Escaper & Evader Sgt. B.J. 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force 1941-43

Discussion in 'Prisoners of War' started by brithm, Oct 30, 2021.

  1. brithm

    brithm Senior Member

    NZ3617 SGT. Bruce Joshua Crowley, 4th Reserve M.T. Coy, Middle East Forces, 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force

    Captured: TOLO (SOUTHERN GREECE) 28th April 1941
    Escaped: STALAG VIIIB (LAMSDORF) 23rd September 1943
    Left: STOCKHOLM, 26th October 1943
    Arrived: LEUCHARS, 26th October 1943
    Date of Birth: 24th June 1916
    Peacetime Profession: Retail Butcher
    Private Address: 386 Manakau Road, EPSOM, Auckland, New Zealand
    Army Service: From 6th September 1939 previously T.A. from 1932

    1. CAPTURE

    On 18th April 1941 I took a detail of 20 vehicles to evacuate the 21 New Zealand Bn, which was fighting a rear guard action at ANGLIMOS(?), East of LARISSA, GREECE. When I got there I had to wait till the troops were collected. In the late afternoon the Germans landed parachute troops in LARISSA and cut off our retreat to VOLOS, in the Gulf of PAGESSETIKOS. We were ordered to leave the vehicles and make our way on foot to VOLOS, the road being jammed full of vehicles as a result of a German road block.

    I eventually ordered my men to disperse, but shortly afterwards the traffic began to move again. I had remained beside the vehicles with my driver and a few more Other Ranks and we now tried to get across country through marshes in some of the vehicles. After driving all night we got stuck in the marshes. I had then got with only two vehicles to a blind road and found that there were Germans on either side of us. I destroyed the vehicles and we then walked across the mountains to VOLOS, which we reached about 20th April.

    VOLOS was by then deserted but we managed to get an old Greek cart, two mules and a horse and made our way towards LAMIA (21st April) Here we found a battle raging in the LAMIA PASS and we could not get through. With the help of Greeks, however got a Greek schooner on which we made our way to the island of EVVOLA, landing on the N.W. point just opposite LAMIA. By this time we were a party of about 200, all of whom had crossed from LAMIA in the schooner, most of us being New Zealanders and Australians with a few British troops.

    From N.W. point of the island about 40 of us went to EDIPSO, across the bay, in a motor boat. The Greek officer who took charge of the party insisted on the Greek crew taking us under threat of shooting. During the crossing there were German Stukas flying around us almost continually.

    From EDIPSO Greeks arranged for 400 or 500 of us being taken by light schooner by night to KHALKIS, which we reached on2 22nd April KHALKIS is connect with the mainland by a bridge which we crossed by vehicle, under instructions from an R.T.O. to proceed to a dispersal area. After several hours here we were sent to an entraining point, from which we were eventually taken by train to ARGOS (arrived 23 or 24th April). Here we were put in the sea evacuation area, whence we were sent to TOLO (T Beach). At ARGOS I was placed under the command of Lt. Smith, 21 New Zealand Bn., having joined up with the remnants of that Bn. and various waifs and strays. I still had 16 or 17 of my own men with me.

    On the first evening at TOLO we formed up on the beach, where there was a naval officer and several British officers of high rank. They were in touch with the Royal Navy by radio. We waited two or three hours on the beach till a destroyer sent in a landing craft. We were formed up into groups of six and the landing craft was filled. I was among those left behind. We were ordered back to our dispersal area just off the beach to await the next boat.

