Part 1 - "Missing in Action - Believed POW"
Chapter 2 - Being a POW
The importance of news, the general local news of the war as it progressed on one's own front, together with other fronts much further away, but in particular personal news from home, cannot be over-emphasized. Letters from home are read, re-read, and then kept for further reading, becoming one of the most treasured of all personal possessions. For the POW, the safe delivery of a letter, plus the occasional parcel from home, transfers him for a moment away from his immediate surroundings to a far better one, so well and fondly remembered.
The conditions of sending mail to ANZAC POW in Switzerland, were laid down by the Australian Government to its High Commissioner in London. A copy of this letter follows:
MAIL TO POW
High Commissioner London
L 4195/971 12 October 43
10087 - POW Escapees from Italy to Switzerland - My 9982 8 October
1. No further names are available and UK believe Germans may prevent any further escapes to Switzerland. Total British names received are approximately 1,200.
2. F/O advises that according to International Law, escapees are "free men". For obvious reasons, the UK considers it undesirable that such escapees should be at large and they are being concentrated into camps by British Attache at Berne and Swiss Government Camps will be provided by Swiss who will recover costs from the UK. Proposed that country of origin will cover costs of own escapers - clothing and blankets for all ranks through Bristish Red Cross, Geneva.
As far as possible, camps will be conducted by British officers and NCOs. Food in agreement with Swiss. Ample Britist reserves in Geneva Pay 1/2 Sterling. Initial and weekly payments to be a charge to prisoners on prisoners own accounts.
Work - suitable work to be provided by Swiss.
Correspondence - doubtful whether escapees are entitled to POW or Internee mail no stamps - Mail is not to be sent to Embassy or Red Cross. Letters to be sent to High Commissioners Office until camp addresses available.
(255/16/08) 22 November, 1943.
Australian Red Cross
Royal College of Surgeons Building
(a) Letters to be addressed
British Internee (followed by regimental number, rank and name)
Wil. St. Gall
The words "POW Mail" to be written in right hand corner of envelope
NO stamps required
(b) Cables by usual charges and conditions
(c) No quarterly next-of-kin parcels are to be forwarded at present
It is further desired that no further publicity be given to this matter.
17 October. PMG Treasury Gardens Melbourne to High Commissioner LONDON
Letters from Lt Barney Grogan
When narrator VX40591 Lt Barney Grogan, 2/23rd Inf Bn had settled into his permanent prison camp at Razzanello, near Piacenza in central Italy, he was able to write his first letter home to his family in Mirboo North, a small country town in Gippsland, Victoria.
From: Lieut. B .B .Grogan, Campo Concentramento Prigioni di Guerra, Agazzand, Razzanello, Piacenza, ITALY
To: Mr. G. A. Grogan, Mirboo North, Gippsland, Victoria, AUSTRALIA
May 19th. 1941
Dear Mother, Father, and Phil:
I am awfully sorry to have given you all this worry you must have had during my missing period. I very much hope you were not kept in suspense for very long. I know you think it bad enough to be a prisoner, but it is 100% on what I expected.
I was captured out on a patrol from Tobruk. All I can say on the subject is that it was either a few bayonet through the stomach or a prisoner, and believe me, it did not take much deciding. I would not be much good to anybody dead. But by eating plenty of Italian food, I may be doing some good. Anyway I am sure that it is much better to be alive than dead. There are some things that don't make it too bad.
Firstly my pay goes on and it should add up a bit at a decent rate. Secondly, I have seen a bit of the world that I would never have seen otherwise, with large possibilities of now seeing England when the war finishes. There are now two other Australians here with me and the English officers here seem to think that's it's a certainty we will go to England from here, get a months leave to recuperate and then move to Australia and once there, I shall never want to leave it again, but while I am over here, would like, and will try, to see as much as possible. Don't think, by that, that we will need to recuperate. I'm sure I shall be as fit as a fiddle. Do quite a lot of exercise every day and the food is good now, but for a while until we got to an established camp, things were not the best.
Was captured on the 22nd of April. The unfortunate part of it was, all the clothes I had on were a pair of overalls and a cardigan - nothing in my pockets except a very small amount of tobacco and handkerchiefs. But different chaps have been very good to me and kept me going with a few cigarettes every now and again, have also given me a pair of trousers and a coat. An Italian officer also gave me a greatcoat and now the Italian Government pay us so much a day. I shall be able to stock my wardrobe once more. My clothes are back in Tobruk, and at base, will eventually be sent back home. If they get there in reasonable time, I will get you to send my uniform, cap and greatcoat back over to me. I hope of course that that is not possible, and the war ends before you have the opportunity, but think it will last a fair while yet. I will also write to John Methuen and if they have not left, get them to send them on to me.
We are limited in our letter writing, but will write every week, even if it be so little, as news will be as scarce as hen's teeth. You can imagine that we are not being taken on sightseeing tours of the country, but a couple of times a week, we are allowed a fairly long walk which is really good and I'm sure Italy is the most beautiful country in the world. I never imagined there was anything like it for absolute beauty. If only I could get some snaps of the country around our home to take back with me. I shall leave my travels to next letter as there are things I want you to do and things I want, so will do these things with this letter.
