Tuesday, 5 June 2018

In good spirit

D-day infused prisoners of war every everywhere with great optimism of a speedy return to home and loved ones. The Australians in Stalag Luft III were no different. 

They had talked about it for months beforehand, and excitement mounted.

Bill Fordyce, courtesy of Lily Fordyce

Then, on the big day, they 'Heard [about it] per German radio 1330 hours', recorded Ted Every in his wartime log book. 

Harry Train recorded in his diary, that 'At 13.30 hours today (camp time) Sondermeldum from the German radio announced that last night the long expected invasion of the fortress of Europe was commenced. It was preceded by heavy bombardment and then landings were made between the Cherbourg Peninsula and Le Havre with heavy sea and air support. Fierce defence fighting is in progress. I am afraid our feelings are too full for expression'. 

Others shared their feelings with family.

The great news of the invasion has cheered us all up and the morale is 100% plus’, wrote Justin O’Byrne to his family. ‘The news of the invasion, somehow makes me feel that it won’t be long before we are together again’, Doug Hutchinson told his wife Lola. ‘The news at present is heartening to the Kriegies and some are optimistic—I say England in the New Year’, wrote George Archer as Allied successes increased in the succeeding months. Such excitement and hope of a rapid conclusion to hostilities, and their ensuing freedom, made life in captivity (for a time, at least) easier to bear.

Some of the men recorded their take on the invasion in their wartime log books.

 Ronald Baines, courtesy of the Baines Family 
 Bill Fordyce, courtesy of Lily Fordyce

D-day, coincidentally, also brought some relief one family back in Australia. Colin Phelps wrote his first letter as a prisoner of on 14 February 1944 but it took almost four months to reach Adelaide. While Britain and Europe were thrilling to news of the invasion, the Phelps family read Colin’s heartening words that he was safe and well on 6 June 1944: 'Dear Dad and Mum—have been taken prisoner and am being well looked after by the Red Cross—I am unhurt and in good spirit.—My permanent address is not yet allotted and I will forward it later on.—Sorry to cause you so much worry. Love from Colin'.

Friday, 23 March 2018

After the Great Escape

Much has been written about the Great Escape: what occurred on the night; what happened to those involved; and the commitment to obtaining ‘exemplary justice’. 
Artist: Ley Kenyon, published in Paul Brickhill and Conrad Norton: Escape to Danger (Faber and  Faber, London,  1954)
 This post, however, focuses on how the airmen’s kriegie friends and Australian families responded to their deaths.
Courtesy Chris Armold, MSgt, USAF (Ret). Taken in March 2017.
Alan Righetti, who had been one of the many ‘stooges’ or lookouts over the previous few months, remembered hearing the shots fired after the discovery of the break out. It ‘was pandemonium’, he recalled, as the Germans tore the North Compound apart. When things quietened down, the airmen ‘were bitterly disappointed that we hadn’t got at least 200 out’. But, Righetti added, they were, ‘at the same time, very proud of the fact that we had the whole of the area and the German Army rushing all over the place looking for our fellas’.
Alan Righetti, courtesy of Alan Righetti
Days later, when the names of the dead were announced, Righetti recollected that ‘we were shocked’. A memorial parade was held and, recalled Justin O’Byrne, the menwent into mourning’. ‘Every prisoner wore a black diamond of mourning on his sleeve for the remainder of our term in prison’, including on Anzac Day ten days later, when photos were taken of the men wearing their black patches.
Justin OByrne, courtesy of Anne OByrne
Courtesy Andrew JB Simpson  NSW POWs North compound Anzac Day, 1944 
Just as many British Great War memorials had been voluntarily built by families and communities to provide a focus for their grief, Stalag Luft III’s air force ‘family’ in North Compound decided to erect a memorial using stone provided by the Germans. Originally referred to by the prisoners as ‘The Vault’ (pertaining to its crypt-like purpose of holding the ashes of the dead), the prisoners’ memorial resembled an altar. 
From Walton and Eberhardt, From Liberation to Interrogation. A Photographic Journey. Page 418.
In conceiving this design, prominent Australian-born architect and theatrical designer Wylton Todd, who had had a thriving architecture business in London before the war, seems to have been inspired by the recently deceased Sir Edwin Lutyen’s altar-like Stone of Remembrance. (The Stone became the centrepiece of the Imperial War Graves Commission’s most significant cemeteries.)
 Like Lutyen’s iconic design, the prisoners’ memorial evokes heroic sacrifice in warfare, as do many British memorials as well as significant Australian memorials such as Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance and Sydney’s Anzac Memorial.
Shrine of Remembrance, authors photo.
The airmen’s names are engraved on three granite tablets reminiscent of Great War honour rolls. Underneath is the inscription, ‘In memory of the officers who gave their lives. Sagan March 1944’. 
SLIII memorial. From the Casualty Section, Dept of Air, March 1947 via Air Ministry London, provided to them by His Majesty’s Air Attache at Warsaw. Courtesy of the Preen Family.
The simple wooden cross atop the nearby cairn (which appears to be a later addition) evokes the crosses which marked the graves of the First World War servicemen who died overseas, before the Imperial War Grave Commission replaced them with stone headstones.

