A family ANZAC: Pte Hugh Moran Part II

After Pte Hugh Moran enlisted in 1940 he was sent first to Darwin then north Africa where he was captured and taken as a Prisoner of War to Italy from 1941 to 1943. You can read about his experience in Part I.

Stalag VIIIB P10003.002

Some of the AIF POWs at Stalag VIIIB/344. http://www.awm.gov.au/collections/P100003.02

As the Italians signed the Armistice of Cassibile in September 1943, the Germans took over the prisoners of war and promptly relocated them north. There is a website, drawn on the NZ Official History of WWII, which reveals the reality of this transfer and what it means to POWs like Hugh[i]:

From those camps that were taken over by German troops in September 1943, all except the few who succeeded in hiding were marched to the nearest railway station. The Germans took what precautions they could to prevent escapes-a strong guard along the route, threats before setting out of the dire consequences that would follow any attempted breaks, even a demonstration with a flame-thrower at Campo PG 57.

Most of the trains went north via Verona, through the Brenner Pass to Innsbruck, though a few took the more easterly Tarvisio Pass to Villach…They were almost entirely made up of cattle-trucks and closed goods-wagons with a very few third-class carriages… Into these trucks the prisoners were packed, as many as fifty in each…The sliding doors were closed and bolted, and prisoners were left for the journey with at most two small openings in the sides of the truck for air and light, no provision for latrines, and only such food and water as they had been able to carry with them….There were occasional halts on the journey north, often not long enough for every truckload to be allowed out. On the longer journeys there were considerable halts at stations and sometimes meals from the German Red Cross.[ii]

POW route Moran

An as-the-crow-flies map of Hugh’s “travels” starting from near Derna where he was captured.

Those from Campo 57 were the first large party from Italy to reach Stalag XVIIIC at Markt Pongau in Austria, a transit camp …roughly 25 miles south of Salzburg, the camp was very dirty and the barracks infested with vermin… For the first time they tasted the typical German stalag fare – vegetable soup and ‘black’ bread, boiled potatoes and mint tea. After a fortnight or so most went north to Stalag VIIIA at Görlitz in Saxony.

Hugh was among those transferred to Stalag VIIIA on 24 September 1943 thence to Stalag VIIIB on 2 November 1943 and in June 1944 to Stalag 344 (my understanding is the latter two were essentially the same).  These prisons were in Lamsdorf in then-Upper Silesia, and now called Łambinowice in Poland.[iii]

This huge camp (VIIIB/Lamsdorf) which had started to show improvement since the appointment of a new German commandant, now became still larger through the sudden influx from Italy and numbered well over 30,000, 10,000 of them in the stalag itself … Those who had come from Italy, more especially those from Campo PG 57, wondered at the comparative lack of discipline in this camp and at the activities that could go on inside it unknown to the enemy… Sooner or later the newcomers, who had all been graded by German doctors according to the type of labour they were medically fit for left for coal mines or other places of work in Silesia.MORAN Hugh pic c1943

It is Hugh’s German Prisoner of War record, included with his AIF personnel file, that reveals more details about his experience. He has plainly completed the basic details, as the rest is written in German. The photograph included shows the impact of the preceding years as he is plainly gaunt and has acquired the typical McSherry baldness (inherited through his mother). It also tells us he blond (really?) and 177cms tall (70 inches), approximately the same height as me – which makes him short for a male with McSherry genes.

MORAN Hugh work record Stalag 344

This extract from Hugh’s German record seems to document his work allocation.

Brit POW Stalag 344 mid_000000

http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205184697. German photograph of British POWs working in a quarry at Lambard. Free of copyright.

However, in his debriefing on return to the United Kingdom in 1944, Hugh describes the Stalag/prison rations, accommodation, bathing and hygiene as “bad” and the recreational facilities as “poor”.  While he had not been required to work while in Italy at Campo 57, Hugh states that in Germany he did hard manual labour, pick and shovel work, for 12-14 hours a day. All of which no doubt contributed to his gaunt frame in the photograph taken in Germany, or exacerbated it.

