Part 4 - Nominal Roll All AIF POW "Evades" in Switzerland
Chapter 4 - The Ninth Division
C. 26th Brigade
Owing to the entry of Italy into the war as the second Axis power, one brigade of the 7th Division, then on their way to the Middle East, was diverted to England. The commander of the 7th Division at that time was Major-General Sir John Lavarack and he called upon Brigadier R. W. Tovell to form the 26th Infantry Brigade.
This consisted of the 2/23rd, 2/24th, and 2/48th Battalions, known respectively as "Albury's Own", "Wangaratta's Own" and, to the Victorians of those two battalions, the 2/48th "That Mad Mob from the West".
The 18th and 25th Brigades were transferred to the 6th Division in exchange for their 20th and 26th Brigades. Thus the 9th Division was to take over operations in Cyrenaica, to release the 6th Division to go to Greece and Crete.
This re-organisation caused some confusion and some resentment among the Brigades who had been shuffled around, and lost their original Divisional "esprit de corps".
The 26th Brigade was commanded by 9th Division Headquarters throughout the war and remained in the Middle East after the 6th and 7th Divisions had been recalled to defend Australia from the Japanese.
B30 "Mud and Blood - Albury's Own, 2/23rd Australian Infantry Battalion, Ninth Division", Pat Share Editor, Frankston, Vic., 1978, reprinted John Burridge Military Antiques, Perth, 1991.
B30A "Roll Call of the Second Twenty-Third Australian Infantry Battalion 1940-1945", Pat Share and Allan Keating (editors).
B31 "The Second Twenty-Fourth - a History”, prepared by A. Amiet, D. Cunning, A. Macfarlane, R. P. Serle and E.J. Shattock, Jacaranda Press, Brisbane, 1963.
B31A "2/24th Australian Infantry Battalion AIF”, computerised by Ossie Warden by direction of Alan Macfarlane, 1990.
B35 "Tobruk to Tarakan - The Story of the 2/48th Battalion, AIF", John G. Glen, Rigby Limited, Adelaide, 1960
2/23rd Australian Infantry Battalion
B30 “Mud and Blood” - Albury’s Own- 2/23rd Australian Infantry Battalion. 9th Division AIF", Pat Share (Editor) 1978 ISBN 9596867, Heritage Book Publications.
B30A "Roll Call of the Second-Twenty-Third Australian Infantry Battalion 1940-45", Pat Share and Allan Keating (editors), Melbourne 1994.
B30B “Mud and Blood 1940-1942” by officers and men of the 2/23rd Battalion while on active service in the Middle East. Melbourne, c1943.
B30C “Mud and Blood in the Field (2/23rd Bn)" - Dick Fanke (Compiler).
2/23 Australian Infantry Battalion Association with John Sissons, Bookseller, 1984.
A full collection of the Battalions Newsletters - December 1940 to August 1945.
Battalion Motto - “Aut In Veniam Aut Faciam” (We find a way, or make one).
Unofficial Motto - “Through Mud and Blood, we find the Green Fields Beyond”.
The unit was formed in Albury on August 20, 1940. Dubbed “Albury’s own” it celebrated its fifth birthday on August 21st, 1945 in Tarakan.
The 2/23rd Infantry Battalion had 22 “representatives” in Switzerland, including one officer VX40591 Lt B.B. "Barney" Grogan ex the "Moosburg Express". Two mates (VX35670 Norman Francis Molony and VX34562 Francis John Hayes) wasted no time getting into Switzerland, arriving a fortnight after the Italian Armistice was declared. (Norm Malony (No. 35) is shown in the picture at left competing in the slalom in Adelboden.)
Two other firm mates - VX47656 Thomas Herbert Clive Davis and VX40994 Leslie Franklin Dower, who had been together in Campo 57 Gruppignano, then drafted out to work together at Campo 106 Vercelli, finally reached Switzerland together, after living behind the lines in Italy for ten months in the village of Chiaverano near Turin. Tom and Frank’s stay in Switzerland was short, arriving only two months before most AIF personnel were repatriated.
With acknowledgements and thanks to:
VX40951 Lt Bryan Bray (“Barney") Grogan MID 2/23 Bn
Lt Barney Grogan was there when the unit was formed in Albury on August 21, 1940. He was there in Tarakan for its fifth birthday in 1945. Much was to happen to him in those five years.
After attending a machine gun carrier course shortly after his arrival in the Middle East, a carrier platoon was formed within HQ Company and Barney was placed in command. On April 22, 1941, while on patrol from Tobruk on the Derna Road, Barney and his carrier platoon became involved in a fierce action with strongly-entrenched troops of Rommel’s Afrika Corps. In the hand-to-hand fighting, Barney gave the order “Dismounted Action”. Leaving his own carrier to be driven out before it was hit, he went in to rescue one of his wounded men. They were surrounded by German soldiers and captured.
