A Tribute to Roy Spencer
by Paul London
Tribute to Roy Spencer Natusch, MM
A New Zealand wartime soldier who through circumstances, became known as the Double Dutchman
(prepared by Flight Sergeant Paul London and given at the Saint Matthew’s Anglican Church Hastings, New Zealand Saturday, March 28, 2009)
Armies for the most part are made up from men drawn from simple and peaceful lives. In time of war they suddenly find themselves living under conditions of violence, requiring new rules of conduct that are in direct contrast to the conditions they lived under as civilians. They learn to accept this, perform their duties as fighting men, but some begin to perform as military language puts it, at risk of life, and above and beyond the call of duty. Military histories are filled with incredible examples of individual courage that are only made more incredibly by the fact that they were every day events.
The pages of New Zealand’s relatively short history are full of our famous countrymen, some have climbed their way into world history, others have sailed into the pages of nautical almanacs, or through their share brilliance in academia have left their mark in the scientific community, while others have received royal acknowledgements and have aspired to high office fighting on the battlefields of Europe, North Africa, the shores of Turkey, the jungle’s of South East Asia and more recently the deserts of Afghanistan.
The Final Escape of the Double Dutchman
With the passing of WWII’s master of escape and disguise, 90-year-old Sapper Roy Spencer Natusch MM, has ended New Zealand’s last link to a 65-year old international mystery. The disappearance behind the Iron Curtain of British SOE agent, RAF Warrant Officer Reginald Barratt and that of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.
For over six decades this incident has been the subject of official investigation by both the Swedish and British governments. Roy’s intrigue inspired 10 authors to record his clandestine activities in 14 books, which if exposed in 1944 may have changed the course of the war.
Arriving in Hungary late 1943 as a self promoted Captain, he found himself at the centre of the fledging Hungarian underground movement. During the Cold War years his wartime activities sparked off a world-wide manhunt lead by the British tabloid, the “Sunday Pictorial” revealing him to be the elusive man in the white coat, later to be identified as the “Double Dutchman”.
So what is it that makes this man, Roy Spencer Natusch standout amongst the crowd that many here today call father, grand father, brother, uncle, friend or indeed neighbour, and yet to his brothers-in-arms he was Sapper Natusch, to the Greeks he was simply Roy, to the Hungarians he was Captain Natusch, to the German Gestapo he was Lieutenant Eddie van Hootegem, to his POW comrades he was both Henry Lowenstein and the fictional Mario Brioni, but to the world he was known as the “Double Dutchman”.
This man, a latter-day antipodean Pimpernel was a welcome guest at many tables, sharing the food laid thereon on by the poorest of Greeks or indulging in the riches of a banquet thrown by Europe’s ruling classes. Through wartime circumstances Roy shared and suffered the fate of many of his fellow escapers, enduring the hardships and isolation offered by a prison cell, the enclosure of a barbed wire compound, the insides of a darkened ship’s hull, fate and deception were his constant companions but also, and unlike so many escapers he became acquainted with the comforts afforded by the landed gentry of Europe’s distinguished aristocracy.
Roy was born at Havelock North in New Zealand on July 16th 1918 into a conservative professional family living on, in today’s terms what would be called a small lifestyle block situated on the slops of Havelock North. Throughout his youth these hills became his adventure playground, where Roy was often seen leading his playmates in downhill sledge racing or fishing for eels in the near by ponds.
His father, a well respected Hawkes Bay architect had established practices in both Napier and Hastings, and in later years offices were opened in Wellington with an expectation that one day Roy would join the family business.
With the onset of the depression years and through economic necessity the family purchased a house cow. Roy’s first job was to learn to hand milk this animal – a family chore that in later life was to be foundation stone for his perusing an agriculture career.
Having gained confidence in milking the house cow Roy now turned to his neighbours the Bowen family’s small herd, lending a hand and assisting those two well known brothers, Godfrey and Ivan who in later years became world class sheep shearers.
His early schooling was under taken at the Havelock North primary school, where one day in 1931 while about to plunge into the Havelock baths witnessed first hand the effects of the Napier earthquake, an experience that sent him flying for the safety of the pool’s handrail as the water lapped at his feet.
