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Prisoners of War

II: The Crete Campaign—Prisoners in Greece and Germany

II: The Crete Campaign—Prisoners in Greece and Germany

Three weeks after the British evacuation from Greece those British, Australian, and New Zealand troops who were put ashore on the island of Crete had, together with the small British garrison, to defend it from invasion. With barely time to recover from fatigue, to regroup, and to take up defensive positions with the inadequate weapons available, these troops had to deal with a full-scale airborne attack. Preceded by bombing, the first units of the German air invasion force, previously assembled on the Greek mainland, landed on the island on 20 May. The invaders were superior in weapons and were in complete control of the air. Fortunately the Royal Navy made the situation less hopeless by destroying or dispersing the seaborne landing force. The enemy on Crete were at first more than held in some desperate fighting; but once their bridgehead had been strongly reinforced, the British forces were driven back in a series of defensive actions and withdrawals. There was little time for a carefully planned sea evacuation such as that from Greece, and naval losses left fewer ships available. Under such circumstances it was inevitable that many would be left behind, and after the last warship had pulled away from its position off Sfakia in the early morning of 1 June 1941, a large number of our troops still remained ashore.

Of this number some 520 New Zealand wounded had been taken prisoner either on the battlefield or in the first-aid posts and hospitals cut off from possible evacuation by the German advance.1 Apart from other odd groups similarly cut off all along the north-western sector of the island and a few stragglers on the withdrawal routes south, most of those captured were taken near the beach at Sfakia. As in Greece, not all who remained behind fell into enemy hands, and many did so only after a considerable period of liberty. A few made their way in various craft direct to North Africa; many went into hiding on the island and were undiscovered by the enemy for up to two years. Some of the latter got boats and reached Greece or one of the islands of the Aegean, and many of these were able to make good their escape to Turkey or Libya. Nevertheless the great majority of those not evacuated were rounded up by the German forces. In all 2180 of the New Zealanders in Crete became prisoners of war—the largest number to be captured in any single campaign in New Zealand's history.

Some of these had been taken prisoner near Maleme as early as

1 The figure 520 includes those who died of wounds in captivity. A good many walking wounded were able to make their way to the evacuation beach and were among the first to embark on each evacuation night.

page 61 21 May. After a brief search for arms they were immediately made to work on the airfield, dragging away wreckage and unloading planes,1 carrying wounded and burying dead. Even had they known that the Geneva Convention exempted them from such work—and most prisoners had barely heard of it—their protests at this stage would have availed them little.2 The German invasion troops had suffered heavy losses and were desperately trying to maintain their bridgehead: they were certainly in no mood to discuss the niceties of international law. A YMCA secretary was forced at rifle point to carry containers of ammunition; a chaplain was put to digging graves alongside the airfield, others to filling in shell holes and sandbagging gun emplacements. Among those pressed into service were walking wounded and dysentery cases. Some worked there for several days under fire from our own artillery and occasional bombing, suffering casualties as a result. No rations were issued and prisoners were left to find their own food.
Those who managed to avoid being thus commandeered for forced labour on the airfield were taken to a holding area near Maleme on the western bank of the Tavronitis River. This the Germans had established early in the battle for captures in the Maleme sector. There they were searched, and all papers, steel helmets, possible weapons, and occasionally valuables were taken. The Germans seem to have wasted little time in interrogation.3 One New Zealand officer who had commanded Greeks received an intensive questioning, but it was usually a cursory affair, mixed with conversation on such propaganda lines as, ‘Why come so far to fight for England?’4 In the early stages of the battle for Crete the disorganisation of the German forces probably precluded immediate interrogation; and the speed of the German advance once it got under way superseded any tactical advantage that interrogation might normally be expected to give. So far as it concerned information of strategical or political value, the German Army does not appear to have developed interrogation much beyond the type of thing quoted above and the ‘Red Cross form’5 which

1 Prisoners captured in the German thrust into Libya at this period were being similarly forced to unload ‘bombs, food and petrol from JU 52's’, and protests had been made through the Foreign Office.—War Office Directorate of Prisoners of War report for week ending 5 July 1941.

2 According to evidence supplied in the trial of General Student for war crimes, three men who did so were immediately taken aside and shot.

3 One or two German soldiers demanded, under threat of shooting, information regarding minefields ahead, but this does not fall into the category of what is usually understood by interrogation.

4 Similar questions or expressions of surprise at the Dominions' having sent expeditionary forces to aid Britain were the experience of many other prisoners both at this and at later stages of the war.

5 See Chapter 2, p. 23.

page 62 was issued later at the transit camp. In general, beside the interrogation methods of the Luftwaffe, even in this early period, those of the Wehrmacht look rather like the work of amateurs.

At the holding area near Maleme, as at the airfield, there was no attempt to provide rations, and for the first few days there was some kicking and other rough treatment from nervy and ill-tempered guards. The Germans claimed to have found some of their men horribly mutilated and suspected the British troops, though they later admitted this to be quite unjustified. Nevertheless for those captured while the rumour was current, the situation was ugly. A chaplain and some walking wounded were lined up against the outside wall of their RAP ready to be shot, and were saved only by the intervention of a German wounded officer who had been well treated. Similar timely pleas by recaptured Germans probably saved many others, and those who found themselves the prisoners of their former captives reaped the reward of their own treatment of the enemy. The front-line German troops were on the whole much better in their behaviour than some elements of the occupation force which later carried out such brutal mass executions of the Cretan civilian population.

The alleged German use of prisoners during the Crete battle as a ‘screen’ between themselves and British fire became in New Zealand a matter for public controversy at the time of the War Crimes trial of General Student.1 That prisoners were placed in this unenviable situation is clearly stated by so many survivors of the ‘screen’, as well as by those who tried to fire through it, that it may be taken as established. That it was the German troops' intention to use them thus, much less General Student's, is not so clear. A large body of prisoners in the custody of three or four guards would inevitably have to be driven ahead of them, if it were to move at all. The reconstruction in 1946 of the motives behind the conduct of German troops and commanders in the heat of a battle fought in 1941 must have been a task fraught with great difficulty. Our own arrangements for the treatment of prisoners in the field at this stage of the war were of the haziest, and it is not impossible that enemy instructions to their lower ranks on the same topic were equally sketchy.

The average German soldier seems in fact to have been at a loss to know what to do with wounded prisoners. A New Zealand NCO found lying wounded near the crossroads at Galatas was given

1 The German officer commanding the airborne invasion force in Crete. His trial as a war criminal took place in Germany during May 1946. He was found guilty of being responsible for cold-blooded shootings and for the use of prisoners in unloading war-like stores, but not for the use of prisoners as a ‘screen’. He was sentenced to five years' imprisonment, but the sentence was not confirmed. See also New Zealand Official History, Crete.

page 63 a field dressing and then fired on after the German soldier had walked twenty yards away. But those that followed later gave him drugs and filled his empty water bottle; and next day he was taken to Maleme in an ambulance. Wounded captured near Maleme airfield were brought back to a German dressing station in a wine-cellar in Tavronitis village, and then taken on to the prisoners' holding area. A wounded officer recounts how in the cellar a German with an arm wound gave him his chair, and how he received kindly, though little, attention from German medical orderlies in the holding area. When the British withdrawal began, wounded left behind in RAPs were brought back behind the German lines in trucks. Those of our own medical officers who had remained with their wounded were given a free hand to treat and nurse them, and a German medical unit helped them with dressings, instruments, drugs and anaesthetics. The wounded in 7 General Hospital on the coast north of Galatas were ‘well looked after by the Germans’. On the other hand the Suda Bay hospital, after being inspected by the enemy, was ignored for the first week. Cretans brought the patients food, and without their kindness they would have been on the way to starvation. One New Zealand dressing station in the village of Neon Khorion, about three miles from Kalivia, actually had a month's supply of food taken away by the invaders. But once the Germans had stabilised their position they did what they could to help, and some of those stationed near an Australian dressing station at Kalivia came into the wards in the evening to share their cigarettes and chat. One prisoner writes: ‘… our talks were of a friendly nature. No mentioning anything detrimental to either side. Neither side bothered about information….’1
Although very little food was supplied, the treatment of our wounded by the German medical corps seems to have been as humane as it was within their power to be. Our own doctors speak of their correct behaviour and co-operation. From the first day the policy seems to have been to fly the badly wounded direct to Greece,2 and British and Germans took their places in the earliest planes according to the seriousness of their condition. In little over a week all cases needing evacuation had been emplaned in Ju52s and landed at Athens, Corinth, or Larissa.3 Thence an ambulance or truck—the journey in the latter sometimes made needlessly rough and painful by the whim of a callous driver—brought them to the hospital at Kokkinia, near Piraeus, or to the

1 Statement by a wounded New Zealand sergeant.

2 By 5 June 220 officers and 976 other ranks of the Commonwealth forces had been flown to Athens.

3 The aircraft were not marked as ambulance planes, and at least one carrying wounded was shot down on the way to Greece.

page 64 newly set up emergency hospital in the Polytechnic School at Athens. Both were now running smoothly under the control of our own medical personnel, and although some of the wounded were beyond recovery when they arrived, hundreds of others were nursed back to health in the months that followed.

Near the southern village of Sfakia on 1 June the last scenes of the battle of Crete were being enacted. From hill positions overlooking the coast, German alpine troops began mortaring the miscellaneous remnants of the British forces below. Many of them had been without food for several days, and though most had carried their arms, ammunition was in negligible supply. It was known that no further major evacuation was possible, and to avoid purposeless loss of life orders to capitulate had been passed on to senior officers at an early morning conference. There was no alternative for the men but to abandon any thought of further resistance and destroy what weapons they could. When the Germans arrived there was a light search and a German officer gave an address on the exceptional amenities to be found in Germany's prisoner-of-war camps. The crowd of prisoners was moved uphill to a village, and in the afternoon, formed into groups of 200-odd, began the long trek back over the hills to the north.

