The carefully-folded flyer among old Pa’s war effects advertising a 1943 Anzac cricket match just didn’t make sense.
Old Pa was a prisoner-of-war then, and surely not in a position to be attending an international cricket match?
The flyer promotes an international cricket match, to be played on August 14th and 15th, 1943 though it doesn’t say where.
Outline maps of Australia and New Zealand are connected by a cricket pitch declaring the match a “TWO DAY TEST”.
Each country has cricket stumps planted mid-nation, boxed question-marks query which nation will win, and two ‘telegraph operators’ are named along with umpires and scorers.
But in 1943 Old Pa was 42 years of age, and stashed away in a POW camp somewhere in Germany so how did he get this international cricket match flyer, and why did he keep it so carefully?
Old Pa was my husband’s grandfather William (Bill) Stanley Fawcett, born in 1901 the second son of Charles Augustus Fawcett of Linton, and Ellen (nee Perry) from Majorca.
Bill’s dad was a miner when not working as a mechanic or railway employee, and his grandparents Perry ran a butcher shop at Linton, as well as a mine near Maryborough by the name of the ‘Black Swan’.
It’s said the first nugget taken out of the Perry mine was formed into the shape of a swan and made into a broach which Bill’s mother Ellen Fawcett proudly wore.
After fire destroyed the Fawcett’s family residence at Majorca in 1919 the family moved to Ballarat where Bill worked as a clerk, as well as in places north like Mildura and Horsham.
Bill married in the early 1920’s to Ivy Ward, daughter of Horsham hotel-keeper and bookmaker Alfred “Old Billy” Ward, but despite three children born to Bill and Ivy they separated just a few years later, and without reconciliation.
When WW2 loomed round Bill joined the war effort and was originally assigned to the 2nd AIF Special Force, on the 20th May 1940 before being transferred into the Royal Australian Engineers (RAE) 2/8 Field Company as a sapper.
The RAE adopted the Royal Engineers practice of calling their private soldiers “sappers” in recognition of the fact that the very earliest engineers drove saps (tunnels) both towards the enemy lines, and underneath fortifications and during WW2 the RAE provide combat engineering, construction and technical support for Australia’s Defence Force.
Bill Fawcett left Australia for overseas on the 15th Sept 1940, and after six months in Palestine he left Gaza for Greece on the 10th April 1941, probably as part of ‘Operation Lustre” which had begun on March 5th to transport British troops from Egypt as reinforcements for allied troops in Greece.
The Allied troops had fought desperately to retain their foothold in Greece but a highly successful German ‘blitzkrieg’, launched on the 6th of April and backed by over a thousand aircraft wrested Greece into German control.
By the 20th of April the British risked losing all of its 58,000 troops so began evacuations from eight different harbours around Greece, between the 24th to the 29th April 1941.
“Operation Lustre’ had resulted in near disaster says historian S.W.Pack in his ‘The Battle for Crete'(Pack 1973, p.19).
‘For the first time in history, a highly strategic island had been captured from the air. And this in spite of the fact that the defenders were expecting the attack almost to the hour, and enjoyed command of the sea’ (Pack 1973, p.93).
51,000 Allied troops were initially evacuated, with 21,000 being landed as reinforcements for the British garrison on nearby Crete, which was lost after a resistance of only a few days and which caused quite a sensation and added to the growing reputation of German invincibility (Pack 1973, p.93).
Bill Fawcett was taken prisoner-of-war 17 days after leaving Gaza but his war records don’t tell if he was part of the last few thousand being evacuated, if he had been on Crete or if he was on one of the ships that went down in the Blitzkreig.
It was the 3rd of June 1941 before anyone noted Bill Fawcett as ‘Missing”, and the 27th June before he was ‘Believed Prisoner of War’.
Bill’s son Ronald Fawcett said in later years that Bill ‘was injured in the war, and taken prisoner by the Germans’.
Ron’s cousin said when the family brought Bill home ‘off the boat’ they found he had received ‘horrific’ head injuries during the war.
‘The German’s operated and inserted steel plates in his head and kept him in the Stalag8B camp till the end of the war,” said Bill’s cousin Gwen.
But Stalag 8B was just one of several POW camps Bill Fawcett was sent to between 1941 till war’s end in 1944.
