Edward Levings, from New Zealand, was a Captain and Medical Officer in the 3rd Anti-Tank Regiment from Australia. He was captured in Libya and spent time as a Medical Officer in POW camps in North Africa, Italy (PG 57), Oflag 8B and finally Stalag 18A/Z in Spittal. The following is his account of the time in 18A/Z from his arrival in March 1944 up until September 1944..
Left Munich at 5a.m... Very tired & weary. A long run down to Salzburg but it was snowing heavily all the time so I gave up trying to see scenery & went to sleep. Very cold but at Salzburg we were in a warm room & had tea made, then awash up, a meal & more tea.
Very pretty city Salzburg.
Left at 2p.m. & reached St Vite where we changed again, waited 1 ½ hours & then came on to Spittal.
All this country was in Tyrol & had the unearthly quality of beauty about it. Much of it was still obscured by snow but quite a lot was to be seen & it was all good.
A short walk to camp, put into the hospital after a reasonable wait, some supper & bed. After 43 hours travelling mostly in a heavy snow storm, the latter was very welcome indeed.
I’m sure the Munich brunette had only strictly dishonourable intentions & I’d have been a ruined man if the guards had gone to sleep! Shame.
Spittal Lazarett [18A/Z] has a bed capacity of 600. An international show with the staff comprising British (3) Serbs (2) & French (4). Also a couple of Italians who have some of their own miserable horde to look after but they are not to stay with us long & will be transferred to barracks in the camp soon – thank goodness for that. There are also a couple of Russian doctors in the camp but they do not work in the hospital. The Russians are supposed to be kept away from everyone else but that’s a hopeless task.
Camp comprises two separate areas – east & west lagers. East lager is exclusively British N.C.O.s. West lager is international like the hospital.
We are surrounded by mule stables & normally, in peace time, the place is headquarters of an alpine regiment & our present quarters – all the hospital in fact – either barracks or stables.
Administration block (wholly German) is built of brick & all the rest of timber with wooden floors. Heating seems to be adequate.
After Italy the supply of drugs, dressings etc in stock is amazing, but here, too, there is no good extension apparatus. X-ray facilities are excellent. We can get as many plates as we need but, of course, must be as economical as possible. We can screen as often as we like & once a week a good x-ray specialist visits us to screen chests & stomachs & read plates.
Hospital occupies about 6 acres which allows of ample room to move about in.
Staff besides myself are Gunther Kok (S.A.M.C. – physician). Gunther is
to go home next month. The orderlies are S.A.M.C., R.A.M.C. & the Campo 57 lads with
Allen Rowey again in command.
A goodly number of the Campo 57 people are round about but nearly all have passed on to Germany.
Dentistry is done by two French officers & Doug McLeod – who can now finish the job on me he started at 57 last July.
Warmer here than up in Germany but still cold enough.
Whole place is in a valley through which runs the Drau. Valley is about 2 ½ miles across with high mountains to the N & S – these are now snow clad & glint beautifully in the sun. The lower hills are forest clad.
The relief of getting away from Oflag life with the infantile arguments, selfishness & stupid discussion is enormous.
Never again, if I can help it.
Acting purely as a surgical consultant!!
A Serb had done all the surgery here to-date but I am to do the British & American & he the rest from now on. Did our first list – 5 – today.
Reminiscent of Derna days; went to a funeral (French) for the ride – or, rather, walk.
Having my teeth fixed up, Our Douglas has condemned two but not for immediate execution & is filling 8 more.
Walking today with Kok & a postern. Climbed the low mountain to the N. – quite laborious but we enjoyed the quiet forest tracks. Good view of the valley from the top. A clear sunny day with enough snow still about to give the air that bracing nip. Descended to the Millstatt Lake on the other side – a famous tourist resort. Walked back along the S side of the lake having a magnificent view of the lake, the green valley & the snow clad mountains topping it all. The sun was just right for these & they glinted with all their colours at their very best.
We then turned around a shoulder of the hill after passing through Seeboden & walked back to Spittal along a track about 100 feet up with the rushing stream & road far below. A beautiful gorge with the cliff walls in reds & browns & blacks & the greens of the forest harmonising.
Sat in a quiet corner of the track & smoked in the sun & then returned to camp.
It was an enchanting afternoon & the only reasonably perfect day of the last 1088.
Out walking again today but only a short one. Passed through the town then up a small mountain, through some forests, over the top getting a nice panorama of the valley, & down the other side & back.
Did some window shopping & saw some exquisite glass. Alas, tis for show not sale.
Gunther left today. For the 3rd successive April I’ve said goodbye to another M.O. on his way home & been the poor mug left behind.
Will have to scratch April out of my calendar for future turf transactions. Quite obviously, it’s my unlucky month.
Repat. Commission on 19th. We are presenting 88 including myself but I’ve not much hope though if the game were entirely fair I’d be a certainty. But it isn’t. I happen to be an important person & some Britisher is wanted here to do my job & they’ve had the dickens of a job getting me, even if there are at least 6 coves who have been sitting on their rears at 9A/Z for 2 years doing nothing, who could easily manage it.
Got a packer of 650 cigarettes sent on from 9A/Z today by some of the Aussies. Cheers.
To stay now till the end!
Commission came to day & passed 52 out of the 88. Some of the decisions were extraordinary both for passes & failures. Apparently they knew very little surgical pathology & much depended on the diagnosis on which they were put up. As half expected – the hostility to my even going up defeated me here. With the German member it was enough that I am wanted for work here & to the devil with my collapsed disc & widespread nodules of new bone in the spine. The chairman voted against too but he didn’t know much except nervous diseases. They barely listened to my x-ray report or history – one was busy writing & the other reading! 1 other – the junior Swiss – voted yes & let it go at that.
Felt far more humiliated at the disinterest shown than upset at the failure. After all, I am a senior colleague.
Protecting power on 24th. Got the low down on repatriation. No hope at all for us & as usual a lot of youngsters in Tobruk got away. It’s all so damned unfair that one will certainly do everything in one’s power to get away from military control as soon as possible.
Anzac Parade on 25th. For the second year in succession took the parade. Hope it’s the last time. A very good show was put on & the lads marched & paraded as though they were trooping the colours.
Do hope the chap leading the column did not let the rest down.
Had a huge batch of mail last week – 22 in all – from all over. Two from Phyllis one of which told of Jean’s Shirley. Where will be the end of these females, oh Lord? Dates ranged from Aug 2 1943 to Feb 6 1944 from Aust.
Had 3 days in bed after a terrific rigor one night & had to post-pone an operating day.
Only 2 walks in 7 weeks so far.
Nutty (?) Cole sentenced a cove to 7 tradeless days – a German, that is, for daring to interfere with a “full” Briton. So that chap will be off the rackets for a week!!
What a lovely climate!
After a couple of weeks of warmth & sun it rained incessantly for 2 days & then SNOWED for a couple more.
A very dreary outlook & all is muck underfoot.
Read Chas Morgan’s “The Empty Room” walking today. Climbed part of the way up the mountain. Valley was very beautiful in greens & blues & the snow capped mountains over all. A laze lent softness & distance to the view. Chesnuts were flowering as were all the orchard trees & the wild flowers carpeted the grass with reds & blues & yellows. Quite a hot day & we enjoyed the peace of the wooded lanes beside the river.
This week’s bon mot. An Englishman walking around had O.B.L.I on his lapel. Asked what this meant he said “old Bill’s Last Issue” & quickly came back “so you’re what resulted when he found a better ‘hole”.
Had a fair batch of mail in middle of May & also clothing parcels from home & Australia House & 500 cigarettes from Phyllis. Latter more than welcome. Kok returned to-day after taking Alderson to Graz. He had an enjoyable trip.
Received our first batch of wounded – only 22 all told but there is a good deal of work to be done on them. Very few are in even reasonable condition & there are many badly untied fractures, ankyloses (?) in bad position & much osteomyelitis. Quite an exhibit, in fact. How on earth some of these deformities occur is beyond me. They are so very bad, so much in keeping with experiences & so foreign to even the most elementary surgical rules that one wonders why. Practically all this lot had been “treated” in Italy by Italians – we even had one chap, who with a lot of skin wounds, has his elbow ankylosed in full EXTENSION. Varied the usual run of appendices & hernias this week by doing a T.B. glans of the neck.
Saw a French show – “The Voyage of M. Perichon” – well done & amazing but I do hate imitation ladies.
Snow has nearly gone from the mountains & Kok & I hope to soon go & find us an edelweiss – or something.
Sleeping badly again. Lack of hope for the immediate & distant future has a lot to do with it.
Kok went off to Klagenfurt yesterday for the day. I’m going soon to try & get a decent ray of my back. Cold miserable & continuously raining with lots of fresh snow on the hills but none in the valley.
Hope rising these days. We know it’s almost impossible but we all keep hoping that we will be out of the bag by Xmas.
Landing appears to have gone well & to be established. Very mild indeed, was the excitement & enthusiasm round the camp. Most of us have waited so very long that we can no longer raise enthusiasm – though, deep down, we do hope & hope & hope.
Walking again today to Lake Millstatt. It’s a very lovely walk along the gorge from Spittal to the Lake. With the Canterbury bells, daisies, buttercups & other wild flowers mingled in the lush, green grass it looked very beautiful today.
The slow spread of the forces in Normandy is encouraging. It seems a relentless, steady progress.
Rumours are rife particularly amongst the French. It has been well said of them “if anything happens in the next month, it’s the French news of today”.
Was to go to Klagenfurt today but it has been postponed. So very wet, very miserable & finally so cold that we had to change back into uniforms.
It has rained incessantly for a week.
Work progressing well. A couple of cases unsatisfactory – probably my fault.
East lager closed & the inhabitants packed off to Markt Pongau (Stalag 18C). No one knows who is coming to fill it but something or other is sure to.
The uncanny lack of excitement about the invasion continues – we’ve waited too long, perhaps.
An effort in aid of Red Cross is being held in the XVIII area. Today the men had an exhibition of art work. Some of it very good. Coveted a few things – a painting of the Drau; an inlaid walking stick (Serb & very good); a mahogany cigarette box; & a few of the mat. The woodwork was very beautiful & showed infinite patience & skill.