His bravery earned him a MID but he was handed over to the Italians as their prisoner. Eventually he found himself in an Italian Camp for Allied Officers at Razzanello, central Italy. He stayed in that camp for a year before being transferred to the central camp - Campo 78 Sulmona.
As the Allies slowly but relentlessly, fought their way north through the boot of Italy, the inmates were moved further north to Campo 19, Bologna. By the time Marshal Badoglio signed an Armistice with the Allies on September 9, 1943, the Germans had loaded all the inmates of Campo 19 into cattle trucks for transport into Germany - 12 officers to a truck. German guards were placed at intervals on flat cars and on the roof of the train, which was christened the “Moosburg Express” as its destination was an Oflag with that name.
The floor of the truck was rotted in one corner. The officers immediately started to cut a hole in the roof at this spot. It soon became big enough for a man to squeeze through. As night fell, the officers drew straws to determine the dropping order from the train. Barney and Capt Jack Kroger from the 9th Division HQ, were the first two men out. They found themselves still in Italy. For several weeks they were on the run before being able to reach and cross the border to Switzerland on October 13, 1943. They were posted to the British camp for “evades” at Wald.
While Jack Kroger remained in Wald as the Senior Australian Officer in command of all AIF “evades” at their various Swiss “camps”, Barney moved to an officers' “camp” at the renowned winter sports town of Arosa. There he became an enthusiastic and skilled skier. But he also found time to court Margo Christ, who lived in an area not too far away and who he had first met while in Basle to attend a funeral for some British airmen, whose plane had crashed near there after a bombing raid on Germany.
Margo had been for seven years in the employ of Bob Cackett, the British Vice-Consul based in Basle. It was he that gave the bride away when they were married in Arosa. Jack Kroger was best man at the wedding.
VX35670 Norman Francis Molony and VX50873 Francis John Hayes - 2/23 Bn
Norm Molony joined the 2/23rd Bn after enlisting into the AIF at Royal Park in Melbourne. He was only 16 at the time, which gave him the soubriquet - “Kid”. Taken POW at El Alamein together with his slightly older mate, Frank Hayes on October 18, 1942, they managed to stick together from their work camp at Vercelli, crossing the Swiss border on October 3, 1943. They had thus spent a year as Italian POW. They were to spend almost another year as escaped Italian POW in Switzerland.
After the declaration of the Armistice, they first tried to get to the advancing Allied forces in the south, but found it was impossible to cross the river Po, so they returned to the Vercelli area. By that time, the Monte Moro “route” was carrying very heavy traffic, a lot of which was aided by patriotic local Italians backed by British agents. They would never forget emerging from the mountain mists as they crossed the border, seeing the sun set on the snow-covered Monte Rosa which dominated the pass.
Frank was suffering from malaria, despite having been given an injection in a church at the village of Casa del Bosco, through which they had passed. Norm had to virtually carry him into safety across the border. Initially they were processed at the main Allied “camp” at Wald, but later were sent to the mountain resort of Adelboden. The empty tourist hotels there had been opened as a major internment centre for American airmen who were crash landing in Switzerland in increasing numbers as the Allies stepped up their strategic bombing raids over Axis territory.
Like many other Swiss alpine winter sports resorts, Adelboden was mainly a cluster of tourist hotels, whose facilities were lying idle as the war raged around them. The US Government had concluded a deal with the Swiss authorities to house their airmen, who were of officer and high NCO rank in the bigger and better hotels. Other Allied countries had followed this plan, taking over the smaller hotels and pensions for their own “evades”. For the Australians among them, Adelboden became very much of an R&R “camp”, where ORs could have an opportunity of learning to ski and skate or just enjoy the magnificent mountain scenery and invigorating climate.
Frank became a good ice skater and the clear mountain climate did much to restore him to health, although he never regained that completely.
Norm became a champion skier, winning many trophies, all of which he had to sell to raise cash to spend on the eventual trip home. But imprisonment had also affected his health to an extent that he was subsequently classified TPI.
A good account of the journey to Switzerland is set out in the Unit History “Roll Call” (B30A p15).
VX40994 Leslie Franklin Dower and VX47656 Thomas Herbert Clive Davis
Like Norm Molony and Frank Hayes, Tom Davis and Les Dower were firm mates. They took advantage of their common surname initial to stick together when they were drafted out of Campo 57 Gruppignano to the complex of farms administered from Campo 107 Vercelli.
Their luck was in. They had made contact with a friendly family of Italian farmers and lived on their property at Chiaverano, in the mountains behind Turin. The Italian Resistance in the general area between Turin and Milan had been rapidly organised into a very effective force led by Italian patriots and POWs like Jocumsen and Peck who had been recruited by SOE in Switzerland to return to Italy to form escape lines through which their fellow POW could reach Switzerland.
Tom and Les had learned Italian, Les being particularly fluent. However he had begun to suffer bronchial trouble.
