‘The German capitulation was complete and Allied solidarity, aided by the Swiss Commission outside, had won a memorable victory. The Germans’ arrogance of 1941 and 1942 was changing and, from this day in May 1944 onwards, the prisoners in Colditz began to feel solid ground once more beneath their feet. The episode was an important turning point. The prisoners knew that Hitler and his minions intended to use them as hostages in the hour of defeat. Here was a gleam of hope...’ Colditz, The Full Story (Pan Military Classics Series) – P R Reid, p.261
L\Cpl Allen was captured at Dunkirk on the fourth of June 1940. He was serving with the Royal Ulster Regiment, he was one of the unlucky ones left behind.
But by 1943, Allen had already been in a few German POW camps. He had managed to end up being sent to the most secure of them all the infamous Sonderlager Colditz. Likely after escape attempts in other camps – Stalag XXA, Stalag XIIID (Nürnberg) and Oflag VI-C (Colditz). George Allen seems to be the only Royal Ulster Rifles soldier to have made it into Colditz!
In May 1944, Allen was ill or injured and was considered by the Gestapo and OKW as not Deutschfeindlich thus fit for repatriation under the Geneva Convention.
The Mixed Medical Commission (acting under the Geneva Convention) inspected Allen on their only visit to Colditz. The leading doctor of the MMC was the Swiss Colonel Dr von Erlach. He personally cleared Allen on that very special document in the picture in May 1944 at Colditz.
The visit of the MMC delegation didn’t go down well, being described as a ‘Mutiny’ – that morning is described in-depth in the book by Major PR Reid, Colditz, the Full Story (See the story below).
On the 11th of May 1944, Allen left Colditz as the first person to be recognised for repatriation under Art 69 of the Geneva Convention and later returned to Northern Ireland.
The document hand signed at Colditz by Dr Col von Erlach (Swiss Army) is evidence of a very special victory over the Germans. The Swiss Dr von Erlach post war was famous for saving the children of those who carried out the failed attempt on Hitler’s life (Valkyrie: 20th July 1944) to Switzerland.
The grouping consists of the following:
- Pocket Diary of L\Cpl Allen carried with him from his capture on the beach at Dunkirk to Colditz castle. Many entries, including some poems and many names and addresses of many Colditz POWs. Including some famous POWS such as the former Maj-Gen Purdon. It is highly plausible that Allen knew personally the men he had entered in his diary. Every entry in the diary was subject to close inspection by the Germans (individually stamped on inspection).
- L\Cpl G R Allens’ medals and RUR Cap Badge, mounted on carton as found.
- 21 photos of Stalag VIII B, Stalag XIII D, Stammlager XXA – In June 1940, 4,500 men arrived here all captured at Dunkirk. The photos are detailed and show many service personnel. These photos are in need of specialist inspection, as they detail a burial at one of the camps as well as display many service men who could be identified.
- 7 Photos taken at Colditz Castle including a portrait of L\Cpl G R Allen. Two pictures were taken in the famous courtyard at Colditz and have not been seen anywhere else. One small photograph was inspected by the Germans at Colditz details how the POWs mingled with the German Guards and is a rare look into the life of the men at Colditz.
- Certificate of discharge from the Mixed Medical Commision on the 5.5.1944 issued at Colditz, it was signed by the famous Swiss Col, Dr von Erlach. Interestingly, L\Cpl G R Allen was the first to be approved from those presented to the commission. This German issued document, signed by the Swiss is the only known such example and is extremely rare.
More information on the MMC visit to Colditz and the mutiny that followed:
The extract is from Colditz, The Full Story (Pan Military Classics Series) by P R Reid.
The Mixed Medical Commission was a body formalized by the Geneva Convention for the examination of sick and wounded prisoners of war with a view to their repatriation. It was composed of medical officers, one of the belligerent power (Germany) and two nationals (Swiss) of the Protecting Power of the other belligerent. The Mixed Medical Commission at intervals toured around Germany. Doctor von Erlach was the best known of the Swiss delegates. Although the war had been going on for over four years, the Commission had never been allowed to put its nose inside the gates of Colditz. Now, in May 1944, the miracle happened and Colonel Tod was informed of the forthcoming visit of the Commission to the Sonderlager of Germany. Germany was surely losing the war! Harry realized it was all or nothing. The commission was due the next day, 6 May. He and another officer, Lieutenant C. L. ‘Kit’ Silverwood-Cope, who had thrombosis in one leg, spent the night walking up and down the circular staircase leading to their quarters – a matter of eighty-eight steps – at twenty-minute intervals. They were still alive when the sun rose and they took to their beds in the sick ward as bona fide stretcher cases. Unfortunately, this was not the last ditch. The Gestapo had the final word. Silverwood-Cope had been loose, too long for the Gestapo’s liking, in Poland after an escape, and knew much that they would like to know. They had already included Major Miles Reid, an MC of the First World War; Lieutenant ‘Skipper’ Barnett; and Errol Flynn. Dan Hallifax was a special case – already passed. In addition, there were three French de Gaullist officers. De Gaullists, captured fighting in various parts of Europe, were now arriving in Colditz, replenishing the French fire which had added much to the spirit of the prison through the earlier years.
