Private Arthur Alan Harvey
Unit : Bakery Section, Royal Army Service Corps
Served : Greece.
Army No. : S/178144
POW No. : 6306
Camps : Stalag XVIIIA.
The following is the diary which Alan Harvey kept of his experience of capture in Greece with a brief section detailing his departure on the Long March in 1945. Notes in italics have been made by his son, Richard Harvey.
A Soldier's Diary of his Capture in Greece in April 1941. August 1st 1941.
I am continuing my Diary nearly four months after I finished the first half. This is my first chance to continue it since I was taken prisoner. Before it was impossible to get ink or paper. I shall endeavour to write it as a day to day account. Possibly times will get hopelessly mixed up but that doesn't really matter Anne darling [Alan's wife and my Mum] as long as I can convey to you my hopes and fears of the past months and all the plans I shall no doubt be forming during the exciting months ahead for our life together after this whole miserable existence is over. What follows is no exaggeration but the simple truth as near as I can remember after such a long time
April 25th 1941. Evacuation of Greece.
All day long we have been standing by ready packed to leave Athens. My last diary I packed up and entrusted to the care of one of Minerva's friends [Minerva was the wife of Charlie a fellow soldier]. to send on after the war. The last four days have been terrible, almost continual Air raids, the docks nearby have had a terrible battering. We have been extremely fortunate not to have been hit at the Depot. For three days new troops have been passing by on their way south. It is obvious that Jerry is getting close and we are getting a little apprehensive. For several days now I have been Spotter on the roof of the tower. Every Air raid I have to take up position and give warning when the depot staff should take cover. I have had a grandstand view of all the Air raids on Piraeus. Yesterday I was treated to a wonderful close up dive bombing on the ships in the Bay. No hits but it was absolutely awe inspiring. AA shrapnel was falling onto the roof of the stand in bucketfuls. I felt very lonely but preferred it to being in the trench we have here. I think I must suffer from Claustrophobia(?). All the Depot is in chaos. The canteen goods have been split up amongst us. We have been allowed to pack all the cigs we can carry out of the stores. I have about 2,000 in my pack. The thought of leaving all the foodstuff for Jerry breaks my heart. There seems to be no effort to destroy it. The Greeks round about here are having a wonderful time carting away as much as they can carry. We are supposed to stop them but for sheer persistence the Greeks take a bit of beating. At 1.15. We had word that we would be leaving at dusk. The time has been feverishly spent on loading ourselves with tinned fruit and cream, luxuries that are lying around now but which heaven only knows when we will see again. I think we are all afraid that we are setting out on what might prove to be another Dunkirk. Charlie is the relief driver of our lorry a Ford v8 truck. There are six of us aboard. Dearest Anne I am praying that God will bring me safely through to you. Minerva has left two days ago . Why can't this war end Anne. Our evacuation seems to prolong it by at least another year. The present plan seems to be for us to march our way south to some secret rendezvous with the Navy. How I hate to be fleeing away. Six months of doing practically nothing except to accumulate food stores for the German Army to march in and take. The bitterness of this latest defeat is entering into my soul and I feel very downhearted just now. Perhaps the big Knobs know what is happening but I am dammed if I do. Good night Darling for the last time from Athens. It has been a pleasant six months considering we are supposed to be at war.
April 26th. 1941.