The International Red Cross (IRC) first found Bill, in July 1941 interned in a P.O.W Hospital in Kokkinia, Greece.
According to records from the IRC committee Bill was taken as a prisoner of war on the 27th April in Greece and he’d suffered a ‘concussion’ at the time of his capture.
Three IRC lists show Bill was detained in the ‘Lazarett Piraus Kokinia’ (POW hospital, Kokkinia, Greece) where he remained until the 21st October 1941.
The Kokkinia prisoner-of war hospital was situated high above Piraeus on Kokkinia’s outskirts according to records held at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.
The hospital opened on the 9th of May 1941 and was first staffed by the remnant of 5th Australian Hospital, 6 officers and 160 men, themselves P.O.Ws who had been moved from their old hospital site at Ekali, Athens.
On 10 May 1941, three days after Bill’s capture 75 patients and 24 medical and dental staff were brought in a convoy from Corinth to Kokkinia, joined by 26 British General Hospital personnel from Kifisia on the 13th May.
Wounded and dying men from Crete added to inpatients arriving at Kokkinia and by June there had been over 2000 admissions in just a few short weeks.
In the first five months at Kokkinia 68 patients died, while 2334 were discharged as cured or relieved and 109 remained invalids.
“Eighty-eight cases of head-injury were treated, at Kokkinnia, with 19 being operated on….Dr Pfeiffer, the consultant neurosurgeon to the German forces in Greece visited the hospital and operated on some cases, using Cushing’s technique.”
It is almost certain that Bill Fawcett was among the last 109 invalids, and that he was one of only 19 men operated on by Pfeiffer.
After some three months Bill was transferred from Kokkinia around September 1941 to Dulag 183, a German transit camp for P.O.Ws and was assigned his first POW number – 8210. Opened in September of 1941 the camp was first situated at Solinika (Greece) in the former artillery camp of Pavlos Melas, before being moved to the town of Šabac in Serbia.
Between September 30th and October 1st Bill was transferred out of Dulag 183 to the POW camp Stalag V111B (8B) where he arrived on the 8th October 1941.
“ARRIVING in Germany by cattle truck from Greece, the prisoners of war were taken to a large camp or stalag. There were separate camps for the different nationalities; British, French, Poles and Russians, and they usually had a capacity for 6000 to 10,000 men. Many New Zealanders went first to Lamsdorf to Stalag VIIIB (later called Stalag 344). Here the numbers varied from 8000 to 15,000. In each of the several compounds there was a medical inspection room with a British medical officer in charge, and there was a camp hospital of 200 beds also with a British staff. Near the camp was a prisoner-of-war hospital, Lazarett Lamsdorf, with 450 beds.” (source: http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2PMed-pt2-c5-1.html)
From 1940 until 1943 Stalag 8b was located in the small Polish town of Lamsdorf (now Lambinowice):
“The camp at Lamsdorf was numbered Stalag VIIIB from early in the war. Many thousands of prisoners passed through this camp. In May 1941 a camp numbered Stalag VIIID was set up at Teschen (Cesky Tesin), on the Polish/Czech border… This Stalag, together with its Arbeitskommandos, was responsible for housing about 7000 prisoners, mainly French, but also Belgian and Yuogslavian with a few British. It was joined to Stalag VIIIB (Lamsdorf) in September 1942 as a kind of “branch” camp and was then called VIIIB Zweilager Teschen. By 1943 this ‘enlarged’ Stalag VIIIB handled some 120,000 prisoners in the camps and its many associated Arbeitskommandos. ” Source: http://www.lamsdorf.com/history.html
Private Edward Klein of the 2/11th Infantry Battalion was another Australian soldier held at OFLAG 383, who later wrote of his war experiences including the transport of P.O.W’s following evacuations from Greece and Crete, and of Anzac day commemorations held in the camp:
“During the next two years Australians from Greece and Crete were moved several times, with men of all 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.”
