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...