Farm skills helped Waimate soldier survive WW2
Young men from many country districts volunteered for the armed forces in WW2. One of them was Waimate farmer Captain Jack Sutherland, whose grandchildren and great-grandchildren live in the district today.
Captain Sutherland fought in the Libyan desert as a member of the Long Range Desert Group; and was later a prisoner of war.
The Long Range Desert Group specialised in covert reconnaissance patrols and intelligence missions from behind the enemy lines. Their missions included guiding secret agents across the desert, monitoring traffic on the main road from Tripoli to Benghazi, and gathering intelligence for the British Army Headquarters.
After the Desert Campaign (1940-43) they worked in the eastern Mediterranean, with missions in the Greek islands, Italy and the Balkans.
It was here that Jack Sutherland was taken prisoner, during the assault on the island of Levitha. He was one of the the commanders of two groups of soldiers.
Out of a force of 49 men from the LRDG, just seven escaped. Five were killed in action (four of them New Zealanders) and the remaining 37 men were taken as prisoners of war.
Jack Sutherland was incarcerated in a German-run POW camp in Italy.
The prisoners were so hungry that in desperation they were eating the tar off the rooftops to try and fill their stomachs.
Using his skills from being born, raised and working on the land Jack earned the name “Cat meat Sutherland”. He caught birds, cats, and even the guard dogs that came into the camp, and turned them into meals that helped keep the men alive.
When the war was ending and the Allies were approaching, Jack and a fellow prisoner hid to avoid being killed by the prison guards. They saw the other prisoners dig their own graves and be shot one by one before the Germans strafed the walls and roofs with machine gun fire and fled.
Jack and his fellow prisoner took a car left behind by the Germans and headed to the Allied front line.
When they arrived, they were taken to an American commander who believed them to be Germans impersonating prisoners of war.
The commander set a test, and asked Jack to name a Hotel in Wellington.
Jack thought for a while and came up with Hotel St George.
The commander laughed. The hotel Jack had named was the only one the American knew of in New Zealand. If Jack had named any other, he and his mate would have been shot.
Jack eventually made it back to Waimate. He later told his family that it wasn’t until he was walking up the drive and could smell the burning of the broadleaf firewood on the fires that he knew he was truly home.
To find out about 2018 Anzac services in the Waimate District click here.
Jack Sutherland’s son, Jamie Sutherland.