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1913-2006

WERNER BUSCHMANN (R36851)

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Werner Buschmann was born in Velbert in 1913. His father worked for Krupp in Essen where the family moved to. Early on, he and his younger sister lost their mother. His father remarried. After the war Werner’s father found a job as a locksmith before he found better paid work in the "Rhein" colliery. It was a time of relocations and austerity. Werner's school days ended in 1927. However, he could not find work, which is why the local employment office sent him first to an evening school, where he got an insight into the art of carpentry.

A youth transport took him to East Prussia, where he had to work on a farm near the city of Lyck for six months. Hardly back, he drove to the country again, as there was still no work to be found. He didn't stay long. His uncle, captain Max Buschmann, finally made a change of course in his nephew's employment history, so that Werner was able to get hired on a herring lugger in Emden on June 17, 1926.

He went through all stages from deck boy to sailor on sailing and motor ships as well as steamers before he enrolled at the seafaring school in Leer in early 1933, where he obtained the "Patent for sea helmsman on a long voyage - class 5". He was to sail on four more ships before he went to the Bremen shipping company D.D.G. "Hansa". The steamers "Sturmfels" and "Rheinfels" became his home until on March 6th, 1939, he switched to the new motor ship "Hohenfels" as 3rd officer. It should be his last stop on a liner. But let's let him tell this part of his story himself. It starts in the Persian Gulf:

““We arrived in the Shatt-al-Arab on 23.08.39 one week earlier than expected and dropped anchor outside the pilot station. We heard on the Radio that German troops marched into Poland on 01.09.39. Captain Lips received the last Q-message to all German ships. The order was to go to the nearest neutral port. We heaved our anchor and went at full speed for the next neutral port at Bandar Shapour. We reached the port of Bandar Shapour a few hours later and dropped our anchor on a safe spot in deep water. Three ships, the “Wildenfels”, “Marienfels” and “Sturmfels" had already sought refuge there. The German ship “Weissenfels" arrived an hour later. There was no chance of leaving the Persian Gulf. On 03.09.39, England and France declared war on Germany. The Iranian customs officials came on board and confiscated the Captain’s pistol and my sports rifle. The wireless station was sealed and we had to move to a better anchor spot where the Iranian patrol boats could see us and protect us better.

Captain Lips called all crew members to the saloon and addressed them with a short speech and called out the names of those that had to go home to Germany via Moscow in a few weeks. Our food supply arrived from Tehran and was evenly distributed to all the ships. The German Ambassador in Tehran in connection with the Iranian government had arranged a four-week holiday for all crew members during the hot summer months in the cooler climate of the Elburs Mountains. There were cheers of joy when the Captain gave the news in a short speech on board the “Hohenfels”.

One day I was listening to the music from Baghdad when a strong signal nearly blacked out my radio. It was in morse code and stopped in a few minutes. This happened again the next day and the day after. I informed my Captain of what I had heard. “Yes, we better have two watchmen on duty at night. I heard on the English news from Tehran Radio, that England would enter Iran if the Shah would not expel all the Germans living in and entering Iran, as disguised tourists. We have to be prepared and scuttle the ship before they arrive. And they will come one day, because this is the only way for Britain to send their war material to the Russians", he said. During the day I listened mainly on the 600 meter band of my radio. The traffic in the Gulf was enormous. I wrote everything down on my scribble pad and checked it over. Ernst Kropf took the messages to Tehran.

Late in July 1941, the Captain gave me a list of all the crew members in three groups. “These are the three groups that go to Tehran on recreation leave in about a fortnight”, he said to me. On 08.08.41, I saw the ship and some comrades for the last time. We arrived in Tehran the following night. We were greeted by some officials from the German Embassy and families from the German community in Tehran. After ten days on leave in Tehran, I was sent to a camp in Demavend near the mountain Demavend on 22.08.41. The camp was a big house built from mud and straw and had a flat roof from where I could see part of the village down in the valley. Everybody seemed to be happy. Especially, those who now went to Tehran for ten days.

