North Devon in 100 Objects 13

13. Michael Baylis’s Escape Kit

This peculiar collection of objects is a Second World War Escape kit issued to Lieutenant Michael Baylis of the Royal Devon Yeomanry.

During the War, the Yeomanry served as 142nd Field Regiment Royal Artillery.  After some time in home defence they were sent to the Mediterranean to serve in the Italian Campaign.

The invasion of Sicily on 9th/10th July 1943 was codenamed “Operation Husky”.  There appeared to be a strong possibility of being captured during the early stages of establishing a beachhead, and so escape kits were issued to some of the officers, including Lt Baylis.

The kit includes three silk maps, a hacksaw encased in rubber (very handy for hiding in your boot), a small compass and a wad of French War-time currency.  The Italian War-time currency is missing – perhaps borrowed by a fellow soldier at some point.

In the event, the invasion was unexpectedly easy.  Lt Baylis wrote to his brother:

‘It was a scene and a sensation that I shall always remember… Some ships were firing inland at long range but apart from this there was nothing at all. No bombers, no naval battle, no coastal defence shelling, in fact nothing to welcome us as we nosed in. Sailors and others were wading and swimming about in bathing costumes, some of the larger ships were broadcasting “Music while you Work” over their loudspeaker systems, and several commandos sat about eating watermelon… What a peculiar country, I thought, when I glanced round.’

Lieutenent Baylis never had to use his kit.

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