Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
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Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Home : History Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

 

STALAG 18A

A TALE OF WAR

FROM CLEARY INDEPENDENT

(HARPERCOLLINS 1998)

AUTHOR - PHIL CLEARY

As with most other working class boys around Brunswick, the notoriously tough 'Peggy' Parlon had no qualms about enlisting when that representative of middle Australia, Robert Menzies PM, solemnly declared, 'It's my melancholy duty to inform you that as England is at war ..... so too is Australia.'

A knock-about bloke with a bent nose planted on a face as solid as the bricks that rolled out of the Hoffman kilns, Parlon was a man with a history. Legend had it that he'd savaged a policeman's eye in a brawl and had been flogged for his trouble.

An undated letter home.

Enlisting had nothing to do with the rights of small nations or opposition to Nazism. The 1930s Depression had left most families in Brunswick on the breadline. An army uniform ensured regular wages, adventure and freedom from mundane Brunswick and factory life. He and Ted Dorian never considered the danger.

..............................'The naive enthusiasm which pervaded the South Melbourne Barracks in February 1940 was as tragic as it was romantic. As they waited in the queue the two Brunswick boys joked their way through the formalities........

Peggy and Ted didn't see much action. Having routed the Italians at Bardia 100 kilometres east of Tobruk in January, Ted's 6th Division entered Benghazi on 6 February 1941. Delirious at the speed of their victory over the Italians in the Middle East, Ted and his fearless mate reckoned it was all too easy.

.........................When word arrived that they were to embark for Greece on 31 March to halt the German advance, their laconic bravado was tinged with circumspection. Although Blamey expressed reservations about the campaign in a report to The Minister and War Cabinet on 10 March his opposition lacked the passion of his Brunswick baton charge. In any case the Anglophile Menzies hadn't even sought his opinion on Churchill's typically cavalier decision to cast one New Zealand and two Australian Divisions to the wind.

Two months after Lusterforce, as the contingent was code-named, sailed for Greece, home for the Brunswick boys was a dank windowless train bound for Wolfsberg in southern Austria. Early on 26 April German paratroopers, more than 1000 of them, appeared in the skies above the Corinth Canal where the hapless Dorian and his mates were stranded.

Before sunrise on the 24 April, General Blamey, his only son, Major Tom Blamey, and five members of the General's staff had boarded a Sunderland flying-boat destined for Alexandria. By the time Blamey touched down at 2.30 in the afternoon the remnants of Lusterforce were scrambling for the safety of the beaches of Athens and the Peloponnese and the Germans were preparing for the final strike. At home my grandfather was saying Menzies was a useless pawn and that any day now the Germans would attack Russia.

Transport driver Ted Dorian's fate had been sealed before the Germans arrived. Hands fixed to the wheel of the truck that guided his human cargo through a path littered with craters and the wrecked remains of an army frantically retreating from the advancing Germans, Ted had no counter to his perilous predicament. In a flurry of dust the truck careered onto its side, fatally spilling men in all directions. He was never the same.

A week in the bowels of a rattler without a shaft of light or the faintest indication of a destination gave Ted and Peggy a moment to reflect. It was a long way from the South Melbourne Recruiting Office where in a flash of boyish exuberance, only a month after Menzies declared his government's commitment to the Old Dart, they'd commissioned body and soul to God and country.

Twelve months later, Edward Dorian, Gefangenennummer 3630 from M-Stammlager XVIIIA, told his mother:

There's nothing to write about over here, I'll tell you all about it when I get home. Anyway Mum, let's hope it will be soon. Until then, fondest love to all. Cheers, Teddy.

It was hard to believe the steady, purposeful hand that carefully etched these words onto a piece of German paper in 1942 would crumble when it was all over. Buried to the neck in sand as punishment after yet another unsuccessful escape, Ted and Peggy gave no indication their nerves were fracturing.
'Better get it right next time, Ted,' quipped Parlon.
'Yeah, you bastard, I told you that was Italy not Switzerland,' replied Ted.
When Parlon and Dorian went over the wire at the Leisach work camp they knew the risks. South was Italy and enemy territory, and capture a perilous formality.

Peggy Parlon, unknown man, Ted Dorian

Private Eric Black had escaped from Stalag 18A eight times. Once, in the company of Private E.J McDonald he'd collected some food from Billy Ottaway's gang which was gainfully employed taking the bend out of the Drau river.

Official records have them travelling as far as Udine 70 kilometres from the Gulf of Trieste. However, their larrikin spirit was too much for Commandant Leople Bruckner who shot Black dead and wounded McDonald when the pair returned from field work slightly worse for wear on Saturday 15 April 1944. The inmates reckoned Bruckner, who'd previously killed another POW, was mad.

Fear of retribution wasn't enough to stop Parlon and Dorian. Their escapes were an act of unpretentious heroism and a quintessential expression of the rugged individuality of the working class Brunswick that had fashioned them.
The suburban blandness of the life into which they were dumped after the war never quite measured up to Stalag 18A. Nor could it appease their troubled souls. At night in calm, post-war Brunswick, private Ted Dorian would leap from his bed as the shells exploded around him.

Parlon, Dorian and their mates were not part of the old boy network. They weren't interested in lining up with their comrades at Anzac Day marches or publicising their staggering acts of heroism. After the War their medals lay unclaimed. Existential reality was their problem. The cramped Californian bungalow in Brunswick was no work camp in Austria.

