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JOYFUL WELCOME

EX-PRISONERS ARRIVE

RAILWAY STATION SCENE

The emotional and joyful scenes which have now become almost common on railway stations throughout the Dominion were repeated at Auckland yesterday afternoon, when an other draft of repatriated prisoners of war arrived by special train from Wellington. As the train drew in the crowd of relatives and friends of the returning soldiers cheered unrestrainedly, accompanied by shrieking locomotive whistles and the playing of the Papakura Camp Band. The party comprised 260 repatriated armv prisoners and 30 airmen, some of whom had been prisoners. The train was expected to reach Auckland at 1.35 p.m. but did not arrive till 2.25 p.m. " The waiting crowd, numbering several thousand, was kept entertained by the band.

Relatives at the station were grouped alphabetically under placards to assist the men coming off the train to find them. As on previous occasions the arrangements worked smoothly and no time was lost in getting soldiers and thenrelatives home. Cars were provided by the Red Cross. Transport Corps and the Commercial Travellers' Club, as well as by the Army.

Men for North Auckland, of whom there were about 80, were taken with their relatives to the transit camp at Mechanics' Bay, where they received a meal before going on by road.

No speeches were made at the station, taut the Mayor, Mr. Ahum, and the president of the Auckland branch of the R.S.A., Mr. A. P. Postlewaite, were among those present.

Bengasi to Bari The nerve-wracking experience of hundreds of Allied prisoners crowded in the hold of an Italian ship en route from Eiengasi to Bari, expecting to be torpedoed at any minute, was described by Captain W. B. Perks, of Remuera. Captain Perks was taken prisoner at El Alamein in July, 1942, before the tide had turned against the Afrika Korps. He, with others captured at the same time, was moved' back to Bengasi where they embarked on a cargo ship for Italy. It was at a time when British submarines were making heavy inroads on Axis shipping in the central Mediterranean and two other prison ships had been sunk a short while before. The Bengasi-Bari trip lasted three long days and the prisoners' only food was two tins of bully beef and some "dog-biscuits." All the prisoners were very weak. Many had dysentery and the majority were sea-sick.

From Bari Captain Perks was moved to a newly-constructed and comparatively comfortable camp at Modena where he remained till the Germans took over when Italy .capitulated. The Germans moved in unexpectedly and spread out through the camp with automatic weapons, giving the prisoners no opportunity to do anything, he said. Transported to Germany, they spent a period in Stalag SA, near Heidelberg, then, in the face of the American advance, they were moved to Moosberg, north of Munich.

Anxious Train Journey

Many had to make this move on foot, but Captain Perks was fortunate in being placed on a train. American Thunderbolt fighters were swarming all over southern Germany and shooting up anything that moved and to identify the train it was covered with red crosses, Union Jacks and the lettering "P.O.W's." The train moved at night only, standing stationary in open country during the day. They had some anxious moments when planes dived on them, but their luck held and they were not fired at. The trip, like the one by sea from Bengasi to Bari, lasted three days.

They were released on April 29 when advance elements of General Patton's Third Army reached Moostaerg. The night before the German commandant took the senior Allied officer, and went out to meet the Americans. They were taken to an American brigadier and the commandant made the suggestion that the camp should be made neutral ground. This the brigadier would not agree to do, as he said that it denied him the use of bridges in the vicinity. However, he delayed his attack till the morning. The Germans offered very little resistance and were soon cleared out.

In Landshut, to which many of the prisoners were moved, there was no accommodation for them, but the Americans remedied this by ordering German civilians out of a block of flats. On May 8, VE Day, 100 Dakota transport planes arrived and Captain Perks was flown to Rheims. From there he travelled by Lancaster bomber to England. Guarded Gold

For eight days guardian of 16,000 sovereigns, the pay of a British unit in Greece, Sergeant Charles Mutch, of Newton, described the period as eight days of anxiety.

It was the policy to nay troops in gold coin during the German occupation of Greece. The sovereigns were dropped by parachute. On one occasion the money dropped well away from the target area, and Sergeant Mutch was sent out to bring it back loaded on to two mules. The area was full of Germans, and Greek guerillas, who, he said, would have soon shot him had they known what he was guarding. Eight days of travel over hazardous mountain tracks were endured before 'he gold was safe in British hands.

Twice a prisoner of the Germans, Sergeant Mutch escaped in 1941, after about six weeks in captivity, and joined the small band of Allied officers organising Greek resistance behind the German lines. His first escape was made in company with Private J. Finlay, of Whakatane. Slipping away while the prisoners were being marched over a mountain pass, the two lived for a time with the Greeks. Sergeant Mutch contracted malaria and the Greeks moved him to a small isolated village. A few days later, Italian troops raided the mountain hideout and captured Private Finlay and the Greeks who were helping him.

Later, Sergeant Mutch heard of British paratroopers operating in central Greece, and he travelled north to meet them. He saw Major A. Edmonds, of Auckland, and Captain D. Stott, also a New Zealander, who were two of a number of officers dropped by ' parachute in Greece. Within their own areas they organised and carried out sabotage, maintained liaison with the guerillas and paid and armed them with money and weapons dropped by parachute from British planes. Sergeant Mutch was taken prisoner again towards the end of 1943, while trying to escape from Greece to Egypt to join a furlough draft. His small boat broke down and he ran ashore on a German-occupied island near the Turkish coast. He was sent to Germany and was working on the roads with other prisoners when the Americans released them.

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Permanent link to this item

http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/AS19450806.2.88

Bibliographic details

JOYFUL WELCOME, Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 184, 6 August 1945

Word Count
1,081

JOYFUL WELCOME Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 184, 6 August 1945

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