His troubles were far from over, however. As the war ground towards its conclusion, and the arrival of Russian troops became imminent, the German forces made the decision to move their prisoners west. And so started what was to become known as the Long March[iv], The Black March, The Bread March or the Lamsdorf Death March but most survivors just called it “The March”.  In the depths of winter under freezing conditions, with minimal food, the men walked hundreds of kilometres, between January and March 1945[v] with the Lamsdorf men heading north via Dresden. (You can see a map here of POW movements). It was an exhausting, hazardous and debilitating experience for the men, drawing on reserves of strength both physical and mental.

Lamsdorf death march 2 P10548.009

A photograph taken during the Lamsdorf Death March gives a glimpse of the conditions the men had to march. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P10548.009

With the surrender of Germany, on 4 May 1945 RAF Bomber Command implemented Operation Exodus, and the first prisoners of war were repatriated by air in aircraft. Bomber Command flew 2,900 sorties over the next 23 days, carrying 72,500 prisoners of war.[vi]

Moran recovery to UK

Extract from Hugh Moran’s service record. NAA series B883, QX7775

Private Hugh Augustine Moran was one of the prisoners recovered by Bomber Command, and for me it’s interesting to ponder whether a friend of ours, Don Curnow, was part of this relief effort. Hugh’s personnel file records that on 19 May 1945, he was deplaned UK as recovered PW (Prisoner of War) M/I and taken on holding strength at 1AIF Transit Camp. This is presumably where his debriefing took place. In this statement, he records that he had been captured on 7 April 1941, with a portion of HQ and including Lt Col Marlan and Major Barton as well as Private L Milne (2/15Bn).

MORAN POW sment

Extract from Pte Moran’s service record at naa.gov.au

Officers missing 15th Bn

Hugh’s report aligns with the official war diary for the 15th Battalion February-April 1941, AWM52 8/3/15/12

After capture, Hugh had been held at Campo 57 from 15 May 1941 to 15 September 1943 then Stalag VIIIA from September to November 1943 before transfer to Stalag VIIIB/344 from May to November 1944. There are a number of photos of the camp on the Imperial War Museum site, but many are copyrighted. While in Germany he was given “reasonable” treatment for stomach pains and bronchitis. He states he had not received Red Cross parcels or mail during his time there.  Had his parcels or mail been blocked or did his family not know where he was?

MORAN POW camps

Extracted from Pte Moran’s Repatriation statement.

On 7 June 1945, Hugh once again had a stint AWOL…for a whole three hours. Who could blame him after being confined for four years? Apparently the Army didn’t feel the same as he was docked a total of 12 days pay…I suppose they didn’t want these men to get delusions of independence, or insubordination. It’s ironic that he told the Germans his former occupation was “timekeeper” which is pretty odd for someone who seemed to miss returning to barracks by mere hours on most occasions.

On 19 June Hugh was repatriated to Australia on the ship “J12” and on 24 August, he was taken on strength in Queensland. Apparently while in Sydney he was taken to the Camp Hospital with scabies. I imagine it was quite some time before his health returned to normal, if ever. He was discharged from the Army on 13 September 1945, leaving him to continue life as a civilian. I can’t help wondering if he wished he’d joined the railway, a reserved occupation, and one held by most of the McSherry men over some generations.

Moran retd fm active service

Hugh died on 8 February 1995, when he was 88 years old, which is amazing considering what he’d gone through. He is buried in the Martyn St Cemetery in Cairns.

It was a revelation to me to unearth this story of my first cousin once removed, Hugh Augustine McSherry[vii]. I hope this post serves as a memorial to his contribution to Australia’s military history.

You can read other posts about Pte Hugh Moran here and here.

LEST WE FORGET

Thanks to my cousin Bev for sending this photo of Hughie in later life at his cousin’s birthday. Isn’t it lovely to see him looking happy and healthy? If I’m not mistaken, he’s wearing his RSL pin.  Thanks Bev.

