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Sergeant Ron Garnham

Sergeant Ron A. D. Garnham

 

Unit : "A" Squadron, No.1 Wing, The Glider Pilot Regiment

Army No. : 3966566

 

These are the impressions and experiences of a British prisoner of war and his three comrades; Glider Pilots captured on the north bank of the river at Oosterbeek, a few miles west of Arnhem, on September 26th 1944. The narrative was written by me, Sergeant Ronald Garnham, the others were:

 

S/Sgt Eric Foster, Sussex

S/Sgt Jack Griffiths, Bedford

S/Sgt Ken Mills, Devon

 

I have no intention of relating the experiences leading up to our capture during nine days of bitter fighting when so many of our comrades paid the supreme sacrifice while others tended to bring disgrace on the Regiment and earn themselves the ignominious title of 'Household Heroes' and fought battles in the cellars of houses from which they could not show themselves unless their hunger or other necessity drove them forth and then in the dead of night when things are comparatively quiet. A sample of this type we were unfortunate enough to possess in my own section. Their names will be forever engraved on the minds of those who were obliged to continue their duties as well as their own. Such men were outnumbered scores to one luckily, or our position would have been hopeless in far less than the nine days which we managed to hold out before withdrawing to the banks of the river on a cold, wet September night where we found such gallants as have just been described, hauling helpless wounded out of the available boats to make room for themselves and generally adding to the confusion of evacuation of the remnants of an Airborne Division by two boats, one capable of holding 14 and the other 10 men when loaded to capacity. S/Sgt. Mills, who was wounded by shrapnel in the head and right arm, was one of these who found himself treated thus.

 

It was at dawn when we were eventually surrounded by German infantry who gathered us into a column of some 500 men and marched us back through the positions we had fought to hold and thence to Arnhem where we passed civilian evacuees wheeling eastwards along the road to Appledorn with their treasured possessions stacked in carts and trolleys, each with its white flag denoting 'evacuee'. At Div. H.Q. we were given an interrogation by English speaking Huns, and everything of value was removed from our person. I lost a much treasured cigarette lighter but managed to retain a tin of ten and a an emergency ration which came in very useful during the long hours when we waited hungrily foe food.

 

Transport of poor serviceability took us the 28 kilos to Zutphen where we were put into a large warehouse and later fed on bread, marg and jam also potato soup. Kenneth was taken to hospital with other wounded for treatment and was very well treated by Dutch doctors and nurses who fed him on bread and butter and milk. A doctor also shaved him while a nurse looked on and gave him grave but sympathetic looks pondering, meanwhile, as to the kind of husband he would make and if he could be too old for her. They were most hurt when some lads were loath to trust them and explained that they were our allies. One fellow asked for their help in escaping but as a keen sentry was always on the spot this was not easy for them and they were most apologetic in explaining the inadvisability of such a step. We had nightmare experiences after leaving there for Stalag and many were the nights which we were unable to sleep. But my story is chiefly a daily record of our lives in German hands. The battle for Arnhem has been covered more or less accurately by the British press. I am not in a position to state just how accurate the accounts were, since my last glimpse of a paper was on Wednesday Sept. 20th when a thoughtful member of one of the crew of a Stirling enclosed a copy of that mornings Daily Express in a pack of supplies which they had dropped. Needles to say this was passed around greedily, read and did yeoman service among us. I doubt the accuracy of any account written by any one reporter of the battles, because of the great difficulty of giving a comprehensive report when as many things were happening at the same time and so few knew who was doing what. The scarcity of effective orders: scriptive adjectives in our tongue would also tend to cramp the style of any man, however clever, in giving an account of such scenes as were witnessed by a number of us. They were, to me, very grim indeed, but it is only fair to say that this was my first experience of war on foreign soil and although I had witnessed battles in England during the grim days of 1940 there was never that fear of a Hun behind each tree or window, or a machine gun nest in every alley. Street fighting is most disgusting and especially so when ones enemy has the advantage of superior weapons, for infantry cannot deal effectively against tanks, and rifles will never hulk out self propelled guns. It was lucky that large numbers of gallant lads disbelieved this, only to realise they were mistaken - too late, or such a different story would have been written around Arnhem.

 

When we were taken and formed up into ranks we mad five ranks of eighty six each and were then marched along the bank of the river under the steel railway arch over the river back into Oosterbeek, the scene of much fierce fighting which still had dead all around and much damage to all and sundry. Our guards were quite good to us, seeming to recognise us as beaten warriors. We were given occasional cigarettes by some and it did not surprise us to find they were those which had been dropped for us by the R.A.F.

 

A fortnight yesterday we arrived at Limberg feeling very weak and hungry having travelled 51/2 days in a crowded cattle truck containing 56 men, several wounded. Limberg gave us a cold reception and food at a very late hour.

 

Thursday 12th October 1944

A mild day with a warm southerly wind which blows an unbelievable stench from sewage drains. We were given our food outside the latrines and the abominable stench pollutes the food and assails the nostrils like a horrible lingering memory. The mud from last nights rain is being churned over all by movements of pairs of feet which tread it into every corner of the camp. Complaints and uncomplimentary remarks come from all sides about the quality and quantity of the liquid soup but surprisingly little is thrown away. The grimaces on the faces of the hungry prisoners is a tribute, of a kind, to the cooks who, of course, are never seen. The hills, covered in verdant woodland, outside the barbed wire are beautiful. The autumnal plants begin to make themselves evident among green foliage. The soup of peas and potatoes is edible, hot and filling to say the least, but we do miss our afters, prunes and custard. Hunger leads us to lengthy discussions on delectable foodstuffs and very indigestible menus, lots of too sweet things, meringues and cream doughnuts. Ken and Eric made a cake of bread and prunes but burned it to a cinder in the oven until the crust became coke with an uncooked stodgy centre. It was eaten never the less. We have a little extra bread each today. Ken has swapped his sunglasses for half a loaf so our meal this evening is awaited with eager longing. We three have one tin of bully beef left in the parcel and a little coffee left for tomorrows "elevenses". I have come to rolling my own cigarettes from the ends which I have saved along from my ration of 46 last Saturday.

