Sergeant Bruce Joshua Crowley

 

National Archives catalogue reference - WO 208/3315/60

 

Name: NZ.3617 Sgt. Crowley, Bruce Joshua.

Unit: 4th Reserve Motor Transport Company, Middle East Forces, 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

Captured: Tolo (Southern Greece), 28th April 1941.

Escaped: Stalag VIII B (Lamsdorf), 23rd September 1943.

Left: Stockholm, 26th October 1943.

Arrived: Leuchars, 26th October 1943.

Date of Birth: 24th June 1916.

Army Service: From 6th September 1939. Previously T.A. from 1932.

Peacetime Profession: Retail butcher.

Private Address: 386 Manakau Road, Epsom, Auckland, New Zealand.

 

1. CAPTURE.

 

On 18 Apr 41 I took a detail of 20 vehicles to evacuate the 21 New Zealand Bn. which was fighting a rearguard action at ANGLIMOS (?), East of LARISSA, GREECE. When I got there I had to wait till the troops were collected. In the late afternoon the Germans landed parachute troops in LARISSA and cut off our retreat to VOLOS, in the Gulf of PAGESSTIKOS. We were ordered to leave the vehicles and make our way on foot to VOLOS, the road being jammed full of vehicles as a result of a German road block.

 

I eventually ordered my men to disperse, but shortly afterwards the traffic began to move again. I had remained beside the vehicles with my driver and a few more Other Ranks, and we now tried to get across country through marshes in some of the vehicles. After driving all night we got stuck in the marshes. I had then got with only two vehicles to a blind road, and found that there were Germans on either side of us. I destroyed the vehicles and we then walked across the mountains to VOLOS, which we reached about 20 Apr.

 

VOLOS was by then deserted, but we managed to get an old Greek cart, two mules, and a horse and made our way towards LAMIA (21 Apr.) Here we found a battle raging in the LAMIA PASS, and we could not get through. With the help of Greeks, however, we got a Greek schooner on which we made our way to the island of EVVOIA, landing on the N.W. point just opposite LAMIA. By this time we were a party of about 200, all of whom had crossed from LAMIA in the schooner, most of us being New Zealanders and Australians with a few British troops.

 

From the N.W. point of the island about 40 of us went to EDIPSO, across the bay, in a motor boat. The Greek officer who took charge of the party insisted on the Greek crew taking us under threat of shooting. During the crossing there were German Stukas flying around us almost continually.

 

From EDIPSO Greeks arranged for 400 or 500 of us being taken by light schooner by night to KHALKIS, which we reached on 22 Apr. KHALKIS is connected with the mainland by a bridge which we crossed by vehicle, under instructions from an R.T.O. to proceed to a dispersal area. After several hours here we were sent to an entraining point, from which we were eventually taken by train to ARGOS (arrived 23 or 24 Apr). Here we were put in the sea evacuation area, whence we were sent to TOLO (T Beach). At ARGOS I was placed under the command of Lieut. SMITH, 21 New Zealand Bn., having joined up with the remnants of that Bn. and various waifs and strays. I still had 16 or 17 of my own men with me.

 

On the first evening at TOLO we formed up on the beach, where there was a naval officer and several British officers of high rank. They were in touch with the Royal Navy by radio. We waited two or three hours on the beach till a destroyer sent in a landing craft. We were formed up into groups of six and the landing craft was filled. I was among those left behind. We were ordered back to our dispersal area just off the beach to await the next boat.

 

We spent the next day in the dispersal area under cover. At night we formed up again on the beach, but no ships came in. Next day at 0700 or 0800 hrs. we were told that the Germans were advancing on us and we had orders to prepare to defend ourselves. The radio set was destroyed, all communications with the Navy being thus cut off. We organised ourselves into first and second lines with the few Bren and Lewis guns and rifles we had. My men and I were ordered to the first line of defence on a ridge. In the morning the Germans (parachute troops) came down. We kept them off most of the day, and several of my men were killed and wounded. About 1500 hrs. there was a lull in the fighting, and a man bearing a white flag approached. One of our Sergeants went to meet him. He turned out to be one of our own men captured at ARGOS. He had a message from a German officer ordering us to capitulate by 1900 hrs., otherwise we would be bombed out from the air without quarter. We were then ordered by the Senior British officer (possibly a Brigadier) to capitulate. There were then 500 or 600 of us in the area (28 Apr.)

 

After the wounded and officers had been removed in captured British trucks, the rest of us were marched to NAFPLION, where we were put into an improvised camp in the playground of a school. We were here for two or three days, and were then removed to a camp in CORINTH, where I remained till 7 Jun.

