Scene opens in northern Italy. The date is Saturday,
20 January 1945. The weather is abysmally cold. A group
of 16 Allied servicemen, in mufti and on the loose in
Italy, is climbing towards the formidable Alpine frontier
that marks the end of awful Italy and the beginning
of free Switzerland
Led by three Italian guides,
the group comprises five Russians, four South Africans,
three Americans, two Australians and two New Zealanders.
The men are wearing Italian civilian clothing, and seem
reasonably well protected against the biting cold.
South Africans are Rfm. John Frederick Welsh (29), his
younger brother, Rfm. Edgar Aubrey Welsh (26) (both
Rifles); Pte. Charles van Rensburg and Pte. Douglas
William Clarke (26) (both Umvoti Mounted Rifles).
the defeat of the Axis clearly in sight, the Second
World War is in its final phase, but our group cannot
know that. They have lived in limbo for months and have
not heard any reliable news about the way the never-ending
war is going. All they wish to do is to seek refuge
in neutral Switzerland.
Mount Gridone is located near
the Italian-Swiss border high up in the
and by the party arrives at the deserted Italian-Swiss
border high up in the Alps. Standing on the ridge of
a towering mountain which today we know was Mount Gridone
("Limidario" to the Italians), they peer down
with much relief into the snow-covered Swiss canton
of Ticino. It is some time after midday. Up where they
are, they are already within Switzerland – but only
just. No border fence and, on these frozen heights,
no sign of Italian border guards.
The three Italian
guides leave them and turn back. Elated, the happy 16
stop only to smile and shake hands. Congratulations
– freedom at last! Their spirits perking up considerably,
they move further and further down into Swiss territory,
stiffly at first because of the unaccustomed descent.
The lakeside town of Brissago is their goal, which,
their knowledgeable guides had assured them, could be
reached without difficulty before nightfall.
the fitter men can get downhill quicker than their slower
comrades, the group loses its cohesion. Soon three separate
groups dot the mountainside and the valley below. Two
smaller groups are fleet of foot and make good time.
A larger one, however, seems to move awkwardly and lags
mountain of death
16 Allied soldiers who comprised
the escape group of 20 January
J. McGowan (USA)
E. Lundgren (USA)
J. Hoyne (USA)
E.A. Welsh (SA)
Pte. C.C. van
Pte. D.W. Clarke
Pte. R.R. Cameron (NZ)
W. Frost (NZ)