 

Saturday 14th October 1944

A bitter disappointment today when it was announced that no parcels would be issued as they were being inspected by the authorities. This means very meagre living on rations given us and no smokes at all. Sunday has been as dull as can be expected without the luxuries or a smoke and no news of a move from this hell. The Yanks help keep us amused by their conversation and arguments. They are a good-natured lot and manage to grin at any mishap. Ray, Ted and hank, our neighbours, are a good trio and never seem to go short of anything, thanks to Ted as a rule. It is a month since we left England and bid farewell to folks who envied us but I wonder if they guess how we are now and those who were less fortunate than the 100 G.Ps. here. I wish it was possible to find out something about Chum and Ronnie Ditch who have not, as yet, been seen or heard of. Perhaps at Darlag Luft we may run into them, here's hoping and may it be soon. Weakness is our problem and "blackouts" get us if we move around too quickly, a lot of stomach troubles have caused me to stay in bed and no one can shave.

 

Thursday 19th October 1944

After a day of rumours (mostly false) we eventually paraded for evening roll call and were told an issue of cigarettes and soap was being made. Spirits soared. We received 6 cigs and a tablet of Swan soap each. My first smoke for days was marvellous. To round this off the tea meal consisted of potatoes and goulash, great stuff and usually a bit sparing but today was more plentiful and contained chunks of meat. After such a meal everyone felt very much better and there were signs of contented faces at bedtime - 7o'clock.

 

Friday 20th October 1944

A fairly restful night disturbed only by dreams of good food and home. Strangely fresh and rested on awakening though still weak bodily. It is funny but as much as I dislike my present position I am not as miserable as I was with the FOUL fourth Welch. Have seen two boys from B coy and heard grim accounts of its battles and casualties. I left them just in time. Thank God!

 

Sunday 22nd October 1944

Awoke this morning and played out a hand of patience and guessed the day would be good. The cooks made excellent soup for midday and we enjoyed it immensely. Spaghetti, spam, corned beef and potatoes make an ideal soup. The tea meal was also good, margarine and raw sausage. This we cooked in margarine and ate hot with bread. As good as a steak anytime. Once again I retired feeling satisfied but could not sleep having slept in the afternoon. 700 passed out today, 1200 are waiting to pass out tomorrow. Wild rumours of our approaching armies circulate in the latrines and I picked up one today, Yank P.B.T. are reported to have been captured within easy reach of this camp, in fact having been taken on Sunday morning they were here by tea meal the same day.

 

Monday 23rd October 1944

Eric sick today. Diarrhoea and chill, looks groggy and stays in bed until midday. We warn him about overeating but to no purpose, he is hungry and he. My how he eats! We are all a bit tired of Pops company, he is a drag on our reserves and not a good companion. The soup at midday was excellent and filling, Eric, in his hungry state is dissatisfied with ration but eats it. We move from quarters which we have occupied for a week, leaving our Yank neighbours reluctantly, but secure a place in 12A.

 

Tuesday 24th October 1944

Eric is again himself and we are amazed at Pop who sings lustily Largos Lost Chord etc. Coffee at breakfast was excellent and not ersatz. We are very much improved in mind and spirit. Names are taken for toilet requisites and I, for one, look forward to a shave. It is a whole month since I last used a razor and my fungus is unsightly as well as uncomfortable. We discuss the probability of an issue of chocolate and how and when it will take place. Food is our main topic - a very important one to us all. This afternoon we were issued with towel, soap box, tooth brush, razor (between two) shaving soap, tooth powder and one set of underwear, all of which comes in handy. This was followed by a poor issue of turnip soup. Ken and I play cribbage and enjoy ourselves immensely.

 

Wednesday 25th October 1944

Two months to Xmas Day What are the chances of being home? We shall see. It isn't possible or is it? By 3pm we are all shaved with the exception of Ken who is either idle or not interested. It is a bit like being dressed up with nowhere to go. Reg clipped my beard with scissors - a very painful experience.

 

Current price list - Russians

Cigarette papers - 2 cigarettes

60 dollar watch - 6 loaves of bread

20 cigarettes - loaf of bread

Haircut - 1 cigarette

pullovers - bread?

 

The price of a haircut has also been increased by 100%. Sad news. I had a trim on tick without knowing this.

 

Thursday 26th October 1944

Reg has taken sick on Erics recovery and eats little. Each little group, it seems, has its sick member for I discover Hedgewick who tells me each of his gang takes a turn in the sickbay. There is a strange emptiness in the camp - boding what? Even the latrines are empty and rumours become scarce, a point worthy of note as the place is rife with them as a rule. Chocolate issue is the most prevalent one today and rates of exchange are being discussed. (10 cigs per bar). The reorganisation of our quarters causes some confusion but we eventually get ourselves straightened out. At night an interesting discussion on spiritualism develops and we talk until well after lights out. Entertainment by an excellent baritone, never has there been such quiet in this hut and the singer was loudly applauded. My turn gives me bother but no uncomfortable developments.

 

Friday 28th October 1944

Cigarette and soap issue. A disappointing day for food - cheese and bix.

 

Sunday 29th October 1944

The morning is cold and dry and we step out briskly during roll call to keep warm. Breakfast consists of prunes and raisins, hot and delicious ersatz coffee, bread butter and jam (lots of jam). The camp is even emptier than ever and rumour says many more will be moving after the weekend. Today's menu, prunes, raisins, bread, butter jam and coffee (7 o'clock). 11o'clock, macaroni soup, yes indeed. 2:30 Real coffee, jam mixed with peanut butter, one tin of jam between two (apricot). Excellent fare and uncooked meat. Another of those excellent fry ups tonight and eating for the day will be complete. A real field day for food. To finish off we are entertained, after lights out, by Didsbury and our baritone friend who play and sing very well. The greater part of the room joined in the old favourites and a harmonica note prevailed throughout until a few minor ignorants called 'time' and such remarks. There is a good deal of hidden talent, which comes out after lights out.