Achieved Klagenfurt at last & my good x-rays but the extent & nature of the spinal destruction is alarming.
It was a long, tiring but interesting day. Up at 5.30 a.m. we got back at 7.15p.m., after a journey of 50 miles & back through some of this world’s best scenery. Although extolled millions of times it is really indescribable. The crops are ripening & give a golden-green hue to the landscape; the wild flowers, now at their best, stipple it with many colours – white & gold daisies, blue of larkspur & cornflower, red of poppies in the growing corn; & the many conical peaks of the dolomites rise about the lake & river in the foreground, the golden green hillsides & the forest clad upper slopes. Over all hung a dusty, blue haze. The houses are built to harmonise with the scenery & their quaint, scrolled balconies & turrets struck no jarring note.
The girls’ costumes added further colour – a blouse of all white with elbow-length, puffed sleeves, a bodice of red with a blue leaf design, a skirt of navy with the leaf design in red & an apron of sky blue was the common one but variations in colours were frequent.
Had a look through the hospital escorted by the German surgeon. He was very keen to demonstrate Boehler’s new pinning of fractures & wants me to go back in a month or so to see it done. The principle is that of the Smith Peterson nail but it passes the whole length of the bone & must be embedded in solid bone at both ends. An ideal thing for the humerus or lower 1/3 of the femur & for any badly comminuted (?) fracture. Demonstrated results were very good.
Spent a long while yarning to Blue Murphy who is rapidly becoming an international economist.
Bombing damage in the city was extensive.
No summer at all so far, just rain & more rain.
No mail or parcels since mid-May.
Gala day at West Lager in aid of Red Cross.
Yesterday Kok & I went mountaineering. We got there – somehow. Very stiff & sore today. Still find it hard to believe that I reached the top of Goldeck – 7054 feet up & 5,100 feet above Spittal. Next time I fancy going a mile up in the air I’ll buy me an aeroplane.
A track leads up all the way twisting & turning on the hillside but incessantly rising with never a break in the upward incline. This was all forest covered until one came to the abode of the Herr Director of Cows on whom we called on the way down for a sample of his product. One could tell Sep (?) from the cows because the latter looked so intelligent!
From here the gradient was much milder & we reached the first hut & had breakfast. A wide valley opens out here & is used for summer grazing. As elsewhere grass is regarded as a crop, is mown 3 times a year & put down as ensilage for winter feeding. To this level a narrow waggon can be brought but all stores are brought up by pack mules. In winter this hut is closed & is used only by occasional skiers. A rough track leads from here to Goldeck Hut – 700 feet below the summit. This is a guest house maintained by the Alpine Club & managed by a woman, assisted by a boy of 10. She was spending her 10th successive summer there. Here we had lunch & then climbed to the top & came back in the rain, had tea & Kok went off to see something else of interest whilst I had a sleep. Apart from a stop at the cow man’s we came down non-stop & reached camp again at 9.30 p.m.
We started at 5a.m. & after 2 miles walk through the town & across the river we reached the commencement of the track. Varying in width for 4 to 6 feet it is cut out of the hillside & supported by revetments of timber or stone. A wheelbase of 2’6” to 3’ could manage to get along it. The climb commenced easily but I very soon tired. Lack of sleep the night before did not help. At 1000 feet I was ready to turn it in but had to keep on trying &, thereafter, it was a question of exhaustion versus distance with me. Kok travelled easily.
The rare air plus the steep climb resulted in it being a series of dashes of 200 to 300 yards when the hammering of my heat, vertigo & ringing of the ears would call an imperative halt. A rest & then a few more hundred yards until compelled to stop again but, ultimately, we reached the hut & after breakfast & a long spell the rest of the way was easy – perhaps one became adjusted to the lessened oxygen supply in that time.
The wild flowers were in their glory. Daisies of all kinds were found all the way; arnica (large & yellow), wild anemones, buttercups & blue bells on the lower slopes. Between 100 & 1500 feet we met the yellow foxglove – a magnificent flower with a cluster of 6 to 12 yellow bells each about 1 ½” long. It was not found above 1000 feet but below that grew in great profusion.
Sun came up when we were about 1500 feet above the valley. He arose in a blaze of glory over the mountains & gave us a grand greeting & a grander view of the long narrow lake, the lower hills & the peaks away to the North.
Soon we were getting magnificent views of the whole valley, the chequered fields, the winding river, the lake & range on range of mountains.
At the first hut I couldn’t make out first, how I’d manage to get that far & second, how on earth I was going any further. Did not realise then that the worst was all over. A two storied building with a basement – about 40”x20” it has an old log hut of two floors close by & a cow-bier of similar construction also – saw beds in the attic of the latter. Beer & refreshments can be had here in peace time. At the moment they had 50 guests – all girls of 12-16 & there were a least 15 of themselves. They are piled in somewhere in the 3 buildings. The valley grazes cattle & has been cleared of timber up the face of Goldeck as well. The cattle stay up from May to October & were in excellent condition when we arrived.
Around the hut there was an abundance of tables & forms, a swing for the lasses to amuse themselves on & a cold shower standing naked & solitary in the yard. It had been used quite a lot, too!
At this level (above 5000 feet) we came on alpine roses for the first time & acres & acres of them grown in the valley in huge clusters. From a short distance these acres of pinkness interspersed with reds, blues & yellows of other flowers create the illusion of a floral carpet. Gentians are seen here too – the small blue, the larger yellow & the magnificent large belled deep-blued one that give us “Gentian blue” but it is the Alpine rose that creates the fairyland effect.
After an hour & a half’s rest we passed on & climbed another 1300 feet to the Guest House. Again we had a carpet of wild flowers at our feet & below us grand views of the valley & far away magnificent ones of the many mountains.
The guest house is 6387 feet up & consists of a smallish building, 40 years old, with dining room, kitchen & 4 bedrooms & a basement storeroom for wood etc. Beds are spring mattresses, blankets are plentiful & pure wool. The beds have to be packed side by side to accommodate numbers but a few separate ones are provided in the attic & cost 2 marks per night as against 4/5 a week for the others. Normally food, beer & wine can be bought quite cheaply.
After lunch we did the final 700 feet & reached the cross on the summit easily. Kok carved our names there – I was too tired to bother. We had a short spell up there & could see grand scenery wherever we looked. The Dolomites stretched away – peak after peak of them. We could not see the Adriatic which is possible on very fine days but we saw enough glorious mountains to compensate for the arduous, difficult climb.
Rain came up & we had to leave tarrying only to gather a bunch of forget-me-nots on Goldeck itself. Visibility was soon only 10 yards & we were glad to get back down to the guest house wet through.
After tea I slept awhile & at 6p.m. we started back down seeing again all those good things – the rose covered valley, the wild flowers, the views of the valley, lake & mountains.
Tarried awhile with Sep & then back to camp – very tired, very exhausted, very satisfied. Goldeck is 7054 feet & Spittal 1930 feet so we climbed 5124 straight up – almost a mile. To do it – there & back – was, at least, 20 miles.
Still no mail nor any parcels either.
Have been living for cigarettes on the charity of Percy Green & Frank Seymour.
Today completed 1200 days as a P.O.W.
It has been raining incessantly. No summer yet. Only two fine days & the lads were lucky to strike them for their Goldeck climbs. Kok & I took advantage of the fine weather today to go to the lake. Spent all afternoon there swimming & sun-baking. Walked back by the gorge. Pleasantly tired after the 9 mile walking the sun & the swimming but I get very unsettled lately after these outings & think it would be better not to go at all. A taste of freedom after all this time is bad for one.
Very cheered today by a flight of 401 bombers – Liberators & Fortresses. They come away 2hr. 40 mins. (?)
All the lads have been up Goldeck & have thoroughly enjoyed it.
Constant, severe pain over the right scapular has been worrying me for a month. X-ray showed yet another congenital deformity. I seem to be finding I’m a mass of the damn things. Having infra-red heat & massage.
The first batch of 23 for repatriation moves off tomorrow.
Issued with gas masks today. Why?? Still they are in nice haversacks.
Red Cross effort here totalled From hospital 7,200 marks, From West Lager 10,600 marks, or a grand total of pounds 1,483(A). Not bad for 250 men though the buying & betting of other nationalities helped it along a lot.
Achieved some mail at last but no parcels.
Place is alive with rumour & no one knows what to believe.
Hordes of Italian cattle are being trucked back – we see 3 or 4 trains of them daily.
Talk of discontent is rife but we cannot judge what it means – if anything.
Was out swimming again last week but will refuse to go any more. Too upsetting. Too reminiscent. Sun has been kinder & we’ve had almost 10 days of really good weather.
Work very slack. No more wounded & few general admissions. Did my 50th major here this week & there have been hordes of uncounted minor operations as well.
Mail from everyone. Nothing exceptional in the news. A curious one from Enid. Getting a trifle worried about that lass.
Have lost all desire to read. Can’t face study & when not sitting in the sun wander from room to room just talking. One blessing here the chaps, as distinct from Oflag, have no desire to discuss their personal sexual adventures ad nauseum.
Pathology & anatomy in which I was wont to bury myself & forget my troubles have lost all appeal. One just wants the sun & dreams.
Our gardens are a glorious mass of colour with asters, sweet William, daisies, marigolds, gladioli, snapdragons, stocks etc.
Rest of the repatriation party went today.
The 6th I’ve seen go &, if the game had been fair, I’d have been in the very first myself.
Someday, somewhere, someplace I’ll be lucky about something.
Protecting power here today & YMCA Saturday. No requests to either of them.
Long expected landing in South of France this week. There’s an inevitability about the progress of the war now but I still doubt we shall be free by Xmas.
Had a series of running repairs done lately. Vifue (?) chopped of a papilloma, Kok did an ingrowing toenail & injected the shoulder whilst Doug McLeod grabbed 2 teeth as his trophy (calamity, this latter).
No parcels, no cigarettes. Still living on the charity of the chaps & we are both getting fed up.
Really summer at last. For the first time in my life I’m a passably decent brown.
