|Stalag VII A: Oral history
The diary of a South African POWArthur George Garvie was a Corporal of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles when he went to war in North Africa in 1941. He was taken POW at Tobruk in 1942 and was detained at several POW camps in North Africa and Italy. He escaped in 1943 and joined the Italian partisans but was captured again and transferred to Stalag VII A at Moosburg. There he kept a diary from 1944 until his release in 1945. Shortly before joining the South African forces he had married, and a girl was born to him during his absence. His wife and daughter are the addressees of his diary entries.
We owe the photos and the following excerpt from Arthur Garvie's diary to his son, the Rev. Colin G. Garvie of Durban, South Africa.
Arthur Garvie, Barrack 12A, Stalag 7A
There is a lady waiting for me
There's a lady waiting for me dear
So smile and in dreams come and meet me
Wednesday 1st November 1944
My Darlings I do love you such a lot and again on our little one's birthday I come to think of you and celebrate in communion together, that great day when we received our lovely Gift from our Wonderful Father. Little one have a nice time and please Lord Jesus take care of her and Mummy for me. I know Thou wilt always, I only ask because I need Thy Love and Care so much and it is out of that Love I ask. Darling don't be sorry for your Daddy. He is very happy and even as Jesus is looking after you, so He is taking care of me and so how can I be lonely, when He is with me. I do miss you and Mummy such a lot, but even so Jesus is giving me strength enough and to spare, to bear this separation with a smile. And Darling this is making my love for you, oh such a lot purer and greater than it would have been if things were all smooth going.
Also my Darlings what I have learned about Jesus here, has made everything a pleasure and an experience in Him which will out weigh any hardship or privation that could come to me. Out of suffering and tribulation we are tested and made strong. Only the best I owe you my Darlings and I am being prepared now.
Darlings it grieves me that you must also suffer. Oh for the day when I can more than make up what you have suffered. Be of good cheer my Loved ones, "He is our Strength and our refuge" and what more can we want? Darlings when I think of the days to come (but they are in our Lord's Hands) us three together one in the love of our Loving Saviour, talking of His great Love and serving to do His Will. So many are the blessings I will tell you of His Guiding Hand over me all through these perilous days and leading me each moment away from danger and my disobedience to His Will.
Darlings this last month has really been a big one for me and I have come back into the fold again. These things I can tell you ever so much better in person and I look forward to receiving more blessings that day when according to His Will we will meet again. It is a lovely day here. How I wonder, is it there? It must be more than lovely, for everything is beautiful where the most Wonderful girls in the world are. Yes my two Sweethearts and how I do love you. Now my Angels I am going for a little walk and all the time I will be thinking and talking to you. All my love and prayers are yours in our Loving Jesus.
Friday 17th November 1944
Yesterday I turned thirty-four. Yes 34 years of doing what? Has most of it been put to good use? My answer of course must be very disappointing, but I thank our Loving Father for His Wonderful Love in drawing me into His Bosom and giving me that desire to strive onward following in the footsteps of Jesus.
Oh my Darlings I have received so many blessings these last two months and His Spirit has led me into so many truths which I had previously failed to see, through my half-hearted attitude to His Will and Word. Yes my eyes were dimmed indeed and my heart very cold. How foul I still am in His sight and so I fly to the Fountain to have Jesus wash me. Darlings at times I have felt pleased the war had not ended for I may have missed this Wonderful of Blessings and experience of Jesus working in me. Oh I crave for it still more fully.
Our little Fellowship is doing very nicely and I have seen a number already coming to Jesus the only Saviour. A little time back it was thought that things were not giving much result, but I felt that it was not for us to judge in terms of numbers or results yet, for we did not know what work the Spirit was doing in each individual contacted. It was a lesson to me to do my best and leave everything to Jesus for results. I felt it was like looking for honours and rewards for ourselves instead of doing it from the heart in loving adoration and service to the one and only Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. So true it has proved, and now as if it was given us for a sign, but our doubting, we see the fruits of labour. Oh for the heart to do naturally His Holy Will.
God works in mysterious ways as the other day Tom G. and I found. We were given two tickets to go to the Camp concert which happened to start at 2 o'clock. Well from 1-2 we have our meeting so we thought we would attend it until quarter to two which was the time every one had to be seated for the concert. Anyway just before one we decided to miss the meeting as we would disturb the others by leaving in the middle of the discussion. We both felt a bit guilty of perhaps putting pleasures before duty, but anyway eventually went to the concert with an open mind. While sitting waiting for the show to commence we talked of Christian things and there was a fellow in front of us who seemed very interested in what we had to say and he turned round and spoke to us. He told us he was a Salvation Army man years ago but had got right away from God after joining the Army. He felt uneasy in his mind and said he was going to get back when he returned home. Our duty then was plain and Tom who is also a Salvationist was thrilled to meet him and pointed out to him the foolishness of putting it off until he got home. Anyway we have kept in touch with him and have also got his pal on the path to Heaven. They were both of good Christian upbringing and had strayed from the fold since being in the Army. Results were shown last night after the little service, when we got back to our bungalow these two chappies Tom T. and Hugh H. came looking for me and they told me the good news that they had from this night decided for Christ. They are very keen now and I pray we may be used to help in every way. (Oh Loving Jesus give me a pure heart that all my actions may be governed by Thy Will and not of any self seeking pleasure or reward. That I may lose self in Thee.)
