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Major Thomson’s Cribbage Board

Written by Brenden Shirley, Curator of Accoutrements, Social History and Medical

This wooden cribbage board (used to keep score for the card game cribbage) was made by 1526 Major George Herbert Thomson whilst he was in solitary confinement at Graudenz Prisoner of War (POW) camp in Poland in December 1942.

2018.173.236 – Cribbage Board made by Major G H Thomson, World War II, National Army Museum Te Mata Toa.

George Herbert Thomson had previously served as a Gunner during World War I with the New Zealand Artillery Corps at Gallipoli before being discharged in 1916 due to illness. Furthermore, he had also served in the Territorials during the 1920s and 1930s with the New Zealand Medical Corps attaining the rank of Major. George had trained as a medical student at Otago University and was working as a doctor in a private practice in New Plymouth when he enlisted for another war in September 1939. He embarked overseas with the first echelon in January 1940 as the Medical Officer attached to 4 Field Regiment, New Zealand Artillery Corps.

During the evacuation of Greece in late April 1941 Major Thomson was stationed at  the port of Kalamata where he had volunteered to remain behind and care for the wounded men who were unable to be transported to the beaches. As a result of his selfless act, Major Thomson was captured by the Germans and made a Prisoner of War (POW). Whilst still in Greece, the Germans tasked Major Thomson with organising several hospitals in and around Athens for sick and wounded prisoners. He was then taken to Germany and housed in Stalag XIII D in Nuremburg before being transferred to Stalag XVIII B at Wolfsberg, Austria in July 1942.

Portrait photo of George Thomson published in The Weekly News on the 3rd September 1941, Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Website.                

George soon fell out of favour with the Germans after he protested about the treatment and conditions of the prisoners and refused to sign a document stating that a group of Russian prisoners were dying of typhus when in fact, they were starving to death. In August 1942 George Thomson was court martialled for “insults to the Reich” and sentenced to six months solitary confinement. He was originally housed in the Officer’s Detention barracks at Torgau, Saxony (Germany) before being transferred to the Wehrmacht Prison at Graudenz, Poland in November 1942. It was here that George made this cribbage board.

2018.173.236 – Reverse side of Cribbage Board made by Major G H Thomson, World War II, National Army Museum Te Mata Toa.

George Thomson remained in solitary confinement at Graudenz until March 1943. In October he was repatriated to England (as was the case with most non-combatant POWs) and returned home to New Zealand in early 1944. George Thomson was made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in June 1944 for gallant and distinguished services in the field. He was released from military service around this same time at the request of the Director General of Health so that he could resume his medical practice in New Plymouth which was facing a serious shortage of doctors at the time. George Herbert Thomson remained working as a doctor in New Plymouth until his death in July 1964 aged 72.

One final interesting fact about Major Thomson was that whilst stationed at Katamala in 1941 he had witnessed the heroic counter attack of one John Daniel (Jack) Hinton whom George later recommended for the Victoria Cross (VC). Jack Hinton (a fellow POW in solitary confinement) was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross in October 1941.