anzac POW freemen in europe

Introductory Guide / Site Map

B. Rationale

This site attempts to chronicle all Anzac Freemen in Europe. The following diagram may help to define the scope of the site.

The definition of "Freeman" used in conjunction with this diagram are:

A. All Anzac evaders in countries at war (those on the loose but were never POW - mainly airmen - 5 in the diagram).

B. All Anzacs arriving directly in neutral countries who were interned but who were never POW (mainly airmen) - 7 in the diagram.

C. Any Anzac POW in Europe who escaped or was repatriated or exchanged. These are covered as 8, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15 or 16.  It does not cover any POW who never escaped and was released at War's end (13).

In his Introduction "Prisoners of War - the Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War", the author, W. Wynne Mason, writes in the Author’s Preface: "Evaders who avoided capture but eventually got back from enemy territory are excluded." (A6 p.xi)

It is precisely this segment of ANZAC POW history that the Recorder has attempted to chronicle in this Compendium.

The visitor to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, walking towards the main entrance, will observe five tall flagpoles - a group of two on the left, and a group of three on the right. On Anzac Day in April each year, the three on the right fly the flags the Australian Navy, Army and Air Force. The two on the left fly the Australian and New Zealand national flags. This ANZAC tradition underlies the rationale of the Compendium.

Unlike the Sixth, Seventh and Ninth AIF Divisions, which were withdrawn from the battle against the Axis Powers in the Mediterranean to fight the Japanese in the Pacific, for some inexplicable political reason, the single 2NZEF Division slogged on in Italy until VE-Day, by which time it had fought their way right up the boot of Italy to carry the combat onto German soil.

In round figures, W. Wynne Mason suggests that 9,000 New Zealanders became POW in Europe, almost one in every 200 of the entire New Zealand population. The Australian round figure is 8,000. Of these, again in round figures, 3,700 2 NZEF POW and 3,500 AIF POW found themselves in Italian hands. After the promulgation of the Armistice sought by Italy in September 1943, and despite the terms of that armistice, 3,000 New Zealand and 2,500 Australian POW in Italian hands were seized by the Germans and transported across the Italian border to join their colleagues already held in Germany or its European satellites. There they were given a German POW number, raising the number of AIF POW already held in Germany to 6,500 and those from the 2NZEF to 6,300.

Other ANZAC POW held in Italian captivity were more fortunate.

In all, due to that Armistice, in what was probably the biggest mass escape of military prisoners in modern history, September 1943 saw nearly 20,000 Allied escapers wandering around as "Free Men" in Italy. Of these 5,139 were recorded in Swiss statistics as British when they crossed the border into their neutral country. The Swiss made no distinction between "Imperial" English, and "Colonial" Empire troops. Australian, Canadian, Cypriot, Indian, New Zealand and South African troops were all labelled "British". From the Swiss list of 5,139 British servicemen, the names of the 420 AIF and 112 2NZEF escapers permitted to cross the Swiss border as "evades" was extracted.

The Recorder’s interest initially lay in the identification of these 420 AIF POW "Free Men" of which he was one. The nominal roll he constructed was checked against Swiss Army Records in Bern. His research was printed out in draft form and lodged as a public document in the Australian War Memorial library in Canberra and Swiss Army Archives in Bern and bears the title of "The AIF in Switzerland". This was later extended to cover, what he believes to be another "half-battalion" of AIF POW "Free Men" outside the German POW camp system, in various other countries in Europe unable, for many reasons, to rejoin their AIF units.

He exchanges his research with similar research being carried out in New Zealand. For just as Australians and New Zealanders were closely embedded in the various enemy prison camps of Europe and intermingled in escape parties from them, so many of the stories contained in this Compendium are ANZAC ones. A perfect example is the story of escapers from a German camp in Spittal and Drau in Austria to Yugoslavia. The escape party was not lead by the more senior Australian sergeant, but the best man for the job - the New Zealand corporal - Eric Baty.

The original Compendium with its working title of "The AIF in Switzerland", thus metamorphosed into a broader version with the working title of "The WWII AIF "Free Men" of Europe".

The foundation on which the structure of the enlarged Compendium now rests is the original four parts of the "AIF in Switzerland" which is complete and authenticated. On to those has been grafted a fifth part covering the still incomplete story of a similar number of AIF POW "Free Men" for whom the luck of the draw sent them to continue their service in European countries other than Switzerland.

These five parts all interlock with the Sixth and final part which brings together the complete and authenticated nominal roll of the Sixth, Seventh and Ninth Division AIF POW "Free Men" in Switzerland, with the still incomplete nominal roll of those from the Sixth and Ninth "on the loose" in various other countries of Europe.

This combined nominal roll includes the 230 who died on active service, some while actively fighting the enemy, some repatriated on humanitarian grounds, but mostly those who died while held in enemy prison camps - a nominal roll of "Free Men" totalling perhaps 15% of all AIF POW captured in the Mediterranean theatre of operations. The figures and categories are under continuous review.

The Compendium is dedicated to all those who sought and found the hospitality of neutral Switzerland and, by extension, to those heroic citizens of many other countries who sheltered Allied escapers, fed them from their own meagre supplies, and protected them against re-capture risking their own execution and the destruction of their homes by doing so. Also to the International Red Cross, without whose field support, camp inspections, supply of amenities such as sporting equipment, books and musical instruments, and above all, the regular food and medical parcels, without which many AIF POW may never have been able to relate their stories to the Recorder at all.

As most POW will know, half a loaf is better than none. While imperfect and incomplete, recorded history nevertheless remains history.

And by placing his research on the Internet as a public and ongoing document, he hopes that corrections and amplifications, still "out there" can be incorporated in the material currently presented.

Acknowledegments and thanks to all you have already contributed to this Compendium have been made by listing the names of those individuals in alphabetic order and the end of relevant pages. There are more official acknowledgments given where references are made to bibliographies mentioned in the text or in the course of the text.

It is entirely the fault of the Recorder if there are omissions in acknowledgements or thanks where these are rightfully due. If there is any plagiarism, particularly as footnotes have not been used, it is unintentional. He is contrite, if so, sincerely apologising to any person who may be offended.

The main thrust of the research has been to place on public record, as much "oral history" as possible before it vanishes irretrievably. Some familial war histories are still being maintained on both sides of the Tasman.

It is hoped that they will eventually contribute to that general knowledge already recorded, as further information continues to trickle in and the Recorder joins those many mates and colleagues, who no longer answer roll call.

Web Design Web Hosting by FirstLine