Oflags were POW camps for officers and this particular camp was initially located at Hohenfels in Bavaria. It was soon relocated to Brandenburg, still as an officer’s camp, while the Hohenfels site was converted to a Stalag, or camp for non-commissioned officers and soldiers, and given the number 383. Stalag 383 eventually housed about 8,000 prisoners, the majority of whom were British (source: AWM http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/REL33287/?image=2)
“The Germans had never ceased their pressure on NCOs to go out on working parties, but by September 1942 they were finally resigned to allowing those who claimed exemption to go to a special camp at Hohenfels—at first Oflag IIIC and later Stalag 383. Between September and the end of 1942 over 3000 NCOs were collected there from camps all over Germany, and by April 1943 their numbers had increased to over 4000, including 320 New Zealanders.”
extracts from the “Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War, 1939-1945”,
Before April 1943 says Klein, a committee of Australians and New Zealanders worked out plans for celebrating Anzac Day behind barbed wire with the permission of German Authorities.
“Because our camps 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.
Padre Oakley of the 2/11th Battalion 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.
A march past was conducted, and at a ‘saluting base’ were about 300 prisoners of war who had seen active service in any of the Allied armies in World War 1. The Australian’s led the march followed by New Zealand, England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, Canada, South Africa, Cyprus, Palestine and America.
After the last contingent had passed the saluting base Klein wrote, the veterans marched behind a military band to reserved seats in the sports ground where first-class sports were conducted followed at night by a show “Anzacs on Parade” in a converted stable.
During WW2 Australian POW’s set up camps and created societies for themselves using social, cultural and political values they knew to create a civility that echoed their lives back in Australia (Cohen 2006).
“Sport became an integral factor in sustaining nationalist and patriotic values, defending Australianness: it provided POWs with activities to plan and prepare for, having discussions and place wagers on, participate in, become avid spectators of, and deconstruct in the usual post-game analysis” (Cohen 2006, p.63).
Pamela Cohen in her Behind Barbed Wire: Sport and Australian Prisoners of War says Australian POWs in Stalag 383 took their sport seriously, documenting their sporting activities from 1942 to 1944 in a magazine entitled One Year, a ‘faithful record of activities’ promising to be an excellent souvenier of the brighter moments of an otherwise drab, monotonous exile.
Cricket provided Australians with links to Empire says Cohen (p.66) and the traditional sporting rivalry between England and Australia.
“Ashes series were common where ever Australian and British POWs shared the same camp, highlighting the BRitish versus Australian sporting tradition.”
In Stalag 383 an overriding committee was formed under formal structures similar to the Australian Cricket Board. The YMCA provided bats and balls and the oil from Red Cross supplies of sardines were used to keep the bats in good order.
“We Australians, in the cloudless years to come, will remember the 1943 cricket season in Germany as one of the unusual and certainly one of the most agreeable souveniers of this irksome period of detention…In the winter we ponder the summer months ahead, cricket was only a dream: a vague, exquisite hope. As a souvenier of the games each will keep the green cap – a replica of the real Australia ‘Test’ Eleven cap carrying the Commonwealth Coat of Arms in gold – in which he played: a curious, but decidedly pleasant memento to take home from a war….Players and spectators are clamouring for further “Tests’ and more are certain to be played.” (R.L Hoffman, pre-war journalist and pow, cited in Cohen, p.67)
It was in this spirit of Australian and New Zealand culture that an international cricket match was planned within Oflag 383 for the 14th and 15th of August 1943.
That Bill Fawcett attended the two-day match at Stalag 383 is not in doubt. It obviously meant something special to him, to keep this flyer all those years.
It is not known who drew up the flyer, but there is an image of a similar flyer in the ‘Angus McDonald Album’ on the Auckland Libraries website (N.Z).
However Elspeth Orwin, the Assistant Photograph Librarian of the Sir George Grey Special Collections at Auckland Libraries says it is a photo,not an original like Old Pa’s.
“Ours is a photograph of the poster, not an original poster. It is from an album of 63 photographs belonging to Angus MacDonald. I haven’t been able to find any more information about the donor. The images show scenes from plays, sports teams, copies of posters and general views of the camp.”
The Australia War Memorial archives has one final clue to the 1943 two-day Anzac match. A photo of a team of cricket players dated 1943 shows a group portrait of prisoners-of-war at Stalag 383 wearing pale shirts and cricket caps ‘who make up the Australian cricket team here’.(source: http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P02071.029)
I search the men’s faces wondering if Old Pa is among them. I would love to know who these men are, and why a reminder was so important to William Stanley Fawcett that he kept it carefully up until his death in 1972.