There are some truly fine lads here and doing such a lot of good. I am still very much in the background with very little to say. I feel though that Christ will use even me with all my failings and shyness and strengthen me for greater work in His Name. I leave it in His Hands and pray for all doubt and mistrust to be removed from my heart and to be fitted to do my Saviour's Will.
We hear that the NCOs who left here in March for another camp have been relieved and are now in England. There were a lot of my pals with them, Em, Bob C., Arthur and many others. I missed going with them by a short head. I am pleased they have got out, as for myself I do not worry, for I can see many blessings I would not liked to have missed. Everything works together for good in those who love God.
In 33 Lager there is a wonderful keenness to learn of our Saviour. Jimmie F. a fine lad and so sincere is doing fine work. A number of us from NCOs lager go over for the midweek and Sunday evening services. We do enjoy them such a lot and I feel things are being stirred up into action.
It has been pleasing to me (coincident or not) to have had services on each night of the big days of celebration this month. On the 1st November our Angel's birthday was on Wednesday night service. The 12th, our Union and my lucky day, being Sunday was also Church Service and finally last night when mister good for nothing me turned 34 it also happened to be on midweek service night. It had been changed to Thursday to allow some others to attend through them having something else on a Wednesday evening. Don't you think it very appropriate and a fitting end to each of the days in question?
Letters are still scarce and each day I hope to receive one from my Loved ones and my patience will be rewarded yet I know. God bless you my Darlings. I do love you such a lot. It seems as if the raid is going to interfere with our meeting. We are not allowed out when it is on. Still that is the Beauty and Wonder of our God that we can meet and hold communion with our Father even in secret and alone.
Cheerio now my Darlings. I am always your loving Arthur in our Blessed Saviour Jesus Christ.
Christmas 1944: a Monday
The time now is a quarter to one in the morning. Darling I do feel so happy. Can you believe that I could be happy although so many miles away from you and in a POW camp? Oh yes I can. Darling, I know you would know the reason why.
Well actually tonight I have had many blessings showered on me and I have such a wonderful feeling of contact with you. How I love you my Dears. You are right here in my heart and it is nearly bursting in its fullness. Oh! it is wonderful and I just cannot go to sleep although I should be according to orders. But other things order otherwise and so I want to say a few things first.
(One distraction, have had to move as the light was put out and now am trying to write in the dimmed watch light. The light is bad so please excuse the writing.)
Now to go back a number of hours and to joy No.1. This happened this afternoon and proved to be the first of many tonight. Firstly I would like to make note that lately things have been very difficult. We kept coming up against obstacles and many times we came near to despair but praise be to God Who gives us the Victory. The truth of the saying "it is darkest before the dawn" or "every cloud has a silver lining" proved to be very true........
This is as far as I got the other evening or more correctly morning because a chappie who was doing fire-picket started talking to me and of course spoilt my plans but not my lovely thoughts and spirit of union with you my Angels. I was sorry I could not put my thoughts down then for now the beauty and lustre has been partly lost. In any case words could never have described in full the grand feeling. It is sacrilege in any case to try and describe in words. I merely now make note of it for I feel you shared that same Heavenly feeling with me and when we do meet (may it be soon Dear Lord) we can think back on Christmas eve 1944. Darling I will continue later. I do love you so.
Friday 12th January 1945
"In giving you receive." A blessed truth as I have experienced numbers of times, but still that reticence or slowness to help, to give, to love all.
Last night I was paid a very nice compliment and I pray God to give me strength and grace to live up to such trust and confidence. May honour and love be the cement of my friendships with all. To be confided in, before a brother on a very personal matter is a very big compliment.
I thank my Lord for this person's trust in me and pray for strength to be a help to any one lonely or in trouble. Such a glowing tribute but serves for me to reexamine myself and see if there be any evil in me.
How small I feel in seeing my many failings, of myself I can do nothing. I cannot think that I deserve any credit. May I next time really put myself out, no not only next time but always.
If someone can trust and confide in me, surely that is a lesson for me to increase my trust and confidence in One Who is the One and Only Friend and Comforter. Yes my confidence in Him the all sufficient One must be limitless.
Sunday 8th April 1945
What is the object of my existence on this earth? Why am I here?
Man has been given a will of his own and God's plan is for man to be perfected through love and service and sacrifice; giving ourselves over to helping bring in the Kingdom.
Consider for a while nature and other things created by God. Everything is made perfect and remains perfect because of laws appointed by the Great Creator. But Man whom God made after His own Image was given freewill. Think of God's Love that He has given us free choice of good or bad.
How it must grieve Him to see us do wrong. And in love (God) is seeking to perfect man. In His great love He gave His only begotten Son our Saviour to suffer for the sins of the world, giving us an example of the true life in harmony with God's Will and finally dying on the Cross a sacrifice for others.
Note: These and many other wholesome thoughts can be meditated upon. The surroundings and atmosphere does not lend itself to quiet thought and meditation. (This is) also a reason for the disjointedness of points brought out. How I long for the time and opportunity to study and reason and search the unfathomable riches of God and of His Love. God bless you my Angels. I am going to bed now. I think I have done very well considering all the arguments and noise going on.
Edited: © Rev. Colin G. Garvie, South Africa
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