No more mail. No parcels at all.
Today is the 1249th day as a P.O.W – exactly 3 ½ years less one month. It was celebrated by the early (?) arrival of my Red Cross identity card. Such remarkable efficiency by Aust. H.Q. is positively startling as I have been a POW a mere 3 ½ years & it is only 33 months since I sent off 6 requests for the card!!
Summer draws to a close. The nights are chilly but we still get a fair bit of warmish sun & can still sunbake.
Our garden flowers are fading & they are no longer the glorious picture of a month ago. Lists closed today for next month’s medical commission for Repatriation. We will present about half as many as in April. Quite futile going to all that bother, anyway.
Sleeping badly again. Getting into the 3 or 4 a.m. habit after a reasonable spell off it.
Tackled a hefty job on an American airman yesterday. Had an appalling deformity of the forearm with 1 ½” of continuous cross union in the upper third. Very difficult indeed & I paid for the 2 ¾ hours work with an aching back & complete exhaustion. One’s mental condition, after 3 ½ years of this life, is not up to these long, tedious & nerve wracking jobs with poor, inadequate assistance. One lacks snap & sparkle & rapid decision. Will endeavour to avoid such jobs in future. After all I don’t get anything out of it – only a lot of back pain.
As from next week Red Cross issues of food & cigarettes are to be halved. As there are plenty of tomatoes, potatoes & other vegetables about it is the best possible time for it to happen, if it had to happen.
Patients who have been in hospital are all reclassified for work on discharge. The classes are A; full work : B; light work : C; farm work : D; camp work : E; sitting work : F; no work at all.
Except on large working parties there is little distinction between A & B actually made. C is kept mainly for people who have lost an eye or are deaf & so many be endangered in general work.
Bill Cullen told a tale of the cold, cold winter, inevitable ration reductions & half parcels a week to the two Yank flying officers. He was so impressive that they went into a huddle on the commissariat &,deciding the outlook was well-nigh hopeless, produced the brilliant plan of trapping sparrows & salting them down against the dark days of winter. Sparrow traps littered the garden & an eager watch was maintained all day for a couple of days but nary a sparrow walked into the parlour.
Past week have been busy preparing for the Repat. Commission on the 13th October. It’s a lot of routine work & may be of some use. I should get through all the chaps I’m putting up but for a few who are submitting themselves will certainly fail.
Personally, I’m not trying again. One could not submit again to the cavalier consideration of April.
A big air-raid last week. So many planes that the birds had to fly low to get sky-room!
Cigarette famine is terrific. Issue only 25 per week & no private parcels al all arriving.
Winter came in last night with heavy rain & this morning the upper 2000 feet of the mountains are snow covered.
Still walk my 5 miles a day & do a lot of P.T. It must be done as any relaxation is rapidly followed by back ache.
Poor mail so far this month. Only one old airgraph of Mum’s & a short one from Phyllis telling me she had sent the parcel I asked for. I’m hoping it (& others) arrived via the Repat. Ships.
The two recent major-major operations are doing well. Satisfied, but, not entirely, with the Yank officer who had vicious cross-union & deformity of the radius & ulna. We’ve at least achieved a very necessary primary stage with him & possibly a complete cure. Which is not bad considering he was wounded only 5 months ago & had subsequent osteomyelitis.
The incisional hernia & bowel resection is a complete success with sound healing of the wound & a normally functioning bowel.
Read a book – “Peking Picnic” by Ann Bridge in which the characters are very like some folk I know. The following from “The Triumph of John Kars” (Ridgewell Cullum) impressed “If you don’t do it, & don’t do it quick, you’ll find the fruit in the pouch of another. The harvest comes along in it’s season & has to be reaped. If the right fellow doesn’t get busy, some other fellow will. There’s not a thing waits around in this world”.
Back onto winter time of 2nd so had an hour’s extra sleep. These mornings the back is always achy so I’ve decided to stay in bed till 10.30 or so till the day
warms up a bit. There’s still ample time to do the little work I have to do. I’m not going to get myself any more crippled than I am now by being, as in the past 43 years, stupid about doing the job. There are dozens of younger coves, just as well able as myself, sitting on their rears in Oflags praying for repatriation & doing not a damn thing.
Graz party back to-day. All look well.
Small mail in last night & one of Fay’s had taken only 38 days – the fastest in 3 years.
Phil’s parcel despatched on 12.7.44 arrived today & contained 2 towels, shorts, 2 ½ lb chocolate, pencils, nail brush, pullover, kit-bag, soap, 3 socks, 4 handkerchief, & toilet sundries ad lib.
Mixed (?) Medical Commission for Repatriation came to-day & passed 34 out of our 47 but only 14 out of 52 from Markt Pongau but their cases were neither well selected nor well prepared.
Couple more letters from home but missed out on the big parcel distribution.
Lovely autumn tints on the hillsides now. A Galaxy of greens, reds, browns & gold.
Have had a couple of days sunshine & today it was fairly warm.
Much excitement & no little fear today. About 10.30 am over 500 planes passed over. We were very placid & quite enjoyed the pretty pictures cut in the sky by their vapour trails. An hour later we heard some returning & were quite chirpy & very disinterested, until a sudden long-forgotten humming struck the ear & all promptly dived to ground. They burst about 500 yards east of us. It was a small bomb load but enough to make several incurable cripples throw away the crutches that impeded their running!
A few minutes later a large flight of 18 came back. Caution was now our watchword & it was as well, for they unloaded the lot near the railway about 400 yards west of the camp. All the camp buildings were badly rattled but only a few windows broken. The Russian lager at the railway was hit & one killed & three wounded. A Frenchie was also wounded by flying debris. Damage must have been fairly extensive.
One chap’s bombs must have dragged & he landed them on the slopes of Goldeck.
For the next hour & a half planes were flying in all directions over us – in tens, fives, threes, twos & many singles – but no more unloaded on Spittal. We had not seen anything like it previously. Always before they had been in formation, either coming or returning, but this time they were racing around the skies like joy-riders & did not seem to care if they were alone or with their mates.
They made all directions – up & down the valley, criss-cross & straight across both ways. One parachute descended a couple of miles away but we saw no other casualties & there was no opposition.
That was my first actual raid in 3 years & 2 months & the long, morale-destroying interval had done little for one’s ability to take it.
The lighter side was supplied by Bill Cullen who hung a newly washed pair of pants on the line 20 minutes after the dropping of the first load!
And this afternoon there has been a very energetic digging & deepening of slit trenches.
We won our cricket match yesterday by 5 runs despite a second innings of only 22 of which Harry Budd made 12 & myself 8!
Not a bad month for mail. Had a clothing parcel from Phyllis & letters from Fay (6), Mum (4), Phyllis (2), Jean, Gilbert & Binns one each.
Nothing of vital importance in any.
The Tyrol looks its best now with the golden chestnuts, red oaks, pale gold, yellows & browns of other trees, the varying greens of grass-land & forest all intermingled on a hillside that is capped with sun-glinting snow.
A lot of alarms but no more bombing here.
Most of the days have been cloudy & overcast but we no longer object to that! Spittal is far too small for instrument bombing, thank goodness.
Last week the American airmen were shifted off to Frankfurt & the amputees to the convalescent depot at Annaterg. Al Dier gave me his watch as a token of gratitude for work done. One appreciates that very much as gratitude from P.O.W.s is a very rare quality indeed. Even a simple “Thank You” is reckoned superfluous by at least 90%. Curiously, the least grateful are, usually, those for whom one has worked hardest & done most. One particular case in the last Repat. Party gives point to this. I took him over with a frozen ankle & knee, a pressure paralysis of his peroneal knee, an osteomyclites (?) of the trochanter & generally shocking condition – unable to get about at all or even care for himself. He had been like that for 5 months. After 5 more months of infinite patience & continuous treatment we had him playing volley ball & base ball quite freely & without any difficult at all. He did not even drop in to say good-bye!! It is typical of many in this life where only expediency & self interest count in policy. Yet the same coves are very upset if we use their rules!
Still, the odd 10% make it all worth while & I’m glad to have Al’s watch & John Disser’s friendship as permanent mementoes of the 10%.
Two clothing parcels from Mum today sent off on 23.9.43 & 14.3.44. Contained (1) Pullover, heavy underclothing, 4 socks & a shirt
(2) 2 stockings, sandals (size 6!!), summer underclothing, pyjamas, shirt, 3 soap, 3 chocolate, towel & lots of toilet sundries.
German papers announce that the garrison at L’Orient has collected over a million marks for the German Red Cross & have transmitted this money by wireless to Dr Goebbells. A very good effort.
Second bombing of Spittal. No damage done as they all fell in the open fields.
Armistice Day but we spent the 11 o’clock time in the slit trenches.
Heavy bombing of Spittal by 24 planes. They used small bombs & seemed to miss their target. Again another lot landed on the hillside. The second bombing looked extremely dangerous for us as they were headed directly at the hospital & we could not see the bombs leave. However, they dropped about 400 yards short of us but we had an unpleasant 5 minutes waiting whilst they headed down the valley to us. Much prefer bombing across the valley to along it. The suspense in the former is so much shorter! Inevitably, one day there will be a bomb drag & we will cop it.
Took the last of the repatriees off to Wolfsberg two days ago, spent the night there & came back yesterday. It was a glorious trip of 115 miles that took 7 ½ hours travelling through some of the loveliest scenery.
The sun shone brightly on both days.
Going down beyond Klagenfurt via Privali to Unterdrauberg the valleys spread our widely & were a beautiful patchwork of greens & go9lds with snow on the upper mountains. The track wound around the valley, some distance up & below us was the tumbling stream & the winding road. Discrete, separate hills, each a picture of lovely autumn tints itself, separated the larger valley into smaller confluent ones. It was a vision of grandeur, very difficult to describe. After changing at Unterdrauberg we passed north again via Lavamund & St Stefan to Wolfsberg. The country was here rolling hills, again with its autumn beauty & very breath taking. Churches or castles perched on the hill tops added charm to the scene & here & there a towering church spire would break the background of a dark hill. One lovely church was perched on top of a sheer rock face about 100 feet high. Wolfsberg Castle where the Windsors stayed completed the day’s scene-gazing very nicely.