During the night we have had a nightmare ride over the mountains to Corinth, which we reached at daybreak. Soon after leaving Athens we became part of an unending stream of lorries and cars all making their way South. Out in the bay the sky was lit up by the flames from a ship that had been hit that day. The roads in Greece are terrible at the best of times so it will take a little imagination to conceive the appalling difficulties that the drivers had to overcome. Sharp bends, bomb craters, dead mules, over turned wagons and refugees all helped to make the journey unforgettable. Charlie did a splendid job of work driving during his spell of driving. We passed many lorries that had gone over the edge and had finished up burning wrecks on the beaches below. Poor devils , they too probably had wives and mothers and great plans for the future. We were held up for hours in one town whilst an air raid was in progress. No damage and we pressed on with all speed trying to get as far south as possible before daybreak and the moral certainty of being bombed and machine gunned if we hadn't found suitable cover. Just at dawn we crossed the canal into Corinth and I remember thinking at the time that the canal deep down in a ravine would surely hold Jerry back once the bridge was destroyed. False hopes as I was to find out all too soon. Once across the ravine we looked for cover and found it in a lemon grove. We hastily camouflaged the lorries. We had lost half the convoy in the night, my kit bag being on one of the missing lorries. Bang goes most of my souvenirs. A meal of Bully and Bread and we flung ourselves down to sleep the sleep of the exhausted. Two of our officers had managed to stay with us. About an hour later we were awakened by the sound of bombing very close. Stukas came down very low bombing and machine gunning. Charlie and I decided that being so near the lorries was no good at all so we set out to look for a "better ole" and found it under a culvert under a railway. It was a little tunnel with about twelve foot of earth on top. In it we felt safe from bombs and bullets and slept until three o'clock when hunger drove us back to the lorries. The rest of the party had spent the day dodging under lorries and into ditches. Another plane sent us hurrying back to our tunnel but not before we had grabbed two loaves. Luncheon sausage and two lbs. of margarine. Back in the tunnel we had a feed that was to be talked about long after. We slept again until seven o'clock when our little convoy began to prepare for the road again. The only aircraft we see now are German planes. There is ample evidence on the road that the RAF have travelled on before us. Overturned lorries and so on. At dusk we set off once more soon to be hopelessly jammed with other lorries coming out of hiding. Thank God the nights are moonless.
April 27th. 1941.
All night long we have been travelling slowly along in one long traffic jam. There seems little organisation about this retreat so far. Just before dawn we begin to climb a mountain pass. The road winds round and round the mountain with deep drops and horseshoe bends. Dawn came when we were halfway up the mountain. It was a wonderful sight but we were in no mood to appreciate it. There we were halfway up a mountain with no cover and daylight getting closer every minute. The broad was still jammed with traffic. We pushed on at all speed making for Kammareta (?). At the top of the mountain we were turned back and told to return down the mountain and find cover for the day. By this time it was broad daylight and we had already had one visit from Jerry so hoping for the best and fearing for the worst we turned the old wagon round and set off down the mountain. The journey down was only the beginning of a nightmare morning. It had been bad enough going up. The chaos going down with two streams of traffic to contend with can not be described. We left the lorry very hurriedly when two Stukas came down and machine gunned us. Fortunately they missed us and there next attack was further behind. So on we pressed eventually reaching the valley about nine o'clock. We decided to press on to Navplion without wasting any further time. We stopped for a brief rest at ten and had no sooner got a meal going and we were attacked again. We had lost nearly all the other lorries and were a small convoy of six. This time they used screaming bombs and I never want to hear another noise like that again. There were three attacks each one closer than the last. Charlie and I crouching in a ditch really thought the last one would get us but fortune shone on us and we got up rather shaken but otherwise none the worse. Off once more through a town that had just been bombed and so out once more into open countryside. The next time we took cover was rather funny. Charlie and I were together as usual and we dashed for a clump of trees. Imagine our consternation when we found that there were about fifty bee hives there. Fortunately the plane flew low over us but ignored us and it was with a sigh of relief that we left.
April 28th. 1941.
Out in the bay we caught sight of the "Ulster Prince" burning fiercely. We knew that she was one of the boats being used in the evacuation. By this time we were all very tired and browned off. Soon after we reached the spot decided on for us to wait for the boat that night We ate and slept for a little and spent the rest of the day making our kit as light as possible. It had been a bad twenty four hours and I know I felt I didn't care a damn what came as long as I could get some sleep. Dusk came and big and little units began to collect for the move down to the key side. We were all ready and anxious to get moving long before it was really dark but we had a Brigadier with us now who insisted on giving us a little lecture. It was all helpful but took him nearly an hour to say it. It was this lost hour that I firmly believe cost us our freedom. By the time we really got moving it was quite dark and thousands of troops had preceded us down to the quay. Then began the long anxious wait gradually moving through the streets of the town towards the quayside were the troops were embarking on lighters and being taken out to the ships further out in the bay. The whole process was slow and laborious but of course there were no lights allowed at all. The Ulster Prince was still burning fiercely, a grim reminder of what could happen to us. At last we reached the quay were told to dump our big valise in preparation for boarding the lighters so out went the majority of our cigs and spare food into the sea. All we were left with was our small side packs and the clothes we wore. Shortly after this embarkation stopped for the night as the ships had to be well at sea before dawn. So we began to troop back through the town out into the country for yet another day in hiding. We still clung fondly to the hope that the next night would bring us better luck. Our opinion of the Brigadier does not bare writing down. Our little party commandeered a lorry and we set off towards a place we new as T beach where we were supposed to meet the navy once more. We found cover in a lemon grove and simply flopped out exhausted under the lorries. Planes kept flying low over us all day long. Every time we tried to light a fire for a mashing of tea a plane would come over just on the tree tops and we had to hastily douse them again. There was little sleep for us that day. Our tempers and nerves were getting a bit rattled by this time and I think doubts about our ever leaving Greece alive or as free men began to filter through. The lack of organisation and the knowledge that we couldn't rely on the small boats as the boys at Dunkirk did made us begin to think a bit. At last the day began to draw to a close and we once more scrambled wearily into what was left of our equipment, gathered up our rifles and set off towards the beach.
