anzac POW freemen in europe

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D. Definitions

2. What exactly is an AIF POW "Free Man"?

The basic rules of the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols have been set out in some detail in Part Two, Chapter 3 of this research.

One practical difficulty facing the Recorder in his efforts to compile a nominal roll of all AIF POW "Free Men" in Europe during WWII, particularly in Crete, is that when a serviceman posted "Missing in action, believed POW" got back to Allied Lines, he was re-classified by CARO as having "Re-joined Unit" and was never officially recorded as having been a POW, despite the fact that a significant proportion of AIF POW in Crete had had to escape from German holding camps to reach a rescue vessel.

In his official government publication "Greece, Crete and Syria" (A2), Gavin Long concludes his Chapter 12 with these words: "Campbell, the regular soldier, kept his unit together and surrendered it as an intact body of troops under his command. Sandover, the citizen soldier, advised his men to scatter and try to escape, and as a result 13 officers and 39 other ranks of his battalion reached Egypt; it seems that 2 officers and 145 others of the 2/1st Battalion escaped".

Technically speaking, it appears to the Recorder that, when the Allied High Command surrendered Crete to the victorious Germans and the last ship of Admiral Cunningham’s evacuation fleet left Sfakia for Alexandria on Sunday June 1, 1941, the 11,000 men still in Crete with their weapons, stores and vehicles were placed under the control of the German Army. Both Campbell and Sandover with the junior officers and men became POW, protected by the Geneva Conventions, but still retaining their duty to escape if at all possible.

Those that managed to do so, particularly those reaching neutral Turkey, became "Free Men" and remained so, until they eventually re-joined their units. For, strictly speaking, if those reaching neutral Turkey had not claimed to be escaped POW, they would have had to be interned in that country, rather than being evacuated back to Allied Lines as "evades".

Those that were unable to rescue themselves, as had the earlier "barge" parties, but were finally assisted to leave the island due to Allied-organised rescue parties and those that remained "underground" in Crete were also "Free Men" for at least some time.

Thus the Recorder chose to couple the term "Free Men" to those AIF POW "on the loose" in Europe as a generic label to cover all, even including those who were repatriated or exchanged by inter-Governmental agreement or for humanitarian reasons under the aegis of the International Red Cross.

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