    We spent the next day in the dispersal area under cover. At night we formed up again on the beach but no sign of ships came in. Next day at 0700 or 0800 hrs we were told that the Germans were advancing on the us and we had orders to prepare to defend ourselves. The radio set was destroyed, all communications with the Navy being thus cut off. We organised ourselves into first and second lines with the few Bren and Lewis funs and rifles we had. My men and I were ordered to the first line of defence on a ridge. In the morning the Germans (parachute troops) came down. We kept them off most of the day and several of my men were killed and wounded. About 1500 hrs there was a lull in the fighting and a man bearing a white flag approached. One of our Sergeants went to met him. He turned out to be one of our own men captured at ARGOS. He had a message from a German officer ordering us to capitulate by 1900 hrs, otherwise we would be bombed out from the air without quarter. We were then ordered by the Senior British Officer (possibly a Brigadier) to capitulate. There were then 500 or 600 of us in the area (28th April).

    After the wounded and officers had been removed in captured British trucks, the rest of us were marched to NAFPLION, where we were put into an improvised camp in the playground of a school. We were here for two or three days and were then removed to a camp in CORINTH, where I remained till 7th June.

    On 7th June I was sent by rail to SALONIKA, arriving 8th June. I was in this camp (Lager 2) till 15 June. Dysentery and malaria were rife, causing an average of three deaths a day.


    On 15th June I was one of a part of P/W who were put in cattle trucks en route for Germany. The journey was to take 10 days and we were given as rations only half a load of bread, 4-6 ozs. of pork and four Greek biscuits, barely enough for one meal. By this time I had become separated from my own men and had two men of the 21 New Zealand Bn with me – Pte. John SMITH and Pte. Kenneth KEMBLE, both of the H.Q. Coy. About 18 km out of SALONIKA the three of us jumped from the train in the dark and lay up in the bush for the night. Next morning (16th June) we found we were in the garden of a farmer who had formerly served in the Greek Army. His farm was in the village of PROKHOMA, on the AXIOYS river, about 19 miles N.W. of SALONIKA. The farmer gave us food and shelter. He and his friends wanted us to stay there till the end of the war, as they could not give us any help in getting out of the country. At first we were, in turn, all sick with malaria and after we recovered we worked in the fields to get fit. The whole village knew we were there and all the inhabitants helped, going without food themselves in order that we might have plenty.

    We decided, however, to try to escape to TURKEY and on 23rd August we made our own way to the village of PALGA(?), just North of SALONIKA. Here a Greek sheltered us for two days, getting in touch with a friend in SALONIKA. This friend, a former Lieutenant in the Greek Army and a member of an organisation preparing for an uprising, took us from PALGA to his in SALONIKA. I was sent to live with a Greek Colonel and the two others went elsewhere in SALONIKA.

    About a month later we were handed over, with eight other British soldiers, to a guide employed by the organisation. We walked over the mountains for about a week till we were within about three hours walk of STAVROS. The Greek Lieutenant went with us. At first everything seemed to be prepared for our reception at the villages en route, but difficulties now seemed to develop. The Lieutenant and the guide returned to SLAONIKA by bus to make new arrangements, promising to return within four days and our party split up. After about a fortnight the Lieutenant and the guide had not returned and SMOTH, KEMNLE and I decided to return to SALONIKA. We did this without a guide.

    In SALONIKA we got in touch with the guide, who had heard nothing of the Lieutenant and was obviously too afraid to try and find out what had happened to him. KEMBLE, the darkest of the three of us, went with the wife of the guide to the house where he had been sheltered and learned that Lieutenant and a niece of the Colonel – she had also helped us – had been arrested. Both had been sentenced to death but the sentences were later reduced to three years imprisonment in the case of the Lieutenant and a year in the case of the girl.

    On 29th September we returned to PROKHOMA, the village where we had originally found shelter, this being the only place where we seemed to have a reasonable prospect of getting information. Here we learned that the Germans had searched the village a week before and had taken the farmer’s wife and daughter to SALONIKA. Though very strictly interrogated, they had denied all knowledge of any Englishmen having been in the village and were released. The farmer’s family now put us in touch with a girl school teacher, who advised us to go to the village of AGIOS DEMTERIOS at the N.W. end of the ATHOS (HAGION OROS) peninsula. She gave us no actual contacts there.

