Anzac Day 2017: a look back at the life and times of Manning veteran the late Vic Carle

Representing Australia: Vic Carle with his D Day commemorative medal. ‘D Day’ is the military term for a secret date on which a major action is to begin.

Representing Australia: Vic Carle with his D Day commemorative medal. ‘D Day’ is the military term for a secret date on which a major action is to begin.

Ex-POW Vic Carle died on October 3, 2016 and during his years living in the Manning, Vic shared his stories about his life and times especially during his war service. Here follows a collection of those stories prepared over the years by the Manning River Times.

D Day 50th celebrations 1994

On June 1, 1994, Vic Carle flew out of Sydney for London to proudly represent the Australian Ex-POW Association, the Manning and his country at the D Day 50th anniversary commemorations in Britain and Normandy. Vic, a prisoner of war in Germany on D Day, was honoured to be selected for this important tour. Vic’s story of that memorable tour, and his days as a prisoner of war, were told to the Times.

“Outranked” in London

EX-POW Vic Carle, of Taree, was well and truly “outranked” on his tour to England and France for the D Day commemorations.

Vic was accompanied by veterans Colonel Leslie Coleman, representing the army; Wing Commander Rollo Kingsford Smith, (RAAF Rtd); and Commander Lionel Robinson, representing the navy.

Colonel Coleman is one of the few Australians to land on the Normandy beaches on D Day and Wg Cdr Kingsford Smith commanded 463 Squadron RAAF and bombed a gun battery at Omaha Beach as the allied landing barges approached the Normandy shore on D Day. (Wg Cdr Kingsford Smith replaced Mr Norman Baker who had to withdraw from the trip due to ill health).

Mr Robinson was a midshipman on HMS Rodney which bombarded the Normandy coast before and during the invasion.

Vic was captured in Crete while serving with the 2/2nd Infantry Battalion, 6th Division.

Vic received news of the D Day invasion from a BBC broadcast picked up on a secret camp radio in Stalag 383 in Bavaria.

‘D Day’ is the military term for a secret date on which a major action is to begin.

The most famous ‘D Day’ in history was June 6, 1944 – the day the Allies invaded Normandy in German-held France.

The four Australian veterans who travelled to Britain for the commemoration were sponsored by the government and they attended ceremonies in Portsmouth and in Normandy. They also attended ceremonies with the Prime Minister Paul Keating to commemorate the Australian contribution to the defeat of Axis forces in Europe.

Prior to leaving Australia, Vic flew to Canberra where he and the other members of the tour met with Prime Minister Keating and had lunch with the Minister for Veterans Affairs, Con Sciacca.

They left Australia on June 1 after appearing on the Today Show and arrived in London on June 2. They had a couple of days’ rest in London before their first official engagement at Portsmouth.

They travelled to Portsmouth via Runnymede and its Air Force Memorial.

The veterans attended a dinner in Portsmouth that night and were present at the Drumhead Service on June 5. After the service, they travelled by ferry to Normandy for a ceremony at Bayeaux on June 6.

After lunch a service at the Typhoon Pilots memorial at Noyers Bocage was held, followed by the Spectacle in Caen in the evening.

The war years

WORLD War II began and Vic enlisted with the AIF 2/2nd Battalion.

He was among the first convoy to leave Australian shores for service, in January 1940. They sailed to the Middle East and Vic was in the Bardia and Tobruk campaigns, the first time Australia was involved in hostile activities in World War II.

On June 1, 1941 while serving in the Greece/Crete campaign, Vic was captured by the Germans and imprisoned at Salonika but later transferred to Fort 15 in Poland.

Salonika was a hell hole and the prisoners suffered many types of disease. Vic had sand fly fever, dysentery, berri berri and numerous other diseases and he was only one of many.

The prisoners were transported back to Poland on the back of railway cattle trucks, piled in like cattle for 14 days. Like cattle they had no privacy and with many suffering dysentery, Vic says it didn’t take long for the men to “chew” a hole through the bottom of the truck.

They spent six months in Poland. Vic refused to work for the Germans so he and the others who had done likewise were transferred to Stalag 383 which was established for such prisoners.

Stalag 383 was to be his “home” for three and a half years – Vic and 4000 others.

Stalag 383 is in Bavaria which is bitterly cold in winter. The men were housed in timber pre-fab huts and they would wear everything they owned to bed. The condensation from their bodies would create icicles under their bunks.

Also the taps were frozen throughout winter so bathing was impossible. The prisoners had to wait until they were on kitchen detail so they could get hot water to bathe.

All the prisoners looked forward to spring and summer.

The men did without a lot during those years, rations were often tight and material possessions were zero – but they did have a swimming pool.

