A New Zealand Soldier’s Story from Stalag 383
Edited by Simon Pollard
In July 1942, with a notebook and pencil he had bought from a German guard, Dudley Muff started a very special diary. Dudley was 42 and a prisoner of war in Stalag XVIIIB in Germany when he started this diary for his niece, Alison, who was four and living in Timaru, New Zealand.
It starts, ‘Dear Alison, Mummy has told you all about Uncle being a prisoner so now
I must tell you what we do to pass the time.’
Dudley Muff’s life fitted rather neatly into the twentieth century. He was born in Christchurch, New Zealand on 16 February, when the new century was just six weeks old. He died in Christchurch on 2 January 1995, six weeks before his 95th birthday and almost fifty years after the end of WWII. Unquestionably, his legacy is this diary that he wrote while a POW in Germany during one of the most tumultuous events of the last century.
The chain of events that led to his capture started when, as part of the 20th Battalion of the 4th Brigade of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, he was transferred from Egypt to Greece in early March 1941. In July 1942, fifteen months after his capture in Greece, Dudley was moved to an NCO camp and it was here that he bought a notebook and a pencil from a German guard using British cigarettes — the currency of prisoner-of-war camps.
Given to Alison when he returned to Christchurch after the war, she read it first as a child, purely for the excitement such a story could impart. Only later, rereading it as an adult, did she see through the veiled references to how life really was in the camps. After returning to Christchurch, Dudley added a one page postscript describing his journey to freedom. He finished the book with ‘Now I shall tell you in three little words what all my travels have taught me, NEVER BE AFRAID. With all the love in the world from Uncle Dudley.’
Dudley never thought he would once again become the book’s guardian, but in the mid 1960s Alison became a nun. As part of her vow to separate from worldly goods, she returned the little green book she so highly valued to his possession. Wanting to share the diary, Dudley arranged for photocopies of the book to be made in the early 1990s and gave these to family and friends, before donating Alison’s Book to Canterbury Museum in Christchurch.
Dr Simon Pollard, the great nephew of Dudley Muff had often wondered what had become of his great uncle’s diary and by a lucky coincidence, while visiting his brother in London, he came across a newspaper clipping saying that Dudley had donated the diary to Canterbury Museum. Again, through either luck or coincidence, Canterbury Museum is where Simon has worked as Curator of Invertebrate Zoology since 1997. Through the Museum database Simon was able to track down the archival box that had been the resting place of the original diary for many years.
Dr Simon Pollard is a spider biologist, natural history writer, and author and resides in Christchurch.