 

Monday 30th October 1944

This morning we arose at 6o'clock and had breakfast at dawn as it is very cold at that time of the day. In fact it gets no warmer now. We had hot showers first thing after breakfast and felt very much cleaner. A change of underwear also improved the general feeling. Hot sustaining soup does a lot to alleviate the cold and tends to help moral. The spirit of camaraderie is good and moral has improved greatly since the cookhouse took charge of parcels. The little extras, which come as a pleasant break to the monotony of the daily menus, are always received with great excitement and in high spirits. The excitement of knowing there is spam in the soup is equivalent to a win on the soccer pools. Our little circle is now complete since Regs recovery. It seems that the stewed fruit cleared us all out and the diarrhoea germs.

 

Tuesday 31st October 1944

Today was in no way outstanding except for an issue of 15 cigs. instead 10, also a rumour of an escape by a member of a working party - a Pole.

 

Wednesday 1st November 1944

We commence the month with hellishly long roll calls while checks are made for the missing man. A dispute arose over his nationality. This is a dry biting cold which eats at ones vitals and the hot soup is now doubly welcome, helping to keep out the cold as well as keeping body and soul together. The early breakfast makes the day long and each day, it seems, that our armies are further away instead of getting nearer. Variety is indeed the spice of life and what promises we make for our future, variety of food, fun, dwelling and general environment.

 

Thursday 2nd November 1944

This was a long day for everyone as we went out to work, each with various parties and varying degrees of luck as far as feeding goes. Eric and Reg had moderate, Ken and Jack excellent, muggings very poor. Returned late for a lengthy roll call and a chaotic issue of food when, like hungry beasts, men trod on each other to secure as much as possible or more of potatoes and goulash. Those who were lucky in securing foodstuffs made strange concoctions and long queues formed around the stoves. Two more men are missing from the working parties. More news of our advancing armies must have caused them to take such a chance. Guards are reported to have said that their positions will be reversed in two months. Roll on the New Year! The latest rumour is that the camp is to be cleared by the 6th.

 

Friday 3rd November 1944

A fairly lazy day. Meals again constitute the only entry worth a mention. G.I. coffee in the morning and diluted among four of us affords an extra drink during the day. Four ounces of chocolate at teatime was a grand effort and much trading took place. Cheese biscuits with soup finished the day and a bout of bad stomachs followed the inevitable wolfing of choc-bars.

 

Saturday 4th November 1944

Guy Fawkes. A day of cleaning and baths with the delousing of blankets and clothing. A fresh smell permeates the hut. A pleasant change from urine and filth. Ken returned from his bath very late to find no tea meal spuds left for him and adopts a very dissatisfied attitude but recovers. Jack and I have a slight tiff over some silly point but everyone returns happily. Eric, after trading cigarettes for cheese, has his cheese lifted during the night. He is in very deep mourning today. The salmon makes excellent cheesecakes. One chappie made a very successful choc/orange cake with bread, milk, and orange juice. A delectable luxury.

 

Sunday 5th November 1944

We are all endowed with the Sunday feeling and good food all day helps retain it. No prunes with breakfast - a disappointing omission although the tea helped to restore spirits. Jam, peanut butter and marg. constituted a tea worthy of note and G.I. coffee boosted morale 100%. In fact, after the usual petty niggles, we reassembled at night and discussed holidays until our Sunday eve concert began. Retired in good spirits. A midday discussion also proved enlightening and constructive, girlfriends and engagements. The other members of the group seem determined to marry me off at the earliest opportunity, I, of course, refuse to co-operate and they become a little exasperated at my determination to become a recluse.

 

Monday 6th November 1944

This was a day of eager expectancy over the prunes at tea. The time drew nearer and they arrived. Ken and I had our cream already served and waded into a delicious confection of fruit and cream, the tastiest dish ever. Our jam was also delicious with cream on toast. Further talk of any holiday was interrupted by a heavy raid west of camp. We have acquired a taste for delicious afternoon tea, generally jam, cream and toast with coffee, a very tasty meal.

 

Wednesday 8th November 1944

A good day for weather but we do not go out a lot, cannot think why. The afternoon is the longest part of the day but our little snack helps pass the time well. We have coffee cream today. I managed to secure a tablespoon of coffee for a cigarette. This mixed in very well with butter, jam and milk powder. There was an issue of 18 cigs. per man today, another very cheering item.

 

Thursday 9th November 1944

Another day passes and we realise how quickly the days are slipping by. We can expect even better cooking since a liberal ration of food has helped out our meagre rations, margarine in particular. A lot of stuff such as tooth powder, soap, razor blades, chocolate, salmon etc. made today an eventful one. The first sign of snow gave me a jolt too. Kens health gives us all cause for concern but we hope it is nothing worse than a tum cold. Plans are afoot for a celebration of Jacks birthday (23 next Wednesday) which reminds me of my 28th next month. I hope to be lucky enough to spend it in a Stalag Luft and have better prospects for Xmas. The news of Roosevelts re-election caused great excitement amongst the Yanks this morning.

 

Friday 10th November 1944

Waking this morning with a feeling of expectancy to realise we have planned to make a pudding for afternoon tea. It looked really appetising in the making and would have been in the eating if we only watched the pot and not let boil dry. We had a good laugh over a not so good chocolate pud - a bitter disappointment but we learned a lesson at least. The good went into it alright. Very heavy raids disturbed the morning and gave us a bit of fun.

