Part 4 - Nominal Roll All AIF POW "Evades" in Switzerland
Chapter 5 - AIF POW "Free Men"
Support Units in Switzerland
Although most of the AIF POW "representatives" of Support Units in Switzerland were from units attached to the AIF Ninth Division, they were joined by a surprising number of their colleagues from the AIF Sixth Divison captured earlier in the battles for Greece and Crete.
To quote but one example: the 3 LAA Regiment, evacuated from Greece, had no less than 19 "representatives" in Switzerland, which later had been attached to the Ninth Division during the battles at El Alamein, while of the AIF AASC POW reaching Switzerland, six were from the Sixth Division attachment, while only five were from the Ninth Division.
In all, approximately one third of all "AIF POW representatives" in Switzerland were from AIF support troop units.
As with all AIF POW "evades" in Switzerland, they have been incorporated into the Nominal Roll of WWII ANZAC "Free Men" in Europe in Part Six of this Compendium.
This section is divided into Gunners, Sappers, Pioneers, Communications, Intellience and Medics
2/1st Field Regiment
B12 "Six Years in Support - Official History of 2/1st Field Regiment", Major Eric Valentine Haywood MC. Edited by Brig. A.G. Hanson DSO, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1959.
POW in Switzerland:
NX1065 Raymond Fred Hood - entered 04.10.43, left 23.09.44
NX727 James Gregory Hyland - entered 07.10.43, left 23.09.44
NX1068 Cedric Thomas White - entered 22.09.43, left 23.09.44
2/2nd Field Regiment
B13 "Action Front - The History of the 2/2nd Australian Field Regiment, RAA, AIF", Brigadier W.E. Cremor, Melbourne, 1961.
Regiment didn't go to Crete. No POW in Switzerland.
2/3rd Field Regiment
B14 (?) "The Thunder of Guns", Les Bishop, 1998. ISBN 06463576X
POW in Switzerland:
SX1154 Lt John Carr Morish - entered 11.11.43, left 23.09.44
NX1068 Cedric Thomas White - entered 22.09.43, left 23.09.44
2/3rd Anti Tank Regiment
"Target Tank - The history of the 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment, 9 Div., AIF", Col Neville Lucas Argent, Lt Col T.A. Harris, Lt N.F. Pickering, Major H.G.M. Browning, W.T.Collins (Committee), Sydney, 1957.
The Story of the 2/3 Anti-Tank Regiment RAA AIF, now the 23 Field Regiment, RAA Army Reserve, Sydney, July, I975.
Manuscripts: Radio Interview - Ted Kent, Yarragon, Victoria, 17.05 95. Transcript: Keith Sharp, Switzerland, September, 1943.
As with most other AIF units with POW in Italy, the 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment has members whose stories well illustrate feelings of "being free, but still a POW". 24 were "representatives" of their Regiment in Switzerland.
At least another two, NX17211 A. Garbutt and NX34604 R. Paton actively fought with partisans in North Italy.
Two gunners however, never made it to Italy.
Lost when the "Nino Bixio" was torpedoed were:
NX33447 Keith Harrison Page and NX27353 Alexander Roden.
NX53868 Osbourne Peter Norton-Knight died in captivity in Italy on August 25, 1942, from wounds received on the "Nino Bixio".
NX26555 John Frizell was attached to the 2/28th Inf Bn on their disastrous attack on Ruin Ridge - El Alamein. He survived the torpedoing but eventually finished up as a German POW in Stalag 8A.
QX10358 Keith Sharp was in a unique situation inasmuch as he escaped with his father, NX60017 Lt Frank Sharp MC, a veteran of World War I, from the "Moosburg Express" taking them from Bologna to captivity in Germany.
QX16624 Ted Kent is one of the narrators of this Compendium.
With Acknowledgements and Thanks to:
A. J. Frizell 2/3rd Anti-Tank Rgt
In his manuscript "Luck of the Draw", John Frizell recounts the battle for Ruin Ridge at El Alamein. He was then attached to the 2/28th Inf Bn and he too became a POW.
"Conditions in the Benghazi "cage" were harsh with little food, water and medical attention. We were hungry, ill-clad and suffering from dysentery, desert sores, and unattended wounds. Thus by August 16th, it came as almost bitter relief to be told we would embark on two freighters, bound for Italy, with over 2,000 prisoners crammed into holds of each of the "Sestriere" and the "Nino Bixio". As to which vessel each prisoner was to join, this became a matter of pure fate.
"We were lined up at tables with two Italian officers, under German supervision, taking particulars and handing out boarding passes. One pass denoted "Sestriere" and the other "Nino Bixio". The writer cannot recall which was which, but, in the luck of the draw, I won a ticket on the "Sestriere" and we were duly herded aboard and crammed into the holds in appalling conditions. On August 16th, in Company with the "Nino Bixio" and escorted by two Italian destroyers and two motor torpedo boats, we set out towards Taranto in southern Italy.
"Next day, as the small convoy approached the vicinity of Crete, it was joined, unseen, by another vessel, the British submarine HMS "Turbulent" commanded by Commander Linton VC. At 15.30 hours, the submarine, her skipper unaware of the human cargo carried by the two vessels in her periscope sights, unleashed two torpedoes. The two "fish" narrowly missed the bow of the "Sestriere", but found their mark in the engine room and number One hold of "Nino Bixio" steaming abreast of us.
"The two explosions that devastated "Nino Bixio" reverberated through "Sestriere" causing understandable consternation among the prisoners crammed below, their guards, and the crew. This was soon brought under control by officers, and the small group of gentlemen from the Afrika Corps who were on board to make sure we all enjoyed our free Mediterranean cruise.
"From the few prisoners who had been allowed on deck for "latrine duties" we soon learned that the "Nino Bixio" had been torpedoed and was listing badly. We then considered our own options which seemed to be:
a. being smitten at any moment by more torpedoes.
b. being dramatically liberated by the British Navy.
c. charging up the decks and taking control of the ship.
"Option a. seemed to be the front runner on the betting boards, but there was one option we had not thought of and that was the escort ships and "Sestriere" would just take off and leave the "Nino Bixio" to her fate. This sensible option, from the Italian point of view at least, was exercised, and off we went without the escort dropping even one depth charge. The air cover has also departed in equally valiant fashion.
"It was not until many weeks later that a few survivors began to dribble in to our POW camp 57 near Udine in north Italy. From these men, we were able to piece together the tragic story of what befell those on board the "Nino Bixio".
"There had been about 700 men crammed into the ship's No. One hold when the torpedoes struck without warning. In the hold, one torpedo had pierced the ships thin skin and exploded inside, immediately killing more than half of the men trapped down there. The hold filled rapidly with water and many more were drowned before they could escape to the deck above. Many were badly wounded and unable to move, although the survivors made valiant efforts to rescue those they could reach. As far as we know, not one survivor had been picked up by the escort vessels as the "Nino Bixio"'s other holds began to fill and the ship floundered helplessly. Miraculously she did not sink. At around 18:00 hours, one of the escorts ventured back to the scene and took the crippled vessel in tow. After several days they reached Navarino in southern Greece, and after discharging the survivors, she foundered in the harbour.
"Records are not clear as to the total casualties in the "Nino Bixio". One account says that of the 2,000 or more aboard, only 300 survived. What is accurately known is that 118 New Zealanders died, and of the 200 or so Australians in No. One hold, most of them survivors of the Ruin Ridge battle, 37 were killed or drowned. The rest of the ship's complement were Indians, English and South Africans. Some 19 men escaped in a rubber boat, but the sole survivor was picked up many days later by Italians. I heard about a few of the boys from the Regiment involved in this disaster, Keith Page and Alec Roden being killed, and Siddy Radford and one of the Norton-Knights brothers wounded.
"As the grim story unfolded to the rest of us at Campo 57, those, like the writer, who had drawn the right boarding pass that August day in Benghazi, realised just how lucky they were!"
(The policy of this Recorder has been to reproduce first hand stories of events exactly as they have been received. But it is only natural that many of the individuals directly concerned in such events remember them from different perspectives. Italian embarkation rolls did indeed allocate Allied POW with names A-L to the "Sestriere" and M-Z to the "Nino Bixio". However some POW swapped their "boarding passes" to stick with their mates, some unallocated POW were embarked, and there were other exceptions to these alphabetical allocations. Unit records of the 2/3rd Anti-Tank Rgt indicate that both Norton-Knight brothers were wounded on the "Nino Bixio" while the "small group of gentlemen from the Africa Corps" were German Ack Ack gunners manning their gun, which was part of the on-board defences of both vessels. In the memory of the Recorder, the Italian escort vessels definitely dropped depth charges around the torpedoed "Nino Bixio" among the many Indian POW from hold aft of the engine room who in their panic had jumped overboard. But this is only nit-picking! See the story of the "Chakdina" in the chapter in Volume I, "Transport of POW by sea", which illustrates different versions of the one event).
QX10358 Gnr Keith W. Sharp 2/3rd Anti-Tank Rgt
CAMP 75, Bologna, 8th September, 1943.
"The eighth of September started as an ordinary day in the life of the 3,000 odd POWs in the above camp, we all knew that the news was good with alleged rumours of allied landings all over the Italian coastline, but little did we realise that what we had so long awaited was about to eventuate - the Italians were about to sign the Armistice with the Allies shortly. We believed we would be able to return to our own countries. Throughout the day we continued with our usual routine which had become dreadfully monotonous with months of weary repetition, when suddenly as we were finishing off the day's work one of our number rushed in with the news - "Italy has capitulated". Imagine the faces of those present? It couldn't be true - just another buzz - which were plentiful. But we soon had the news verified. In no time we were discussing home and began packing our meagre belongings. In co-operation with the Italian camp commander, our officers took over our camp, but the Italians maintained guard. No one was allowed to leave camp and the Italian commander assured us that we would be protected until we were taken over by our troops. We had our doubts about this arrangement for we knew of the presence of German troops in the district and couldn't see them retiring from Italy and leaving us behind, especially as 45% of the camp consisted of officers. Emergency arrangements were therefore made and all the wire at the rear of the camp was cut and a signal agreed upon for a mass escape if it became necessary. Dad and I didn't feel real happy about the set-up and tried to get away but were ordered by the CO (British) to remain in camp. The Italians again assured us that there were no Germans in the area and promised to protect us fully if any did show up. We all turned in fully clothed and with a small pack of emergency rations near us and attempted to get some sleep.
"At about 5 in the morning the alarm sounded and we were told that the Germans had taken over the main gate, this started a general stampede for the rear of the camp and the cut wire. Here we were met with a burst of machine gun fire and a few grenades and although a few of us got out, most of us were herded back into the barbed wire enclosure. Only one chap was killed in the panic which was rather amazing.
"We were packed in the barbed wire enclosure pretty tightly and surrounded by machine gun detachments of a pretty trigger-happy bunch of Jerries. I personally felt that we were in for a mass murder and from the remarks of the others they were of the same opinion, however nothing happened of that nature and after the Germans had sorted out the wounded and found a few chaps that had hidden in drains and in the ceilings etc. we were returned to our huts and told to behave ourselves.
"Unfortunately for the Italians that had promised to "protect" us, they also became POWs. We still had control of a Red Cross store and it had a good supply of food in it, so we carried on more or less normally under the new management. On the morning of the 11th we received orders to prepare to move and rumour had it that we were going to the Kiwi camp at Modena, about 20 miles away, we were told that the Jerries were going to make a line at Bologna and that we were just being moved back a little (actually it was over a year later before the Allies arrived at Bologna). My Father and I intended to stick together as far as possible with the idea of getting away at the first possibility and with this object in view I obtained the Brigadier's permission to go as an officer. We split up all the Red Cross stores and destroyed all surplus food and clothing.
"Various officers and men hid in ceilings and drains and all types of impossible places, but knowing the German versatility with grenades when looking for strays we decided against this - actually we found out later that very few got away in this manner. We left for Bologna in motor trucks and were packed in like sardines and as we had a canvas cover over us to keep us out of view, things were very oppressive and one chap passed out in our truck. When we arrived at Modena we went immediately to the railway station and our worst fears were realised - we were off to Germany. After being herded into cattle trucks by a trigger-happy bunch of young Nazis we had a guard put over us and remained in the siding for the night. There were about 30 to a cattle truck and only some of us could lie down to sleep and as everybody was fed up and miserable about the morrow, it was a most uncomfortable night and little rest was had. The train had about 950 officers and 250 ORs, and after every third cattle truck there was a flat platform manned with machine guns on top of this there was one or two soldiers to each truck in a box affair at the end.
