It started on the inside of an old book. An inscription personalises a book and raises questions.
One question was; ‘Who was GPT and who was LWT?’ A quick browse through the book was followed by a detailed and complete reading. This was the story of Stalag 383 – a German Prisoner’s of War camp for Non-Commissioned Officers. Most of the prisoners were British soldiers who had been captured in the early stages of World War Two in France and North Africa. But why would such a book find its way to a small secondhand bookshop in the rural city of Ballarat?
The answer, I surmised, was that GPT was an Australian POW. So I went to the Ballarat ex-prisoners of war Memorial website where the names of every Australian POW from any war from the Boer War in 1899 to today is listed. A quick search found the following information.
Thomas, Gywnne Pryce 400298 RAAF 97 Sqn Warrant Officer Held Stalag 383 then Offlag IIIc POW number 122 RTA
Now being new at this searching business I missed two very important facts. I was so happy to have the name that although I read it, I did not register RAAF 97 Sqn. It was a good thing that I didn’t but I will explain later. I also failed to read all of the following; Held Stalag 383 then Offlag IIIc but I did read POW number 122 RTA where the initials RTA means Repatriated to Australia. As I scrolled down I was looking for any name beginning with a “T” and the given names beginning with “G” & “P”. And there he was. Gwynne Price Thomas. Furthermore he was held in Stalag 383. I was convinced on this detail that I had found him.
The reason I skipped over these two facts was that I went off on a search for L.W.T. but he was not listed. A search with the Auckland Museum in New Zealand gave me two names that fitted and that might become a new search. But for now I will continue with Gwynne’s story.
Wondering where I would go from here I spoke with my brother Michael and he very quickly came up with a web site for Offlag 111c that was interesting. That is what I had missed and there at the bottom was further confirmation because it shows a Mr Warwick Thomas, the son of Warrant Officer Gwynne Pryce Thomas, RAAF, and his family, on an emotional visit to Stalag Luft IIIc where W/O Thomas had once been held prisoner.
I now had the name of G.P.T’s son. I wondered why they had gone to Offlag 111c until I went back to my first list and there it was. I had skipped too quickly. Not the only time. G.P.T. had been in both PofW camps. But it was enough for me to brag to my daughter Alexandra in Tasmania that I had the makings of a story. She asked if I would email my evidence to her and within a very short time she sent back information about G.W.T’s two grand daughters, Rosie and Lucy. How did she find them? Because she had read the complete article in the Offlag 111c newsletter that I had again skipped over too quickly.
I emailed Rosie Thomas at her work place with news that I had found a book about Stalag 383 with her grandfather’s inscription. Within about half an hour she phoned me excitedly and promised to put me in contact with her father, Warwick. I waited for a few days but she had told me he was in Thailand and so I was quite surprised when, a few days later I received an email from Warwick’s elder brother Bryan.
I had by this time found out the details of the circumstances that led to Gwynne Thomas being captured and held as a PofW. I still wanted to know what Squadron he flew in. If I had looked more carefully it was right in front of me all the time – RAAF 97 Sqn.
On Friday I met with Bryan, the elder son of Gwynne Thomas, in his office. We talked for well over an hour until the cleaning lady gave us marching orders. One thing I still needed to know.- Who was L.W.T? I do not think he was Gwynne’s brother but rather someone with whom he had been a prisoner. Bryan agreed with me.
In the end I was, very reluctantly, delighted to hand him the book. And I was assured by Bryan that they were very happy to have it as it would help to fill in a few blanks in the family record.
Shortly there will be a chapter to come on the war time experience of Gwynne Pryce Thomas as far as I know.