During these years he started to demonstrate his youthful individuality through his passion for horses and would frequently be seen leading the polo ponies into the Hastings polo grounds after having trekked the 20 kilometres from their stables.
His secondary education was completed at the Hastings High School, where during those informative years Roy actively participated in many of the school’s sporting codes including the 1st 15 rugby team and the school’s cricket 11. As it was both fashionable and patriot at the time he was also a member of the school’s military cadet unit. A few years later Roy took early severance in favour of perusing his passion for farming and playing rugby. In 1939 Roy was considered an All Black trialist, sadly his selection to play South Africa that year was curtailed with the declaration of war and his enlistment into the Army.
So who was Roy Natusch? To answer this question we must turn the clock back 69 years, when Roy as a young man of 23 enlisted in the New Zealand Army’s Corp of Engineers as a sapper at a time when Britain and her Dominions stood alone facing the tyranny of Nazi Germany. On completion of his training at Trentham Military Camp he sailed with the 3rd Echelon for the Middle East. In early April 1941 he joined the hastily formed Anglo-ANZAC Hellenic coalition force sent to repel the now advancing German army in the northern environs of Greece. Throughout April this advancing juggernaut pushed and divided elements of the Allied partnership forcing them onto the beaches of southern Greece. Under constant harassment from aerial bombardment, ships of the Royal Navy where now called upon and heroically evacuate the remnants of this alliance. By the end of April Roy was amongst the 7000 men who found themselves abandoned at Kalamata.
While defending this southern port on the Peloponnese by happenstance Roy witnessed the courageous rear-guard action of an Australian solider, Sergeant Johnny Sachs, MM (also a nominee for the VC) who armed with a Bren gun mounted on the back of a truck charged into and scattered the advanced elements of the German infantry. Notwithstanding this heroic stand both Johnny and Roy were captured and while in transit jumped from the train taking them to Corinth. The pair made good their get away following the coast and working their way north. For the next 8 months the men avoided capture with the assistance from patriotic Greeks, being feed and sheltered along the way by some of the poorest and yet the most noblest of villagers. During their journey towards Argos they came across an enemy airfield and Johnny being a skilled professional pilot formerly flying for a Kingsford Smith airline, an attempt was made to steal an aircraft, an ME109. Unfortunately the one they choose was out of commission and undergoing routine maintenance. Later near the port of Nafplio and under the cover of darkness Roy capitalised on an opportunity to liberate an unattended small Italian motor craft, only to find the security conscious crew had drained the vessel’s fuel tanks.
I pause at this moment in time to set the scene on events (which were unknown to both Roy and Johnny), but were now unfolding in North Africa, and the measures the British were putting in place that in a few months time were going to impact on Roy’s escape to Turkey.
The 10-day battle for the island of Crete had resulted in an even larger number of Allied servicemen being left behind and many using their initiative and quite independent of each other found their way to the safety of Alexandria. Amongst these escapers were such New Zealanders as Sergeant John Redpath, Lieutenant Jim Craig and British officers Lieutenants Frank Macaskie, John Atkinson, Woodbine Parish and an influential Greek civilian Alexis Ladas, later recruited into the Hellenic Air Force and given the rank of Flight Sergeant.
By late 1941 with the steady flow of returning evaders it become evident to members of MI9, the escape and evasion arm of British Intelligence’s “A” Force that a number of official rescue missions should be launched to round up those men still on the run. For reasons of security, and working on a need-to-know basis, three independent missions were initiated by MI9 in late 1941.
The first plan called for Lieutenant Macaskie and Flight Sergeant Ladas to be sent back by surface craft to Athens. Macaskie was tasked to make contact with the fledging Greek underground hiding allied evaders, while Ladas was to approach known Greek politicians to persuade them to join the Greek Government in exile.
In November 1941 a second team known as Operation Isinglass under the leadership of British Lieutenant John Atkinson and assisted by two New Zealanders, Sergeant John Redpath and Lieutenant Jim Craig were sent by the submarine HMS Triumph to establish a rescue base on the isolated Aegean island of Antiparos. Flushed with the success of their first mission in bringing back 8 evaders, amongst whom were the celebrated New Zealand duo, Sergeants Don Stott and Bob Morton, they again sail for the island on Christmas Day and by early January 1942 rounded up an even larger party of 20 evaders from Athens.