April 29th. 1941.
The way to the beach reminded me very much of a lovely road in Wales with high hills on either side. I remember it was a wonderful sunset and even in my weariness I found time to remember many similar sunsets in Wales but the solitude of the Welsh hills was absent. The night was disturbed by the tramping of a thousand weary feet. No one talked much we just trudged on towards the beach. About a mile from the beach we were halted and organised into parties of thirty men. It was a relief to meet some show of organisation. We moved on a little way with hope once more high of at last getting away. That was the last move we made that night. Hour after hour we sat by the roadside listening and waiting for the ships that never came. As each hour passed our spirits sank lower. At three o'clock we knew that it was hopeless to wait longer. We were told that perhaps the next night would be different, how true those words turned out to be. Once more we turned back to find shelter for the day. It was bitterly cold and we were extremely grateful to find an empty farmhouse. We flung ourselves down in one of the rooms and were soon asleep. There were eight of us, all that was left of the Company that left Athens. About three hours later a Tank Corp fellow burst into the room and told us to clear out and make our way into the hills as Parachute troops had landed a mile or two down the road. We had heard this rumour so often before that we said "rot" and dropped off to sleep again. The only excuse that I can offer is that our exhausted condition had dulled our sense of danger. The rattle of machine gun fire woke us up the next time about an hour later. When we realised that it was German Infantry gun fire and not the German Air Force we realised that we were in for it at last. The room we were in had windows on three sides giving us a good field of fire. At the rear of the house was a cornfield growing close up to the rear window and stretching back to a lemon grove. This in turn gave cover as far as the hills. Our first thought was to make a break for it but on looking out the front window we saw a line of Parachutists advancing past the house all around with Tommy Guns, Bren Guns and so on. They were a perfect target and we had our rifles up ready waiting for the order to fire from the Sergeant Major. To our great disgust at the time it never came. He decided that we should keep quiet and perhaps we would be able to leave the house later and join the rest of the scattered units who were probably forming some sort of line up in the hills. I can realise how extremely foolhardy it would have been for us to have started a fight. There only six of us capable of firing a rifle. We had probably one hundred rounds between us. Against us we had an unknown number of trained troops with Trench Mortars, Light Field guns and Hand Grenades but at the time we felt rather ashamed that we were not to be allowed to make a fight of it. The Germans continued their advance and for the first time we heard the harsh guttural noises that pass for a language as they shouted orders to each other. Inside the room where eight men frozen into immobility not daring to even whisper to each other. I had withdrawn from the window and was standing crammed between a piano and the wall. I could not for the life of me see how we could escape detection but just kept hoping and praying that luck would be with us. Soon we heard them bang outside the window talking to each other. The suspense was terrific. I fully expected the window to be thrown open and a hand grenade to be thrown in once we were discovered. Luck was with us once more for instead of looking into our room they kicked open the shutters of the room on the other side of the passage. Seeing no one there they passed on and the rattle of machine gun fire that had preceded their advance receded into the distance. We breathed freely again. We waited another half an hour before we decided we might risk a break through the corn. No movement could be seen through the three windows. Grabbing our rifles only we made for the back window leaving the remains of our gear behind. The other six clambered out of the window whilst Charlie and I hung back a minute or two to stuff our greatcoat pockets with chocolate out of our side packs. We looked out and saw that the others had gained the cover of the corn. Charlie and I feeling quite brave now climbed out of the window dropped to the ground and began to worm our way towards the corn. We were about half way there when it seemed that all hell broke loose. Machine guns and Tommy guns broke out and bullets sprayed out over our flattened bodies. Charlie managed to find cover behind a tree that was about half as wide as he was. I being last out of the house was