 

On 7 Jun I was sent by rail to SALONIKA, arriving 8 Jun. I was in this camp (Lager 2) till 15 Jun. Dysentery and malaria were rife, causing an average of three deaths a day.

 

2. FIRST ATTEMPTED ESCAPE.

 

On 15 Jun I was one of a party of P/W who were put in cattle trucks en route for Germany. The journey was to take 10 days and we were given as rations only half a loaf of bread, 4-6 oz. of pork, and four Greek biscuits, barely enough for one meal. By this time I had become separated from my own men, and had two men of the 21 New Zealand Bn. with me - Pte. John SMITH and Pte. Kenneth KEMBLE, both of the H.Q. Coy. About 18 km. out of SALONIKA the three of us jumped from the train in the dark and lay up in a bush for the night. Next morning (16 Jun) we found we were in the garden of a farmer who had formerly served in the Greek Army. His farm was in the village of PROKHOMA, on the AXIOYS river, about 19 miles N.W. of SALONIKA. The farmer gave us food and shelter. He and his friends wanted us to stay there till the end of the war, as they could not give us any help in getting out of the country. At first we were, in turn, all sick with malaria, and after we recovered we worked in the fields to get fit. The whole village knew we were there and all the inhabitants helped, going without food themselves in order that we might have plenty.

 

We decided, however, to try to escape to TURKEY, and on 23 Aug we made our own way to the village of PALGA (?), just North of SALONIKA. Here a Greek sheltered us for two days, getting in touch with a friend in SALONIKA. This friend, a former Lieutenant in the Greek Army and a member of an organisation preparing for an uprising, took us from PALGA to his home in SALONIKA. I was sent to live with a Greek Colonel, and the two others went elsewhere in SALONIKA.

 

About a month later we were handed over, with eight other British soldiers, to a guide employed by the organisation. We walked over the mountains for about a week till we were within about three hours' walk of STAVROS. The Greek Lieutenant went with us. At first everything seemed to be prepared for our reception at the village en route, but difficulties now seemed to develop. The Lieutenant and the guide returned to SALONIKA by bus to make new arrangements, promising to return within four days and our party split up. After about a fortnight the Lieutenant and the guide had not returned and SMITH, KEMBLE, and I decided to return to SALONIKA. We did this without a guide.

 

In SALONIKA we got in touch with the guide, who had heard nothing of the Lieutenant and was obviously too afraid to try to find out what had happened to him. KEMBLE, the darkest of the three of us, went with the wife of the guide to the house where he had been sheltered, and learned that the Lieutenant and a niece of the Colonel - she also had helped us - had been arrested. Both had been sentenced to death, but the sentences were later reduced - to three years' imprisonment in the case of the Lieutenant and a year in the case of the girl.

 

On 29 Sep we returned to PROKHOMA, the village where we had originally found shelter, this being the only place where we seemed to have a reasonable prospect of getting information. Here we learned that the Germans had searched the village a week before, and had taken the farmer's wife and daughter to SALONIKA. Though very strictly interrogated, they had denied all knowledge of any Englishmen having been in the village, and were released. The farmer's family now put us in touch with a girl school teacher, who advised us to go to the village of AG. DEMETRIOS at the N.W. end of the ATHOS (HAGION OROS) peninsula. She gave us no actual contacts there.

 

We walked back to the landward end of the ATHOS peninsula. We arrived at the village near STAVROS where the Lieutenant and the guide had left us, and got in touch with a Frenchman who had helped us when we were last there. He told us of a Greek officer who claimed to have helped Englishmen and to be looking for others to help. The snow had now begun and food was scarce, so we decided to trust this greek, and got in touch with him through a miller in an adjacent village. Before we actually met the Greek we lived for two days in the open near the village, the miller bringing us food. Here we met two other New Zealanders, one of them Dvr. FROST, of my unit. Later two more New Zealanders, a Scotsman, and an Australian joined our party.

 

The Greek officer came to see us, and showed us a list of the names of the people whom he had helped. Next night he sent two guides to take us to his village, and we were guided to a valley and told to wait. The Greek officer told us he was going to SALONIKA to fetch a car for us. We took this to mean a Greek four-wheeled cart. Had he said he was bringing a motor car we would have been suspicious.