The news said: “In the early morning at dawn, British troops entered our peaceful country from the south and Russian troops from the north. At the moment there is a fight going on in Bandar Shapour between German and British warships." What a lot of Bull. We were all shocked.

It was 08.09.41 according to my diary, we were picked up by a sort of army trucks belonging to the German firm Hochtief in Essen. In no time we reached the summer residence of the Ambassador in Schimran. The gate opened and we drove inside behind the residence which was once a beautiful garden. Now it was a camp with hundreds of German refugees cramped together under tents. The whole complex was surrounded by a 3 meter high wall. The German Embassy in Tehran was ransacked by Russian soldiers and closed down. The Ambassador now lived with his family at his residence and had to take orders from the British.

In the meantime the British and Russian authorities had arguments about what to do with us. It took them five days. On 14.09.41 early at sunrise, the names of two groups of men were called up. The first group on the left of 80 men marched through the gate and were accepted by Russian women soldiers and marched off. The next group of about 100 men, were taken by Persian guards on trucks to the railway station. This happened to another group the next day early in the morning. I was in the last group. Persian soldiers took us by truck to the railway station. At 10 am we left Tehran for an unknown destination. Women and children would be spared to go to an internment Camp and will have a free passage to go home to Germany via Turkey.

We arrived at Ahwaz late in the afternoon the next day. An English army officer called out in a strong voice for an interpreter. About an hour later a few army trucks with Indian soldiers arrived and spread out on the railway station. We stepped down from the train and the train moved on with the Persian guards to Bandar Shapour. After dawn the next morning, after we had some army biscuits and coffee from the Indian field kitchen, army trucks in a well-protected convoy took us north along the Iranian-lraqian border and crossed the river Shatt el Arab south of Baghdad. From there across desert country, until we reached a huge concentration camp not far from Basra, Iraq, late in the afternoon.””

After staying in Rehovoth and Latrun, they went to El Qantara and from there to Suez:

““About two weeks after we left Suez, we dropped anchor at the port of Trincomalee on the east coast of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). We left the “Queen Mary” and were taken to the biggest Liner in the world, the “Queen Elizabeth”. We reached Sydney on 16.12.41. In a bit over an hour we were on the way to Melbourne by train. Late in the afternoon the following day we arrived in Melbourne. A truck took us to Broadmeadows army camp where we had a good Aussie meal. The guards were changed and off we went again to Spencer Railway Station in Melbourne. We arrived in Adelaide the next morning, were given clean towels, soap, razors and a mirror, so we looked clean and shaven to make a good impression to the Red Cross nurses who served us at the table inside the Railway Restaurant. Porridge, bacon and eggs, toast, butter and jam, coffee or tea, and we could order more.

We took the next train to Renmark. A truck took us to the Camp at Loveday. There was great joy everywhere and all inmates ran to the gate to meet us. After a few days I decided to start a cafe where people could talk to each other and enjoy a cup of coffee. I charged one penny for a cup of coffee, sugar was free. Hermann Schwarz helped me and so I called it Cafe Schwabusch. On 04.05.42, all German seamen were classified as “prisoners-of-war”. We had to pack up again. The officers were separated from the other crew members. We were taken to the Renmark railway station by army trucks. The next morning we arrived at Melbourne where we had breakfast on the station platform. Here again we were taken by trucks to a P.O.W. Camp at Dhurringile, where we arrived at 1 pm on the same day, 06.05.42. In this Camp there were no working parties. This was not Loveday. Officers were not allowed to work. There were highly-educated and intelligent people amongst them. Not all were professional soldiers. Doctors, professors, teachers, high-ranking officers from the navy and merchant marine. Most of them gave lessons in higher maths, foreign languages like Spanish and Italian, law etc, while others studied and attended courses to further their education. In the beginning of 1944 I started with Otto Hennig a nautical course for beginners. There were seven people interested in the course. Two dropped out later. An examination was held eight months later. Three men passed and received a handwritten Certificate. On 25.07.45, Dhurringile was closed and we were taken to another Camp in Tatura.

