Updated Tymbakion Shorts Special Project 2021/2022

127 Prisoners of War and One Pair of Shorts

Can you help us give life to these 127 World War II soldiers and the story of the pair of shorts?

Tymbakion shorts project by Andrew Holyoake NZ

A pair of shorts professionally crafted was brought back from WWII by Private Albert (Bert) Edward Chamberlain. As a civilian he was a tailor and would have had little trouble turning a sheet of canvas into a pair of shorts. Bert was a driver in the 2NZEF and was captured in Crete sometime in 1941.

In the later months of 1941, the Luftwaffe set about developing an airfield in the south of Crete, close to the town of Tymbaki (Tympaki). This airfield, Tymbakion, still exists today. An Allied Air Intelligence report from 1943 suggests that the airfield was developed rapidly in the autumn of 1941 by utilising British and Greek POW labour gangs, who worked day and night. We think Bert was one of the men who was working on this aerodrome as a Prisoner of War.

At the beginning of 1942 Bert and others were shipped off to Germany and spent most of the remaining war years interred at Stalag VIIIB, Lamsdorf (also known as 344). He survived the war, returning home to New Zealand.  

The shorts contain the signed names of 127 men.  A couple of men, whose names appear on the inside rim of the shorts are men whom Bert was friends with at Lamsdorf. The others, however, in addition to the inscription “Prisoner of War Camp Tymbakion Crete” are an enigma.

One of the aims of this project is to find out if these shorts represent a partial list of those Allied and Greek POWs who laboured to build the Tymbakion airfield in late 1941. We are seeking evidence from written anecdotes and diaries, in addition to compiling circumstantial evidence, for example:

      Within the Australian Red Cross POW cards that are held in a University of Melbourne Archive there are a few references of Australian POWs sending mail home from a camp at Tymbakion in September 1941. The majority (but not all) of these men’s names are on the shorts. www.archives.unimelb.edu.au 

     The majority of allied POWs captured on Crete around 1 June 1941 seemed to have been shipped to mainland Europe by August or September, 1941. We are looking for any information about these men and the dates they were transported from Crete.

Below is a list of the men from the shorts, that we have basic information on, who may have been involved at Tymbakion (excluding those who were Bert’s friends at Stalag VIIIB, Lamsdorf (also known as 344). The names are arranged alphabetically in the following format: (surname, initials or first name, service number, POW number, country of service).

There are a few other names on the shorts that we are still working on.

From top left to right top to bottom:

Molloy, John Joseph, QX7772, 4603, Australia

Buirchell, William Roy, WX2280, 4562, Australia

Smith, Loris Richard, NX15308, 4521, Australia

Leviston, Aubrey Reginald, VX7803, 4568, Australia

Ring, Cyril WX2058 Australia

McInerney, John Patrick, NX8406, 4519, Australia

West, Leonard Gordon, VX5561, 4586, Australia

Main List Below

Ainsley, John, R, 105991, 4556, England

Armitage, Thomas Washer, 33221, 5252, Sapper NZ Engineers,New Zealand

Baker, Edward, 2065377, 4596, England

Banner, Ernest Ambrose, 7502, 5012, New Zealand

Barnes, Harry Holcroft, NX32898, 4534, Australia

Barrow, William, 14244, 5458, New Zealand

Beacham, William Albert, 23275, 5227, New Zealand

Bennison, Avery Francis, 5353, 5350, New Zealand

Bentley, Reginald Guy Arthur, NX13532, 4549, Australia

Bissett, Thomas Alexander, NX13592, 4546, Australia

Bowden, Kenneth Frank, 30242, New Zealand

Bowen, George Stanley, CH/X101376, 4606, England

Bristol, Reginald David, VX26839, 4512, Australia

Brodie, Charles William, 13803, 23552, New Zealand

Brown, George Robert William, 2393, 5441, New Zealand

Brown, Norman McLeod, VX31518, 4559, Australia

Brownlie, Robert Bould, 4446, 5409, New Zealand

Buchanan, Roy Douglas, VX32961, 4607, Australia

Buirchell, William Roy, WX2280, 4562, Australia

Bunyard, Claud Stewart, 865679, 4604

Busby, Ponaute, 25823, 5443,28th Maori Battalion, New Zealand

Carter, Edward S, S/94334, 4560, England

Chappell, Ronald John, 7347150, 4510, England

Christiansen, Harold (Harry) Anthony, 30695, 5419, NZ Petrol Company,New Zealand

Collins, Andrew Walter, 5721, 24196, 2 Divisional Employment Platoon,New Zealand

Coombs, Gordon Maxwell, 22262, 5082, 21st Battalion,New Zealand

Cooper, Charles George, 5566, 5164,19th Battalion, New Zealand

Cooper, Hans John, 7347238, 4509, England

Craig, James Colvin, 34623, 4602, New Zealand

Crawford, J, 408857, 4578, England

Davenport, Joseph, 7259305, 4555, England

Davis, J. R, England

East, Edward, 29292, 5201, New Zealand

Face, Edward John Sydney, NX11441, 4585, Australia

Foley, Zamoni James Joseph, 2996, 5200, New Zealand

Forbes, Archibald Henry, 6912, 4511,30th Battery NZ Artillery, New Zealand

Foxon, T.V, 890183, 4582, England

Fraser, Anthony Alexander, 30024, 5417, New Zealand

Freeman, Clifford James, 148521, 4545, England

Gaudion, Eric John Robertson, 10356, 5203, New Zealand

Giles, C, 3964606, 4530, Wales

Goodwin, Edgar G, 1428576, 4565, England

Gorton, John, T/190420, 4544, England

Grimsey, Cyril James G, 148404, 4516, England

Gusscott, Louis Patrick, 33096, 5017, New Zealand

Hardie, Ian Alexander, WX2371, 4507, Australia

Harman, Geoffrey Bertrand, 4321, 5396, New Zealand

Harrington, Stanley Richard, 32257, 5412, New Zealand

Hastie, Alexander Brown, 33750, 5257, New Zealand

Heenan, Colin William, 8571, 5411, New Zealand

Herbert, Cyril M, S/154217, 4539, England

Hewett, Arthur, 2197321, 4576, England

Hodson, Herbert Joseph, 20661, 5437, New Zealand

Holmes, Howard John, 37054, 5119, New Zealand

Holt, Walter Gerald, NX12348, 4501, Australia

Howes, George Richard, NX2918, 4580, Australia

Hurren, Frederick Henry, S/94377, 4504, England

Jackson, Alexander Peter, 1769, 5424, New Zealand

Johnson, Henry, 888099, 4563, England

Johnstone, Robert Aitcheson, VX8887, 4550, Australia

Jones, Frederick Cyril Charles, 34810, 5302, New Zealand

Kirk, James, 30071, 4593, New Zealand

Kollias, Anastasios, Greece

Lechmere, R.J, T/203874, 4616, England

Leviston, Aubrey Reginald, VX7803, 4568, Australia

Lythgoe, Frederick (AKA Rocky), 4915533, 4547, England

Magee, John James, 32086, 5496, New Zealand

McDonald, Leonard Edwin, 22289, 4566, New Zealand

McInerney, John Patrick, NX8406, 4519, Australia

McKain, Frederick James Dunmore, 6488, 4520, New Zealand

McLean, Alexander, 7902927, 4506, England

Miller, John Walter, 7527, 4608, New Zealand

Mitchell, Bernard, 4973574, 4573, England

Molloy, John Joseph, QX7772, 4603, Australia

Moss, John, 4745238, 4536, England

Neale, Roy Errol, 5736, New Zealand

Nuttall, James, 902868, 4522, England

O’Grady, James Clyde, NX30721, 4597, Australia