At night it snowed heavily but cleared away early in the morning & coming back the trees on the hillsides were dusted with feathered snow & the grass-lands had put on their winter woollies. That picture, too, was enchanting & one had really extra-ordinary luck to see one day a stretch of the world’s greatest natural beauty in the full glory of its autumn beauty & the next day the same region with its winter glory fully developed. And the sun shone brightly itself both days.
I did not like Wolfsberg. The camp is too flattish & too crowded. The hospital too crowded & the staff not nearly so happy as we are. They are very short of instruments, have to carry their patients back from the theatre to bed, a distance of 150 yards in the open, they have no x-ray & must get their linen sterilised at the town hospital. Security control is very strict at both hospital & camp & this makes for restlessness, always.
I liked Kinmont & Beattie. They entertained me very well & I slept better than for many years. Perhaps, it was the tonic effect of new faces & new discussions. And, of course, I am the big fish for a vast area down here – surgically, that is.
“Experience in a woman is tantamount to a previous conviction in a prisoner”
Another air raid today.
Some mail – 4 in all ranging from 21st June to 17th Sept.
This week we had the heaviest snow storm I have seen. It went on continuously for 4 days &, at the end, there was 2 feet of the snow on the ground & even the barb wire was not unbeautiful.
Last 2 days we’ve had clear, bright sunshine &, with the reflection off the snow, the sun was quite warm. It gives a blueish haze to the snow at mid-day which is very lovely. Last night the sunset was gorgeous – the snow all pink from reflected light & the sunlight & shadows of the declining sun made the hills beautiful. And, of course, the cloud effects were marvellous.
Spittal bombed again today. Getting just a little fed up standing in the snow waiting for our own bombs to knock us off.
Received 123 wounded from Italy on 19th & have been very busy since. Nearly all wounds are septic & there is a lot o work to do. The difficulty is to get at the patients owing to the crowding & the double decker beds.
They constitute a league of nations: over 50 Americans (which alone means practically every European nation), over 50 English from all the four parts of the British Isles & the balance made up of a few Kiwis, Canadians, South Africans, French, Brazilians, Mexicans, Indians, one Ghurka, one Arab & one Moroccan.
One plane – a fortress – crashed a couple of miles away today after flying over the town. Only four parachutes were seen in the sir. No news of the survivors – if any. [Later 5 survived & 4 killed]
Latest order is that we can have only two of anything in clothing & must put the rest in the store on pain of confiscation. Quite futile & ridiculous & for people working in a hospital & having to tramp around in slush & mud, all grossly inconsiderate & unfair.
“Women in bed can be alright, sometimes, but women out of bed can be hell incarnate”
Protecting Power here today. Had much to report especially lack of equipment for fractures. He promised to submit my name for repatriation.
Have had planes over only once in the past two weeks which is almost a record. Hope they continue to stay away for many months.
Very busy day after 4 days in bed with an attack of ‘flu’ & much backache. Did an amputation of thigh & 3 other operations this a.m. & this p.m. no less that 76 dressings with several minor ops thrown in. Very tired tonight.
Latest food orders are that no individual reserves can be kept; one can draw enough for one day only; the whole parcel must be consumed before another one is issued; & the Camp store must never exceed a number equal to the two total issues which will be made at the rate of one parcel per man per fortnight.
Also a new order re watches & rings. A P.O.W. can have one watch only & this must not be gold – if it is he must deposit it with the Camp security people. Only married men are allowed to have & wear a ring - &, of course, only one.
We can draw only 1/14th of our fortnightly parcel per day pre man. Make the arranging of meals difficult & means untold extra work rearranging for the already overworked orderlies as the store means a walk of about 700 yards & each man’s tins have to be taken across to get his 1/14th. Would not be so silly if we didn’t have so many bed patients. So I’ve tendered my resignation (sic) in protest of all stupidity.
Three clear blue days of bright sunshine after weeks of fog, snow & rain.
The Yanks have taken advantage of the weather to send over enormous numbers – over 500 each day – of bombers escorted by fighters. Rather more fighters than we have seen previously, especially to-day, so we surmise yesterday’s lot met with a good deal of opposition, more so as they returned in very close formation, which is unusual in this area.
Lost our first patients since my arrival on 16th. A Welsh boy called Jones. He developed rheumatic fever with free fluid in all the serous (?) cavities. His wounds were only ordinary but the sepsis had produced a grave anaemia & he did not respond to liver & iron. When the fever came he had little chance.
More mail this week from Mum, Phyllis & Fay.
Wolfsberg Main Camp (established 3 ½ years ago & well known to everyone in England by now) was severely bombed today & two barracks destroyed with many French & Italians killed. One very certainly belongs to the forgotten - & unwanted – legion so far as our Govt is concerned when one becomes a P.O.W.
The most depressing day of the year has just passed again.
And, what a day it was this year!
Everyone still subdued over he Wolfsberg bombing. Wake up with a temperature of 15’C below zero, spent 3 hours off & on standing in the slit trenches in the snow & ice, watching in bombers go over but Spittal was not bombed this time though on several occasions we thought we were for it.
Kok & I had dinner with the men. They provided a good feast. [Wolfsberg bombing details are through. It was a deliberate attack on the camp itself as the ‘planes went over & then came back & bombed. There were over 100 casualties with 54 killed the first day of whom 10 were English including Hobling (Padre) another name crossed out & Woods & Howe (R.A.M.C)]. U.S. Y.M.C.A sent us electric candles, the lads made a Xmas tree & from Geneva came “table bombs” full of the usual things. When the one at my end was sent off a horseshoe, a pig & a woman’s slipper landed in my lap!! Now, I wonder? Geneva also sent loads of crepe paper, Capt Flight gave a church service & it was the usual thing.
But, how I hate Xmas in these surroundings!
Spittal bombed again today. Quite a distance from the hospital. Damage very, very slight. No casualties.
Spittal bombed again today. This time close to East Lager & by P.38’s. Railway strafed as well.
Wolfsberg hospital was hit in last week’s attack & seven barracks – not tow – destroyed.
Another bloody New Year.
French put on a big show yesterday with an international dinner at night. It was far too cold for me to stay up so I pleaded spondylitis & spent all day in bed to make sure of it.
Anyway, celebrating one’s fourth New Year as a P.O.W. is just too damn silly for words.
In the past 6 months we’ve had 414 admissions of which 262 were surgical & 152 medical. The percentage of nationalities was as follows (surgical percentage in brackets)
ENGLISH (all British Isles) 51% (43%) UNITED STATES (18% (28%) AUSTRALIAN 11% (9%) NEW ZEALAND 10% (7%) SOUTH AFRICANS 3% (3 ½%) INDIANS 2 ½% (4%). The oddments totalled 15.
I have done 102 major operations since my arrival here, Of course, there have been innumerable minor ones as well (circumcisions, abscesses, toe & finger nails, mobilisation of joints, plaster of paris casts, removal of small foreign bodies etc etc)
After several days of clear sunshine with not even an alarm one Liberator came over at 1 p.m. & dropped a load near the railway station. Was in my room & the first I knew was the swish of the bombs through the air. Was under the bed in a record for all time!
Had 18 letters but no parcels last month. Six were from home & five from Fay.
The Germans now define a traitor as one who dares to repeat any speech by the Fuhrer two months after he has made it.
Achieved the venerable age of 43 today. Definitely one of the ancients now.
Quite an amusing week. It opened with Karasonovic performing another one of his petty, second-hand interferences but this time, instead of being complacent & tolerant, I went in boots & all & finally paraded him to the German O/C. Nothing else one could do as he’s such a plausible liar & I’d given him all the rope he should have needed in the past 10 months. He’s a queer neurotic person with an enormous inferiority complex & I got sick & tired of him trying to take it out on us in sly, backhanded ways. Had warned him a month ago about it so he can’t plead ignorance. He told Kok a packet of lies which were the cause of the matter coming up to the O/Stabzarzt. Nothing else for it, after that. Don’t expect any more trouble from that quarter but if there is he’ll have some real troubles to worry about.
Next was Master McNamara Whittaker who objected to a change of room. Dealt with that English gentleman (?) by going super Oxford & referring to good order & military discipline. A very chastened man was he afterwards.
A chap claimed that “C of E” on his identity disk meant “corporal of engineers” & therefore he was entitled to the privileges of an N.C.O!
Had another batch of wounded in. All Americans from the Western Front. They had been very well treated, surgically, & were a startling contrast to the previous bunch who had been looked after (???) by the Italians.
This P.O.W. life is a rather strange thing. The most amazing feature of it is that time is characterless. Each day & every day we do the same things at about the same time. Punctuation marks in time are provided by the outgoing mail only & one is never really certain what day of the week it is. As a result of that, days, weeks &, even, months slip by unnoticed & so time really does not pass slowly.
The second important feature, to us, is how our lives stand still. In four years nothing of lasting importance has occurred in them. The last real life we knew
was back in 1940 & we all live on the memories of that. It means an enormous readjustment later when, if ever, we are released; for the people outside, amongst whom we must live the rest of our lives, have gone on & forgotten the things we remember & between us there will be a void of years that are blank to us but full of incident to them. We can never bridge that gap & it will be better for each of us to start afresh in fresh places & dismiss entirely all the old life. But, it will be difficult. We have little conception of what life is like to-day in our own countries. New dances, new dressing styles, new social customs, new music plays & books – all are quite unknown to us & yet part of the life of our old friends. “We have lost all our gold”. How apt that is! The things of life we value have all gone – personal liberty, freedom of movement, choice of friends & habitation, quietude, all have been stripped from us.
The third an amazing thing is the relative loneliness of the life. It seems incredible that sixteen men living & having their being in a room 18 feet square should be lonely but there is no other possible way of life if quarrels, frayed nerves & what have you are to have a chance. Each person must live in himself most of the time or the whole life would be an intolerable bedlam. It is, of course, only relatively lonely. No one wants to hear the troubles of another, each has enough of his own & no interest at all in the woes of others.
