Homecoming of Woolacombe Soldier – Driver Richard Tossell 1943

Grand to be Back

Homecoming of Woolacombe Repatriated Soldier


Ambulance Driver Richard G. Tossell, of Glen Villa, Woolacombe was one of the service men repatriated from Italy who reached England recently. He has a wife and two children. He is the son of Mr. George Tossell, of Church Cottages, Shirwell, and before the war was employed as a bus driver on the Barnstaple-Ilfracombe route. On Good Friday Mrs. Tossell received the news of the safe arrival of her husband in the country, and he reached Woolacombe on Tuesday of last week. He was taken prisoner during the enemy’s Libyan attack in the Spring of 1941. He was lavish is his praise of the Red Cross Prisoners of War Fund Committee.


“After we had been taken prisoner,” Driver Tossell told a “Journal-Herald” representative, “we were put into a compound fenced with barbed wire and left there for six days and we were fed on half a tin of English bully beef and half a pint of water each per day. The bully beef was taken from the supplies that the enemy had captured, and the water was terrible stuff to drink, because the Italians had poured diesel oil into the wells.

Driver Tossell said that the prisoners embarked from Tripoli for Italy in small cargo boats. “We were battened down in the holds with little room to move. The bottom of the hold was covered with old mattresses on which we could lie down best we could. There was a tub of water into which we could dip our drinking cups. We were kept below until the boat reached Naples, where we disembarked and marched through the streets to the railway state.” “At Naples” Driver Tossell remarked “the people were really hostile and threw rotten eggs and apples at us. Our ultimate destination was a pleasant place among the Alps. It was well known for winter sports, and near the Brenner Pass. The people were quite friendly, and tried to talk to us through the barbed wire fence. They used to cycle from villages for miles around to see us. The good thing at this camp was that we used to receive plenty of Red Cross parcels.”

In October, 1941, Driver Tossell said the prisoners were removed to a camp at Sulmona, situated among the mountains. The camp was surrounded by barren country and there they met Allies from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

“From the few words we could exchange with guards and civilians the impressions the Italians had was the the British had got all the food and all the money and the Italians themselves had very little. That was often their complaint.

“ I think the Italian civilians were getting less food than we were. I remember an Italian workman who came to our camp, and all he had to eat was a dry and very poor looking loaf. He had nothing to eat with it. If it had not been for the Red Cross parcels things would have been in a terrible state for us, both as regards food and clothing. Until we received army kit sent out by the Red Cross we were wearing anything we could get.

“in the prison camps we received a large number of books from the Red Cross. When I left the Sulmona Camp the library consisted of 3,000 books, some fiction, and there was also a good collection of technical books. The libraries were made up of books sent by the Red Cross and those received by individuals from their relatives and friends, and were run by men who had been librarians in civvy street.

“We were glad when we entrained for Lucca, where we were transferred to a hospital train. There were Italian Red Cross orderlies on that train to look after us. We arrived at Spezia, in Northern Italy, when the port was bombed. The train was travelling with lights on without the blinds drawn. The Red Cross could not have been discernible from the air. The train made an extra spurt and pulled up in a tunnel. Three sticks of bombs fell near the entrance to the tunnel and the blast shook the train. We remained in that tunnel till daylight and next morning we could see several big fires in the port and near the centre of the city. People came to the tunnel for shelter and we could hear them talking in a very disturbed way.

“When we reached Lisbon the people gave us a great welcome and literally showered cigarettes, fruit, sweets and food on us. It was a great moment when we boarded the boat for England. Red Cross nurses looked after us, and to meet these brave and good women was like a touch of home. We were well fed on the boat and all the way home to England. We hardly knew what to do with ourselves, so excited were we at arriving home again, and it is grand to be back in Woolacombe.

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