Lieutenant John Kay England
Unit : Headquarters, 8th Parachute Battalion
Service No. : 255222
Awards : Member of the British Empire
Lieutenant England was the Intelligence Officer of the 8th Battalion and was captured on the 6th June 1944. The following is the account he gave to MI9 of his capture and escape.
Date of Birth: 15 Sept 22.
Length of Service: 3 years.
Peacetime Profession: Student.
Private Address: School House, Hemsby, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.
Type of aircraft, place, date, time of departure:
C-47, Cricklade, 5 June 1944, 2315 hrs.
Where and when did you come down?
On correct DZ near TOUFFREVILLE, 0050 hrs, 6 June 1944.
How did you dispose of your parachute, harness and mae west?
Left at DZ.
Were all secret papers and equipment destroyed?
Burned codes in ditch, Germans got unmarked maps only.
At 0050 hrs, 6 June we were dropped at our R.V. [Rendezvous] and took up all around protection in the Bois de BAVENT, North of TROARN. There were about 150 of us. About 0645 I was sent by my C.O. [Commanding Officer - Lieutenant-Colonel Pearson] to see if I could contact a large platoon said to be at TROARN. I cycled down the main road for about two miles, then got off and came into the town through back gardens. I saw no Allied personnel. The French reported Germans in the town. Passing a gap in a hedge I was surprised from behind by two Germans with Schmeissers and forced to surrender.
I was taken to German Headquarters in TROARN, where there were about 200 Germans. On the way I burned my codes. Here I met Capt. J. WALKER, Glider Pilot, and Sgt. PRICE of my battalion, both of them went to RENNES with me. After casual interrogation we were taken by truck to the CAEN area and put into a stable. Here we were interrogated at length. At the start they were friendly, when I did not talk they said "We have means of making you talk". I was searched, but they did not find my escape kit, sewn all through my clothes. I was then taken into a courtyard and put against a wall. I think they were planning to shoot me. There was a lot of argument, pointing of guns, running shout. I asked for a cigarette to delay matters. Suddenly two P-51s came over and shot the place up. The guards covered me from shelter.
We were then taken by truck to ST. PIERRE SUR DIVES, to a school. There I met Capt. NELSON, R.A.M.C. [Royal Army Medical Corps] and orderly MATTHEWS, who later both went to RENNES hospital to work. We were given little care, straw and sacks to lie on, coffee and black bread to eat. The Panzer troops who guarded us were good soldiers. All the Germans seemed quite calm about the invasion, with no panic or alarm. I also met here Major J.W.B. MARSHALL, Sgt. PARSONS and Pte. SCOTT of my battalion, and F/O. Bruce COWIE of NEW ZEALAND. All were somewhat wounded and sent to the RENNES hospital. Lance Corporal McDERMONT and S/Ldr. WRIGHT, both unhurt, were also there.
On 9 June about 150 of us were taken to RENNES in a big horse box, towed by a steam truck. We were in convoy with a staff car travelling up and down the column, and there guards on the truck. At RENNES some 30 went to the hospital, and 101 to the Stalag. There were already about 150 Senegalese there in a separate enclosure. For the first three days we were all crowded into one barracks, with few beds or blankets and poor food. We slept with one blanket for three, using two beds. On 12 June we got a cold shower and were moved to several huts with more freedom, beds and blankets. We had two poor meals a day, but the Senegalese, who received French Red Cross parcels, often tossed us over food to help out.
On 12 June 39 Canadians came in, largely Royal Winnipeg Rifles, and also Sgt./Major BLAIR, 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, R.S.M. LUXTON, R.A.M.E. Sgt. BOARDMAN and Lance Corporal GLISSON of the 22nd Indian Parachute Battalion, and Sgt. KNOWLES of the Airborne Tanks. Later F/O MILTON, Lt. D. GLASGOW and 100 other Canadians came in, and on 15 June a marching party of 150 arrived from CAEN. Orderlies for the hospital were called out a few at a time.