Such a state of mind naturally produces some odd results particularly in our line. Men will show no consideration whatever for the comfort of others. They show none whatever for us – as witness the day Binns left 57. The day before – a Monday & normally our busiest day of the week – we had 82 on sick parade & two men to do it. Next day with one very dispirited M.O. 184 turned up. Why? Because they knew I would be enormously angry with the Italians & so, may be, give them or get them an odd concession here or there. But the 102 gave no thought at all to my wearied state & the fact that I had two men’s work to do that day. That was unimportant – they might get something out of me.
Just the same they are not ungenerous & will help & give to new P.O.W.s or destitute men at all times provided that inherent selfishness or oneness of their individual lives is not disturbed.
It’s a queer mental condition & I doubt if anyone in the outside world could ever understand it. I don’t, entirely, myself!
A fourth feature & one arising out of the previous ones, is the general mental deterioration of P.O.W.s, we have all slipped tremendously. Most of us are still good for short bursts but long periods of concentration are beyond us & we tire, mentally, very rapidly. An odd person keeps on at the same job but 98% are like that. We can go on doing routine jobs till the cows come home but any novelty or gross complication rapidly fatigues us & produces a state of mental exhaustion. We miss the stimulus of normal things, in normal life & so, gradually we become automatic, with greatly delayed mental reactions, no subtlety of mind & slow on the uptake. Talking to newly made P.O.W.s brings out this lack of mental alertness in us. I suppose here, in my job, I notice it more than one would in a camp.
Lastly, of course, we miss female society. The part they play in our ordinary lives can only be realised after suffering this monastic vegetation. How much sparkle they bring to our normal lives, the mental stimulus they provide, the general elan to life they give & how much such things as wit, humour, conversation generally, subtlety of mind & initiative depends on their presence can only be appreciated after years of not seeing or speaking to them.
Received no birthday mail at all but had a small parcel sent by reciprocal agreement between the Aust. & German governments to all Aussies. It was meant for Xmas 1943 & came with the compliments of the Prime Minister & Govt. & contained a kilo of jam, a currant loaf, a tooth brush & paste, a safety razor, a mirror, a fork & spoon, a soap box & a tooth brush container – all of Swiss manufacture.
There is again talk of repatriation of medical personnel & lists have been asked for. I think one of the men may go but my chances are exceedingly slender.
And the temperature was 20’C (4’F) below zero!
Spent last two days in bed with an aching back & today had a long operating session. Was completely exhausted at the end of it & very, very weary. The principle of “doing your job” in such circumstances is just too damn silly for words. There’ll be more kicks than ha’pence later about it & no power on earth can restore one’s slowly destroying vertebrae.
Big parcel day. Three lots of 500 cigarettes from Fay – 40 missing & some 80 spoilt but very welcome just the same. Mum’s clothing parcel of 14.6.44 as well containing bootlaces, comb (why?), chocolate, darning wool, tooth paste & brush, nail brush, hussif, soap, 2 socks, shaving soap, towel, washer & an Aussie hat (6 ¾ so too small, alas!).
Heaviest snow storm of the winter last night. There is a good two feet of snow on all the roofs & well over 3 feet on the ground.
The month ended with attacks by fighters on Spittal on two successive days. Railways were the main objectives & there was damage & casualties. Yesterday there was both a morning & an afternoon attack. In the former one “Lightning” was shot down by the mobile A.A. on a train but in the afternoon the Mustangs had a picnic without opposition.
Was 25’C below zero yesterday.
Had 15 letters, two cables (for Xmas 1943!), 1500 cigarettes from Fay, a clothing parcel from Mum & the oddment parcel from Aust. Govt last month.
Reported that the Repat. Party are already home but 10 who passed in October are still at Walpning (?) which means farewell to the chances of any of the orderlies or myself.
This life does one thing, at least, for our preconceived notions. It completely & absolutely abolishes any ideas of equality of man & the socialistic shibboleths of redistribution & equality of distribution of wealth.
Here, I am not in a position to observe the men as well as I was in Italy but there the position was one to marvel at.
During the first year we all started off from scratch [Later than that, or course, external wealth did play a part in the various amounts of “wealth” received by individuals as private parcels]. At the commencement no one had anything & all wealth – Red Cross supplies & pay from the Italians – was equally distributed. Each man received neither more nor less than any other man so that we had at the beginning of 1941 all men equal - & all at zero for wealth. During the year each man received exactly the same amount of wealth but at the end of the year the wealth was far from evenly distributed & the distribution was very like to that of a normal Australian community.
There were the very rich (comparatively) who had acquired it by initiative, by trading with their fellows &, sad to say, the Italians, by seizing every opportunity or by gambling. In the last category the only rich were the few who ran two-up games – the racketeers!
Then there were the middle class who had increased their holdings by sound economy & a little safe & secure exchange. Their proportion to the first class was much the same as at home.
Thirdly came those who lived on their income, spending their all, enjoying it as far as possible but piling up neither wealth nor debts. They balanced their budgets exactly.
Lastly there was a large & hapless poor class ranging from the near poor to the desititute.
Their poverty came from much the same sources as in normal life. The two main contributors being, naturally, gambling & drinking. But others lost from just plain inability to keep it, by intensely desiring, & so paying a high price, for some luxury, by carelessness & lack of push in deals, & by lack of initiative & slothfulness.
So that the one, & probably only, useful lesson one has learnt from this life is that if, tomorrow, the whole wealth of Aust. or N.Z. was pooled & then divided equally between the members of the community, the end of one or two years would see a distribution such as one started with. It is, of course, obvious that the same people would not have the wealth – many of those now holding it would go down & many of the middle class & poor would come up, but the ultimate proportion of rich, middle class, solvent & poor would be practically the same as to-day.
So that, regarding this life as an experiment in sociology, it is obvious that redistribution of wealth or equality of distribution or, even, equality of opportunity are not solutions of our social problems & one must look elsewhere for their cures – if it is possible to cure them which I gravely doubt.
On the whole I am inclined to think that equality of opportunity is the best thing we can provide for the young - & the only thing worth while providing.
In practice this means larger scholarships & bursaries for secondary & university education &, for the mechanical minded & tradesmen, some sort of scholarship & financial assistance during their essential apprenticeship.
As different men want different things in life, wealth, as such, is no true index of success in life & it is probably that even equality of opportunity provided on the best possible basis, would not alter the wealth distribution very much. There would still be wealthy rogues & solvent or even poor geniuses.
Five clear days of bright sunshine & nary an air raid. Magnificent luck that we can’t reasonably, expect to continue.
Thaw has set in & all the paths are streams of water as the snow melts.
Coal ration has been further reduced so that it is as well the weather is not so bitterly cold.
No mail so far this month.
Further raid to-day. Bombing in Spittal area was slight & they dropped about half a mile from us. We have been very lucky during these days of bright, clear sunshine.
There is a great amount of tension amongst the P.O.W.s these days. All are very hopeful & expectant of a reasonably early release from their drudgery. If the ground would only harden for a few weeks on the western front I would expect a fairly early armistice.
The ingrained terror of Russia in the hearts of most Germans will make them fight on as long as possible & without hope against the Russians.
Railway conditions are described as chaotic north of Salzburg & recent parties of discharged wounded P.O.W.s have had great difficulty in reaching their destinations from Spittal to anywhere in Germany.
One Arab in the last repat. Party going from Markt Pongau to Annaburg to catch the Repat. Train got lost in Leipzig & wandered about for two days, alone until someone found & delivered him. Quite incredible that a chap on his way out of this murky life could possibly allow himself to get lost. But it does indicate the confusion & crowding of transport up north.
The mountains are magnificent in these days of bright sunshine, especially about sunset when the setting sun tints the snow-clad tops in a variety of reds & pinks.
Lake Millstatt has been completely frozen over for a month & has made an enormous skating rink. We have no skates here & I doubt if any of the staff skate.
Last month closed with a burst of lovely weather. Warm sun, clear days, no wind. Now, at the full of the moon, we see the mountains at their best. By moonlight they are superb & by daylight magnificent, especially at sunset. I suppose they are at sunrise as well but I never see that.
Have not had even one letter this month.
Am afraid there will be but little mail for us from now on & that means very little out, too.
Parcels we’ve given up hoping for.
Received another League of Nations batch of 103 on Feb 26. This crowd were in much better condition than the Nov transport but there is a lot of work to do with them.
Have a rotten cold that has persisted for over two weeks one of the disabilities of this life is that one can’t get serocalcin that will prevent damned colds – with me anyway.
Also I’m scared stiff of an Eustachian tube block & Milton Coutts is 11,000 miles away.
For the past two weeks we’ve had almost daily attacks from the air mainly by fighters. Feb 22 saw our heaviest bombing attack to date when 31 Liberators emptied out on Spittal station in three waves. The last lot were a little too close to us for comfort!
Two attacks a day by fighters were common & on one occasion we had three. They usually lasted about an hour & a half.
Damage has been considerable but it is difficult to know exactly how much nor how many casualties, either, though these have been heavy, we know. At least, no train has passed through for the past 65 hours which, in itself, is a fair result.
We were very lucky to have no casualties in the hospital. Large numbers of heavy bullets came into the grounds & there were many near misses. None were directly fired at us nearly all being ricochets.
All very upsetting when one is trying to work! Lightnings & Mustangs did most of the attacks but we had Thunderbolts a couple of times & Typhoons once. The rockets out of these are terrifically destructive.
Many trains & engines were put out. One oil train went up & the explosions from it went on for hours. An ammunition dump about 1000 yards from us to east was destroyed.
Windy, unpleasant weather with a light fall of snow last night.
After a long period of nothing, a few letters came in last night including Aussie air mail of December & sea-mail of November. I missed out on the Aussie lot but had an old one from Phyllis. The trains started running again after the full week’s delay. They now pass through only at night. Work is fairly hectic still but getting well under control again. Difficulty is to get the cured ones discharged & so relieve the congestion. In this respect we’ve had the most priceless order ever, which, in effect, means that under no circumstances must fit men be sent from hospital to camp & only fairly sick men can be discharged to camp from hospital!!! 13.3.45 Kok & I left at night to attend a conference of British & German doctors at Berlin, but, for what purpose, we were unable to discover.