 

Saturday 11th November 1944

Remembrance Day. The M.G. in smart turnout officiated at a very short observance of Armistice. A two min. service was all that it amounted to. The cold was intense and feelings rather mixed about the ceremony.

 

Sunday 12th November 1944

Yet another day in 12A. No sign of a move. The day passed uneventfully with good soup and cottage pie for supper. Tea consisted of bread, jam and a cigarette before roll call. The biscuits are waiting for an issue of prunes which we plan to make a pudding - steamed successfully we hope.

 

Monday 13th November 1944

Six weeks since we arrived here - what an age but it hardly seems that long. The evening was spent mixing our pud. It looks excellent and a fine colour. We sat above on Jacks bed while below Eric scoffed his effort making us feel very hungry. We were indeed hungry for the prunes were a disappointment as well as the soup. We consol ourselves - tomorrow was yet to come.

 

Tuesday 14th November 1944

The most outstanding success of our career in Stalag 12A. The pud; which we steamed, proved a great success indeed and lacked only the sprig of holly. That deterred us little for it was eaten with relish and amid the approving remarks of numerous bystanders all eager to taste and share. Reluctantly I parted with a spoonful but it gave some pleasure, like the cutting. So easy, so rich and luscious, such a pudding there never was.

 

Wednesday 15th November 1944

Jack will remember his 23rd birthday. It was heralded by a fall of snow and bitter cold, fuel ran low and the fewer men in the room made it seem bitter. We also transferred our beds to a top floor by a window, short of two panes of glass which did not add to our comfort very much. A good macaroni soup cheered us and helped a dismal day pass quickly.

 

Thursday 16th November 1944

Again cold and rumour turned to fact spoiled our routine. Menu - no potatoes, which are becoming scarce and we hardly knew it was Thursday. Ken gave us a few seafaring yarns as bedtime story preceded by salmon and potato pie, this drove out the blues a little and we retire happily but fail to sleep, don't know why. Perhaps due to a sudden interest taken in us by staff interrogators who try to fraternise, succeeding in part but securing nothing of value.

 

Friday 17th November 1944

Interrogators again with impertinent questions treated with scorn. All this, we hope, is leading up to something, "what"? Chocolate issue, a small store put by for a pudding later when the biscuits arrive. Jack takes to his bed and stays all day without much improvement in his tum. Remaining cold and very little activity by anyone. NOTE. We were disturbed in the middle of a peculiar service by a Yank preacher, a fanatic, obviously, but sincere. A holy roller, presumably, but sincere.

 

Saturday 18th November 1944

A day of planning future menus. Ken goes to bed raving over macaroni cheese, strawberry pud and the like. We make a successful cheese and potato pie and ate it with relish just before lights out. Saunders was caught out today.

 

Sunday 19th November 1944

I start the day by falling out of bed and causing a commotion. Kens menu is put to the test and works well. The macaroni is good with cheese and the pud is also turns out very well but we are unlucky for no meat at teatime so have spuds alone. However we retire happily and feel that the news of a move on Wednesday is pretty good. It was greeted by cheers but can we be sure - I hope so.

 

Monday 20th November 1944

The whole day was spent preparing for a grand steamed pudding in the evening and I worried myself to distraction when no definite news of prunes came up. They arrived O.K. and we put the finishing touches to the mixture and later did full justice to an excellent job of cooking amid roars of approval from bystanders. Some actually asked for samples. The five syndicate having drifted noticeably for a while have again become more unified and as we draw near to the end of our stay in XIIA we draw together again. This is much more satisfactory for all concerned.

 

Tuesday 21st November 1944

Tomorrow we leave. What a pleasant thing it will be to wake up in XIIA for the last time. Cyril arranged a raffle of a cake of Ryans making, containing chocolate etc. We, of course, are quite sure who will win it until it is drawn and then we learn how wrong we have been. It is won by the blokes who made it. A gramophone recital is interrupted by the siren indicating air activity. During the raffle it was announced that spare soup was available . A mad rush of early queuers nearly upset the table and prizes. I ate so much soup it doubled me up with indigestion causing great hilarity among the gang who laughed at my discomfort but I simply couldn't see anything funny in my predicament. However, I recovered. Actually ate a roast potato during the evening. We sang heartily to the accompaniment of Dittsburys music feeling highly elated of the move in the morning. During the afternoon our last pudding, a delicious affair of bread, marg; prunes, raisins and much happy labour. The proof of the pudding is definitely in the eating! In all a good day for scoff and Erics cake turned out successfully too. We had reason to sing at night, we were not hungry for a brief while.

 

Wednesday 22nd November 1944

A terrible mistake has been made and we do not leave here until Friday. An early morning roll call due to two Yanks walking out of camp by the main gate. No one knows where we are going but we hope to spend the weekend in fresh surroundings. A horrible wet day and no doubt it's as well we didn't move after all.

 

Thursday 23rd November 1944

Rains, yet more rains, an early rise and a clean up, a tip top breakfast of salmon, jam and cooked meat, the latter like a gammon rasher; coffee puts the finishing touches and a shave at the window throu' which the warm winter sun shone brilliantly heralding a good day for us all. Cyril issues greetings cards to everyone but the wording is meagre and insufficient for us to convey all we wish to send to those back home. It was 2o'clock when we paraded. 4o'clock when we left camp after a cursory search, aboard the train at 5o'clock. Very cold. 33men and wet straw, few smokes and no idea where we are going during the night. We start off and travel intermittently.

 

Saturday 25th November 1944

One month to Xmas and here we are in a cold truck but cheered by an issue of bread, marg and cheese.

 

Sunday 26th November 1944

Horrible night of cold darkness. We nearly freeze and cannot get warm but after a miserable night we are redeemed at 7o'clok Tuesday morning.

