Professor Philip John Crosskey Dark 1918 - 2008

Prisoner of War

Sub-Lieutenant Philip Dark, a resident of St. Mawes, became a prisoner of war following capture when participating in the raid on St. Nazaire on March 28th, 1942. He recorded his wartime experiences in sketches and paintings.

Philip was born and brought up in London. He attended Broadfield School and then, after a year at medical school, went to St. Martins and Central School of Art. At the beginning of WW2, he volunteered for service in the Royal Navy and soon became a junior officer.

At the beginning of 1942 Philip was a sub-lieutenant serving as first officer aboard HMML 306. His commanding officer was lieutenant Ian Henderson. As part of 28th flotilla they were operating out of ports along the south coast from Cornwall to Hampshire escorting coastal convoys, though their main base was Falmouth.

One day, as recalled by crew member Ralph Batteson, they were at sea when they suddenly noticed all the other shipping had disappeared. Realising this was because of an approaching storm they started to head into Falmouth. However, they were caught by the storm before making it to port. The heavy seas knocked the forward twin Hotchkiss gun from its mounting, but the gun barrels had penetrated the deck preventing the gun from going overboard. This was a more serious problem than if the whole assembly had gone overboard as it was moving about and making the boat unstable. This meant the crew had to lash the gun down to stop it moving about. Batteson recalls that, while they were doing this, he lost track of Philip Dark. Fearing he had gone overboard, Batteson turned to the oilskin clad man next to him and, using the crew’s nickname, asked “Where’s Jimmy-the-One?”. The man he asked turned out to be Philip Dark.

As a result of the incident with the gun the boat had to be repaired. During the repair, the opportunity was taken to add additional fuel tanks and replace the Hotchkiss guns with Oerlikons. These changes equipped the boat for the St. Nazaire raid. Had the repairs not been needed the boat may not have been selected for the raid as it was new and a boat needing dockyard time anyway would have been selected to be refitted. This is borne out by Batteson’s recollection that he was the only one on the course he was sent on to prepare him for the raid who was not recalled from leave. Leave would usually be granted to crewmen when their vessel was in dockyard hands for routine maintenance,

The course of the raid is described in detail in the entry about Ian Henderson.

Philip Dark The Raid on St Nazaire February 1942 MeisterDrucke 622907

The Raid on St. Nazaire

During the raid Philip Dark received a minor leg wound; he recalls only noticing it because his trouser leg was wet. Also, the shell that killed Ian Henderson knocked him unconscious for a time. He recovered consciousness shortly after they had surrendered. There being no medic aboard the boat nor a doctor on the German destroyer Jaguar, Philip’s small medical knowledge was employed in treating the wounded.

Philip Dark Friend or Foe ML 306 spotting the German Destroyer Jaguar 53 MeisterDrucke 631954

"Friend or Foe" - ML 306 spotting the German destroyer Jaguar

The following morning, when the Jaguar had docked in St. Nazaire and the wounded were being taken ashore, Philip, as the senior surviving officer, was questioned. Korvettenkapitän Moritz Schmidt, commander of the flotilla and captain of the Seeadler, came aboard Jaguar. His interrogation of Philip being interrupted by the explosion of the Campbelltown.

Philip Dark The Raid on St Nazaire the British wounded of Operation Char MeisterDrucke 628076

"The Raid on St, Nazaire - The British Wounded"

The Nazi propaganda image depicts soldiers of the German Wehrmacht with captured British soldiers in Saint-Nazaire in France which was occupied by the Wehrmacht. The photo was taken in March 1942. Photo: Berliner Verlag / Archive (Photo by Berliner Verlag/Archiv/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Prisoners at St. Nazaire (Philip Dark on the left)

st Nazaire funeral

Prisoners at Burial Party After St. Nazaire Raid (Philip Dark on the right)

For the first twenty days after capture the prisoners were kept in France. Then they were moved by train to a POW camp called Milag near Bremen in Germany for interrogation. They were stripped of all their personal belongings and lived in 8 large and 2 small rooms. The men were tightly packed in and worse was the lack of food. The main meal of the day was a bowl of sauerkraut, too acid to digest and a few spuds. Sometimes they had thin soup instead. Also 1 loaf of bread was shared between 7 men each day. Sometimes they also had a small amount of butter or sugar or a bit of cheese. 4 cauldrons of coffee were left for them throughout each day, but this was often used for washing and shaving. They did have a selection of books and reading helped them to pass the time. The men referred to Milag as “The Black Hole”.  Occasionally Red Cross parcels arrived, and 3 or 4 men shared a parcel.