SLIII memorial. From Casualty Section, Dept of Air, March 1947 via Air Ministry London, provided to them by His Majesty’s Air Attache at Warsaw. Courtesy of the Preen Family.

Courtesy Chris Armold, MSgt, USAF (Ret). Taken in March 2017.
Close up of the cairn plaque, Sagan, Poland, September 1998.  Courtesy of Drew Gordon. 
Todd’s design included an eagle, which was mounted below the inscription. Particularly pertinent, the spread-winged eagle is a key symbol for airmen, representing both the ‘brotherhood of the air’ and the insignia—‘wings’—which declare an airmen’s aviation credentials. 
Reg Kieraths RAAF Wings. Courtesy of Peter Kierath.

 Arthur Schrock, 1944, in Earle M Nelson: If Winter Comes.

This drawing of the memorial, by Flight Lieutenant Grenfell Godden (a South African in Stalag Luft III who was killed in a flying accident on 23 November 1945), was sent to Mildred Williams, the mother of John Williams, one of the five Australians killed in the Great Escape reprisals. It was published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 25 April 1945. Courtesy of the Preen Family.

AWM ART34781.022. Albert Comber, drawing of the Monument to those 50 officers who were shot after the break from Stalag Luft III, 1945. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C168955?image=1

SLIII memorial. From the Casualty Section, Dept of Air, March 1947 via Air Ministry London, provided to them by His Majesty’s Air Attache at Warsaw. Courtesy of the Preen Family.
While visible in Bert Comber’s sketch and other early drawings and photographs, and repeated in the commemorative plaque mounted on the stone cairn erected in front of the memorial, the eagle is no longer extant.

Recent photo of the memorial, with modern dedication, c 2015. Courtesy of Geoff Swallow
The memorial was located in the nearby cemetery where other prisoners had been buried. There, fifty urns containing the dead men’s ashes were interred on 4 December 1944. In accordance with RAF mourning custom, a service funeral was held. Thirty prisoners along with members of the Swiss Legation attended. Wreathes were laid and the Roman Catholic and Protestant chaplains said prayers and blessed the monument and ashes.
From the Casualty Section, Dept of Air, March 1947 via Air Ministry London, provided to them by His Majesty’s Air Attache at Warsaw. Courtesy of the Preen Family.
Some of the airmen recorded details of the memorial service in their wartime log books. Some marked the pages, drawings, photos and nominal rolls with a cross, the traditional symbol denoting the dead. 
Lifted from Brickhill and Norton: Escape to Danger.
Before he returned to Australia, Comber produced for the Australian War Memorial’s collection three pen, ink and wash drawings of the memorial’s construction.

