Survival as a child soldier
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