[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]
Greece Crete Stalag Dachau: A New Zealand Soldier’s Encounters with Hitler’s Army by Jack Elworthy is one of those books written by someone with a very interesting tale to tell. I had heard of Elworthy before getting this book although he was only named once. The story of the POW who hitched along with the American unit that liberated him to finish the war is mentioned in several mainstream histories of WWII.
The book itself is 220 pages of text separated into 33 topical chapters with endnotes, selected reading and a list of illustrations. This is a personal memoir edited by the author’s daughter. The narrative focuses on the opening campaign in Greece and Crete, what happened immediately after his capture, and events after his liberation by elements of the US 2nd Armored Division. He only very briefly covers life in a POW camp in Germany, which actually makes sense because how many different ways can a person describe the same boring things happening day after day? Life in a POW camp must be boring in the extreme if you are treated according to the Geneva Convention as Western prisoners were by the Germans. Food was not great and shelter was only adequate but for the most part, Western POWs were essentially warehoused until wars end.
What makes the book so interesting is the description of combat in Greece and Crete at the beginning of the war. It is evident throughout that the author was aware of the disaster in the making that the Greek campaign was. The author was involved in the advance up the peninsula and sudden retreat when the German blitzkrieg broke into Greece. He suffered a number of near misses and his descriptions of events are compelling to say the least.
The last part is what most historians discuss. Mr. Elworthy’ dash across Germany in the company of a self-propelled artillery battery from the US 2nd Armored Division. He was there at the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp and was pulling guard duty when he learned that the war was over. He finally describes his two year odyssey to get home.
Mr. Elworthy is spare and no-nonsense in his writing style. This is refreshing and does much to give the reader the impression you are sitting across the table from him listening to him tell the tale. Elworthy is known to Americans because he is the ANZAC that itched along to finish the war after he was freed from a POW camp. His story is much more than that though and more people should read it. Too many of the histories of World War II sold in America have an American bias and it is easy to believe that America won the war by itself. That is not so and many people like Mr. Elworthy contributed to victory as well. His story is worth reading and is illuminating as to how the British and Commonwealth troops fought before America came into the war.
I highly recommend this book for its no-nonsense account f the ANZAC Corps at war in World War II.