stranded in the open on top of a furrow not daring to move even an inch or two that would have given me slight cover. I turned my head sideways and saw a group of Jerry's with a machine gun not twenty yards away. The vision of that gun spewing forth its deadly load will remain with me always. I can remember shouting across to Charlie ""Charlie they are shooting at me" as if Charlie gave a dam. He was too busy trying to get his fourteen odd stone behind a slender tree. At that moment when all seemed lost the Sergeant Major very bravely and much to our relief stood up and surrendered. The firing ceased and the Jerry's approached with Tommy guns ready for action yelling in broken English "Hands up". So rather badly shaken I got up threw my rifle away raised my hands above my head and became a prisoner of war. For the first time we heard a saying that we have heard many times since "FOR YOU THE WAR IS ENDED". Our first two hours as prisoners were spent sitting on the roadside with a Tommy gun trained on us. We had been searched and all our knives, cameras etc. removed. Charlie lost his camera and a revolver that he had acquired in Athens. Easy come ,easy go. It is difficult after so long to recall my exact feelings. I know my feelings where a mixture of relief that the strain of the last week was over, of disgust at being a prisoner and not a little apprehension as to our future fate. The pursuit of our comrades into the hills was proceeding all the time and firing was almost continuous. They removed our water bottles for their wounded. A case of Bully Beef they brought out of the house quickly vanished as a succession of Parachutists came in to report. They would not let us go back into the house to get our side packs and I lost most of my photographs, all my souvenirs and a lovely Bible that I had acquired from a bloke from Jerusalem. We were just left with our greatcoats. I was very thankful that I had not removed it in the house as some of the lads had. We were taken into Argos by one of our own lorries. It was a disgrace to see the number of British lorries being used by the Jerry's. A lorry is not such a difficult thing to put out of action. At Argos we were herded on to the edge of the quay. Behind us the Ulster Prince was still burning. We seemed to be the first batch of prisoners brought in and our photographs were continually being taken by successive German soldiers. We saw a Staff car being prepared with a white flag and guessed that it was about to set off and demand the surrender of the rest of our troops whose position must have been hopeless by now. The Stukas were overhead almost continuously. The poor devils in the boats must have been machine gunned continually. Everywhere Swastika flags were hung from high buildings or where stretched out on the ground. All their transport was decorated in a similar manner as protection from their own aircraft. Towards nightfall we were herded into a building that had been the marketplace and told to make ourselves comfortable amongst the rotting cabbage. Towards midnight the rest of the troops out of the hills, about one thousand of them were brought in and crammed in with us. So ended the worst day of my life to date and things did not look at all promising for the morrow.
April 30th. 1941.
Early in the morning we were moved into the playground of some schools. We were very crowded and there was no shade from the hot sun. I managed to get a swill from one of the two taps. We must have looked a miserable lot with over a weeks growth on our chins. We had neither soap or towel or shaving gear. The day dragged on with no sign of food. Food was being bought off the Greeks through the railings at fabulous prices. A loaf of bread cost one man five hundred Drachms nearly a Pound. Night time came and we very hungrily laid ourselves down on the hard concrete to try and get what sleep we could. That night was one of the coldest and most miserable nights I have ever spent. Never was I so glad to see the dawn and the sun.
May 1st. 1941.
The morning passed in crowded misery. About midday we were given half a tin of our own Bully Beef and three biscuits. In our famished state it was a grand meal. The rest of the day past in playing cards with a pack made out of cig. packets. The day was terribly hot again and it was very difficult to manage on the meagre water rations we were given. Add to this the two taps for twelve hundred men for washing and practically no sanitary arrangements and you will have some idea of our misery. Night came without anymore food and we were herded into the centre of the compound for another night. Once we had settled down for the night we were not allowed to get up until the morning. So we lay all night huddled together for warmth.
May 2nd - 5th. 1941.
