In the photographs above you can see Wing Commander of the RAF Eric Garrad-Cole and Mario Monti. The keen eyed amongst you will notice not only a resemblance, but that they are, in fact, the same person. Garrad-Cole was universally known as ‘Garry’ throughout his life, though thankfully for this fugitive during his time in Axis controlled Italy, only a select few knew Mario Monti as anything other than Mario.
Garrad-Cole was an Italian prisoner of war (PoW), between 1940 and 1943, after the skilled bomber pilot was shot down over Libya in 1940. After many unsuccessful escape attempts he finally got away as Italy surrendered to the Allies and Germany occupied the country.
Still in Italy, following his escape Garrad-Cole joined the ‘Rome Organisation’, a group that set about helping other escaped Allied PoWs, for the remainder of the war. This is when Garrad-Cole disguised himself as Mario Monti- growing a pencil moustache and wearing glasses. It is up to you how convincing you find this deception, however, keep in mind his masquerade certainly was effective.
During the remainder of his time in Rome, with the help of other escapees, the ‘Rome Organisation’ and Garrad-Cole helped approximately 3000 PoWs. All this was achieved while under the constant threat of his identity being revealed and being discovered. Despite several close calls Garrad-Cole managed to stay undercover until the Allied victory.
After the War ended, having returned to Great Britain, Garrad-Cole was awarded the Military Cross (MC) in 1944 for his actions. In 1955, the Wing Commander turned author as he published ‘Single to Rome’ detailing his unique and fascinating tale.
By Adam Cox- Archives Assistant
[Information sourced from Times Obituary 2003 and accessioned materials]