    We walked back to landward end of the ATHOS Peninsula. We arrived at the village near STAVROS where the Lieutenant and the guide had left us and got in touch with a Frenchman who had helped us when we were last there. He told us of a Greek officer who claimed to have helped Englishmen and to be looking for others to help. The snow had now begun and food was scarce, so we decided to trust this Greek and got in touch with him through a miller in an adjacent village. Before we actually met the Greek we lived for two days in the open near the village, the miller bringing us food. Here we met two other New Zealanders, one of them Dvr. FROST, of my unit. Later two more New Zealanders, a Scotsman and an Australian joined our party.

    The Greek officer came to see us and showed us a list of the names of the people whom he had helped. Next night he sent two guides to take us to his village and we were guided to a valley and told to wait. The Greek officer told us he was going to SALONIKA to fetch a car for us. We took this to moan a Greek four-wheeled cart. Had he said he was bringing a motor car we would have been suspicious.

    The Greek officer returned that evening as arranged. We assembled and walked to the road with him. As we got close to the vehicle we saw it was a heavy lorry. Everyone but FROST and me had got in. There were two civilians standing beside the truck. Both spoke perfect English and greeted us cordially. While FROST was speaking to the civilians at the rear of the truck I went round to the side and saw a “V” on it, which I knew was German sign. I went to the front and saw a German soldier at the wheel. I returned to the rear of truck and told FROST quietly what I had seen. One civilian said, “Hop in, boys”. I said I would rather walk, as it was a cold night. FROST also refused to get in. One civilian then produced a pistol and the other a rifle from under his coat. We got into the truck. We were taken back to SALONIKA. On the way we destroyed any incriminating papers and photographs we had with us. We arrived back in LAGER 1 (which was also known as FRONTSTALAG and later DULAG 183) on 28th October.


    As soon as we got back to Lager 1 we decided to have another try at escaping. There were about 70 people in the camp, all escapers except a few medical personnel. We had some maps in the camp. We got information about a tunnel which had been discovered by the Germans early in 1941 and had been closed. We located the tunnel and ripped up the floor. The top of the tunnel had been concreted over. With pieces of iron beds we prised up the concrete and gut it out. Only the top of the tunnel had been closed but when we got down the shaft into the drive we found that the Germans had filled it with concertina wire. We cleared the tunnel of the wire and decided to go the following evening but next morning the tunnel was found. We suspected that it had been given away as the Germans walked straight to it.

    After the tunnel had been discovered a few of us who were interested in escaping got together. On 15th November we cut through a doorway in empty back room. The doorway had been wired and boarded up. After we got through the doorway we had to cut through a fine mesh of barbed wire. We then crossed a road and a wall 3 ft. high and lay on a rubbish tip for some time. We next cut through another wire fence, crossed a concrete wall about 8 ft. high, and went down to the road, which we reached after cutting through another fence. I was the third out of a party of 12, which included one New Zealand officer. I was accompanied by a Commando private (a Welshman). The Welshman and I went to TUMBRA(?) on the outskirts of SALONIKA, where we were to get in touch with Greek people whom the Welshman knew. They kept us for the night. Next day (16th November) we walked round the coast by the main road to VATROPHELI(?) near POLYGHYROS. Here we met eight Australians and one Cypriot who had been to the ATHOS (HAGION OROS) peninsula and found it impossible to get away. We stayed here for some days, during which I had an attack of malaria. I then walked to NEA MONDANIA with Sgt. DONALDSON, Australian I.F. We got to the village of YARAKANI on the CASSANDRA Peninsula, where there were German controlled schooners collecting produce. We went to a house and asked for food. While we were at the house the Greek police came and took us to the police station. The police had no option but to arrest us as they themselves were under very strict control at that time. They treated us very well and handed us over to the Germans at POLYGHYROS. We were sent back to lager 1 (DULAG 183) (SALONIKA) early in December.


