Private Edward J. Klein

 

Unit : 2/11th Infantry Battalion, 6th Division

Army No. : WX5228

POW No. : 09582

Camps : Stalag 383

 

Edward Klein served in the Australian Army. The following is his account of the marking of Anzac Day whilst he was in captivity. My thanks to Tim Lee for passing this on.

 

Anzac Day in Captivity - Germany

By Edward Klein

 

The anniversary of Anzac Day will always revive varied memories for members of the Sixth Division, A.I.F., and other Australians who participated in the campaigns in Greece and Crete, followed by the four-year incarceration in German hands as prisoners of war. It was April 24 when the 2/11th Battalion made contact with the German ground forces at Braylos in Greece - we had already been subjected to their relentless hammerings by undeterred mass formations of aircraft. This ground clash was followed by many casualties in the subsequent withdrawal on Anzac Day and night and the following days, during which the Navy performed a mighty feat in evacuating thousands of troops from the mainland of Greece to the island of Crete. During the next two years Australians from Greece and Crete were moved several times, with men of all other nationalities, to many parts of Germany, until approximately 500 of us finally reached Stalag 383, Bavaria. As there were also 300 New Zealanders in the camp a fair representation existed from the two countries to which Anzac Day meant so much.

 

Before April, 1943, a committee of Australians and New Zealanders worked out plans for celebrating Anzac Day behind barbed wire-German authorities permitting. Because the camp was 5,000 strong and internal administration was smoothly conducted by our own N.C.O.'s, it was not anticipated that the German Camp Commandant would object when the reason for Anzac Day was explained. Being an old soldier, who appreciated recognition of soldierly valour, he permitted the day to be commemorated in our own way provided no flags were flown or carried in parades around the camp.

 

Through the participation of all nationalities in the camp, the organising committee saw their plans for Anzac Day brought to success in the traditional manner of Australia and New Zealand. Padre Oakley (2/11th Bn.) conducted a dawn ceremony at 5 a.m. in the centre of the camp, with a large gathering of Australians and New Zealanders who sang Kipling's Recessional and observed two minutes' silence between bugle calls. At 10 o'clock and on a sunny day came the march past. It was the nearest we could get to typical Anzac Day marches at home. At a saluting base were all who had seen active service with any of the Allied armies in World War 1. This party numbered 300 and was under the S.B.M.O., Major Neil who took the salute for them. The column which assembled and marched around the camp and past the saluting base comprised (in order of marching): All Australians in camp, all New Zealanders in camp, England (300 men), Scotland (100), Ireland and Wales (50 each), Canada (20), South Africa (10), Cyprus (50), Palestine (30) and America (10). The column was interspersed with bands comprised of the many instruments gradually accumulated in the camp through the Red Cross, Y.M.C.A. efforts, and discreet bartering with the Germans. After the last contingent had passed the saluting base the veterans marched behind a military band to reserved seats in the sports ground. This had been converted by a team of willing workers from a very rough playing field to a splendidly marked-out sports arena. Here a first-class sports meeting was conducted, to be followed at night by a show, "Anzacs on Parade," presented by Australians and New Zealanders in the "theatre," which had been converted from a stable.

 

Prior to Anzac Day, 1944, Dr. Faulkner, a German welfare officer, was allotted to our camp. He was approached for permission to repeat our celebration of 1943. He readily agreed and assisted in many ways, even allowing us to send a printer and journalist to Regensburg to produce a souvenir booklet for the day. By this time Red Cross and Y.M.C.A. prisoner-of-war aid had reached commendable proportions, which helped our activities considerably. A poster competition for the day was held among camp artists who had been well equipped by this time. The posters were displayed around the camp and the winning entry was used for the cover of the Anzac Day booklet. Although the 1944 Anzac Day was planned as the previous year, the weather failed us, and torrential rain produced mud and slush to mar the programme. The dawn ceremony and march past successfully dodged downpours of rain, but most sporting events were washed out and completed the next day. Red Cross food had been regularly received during 1943-44, and a community effort provided a dinner to the World War 1 veterans at night. It was truly nostalgic of similar celebrations back home - "experts" having distilled some potent "hooch" from raisins and prunes. The "Anzacs on Parade" variety show which followed completed the repetition of Anzac Day behind barbed-wire at Stalag 383, Bavaria, Germany.

 

Just prior to Anzac Day, 1945, the war had progressed so well for the Allies that our release by the Americans before April 25 seemed an even-money bet. With our optimism rising, no plans were made for celebrating another Anzac Day in the camp. We were not there on April 25 because on April 17 we were marched southward away from the advancing Americans. Once again we were on the move on Anzac Day with mass formations of planes overhead, but this time it was a different evacuation. The end of the war was near and those planes overhead were "ours." They meant early freedom. Anzac Day is the traditional day for World War 1 veterans and we have always observed it that way, wherever we've been, but World War II Australians, of Greece and Crete, have Anzac Day memories, too!

 

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