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

POW Private Spence Edge, 25th Battalion 2NZEF

Contributed by Grant Hays, Custodian

Private Edge spent most of World War II as a Prisoner of War (POW) and the National Army Museum is lucky enough to have his signature on its POW wall. He was first taken prisoner by German tanks of the Afrika Korps at Sidi Rezegh in North Africa in late November 1941 after promised British armoured support for the Kiwi positions did not eventuate.

Edge endured the extremely spartan and unsanitary conditions of a large concrete warehouse in Benghazi for several weeks before boarding the Italian vessel “Jason” on December 9th 1941 with 2,000 other POWs, (mostly British and South Africans and around 500 Kiwis).

The unmarked Jason was torpedoed by the British submarine “Porpoise”. The attack left 309 POWs, including 45 New Zealanders dead. The Italian captain and almost his entire crew abandoned ship minutes after the submarine periscope was sighted, and even before the torpedoes were fired. However the ship did not sink and ended up grounded on the Greek coast.

Edge and the remaining survivors were held by Italian soldiers firstly in an old castle in Greece before being moved back to a camp in Italy by sea. The Italian captain of the vessel he was to be transported in showed compassion for his priosners, realising most had been locked in the hold of a torpedoed ship, he allowed them to stay in a secure area up on deck – an act of kindness and understanding much appreciated by the POWs.

Back in Italy, Edge was initially prisoner in 3 different camps – Camp 85 (Tuturana), Camp 65 (gravina) and then Camp 78/1 (Aqua Fredda). Here prisoners were engaged in rebuilding roads. After Italy capitulated, the guards left hurriedly and all the prisoners escaped into the Italian countryside. Edge sheltered in an old abandoned mountain monastry, and with the assistance of local peasants, lived in a cave before being recaptured by the Germans.

From here Edge was moved to Camp 102 (Aquila) in central Italy before later being moved again, this time to Germany. On 8th December 1943, whilst being loaded onto railway wagons to be transported to Germany, the rail yards at Aquila were bombed by USAF B-25 bombers. 200 POWs were killed, including 8 New Zealanders, all who were trapped in locked cattle cars. Unfortunately their string of wagons had been parked next to a train load of ammunition and fuel tankers on the next track.

Again Edge defied the odds making it out alive and was eventually sent to Stalag 7A at Moosburg in Germany where he remained until he was liberated by the British in April 1945.

Spence Edge was co-author of the book “No Honour, No Glory” which for the first time told stories of the sinking of both the ‘Jason’ and the ‘Nino Bixio’. The co-author was Jim Henderson, (a survivor of the Nino Bixio).

Spence Edge died in March 1986 in Whangarei aged 73.