Phillip Island & District Historical Society

World War 2 veterans - Hugh Grigg, war record and POW experience

Last updated on 10-Jul-21

HUGH MURDOCH GRIGG

VX8911

AASC; detached to duty – 6th Division, 17th Brigade, 2/7 Battalion

Artillery/Composite

Egypt, Greece, Crete

POW Austria

 

28.11.1939Enlisted Melbourne, 17 years old 

                        Trained at Puckapunyal, Victoria

11.1.1940    Embarked from Melbourne 

14.2.40        Disembarked Qantara (Kantara), Egypt

19.6.40       Detached for duty with 2/7 Battalion, Kantara

16.11.40     Transferred to Ammunition Company (transporting ammunition and equipment)

January 1941 – 2/7 Battalion first saw action against Italians 

12.3.41     Ammunition Company - Transferred to 17th Brigade Composite Company Army Service Corps

30.3.41      Embarked for Greece

3.6.41       Reported as missing, possibly casualty

21.6.41     Confirmed POW in Greece

16.9.41     Confirmed POW Stalag XVIIIA (18A), Wolfsberg, Austria

21.5.45    “Recovered POW, arrived UK ex-Western Europe”

2.7.45     1 AIF Transit Camp UK - Transport Officer, Home Service

Early July 1945Embarked UK

8.8.45       Arrived in Australia – NSW, Ballarat, Melbourne: General Divisional Duties

22.9.1945  Discharged from Royal Park Barracks, AMR&O 253A (R.184A) (1) (j) At his own request on compassionate grounds (ex-POW)

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Hugh enlisted in Melbourne in November 1939. After barely six weeks training, he embarked for service abroad on the 11th of January, 1940. The ship arrived in Kantara, Egypt, on 14th February where Hugh served in the Australian Army Service Corps delivering supplies of ammunition and equipment, food and mail, to the different field sites. 

 

He was in Egypt until 30th March 1941, when he embarked as part of the 17th Brigade Composite Company Army Service Corps for battle in Greece and Crete to try to shore up the Greek forces in their defence against the Germans. He was reported missing on 3rd June, then officially recorded as a POW on 21st of June. 

 

Hugh spent three months in at least one transit camp in Greece before being moved north. Food was short, consisting of a little dried or salt fish, lentils or rice, a little oil, and a hard army biscuit or one-ninth of a loaf of bread. Eventually the Greek Red Cross was able to provide extra food, and some POWs were given food through the fence by sympathetic local Greeks. 

Thousands of POWs were crammed into the main camp with no beds or blankets. Toilet facilities consisted of an open trench about 200 yards long, so dysentery quickly became a big problem. 

 

Thousands of Allied POWs were then sent by train north into German and Austrian camps. In their weakened condition, they had to march miles with their packs to the nearest railway station, then were crowded together in the sweltering heat into enclosed cattle trucks, with so many sick men suffering from diarrhoea, Hugh included. It was impossible to lie down to rest during the week-long trip north. There were no sanitary facilities whatsoever. Apart from a few stops when a meagre meal was provided, they had no sustenance for the week. 

 

Hugh was interred as POW number 3786 from the 6th Division of the Australian Army Service Corp in the Austrian POW camp Staleg 18A in Wolfsberg, in the southern Austrian state of Carinthia 16th September, 1941.  

 

Food in the camp decreased over time, but was supplemented by Red Cross parcels. Hugh’s POW camp ration included watery cabbage soup every day, and he could not face cabbage for the rest of his life.  For a man of 6ft 4inches he weighed about 65kg at the end of his time as a POW.

 

Hugh worked in construction in one of the 31 work parties from the camp. If they managed to get extra food somehow, it was cooked using little stoves made from the metal boxes Red Cross parcels sometimes arrived in, and shared around. 

When the POWs were not working, the monotony was broken by games of “Two Up”, revues, debates, educational lectures and classes put on by the POWs. Books from the Red Cross and families were welcome. With co-operation from the Commandant, a newsletter called the POW WOW was produced by some of the men and distributed widely. Due to the multi-cultural nature of the occupants, the men even devised their own language, known as Lager Deutsch. 

 

Hugh tried to escape three times and was unsuccessful twice.  He was threatened with execution after each recapture, but he survived; although after the second attempt he was held in an underground hole in solitary confinement for weeks. 

 

On 18th December, 1944, the camp was hit accidentally with 36 bombs by the US Air Force who thought it was a German military camp. More than 40 men were killed, many wounded, and many buildings destroyed, including the camp hospital. 

Within weeks of the end of the war, the German command gave the order to march the POWs to so-called safer areas as the Russians began invading. Thousands of the men were marched out for many weeks, living off the land as they marched and sleeping on the roadsides. Many escaped during the marches, but to an uncertain fate due to the presence of both Hitler Youth and marauding Russian POWs. 

 

While we do not know if Hugh was forced to march, he did say that he finally managed to escape and found his way to Salzburg, where he was helped by Americans. 

 

Hugh’s record shows him as a “recovered POW arrived UK ex Western Europe” on 21st May 1945. From there Hugh finally arrived home and was discharged officially from Royal Park, Melbourne, on 24th September, 1945. He had been a POW for over four years and in the army for a total of almost 6 years.