The next three days were a repetition of the previous day. The only food we received was what the Greek people passed through the fence and half a tin of Bully Beef from the Jerry's. From the time we were captured we had not eaten any food other than this. Lord knows how we would have fared if the Germans had not found some of the numerous food dumps that were scattered about the Country. The acute hunger pangs of the first few days had given way to a dull ache in the pit of the stomach. Charlie and I had been found by another pal of ours who had become separated during the flight from Athens. Vic Parker who comes from Chacetown. It was with considerable relief that we heard that a move was most likely on the morrow. Rumours were at once busy, we were going straight to Germany others said we were going to Italy. A group of men with nothing much to think about is the most prolific breeding ground for rumours. The big five inch square Greek biscuits were finding their way into our diet. They equalled the concrete we slept on at night for hardness and I began to miss my teeth for the first time since I had them out. About midday we were lined up and marched to the nearby Station, we were herded two hundred into a carriage about the size of an English Tramcar. There were guards on the roof. It seemed very elaborate precautions to take for the dejected specimens we were by this time. We jogged along for about three hours eventually arriving at Corinth which we had passed through during our flight south. The bridge had been blown up a few hours after we had passed over it. We were pushed out of the train and had a short march to our new home, some old Greek barracks perched high on the cliffs above Corinth. Imagine our surprise when we found that there were about eight thousand Italians captured by the Greeks still held prisoner by the Germans. It appeared later that they had been released once but had gone wild and began looting so Jerry had rounded them up again. The contempt that both sides felt for the Italians grows more apparent every day. At this new camp we were sorted out onto our different units. There were about ten thousand British soldiers already here amongst them. The rest of the Supply Depot had been caught at Kalamatra further south than us. Parachutists had surprised them just as they had caught us. We were told to dig holes in the sandy cliff to sleep in. There was still no sign of any food so once more we rolled ourselves up in our greatcoats and settled down to sleep.
May 6th. 1941.
We were divided up into one hundred today for the purpose of drawing rations. Each Company was issued with some rice and two hard biscuits for the day. No provision was made for cooking and empty tins suddenly became very valuable. Our first rice tasted strongly of petrol but in our famished state we managed to eat it. Having nearly frozen to death the night before Charlie and I were determined to sleep indoors so we wormed our way into one of the already overcrowded barrack rooms. The bunks were three story affairs so we perched ourselves on the roof of the top tier.
May 7th. 1941.
Things were getting a bit better organised now we appointed three regular cooks for our group. The days rations were salt fish and haricot beans plus two hard biscuits. The fished worked out at about a desert spoonful each, the beans half a cupful. We were not bothered at all. We simply lounged about waiting for the brief snacks that served as meals. Fortunately the days were really hot and it was fairly nice to be able to relax all day long in the hot sun. We had one razor and four blades between the four of us. It was a great day when we removed over a fortnights growth. I looked quite distinguished with a beard. I was surprised to find how hollow my cheeks had grown. Water was scarce and latrine conveniences practically non existent. The Italians charged exorbitant prices for odd scraps of bread.
May 10th. 1941.
Life has settled down to a routine programme now, get up and wash, sunbathe, play cards until twelve, a cupful of rice, sleep until four, bit of fish and two biscuits, walk round the camp and so to bed or rather a perch on top of the cupboard. Yesterday a market was opened and we were allowed to buy lemons, spring onions and broad beans. We had about two thousand Drachs between us. Our first feed of broad beans was so gigantic that we all felt rather seedy. The days seem intolerably long. If only we had some work to do. Some fatigue parties have been out.
May 15th. 1941.
Five more days have passed all exactly alike. I have gradually got used to the inconvenience of having my walks suddenly brought to a stop by a barbed wire fence and a Jerry guard with a rifle and a bayonet that always seems to be aching to go through my guts. Dysentery has broken out. Too many beans I expect. I have had a slight attack which has left me seriously indifferent to my position. The full catastrophe of the Greek fiasco plainly evident now. Where was the RAF is the question that is asked by everyone. If only there had been a few fighters to keep the Stukas away, to have halted them a little in their relentless battering of us as we tried to get away. It seems Jerry had paid heavily for his latest victory, but the bitterness of defeat is very hard to swallow. Today we managed to get onto a working party. We were clearing out an evacuated hospital and making it into Officers quarters. We collected many cigs. from the local people and we swiped a couple of blankets each. I picked up a discarded long shirt. It was covered in blood but it was in good condition compared with my own. The poor devil who had owned it had probably died. We pinched bits of the soap that we were supposed to scrub the floors with. We found odd enamel pots and pans to replace the old tins we had been using since we were captured, but the blankets were our greatest conquest. Charlie found a frying pan that proved its weight in gold later. We have had five days of fatigue work now. We finished the hospital and were set unloading foodstuffs. Well I mean to say we accumulated quite a stock of currants, hard biscuits and the greatest of all luxuries sugar. With those ingredients and the lemons we bought in the market we began to boil enormous bread puddings. Sometimes we got olive oil and fried the mixture for a change. As a further alternative we pooled the fish ration and tried our hand at fish cakes. They all tasted wonderful in our partial starved state. Once I managed to buy four eggs and no eggs ever tasted like those before or since.
