HUGH MURDOCH GRIGG
AASC; 6th Division, 17th Brigade, 2/7 Battalion
Egypt, Greece, Crete
Hugh in uniform after enlistment
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. This was by truck and even by camel train.Hugh leading a camel train of supplies to the front in Middle East
He was in Egypt until 30th March 1941, when he embarked as part of the17th Brigade Composite Company Army Service Corps for battle in Greece and Crete. The Allied troops tried to shore up the Greek forces in their defence against the Germans and Italians, who swept quickly through the country.Soldiers crammed on board a ship in transit from Middle East to Greece
Allied troops were transferred to Crete in an attempt to hold the island, but were forced to retreat from Crete as well. Chaos followed as the Royal Navy attempted evacuation of Allied troops while under heavy German attack. Some evacuation ships were sunk and while some troops were rescued from the water and taken onto other ships, thousands of troops were left on shore and forced to either surrender or attempt to escape. Hugh was reported as missing, possibly as a casualty, on 3rd June, then officially recorded as a POW in Greece on 21st of June.He was reported missing on 3rd June, then officially recorded as a POW on 21st of June.
Exhausted Allied POWs being marched to POW camp in Crete
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.Map of Staleg 18AView of part of Staleg 18A
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.Church Service in Staleg 18A
Christmas card from POWs in Staleg 18A showing musicians in one of revues put together by the POWs to provide entertainment in the camp
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.Even under awful circumstances the POWs managed to retain some sense of humor.
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.Hugh's discharge paper
Hugh went on to marry and live on Phillip Island where he worked on the second Phillip Island bridge and drove the fish truck to market for many years. He also worked on the West Gate Bridge and narrowly avoided death on the date of its collapse when he left the lunch room to retrieve his thermos from his car in the car park, just as the span collapsed and fell on the lunch room. He helped retrieve many alive and dead from the rubble, and never returned to the bridge. Hugh was president of the Phillip Island RSL for several terms, including some crucial ones for the direction of the club. His wife predeceased him by a few months. He then went to live with one of their daughters in Tasmania, and passed away there.