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The Kiwi soldier who became an American GI

The strange story of the Second World War Kiwi soldier who became an American GI

Jack with US Army in Germany 1945

It is April 17, 1945 when Jack Elworthy walks free from German POW camp Stalag XIIID in Nuremberg.

He has been a prisoner for four years since being captured on Crete, one of 5,000 Allied soldiers left behind on the island after a hasty and bungled evacuation at the end of May 1941.

Unlike most POWs, who are desperate to get out of Germany and back home, 32-year-old Elworthy is thirsting for adventure. He’s missed most of the war – but there is still a chance he can see some action.

He and his fellow POWs have been liberated from the German POW camp by the 45th (Thunderbird) Division of the US 7th Army. The next evening some of the American soldiers invite him and a mate for a drink. ‘After a few bottles of schnapps, we were cordially invited to join them and help finish the war,’ Elworthy reveals in his engrossing book Greece Crete Stalag Dachau (Awa Press, $40).

The next day ‘nobody wants to remember their promises’ but Elworthy is not about to give up. After the battery commander turns him down, a top sergeant agrees to let him travel with the division for a few days if he keeps out of the commander’s sight.

The GIs rally around and cobble together a uniform for the New Zealander. ‘Within ten minutes I was indistinguishable from an American soldier – as long as my mouth stayed shut so my Kiwi accent wouldn’t give me away.’ For three months Elworthy stays with the Thunderbirds as they patrol devastated German cities, routing out the last pockets of resistance. On April 30 he enters Dachau concentration camp, which has been liberated the previous day. It is an experience he will never forget.

Back home, Jack Elworthy writes about his wartime experiences for his family. In 2012, twelve years after his death, his daughter Jo realises his story is a unique contribution to New Zealand’s wartime history and edits his manuscript for publication.

Greece Crete Stalag Dachau: A New Zealand soldier’s encounters with Hitler’s army will be released on May 20, the 73rd anniversary of the Battle of Crete. For advance proofs, contact Harriet Prebble:;


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