Eventually, they felt they should make a break to Switzerland where medical facilities would be better. A local Italian schoolteacher who taught English, supplied them with identity papers and put them in touch with the local Resistance. It arranged for them to be conducted to the Swiss border by two professional smugglers.
Their experience of living “underground” and evading re-capture for nearly 10 months is mentioned in the Reverend Broomhead's classic “Barbed Wire in the Sunset” (F7).
With the exception of Cpl John Rowe, of the 2/28th Battalion, they were the last of the AIF escapers to get into Switzerland.
2/24th Australian Infantry Battalion
B31 “The Second Twenty-Fourth - A History", prepared by A. Amiet, D. Cunning, A. Macfarlane, R. P. Serle, E. J. Shattock, Jacaranda Press, Brisbane, 1963. (The story of the POW of the 2/24th Infantry Battalion is covered in Chapter 9 of the Unit History.)
B31A “2/24th Australian Infantry Battalion AIF” computerised by Ossie Warden, by direction of Alan Macfarlane, 1990, which includes the Nominal Roll.
Self-published or privately printed books and manuscripts.
1. “For You the War is Over”, Eric Edwards
2. “What Was It Like To Be A POW Daddy?" Bill Williams
3. “Escape from Derna”, Tom Anderson
4. “Hegira”, Major L. Fell
5. “Freedom at Last”, Dick Crellin
6. “The Far Side of the Hill”, Major Bailleau
7. “Two Wars - One Family”, Aubrey Jarrott
8. “Frogs and Slugs - A Taste Of War”, Ted Price
Part of the 26th Brigade, Ninth Division AIF, the 2/24th Battalion lost two of its Companies and part of the third, to a German ambush near Derna, during the withdrawal from Benghazi into Tobruk on May 1, 1941 in what is described in Chapter 6 of its Unit History (B31) as ”The May Show”, which stopped Rommel’s capture of Tobruk.
Its casualties were 35 KIA, 8 missing, 60 wounded and 214 POW. Although captured by the Afrika Korps, these prisoners became Italian POW, most of the officers ending up at Campo 78 Sulmona, while the other ranks concentrated into Campo 57- Gruppignano.
From Gruppignano, many of their POW were drafted out to working camps, controlled by Campo 106 - Vercelli. Those latter were lucky - their location facilitated many escapes both to the north and south of Italy in the confusion that surrounded the promulgation of the Italian Armistice. The Anzac POW left in Gruppignano were swiftly rounded up and sent on to further imprisonment in Germany.
Nevertheless, 71 members of the 2/24 Bn made it to the safety of Switzerland. These included Lt John “Sandy” Mair, one of the 13 Australian officers who escaped from the “Mooseburg Express” - the train taking the former inmates of Campo 78 into Germany.
Somehow, Sgt Julius “Did” Fenwick, although not eligible for drafting out to a work camp managed to do so. He finished up as paymaster in Switzerland to all of the 419 Australian personnel there. He was promoted to WOII and worked directly under command of Capt Jack Kroger, of 9th Division HQ, who was the senior AIF Officer in Switzerland.
Many correspondents form the 2/24th “representatives” in Switzerland have written to this Recorder giving personal comments and observations of their experiences in that alpine country, which, for most, lasted a whole year. Many family members of those no longer living have passed on anecdotes, archival material and “cross references” of the same experiences.
At least two members of the battalion married - Brian Smith and Charles Fraser. Their stories are covered in the first part of this Compendium in the Chapter “Love Knows No Borders”. The stories of Lionel Jones and Colin Horman have been extensively quoted in Patsy Adam Smith’s book “From Gallipoli to Korea” (M26).
Eric Edwards, one of the POW rounded up in Campo 57 - Gruppignano to become a German POW, writes of his capture in Libya: “It was becoming more and more obvious to those who, on the 30th April 1941, were observing the increasing activity of the Germans, the movement of their tanks, vehicles, troops and the dust clouds that were swirling to the atmosphere, that something on a large scale was being prepared by the enemy.
Through the early rising mist it could be seen that enemy tanks had surrounded some of the outposts, while the occupants of the two other forward outposts had already emerged and were being marched away in the care of a few Germans. Shortly afterwards the remaining occupants of several other pits emerged, being bidden to do so by the Germans as their limited supplies of ammunition had become exhausted and no matter how good the will, bayonets are not an effective weapon against enemy tanks. The POW were marched to the "White House" at Acroma - a distance of about four miles - where a German officer took particulars of name, rank and number, and then a day or so later they were taken by motor trucks to Derna. And thus began, for most of these men, four long weary years in captivity. It was thus, that I became a POW at approximately 10am on Thursday, 1st May, 1941”.
When after nearly sixty years had passed, Eric was asked to explain his own personal feelings of becoming a POW he replied: “The machine gun fire in our pits was ferocious. Men were falling everywhere. Frank Budge and Bill Pape went and then I saw Captain Canty wave a white hankerchief. The firing died away and a young German Officer came up to me and said in good English “For you the war is over”. My first reaction was one of complete disbelief. We had been trained to fight, knowing well the chances of being killed or wounded, but nobody had prepared us for being taken prisoner. I was shocked and disappointed."