The third assignment is given to Captain Parish, where he was to retrace his original escape route from Crete, sailing around the various islands setting up supply depots and arranging with the islanders to form safe havens for evaders he was to pick up in Athens who were being assembled by my cousin Jack Stuart and the stay behind British agent Tony Handkinson.
In returning to Roy’s story. By late 1941 he and Johnny are finding their presence amongst the villagers is placing an ill afforded burden on the impoverished communities they pass through. To ease this problem they mutually agree to part company, with each man going in a different direction. A few days later, Johnny, by chance joins a party of Greek officers about to depart mainland Greece for the sanctuary of Turkey. In March 1942 Johnny is awarded the Military Medal, a poor substitute for the Victoria Cross he had been nominated for in recognition of his actions at Kalamata. As an aside, Johnny Sachs on returning to Australia was commissioned into “Z” Force and while engaged in a clandestine operation behind enemy lines in Indonesia is captured and later murdered by the Japanese.
By late December 1941 while travelling through a sea-side village Roy is told the whereabouts of a party of escapers awaiting the arrival of a motor vessel from Athens. He stumbles onto their coastal rendezvous where he meets for the first time Lieutenant (later Lieutenant Colonel) Frank Macaskie, MC and bar, Flight Sergeant (HAF) Alexis Ladas, MBE, a British Army driver by the name of Bill Jones, and a handful of other Greek civilian escapers including George Paspati, MC (mid) (who later became a Lieutenant and skipper of a SOE caique with the Anglo-Hellenic Schooner Squadron) George Tripanis and his wife Betsy, a Red Cross worker.
Fortuitously for Roy a storm had delayed this party’s intended departure for Turkey. On New Year’s Eve 1941 their motor powered caique arrives and the group set sail for the safety of shores of Asia Minor. After many hours at sea the motor of their craft as it nears the Turkish coast stops running. The engine is out of fuel. By the time the tank is replenished and in their frantic bid to escape they discover they have forgotten to top up the compressed air bottles needed to re-start the now quickly cooling diesel engine. With no mechanical propulsion the vessel and her occupants are left drifting and are at the mercy of the elements, which during the night takes them back the way they came.
In the breaking light of New Year’s Day the group find themselves near the island of Kythnos and by early afternoon they drift into one of the island’s coves. During their reconnaissance of the area to finding a friendly Greek to help start the motor they inadvertently run into soldiers of the Italian garrison. The Italians pursue the party catching all except Roy, Frank and Bill. By late evening the trio find an old rowing boat and after much discussion decide to row to the adjacent island of Kea, a distance of approximately 20 kilometres.
Throughout the night and after battling the fast running sea between the two islands the threesome arrive exhausted near the southern tip of Kea. Unfortunately their escape for freedom is short lived and the trio are taken into custody by the Italian sentinels guarding the island’s lighthouse where they are escorted to the island’s Commandant. There they are interrogated and branded “dangerous criminals” and are bound hand and foot and taken to the region’s administrative centre on the island of Samos. While in the island’s prison the three are reunited with their fellow members of their original escape party. Further questioning is conducted by the island’s commander, who appears to by buying their story, when all of a sudden members of the Antiparos escape group lead by Roy’s old rugby playing mates John Redpath and Jim Craig turn up. What a reunion that must have been.
Some days earlier the Redpath group while waiting the return of their submarine had had their base compromised to the local Italian garrison on Paros by the jilted girlfriend of their Greek navigator. In the ensuring gun battle an Italian officer is shot and killed and John Atkinson is taken to Athens suffering a serious gun shot wound to this leg. Rather ironically, in order to save his life doctors amputate the damaged limb, where 12 months later he is convicted of being a spy and is shot by firing squad while sitting in a chair.
Almost as if to complement this happy gathering in walk two fellow escapers, Harry Daggers of the New Zealand 5th Field Ambulance Corp and his British companion Jock McConnell. This pair were most unfortunate to have arrived on Kythnos Island shortly after Roy’s confrontation with the Italians which had placed the garrison on high alert.