Left Salzburg in the early morning & by daylight were already well out in the flat, open country. Above Salzburg there was little of interest (apart from the towns). The country is all flat, slightly undulating meadow land dotted with clumps of pine forests. Here & there a small wooded stream gave a change of view but it was all the same & not at all interesting. Passed many towns & cities, but all are built to a similar plan. Solid, stone or grey stucco-faced buildings, 3 or 4 stories high; wide, open, clean, tree-lined streets; capacious squares here & there; small gardens with trees & statuary dotted at all possible points. Apart from an odd, geographical feature it describes every German city I’ve seen. Changed several times on the journey. Travelled entirely third class, in overcrowded, dusty, slow & once or twice, windowless trains with spells of two hours at Salzburg & Weiden & one of 3 hours at Bitterfeld. Did the up journey in 52 hours.
Walked across the poor, battered city of Leipzig. There is nothing left but a heap of rubble. A very disquieting vision for future wars! It was once a lovely historic city & is now nothing. Dresden was reported by chaps who saw both within the week to be even worse – if that is possible. After a stay at Bitterfeld went on to Berlin but had to bale out of the train for a couple of hours owing to air raid. Crossed the Elbe – very broad & in flood but uninteresting. All we saw between Salzburg & Berlin that was of interest were the dockyards on the Danube at Regensburg. Spittal to Berlin = 430 miles. We were located at a hospital in Berlin itself. Air raids were regular – between 10 am & noon & 8 & 10 at night – but always of short duration. We heard & saw nothing of them. Travelled by underground which was pleasant after so many years. Walked a good deal here & there in the city but was surprised that the damage was so slight as compared with Leipzig or Salzburg though, in places, whole streets had been ruined, especially around the railway stations. Templehof was our underground terminus on all occasions.
The city life goes on steadily; shops are open; people, in hundreds, still walk about; the trams & the underground still run; motor traffic is not inconsiderable; no one seems to pay much attention to anything; everyone stays mobile with all personal effects packed ready to be carried to air-raid shelters at a moment’s notice; the people look in good condition.
Transferred by electric train to Schwanenwerder on Wansee about 20 miles out of Berlin’s center. Place is a peninsula jutting out into the lake Wannsee which opens into the River Havel. It is a beautiful spot & the whole area is occupied by beautiful private houses, some of which have been bombed.
Sixteen British M.O.s from all over Germany are assembled but no one knows, as yet, for what purpose, nor can we find out.
We are housed in a beautiful house, with no guards & no barbed wire & have the freedom of the peninsula. Place is being redecorated & only three rooms are ready so we are a trifle crowded but the beds are comfortable, spring mattresses & we’ve got a lovely bathroom.
Red Cross have sent us parcels – one each & I’m to do the quartermaster’s job. They’ve also sent us an extra allowance of 10 cigarettes per day whilst we are here – most appreciated, that.
We eat at a house up the street which belongs to the Women’s Assn. of Germany & is, at present, being used as a Bride’s School – they do our cooking. Here the conference will be held. We can walk out freely & go between the two houses & elsewhere on the peninsula whenever we wish.
The dining room looks out over the lake & is glass enclosed. I’ve decided to always bag a seat where I can eat looking our over the water. A pleasant thought after so many years of so very drab meals.
The conference opened with long addresses by each of the German members which covered phases of medical activity in war, the formation of the Red Cross, the present problems in the camps & we were invited to deliver a description of our conditions & suggest remedies. The object is to freely discuss ways & means of improving conditions particularly as to controlling epidemics. The suggested idea that there should be a German medical officer to act as liason officer to all camps, the Red Cross, & O.K.W. sounds good. With him will be associated a British MO. Who will have an adjutant & clerk & be centrally situated & have direct communications with camps, I.R.K. & the protecting power & with O.K.W through his German confrere. It is a little late, perhaps, but appeals to me as being of immense value in future wars especially if included in the Geneva Convention.
At night we had a lecture on ‘malaria’ by Leonard Neumann followed by a film on the same subject.
Today we made our replies. Ten minutes each was allotted. A good deal of bitterness was infused into many which served no purpose. After lunch (we were excellently fed all of the time!) the German members again replied but our senior officer (the widow Twonkey) commenced to reiterate all his old moans & groans & the whole thing looked like degenerating into a bear fight with no result except abuse until, given the correct opportunity, I stepped with sundry criticisms of the convention as a whole. After delivering probably the best extempore oration I’ve ever made & speaking for 50 minutes the meeting was back to normal ideas & in a mood for constructive thoughts. As it turned out it was the outstanding speech from our side for the whole conference & met with the entire approval of all present – Swiss, German & British though the widow was a trifle upset at having his stupidities squashed – but he was the only exception. I found that words do not come easily after so many years of not using them properly. At any rate everyone claimed both then & later that it had saved the conference & perhaps, made the lot of future POWs easier. Anyway the Swiss wanted a copy of it all & of all my criticisms & suggestions. More films in the evening & bed late at night. All very tired. We have had a busy day. The lake, at sunset, looked very lovely & it was a pleasure to eat looking at it.
We discussed all the pros & cons privately this am & reached agreement as to the plan to be followed, the duties & powers of the liason officers. In the afternoon had a walk down to the beach & on the the mainland where we could look down the river to Spandau. It is a delightful spot. The quiet is immense. One can not visualise the war is so close. Air raids twice daily, are no great hardship. Once our house has been badly shaken but we’ve never been in the slightest danger. A lecture with aid of photos & a film on the “Electron Microscope” by Dr Bauer was absorbing. More movies at night “Romance in Moll” very well done & full feature length.
Final day of conference. All conditions agreed to but told definitely no more doctors would be repatriated. Conditions of appointment of liason officers fully agreed to. Bauer is to do the German side & should be very successful. The whole conference ended very
amiably &, I trust, will lead to a lot of good – if not for this war, at least for future wars. General (Prof) Kreuz gave us an amazing lecture on artificial hands supported by a film & a case he had one in 1940 who had both hands off above the wrist & showed us how he could undress & dress himself (even to tying his tie!), clean his teeth, eat with knife & fork, & write [Here, amazingly, his writing was exactly the same as before he lost his hands!]. This was followed by music by the Fritsche String Quartette of Dresden who played as Allegro Vivace (Mozart), Andante Moderato (Brahms), Allegro (von Dittersdorf) & a Minuet (Mozart). A famous four whom we thoroughly enjoyed. More movies at night – another full length feature film & so to bed.
Departure for Spittal. Wolfsberg & Pongau guards had disappeared the resulting confusion made us miss our train & so the road back was a via dolorosa taking, in all, 87 hours nearly all of which was spent standing or sitting on hard seats in grossly overcrowded carriages. Going up we had averaged 12 to a compartment coming back it was worse & on one occasion no less that 20 people were crowded into an area about 9 feet x 3’6” in which it was quite impossible to move one’s feet. Our road back was varied slightly. We first went towards Dresden & changed at Dobarley (?) then after passing through Falkenberg & Erlenberg reached Leipzig. From there to Hof & Regensburg & so via Landshut to Salzburg & Spittal. Air raids had been fairly frequent. We missed a very heavy one at Regensburg only because our train was 1 ½ hours late. Bridges at Landshut & 10 miles from Spittal had been blown away in our absence & the track badly hit at Salzburg whilst we were actually in the city. These attacks meant four very long wearisome hikes for us around the breaks. At Landshut we hiked about 3 miles & reached the Munchen train, came back to where we started from by bus & finally did get the Salzburg train. Between Leipzig & Regenburg no town except Plauen had ever been bombed. Below the Danube every village had been. Austria has suffered far more than Germany in the air war. Our walking resulted in our seeing a lot of some towns we would not have seen normally. At Salzburg the alarm went & we left the station for the shelters in the cliff face & so walked over nearly all the city. It was very badly damaged. A pity as it was so beautiful with the hills rising sheer behind it & the Cardinal’s Palace perched on a mountain top. This time I did see the wonder & beauty of the Tyrol between here & Salzburg. Not yet at its best it is yet marvellous especially the fantastic loveliness of Bad Gastein. Got home at 3 a.m. on Sunday 25th. Haine had done well in our absence but I didn’t care if he’d killed the damned lot. Was immensely tired (over 3 ½ days on hard seats or my feet, sitting up to sleep, little food & much walking – I’m too old for that!); had a thrombosed haemorrhoid & such oedema of the legs that the skin pitted half an inch deep & another bloody cold to boot. Glad to be home & though I liked being there I do hope no one gets a similar idea again.
The Yanks are up there now for their part of the show.
Those present were
Swiss Herr de Naville – Swiss Legation Dr Marti – International Red Cross Dr Bosch - International Red Cross
German Genl Hauptfuhrer Prof Dr Stahl Oberfeldarzt Dibowski Oberfeldfuhrer Prof Dr Haubald – the originator Marine Stalsarzt Dr Frauman Stabzarzt Dr Heuring – an ex P.O.W. Hauptmann Bentmann Haupfuhrer Dr Bauer – German Liason Officer “The Electron Microscope” Haupfuhrer Dr Kotthoff Haupfuhrer Dr Stein Haupfuhrer Dr Thonnard Neumann “Malaria” Herr A Hillen Ziegfield Herr von Wedel (interpreter) Genl Prof Dr Kreuz (“amputations of Hand”)
Lt Colonel Hankey (the Widow Twonkey) (R.A.M.C) Luft I Barth (Baltic) Lt Col Thompson (R.A.M.C) Oflag 79 Brunswick Capt D Foskett (R.A.M.C) Oflag 79 Brunswick Major R Harvey (R.A.M.C) Milag Morley Nord. Bremen Capt J. Campbell (R.A.M.C) Milag Morley Nord. Bremen Capt A.G. Aldridge (R.A.M.C) Milag Morley Nord. Bremen Major P.D.C. Kinimont Stalag XVIIIA Wolfsberg Capt R. Beattie (N.Z.M.C) Stalag XVIIIA Wolfsberg Capt E.W. Levings (A.A.M.C) Stalag XVIIIA Spittal Capt O.V.S. Kok (S.A.M.C) Stalag XVIIIA Spittal Capt J.D. Hanna (R.A.M.C) Stalag XVIIIC Markt Pongau Capt D.R. Holden (R.A.M.C) Stalag XVIIIC Markt Pongau Capt A. Gordon (R.A.M.C) Stalag VIIA Moosberg Capt D.R. Macaulay (R.A.M.C) Stalag VIIA Moosberg Capt N. Montennis (?) (R.A.M.C) Stalag IIIA Luckenwelde Capt J.R. Odell (R.A.M.C) Oflag VIIB Eichstatt
No Canadians or Indian Army Medical Corps men were present. The 16 men present represented less than 10% of the total British medicos in the bag & were in no way selected by or representative of them & so could express their own personal opinions only which could, in no way, express the will of the majority.