    I remained in DULAG 183 till 16th April 1942. That I was able to do was largely due to C.S.M. VARLEY, the camp interpreter, who helped me to keep off all transports leaving for GERMANY. I wished to remain in SALONIKA because I still hoped to escape to TURKEY. Between December 1941 and April 1942 I was three times in hospital with malaria.

    I left SALONIKA on 16th April and arrived in GERMANY (STALAG VIIIB, LAMSDORF UPPER SILESIA) on 23rd April 1942. We had plenty of food for the journey. I was in hospital in STALAG VIIIB until the end of May 1942 and then began work in the KARTEI (Records Office), again through the influence of C.S.M. VARLEY.

    I left the KARTEI on 16th July in charge of a working party of 25 men at ARBEITSKOMMANDO 469, in JOHANNESBAD, FREIHEIT, in the region of TRAUTINAU (EUROPE air map, 1:250,000, Sheet M.33/5). I was in charge of this party till 28th October. While I was here nine men escaped in one night but they did not get very far. Three men escaped on a later occasion. The party was then broken up for winter, the contractor having decided that he did not want any more P/W labour.

    I was sent back to the STALAG where I met one of my own men, Dvr. PHELAN, E.J.A., New Zealand Forces. He and I went to a saw mill at OPPELN in a working party early in November 1942. OPPELN being a railway junction, we hoped to get help there from the Poles, but they were unable to supply us either with civilian clothes or information about escaping and we decided to return to the camp. We were refused permission from the Control Officer, so we continued agitating and dodging work until we were sent back on 10th or 12th November and remained chained till 27th January 1943.


    On 27th January 1943 I went to work at a paper factory between JUNGBUCH and FREIHEIT (EUROPE Air Map, 1:250,000 Sheet 35/5). I knew this area, having been there already on the wood-cutting party and hoped to get help. I escaped from this Commando on 13th May with. Dvr. MARLARTY of my own unit. The German workers supplied us with civilian clothing, food, a little money and maps. One man in the S.S. was to help us on to a troop train going to FRANCE but at the last moment he changed his mind but he did not give us away. The Germans who helped us were working in the paper factory. They were SUDETEN Germans and very democratic and friendly.

    We escaped from the room in which we lived at the factory by taking the bars out of the window. We then walked out and away (on the night of 13th-14th May). We intended to go to YUGOSLAVIA to join the guerrilla forces there. We walked across country from JUNGBUCH into CZECHOSLOVAKIA and then to MILETIN, HORICE and MYSTERE(?) near SUCHA. We did not approach Cezchs for help. From SUCHA we went on walking by night East to VSESTARY and then by main road to HRADEC, KRALOVE, PARDUBICE and to a point just before CHOCEN where we hoped to strike a railway and jump a goods trains.

    We got on to the railway line and just missed a train. Another was coming but it was going too fast. We crouched down beside the railway bridge and a Czech soldier came along. He looked over the bridge and shone his torch on us. He spoke to us in Czech. I said, “Nix verstechen”. He asked if we were German. Before I could answer he unslung his rifle. I asked who he was and said he was Czech. I then told we were English but he insisted on our going with him to the orderly room at a station 2 or 3 kms away.

    The other Czech soldiers here said the who had arrested us was a young and new soldier and that any of the others would have helped us but once we had been taken to the guard room they were unable to do anything for us. This was on 21st May.

    We were taken to PARDUBICE where the Gestapo interrogated us but treat us very well. Before we left the station near CHOCEN, the Czech soldiers destroyed our maps and documents, including a diary, as well as some of our civilian clothes. We were five days in prison in PARDUBICE and were sent back to LAMSDORF.


    For my last escape I was sentenced to seven days’ imprisonment but as I had been five days in prison in PARDUBICE I had only two days to do in LAMSDORF. On the second day I was ordered to report to the Lager Offizier, who asked if I was prepared to go to work. I agreed, hoping to be sent to a paper factory.