The prisoners were moved to the Aunahmelager. The men had to walk, and many were weak from lack of food. Conditions were somewhat better here but Philip started to feel lonely and homesick. He had been married to Mavis just 3 weeks before the mission began. He expressed his feelings through poetry and drawing. In this camp they were constantly subjected to inspections, searches and constantly being marched to the parade ground to stand to attention for much of the day before being counted.

Philip and his naval group were next moved to Marlag O camp. This camp contained Naval Officers, from the Allied forces. Fortunately, among them were two army medical officers and a dental officer from New Zealand. They were able to attend to the medical needs of the captives. However, they had very little equipment or drugs and so the treatment was very basic and often very painful. Among the officers there was an amazing variety of professional qualifications and the men were able to set up classes to study subjects including law, accounting, music art and languages. It was here that Philip first studied anthropology, under an American marines officer, Walter W. Taylor. For their entertainment they put on musical shows, plays and art and craft exhibitions. 

Philip Dark Possibly Lieutenant R Ronny O C Swayne MC ML 306 1 Commando Milag Westertimke Lower Saxony April 1942

"Lieutenant R (Ronny) O C Swayne"

The camp was surrounded by high barbed wire fences with guard posts called “Tiger Boxes” Inside the fence was a playing field and an area where some men had tried, unsuccessfully, to grow vegetables in the sandy soil to supplement their meagre diet. This was improved only by the arrival of Red Cross Food Parcels. Various ingenious attempts were made to escape by digging tunnels or scraping away sand beneath the wire fencing. The problems of disposing of the sand, forging passports and creating deceits were treated very seriously. When an escape was successful the remaining captives were punished by continuous searching, the halting of classes and all other activities.

As the years passed Philip found that, to maintain his sanity, he had to occupy his mind. He turned to writing poetry, drawing, sketching, recording the situation in the camp, activities taking place and views of the camp. These were mostly pencil sketches reflecting the drabness of the camp. When Mavis, his wife, was informed of his capture she was able to send him a large parcel of 17 pots of gouache paint and some pastel crayons.

Philip Dark Barbed wire itis or Claustrophobia Marlag O Westertimke Lower Saxony

"Barbed-wire-itis or Claustrophobia"

On 9th April 1945, the prisoners received news that they were moving. Instructions were that they could only carry two blankets two Red Cross Parcels and a spare pair of boots. After three days walking, they suffered blisters, sore shoulders and fatigue. They had been shot at by two groups of Allied planes who thought they were Germans. They all had to dive into a ditch or run for cover under a hedge. Several were killed and many others injured. Their journey took them around Hamburg. They were shocked by the total destruction of the city. They were heading for Lübeck. Thousands of prisoners were gathering in Lübeck trying to cook food and find out what was going on. On May 3rd they heard tanks and gun fire. A British convoy of tanks and other vehicles had arrived to great cheers from the POWs. The British Officers rounded up the Germans and the POWs realised they were free. Philip had spent three years, one month and seven days in captivity.

Philip was a talented artist, photographer and Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at South Illinois University. He became a leading authority on tribal arts, particularly of Benin and the Pacific.

In retirement, Philip Dark moved to live in St Mawes with his wife Mavis in 1978. He continued his interests in art and photography, leaving his large collection of photographs recording local events and activities to our Heritage Group.

A large number of the paintings and sketches Philip made during the war can be seen here https://www.meisterdrucke.uk/artist/Philip-Dark.html

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