There were no rations and little water until the end of the second day's march, and for men who started tired and hungry the going was strenuous along hot and dusty roads under a burning sun. Hurried slaking of parched mouths indiscriminately at whatever pools and streams appeared along the route, no doubt bred much of the disease which appeared later. The German guards on the whole do not seem to have been brutal, though they kept the line of march going so that all the prisoners had completed the thirty miles to the north coast by 3 June. Many fell sick by the roadside—an officer who had stuck it out sat down quietly in a doorway in Canea and died; and the exhaustion from the march no doubt helped the mounting toll of sickness among the mob of prisoners now collecting at the former 7 General Hospital area.

This had been chosen as the site for the main prisoner-of-war camp on the island. Here, on a sandy coastal area three miles west of Canea, a mass of prisoners was being herded together to form ‘Dulag Kreta’, better known to most of the prisoners as ‘Galatos Camp’. Prior to the arrival of the long columns from Sfakia, a chaplain and one or two NCOs had succeeded in achieving reasonable order among the small numbers there, salvaging enough bivouac tents to give everyone shelter. But the masses of new arrivals swamped the available facilities, though a New Zealand hospital corporal who had established an RAP made a great effort page 65 to cope with the daily sick parade of several hundred. As they straggled in, hungry, bedraggled and weary from the march north—Australians, British, Cypriots, Greeks and New Zealanders—they lay down on any available open space under what makeshift covering from the blazing sun they could improvise. Dormitory, meal area or latrine, it was all the same—whatever arrangement gave the least effort. For water there were long queues at an old well of the type once worked by an ox. Many of the dead lay still unburied along the roads, in ditches, and among the olive groves, and an overpowering stench and buzzing bluebottles dominated the camp area. Sickness and hunger helped to bring morale to a low ebb. Many, incensed at being the victims of what seemed yet another fiasco, somewhat naturally blamed their commanders and those in charge of the general conduct of the war, and some in their bitter disappointment vowed that they were glad to be prisoners to let someone else have a turn at being muddled about to no purpose.

Gradually officers and NCOs were able to create some kind of order. By 8 June the Australians had been moved elsewhere and the 5000-odd remaining had been organised into groups (one containing 1500 New Zealanders), an area had been allocated to each, and the senior British officer with his adjutant had appointed NCOs to take charge of them. On the 9th the officers were flown to Greece, with the exception of nine who were kept for administrative and medical duties at the camp. Enough tents were salvaged to put everyone under cover in orderly rows, and shovels were obtained to enable proper latrines to be dug. The three hospital buildings, together with a few marquees, were organised by the senior medical officer as a 200-bed camp reception hospital. The poor food, overcrowding, and insanitary conditions produced a crop of scabies and dysentery.1 These cases and others of malaria, of poliomyelitis,2 and of woundings by trigger-happy guards kept the five hospital wards full and their staffs continually occupied.3 After a few weeks the sick and wounded from the dressing stations near Suda, together with the medical staffs looking after them, were brought in too.

Rations were never sufficient4 to keep men healthy, and for some weeks the guards winked at prisoners' leaving camp to get fruit

1 ‘During June, July and August, estimated that every prisoner of war had at least one attack, and many two of sonne dysentery.’—Lt-Col W. H. B. Bull, NZMC, Medical Report on Prisoner of War Life in Crete.

2 ‘… in all some 15 cases of infantile paralysis appeared with no more deaths.’—Ibid. The first case had proved fatal.

3 The fact that, in spite of the unhealthy conditions in the camp and the lack of facilities in the hospital, only 23 deaths are recorded from 1212 admissions is a tribute to the work of the medical staff.

4 Approximately 1000 calories daily.

page 66 and other food nearby and allowed Cretans to bring basket-loads to the camp fence. Authorised foraging parties too were allowed to bring in rice and other supplies from British dumps. When the German food supply became more regular, prisoners' daily meals resolved themselves into a cup of porridge or rice, a cup of bean stew, and two-thirds of a pound of sometimes sour and mouldy bread. With such a meagre and monotonous diet, it is perhaps not surprising to find men boiling up bird-seed and finding it good, fighting for food at the camp fences, and scavenging in a rubbish heap for mouldy bread discarded as unfit for human consumption.

Beyond the fatigues of the camp there was little for men to do but sleep during the day, unless they had drawn a place in one of the German burial or working parties.1 The former were avoided as hard and unpleasant work, the latter sought after for the opportunities afforded of picking up extra food. A stretch of beach included in the camp bounds became a means at once of recreation and cleanliness, and was probably the reason that the camp remained so long free of vermin. In the later stages there were improvised games of cricket. In addition to two church services daily, the chaplain organised evening concerts and debates. A wireless set smuggled in by a working party enabled him to tack a news session on to the evening service. Morale improved and the wave of fantastic rumours which swept the camp in its initial stages gave place to a more reasoned and sober view of the war.

At Dulag Kreta there was no issue of capture-cards2 within the first week or so, and it seems doubtful whether the early nominal rolls at any rate were ever sent on by the Germans. It happened, therefore, that men got away from the camp before they were officially prisoners of war, and their activities are therefore outside the scope of this volume. Yet many were in fact several weeks in enemy hands before making a break, and the Crete escapes3 are so numerous that they constitute a notable feature of the campaign. It is largely guesswork even to estimate the numbers who broke from captivity there, just as it is difficult to disentangle evaders from escapers among those who got back to Allied territory direct from Crete, those who made their way to Greece or one of the

1 ‘By arrangement with the Germans, many parties were sent to Galatos for the purpose of identifying & marking British graves.’—Lt-Col Bull, op. cit.

2 There was an issue of field postcards on 26 June, which were sent off later from Germany after censorship. One bears the censorship stamp of Stalag VIIIB and postmark 18 October. It reached New Zealand in late December. None seem to have gone to Geneva.

3 Over sixty New Zealand escapers got back to Alexandria by submarine. This made up the majority of our escapers, a few others having got back via Greece or the Aegean islands. A number of evaders (men who had successfully evaded capture) got back by these two routes and a few direct to North Africa. See also New Zealand Official War History, Crete, Appendix VII.

page 67 Aegean islands and got back from there, and those who were finally recaptured or had to give themselves up, too sick to continue. But as numbers of eye-witnesses speak of ‘men breaking out every night’, of thirty getting away in one such party and fifteen in another, it is clear that the numbers were considerable.1 In July New Zealanders and Australians were stated to be at large all over the western end of the island, a dozen or more in many villages.

Most of the escapes took place in June and July2 from the Galatas camp, where the prisoners were at first ‘loosely guarded’. It was said to be comparatively ‘easy’ to crawl out at night under the wire of the compound after a sentry had passed, and under cover of darkness to make the shelter of the vineyards and olive groves across the road. Although some of the nearby fields were occasionally lit up by Very lights and raked with German machine-gun fire, no one appears to have been hit, and the risk seems to have been discounted when planning an escape. In the early days of the camp some of the prisoners were allowed out unofficially to forage for food in Canea or neighbouring villages, and some casually walked away from these outings. For most men it was the lack of food and the appalling conditions of the camp which determined them in desperation to go and live elsewhere (even if only temporarily), quite apart from whether it would be possible to escape from the island. They made for the green slopes leading to the mountains behind, and many collected in the Omolos plateau high up among the ranges. Some roamed about the hills for months, following the mule-tracks from village to village, before stumbling on a means of getting away. Others lived on among the Cretans for a year or so, unable to get a boat, and were eventually recaptured. The idea of securing a boat to escape in had been in the minds of some escapers when they left the camp. But although in the period just following the end of the planned evacuation a party of evaders had reached the coast of North Africa in an MLC,3 and others had got away in caiques and launches, the Germans afterwards kept a close check on all such craft and on likely evacuation points along the coastline.

The Cretans were almost invariably kind and helpful. From almost every escaper the story is one of good reception at their hands. Food, civilian clothes, guides and money were given freely,

1 The New Zealand officer in charge of the compound of Greeks puts the figure of escapes from his compound at close on 400.

2 At least forty of the ultimately successful New Zealand escapers got away in June and 13 in July. On the night of 18 June alone 30 broke out of camp.

3 A party of five officers and 154 other ranks reached the North African coast by MLC (motor landing craft) on 9 June 1941. The party included two Maori members of 2 NZEF, Pte Thompson (28 Bn) and Gnr R. P. A. Peters.

page 68 often from homes none too well stocked. Many men were nursed back to health and strength in the hill villages after arriving in a state of exhaustion from dysentery and lack of food. Here amid the pretty, grey-walled peasant cottages, the neat flower gardens, the gnarled olive and fruit trees, they had time to rest. A diet of meat and eggs, vegetables and fruit, cheese and goat's milk, with plenty of wholemeal bread and olive oil, helped their bodies to recover strength. As the weeks went by and the Germans raided the villages to look for British soldiers in hiding, to punish those whom they found harbouring them and to confiscate food and stock, the helping of escaped prisoners became a dangerous business involving much self-sacrifice on the part of local inhabitants. But food was found for them even if sometimes the Cretans themselves were hungry, and shelter was often given them at the risk of the villagers' lives and homes. The German occupation force in the western portion of the island1 adopted a particularly brutal policy. Initial harshness had led to resistance from the Cretans, and so to raids on villages by the German troops. There were large-scale shootings, burning of houses—even of whole villages—and confiscation of everything that could be carried away. Some of the evaders and escapers may have got fat and lazy in their hill refuges, but most were thoughtful enough in the circumstances to remove themselves before harm came to their benefactors, and mindful enough of their right course of action to try and leave the island.