AWM ART34781.024 Albert Comber, The monument in the early stages of construction, 1945. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C168957?image=1
Six months earlier, on 20 June 1944, a memorial service for family and friends of the Fifty had been conducted at the Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London. As the men had been killed in the course of carrying out their service duty they were accorded full air force honours. Australian-based families could not attend and so either British family members or others represented them. 
Authors collection
Squadron Leader William Melville, the liaison for prisoner of war matters at RAAF Overseas Headquarters, considered it ‘a very great honour and privilege’ to represent Reg Kierath’s mother, Ada. After the ceremony, Melville wrote to her as he wanted her ‘to know something of the very magnificent tribute that was paid to your son and the others who died with him’. He told her about the service:
Sir Archibald Sinclair—Secretary of State for Air—Sir Charles Portal, Chief of Air Staff and our Air Officer Commanding, Air Vice-Marshal Wrigley, were but three of the many Air Force representatives who came to pay their tribute and Mr Bruce our Australian High Commissioner was also there. After the first hymn the Vicar of St Martins read the first part of the service and the psalm, and Sir Charles Portal the lesson. Then came the Address by the Chaplain-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force in which he paid tribute to the memory of those whose courage and high faith was an inspiration to us all. As we stood, after the recession, the Blessing, crystal clear came the notes of the Last Post—the most honoured tribute to the serving member and one which is paid to him alone. For a moment there was silence—and then in the distance, the roll of a drum and the awakening call ‘Reveille’. It seems so singularly appropriate, for to all of us in our hearts and memory they will live through their example of courage and steadfastness.
During the service, the RAF chaplain-in-chief had stated that ‘Their sacrifice was touched by the finger of God’. Melville too recognised that sacrifice. He explained to Ada that Reg, ‘and the others, have become my very real friends and I cannot express how much the sacrifice which they have made has meant to me personally’.
Reg Kierath. Courtesy of Peter Kierath
Others acknowledged the deaths in a similar way. Families placed ‘in memoriam’ notices in newspapers. Friends send condolence letters. 
The Argus, 25 March 1947
Unattributed clipping, courtesy of Preen Family.
Group Captain Thomas White, former prisoner of the Ottomans and commanding officer at 1 Initial Training School, Somers where Catanach and Albert Hake had attended believed that the young man’s ‘name and memory will long endure as among the noblest of those who gave their all’.
Those who died after the Great Escape were not forgotten. Their friends attended remembrance services. Winifred Munt, Jimmy Catanach’s childhood nanny, known to him as ‘Da’, was a member of the Australian contingent to the Service of Remembrance at St Clement Danes (the Central Church of the Royal Air Force) on 22 March 1969. Bill Fordyce, who was in the tunnel when the escape was discovered, attended the 50th anniversary service on 25 March 1994. 
Bill Fordyce, courtesy of Lily Fordyce
 Courtesy of Lily Fordyce
Courtesy of Ian Fraser
 Reg Giddey, who regarded Albert Hake as ‘one of nature’s gentlemen’, placed a tribute on his former friend’s grave during 50th anniversary commemorations at Posnan, Poland. 
Reg Giddey. Courtesy of the Preen Family
Their families made pilgrimages to Sagan and wore their service medals.

The Preen Familys pilgrimage to Stalag Luft III, 2013. Courtesy of Max Preen.

The Search for the Compass Maker, Albert Hake 2013: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaFwU7FI-cU 

Peter Kierath, nephew of Reg Kierath, retraced his uncles journey. Photo from The Daily Liberal, Dubbo. http://www.dailyliberal.com.au/story/3538949/retracing-family-steps-at-war-photos/

Albert Hakes great niece and nephew, wearing medals. Anzac Day, about 1997. Courtesy Jude Preen. 
 That continuing sympathy of family and friends, along with the dedicated commemoration, brought comfort to those who grieved. So too did the knowledge that the deaths of the Fifty had been construed as sacrifices for the cause, as extensions of their air force service. As their ‘Duty Nobly Done’.