    I was sent to the working compound, where I began to make plans for escape. In the compound I met Gnr. Edgar HARRISON (S/P.G.(G)1523) and we decided to escape together. I collected maps from friends and also secured some personal papers. We also gathered as much information as we could about BRESLAU, the route to STETTIN and the possibility of getting a Swedish ship in STETTIN. The papers we obtained were an Arbeitsdienstausweis, an Eisenbahnausweis and a Personalausweis. We then arranged to be sent on a working party of 14 men employed in the gas works in BRESLAU stacking and emptying gas purifiers. We arrived in BRESLAU on 22nd July (ARBEITSKOMMANDO E.243).

    At the gas works we got in touch with some Ukrainians working there and in exchange for cigarettes got from them civilian clothes. By the same means we got a railway time table from a Pole and each of us bought a watch from Frenchmen. The Feldwebel found a felt hat one day in HARRISON’s trunk and later a pair of civilian trousers hanging up to dry inside, a pair of battle-dress trousers. After this the Feldwebel kept a close eye on us.

    In preparation for our escape we packed our shaving gear, boot polish, towels, soap, socks. Etc. in the brief case bought with cigarettes from the Ukrainians. We hid the cases and our civilian clothing the vessel (purifying) house and awaited our chance to get out.

    On 22nd September we tried to get out. We waited till an auxiliary civilian guard had passed and made our way individually to the vessel house, where we changed, putting on blue overalls over our civilian clothes. The vessel house was near a 7 ft. wall, inside of which was a police patrol and there were also civilians walking about. About 2 ft. from the wall was a high-tension room and the narrow passage between the wall and the building gave us a certain amount of cover. We had stolen a small ladder two weeks before and hidden it in the vessel room. We took this ladder out and put it against the wall under cover of the high-tension room. I got up on the wall and saw a civilian truck outside. I decided to wait till it went . Ten or 15 minutes later I looked over the wall again and saw the Feldwebel and some civilians working on a cable immediately below me. We gave up the idea for that day. We were unable to take away one brief case and one parcel from under the wall and as one of the Ukrainians appropriated the attaché case and the parcel we had to start our journey with only half supplies.

    Next day (23rd September) we decided to try again. We were working on the morning shift and had to stage our escape to catch a tram which got us to the Haupbahnhof just in time to catch the train. As the morning was too difficult, we changed to the afternoon shift, taking the places of two of our comrades who pretended they wanted to play football. The Feldwebel was also out that day.

    On 23rd September we repeated the procedure of the previous day. We got over the wall, timing this so that the policeman had completed his patrol. I was first over with the brief case and walked down the road to the tram stop. I caught the tram but HARRISON just missed it. This was the last I saw of HARRISON till we met in STETTIN.

    I left the tram at the Hauptbahnhof, found the platform I wanted and then bought a third-class ticket for GLOGAU. I did not have to show my papers. I went on to the platform and a German soldier actually found me a seat. I changed at GLOGAU and booked for REPPEN. At REPPEN I bought a ticket for KUSTRIN, arriving there about midnight. My next connection was about 0600 hrs. so I walked out of the station and slept in a field till about 0515 hrs. (24th September). I returned to the station and bought a ticket for STETTIN, which I reached about 0905 hrs.

    From the Hauptbahnhof in STTETIN I caught a tram to GOTZLOW, having been told in the camp that Swedish ships loaded there with coal and could be boarded without help. I spent the morning in GOTZLOW and had a good look at the place from a hill. I t seemed quite impossible to get into the harbour and in any case there were no Swedish ships there.

    I returned to the town and in the afternoon decided to go to the AM DUNZIG where I had a seen a Dutch ship. I crossed the HANSABRUCKE and walked along the AM DUNZIG but I could not get into the harbour there, or round to the FREIHAFEN. I therefore returned to the vicinity of the Arbeitsamt (Labour office) near the HANSABRUCKE, but still on the AM DUNZIG.

