Voices from the Past

The Fox

Contributed by Grant Hays, Custodian

Sgt Bill Allison's detailsSergeant Errol Sampson Allison or Bill as he liked to be known, began World War II serving with the 20th Battalion 2NZEF (New Zealand Expeditionary Force) in both Greece and Crete before being captured by the Germans in North Africa, at Belhamed in December 1941. He ended up in Stalag VIIIA in the German town of Gorlitz where he became known by his fellow prisoners as ‘the Fox’.

Bill escaped twice from work parties before being recaptured, and was held by the Gestapo for three weeks prior to being returned to his Prisoner of War (POW) camp.

In 1945 when the Germans evacuated Stalag VIIIA before the ‘Long March’, Bill took an excessive dose of anti-malarial tablets (given to him by a French doctor) to turn his skin yellow and thus successfully disguised himself to take on the identity of a Belgian POW named Paul Pleek who had previously been repatriated. Bill, along with a few other Belgians, French and Yugoslavs was left behind to fend for themselves by their departing German captors. He was liberated by the Russians to Odessa and finally returned to England via Moscow.

A teacher before the war, Bill again returned to teaching in South Canterbury until 1954 when he started travelling, and his travels became the subject of his two books “Kiwi at Large” and “Kiwi Vagabond”.

In June 1955 he applied to the Russian authorities for a visa to revisit Gorlitz (now straddling the East German and Polish borders) and became the first outsider to be permitted to travel behind the Iron Curtain.  He also made a pilgrimage to Belgium to find the man he had impersonated in his final successful escape attempt and actually met up with Paul Pleek.

On his return back to NZ he again worked as a teacher at Marlborough College in Blenheim. He repaid his thanks to the Red Cross for their humanitarian work in keeping him alive during World War II by becoming the NZ Red Cross Commissioner in Vietnam from 1968 during the Vietnam War. He was awarded the Order of Merit 2nd Class Chuong My by the South Vietnamese government. His medal was presented to him by President Thieu at the Presidential Palace in Saigon in June 1970.

Bill settled in New Plymouth and his signature can be found on the National Army Museum’s POW wall.