The prisoners convinced the Germans that there was a very real danger of fire in these pre-fab timber huts, but a “reservoir” full of water could be used to fight any fires.

The Germans provided the concrete and the men – who had refused to work for the Germans – worked like demons to make this “reservoir” which was about 66 feet long and 30 feet wide.

What they had in the end was a wonderful swimming pool.

Vic has photographs of the men around the swimming pool, many wearing bathers they had fashioned from old singlets and scraps.

The prisoners over-estimated the amount of cement needed for the “reservoir”, and some handy paths were built around the often soggy camp.

The Germans censored everything the prisoners did, from their letters home to their theatrical productions.

The Germans often attended the theatre, sitting in the front row. It was a challenge for the prisoners to trick the Germans into staying for “God, Save The King”, which concluded each show.

The prisoners weren’t without their “luxuries”, such as a camera and wireless. Both were hidden “under and up there”.

Each night the wireless would be tuned to the BBC for the news. This was taken down in shorthand by one of the men, then copied out in long-hand and passed around to each hut to be read.

Vic spent some time on the escape committee. Any prisoner wishing to escape would approach the committee which would help with letters of introduction, food, clothing and anything else he may need.

In a group of 4000 men, there was very little they couldn’t achieve.

Some of the escapes were just bravado. For example, a doctor would visit the prison camp on the same day at the same time and the guards were so familiar with him, they did not ask him for identification. On one occasion, the “doctor” returned at the usual time, passed the guard unchallenged, got into the car and drove off – a few minutes later the real doctor appeared.

Of course the escapee was soon caught at a road block and returned to camp, but his clothing was so well copied by the “artisans” in camp, he had been able to pass for the doctor.

Some escapees were caught with Red Cross rations on their person and in retaliation, the Germans withheld the Red Cross parcels from the prisoners. The escape committee, undaunted, sent the men out with a “hard ration” made from porridge (rolled oats), sugar and chocolate and if caught, because the “hard ration” had nothing to identify it as Red Cross, the Germans could not take reprisals.

Another example of reprisal was when reports were received that German prisoners were being handcuffed.

In return, the prisoners of Stalag 383 were handcuffed.

Each hut had 16 men and 14 of those were handcuffed at 7am every day, with the remaining two left to tend them.

It wasn’t long before someone learned to pick the handcuff lock; this information was passed around the camp and the Germans would return at 7 o’clock in the evening to unlock the prisoners only to find the handcuffs all neatly hanging along the wall.

This went on for weeks. Then the Germans adopted the American style handcuffs with a lock that couldn’t be picked. Again one of the prisoners designed a key which unlocked the cuffs and the Germans found the handcuffs back on the wall.

After that, the cheeky prisoners would tell the Germans to just hand the cuffs up on the wall themselves and save everyone’s time.

Vic and the other prisoners from Stalag 383 were marched out of the camp towards the end of the war – they were to be used as hostages. The end to their war came when Patch’s Third Army cut the prisoners and the Germans off south of Ravensburg.

They had been on the road for four weeks and Vic weighed only seven stone (44.5 kilos).

Wigs and dresses – keeping prisoners’ morale up

WIGS from string and dresses from old bandages – war made you resourceful, if nothing else.

Vic Carle spent four years as a prisoner in Europe during World War II, the majority of that time in Stalag 383 in Bavaria. Vic and his comrades would prefer to forget all they suffered during those years and focus on the more positive aspects of their incarceration.

So why would prisoners of war need wigs and dresses?

Theatre was one of the ways the men coped with life in the Stalag, and the Stalag 383 theatre company produced many magic moments for the inmates during Vic’s years there.

The Red Cross provided the scripts and Gilbert and Sullivan musicals such as The Mikado, The Gondoliers, HMAS Pinafore and the most ambitious project, Yeoman of the Guard, were staged.

Vic was mainly involved backstage but even he marvels at the ability of the men to make something out of seemingly nothing. And nothing went to waste – string from their Red Cross parcels found a multitude of uses, backdrops were created from scraps and scenery painted with anything they could find (or borrow).

Out of the 4000 men in the stalag, nearly all occupations were covered and one of Vic’s mates was a professional actor. And the Welsh and Scots had beautiful voices.

Vic was born in Newcastle on November 13, 1918 and came to the Manning a few months after his birth. His family were among the pioneers to the Bulga. Vic returned to the Bulga after the war, with wife Anne and their family and they remember that as some of the best times, with their family enjoying clean country living.

Vic had moved to Newcastle just before war broke out, and was a member of the Newcastle Militia.

Footnote: Vic moved to Newcastle in later years but returned to the Manning to live before his death. He also kept close contact with the returned servicemen in the Manning and visited the Manning River Times office on many of those visits. It was always my pleasure to meet and speak with Vic.