 1944:
Hungerford Man Repatriated - Prison Camps in Italy and Germany
After five years in the R.A.F., which have taken him from the Shetlands to Malta and on to Italy and Germany as a prisoner, W/O Benjamin A. Shepherd ("Ben"), only son of Mr and Mrs H Shepherd, is now home with his parents at Highclose, Hungerford.
Educated at Newbury Grammar School, W/O Shepherd was a student at the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester for a year. When the college closed at the outbreak of war, he volunteered for the R.A.F., and was trained in this country. After five months on operational duty in the Shetlands, he was sent to Malta and was there three weeks during the siege. Shot down while torpedoing, shipping off the coast of Greece, W/O Shepherd and the three other members of his crew spent, 24 hours in the "drink" before being picked up by an Italian destroyer.
A German officer on board treated them very well, although before they landed the Italians stripped them of everything that was lootable. Docking at Taranto(?), W/0. Shepherd and his pilot were taken to an interrogation camp in Rome, where they spent three weeks in solitary confinement. They were living on basic Italian food rations, which meant 6¾ lbs. a week, including everything from olive oil upwards. From there they were moved to the main camp at Sulmona (Camp 78), where they remained until September 1943.
Officers, NCOs and men were segregated into compounds, the whole camp being surrounded by a high wall, outside which prisoners were not allowed without a guard. Beyond the wall there was a road, which in turn was encircled by barbed wire. The camp was 2,500 strong and sports facilities were poor, for the football ground was between the wire and the wall, which meant the Italians controlled play. However, with characteristic British phlegm the men used to play cricket between the huts inside the compound. There were compensations, for the weather was very good, camp entertainments first-class, and apart from guards and roll-calls the men ran the camp themselves. Prisoners were allowed no tools and it was the enforced inactivity which was the worst aspect of prison life.
He was taken to hospital in Germany suffering from infantile paralysis and .said 'that' conditions there .were very bad. The men had no sheets or blankets, lying on palliasses, and there was no shortage of fleas or bugs! He was four-and-a-half weeks there, and was then moved to the reserve hospital of the main camp, where all the doctors and orderlies were either French or Serbian. Conditions and treatment were excellent, and at the end of three months W/0 Shepherd was sent to a convalescent hospital, and from there back to the camp, where again conditions were far from satisfactory. The huts were cold and draughty, and during the bitter German winters, many of the men went down with severe colds. Typhus broke out in the camp, but the epidemic was so carefully controlled that no lives were lost. Diphtheria followed of which W/O Shepherd was one of the victims, and on May 10th he went before the International Repatriation Commission, but did not pass and was referred to the next commission in the October.
By this time he was getting over the effects of his illness and was able to walk without a stick, taking full part in the life of the camp. The camp was efficiently run, the weather was good and the men became keen sportsmen. They had even got together a team of men to tour Great Britain after the Armistice, the proceeds to go to the Red Cross. Prisoners included troops from all the dominions and colonies and rivalry between them almost reached a pre-war pitch. Red Cross parcels were still the mainstay or the men providing as they did everything from musical instruments to sports equipment. The individual parcels came either from the Canadian or English Red Cross, and were awaited with eagerness by the men.
In September, W/0 Shepherd went to hospital in preparation for appearing before the commission again, which consisted of four Swiss specialists and five German specialists. This time he was lucky, and shortly afterwards started a long journey from Germany to Switzerland and on to Marseilles where they were received by the American Red Cross. The cruise home in the Canadian "Letitia" was something in the nature of a holiday for the men, some of whom had not seen white bread for years, and most of them arrived back in Fngland looking very fit. Docking at Liverpool, they were given an enthusiastic welcome by the Mayor and Mayoress of the city and representatives of all the services in Great Britain.
Home at last in Hungerford, W/O Shepherd said he had met both Alan Thame and Harry Meddings of Newbury as prisoners. He is now on leave and looking very fit indeed, which he attributes mainly to the excellent work of the Red Cross.