[Prisoner of war : Fred Cotterill].

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Tono kōrero mai

Fred Cotterill of Tutukaka was captured by German paratroopers at the Corinth Canal in Greece on 26th April 1941 and describes his experiences and escape to England two weeks before the end of the war.

On their capture, they were retreating towards Kalamata. They did not know if they would be shot, so were surprised to be captured. About 300 New Zealanders of all ranks were captured in Corinth.
They were imprisoned in an old army barracks for three or four weeks on minimum rations. Initially all the New Zealanders were kept together, but later the officers were separated. Several sustained injuries when they were captured.

They were transferred in crowded cattle trucks first to Salonika and then to Yugoslavia where they worked on farms and building roads.

He talks about living conditions in the camps. Most guards were humane towards them. Red Cross parcels were received very gladly. They were allowed to write home once a month.

The general rule was 'no work - no food' - which was enforced by the guards.
He was part of several escape attempts. Eventually he was sent to a civilian prison to do hard labour. He and some other prisoners, including a German civilian, took a chance to escape and made it to England four days before VE Day.
He was afraid of being caught as the guards hunted escapees with Alsatian dogs and were slow to call the dog off once they had caught someone.

He describes the journey to England. They walked cross country and relied on the kindness of strangers. They slept one night in a convent. His German companion did most of the talking so he could conceal his nationality.
He reported to the army in Dieppe and was taken across the channel. He had trouble proving his identity as he was dressed like a German civilian and had not spoken much English in two years.

He reflects that four years of imprisonment made him less hot-tempered and more tolerant of other people.

He discusses the Red Cross's role. The first news his parents had of his disappearance was through the Red Cross. The Red Cross made sure that if they were on trial for any misdemeanour they would have support from a Red Cross representative.
He was sentenced to five years for attempting to escape and fraternising with the enemy. Eventually he became indifferent to the usual punishments of bread and water diet or solitary confinement.

He is now, back home in New Zealand, friends with a German man who was an officer in Russia. They bear no animosity, although he says he was 'very anti-German' up until about ten years ago. He reflects that time heals, although it is hard to forget some of the things they did.

He does not like to dwell on the bad times, but only thinks about the good times. They got their fun from 'baiting the bear' and trying to escape. The goal was not to work. He is glad he did not wait to be released and made it out on his own.

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Request information

Year 1976

Reference number 324875

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Genre Oral histories
Interviews (Sound recordings)
Sound recordings

Credits Cotterill, Fred, approximately 1921-1993, Speaker/Kaikōrero
Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand (estab. 1976, closed 1988), Broadcaster

Duration 00:26:04

Date 1976