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PRIVATE FLEMING CHARLES "CURLY" COWARD, P.O.W. STALAG XIIIc

This cover has an unusual amount of postage stamps applied, more than the usual amount of information about the recipient, including the alteration of the original address with substitution of the correct address, and almost a complete routing of the cover, but with no postmark confirmation of the route.

This Australian Red Cross Society cover has a blue handstamp at top left ‘SERVICE DES PRISONNIERS DE GEURRE/ PRISONERS OF WAR POST, a purple ‘diamond’ with ‘3/ PASSED/ BY/ CENSOR/ 1/6' . A total postage of five shillings 8 pence made up of the magenta KGVI 1s 4d, two red-brown ‘Roo on Map of Australia’ 2 shillings and a single green 4 pence koala stamps, canceled by AIRMAIL SECTION / 1/ ( )P 8 SP/ 41/ MELBOURNE. VIC postmarks. It was addressed to V.X. 29251 Private F.C. Coward, Australian Prisoner of War in, C/o Agence Centrale des (-------- ) De Guerre, Comite International de Croix Rouge, Palais Conseil General, GENEVA, SWITZERLAND (with much of the address obliterated). The cover has been redirected with a ms. ‘Stalag XIIIC/ N: 09623' and his given names are spelt out as ‘Fleming Charles’. The cover has a printed ‘BY AIR MAIL/ PAR AVION’, and the routing is by ‘Clipper Aust./ U.S.A. U.K.’ to the destination of Geneva (Figure 1).

The reverse shows the sender as Mrs Coward, 58 Hope St. South Melbourne, VICTORIA AUSTRALIA and a red label has been applied , without folding, reading ‘3 Opened by Censor’ and a purple diamond censor handstamp, as on the front, has been added (Figure 2).

The World War 2 Nominal Roll obtained at the Australian War Memorial website gave confirmatory information concerning Fleming Charles Coward who was born at Carlton, Victoria on 23 February 1920 and was aged 20 years when he enlisted as a private in the infantry at South Melbourne. His next of kin was identified as Maud Coward, most likely his mother, who lived at South Melbourne. Most significantly he was listed as a P.O.W. during WW 2, and he was subsequently discharged from the army on 10 August 1945 (Figure 3).

I was particularly surprised that he was positively identified by a picture described as follows: "VX29251 Private (Pte.) F.C. (‘Curly’) Coward, a member of the 2/6th infantry Battalion and prisoner of war (POW) no. 09623, with a pair of draught horses that he was working with on a farm near Stalag XIIIc POW camp at Hammelburg. Pte Coward was engaged in farm work as a member of a POW working party." The date was listed as ca. 1943 (Figure 4).

 

Stalag XIIIc was a German Army WW II prisoner-of-war camp built on what had been the German Army training camp of Hammelburg, Lower Franconia, Bavaria, Germany, which was originally set up in 1893. Part of the camp had been used as a POW camp for Allied Army personnel in WWI. After 1935 it was a training camp for the newly reconstituted German Army. In WWII the German Army used parts of camp at Hammelburg for Stalag XIII-C, a camp for non-commissioned ranks. Many of the prisoners were located on farms or adjacent to factories, or other industrial operations. The camp served for distribution of the International Red Cross packages and mail. A hospital cared for prisoners that were sick or had been injured in industrial accidents or air-raids. Australian and other British Commonwealth soldiers captured at the Battle for Crete were interned at Stalag XIII-C. A map of many of the POW camps in Europe (map not shown in its entirety) in WWII is shown with Hammelburg’s Stalag XIII-C identified by a red arrow (Figure 5).

I have no proof that "Curly" Coward was captured during the Battle for Crete, however 2 things suggest this hypothesis: the date of posting of the letter in September 1941 allowed time for the notification back in Melbourne of his capture in late May 1941, and his internment at Stalag XIII-C suggested that his capture was in Crete. The campaign in Crete was a disaster for the allied forces, with Australian casualties in the thousands I have seen a wide range for Australians killed (274-594), wounded (507-1001) and captured as prisoners-of-war (3102 -5,132). The diagram of the campaign illustrates 2 main points: The Germans parachuted in to Crete in waves of soldiers on 3 fronts along Crete’s north coast (green arrows); and, those Allied troops who escaped capture did so on ships on the north (4,000 evacuated) and south (2,600 evacuated) coasts, shown by 2 red arrows (Figure 6).

 

"Curly" Coward was fortunate to survive the experience and Mrs. Coward who lived on Hope Street, South Melbourne, had her prayers answered.

 

 
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