In memory of my father: L/Cpl Tom C Johnson, T/72757, RASC
My father was in the Territorial
Army before 1939 and volunteered for active service at the outbreak of WWII. He
joined the RASC as a driver in 550 Company, 1st Cavalry Division, Ammunition
& Petrol Company, Mechanised Cavalry Brigade. After training, he was sent to
Palestine and then into the North African campaign in Egypt and Libya.
L/Cpl Tom Johnson 72757 pre-war
He was captured at the battle of Mechili on 8th April 1941. He then spent four years and
12 days as a PoW in both Italy and Germany till his eventual release and repatriation on
19th April 1945.
Mechili was an old Ottoman fort, 250 kms/160 miles east of Benghazi in the Libyan desert. Some 2,000 Allied troops including Australians and Indians were captured by Rommel's Afrika Korps on that day.
Along with many others, my father was shipped off to a PoW camp in Italy. When Italy capitulated in September 1943, the Italian guards opened the gates and he was briefly free but was soon recaptured by German troops. He was then transported by train to Germany where he
was obliged to work in Arbeitskommando (work camp) W/610 "in the Wittenberg
I have only learned all this since starting my research into my father's wartime experiences. Before this, I only knew that he had been a PoW
– somewhere. Like most of his fellow PoWs, he never wanted to talk about his imprisonment while he was alive. But I did know that he had contracted severe eczema during his internment
in Italy and had spent a considerable amount of time in various camp infirmaries and external hospitals.
Apart from a handful of letters sent from the Italian camp to my mother, the only documents I had to enable me to start my research were his army pay book, his demob
payslip, a disability pension application listing all the places where he had received treatment
for his illness and a PoW postcard from the Italian camp – Campo PG 78,
Sulmona – complete with censor's stamp, dated October 1942. So I began
my research there.