Ralph Allan Oswald Johnson was born in Fivedock, Sydney on the 28th April 1920. Prior to WW11 he worked for the Department of Road Transport and Tramways working his way up from 6th Class Clerk to Officer in Charge of Medical Records.
On the 29th May 1940, at Paddington, Ralph enlisted in the army, at first wanting to join the Air Force but eventually joining the 2/5 Australian General Hospital. On the 19th October Ralph boarded the Queen Mary. The next day the Queen Mary sailed from Sydney Harbour via Bombay and El Kantara to Rehovot, Palestine where the unit set up its first permanent camp. This was followed by a move to Greece on the 13th April 1941 and established a 1250 bed tent hospital.
Ralph, along with others from the 2/5th AGH, chose to remain due to the large number of patients requiring medical care. On Ralph’s 21st birthday, on the 28th April 1941, the Germans took prisoner of war all members of the 2/5 that had remained. On the 7th May the Unit and about 450 patients were transferred to Kokkinia Greece where they established a Prisoner of War Hospital.
On the 23rd December 1941 members of the Unit were loaded into cattle trucks for the long nine-day journey to Germany. Conditions were bitterly cold and it was difficult to avoid frostbite. Many men died as the temperature was well below zero and they sat on icy metal benches, packed in like cattle. The train arrived at Torun (Thorn) in Poland on the 31st December 1941.
Temperatures of minus 370, scarcity of food and timber slat beds made for a difficult time through the first winter at Fort 15, Stalag XXA.
In October 1943 most medical personnel were repatriated, but Ralph, along with Pat Horton and a few others, volunteered to remain so that more married Britishers could return home. Pat Horton and Ralph were transferred to Fort 13, Thorn. After Fort 13 Ralph and Pat worked in Graudenz and Stalag 357 Thorn, Poland.
With advances being made by the Russians into Poland the Germans decided to move the whole camp westward to Fallingbostel. At Follingbostel Ralph worked as a dental nurse and worked on setting and wiring jaws, tooth removals, root canal fillings and building a bridge for a missing section of jaw.
In April 1945 Ralph and hundreds of “fit” prisoners were marched under guard out of the camp in a bid to escape the advancing Allies. They continued on foot in small groups to Lauenberg and then set out for Celle, where members of the 8th Army gave them all an enormous welcome”.
A few days later the ex-prisoners were flown to England. On the 17th May 1945 Pat and Ralph boarded the ship “Dominion Monarch” for the trip home via the Panama Canal, 29 days later sailing through Sydney Heads. Ralph was discharged from the Army on the 23rd July 1945 having served in the 2/5 AGH for 1,883 days including 36 days service in Australia and 1703 days outside Australia.
Story and photos kindly submitted by Ralph’s daughter (Margaret Thompson) and son (Phillip Johnson), with permission to reproduce on the 2/5 AGH Website.