Aubrey Jarrott states simply - “The first night I spent as a POW was on a piece of corrugated iron with Ian Hemphill. I was so done in, I slept for eleven hours”.
Most of the Anzac POW captured by the Germans, prior to and during the siege of Tobruk, in contravention fo the Geneva Conventions, were used as forced labour. For many months, in places behind the enemy lines such as Derna, Benghazi and even as far back as Tripoli. They worked on airfields, unloading supplies from ships, sorting materials and ammunition, any job that helped the German war effort. They worked seven days a week as they were gradually sorted out and transported to Italy.
Every effort was made to sabotage the enemy on these working stints. Ian Knight describes these activities thus: “On looking back, it gives me some satisfaction for being out of the fight to recall the sabotage efforts we made … it was customary for the Germans to send large crates of mixed tubes for various sizes of tyres. These had to be sorted by size. This simple job was given to us ... it gave us an ample opportunity to drive a safety pin through each tube we folded. Many of the boys who went daily to the petrol dump to fill canisters, sacrificed their sugar ration to put into the cans - sand was handy for this too ... Early in September, a large party was mustered to the docks at Tripoli, where a converted passenger ship, the “Neptunia”, was unloading frozen beef. We were placed below decks and thirty-six hours later we breathed fresh air above decks in Taranto harbour and feasted our eyes on the sunken warships, evidence of the Fleet Air Arm raid of 11th November, 1940." (20 p133)
Gradually, most Anzac POW working under German control were transported over to Sicily and Italy. They were now officially Italian prisoners and were slowly gathered into two camps - Campo 78 Sulmona for officers, and the infamous Campo 57 at Gruppignano, near Udine in the North of Italy for other ranks, with the mountains of Yugoslavia clearly visible through the perimeter wire.
The first influx of Anzac POW into Italy had taken place.
Thanks and acknowledgements to:
Mrs. Mary Canty
Mrs. George McKenzie
Mrs. Dot Price
VX38645 Lt John Lennox “Sandy” Mair MID 2/24 Bn
John “Sandy” Mair was one of the original sergeants of the 2/24th to obtain his commission before embarkation of the “Strathmore” in November 1940.
In its first battle in Libya on May 1, 1941 around Derna, the 2/24th lost 6 out of its 12 rifle platoons.
“Sandy” was one of the ten officers captured in that fierce and confused battle. As an Italian POW he was initially sent to Campo 79 - Sulmona. Later he with the others were transferred to Campo 19 Bologna as the Allies continued their slow but inexorable advance north through Italy.
Shortly after he jumped from the “Moosburg Express” and hid in a cornfield, he spotted somebody else doing the same. It turned out to be Bob Jones, RAAF. Then when they entered a vineyard, they saw Fred Eggleston, helping himself to a free feed of grapes. Eventually the trio managed to change out of their battledress into civilaian clothes and resumed their walk towards the Swiss border. As they approached a small bridge, an incident occurred that epitomises the courage and concern shown by so many Italian mountain peasants to Allied POW “on the loose”.
Bob Jones relates how, on the road leading up to the bridge, they met a lady. She spoke to them in Italian saying “You are English, aren’t you?” Fred, who spoke several European languages, replied “si”. The lady then told them there were German guards at each end of the bridge. She said: “Take my hands and we’ll go over together”. She took Fred by the hand while Sandy and Bob took the hands of the children accompanying the lady and they walked across the bridge.
Once out of its sight, at the edge of a tiny village, Fred thanked her and she and the children moved off. That act of bravery and defiance was something that Sandy would never forget.
Sandy reached Switzerland on September 20, 1943. He was sent to a British “camp” at Burglen, where he stayed as an Detachment Officer. He was a particular mate of fellow Victorian officers, Jack Kroger and Barney Grogan, and spent a great deal of his time in Switzerland in their company. He was repatriated on October 3, 1945 arriving back in Australia with the large contingent of other repatriated Swiss “evades”, via Bombay.
VX48078 Ronald James Crellin 2/24 Bn AIF
In his book “Freedom At Last”, Ron titled Chapter 8 “Now a POW” (G13). He summarises life in the POW transit camp at Benghazi.
“Conditions were poor, food was meagre, water for drinking and washing scarce. Myriads of flies were a constant menace; desert sores were prevalent and issues of clothing almost non-existent. Working hours (for the Germans) varied from twelve to sixteen hours per day: the work itself was heavy and the working week one of seven days.”
His next chapter is headed: “So to Italy”. He recounts his transport from Benghazi harbour to Brindisi harbour on an Italian destroyer, expressing his surprise at finding himself in a snow-clad world when he finally caught up with his mates at Campo di Concentramento 57 - Gruppignano.
