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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 03 February 2018
18 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 3 FEBRUARY 2018 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM From Frankston to Thessaloniki Capture and escape in 1941Thessaloniki JIM CLAVEN the scene that I would have witnessed 75 years ago. For it was here in 1941 that thousands of Allied prisoners stood, some having arrived by sea and others by train weary after the long journeys from their places of capture across the Greek mainland and Crete. All on their way to the city's German POW camp. Some marched along the road from the railway station R ecently I stood on the Thessaloniki waterfront and contemplated on the western edge of the city, others, like New Zealand Lieutenant Sandy Thomas, had seen the city from the sea, noting the beauty of the city and "snow-capped Olympus" as their ship crossed the sea heading towards the city. They all arrived exhausted. Some could barely stand after five days in the hold of a transport ship. What they saw was a city under occupation. Some record seeing German marines – many barely 18 years old – parading on the waterfront. Before they moved off, some, like Ken Hooper of the 2/6th Battalion, remembered German guards trying to identify and separate prisoners of Jewish background. Some were then driven from the waterfront, but most were forced to march and others had to run. Under the watch of German machine gun posts at each intersection, the prisoners had to march or run along the waterfront in front of local residents who had been forced to come to witness the arrival of the Allied prisoners - many in a poor state from weeks in transit camps, starving from the insufficient food provided and others still recovering from battle injuries. Many soldiers recount how civilians were beaten by German guards for smiling or waving to the passing prisoners. Private Don Watt of the 2/7th Battalion witnessed a woman being shot for trying to give food to the starving prisoners, another described a brutal assault of a group of nuns for the same ‘offence’. The prisoners made their way along the waterfront in the direction of Thessaloniki's White Tower and to the A place for a memorial plaque? The entrance to Thessaloniki’s War Museum, the former POW camp. PHOTO: JIM CLAVEN temporary prison camp – designated Dulag 183 – the Germans had erected on the grounds of a condemned former Greek Army barracks. It was my privilege to walk this very route and tour the site of the former camp accompanied by the director of the Army Museum Colonel Panagiotis Tziridis. In 1941 as the first Australian soldiers marched into the camp they were confronted by a dismal sight: a number of dilapidated barracks, some wooden and others brick. Condemned by the Greek authorities, the buildings dated from the Ottoman era, when the barracks were originally erected – one prisoner thought they must have been built in the Crimean War "if not before." Each barracks had two "toilets" for its 250 prisoners – holes cut in the concrete floor dropping to open drains below. Barbed wire and machine gun posts surrounded the camp. The brutality of the guards meant prisoners were shot at random as they walked in the camp. The camp operated from May until November 1941, receiving Allied prisoners brought north on their way to Germany. From 300 in May, the camp’s population reached 12,000. Some were there for no more than two days, most for a few weeks and others months. Prisoners lay on the floors without bedding in the unheated barracks, the crowded accommodation ensuring the rapid spread of vermin and disease. The barracks were infested with lice, fleas, and bedbugs. Mosquitoes and swarms of flies and rats bedevilled the prisoners. One prisoner recounted being awoken by the screams of another being bitten by a rat! Added to the unhealthy environment, the prisoners endured poor and insufficient food, often described as the worst that they had experienced. Apart from hard biscuits, mouldy bread and German mint tea, they were fed a pint of watery lentil soup, occasionally flavoured by a bone, some horseflesh or lard. One prisoner found a cow's eye in his soup. Those on work details cleaning the prison stables would supplement their diet with horse fodder. The diet was estimated to be half that provided to German prisoners in England, and Australian medical officer Leslie Le Soufe concluded it had been designed to weaken the prisoners’ will to resist. One of the many inmates who The former POW camp barracks today. PHOTO: JIM CLAVEN Thessaloniki Railway Station - where many of the Allied prisoners arrived – and where Skip went for help, postcard c. 1917.
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10 February 2018