Sunday 5 August 2012

In My Father's Footsteps

Fording a small stream on the cycleway
above the River Fella

I always thought they were brave, but having travelled part of their escape route – I am now stunned they thought they could escape through this harsh countryside and get back to their troops.

Spittal an der Drau, the Carnic Alps, Hermagor, Pontebba, Chiusaforte, the River Fella, Venzone, Gemona di Friuli, Montemaggiore and Caporetto (Kobarid in Slovenian), these names, but particularly Chiusaforte, have been like Folk Law in our family.

During WWII when Italy switched sides to join the Allies, my father with his Prisoner-of-War ‘in-mates’ from Gavi Castle, were moved by the Germans by train in September 1943 via Villach to Spittal.  Within 24 hours he’d escaped from Spittal with fellow Kiwi Colin Armstrong and Scottish Tommy McPherson and were faced with the Carnic Alps, narrow steep sided valleys and in Italy, the River Fella racing through the deep valleys below.

In Chiusaforte (NE Italy), Colin and Tommy were captured,  my father Allan pushed on alone.  He was encouraged near Gemona di Friuli to head East towards the Yugoslavian Partisans, being re-captured some 3 months later.

Pontebba - we cycled through it but
during Allan's escape he skirted
this village.
At Chiusaforte - where Allan found
himsef alone after the capture of his
two companions in this village.
Our goal was to try to find these villages and extraordinary luck was with us.  A fellow cyclist gave us his map of a cycleway from Villach to Venice, and from Tarvisio to Gemona del Friuli we dawdled along a gentle decline on the cycle route on the former railway line through the villages of Pontebba, Chiusaforte and Venzone, all the while running beside the River Fella.

Chiusaforte - today a sleepy village, many of the houses renovated, others not.

I kept saying to Mike, this is a cycle trip of a lifetime.  The sheerness of the mountains on both sides of the valley, the breathtaking beauty of the terrain was enough in itself, but to see for myself the terrain my father and his pals escaped through, was of such historical importance to me, it truly was a cycle trip of a lifetime.  
Allan’s route took him East into what is now Slovenia but we head South to Venice.


  1. Just to let you know Hamish & I have been keeping an eye on your adventures. But this post in particular has got to be worth a great rousing cheer. Your enrichment spreads like ripples in a pond.

  2. Great story (and beautiful pictures, as ever), but I'm dying to know what happened to Allan and his fellow escapees in the end? Did they all make it home eventually and, if so, how? And how did they escape from Spittal?

  3. Fabulous stories, beautiful pictures, what an amazing journey you two are having. Very inspiring. I've done some biking in Canada (amazing bike trails/paths etc everywhere!) and am now living in Ireland training to ride the length of the country in 3 weeks. You two and the beast should be here too! Happy peddaling, Helen x

  4. Judy do glad you got to visit some of the places your father wrote about. Having read his book and knowing how incredibly proud you were of him it must having been truly a highlight of your trip. I am sure he would have been watching over you and Mike with delight. George xxx

  5. Wow, what a story. And yes, beautiful pictures.


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