After a couple of months there, he found himself at work again on a farm, one of the working camps run by Campo di Lavora 106 - Vercelli/San Germano. Here the work was under the Geneva Conventions, but at times seemed to be carried out in accordance with Australian Trade Union practices! He takes up his story from here.
“One night, later that September, we came home from work and after having our meal, we were resting in our bunks, when one bloke sat up and said - “Listen! I can hear motor transport” - then everybody began hearing it. No one slept that night. The noise continued all night and the next morning. We had no guards - only the officer.
Seeing the situation, we were quick to see what had happened and called the officer to the gate which was still locked. Luckily we had Don Steele who could speak some Italian and he told the officer we needed the gate opened. Italy had capitulated and believing that there were Germans in the area we did not wish to be passed back to them.
After some talking, the officer unlocked the gate and away everyone went. A lot we did not see again. I was in a party of about seven and the first thing to do was to get out of our uniforms with the red patches, and to secure some civilian clothes. Falling in with some local partisans and with winter rapidly approaching, there seemed to be no reasonable alternative but to try and get into neutral Switzerland. This we did via the Monte Moro Pass, ending up in the camp at Elgg. There we were issued with British uniforms. In mid-December, one day a notice appeared inviting anybody who wished to ski, to put his name down for a transfer to Adelboden. Four of us - Bill Mitchell, Neil Collier, Wal Parker and myself - were accepted. There we met Lt Barney Grogan from the 2/23rd and were billetted in the “Beau Site” Hotel, which remained our home until May, 1944. We spent five wonderful months in Adelboden.
We went to another camp at Brunnadorn and went to work cutting firewood at nearby Bendel and digging peat at Schwartzenbach, at about five kms up in the hills from the village. Our billets were at the works. They were quite comfortable and there was plenty of food. But this time it was paid work, not much, but enough to buy a few beers and watches to take home as presents."
Ron Crellin had been in Switzerland one day short of a year.
Acknowledgments and thanks:
VX33146 Albert Ian Hemphill 2/24 Bn AIF
Ian Hemphill was an original of “A” Company, 2/24 Bn and one of the POW taken in Tobruk on May 1, 1941.
After being held as a working POW in Benghazi for 8 months, he was taken over to Italy on an old Italian cruiser - the “Luigi Cardona”. As with most Anzac POW, he finished up as a guest of Colonel Calcaterra at Campo 57, Gruppignano. He was drafted out to work in the rice growing area of Vercelli at a farm called “Montenegro”.
He relates in a letter to the recorder:
“After Italy packed it in, we made our break, reaching Switzerland on September 28, 1943. I spent 14 days in a hospital at Brig before moving to the “camp” at Dergersheim, billeted in a small private hotel. At Dergersheim I caught up with my mates [VX44556 Henry] Simmonds, [VX35187 Harry] Gitsham, [VX33491 Cliff] Stevens and [VX32717 Lionel] Jones all from my own battalion.
"I will say here that if you read Patsy Adam-Smith's book "Prisoners of War" (M26), a photo of us is on page 115. In fact Lionel Jones wrote the story on pages 110 - 119."
Ian later moved to Caux near Montreux.
Lionel Jones has already introduced himself as the saboteur of German motor tyres in Libya, and has also been extensively written up in Patsy Adam-Smiths “Prisoners of War" (M26 p133).
Like many other "evades" Ian got a job at a big hotel in Caux, while Cliff Stevens, a jeweller by trade, after studying for a term at “L’Ecole des Beaux Arts” also worked in a big hotel in Montreux.
Thanks and Acknowledgements:
VX28541 Cpl George Thompson MacKenzie 2/24 Bn AIF
Not all members of the 2/24 Bn were born in Australia.
George MacKenzie was born in Edinburgh, coming out to Australia among the flood of British migrants following the end of WWI. He enlisted into the 2/24 Bn at Red Cliffs, Victoria.
Like many of the POW of the battalion, he was taken prisoner at Tel el Eisa eventually finishing up at Campo 57 Gruppignano. Despite his rank of corporal he was among those drafted out to the complex of the Vercelli working camps. He escaped (his fourth attempt) and reached Switzerland on September 28. 1943. As a corporal, he had the job in his Swiss“camp”in Wald, of supervising the ten o’clock evening curfew, but found that far more difficult to get his colleagues out of bed in the morning than to get them into bed at night.
He formed a lasting friendship with a Swiss, Herman Kent, who presented him with a bible, which his widow still has. His widow, whose maiden name was Beech, lost her brother - William John Beech - who had also served with the 2/24 Bn in the Middle East and continued with the unit in the fighting against the Japanese in New Guinea.
The photo above shows George MacKenzie, centre back - in uniform with mates in Wald.
He was one of the last persons to be killed fighting against Japanese in Tarakan on July 10, 1945.