Meanwhile the Middle East branch of the War Office military intelligence section (MI9), established to assist British servicemen in enemy territory to escape, had plans in hand to rescue the considerable numbers at large in Greece and Crete. On the night of 17 July a British naval officer2 was landed from a submarine and set about collecting a party of 67 British Commonwealth evaders and escapers. On the night of 27–28 July, according to the prearranged plan, another submarine3 called; the men reached it by lifeline from the beach through rather heavy seas and were taken off to Alexandria, arriving there on 31 July. The naval officer stayed ashore to make contact with those in hiding and to organise a further party. Three weeks later, on the night of 19–20 August, another submarine4 embarked a party of 125 escapers and evaders and brought off the naval officer.

1 Italian troops occupied the eastern portion of the island, corresponding to the former province of Lasithion, east of the Lasithi Mountains, and are reputed to have treated the inhabitants reasonably well.

2 Lt-Cdr F. G. Pool, RNR; awarded DSO for ‘courage and good service during the withdrawal from Crete’.

3 HM Submarine Thrasher. Only three New Zealanders came off in this party.

4 HM Submarine Torbay. This party included 62 New Zealanders.

page 69

… when we reached the little bay we found we were outnumbered by those who had come to farewell us…. the first members prepared to go out to the waiting submarine which had appeared close inshore at a few minutes to 9 p.m. A line had been run out to the shore supported by cork floats and we were instructed to strip and make our way to the sub by grasping this line if we were unable to swim the short distance. It was a tense period before we finally pulled out—there was enough noise to attract Hitler himself to the spot on shore….1

The submarine reached Alexandria on 22 August 1941—a successful conclusion to an operation carried out with great skill and daring.

Equally daring was the exploit of two Australians and two New Zealanders2 who at about this time left the south-west coast in a small open boat, which they rowed and sailed with a blanket sail to Sidi Barrani in 90 hours. Many of those who missed the submarine evacuations made their way in Greek vessels to the mainland of Greece. Greeks and Cretans were leaving the coast at night from the northern tip of Cape Spatha, and many British Commonwealth soldiers hearing of this made their way there, hid in caves, and joined the boatloads. In one such party a New Zealand sergeant reached the south-east coast of the Peloponnese and began to try and obtain a boat that would get them away. After many delays, disappointments, and narrow escapes from capture by Italian soldiers, this party of 17 embarked in a caique. The uncooperative Greek crew had to be overpowered and the New Zealander took command, sailing the vessel to North Africa. After avoiding enemy air attacks and surviving bombing by our own planes on the way across the Mediterranean, they ran out of fuel 20 miles from the coast. The leader of the party went ashore in a dinghy, arranged for fuel to be sent out, returned, and sailed the caique into Alexandria.3

Meanwhile on Crete the German paratroops and alpine battalions had been replaced by rather irresponsible young soldiers who had arrived as a permanent force for garrison duties, including the guarding of the prison camp near Canea. There followed much indiscriminate shooting by guards, both along the fence and into the compound, with resultant casualties4 both to our own people and to the kindly Cretans who brought along food. Bringing food to the camp was now forbidden as part of a campaign to prevent further escapes, and some of the occupation force were employed

1 Narrative by a New Zealand member of the party.

2 Ptes D. N. McQuarrie (18 Bn) and B. B. Carter (27 MG Bn). All four were awarded the MM.

3 Sgt J. A. Redpath (19 A Tps Coy) was awarded the DCM for this exploit. The other New Zealanders in the party were: Sgt A. H. Empson (18 Bn), awarded MM, Sgt R. R. Witting (19 A Tps Coy), Sgt W. H. Bristow (18 Bn), Pte T. Shearer (20 Bn), Gnr G. E. Voyce (5 Fd Regt) and Dvr R. S. Barrow (Div Amn Coy).

4 When a complaint was made concerning these woundings and fatalities, the German general commanding replied that the climate of Crete was affecting his soldiers' nerves.

page 70 on the task of collecting any British soldiers still at large. Those captured were punished with a week's confinement in a small enclosure, exposed all day to the sun and without any covering at night. A fairly systematic round-up was made in August and September and many were caught waiting on the coast for boats, though many others eluded the search parties by going further inland into the mountain country. But some of the enemy patrols were even getting high up into the hills. Notices were posted in villages giving warning of the death penalty for Cretans who should harbour escaped prisoners, and leaflets were dropped about the island exhorting British troops to give themselves up.1

To seal off the coast the Germans established daily sea and air patrols to watch for boats. But in spite of this small parties continued to get away. A British naval officer landed at the end of October to organise parties for evacuation, and after taking one party off he returned in late November for others. Through his efforts two New Zealanders2 came off in a party on a Greek submarine at the end of November, and 28 were among a party of 86 taken off in a large Greek caique3 about the same time.

German vigilance was intensified, and many craft noticed by their patrols were rendered useless by machine-gun fire. No further New Zealanders got away until April 1942, when a party of nine under a New Zealand sergeant stole a boat and rowed it across the Mediterranean to Derna.4 The information concerning escapers and evaders thus brought back encouraged further rescue efforts. By this time Cairo was in wireless communication with agents on the island and arrangements were made to gather together further parties. On 25 May a fast motor torpedo boat landed near Bardia with a party of 31,5 and a fortnight later another party of 19 was

1 One such leaflet read:

of the

There are MANY OF YOU STILL HIDING in the mountains, valleys and villages.


Every OPPOSITION will be completely USELESS!

Every ATTEMPT TO FLEE will be in VAIN!

The COMMING WINTER will force you to leave the mountains.

Only soldiers who PRESENT themselves AT ONCE will be sure of a HONOURABLE AND SOLDIERLIKE CAPTIVITY OF WAR. On the contrary who is met in civil clothes will be treated as a spy.


2 Pte L. S. Rosson (19 Bn) and Dvr S. N. Loveridge (Div Sup Coln).

3 The Hedgebog, commanded by Lt C. M. B. Cumberlege, RNR. He was awarded the DSO for his work during the evacuation of Greece and Crete.

4 Sgt T. Moir (4 Fd Regt) was awarded the DCM for this escape and for his later work with ‘A’ Force. The other New Zealanders in the party were L-Bdr B. W. Johnston (5 Fd Regt), awarded MM, Pte G. G. Collins (20 Bn) mentioned in despatches, Dvr R. W. Rolfe (4 Res MT Coy), and Pte H. W. Gill (18 Bn).

5 Including nine New Zealanders.

page 71 brought off in the same way.1 On 19 June a party of eight New Zealanders was brought off ‘at the last moment’ by a Greek submarine.

The New Zealand sergeant who escaped in April 1942, now seconded for duty with the Middle East branch of MI9, was convinced that there were still a number of escapers and evaders in hiding on the island and obtained permission to go there to try and collect them for evacuation. He was landed in early February 1943, and on 8 May a party of 51 escapers which he had collected was brought off following a commando raid. He himself was captured2 after having gone back to make contact with yet one more escaper. Those in the party taken off, including 14 New Zealanders, all received recognition for their ‘perseverance and determination under great difficulties’ and for their ‘fortitude in remaining undetected for nearly two years.’ This was the final rescue operation from Crete, as it was reckoned that there were few, if any, British servicemen still at large on the island.3

The spate of escapes from the Galatas camp in June 1941 caused a speeding up of the German evacuation programme, and a number of crowded shiploads of prisoners left Suda Bay for Greece in July and the months that followed. Some of the ships were ‘incredibly filthy’, and for the hundreds crammed below in the holds the quite inadequate supply of food and water, the few rudimentary latrines slung over the side of the ship, and the battening down at night made the four or five-day trip to Salonika something of a nightmare. By August, when the numbers had been greatly reduced, camp conditions were beginning to show considerable improvement—the result of weeks of constant pressure on the Germans. Showers had been installed near the hospital, some razors, blades, and soap were procured, and rations were greatly improved. But in spite of every effort by our own officers no Red Cross supplies were ever obtained, and men began to discuss whether they really existed or were just some kind of propaganda. By early October all had been embarked except a small medical staff and about 800 prisoners for working parties, some of which were transferred to Maleme to work on the airfield.

In early January 1942 the last columns were marched along the road to Suda Bay. Three hundred for whom there was no room

1 There were eight New Zealanders in this party. It arrived back on 8 June 1942.

2 He escaped again and headed for Selino with two German deserters in a motor car. But it proved impossible to rescue him, and he was recaptured and flown to Germany.

3 The last New Zealander to escape from Crete, Dvr W. H. Swinburne, was one of those who broke out of Galatas camp in June 1941 by crawling under the wire. After vainly trying to contact a boat party, he joined a band of guerrillas in June 1942 and stayed with them until taken off on 8 September 1943.

page 72 on the small freighter in port spent a fortnight at Suda in a filthy enclosure, ankle deep in mud. Known to these unfortunates as the ‘pig pen’, it was for most the worst ‘camp’ they had to endure. But they had some compensation when, after reaching Greece, they went to a by then reasonably clean barracks at Hymettus, near Athens, where a representative of the International Red Cross Committee distributed food and cigarettes. Some of this party continued their journey in a German tramp, the Arkadia, on top of a hold full of figs and sultanas. When the prisoners staggered from the ‘fig ship’ on to the quay at Salonika under the weight of crammed haversacks, the German guard officer conducting a search expressed wonder at the amount of dried fruit that the Red Cross in Athens had given them. The remaining 160 of the party, including three stretcher cases, did not fare so well. They reached Salonika after a 17-day trip through rainstorms and snow in a small, louse-infested Greek caique, which ran out of food some days before making port. Both at Suda and at Athens, and even from the caique, a few were able to make a break to freedom, however temporary. Indeed, in late 1941 and early 1942 there were scattered British soldiers at large all over Crete and Greece, as well as in the hundred and one islands of the Aegean.

