Above: Maurice French (at center) on top of the Pyramid at Giza. (This photo from the online Cenotaph Database (Auckland War Memorial Museum) was provided to the database by Maurice French).
I received a note on July 9 from Miriam McDonald. “I came across your website looking for more information on my grandfather’s experience in the war,” she explained.
“His name was Maurice Ernest French (known by his army friends as ‘Snow’), a New Zealander in the 27th machine gun battalion 2NZEF.”
Miriam wondered if I knew of her grandfather and if I had any record of his time spent in Camp 59.
I had never heard of Maurice French. In fact, this is the first evidence any New Zealanders in the camp I had come upon.
Part of the difficulty in documenting New Zealanders was the fact they are not listed separately in WW II prison records from that time.
Giuseppe Millozzi, in Allied Prisoners of War in the Region of the Marche and Prison Camp at Servigliano, notes that the Italian military authority list of internees did not distinguish between British and other nationalities (the general breakdown listed only British, Americans, and French). Irish, Canadians, Cypriots, New Zealanders, Australians, Poles, South Africans, Palestinians, Maltese, Rhodesians, and Norwegians, he explains, were included in the British total.
New Zealand WWII veteran and historian Ken Fenton told me he was unaware of any New Zealanders who were interned at Camp 59, although his main research was concerns the Italian camps where most New Zealanders were held.
Ken goes on to explain:
“I have also looked at the only known and Official War Office Roll of NZ POWs held in Italian camps, a roll prepared between April and June 1943. It lists each POW by camp of imprisonment. There is not one NZ POW listed as being at PG 59, in fact PG 59 is not mentioned anywhere in the document.
“There is a faint possibility that some NZ POWs may have passed through PG 59 at some stage prior to the preparation of the Roll and ended up at PG 57 as most NZ POWs did. In these circumstances, if there were few involved, PG 59 might have escaped mention in the official history, but I am inclined to doubt it.”
And yet here we have the Cenotaph Database record indicating Maurice French’s presence in Camp 59. Perhaps additional information will surface over time about Maurice French and any other New Zealanders who either passed through Camp 59 or who were present at the time of the breakout in September 1943.
For now, here is a biography of Maurice French, based on the information available on the Cenotaph Database:
Maurice Ernest French
Private Maurice Ernest “Snow” French
Serial No. 36248
27 (Machine Gun) Battalion
Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF)
Maurice Ernest French was born in Hamilton, New Zealand on November 9, 1918.
His record in the Cenotaph Database lists his mother, Mrs. Ella Sarah French, (24 Paterson Street, Sandringham, Auckland, New Zealand) as his next-of-kin during the war.
Maurice enlisted the day he turned 21—November 9, 1939. He was single at the time he served.
He received military training in Trentham and Palmerston North, both in New Zealand.
His ship, the Nieuw Amsterdam, left Wellington, New Zealand on February 1, 1941 for Port Tewfik, Egypt.
In North Africa, Maurice served in the Western Desert, Minqar Qaim, and El Alamein campaigns.
His “action prior to capture” is given in the database as front line soldier. He was captured at Ruweisat Ridge, El Alamein—according to the database—in May or June, 1942.
Maurice was interned in Campo 42 (Italy), Campo 59 (Italy), and Campo in Bay of Venice (Italy). He was free for 7 months before being recaptured and sent to Germany, where he spent another year as a POW in German camps.
In Germany, he was held in Stalag VIIA Moosburg (Germany), Stalag IVB Muhlberg (Germany), and Stalag Esdenmein.
Following his release, he was returned to England in March 1945. He was discharged from service in October 1945.
He later married and had four children.
He received the following awards: 1939–1945 Star, Africa Star and 8th Army Clasp, New Zealand War Service Medal, War Medal 1939–1945, and the International P.O.W. Medal.
Maurice’s postwar occupations listed on the database are “carpenter per rehab” and zookeeper.
A category of “wounds and diseases” in the database lists these injuries: prolapsed invertebral disc, hammertoes (2 and 3 on left foot), and sensory neural deafness.
The database also indicates that Maurice was admitted to New Zealand General Hospital at Sweet Water Canal, Egypt.
The Cenotaph record was prepared with Maurice French in 1999.
Maurice French is No. WW2 3 in the New Zealand Nominal Roll. (The Nominal Roll is a list of all soldiers who embarked for active service overseas.)