We all got beds and one or two blankets. On 16 June we were given forms to fill indicating that we were prisoners, well, and would write soon. No address was given. The Commandant of the camp was very courteous and even friendly, but to all my complaints he had just two answers: that this was just a transit camp and all would be taken care of later at the permanent camp, or that our bombing made better conditions impossible. We now had several officers, so we at once started an officers mess, much improving our food. We also cleaned out a cookhouse and had food cooked for the men, much better than the Germans had cooked it. We had a serious water shortage, some days it ran for only fifteen minutes. The Germans refused to let us draw water from outside and were extremely irritating about the matter. About this time Col. GOOD, U.S., arrived.
On 17 June we totalled about 350 British and Americans, with 16 officers. We tried to get Red Cross parcels, but were refused. There seemed to be no protecting power to deal with here. The Commandant gave me one package with elaborate ceremony, but no more followed. Later on we were given an open area, the "Sportsplatz" for exercise, and we spent an hour a day in football, vaulting, etc. I gave my men P.T. [Physical Training] each morning to keep them fit, and at their request gave Sunday services. A French Catholic priest came one Sunday, but was not allowed to return. We had a medical enclosure with a French doctor. He was very co-operative, but had very little equipment.
We tried various methods of escape, but were not very successful. A try was made over the wire with a ladder. It nearly succeeded but at the last moment the wire gave way with considerable noise and the plan was discovered. The guards were Austrian, 40-50 years old, very small and poor quality, but they were loyal and could not be bribed. Our main effort was a tunnel under the East fence of the enclosure. There was an old tunnel where the French once escaped, now filled in and reported mined. We therefore dug our tunnel at the other side of the hut, under the floor of hut 21. It was hard, slow work. We got a fair start, but it was soon judged that it could not be finished before shipment to another camp, so we gave up the project.
On 5 July we were taken to a R.R. station nearby and put into a box car. There were twenty-five officers in the car, the men were packed fifty to a car. The only air was from a small slit 3 by 24 inches and our food for three days some bread. There were flak cars in front, our two cars, a car of guards and then the rest of the train. There were also observation boxes on top of some cars from which you could see the length of the train. Whenever we stopped the guards were out on the line almost immediately. None of us were allowed out at any time for any reason. On this car I met F/Lt. MILTON, Lt.-Col. RICHARDSON and Commander KEANE-MILLER. Together we worked our a plan for escape. From here my story is the same as theirs.
The remainder of Lieutenant England's story is told in his joint citation, with Lieutenant-Colonel P. H. Richardson of the Queen's Royal Regiment, for the award of Member of the British Empire and Officer of the British Empire respectively:
Wounded and captured near Longrave on 6th June 1944, Lieutenant Colonel Richardson was sent to Rennes Hospital. During the journey owing to his insistence, a certain amount of medical assistance was eventually secured for the wounded. On 18th June he was transferred to the adjoining Prisoner of War Camp (Stalag 221) where he met Lieutenant England, who also had been captured on 'D' Day and taken to Rennes on 9th June 1944. Lieutenant England had spent the intervening period caring for the welfare of his men and making escape attempts - trying to get over the wire with a ladder, bribing the sentries, and digging a tunnel.
By asking for a fence to be erected between the Officers' and Other Ranks' quarters, they secured a pair of wire cutters, but before they could be used all the Prisoners of War were entrained on 5th July 1944 for transfer to a camp near Paris. With two other officer Lieutenant Colonel Richardson and Lieutenant England began to saw a hole in the side of the truck, but after a gruelling day in the sun at Redon the train was reversed. Turning their attention to another section of the truck, they discovered a loose board. Near St. Etienne they jumped on to the track, whilst the train was travelling at approximately 15 m.p.h. Walking north-east, they hid in woods near Teillay for a fortnight, being cared for by two Frenchmen. On 6th August they reported to advancing British troops.
These two officers, together with one naval and one R.A.F. officer, were constantly endeavouring to organise escapes and were the leaders of all such attempts.
Lieutenant Colonel Richardson is recommended for the award of the O.B.E. Lieutenant England is recommended for the award of the M.B.E.
Lieutenant England was killed in action during the Rhine Crossing on the 24th March 1945.
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