 

Tuesday 28th November 1944

Waiting in freezing cold air while forming up and shiver uncontrollably and then march about two miles to camp. Another search and little waiting then a good hot bath. Taken to our huts we are given hot tea by those who are already in the hut. It is most welcome and puts us in good stead, sharing an issue of parcels 1 to 2 then we tuck ion and really enjoy ourselves. It is a business learning the ropes of the camp and settling in generally but we managed before, we'll do it again.

 

Tuesday 28th November 1944

We register this morning and have photos taken, most of us with a day's growth. Kens parcel is stolen.

 

Wednesday 29th November 1944

A day busily spent making dishes and mugs etc. Preparing meals in primitive utensils was fun but we had our slight differences owing to the old adage "Too many cooks In future I shall continue as handyman while Eric acts as cook.

 

Thursday 30th November 1944

The last day of the month and we are doing well. Sausages and chips for lunch, a bumper meal. We explore the camp precincts and find it is a hive of industry and ingenuity. Already Xmas has begun with decorations in huts made from labels from tins, toilet rolls etc. The camp theatre is one of those marvel of enterprise and produces fare in spite of setbacks, queues form each day for seats.

 

Friday 1st December 1944

Eric and I played football in the morning and found out how weak we are. It was good fun but furious enough to fatigue me, at any rate. I continue the diary at the request and in spite of better and busier conditions. Our daily visits to the market keep us in touch with current prices and news. The B.B.C. news comes to us in bits and pieces but it is genuine. Good to know.

 

Saturday 2nd December 1944

Having organised our little supply of kitchen utensils for the time being, we are at liberty to get together as of old. Eric makes an excellent job of lunch today, bacon, fried bread, eggs and chips, grand fare. Ken and Rag seem to manage quite well in spite of their loss. The four of us get together in the evening and design our badge, which we hope to have worked by a Risky. It is a smart affair and we hope he is able to copy. A Cockney lecturer helps spend the latter half of the evening. He called his lecture "A Limeys Impression of America". He could have called it anything it wouldn't have mattered. The lecture covered everything from cable laying to fruit picking and horse breaking to the Davis affair.

 

Sunday 3rd December 1944

A lazy day and consequently an unhappy one. Thoughts go flying home when not otherwise engaged thus leading to fits of depression. We planned to go to evensong but due to the lateness of the meal we were not in time. However, a very good lecturer kept us amused for an hour holding forth on Yank Newspapermans Life. He was very good. Plans are afoot for Xmas arrangements. In the hut a collection of cigarettes is made to obtain beer, decorations are also being made. Today a fellow arrived in the hut having been caught on a Commando raid and a prisoner for 31/2 years. He looked fit and was interesting to listen to in spite of the years in captivity. He had kept his interests alive in study. He had seen Berlin, a really remarkable sight.

 

Monday 4th December 1944

Kens birthday, a not very exciting one for him, but at least he had a parcel and a few smokes. For Eric and I it was an eventful day. We went to see "Springtime for Jennifer" a play produced in the camp by Peter Green who also conducted the orchestra. A really fine effort with spectacular scenes.

 

Tuesday 5th December 1944

A cold day in all. Eric made an excellent pudding which we ate at supper, even so we both felt hungry later. There have been some weird items made from issue flour today; needless to say they were eaten with relish regardless. American parcels, we have decided, do not compare with English or Canadian and we learned that a truck containing 2000Canadian has arrived at Muhlberg also 28 parcels of tobacco. The decorations are now showing up well and make a brave show on the bareness of the hut.

 

Wednesday 6th December 1944

A day of success and failure. Dinner of meat pies and two veg. was excellent but welsh rarebit not too good. Ken and Jack had a very successful meat and vegetable steamed pudding. A lecture by a Colchester man in the evening kept us interested on his fourteen years on the road. We are beginning to get ourselves set up for tins and other utensils such as milk jugs etc. I work on such things in the morning and relax in the afternoon. Eric is now cook and I allow him to gat on with it and he really produces.

 

Thursday 7th December 1944

Not an exceptional day in any way, we ate sparingly but well, a lunch of skilly and a supper of meat pudding, while K and J invent a stunning recipe for pudding with bread only, which works.

 

Friday 8th December 1944

We write home two cards. In spite of our brews each day we manage to conserve a bit of sugar and milk to make our Xmas pudding a delicious meal. We speak of it often, in fact the days meals afford us lots of amusement in the preparation and we are constantly picking up new ideas.

 

Saturday 9th December 1944

A long roll call began the day but not as long as Limberg, apparently two extra men are at large in the camp. A meatless day foe E and me and we exist on skilly and cake. Macaroni was excellent so were the cakes. K and J have spam, chips and fried biscuits a la Griffiths. A variety concert in the evening in our own hut with makeshift props. Etc. but very amusing. Lighting system very Heath Robinson, all done by string and wire and Klim tins.

 

Sunday 10th December 1944

Have come to the conclusion that Sundays are a low. I do not work but would be happier if I did and hang the principle. However, an excellent meal in the evening timed to a nicety with tea to put the final touches to a meal of spam and biscuits, all well cooked. I then went off to evensong in the theatre, a nice service just like home and an excellent antidote to the blues. On my return E had a cake iced ready for the last brew of the day. We went to bed happy and satisfied; sleeping like logs.

 

Monday 11th December 1944

The eve of my 28th I feel the same as usual and much fitter than a month ago. Canadian parcels; 20 cigs and 5oz chocolate which goes in no time at all. Snow fell during the afternoon but not enough to lay. E tries to make porridge of biscuits but it is unsuccessful, we commiserate on the loss by eating biscuits, butter and marmalade. I cannot recall anything giving me such pleasure as the sight of a tin of Aplen marm. (orange, lemons and grapefruit). E made a fork and our cutlery is now up to strength with the exception of a knife, which I will have later on. It is very cold but as the fires get a hold the hut warms up and the atmosphere becomes amiable. The evenings are always the longest when the meals are done for the day. We settle down to hear a lecture or play cards or make up the song. Haircut today, feeling much lighter around the ears. Tried using German soap today, the perfume is the only thing worth a dam in it. No lather to speak of. Why I don't know.