May 20th. 1941.
There has been no work for five days. The old monotony has returned and the sale of beans has been stopped owing to the alarming increase in the Dysentery. Our only purchases now are limited to spring onions and goats cheese. All our cigarettes are gone, I gave up smoking a week ago. I don't miss tobacco as bad as the other three. Money is getting low now and prices have been very high. With nothing else to think about rumours keep springing up. I spend long periods of each day gazing out over the sea thinking of my wife and the pitiful waste of precious time. Some days I have melancholy very bad. We have been here fifteen days, it seems like fifteen weeks. All the British officers including Brigadier Collins are here and living in a shade better conditions. They take their turn with us in the market. There are Indians, Palestine Arabs, Jews, Australians, Kiwis and Tommie's here. We are indeed a mixed lot. One has little pride left and I hang around the cookhouse along with the others for a couple of hours each evening in the hope that some extra rice might be given out. One bright spot has been three bathing parades. It was great to strip off and feel really free for once. The days are increasingly hot now.
May 20th - 28th. 1941.
Another week has passed. Chief event has been our move into another building. We are in the cellar which although cooler is not overcrowded. The flies are a great torment and nearly as bad as they were in the desert. God knows what they live on, certainly not scrap food. We are in the old building that the Italians who have left evacuated two days ago. They went home in a big Red Cross hospital ship. They left us a legacy of bugs and lice of all descriptions. One can spend many a happy hour in the sun delousing ones shirt cracking away to the hearts content. The older guards we had at first have been replaced by a younger mob who to put politely must have all been present at their Mothers wedding. They fire shots on the slightest provocation. One joker shot a little kitten just to show us what a good shot he was, range twenty yards. An officer was shot last night as he stooped over the latrine trench. I am storing up as much sunshine in my body in preparation for the hard winter that must lie ahead. Weird and wonderful are the dishes we prepare. The market closed for three days, the reason alleged atrocities by British troops against Parachutists on Crete. Next door to the camp is a large German Airfield. All day long huge Troop carrying planes leave for Crete. We are powerless to do anything. One wonders whether Crete will suffer the same fate as Greece. Everyday is alike. We get up , have a wash in a old steel helmet, lounge about until dinnertime, sleep until teatime and probably attend one of the impromptu concerts that have started lately. Rumours of our moving to Germany grow stronger every day. One could not be a great deal worse off than we are now. The lack of food is very weakening. There's no surplus energy for anything. I am so glad I learnt the secret of appreciating nature. The beauty of the surrounding countryside does a lot to quell the tremendous urge to do something rash. I think of all the wonderful things I have seen with you Anne and of all of the beauties we have yet to discover together and prudence prevails. We have sent off two Red Cross cards. I hope they reach you as I know how deep your anxiety must be.
May 28th. 1941.
Nothing startling to report. A few prisoners from Crete have joined us. It appears that Jerry has added Crete to his long list of victories but at a pretty dreadful cost. We wonder how it will all end. Food is still scarce. We have not eaten a scrap of German food since we ere captured. It has all been our own stuff or commandeered Greek food. Have had meat once in six weeks. The money has all gone and we eek out a precarious living buying things in the market and selling for a drachma profit to the people who are too lazy to wait the required three or four hours in the queue. Lots of men have sold their rings to Jerry for bread. I would sooner starve than part with mine. The day of our departure to Germany has been fixed for June 11th. We are all heartily sick in every meaning of the word of our life at Corinth. My ribs are beginning to stick out. Any undue exertion means spells of sickening giddiness. All the usual small talk of men gathered together has given place to the one topic food. One talks of the first feed in Blighty, the apparently mythical Red Cross parcels we have heard so much about. Crete has definitely fallen, the "Hood" has been sunk. The war seems to be going very badly for us. We have not yet got used to hearing just the Jerry side of the news. We start at four in the morning as we are sleeping outdoors at night fully dressed. Charlie and I have two blankets amongst the kit we have acquired.
June 11th. 1941.