Memorial card, sent by Noela Hake to Dick Wheeler. Dick Wheeler Archive. Courtesy of  Tony Wheeler

My thanks to all the families who have shared their photos and records with me.

I have written a number of other blog pieces on aspects of the Great Escape from an Australian perspective:







Friday, 9 February 2018

Marking the Occasion: Birthdays in Captivity

One of the things that particularly interests me is how prisoners of war enacted the usual social rituals. Birthdays celebrate life already lived and anticipate future achievements. How were these significant family-and-friend orientated ceremonies marked in captivity? And what did they mean to the prisoners of war?

Physically, prisoners of war shared the ceremony with their kriegie friends with cake and parties. Mentally, however, as they wrote about the occasion to their loved ones, they were transported home through recalling other birthdays or hoping that future birthdays outside ‘Kriegiedom’ would be different.
In 1942, John Osborne marked ‘Another birthday too, this one not celebrated at the Piccadilly’. In 1943, he noted to his family that ‘one certainly finds queer places to celebrate’. ‘I didn’t have much opportunity to celebrate my birthday, all I did was hope that I don’t spend another one at this place’, wrote Colin Phelps to his folks. ‘I hope to celebrate my next birthday with you’, another chap told his parents.
For many, the next birthday wasn’t celebrated with loved ones. On his first birthday in captivity, Albert Hake found himself ‘indulging in an idle, fanciful contemplation of circumstances relevant to previous birthdays (for today is such.)’. He wasn’t carried away by fancy or even moroseness, however. He ‘honoured the occasion with merry peals of laughter and a grand festivity, consuming with great gusto a large jelly (strawberry), a larger rice custard a pint of Horlick’s chocolate malted milk (real milk) plus various odds and ends’. Hake’s mood wasn’t as festive as his next birthday drew nearer and he realised he would not be sharing it with his wife. ‘Time will certainly have to march on if I’m to spend my next birthday at home.’
Parties were guaranteed to blow away the birthday blues, and cakes were the time honoured tradition for birthday bashes. George Archer and his roommates concocted a ‘cake made of pancake mixture and sultanas iced with chocolate’ for a Canadian celebrating his 23rd. It was a ‘wonderful success’.
Alan Scanlan was one the Australians who gained their majority in Stalag Luft III. ‘Your son has crossed the line and is now recognised as a man’, he told his parents. ‘I wish I could have spent it at home, but circumstances made it impossible.’ Despite being separated from his family, ‘The boys were very thoughtful and arranged many surprises throughout the day and we spent quite a happy day.’ That evening, when tea was finished, his crew member Arthur Tebbutt, ‘brought forth a two-tier chocolate cake complete with twenty one candles’. ‘Tebby’ demonstrated his impressive culinary skills as well as doffing his flight cap to their shared homeland: ‘The decorations were a white iced border with a small map of “Aussie” done in white, in the centre of which was a small silver key. “Good Luck, Alan”, was written in chocolate across the map’. It was an emotional moment. ‘It shook me up, I can tell you, for the boys must have spent considerable time preparing for the occasion’.
Rex Austin’s 21st birthday ‘occasion’, mirrored air force initiation ceremonies as well as some of the traditional (and raucous) rites of passage to adulthood. ‘The boys’ in his room stripped him naked, threw him in the air, bumped him in the snow, rubbed him down to dry him off, presented him with a key with ‘21 on it’ and ‘an absolutely magnificent chocolate cake’. They then ceremoniously ‘shook me by the hand and said “Happy 21st I hope you’re not here for your 22nd”’. Austin’s ‘21st was something’, an occasion to remember, made even special by the sacrifices made by his friends. In a time of almost desperate rationing in January 1945, ‘the blokes had saved up their semolina and everything’ to make his cake.
We dont know if this is a birthday or, given the 1942 decoration, a new year's party, but cake is on the menu. Sadly, it doesn't seem to be cheering Tony Gordon (seated, right hand side) and his friends. (Courtesy of Drew Gordon.) 