PhyllisRoy and HughMoran1988 IMG

Previous Anzac Day posts are:

2016 and 2012: Villers-Brettoneux and James Paterson

2015: A Gallipoli Everyman: Victor Joseph Sanders

2014: Postcards to the Front 1917

2013: Valiant Indigenous Anzacs

2011: Honouring the Australian-born Diggers with German ancestry

Wealth for Toil on the Railway includes the story of my grandfather’s war service.

[i] http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-GreLong-t1-body-d8.html extract from the NZ Official History

[ii] Ibid

[iii] http://www.lamsdorf.com/history.html

[iv] http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-GreLong-t1-body-d9.html

[v] http://www.lamsdorf.com/the-long-march.html. DO READ THIS IF POSSIBLE.

[vi] ibid

[vii] B503, Q2334 Prisoner of War Record and B883 QX7775. http://naa.gov.au

 

A family ANZAC: Pte Hugh Moran (Part I)

Gallipoli magnet 2015It has become a tradition among Australian and New Zealand genealogy bloggers to remember our ANZAC family members and others on Anzac Day each year. This is my contribution for 2017 – a man I knew nothing about until this week.

Hugh Augustine Moran was my mother’s first cousin, born in Ingham, Queensland on 6 April 1906[i] to James Hugh Moran and Bridget McSherry.

MORAN Hugh Augustine small

Pte Hugh Moran, QX7775 Service file naa.gov.au

On 11 June 1940, Hugh enlisted to join the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) in Cairns, Far North Queensland. His age is given on enlistment as 33 years 11 months, though he had only recently celebrated his 34th birthday[ii], had brown hair, blue eyes and a scar on his forehead. Hugh had been working as a labourer in Kirrima, Cardwell and had served 7 years with the citizen military forces (CMF). He was taken on strength with 2/15th Battalion.

The importance of reading the war diaries becomes apparent when we find that the 15th served garrison duty in Darwin for three months which is not noted on his file…you need to look at the big picture of the unit to discover the overall action plan.

15th Bn DRW 1940 AWM P00092.037

Australian War Memorial Image ID P00092.037. 15th Battalion march past Colonel Marlan prior to leaving Darwin, December 1941. They were stationed at Vestey’s Beach near the current day Sailing Club.

Hugh’s file notes that he was marched out to East Command in December 1940, embarking for overseas on Boxing Day 1940. Meanwhile Hugh had treated himself to a pre-Christmas excursion without leave from Redbank on 22nd-23rd December for 28 hrs. He was duly fined, which probably didn’t bother him much if he had someone he wanted to see, or even if he wanted to have a drink or two, or more, to calm his jitters before heading overseas to battle.

AWM Queen Mary Dec 1940 P00527.003

Troops boarding the Queen Mary on 26 December 1941 en route to the Middle East.

The Australian War Memorial’s (AWM) brief history of the 2/15th tells us they sailed “aboard the Queen Mary with the 20th Brigade to Palestine via India, transhipping to the Rohna at Bombay. (OIC of the 15th, Lt Col R F Marlan was Officer Commanding Troops on the voyage).

The 20th Brigade transferred from the 7th to the 9th Division en route to the Middle East. It arrived at El Kantara in Egypt at the start of February 1941 and moved to Kilo 89 in Palestine for desert training.”[iii]

In March 1941 Hugh was attached briefly to the 2/23rd Battalion, 9th Division, for a month between 2 and 29 March when he returned to the 2/15th.

The 2/15th moved to Gabel El Gira on 27 March and then Barce. German forces had landed at Tripoli and were advancing east. It was involved in the withdrawal of British forces to Tobruk, referred to as the “Benghazi handicap”. The withdrawal cost the battalion heavily: the commanding officer (Lt Col Marlan), second in command (Major Barton), and 154 men were captured at El Gazala.

It was during this dash to take and hold Tobruk that Hugh was taken prisoner of war, between Derna and Barce in the Cyrenaica region of Libya. He was one of the 154 mentioned above. They had been caught in the aggressive attack by the great German soldier, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel aka the Desert Rat.

