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Great Adventures: Escape to Mount Kenya

Pat Kinsella retells the escapade of three Italian POWs, who staged an outrageous breakout from a World War II prison camp – to climb a mountain…
MUSING ON A CHALLENGE While held in a prison camp deep in the wilds of Africa, Italian POW Felice Benuzzi painted his inspirational view of Mount Kenya, and planned an illicit ascent of its peak
FELICE BENUZZI/STEFANIA BENUZZI ARCHIVE X1, SANTACHIARA ARCHIVE X1

When amateur mountaineer Felice Benuzzi first laid eyes on Mount Kenya, on 13 May 1942, he was completely smitten. Entranced. Instantly possessed with the idea of climbing it. The fact that he was in prison, with no release date in sight, only heightened the Italian alpinist’s inherent urge to inhale the East African mountain air.

Benuzzi knew a long-term escape effort from his prisoner-of-war camp was bound to end with failure, additional punishment, and possibly a bullet. But a bid for temporary freedom – just enough liberty to summit Africa’s second-highest peak – perhaps that might be possible. The last place his British captors would think to look for an absconder, he reasoned, was at the top of a mountain.

All he had to do was magic up some mountaineering equipment, accumulate two weeks’ rations, fashion sufficient clothing from his equatorial allowance to survive in sub-zero temperatures, get through a locked gate and past armed guards, elude capture in a country where skinny white men in civvies invariably had a price on their head, avoid being chomped or trampled by African wildlife, pick a route up a 5,000-metre mountain with no map, accomplish a feat requiring immense physical endurance with a body mangled by malnutrition, and then break back into prison. What could go wrong?

With a duplicated key, the trio escaped through this gate into the prison’s vegetable garden, and beyond.
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The April 2016 issue of History Revealed.