The other Great Escape: Imprisoned by Mussolini in an Italian castle, the British Generals could have sat out the war in comfort. Instead they tunnelled their way to freedom — with knives and forks…

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scaping from a prisoner-of-war camp is, you might imagine, a young man’s game. All that sweaty slog of digging, running and hiding demands vigor and vitality.

Suitable for Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson types, as in The Great Escape, but not for the middle-aged and beyond. Yet that was the common factor among the inmates of one particular World War II compound — Castello di Vincigliata, a forbidding Italian fortress of medieval origins on a hilltop a few miles from Florence.

Here an extraordinary, and largely forgotten, wartime story — brought back to life in this Boys’ Own account — was played out in the years between 1940 and 1943, when madcap Mussolini was briefly masquerading as king in Europe alongside Hitler.

Vincigliata was Il Duce’s mini-Colditz, holding an elite band of high-ranking British prisoners — four generals, six brigadiers, three colonels and an air vice-marshal — all of whom had fallen into Italian hands.

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