Cake was not the only birthday treat. Alex Kerr was depressed at the prospect of celebrating his 21st in captivity. For him it was nought but a bleak and dispiriting occasion until he received a ‘truly rare morsel’, an egg extracted from one of the guards by Stalag IIIE Kirchhain’s most successful traders. ‘I will never forget the generosity of someone who hardly knew me but considered that the significance of the occasion demanded a gesture of compassion’. 
While Kerr, Scanlan and Austin experienced the best of human kindness for their birthdays, Lex Dixon experienced the worst of humanity for his. For ‘something to look forward to’, he had been saving a potato. (This was before he arrived in Stalag Luft III.) Every time he came across a bigger one he swapped it and ate the smaller one. Just before his birthday, when Dixon’s anticipation was greatest, another prisoner stole the potato and devoured it. ‘It was the unforgiveable thing for anyone to steal anything else from a fellow prisoner,’ recalled Justin O’Byrne.
Fortunately, not every birthday represented the darker side of captivity, but many were not easy. Some weren’t even worth remembering. ‘It happens to be my birthday today’, Charles Fry told his fiancée. ‘I had forgotten about it’. Keith Carmody ‘forgot it was my 26th birthday—am feeling a bit better now—have not spent a birthday at home since my 20th in 1939’. Despite forgetting, he and a friend had a ‘“bash” to celebrate’.
Friends and camaraderie made birthdays worthwhile. So too did the knowledge that their family and friends remembered them, but ensuring that captive loved ones received birthday greetings was a lottery. Australia was half a world away, letters were frequently lost, and delivery was often delayed through censorship or even punishment or retribution. 

Sometimes the family timed their birthday greetings just right. ‘Red letter day, my birthday, also your letter 2/11, my first from you’, wrote George Archer to his folks. (Four months later, however, his birthday parcel still hadnt turned up.) ‘I received your birthday greetings, which arrived about two days ago, and I was very pleased to receive them, thank you’, another chap recorded.
Home is where the kriegies would have preferred to be, but prison camp conviviality and birthday celebrations demonstrated the strong fraternity, culinary ingenuity of their roommates and friends, and even personal sacrifice to ensure that the festive table was well-laden. For many, that strong friendship made captivity bearable.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

‘“For you the war is (not) over”: Active Disruption in the Barbed Wire Battleground’

From Balloons to Drones, a web-based forum which explores the development of air power from the earliest days of flight to now and the future, recently published ‘“For you the war is (not) over”: Active Disruption in the Barbed Wire Battleground’. This article is based on a paper presented at the Don’t Drown Post-graduate Conference, UNSW Canberra, 4 October 2017, which was a shorter version of that given at the Aviation Cultures Mk III Conference, University of Sydney, 27–29 April 2017.

The popular perception of the prisoner of war is that, once captured, he was hors de combat. This article, however, argues that airmen downed in Europe and the Middle East exchanged airspace for a new theatre of conflict—the RAF station behind barbed wire—and continued on active service.

Rather than docilely accepting their new state as they moved from the aerial arena to a barbed-wire battleground, many airmen prisoners of Germany continued to be potent military operatives. They resisted captors and guards and participated in escape organisations. They managed their lives to demonstrate personal power by not succumbing to the futility of captivity.

This article briefly explores the prisoner of war as active agent through the experiences of Australians in Stalag Luft III. Focusing on escape culture, it illustrates how they used humour and language to both protect and distance themselves from an identity of airman manqué and to maintain the persona of a barbed-wire operative. It also touches on how they established a post-war narrative of captivity.

Just follow the link to find the article.