Osborn, J.J, 6898510, 4595, England

Palmer, T.G.W, 7347235, 4526, England

Pearce, Sydney Emden, NX33248, 4518, Australia

Pedersen, Walter Vernon, VX5571, 4515, Australia

Pestell, R.G, T/73338, 4528, England

Petersen, Charles Amos George (Vic), WX571, 4538, Australia

Petrou, Ioannis, Greece

Pooley, A.E, 210653, 4583, England

Powell, Ray Edward, VX1114, 4569, Australia

Prichard, Jack H, 6849702, 4600, England

Pullenayagam, Joseph Patrick, 7297, Sri Lanka

Pyatt, E, T/182533, 4558, England

Rainford, Douglas, NX1497, 4601, Australia

Rattenbury, John Alfred, NX6877, 5331, Australia

Rees, Edward, 13237, 4591, New Zealand

Rice, F.J, T/117358, 4594, England

Ring, Cyril James, WX2058, 4540, Australia

Roberts, G.A, 132569, 4615, England

Rogers, J, 148797, 4557, England

Shaw, Ernest, 8613, 4525, New Zealand

Sherriff, Harold, 10670180, 4502, England

Shirley, Stanley, 9036, 4533, New Zealand

Singleton, Jack, 1457787, 4537, England

Skinner, J.E, 218039, 4542, England

Smith, Loris Richard, NX15308, 4521, Australia

Stirling, Leslie Douglas, 6846877, 4517, England

Stratton, Herbert Ernest, WX547, 4561, Australia

Stubbs, Arthur Gordon, 4379, 5508, New Zealand

Stuckey, John Edward, NX11243, 4567, Australia

Tatton, John Thomas, 4973903, 4571, England

Thompson, J, P/SSX20790, 4551, England

Todd, Arthur Skuse, 7272, 7878, New Zealand

Topia, William, 22724, New Zealand

Tyrer, E, 905373, 4579, England

Veevers, R, 1441331, 4552, England

Walker, D.A, T/111909, 4572, England

Walters, F, CH/X3473, 4543, England

Warburton, H, 1058195, 4554, England

Weatherall, William, 862968, 4535, England

West, Leonard Gordon, VX5561, 4586, Australia

Whatling, Clive Joy, 902385, 4599, England

Whitcombe, John Douglas, 22768, 4605, New Zealand

Woods, Laurience Samuel, WX443, 4564, Australia

Wynn, Thomas Peter, 898637, 4577, England

If you recognize any names on this list, and can help with this, please make contact with us at Tymbakionshortsproject@gmail.com

Andrew Holyoake (New Zealand), Tony and Deb Buirchell (Australia). 

Thanks to Mike Smythe for hosting this search, and to Mitchell Adair for the photography.

UPDATE 2/08/21

Tony and Deb Buirchell have been inundated by interested people whose relations were in the Australian Military Forces who fought on Crete. Over 25 replies were received as a reaction to three advertisements in the local Western Australian newspaper in a section called ‘Can we Help You”.

The main questions the Project is hoping to answer are:

1. Who made the canvas shorts and where were they made?

2. Where were the canvas shorts signed?

3. What was Tymbakion?

4. What do we know about the men who signed the canvas shorts?

A comprehensive diary by Charles (Vic) Petersen, WX571 came to light thanks to Sue and Grant Petersen. It covers every day of Vic’s incarceration from June 6th, 1941 to his release from a POW camp in 1945

Another diary kept by Ian Alexander Hardie WX2371 is being followed up thanks to Ian’s two daughters Helen and Janet.

From the Vic Petersen diary it has been found that what may be the final group of allied POWs left in Crete were rounded up on 11th September, 1941 and  embarked on the ship Norburg in Souda Bay. The men were taken to Iraklion before being sent in trucks over the mountains to the southern side of Crete. Here they were imprisoned at a place near the town of Tympaki.

A study of the Army Records and Red Cross Cards for all the Australian signatories on the shorts showed that Tymbakion was mentioned 18 times leading to a possible place where all the men on the shorts may have been together.

Vic talks to being forced to pull out ancient olive trees to make an aerodrome runway. After four months the men were taken by truck to Souda Bay. From here they sailed to Salonika and then put on trains to a range of Stalags in Germany and Poland.

The answers to the original questions are somewhere in these movements. The search goes on, can you help?

If you recognize any names on this list, and can help with this, please make contact with us at Tymbakionshortsproject@gmail.com


