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Tomorrow We Escape : One Man's WWII Story of Courage and Survival from Tobruk to the Prison Camps of Occupied Europe - Tom Trumble

Tomorrow We Escape

One Man's WWII Story of Courage and Survival from Tobruk to the Prison Camps of Occupied Europe

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Published: 25th June 2014
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On a November morning in 1943, an escaped POW comes within a day's march of Allied lines after journeying hundreds of miles on foot through war-torn Italy. The young man is starving and hypothermic, and the German 10th Army stands between him and freedom.

The POW is Ian Busst, a sapper in the Royal Australian Engineers. Years later, 95-year-old Busst – the unlikely survivor – can still recall his wartime experiences in incredible detail, from the sound of a strafing Messerschmitt to the appalling vision of his two mates blown apart by a high-calibre bomb.

Busst's odyssey took him through the dark days of the Battle of Britain and fighting in the Western Desert. Captured near Tobruk during a daring night mission ahead of the German advance into Libya, he was sent to the prison camps of Italy and eventually to the dreaded Campo 57. Subjected to appalling conditions, Busst – known as 'Mad Bugger' – became obsessed with one objective: escape.

This is a thriller set amid the great battlefields and prison camps of the Second World War. Tom Trumble brings to life one man's extraordinary story of high adventure, courage, resilience and, above all, mateship.

About the Author

Tom Trumble is the author of Unholy Pilgrims and Rescue at 2100 Hours.

Author's Note

I first saw Ian Busst (pronounced 'Bewst') on the ABC's televised broadcast of the 2013 Anzac Day Parade in Melbourne. He was dressed in a dark suit and light-blue tie, proudly displaying his service medals on his breast pocket. A reporter had asked for an interview after he saw Ian standing in the Second World War Forecourt of the Shrine of Remembrance, cheering on veterans marching under the banner of the Royal Australian Engineers. Ian happily obliged.

The interview went for less than a minute. I was immediately hooked. Here was an insider's view of combat, imprisonment, escape, adventure, death and survival set amid history's greatest crisis: the Second World War. When the interview was done, I went in search of Ian. I had no great trouble reaching his family: 'Busst' is not a common surname in the White Pages. We arranged for a meeting at the Brighton Yacht Club – a building that stands a short distance from where Ian grew up – and over lunch he told me his story.

The scope of Ian's war service was extraordinary. He had participated in or witnessed several iconic moments of the Second World War: the Battle of Britain; fighting in the Western Desert; the fall of Fascist Italy; the near annihilation of Munich. But what struck me was the detail with which he could recount certain moments that took place 70 years earlier: the way a soldier held a cigarette before battle; the limp of a prison guard; the thrum of a transport ship making full speed in a storm; the smell after an air raid; the sound of a strafing Messerschmitt; the glorious taste of tinned herrings in sauce; the expression on a wounded comrade's face moments before he took his last breath.

Ian was prepared to give me full access to his thoughts throughout his experience. No part of his ordeal was off limits. But he was adamant that, if certain characters made it into the book, they had to be referred to by a pseudonym.

This book is a work of non-fiction. It does not attempt to be an all-encompassing history of the Desert War or the Allied POW experience in Italy and Germany. It is only an account of one man's wartime experience. Over seven months, I recorded 60 hours of interviews with Ian, and a further 30 hours of interviews recorded earlier were kindly made available to me by the Busst family and military enthusiast Ian Rowland. It was written in the closest possible collaboration with the protagonist and reflects his views. Conversations have been recounted as best as they can be remembered. Dates, times and locations have been confirmed through a wide range of official reports, personnel records, secondary sources and other interviews held in the National Australian Archives and the Australian War Memorial.

There were challenges in corroborating elements of the story. Almost all the men that came into Ian's orbit were either killed during the war or are long-since deceased. To that end, I view this book as Ian Busst's war memoir, albeit one written in the third person.

Tom Trumble Prologue

On the eastern slope of Monte Cassino in the Italian region of Lazio there was a road. It was made of gravel and dirt, wide enough to bear a horse-drawn carriage or a motor vehicle. The road sliced through occasional copses of high-rising pine at the mountain's base before cutting across the rocky southern face, all the way up to a Benedictine abbey on the summit.

A solitary figure could be seen labouring up the road on the morning of 15 November 1943. He wore a buttoned-up shirt that flapped around his wasted body and ill-fitting brown trousers, both donations from an Italian partisan operating in the Umbrian Apennines. One of the soles of his worn-out boots had come away at the toe, and his feet were blistered and bleeding. He carried a hessian bag that pulled his shoulders into a hunch. Inside the bag was a Leica camera, an Australian Army pay book, a map of Italy, a canteen of water and a few pieces of fruit.

The man had walked from the nearby village of Cassino. A local named Lorenzo had told the man that the walk was six miles to the summit and would take less than two hours. Lorenzo had said to climb the road until he reached the abbey on the hill and then forge his own path west down to the valley. The man doubted much of what Lorenzo had told him; doubted his name was even Lorenzo. Many Italians were falsifying their names, and for good reason. The punishment for helping escaped prisoners of war (POWs) was death.

Nearing the summit, the man heard an artillery barrage echo around the valley. The sound reminded him of the German anti- tank gun that had started the nightmare. He remembered the way the gun had turned the desert night into day; had blown apart the truck directly in front of him; had reduced his comrades to pulp.

He pushed the thought from his mind and continued climbing. The ground evened out and then, at last, it came into view – the abbey on the hill. The man skirted the side of a cliff edge, drawn magnetically to the building that loomed before him. But exhaustion had made him careless. He was horribly exposed on ground that would soon be contested. He should have known the mountain was being watched.

When the two German soldiers shouted for him to halt, the man kept walking. He needed time to study the ground, to weigh up his options. He stole a glance over the edge of the mountain, noticed the ledge jutting out from the cliff 15 feet below. The ledge marked the end of a thin goat track, far too steep for human feet to negotiate. The grey-uniformed soldiers shouted words the man did not understand. He looked around and saw them running at him, faces shaded beneath steel helmets, grenades dancing around their belts, fingers brushing against the triggers of their assault rifles.

After all the years held captive, the hundreds of miles walked, the countless brushes with death, it came down to this moment – standing on the edge of a cliff, deciding on whether to jump. The man knew that if he missed the ledge, he would die. Almost a better option compared with recapture. The man inched his way along the cliff and positioned himself directly above the ledge. The Germans clocked his intentions. They pointed their guns directly at the man's head and prepared to fire.

ISBN: 9780670078066
ISBN-10: 0670078069
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 320
Published: 25th June 2014
Dimensions (cm): 23.5 x 15.5  x 2.1
Weight (kg): 23.5