GOT OUT OF MINE
FINGER ON RAILWAY LINE
Proudly displaying the little finger of his left hand cut off at the top joint, Private David C. Harema, of Hokianga, a former member of the Maori Battalion and a prisoner in Germany for three years, told a reporter how he had put his finger under the wheels of a coal truck to get into hospital, "i got thoroughly browned off working in the coal mine," said Private Harema by way of explanation.
"The Germans in Stalag 344 put me to work in a coal mine in the belief that it would stop me tiding to escape. The conditions in the mine were shocking. I had 18 months of it with about 350 others, about half of whom were New Zealanders.
"I tried hard to escape, but had no luck. I couldn't report sick because there was nothing wrong with me, so I put my little finger on the rails and let a coal truck run over it. That did the trick all right and I was taken back to Stalag 344, where I spent two months in the convalescent hospital."
Taken prisoner in Greece, Private Harema made what must have been one of the most daring escapes attempted in this war. On a train north of Salonika he and a companion decided that they had had enough. Knowing they would be shot if they jumped off the side of the train—others had already tried it—they decided on an even more desperate expedient. Balancing on the buffers between two trucks, they waited till the train was on a hill and moving slowly and then, with a short prayer, they dropped between the rails and let the following trucks pass over them. The ruse worked successfully, and they were not seen.
They found that they were near the Bulgarian border and after wandering round the hills for three days joined up with a party of Greek guerillas. For the next five months they roamed the hills with the Greeks, raiding villages when they needed food.
"Eventually one of our hide-outs was raided by German S.S. troops," said Private Harema. "Some of the Greeks were killed, but my companion and I managed to get away in different directions. For two months I was on my own and had great difficulty in getting food.
"I finally went into a village near the Bulgarian border looking for food. The Greek police arrested me and I was handed over to the Germans, who took me back to Salonika. I was kept there for two weeks and repeatedly questioned by the Gestapo, but they got no information out of me."
From Salonika Private Harema was taken to Stalag 344, near Lamsdorf, where he Avas given 21 days' "cells" for escaping in Greece. After this he volunteered for work in a stone quarry, Avhich he described as "heavy graft with little grub." "After three months on this work I went through the wire with two English boys. We were free for two weeks, getting food from Polish civilians, till we were picked up by German foresters'. I had 14 days on bread and water and no Red Cross parcels for that little lot." "After my finger had healed and I was discharged from hospital, I was sent out to work in the forest" said Private Harema. "I was on that job for about a month, and then the Germans began evacuating us because of the Russian advance. We started on the march at the beginning of of this year, and after ma~ning 26 kilos a day, two days out of three, for two months, we. reached Landstrom, in Czechoslovakia. There the guards told us we were no longer prisoners of war. "We made our way to Prague, 88 kilos away, and there got in touch with the Czech authorities. We were there when the Americans arrived."
Back in England Private Harema. who was there in 1940 as a member of the Second Echelon, renewed acquaintances with old friends. For two weeks he was the guest of a family at Farnham. He has a wife in Hokianga and a five-year-old child whom he has never seen.
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MAORI'S TRICK, Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 170, 20 July 1945
MAORI'S TRICK Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 170, 20 July 1945
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