 

Tuesday 12th December 1944

The most pleasant day of my captivity so far. Awakened by Eric with coffee and birthday greetings and forthwith to roll call. Breakfast, 2 slices of bread with butter and marmalade, more greetings from Reg also 2 eggs from D and J below. Excellent meal of millet mixed up with raisins, milk and sugar into a porridge, followed by fried pancakes. The afternoon spent in the baths. Return to hut 26B for tea and a couple of slices with fish. Then off to the theatre to see the first night of Jennifer, a very good show. Later in the evening have tea with birthday cake, iced as well, really excellent. A lecture made us too late for early brew. Lecture on armies and progress made with an opinion, justly founded, of the Wars' end in March. So to bed after a good day.

 

Wednesday 13th December 1944

Altho. an unlucky date a lucky day for me. A trip around the market in the morning to secure tea for our 'pool'. Manage meat and veg. Not a bad buy. In the afternoon have a jacket issued, feel warmer and happier. On return go to visit Jeff Tidey who greets me with enthusiasm. Over smokes chat over people and things. I cannot make my mind work and talk run smoothly, very awkward not to be able to express oneself successfully. He gives me socks, smokes and a warm vest. We arrange to meet again. Tea of fish cakes, butter and tea and bread and butter, delicious, with marmalade even better.

 

Thursday 14th December1944

Until today we had worried about parcels for Xmas the margarine having run low but we were told that two trucks were in Muhlberg Station and later that 1993 English parcel therein so we have 1 to 2 on Monday 18th instead of 1 to 3. As for the special ham issue, it seems they will not be in time to issue for the 25th. We are given part of our clothing (soap and vest) the rest is to follow at a later date. Blades and tooth powder also.

 

Friday 15th December 1944 

Jeff visits me today and we discuss home and people and when he leaves I find myself feeling very homesick. It's so bitterly cold I sit about all day wearing all my clothes. No work done today.

 

Saturday 16th December 1944

Not as cold but still very chilly, we do very little. An International soccer match between Scotland and England, we win 2-1, much too cold to stand and watch. J and K come and chat in the evening in our flat and Jack suddenly decides he will not forgo his daily bread in order to save for Xmas, much to K's disappointment as he has set his heart on a bumper cake. It was rather a broad claim as they had hoped to eat only one of bread per day between them, the cold weather proved too much for them. One has to eat to keep out the cold. I agree with Jack although he should have looked ahead a little more. I decide to try and make a small blast furnace as the fire situation has become acute and we have to wait hours for our few spuds to cook. Blowers I have seen are working very successfully so we must see what can be done or Xmas will be a series of long waits for food which will be unsatisfactory all round. E spoiled the potatoes tonight after we had waited four hours for them.

 

Sunday 17th December 1944

We arose for roll call and returned for breakfast and then to bed till skilly time. I dreamt of Uncle Albert and Holland and was about to accept a feed of steak and kidney pudd. when E awakened me for skilly (sauerkraut). Our main meal was Klim and mashed potato, better today, later fried biscuits and cream with hot tea, very fair indeed. A radio play, 'On the Spot' was put on in the hut but we (K, J and me) went to evensong and enjoyed it immensely. A gathering of the four until brew up when E produced good beef sandwiches and then to bed. Jeff paid me a visit during the morning and complained of homesickness, he had taken his usual Sunday morning stroll along the 'prom' and become that way when no Grand was available at the terminal point. We chatted and smoked over morning tea and felt better. Reg very much out of the gang lately, having met his Ipswich pals who keep him amused all day every day. He no longer fits due to owing to his peculiar disposition and whining complaints, has proved himself the spoiled child that he undoubtedly is.

 

Monday 18th December 1944

Last night we sang ourselves to sleep and a real sing song developed with Yank and English paradise on popular songs. This morning all five of us had a row over the heating of some coffee. An event to look back on and smile about! It arose over whose mess can should be put on the fire and I settle it by dashing off in a tear to the fire with my own while the others bicker over fuel. An incident proving the need of exercise, fresh air and all these things we do not get. As usual a cold morning on roll call and a fairly busy day preparing meals and trying to be useful but generally making a nuisance of myself in the kitchen.

 

Tuesday 19th December 1944

Went to see 'No Time for Comedy', an excellent show at the theatre and enjoyed it very much and returned for a brew and bed.

 

Wednesday 20th December 1944

Rumours of a parcel issue, none very accurate until an announcement is made by our rep. I met Fred Squires of Walton and talk of days gone by and folk we all know.

 

Thursday 21st December 1944

Roll on! I start the day with an excellent breakfast of marmalade. I always enjoy it. Then to bed for an hour before joining the R.C. rep. To go to the clothing store and here draw a pair of trousers (Yank) and feel much better. An excellent meal of suet, some sweet with raisins and the rest savoury with corned beef, delicious fare but not very well timed we made up with M and B. I paid Jeff a visit, he was out at a soccer match but came round later to bring me his boot polish etc. I cleaned my boots for the first time since leaving England. Just before evening brew, K, J, and I go to collect bulk rations and after brew a raffle of each item was held, each man had something, (me, creamed rice - lovely) It was fun waiting for the stuff coming out of the hat. At night we have brawn (good) and biscuits, a steady do. In the early morning we were fairly happy to find we were quarantined owing to illness but later discover it is a mistake. Visions of roll call in bed recede hurriedly but it is well we are able to get about. Life in a hut can become monotonous after a while and if visitors are not allowed it is worse.

 

Friday 22nd December 1944

We are issued with more warm clothing. J has shirts. Parcels are given out and divided up between syndicates, lots of swaps go on to everyone satisfaction.

