PRIVATE KENNETH BURKE RUBIE
Capture in Greece, April 1941
Winter’s morning – snow – 2nd 4th Australian Battalion stopped march in Florina Valley on a ridge and told to dig in. Ten in my section, one mortar, one bren gun, rifles – sent furthest to the left in most forward line. During night, patrols heard sounds of enemy digging in. Morning still snowing, brought ding dong artillery duel over heads. Headquarters caught it. Afternoon quiet, could see hordes of enemy approaching from shelter – out of rifle range. Discovered our section was only one left, so that we started crawling back up hill and down into ravine.
As cautiously as possible next day tried to get back to unit although could not catch up with any of our soldiers. Resting and having meal behind rock when suddenly German officer and his section surrounded us. German planes had been overhead all that day. Some interrogation – useless – then marched back about three miles to find big German Camp. We were utterly shocked as none of us had ever imagined being captured. There had been nine of us, mostly farmers from New South Wales, though the baby of the battalion, Ray Berthelson, came from Paddington, Sydney, only 18 years. Angel Gabriel, also Sydney factory worker, and Dave Neal, good little chap from Sydney. More interrogation – useless. Well seasoned soldiers who had been across North Africa to Ben Ghazi would not talk. Burial party next day – our own dead. Starvation diet. Men weakening but pushed along. Marched back gathering more and more prisoners through Northern Greece into Yugoslavia, from one German camp to the next. In Belgrade, for propaganda purposes, Germans marched us through the city, but it fell flat as there was more pity than enmity. Put into cattle trucks, one tin of bully beef among three. No conveniences – 46 to a truck – men with dysentery etc. Stopped once in four days and threw an Aussie who had died out of my truck. Through Budapest – then through Vienna in these trucks. Thrown into barracks at Marburg, more dead than alive.
Six month’s starvation
Lump of bread, potato soup, ersatz coffee daily. Disgusted with Aussies who scrambled for bones, scraps, butts thrown by the German guards laughing – barbed wire – reaching through for nettles to stew to eat. Finally registered by the Red Cross – parcels commenced to arrive. The prisoners sorted out – some to salt mines and cement works – myself to work at canal at Weinberg.
Canal Work at Weinberg
Fifty English, Australians, New Zealanders, Maoris. Marched to work under about fifteen guards. Kit Carson, big squatter from Tamworth and Alec Taylor, a small farmer from Leeton – always played dumb – never understood an order. Guards screaming at them day after day and showing them how and where to dig. Buzz Bennett, so cold never removed clothes or balaclava sleeping or waking – fleas, lice – lived in barracks, walled in, still starved.
Lined us up one morning, numbered us off, took every ninth man – for alleged ill treatment by English of German prisoners. Thought they were shot but brought back after they had been three days chained in wet dungeons.
Volunteers called for farm work. About fifteen of us, mixed nationalities, but most of my section, sent to another farm camp – an old castle – in Weinberg – with about four guards. Marched out at daylight and back at dark to farms each day.
Mr and Mrs Rossman
Old couple with three sons at war – 15 year old Hermina – daughter. Conscript Polish lad, Joseph. Treated me like a son. Austrians not Germans. They had to account for all products on farm – six acres growing in turn corn, rye, potatoes, sugar beet, turnips, oats, lucerne, beans for vegetables and ersatz coffee. Four or five cows, pigs and fowls. Contrast Australian farm. All rubbish etc. into the pit in back yard. I threw dead fowl into it. Lunch time, poultry was on and I was ill when I found it was the same deceased fowl. Killing of a pig – women there to collect the blood to cook into black pudding, intestines for wurst. First day on farm starved, squirted milk into mouth – put eggs in shirt to take back – fell with them, of course. Meals then on at farm with Red Cross parcels at night in lager. Apple cider brought out to fields for morning and afternoon breaks. Saturdays filled water bottles with it. Sunday customary midday meal at farm, then off for afternoon. Snow on ground for four months of year. Pockets of lovely country. Life a little easier as food better, but had to work terribly hard and with prehistoric tools.
Snowy Troy – New Zealand corporal – hot tempered – did not wait on his farm for guard as he was last one to be collected and guard was often very late. One night was waiting at gate of lager when myself and four others with guard arrived. Argument started and Troy came towards the guard wagging his finger at him. Guard screamed at him to stop, levelled his gun and shot him dead, then turned gun on us. Officer arrived, got us away into quarters. Uproar as news got around. No work next day. Marched us to a cemetery ten miles away – burial service – hearse a little old cart with two horses. Within a week we were moved from that area.
(In 1946 Investigation Officials from War Crimes Commission called at my business in Redfern to get my statement regarding this).
Fifteen miles away – disused house as next lager – guards room and room 16’ x 12’ for twelve of us – fuel stove – double bunks. Worked for Burgomaster of village – secretly pro-British – good fellow – wife, two daughters (16 and 12) and women labourers from village – best farm in area – five cows – pedigreed bull, pigs, crops, orchard, some forest land.
Farm Life at Pickla
First day was attacked by the bull – weighed about a ton – luckily I had a pitch-fork feeding him in his stall and managed to prod him in ribs enough to subdue him forever. Made a name for myself handling the bull – had to work it in farm machinery – take it around – ferocious creature. Became so ill with haemorrhoids that I could not work, told to walk to Gratz hospital, nine miles away. Burgomaster allowed to conduct me to hospital but prisoners not allowed to ride. Burgomaster drove me in cart to the outside of each village and picked me up at the other side. Even so doing, risked his life for me.
For more of Private Rubie’s WWII memoirs see Manildra Memories folder at Manildra Library