A number of those in these last shiploads were recaptured evaders and escapers, of whose experiences in Crete some account has already been given. In Greece, too, not all of those who missed the naval evacuations had been made prisoners of war, at all events not immediately. Some had made their way from the battlefield, or had ducked into hiding soon after capture, and were at liberty for months or even years either on the Greek mainland or on one of its satellite islands. Some had reached Crete in time for the fighting, others only to fall into enemy hands almost as they landed, and others still to elude the enemy a second time and make their way back to the mainland. The number of these roving groups and individuals in Greece was being constantly augmented by those who broke away from custody either during a move or while in one of the transit camps.

Not a few of these had made their break from the British hospital at Athens and that at Piraeus, and from the convalescent camp near the latter. This was an old Greek military barracks surrounded by a stone wall, inside which was a barbed-wire perimeter. The houses and gardens of Nea Kokkinia came almost up to the stone wall, which made it easy for messages and food to be thrown across. In a rectangular area of red dust and shingle stood 16 longish brick sleeping huts containing bedboards and straw palliasses, a few other buildings for camp services, and at one time marquees to take the page 73 overflow. To this camp came those sick and wounded who were considered to have sufficiently recovered, but there were also a number of fit prisoners, making up a total varying from one to two thousand. Food was at first poor, but with money subscribed by officers from their pay, augmented by donations from the Greek Red Cross, it became possible to obtain meat and eggs, and a canteen operating in the camp sold fruit, wines and milk supplied by Greek vendors. The prisoners were left pretty much to their own devices, except that working parties were required for Kokkinia hospital on the hill above.

At first men were deterred from escape by the apparent hopelessness of getting a Greek caique and the formidable alternative of a 600-mile trek to Turkey, but messages from friendly Greeks raised their hopes. In early July two New Zealanders1 succeeded in crawling under the wire after dark and getting over the wall into one of the nearby gardens. Through the camp garbage collector they had previously arranged a rendezvous for that night with a Greek family, who took them in and gave them civilian clothes. Next day they were taken into Athens and put in touch with an underground organisation which fitted them up with proper suits of clothes and identity cards. In the subsequent weeks while trying to arrange a boat to take them away, they met a number of other escapers. After the success of the first attempt at the convalescent camp, careful plans had been made by other patients and a mass escape2 took place one night shortly afterwards. Three check roll-calls next morning convinced the Germans that the camp security was falling down somewhere; the commandant was replaced, and guards became considerably more alert.

It is not possible in this account to deal with the varied experiences in Greece of every escaper and evader. With the exception of those who made a quick getaway,3 most of them lived for varying periods with Greek families. Often they were passed from family to family, both for reasons of security and because there were sometimes domestic intrigues in which it might be fatal for an escaper to become involved. For the escaper life centred round the finding of some craft to take him to sea. Until he found one he had to attempt to look like one of the inhabitants without arousing gossip, and to avoid troops or the type of Greek willing to betray

1 2 Lt J. W. C. Craig and Cpl F. B. Haycock (both 22 Bn). In a party of six, they reached Alexandria by caique. Craig subsequently returned to Greece secretly to assist the Greek underground and help escaping prisoners. He was captured a second time and taken to Italy. Haycock rejoined 2 NZEF. For this escape Craig was awarded the MC and Haycock was mentioned in despatches.

2 One estimate put the figure as high as 45; among them were further New Zealanders.

3 Three New Zealanders who had made their way to Skyros came back in a party of 31 which reached Port Said on 25 May 1941.

page 74 him for the rewards the Germans soon offered. Although the chances of making contacts were greater in a city like Athens, many preferred the security of the hills, a lonely cave, or a remote country village.

In the early months escapers and evaders had to depend on help from Greek individuals or from the members of one of the Greek underground organisations, and as enemy security tightened, the parties which got away became smaller. A party of five (including one New Zealander)1 made their way in a caique from near Volos, via Skiathos and the northern Sporades, to Turkey, which they reached on 11 September.

Although it is beyond the scope of this volume to attempt accounts of these improvised voyages, it can be said that they were often fraught with hazard both from the enemy and from the elements. A party of five British (including one New Zealand officer)2 and ten Greeks set sail in a small caique from Piraeus on 3 September, with only a school atlas to guide them to North Africa. They ran out of food and water after three days, and out of fuel just south of Crete. When nearly at the end of their tether, they were picked up at night by a British destroyer and arrived in Alexandria on 10 September.

A party of six,3 all of whom had escaped from the convalescent camp at Nea Kokkinia in early July and had since been looked after by friendly families in Athens, joined forces to secure a boat. They finally made arrangements with the Greek captain of a caique and sailed from the coast of Attica on 26 September, travelled to Antiparos and Paros, skirted Crete, and reached Alexandria on 8 October with food and fuel in hand.

A New Zealand sergeant,4 also formerly in the convalescent camp at Nea Kokkinia, spent two months in Athens running an ‘Intelligence bureau’ for the collection of military information and the helping of escapers. He eventually organised a party of six escapers to go by hired motor caique to Turkey. The party sailed from Marathon on 3 October and safely reached the coast of Turkey six days later. There they managed to climb a steep cliff and were taken into custody by Turkish gendarmes.

From October onwards the Middle East branch of MI9 began to expand its activities; its strength was increased by the temporary recruitment of a number of outstanding escapers, and it began

2 Lt R. B. Sinclair (22 Bn), mentioned in despatches.

3 There were three New Zealanders in the original party—2 Lt Craig (22 Bn), awarded MC, 2 Lt E. F. Cooper (LAD attached 5 Fd Regt), and Cpl Haycock (22 Bn). Cooper and Haycock were mentioned in despatches.

4 Sgt D. G. MacNab (6 Fd Coy), awarded DCM. The other New Zealander in the party was Dvr J. B. Morice (Div Amn Coy).

page 75 to organise help and rescue for escapers and evaders in both Greece and Crete. Some of the operations in Crete have already been outlined. In Greece food, clothing, and blankets were dropped by air in areas known to harbour these men—Mount Tagetus, Katerini, and Mount Olympus. Agents operating caiques continued to evacuate British and Imperial servicemen, and groups of the newly-recruited successful escapers were landed on the Greek mainland to organise further assistance and escape routes.

As the result of their activities a party of 18 was evacuated by caique from the coast near Athens on 22 November, reaching Alexandria five days later.1 After the capture of several agents and MI9 personnel, the Germans and Italians started to set traps for escapers by posing as the representatives of escape organisations. By this means they were able not only to capture a number of escapers and evaders but also to make the remainder suspicious of whoever made contact with them, and genuine MI9 agents had to carefully work out means of proving their identity. It was over five months before the next New Zealander2 was brought out from the Athens area in a party of twenty, which left Porto Rafti under MI9 arrangements on 2 May and reached Turkey two days later.

While some fifty had been making away from the convalescent camp, escape activity had been launched also in the hospital set up in the Polytechnic School. A large marble and granite building in one of the main streets of Athens, its situation made contact with friendly Greeks comparatively easy. In mid-July two of the patients made a successful break, Greeks whipping them off to safety almost as soon as they were outside the building. A day or two later some New Zealand medical orderlies successfully broke out through a door leading on to the street, though two were wounded and immediately recaptured. The Germans apparently soon reached the conclusion that this prisoner-of-war hospital was more trouble than it was worth. It was closed down shortly after the escapes, and patients and staff were transferred to Nea Kokkinia, either to the convalescent camp or to the hospital.

It was a fortunate thing for the hundreds of our wounded in Greece that not only were there numbers of British doctors, dentists, and orderlies there to treat them, but that in the early stages there was available for prisoners of war a transit hospital as well equipped as Kokkinia. A wounded man who arrived by plane from Crete speaks of the joy of being properly washed for the first time by our own orderlies, of sheets and pyjamas. Here as elsewhere there was a struggle to get sufficient rations, and the shortage of

1 New Zealanders in this party were Lt H. B. J. Sutton (18 Bn), 2 Lt N. R. Flavell (21 Bn), Sgt D. J. Stott and Gnr R. M. Morton (5 Fd Regt), and Pte A. S. R. Foote (21 Bn).

2 Dvr E. F. Foley (4 Res MT Coy), awarded MM.

page 76 food does not seem ever to have been fully overcome. The International Red Cross delegate left funds to buy milk and special foods, the Greek Red Cross gave very generous help1 in view of the general food scarcity, and Greek nurses visiting the wards were able to bring comfort to the patients as well as to distribute much-appreciated fruit and cigarettes. But all such visits were soon stopped on security grounds by the German staff, who kept a rigid control over rations and movements in the hospital. The Germans did not interfere with the medical treatment in the hospital, except for occasional inspections by one of their senior medical officers.

Since the hospital's hurried and crowded beginning2 the staff had been able to develop many amenities. A canteen was established, a fund from officers' pay and a subsidy from the International Red Cross Committee funds making it possible for all ranks to buy, though high prices did not allow money to go far. Concerts were put on for the walking patients in one of the large courtyards, and after musical instruments had been obtained an impromptu dance band was able to tour the wards. Patients could write a letter a week and had a camp library to help while away the hours of recovery. As they got better they were allowed to stroll outside the buildings up to the barbed-wire fence, and stretcher cases were taken on to the roof to sunbathe. Men were able for a time to forget their hunger while lying and sitting in the Greek sunshine, reading, playing cards, and talking over the battles through which they had recently come.

During these weeks and months of recuperation, small ‘escape clubs’ had discussed how best a bid for freedom might be made when physical condition permitted. There were plenty of maps and compasses, for the German searches had been perfunctory only. Many attempts were made by those sufficiently recovered: cutting the wire and crawling through; hiding in the laundry van or the rubbish cart as it went out with a load. A New Zealand professional artist, then a prisoner, persuaded a Bavarian guard to pose for him while three Australians crawled through the wire behind his back. Two New Zealanders3 climbed through the wire in daylight on 30 July, when only two guards were on duty. They

1 Mme. Zannas of the Greek Red Cross was active in organising food for prisoners in Greece. At one stage the Greek Red Cross was spending 1,000,000 drachmae a month in ‘sending gifts to the wounded and on the revictualling of the canteens installed by their efforts in the hospitals at Kokinia and the Polytechnic School.’—Report for June 1941 by Dr. Brunel, delegate of the IRCC in Athens.