Thursday, 14 December 2017

‘I miss you very very much’: Another Christmas apart.

Charlie Fry and Beryl Smith had known each other for five or six years when he embarked for the UK in July 1937.
(Photo with application for Point Cook cadetship, NAA A9300, Fry, C.H.) 
 A graduate of 20 Course, 1 Flying Training School, Point Cook (ranked 16th with 70.9 per cent) he was on his way to take up a short service commission with the RAF. The couple wouldn’t see each other again for a little over eight years.
(20 Course, 1 Flying Training School, Point Cook. Fry, front row, third from left. Courtesy RAAF Museum.) 
After completing his training in the UK, and a brief stint in 32 Squadron, Charlie joined 112 Squadron RAF, transferring to Egypt in May 1939, flying Gladiators. The couple wrote regularly during their separation, but after almost two years apart they missed each other terribly. As war clouds thickened, Charlie had ‘had a bit of the blues for the last couple of months’ but letters from Beryl—or Bebs—were just the tonic he needed to cheer him up. Photos were also a significant means of maintaining their strong connection and helped him imagine what she was doing back in Australia while he was on operational service. ‘They were lovely snaps of you dear, and [I] would very much like to have some others too if you have them, I can just imagine what a lovely time you must be having’. They also kindled regret at the fun times they were missing out on as a couple. ‘God I wish I were home.’
(Beryl Smith. Courtesy of the Fry family archive.)
Two months after the outbreak of war, Charlie wrote to Beryl with the question he wished he had put to her before he left Australia. He hadn’t, though, because ‘I sincerely wanted to ask you to wait for me to return home, but I did not dare to, as it seemed so unfair because five years’—the period of his short service commission—‘is a very long time’. After three years separation, and with a new war, however, everything was different. ‘Please darling, this is a proposal: I want to marry you’. Moreover, he wanted her to come to Egypt so they could be together.
(Unattributed engagement notice. Courtesy of the Fry family archive.)
Beryl accepted immediately, but it was over a month before Charlie received word. He was ecstatic: ‘At last my dream of almost eight years has materialised and I am very proud and happy of what we have so far accomplished. I was out on a desert landing ground when an aircraft brought your cable, and the pilot thought I had gone crazy with the antics that I performed’.
Much as they wanted to, it was not possible for Beryl to cross the world to be with her new fiancé. Within months, 112 Squadron was in action. From Egypt it moved to Greece, and then to Crete. Gladiators had been traded for Hurricanes and Charlie, now a flight commander, was in frequent combat. ‘Crete was being subjected to Stuka attacks and the sky was often thick with Messerschmitts’, he later recalled. On 16 May 1941, ‘a fateful day’, Charlie, or Digger, as he was known almost from the time he had set foot in England, was in battle yet again:
‘They appeared again in the very early morning, followed by Ju88s, Dornier 17s, and Ju52s. Crete was subjected to a great softening-up before the troop-carrying gliders came on the scene. The sky also turned white with the canopies of German parachutists. The tide of our war had turned.’
Charlie was attacked: ‘My Hurricane lay in ruins after I was shot down, but I survived’. 
Injured and unable to fly, Charlie made himself useful. He set about building pens to protect the squadron’s aircraft. As Crete fell to the Germans, and their aerodrome was taken, Charlie attempted to construct another strip in the hills. When he realised there was no hope, he organised the evacuation of the remaining squadron members. As one of his comrades recollected, ‘He used to lay up in the hills during the day, and at night he would take … [his men] down to the beaches on the off-chance of a warship being around. I know there were occasions when he could have made his escape but he preferred, as is the duty of an officer, to remain with his men to the last—good old Digger’.
Charlie succeeded in getting off two officers and three airmen before he was captured on 6 June 1941. He was the last of the squadron’s officers remaining on Crete. And so, lauded his friend, ‘he remained at his post to the last. A good pilot, a good officer, and an excellent leader of men’. (His service in Greece was later acknowledged by a Greek DFC and a British DFC.)
For Beryl, who had regularly received letters from her fiancé, there was only worrying silence and unanswered questions: what had happened to Charlie? And then, on 14 August, ‘It was with gladness and thanksgiving, after many weeks of knowing you to be missing that I heard you were a Prisoner of War. Chas it is impossible to describe how happy and relieved I was to learn of your whereabouts. I sincerely hope you are well and safe’. Four days earlier, Charlie had written his first missive to her since capture: ‘At last I am able to write to you I am very well and uninjured’. It took over four months before those precious words arrived just after Christmas 1941.

