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Bill Anderson - unbelievable but true

How a memo from Churchill to Roosevelt about a bridge in Orvietto, connected to my grandfather who was being transported to Germany.

I remembered the paragraph in the Red Cross letter :

" .... unofficial information recaptured by Germans 16/01/44 last seen 28/1/44 travelling from Italy to Germany train bombed no news since."

What was this about ?

I posted a question on a WW2 chat board which I used, in the remote hope that someone might know about the train story.  Surprisingly I had a response from someone who remembered seeing an “Escape and Evasion Report” about a train where many British servicemen lost their lives.  I was told that there was a report held by the National Archives (WO361 / 668) that contained enquiries into P.O.W.’s lost when the train they were travelling on was bombed.  The date given was 28/1/44 and the place was Orvieto in Italy. 


The catalogue for the National Archives at Kew shows there is a document about the bombing of the train.  Catalogue Reference WO 361/668 WO361 - War Office: Department of the Permanent Under Secretary of State: Casualties (L) Branch: Enquiries into Missing Personnel, 1939-45 War Record Summary Scope and content - Italy: train transporting British prisoners of war bombed by Allies at Allerona near Orvieto, 28 January 1944 Covering dates - 1944 Oct 01 - 1945 Aug 31 Availability - Open Document, Open Description, Open on Transfer Former reference (Department) M 877 Held by The National Archives.

I then obtained a digital copy of the National Archives file on the disaster.  It confirms that William Anderson was on this train and presumably killed in the bombing.  There is only one mention of him, as a handwritten addendum on a list of those presumed dead on the bombed train.  It was handwritten by someone after the original list was printed and contains his service number, S/151306, and rank, Sergeant - third down on right hand side (see below). 

From another source, I found, during one of the official enquiries into the train bombing, Sergeant Anderson is referred to in the testimony of 7676195 Private Cyril F. Morris RAOC in WO361/668 :

“The above N.C.O. was known to me whilst in Camp 54 until September 1943. I next saw him in the same camp after we had both been recaptured by the Germans in January 1944 and I spoke to him at frequent intervals. I also saw Sgt. Anderson on the train at Fara Sabina station after we had been embarked for transportation to Germany. The car in which Sgt. Anderson was travelling was roughly in the centre of the train, my own car being further to the rear. Thus it appears that the car in which the above N.C.O. was travelling was among those which were apparently hit by the subsequent bombing of the train at Orvieto on Jan 28. I have not since met anyone who can substantiate this belief.”


It seems that William must have been captured at Tobruk by the Italians, transported and sent to a POW camp in Italy, presumably decided to go on the run around September 1943 when the Italian Armistice was announced, was then recaptured by the Germans on 16th January 1944 and was last seen on 28th January 1944 travelling on a train taking prisoners from Italy to Germany which was bombed by the Allies, and unluckily, being in one of those central carriages which was completely destroyed by the bombing !  Is that bad luck or what ?

It seems the deadly air attack was by around 32 US bomber and fighter planes including B26’s from the 12th US Air Force.  It was obviously a terrible friendly fire accident and the target was the bridge not the train.  The reports into the incident are unclear as to the number of casualties but could have been around 500 out of a total of 800 being transported from the POW camp, Fara Sabina in Italy, to Germany. 

Not for the first time in this extraordinary story, I thought that was that and what more could I possibly learn ?  What indeed ?

Linked toWilliam Anderson Lamond

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