"We pulled out of Modena at about twelve the next day and headed North. Our truck had a few generations of cattle manure coating the floor and on lifting this we discovered that the wooden planks were fairly rotten in a couple of places. Somebody produced a short iron bar from somewhere and a party went to work to raise a plank or two. The train stopped frequently and often the Germans had a look in and so we had to be wary. The Italians proved very friendly at a couple of these stops men managed to get out. A couple of instances stand out. At one place a guard walked past an open door whilst we were being allowed to have some fresh air, he had a red flag in his hand, common to all railway guards, one of our fellows just grabbed the flag and walked down the line out of sight, the other chap saw some Italians unloading some cases of apples from a goods train pulled up next to us at one of the stops we had, he just joined the party and unloaded apples instead of going to Germany. We met both these chaps later in Switzerland.
It took until dark to prize the plank out of our truck and we then had an aperture large enough for one to get through. An officer crawled through under the truck and undid the sliding doors. Unfortunately the train then stopped and the Germans had an inspection but didn't look inside our truck, although they made the remark "the fools inside don't realise the door is unlocked" They locked it again on us, we proceeded, and the door opener had to do his job again. With the door open and no interruption from our confident guards, we drew lots to jump. Dad and I were ninth on the list. There was quite a bit of discord between those willing to get away and those not. Eventually while proceeding slowly up a hill, Dad and I jumped after dropping a pack of food. This was about four o'clock in the morning and we were in the vicinity of La Viss, just outside of Trento. This proved to be a lucky area for us as the Germans had shot up the Trento Division and quite a lot of civilians in the area and the Italians were definitely pro-Allied at least temporarily.
"We met up with Lt Hubble and Lt Douty and one OR and we decided to head for the mountains which we could see not far off. However after crossing a few fields we came across a river where Hubble and Douty left us and headed for a bridge whilst first light was coming. Dad and I decided to hide in a corn field and so get the lie of the land. Later in the morning we noticed three men and a boy creeping along the river bank and were surprised to see that two of them were British officers and had also escaped from the train. The other two (?) were Italians and proved very valuable, especially the boy who risked his life to assist us. The Italian that Dad had learnt in the camp was very handy as he was the only one that could speak to the Italians and from them we learned that the area was swarming with Germans especially the river area, and the bridge was well-guarded, lucky for us that we hadn't attempted to cross it. Owing to the risk of discovery we decided to hide until dusk when the Italians promised to come back and help us - with or without Germans we didn't know. The two British officers wouldn't wait and left us to cross the river and a little later we presumed that they were seen and probably caught for there was quite a disturbance about half a mile from where we were hiding.
"The two Italians returned at dusk and told us the Germans had just visited their farm house after food supplies. However they had salvaged enough to be able to bring us some which we quickly devoured, they also brought with them a pair of boots , for we had to destroy a pair of ours to get some money we had hidden between the soles. The lad then escorted us over the bridge and through the village. I wasn't too happy about this for both Dad and I were in battle dress and we walked right past a body of Germans outside their billets - one chap was busy cleaning his tommy gun - I had an itchy feeling in the back until we rounded the next corner. All went well until we arrived at a steep pass which went straight up the mountain. Here the lad left us and told us to go ahead and he would meet us at the top in the morning with food and probably clothes and instructions on where to go and whom to contact. He was able to travel on the mountain railway which was heavily guarded. We proceeded up the rugged path in the dark and in the valley of the Brenner Pass below we could see the lights of the German convoys streaming South.
"We kept going ahead slowly and feeling our way as best we could when suddenly behind us we heard somebody hurrying up the path. We had been told that this path was never used and so we immediately thought the worst but were very surprised when a chap in battle dress appeared out of the gloom - British soldiers on the loose seemed to be getting a common occurrence. This fellow was very run down and appeared very shaken and slightly hysterical.
He said we were going in the wrong direction, which we also had a similar feeling about, and that we should go down to the bottom and start up again. However we were too far up and too tired and decided to keep on going up. The fellow cleared out and left us soon after and we didn't see him again. Here a remarkable thing happened when you consider the circumstances for as we wended our way up, we heard the bushes rustle just in front of us, we stopped and listened and the murmuring of voices we could hear sounded very English, so we called and got a very Australian reply for the rustle in the bushes proved to be to be Bob Donnan, Lt McDonald and a Canadian pilot who had been in the next truck to us and had escaped 20 miles further down the line. They listened to our story about the Italian kid who was helping Dad and I as they had no fixed plan they decided to join us.
We decided that Dad and I would go ahead and make the contact, and Mac and Bob would join us later, so Dad and I went on and left the others. We were now very high up in the mountains and it was getting freezing cold and we could hardly keep going from lack of sleep. We lay down beneath the bushes and tried to rest but it had started to drizzle and if we stopped we started to get cramp and what with the cold, the cramps, the nervous excitement and hunger, we had just about had it.
"At first light we picked out a landmark that the Italian lad had mentioned and right on time he contacted us and gave us directions and instructions of possible contacts. I managed to get hold of an old Italian suit and so discard the battle dress, however I must have been quite a sight for the trousers would only reach half way down my shins. We said goodbye to the boy and the five of us headed for Andola. We decided to string out so that if we ran into trouble the others would be able to get away. After about an hour we tried to have a sleep in the morning sun but we just couldn't settle down and rest, so we pushed on to Andola. Dad and I arrived at this village and met some very decent people who fed us all and gave us further directions and contacts. They also wanted us to stay and join the Resistance but it didn't appeal to us at that stage. The people at Andola told us to follow the mountain tracks that were marked in red paint (the rocks lining the paths had a splash of red paint on them every few hundred yards and were used by alpinists and were paths that would lead to a definite destination and not just wild tracks).
"We were told that there was an alpine hut up in the Alps at Malga Spora where we could get food and water and rest. It was fairly late when we started up the mountain and the path proved very narrow and treacherous. At about 11.30 we had to stop as we were absolutely exhausted and could not carry on.
"We arranged to sleep in shifts and a fire was lit so that we could keep warm and we had no cover except the things we wore which were somewhat the worse for wear. After a short sleep we made an early move at first light next morning (15th September) and after about an hour arrived at a deserted hut about 3/4 mile further on we came upon Malga Spora which much to our disgust was also deserted so we missed out on the food and water just when it would have done us the most good. We pushed on after a short spell and found a mountain stream a little further on. (We carried water all through the trip, but never completely ran out of it owing to the abundance of mountain streams but we found if we drank too much it made you sick in the stomach and giddy.) The trail ahead proved very difficult and slippery and was also very narrow with a sheer drop on one side, it continued like this for about an hour and a half unil we crossed the summit. There we had another setback for in front of us was a series of even higher peaks that had to be crossed. We pushed slowly ahead right on the top of the world (10,000 feet according to map) and the going was pretty rough, we had a short rest but had to push on as everybody was falling asleep in the light air. At about two in the afternoon we began to descend, we came to a burnt out barracks and also three separate tracks without a sign of our now famous "red paint sign".
"After some argument we decided to keep straight ahead but we were getting worried as it was getting late and none of us were in any condition to spend another night in the Alps. At about five in the afternoon the path improved and descended much steeper and shortly we saw a house in the distance which we headed for.
"Dad and I went ahead to contact whoever might be there and as we rounded a turn in the track we came upon a small settlement - the Reffuge Tuckett - an abandoned alpine lodge - we also came face to face with a glacier which was the first I have ever seen. We waited for the others to catch up with us as according to the prior Italian instructions we must be on the wrong track, however we decided to go straight on down, just then we were hailed by three people further up the mountain and we got a bit of a start as we didn't expect anybody to appear from the rear, but we received more than a start when the three turned out to be Lt Sandy Mair, Lt Bob Jones and Lt Eggleston - 3 Australian officers we had last seen on the train. They had been put on our trail by the Italian that had helped us the day before. We all went down the mountain with Dad and myself in the lead. Just on dusk we arrived at a house on the mountainside and found a woman who was alone. She received a bad fright at the sight of the two of us but we explained that we were British POWs and asked her for assistance. She asked us to wait until her husband returned and she was sure he would help us. We called the others down and when the husband arrived he offered us accommodation but no food as the Germans had commandeered the lot. (These people were in a very bad way for food, it was just the start of winter and it is customary to have the store room full at this time of the year, to carry them over the winter months, they had two children to feed and expressed the hope that the Allies would arrive quickly.) The Italians had some oiled potatoes to eat for supper and we had some biscuits we carried. The husband and wife were drinking hot water as that was all they had but we managed to rake together enough tea leaves to provide everybody a cup of tea, the first the Italian couple had had for years. After the meal the husband went out to see if he could arrange for a guide to help us on our way in the morning. There are always mountain guides available in these areas to cater for the alpine climbers who climb these crags for a hobby (in peace time).
"No guides were free to help us however as the Germans had thought of the aid they could give, and they had been visited by the Germans and warned off. We discovered from our host and a map he gave us that we had taken the wrong path earlier and we should have come down in the valley pre-ceding the one we were now in. We also learned however that that valley was heavily covered by Germans and Fascists, so our mistake was lucky.
"Our host guided us down on our way early in the morning and left us at the foot of the range and told us the direction to take. We had to beg for food at two or three places and run the risk of being recaptured. One of these people was an ex-American immigrant who gave us an excellent lunch and told us we were to contact another ex-Yank. We lost Sandy Mair, Bob Jones, and Lt Eggleston during the afternoon but kept on going. At dusk we arrived at the other Iti-Yank who proved to be quite a character. He claimed to be an ex-bootlegger and looked the part. He fed us and gave us a bed each and wanted us to stay with him in the mountains until the war was ended. This we declined however.
"A guide got us out of bed at 3 in the morning and we proceeded up the valley arriving at the foot of another mountain at about 6.30 when the guide left us. Here we ran into some locals who on seeing us burst into tears for no apparent reason, they then dug up some potatoes from a field and gave them to us. Sandy Mair, Jones and Eggleston also caught up with us again after being guided by those we had passed. We proceeded in our usual manner except Dad and I brought up in the rear as Dad wasn't feeling the best. This next part of the trip proved to be the worst of the journey. It was terribly steep and dangerous and we proceeded a few yards at a time. At this rate we arrived at Madrona (a peak) at about noon thinking the worst was over. After a cup of tea which an old woman gave us - she was employed carrying barbed wire on her back down the mountainside in 100lb packs, a load that we couldn't even lift - we kept on going with the conditions becoming even worse, we had great difficulty in breathing and suffered from mountain sickness and were generally pretty done in. Dad and I were the last to reach the top and found ourselves in the middle of a glacier, this was a bit of a shock as we didn't know which way to turn but luck was still with us and we saw in the distance a man who appeared to be digging in the middle of this glacier. Lt Eggleston also had had previous experience with glaciers pre-war.
"We made our way slowly towards this character on the glacier and this ice was very slippery and treacherous and we skidded and slid all over the place. When we arrived at the spot the man was working on we found that he was digging up old shell cases from World War 1 and taking the driving band off them for salvage for the war effort, but not for the Allies - we were on an old Austrian-Italian battlefield. The Italian agreed to help us over the glacier and we went ahead in some places on hands and knees the next turn for we had no means of rescuing seemed to take ages as we skirted a few crevices and one slip really meant death for we had no means of rescue, one or two had close shaves, but luckily we all made it. I said every prayer I knew in that crossing about fifty times over. It was all downhill now and still very dangerous although we were again on solid earth for the track was steep and narrow and we were all very tired. However providence was with us again for we met another Italian who took us down and directed us to a house for the night. There were German patrols about and we had to go warily. A lad took us to a shed where we slept in the hay.
"At daybreak we skirted Ponte de Legno - an operational centre for German patrols - by making our way through thickly wooded and rough mountain country, we arrived at a first class road on the other side of the previous named town and owing to our condition and experiences of the previous day and general weariness we decided to travel by road for the first time since I escaped. We broke up into groups as was the custom and Dad and I dropped behind. The road became very steep and it started to rain. We met three English officers who had also been on our train on this road and began to marvel at the smallness of this world for this was the fourth time we had met escaped POW and the Italians had told us we were the only ones in the district. The others all went ahead and Dad and I reached the summit about six hours later. It was now pouring with rain and as there was absolutely no shelter here we continued on our way down the road. Later in the afternoon Dad and I came across a very respectable looking building named the "Bruno Mussolini Refuge for Alpinists" and as we now considered ourselves fair alpinists we decided to use it.
"After breaking in, it proved to be a very nice place, clubroom and kitchen downstairs - cupboards were bare - and bedrooms upstairs. My father had a rest while I kept a lookout for any unwelcome guests. We continued on our way much refreshed but still in the rain and arrived at St. Caterina at dusk. We could tell by the scared appearance of the villagers that the others were close handy and a lad guided us to the Inn. The owner was an Alpini Major and was very frightened as he had just received a notice from the Germans telling him and Italians in general that amongst other things they would be shot for harbouring escaped POWs. However after a meal and then we would have to go. After the meal however, we were finally allowed to sleep until 3 o'clock in the morning.
"We continued on our way in the moonlight and headed towards Bormio which we had been told was a German HQ as the town was on the main road between Geramo and the Brenner Pass, so we would have to get around it in the half light if possible and as this town was on the fork of two rivers we would have to be careful in chosing the track to enable to cross the river. My father and I went off on our own as the group could not agree on the direction to travel. We passed the main road and railway line and then over the bridge towards the valley. We ran into a church congregation at this point as it was Sunday morning, so we took a side track into the hills and so continued on our way from a height but with the main road in view. At about 8 o'clock we saw the others below on the road and so we knew that all had passed Boramio safely. We continued on this track all the morning and as we knew we were approaching the frontier we looked around for a likely character to try and help us. We came across a chap who told us he would guide us to the Swiss border for Five Pound Egyptian which we gave him. He told us that his business was smuggling articles across the border and certainly looked a real cut-throat.
"He lead us to within five miles of the frontier and then disappeared after giving us instructions in how to cross. At three in the afternoon we came in sight of a small brick building and saw flags flying from the top and as our guide had warned that there was a frontier post on the border. We decided to hide in the rocks until after dark. At about five o'clock we could hear movement in the rocks near us and so we decided to skirt the building and try and cross into Switzerland. We wended our way through various gullies when suddenly two soldiers jumped up in front of us and covered us with rifles. They were in greenish-grey uniforms and a scuttlebox type of steel helmet which we mistook in the dusk for German.
"They were Swiss however, and told us they had been watching us all afternoon. After producing our paybook amd proving we were British soldiers they escorted us to their guard post and safety.
"The distance we travelled was about 120 kilometres as the crow flies over the Dolomite mountains and it took us seven days. My Father and I crossed at Bernina Pass but the others of our party crossed further up the valley the following day. Lt Hubble and Lt Douty the two officers we saw on our first day out of the train finished on one of the glaciers so we have been told. We could never have made good our escape without the Italian people with whom we came into contact who did their best to help at every opportunity with guides etc. and who fed us from their meagre supplies while they themselves went hungry with the certainty of death from the Germans if they were discovered aiding us."
Switzerland Sept 1943
2/26th Anti Tank Regiment
Two "representatives" of this unit were reported as being in Switzerland.
VX26349 Henry William Drane - entered 05.10.43, left 23.09.44
NX20322 Ronald Roy Bell - entered 03.10.43, left 23.09.44
However no such unit appears to have existed.
NX20322 Ronald Roy Bell belonged to the 2/3rd Anti Tank, while the unit of VX26349 Henry (?)
William Drane has not to date been identified.
There was a Henry William Drane, a sailor on the HMS "Bedouin" sunk off Crete.
Nine "evades" arrived in Switzerland on that day. They included Sgt Julius "Did" Fenwick, later to become Paymaster WOII to all AIF POW in Switzerland under commandof Capt Kroger.
He would probably have held the answer to this riddle.
The web site for Veterans Affairs "Nominal Roll of all Australian Servicemen - WWII" brings up VX26439 Drane under the unit 2/26th Anti Tank and confirms that he was a POW.
C/JX317 9 51 A/B Leslie Arthur Drane "H.M.S. Bedouin" RN
H.M.S. "Bedouin" was sunk by an aerial torpedo off Pantelleria on 15.06.43.
A/B Leslie Drane was rescued by Italians after spending 8 hours in the water.
He finished up in PG 52 Chiavari.
On the promulgation of the Italian Armistice, the Camp Leader ordered the camp to stay put, but the Germans took control and entrained the inmates for further captivity in Germany. Drane, with Anchen (2/3 LAA), "Badge" Adams (RHA), Ord/Sea Howard (RN), Ord/Sea D. Taylor (RN) and some 30 others were loaded into a cattle truck.
After travelling about an hour and a half towards Genoa, Drane jumped out of the train just after three Australians had done so. He walked into the outskirts of Genoa, met an English-speaking Italian, who bought him a rail ticket back to Chiavari. There he hid in the village of Barbarasco until March 15, 1944. With 7 other escapees he then lived in Monte Romacoto until October 10, 1944.
He tried to escape into France, but holed up in the village of Ciglie until November when an escape party to reach the Allied Lines in Florence was arranged.
Drane joined Crawley, Phipps and Anchen at Orero and all got back to Allied Lines.
(See "Parker" File, AWM, 54 781/6/6-7)
However, Swiss records indicate that a VX26349 Henry William Drane, arrived at their border on October 6, 1943 and was repatriated on September 23, 1944. They registered his unit as the 26th Anti-Tank Rgt his year of birth 1907, and his Australian address as Yallourn, Victoria.
So far attempts to trace Henry Drane have been unsuccessful, although CARO records confirm the detail above.
The 2/26th Anti-Tank Rgt never seemed to have existed. It may have been a section attached to an Infantry Battalion such as the 2/28th Anti-Tank Company was attached to the 2/28th Battalion.
The "Parker" File indicates that Anchen escaped from a train at a tunnel near S. Margherita. He walked to Favale and with Phipps, south as far as Chicero, moved on to Lorsica, and in July joined the 3 Bde. Garibaldi partisans operating in the Tebbia valley. This unit was dispersed by German action in August, 1944, but Anchen and Drane remained in the area. The evidence is that there are two Dranes,but that has not yet been proven. It suited many POW to swap identities and to give false identification details, if it helped them to stick with mates. Henry William Drane however, definitely escaped to Switzerland.
AWM 54 781/6/7
2/3rd LAA Regiment
B16 "On Target - History of the 2/3rd LAA Regiment". The Story of the 2/3rd Australian Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment from formation on July 14, 1943, and the subsequent Service of 7th Battery 8th Battery and 9th Battery until the end of World War II. C.J.E. Rae, A.L. Harris, P.K. Bryant (Eds), Melbourne, 1987. ISB 0731500495
"Run, Rabbit, Run", Ian Rutter, self published, 10 Vista Avenue, Ringwood East, Vic., 3125.
F4 "An Italian Experience", Malcolm Webster, 2/680 Springvale Road, Vic., 3170.
"Go There - You Die!", Bill Waller, 15 Panorama Drive, Tathra, NSW, 2550
To counter the very effective German low flying aircraft and their use of dive-bombers, mobile light anti-aircraft artillery became imperative. So in 1940, the 7th, 8th, and 9th batteries of the 2/3rd LAA were established, not to operate as a regiment, but as separate batteries, or even as individual guns. The 7th Battery almost denied the Germans their conquest of Crete.
The 8th Battery used captured Italian weapons in the Siege of Tobruk until their own Bofors guns became available. The 9th Battery operated as a mobile force supporting British Artillery, Infantry and the RAF in the Western Desert, before being pulled out to go to Syria.
The Regiment lost 130 men as POW, of whom 19 finished up as AIF POW "evades" in Switzerland.
At least 7 fought on actively with partisan groups in North Italy, and one of them VX47958, Bill Waller did so, before crossing the border into Switzerland.
VX44744 L/Sgt Arthur Adams MM was awarded his decoration for operating a porte'e-mounted with Breda 37mm guns in a LAA role, Although his porte'e was hit several times and was on fire, he continued to engage the enemy at close range until his ammunition was exhausted. Although then taken POW 10 miles NW of Derna Pass on April 7th, 1941, and taken to Germany, he escaped from his Stalag I8B and reached Yugoslavia, and subsequently got back to the UK.
As with most other units with POW in Italy, the 2/3rd LAA had many members whose stories well illustrate feelings of "being free, but still a POW". At the recent funeral of one such - John Neil Stone - his brother Keith gave a moving eulogy which sums up those feelings well.
"On reflection, one question that does come to mind is, what effect did all this traumatic experience have on an individual and how do they keep going?.... One of the great strengths of being in a war situation is that it binds people together. And there is a humour that keeps people going.... When things were going wrong and all loooked lost, Neil would come out with the classic expression: "Wouldn't it counter-rotate you!"
"Underground in Italy with his companion Esca Riordon, of the 2/4th Inf Bn Neil needed all the humour and bonds of companionship just to keep going. This was not a leisurely hike through the valleys of Northern Italy. They were not there to enjoy the dramatic Alpine scenery which surrounded them. Their sole pre-occupation was to avoid capture and stay alive, to overcome illness and exposure, to survive through sheer bravery and endurance. Rarely does man, in his journey through life, have to confront such trials, Neil Sloane confronted these hardships with quiet determination and confidence."
VX23397 has privately published an excellent book - "An Italian Experience" which describes the general experience of of an AIF POW suddenly presented with a chance to escape from his work camp 105/Vercelli /"Ochiena".
His good friend VX47958 tells a similar tale from 106/Vercelli/"Petiva"
But Bill also tells of his epic escape into Switzerland via the complex of mountains surrounding Zermatt, which included the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc and the highest of them all Monte Rosa (see "On Target" p 136-8).
VX47979 "Mick" Crofts took a relatively easier route, swimming the river Po to reach Pontresina. But his party, which included Alf Griffiths and John Richardson had been on the loose in North Italy being fed and protected by local contadini and winter had truly set on by the time they crossed the Swiss border to safety, ten weeks after Bill Waller.
Mick obtained a good job in Switzerland working in a plant nursery in his "camp" at Heiden. There he was to meet his wife-to-be Margrit Dietz (see Vol I "Love Knows No Borders").
VX41455 Alex Barnett eloquently speaks for those 2/3rd LAA POW in Germany in his recently published "Hitler's Digger Slaves" H8.
Acknowledgments and Thanks to:
VX47878 Gordon Simpson "Mick" Crofts 2/3rd LAA
In the confusion of evacuation from Crete, "Mick" Crofts and his brother Les were among the casualties of the sinking of the "Hereward". Les was lost, but "Mick" was rescued by an Italian motor boat and taken to the island of Rhodes and then to Bari as an Italian POW. Like most Australian and New Zealand POW in Italy, he finished up at Campo 57 in Gruppignano. Later he was drafted out to a working camp near Vercelli, and on the capitulation of Italy, in company with Alf Griffith and John Richardson, he was "on the loose" in the North Italian mountains, being aided and protected by the local villagers.
Meanwhile John Peck, who had returned to Italy from Switzerland as a British Liasion Officer working for SOE, had effectively established his system of escape routes and safe houses among the partisans and they were able to join a party headed for Switzerland.
They eventually arrived there via Pontresina, swimming the river Po, in freezing winter conditions on December 1, 1943. The Swiss border police treated them very well, even to the point of massaging their frozen limbs to prevent frostbite. They were also treated most sympathetically by the locals, who weaned them over to "proper food" and they were finally taken to Wil, the centre of the British escapee administration. There they were fitted out in new battle dress and ancillary clothing and were finally settled down in Heiden, near Appenzell, not far from the Austrian border. This particular camp was under the command of English officers, and it was here that "Mick" met up with Fred Brockel of the 2/15th Infantry Battalion with whom he became very good friends.
It was in Heiden too, that he used his right to wear civilian clothes, and he obtained a job working in the plant nursery of Dietz and Son, where he met his wife-to-be, Margrit, the daughter of the proprietor (see "Love Knows No Borders").
When the American Fifth Army opened the border between France and Switzerland at Geneva, Mick was recalled to Gossau to prepare for repatriation back to Australia. The Americans had established a rail link to the Mediterranean via Grenoble, Lyons and Marseilles. They fed and cared for the Australians being returned to such a far away country after so many years away from it, but they were unable to advance them any money. However "Mick" and other enterprising Australians ovecame this by selling off their excess clothing. A stay-over in Bombay was the highlight of their voyage, but for Mick there was nothing like home, and the longed for arrival of Margrit from the other side of the globe.
Acknowledgements and Thanks to:
Mick and (?)
VX47958 William Francis Waller 2/3rd LAA Rgt.
While Bill Waller was eating his evening meal at work camp Vercelli 106/Petiva on September 8, 1943, the Italian officer in charge announced that Italy had surrendered to the Allies. Amidst the jubilation, speculation centred on how long it would be before the Allied troops would arrive. But indications were that the Germans were not planning to withdraw and Gunners Waller, Nicholson, James, Young and Bombadier Tom Russell decided not to wait for Allied troops, but to head south to link up with them.
However they met other escapees who had failed to cross the heavily guarded river Po, and changed their mind deciding to head north to Switzerland rather than attempt the crossing. Bill Waller had taught himself Italian and had obtained a road map of North Italy which he showed to the wife of the farmer on whose estate he and his companions had been working. When he explained to her they planned to reach Switzerland via Monte Rosa (the highest mountain in Switzerland) she was horrified and said "If you go there, you die. My husband is good for the mountains, be he cannot go there".
They moved north into the foothills of the Alps dodging German patrols but were finally surrounded by Germans in armoured vehicles who opened fire on them. Bill recalls: "Tom Russell, Ern Preisser and I ran diagonally up hills as the Germans opened fire. Called on to surrender, we hid in bushes to be joined by a Tasmanian, Joe Turner (TX75 2/12th Inf Bn). The Germans returned seeking us but gave up as rain poured down. From our hiding place we saw them march off our captured mates - Jack Nicholson, Alan Young and Tom James. An Italian woman saw us and gave us food. Asked why she helped, she replied: "I have a son in Montenegro (Yugoslavia). He might be hiding from Germans now. When I saw you I thought of him".
"In the dark we moved towards the mountains stumbling into creeks and holes. In the morning we met two men gathering mushrooms, who took us home and directed us to Oaltanche on the border. Local people were friendly. We met Alpine officers who guided us to the Valley of Aosta. We fund that identifying ourselves as English was more successful than saying we were Australian - most had never heard of Australia. We usually slept in hay lofts. We hoped to find a guide to take us over Monte Rosa, approximately 13,000 feet high, which dominates north-west Italy. Warned of the presence of Germans in a village we were approaching we were befriended by a family whose children had been students in England. There we dined well, stocked up with food and made a note of the family's Swiss address, on cigarette paper put back in the packet. We climbed Col Pieater and travelled through snow for the first time.
"In the mountains, distance is not measured in kilometres, but in hours or days. A man named Bruno agreed to help us to cross by a secret route which he and his father-in-law used for smuggling in peace time. It would be very difficult. But what had seemed like a dream was becoming a reality and I thought of Jack Nicholson who had been captured back at Vermonth a couple of weeks before. We were joined by seven Australians and two Englishmen, Captain Fred Porter (RHA) and Captain Sir Julian Hall(Intelligence Corps). We made ourselves puttees, scarves and gloves out of an old blanket in readiness for the climb (See account of this escape by VX33373 George Rhodes (2/24th Inf Bn).
"Departing at night, we reached the snowline roped together in three parties. The officers as POWs had not been required to work whereas we Australians had been working on farms for six months and were in better physical condition for the trial ahead. We reached the Monte Rosa wooden cabin and used the sticks of wood we all carried to boil water from snow.
At dawn the peaks of Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn alone showed over the clouds around us. Our guide said: "There are a few people who have done this climb by daylight. You are among the very few to do it by night".
"3,600 metres up, the party was roped together for passage over solid ice in steps cut by our guide with an ice pick. At 9.30am the guide pointed back - Italia" and forward "Suizza" - then shocked us by explaining they could go no further as they would be interned if they crossed the border. Warning of ice bridges over crevasses, they showed us through field glasses a hut below us at the end of the glacier. Progress down was hazardous as ropes were joined to lower one at a time over ice cliffs with a twenty foot drop into snow at the bottom.
"As the problems with ice cliffs and snow blindness reduced our party to despair that we would freeze to death after our hair-raising experiences, Swiss soldiers suddenly appeared below us roped together.
"I could scarcely believe my eyes, but set off after them with Tom Russell, Ern Preiser and Joe Turner who were roped with me."
Bill went to the Swiss "camp" at Wald where he he took on an admnistrative job organising entertainment for Allied "evades".
He studied German under a professional teacher and was given the task of maintaining dental records and taking groups of Allied POW to dentists in surrounding villages for treatment and acting as an interpreter for them.
He took his leave in places like Zurich and Lausanne and came to know his host country very well. In 1966, he and his wife returned to visit it and the Italian family who had given them their Swiss address written on a cigarette paper.
B16 "On Target" p136/7
Thanks and Acknowledgments to:
2/2nd Machine Gun Battalion
B43 "Muzzle Blast - Six Years of War with the 2/2nd MG Battalion", Bill Oakes, Sydney, 1980.
The 2/2 "Emma Gees" lost 29 POW of whom 23 were captured whilst fighting with the 2/28th Battalion at the last and fatal battle at Ruin Ridge, El Alamein. Most of these POW finished up in Germany including Captain W.M.M. Stephens. It is believed that there were 6 members of the 2/2nd MGs allocated to No. 1 hold of the "Nino Bixio" - Joey Andrews, Stuart Lauder, Les McBeath, Keith Morgan, Sgt Hugh Quinn and Luscombe
Two were drowned when the "Nino Bixio" was torpedoed en route from Benghazi to Bari: QX5953 Pte Leslie Norman McBeath and NX51424 Pte Keith Morgan.
QX16455 Pte Anthony Luscombe and QX9313 Gnr William Purcell managed to rejoin Allied Lines and two managed to escape to Switzerland - QX8856 L/Cpl Harry Cox and QX9995 Gnr Stuart Lauder. Little is known about the stay of these two soldiers in Switzerland. QX8806 John Tancred went "underground" in Italy until he was over-run by the Allies.
Harry Cox certainly wasted no time after most work camps in the Vercelli area were thrown open after the signing of the Italian Armistice. He headed north to Switzerland and arrived there on September 21, 1943 less than a fortnight later. Stuart Lauder arrived not long after him on October 6, 1943 but further details are currently lacking.
However, his wife Marion, who knew that he had reached Switzerland, but had had no direct news from her husband since he was officially listed as "Missing, believed POW" after the battle for Ruin Ridge, had still received no word from him and he may well have arrived back in Australia before she had received any letter at all.
Her battle to obtain news of him is the echo of the voice of the 2 "representatives" of the 2/2nd MG Battalion in Switzerland, and is fully documented in Volume One of this Compendium.
Acknowledgements and Thanks to:
QX9995 Stuart John Lauder
In the normally humdrum routine of the soldier fighting at the front, an exciting break is the cry of "Mail's up!" Letters are eagerly read, re-read and then read again before being carefully stowed away for later reading. News from home instantly transports the soldier from his present life to another - more fondly remembered.
For the POW, the safe delivery of a letter and the occasional parcel from home, transfers him momentarily from his immediate surroundings, to a far better one, well remembered. But he knows his reality. Spare a thought then, for those back home who write the letters, who lovingly knit the socks or call back moments preciously shared together. The soldier easily recalls their reality, but they have no idea at all of his.
Consider Marion Lauder, Pte Stuart John Lauders wife and her battle back home to find out what had happened to her husband, who was one of the 22 2/2nd machine gunners attached to the 2/28th Infantry Battalion on that third and final attack on Ruin Ridge, in 1942.
On May 4, 1944, Marion Lauder wrote the following letter:
Welwyn Crescent, Coorparoo 4th May, 1944
Qld LOFC Area Records Office,
Australian Escapee to Switzerland QX9995 Pte Lauder S.J.
With reference to your letters of 19th November 1943 (No. 134211) and 20 March 1944 (No. 513221), I have to advise you that although I have written repeatedly to my husband at the Swiss address given by you and have also cabled and forwarded an airgraph letter to the High Commissioner's Office in London, I have received no word at all from him to the present.
Do you know of any reason why this should be so?
In your letter of 22 March last (51322(?)) you appeared to convey that my husband might not be at Internment Camp, Secteur Sitter. Have you any further advice as to his position, his state of health or any information that may throw further light on this matter as I am becoming anxious regarding my husband.
(Signed Marion Lauder)
The reply to this letter was:
May 22 '44
Mrs. Marion Lauder
Re: QX9995 Lauder, Stuart John.
With reference to your letter of May 4, '44, it is regretted that no further information has been received in this office concerning your husband the above named soldier.
This office's letter (51322) of 22 March '44 was not intended to convey the impression that your husband might not be at Internee Camp, Secteur Sitter. In some cases mail has been received by next of kin in which escapees have given certain camp addresses in Switzerland. As letters similar to the one dispatched to you on 19 November, 1943, have been forwarded to the next of kin there was some uncertainty felt by them regarding the addressing of mail. To avoid a certain amount of unnecessary correspondence, letters such as 51322 of 22 March '44 were dispatched to all next of kin of escapees.
The non-receipt of replies to your letters to your husband can probably be accounted for by the fact that all correpondence must be passed through many and varied channels before being delivered to internees.
However a copy of your letter has been forwarded for any action that is considered necessary.
(Signed for Lt.Col O/C Records)
Copy to 2nd Echelon LHO
92027 Warwick 22 May '44
1. Attached is a copy of a letter from Mrs. Marion Lauder requesting advice as to the whereabouts of her husband.
2. Pte Lauder was reported as having entered Switzerland from Italy - E 5296 dated 23 October '43 - and Mrs Lauder was advised accordingly. On 18 November '43 she was again advised regarding the addressing of mail to her husband as per instructions contained in echelon memo 031142 of 12 November '43.
3. On receipt of memo 131142 of 10 March '44, further instructions were forwarded in letter 51322 to which Mrs. Lauder refers in para 3 of her letter. The necessity for this further communication has been explained to her in a letter copy of which is attached (*172.6.472).
The reply to this memo was as follows:
Qld. LOFC Area Records Office
QX 9995 Pte. Lauder S.J.
1. Receipt is acknowledged of your memorandum 92027 of 22 May '44 relative to the above named soldier.
2. It is advised that no further information concerning Pte. Lauder has been received by this office.
3. It is considered that your memorandum of 22 May '44 should be sufficient answer to Mrs Lauder, particularly as it is known that a period of 6 months or more may elapse before replies to letters addressed to Switzerland are received in Australia.
(Signed O/C 2 Echelon LHO)
It is not known when Marion Lauder first received a letter from her husband.
QX9995 Pte Stuart John Lauder, survived POW camps in Benghazi and the torpedoeing of the "Nino Bixio". He was drafted out to a working camp from Campo 57 Gruppignano, and was sent to a rice-growing farm under the general administration of Campo 106. From there he escaped to Switzerland on October 6, 1943 as is recorded in AIF Records. He was one of the large party of 17, comprising 2 English Officers, two English privates, 11 Australians and two professional guides that entered Switzerland via the difficult Monte Rosa Pass. On that particular day, 16 Australians, including those with George Rhodes party, reached Switzerland and nearly half of all escapees had reached there. But winter was settling in, and although escape routes and escape parties were better organised, so too were German preventative measures, but by Christmas Day, 1943, Captain Jack Kroger was able to send back a Christmas message to Australia from almost 400 escapees under his command. 15 more were still to come in, including John Peck and Frank "Butch" Jocumsen, and Australian airmen, shot down over Europe, continued to be smuggled in by various underground movements.
The last AIF member to enter was WX5292 Cpl John Rowe of the 2/28th Battalion, who did not arrive in Switzerland until January 20, 1945, by which time nearly all other AIF POW had left Switzerland and most had arrived back to Australia. Lauder left Switzerland on September 23, 1943.
It is not known whether any correspondence took place between Lauder and his wife.
2/1st Field Company - Sixth Division
"Teeth and Tail", Major-General R.R. McNichol, 1982.
NX3653 John Arthur Parker, DCM - entered 08.12.41, left 26.11.41 (ex-Germany)
Corporal Parker was taken prisoner in Crete, near Suda Bay, on 1st June, 1941. He was taken via Canea, the Piraeus and Salonika to Stalag VIIA at Moosburg in Bavaria, which he reached on 20th August. After collecting information about the district from French prisoners of war, he and two other soldiers made their escape on 26th November while on a working party in the Munich area. They went to the marshalling yard but were discovered and separated to avoid re-capture. Corporal Parker spent the remaining hours of daylight hiding in some shrubs on the outskirts of Munich and at nightfall made his way back to the yards and found a train bound for St. Margrethen. He strapped a ladder which he found on the side of the train, underneath a carriage and travelled the entire journey, which lasted 25 hours, resting on the ladder. On 28th November, he reached St. Margrethen and gave himself up. Five days later he was handed over to the British Military attache at Berne.
Jack Parker had never stopped thinking of escape. His arbeitslager job was to load coal into railway trucks in the marshalling yards outside Munich for a train to be formed to transport the coal to Switzerland. He kept thinking to himself "if that train can take coal into Switzerland, why can't it take me? If I could get hold of a plank and shove it above the axles of the double bogey wheels, I could lie on it and go with the train to Switzerland."
First, he would have to find out how many hours the journey would take. Get together what provisions he could scrounge. Apples were plentiful and cold potatoes could be saved up. It was late autumn, crisp and cold at nights but not freezing. But the Germans were a wake-up to POW detaching themselves from their working parties and hiding among the coal piles, so regularly they sprayed the heaps with ammonia to force out any shelterers. He would have to get away in daylight and hide out away from the yards until dark and then get back there.
So when a suitable opportunity arose, he and two others escaped and ran from the marshalling yards. However they were seen and split up to avoid capture. Jack spent the remaining hours of daylight hiding outside the yards, and slipped back into them when it was dark. The train for Switzerland was already assembled and he grabbed a nearby ladder and wedged it over the wheels as he had planned. He settled down as best he could and was greatly relieved when some hours later, the train began to move. After some crashing and bumping, the train settled into a slow even pull. He was off! Not long after dawn broke and he was chilled to the marrow. Nevertheless he knew he had to cling on throughout the day. As the long day waned, and dark fell again, the train stopped and he heard guards walking up and down. He dropped down to the tracks, and when the train finally pulled away, he rose painfully to his feet.
Was he in Switzerland or was he still in Germany?
Fortunately for him, he had crossed the border and was in Switzerland.
But the journey had taken its toll and he was not a well man. Accordingly the Swiss decided to repatriate him. He was moved into France where he was kept for a while in secrecy on a farm, so securely hidden that his only exercise was walking up and down. He was apparently being looked after by members of the French resistance, and there were Germans billetted in the farm which was owned by an English lady who finally moved him across the Pyrenees onto a boat which took him to Gibraltar. There when Jack asked an English Officer, could he draw some pay, he was asked how much he wanted and he cheekily replied "How much have you got"? This elicited the frosty reply: "We don't normally pay Colonials".
He finally arrived in the U.K. on April 28th, 1942, and was neglected for three days. But then he was intensively grilled by British Intelligence on the details of his escape route He was recommended for and received the DCM and was given a commission.
As Lieutenant Parker RAE, he finally returned to Australia and given a posting to Army Ordnance in Sydney.
Unfortunately, in 1944 he was killed in Sydney when the motor bike he was riding along a bush track hit a tree.
This story is corroborated by Maurice Foot, the long-serving Secretary of the Sixth Division Engineers Association and John Holden of the 2/2nd Field Company.
According to Swiss Army Records, NX3653 John Arthur Parker entered Switzerland as an "evade'" on December 8, 1941 and repatriated to the U.K. on April 28, 1942.
"Tobruk and El Alamein", Barton Maughan, A3 p786.
2/2nd Field Company - Sixth Division
Unit History: "First in-Last Out" self-published, Joe Jopling, 1996.
2/8th Field Company - Sixth Division
B20 Unit History: "With Courage High", Reginald Davidson, 1964.
2/3rd Field Company - Ninth Division
B44 Unit History: "The Sappers War", Ken Ward-Harvey, 1992. ISBN 095907837
SX737 Robert Charles Boulger - entered 17.11.43, left 22.09.44
VX1266 William Charles Doig - entered 07.10.43, left 23.09.44
SX1320 Donald Graetz - entered 29.09.43, left 23.09.44
QX3847 Angus Donald McDonald - entered 25.09.43, left 23.09.44
2/7th Field Company - Ninth Division
SX5213 L/Cpl Harry Andrews - entered 26.09.43, left 09.09.44
QX798 Leslie Allan Dornan - entered 28.09.43, left 30.09.44
QX3989 James Alexander Graham - entered 18.10.43, left 22.09.44
QX21217 Ian "Tim" Jobson - entered 02.10.43, left 22.09.44
QX3237 Frank Arthur Jobson - entered 02.10.43, left 22.09.44
QX759 Frank "Butch" Jocumsen - entered 08.12.44?, left 12.12.44
QX3232 Charles David Payne - entered 17.11.43, left 23.09.44
VX39694 William Antony Cole Rudd - entered 22.09.43, left 08.02.45
QX759 Sapper Jens Francis Jocumsen:
Born 29.6.1912 at Gympie, Queensland.
Died 9.10.1991 at Cairns Base Hospital, Queensland.
Enlisted AIF 13.5.40 at Kelvin Grove, Brisbane.
Butcher by trade, hence nickname "Butch". Married, wife's name Merle.
Joined 2/7th Field Engineers, R.A.E 20.5.40.
Embarked on the "Orion" 14.11.40.
Reported "Missing in Action" 3.5.41 at El Agheila with fellow Sapper Roy Penhaligen.
Officially reported POW 19.7.41.
Reported in Camp 106 PM 3100 18.1.44. 23.8.44 reported entered Switzerland from Italy.
13.4.45 Returned by EMF to Italy for special duties.
18.5.45 Disembarked UK as recovered POW ex Italy.
24.7.45 Embarked Liverpool for return to Australia.
26.9.45 Discharged from A.I.F. Redbank Queensland.
This rather bald extract from the official AIF record of Sapper "Butch" Jocumsen completely ignores his exploits whilst "on the run" in North Italy (and Switzerland) 1943/44.
In Roger Absalom's book, "A Strange Alliance - aspects of escape and survival in Italy, I943-44", (F2 Leo S. Olski, Editore Firenze, MCMXCI), he outlines the story Jocumsen and of another Australian POW Partisan commander, VX9534 John Peck, 2/7th Battalion, 6 Division AIF, whose exploits were intertwined with those of "Butch" Jocumsen.
"Sapper "Butch" Jocumsen, like a number of other Australians from the Vercelli work camps received very welcome help from an Italian civilian after he got out of his camp. He and a companion were given suits and told how to get by train to the Swiss border, which they crossed the same night. This display of initiative perhaps brought him to the attention of British Agencies working there. Jocumsen was recruited as a courier to Resistance groups to which arms and ammunition were being supplied in the Val Sesia area, and before long he was a valued and trusted member of the "Garibaldi" Division led by Cino Moscatelli, one of the best known of the communist partisan leaders. He was soon well-known to the inhabitants of the area as "Frank l'Australiano", redoubtable possession of a Thompson sub-machine gun previously only seen in films.
"In July 1944, after a clandestine visit to John McCaffery, Military Attache and SOE Station Officer in Berne, Jocumsen was made the British Liasion Officer with the partisans north of Novara. He was outfitted, provided with sidearms and identity papers and given the temporary rank of Captain.
"In September, all the partisan formations in the province formed a common front with the intention of occupying a large area bordering on Switzerland which could become a "Partisan Republic", and perhaps a bridgehead for an Allied airborne operation, during what was confidently assumed to be the last drive northwards of the Allied armies in Italy. There was evidently some low-level support from SOE in Switzerland for this project, for both Jocumsen and Peck (who was sent back on a similar mission to a non-communist band in August, 1944) were instructed to co-operate fully with the partisans and to wear British uniforms.
In February 1944, after some fierce, but badly co-ordinated fighting, the large area previously liberated between Val Sesia and the Swiss border was retaken by German and Fascist troops equipped with tanks and artillery. Jocumsen survived the battle and was evacuated to Switzerland. His record must have impressed SOE for after his recovery he was sent to be trained as an intelligence agent for further work behind enemy lines, although the war ended before his next mission was launched. Some years later he was awarded the Medaglia d'Oro, Italy's highest decoration for valour.
Jocumsen achieved the status of a popular, if problematically depicted, protagonist in the Italian Resistance historiography, perhaps because of his association with a major Communist band whose leader became a national hero and a significant political figure after the war.
"The Borgosesia Institute of Resistance History even produced coloured postcards commemorating "Frank l'Australiano" on the occasion, in I979, when the honorary citizenship of the town was conferred on him. Unlike Peck, however, he was not honoured in his own country. While Peck, working with the Action Party's Bacciagaluppi and the non-communist group lead by Alfredo Di Dio, was awarded the DCM for his gallantry and initiative, the equally deserving Jocumsen who, although himself no communist, had been mainly associated with Moscatelli's Communist forces, received no written award.
Mal Webster's privately printed book "An Italian Experience" F4 confirms this account by Roger Absalom, and adds... "During a short stay at the SOE headquarters near Florence in Italy, I met up with a British Officer who had had an altercation with Jocumsen some months earlier. He showed me a great scar on the side of his chin and mouth where a well-aimed Jocumsen punch had landed. It was food for thought and made me wonder, perhaps Frank was an Australian Boxing Champion.
Ken Ward-Harvey in his book "The Sappers War - with 9th Australian Division Engineers 1939-1945", B44 Sakoga Pty. Ltd. in conjunction with 9th Division RAE Association NSW, 1992, says "Butch" sold the rights to (his) full story to a film company and was therefore unable to give the details himself.
In the records of Army personnel held in Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, there is a copy of a dispatch to War Office by Berne to Foreign. It reads:
Mr. Norton, No. 2964. Dispatched 1.40 pm 22 June I944.
Received 7.45 pm. TOP SECRET M/Attache No 985 of June 26 MI 9.
My No. 942 June 15.
1. "Frank" is QX759 Sapper Frank Jocumsen of Cleveland, Queensland.
2. Now in Switzerland where he is doing excellent work with a partisan band.
3. He has not reported to Swiss nor officially to me and is being looked after by SOE.
4. He is very fit and send messages to his wife and Mother.
Jocumsen returned to Italy on June 26, 1944 where he re-joined the Communist Group of Cino Moscatelli. Jocumsen returned to Switzerland several times between July and December I943, and certainly brought back a letter to Italy from McCaffery to Moscatelli dated September 29, 1943. On his return to Switzerland from Italy on December 7, 1944 he was apparently interned by the Swiss, but was repatriated to England at the end of December. This date is confirmed in his Army Record as "Previously reported POW now arrived U.K ex West Europe."
The circumstances under which Jocumsen was sent from Switzerland to liberated Italy do not appear to have been fully recorded, although in general terms it was fairly clear that he had to report:
1. on the partisan formations of Moscatelli with which he had been operating and
2. with the idea that he might be trained and briefed to be parachuted back as a Liaison Officer to co-ordinate their activities in the final stages of the Italian campaign.
He was sent down from Switzerland to Italy via France and was certainly in Rome by early February, 1944, being interrogated by the SOE there on his experiences. From Rome he was sent to the Allied POW repatriation in Naples, and by March 10 it was reported that the Australian Liaison Officer there (Colonel Chapman), had agreed to him not being repatriated in the normal way to Australia, so that he could be made available to No. 1 Special Force (SOE) for operations in Italy. No 1 Special Force (SOE) had its Headquarters in Siena, and there are indications that they then started to train him for a mission, probably including a parachute course. There is also evidence that he was accommodated in an Officer's Mess with other British Liaison Officers waiting to be dropped into North Italy on similar missions.
Then things went wrong. On March 16, Siena reported than in the last few days he had been most troublesome and indiscreet. On April I5, No. 1 Special Force (SOE) wrote to Colonel Chapman to say that they were returning Jocumsen to him as the project had been abandoned owing to the changed situation in those parts. No mention of any misdemeanours, indeed they described him as having been while with them as "helpful and well disciplined" and a point was made of stating that the decision not to send him back into the field was in no way at all a "reflection on his character or capacity".
This may seem odd in view of what actually happened, but it can only be supposed that No. 1 Special Force (SOE) was motivated by their desire to do their best for one who at the same time they praised for "the magnificent work he did for the Italian Resistance Movement". Absolem's suggestion that his non-recognition may have had something to do with his association with the Communist Moscatelli is, surely, unfounded. It is good at least to know that the Italian recognised him with the award of their prestigious Medaglia d'Oro when he and his wife Merle received an official invitation by Moscatelli, then a revered Italian Senator, to re-visit Borgesesia, to which city he was given the Freedom. whilst the medal was presented to him by the President of Italy himself.
Jock McCaffery recorded that: "Long before we met him, his name had travelled not only across North Italy, but into Switzerland. He had become a legend."
Although the head of SOE in Switzerland gives a glowing testimonial to his achievements with a recommendation the he "be given the highest recommendation that can be awarded to him" what precisely Jocumsen did to spoil his partisan reputation has never been recorded in detail.
Long after the war, Jock McCaffery privately recorded the events in Rome as reported to him later (as he was not there himself) which landed Jocumsen in trouble with the Military Police, with five fairly serious charges against him.
In Rome at that time it was calculated that there were 30,000 deserters of various origins. When, one evening, two American MPs saw this character sporting an Aussie hat, a nondescript uniform, and a pistol in a side holster, they grabbed him from behind. Some minutes later, this outraged and affronted tourist had stretched them both out on the pavement and proceeded quietly on his way. It would appear that SIMA, the Italian Section of SOE, managed to get these charges dropped, and an effort by this Recorder to obtain information from American MP records in St Louis, Missouri was never acknowledged. On May I8, 1945, Jocumsen bobbed up at the AIF Reception Centre at Eastbourne, Sussex England. He was quickly processed ,given leave and on July 24, embarked at Liverpool for return to Australia.
He was discharged from the AIF on September 26, 1945.
There is no mention nor recognition of his army exploits in Italy in his Army Record. Nor is there any mention of an award "of the highest possible status" that had been recommended for him ever being granted.
For some time after his discharge he suffered from emphysema, which he claimed was the result of the high altitudes among the snow and ice of the Italian Alps.
He and his wife operated hotels and motels in Central Australia after his discharge and sale of his butchery family business.
He finally developed a cancerous tumour on his head, which proved terminal after a few weeks.
His obituary was published in the "Cairns Post" on October 23, 1991.
Acknowledgements and Thanks to:
VX39694 Spr William Antony Cole Rudd 2/7th Field Company, RAE.
Taken POW with Lt Ken Bradshaw and 14 other sappers whilst attached to the 2/28th Infantry Battalion during the last battle for Ruin Ridge, El Alamein on the night of July 29 1942, Bill Rudd ended up an Italian POW at Campo 57,Gruppignano, via Benghazi, the "Nino Bixio" torpedoing, Navorino, and Bari.
On arrival there, very much the worse for wear from dysentery and jaundice, he was befriended by a long term resident, Gordon Dare of the 2/24th Infantry Battalion who had been captured in Tobruk in May, 1941.
Nursed back to health through Gordon's good care, they were separated when drafted out to Campo 106 Vercelli, being sent to different farms. Bill ended up at 106/Vercelli/"Barracone" - a large State-owned and operated farm whose major activity was rice-growing. It was home to 40 Australians and 40 New Zealanders.
Having somehow come into possession of an Italian/English dictionary and drawing on the Latin taught to him at school, he soon learned to read and write Italian and to speak reasonably fluently in the local Piedmontese dialect.
He became the camp interpreter and managed to obtain Italian newspapers such as "La Stampa" and "Corriera della Serra" on a fairly regular basis from the guards in exchange for Italian issue cigarettes.
The POW quarters were in a large shed in one corner of the huge central courtyard with a well in the middle of it from which the farm hands drew their water supplies. Their quarters were on the other side of the courtyard which formed a hollow square with one large entrance gate adjacent to the POW shed and breaking into the enclosed hollow square of the courtyard. The Santhia - Biella railway line ran through the rice fields at the back.
Daily life there was far more interesting and comfortable that the complex of compounds at Gruppignano. Red Cross parcels were fairly regular, and while the Italian rations were still insufficient by Australian army standards, they were supplemented by extra rice and other farm products and, allied to the manual work, most POW soon became in good condition. Life at Campo 106 - XIX Salussola/"Barracone, was reasonably tolerable, and each night the guards could listen to a news bulletin on the progress of the war given to his colleagues by Bill from the doubtful news of the Milan newspapers. Neither the news nor the fact that it was now presented to the inmates of the camp in English, would make them that much more well-informed, but it was a good morale-booster and proved that the Allies were doing well.
Early in September it was becoming increasingly obvious that Italy was losing its appetite for war, and it came as no real surprise when an excitable guard rushed into the courtyard screaming "La guerra e finito". That night, the gates closing off the POW compound were open for the first time. Some of the guards had already changed into civilian clothes and departed. Supplies of vino had suddenly become abundant and as at that time some 100 mondini were in residence, there was quite a party going on in the midst of the general confusion.
Bill had made up his mind to head North to Switzerland, but could not convince his mate, Sapper Jock Smith, who had also been at Ruin Ridge, to go with him. Jock had decided to head South to the advancing Allied lines. Both made their objectives.
Although a young Lieutenant was the nominal commander of Campo 106/XIX, he had other working camps to look after as well, and the discipline of the guards was the responsibility of a local Carabinieri Sergeant, Nello Cuguasco, a veteran of WW1 and thus no German lover. While Bill and he were not exactly friends, Nello also had his own agenda, and they made a pact. Nello had a sketch map of the location of all the camps of the 106 network sewn into a canvas envelope and wanted Bill to take it to Switzerland to be handed over to the British Military Attache. In exchange for Bill's British battle dress, boots and some other gear and some Red Cross parcel items, he would obtain some civilian clothes some mountain boots and take Bill by train from Salussola to Biella, which was the limit of his jurisdiction. This he did and Bill was on his way.
"I had a reasonably good watch which in conjunction with the sun was a rough compass, some Italian money, a good swag, some condensed milk, ovaltine, jam etc. from Red Cross parcels and a battered but efficient "vacuum flask", made from an aluminium Italian water-bottle coated in some kind of fur, which was to prove invaluable. My civilian clothing included a canvas-type naval shirt, so that my cover story was that I was a deserter from the Yugoslav navy heading back home. Hopefully this would account for my imperfect Italian and the fact I was travelling alone on foot.
"I had decided to walk during daylight not on roads but parallel to them on the high side and hole up at night, not to trust anybody, and to seek directions from either children or very old people who would be less likely to be antagonistic to escapees. The weather was good and it was easy to "bandicoot" from farms. Chestnuts, grapes and tomatoes were easily gathered and poor though the mountain people undoubtedly were, it was easy to ask for a flask of hot water in exchange for a cigarette, and sometimes cold boiled potatoes or pollenta could be obtained. In retrospect and hindsight, those mountain peasants were extremely helpful to Allied POW on the loose, but I was taking no chances. I was free, on my own and so less likely to attract attention, generally pretty confident that I was on the right track and could doss down for the night with a good warm drink of Bovril or Ovaltine.
"Eventually I reached the town of Macugnana which lay at the foot of the Alps which formed the border between Italy and Switzerland. I had been warned by a trio of English soldiers still in battledress, not to go near the town as it was full of Germans. They had tried to cross into Switzerland, but were beaten back by blizzards and were now on their way to join a group of partisans. They said I was mad to try and get to Switzerland via the Monte Rosa Pass as it was one of the highest in Switzerland and could only be crossed with the help of guides. They invited me to join them, but I'd made up my mind to try for Switzerland. I had skied there before the war, when my sister was at a Swiss Finishing School at Signal near Lausanne. They suggested I had better then try the lower Moro Pass, shrugged their shoulders, and moved away.
"My supplies were running low, my boots had almost given up the ghost and it was becoming increasingly cold. I climbed upwards until, I could look down on Macugnana from a considerable height.
"It lay in the sunlit valley like a toy town, and the movement of military traffic was quite obvious. Above me to my right, I saw what seemed to be a mountain climber coming down towards the town. I decided to talk to him. Fortunately he turned out to be a smuggler. He had taken bicycle tyres into Switzerland and come back with cigarettes and coffee. He told me to go through the Moro Pass, pointed out some directions and told me to follow his footsteps he had made in the the snowline further up. I was lucky.
"After a few sorties I found his trail, and followed it for almost an hour. I was getting higher and higher, but it was also getting colder and colder, and the afternoon was waning. To add to my problems it was beginning to snow, and the footsteps were being erased. Finally I lost them and began to panic. No option but to keep on climbing and then quite suddenly, I sensed the going becoming easier. I was no longer climbing, I was going DOWNHILL.
But there were no landmarks of any sort and the sun was sinking fast. But it had stopped snowing. The light was still reasonable but the utter silence a bit unnerving. And then I saw the coal-scuttle helmet and grey uniform suddenly appear from behind a rock casually but firmly cradling a rifle in one arm! I almost burst into tears! All this way and a bloody German frontier guard! But the guard was behaving strangely, he was beckoning me to approach him and tapping his chest with his free hand. I picked up a stone as some sort of weapon and slowly went towards him.
"It was then I recognised the Swiss buttons on his uniform. He was trying to identify himself by drawing my attention to his buttons. He was a SWISS frontier guard and I had made it! My tears were those of joy! "Thank God" I said. He replied in English: "Ah, English is it. I have been watching you for some time. You'd better come on down and have a nice cup of tea." About twenty minutes later we reached a stone guardhouse, full of Swiss guards and some other civilian escapees sitting around a roaring fire with a huge pot of stew bubbling away in one corner.
"It was September 22, 1943. Much later on I found that Jock Smith had reached allied lines about the same time.
"Next morning a small group of about 7 escapees were taken down by bus to the village of Saas-Fee. After a quick interrogation by a Swiss Lieutenant, we were taken to the railway station of Brig, where there was a British Major. I handed my canvas letter from Nello to him and the train took us to Wil, where there was a camp for British escapees and further interrogation.
We were outfitted with British uniforms and sent to the small village of Turbental, to a sort of gymnasium, with clean straw on the floor to sleep on, much in the same manner as the Swiss soldiers had when on manoeuvres.
"I was now definitely, and thankfully, a guest of the Confederation of Switzerland!
2/1st Field Workshops - Ninth Division
NX20860 James Victor Percy Burt - entered 22.09.43, left 01.09.44
VX10640 William Thomas Martin - entered 20.03.44, left 23.09.44
2/13th Field Workshops - Ninth Division
VX13107 Wallace John Brown - entered 21.09.43, left 22.09.44
QX3237 Frank Arthur Jobson and
QX21217 Ian "Tim" Jobson, 2/7th RAE
Arthur Jobson and his younger brother Tim, were also part of Lt Ken Bradshaw's group of sappers with the 2/28th Inf Btn at Ruin Ridge.
When they escaped from their Vercelli work camp, the brothers took to the hills. Arthur takes up their escape into Switzerland:
"We were often hailed by the natives with "Where are you going -Switzerland?" followed by cries of "Good luck". We were eventually hailed by some partisans, making about 20 in a mixed group, us, them and a couple of Fascists they had picked up. The Fascists had to cover the heavy load of supplies and had a short life expectancy.
"We eventually arrived at the bottom of a telleferiche (aerial railway) which ran up to San D'oropa, a partisan's retreat high in the hills overlooking the city of Biella, the district HQ of Germans and friends.
"Nearly a week later the number of escaped POWs amounted to 126 and our hosts decided that 25 of us would meet their requirements. They asked for 25 volunteers to stay with them and guides would be supplied to escort the surplus to Switzerland. The next morning, Sunday September 29, our mountain resort was covered with a heavy fog. After breakfast we wandered to a nearby mountain lake and were surprised to find two planes flying low overhead, then bullets fired from below at the base of the aerial railway, whistled through the mist around us. When the shooting stopped our hosts (the partisans) told us that the Germans from Biella had done the shooting and they had cut off the power supply which put the aerial railway out of action. They also invited us to depart as the Germans in Biella were too strong for us to do any good and Switzerland was only three sleeps away, distances in the Alps being measured by hours taken to travel between two points.
"So much for the 25 of us who had volunteered to stay with the partisans the previous night. That afternoon Tim, Joe, Five-miler and I clambered down the slope to the valley below and shortly afterwards were invited by a native to have an evening meal at a nearby cafe. After the meal our hosts mentioned that Switzerland would be the best place for us to go. When I mentioned that my boots were much too dilapidated to tackle walking in the snow, our hosts told us they had a pair of boots which had been left there by escapees a few days before. They brought them to us, but they turned out to be size 7 and I needed size 9. Our luck still held, Joe was wearing a pair of nearly new size 9 and normally wore 7s, so we were on our feet again. Five-miler, our old mate, could not take any more mountaineering and he was taken in by a local family and remained with them until the following year when he was able to come home safely.
"Resuming our safari the following morning, we crossed over another range and towards sundown came on to a stream with a bridge over it, and on the other side was a village, Scopello. We crossed over and came to the first street corner a few yards away, when a young man came running across the street and stopped us. He asked if we were refugees and asked us to wait. He returned to the cafe across the street. A few minutes later, the customers emerged, the doors and windows closed. The man returned and invited us to go with him. We were ushered into the cafe and given a meal, and later invited into the lounge of the living quarters. They turned on their radio to the BBC news for our benefit at 9 o'clock. An hour later, an elderly chap whom we called "Poppa" came to take us to his home a few yards away. In conversation he told us that his only son was a prisoner on the Russian Front and also proudly showed us his 1914-18 ribbons. He took us to a haystack at the end of the village where we slept until he called us pre-dawn to have a coffee and a snack. We were then escorted to the track leading over the next range to the valley beyond. During the climb we met an elderly lady picking apples off some trees alongside the path. She hailed us and offered us an apple each. Noticing my condition she asked the reason for it, I told her "malaria" and she went away sobbing.
"We reached the road running along the next valley and planned to spend the next night at a village at the end of the road. We passed through several villages along that road. At the first one we met only one person, who seemed a little sub-normal. After a couple of more deserted villages a lady opened up an upstairs window and hailed us in Italian, "Have you eaten?" Before I could reply, Tim and Joe responded "Yes" and turned towards the house. The lady waved us away. My comment: "You blokes have just talked us out of a meal. The lady asked us have you eaten, not will you eat?" The journey continued and late in the day we sighted a village at the end of the trail.
"Halted by a group of villagers a few hundred yards from our target, they explained that they had been warned that a German patrol of three men was coming up the road, that a party of our mates was being guided to a hut on the next range by two local guides and we were asked to join them. We followed and found them in a hut just below the snow-line where we spent the night: sixteen of us plus two guides.
A fire was lit in the fireplace and failed to produce much heat, but smoke was plentiful. We started early the next morning and when the crest of the range was reached, one of the guides pointed to a higher range across the valley and said "There is Switzerland". For the first time in our safari it would have really hurt me if we'd been picked up by the Germans. The road in the valley ended at a village called Macugnana and was occupied by a German border patrol.
"We were told to cross the valley at a small group of houses a few hundred yards down the road from Macugnana. Our guides bade us farewell and we resumed our journey. After spending four hours in the snow, we descended below the snowline. During the afternoon we reached the road. Here we were taken into a house and told two guides would take us some way up to the Monte Moro Pass beginning early next morning. A few of us still wearing our uniforms were asked to exchange them for civilian clothes. They told us that the previous day a party of our men numbering 19 had been captured by a local German patrol. We had an evening meal then settled down to rest.
"We were aroused about 2 am. At 2.30 am we set out on our last climb. As dawn was breaking we were walking along a path about five feet wide, set in the face of a precipice. This seem to extend over a thousand feet below and a long way above us at the top. We reached a place where the path came to a stop, and the rock face extended across the path. The method of overcoming this obstacle was via holes sunk in the face of the rock at shoulder height and one at toe level. The top hole was grasped in the right hand and the right foot was pushed into the bottom hole.
"Then one swung out over nothing but air, and felt for similar holes on the other side of the rocky outcrop.
"Releasing the right hand and foot one swung past the obstacle and resumed his travels. Glancing down, the conifers below us seemed to be the size of mushrooms in the faint dawn light.
"When we reached normal earth again, we resumed our climb, with one guide using his binoculars every now and again to check signs of movement by the Germans in Macugnana which by this time was along way below us, but our guides said was still within machine gun range. Just before we reached the snow-line, our guides left us, warning us that the crest of the range to our left was to be avoided as it could be occupied by Fascists.
"In the snow on our left were numerous refugees, civilian and military, in small groups, all headed for Switzerland. One small group we met was a Jewish family. The parents no longer young, a daughter in her early teens and a son who had a bullet wound in his knee, who was being carried to the top by one of the two Italian guides. Later at the assembly point in Switzerland, I saw this girl offering lollies to our chaps. I just didn't have the heart to accept one. We reached the top of the pass just after midday(height about 9,000 feet) and looked down the Saas Tal which is in Switzerland. We were surprised to see three soldiers at the bottom of the snowline dressed in German type uniforms with coal scuttle helmets. But there was no way we could turn back. Some members of our party were being helped by those capable of doing so and continued on their way down hill again. We had completed eight hours in the snow by the time we reached the three soldiers, who turned out to be Swiss border guards.
"We were halted, asked to advance and identify ourselves, then if we had passports. We flashed our paybooks which were checked by the guards. The Lieutenant in charge asked us to wait on one side until more people arrived to be escorted back to the reception depot. In a short space of time we arrived at the depot where our mates who had arrived before us, greeted us at the roadside building with cries of "have a cup of tea in here". I thought we must be in a Christian country at last, they drink tea here". But the tea was a little different to ours, and I learned later that it was made from linden leaves.
"I wondered about our easy entrance to Switzerland. We had envisaged having to dodge border patrols and all other capers. It was learnt that Churchill had approached the Swiss Government after the fall of Mussolini and said that any prisoner that arrived there would pay their way. It turned out that we would have been welcome anyhow."
(Extract from "Some POW Stories - The Sappers War", Ken Ward-Harvey, B44 p99)
Acknowlegments and Thanks to:
The military function of a Pioneer sits midway between an infantryman and a sapper. The colour patch of the 9th Divisional Pioneers is accordingly an inverted purple equilateral triangle within a larger white one, bordered by grey, reflecting the purple of the sapper, the white of the infantry and the grey of the AIF. Most probably the formation of a Pioneer Battalion was based on the German "Pionerten" the highly successful mechanised infantry who were so mobile and fast at securing positions in the vast and open conditions prevailing in the Western Desert.
2/1st Australian Pioneer Battalion
B36 Unit History: "The Pioneers: Unit History of the 2/1st Australian Pioneer Battalion, Second AIF", edited by Colonel Gordon Osborn MVO, Steve Clarke, Bill Jollie, Max Law, Pub. Max Herron, 1988. ISBN 073162154X
NX19074 Milton Henry Rogers - entered 03.11.43, left 23.09.44
NX29592 Harold Leslie Pack - entered 02.11.43, left 23.09.44
NX19056 Henry Edward Perrot - entered 01.10.43, left 23.09.44
In the siege of Tobruk, the 2/1st Pioneer Battalion was used purely as infantry in the defence of a 28 mile long perimeter whose defence rested on regular patrols and the laying and removal of mines.
On August 9, 1941, D Company of the 2/1st Pioneer Battalion sent out a patrol with a mission to destroy enemy vehicles and whatever other enemy equipment they could. This patrol was under the leadership of Sergeant Raine with Corporal King and three others. It was to be a two or three day mission. The patrol never returned.
NX10057 Sergeant J.D. Raine and NX29943 Corporal D. King eventually turned up at German Stalag 18A.
NX19074 Milton Henry Rogers, NX29592 Harold Leslie Pack and NX19056 Henry Edward Perrot turned up in Switzerland.
It is thought that at least two of these men might have been in Sergeant Raine's patrol which had been captured by the Germans, but had been handed over to the Italians as their prisoners.
As NCOs, Sgt Raine and Cpl King would have not been drafted out from Campo 57- Gruppignano, but Milton Rogers, Harold Pack and Henry Perrot may have been sent to work camps in the Vercelli area, and have been posted to farms not all that distant from Switzerland. NX19056 Henry Edward Perrot may in fact have been with the 2/1st Field Workshops.
Attempts by the Recorder to contact these three men through Veteran Affairs had some response: Contact was made with Mrs. Perrott, 4/4 Parmal Ave. Padstow, NSW, 2211 - tel (02) 9773 6063. Mrs. Perrott confirms that her husband was in Switzerland and was definitely with the 2/1st Pioneers. He worked there for some Swiss farmers who came out to Australia to visit them. He returned to Australia via Bombay but she does not remember the name of the ship or the "farm" he was at either in Italy or Switzerland.
The widow of Milton Rogers rang the Recorder after a small paragraph was put in "Stand-To" and "Reveille". She promised to write but never did and subsequent letters forwarded to her by Veteran Affairs were never acknowledged.
This publicity also elicited a reply from Wally Cox, 6 St. Johns Court, Jindera NSW, 2642, who passed on the address of Harold Leslie Pack as McCauley Street, East Hay. But two letters were neither acknowledged nor returned.
However, a phone call from Ms. Helene Miller, 38 Sherbrooke Street, Rooty Hill, NSW, 2766 - tel (02) 9864 8551, gave some details about her uncle. And a further letter was sent to her on October 15, 2001.
Acknowlegements and Thanks to:
2/2nd Australian Pioneer Battalion
B37 Unit History: "The 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion", Published E.F. Aitken, Melbourne, 1953.
No POW in Switzerland
2/3rd Australian Pioneer Battalion
Unit History: "The War Book of the Third Pioneer Battalion", Major Maurice Barber, Bevan Kestingh MC, 1922. Reprinted John Burridge, Perth, 1980's.
B38 "Mud and Sand", edited by J.A. Anderson and J.G.T. Jackett, Sydney, 1955.
NX26961 Edward John Aitken - entered 30.10.43, left23.09.44
VX54408 Clyde Albert Bert - entered 05.10.43, left 23.09.44
NX50296 Francis Thomas Carlile - entered 24.09.43, left 23.09.44
NX20404 Frank Clifford - entered 21.09.43, left 23.09.44
NX25641 Albert George Denovan - entered 20.10.43, left 23.09.44
VX53572 Robert James Esler - entered 15.09.43, left 23.09.44
NX50304 Eric Ronald Forbes - entered 24.09.43, left 23.09.44
NX54413 Ernest Frederick Granland - entered 08.12.43, left 23.09.44
NX50366 Harry Sydney Hudson - entered 02.11.43, left 23.09.44
NX50707 Len John Hoad - entered 30.10.43, left 23.09.44
NX26754 Lt Edwin Alfred Paul - entered 11.11.43, left 23.09.44
NX35515 Cpl Harry Sibraa - entered 23.09.43, left 23.09.44
NX54410 Jack Raymond Walker - entered 15.09.43, left 23.09.44
NX25365 Edgar Pearson Watson - entered 21.09.43, left 23.09.44
All POW of the 2/3d Pioneers were taken during the El Alamein operations and of the 46 captured, one officer, Lt Edwin Alfred Paul and 13 men also reached Switzerland as escapees from Italy. Lt L.N. Bakewell died in German hands from wounds received in El Alamein and Ross Mudge was shot while attempting to escape in Italy.
Most of the 2/3rd Pioneer POW seemed to have been in the same camp in Switzerland - Turbental. All Pioneer POW were repatriated from Switzerland on September 23, 1944, including Lt Edwin Paul.
For some reason, Bob Esler may have been repatriated via the Vatican.
Ern Granland and Harry Sibraa with other AIF "evades" have their photos in the Unit Association History of the 2/15th Infantry Battalion "Let Enemies Beware".
SX8264 George Rosevear MID,2/3rd Pioneers - an extract from his diary, November 28, 1942.
"AIF casualties in recent actions (El Alamein) given by Army Minister Ford (Egyptian Mail 26.11.42) were - 2,419, of which 619 killed, DOW or 'missing' the remainder being wounded. Our figures were 22 KIA, 4 DOW, 41 missing, 96 wounded - total 166.
"Total Allied casualties were 14,000.
"Went for a whole day route march over 20 bde battle area on night 23/24 Oct. Flies over the battle grounds were incredible. When the coy sprang (?) to attention before dismissal, the flies rose off their backs in a cloud which blotted out the sun".
When George Rosevear finally returned with the Battalion from Tarakan, it was as Major George Rosevear!
NX26754 Lt Edwin Alfred Paul 2/3rd Pioneers, 9th Division, AIF.
Of the 41 "missing" members of the 2/3rd Pioneer Battalion, 14 finally ended up in Switzerland. These included one officer, NX26754 Lt Edwin Alfred Paul. Like all 9th Division Pioneer POW, Lt Edwin Paul was taken prisoner by the Germans at El Alamein, one of the 46 lost to his Battalion there.
While the "Moosburg Express" was being made up in the marshalling yards at Modena, in full view of the German guards, railway workers and his fellow POW, he vaulted the railway yard fence, and walked with an unknown Italian civilian down the street to freedom.
He crossed the Swiss border on Armistice Day 1943, and told nobody what he did either in Italy or Switzerland. He stayed in the Swiss "camp" at Butschwil.
In civilian life he had been a carpenter, born in Sandgate, Queensland in 1903. He was married and the address of his wife was 134 O'Donnell St. Bondi, Sydney.
He died in October 1946 shortly after his repatriation from Switzerland on September 9, 1944.
Acknowlegments and Thanks to Ken Bradshaw
B47 Unit History: "Signals" History of the Royal Signals Corps 1788 - 1947", Theo Barker, 1987.
Ist Aust Signals
VX18692 Cpl Cyril "Skinny" Henderson - entered 21.09.43, left 18.10.44
VX1902 Thomas Patrick Moynahan - entered 10.12.43, left 22.09.44
9th Division Signals
NX3778 Colin Templeton Gardner - entered 27.09.43, left 23.09.44
TX383 John Moore - entered 23.09.43, left 11.10.44
VX1902 Thomas Patrick Moynahan, was originally listed as a member of the 2/23 Inf Rgt but he does not appear on their nominal roll.
In Swiss Army statistics, he is listed as L Sigs 6 Div and his date of arrival is recorded as December 10, 1943. By this time most of the accessible passes into Switzerland from Italy would have been blocked off by snow.
He may have been serving with a partisan group or lying doggo with an Italian family until they could arrange to get him across to Switzerland or simply waiting until the Allies liberated Italy.
With Acknowledgments and Thanks to:
It was rare that HQ personnel, whether at Battalion, Brigade or Divisional HQ, became POW in the normal course of operations.
However, there were major exceptions such as the famous ambush on the Derna-Mechili road, which saw Generals Neame and O'Connor taken prisoner (See A3 "Tobruk and Alamein", Barton Maughan, p92-94).
VX1580 Captain Henry "Jack" Kroger was serving with 9th Divisional HQ, and VX4360 Lieutenant Bob Houghton-Jones with the HQ of 19th Infantry Brigade when they were overrun. Both finished up in Switzerland.
Captain Kroger, as the senior Australian officer, was in immediate command of Australian "evades" in Switzerland, and this Volume concludes with his official report on the AIF in Switzerland.
The objective of this Compendium is to complement this report with a complete and accurate nominal roll of every AIF "evade" in Switzerland, broken down under the different units in which they had served at their point of capture.
To some extent a POW becomes a forgotten man. He is no longer useful to his unit, and for an officer, becoming a POW generally ends his rise through promotion, based on military experience.
Becoming a POW for an extended period inhibits his field experience and his training is immediately curtailed.
In many cases it is the end of his military career.
The 2/8th Field Ambulance, 9 Division AIF
There is no official unit history of the 2/8th Field Ambulance, 9 Division AIF.
When the name of Sgt. Vivian Clement Rose popped up from the dissection of the 36 units of the AIF who had "representatives" in Switzerland, it seemed odd that AIF Records showed his unit to be the 2/8th Field Ambulance, basically an SX unit, whilst in Swiss records his unit was shown as 9 Div HQ. It was strange also, that as a senior NCO of such a unit, he did not have a protected personnel notation entered in his pay book.
It could have been that he was a transport driver that had been loaned to this Field Ambulance Unit, but the rank did not support this theory. Moreover he had been in a work camp, which was most unusual for a Sergeant, unless he had deliberately organised themself into one as providing a better chance of escape. And there were quite a few who did that.
Alternatively he could have been loaned to Divisional HQ because of special skills he possessed. SX5286 Ralph Churches, of the 2/48th, for example, had been seconded to Divisional HQ because of his special linguistic skills. Others has been seconded to Battalion or Brigade HQ for intelligence or other special duties.
Some intense research by John Davis of the 2/8 Field Ambulance Association, finally explained these apparent anomalies.
Viv Rose's rank of Sergeant was acquired in Switzerland, where as NCOs were very scarce, the British Officers responsible for discipline in Allied POW "camps" appointed "Local Rank", to suitable private soldiers to aid internal discipline. As he was very well educated, his verbal skills could well have been sought by Divisional HQ for orderly or similar duties. And as he would no longer have been on the strength of the 2/8th Field Ambulance at the time he was taken POW, he would not have had protected personnel status.
John Davis was able to confirm these suppositions by obtaining the following extract from the private diary of Viv Rose, obtained with the co-operation of his widow.
This confirms that he was transferred to 9 Division HQ on February 20, 1941 and had escaped from Campo 106 Vercelli/Carpanetto working farm into Switzerland.
Acknowledgments and Thanks to:
SX8800 Sgt Vivien Clement Rose 2/8th Field Ambulance, 9th Division AIF.
"Joined the AIF mid-June/July 1940. Allocated to 2/8th Australian Field Ambulance, Wayville, S.A.
"Moved to Woodside Army Camp for more training. Unit moved to Port Melbourne for embarkation on HMT Ship "Mauretania" 29th December 1940. Sailed to Colombo. Transferred to a cattle boat "Rohma".
"Had the pleasure of staying with this excuse for a troop ship until we reached the Suez. Transferred to 9th Division HQ 20th February 1941. Moved into the desert 7/3/41. Arrived Benghazi 10/3/41. In "Benghazi Handicap".
"Taken prisoner 0200 hours 6/4/41. This is the same time as 1 Company, 2/8th Field Ambulance was captured. Sailed for Italy 1/9/41. Entered Taranto harbour. Tent had 14 - Jarvis, Dare, Fraser, Knight, Peel, Parker, Curr, Miller, Andrews, Clare, Green, Garvy, Cook and self. Received first letter on my birthday 14/1/42. Red Cross parcel shared by seven.
"Travelled north by train to a town Udine. Detrained and marched to a camp. About 1,000 Australians already there in number 1 Compound. We go to number 2. I have become just another POW. But a snobbish POW. A so-called educated type among a gang of labouring types with a desire to hurt someone, to hell with anybody else. With a hatred of officers or is it envy? and of anybody better off than myself.
"April 5th. '42.
"Max Jarvis left with the rest of the 2/8 chaps.
"About 500 Aussies left this morning for working camps including Frank Cull.
"Named in the next party to go. Passed through Brescia, Milano, Verelli. Detrained at Flansana. We went to the village of Carpanetto.
"News of Musso's fall.
"Break up of camp. I'm to go to Alladi. Met Frank Curr.
"Frank Curr and I went through the wire. Ran in to a female that realised what we were and told us to follow her. She took us to her home. Finally we were give a guide to lead us up the the track to Viglianno. Met up with Mrs. Regis in Ronco. Mr. Regis was Italian. Frank Curr was from the 2/24th Battalion. Captured at Tobruk May 1st, 1941. Eventually climbed over Monte Rosa. Met up with trooper William Marshall of the Queens Own Yorkshire Dragoons. He volunteered for a job at 12 francs a week plus accommodation allowance and ate at a soldiers mess. Met up with a couple that lived in Zurich.
"I sold out. I am now an official bastard and will have the opportunity to improve and mature. I wear three stripes on each arm now. Seeing that we are doing a bit of work, the powers-that-be decided that we should have a little more pocket money than the bludgers. We are tagged with the title of LOCAL Sergeant which means when I leave this posting, I become an honest man again.
"ADELBODEN - Left Wil at 10.30. Alfie Lisis, Dom Graetz, Paul Meyer, Gaffery and I. Went to the Beausite Hotel, with Dom and I sharing room 52 4th floor. Bought skis.
"The Polish University Camp at Fribourg has asked for the services of a chap to teach English to a group. Part of the 2nd Polish Division who crossed in 1940.
"April 19 - Fribourg.
"Here after a real rush job. I get pocket money of 21 francs a week. 10 francs a day of subsistence allowance, 150 francs clothing allowance and that means permission to wear mufti. 200 francs per term varsity fees. 30 francs per term stationary allowance, free travel and a buckshee suit plus 6 food coupons per day plus 1.50 francs per day for teaching. I'm back in harness. It's order, counter-order -disorder. First I'm told I will go to Berne for work at the Legation, then its to Geneva. Left Fribourg for Geneva. 22 other chaps from Aust "camp" Arosa. A poofter English Captain ignores the mud to tell us we are to be shipped to England ASAP.
"Ended up in Italy again (Naples), left Naples for Taranto. Boarded "Camtara" (20,000 tons). Sailed on 24th October to Alexandria. Went out to El Alamein Cemetery. Left Mahdi 07.30. Train to Cairo to Tewfik. Straight on to troopship "Ranchi" (16,000 tons). Boarded USS "General John Pope" - a modern ship launched in 1943.
"December 29th tied up at Princes Pier, 1944.
(Extract from the private diary of Vincent Clement Rose kindly loaned by Mrs. Rose.)
Acknowledgements and Thanks to John Davis.
QX6083 Captain James Joseph Ryan MC, AAMC (attached 2/11th Inf Btn)
Captain James Ryan earned his MC on the main road to Derna, on 28th January 1941 when a forward patrol of the 2/11th Inf Btn walked on to a German mine killing one soldier and wounding an officer and 5 ORs.
Although the road was under heavy fire, Captain Ryan reached the patrol and tended the wounded on the spot, undoubtedly saving at least two lives.
When the 2/11th Inf Btn was withdrawn from Tobruk and sent to Greece, Captain Ryan MC continued to attend casualties in forward areas without any regard for his personal safety. When the unit was evacuated from Greece to Crete, it was one of two AIF Battalions defending the vital aerodrome at Retymo.
On the morning of May 31, 1941, a battalion conference was held. It was agreed that the battalion's position was hopeless and further fighting was useless. The Commanding Officer, Major (later Colonel) Sandover, told the men that he himself had decided to take to the hills and any member of the Battalion could do likewise.
Captain Ryan takes up his story:
"I accompanied Sandover with about 130 members of the Battalion.
We made our way to the part of the island where we joined a large party consisting of RAF personnel, British Naval people, Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders and members of the Black Watch regiment, making a total of about 500 men. For two days the naval peopled signalled at night and even though the signals were recognised by British bombers, nothing was done about picking us up. In the meantime a party of Australian and English troops led by WX9 Captain Fitzharding of the 2/3rd Field Regiment, put into repair a motor landing craft that had been beached and was in disorder. They decided they could take about 70 men and after a conference it was decided that the full party should set out for Egypt. I was not concerned in this party but they sent a message to Sandover saying they had kept a place for me and Sandover gave me the order to go.
"We set off at 2000 hours on June 2. At 0200 hours on June 3, we sighted a submarine. We at first thought it was a British submarine, but it opened fire with machine guns and a 4 inch naval gun. Captain Fitzharding surrendered the craft.
"The Italians then came close and asked Captain Fitzharding to swim across to them and after a while he sang out that he wanted 8 officers to come on board the craft. Some of them swam over and in doing so, one, Lieutenant Gill of the South African Air Force was drowned. I informed them at this stage, that I was a medical officer and had wounded on board and did they want me to come across. They said they did. By this time, the submarine had tied up to the craft and I went on board. We were then taken down below and searched. They asked me about the wounded on the landing barge, and I gave them an exaggerated account but they just walked off and left us. Seven other officers and myself were on board the submarine. I understand the rest of the party left on the landing barge got back to Egypt safely. I was taken to Taranto in Italy."
All three of the AIF officers on board the Italian submarine from the landing barge - QX6083 Captain Ryan MC, 2/11th Inf Btn, WX9 Captain Fitzhardinge 2/3rd RAA and SX1154 Lt Morish 2/3rd RAA - were taken to Campo Sulmona in Italy.
The landing barge, with the remaining two wounded officers, and Sergeant McWilliam of the South African Air Force in command, beached at Mersah Matruh, close to the positions of the 2/7th RAA, in which a brother of Captain Fitzhardinge and a brother of Lt Morish, were serving (A3 p310).
Lt. Morish was one of the 11 AIF officers later to escape to Switzerland (See Volume I "The Moosburg Express" ).
Captain Ryan spent a fortnight at the Naval Hospital in Taranto, and then five and a half months in Sulmona. He was transferred to Campo 57 - Gruppignano for several months, and then sent for six weeks to Pincenza.
He was repatriated from there, under the rules of the Geneva Convention.
On his return to Australia he reported on the conditions in the various camps he had been sent to in Italy.
He sums up the medical treatment of AIF POW in Italy:
"Dressings and drugs were extremely short with the Italians, even the most essential. They had no surgical appliances. There is no nursing service, which very seriously affects the quality of the treatment and the medical orderlies entrusted with the work were extremely incompetent and dirty. The senior medical officer, was, as a rule, quite competent and his assistants quite incompetent, but they were not allowed to take any major part in the treatment.
Lt Colonel John Joseph Ryan ended the war as CO of 11 Field Ambulance AIF.
A2 "Greece, Crete and Syria" Gavin Long, AWM 1953.
Australian Award Citations
Statement Given by Major J.J. Ryan at HQ Queensland, June 4, 1942.
"The 2/11th (City of Perth) Australian Infantry Battalion 1939-45", Johnson, 2000.
This photo shows British ASC members marching to church. Photo courtesy of Mrs. Wendy Jay. They are wearing uniform as "internees".