Autographed Australian flag : Prisoners of war captured in Greece, 2/5 Australian General Hospital

Accession Number REL28404
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Flag
Physical description Cotton; Hemp; Brass
Maker Kettle, James Gerrard 'Jimmy'
Place made Greece: Athens
Date made c 1941
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Improvised Australian red ensign with a genuine piece of hemp flag halyard with metal fittings inserted into the hoist end. The main body of the flag is constructed out of one large and one small panel machine stitched together with a French seam. The pocket to take the halyard on the hoist end is also machine stitched. The brick red body of the flag has been cut to allow the Union Jack and stars of the Australian flag to be inserted into the flag using fine overcast hand stitching. The white portions of the flag are in coarse white cotton. The blue sections of the Union Jack are in the same fabric as the red ground but have been dyed blue. Both the red and blue fabric has been unevenly hand dyed, possibly with iodine for the red, and ink for the blue. The stars, white sections of the Union Jack and the red section between the Union Jack and the Federation Star bear approximately 55 signatures of Australians who were captured by the Germans during the Greece/Crete campaign in 1941. The overstitching on some of the sections of the Union flag has not been completed and they are held in place by a long running stitch.

History / Summary

The exact history of this flag is unknown. Most of the signatures on it are those of Australian prisoners of war (POW) of the Germans who were captured in Greece in 1941. The majority can be identified as members of 2/5 Australian General Hospital (2/5 AGH), who were taken prisoner by the Germans in Athens. About half of 2/5 AGH's staff were evacuated from Greece before it fell to the Germans but the remainder were captured on 27 April 1941. The hospital was allowed to continue to operate from various locations in Athens until December 1941 when its staff and patients were dispersed to various POW camps, mostly to Stalag XXA at Thorn in Poland. It was here that a number of the men, including Sergeant Fred Butterfield, proposed making an Australian flag to boost morale.
The man thought to be responsible for the actual making of the flag, NX21186 Private Jim Kettle, who died in 1946, did not sign the flag. All except six of the 2/5 AGH POWs were repatriated to Australia in October 1943, because they had been non-combatants, and most returned to service in their re-formed hospital or to other medical units. It is not known who brought the flag back to Australia.

In 1946 members of 2/5 AGH POWs held a reunion where the flag was displayed. Most of the signatures are thought to date from this time. The English Sergeant Lawton, who had emigrated to Australia at the end of the war, was also invited to the reunion. Unless otherwise stated the signatures on the flag are from members of 2/5 AGH and are as follows: NX28790 Private (Pte) Charles Erskine Allison; NX15642 Warrant Officer (WO) Class 2 Stanley Colin 'Barney' Benjamin; NX18793 Pte James Douglas Bibby; NX20584 Corporal (Cpl) Sydney James Bishop; NX15492 Sergeant (Sgt) Frederick Henry James Butterfield; NX23726 Pte William Carter; NX13744 WO 2 William James Cawood; NX23720 Pte David John Clemow; NX23724 Pte William Robert Noel Cragg; NX24306 Sgt Stanley Cronin; NX16948 Cpl Graham Chrichton; NX34727 Captain (Capt) William Ralph Davison; NX28797 Lance Corporal (L/Cpl) Claude Dempsey; NX19511 L/Cpl William Pert Fenwick; NX24307 Pte Alexander Kenneth Fleming; NX21179 Staff Sgt Thomas William James Gamble; NX23717 Pte Vincent Michael Egan; NX15585 Pte Edward 'Ted' or 'Oigle' Hancock; NX13993 S/Sgt Jack Charles Harrison; NX3555 Sapper Frederick Thomas Harrison, 2/1 Field Company; NX28780 L/Cpl Wilfred Heslop; NX21189 Sgt Clifford Houghton; NX21184 Pte Reginald Eric 'Peapicker' Jones; NX30680 Pte Alfred 'Grumpy' Lewis; Sgt Jimmy Lawton (official German interpreter Stalag XXA, Thorn, Poland); NX30657 Pte Richard David Ling; NX20580 Sgt Stephen Henry McCoy; NX6126 Pte William Thomas Little, 2/4 Battalion; NX23719 Lance Sgt Thomas Kirk 'Baldy' Loch; NX18786 Pte Samuel Gregan McGifford; NX13748 Lieutenant Gordon Charles Mould; SX5144 Pte Harold Edgar 'Skip' Netherwood; NX130817 Padre Terry O'Brien; NX23727 Pte Herbert Sydney 'Bert' Peet; NX28774 Pte Albert Edward Pettit; NX28781 Pte Cedric Bede Poole; NX12095 Cpl Eric Douglas Regan; NX7534 Pte Frederick Lawrence Rixon, 2/1 Battalion; NX34756 Capt Norman Henry Rose; NX19456 Cpl James Bertram Ryan; NX30662 Pte William Dixon Scott; NX19456 Pte Stanley Keith Shadlow; NX51193 Pte James 'Jimmy' Sharp; NX22774 Lt Lionel James Shipway; NX16947 Pte Roy William Eustace Smith; NX3862 Signalman Walter Edward 'Wally' Smith, 6 Division Signals; NX18784 Sgt Cyril George Staples; NX20585 Pte John Rogers Staples; NX7229 Pte Walter John Thompson, 2/1 Field Ambulance; NX7800 Pte Sidney George Turner, 2/1 Battalion; NX21847 Pte David William Uhr; NX28782 Cpl Jack Morgan 'Johnny' Walker; NX16952 L/Cpl William Lloyd Walkington; NX16953 Pte Norman Walkington and NX20591 Pte Robert Rowlands Webb.