Prisoners of War Crete 1941 – 1942, Tymbakion and a Pair of Shorts

By Andrew Holyoake

Official accounts of POW life on Crete mostly relate to the period between capture (centred around 1 June 1941) and the majority of POWs being sent off Crete by the end of July 1941. There is a lot of contemporary literature describing the initial rudimentary conditions of the ‘Galatas camp’, the use of POWs in ways that contravened the Geneva convention, the lack of food and other supplies that meant that POWs were allowed (even encouraged) to locally forage etc. Sometime in these first few months a number of things occurred. Firstly the seriously injured and majority of officers were flown off (within days/weeks). Secondly, a series of 5 sub camps were set up, segregating nationalities. Thirdly ‘infrastructure’ arrived (tents, food etc), and the perimeters became less ‘leaky’, as the monotony of camp life started to set in. Capture cards were filled in towards the end of June and again around the middle of July, but these seem to have been posted from Stalag VIIIB in around October, thus there was no word on the fate of these men other than word of mouth from those who managed to escape/evade and leave Crete safely. By mid-July, however, large cohorts of men were being shipped off Crete to Piraeus (where they may have first interacted with the Greek Red Cross), on to Frontstalag 183 at Salonika and then generally rapidly onto their main Stalags in mainland Europe. The POW designations of these men today, are from formal processing at their destination camps (Stalag VIIIB , Stalag VIIA etc). A well-documented illness outbreak in the camps put paid to POW shipments for a while, but by mid-August, thousands more men embarked on this journey. The POW designations of these men (from this August shipment) today, are from formal processing at Frontstalag 183 (Salonika).

By the start of August the Kreigsgefangenenlager Kreta (Dulag Kreta) camp had a postal service (with its own feldpostnummer (postcode)), and mail was being sent by POWs (sometimes arriving home before the aforementioned capture cards). The Red Cross still had no presence on Crete and there does not appear to be any firm numbers/record of men who were still on Crete in captivity. An indeterminate number of men were being treated in hospitals on Crete (both within camp and in towns) and many men were still being captured, having evaded capture for months. Escapes from captivity were also still occurring.

By the start of September, organised large scale shipments of men seem to stop. There were possibly <1000 men still on Crete in captivity. These men were formally processed (fingerprinted, photographed, and recorded on Personalkartes) on Crete and were issued Kreigsgefangenenlager Kreta POW tags, with unique numbers within two number ranges. Kreigsgefangenenlager Kreta numbers in the range 4xxx were issued to men who were being held in Lager Kreta V, whereas Kreigsgefangenenlager Kreta numbers in the range 5xxx were issued to men who were being held in Lager Kreta VI. Tying these designations to specific locations has not been possible yet. It’s possible that Kreta V and VI were different ‘ranges’ of the same large camp, as by this time, the written history suggests that nationality-specific camps such as the AIF one at Skines had been closed and all men were brought together at one place (presumably at, or close, to the original camp site). Mail home from Crete in this period still talks of the men swimming daily.

There is ongoing work to understand just who the men issued with Kreigsgefangenenlager Kreta numbers were and how/when they were shipped off Crete. New Zealand Newspapers reported in November 1941 that in late October 1941 there were 735 POWs in captivity on Crete, and by February 1942 there were 3. It is not known if this includes all Allied POWs, or just New Zealanders, but the assumption is the former. The current ‘confirmed’ list includes New Zealanders, British, Australians and Greeks, but will likely also include Cypriots, those within the Palestine forces, and potentially Russians. It is unknown at this stage if merchant seamen (including a number of Lascars) were also issued Kreigsgefangenenlager Kreta numbers. Those with Kreta numbers also appear to fall into three broad categories: long term captives, who went ‘into the bag’ around 1 June 1941, and remained in camp; the injured who were retained in hospitals and infirmaries in Crete; and the recently captured/recaptured, many of whom gave themselves up so as to not endanger their Cretan helpers, and/or (in at least one case) so that their parents would know they were alive.  The proportion of each group within the ‘kretas’ is unknown, but anecdotally, it’s possible the third category dominate. At this stage there is scant evidence of POWs being shipped off Crete en masse in September, October or November 1941. In mid-December a number were shipped out of Heraklion, but these may have been being shipped back to Souda Bay. It appears that the last significant shipment of POWs out of Crete was on, or around, the start of January 1942 from Souda bay to Piraeus.

Interestingly the men still on Crete in September who were issued Kreigsgefangenenlager Kreta numbers were not a random assortment of all of the men captured on Crete. An analysis of the NZEF POWs from Crete shows that there are a significantly higher proportion of Sappers (engineers) in this group than in the groups shipped off Crete earlier, and a significantly lower proportion of Gunners in this group than in the groups shipped off Crete earlier. Given that is within one nationality, this does not appear to simply be a nationality bias. However, as above, as this group includes long-term captives and recent captives, it may be self-selecting.

