THE scratched names along the sides of the old mess tin tell a revealing story about Stan Mills’ journey through WWII.
Sidi Barram, Sollum, Bardia, Cyrene; key battles in North Africa as the Allies routed the Italian army and inflicted defeat on the wily German commander Erwin Rommel.
Rethyma, Adela, Piraeus; overwhelmed trying to defend Greece, 7000 Allied troops are taken prisoner by the Germans.
Then the names stop.
Somewhere in between prisoner of war camps near the Czech border, perhaps during one of several unsuccessful escape attempts, medical orderly Mills lost his mess tin and the makeshift journal came to an end.
Fortunately he survived the war and returned to Australia, where he worked as a trainee mental nurse before transferring to the prisons department and finding himself senior officer of Fremantle Prison.
But the mess tin lay buried and forgotten until it was recently unearthed during a dig by Czech archaeologist Ludek Schmidtmayer. Unable to speak English, he handed the tin to his bilingual mate Miroslav Krachvil who researched its ownership and tracked down Mr Mills’ widow Joan. Initially she thought he was a scammer, but Mr Krachvil was persistent and even promised to bring the mess tin back home after 70 years.
Last weekend he lived up to that promise and the tin was handed over at the Army Museum in Fremantle in front of a thrilled family. The Mills already have a connection to the museum; Stan was one of the first of the Allied troops to storm into Tobruk after its capture and he pinched the Italian flag from their headquarters; it’s now one of the museum’s exhibits. Ms Mills’ son-in-law Ken Walker said they were extremely grateful for the effort Mr Krachvil put into tracking down the family.
by STEVE GRANT