Just recently I have been lucky enough to pick up a paperwork group that belonged to a NZ officer who was prisoner in Oflag VIIB, Eichstaett from 1942 until his release in 1945. Amongst the group were some very interesting items including the pieces I will show here.
23806 Captain Harry Floyd WILLIS was attested in the 2nd NZ Expeditionary Force on the 15 April 1940. Other than a little time in Trentham Camp in Wellington he seems to have done most of his training in NZ at Papakura Camp in Auckland. He received his commission as a second lieutenant while in Trentham on the 12 August 1940 and on 5 March 1941 was posted to the 24th (Auckland) Battalion. As part of the 4th Reinforcements he embarked on the 19 December 1940 arriving in Egypt 28 January 1941. After completing his training in Egypt he then took part in the NZ Divisions first campaign of the war, the Battle for Greece. It was a campaign that was to end in dispiriting defeat for the allied side and unluckily for Harry WILLIS he was to join with at least 1800 other New Zealand soldiers who would be captured and would spend the rest of the war as Prisoners of War.
While a POW he was promoted twice rising to the rank of Captain in April 1943. He survived captivity, and the war, returning back to NZ on the 30 September 1945. Post World War Two he worked as a Dental Surgeon and finally passed away in 2004.
As POW number 170 he was held at Oflag VB, VIB and finally VIIB. The Official History, “Prisoners of War” by WW MASON says the Oflag VIIB was an old cavalry barracks set in a beautiful Bavarian countryside of meadow, trees, and hills. Prisoners were housed in one of the original three storied barracks on the slope of a hill, and in eight or so new concrete army huts on the flat below. Prior to 1943 accommodation at the camp was overcrowded and in the winter of 1942 there were serious cases of chilblains, rheumatics and bronchial troubles. The conditions improved in mid 1943 when 120 Officers were moved to another camp.
However the camp was well resourced to try and keep the prisoners occupied. As well as gardens, a sports field, and two tennis courts the prisoners could use, the camp also had an active theater Group. There were at least 5 professional actors at the camp in Eichstaett, they were Michael GOODLIFFE (http://www.mgoodliffe.co.uk/), Wallace FINLAYSON (AKA-Wallace DOUGLAS), Dan CUNNINGHAM, Desmond LLEWELYN (“Q” in 17 James Bond Films, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desmond_Llewelyn) and Brian MCIRVINE.
The theatre at Eichsaett included a reasonable sized stage with room for an audience of about 200. Many of the plays performed at Eichstätt boasted lavish sets and costumes, provided by Munich Opera or designed by Brian McIrvine and others. Programmes for each play were printed locally and orchestral accompaniment was often provided. Most of the plays featured dramatic or melodramatic plots, chosen, no doubt, to relieve the boredom of life in prison.
Here are a few of the programmes that were in Harry WILLIS’s group:Not as professionally printed as the next few but you can see some of the names mentioned above, such as Wallace FINLAYSON and Michael GOODLIFFE.
The next few have been professionally printed.
The earliest is this one dated Christmas 1942 and is for a pantomime “Babes up”
Next is the programme for “Gaslight” dated November 1943.
Another Christmas production dated 1943 “Dossing Dulcie”.
The National Library of NZ has this interesting photo of the above play. Another interesting photo the Library has in it’s holdings is for a production called “I killed the Count”
The programme for which is the last in this little collection and is dated 1944.
Some more photos of the camp and its productions can be found on this website:- http://www.pegasusarchive.org/pow/pOf_7B.htm
More on the camp and Michael GOODLIFFE : http://www.mgoodliffe.co.uk/
And on Bobby LODER : http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/archive-centre/archive-month/december-2009.html