Author(s): James Caffin
The gripping story of a New Zealand solider who escaped the clutches of a prisoner-of-war camp to join the Yugoslav freedom fighters during the Second World War After a daring escape from a prisoner-of-war camp in occupied Yugoslavia, John Denvir reached the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, where he joined a partisan band as a machine-gunner. Believed shot and killed by New Zealand forces and his family in New Zealand, from January 1942 until the end of 1943, Denvir led brave and heroic attacks on German and Italian soldiers from behind enemy lines. He was wounded four times, received the Soviet Medal for Valour and was eventually appointed brigade commander. When 'Corporal Frank' was demobilised he returned to New Zealand and became a taxi driver in the small South Island town of Temuka. Originally published in 1945 and out of print for many years, this is his remarkable true story.
In May of this year I was in Europe and had the privilege of visiting the delightful little country of Slovenia. When I got back to the shop I noticed this little book telling the story of Corporal John Denvir, a New Zealander, who in 1941 was captured by the Germans in Greece. He was then sent to a prisoner of war camp in Maribor, Slovenia.
The picture on the cover of this book is a portrait of John Denvir, an angular faced, square jawed man in uniform, just like your typical commando in a war comic. Like that commando, John Denvir set out to escape. After his first attempt he was captured and sentenced to three weeks in solitary. However, undeterred, he escaped again but this time, after jumping a train, he fell into the hands of friendly railway employees in Ljubljana.John was welcomed by the underground resistance movement in Ljubljana and after hearing the trials that were being undergone by the local population under Italian occupation, he decided to spend the rest of the war fighting with the Partisans, a guerilla movement operating in the hills and mountains of Slovenia, under the overall command of Marshall Tito, later to become the President of Yugoslavia.
For almost 3 years John fought with the Partisans, earning their respect and became a leader himself. He became a battalion commander and, after the war,was an Honorary Major in the Yugoslav Army. He was presented with the Soviet Medal for Valour, the only New Zealander to receive this award.
Meantime in New Zealand, John was reported as dead so it was a pleasant surprise when John came out, wounded but very much alive.
This book was written in 1946 and reprinted in 2019 so is written when the story was still fresh. What isn't told in the book is that John Denvir survived until 1973 and visited Slovenia in 1955 and 1967 to be reunited with his comrades and was received as a hero.
This is someone who all New Zealanders can be proud of. Peter