Monday 11 November 2013

Recognition For The Servicemen Sent To Buchenwald

"I'm twenty years old and I'm alone somewhere near Paris, in occupied France.  I know this is bad but what I don't yet know is that I am about to become a Holocaust survivor, one of 168 Allied servicemen that were sent to Buchenwald concentration camp."

With those few words Canadian WWII veteran, Ed Carter-Edwards VE3 MWC, had my full attention.  I spent the next four days researching these 168 Allied servicemen of Buchenwald, one of the first and largest concentration camps.  It is a story that was suppressed for forty years, until the surviving servicemen broke their silence and demanded they be heard.

What started out as a simple Remembrance Day speech at a local Beaver meeting ~

has opened my eyes to a travesty of justice for the servicemen who suffered so much for the Allied forces. Because of the extreme youth of the Beavers, Ed focused his talk on being shot down on his 22nd mission as a wireless operator on a Canadian Halifax bomber, November 28, 1944 and hiding until hunger drove him to make contact with two French women working in their garden. The women risked their lives to put him in touch with the French Resistance.

The flight crew of Lion Squadron 427 ~

The boys wanted to know what each and every medal he wore stood for. ~

The French Resistance gave Ed new identity documents and civilian clothes, hiding him until their driver could smuggle him out of France.  It would be an exciting story of a dashing young airman if the driver hadn't turned out to be an informant that was turning all 168 airmen and the young French couple that assisted them over to the Gestapo.

Instead, it became a story of fear, courage, despair, hope, betrayal and survival.  Ed was arrested and his dog tags thrown away.  He is denounced as an enemy spy and thrown into a Paris prison instead of a POW camp.  For five weeks he lives in overcrowded, flea ridden conditions and tries to keep his sanity through the screams of the tortured resistance fighters.  He discovers he is one of 168 servicemen held there against Geneva Convention rules.  A directive has come from "high up" that all Allied airmen, that do not turn themselves in voluntarily, will be treated as spies and denied all rights.

After five weeks, servicemen from Britain, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Jamaica are put in boxcars with all the other detainees and spend a horrific five days travelling to Buchenwald.  As they enter the camp, a guard points to the black smoke pouring from the chimney and tells them the only way out is through that.  Their hair is shaved off and they are sent to a separate compound where they will stay without shoes or shelter for three weeks.  By all accounts, they are treated worse than the other concentration camp prisoners.  Sick, weak, injured and starving, they acknowledge the senior officer being Phil Lamason of New Zealand. He organises them into groups based on country of origin and has them elect a leader for each group.

His first address to them is as follows. ~

"Attention!   Gentlemen, we have ourselves in a very fine fix indeed.  The goons have completely violated the Geneva Convention and are treating us as common thieves and criminals.  However, we are soldiers.  From this time on, we will conduct ourselves as our training has taught us and as our countries would expect from us.  We will march as a unit to roll call and we will follow all reasonable commands as a single unit."

Their best chance of survival is to stick together and maintain discipline.

For three and a half months all petitions to be transferred to a POW camp are rejected.  Two of the servicemen die.  Knowing they are all scheduled to be executed, Lamason manages to get a message smuggled out to the German Luftwaffe, informing them that there are servicemen in Buchenwald.  Under some pretext, two German officers arrive and speak to the Allied servicemen.  They make no promises because they say they, "Don't do well with these people", but they carry the message back.  General Hermann Goring, himself a WWI fighter pilot, receives it and is enraged that they are there.  With only six days to spare before execution, the airmen are transferred to Stalag Luft III.

They have survived unimaginable horror and deprivation.  They have seen and endured the most terrible example of man's inhumanity to man.

As he holds a piece of barbed wire and a railroad spike from the line going into Buchenwald, Ed Carter-Edwards face changes from jovial and outgoing to a look of pure pain. ~

I'm telling you his story on this November 11th because none of these servicemen were acknowledged as Holocaust survivors in their home countries.  Some were told not to talk about it by the military.  Some were not believed and gave up talking about it so they wouldn't appear to have "lost it" over there. It was forty years before a few of these servicemen met up at a meeting of POWs, found their voice, and started really telling their story.

As they aged and needed extra medical care, they were denied compensation from the funds set up for Holocaust survivors. Ed had to obtain proof from German records that he was prisoner #78361 Buchenwald to satisfy his own Veteran's Affairs Office. More than anything, they felt the rejection of not receiving the respect they were due for their exceptional suffering in the line of duty. 

As I talked to him after his speech, Ed winked at me and asked I was a sh*t disturber.  ~

I told him that, on occasion, I can be.  This is one of those occasions.

They are still fighting for recognition.  If you are a citizen of Britain, USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand or Jamaica, I urge you to ask whether your members of the Buchenwald 168 have received the recognition they so justly deserve!




  1. Maureen- Reading that raised the hair on the back of my neck. Can you imagine? I can't begin to imagine what they went through. God bless them...and God bless him as he has struggled to live all these years. How very. very touching.
    I hope we NEVER forget the price of freedom. xo Diana

  2. Wow this is a story that should be shared again and again! Thanks for opening my eyes to this!

  3. did a beautiful job of writing a short story about Mr. Carter-Edwards and you kept it very clean of the horrors we heard. Thanks for speaking out about needed to be done and I hope you continue to be the airmen's voice much like you support Malala. You would have made a great French Resistance supporter! xo wendy

  4. Thank you for this post Maureen, I hope and pray we never go thur that again, although I wasn't born then my parents lived thur dad served in the navy.

  5. I have always seen you as a kind of shit disturber. ;) Beautiful post, Maureen. I had no idea, never heard about these service men at Buchenwald. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I have never heard this story before Maureen. I sure appreciate you sharing it here today. These dear men need a voice to support them. I can't imagine the horrible things they endured along with all the prisoners of that war. Man's inhumanity to man. Thank you for sharing.

  7. What a great cause to be a sh*t disturber for! This is all news to me and I'm going to poke around a little and see what turns up. Thanks for sharing this great post...and for disturbing the sh*t a little.

  8. I have never heard this story before but I'm going to look into the Australian survivors, I can't even imagine the horror. Thanks for highlighting this ill be interested as to what has become of them.

  9. Maureen ... interesting story and so well written. So much we don't know about the things that happen during war time. Makes me so sad. Thanks for writing this story.
    Audrey Z. @ Timeless Treasures

  10. I have found myself learning a great deal today about our soldiers. I find it really disturbing that we don't seem to know enough, do enough and say enough to keep educating younger people so that we truly won't forget.

  11. What an amazing post Maureen - thanks so much for teaching us all something new - I had no idea - and I consider myself a history buff - how could I have not know about this???
    These poor men - and to think for the most part they are only recognized one day a year -
    NOT RIGHT!!!
    You're the best Maureen - really - thanks so much for this

  12. how sad that we are just around the corner from losing these wonderful heroes

  13. It's very hard to comprehend the horror of what this man has been through, and many others like him. His story obviously touched you, and now all of us, thank you for sharing.

  14. Wow! What a story and so touching. I need to stop visiting your page because every time I do I end up crying.

  15. Wow, I had no idea this happened.So much of real world history is hidden. We need to honor these soldiers. People always say thanks for your service, but to really thank these men and woman who give so much for their countries they need more than lip service. They need the benefits and help and recognition they deserve.

  16. Whoaaa! I have NEVER heard this story. You are awesome for sharing it... Veterans deserve so much better than they get in this country. Especially a veteran who went through this!!!


  17. What a man. I had no idea!!! They deserve so much gratitude and recognition. Time to harrass my MP.

    I love the beautiful photos you took.