Thanks and acknowledgements:
Annie Mackenzie (nee Beech)
VX33373 George James Rhodes 2/24 Bn AIF
George Rhodes describes his reaction to the confusion arising after the promulgation of the Italian Armistice with the Allies thus:
“The Officer-In-Charge of our camp gave us the option of staying on in the camp or taking to the rice fields - within two days everyone was scattered far and wide, some heading south and others going north, but wihin a week we were all back doing a bit of work for our grub. Then the Jerries posted notices to the effect that anybody harbouring an Ally would be shot, so we were off again. Forty of us set off that night for the mountains and Switzerland, travelling 35 kilometres before dawn. Rested up for two days when we joined a larger party, we travelled with them to the foothills, where we stayed four days, living off the grapevines while we waited for the food to come up. It came one morning, but so too, did the Jerries.
A raid was on! I hit the ground while some of our comrades were taken prisoner ten to fifteen yards away. We stayed around all day and the next and with some others who had also got clear, we set out the next night travelling through the bush and scrub by starlight, the mountains ahead our goal. We made them by midday next day and rested up for a day. Travelled all next day over the mountains until we hit Fontanellamoor (?) where we had our first good meal for over a week. Stayed there for two days to fill ourselves. Left the second night to travel up the road to Grasione, the Swiss border and freedom we hoped, but it was not to be so easy. At two in the morning we met two Jews travelling down as fast as they could. They stopped to tell us it was impossible to get through as Jerries were minding the pass. "You can try if you like, but you will only be taken prisoners again", they said. So we turned back, getting off the road just before daylight.
Made another start next afternoon and had only gone a little way when we heard a yell and saw someone beckon to us down below. We went to where another Aussie had found a chap who would take us to another pass leading into the next valley. Had just got into the house when a Jerry patrol went past. Spent the evening watching an Italian girl hand weave wool. Awoke at daylight to find that our guide had slept in and was not game to travel with us on the road in daylight, so it was left to the ladies to show us the way. Flat out for three kilometres, we travelled the road until we came to a path over the mountain. Leaving our guides here, we travelled all day until we hit a village perched on the other side of the mountain. We were given bread and milk and bedded down with three cows and a goat. To the tune of a bullock bell, we tried to get some sleep. The next day the villagers put us on the way tro the top of the next mountain pass, loading us with rye bread they cook once a year.
It is so hard, you have to put it on a stone and crack it with another. Travelled nearly all day till we hit the next casa where we tried bickering with a guide to take us over Mount Rosa but he did not seem too keen, but showed us a shed to sleep in. About 11pm a knock was heard and somebody said “Open Up” and in walked 4 Aussies and our friend the guide and a mate. The four had got in ahead of us but the guides had agreed to take us along too. We would move the next night when they would bring two Tommy Officers along who had contacted them in the village 2000 feet below. In the daytime we were to hide in the pines and they would bring food to us.
Next night there was no sign of them or the two officers until midnight. It was too late to start then as we had to be beyond the German guards and well up into the mountains by dawn, so we had another day listening to the avalanches fall every few minutes on the slope of Mount Rosa. We moved off the next night about seven and hit the snowline about eleven, sliding down precipice slopes and climbing up and around cliff faces where steps had to be cut into the ice, the steps being of no use to the last in line. 17 of us now made up the party of 2 Tommy officers, two privates and 11 Aussies and our 2 guides. We were nearing the top of a slope when the guides called for a spell and the ropes the two officers had knocked up. One of them put his stick down beside him and away it went, we could still hear it going hundreds of feet below. Two of the boys went forward with the rope and hitching up with the guides, pulled the officers the rest of the way.
Five minutes later we were inside a mountain hut used by tourists. We stayed there an hour until daybreak when we made off on the last lap of four hundred metres to the top of the pass where the guides left us at 9 o’clock.
It was a beautiful sight at daylight above the clouds, the only points of land showing being Mt. Blanc and the French border, the Matterhorn and the peak. We were facing the summit of Mount Rosa! The offices had again to be hauled along. BD and Bill volunteering for the job. It was a ticklish job as we had to climb two or three hundred steps cut into the ice up a razorback to the peak at the top. After the guides left us, we headed down the slope only to come to a precipice over a hundred foot drop in most cases, so we had to hunt around until we could find a place where it was possible to get down. Hit on a crevice running in from the cliff face and it was about then that one of the officers volunteered to be lowered down into it and go along to the end to see if it was possible to get down. He decided it was, so we all went down to where he was to find a 30 odd foot drop facing us, so we joined all our bits of rope together and lowered one another over the edge. Lit off down another slope only to run into two more bad places where the ropes had to be used again. By this time we were of the opinion that we were going to join over a hundred other victims that the ice had claimed in the years gone by trying to climb to the peak of the mountain. Ahead of us were dozens of ice crevices and we had no knowledge of how to get by them when to our relief we heard a yell. Three Swiss guards had come up to meet us. With their knowledge we did the rest of the trip in two hours climbing through crevices along razor backed ridges with deep caves of ice on either side and towering cliffs of ice almost over our head. At 4 pm, 21 hours after starting, we were inside the frontier guard house where we drank gallons of tea and broth.