There were twenty-nine names in all. The camp as a whole was resigned to the rejection of the case for Silverwood-Cope. But when, at the last minute, the OKW , through the instigation of the Gestapo, began quibbling over the repatriation of others, including the Frenchmen, they came up against trouble. The names of those permitted by the Gestapo to be examined by the Commission for repatriation were announced at the midday Appell on 5 May. Six names out of the twenty-nine were omitted. The SBO stated categorically that either all twenty-nine would appear or none. A special roll-call sounded on Saturday the 6th at 9.15 a.m. and the officers paraded. After the count had been checked by Hauptmann Eggers, Püpcke called once more for the twenty-three to step forward. Nobody moved. Eggers, speaking in English, addressed Colonel Tod. ‘Parade the walking cases in front at once, Herr Oberst. Stretcher cases will be inspected later.’ The tall, grey-haired Royal Scots Fusilier, standing alone in front of his men, replied coldly: ‘ Herr Hauptmann , this action of the German High Command is despicable. It is dishonest, unjust and cowardly. The twenty-nine men must be allowed to go forward for examination. I will no longer hold myself responsible for the actions of my officers. The parade from this moment is yours. Take it!’
And with that he turned about, marched back to the ranks behind him, turned again, and stood at attention, at the right of the line. Eggers, speaking in English, started to harangue the parade: ‘British officers, you will remain on parade until those ordered for examination by . . .’ His further words were lost as, with one accord, the parade broke up in disorder and men stamped around the courtyard, drowning his voice with the shuffling of boots and the clatter of wooden clogs on the cobbles. This was mutiny. Püpcke hurried to the gate and spoke through the grille. Within seconds the Riot Squad entered the courtyard. The two German officers, surrounded by their men with fixed bayonets and followed by three NCOs with revolvers drawn, forged into the crowd before them to identify and seize the men approved for interview, take them out of the courtyard by force, bang the gates behind them and leave the prisoners to nurse their wounded feelings in impotence. The German officers and their NCO snoops peered, now to the left, now to the right, into the sullen faces around them. The mêlée in the courtyard continued unceasingly.
The Swiss members of the Commission were in the Kommandantur waiting for the proposed repatriates. They became impatient and demanded to be allowed to see the Senior British Officer. The courtyard was by now in an uproar with jeering, booing, catcalls and singing competing for the maximum volume of sound. The Swiss could hear the riot in progress. The Kommandant was spotted from a window giving orders outside the gate. He dared not enter. Püpcke left the courtyard for several minutes, then returned. He sought out Colonel Tod and spoke to him. The SBO was conducted out to meet the Commission at 10.30 a.m. He apologized for his part in the delay and explained how the Kommandant’s list forbade the presence of six officers by order of the OKW. This amazed the Commission and they demanded an explanation. The Kommandant and the German member of the Commission then telephoned to Berlin. The deadlock was broken – Berlin gave way. At 11.45 a.m. the Commission began its work. Silverwood-Cope surprisingly was passed; also Harry Elliott and nine others. Julius Green was passed but later the OKW categorically refused to let him go because he too was Deutschfeindlich ! The three de Gaullists were passed. They were of the six initially forbidden to appear. Duggie Bader was not passed. He was also one of the six. Errol Flynn was passed.
The German capitulation was complete and Allied solidarity, aided by the Swiss Commission outside, had won a memorable victory. The Germans’ arrogance of 1941 and 1942 was changing and, from this day in May 1944 onwards, the prisoners in Colditz began to feel solid ground once more beneath their feet. The episode was an important turning point. The prisoners knew that Hitler and his minions intended to use them as hostages in the hour of defeat. Here was a gleam of hope. Padre Platt commented in his diary: How it was really like old times, the guard in position and at the ready, and prisoners shouting and singing, and whistling. ‘If only Priem were here!’ was the lament of the old lags! This kind of party was right up his street . . . he would have had musketry loosed off in all direction; but not a shot was fired! Eggers has some light to throw on this episode: Security approval was required for the applicants and the OKW right away ruled out the De Gaullists on our list. They also objected to Wing Commander Douglas Bader, on the grounds that his leg amputations dated from a pre-war accident and were not war wounds. They also objected to Captain Green, the dentist from Lamsdorf, possibly because he had been responsible for spoiling my plan to plant Lieut. ‘Grey’ in the camp as a ‘stooge’. They also objected to the presence on the list of Flight-Lieutenant Hallifax, an officer who had been very badly burnt when shot down during a raid over Berlin. The case of Dan Halifax RAF is exceptional and should be recorded. A fighter pilot, Dan was shot down on 15 May 1942. His aircraft was on fire, as was his oxygen mask. The result – Dan’s hair was burnt off, as were his ears. The rest of his face was a mess. As one got to know him the injuries vanished. He was Dan Hallifax – a wonderful, charming man.
From the moment he was shot down his mind was full of just one thing – to get back to England as soon as possible, to the skin-grafting magicians. He was acutely troubled by the belief that the longer it was delayed, the more difficult it would be to rebuild his face and hands.
Efforts to get repatriated achieved nothing, so the only hope for Dan was to get home under his own steam – which got him into Colditz on 14 November 1943. for repatriation long before he arrived in Colditz under Article 69 of the Geneva Convention as far back as 6 June 1942. The Germans replied that under Article 53 they were entitled to keep him a prisoner for an alleged ‘criminal offence’. But Dan had never been charged with an offence. Even Eggers knew nothing of this ‘offence’. Colonel Tod wrote to the OKW. In the meantime, Dan missed the repatriation contingent which left Germany on or about 18 May. The SBO received a reply from the OKW on 12 June, now saying he was not held under Article 53 but ‘retained on security grounds’. The SBO promptly wrote a letter of the case history with all the relevant facts to the Protecting Power, asking them to inform His Majesty’s Government, and to the Mixed Medical Commission. Dan Hallifax eventually left Colditz for repatriation on 7 January 1945.