The Brunswick boy, Bill Ottaway, who as a fresh faced 23-year-old had skylarked for the camera beneath the Austrian Alps with his mates, Parlon and Dorian, felt the problem acutely. 'It took me 10 years to settle down and marry. After being in the work camps I just found it too hard to be indoors,' he said.

Taken in a poppy field obviously during a work trip. Notice the man with the piano accordion. Dorian in bottom right. Alongside him is Laurie Stodart. Behind Dorian is D Bulmer.

When I was a child Ted Dorian's home was a bungalow at the back of 14 Heller Street, Brunswick, only a mile as the crow flies through Royal Park from where the murderous American GI Leonski had bedded down after a night of terror. When Parlon called around the reception he received from the woman of the house was anything but cordial.

'I don't want you here Peggy, I'm sick of the drinking,' Gladys would tell him. It had no affect, for once Teddy got wind that his mate was about, not even the little dynamo could confine him. The power of the dark stuff to settle the nerves and sweep away the hum of American bombers was enough to put a spring in the step of a Brunswick plonko.

Beyond Heller Street they'd set up camp in a railway cutting south of the Brunswick Baths on the Upfield line. The Straight Six, as the spot was called, was a sacred site in post-war Brunswick.

The TPI pension, dished out to dissuade the 'anxiety state' men from breaking their silence on the war myth, ensured a steady supply of cheap plonk. At Carras Wine Shop on the corner of Barklay Street and Sydney Road, Ted and his mates knocked over a couple of glasses of Fourpenny Dark before staggering off down Union Street for their private place. Fourpenny Dark deadened the pain in a way the shock treatment never could. As black as bootpolish and no better on the palate, it and the 'metho' were worshipped by the plonkos of Brunswick.

Fractured by memories of the war, and without a commitment to work and family, life had acquired a different meaning. Here at the Straight Six they remade their world and, in a solitude only broken by the intermittent rattling of passing trains, drank. On 13 May 1964, as he sat at the kitchen table, Dorian went into palpitations then just collapsed. Gladys rushed home from Millers but it was to no avail, for the sad unfulfilled life of her 49-year-old husband was over. The doctor said he'd asphyxiated on his own vomit.

Six years after he'd been recovered from Stalag 18A, Ted Dorian's wife was seated in the Branch office of Veterans' Affairs telling an all too familiar story.
"He's had a bad nervous state ever since he returned from overseas and is very aggressive towards me and the children," she told the officer.

A month later during a medical examination Dorian admitted he was tremulous and shaky and unable to sleep due to nightmares in which German and American planes strafed his tortured world.

'I'd have starved had it not been for the Red Cross food parcels but otherwise I was treated reasonably well,' he said. A ten percent disability pension for anxiety state was granted but the State was not about to admit liability. 'The incapacity had not resulted from an occurrence during war service,' an official had written.

Over the next decade a stream of compliant doctors and psychiatrists tapped his chest, peered into those deadened eyes and scribbled 'personality disorder' on the report form. To have acknowledge that tough, hard bitten souls such as Parlon and Dorian had succumbed to the horrors of war and its alienating after-life would have destroyed the mythology on which imperial wars were built. That story would not be told until the boys came home from Vietnam 25 years later.

The bland, 'Impression of an alcoholic bordering on DTs, nightmares 2/3 a week of German POW days' was repeated on almost every page of his file The authorities refused to concede that this man had been in Dante's inferno. His wife and those who knew him had reason to wonder what the bureaucracy had to hide.

'I'm writing to you in regards to my husband, Edward Patrick Dorian VX10897, former P.O.W. who receives a pension of 1.2.0. a fortnight for War Neurosis, he has not worked since 1952 and for a man who had a good job and did not lose a days work in his life before the war it seems as though there is something wrong somewhere. Do you think the board would give him a review as he is unable to get Social Service as I work, but I will not be able to work forever so hoping that you will help him as I have written this without telling him,' wrote Gladys Dorian on 30 October 1961. Two months later her husband's pension was increased to twenty percent. In 1963 later it was increased to fifty percent. In 1964 he was dead.

We have to advise that Mr.E.Dorian was employed by us continuously for a period of over 10 years. He started with us as a lad in the store, and finished up driving one of our trucks until he enlisted in the Army in 1940. It gives us great pleasure to state that Mr Dorian was a thoroughly honest and reliable employee, and one in whom we could repose trust and confidence, knowing that any duties given him would be conscientiously carried out. He was an efficient and trustworthy person.

Mr Silk, of Silk's Fruit Market, Queen Victoria Market, had so written in a glowing reference dated the 8th of July 1947.

Ted and his mates didn't talk much about the war and no-one bothered to record their thoughts. As with the world of letters and the writing of history, it was the upper echelons of society who narrated and interpreted man's triumph in adversity. It was the likes of the anti free-speech, General Blamey, and Weary Dunlop, lionised in popular culture for having 'nursed the blokes' through the horrors of life on the Burma Railway, about whom the scribes wrote. The canon fodder retreated to the anonymity of the RSL or, as with Ted and his mates, to a local private haunt.

...........................................

Please contact me if you know anything about STALAG 18A:

phicleary@bigpond.com

 

 

 


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