“Welcome to Switzerland” were the words we heard next day October 6 1943 as we staggered through the village of Saas - free at last! Twelve months later, we were on our way home."
The 2/48th Infantry Battalion AIF
Unit History: “Tobruk to Tarakan” (B35) John G.Glenn, Rigby, Adelaide 1960.
The 2/48th is the most decorated battalion of all the justly proud battallions that formed the infantry of the Ninth Division AIF, earning no less than 4 VCs.
The battalion sailed for the Middle East on the "Stratheden" on November 18, 1940. When it returned two year later, it left behind 20 members listed MIA, most of whom subsequently surfaced as POW in Italy. Of these 6 escaped into Switzerland. They were:
SX8281 Francis Joseph Dornan - reached Switzerland October 7, 1943
SX7858 Ronald Charles Irwin - reached Switzerland October 6, 1943
SX8953 Sydney George Kinsman - reached Switzerland September 21, 1943
SX13037 Melvin Reginald Maynard - reached Switzerland November 3, 1943
WX10398 George Neil Thompson - reached Switzerland September 24, 1943
SX7532 L/Cpl Max Richardson - reached Switzerland October 12, 1943
They were all repatriated from Switzerland through liberated France on September 23, 1944.
Of the 2/48th MIA - Ray Jones, Frank Dornan and Alf Taylor were taken POW at El Aisa on July 22, 1942 when their Bren Gun Carrier was blown up on a land mine. Taken to the “Palms” Camp in Benghazi they were later shipped to Italy in a convoy of two ships - The “Sestriere” and the “Nino Bixio”. Those POW whose names fell into the A-L category boarded the “Sestriere” - those in M-Z the “Nino Bixio”. When the “Nino Bixio” was torpedoed, Alf Taylor and George Thompson survived. Further separation followed from Campo 57 Gruppignano when Ray and Frank were drafted out to Campo 106/Vercelli and were sent to different farms.
Ray takes up his story there:
"When our working party guards left us to do what we liked, with four others, I decided to head for Switzerland. However on our way, we met up with a bunch of partisans and decided to stay and help them. A few weeks before Italy was entirely liberated, we joined up with an American Tank crew."
Alf Taylor, a Sergeant, had stayed in Campo 57 and was transferred to Stalag 18A.
Max Richardson describes his stay at Heiden “camp” and perhaps appropriately, Syd Kinsman closes the story of the Australian infantry “representatives” in Switzerland with a detailed pictorial record of his escape and his “Grandpa” story further down.
Thanks and acknowledgments:
SX7532 Max Richardson 2/48 Bn AIF
Max Richardson has fond memories of the plain bread and scented tea he and his companions were given at the first Swiss outpost they reached when they arrived at the Swiss border on October 12, 1943 via the Monte Moro Pass “It tasted like crayfish and South Australian beer (almost)”.
Three other Australians - Barry Clive (2/13 Bn), Eric Crich (2/28 Bn) and Don Robertson (2/15 Bn) came in that same day together with two New Zealanders - Aubrey Connelly and Charles Coochey both of the 26 Bn NZEF.
They were first put into the “camp” at Schoenengrund but later, on December 17, 1943, moved to Heiden in the far North East of Switzerland near the German and Austrian borders.
As the Swiss reacted to the need to keep “evades” of different nationalities in separate “secteurs” of their country, Heiden was closed down and those there moved back to the bigger British “camp” at Wald, outside Zurich. It was a sad day, both for its “evades” and for their local hosts. The British produced a “camps” newspaper under the banner headline “Heiden Closes Down” describes these mutual feelings:
Heiden June 24.
“Heiden camp was closed on Wednesday June 15. It was a sad day both for us and the kind Swiss friends whose hospitality we had enjoyed and to whom we say - “Adieu”.
"The day suited the occasion, for a terrific thunderstorm broke out. Pocket hankerchiefs were freely used by the womenfolk who sped the “Englaenders” on their unwilling way. One man, in a frenzy of despair, jumped out of the train which was taking him away, but it was no good - he was put on another train.
"The shock of sudden leaving made us realise how happy we had been in our little mountain retreat, where we had so thoroughly settled down in the old “Gletch”, “Badhof” and “Weiss” - names that will remain a sweet memory of good friends and good times.
"Who will ever forget our famous view of the Bodensee, placid and serene, eternally blue with the green hills sweeping down to her shores? Or our walks to Rhetobel, Wolfhalden and Grub, with the fields full of flowers and the fruit trees in bloom, or our little park near the “Gletch” with its benches under the Lindens. Every man too, will remember his favourite pub where he was welcomed in true Appenzell style.
"Farewell Heiden - little corner of Switzerland dear to the hearts of some 200 British soldiers. We were happy there and we shall never forget you."
