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You Are To Carry On, Good Luck Z-Zebra

CHAPTER 9 

Prisoners of War



Sgt. William Guthrie Schrader 

Details of Bill Schrader's experiences whilst a prisoner of war are taken from his Statement of Released POW to No. 11 (RAAF) PDRC (Special Administration Section) at RAF Brighton in May 1945 and documents in the National Archives of Australia (Ref: NAA, 9301 413434) 

After his capture Bill Schrader was first taken to Amsterdam airport for questioning before being sent to Dulag Luft for further interrogation. He was held there for 10 days before being moved to Stalag Luft 6 near Heydekrug in East Prussia (now Silute in Lithuania) where he would remain for just over a year. 

He described conditions at Stalag Luft 6 as 'fair' and said that he received a Red Cross food parcel weekly to supplement 'fair' German food supplies. It seems that he also described the bathing, sanitary and recreational facilities as only 'fair'. Whilst held at Stalag Luft 6 William Schrader spent 8 weeks in the sick bay with a skin rash that even afterwards 'showed no sign of healing until sun treatment in warmer weather'. During his time there he received five clothing parcels from home and described the mail situation again as only 'fair'. 

In the early part of his incarceration Bill's overriding concern was whether his wife Barbara knew that he was safe, but finally on the 17 September 1943 he received a letter from London that allayed his concern. 

                                                        

                                          

                           File copy of the letter sent to Bill Schrader and his letter-card reply (Courtesy National Archives of Australia)


And on  2 October 1943 he wrote this letter-card querying the situation regarding his pending promotion to Flight Sergeant and future promotion to Warrant Officer. 

                                           

                                                                                           Courtesy National Archives of Australia

But although effective from 28 February 1943 it was not until a letter to him dated 15 December 1943 whilst a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft 6, that he received official notification of his promotion to Flight Sergeant: he was still a prisoner of war when he was promoted to Warrant Officer with effect from 28 February 1944.  


From letters in the National Archives of Australia it seems that in the early part of his incarceration he was in reasonably good spirits considering the circumstances. In a lettercard to a fellow RAAF Navigator of 462 Squadron, Sgt. P.G. Evers( Aus/414625), dated 3 September 1943 he says:

'Dear Peter, I often wonder how you are doing back there, and would love to be still back there too. Life here is easy, crowded, monotonous and lazy. So far the weather has been pleasant but I expect it will get cold soon, I hope we don't have to spend all winter here. Will be looking forward to a note Pete. Bill.' 

Needless to say he was still there throughout that winter but appears to be still in good spirits on 22 December when he writes in a lettercard to another Navigator friend of 460 Squadron Sgt. N.J. Anderson: 

'Your letter of 29.9.43 was extremely welcome as it contained much interesting gen. Things are going well, made a Xmas cake yesterday and it turned out super. There are about (figure deleted presumably by German censor) Aussies here some of them nearly 3 year prisoners. (word/s deleted) the monotony is a bit intense otherwise not too bad. Merry Xmas Andy and Best of Luck. Bill.'

Unknown to Sgt. Schrader, Sgt Neville Jack Anderson had been captured three weeks earlier when his Lancaster W4881 was shot down over Germany and was a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft 1 Barth Vogelsang, Germany. 

In a reverse scenario of this, a letter card dated 6 September 1943 and addressed to Sgt. Schrader had been received at RAAF Headquarters in London from prisoner of war Private W.J. Morgan (Australian Imperial Forces) in Stalag 4C (Wistritz bei Teplitz). This was possible Walter Morgan a nephew of Bill Schrader from Sydney, Australia. On 25 October it was forwarded to Sgt. Schrader and read:

'Dear Willie

I have not heard from you for some time, only one letter so far from England. I hope to see you in England in due course and no, privates and sergeants are not allowed to go out together, anyhow you might be a bloody general by then. This year, next year sometime, never, should see the end of the war. I hope all is well with you and yours. I am about the same inwardly, externally. I have a protruding gut, a bald head and almost toothless. Aufwiedersehen Uncle' 

Headquarters wrote that Private Morgan had been informed of Sgt. Schrader's predicament and it was hoped they might be able to communicate with each other through the medium of their respective Camp Leaders.  

On 15 July 1944 William Schrader was sent to Stalag 357 near Thorn in Poland but after one month he was moved to the camp's new site (the former site of Stalag XI-D) at Fallingbostel, Lower Saxony in North Western Germany. Conditions at Stalag 357 were much worse than he had experienced so far; Red Cross parcels were now reduced to half a parcel or less per week and the German food supplies were inadequate. He describes the accommodation as bad and the bathing, washing and sanitary facilities as 'terrible, no sewage and no basins etc.' 

His statement however fails to explain just how bad,  'bad'  really was because by November 1944 there were 17000 prisoners crammed into the camp with 400 men to a hut with each hut having only 150 beds. Americans arriving the following February, having been captured during the Battle of the Bulge, were accommodated in tents. The prisoners were also suffering severely through lack of food and medical supplies. In his report William Schrader also says that in March 1945 he was employed for one month in the capacity of Arbeit Fuhrer (work leader or foreman?) for which he was paid 30 Reichsmarks.  

With the approach of Allied troops on April 6 1945 some 12000 prisoners in columns of 2000 were marched from the camp. 

Bill Schrader recorded that 'During the following 11 days of marching the PoWs were forced to march 12 to 20 km per day with only the occasional day of rest. They were made to carry whatever possessions they had and given only very meagre rations by the Germans were forced to scrounge or beg for food from local farmers and villagers. On 17 April they marched across the Elbe at Hohnsdort (near Lauenberg) and the following day marched to Gresse'. 

They had marched over 110km (70 miles) to Gresse where Red Cross parcels were distributed. 

The next day (19 April) whilst mistaken for German troops the marching PoWs were strafed by RAF Typhoons killing 60 of the prisoners of war and wounding many others. 

Leader of the POWs and fluent German speaker Sergeant Pilot James "Dixie" Deans asked the German Commandant Oberst Ostmann for permission to try to reach the allied lines to tell them that the column of marching men was composed of allied prisoners of war and not retreating German forces. The Commandant gave Sgt. Deans a pass and permission to go with a guard to try to make contact with the Allied forces approaching from the west. This he did and given a captured Mercedes, drove back to Gresse. 

Bill Schrader records that the PoWs were liberated at Endsdetten by the British army and with another 9 PoWs he drove to Brussels in a commandeered Ford V8 panel van before being flown to London by the RAF. 

By the 8th of May, William Schrader was back in the UK at No. 11 (RAAF) PDRC (Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre) in Brighton.

During the next few brief weeks back in England Bill Schrader, in the most difficult of circumstances, took the time to pay a visit to the family of pilot Charlie Harrison killed in the crash. See Chapter 6 - Aftermath. 

By 29 June he was on his way home aboard HMS Andes and on 28 July 1945 he finally arrived back in Sydney, Australia. 

He was discharged on demobilisation with effect from 25 October 1945 receiving 90 days pay in lieu of leave. 


Sgt. Charles Richard Stanley Morris PoW No.214 was sent to PoW Stalag Kopernikus 357.  Nothing further known.

P/O. Colin Campbell Bates PoW No. 1441 was sent to Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria L3. Nothing further known



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RW 04.10.2015

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