It’s possible that POW labour needs are a partial reason that there is an apparent distortion in the types of men who were on Crete for longer than others. POW labour was a part of captive’s lives from day 1. Initially POWs were burying the dead, moving supplies from Allied stores, moving planes off the Meleme airfield, and gathering food. It is important here to also not conflate Allied POW labour, with the forced Labour that was being inflicted on the local populous. This Cretan forced Labour was on a massive scale and key to the German command creating the ’Island fortress’ they were after. There is little in the written record of later Allied POW labour, and much of what is written here is gathered from first-hand accounts. Letters home and recorded in the NZ newspapers talk of men working on a ‘war memorial’; likely the Fallschirmjäger memorial three kilometers west of Chania on the road to Agii Apostoli. Others were on ‘day parties’ from Dulag Kreta engaged in a whole range of the other activities. One even talks of driving a truck. The men were able to receive mail, and were paid (so as to not contravene the Geneva Convention). Dulag Kreta was likely feeling more like a permanent Stalag. Life was certainly not easy though. Escapes were still attempted (attempts increased towards the end of December 1941 as men became aware that shipment off Crete loomed) and men were being shot and killed during failed escape attempts in this period.

Not all Allied POW Labour in this period, however, was occurring close enough to Dulag Kreta to enable this to be the only overnight base. At the start of September 1941 around 200 POWs (New Zealanders, British, Australians, and Greeks) were trucked to the south coast of Crete to work on the Tymbakion aerodrome, and at some stage it was likely that a similar camp was set up in the vicinity of Heraklion to work on the airport at Heraklion. It is possible that other ‘satellite’ camps were set up on a temporary basis as well (eg Kastelli?). The Tymbakion satellite camp was occupied by Allied POWs for 3.5 months. I would note, however, that the activity the POWs were engaged in at Tymbakion likely contravened the Geneva Convention as, by developing the aerodrome, they were directly contributing to the Axis war effort. The men were being forced to work (at gunpoint), but at the same time were perversely receiving a small wage. Active and passive resistance was common. The Tymbakion story does not stop when the Allied POWs were trucked back north on the 28th of December 1941. Rather, the local populous was forced into Labour (by February 1942), and the stone/masonry built town of Tymbaki was deconstructed to be used as base course for the aerodrome runway. This later legacy is still very raw within Tymbaki today.

The majority of the Tymbakion POW story to date has come from the diary written by Private Vic Petersen WX571. Rather than surrendering, Vic took to the hills on 1st June, 1941. He and the others in the small party were rounded up by the Germans a few days later and marched, under duress, back to the main holding Camp. There he remained, until 26th August, 1941 when there was rumour of a movement to a new location. On this day he recorded in his diary that, “Boys making hats and trousers out of tent as clothes wearing out.” 

On 5th September, 1941 Vic Petersen and his group were placed on board a ship in Souda Bay and sailed to Heraklion. From this Cretan town the group was moved by truck, over the mountains to the location of Tymbakion. Here the men would be used as slave labour clearing hundred year old olive trees and extending an aerodrome. 

Although the aerodrome was established by the British pre-war it was little known around the World. The Germans were adding to the site so that they could land and refuel their bombers thus allowing them to reach Alexandria, Suez Canal and the oil fields of Iran. 

This job was daily until 29th December, when the camp was abandoned and the prisoners, made up of Australians, New Zealanders and British, were trucked back to Souda Bay to start their journey through Salonika and on to Stalag VIIIB in Lamsdorf.  From Souda Bay the group were shipped in an Italian convoy to Pireaus and on a Bulgarian ship to Salonika, arriving at Salonika 9th January, 1942. A week later and after suffering the shocking conditions of Frontsalag 138 they were crammed on a train on 15th January, 1942 (the dead of winter) which headed north for Germany.

To date, other than Vic’s diary, and the shorts that sparked this whole interest, a Tymbakion POW camp has appeared to be a mirage.  It gets one word mentions in Red Cross Cards, diaries, repatriation questionnaires, Casualty cards, Personalkartes, war records etc.  Gradually, however, we are building up a picture of who was there, what infrastructure was present, what the men were doing, and how they were part of a wider Tymbaki story.  At the same time we are connecting with many families of the ‘kreta’ men and both sharing and gathering stories….

Watch this space….