C. DONELLY V.X.46836 2/3 L.A.A. EX. P.O.W.
I enlisted on the 29/7/1940 and was drafted into the 2/3 Light Anti-Aircraft Artillery. I was stationed firstly at Caulfield and from there sent to Werribee. At both places we were stationed at the racecourse where we slept on straw palliasses in the concrete stands. Our training was done at Werribee and in December 1940 we sailed for Palestine on the ‘Mauretania’. Other ships in the convoy were Queen Mary, Aquitania, Dominion Monarch and Awatea. After some time in the desert we were then shipped to the island of Crete in the Mediterranean.
The German intention was to invade Crete by sea but the British Fleet sank all the invading boats and barges. The Island was then bombed solidly for two weeks, then Paratroopers were flown in of which hundreds were shot down and killed before the Germans finally made a landing at Maleme.
Here they set up a landing strip and finally overran the Island
The British ships ‘Imperial’, ‘Dido’, ‘Orion’ and ‘Hereward’ sailed in to evacuate the troops who boarded the ships during the night of May 28th.1941. At 5.30 am. on May 29th.,under heavy Stuka attack, the ‘Hereward ‘,the ship I was on , received a direct bomb which went straight down the funnel. Quite a number of our soldiers and British naval men were killed when the ship was hit, others went down with the ship but the majority jumped overboard and were picked up some hours later by Italian torpedo boats.
I had been in the water about six hours and have no recollection of being picked up by the torpedo boat. We were taken up to the beach of a small Island and, according to my mates, I was laid out with the dead bodies. Luckily, I eventually became conscious and, with others, was sent to Rhodes Island for three months, the first three weeks of which were spent in hospital because of exposure in the water.
We were issued with one set of underwear, one pair of socks, one pair of boots –mine were size 9-I take size 6-, one pair of trousers, one shirt, one jacket and two blankets. These were all the possessions we had as all our belongings went down with the ‘Hereward’.
We were then shipped to Italy and sent to a camp at Capura and from there to Bolzano in the north of Italy near the Brenner Pass. After some time we were moved to camp 57 at Gruppignano near Udine close to the Yugoslavian border. This infamous camp was under the command of Colonel Calcaterra. Details of this camp can be read in Malcolm Webster’s book, ‘An Italian Experience’ and Alex Barnett’s book, ‘ Hitler’s Digger Slaves’.
We spent about twelve months at this camp and were then sent to work in the rice fields on the Lombardy Plains for the next twelve months. Here our beds were three tiered bunks with thin straw mattresses. Our daily rations were as follows;