 

The Greek officer returned that evening as arranged. We assembled and walked to the road with him. As we got close to the vehicle we saw it was a heavy lorry. Everyone but FROST and me got in. There were two civilians standing beside the truck. Both spoke perfect English and greeted us cordially. While FROST was speaking to the civilians at the rear of the truck I went round to the side and saw a "V" on it, which I knew was a German sign. I went to the front and saw a German soldier at the wheel. I returned to the rear of the truck and told FROST quietly what I had seen. One civilian said, "Hop in, boys". I said I would rather walk, as it was a cold night. FROST also refused to get in. One civilian then produced a pistol, and the other a rifle from under his coat. We got into the truck. We were taken back to SALONIKA. On the way we destroyed any incriminating papers and photographs we had with us. We arrived back in LAGER 1 (which was also known as FRONTSTALAG, and later DULAG, 183), on 28 Oct.

 

3. SECOND ATTEMPTED ESCAPE.

 

As soon as we got back to Lager 1 we decided to have another try at escaping. There were about 70 people in the camp, all escapers except a few medical personnel. We had some maps in the camp. We got information about a tunnel which had been discovered by the Germans early in 1941, and had been closed. We located the tunnel and ripped up the floor. The top of the tunnel had been concreted over. With pieces of iron beds we prised up the concrete and dug it out. Only the top of the tunnel had been closed, but when we got down the shaft into the driver we found that the Germans had filled it with concertina wire. We cleared the tunnel of the wire and decided to go the following evening, but next morning the tunnel was found. We suspected that it had been given away as the Germans walked straight to it.

 

After the tunnel had been discovered a few of us who were interested in escaping got together. On 15 Nov we cut through a doorway in an empty back room. The doorway had been wired and boarded up. After we got through the doorway we had to cut through a fine mesh of barbed wire. We then crossed a road and a wall 3 ft. high, and lay on a rubbish tip for some time. We next cut through another wire fence, crossed a concrete wall about 8 ft. high, and went down to the road, which we reached after cutting through another fence. I was the third out of a party of 12, which included one New Zealand officer. I was accompanied by a Commando private (a Welshman). The Welshman and I went to TUMBRA (?) on the outskirts of SALONIKA, where we were to get in touch with Greek people whom the Welshman knew. They kept us for the night. Next day (16 Nov) we walked round the coast by the main road to VATROPHELI (?) near POLYGHYROS. Here we met eight Australians and one Cypriot who had been to the ATHOS (HAGION OROS) peninsula and found it impossible to get away. We stayed here for some days, during which I had an attack of malaria. I then walked to NEA MONDANIA with Sgt. DONALDSON, Australian I.F. We got to the village of YARAKANI on the CASSANDRA Peninsular, where there were German-controlled schooners collecting produce. We went to a house and asked for food. While we were at the house the Greek police came and took us to the police station. The police had no option but to arrest us, as they themselves were under very strict control at that time. They treated us very well and handed us over to the Germans at POLYGHYROS. We were sent back to Lager 1 (DULAG 183) (SALONIKA) early in Dec.

 

4. TRANSFER TO GERMANY.

 

I remained in DULAG 183 till 16 Apr 42. That I was able to do so was largely due to C.S.M. VARLEY, the camp interpreter, who helped me to keep off all the transports leaving for GERMANY. I wished to remain in SALONIKA, because I still hoped to escape to TURKEY. between Dec. 41 and Apr. 42 I was three times in hospital with malaria.

 

I left SALONIKA on 16 Apr. and arrived in GERMANY (STALAG VIIIB, LAMSDORF, UPPER SILESIA) on 23 Apr. 42. We had plenty of food for the journey. I was in hospital in STALAG VIIIB until the end of May 42, and then began work in the KARTEI (Records office), again through the influence of C.S.M. VARLEY.

 

I left the KARTEI on 16 Jul in charge of a working party of 25 men at ARBEITSKOMMANDO 469, in JOHANNESBAD, FREIHEIT, in the region of TRAUTINAU (EUROPE air map, 1:250,000, Sheet M.33/5). I was in charge of this party till 28 Oct. While I was here nine men escaped in one night, but they did not get very far. Three men escaped on a later occasion. The party was then broken up for the winter, the contractor having decided that he did not want any more P/W labour.

 

I was sent back to the STALAG where I met one of my own men, Dvr. PHELAN, E.J.A., New Zealand Forces. He and I went to a saw mill at OPPELN in a working party early in Nov 42. OPPELN being a railway junction, we hoped to get help there from the Poles, but they were unable to supply us either with civilian clothes or information about escaping, and we decided to return to the camp. We were refused permission from the Control Officer, so we continued agitating and dodging work until we were sent back on 10 of 12 Nov. We were then placed in chains in common with the rest of the camp, and remained chained till 27 Jan 43.