With their prison fast filling up the ever astute Italians are now convinced they have uncovered a massive British spy ring. Frank, Roy, Bill and Alexis are once again brought before the Italian Commandant and asked if they wished to reconsider their stories of being escaped prisoners of war. The four stick to their statements. Imagine their surprise when the commandant places a photograph on his table saying, “Well explain this picture taken four months ago at the Cairo Railway station showing Frank Macaskie shaking hands as he’s farewelled by the head of British Intelligence!”
Based on this evidence the three escape groups are separated, leaving Frank, Roy, Bill, Alexis, Harry and Jock to cool their heels for several months before being transported to the island of Rhodes. By this time the Greek underground grapevine had informed British intelligence in Alexandra of Frank and Alexi’s demise. Unbeknown to the pair a rescue plan is formulated to position a submarine just off the island of Samos to intercept and torpedo the vessel carrying the party south. Captain Woodbine Parish MC and DSM and his crew of latter day “pirates” are ordered to rendezvous and pick up the survivors from the sinking vessel. Fortuitously at the last minute the submarine is ordered to another mission. I say fortuitously, for given the track record of submarine attacks on enemy shipping and the amount of collateral damage done may well have killed the intended group they were going to save.
During their voyage to Rhodes the prisoners devise a plan to overthrow the ships’ crew and take command of the vessel with the intention of sailing it to Turkey. Again fate intervenes and their plan is lost by the arrival of addition Italian troops to be taken to the southern island.
On arrival at Rhodes the Italian Intelligence has finally got its act together and decided it’s only Frank and Alexis they’re interested in. A few days later Roy and the remaining members are transported on the first ship out for the Italian POW reception centre at Bari. While in transit for Italy the vessel calls into the north-eastern port of Patros to embark troops returning home on leave. Roy, never letting an opportunity pass, jumps over board and starts swimming for the shore, only to be intercepted by one of the ship’s small craft engaged in ferrying the soldiers out to the waiting vessel.
On arrival in Italy Roy is separated from his travelling companions and sent to the northern Italian POW of PG57 at Grupignano. This camp had been a long term home for both British and ANZAC troops captured in Greece and later in North Africa. Idleness is not a word found in Roy’s vocabulary and he soon chums up with Australian airman Eric Canning and his group of enterprising tunnellers digging their way under the barbed wire. A few months later this initiative pays off when their party of 19 make good their escape. Some days pass and feeling rather chuffed that he was now making his way to freedom Roy’s luck runs out and bumps into a couple of Italian policemen who recognise him for who he is. He’s again returned to PG57 to face the mandatory 28 days in the cooler.
The year is now 1943, the Italian Army is on the back foot and suffering great defeats in North Africa, the Allies are planning Operation Husky, the invasion of mainland Italy. Unrest is prevalent in Italy and the Government is showing signs of capitulation. By August 1943 the Italian Armistice is signed and in the resulting confusion those allied POW’s still held captive were rounded up by the Germans and sent them off to various concentration camps in central Europe, Roy is amongst them.
For the next few months Roy is transferred from one POW camp to another and by late 1943 while employed on a working farm in the village of Gaas he encounters Welsh Sergeant Dai Davies OBE and MM a former veteran of the Crete campaign. As the village of Gaas is about a mile and a half south-east of the Austrian border with Hungary the pair engineer their escape. Under cover of darkness they are joined by a third inmate, Joe Walker where they make their way to freedom and successfully crossed the frontier into Hungary. As this was Roy’s seventh escape attempt his past experiences demonstrated they would receive a better reception as POW’s if one amongst them was an officer. Accordingly, it was agreed by the trio that Roy would promote himself to the rank of Captain.
On their arrival in Budapest a rendezvous was arranged between “Captain” Natusch and leaders of the fledging Hungarian Resistance, one of which was the Senior British Officer, the South African Lieutenant Colonel Charles Howie OBE, himself a recently escaped POW. At the conclusion of their meeting it was decided that Roy would take command of a group of unrestrained POW’s living on the estate of Count Mihaly Andrassy at Szigetvár in southern Hungary. Dai would act as his interpreter and Joe as his batman.
During his time in Hungary Roy was often the guest at many tables including that of the then Regent of Hungary Admiral Horthy who during one dinner engagement approached Roy and Colonel Howie seeking their assistance in an attempt to make overtures to the British Government to bring his country into the war on the side of the Allies.