I will give you the names and telephone numbers of the other 2 Australians with me. On receipt of this letter will you ring them, if they have not already rung you, and tell them that their sons "Mort" and "Jack" are POW and are both fit and well. Mrs. Edwards H.W. U 4780, and Mrs. Kroger UL 2558. Mort Edwards was in the RAAF, crashed his plane near Derna. Jack Kroger is a schoolmaster at Wesley and was captured near Derna also. They are both well and very nice chaps, so you don't have to worry about us, we'll manage to knock out a bit of fun together.
There are two things I would like you to send me if you possibly can - cigarettes, tobacco and papers, and chocolates. These things are scarce in Italy and what we do get of them is pretty poor quality - or so we think! It would, I think, be a good idea to get the Red Cross authorities to find out how to send them etc. there is a fair bit of mucking about. I know parcels can't exceed 10 lb. and cigarettes have to come through some authorised source. Still the Red Cross will be able to tell you. I will not be able to write to anybody else, but believe I can get as many letters as are written, so perhaps you can pass the word around. I'd love to receive a few and hear all the news as I have not had a letter from anybody since the first of April, so there must be a few around for me that will be sent back again, I believe. If they arrive home will you send them back to me again. I believe that there will be letters floating around the world for me.
Many happy returns for next Saturday Dad, not a very pleasant birthday present knowing I'm a POW, still at least you know I will be home with all faculties, just as soon as I would have been back otherwise - still I know where I would sooner be, back in Tobruk with the rest of the boys, no matter how sticky it be. Think perhaps, I had better wish you, Mother, many happy returns for your birthday because you won't receive this letter until after that. How is my nephew or niece as the case may be? I hope that everything went alright and that Graham is happy being "Daddy". Will have to finish this letter now as we are only allowed one page and I don't know how many signatures etc. have to go on the bottom. Please don't worry, am absolutely alright and have no doubt will continue to be so. Lots of love to all.
Your loving son (Barney)
I have written a couple of letters by sea mail. They will be a long time reaching Australia. Today we were told we could write a letter by airmail, so I shall repeat my first letter which probably won't reach you till long after this one.
This letter has a long journey home, but believe it only takes 3 weeks - goes via Switzerland, Russia, Japan, America and then Australia.
Honestly being a POW is 100% better than I thought it would be. We are in a very comfortable home (about 70 officers) with absolutely marvellous surroundings. The Italian officers who keep their eyes on us are very pleasant and stick religiously to the Geneva Conventions. So to ease your mind as to my comfort, treatment etc. you could get a copy of them from the Red Cross. There are a few things in favour of being a prisoner - safety -it practically makes a certainty of getting home now (pretty doubtful before). Will probably get a trip to England after the war - released from here to England - a months leave and then home will do me. With all this rosy future seemingly, I'd love to be back in Tobruk with my comrades taking whatever chances that may come.
I think if I remember rightly in my last letter home,from Tobruk, I said I thought it was a good war. It's still not bad at all. Have seen an extra country or so that I would not have seen otherwise, and have decided to look on my prison life as a holiday with a bit of work thrown in ...
Am doing accountancy - Jack Kroger was a teacher at Wesley (commercial) and is taking three of us right through - we have been going a fortnight now, about three hours a day, so by the time we leave here, I should be a fully qualified accountant ...
Am getting parcels of clothes etc. from England. An English major is having it sent for me and I will pay him after he war...
I wished you both "Many Happy Returns" in my sea mail letter. Am under conditions that will probably worry you, but "Scouts Honour" I am fit and well and comfortable and will be home just as soon as if I had not been a prisoner.
Lots of love and I am looking forward to some news. Suppose it will be ages before I get some mail.
Hope you have sold out and given up work and are both well.
As ever your loving son ( Barney)
21 June 1941
Today is your birthday Mother. All the best, I hope you are fit and well. Midwinter, cold I presume there. Midsummer and beautiful weather here in Italy known as sunny Italy - very true. I don't think I have ever been in a more enjoyable climate. As I have spare time on my hands, beautiful hot weather and a decent lawn to lie on, I am doing what I always had ambitions for - suntanning as brown as a nigger. At least a couple of hours every day, thrown in with 2-3 hours of accountancy, 2 hours bridge, couple of hours for meals, the days pass very quickly and pleasantly...
We miss the news, and most important of all news from home. I'd love to get a letter from home ...
We have become experts at bridge - contract is a much better game than auction.....
We are playing 3d. per 100 to be settled after the war. I doubt whether we have felt better in our lives ... A good spell won't hurt me so long as its not too long.
As ever your loving son, (Barney)
Lieut B.B. Grogan
11th July 1941.
This has been a very exciting week for me ... 19 more Australian officers arrived, 3 of my own battalion - Major Perry, Trevor Neundorf and Godfrey Sheldrick. Also 8 officers of the 24th Battalion, all of whom I knew prety well before the war.
It was good to hear the news and find out later information about what the unit was doing. Johnny Menthuen was sent back to Alexandria with a bad finger. He was lucky I think, otherwise he would have been in the same show as myself........
Also some bad news - at least half our original battalion has been wiped out, including many of our officers. I suppose we took that risk when we joined up. Russia coming into the war ought to finish it one way or another before another 12 months. I hope so anyway. This life will become fairly boring after a while ...
We have a bridge tournament on at present. I am playing with Jack Kroger. We look like finishing up about 3rd pair ... Have to finish at 24 lines.
Hope you are all fit and well.
Lots of love from your loving son (Barney)
Letters from Sid Kinsman