The talking half & the missing handkerchief
A Greek doctor (who speaks no other language) was recently sent to Wolfsberg to be attached to the French, to look after the Poles in the Italian section of the hospital!
My 5th year as a P.O.W. opened with a bang. I was sound asleep one second in bed & very wide awake the next, under the bed! A terrific crash caused by a rocket attack on the railway, not 100 yards from my window, was responsible.
For the rest of the day we were diving in & out of holes as over 1000 bombers passed up & back. Fortunately, a heavy, black cloud hung over Spittal for the worst 3 or 4 hours & though a couple wandered around looking for us, they could not see us & finally only hit the top of the mountain on one side & the lake on the other.
The 9th brought the first mail for 3 months. A small one with four for me from Mum, Fay, Jean & Enid. Latter very, very sad. Poor, wee lass. I’ve hurt her so very much & can do so little to repair that or help her in any way.
Denzler (?) of Swiss Legation here today. Gave a gloomy picture of our future but he’s been wrong before. We certainly hope he is this trip!!!
Lovely weather & I’m already a reasonable brown. Fitter than I’ve been for 20 years & at last, the weight is down below 12 st. Playing lots of volley ball, do my four miles a day & a bit of P.T. as well.
We all hope it will end soon. I think I can keep going till July but no longer.
It is reported that Spittal has been declared a hospital town. Most definitely, that suits us! Also said that civilians are warned to keep away from the railway & roads. How the bloody hell can we? The main road passes our front door & the railway our back!!
After quite a long spell off them ran into a mild epidemic of appendices this week.
Today saw our heaviest bombing attach so far. It was well synchronised in three waves & the railway station was the target. One lot landed short in the town but the other two were well on the job. The first wave looked very dangerous to us as they came up the valley towards the hospital but they all dropped in time & we were not, in actual fact, in any danger.
We had become very blasé about air attacks in the past months & just cocked an eye at bombers saying “They’re safe. Got ‘em covered” & g? on with the job. To fighters we’ve paid no attention at all – except a slight interest in what they might attack.
This lot will key us up again & for awhile we’ll become mighty proficient in skill at ‘Hitting the Deck”.
The hospital town idea doesn’t sound nearly as intriguing as it did yesterday.
Had a vast change in my usual April bad luck yesterday when 13 letters arrived. Totally unexpected. Latest was one of Fay’s of 31.12.44. Some mail seems to have got home very rapidly last year & quite a few only took 2 months. Enid acknowledges (I think) one written only 6 weeks before. Two were October & the balance Nov & Dec.
The extraordinarily successful, amazing, even, successful offensive in the west has upset everyone. It becomes harder & harder, each day, to take this life. For me it looks as though I’ll be the first Australian M.O. in the bag & the last out. Just a matter of geographical luck.
Quite a few of the chaps who were at the Berlin Conference seem to have been already released. What lucky hounds they are?
The nervous hysteria about the place is terrific. Everyone is keyed up, rumours are so rife that one no longer believes anything at all. The French are, naturally enough, by far the worst offenders in all respects.
A couple of examples will illustrate the general mental conditions better than anything else.
The long aerodrome down by the river is used for little else than gliders. Early in the week a large German plane flew high over the town & commenced to circle. It was, obviously, going to land – a rare enough event. But over 100 chaps rushed back & forth between the buildings to keep it in view as it gradually circled down. All for one plane of no importance whatever.
The second is almost fantastic. We’d had a rail block further up the valley & no trains all day. In the evening a train from the east was heard coming & 60 odd people just literally swarmed across the grounds to see it. They rushed across our volley ball court in the middle of the game, & were quite upset when they received more than a little Aussie abuse. They were nearly all French.
At the moment we have 19 different nations in as patients (counting Americans as one).
We ourselves have English, Canadian, Australian, Kiwi, Sth African, Hindu, Ghurka, Pole, American, Mexican & Brazilian patients.
The others have French, Italian, Russian, Polish, Arab, Dutch, Bulgars, Roumanian & Serb
Yesterday 400 French marched in from Graz(?) after being 20 days on the road. Rather, it was 388 men & 1 woman. At that division of the “spoils” one might as well be a complete Kaiegio!
Apparently the large British K.do. there – 1000 strong – is on its’ way here or elsewhere.
Very cold again owing to westerly winds. Clear days are good for air attacks but it’s again far too cold for sunbathing.
Anzac Day but, owing to the continuous ‘planes overhead, we had to dispense with the 11 o’clock parade.
It was a terrific raid as they passed over from 10.30 till 2pm. Someone sure copped a bundle, this day.
Our own ration was a small one but was the closest yet landing in the open, across the railway, a bare 100 years from us. Quite too close for real comfort.
Any guy who says he isn’t scared when he hears a parcel of 500 pounders coming down is a bloody liar.
It is extremely difficult to pick up ‘planes against the clear, blue, cloudless sky & oftentimes we don’t see them until they are all too close.
A Baron story.
April closed in a burst of bad, rainy weather & it is snowing to-day.
Bad luck for us as it means snow on the passes & so the motor transport shan’t get through quite as soon.
Bad weather meant a cessation of the daily bombing & fighter attacks. There is a rumour running around that Austria is to be bombed no more. Cheers & more cheers.
We expect the end of it all in the next 48 hours. One is so utterly time conscious. Once we thought in years: since the invasion in months: since the Rimergen bridgehead in weeks: then in days & now we think in hours.
Personally I cannot see it going beyond the end of the week & have scrapped my old date of May 18 in favour of tomorrow. Anyway I’ve closed the office, closed down work, brought all histories up to date & have them bundled up ready to go at a moment’s notice.
German morale is appalling. Everyone is desperately worried about himself & today the P.O.W. is a mighty powerful person in the land, with everyone currying favour from him.
Shops are selling out – on a barter basis, not for money. Rationing has been discarded. Clothes, food & everything else is going as disorganisation spreads. We’ve been offered first access to all sorts of government secret stores – surgical instruments etc etc, but, most important of all, a bottle of pre-war whisky.
We had fresh fish for dinner last night (black market, of course) – first since Derna - & I had two eggs for breakfast. What Manager Stone (?) next produces will not amaze us. A machine gun or a tank maybe!
Twice in a week we’ve been almost tight. Quite definitely I was when Kok roused out a bottle of rum & last night we had a huge flagon of red wine. But the rum was best.
One chap wants us to go to Villach after the Armistice for a banquet & offers his sister as hors d’oeuvre!!
All our sentry posts have been stripped of the machine guns to arm the local volkstrum.
Russians have been singing their songs day & night for 3 days. They are usually the quietest of all the patients.
Lads decided they wanted a Union Jack made, just in case. The “market” provided two women’s blue dresses & a swastika flag for the red! How are the mighty fallen!!
It’s a time of tales & more tales & rumours that think that its’ best not not to believe anything.
One can’t help being a little excited at the prospect of peace & freedom. But, where are we going to fit in after playing Rip van Winkle for over four years? And how lost & bewildered we will all feel at first.
To we from the Antipodes it is probably better as we’ll have many weeks for readjustment before we must face the problems of how & where we are to live.
Personally, I feel I’ve made my accrued pay in the hardest way I’ll ever make money in this life & for this money, at least, I want full value. But, how is a P.O.W. of 4 years standing to judge what is or is not value?
To bury one’s head in some quiet spot for a couple of weeks & slowly emerge from the mental cocoon of P.O.W. life seems to me the best solution.
But how nice to be able to get letters & news quickly again & to be reasonably sure that the ones one writes will reach their destination in a reasonable time.
Still I wonder how much cash the pay wallahs will let us draw in London? I’ll bet they turn out to be twerps. Anyway another bloody April is finished & that, in itself, is a good cause for rejoicing.
So far (&p.m.) my prophecy of an armistice has not come true. Should have stuck to tomorrow!
So, Hitler is, at last, officially dead. News left Spittal cold. There was no rejoicing & no celebration of mourning. Flags were half mast & that was all. All the Germans are on the run for cover. It is remarkable how suddenly we P.O.W.s have become important.
Rumour is terrific & all the lads are getting jittery with these senseless things. The last was a whizzer. There was an Armistice at 2p.m. today & between Germany USA & Britain & the latter two are going to war with Russia straight away. And many believe it. What utter idiocy.
All arrangements are made for the defence of the camp & the lads & the French are already standing by for orders. We have absolute certainty of support from a group of 600 Germans & of an adequate supply of rifles, machine guns & ammunition.
Personally I do not expect any trouble at all though town rumour is that there will be an attempt to massacre the internees by the Nazis tonight. A large percentage of the internees are Jews but I reckon the Nazis are preparing to do a bunk & want to make sure everyone else is well under cover!
Our troops are now only 40 miles away & we’ve been credibly informed by German officers that Salzburg have issued specific orders that no resistance is to be offered to British & American troops.
Cracking rapidly now.
As far as we are concerned it is a race between the Yanks & the Kiwis to see who gets to us first. It’s even money at the moment.
Today we’ve taken action that was becoming necessary. The security people are sacked & all our goods & chattels back in our possession. All food & medical parcels are now stored in hospital. Command of the whole area is now with us but, for obvious reasons, it’s better to retain the German guards.
Officially our imprisonment is at an end.