 

5. THIRD ATTEMPTED ESCAPE.

 

On 27 Jan 43 I went to work at a paper factory between JUNGBUCH and FREIHEIT (EUROPE Air Map, 1:250,000, Sheet 35/5). I knew this area, having been there already on the wood-cutting party, and hoped to get help. I escaped from this Commando on 13 May with Dvr. MORIARTY of my own unit. The German workers supplied us with civilian clothing, food, a little money, and maps. One man in the S.S. was to help us on to a troop train going to FRANCE, but at the last moment he changed his mind, but he did not give us away. The Germans who helped us were working in the paper factory. They were SUDETEN Germans and very democratic and friendly.

 

We escaped from the room in which we lived at the factory by taking the bars out of the window. We then walked out and away (on the night of 13-14 May). We intended to go to YUGOSLAVIA to join the guerilla forces there. We walked across country from JUNGBUCH into CZECHOSLOVAKIA, and thence to MILETIN, HORICE, and MYSTERE (?) near SUCHA. We did not approach any Czechs for help. From SUCHA we went on walking by night East to VSESTARY, and then by main road to HRADEC, KRALOVE, PARDUBICE, and to a point just before CHOCEN where we hoped to strike a railway and jump a goods train.

 

We got on to the railway line and just missed a train. Another was coming, but it was going too fast. We crouched down beside the railway bridge and a Czech soldier came along. He looked over the bridge and shone his torch on us. He spoke to us in Czech. I said, "Nix verstehen". He asked if we were German. Before I could answer he unslung his rifle. I asked who he was and he said he was Czech. I then told him we were English, but he insisted on our going with him to the orderly room at a station 2 or 3 kms. away.

 

The other Czech soldiers here said the man who had arrested us was a young and new soldier and that any of the others would have helped us, but once we had been taken to the guard room they were unable to do anything for us. This was on 21 May.

 

We were then taken to PARDUBICE where the Gestapo interrogated us, but treated us very well. Before we left the station near CHOCEN, the Czech soldiers destroyed our maps and documents, including a diary, as well as some of our civilian clothes. We were five days in prison in PARDUBICE, and were then sent back to LAMSDORF.

 

6. FINAL ESCAPE.

 

For my last escape I was sentenced to seven days' imprisonment, but as I had been five days in prison in PARDUBICE I had only two days to do in LAMSDORF. On the second day I was ordered to report to the Lager Offizier, who asked if I was prepared to go to work. I agreed, hoping to be sent to a paper factory.

 

I was sent to the working compound, where I began to make plans for escape. In the compound I met Gnr. Edgar HARRISON (S/P.G.(G)1523) and we decided to escape together. I collected maps from friends and also secured some personal papers. We also gathered as much information as we could about BRESLAU, the route to STETTIN, and the possibility of getting a Swedish ship in STETTIN. The papers we obtained were an Arbeitsdienstausweis, an Eisenbahnausweis, an a Personalausweis. We then arranged to be sent on a working party of 14 men employed in the gas works in BRESLAU stacking and emptying gas purifiers. We arrived in BRESLAU on 22 Jul (ARBEITSKOMMANDO E.243).

 

At the gas works we got in touch with some Ukrainians working there, and in exchange for cigarettes got from then civilian clothes. By the same means we got a railway time table from a Pole, and each of us bought a watch from Frenchmen. The Feldwebel found a felt hat one day in HARRISON's trunk, and later a pair of civilian trousers hanging up to dry inside a pair of battle-dress trousers. After this the Feldwebel kept a close eye on us.

 

In preparation for our escape we packed our shaving gear, boot polish, towels, soap, socks, etc. in the brief cases bought with cigarettes from the Ukrainians. We hid the cases and our civilian clothing in the vessel (purifying) house, and awaited our chance to get out.

 

On 22 Sep we tried to get out. We waited till an auxiliary civilian guard had passed, and made our way individually to the vessel house, where we changed, putting on blue overalls over our civilian clothes. The vessel house was near a 7 ft. wall, inside of which was a police patrol, and there were also civilians walking about. About 2 ft. from the wall was a high-tension room, and the narrow passage between the wall and the building gave us a certain amount of cover. We had stolen a small ladder two weeks before and put it against the wall under cover of the high-tension room. I got up on the wall and saw a civilian truck outside. I decided to wait till it went. Ten or 15 minutes later I looked over the wall again and saw the Feldwebel and some civilians working on a cable immediately below me. We gave up the idea for that day. We were unable to take away one brief case and one parcel from under the wall and, as one of the Ukrainians appropriated the attach case and the parcel, we had to start our journey with only half supplies.

 

Next day (23 Sep) we decided to try again. We were working on the morning shift, and had to stage our escape to catch a tram which got us to the Hauptbahnhof just in time to catch the train. As the morning was too difficult, we changed to the afternoon shift, taking the places of two of our comrades who pretended they wanted to play football. The Feldwebel was also out that day.

