Topic: Arthur Priest

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Hamilton City Libraries Oral History Programme, Interview with: Arthur Priest, Accession no: OH0095, Date: 12/17 July 1990. Interviewed by Val Wood as part of the Taking Root in a new land Oral history project 1990

Arthur Priest was born in Fendalton, Christchurch. There were 12 in the family and his father worked in a railway workshop. They moved to Wanganui with Arthur's schooling done in the north, towards Raetihi. By this time his father was a truck driver. Arthur started working on a farm at 14, for 5s a week. He worked at a variety of different farms until in 1938, when he started working at timber mills.

When World War 2 started Arthur joined up. On 4 January 1940 he joined the first main New Zealand unit to sail overseas on an 'Orion' ship; there were 1400 troops aboard. Arthur had an elder brother in the Air Force who was killed in England, and two other brothers in the army. He also had a younger brother in the Air Force. He first went to Columbia, then Egypt (where he spent 13 months), then Maadi, Palestine, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, Dead Sea, and Cairo.

He took a 24 hour boat trip on 'Ajax' and 'Achilles' to Pyreas, Greece. He was in hospital in Greece due to an abscess on his leg; he could see Pyreas being bombed from his hospital window. He rejoined his unit and received marching orders on 25 April 1941. There were bombings all around him; they used a storehouse in an orchard for shelter from fighter planes. They arrived at the harbour in Calamada with the Germans right behind them. At night a ship came to pick up the wounded, the next morning the Brigadier surrendered them all to the Germans.

Arthur was marched off to assembly areas, passing dead Germans on the way. Some traitors changed to the German army. The POWs were treated well - however, the Germans were short of food, but some civilians gave them what they could spare. Arthur spent 5 hungry weeks awaiting transport; he was taken by train through Greece, Albania and Yugoslavia. They had to walk over mountains because the British blew up bridges. They took a train to Solonicla, then on to Austria in cattle trucks. A Yugoslav from North Auckland that was able to speak English arranged for a double helping of food for their truck. They stopped at Marberg on the border and were offered work on farms in Austria, which they accepted due to the source of food.

Rations were divided among the men with Arthur, most volunteered for farm work, and with the new supply of food, Arthur regained all the weight he had lost. They meet a Burgomaster and were allocated to farmers, six to a farm.  Most farms were 3-4 acres, and Arthur stayed for 12 months or so on the first farm. The farmers drew rations for the prisoners, who pinched eggs to supplement. While there he learned to speak a little German. They were paid special money to work on the farm. At the camp at night they were locked up, 12 in the bunks, however they made a key to unlock the hut, which they would use to visit girlfriends at night.

Red Cross parcels arrived, one per week, with a lot of stuff in each box, the parcels were mainly from England and Canada. There wasn't much in the way of meat to eat, which was a far cry from 3 meat meals in New Zealand. Arthur changed farms to an ex-burgomaster farm, but they didn't get on well. They would fight, mainly to relieve the monotony, getting away with whatever they could. He then changed to another farm and then eventually to the Plonerls family farm. Most of the locals were really good to the POWs, and farm work was definately preferable to the salt mines or rail gangs. On Sundays there was no work, but they had Sunday dinner at the farms where they worked during the week. They meet afterwards in a group - the locals provided jugs of wine: they were generous people, and very few of them were Nazis. They had no electricity, only oil lamps. Arthur had roast pork for Christmas cooking; he did all the cooking, Christmas cakes and scones (he had experience growing up learning to cook). He had 4 Christmases as a POW. It seemed like a long time, but when it was over it seemed very quick. Arthur shifted off Plonerls farm, but still continued seeing his girlfriend. They still broke out of camp at night and came back in the early morning. In the interview, Arthur talks about the details of such.

Arthur's occupation during the winter was making wooden tubs. Plonerls father (a joiner) had a workshop, and Arthur hadn't any experience with the job, but he worked out how to do it. He made cabinets (with no nails) using timber from the farm, cut it at the sawmill, all by hand. He also tried his hand at watch making and clock repairs for the whole village, again with no previous experience. He got to work in a warm room and was repaid in meat or goods. They had illegal radios and used them to keep track of the war. They knew the end of the war was coming, and they were marched away from the village. He managed to see Plonerl before they left, and they went right around Graz being blown up.

Arthur saw RAF pilots - at night, they dropped flares and then bombers came in. American bombers bombed in the daytime. They marched up to Markt Pongan towards Switzerland. They were there for four weeks. It was cold until spring came and warmed things up. Once the war ended they went back to Plonerl's village. They took a train back at 2am in the morning, and when the daylight came, he realized he was sitting next to German officers.

The train dropped them in Graz, the nearest point to Weltesldorf. It was a Russian area now, and they walked the last distances, having to show papers to Russians. They kept off the main road and arrived at the village, staying for a while before going back to Graz. The British were about 10 miles away so they took a train to the British Camp where Arthur had his first fresh white bread in 4 years. They went back in a jeep to pick up a POW who had been hurt. The Russians were difficult, requiring them to take a British and Russian officer, patience had been broken.

Arthur went to Wolfburg, and from there to Italy. He flew to Naples, went to Pompeii, had a good look around, and got in trouble with Yanks. He spent 2 months in England and then had 28 days leave. He visited all over, and stayed with a friend in Cumberland and his sister's in laws family in London. He met one brother (2 brothers were married, 2 sisters from London and Folkestone). He sailed home on 'Orion' through Panama, right around the world.

By August 1945 he was back in New Zealand, He bought new clothes, made arrangements for Plonerl to come to New Zealand. However, purposeful delays meant it took two years. Arthur took a 'rehab' carpentry course, and spent the next few years working in the country or land development houses. There was plenty of work, but there was a shortage of materials.

Plonerl and Arthur lived in Albert Street. In the interview Arthur talks about various jobs he did in Hamilton and his hobbies. Arthur retired at sixty and spends most of his time playing golf and flying model planes. At 64 he gained an interest in model trains. He made his first one for his grandson, eventually joining Hamilton Model Engineers. The Interview finishes with Arthur describing the railway museum to be built in Hamilton.

Arthur Priest - Oral history


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Complete recording available on Level 3 of the Garden Place Library.

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Arthur Priest

First Names:Arthur
Last Name:Priest
Place of Birth:Christchurch