Acknowledgements and thanks:
SX8953 Sydney George Kinsman 2/48 Bn AIF
According to Sydney Kinsman's daughter, it took him 57 long years to put his thoughts on paper. She called his memoirs "Grandpa's Story".
"The day of September 20th 1943, we three POW were on our last run to the Swiss border. Laurie Jenson of New Zealand, Ron Winchester of Victoria and myself - Syd Kinsman from Adelaide. We met a professor and two mates.
"As Laurie was elder by some years, they decided to take him to Macugnana in the hope of finding a guide to take us over the top of Mount Moro. Tich and I were left waiting in an old pig sty. We were so damn cold and of course quite concerned as to whether or not our plan would succeed. Our worry was over when they returned with Laurie and a guide with climbing equipment.
"Our guide had limited time to stay with us on the mountain and could not be seen in the daylight. So it was full steam ahead in the darkness. I remember it being so steep and cold and wishing for the light of dawn to hurry on. He guided the three of us on our final run for freedom out of Italy and into Switzerland. He took us to a point high above Mount Moro Pass, where you could look down on the enemy guarding the pass with their dogs and with fire pots burning to keep themselves warm. At this point, the guide had to return for his own safety. With handshakes all round, he explained to us the best way to cross the glacier and then quickly disappeared into the darkness.
"We had our problems getting across the glacier on the way down but eventually we stumbled onto a track. From here the climb down was a piece of cake. Soon after, three Swiss guards stepped out from behind the huge boulders on the path’s edge. Their words “Are you English” were music to our ears. They explained to us that they had been watching our progress down the mountain for some hours. We were given food and water. They were friendly towards us. At last we felt free.
"From here we were taken to a small town - the set-off point for climbers going on to Mount Rosa, I think, to Zermatt. From here, by bus to Stalden, then by train to Visp. We stayed in Visp eight days, having our last look back at Mount Moro before we departed for Winterthur, near the German border. We travelled right across Switzerland. Although not quite in a first class carriage. The countryside was beautiful, the mountains so high and capped with snow. We had the feeling that we were going to enjoy our stay in this lovely country.
"Winterthur was a happy time for us. The entire town turned out to give us a memorable Christmas party. With snow falling it was a true white Christmas, something we had never experienced before. The locals were keen to learn about Australia, I still recall the time with fondness, these people were so warm, friendly and helpful.
From Winterthur we were transferred to Turbental, our home for many weeks, then on to Adelboden. The snow here was just so beautiful, a lovely tourist resort on the French side of Switzerland. We were taught by a Swiss instructor. No ski boots could be found to fit my size 5 feet. An SOS was sent out, and lo and behold, a pair was sent to me by the Consul-General’s wife - a perfect fit. I was so grateful for her kindness. We skied day after day, week after week. We undertoook five and ten mile climbs with mole skins wrapped around our skis, we could climb the highest mountains and ski for miles and miles, It was just so peaceful and hard to imagine a war was in full swing all around tiny Switzerland.
"On the way to becoming accomplished skiers, we all had many spills but also aided our instructor as we were often called upon to pat down the new snow falls for the tourists. One day Tich and I fell off the ski lift and with the snow being iced over, we arrived back at the base camp with the backside out of our pants - very embarrassing, I can tell you. We smartly went home and changed.
"On another occasion after the snow, we learned about the new green grass of Switzerland. When taking a short cut across a paddock, the farmer smartly approached us to explain that grass to them was like gold and they needed every blade they cut for their cattle. This was the last time we ever took a short cut. He was quite nice about the affair, but we understood his reasoning. They housed their cattle under their homes in the snow season. This also aided in warming the home.
"We made contact with an Australian woman in Zurich. She was married to a Swiss gentleman. She was a lovely person and sent parcels on our return to Australia. We visited her parents in Adelaide. Her father worked for the CIB with the police force. They were very pleased to receive first hand news of their daughter. We found the Swiss to be kind and helpful and will always remember them with fond memories.
"The invasion of France began in June, 1994. Soon the border between France and Switzerland was opened and then came the good news. At long last we were to be sent home. We travelled to Lausanne on Lake Geneva, then to Geneva township. From here to France down to Marseilles port. This had been ravaged by the war and destroyed by bombing. After a short stay, we boarded a tank landing craft headed for Naples, Italy. This was a hell of a trip with the landing craft being tossed around like a cork in the ocean. Of the 240 at the evening meal, only a handful returned to eat breakfast. We were all so sick, including the sailors. The sight of land was very welcome and we spent time in Naples. We continued onto the Middle East and as we passed between Sicily and the toe of Italy, Mount Etna was erupting. This was an almost unbelievable sight at night with the lava flowing red hot into the sea. To the Middle East, Suez Canal, Egypt - our old stamping grounds. To Bombay in India where we spent our time waiting for our luxury liner, a troop ship on the run to Melbourne. We arrived home four years after our departure for the Middle East. One more year in the army then into civilian life again. This took some getting used to, but ninety days leave helped us to settle back in."