Sur­vival as a child sol­dier

Dubbo Photo News - - Dubbo Weekender - By NATALIE HOLMES

NI­CHOLAS STANDISH is a sur­vivor. Born in the for­mer Yu­goslavia to Rus­sian im­mi­grants, he was drafted into the Ger­man Air­force at the age of 12 and man­aged to es­cape some five years later but not be­fore ex­pe­ri­enc­ing his fair share of brushes with death.

Now re­tired and liv­ing in Dubbo, Ni­cholas has writ­ten of the ex­pe­ri­ence in his mem­oir ‘Sur­vival and Suc­cess’, Part I: The Euro­pean Years.

De­scrib­ing that time in his life, Ni­cholas can barely com­pre­hend the turn of events.

“I don’t be­lieve it ac­tu­ally hap­pened to me, but it did. I was only a boy, a child sol­dier.”

Ni­cholas’ early life was priv­i­leged, as his fa­ther held quite an es­teemed po­si­tion.

“Yu­goslavia was great. My fa­ther was in the pub­lic ser­vice and he was a lawyer and be­came a district com­mis­sioner. When I would go for a walk with my mother, peo­ple would bow to us.”

Life wasn’t al­ways this way for his par­ents, White Rus­sians who es­caped the Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion af­ter the mur­der of the Tzar Ni­cholas II dur­ing World War I.

“Roy­al­ists like my fa­ther es­caped to an­other coun­try. By 1938, he was a prom­i­nent po­lit­i­cal in­spec­tor in Scopia (now Mace­do­nia). His job was to make sure that all those who were against the govern­ment were put in jail.

“In April 1941, Ger­many in­vaded Yu­goslavia. Bul­garia sided with Ger­many and Bul­gar­i­ans were pros­e­cuted. My fa­ther’s job was to pre­vent the fifth colum­nists.”

Forced to flee to Bel­grade, Ni­cholas, and his fam­ily went to Bela Crkva where there was a White Rus­sian colony.

Sadly, his mother Na­talia fell ill and passed away. Soon af­ter­wards, he would be re­cruited as a Luft­waf­fen­helfer (Ger­man Air­force Helper).

“In Bela Crkva, my brother and I went to a Rus­sian army school. In 1944, the Rus­sian Red Army in­vaded Ro­ma­nia and Yu­goslavia and our school was sent by the Ger­mans to the Ger­man Air­force to op­er­ate big guns to shoot the al­lied bombers.”

Wit­ness­ing his friend’s death be­neath a coal train and see­ing a ferry which he had tried to board ac­tu­ally ex­plode were among the hor­rors ex­pe­ri­enced by the pre-teen. Re­mark­ably, he hasn’t been ad­versely af­fected by this time in his life.

“I’m sure that some of my friends in­clud­ing my brother were af­fected. Some of the sol­diers suf­fered greatly, even com­mit­ting sui­cide. I can’t ex­plain why I wasn’t more af­fected by it. Al­though, there were some in­ci­dents that will never leave my mind.” Ni­cholas ex­plains that a lot of young Ger­mans were drafted at the age of 16. It was when they were called to the front­line that young peo­ple such as him­self were en­listed.

“There were a lot of Ger­man kids there first, put into the war ef­fort.”

Ni­cholas even­tu­ally man­aged to flee to Aus­tria, and later came to Aus­tralia as a refugee. He ini­tially served two years on the NSW Rail­ways be­fore em­bark­ing on a ca­reer as a univer­sity pro­fes­sor where he taught met­al­lurgy in Aus­tralia and In­done­sia.

Ni­cholas wrote the draft of his book in 1985-86 af­ter telling his chil­dren the story of his early life for the first time.

“Ev­ery Christ­mas, our fam­ily would meet and we were at our hol­i­day house at Seven Mile Beach, and af­ter a few red wines, I started to tell them. be­fore that, they just knew that I was a uni pro­fes­sor who grew up in Europe.” With a draft al­ready un­der­way of Part II of his story in Aus­tralia and plans for Part III in In­done­sia, Ni­cholas still mar­vels about his early be­gin­nings.

“Some­times I won­dered how I sur­vived and went on to suc­ceed. Per­haps my mother was look­ing af­ter me. I can’t think of how I es­caped by de­sign. All that hap­pened to me was just luck.

“I be­came an im­por­tant per­son and I have helped a lot of peo­ple. I’ve had a few peo­ple tell me how moved they were by the book and I feel very priv­i­leged to have writ­ten it.”

z Sur­vival and Suc­cess by Ni­cholas Standish was launched at this year’s West­words­fest. To win your own signed copy, please call us on 6885 4433 by 5pm Mon­day, Novem­ber 13, and tell us where West­words­fest was held.

Au­thor Nick Standish has pub­lished a book about his ex­pe­ri­ences af­ter be­ing forced into the Ger­man Air­force dur­ing WWII. PHOTO: DUBBO PHOTO NEWS/SARAH HAR­VEY

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