Family finds closure at POW camp
June 27, 2011
HOHENFELS, Germany -- Staring out over the green fields and rolling hills of the Hohenfels Training Area, Martin Everton of Little Kaiteriteri, New Zealand, found it hard to believe that 66 years ago his father was a prisoner of war in this very spot. All that remains of Stalag 383 are some foundation stones, shattered glass, faded photographs, and memories.
Everton’s father, Edgar (Ted) served with the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force as a Rank Sergeant for a medical unit. He was captured during the Battle of Greece in 1941. He spent the next 4 years as a POW, first in Greece, then Austria, and finally Hohenfels.
“This has been really emotional,” said Everton, who has traveled more than 12,000 miles to complete his pilgrimage. “It’s been part of our lives for 60 odd years. It was always talked about, not in a bad way, but it was really hard to picture the place. And being at the same place " where you see the valley and the trees on the hill " looking down at where the camp was…In a way, for me, it’s like closure.”
During World War II, Stalag 383 served as a non-working camp for approximately 5,000 non-commissioned officers. It had a relatively extensive program of recreational and educational activities, fostered in part by the World Alliance of YMCA’s.
Hohenfels was a far cry from the overcrowded and filthy conditions of their previous prisons. Ted wrote of his arrival: “We finished at Hohenfels…quite a good camp…Hohenfels was a sort of summer camp and we moved into small huts which held 14 men in double bunks.”
Ted kept an extensive diary of his days in Stalag 383. The original is now housed in the Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand. He had returned to Germany in 1965 to try and find the camp, but never located it.
“Martin always wanted to come here, it’s what his father wanted to do, but he never did it, so we really did this for him,” said Everton’s wife, Diane.
“We only had a vague idea about how we were going to do it,” Everton admitted. “The town of Hohenfels was always mentioned. I didn’t even know how to say it.”
While perusing a website that transcribed a notebook kept by a British POW in Stalag 383, Everton spotted a post in the guestbook by Hohenfels Military community member Kathy McDowell.
McDowell said she had first heard of Stalag 383 while on the training area tour with Melissa Spiszer, wife of Col. John Spiszer, Joint Multinational Readiness Center commander.
“I was actually looking for the book (“Barbed Wire, Memories of Stalag 383” by M.N. McKibbon),” said McDowell. “I thought it would make an excellent farewell gift for her. It’s not in print anymore, but I was hoping maybe it’s available somewhere, and someone will read this post.”
When Everton saw that McDowell actually lived in Hohenfels, he contacted her for information.
“Kathy told us about this tour of the post and they have a lot of the history of Hohenfels and the camp, and of course there was a huge military post now, which I didn’t realize was here,” Everton said, realizing that was the reason his father had been unable to find the camp.
McDowell arranged for a tour with Public Affairs officer Norbert Wittl, who provided them with black and white photos of the camp so they could match up the surrounding countryside.
As they stood among the scant remnants of the camp, Everton sang “Pokarekare Ana”, a traditional love song of the Maori, the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand.
“Music was a huge part of their life,” said Everton. “They put on these “Gilbert and Sullivan” type operas. It was a very large part of their camp life.”
Ted’s diary is full of accounts of plays, musicals, and choir practices. Diane said Ted was a natural showman, and with the “Pokarekare Ana” sometimes being referred to as the “unofficial national anthem” of New Zealand, she has no doubt that it would have been sung among the 330 “Kiwi” POWs.
“We all had tears in our eyes when he was done,” said Wittl.
The Evertons were struck by the beauty and peacefulness of the area. They visited the Polish cemetery and are thankful that the area has been preserved.
“This place is very, very, important. There were 5,000 men here that all have relatives. It touched lots and lots of people’s lives,” Everton said.
“It was just amazing,” said Diane. “Martin’s father would have loved it. He would love the fact that we came back, that we’ve met lovely German people, and we’ve seen it without all the sad memories.”