2 Dr. Brunel reported that the hospital held 1676 (including medical personnel) on 6 June 1941. A member of the medical staff reported that it had between 800 and 900 beds at the peak period after the battle of Crete.

3 L-Bdr F. S. Marshall (7 A-Tk Regt) and Spr S. E. Carson (6 Fd Coy). Both men had been wounded and sent to Kokkinia hospital for treatment. Carson was mentioned in despatches.

page 77 hid in a trench 20 feet from the wire until darkness, and then made for Eleusis and eventually reached Euboea. On 27 August they bribed a Greek to take them by boat to Skyros and reached Turkey on 3 September. Only a few breaks from the hospital were successful. After the mass escape from the convalescent camp, the hospital suffered some reprisals too: no concerts, delay in the delivery of rations and in the issue of pay—the somewhat natural reactions of the German guards to the reprimand and increased guard duties which no doubt came their way.

In August and September the Germans pushed ahead with the transport north of the prisoners in hospitals and transit camps in and around Athens. For the sick and wounded this posed a difficult problem because of the breaks in the Athens-Salonika railway line over which it was necessary to march, and because of the absence of suitable rolling-stock. A typical journey by this route has been described, and parties of convalescents, some with only partially healed wounds, fared little better. In late August a large batch of sick and wounded from Kokkinia hospital were driven to Piraeus docks in large passenger buses and embarked on the Italian hospital ship Gradisca. Those who travelled on her for the five-day voyage to Salonika speak in glowing terms of the care and good food they received from the Italian medical officers and sisters. The rest of the convalescents went north on small cargo vessels, on which the treatment and food seem to have been reasonably good although the holds were much overcrowded.

Almost all prisoners of war captured in Greece and Crete who did not escape passed through the main transit camp at Salonika, known as Frontstalag 183, an old, disused Greek barracks on the outskirts of the town. Some stayed only twenty-four hours; others were kept there up to several months to do forced labour for the Germans. Many had already been through Galatas or Corinth and other camps, but Salonika capped them all, and in its first six months of existence earned for itself an infamous reputation.

Round a clay barrack square stood rows of old Greek wooden hutments, on the floor of which rows of men had to lie.1 These buildings were dilapidated, thick with filth, and infested with lice, fleas and bedbugs. Swarms of flies and mosquitoes and numerous rats helped to make sleep for a newcomer almost an impossibility. The German commandant and his staff seem to have made little or no attempt to provide blankets or other bedding. At one end of

1 Some of the officers had beds, which were, however, no protection against most of the varieties of vermin encountered there. Many officers preferred to lie outside at night, until indiscriminate shooting by guards made this unnecessarily risky; it was forbidden for other ranks.

page 78 almost every barrack were a water tap and four latrines, which had to suffice for the 2501 or so prisoners who were made to occupy it.

In one corner of the compound—formed by the original high brick walls and fences of barbed-wire—were two concrete huts, which were set up as a 65-bed hospital shortly after the camp opened in May and manned by Serbian2 doctors and orderlies. At that time there had been only some 300 British Commonwealth prisoners there, but it was realised that large numbers would arrive when the evacuation of Corinth began. Fortunately a few British medical orderlies were able to prepare a nearby two-storied hutment to accommodate a further 160 patients.

In early June the first drafts from Corinth began to arrive, most of them exhausted from their forced march over the Brallos Pass but somewhat cheered by their friendly reception from Greeks in the streets of Salonika. Many were by now an easy prey to sickness; some had reopened wounds. They kept on pouring in during the month until the camp population rose as high as 12,000. Throughout June more than 400 cases were treated daily at the camp medical inspection room.3 Food was the worst that the prisoners had yet experienced. Daily rations comprised three-quarters of a hard Italian army biscuit, about four ounces of bread, sometimes mouldy, a pint of watery lentil soup with an occasional flavouring of horseflesh, and two hot drinks of German ‘mint’ tea. On this diet men soon lost weight and it is little wonder that beriberi made its appearance, though the German medical officer refused to recognise it, and cases eventually rose to as high as 600. Nor is it surprising, in view of the location of the camp in the centre of a malarious belt, that there were many cases of malaria, and the German authorities were forced to make a daily issue of ten grammes of quinine. As for disinfectants, the camp hardly ever saw them, and the only drugs available were captured supplies left by our own medical units. Although not able to help in this direction, the Greek Red Cross did splendid work in providing milk, brown bread, rice, fruit, vegetables, eggs, and cigarettes for the hospital patients—a task made by no means easy by the German commandeering of local supplies.

The lot of all those below the rank of sergeant was made the harder by having to go out to work. At the six o'clock morning roll-call everyone was usually detailed for a work-party, including many genuine cases from the sick parade. A few were given fatigues in the German quarters, but most had to do heavy physical work in the heat of Salonika—shifting wood in timber-yards,

1 At one period as many as 500.

2 There were some 1600 Serbian prisoners there at that time.

3 The two-storied camp hospital was most admirably organised and run by Capt A. L. Cochrane (RAMC), ably assisted by Capt C. C. Cook (NZDC).

page 79 unloading heavy sacks from railway trucks at a siding, pushing along 40-gallon petrol drums at the docks, cleaning out stables and working with pick and shovel. From some of the guards in charge of working parties there seems to have been a good deal of screaming and bullying and some kicking and knocking about with rifle butts; other guards appear to have been sympathetic towards those who were obviously unable to stand the heavy labour. And being in a working party had the compensation that from some jobs men were able to come back with items of food and tobacco variously obtained. In the camp itself there was much indiscriminate shooting by some of the sentries, one New Zealander being shot dead without warning and another wounded for being allegedly too near the trip-wire inside the camp perimeter. One night a sentry threw a grenade into a barrack latrine because someone had lit a match, and three men were seriously injured.

There seems little that can be said to the credit of the German authorities at Salonika. To put the best construction on things, the conditions were the result of lack of provision and supervision by the German Higher Command,1 whose main attentions had been diverted elsewhere. But the conditions were also the immediate result of cynical neglect and exploitation by the German line-of-communication authorities on the spot, who imposed little if any check on the acts of brutally minded guards and delayed granting permission for delegates of the International Red Cross Committee or of a neutral power to pay a visit of inspection.

In the height of the summer of 1941, although many thousands had already gone north by train, the shiploads arriving from Crete again made the camp badly overcrowded. A variety of diseases was rampant, and with the sick and wounded also coming up from Athens the camp hospital and auxiliary huts at one period held 800. By working long hours British Commonwealth medical officers and orderlies managed to cope somehow with the 3000-odd patients who passed through the hospital, and it says much for their efforts that the death-roll was kept down to 80-odd. Fortunately the amputees, blind, and other serious cases in transit from Kokkinia hospital did not have to wait more than a few days for transport on to Germany, though too many had to make the journey lying on the straw of a cattle-truck.

By the end of September the camp had been practically cleared and the few serious cases that could not be moved, together with the skeleton medical staff and a number of escapers recaptured near Salonika, were shifted to four barracks wired off in a smaller area.

1 Commonwealth troops taken prisoner in Greece and Crete amounted to some 25,000, the feeding and administration of whom in a hostile country just occupied would no doubt present a considerable problem.

page 80 In early November some Red Cross food parcels were received with amazed delight. Half-way through that month the Italian hospital ship Gradisca arrived with nearly all of the remaining wounded from Athens, and a few days later they left by hospital train for Germany. Gradually conditions in the camp improved: some of the last inmates—mostly recaptured escapers—speak of disinfestation, of the issue of new clothing, and of going into fumigated barracks. There seems, however, to have been little improvement in the German rations, and another period of acute hunger followed when supplies of Red Cross food temporarily ran out.

From the many working parties at Salonika and from the main camp itself right up to the end of its existence, numbers of prisoners, including many New Zealanders, made breaks for freedom. Some got away and were recaptured several times, only to be finally taken off to Germany; others made their way to Turkey and eventual freedom. Two parties got out through a camp sewer. An officer1 cut his way through a barrack backdoor and, dodging the camp searchlights, crawled through the wire and scaled a wall into the street; another party of twelve used a similar route a little later. Once in Salonika they were almost always able to rely on temporary help from Greeks, though it was not always possible to trust all civilians or police, many of whom were not unnaturally fearful of German punishment. An MI9 organisation was set up in Salonika as well as in Athens to collect parties of escapers and evaders and arrange for them to be got away by caique.

Most escapers made for Stavros or the east coast of the Agion Oros finger of the Chalcidike peninsula, the north-eastern strip of Greece being soon in German hands and policed by Bulgarians. From the coast the next step was to reach Turkey, either direct or via the island of Imbros. Many who made breaks from trains en route for Germany followed the same plans. Some navigated their own boats across the stormy waters of the northern Aegean; others persuaded Greeks to take them on trading or fishing vessels.

A party of four who met in Stavros in July 1941 bought a boat for a promised £50 and sailed it to the Turkish mainland, which they reached in early August. Of the two New Zealanders in the party, one had got away from the transit camp at Larissa and walked north;2 the other3 had crawled out under the barbed wire at Salonika transit camp in the early hours of one morning and had been looked after by friendly Greeks. Both made their way eventually to Stavros, where they met.