At an earlier date an English lady who was left behind in Hungary at the outbreak of war, Evelyn Gore-Symes had been in contact with Warrant Officer Reg Barratt, the then leader of the Szigetvár POW group and placed him and Roy in touch with the Hungarian underground run by Bishop Alexander Szent-Iványi and their Allied intelligence network under the direction of a group of freedom fighting Dutch officers.
Roy’s two-fold mission at Szigetvár was to arrange a suitable landing ground and reception of an Allied OSS/SOE team known as Mission Sparrow being parachuted into Hungary under the command of US Colonel Duke. Roy’s second task was to formulate an escape route for the Szigetvár POW’s in the event of a German invasion of the country.
To his detriment Roy accepted Howie’s reassurance that adequate advance warning would be given should the Germans arrive. On March 19th, 1944 the Germans made formal their long-standing virtual occupation of Hungary, moving in large numbers of troops and replacing the Horthy government. In the initial confusion of the German’s surprise invasion Roy and Barratt successfully escape and proceeded to Budapest for further instructions.
In their attempt to find Colonel Howie the two men found themselves cut off by the advanced elements of the recently arrived German Army and with nowhere to go sought sanctuary with Miss Gore-Symes. Evelyn kindly provided the escapers with food, clothing and money and redirected them to Dr. Szent-Iványi’s residence.
The pair become separated when Reg Barratt in seeking out members of the Hungarian Resistance is captured by the Russians along with their principal courier Karoly Schandl, the Dutch officer Gerit Van der Waals and the high profile Swedish Diplomat Raoul Wallenberg in December 1944. Evelyn Gore-Symes through circumstances beyond her control was forced to remain in Hungary and unwillingly witnesses the misery inflicted on the civilian population of Budapest by soldiers of the victorious Russian Army. In recognition of her gallantry in Budapest His Majesty the King of England awarded Evelyn the “King’s Commendation for Bravery” and in a civic ceremony a few months later the Lord Mayor of London bestowed upon her the title of “Freeman of the City of London”. Inspiring accolades becoming of a woman who chose to intervene and elevate the suffering of those in their hour of need.
While attending an evening meal with the Dutch officers hosted by a leading Hungarian banker, Karoly (Charles) Szladits, Roy’s party is raided by the SS and all are arrested and escorted off to prison. During their week long enforced incarceration Roy not only fortuitously speaks with the now captured US Colonel Duke but also the leader of the Dutch group, Lieutenant (later Major General NATO Forces) Frank Brackel who schools Roy up on to take the place of their missing companion Lieutenant (later Lieutenant General, Chief of Staff Dutch forces), Eddie van Hootegem. So meticulous was Frank with his tuition on four occasions Roy was able to fool his Gestapo interrogators that he was indeed a Dutchman and the fiction why he couldn’t speak Dutch. After being warned by his interrogators they were looking for the notorious New Zealand Captain Natusch the SS sent him off to a Dutch POW camp.
While in transit Roy injures himself jumping off the train taking him to the camp. Again he is captured and is hospitalised at Bratslau. During his time of convalescence Roy meets an American flyer, a Lighting pilot, Jack Falloon, the son of an American oil baron. To their surprise they see for the first time German experimental jet aircraft operating from the near by airfield.
This last escape earned Roy another interrogation session. This time and unknown to Roy he was before the former German Adjutant of the original Dutch POW camp at Stanislau where he allegedly escaped from. While the officer’s grilling was most intense he still remained unconvinced by Roy’s precise answers. In closing the cross-examination the German stated, “If you’re who you say you are, who am I?” Roy had been waiting for that. Frank had described all the German officers at Stanislau in detail. Casually Roy replied, “Hauptmann Schmidt and how’s your broken leg?” That sealed it, he was sent on his way.
