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Past issues have featured Australian Lebanese who served their country in armed conflict including two who became prisoners of war: Vincent Lahood during World War I and Louis Solomon during World War II. In this issue we feature another: Alfred Abdallah.
Alfred Abdallah was born on 17th June 1903 in Carlton Victoria. Carlton was the focal point of Lebanese settlement in Melbourne in the early to mid 20th century. He enlisted in the 2nd AIF (VX19077) on 14th March 1940 at Moonee Ponds. Prior to enlistment he worked for Melbourne City Council. His next of kin was recorded as being his wife Florence. He was posted to the 2/6th Battalion.
As part of the 17th Brigade of the 6th Division, the 2/6th Battalion was formed in Melbourne in October 1939. “Nothing over 2/6” was a well-known advertising slogan for Coles department store at the time and the battalion adopted the motto “nothing over us”. It undertook basic training at Puckapunyal and left Melbourne for service overseas on 14 April 1940.
The battalion arrived in the Middle East on 18 May 1940 and spent the rest of 1940 training in Palestine and Egypt. Just before Christmas, it embarked on its first campaign against the Italians in eastern Libya. Its first battle at Bardia between 3 and 5 January 1941 was costly. It was given a diversionary role and a series of misunderstandings resulted in heavy casualties. It fought again at Tobruk between 21 and 22 January with much more success, and finished in Libya providing garrisons for Barce and Benghazi.
In early April, the 2/6th and the rest of the 6th Division moved to Greece to resist a German invasion. For the 2/6th, the Greek campaign was a long withdrawal through a series of rearguard actions. In the last days of the campaign, its companies were dispersed and some evacuated by sea between 26 and 29 April. About a quarter of the battalion was left behind and taken prisoner. Some of the evacuees were landed on Crete and fought with the 17th Brigade Composite Battalion.
Rebuilt in Palestine, the 2/6th moved into Lebanon and Syria in December 1941 to join the garrison force there. Alas, Abdallah was by then behind barb wire and missed being reunited with his unit in the land of his forebears.
Battle for Crete
The battles for the island of Crete were fought from the second week of May 1941. The island’s British, Commonwealth and Greek garrison was attacked by German airbourne troops. The defenders’ numerical superiority was eventually overwhelmed by the attacker‟s massive advantage in logistical and air support. The Australians, and other allied troops, were disadvanted by being war weary after the Greek campaign and many had lost their weapons and supplies in the move from Greece. The island lacked facilities to support a defending Army. The attackers were fresh, elite-trained, airborne troops.
The fighting was some of the fiercest in the War with no quarters given by either side. Despite their advantages, the German found victory a very difficult and bloody task. By the end May organised resistance had broken down. Germans hunted small groups of Allied soldiers abandoned by inadequate evacuation facilities and desperately trying to evade capture.
After taking part in the fighting, Abdallah was reported „missing in action‟ in the press in the middle of June 1941. The term „missing in action‟ can sometimes really mean that a soldier was killed but his body could not be recovered. Fortunately however, Abdallah was captured by the Germans on the 1st June 1940 and he turned up in Stalag XIIIc at Bastheim, South Bavaria in Germany where he remained until the middle of April 1945.
Stalag XIII-C was a German Army, World War II POW camp built on an old German Army training camp set up in 1893. It was used as a POW camp during World War I. After 1935, it was a training camp for the newly reconstituted German Army. In World War II, the Germans used parts of the camp for Stalag XIII-C for enlisted personell. A camp for other ranks and NCOs, Stalag XIIIb was located close by. Officers were not required or allowed to work and were housed separately from NCOs and other ranks. Enlisted men usually had to work, often in long backbacking industrial work to support the German war effort. They were located in Arbeitslager on farms or adjacent to factories and Abdallah is likely to have had to work.
Abdallah: Hogan Hero?
The 1960s television sitcom, Hogan’s Heroes featured Stalag 13, the fictional location for the toughest POW camp in Germany, under the command of Colonel Wilhelm Klink. There was never a successful escape from the camp. But in reality, so the fictionalised story went, the camp hid an anti-Nazi organization made up of captured Allied flyers. The unit, led by Colonel Robert Hogan, specialized in sabotage, rescuing Allied pilots, passing intelligence to London and helping other POWs escape right under the Germans’ noses.
Life in the real Stalag 13 was grim, especially as the war neared the end. The Germans were running out of food and fuel and the prisoners were the lowest priority.
Stalag 13 was liberated by American forces in April 1945 and Abdallah was discharged from the Army with the rank of Private on 30th August 1945. According to digitised National Archives records, in 1962 Abdallah needed medical treatment for illness acquired as a result of his war service and as a result was slipping into debt. He successfully applied for funding from The Prisoner of War Trust Fund in 1962 for recompense for loss of earning power as a result of disabilities he acquired as a result of his wartime imprisonment. The Department of Veteran‟s Affairs online database of those who served during World War Two shows Alfred Abdallah‟s younger brother, Joseph (born 12th December 1909) also joined the Army at Oakleigh, Victoria on 9th November 1943 (VX142860). He was discharged on 5th December 1945 with the rank of Signalman with the 3rd Australian Technical Maintenance Section.
Alfred Abdallah‟s son, Alfred James Abdallah, who was born on 8th November 1927 at Carlton also joined the services at some stage. The National Archives of Australia website has a record of his enlistment, but given his age and the fact that he does not appear in nominal rolls of the Second World War, he must have served at some time after 1945.