 

Saturday 23rd December 1944

A goodly supply of cakes are being made in different shapes and sizes all looking very appetising with Kim icing and other forms of decoration. We have an American Xmas parcel between five and sort it out as well as we can, each man having a fair share if its contents. I secure playing cards. There are sweets, dates, nuts, gum and candy bars apart from turkey and pudding. E and J make out our menu for the evening, it looks good on paper. A lot of raffles for odds and ends but no luck so far. Our decorations are now complete and look good for what they are - labels etc. I secure the job of painting Mickey's on the wall for our 'Brew Up' sign. Weather is very cold indeed but we busy ourselves to keep warm. News of a pay increase comes thru' also collars and ties are now permissible. I get busy making decorations from labels and odds and ends, which look very effective and puts a decorative show over our little nook. Stars and a bell put the finishing touches to the effort, Ken is highly delighted. We are also pleased that Jerry is opening his heart and giving us a breakfast of porridge. Also, in spite of fuel shortages of late, a reserve for the occasion is sufficient to see us safely over Xmas.

 

Sunday 24th December 1944

Eager expectancy, the magic of the festive season gets into every ones soul and much good natured bantering helps pass away a day of preparations, with puddings on the boil and finishing touches being put to the most amazing cakes, richly iced and decorated. Willy wins with an effort complete with Horsa in tow, very effective. Ours is baked during the day but we decide not to make too much show of the decoration. Kens effort does not come up to expectations. The curfew is extended until nine and lights out until 1am a brew is made at midnight. K J and I go to a service and are amazes to be addressed by the Camp Comdt. He spoke with obvious sincerity and wished us all a blessed Christmas saying also that if nations could see such a pageant as we had just been privileged to witness, conditions of life in the present world would be vastly different. There was a definite Christian ring about his words and not so much of the doctrine as I, at any rate, expected. We return from there to our huts and a good meal and a brew then back to the theatre for a carol service which was enjoyed by all, and the singing was from the heart. Every ones thoughts were of home and loved ones even before the Padre commenced his sermon, which aided our thoughts in that direction. We returned to our hut to find a lecture, of a kind, in progress, given by a true Cockney barman on his experiences in the licensed trade. He had humour and originality to make up for other discrepancies; those essentials, which make a success, were conspicuous by their absence but never the less, was able to hold the attention of his listeners who of course need very little amusing in these surroundings. Third-rate stuff is tolerated from politeness and admiration for the enterprise of the individual, concerned more with the results of their labours keep them in the silent mood. We find Eric by the stove watching his cake being mixed cake being mixed by competent hands, which he does not trust completely. The cake was a little scorched anyway but none the worse for that as will be proved. We shared K and Js place at the table where they have settled since the hut was reorganised, tried to play cards but there is too much going on around us to allow strictest concentration, so I cut out little decorations for Kens cake and write out our menus for the morrow. These are accurate to a point but must not be read too literally for in some cases Kim is called Devon cream etc. (for Ks benefit) or to suit individual tastes, whipped cream etc. Otherwise it is quite authentic. At midnight, when brew came up, we all wished each other Happy Xmas and Spandex came out of his lair to start the ball rolling. Eating biscuits and cheese we commenced the day and turned in.

 

Monday 25th December 1944 XMAS DAY

A day of days which commenced with tea in bed brought by our group Commanders amid much cat calling and rude noises and gestures. We arrive for roll call just before 8am and as soon as that was over we returned to our warm quarters where fires were going well in both stoves. We ate delicious porridge; toast and marmalade drank more tea. The lads ate a cooked breakfast of sausages, egg, fried biscuits and bread. Here an event of importance to myself alone which I must record. Having decided it is essential that I eat with a knife I went in search of a Rusky who would trade one for a tablet of soap. There being none of these species outside our hut I wandered along to others to see what better luck I would have. A man in R.A.F. topcoat, well wrapped up against the cold, (it was sunny but freezing) seemed to me to be familiar. It was Burdoff of J.S. fame. I was dumbfounded but we recognised each other instantly and there was much backslapping and hand shaking for a few moments. Then having recovered my composure I hauled him off to see Don.

 

RUSSELL BURDOFF

C/O GPO

Farnborough

Hants.

 

Monday 15th January 1945

This is the beginning of another week in captivity and I have been very slack since Xmas in failing to keep up to date with my entries. To give life an added boost and to dispel the feeling of cold desolation an issue of parcels, 1 to 7, not much but a marvellous help especially in the equal distribution of each article. We have a smoke on the strength of a successful division. Everyone was satisfied and no quibbling as is usual. There is a feeling of intense satisfaction all round and no longer does conversation lag. Brains have been stabilised and the air of uncertainty no longer rears its' ugly head for when brains are jeopardised by short supplies, everyone is blue. Tea is of great importance to the social side of camp life for how can one invite ones friends to visit unless there is something to offer him for his trouble. At least we are now assured of two drinks a day. The Red Cross came up trumps again. We take our caps off to its work and its workers. Life on Hun rations can be very tame and we are forced to recognise the existence of vitamins and calories and their importance to our own health and spirits. Who bothers to consider such things in England, when each day in a mess or canteen a serviceman can get his fill of them at any one meal during and some would not bother to queue for A/Crew rations. Tea in the Sally Ack became common place to us in our drome but now we learn to appreciate such things when they are no longer available. As usual, when spirits soar rumours, likewise, become more vicious and presupposing. Today see what 1/7 parcel will do. The war was reported to be over - almost. However no one observed a silence to commemorate such a startling and obvious fabrication and life continues unperturbed. E made a cake for today. I t turned out a little heavy which is only to be expected since no eggs were included in the recipe.