 

On 23 Sep we repeated the procedure of the previous day. We got over the wall, timing this so that the policeman had completed his patrol. I was first over with the brief case, and walked down the road to the tram stop. I caught the tram, but HARRISON just missed it. This was the last I saw of HARRISON till we met in STETTIN.

 

I left the tram at the Hauptbahnhof, found the platform I wanted, and then bought a third-class ticket for GLOGAU. I did not have to show my papers. I went on to the platform and a German soldier actually found me a seat. I changed at GLOGAU and booked for REPPEN. At REPPEN I bought a ticket for KÜSTRIN, arriving there about midnight. My next connection was about 0600 hrs. so I walked out of the station and slept in a field till about 0515 hrs. (24 Sep). I returned to the station and bought a ticket for STETTIN, which I reached about 0905 hrs.

 

From the Hauptbahnhof in STETTIN I caught a tram to GOTZLOW, having been told in the camp that Swedish ships loaded there with coal and could be boarded without help. I spent the morning in GOTZLOW and had a good look at the place from a hill. It seemed quite impossible to get into the harbour and, in any case, there were no Swedish ships there.

 

I returned to the town and in the afternoon decided to go to the AM DUNZIG where I had seen a Dutch ship. I crossed the HANSABRÜCKE, and walked along the AM DUNZIG, but I could not get into the harbour there, or round to the FREIHAFEN. I therefore returned to the vicinity of the Arbeitsamt (labour office) near the HANSABRÜCKE, but still on the AM DUNZIG.

 

Here I saw three Frenchmen in civilian clothes, and black berets. I said, "Bon jour" to them, and asked them if they were French and could speak English. They were doubtful of me at first, but were convinced when I produced a letter addressed to me in the camp, a STALAG identity disc, and a photograph of myself in uniform. They then said they had a friend who spoke English, and took me to the Lager where they lived. The Frenchman who spoke English told me they worked on the Swedish ships, and would get me on board, and would look after me till they could find a ship for me. They said no Germans ever went to their Lager. I had a shave and a wash, and when I came back into the barrack room, Dvr. HARRISON was standing there. He had come by another route, having missed the GLOGAU train.

 

The Frenchmen now did most of the organising for us, two of them being particularly helpful. We were in the Lager from 24 to 27 Sep. All the Frenchmen knew we were there, but none of them gave us away. A Swedish ship came in on 27 Sep and they sent us down to it in the afternoon. The ship had been loaded and we could not get on board, so we returned to the Lager.

 

We got on board another ship that night. Ten Frenchmen were detailed to load the boat, which was lying in the docks beside the FLUGHAFEN, near ALTDAM (GERMANY, 1:100,000, Sheet 38). We travelled there by tram and took the places of two Frenchmen who stayed behind at the Lager. There was an air raid while we were working on the ship, so we went to a shelter for about half an hour, and then returned on board.

 

The two men whose places we had taken then came on the ship. By this time the cargo of coal was almost loaded, and HARRISON and I began to dig ourselves in among the coal in one of the holds. The Frenchmen put us into a hold immediately underneath a ventilator. The ship was searched by the Gestapo when the cargo had been loaded, and we were told afterwards by a seaman that while the search was on one of us coughed and he stamped on the deck to drown the sound.

 

Before we had concealed ourselves, two drunk Swedish seamen came on board talking broken English. We decided to trust them. One of them took me to his cabin in the forecastle, where there were two other seamen. I told them who I was and showed them my photograph, letter, and identity discs, and asked them to smuggle us to SWEDEN. They said that they could not do this because of the German search of the ship, but that if we liked to take the risk of hiding in the coal they would not give us away.

 

The name of the ship was the S.S. LUDWIG. One of the sailors was particularly helpful and passed us down an overcoat, coffee, cigarettes, and a letter of encouragement through the ventilator. After we had left German waters our presence was made known to the master of the ship, who treated us with every kindness.

 

We landed at LANDSKRONA on 29 Sep and were handed over to the Swedish police. The Danish Vice-Consul at LANDSKRONA who happened to be in the Police station showed us every kindness. He got in touch with our Vice-Consul at HÄLSINGBORG, stood guarantee for us with the police, and took us out to dinner. He also offered us a room in a hotel, but we refused this as we were dirty and had no suitable clothes. We returned to the Police Station, where we were locked in a cell all the following day (30 Sep) and until 1600 hrs. on the second day. We asked for a bath and a shave, but were not given permission. The Danish Vice-Consul secured our release, gave us clothes and arranged for a room in a hotel. We then went to STOCKHOLM and reported to the British Legation.

 

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