Organisations/clubs: Shipley Musical Union; Shipley Operatic Society
Rolls of Honour:
Regiment: Yorks & Lancs
On 22 November 1918, the Shipley Times & Express carried a report:“How we got through God above only knows,” is Private Gordon Illingworth’s comment on his escape from being a prisoner of war since 24th June last.Pte Illingworth is with the Lancs & Yorks Regt having offered himself under the Derby Scheme under which he was afterwards called up.He lives at 33 Valley Street, Windhill, is a brother of County Councillor Ernest Illingworth J.P. and is a well-known member of the Shipley Musical Union and of the Shipley Operatic Society.With several others he was out reconnoitring on the Italian front on 24th June when they were cut off and taken prisoner.A couple of weeks or so ago a body of them managed to escape, after four days of thrilling adventure through the retiring Austrian Lines and on getting back safely to the British lines they were “treated like lords” so he states in a letter to his mother.On 20 December the paper published a much fuller account of Gordon’s escape:Former prisoner Pte Gordon Illingworth, York and Lancaster Regt, of 33 Valley Street, Windhill, son of Mrs Illingworth and the late Mr John Henry Illingworth, is now home.He was taken prisoner at Asiago, Italy, on 15th June 1918 by the Austrians. He remained in the hands of the enemy till about the end of October.There were nearly 1,000 other prisoners of whom about 113 were British, at a place called Neunarcki in the Trentino valley in Old Italy, and so feeble was the guard that they could not properly supervise the prisoners.
Day after day prisoners were escaping from the camp and though no Britishers were shot, a few Russians and Italians lost their lives in attempting to regain liberty.Gordon Illingworth was amongst those who were lucky to escape.The situation was rather in favour of Illingworth and his comrades. The Austrians were retreating before the Italians and the British prisoners were more or less abandoned.The men simply broke camp and set their faces in the direction of home which meant a bolt in the first place for Italy.RaidedIn one direction was a stream of Austrians in the other a contingent of home-bound prisoners making for freedom. But the difficulties of the latter had only commenced.Hunger assailed them. To get food was their first and main desire. They rushed into a village and raided an Italian stores and thus got enough food to last a month in case they were delayed on the journey.They went forward on the day of the raid on a six hours’ trudge and, reaching a vineyard at midnight, the party – about sixty drew up for the night.Starting off the next morning the ‘wind was put up’ by the killing of an Austrian. He was run over by a motor lorry. The journey was resumed until noon of the next day when they reached the villas of Mazzakaroon, having passed all the retiring
Austrians with the exception of a few stragglers.Here they partook of food when some Italian cavalry came up and Illingworth and his friends knew then that the day of deliverance had come.Staying in that village a day, they had ample supplies of food and the poor Italian civilians clustered round them, glad to share in the macaroni, sprigatti (sic) and polento which comprised the men’s main diet.This food, the product of the raid, was ‘a Godsend’ after the stinted and miserable rations they had had as prisoners.From Mezzakaroon they were conveyed on the railway to Trento, a distance of about 30 kilometres and the party being carried in two trucks.At Trento they were placed in an old castle, along with other prisoners, mostly Serbians, Russians and Italians.English officerAn English officer came and took charge of the party and put them on the road for divisional headquarters, a distance again of about 30 kilometres.Commandeering an old Austrian transport waggon left in the retreat, the party set off, some on the shafts and others pushing, till by good fortune they came across a horse whose owner was disposed to give it away rather than have it stolen and the party made better progress.
Meeting a British rationing party and having no further need of the horse, they sold it to a civilian for a one-ketkorona note, which is equivalent to about fourpence in English money.The rest of the journey to the ‘boys’ was comparatively easy. Over mountain and across dale the journey progressed by rail and motor lorry to Grenetza, just behind the fighting line.At Grenetza they stayed five or six days and were given proper clothing and boots; in fact everything necessary for their comfort. They lived ‘like lords’ and the failing health and vigour of the men was renewed.SouthamptonThe armistice at this time had just been signed and they went on by stages, first to Padova and then to Genoa. From here they were conveyed in Red Cross motors to Tantona on the lines of communication.There they entrained for Cherbourg, France, and a boat completed the return to England, Southampton being reached on the last day in November.Mr Illingworth is a popular member of the Shipley Thespians, having taken the leading parts for three seasons in their performances at the Victoria Hall. He is a splendid elocutionist and humourist and as such he was in great request in this district before he went into the colours.His theatrical experience stood him in good stead while a prisoner. His sleeping companion was a step-dancer and the two contrived on several occasions to earn biscuits by dancing and singing for the Italian staff.Mr Illingworth is on a two months’ leave.