Corporal Henry Cooper

 

National Archives catalogue reference - WO 208/3324/14

 

Name: VX 9921 Cpl. Cooper, Henry.

Unit: 1st Casualty Clearing Station, Royal Australian Medical Corps, attached to 6th Australian Division.

Captured: Greece, 27th April 1941.

Escaped: Vittel (France), Jun 1944.

Left: Dieppe, 26th September 1944.

Arrived: Newhaven, 26th September 1944.

Date of Birth: 19th March 1905.

Army Service: Since 14th January 1940.

Peacetime Profession: Farmer.

Private Address: 9 Carmicle Street, West Footscray, Victoria, Australia.

 

1. MOVEMENTS BEFORE CAPTURE:

 

I was put in charge of part of the medical transport of our Unit which left ALEXANDRIA about 2 Apr 41. We sailed on the BRATOLL and were due to land at PIRAEUS, Greece, but the Germans had wrecked the port so we were taken to VOLOS. While we were unloading our transport German aircraft bombed us. The ship had to pull away from land, and was sunk just off the port. All of the medical supplies and transport were landed, but some of the rest of the transport was sunk.

 

I reported to Col. MONEY, C.O. of the 6th Australian hospital, and stayed there until we were forced to evacuate about 18 Apr to ATHENS. Col. BURSTON, D.M.S., wanted articles out of the operating room at No.6 Hospital in VOLOS, so I volunteered to take transport and attempt to bring the supplies to ATHENS. I got to VOLOS and loaded up with operating material, and drove back to the 5th Australian General Hospital at ECALY (not traced).

 

2. CAPTURE:

 

I was then sent to the 3rd Australian C.C.S. to help evacuate wounded. I evacuated them to THEBES and returned to the 5th Australian General Hospital, arriving there about 26 Apr. On 27 Apr the Germans came and we were all taken prisoner. I was kept in the hospital as a stretcher bearer until it was moved to NEA KOKKININIA, near ATHENS, where I stayed until 12 Jun.

 

On 12 Jun Bandsman DAY, of the Black Watch, and I hid in a laundry wagon, which ran daily between the hospital and the laundry. On the way to the laundry we jumped out, and went to a Greek house where we had already made contact. We stayed in the house for about four days, and were supplied with civilian clothes, and identity cards. We were then taken to a house in PATISSIA (not traced) owned by some English women (names unknown). We stayed there one night, and were then sent to another house, where we stayed until 6 Sep.

 

On 6 Sep I contacted the captain of a trading ship who promised to take me the following Tuesday to the island of MYTILENE (LESBOS), where I could get a boat to TURKEY. The following Tuesday I went to meet him, but he had a full boat load and could not take me.

 

On the way back I went into the American bar in ATHENS. While I was there a fight started between German and Italian troops, and I was caught by the Gestapo. I was in solitary confinement in the ATHENS civilian gaol for 24 days. I was then sent by ship to SALONIKA. After four days in SALONIKA I was sent to Stalag VIII B (LAMSDORF).

 

3. ATTEMPTED ESCAPES IN GERMANY:

 

(a) From STANDING:

 

I was out on several working parties during my stay at LAMSDORF, and about the end of Mar 42 I was working in a wagon works at STANDING, near TROPPAU (GERMANY 1:100,000, Sheet 127, 9333). I decided to try and escape, and around the beginning of Apr 42 I left the works and hid in the railway yards. I then boarded a railway truck and hid underneath the coal. I had taken food and water to last me on the trip. I was in this truck for three days, when I was found by railway workers, and handed over to the Germans. They sent me back to Stalag VIII B, where I stayed until Jul 42.

 

(b) From ZIEGENHALS:

 

In Jul 42 I was sent on another working party to ZIEGENHALS (Sheet 117, 5575) where I stayed for about three weeks, and then I escaped again. While at Stalag VIII B, I had been supplied with escape papers, identity cards, etc. There were only ten men on this working party and one guard, and at night after being locked up I managed to escape. While at Stalag VIII B I had been given an address in VIENNA to go to if I managed to get away. A German civilian bought me a railway ticket to VIENNA and I went there by train. On arriving in VIENNA I could not find the address, and was picked up in the street by the Gestapo. I was sent back to Stalag VIII B again, and given five days in the prison. I was out on two other working parties, and then stayed at Stalag VIII B until Jun 43.

 

(c) Second attempt from ZIEGENHALS:

 

In Jun 43 I obtained some more escape papers and got myself sent on a working party at ZIEGENHALS again. I obtained some civilian clothes from a woman at ZIEGENHALS, and escaped, buying railway tickets via BRESLAU, BERLIN, POSEN and finally to STETTIN. At STETTIN I went to a big French camp where I stayed for two days. I was then taken to a cafe, and introduced to two Swedish sailors who were to take me by boat to SWEDEN. That night I was hidden behind some timber on the wharf waiting for the sailors, when a Gestapo agent discovered and arrested me. I was again sent back to Stalag VIII B, and from then on was not allowed out on any more working parties.

 

4. ESCAPE FROM VITTEL (FRANCE):

 

In Nov 43 the Germans wanted a medical orderly to go to a civilian internment camp at KREUZBERG and I applied for the job and was allowed to go there. While there I met a Major Felix PALMER who had been arrested in FINLAND as a civilian. We made arrangements to escape, but in Jun 44 I was chosen, together with Captain HAINES and two medical orderlies, to accompany a party of sick repatriates to FRANCE. We were taken to VITTEL (FRANCE 1:250,000, Sheet 17, Z 65) to a British civilian internment camp. On the third day we were told to be ready to leave for GERMANY at 0400 hrs the following morning, so that night I cut the wires surrounding the camp and escaped.

 

Arrangements had been made for a man to meet me outside, and he took me to the village of LAMARCHE (Z 54) where I met two men who sent me to a camp close by. In the camp were three Ukrainians, two Russians, and one Pole, and as they were not making any attempt to get away, I told them I was going to try and get to SWITZERLAND. They told me that once in the camp I had to stay, so that night while going for water, I left the camp and walked back to VITTEL, and contacted the man whom I had previously met. He told me that they were forming a Maquis party, and I stayed with him for ten days.

 

I then went to the woods close by, and built a small camp. I was later joined by two Frenchmen and one Italian. This camp was gradually built up by the Maquis to a strength of about 400.

 

From Jul until 8 Sep, when American troops arrived, I stayed with the organisation, fighting the Germans and helping in any way I could I stayed with the Americans for a while, and was finally sent back to DIEPPE.

 

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