    Here I saw three Frenchmen in civilian clothes and black berets. I said, “Bonjour” to them and asked them if they were French and could speak English. They were doubtful of me at first but were convinced when I produced a letter addressed to me in the camp, a STALAG identity disc and a photograph of myself in uniform. They then said they had a friend who spoke English and took me to the Lager where they lived. The Frenchman who spoke English told me they worked on the Swedish ships and would get me on board and would look after me toll they could find a ship form me. They said no Germans ever went to their Lager. I had a shave and a wash and when I cam back into the barrack room, Dvr. HARRISON was standing there. He had come by another route, having missed the GLOGAU train.

    The Frenchmen now did most of the organising for us, two of them being particularly helpful. We were in the Lager from 24th to 27th September. All the Frenchmen knew were there but none of them gave us away. A Swedish ship came in on 27th September and they sent us down to it in the afternoon. The ship had been loaded and we could not get on board, so we returned to the Lager.

    We got on board another ship that night. Ten Frenchmen were detailed to load the boat, which was lying in the docks beside the FLUGHAFEN, near ALTDAMM (GERMANY, 1:100,00, Sheet 38). We travelled there by tram and took the places of two Frenchmen who stayed behind at the Lager. There was an air raid while we were working on the ship, so we went to a shelter for about half an hour and then returned on board.

    The two men whose place we had taken then came on the ship. By this time the cargo of coal was almost loaded and HARRISON and I began to dig ourselves in among the coal in one of the holds. The Frenchmen put us into a hold immediately underneath a ventilator. The ship was searched by the Gestapo when the cargo had been loaded and we were told afterwards by a seaman that while search was on one of us cough and he stamped on the deck to drown the sound.

    Before we had concealed ourselves, two drunk Swedish seaman came on board talking broken English. We decided to trust them. One of them took me to his cabin in the forecastle, where there were two other seamen. I told them who I was and showed them my photograph, letter and identity discs and asked them to smuggle us to SWEDEN. They said that they could not do this because of the German search of the ship, but that if we liked to take the risk hiding in the coal they would not give us away.

    The name of the ship was the S.S. LUDVIG. One of the sailors was particularly helpful and passed us down an overcoat, coffee, cigarettes and a letter of encouragement through the ventilator. After we had left German waters our presence was made known to the master of the ship, who treated us with every kindness.

    We landed at LANDSKRONA on 29th September and were handed over to the Swedish police. The Danish Vice-Consul at LANDSKRONA who happened to be in the Police station showed us every kindness. He got in touch with our Vice-Consul at HALSINGBORG, stood guarantee for us with the police and took us out to dinner. He also offered us a room in a hotel but we refused this as we were dirty and had no suitable clothes. We returned to the Police Station, where we were locked in a cell all the following day (30th September) and until 1600 hrs on the second day. We asked for a bath and a shave but were not given permission. The Danish Vice-Consul secured our release, gave us clothes and arranged for a room in a hotel. We then went to STOCKHOLM and reported to the British Legation.

    24th-27th September 1943
    Arthur GRILLET and Ferdinand.
    French workers living in Lager at 5 am Dumzig, STETTIN. All the Frenchmen in the Lager cooperated in stowing CROWLEY and HARRISON (S/O,G,(G)1523 on to a Swedish vessel and in sheltering them in the Lager. GRILLET and Ferdinand were particularly helpful.

    27th-29th September 1943

    Hugo DAVIDSON,
    Seaman of Swedish ship, S.S. Ludwig with overcoat, coffee, cigarettes and letter of encouragement while hiding in the hold.

    29th-1st October 1943
    Mr. Arvid FRIBER, Danish Vice-Consul at LANDSKRONA, SWEDEN.
    Assistance on arrival at LANDSKRONA. Mr. FRIBERG has been th… and reimbursed by the Legation at STOCKHOLM

    WO 208/3315/60

    Sgt. Crowley & Gnr. Harrison both received the DCM for their escapes.
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2021
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