Veteran shares his POW story

John Redvers Neil Virgo who is appearing in a television programme, telling the story of his time as a POW in World War II.
John Redvers Neil Virgo who is appearing in a television programme, telling the story of his time as a POW in World War II.

A WISBECH pensioner has bravely relived his experiences as a Prisoner of War (POW) in World War II on a television programme.

John Redvers Neil Virgo was filmed for ‘The Long March to Freedom’, a three-part series for channel Yesterday that started last Thursday and is running for the next two weeks.

He said it was difficult to share his memories of the three years he spent in Italian and German POW camps and admitted breaking down during filming.

Mr Virgo was a gunner in the Navy, serving aboard the Tribal-Class destroyer HMS Bedouin in the Mediterranean. It was torpedoed in the Battle of Mid-June by the Italians and Mr Virgo was actually credited with shooting down the plane that delivered the missile.

Unfortunately, his efforts were to no avail and the ship went down on June 15, 1942. Mr Virgo spent ten hours in the water, clinging to a rope on the side of a raft, before being picked up by the Italians and taken to a camp at Pantelleria.

He was there 18 months before being transported to Stalag VIII-B POW camp at Lamsdorf, in Germany.

Mr Virgo said: “I went on different working parties, on the railways, roads, and finished in the coal mines. I went on a death march and walked through Germany to Czechoslovakia, then back to Germany. We were walking 30 miles a day and I saw many people die on that journey. It was horrendous.”

Mr Virgo was in Bavaria, in south-east Germany, when news came that the Americans were there. He and some other soldiers were released by the Germans and went to a nearby farmhouse. They spent nine days there before the Americans arrived and transported them back to England.

Mr Virgo was shell-shocked from his experiences and spent six months rehabilitating at Cholmondeley Castle when he got home.

His family had known he was a POW, although there were three months following his initial capture where he was missing.

“My mother knew something had happened to me,” Mr Virgo said. “She woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, her hair soaked, and said, ‘Something’s happened to Neil.’”

• ‘The Long March to Freedom’ is showing on Yesterday, Sky channel 537, Virgin TV channel 203 and Freeview channel 12, at 10pm on Thursday, November 17 and 24.