1 Lt W. B. Thomas (23 Bn), awarded MC.

2 L-Cpl W. T. W. Kerr (25 Bn), awarded DCM.

page 81

Another party of 16 which had collected on the island of Imbros was taken over to the Turkish mainland in September 1941. Three New Zealanders had all reached the island separately. They had been helped by Greek civilians and police, one of them1 having been taken across personally by a Greek policeman for a small fee. This ex-prisoner and one of the others2 had escaped from the train taking them to Germany, and the third had got away from the Corinth camp and made his way north on German trains.3 All three had eventually walked to the Agion Oros peninsula, where they had been helped to get boats.

In October a New Zealander4 and two companions rowed across the Aegean to Turkey in an open boat, a remarkable feat of daring and endurance. Two others,5 both escapers from Salonika, who had made their way to Agion Oros, seized a boat and put to sea on 30 October when they heard of a large German patrol coming to search the area. Their party of seven made the island of Imbros and reached Turkey on 10 November. Another party of seven, including four more New Zealanders6 from Salonika, also seized a boat about the same time, sailing to Lemnos and Imbros and reaching Turkey a day behind the others.

For a time it had not been too difficult for escaped prisoners to live undetected on the Chalcidike peninsula. One New Zealander,7 for example, who had escaped from a working party at Salonika, spent ten weeks there trying to obtain a boat before he got away with a party of 14, which hired one and reached Turkey via Lemnos and Imbros on 2 November. But as German security increased it became more and more difficult both to remain hidden and also to get away by boat. The MI9 agents operating in the Salonika area were able to smuggle away only a few at a time. All the New Zealanders who got away after the middle of November made contact with the organisation and had their final journey arranged for them. One reached Turkey in December,8 another in May 1942,9 and still another in late October 1942.10 All these men had made several attempts to get away and had shown great courage and tenacity. Most of those unable to obtain a boat or a passage fell eventually into the hands of German patrols or security police.

1 Pte J. Reid (20 Bn), mentioned in despatches.

3 Tpr A. Connelly (Div Cav). See p. 58.

4 Tpr W. A. Gadsby (Div Cav).

5 Pte J. McR. Brand (23 Bn), awarded MM, and L-Cpl W. T. F. Buchanan (23 Bn); Buchanan won the MM in Tunisia in April 1943.

6 Sgt J. T. Donovan (21 Bn), Cpl J. Westgate (18 Bn), Ptes D. P. Gilroy and W. S. Marshall (both 27 MG Bn).

7 Pte E. A. Howard (19 Bn), awarded MM.

9 Lt Thomas (23 Bn). See p. 80.

10 Pte P. R. Blunden (20 Bn), awarded MM. See p. 83, note 1.

page 82 A few who in despair tried to make their way back to southern Greece were in the main picked up by the Italian occupation forces, which since September 1941 had taken over the territory south of Olympus.1

The move of prisoners to Austria or Germany was for most of the British officers and men transported their first experience of travelling long distances in closed cattle-wagons. From June 1941 until April 1942 long trainload after long trainload of this human cargo travelled north on journeys lasting from five to ten days. Accounts of the experiences of various parties at different periods vary in details, but there are features common to almost all. An average of 35 officers in a wagon made it difficult for everyone to lie down; yet the numbers rose to 55 for other ranks. Biscuits and tinned meat—the only rations—seem usually to have been issued only for a four-day journey and generally on a very lean scale. The Serbian populace, however, seems to have been very generous with gifts of bread and farm produce as the trains passed through their pleasant countryside, and the Serbian Red Cross at Belgrade met many of them with hot soup, food, and cigarettes. On the longer journeys, too, there seem to have been small additional German issues, albeit rather haphazard. As the cattle-trucks had the openings barred or wired and the doors fixed to prevent escape, the lack of a supply of water and of any sanitary arrangements in them was probably the most serious hardship—the more so as many men were suffering from intestinal disorders. On occasions trucks were not opened for as long as 22 hours. Sleep was of course difficult on the hard, jolting floor of a goods-wagon, and in the summer the chilling draughts at night following the baking, sweaty heat of the day did not make it any easier. For those who travelled in winter in these cold trucks the icy temperatures encountered as the trains moved north over the ranges became something of a torture. One report by a senior officer speaks of the guards on his train as correct in their behaviour; but it is clear at least that on many trains the truck doors could have been opened more frequently. It is probable that guards were few and overworked and not over-comfortable themselves; and it may be that their omissions to attend to the physical needs of the prisoners were the result of laziness rather than of malice.

Moreover, their tempers were never improved by an escape or an attempt at it; yet in spite of threats of reprisal shootings at the outset of each journey, breaks occurred from almost every train.

1 An account of the few who managed to remain at liberty and finally escaped to Allied territory is given in Chapter 6, pp. 227–33. Those recaptured by the Italians were claimed by Italy as her prisoners of war.

page 83 Though there were no such shootings, there were instances where the remaining occupants of a truck were subjected to kicking, clubbing with rifle butts, and beating with sticks. It is impossible to estimate with any accuracy the numbers who left the trains in this way. Some were recaptured only to escape from another train later. At least five New Zealanders who broke loose eventually reached Allied territory. The example which follows is typical of their experiences. In October 1941 the inmates of one truck cut a hole with smuggled tools through the wall near the sliding door, reached outside to undo the catch, and were able to open the door. Ten jumped clear before the guard began firing and signalled the train to stop. By the time it had come to a halt the escapers were in hiding well behind, ready to head for one or other of the Greek villages and so begin the second stage of their escape.1

The first trainload of officers was unloaded at Biberach in Bavaria on 16 June and marched to the nearby camp, Oflag VB. After the gruelling journey north following weeks in the transit camps of Greece, they arrived in Germany, as one officer put it, ‘lousy, bearded, hungry, tired, and dejected’. There was apprehension about how much longer their health would survive the type of conditions under which they had been living in Greece, and dread that Germany might be even worse. Having resigned themselves to the almost continual state of disorganisation in which they had existed since capture, they were quite unprepared for their reception at the oflag. Here, after a routine search and a hot shower provided by the Germans, they went into an orderly camp, where food and friendliness were lavished on them by the occupants. They discovered with surprise that British Navy, Army, and Air Force officers had already built up an organisation capable of coping with most of the difficulties of life in a prison camp and with the idiosyncrasies of German guards. No one seemed hungry, everyone had the appearance of fairly good health, and morale was high. Hope dawned for the newcomers, and a few encouraging words of greeting from the senior British officer, Major-General V. M. Fortune,2 acted like a tonic on morale. One of the officers present still remembers his words well enough to repeat them ‘almost verbatim’:

Gentlemen. In spite of being prisoners of the enemy you are still honourable British officers. You have not disgraced yourselves nor have you been dishonoured by others whom you may think have contributed to your capture. You have not been defeated, nor has the Empire, nor will it

1 Pte Blunden (20 Bn) was, so far as is known, the only New Zealander in this party to reach Allied territory.

2 Later Sir Victor Fortune, KBE, CB, DSO.

page 84 ever. We have all suffered a few temporary reverses, but these should only serve to strengthen us for more bitter struggles before final victory is achieved. We as prisoners of war still have our duty clearly before us, we must continue the fight behind the enemy lines.

In Biberach everyone had his own eating utensils, a clean palliasse, pillowslip, and towel—luxuries indeed for the new arrivals. They were housed in modern concrete blocks, divided into separate rooms with a reasonable number in each. These contained steel-frame two-tier beds with wooden slats, of the type later well known in many German camps for officers and NCOs. The camp was free of vermin and there were good washing facilities, with hot showers at least every ten days. The German rations were much better than the prisoners from Greece had yet experienced; they were supplemented from Red Cross supplies, and the meals were properly cooked in a central kitchen. Letter-cards were regularly issued for writing home; pay in camp money (Lagergeld) was regularly credited. There were organised educational classes and facilities for sport and exercise. To those with fresh memories of Corinth and Salonika it all seemed like a pleasant dream. But it should not be forgotten that such a state of things was the fruit of months of hard work, good leadership, and skilful handling of the German authorities.

As further parties of officers arrived from Greece, some of the original occupants of the camp were sent to Titmoning. The health of the newcomers rapidly improved with the better food and camp conditions, though it was to take a long time to recover the two stone in weight which some had lost. A committee controlled attempts at escape, newcomers being allowed for the time being to assist but not actually to make a break. During the summer a number of such breaks were made, mainly by means of disguise or concealment on transport, and on 14 September 26 got clear through the longest tunnel that had yet been made. After each break there were the usual searches, extra parades, and minor restrictions. It was probably the considerable number of breaks from the camp, together with the closeness of Biberach to the Swiss border, that decided the Germans to transfer the officers elsewhere. In October they were moved to a large vacant camp at Warburg, where British officers from all over Germany were being collected.

Most of the officers from Crete who had been held some weeks in Salonika were finally transported to the Baltic port of Lubeck and accommodated in Oflag XC, a few kilometres out. A former German army camp, its quarters and general facilities were on a par with those at Biberach, and the canteen seems to have been much better stocked. But no well-organised British community was page 85 in occupation to welcome the newcomers and show them the ropes;1 and no Red Cross food was available during their six weeks' stay. The greater part of the German food provided consisted of potatoes and bread, and was so meagre in quantity that loaves were often divided with the aid of a ruler to ensure that each man got an accurate share. The effect of the lean camp rations on these men who had come there after months in bad transit camps was so obvious when, in early October, they were all transferred to Warburg, that they were given double Red Cross issues there for a while to enable them to recover lost weight.