We have a wireless & I’ve been waiting for ages to hear a dance programme but all one can hear are old, old, tunes though the very first I heard was a syrupy thin – “I’m coming back, my darling, to you”. Hell, yes, but when & how! Y.M.C.A. (a Swede) is staying at Ilag(?) & the Swiss was also here today. Swiss Legation is now at lovely Bad Gostein about 30 miles away. Rumour not so rife today & no funny bits at all. Kok is down at Ilag(?) now trying to fix up a spot of bother. The Germans were issued with 5 pints of cognac each today & the internees have been trading for it. It’s deadly firewater & the result is they are trying to eat the barb wire & generally are a bloody nuisance so a guard of our chaps have to go on night duty. 4.5.45 Today has been very quiet. The report that the Kiwis were in Tarvis(?) – 40 miles away – has been confirmed by B.B.C. Had some planes over today for the first time in a week. They dropped leaflets but none fell amongst us so we don’t know yet what was in them.
Last night there was a good deal of cognac about & I had more than my share. It must have been a wicked brew as after eight hours sleep I woke drunk as a fool. Spent the day in bed & did not get up till 4.30 pm & was not completely sober till 6p.m. I know, now, why the German Army fight so desperately. With a few shots of that in him even the most arrant coward would tackle a tank with bare hands!
The enthusiasm of yesterday seem to be dying down.
We are still mounting a guard down in the Ilag.
Germans say this area has now been removed from Western Austria command which capitulated - & placed under Croatian command. So the war is on again. Lovely fun & games we do have, don’t we? Doesn’t matter much. No one around here will fight & we’ve sacked the security blokes & have all our food & goods in the hospital itself & there they stay whether the war is on or off.
For us, the war is off again! This a.m. at 8 o’clock the chief local pundit announced that Klagenfurt (?), Villach & Spittal were open cities & no resistance would be offered to British or American troops & the local authorities were to surrender the towns at the first approach of our forces. Kok is, at the moment, making preparations with the local council for the surrender of Spittal. The Nazi Party has been dissolved in this area. The relief amongst the Germans is terrific. For the first time in many weeks they are all smiling & happy. For ourselves it isn’t so important except it may speed our departure by a few days. 6.5.45
No so happy today.
This waiting & waiting is becoming a strain.
People outside are very jittery again as hordes of Cossacks & Hungarians pass through. The Cossacks have been serving with the Germans in Croatia.
Looting is said to be rife & there is a growing fear of an advance by Tito.
Some thunderbolts were over today & flew very low over us. The stars on their wings made the outsiders think they were Russians & mass hysteria was soon rampant. The Americans are to the West of Lienz – 40 miles away N.W. - & somewhere between us & Salzburg about 45 miles N. Kiwis had reached Tarvis – 40 miles S – two days ago but are not advancing at all.
The Americans are not going to come any further at all & are staying where they are so we must await the 8th Army from the South. In the meantime it is
impossible not to entirely disregard the whole, nervous expectations of the Germans.
Personally, I can see, at the moment, not the slightest or most remote sign of any danger to all of us. It may come but I think not & I believe still our folk will arrive first. But it isn’t going to be as soon as we hoped & expected & we are very surely going to be the last P.O.W.s released unless there are still some in Czecho Slovkia.
We’ve had a plethora of visitors lately from the Red Cross, Swiss Legation & Y.M.C.A. Now their areas are becoming confined they have little to do.
They bring a little news on occasions but on the whole, don’t even know asmuch as we do ourselves. For example, a party of four Red Cross people came yesterday & didn’t even know Wolfsberg had been evacuated to Pongau - & that happened 2 weeks ago.
There is a report that the Pongau folk were released yesterday by the most southern American forces from Salzburg. We don’t know & it hasn’t been confirmed.
Announced the 8th Army are now driving towards Villach. Loud cheers. Germans say they will reach Spittal at 10 a.m. tomorrow. Rot. Tuesday, perhaps.
Ilag concert party gave us a great show tonight. Excellent music by some professionals. Kok passed the buck to me most beautifully to-day over some coves who had been drunk & a damned nuisance. Socked them 7 days apiece in gaol! Manager produced fresh grilled steak & onions for breakfast to-day & fresh dried fish for dinner. Remarkable man. But fresh meat twice in one day had been so unheard of these many years that we don’t know what hit us. Story is told of the time when the plans to take over Markt Pongau were being made. The senior British W.O. was addressing the men & said they supreme commander would be a Russian Brigadier. Q: We know there are Russian Officers here but have you seen or talked to this brigadier? A: Oh, no. But he has been seen & interviewed. Q: What sort of guy is he? A: Very decent & competent. Q: What does he do in the Camp? A: Peels spuds in the kitchen!!!! Exeunt omnes, hilariously & another rapprochement with Uncle Joe gone haywire. 7.5.45 Quiet to-day. Rumours rife but we busted the last by having a rece down to Tarvis with the aid of the Swedish Y.M.C.A. chap. All the rumours were hooey – there were no forces at all there; the people of Villach are NOT lined up on each side of the road for 2 miles with buckets of flowers waiting for our chaps: there are no Cossacks & no partisans: the road is not littered with broken down vehicles – in fact, all that was seen on the whole journey were a couple of kids picking daisies or something & the Kiwis are many, many miles below Tarvis. But we DID hear that Spittal is occupied by the Yanks & the folk down that way are intensely worried about Tito. Shops are selling out everything. Even the mules of the Alpine Regt were given away yesterday to all & sundry & all the fodder as well. Hectic night. About 11.45 p.m. after standing smashing glass & general noise in the op. block for an hour drew the line at revolver shots through the roof & raided the room & ordered the mob to bed. They included the 2 Serb doctors, the Russian colonel & two French doctors. An appalling show. Today we’ve intimated that in our opinion, the Russian colonel is ‘wholly unfitted to command himself let anything else & so he’s deposed by a couple of rude colonials! Excellent weather again after the bad spell. Getting quite brown – for me. The nervous strain is telling & I’m feeling very weary with all the waiting & the insistent when? Oh when? Oh when? Some more mail might ease it a little but that’s impossible. Tried to get a truck through to Wolfsberg today with that as the chief object but the partisan activity in the lower Drau made it impossible & altogether, too risky. Not knowing is always so much more of a strain then even the worst news. And, tomorrow, there will, officially, be peace! 9.5.45 Yesterday Kok contacted both British & American forces in the Lienz area after some quite magnificent lying to get through the road blocks. Flag raising ceremonial parade had to be taken by the old mug. It went O.K. but for the first time in my life I had the jitters when addressing a crowd. Did not settle down till half way through the address, after which all went well. The jitters were produced, I think, by the arrival of three Yank war correspondents just as the parade was being formed. The vision of free men arriving just as one was to take an important ceremonial paraded & make an address to over 1000 folk of 19 different nationalities & then on top of all that when the blighters started taking pictures & shorthand notes – well. It WAS just a trifle too much after a terrific morning’s organisation. Anyway, after the first 3 minutes I was back in form & did conclude the parade with all the necessary military snap. Queerly though, only a few of the British officers picked the jittery period. Lads on their first leave hardly played the game & over-stayed their 8 hours leave by 3 & 4 hours. When Kok failed to arrive by 7 p.m. I sent Newberry & Roper off to Villach in a commandeered car where they had a high time with the Guards who had arrived
that morning, messed up the car & were brought back by a couple of lads who took away some mail for us this morning.
And, finally, our Penicillin arrived.
Today was the most hectic day in our lives. For a long while we were nobody’s baby & didn’t yet know to whom we really do belong. We saw the A.D.M.S. of the area & later his deputy, the Villach people, the Lienz people, the Repat. People & a couple of American flying crews who landed to see if we were O.K. This afternoon 28 B.24’s dropped us 12,000 food rations & medical supplies. There must have been an error somewhere as we didn’t really need them but it was a grand sight to see them parachuting down & a lot of work & organisation was needed to cope with it - & it was all sprung on me, in a moment, entirely unexpectedly. I think we lost about 5% of the stuff – which was pretty good, considering. The dropping was really very, very accurate though it has completely buggered our electric light.
A company of armoured cars has moved in on Spittal so the occupation is over & our command finished but we’ve still a lot to do.
The Yank air men had tea with me & have promised to try & get our most sick men flown out – I’ll be on one Levings going, too, if it’s at all possible.
I’m too tired & weary to record any more of the day’s events & excitements.
Not much doing these past two days. Fifty plan, more or less, have been made for our evacuation & cancelled again an hour so so later.
We had 150 men standing by to move to Udine all morning but it was called off.
We have 300 to stand by for tomorrow. Perhaps it, too, will be cancelled – in half he time?
Anyway, it is certain that from somewhere, soon, some of us will be flown to Bari or Foggia - & I go first.
At last something definite has been achieved.
Complications in form of an R.T.O. chappie complete with train arose. We stood our chaps by all morning but it was off so over 100 took to their heels & we had a job to fill the lorries when they did leave – in fact, we had only 273 left of the 380 odd who were awaiting the train.
Another day of consultation.
I packed the Italians & Yugo Slavs off on the train which was sternly disapproved of by one set of folk & loudly applauded by another.
This afternoon 12 ambulances arrived & 74 of us leave for Klagenfurt at 6 am tomorrow & then by air to Ancona.
The rest of the British & U.S.A. men will follow in M.T. & by air at 9am. If one had only had the time to record all the happenings of the past few days it would make the funniest story ever, but I was always too tired & weary or had too many interruptions - & one thing is certain – no one would ever possibly have believed it other than fiction! It has been a big job, really, with Kok away most of the time & having “command” of 2000 men of 19 different nations! We’ve survived but, yesterday, we had passed the irritable stage & could see the funny part of it all. Newberry & I had to retire to a quiet corner in the end to gurgle over our mirth together. There HAD BEEN 21 different movement orders (by accurate count) in 58 hours!! The 21st moved 270 odd & 100 odd under their own steam. The 22nd ought to move all the sick & wounded at 06.00 tomorrow. The 23rd may move the rest at 09.00 – we pray!!
(Information provided by his daughter, Susan Brookes.)