Part Five - Other European "Free Men"
Another AIF POW Composite Half-Battalion in Europe other than Switzerland?"
Kevin Canny of CARO in Melbourne has recently produced a list of all AIF POW who died in captivity in the Middle Eastern theatre of operations.
The list is chronological, dating from the earliest fighting in the Western Desert in 1941, then through Greece and Crete and finally back to Libya, North Africa and Italy, until "Operation Liddington" - the withdrawal of all AIF personnel on active service in the Middle East to return to the Pacific campaigns in January 1943.
In broad terms, half of the 7116 AIF POW in Europe listed in AWM 54 781/6/6 - The Parker File, Table "I" - were in prison camps in Italy, the other half in camps in Germany or its satellites. This even ratio changed dramatically in September 1943, when over 20,000 Allied Italian POW, released themselves from their camps, despite orders from the War Office to stay put while arrangements were made by the surrendering Italian Army to turn them over to the Allies under the conditions of Armistice.
By the time more realistic orders were issued from London, the Germans had re-captured nearly all Allied POW held in the bigger Italian camps. (See - "The Italian Armistice). The number of German held AIF POW significantly increased, by some 1,200 AIF POW other ranks held in Campo 57 Gruppignano, and AIF POW officers held in Campo 19 Bologna and entrained for further captivity in Germany (See "The Moosburg Express".)
The choice faced by those AIF POW who managed to escape from German camps or during forced evacuation marches in 1945, was very similar to the choice that had faced some of them in September 1943 - join local partisan groups or Allied Missions, submerge into the countryside with friendly peasant families until liberation, or try to reach Allied Lines through Yugoslavia. (See "One Hundred Miles as the Crow Flies" K1). For the sake of simplicity, just as all AIF POW reaching Switzerland are referred to by this Recorder as "evades", so all escaped AIF POW remaining "free" in Europe are referred to as "Free Men".
The classification "Missing Presumed Dead" has caused some problems to the Recorder, in endeavouring to reconcile CARO records, with those maintained by unit associations, whose later investigations from their members often elicited information on actually what happened to some of their POW, particularly as many of them did not become members of their unit associations. Furthermore, when this information was obtained, it was not fed back to CARO, denying them an opportunity to update their records.
Another difficulty in reconciling accurate casualty figures is that some individuals with hyphenated names are listed twice - separately under each name. Others managed to enlist twice under different names, or else gave false names to their captors, or swapped identities to stay with mates. It is more than possible that some categorised as MPD will have to remain so.
Some undoubtedly were KIA in battles, buried on the battlefield by the enemy as an unknown soldier, or were unidentifiable, drowned while attempting to escape, or killed in another uniform Indeed, by choice, some unknown, may be living "underground" today.