Work Camp 10196 L
Type of work: Road & Railway
Man of Confidence: Unknown
Number of Men: 24 approx.
|H.M.||Burns||Gnr||1 A/T Rg.||3792||Australia|
|Cyril W.||Cossgrove||T/L/Bdr||4411||New Zealand|
|T.C. (Taffy)||Easter||Pte||RAVC||1294||also 11079/GW|
|Harry||Kaplin||Cpl||7 Div. Sigs.||5216||Australia|
Percy Leaf, Pte, RASC, was captured at Tobruk in June 1942 and spent time as a POW in Italy before being transferred to Austria. During the entire time of his captivity he kept a diary which eventually amounted to 15 volumes which had to be hidden and smuggled from camp to camp. The following is an extract from that diary which recounts the events in early May 1945 when the war was about to end.
There came a Frenchman with his contribution (and probably gross exaggeration for which we consider them famous here!) of the village rumours. Two German Cossacks invaded our sanctuaries for enquiries; then New Zealand's effort, in the shape of Joe Grey, fed, listened to, out and up to Aunas to sleep, followed then by the social function of the day, when four Russian girls walked in at about 6pm, all unannounced. Preparations for feeding them went on while they listened to a Russian broadcast from Berlin (for although they had been here so long, they have not heard a whisper of a radio for that time), and then we were somewhat amazed to find one of them dissolve into tears at the sounding of the Russian anthem. Cheerful dance music soon relieved the situation however and a dance or two put everything to rights. By 7pm the whole of the local Russian population was crowded into our barracks - and a high time was being had by all. Then at about 9pm drama intervened once more, this time being borne by Ginger who, having left the bottom lager but a short while before, was accosted and warned by two separate individuals from the village that the NAZI Boys intended putting "our lights out" tonight. These two strangers had used every gestrure possible to convince Ginger of the gravity of the situation and of their sincerity. With this news being passed around the room from Britisher to Britisher, our little impromptu party rapidly lost atmosphere - until by 10pm it was disintegrating in a really dismal manner. The gradual lowering of the electric lighting and the consequent loss of the use of the radio set was responsible for the Russians suggesting, in their humble and tentative manner, that they retire for the evening. We felt that we could not get them away sufficiently quickly, yet preserve a normal sense of balance and propriety suitable for the social occasion, in order to commence our organisation of some measure of our defence during the night. Burney electing to remain with us rather than risk the trip down.
Armed guard duty was decided upon, and we were paired off for a detail of hourly duty; instructed also to refrain from firing the first shots in case of any assaults. A Very pistol light would inform watches in the bottom camp of attack upon us. Being the first for duty, I sustained a shock when the lighting was suddenly resumed and I was bathed in brilliant light from the cookhouse. At the outset we had presumed that sleep was totally impossible, but eventually I came off duty at 11.30pm and, although the atmosphere was electric with excitement, I found the lads had themselves extremely well in hand and in severe discipline. Those not on duty were in their beds and the next pair for duty ready to take over. Listening to the radio for any late announcement, I must have eventually gone to sleep soon after midnight.
The hours of darkness were uneventful, thank goodness, except for George W., in his advanced state of jitters and extreme nervousness, believing himself to see and hear all manner of antagonists. A clearless sky today. Events move with rapidity, however despite the serenity of the weather. Being on fatigue today, it was necessary for me to drag water, and whilst at the station tap, the Bauhofmeister brought out the swastika flag, and his satellites then procedded to remove the offensive swastika from its red background, off a 30ft flag. An hour later we were invited to send a party to fire a salute in honour of raising the new flag. Ginger, Smudge, George and Dusty volunteered and carried out the function in precise dress and military order. We were more than a little shocked to find a pure red flag hoisted, when we were expecting to see the old Austrian national flag. Although it was an impressive military ceremony with a score of onlookers, I am doubtful of our authority to execute such a feu-de-joie. And when later, some of the higher-strunger members of the lager went about the hill loosing off wild shots for an hour or more, I felt it was an extremely foolish action, in view of the state of affairs in the village. It may be more than coincidence that Very lights went up from (unreadable) in the midst of this shooting, considering that four of the mysterious signals went up from the same place during my period of guard. We have seen the proud and swaggering German, since our first being taken prisoner, gradually sway on his pinnacle, totter, and now fall to become the rabble of disillusioned soldiers that now present in the orbit of our vision.
Working busily till 3pm when "WINNIE" made his historic speech, the boys took it all extremely quietly; no cheering, no flag waving, no delirium or rejoicing of any description - just a deep deep sigh and such non-committal remarks as "Well, that's it. When do we go home?" Understandable, really, because it makes no difference to us, and this is not a madman's ramblings. We knew when we were taken that it would be a long time; we also knew that we should be going home sometime in 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946 or some future date. Now the difference is that we know that we shall be going home and we know that it will be this year - but when this year? We are virtually still POWs without its attendant ignominy and hostility. The church bells at Elatta (up the valley) are ringing as I write this at 3.45pm, probably the only signs of peace being declared that we chaps will experience. Some of our boys, who have been below today, returned a short while ago with stories of surprising hospitality and goodwill. Ken has been treated to rum, while the villagers have put on a village dance for all the auslanders in the vicinity, due to take place tomorrow evening. We wonder? The boys in the bottom camp evacuated to the power station early in the evening in response to a warning, from one of the villagers, that the same fate held good for them as it did for us of Kaponig. They slept the night there. Jack brought this news up with him when he paid us a visit at about 5.45pm, having walked up. The Feldwebel, who has reappeared after an absence of five days reported to have been spent travelling from here to Spittal and back, reports poor feeding in the Stalag, with Kok, Roper and the German Cmdt. away looking for some unit of the allied forces from whom to receive some definite orders regarding prisoners of war. The whole day has been one long anticlimax, most of us wanting to hear Churchill speak, but not the repeated broadcast which came on every five minutes, or so it seemed.
Fine. Allowed to please ourselves (almost) with regard to work. Parcels arrived during the afternoon and were issued one per man. The next issue is unknown.
(All information kindly supplied by Fred Brown (son-in-law) and Louise Smith (granddaughter).