Rommel launched his assault on March 24, 1941, sending three mechanized columns rumbling northward and eastward. The fast-moving Germans chased the retreating British along the coast road, rolled into Benghazi, and swept on to Barce and Derna. One panzer column captured inland fuel dumps and burst out onto the coastal plain at Gazala. Another column executed a wide flanking movement to try to capture British units evacuating from Cyrenaica. The Allies were in full retreat, and it seemed as if nothing could halt Rommel’s advance[iv]. However Rommel was to later get his come-uppance at El Alamein at the hands of the British forces.

MORAN Hugh POW Italy

Extract from Hugh Moran’s service and casualty form. http://naa.gov.au Series B883 QX7775

Hugh was reported Missing in Action, presumed Prisoner of War, effective 7 April 1941, and this was confirmed on 30 June 1941. Unfortunately, the WWII personnel files don’t include notifications to next of kin, and in fact we’re fortunate that this document had already been digitised.

It’s initially unclear whether Hugh was held as POW locally or taken directly to Italy. Once again he was unfortunate, because the camp to which he was sent, Campo 57 Gruppignano near Udine in north-east Italy, was under the command of former Italian Carabinieri officer,[v] Colonel Vittorio Calcaterra. He had been described by one prisoner as “a sadist and a beast and an accessory to murder”(no reference provided).

AWM Campo 57 P02793.008

AWM Image P02793.008 Campo 57 Prisoner of War huts behind two layers of barbed wire. If prisoners were found in the white-stone area,  between the trip wire and the inner fence they would be shot. In the background is the Catholic chapel which the POWs helped to build.

Thanks to Calcaterra, conditions in Campo 57 were extremely harsh. Food was poor, and housing was crowded and insanitary. The prisoners had to improvise their own medical treatment, coping with the “57 twins”, pneumonia and kidney disease…The number saved by Red Cross aid, he wrote, “is beyond computation”. Calcaterra died before he could be tried as a war criminal.

There is a wonderful sketch in this story, The Stolen Years, which graphically portrays the life of POWs at Campo 57. This article argues that soldiers may have been (somewhat) resigned to death or injury, but rarely thought about what they’d do if taken Prisoner of War and the psychological impact of that[vi]. It quotes one soldier’s experience but we have no idea whether this tallied with that of Hugh Moran:

When he finally reached his permanent camp of detention at PG 57 Gruppignano, where nearly all Australian and New Zealand other ranks had been concentrated, Ted Faulkes too, had to make a monumental change of attitude to different standards of hygiene, diet, discipline and organisation.  But at least he was among his peers, and within the camp, responsive to the discipline of his own Australian NCOs as he basically he had been in battle. To some extent his individual temperament and personality had already been moulded by the structure and esprit de corps of his AIF unit – the 2/32nd Infantry Battalion.

The initial transport of POW from the battlefield is by military truck from a holding pen to a rear transit camp, where officers are separated from other ranks[vii]….They were moved either by boat or train (or presumably both in the case of those captured in North Africa).

We have no direct evidence of Hugh’s life in Campo 57 but the above stories and images reveal some of the experience.

Read Part II to learn more about phase 2 of Hugh’s war service and what happened to him after Italy.

And to learn about Hugh’s war in his own words, read here.

 

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[i] Military file on naa.gov.au and Queensland Birth registration C1750.

[ii] His medical inspection was on 1 June so perhaps that explains it.

[iii] https://www.awm.gov.au/unit/U56058/

[iv] http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/debacle-in-the-desert-the-siege-of-tobruk/

[v] https://www.awm.gov.au/exhibitions/stolenyears/ww2/italy/story2.asp

[vi] http://www.aifpow.com/part_1__missing_in_action,_believed_pow/chapter_2__being_a_pow

[vii] http://www.aifpow.com/part_1__missing_in_action,_believed_pow/chapter_4__transportation_of_pow