National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

Victorious Escape

Victorious Escape

On a recent school visit to the National Army Museum, Taupo boy Joshua Brown donated an original postcard dating back to World War II, belonging to his grandfather’s uncle, Lt Col Cliff George and with it a great story.

Lt Col George wrote home to his family whilst held in an Italian Prisoner of War (POW) camp. George served in Greece, Syria and North Africa. He commanded the 25th Battalion in Syria and at El Mreir, where he was taken prisoner when German tanks overran the battalion on the morning of 22 July 1942.

Having come from the heat of North Africa, many of the New Zealand soldiers did not have any warm clothes and suffered the cold winter temperatures in Italy, relying on the arrival of Red Cross parcels containing warm clothes and food. Joshua told us, “he (George) was allowed to play football and cards and did lots of exercise to keep fit.”

In 1944, like 717 other Kiwis during World War II, George along with five others, escaped by cutting a wire fence one night with a tool they had made. They waited until the guards changed from one group to another whilst the camps’ searchlights were still.

Having escaped the soldiers dressed in old clothes to look like local Italian peasants and hid in old buildings and farm houses as they made their way south to Taranto over 600 miles away and to the safety of the British who had landed there.

One night in their 600 mile journey to freedom, they were discovered hiding in a farm hay barn by the farmer’s 15 year old daughter. The girl showed them a secret way out of the village in return for a letter from the soldiers’ saying her family had helped them escape. She felt this would be important should Italy, in fighting for Germany, lost the war and therefore the victorious Allies would look kindly upon them.

Joshua’s grandfather travelled to Italy in 1954 and met this girl, who by now was 25 years old and married. His grandfather told Joshua she was very beautiful and she remembered showing Lt Col George the secret route out of the villlage.