Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Frank Parker Stevenson was born in Birkenhead, near Liverpool in 1897, and during World War I he served in the British Navy.  After the war he immigrated to Australia, where he worked as a teacher, and where his life, like that of many emigrants, suddenly became colorful – even more colorful than most.  He married and had three children.  After a short solo sojourn in New Zealand, he returned to his family in Australia, and then he emigrated back to England – and all this in less than one decade. 
In 1930 he emigrated once again – this time to the Union of South Africa, just as Australia, a part of the British Empire; there he also worked as a teacher, this time in a metal trade’s school in Durban.  It was in Durban that shortly before the outbreak of the war, he again married. In 1940, he volunteered for military service and was sent to North Africa.  As of June 1, 1941 he served in a communications company and on June 20, 1942 he was taken prisoner at Tobruk. It was for his efforts during this war, ensuring communication at Bardia and Salum in Libya that he received the Order of the British Empire,   His service records show him as MIA for a period of two months and only in August, 1942 did the Red Cross confirm that Stevenson was held in Oflag IV B as POW No. 12683. On September 9, 1942 the London Gazette listed Frank Parker Stevenson as the recipient of the OBE for his services. On December 31, 1942, Stevenson was transferred to Oflag IX A/Z, where after some eight weeks Lt. Colonel Van Vliet and Captain Stewart would arrive.
In selecting the English-speaking group for travel to Katyn, the Germans intended that in the British group there would be not only Englishmen, but also representatives of the dominions.  In reality, as becomes apparent from Brigadier Nicholson’s note of protest which was written in this case – Stevenson was not the Senior South African Officer (SSAO) held as a POW – but the Germans designated him as a member of the Katyn delegation.
As earlier noted, during the trip to Berlin, there existed a version of whom the members of the group were, according to it, the Senior Allied and British officer was to be Brigadier Somerset of Oflag IX A/H, and it has not been possible to determine why he did not embark on this journey.  In any case, in light of Somerset’s absence, it was Frank Stevenson who suddenly became the Senior Officer in the officer group.  Van Vliet, writing in his 1950 report, clearly noted:
Lt.Col. Stevenson was the senior in the group/

In truth, Lt. Colonel Stevenson, in the absence of other senior officers, very consciously (and it would appear eagerly) took command of the group, but nonetheless the circumstances were undoubtedly a surprise for him.  Despite his rank, Stevenson was a reserve officer, and the realization that as of that moment he was assuming responsibility for the actions of his fellow witnesses in a situation which was completely murky in every respect and full of enormous risk, must have impacted on his behavior. In reading the recollections of other members of the group, we learn that Stevenson was very conscious of his role as the ‘Senior Officer’ in the group which was taken to Katyn; additionally, he had to be a difficult individual, since the normalcy circumspect Gilder referred to him as the ‘paranoid South African’.

It is highly probable that this paranoia and the need to completely control the situation arose precisely from an understanding of the enormity of the responsibility which had suddenly fallen on Stevenson.  In the final review, that behavior carried certain positive traits with it: Stevenson advised the members of the group that they could not agree to any proposals made by the Germans (including those that they speak on the matter, which could then be used by Goebbels propaganda machine).  Nonetheless,  after viewing the graves in Katyn, Colonel Stevenson must have undergone a trauma – and as becomes clear from both Van Vliet’s and Gilder’s reports – he swore that he would write a book about Katyn, which in the circumstances would have served German interests

© Krystyna Piórkowska