Roy’s undoing came shortly after his arrival at the Dutch camp when he couldn’t answer a simple question posed on a German next-of-kin questionnaire, that of his “wife’s” address. With the timely intervention of the Senior Dutch Officer and an sympathetic German Commandant, Roy is sent off to the British camp, explaining to the Senior British Officer his need to escape in the eventually the Gestapo should come looking for him. A plan is devised not only to warn him of any pending Gestapo visitation and also to assume both the personas of his former Szigetvár charge, the Palestinian master forger Henry Lowenstein and one of Henry’s creations, Mario Brioni. Before the arrival of the Gestapo Roy manages to have Colonel Duke’s message passed to the Hungarian resistance through the escape of another of his Szigetvár charges. Roy escapes, this time heading for the sanctuary of Yugoslavia via his planned Hungarian escape route.
After many hair rising and near death encounters with the German border patrols, Roy finally makes it across into the mountains of Yugoslavia meeting up with elements of Marshal Tito’s Partisans. For a month this group work their way through dense forests, crossing heavily defended railway lines and crossing deep and swift flowing rivers. At one point in the journey their several hundred strong party is ambushed by German patrols and in fighting a rear guard action Roy and his guides make good their escape. By early October Roy finally arrives at an advanced Allied airfield near the town of Semic. His European adventures of three and half years which included ten escapes is at long last over when the Russian piloted aircraft touches down at Bari in southern Italy on the 28th October 1944.
On arriving in Cairo Roy now faced the inquisition of British Intelligence, a team lead by Major James Klugmann. His subsequent debriefing was so complicated; Klugmann in disbelievement placed Roy under camp arrest and had him sent back to New Zealand saying he was physiologically disturbed.
Roy, like so many returning soldiers who faced adjusting back into civilian life, was for many a difficult transition. Having travelled to exotic locations and experienced many new feelings the young, and even the more mature, did not always understand why life was not what it had been when they departed. New values had emerged and returning soldiers were often shocked by what they encountered. Sceptics questioned Roy’s story and doubt started to materialise. For years Roy lived with these misgivings, his mind a constant battle ground of mental wounds of having done and seen things that the ordinary man in the street could never even begin to imagine. Deeds that safeguarded the well-being of that same man which allowed him to continue walking down that same street in freedom.
After the cessation of hostilities Roy took a job as a waiter and sailed on the passenger liner the Dominion Monarch for England. There he renewed his friendship with his former “adventurers” and after being away for some months returned to New Zealand in 1946, again working his passage home.
In 1947 Roy and Molly Triggs (nee Stewart) were married and took up farming after winning a returned serviceman’s ballot for a “Rehabilitation” farm. From their rural retreat the pair worked relentlessly devoting their time and immersing themselves in the local community with Roy constantly raising funds for the Hawkes Bay Children’s Home, while Molly busied herself with the Red Cross. In later years her voluntary social work was recognised by the award of a QSM. Through this pair’s timely intervention in the 1960’s two orphaned Dutch brothers become their foster sons, André and Gerry Westenburg. Today, the lives of these men are living testimony of the compassionate personality so willing and freely shared by a man who for decades has been prematurely misjudged by our country. André is one of New Zealand’s eminent Urologists and his brother Gerry, a foremost entrepreneur in the field of software development.
Roy, a former student of Architecture, rugby All Black trialist, habitual escaper, farmer and honorary social worker was born July 16, 1918 at Havelock North, New Zealand, died on March 24, 2009 at Maraekakaho, New Zealand and is survived by his three children, David, Anna and Michael.
As a footnote to Roy’s tribute a couple of years ago I went looking for evidence that a Russian agent had infiltrated British intelligence. In one of the recently declassified secret files of British undercover operations of World War II there is evidence showing the role played by James Klugmann, a confirmed Soviet sympathiser. Reports sent by Klugmann who was closely associated with the infamous British traitors known as the Cambridge Five, for the first time confirm that he was principally responsible for the sabotaging and modification of information being passed onto the British government. The Cambridge Five was a ring of British spies who passed information to the Soviet Union during World War II and on into the early 1950’s. Klugmann was essentially the sixth member who could more accurately be described as a mole rather than a typical spy. The difference is that, unlike a spy who embarks on a mission with specific objectives, moles entrench themselves in key government roles and have the ability to manipulate and falsify information in a manner that causes suspicion to fall on someone else. I believe I’m total justified in saying Roy was a victim of Klugmann’s misguided loyalties.
