A WARNING not to whistle probably saved the life of a Second World War soldier, who spent five months hiding from the Germans in an Italian village.
And at the age of 93, Eric Batteson, of Great Boughton, has travelled back to central Italy full of gratitude for the villagers who risked their lives to ensure that he and three comrades were kept safe following their escape from a prisoner of war camp.
Eric travelled to Colleregnone last month with his wife and two of his four daughters as part of a Big Lottery-funded programme to enable veterans to visit places in the world where they served.
In 1943, Lance Bombardier Batteson was incarcerated at Macerata in Italy when he and his friends noticed that a gate had been inadvertently left unlocked following a change of guard.
He said: “We gathered together a few things which included any food from Red Cross parcels and as it started to go dark, watched for our best chance. When the guard in the pill-box which overlooked the gate seemed to have his mind on other things, we slipped through the gate.”
The four escapees hid in the woods and, travelling only by night, headed for the mountains.
After a day or two they came across a small barn, where they decided to stay and then started towards a small hamlet nearby.
“There were only about eight houses and the people were all very friendly so it didn’t take us long to decide to stay,” said Eric.
The men stayed at the barn in the first instance and girls from the village brought them food. They were given clothes to dress like peasants, taught to speak a bit of Italian and given good advice on how to avoid detection.
“I was much given to whistling at the time,” said Eric. “I was told not to whistle because Italians don’t - and anybody across the valley, hearing it, might begin to wonder who was doing it.”
In the winter the villagers invited the soldiers in to their homes and Eric stayed with a couple called Pompilio and Rosa Buratti.
Eric emphasised the danger his new friends were in by hiding British soldiers, with an horrific tale of the slaughter of 12 men.
“The Germans had heard that someone had betrayed them in the neighbouring village of Foce.
“They rounded up 12 young men from the village and shot them.”
Eric and his friend Alick Manson eventually left Colleregone to attempt to join up with the British forces in Italy but were recaptured by the Germans at the coast. They ended the war in a POW camp in Hanover.
Eric hasn’t waited almost 70 years to thank his Italian collaborators.
Three years after the end of the war, in 1948, Eric returned to Colleregnone to see his friends. Since then he has been back with various members of his family. This recent trip meant Eric could introduce his daughters Claire and Bridget and their husbands Keith and Kerry to Pietro, son of Pompilio and Rosa, and his wife Angelina.
Eric and his wife Margaret travelled to Italy with the Heroes Return 2 programme. For more information visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn.