anzac POW freemen in europe

Part 6 - Full Nominal Roll & Casualty List

 Chapter 2 - "Operation Liddington"

At Christmas 1942, all the units of the Ninth Division were assembled at their camps in Palestine awaiting their repatriation to Australia. By January 31, 1943, the Ninth Division were withdrawn from the Middle East. They were taken from their camps in Palestine to the port of Massawa, in Eritrea, to join a convoy of five great ships for the unescorted sea voyage back to Australia. The convoy was led by the "Queen Mary" which had taken many of them to war. The embarkation rolls showed an official figure of 30,955 (A3 p753, footnote).

The AIF left behind in Axis prison camps scattered throughout Europe, 6,818 of their brothers-in-arms (the Parker File C21, Table "B") - 3,170 from the early North African fighting and the debacle of the Sixth Division in Greece
and Crete in 1941 and 3,648 from the later desperate efforts of 1942 to stop Rommel's thrust to Cairo from El Alamein. All were from the Ninth Division.

By the time the Ninth Division finally did return, they had spent their long awaited home leave, had been re-equipped and trained for jungle rather than desert fighting and had joined other AIF brigades in action in the Pacific. Italy had capitulated to the Allies in September, 1943.

The Germans, fighting on in Italy, had no intention of honoring this armistice. They moved swiftly, rounding up nearly 3,000 ANZAC non-commissioned POW held in Campo 57 - Gruppignano-Udine shipping them off in two trains to Stalags either in Germany or its satellite countries. Those 900 odd lower ranked ANZAC POW, who had been drafted out from the main concentration camp of Gruppignano to work camps 106/Vercelli or 107 Torviscosa in the Spring of 1943, were luckier.

It took the Germans some time to organise the mopping up of the prisoners working on remote scattered farms and by the time they did arrive at them, some 20,000 Allied POW of all ranks, had escaped into the hills of North Italy from work and other camps in Italy. By Christmas 1943, over 500 ANZAC other ranks had managed to escape into neutral Switzerland.

Others remained underground in Italy, joining other comrades in arms underground in Yugoslavia, The Balkans, Greece and Crete. All together, there may have been 15% of the AIF POW held in Europe "Free Men" either in Switzerland or at large in other countries of Europe controlled by the Axis. Those in Switzerland have been identified precisely and the Recorder is attempting to complete the AIF POW "Free Men" nominal roll for Europe, working back from unit records.

By some quirk of politics, the sole New Zealand Division did not withdraw from the Middle East as did the AIF but fought on throughout the Allied Italian campaign. It had almost reached the Italian/Austrian border when VE-Day finally arrived. Ultimately the POW of the 2NZEF joined those of the AIF in the UK for repatriation.

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