The trainloads of other ranks were distributed between the town of Marburg, on the Drau just south of the Yugoslav border, and Wolfsberg, a little to the west in Austria. By July 1941 Stalag XVIIID, at Marburg, contained nearly 4500 British Commonwealth prisoners from Greece and Crete, including 800-odd New Zealanders. Over a thousand were in tents while new buildings were being constructed. The buildings already in existence were dirty and swarming with lice and bedbugs, and the camp was, in the opinion of the senior British medical officer,2 overcrowded beyond safety. There were shootings for breaches of discipline, by guards all too quick on the trigger. Yet many of the prisoners preferred Marburg to camps they went to later. At the beginning of September the arrival of a Red Cross consignment gave a great boost to morale, and thereafter regular supplies ensured a sufficient diet and at least some medical supplies for the camp. Moreover, although the German commandant and some of his staff were usually inefficient and unreasonable, guards were often rather easygoing, and it was comparatively simple (especially with Red Cross chocolate and cigarettes) for prisoners to persuade them to give them an outing—to the cinema, to a swimming hole, or to the local store for shopping with the 70 pfennigs3 a day they earned on working parties.

Almost immediately after the delousing and registration which followed their arrival, a number had gone to work-camps, Arbeitskommandos, in the district. They were made to work on roads, on railways, in factories, clearing a building site, or on odd

1 There were about fifty RAF officers transferred from Stalag Luft I and a few from Dulag Luft.

2 Maj G. H. Thomson, NZMC, who was awarded the OBE for his continuous efforts to secure better conditions for British prisoners of war in Germany in the course of his duties as a camp medical officer.

3 A Reichspfennig was one-hundredth of a Reichsmark. At the exchange rate agreed by Britain and Germany of £1 = 15 RM, 70 pfennings represented just over 11d. The pay was really 1.80 RM a day, from which 1.10 RM was deducted for food, board, and camp fund thus:

Food.80 RM
Board.20 RM
Camp fund.10 RM

page 86 jobs for the local council. Many were hired out to local farmers and lived well on the farms, though their hours of work were very long. Although warned strictly about fraternisation with prisoners, many of the civilians were soon on friendly terms, which in spite of the heavy penalties involved1 sometimes ripened into intimacy. While it was in summer comparatively easy to get away from such places of work, it was difficult to go far without being caught, and the long distance to be covered on both land and sea before reaching Allied territory caused most men to regard final escape as impracticable. Nevertheless many broke camp, even if only to get a change of scene, and a few reached Hungary or the partisans in Yugoslavia.

The truckloads of prisoners not destined for Marburg found their way to Wolfsberg in south-eastern Austria. The little town is set in a broad green valley against a background of snow-capped mountains and fir-planted slopes. The camp just outside the town had originally held Belgian officers,2 but for some months before the arrival of British prisoners had become a base camp for Belgian and French labour detachments and had been renamed Stalag XVIIIA. In order to keep the camp free from vermin, the trainloads which began to arrive from Greece at the end of June were temporarily segregated in eight large tents erected on a spare piece of ground outside the camp. They were searched, given a hot shower, their clothes were deloused, and they were registered in the camp records. Some were issued with assorted pieces of captured continental uniform, with wooden clogs, and with unfamiliar square pieces of cloth in place of socks. As fresh trainloads (sometimes a thousand strong) arrived, all fit prisoners who had been ‘processed’ were sent off to working camps to make room for the new arrivals. Those who remained were housed in converted brick stables, where three-tier bunks with a palliasse and a blanket had been prepared for them and rather primitive washing troughs and latrines improvised. By 21 July the camp strength included some 5500 British and Dominion prisoners, 3700 of whom had been sent on to various work detachments.

The German rations were estimated to provide about 1800–2000 calories a day3, which when supplemented by Red Cross parcels provided an ample diet, though there were at first delays over the Red Cross issues. With good food, a clean camp, and the healthy climate of the district, the British medical officer was able to report

1 Sentences of up to ten years' imprisonment (in a military prison) for the prisoner of war.

2 At that time it was known as Oflag XVIIIB.

3 The estimate is that of an IRCC delegate (a doctor), and would have been made before the ration cut of June 1941.

page 87 in August that, although the prisoners had arrived from Greece in a very bad condition, their health was now improving.

It did not take the British Commonwealth prisoners long to weld themselves into a strong community. An energetic ‘man-of-confidence’ was elected to deal with the German authorities in all matters regarding the prisoners' welfare;1 a senior warrant officer took charge of internal discipline and administration, presiding over a committee of hut commanders. At first no one knew the rights of prisoners under the Geneva Convention, but they were quick to learn after the visits of United States consular representatives and delegates from the International Red Cross Committee. Non-commissioned officers who had unwittingly obeyed orders and gone out to work were informed of their privileges. When British battle dress arrived in September, the prisoners finally had their way over the control of its issue, though not without considerable argument. No doubt their path was made a little easier by the fact that the deputy commandant was reasonably well disposed towards them.

Gradually the amenities of the camp were improved. Some books arrived in August and gave men something to talk about other than the campaigns they had just fought, which had up till then been the subject of endless recountings, elaborations, and sometimes recriminations. A small theatre was rigged up in one of the rooms. The arrival of mail from England in September supplied the link with the outside world for which many were hungry, though men from Australia and New Zealand had to wait longer for their first letters from home. As winter drew on the cold began to cause hardship to the many with insufficient underclothing, no socks, and worn-out boots. The stables proved damp and comfortless and the promised shelter for latrines and washing troughs did not materialise. By October the German camp authorities were administering some 22,500 prisoners, whose representatives were encountering that delay in effecting promised improvements which many camp leaders elsewhere were also finding so exasperating.

Conditions in the Arbeitskommandos depended very largely on the character of the German NCO in command and of the employer for whom the prisoners worked, though living quarters were generally quite good. A large party working on a dam at Lavamünd was comfortably housed and enjoyed good camp facilities, including hot showers daily. Eighty men working in a brick factory lived in the well-lit and heated rooms of specially built barracks.

1 The term ‘man-of-confidence’ is a literal translation of the French ‘homme de confiance’, which appears in the French text of the 1929 Geneva Prisoners of War Convention, its equivalent in the English text being ‘representative’.

page 88 A party of 160 engaged on road work was lodged in a large converted house. Two hundred men working for an engineering firm had single-tier beds with three or four blankets, ample space for sport, flower and vegetable gardens—in the words of the inspecting IRCC delegate, ‘a model camp’. Their hours of work varied between eight and nine and a half, with Sundays free for most, though laundry and camp fatigues took up a good deal of their free time. They were fed on the larger scale of ‘heavy’ civilian worker's ration,1 together with Red Cross food from the stalag. On the other hand, with only a medical orderly in the camp and an often rather indifferent civilian doctor paying infrequent visits, injuries were sometimes badly treated and incipient illnesses neglected. There were sometimes delays in the smaller Arbeitskommandos in getting letter-cards, pay, and canteen facilities. And many were not used to the ‘stand-over-you’ type of foreman and the longer hours of work common in European countries.

Many of the later train-loads of prisoners leaving Salonika between August 1941 and April 1942, including medical officers and convalescents, travelled north as far as Silesia to Stalag VIIIB at Lamsdorf.2 The camp had a different atmosphere from that of the days when the British Army prisoners from the campaign in France straggled wearily in and the RAF NCOs and other ranks began to arrive from Dulag Luft. To the newcomers the contrast with what they had known up till then of prisoner-of-war conditions was as striking as that experienced by the officers who had gone to Biberach. The impression made is expressed in one report thus: ‘On 20 October 41 our arrival at Lamsdorf seemed to afford a glimpse of another world—a well-organised camp, food in plenty, PWs smart in new battle-dress and a high morale….’ As at Biberach, the progress made was largely attributable to the efforts of the camp leaders, in this case two very competent British Army warrant officers. A new German commandant appointed in 1941 seems to have been more amenable to reason than his predecessors. This is not to say that material conditions at Lamsdorf were comfortable.

Stone barracks with concrete floors each gave a floor space of about 75 yards by 12 yards, divided into two large rooms by a five-yard space containing an ablutions room and a room for washing clothes. About 350 men slept in each barrack in three-tier bunks, of which the uppermost was very close to the ceiling and the lowest within ten inches of the floor. In summer the barracks were dry and admitted plenty of light and air, but the water supply would often fail except for a few hours each day. In winter the floors

1 It included, for example, 500 grammes of bread, as against the ordinary ration of 320 grammes.

2 see pp. 30–1 for an earlier account of the camp.

page 89 were almost constantly wet from tramping feet and the barracks festooned with damp clothing. Missing windows had to be boarded up to keep out the weather; even so, the low temperatures caused layers of ice to form on the inside walls and on the floors of the ablution rooms. Five pathetic light globes in each room made winter reading almost impossible, and there was never enough fuel to supply the two or three large stoves. Latrines were of the deeppit type, cleared at too infrequent intervals by pumping into a mobile tank, which then spread its contents over the surrounding fields1 within 50 yards of the stalag perimeter. Nobody was allowed out of the barracks after 9 p.m., and the inside night latrine provided was quite inadequate for the numbers who had to use it. Inadequate provision for delousing new arrivals was responsible for the introduction of vermin into the camp, to which an outbreak of typhus towards the end of 1941 was thought to be attributable. Fortunately the British medical staff took prompt and effective measures, and the German camp staff were jolted into co-operation, with the result that only three deaths occurred.2

If the buildings and sanitation left much to be desired, their standard was very little lower than that of the German rations. Fortunately there was a stock of Red Cross food parcels sufficient for a while to issue one a week. Potatoes were cooked, and soup and hot drinks made in a central kitchen in huge boilers. One warrant officer summed up the food situation by saying, ‘You could exist but not get fat’. In the sleeping barracks, to which the food was carried in large containers, there was less than half the number of tables and forms necessary to seat all the occupants, and no eating utensils were supplied.