____________________________________________________________________

OUR LAST DAYS IN GERMANY SATURDAY APRIL 21ST 1945

Today it became increasingly obvious that something would be happening in our district very soon. During the past week we have been in the scene of aerial bombardment and strafing. An ammunition truck being blown up a mile from the camp affording much entertainment. Fires raged night and day N.E. and S.W. of us with palls of smoke almost blotting out the sun. A party of P.O.W.s with German guards were shot up by one of our fighters while out of the camp, the result was five dead, including the guard and five wounded. On Sunday the bread ration failed to arrive at all. Saturdays issue turned up at 8o'clock P.M. The ration was made up by an issue of 1500grams of potatoes, which more than made up for it. There was, by this time, a feeling of anti-climax about the camp all day and we learned that the sentries were under orders move at an hours notice. Jack and I went to evensong, as usual, and again found an air of farewell about the service. There was little sleep for any of us that night. The few minutes that I had I spent dreaming of Ken and Alf, in company with Prince Bernhardt of Holland, smoking cigars and sharing a half bottle of brandy.

 

The Red Army has relieved us 22nd April 1945. At roll call 4 Cossacks rode into camp before numbers could be taken and complete confusion reigned in the camp. Flags of all nations were hoisted and handshakes and congratulations all round. The Red Flag was the first to be unfurled and the Russians released their captive comrades, heading them on the road for home within two hours of their arrival in camp. Wire has been broken down and evidently much looting and pillaging carried on even before reveille.

 

Monday 23rd April 1945

At reveille we were rouse, as usual, for roll call and as we left the hut we found small groups looking in the direction south of camp where all eyes turned as we became aware of the reason. Suddenly the bugler gave a hilarious blast on the bugle and we rushed to the main road in time to see four mounted Russian cavalry pass by making for the Russian compound. There was also infantry outside the wire but no signs of Germans. Soon the Red Flag was flying from one of the barracks marking the cue for flags of all nations to be hauled from hiding and mounted at the main gate. Pandemonium broke loose as everyone shook hands with his neighbour and offered congratulations on our release. I tore along to see my pals and saw Geoff Tidey unperturbed in bed. This was his second release - he was in Italy. No water or electricity was on but the mobile fire pump was brought into use and supplied the cookhouse with water for our soup and coffee. Queues were formed up at the pumps in two of the compounds for water. The Russians, aware of the arrival of their troops at an early hour, had broken down the outer wire and were raiding the potato dumps, fetching in sacks and feeding themselves well for the first time in years, no doubt. They had also been further afield, looting houses of everything of value, accompanied by some of our own boys too. Within two hours all able bodied Russians were on their way back to Moscow and a few were left to look after the emaciated remainder. In one of their huts four bodies were found in a disgusting state, evidently dead for weeks. Some of their comrades had continued to draw their rations. The quarters were appallingly filthy. A German, offering himself to a Red soldier, was shot without mercy outside the lazarette, while another managed to get himself locked in the Strath out of danger. During all this excitement men were walking in with cattle and pigs, dead and alive, poultry and rabbits, eggs, flour, in fact every conceivable foodstuff. The carcasses were torn apart with bare hands, cooked in many manners of ways and eaten. It is strange to see men sitting at tables with cloths, excellent cutlery and china. The T.C.P. force could not deal with the men who went in and out ad. lib. fetching in anything they could pick up. After our midday meal of potatoes and margarine, Jack, Ted and I went out to see what could be had but, of course, we were too late to get foodstuffs. Meanwhile something was going on to stop the wholesale slaughter, with organised parties going out to collect in cattle which otherwise would have been slaughtered and mangled. We saw the remains of the train mentioned earlier and not much was left. Also entered a small cottage to look at the remains of a loot. It was a pitiful sight to say the least. Furniture was smashed and everything was thrown out of cupboards and drawers for all the world like a bomb incident. A small metal plaque of Adolf Hitler lay on the level crossing and all along the road were empty milk tins in hundreds. Refugees, young and old, presented a pathetic sight as with their few meagre possessions loaded on handcarts and cycles, they made their way somewhere else, not safety, for surely they were as safe in their own homes as they were on the roads. Rumours of atrocities by Red army men have gone around but I saw no sign of these. The savoury smells from the various meals cooking in the stoves have been most appetising, not to say tantalising, to those who allowed scruples to take them away from tempting robbery. Photographs were being taken of various proceedings, in fact amazing possessions were brought to light, such as would never have been allowed during the German occupation had they only known.

 

Tuesday 24th April 1944

As I write, another piglet goes for a burton in the neighbouring hut and its squeals bring forth shouts of laughter and derision from the lookers on. Orders from Major White who is now 1st i/c with Lt. Jessop 2nd i/c, have been made known and anyone leaving camp now is liable to be shot. This has not deterred the mob who continue to come and go with impunity and sacks of loot. A grinding mill has been going in our hut all day; corn has been ground and sieved to make meat pies, rhubarb tarts etc. A hare is being prepared under my nose! Todays menu, pint soup made from millet flour and macaroni with 400 grams potatoes - lunch. Evening meal, 400 grams potatoes with one tin meat between 20. The ration situation, temporarily grave, is now being brought under control, lorrinaire bringing in supplies of sugar, margarine, and a call has been put out for bakers so should be bread coming into camp soon. Meat, which has been taken the cookhouse will be hung and issued tomorrow (Wednesday). The Empire Theatre is putting on a Victory Show this evening and has been suitably decorated with flags and bunting for the occasion. A Thanksgiving Service was held at 9:30 in 'D' north compound this morning. An issue of washing soda has been made. Drank my first cup of tea from a china cup this year at teatime yesterday. This constituted my share of loot, about the only thing left intact in the house I looked over. Latest orders: no cooking in huts! There is more cooking going at this moment than at any time since Xmas. Timber from the Pioneer park is being used as fuel. Now that our release has been achieved we are all anxious to be away and long to get a glimpse of the Yanks, who cannot get here soon enough to please us.

 

END.

 

My thanks to Nigel Garnham for this account.

 

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