(POW identity card, Charles Horace Fry 40047, NAA A13950.) 

(POW postcard, Charles Fry to Beryl Smith, 10 August 1941, received 29 December 1941.
Courtesy of the Fry family archive.)
In that first POW postcard, Charlie wrote that he had lost all his photos of Beryl on Crete and asked if she would send him some more. So treasured was her image—and perhaps also conscious of the changes brought about by passing time—it was a question he continued to ask throughout almost four years of captivity. Beryl did not hesitate to respond. Indeed, throughout his captivity, she placed Charlie and his needs firmly at the centre of her life.
She joined the POW Relatives’ Association, she raised funds for the association, assiduously read its newsletter, made contact with other families of captives, spoke with a repatriated prisoner, all to glean information about Charlie and the prisoner of war camps in which he was incarcerated. She diligently worked for his comfort. 
(Beryl Smith. Courtesy of the Fry family archive.)
She wrote frequently, sent photos, arranged for cigarette and book parcels to be sent to him, contributed financially to parcels sent from British relatives, kept in touch with his family and friends, lobbied for his actions to be appropriately recognised, and sought future career advice on his behalf. She wrote about family, a little about what she did in her limited spare time so he could picture her life but, as a minister’s confidential typist, she could write little of her career.
 (Beryl Smiths receipts from David Jones for parcels. Courtesy of the Fry family archive.) 
(Letter from Beryl Smith to the Editor, The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 December 1943. Courtesy of the Fry family archive.)
Beryl provided Charlie with a real link to home. He in turn did his best to maintain that link. As well as his regular letters, he asked the Irving Air Chute company to send Beryl the caterpillar pin which signified that ‘he had saved his life with one our chutes’.

(Letter to Beryl Smith from the Caterpillar Club, 7 September 1943. Courtesy of the Fry family archive.)