While there was a shortage of drugs, medical facilities were it seems quite adequate, though there were the same difficulties at working camps as have been noted with Stalags XVIIIA and XVIIID—especially in a nearby coalmine Arbeitskommando. At the head of the prisoners' own administration was the camp leader—in this camp the elected ‘man-of-confidence’, a very able British warrant officer. He appointed a representative for Red Cross supplies and correspondence, a camp sergeant-major, and a leader for each

1 This method of sewage disposal was in fairly general use for prisoner-of-war camps in Germany.

2 The delousing station was outside the camp but was operated by British Commonwealth medical orderlies from within. It was used not only for British but also for Russians. Typhus broke out in the camp on 28 November, the first six cases being from among medical orderlies working in the delousing station. On the orders of the senior British medical officer, Lt-Col Bull (NZMC), all hair was removed from the heads and bodies of the inmates of the camp within the next four days and a strenuous effort was made to rid the camp of lice. When fresh cases occurred on 6 December, Bull strongly recommended to the German authorities certain improved arrangements for isolation, disinfestation, and personal hygiene. These were accepted and put into practice. Only 18 cases of typhus occurred in the camp and only three of these proved fatal.

page 90 compound1 (of about 1000 men), who in turn appointed his own barrack leaders.

Recreation seems to have been well organised and aided by ample equipment, thanks largely to the World Alliance of YMCAs: sports, games, theatre, arts and handicrafts, and gardening were all flourishing. Music was of a good standard, with an orchestra performing as early as 1941. After much persuasion the Germans agreed to set aside half a barrack each for a church, a theatre, and a school. The last was inadequate to accommodate all those who flocked to the language and other classes offered.

A New Zealand warrant officer who was at the camp wrote:

The bearing of the British soldiers who were captured in France and their generosity and organisation was the biggest factor in improving morale ….

Most informants are agreed that an adequate supply of food from whatever source sent morale up, and lack of it caused despondency. For a while the German authorities broadcast ‘Lord Haw-Haw’ sessions over the camp loudspeakers in an effort to obtain converts. But the scornful laughter that greeted the more far-fetched of the broadcast statements, and the lack of any tendency on the prisoners' part to act otherwise than as the temporary detainees of a nation that would ultimately be defeated, probably influenced the authorities in later discontinuing them. Indeed the early German propaganda was so naïve, and showed so little psychological understanding of British prisoners, that many of the latter developed the habit of disbelieving on principle every statement, oral or printed, which came from enemy sources. Escape from the heart of western Europe was in this period generally considered wellnigh hopeless, though a camp organisation helped a constant succession of attempts, mostly from working camps. For many, breaking camp was merely a means of relief from an undesirable working party, as on recapture the offender was returned to stalag.

The increased British offensive air activity in 1941 consisting of fighter sweeps and bomber raids on the Continent was not carried out without losses in aircraft over the sea and over enemy territory. In 1941 the French underground organisations were assisting many shot-down airmen to evade capture and return to England. But not all had an opportunity to make contact with helpers, and others were caught after weeks of freedom. By October the number of New Zealand Air Force prisoners had risen to over a hundred. As early as July 1941 the British Air Force NCOs' and other ranks' compound at Lamsdorf was full to overflowing, and that at Stalag

1 There were ten compounds, each of four barracks intended to hold about 1000 men, but in which more than 1500 were packed on occasion. At the end of 1941 the camp population (all nationalities) was about 20,000.

page 91 Luft I was also overcrowded.1 Accordingly a hundred newly-captured Air Force NCOs were sent from Dulag Luft to Stalag IXC at Badsulza, in Thuringia, and another fifty to Stalag IIIE, at Kirchhain, on the northern borders of Saxony, numbers at the latter being increased during the summer to just short of two hundred. Badsulza was a large, crowded stalag, of the same type as Lamsdorf, for French, Belgian, and Serbian other ranks, the British Air Force personnel being placed in a separate barrack and not allowed to leave their own compound. Kirchhain comprised a wired compound enclosing four brick bungalows, which had been a pre-war youth hostel and rifle club, now shared by the British Air Force prisoners with some French. In spite of strict security measures at the latter camp, twelve men managed to break out in October; rather brutal reprisals were taken on the remainder.2

At Oberursel interrogation centre it was still the policy to solicit information in a smooth and plausible manner, and on release to the adjacent transit camp, to almost kill the prisoner with kindness. Thanks to adequate supplies of Red Cross food parcels, the food was good and well prepared. In the spring ski-ing parties gave place to pleasant walks in the woods. Nevertheless, by the end of the summer of 1941, 19 had made breaks from the transit camp and five from the hospital. In Stalag Luft I at Barth the spring and summer of 1941 saw regular supplies of Red Cross food coming into camp, the arrival of sports gear and books and the purchase of musical instruments, all of which gave considerable fillip to sport, educational classes, and entertainments. This period saw, besides several unsuccessful attempts, the first two Air Force escapes from Germany, two RAF officers getting to Sweden.

The officers of all three services who had been in Oflag IXA/H at Spangenburg were in February 1941 suddenly transferred to Stalag XXA, a fortress at Thorn, in Poland, as a reprisal for alleged ill-treatment of German prisoners in Canada. The castle was closed up and 60-odd convalescents from hospitals, with a few doctors and chaplains, were left in the Lower camp. At the same time 50 Air Force officers from Barth were also sent to Thorn. While the German authorities denied using reprisals and claimed to be within their rights under international law, it is clear that the conditions at Thorn could not be reconciled with the spirit of

1 Although 50 officers were sent from Stalag Luft I at Barth to Stalag XXA at Thorn in February 1941, and another 50 to Oflag XC at Lubeck in July, by the end of the year there were still 230 at Barth. The NCOs' compound contained 550 as early as June 1941.

2 Their boots were taken away and they were made to move in wooden clogs at their fastest pace at rifle point round a field for two and three-quarters hours, even though many men were physically weakened on account of the poor rations received over the previous months.

page 92 the Geneva Convention. The prisoners were housed in a fort used by the Germans in 1914–18, the greatest part of which was below ground level and flanked by a moat with sheer sides. Several escapes were attempted from the fort and one Air Force officer succeeded in reaching Sweden. Meanwhile, the German officers having been removed from the offending camp in Canada, the British returned from Thorn to Spangenburg in July,1 both upper and lower camps becoming more overcrowded than ever. Finally, in October the officers were moved out to Warburg in conformity with the German plan of assembling all British officers in one large camp.

The last considerable batch of those seriously sick and wounded, who had come up from Athens in the Gradisca, had left Salonika by hospital train in November. The train, which was properly equipped with hospital beds and orderlies in attendance in each carriage, also carried German casualties. The journey took a devious route, dropping on the way patients, both British and German, at various hospitals which specialised in certain types of sickness or wound. In German military hospitals our men seem to have received very similar treatment to that given to the German patients. Eventually they found their way to prisoner-of-war hospitals, which varied to some extent according to the attitude of the local German authorities, though most seem at this stage to have suffered from overcrowding and to have had to rely mainly on British Red Cross supplies of bandages and dressings. The 450-bed hospital, or Lazarett, attached to Stalag VIIIB, Lamsdorf, was equipped for almost any type of operation and fully staffed by British medical officers and orderlies. On the other hand Lazarett Dieburg (attached to Stalag IXB), to which some of our wounded were sent, was reported as having rather out-of-date equipment. Others who went to Lazarett Rottenmunster (attached to Stalag VB) were reported in September as needing Red Cross supplies of food, clothing, and blankets. The efforts of British medical officers and orderlies in hospitals and camp sick-bays to secure better treatment and comfort for sick and wounded prisoners, as well as their own care for them, are beyond praise.

The plight of the maimed, incurable, and other sick whose continuance in captivity would prejudice their chance of recovery had not been neglected. The initiative on their behalf had been taken on the outbreak of war by the International Red Cross Committee, which drew the attention of belligerent powers to the

1 The German Government had by then agreed not to make further use of fortresses or penal establishments to house British prisoners of war. But Oflag IVC remained an obvious contravention of this principle.

page 93 articles1 of the Geneva Prisoners of War Convention relating to repatriation of such cases and to the setting up of Mixed Medical Commissions to select candidates for repatriation, at the same time urging them to conclude agreements for the purpose on the model of that set out in the Annex to the Convention. This model was accepted by the British, German, and Italian governments at an early stage of the war, with the omission of the provisions for accommodating certain categories in a neutral country instead of repatriating them. Mixed Medical Commissions had been set up, and although in Italy progress was slow, by the end of March 1941 66 Germans and 1153 British Commonwealth prisoners had been passed as eligible for repatriation.2 No agreement had been reached concerning the route to be used for the exchange, until in September the Germans suggested the use of the cross-Channel route, which they had previously opposed.3 Arrangements went ahead smoothly until a few days before the scheduled date, and shortly after Hitler's return from the Russian front, when there was a sudden change of tone on the German side. On 6 October the German radio broadcast that they would not agree to repatriation except on the basis of numerical equality. Britain refused to accept these new terms, and the whole scheme had to be abandoned. It appears now that the German volte-face was due to the personal intervention of Ribbentrop; and it is thought that the advance public interest shown in the British press and radio encouraged the Germans at the last moment to raise their price and so commit this ‘flagrant breach of faith’.4 For the amputees, the blind, the cot-cases, who had been so near to deliverance, it was a heartbreaking experience. Though they were kept for some time at Rouen,5 nothing further eventuated. It was probably this first sad failure which gave birth to a distrustful attitude towards repatriation among prisoners in Germany. Even among those selected in later years to go home, many remained sceptical until they were actually on the repatriation ship.

1 Articles 68 and 74.

2 In addition 35 Germans and 700 British Commonwealth protected personnel were selected including a few New Zealanders. Britain had also agreed to include a number of German civilian women and children in the transport leaving from her port.

3 Dieppe was to have been the port of exchange.

4 For this reason most careful preparations were made in each later repatriation operation to avoid publicity until it was an accomplished fact.

5 The Rouen party included several score without one, two or three limbs, all of whom were returned to Lamsdorf.

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Colour map and diagram

North Africa and Italy, 1941-42