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POW life in pictures

Images show Allied captives making the best of it.

Gisborne man Jody Smith has 130 historic and vivid photographs revealing what it was like to be a prisoner of war during World War 2.

The photos were brought back to New Zealand by his father Bert who spent four years as a POWs after being captured in Greece in 1941.

The photographs show images most people have never seen before.

In one, a German soldier looks directly into the camera.

The photos show the harsh nature of POW life including funerals and memorial services, roll calls, security fences and watchtowers.

Other photos show Russian POWsS in an emaciated and dishevelled state which contrasts widely with the state of the Allied POWs.

Russian POWs, if they survived German captivity, were sent to filtration camps and many went on to harsh years of gulag (labour camp) imprisonment.

Other photos show Allied POWs adjusting to imprisonment by trying to make life as endurable as possible.

Many sporting activities are shown, including cricket, football, athletics such as running and the high jump, speedskating, boxing and tug-of-war.

Another pastime which features in many photos is plays or musicals put on by the POWs.

The images show the “actors” in various costumes. Some are dressed as women complete with provocative poses.

Some POWs took part in black and white minstrel-type shows, their faces painted black, long before such performances were judged inappropriate.

Other photographs show groups of men identified as being from London, or other British cities, or as being “aussies and kiwis”.

Some photographs are like postcards with the home addresses of the men handwritten on the back including one with the name G D Cave, Mahoe, Stratford, Taranaki, New Zealand.

A small number of photos show men, possibly Australian, in places such as Crete, Syria and possibly North Africa before they were captured.

Jody Smith said his sister believed their father had the photos developed through an Austrian woman working in a camp office.

The back of the photographs shows she took the negatives to photography businesses in Wolfsburg (Austria) and Klagenfurt, which is 48 kilometres away.

Robert Arthur Carleton (Bert) Smith was 31 when he was captured in Greece in April 1941.

It appears he was in POWs camp Stalag XV111-A near Wolfsburg in Austria.

The stalag number is printed on the back of many of the photos.

One photo shows a street scene in Gorliz, Germany. Stalag V111-A was situated close to Gorliz.

Jody approached The Gisborne Herald after seeing an Anzac Day article about Gisborne man Ron Callaghan, who was shot down over the Netherlands and spent three years as a POWs.

Jody says his father was friendly with Mr Callaghan in Gisborne but did not know if they were in the same POWs camp.

Mr Callaghan, a wireless operator in a 75 (New Zealand) Squadron Wellington bomber, was in a different camp.

Jody said Mr Callaghan's comments about how badly Russian prisoners were treated supported similar comments his father had made to him.

“The Germans gave the Russians hell,” Jody said.

The Germans told his father his name was Karl Schmidt.

“They kept telling him things like that.”

Jody says his father tried to escape twice.

Life was difficult in a POWs camp and Jody attributes his father's early death in 1958 to the hardships of that life.

He learned more about his father's experiences from another Gisborne POWs, George Gosling, who was a prisoner in the same camp.

More than 8000 New Zealanders were POWs in World War 2.

BRONZE ANZAC: Bert Smith is pictured as a prisoner of war during World War 2. Mr Smith returned to New Zealand after fours years as a POW with 130 photographs portraying life in captivity. The photos leave no room for confusion with Hogan's Heroes.
IT AIN'T HALF HOT MUM: A concert party in a German POW camp.
SUFFERING: 'The Germans gave the Russians hell.' Two-thirds of Russian POWs died in captivity in World War 2.
ANZACS: Written on the back of this photo of POWs is 'aussies and kiwis, June, 1943'.
FINISHING LINE: Bert Smith's photos of World War 2 prisoner of war life show numerous sporting events such as boxing, soccer, cricket and running races.