anzac POW freemen in europe

Part 1 - "Missing in Action - Believed POW"

Chapter 4 - Transportation of POW

B. By Land - The "Mooseburg Express"

Most internal transport of POW in Italy was done by train. When 900 Allied officers in Campo 78, Sulmona were transferred further north to Campo 19, Bologna, they went by train and when they were moved further north to a German camp at Moosburg, in Bavaria, a special train was assembled in the marshalling yards at Modena to take them there.

If Lt Athol Hunter and Fl/Lt Geoff Chinchen, who escaped when the train brought them to a transit camp, Fort Bismark, near Strasbourg are included, all the Australian officers who made it to Switzerland, escaped from the "Moosburg Express" which in effect became a mobile escape party. One of the AIF officers, Lt. Edwin Paul of the 2/3rd Pioneer Bn, didn't even wait for the train to be assembled in the marshalling yards of Modena. He simply jumped the outside fence, in full view of guards and POWs alike, and was last seen walking down the street among a group of Italian civilians. He next popped up in Switzerland where he surrendered to border guards on Armistice Day, November 11, 1943.

Fl/Lt Fred Eggleston, on page 35 of his book "Against The Odds" (G3) describes the assembling of the "Moosburg Express" in these words:

"We had time to notice that the walls of some of the box cars were of steel, and others such as the one I was in, were of timber and that between every five or six was a flat car bristling with machine guns. Our box car had two sliding doors on the side and the latch looked negotiable providing it was not to be padlocked or wired up ... the doors were left open while we waited for departure and I was able to use my reasonable fluency in German on the boyish looking guard, by taunting him with a prediction that the Allies would soon invade La Spezia naval base in northern Italy and he would not be able to return to Germany because the Brenner Pass would be blocked by Allied bombing. I desisted when I saw his trigger finger trembling as he clutched his automatic weapon. 

"The doors were finally shut and we departed Modena at 13:00 hours destined for Mantova, Verona and then the Brenner Pass into Austria. We left Mantova at dusk. It was a fine night with a full moon and the train reached Verona about midnight and backed into a siding so we promptly fell asleep. I awoke at 03:00 hours to find the train speeding along in the bright moonlight, and through a small ventilator I was able to read the name "Rovereto" on a station, so realised that we would have to act soon if we were to find friendly Italians when we got out. Tracey Rowley was at work cutting out a board near the latch, but leaving a paper thin outside skin to be broken out at the appropriate time.

"Numbered slips of paper were drawn out of a hat and Tracey got number one and Jack Kroger, Barney Grogan, Lex Lamb, Robbie, Johnny Hall, Sandy Mair, Bob Jones and Bob Donnan all drew low numbers. I drew number 10, Mort Edwards eleven and Geoff Chinchen twelve. Whilst we were getting ready to leave I began to think aloud. "We would be crazy to jump. We could lose all our possessions and end up getting shot". "To hell with that", said Robbie, nursing his gammy knee, "I'm going".

"Ashamed, I quelled my doubts and determined to go too ... our box car was near the rear of the train, and I did not have to contend with one of those flat cars bristling with machine guns, but I could see a German with a tommy gun on the rear platform of the guards van, as the train drew slowly away. He was distracted and did not notice me, otherwise I would have been a dead duck. When the train finally arrived at Moosburg it was 103 Allied officers short!" 

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