It was a bit of a change. The scene was different, but that was all. At first we thought, it was the first step to be transported home. The Camp was larger and we had more freedom. I moved in the first hut near the gate at the bottom of the hill, while the kitchen, library and shower rooms were on top of the hill. The gates were opened after roll call in the morning and closed at 6 pm. We could walk outside in a one mile circumference, after we all signed a form and promised not to escape. Outside the Camp was a five acre market garden belonging to the Camp which had been used by other internees to grow vegetables for their own use. We had permission to work there for one shilling a day.

I had heard that all the internees and the families from the other Camps had been released a long time ago. We shifted again to another Camp not far away. It was on the hill again and adjacent to a compound where the internees from Tehran were kept. The compounds were separated by a high-wire fence lined with high poplar trees which the internees had planted a few years ago. Our sleeping huts were on the hill this time. Kitchen, canteen, showers and mess rooms were on the bottom of the hill not far from the gate. Around each hut were flower beds and some green bushes and small trees. Along the dividing fence,  between the two compounds stood high poplar trees. Here the families from Palestine must have lived, the Templer, all these years. It was very nice in this Camp.

One day, the High Judge of Australia arrived at the Camp with his staff, and set up an office in an empty hut next to our Camp. We were not P.O.W.’s anymore, we were internees again and could leave the Camp if we wanted to. The judge asked me all sorts of questions. A few days later I signed the papers in the office. But the Australian authorities were slow and I was waiting for the order to leave the Camp.

At the same time I received a letter from my uncle in Germany. In his letter he gave me an address of a family he knew in Bankstown. I wrote to them and two days later I received a telegram saying: “Work and accommodation for you. Hope to see you soon. Best wishes, Mrs Heintz.” I said “Goodbye” to all my friends, including the garden sergeant and the horses, when I left the Camp at the end of November 1946. An army vehicle took me to the railway station and the driver bought a ticket to Bankstown for me, which I had to repay afterwards. The driver shook hands with me and said: “All the best and good luck, mate!”

I arrived in Sydney the following day. I took the suburban train to Bankstown where I had to report to the police. A policeman made me a cup of tea before he asked me what I wanted. When I asked him how to get to Bankstown East, the sergeant behind the desk said “It’s out to buggery. You catch the bus across the road. Tell the driver where you want to go.” I showed the bus driver the address on my letter and he let me off at the right place. Mrs Heintz took me in her arms. “You look a bit like your Uncle Max” she said, while making a cup of tea. I was very thirsty and started to enjoy civilian life again.””

Werner worked hard as a sheet metal and press hand worker in refrigerator production, as a fugleman in a sugar factory. He had to save money because he wanted to bring his wife to Australia, which was successful in 1949. In a meat factory, he has been hired as a fitter’s laborer. He also ran a small farm. The couple had two children. He spent his last years as a technical assistant at the Post Master General Department of NSW, later Telecom Australia. He retired in Charmhaven on the Central Coast of New South Wales, with a distant view of the ocean. He died in 2006.

 

""Written and compiled by Ralf Täuber, Editor of Werner Buschmann’s Memoirs "Eine Handbreit Stacheldraht unterm Kiel. Von den Weltmeeren in den australischen Busch". Host text translated by Nina Täuber, 25/07/2020""

4th Officer for D.D.G. Hansa, 1935.

Charmhaven, Australia, 2001.

© 2020-2023 Designed by P. KHOSRONEJAD

                     Dr. Pedram Khosronejad | Adjunct Professor

     Religion and Society Research Cluster | Western Sydney University

Fellow | Department of Anthropology | Harvard University

                      P.Khosronejad(at)westernsydney(.)edu(.)au