(The Sunday Sun, 9 November 1943. Courtesy of the Fry family archive.) 
Most of Beryl’s letters—and Charlie’s to her—focused on their love for each other. ‘My love’; ‘my darling’; how much they ‘missed’ each other. Interestingly, they wrote little of the future, or the life they planned to share with each other. As Charlie’s captivity dragged on, the most important thing for each was to reinforce the strength of their love.
During the course of his long captivity, Charlie spent time in Oflag XC, Lubeck, Oflag VIB, Warburg, Stalag Luft III, and Oflag XXIB, Schubin. On 2 April 1943, he returned to Stalag Luft III. Captivity was not an easy state for Charlie. He endured physical and psychological stresses but he appeared to suffer more from his long separation from Beryl. She too felt the strain of being apart. They tried to be cheerful, but both had doubts about the other’s constancy, and they did little to hide it.
‘Charl, dearest, I love you very very much—it is most anguishing to be separated from you for so long and I am looking forward longingly to the day when I shall be in your arms again. You are the only one I care for (or have ever cared for Chas)—since the very first day I met you … . I sincerely hope, Chas, that you reciprocate my feelings and that these long years apart have not dimmed your ardour for me.’
Both were conscious of the passage of years. On 29 November 1943, Charles wrote, ‘By the time this will reach you, you will have had your 28th birthday. [Beryl was born on 5 March 1915.] Happy returns darling gosh I wish I were here with you darling for I would have lots more to tell you. I miss you darling and hope we shall be together again soon. Cheerio my dear you have all my love, yours for ever’.
(Charles Fry in Oflag XXIB, Schubin late 1942, after their heads were shaven. Fry second from left
Courtesy of the Fry family archive.) 
By December 1944, the strain was almost unendurable. It was their seventh Christmas apart and Charlie’s fourth in captivity. He had sent her Christmas cards in times past but if he had this time, it did not reach her. 
(Christmas Card from No 1 Flying Training School, RAAF Point Cook, 1936. Courtesy of the Fry family archive.) 
(POW Christmas card from Charles Fry to Beryl Smith POW,  postmarked 22 November 1942 while he was in Schubin, received 12 March 1942. Courtesy of the Fry family archive.) 
On 12 December, Beryl wrote again to Charles. It was her last letter addressed to him at Stalag Luft III, yet he never received it. [She typed all of her letters and kept the flimsy.] ‘How are you, my precious darling? Sick and tired of waiting, I guess. I feel that way at times too. Not tired of waiting for you my darling but tired of having to wait.’ It was a poignant letter, full of all the longing a woman felt for a man she had not seen since July 1937. It suggested a silence that, despite the many letters over the years, stretched between them. It hinted at the things that could not be told because of censorship, or because they both recognised that ‘one must keep a happy exterior and write bright cheery letters’, or because some words simply could not be put on paper: they could only be whispered between lovers entwined in each other’s arms:
‘I wish I could express what is in my mind—tell you how I feel and what thoughts I have about life, the war and ourselves … . I really think of some marvellous things to say to you but when I come to write them it is very very difficult. I feel I would like to tell you how much I love you and adore you and that you are the embodiment of all my dreams—that I miss you very very much and am often unhappy and sad about that. I would like to tell you that I dream of the time we will be together and that you will say that you love me and think that I am beautiful … I try to imagine what it will be like to have your arms around me and to feel your kisses.’
As Beryl wondered what she would do when they were reunited—‘Will I rush forward and throw my arms madly around your neck and kiss you and kiss you and kiss you—or will I stand shyly by whilst you embrace your mother and family and wait my turn later on’—Charlie was having a ‘miserable Christmas’. ‘How I would like to be with you there’, he wrote. He had been at a low ebb during the last weeks of 1944 as the hoped-for release in the wake of the D-Day invasion had failed to eventuate. The only joy was the ‘lovely Christmass [sic] present of three letters … Thanks darling they were lovely letters’. Realising yet another birthday was nigh, he wrote, ‘Hope you receive this before your birthday darling with all my love for a happy birthday & may the next one be happier’.
Beryl’s 30th birthday was no happier. Charlie still had not returned to her and, by March 1945, was off the radar. She had not heard from him for weeks. Mail from Germany was irregular at that stage of the war and Charlie had not written since the prisoners had evacuated from Stalag Luft III at the end of January 1945. After months of silence and anxiety over Charlie’s fate, Beryl finally heard the wonderful news that he had been liberated and was back in England. ‘There are no words to express my happiness and joy’, she wrote on 14 May. ‘Oh my darling. I am so happy. I sincerely trust you are in good health and none the worse for your experiences. Gee Charles it is hard to believe after all these years. I can hardly wait to see you, dearest, and to have your arms around me.’
(August 1945, taken at Buckingham Palace just after DFC investiture. Unknown source.)
Charlie was soon on his way, excited to be returning home and to Beryl. On 6 September 1945, as he approached Australian waters six years to the day when he had proposed by letter, he sent the most welcome telegram: ‘Be with you soon for good. Happy excited love Charles’. 
(Courtesy of the Fry family archive.) 
Charlie disembarked in Sydney on the 9th. Less than two weeks later, on 22 September 1945, Charlie and Beryl married. They were together at last: ‘for good’.
(Cutting the cake. 22 September 1945. Courtesy of the Fry family archive.)