While the curtain has fallen on the life of a great man, and as Roy goes to join the ranks of the passing parade let us draw comfort in the knowledge, “That certain men do not succeed in making themselves forgotten”.
Given the complexity of Roy’s story (and those involved in it), it has for the past 70 years been included in the subject matter of no less than fourteen books, written by ten different authors, and for the benefit of researchers of World War II history, the following (although incomplete) is a list of suggested reading.
“Escape To Nowhere” by Francis S. Jones (pub 1952 Bodley Head Ltd, England) Jones was of one of the group of 12 that attempted to escape to Turkey from Greece in 1941/42.
“The Double Dutchman” by Francis S. Jones (pub 1977, Dunmore Press Palmerston North, New Zealand) and also in England. So popular was this book it was later translated into Norwegian and braille and is about Roy’s time in Hungary.
“On The Edge of Fortune” an unpublished manuscript by Francis S. Jones, written c. 1980. (This manuscript is now in my possession and records the fine detail the Macaskie/Ladas/Natusch/Paspati/Jones attempted Aegean escape)
“Marina” by Cy Sulzberger, (pub 1978, Crown Publishers, New York) Note: Cy Sulzberger was a wartime correspondent for the NY Times and is the brother-in-law of Alexis Ladas. I understand Cy’s extended family also own the NY Times newspaper.
“Xenia – A Memoir, Greece 1919-1949” by Lady Mary Henderson (pub 1988 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, England) Lady Mary Henderson (born Mary [Xenia] Cawadias) was the wife of Sir Nicholas Henderson, British Ambassador accredited to Warsaw, Bonn, Paris and in the early 1980’s Washington. She was also a very close friend of Marina and Alexis Ladas and Frank Macaskie. In the post war years Mary was one of the few women journalists covering the Greek Civil War.
“The Heroes of Rimau” by Lynette Ramsay (pub 1990 and reprinted in 1991 and 1994 Sally Milner Publishing Pty Ltd, Rozelle NSW, Australia) Ms Ramsay portrays the life of Johnny Sachs after his return to Australia in 1942 and his work with “Z” Force operating behind Japanese lines in Indonesia.
“Agent by Accident” by Claerwen Howie (pub 1997 Lindlife Publishers, South Africa) Claerwen Howie is the daughter-in-law of Lt Col Charles Howie.
“Hitler’s Digger Slaves” by Alex Barnett, (pub 2001 by Australian military History Publications, Loftus, Australia) Alex’s story covers the tunnel escape in Italy.
“The Handkerchief Drawer” by Thelma Ruck Keen, (pub 2002 by Trafford Publishing, Canada) Thelma and Alexis Ladas in 1940/41 developed a very close relationship and originally escaped together from Greece via Crete a day before the German parachute invasion of the island.
“The London-Budapest Game” by Catherine E. Schandl, (pub 2007 by Lulu Books, Canada) Catherine “captured” Roy’s story while writing about her father’s 1944 disappearance behind the Iron Curtain.
“Dead Reckoning” by George Paspati, (privately pub 2010 by George Paspati and Alexis Payne, Greece) ISBN 978-960-931582-1 Included in this book George Paspati tells of his attempted escape to Turkey by himself, Roy, Frank Macaskie and Alexis Ladas and his military operations in the Levant with the Anglo-Hellenic Schooner Squadron.
My fortuitous meeting with Dai Davies and George Paspati can be found on the pages of my experimental website; http://crete.angnz.com recorded during my participation in the 2006 Pilgrimage to Crete with a party of 57 New Zealanders to attended the 65th anniversary of the island’s battle.
THE MESSENGER OF HOPE
by Roy Natusch
an article first published in the New Zealand Returned Servicemen’s Association Review October 1993
Several months ago Reginald “Kiwi” Phease of Putaruru died. Many people knew Reg, a quiet man, friendly, but often a little aloof as if he watched the world from a distance and did not want it any closer. Yet the warmth of his smile drew one to him as a friend.
There would be few people in Putaruru who would know how close Reg’s life had once touched the lives of men whose names are to be found in the history books of those who tried to piece together the wartime riddle of Hungary.
Reg was an Australian who came to New Zealand as a young man in his early 20’s and enlisted in the 2nd NZEF. He was one of the many volunteers who became prisoners of war resulting from the early battles of Greece and Crete. Like many others, he would not accept the German dictum of “For you the war is over – if you escape, you will be shot.” With Jack Denvir of “Partisan” fame, Reg laid his plans for escape.
By the end of 1943 Reg was on the estate of Count Michael Andrassy at Szigetvár, Hungary, where I had been put in charge of a group of British soldiers who were under loose police supervision as “free internees” – Hungary had not yet declared war on Britain.
It was here that I was told to prepare a parachutist landing area on the outskirts of Szigetvár to bring in a team of British personnel with whom the Hungarian government would start negotiations.
Sometime around January-February 1944, our underground radio in Budapest decoded a signal saying that the mission would arrive on 22nd February 1944. However, two days before a messenger had arrived at Szigetvár to say that Allied political problems had caused cancellation.
By then the Germans were becoming suspicious and we were several times notified of the arrival of German plain clothes agents in Szigetvar town.
On March 18th-19th the Germans invaded Hungary. At 5am the roar of approaching convoys reached the town while overhead circled German war planes. But as there had been no news from the two sources which had promised a warning if the Germans should invade, I told the British soldiers to leave camp but to remain within the precincts of the town until the situation was clarified, or the Germans had arrested me in the castle.
The warning system failed and I was arrest that afternoon. Unfortunately most of the British soldiers were rounded up during the day.
Reg Phease and the remaining British were taken to Belgrade and later transferred to a prison camp in Germany. Unknown to us, on the day before the Germans invaded Hungary, the Americans had parachuted into Hungary, near Pec, a mission comprising a colonel and two captains whose aim was to start negotiations with the Hungarians.
Meanwhile, I enjoyed several weeks of freedom after escaping while being taken to an interrogation centre and had arrived in Budapest in late March 1944. There I fell into the hands of the Gestapo again while arranging escape routes for British, Dutch and French soldiers via Sweden and Yugoslavia.
The Gestapo accepted me as a Dutch officer and gave me a recommendation for freedom in Budapest.
While I was waiting in the Budapest Gestapo prison, I was able to exchange a few words with the three Americans in the exercise yard, and told them I could get a message out. They said they wanted it known they had launched by mistake in Hungary thinking it was Yugoslavia.
However, the Gestapo changed their mind about me and I was sent back to Germany to a Dutch camp on the Baltic.
At this stage luck gave us a break and while on the way to the Baltic camp with two genuine Dutchmen, the Germans put us in a cell of the camp where Henry Loewenstein, one of our number from Szigetvár, brought us our evening meal. Here it was arranged that Reg Phease should be asked to deliver the Americans’ message because of his ability to speak Hungarian would help him to pass as a Hungarian.
It was believed Reg would be provided with money and necessary travel papers and when, after a lapse of forty-five years, I heard nothing more about Reg, I feared he had shared the fate of two other men who did a similar job in Hungary – those two men lie in a grave outside Moscow used for prisoners of the Russians who died while being interrogated.
Years later when looking through a Putaruru telephone directory, I saw the name Phease, and rang the number just in case. Reg answered the call. And after all those years I finally heard his story.
Reg was an unassuming man but each time I visited him up to his death, he told me in his laconic way, a bit more about his journey back to Hungary.
I had noticed how thin and exhausted Henry Loewenstein was from the privations of the Belgrade prison, Reg would have been no better and his only assets were his courage and his determination.
Without the help of money or travel papers and with only the Americans’ message and name of the Hungarian bishop who would be his contact, he arranged his escape.
He was successful in getting through Germany, crossing the frontier into Hungary, making contact with Bishop Szent-Iványi and delivering the message.
Many years later in Lancaster, Massachusetts, USA Bishop Szent-Iványi, who received Hungary’s highest decoration, met the American Colonel Duke and officiated at the marriage of the colonels’ daughter.
On that wedding day in Massachusetts, one hopes that the American colonel and the Hungarian bishop took time off to remember the days when a lone New Zealand soldier, Reginald Phease, held their welfare in his steady hands.
After a lapse of so many years, recognition of Reginald Phease’s magnificent achievement may not be rewarded. But those of us who knew him will always remember his indomitable courage, and we will be proud to call him a friend.