"The Great Trek" Promptly we set off from Corinth one thousand strong. The first stage of our journey is an eight mile march to the Corinth Bridge. Impossible to go by rail owing to the damage done by our own R.E.s. Eight miles in our present condition seems almost impossible but fortunately we are starting in the cool of the morning. There is no attempt at orderly marching. We just trudge along the best we can in one long column. Many is the time I have watched similar columns of Italians march past the Depot at Athens. I am glad now that I always felt a little sorry for them. I certainly feel sorry for myself now. We have our first break of five minutes after one and a half hours walking. We have probably covered halfway. The first two miles were a great effort but now we just keep on mechanically. Hardly any talking just a long column of utterly dispirited men. After our first break the pace is increased and we finally arrive, God knows how at the canal. The Germans have rigged a pontoon bridge to replace the one blown up by us as we retreated. We have a very welcome two hours rest whilst they pulled this bridge aside to let a couple of ships through. It was great to fling oneself down and sleep. We are very hungry. An eight mile hike in the early hours of the morning on an already empty stomach gives one a hell of an appetite. Eventually we cross the bridge and a mile further on we climb on to the train that is to take us to Athens. We are forty to a truck and the doors are open. There is little delay and we are soon on our way. At different places were the train slows down cigarettes and scraps of food are thrown in by the Greek people. Many of the women are in tears. It is all pretty awful. I can't bring myself to take part in the wild scramble that goes on over every particle of food and each cigarette. Sometimes I wonder how much lower a man can sink. Hunger is terrible thing Anne. We reach Athens about two o'clock and we are herded into a compound near the station. Athens, a place of so many happy memories. Now The Acropolis with the Swastikas above it seems to mock us and reminds us of the futile six months we had spent under its shadow. Here we are issued with four days rations, eight hard biscuits, a cupful of liquid cheese and about a quarter pound of raw fish. Without any top teeth I found it impossible to eat the biscuits without soaking them in water. We made an effort to cook the fish but no sooner had we scrounged enough wood than we were crammed back into the train again. This time fifty in an ordinary sized cattle truck and the doors shut tight. No room to lie down, just sit and sweat. Strip off of all clothes and just sweaty dirty bodies rubbing and stinking together. I use a little of my precious water to soak a biscuit, my first food in twenty four hours. Into the mush I mix a little of the raw fish. And so we say goodbye once more to Athens. All that night we lay in that truck with no water after our small stock had been used. Although we were dead tired after our morning march it was impossible to sleep because of the terrible atmosphere. The only ventilation was supplied by a window twelve inches by eighteen. Many of the chaps were ill with dysentery. Jerry took no notice of these cases. God it was loathsome and ghastly. About eight o'clock we were allowed to have a breather for about ten minutes. The train among the hills. The morning air had a sharp tang with it. A few lung fulls and we were once more herded back into the carriage. I had been twelve hours without water. It was twelve o'clock before we managed to get some of the bottles filled with water at a small station we stopped at. We passed the bottles through the window. All that day the doors remained closed. The day dragged on and as night fell we began to drop off to sleep through sheer exhaustion. At two o'clock in the morning we arrived at Lamia and were turned out with all our kit. After so long cramped up it was difficult to stand let alone walk and then began what is the worse twelve hours I have ever had or can ever expect to have. No sooner where we all out of the train and mustered into three columns of about three hundred men each we began what turned out to be a twenty eight mile forced march over the Lamia pass to Gravia. A march made necessary by the blasted efficiency of our Engineers during the retreat. Key bridges and tunnels had been destroyed on the railway through the mountains. We had Austrian Alpine troops for our guards during this spell of the trip. We started at a pace that was a little short of running. The Sergeant Major of the Bakery Section was a little old man about fifty nine years old. After about a mile he cracked up and one of the lads carried him some of the way. But we were going up hill and he finally had to heave him into a passing lorry. He was lucky he finished the journey in comparative comfort. For two hours we marched at this breakneck pace uphill all the way. We must have covered eight miles when we were eventually allowed to rest. Eight hours in two hours would be good going for a normal route march. In our present condition of semi starvation, lack of sleep, lack of water and utter despondency of spirit I can not help but think it was a wonderful effort. We had lost a few chaps by the wayside and the Greek people along the route had a wonderful haul of blankets that the chaps were chucking away wholesale. Charlie and I decided to keep as much as we could. We weren't so bad as a lot of the others and we were fortunate to have a good pair of boots each. I was wearing two shirts a pullover, jacket and greatcoat carrying two blankets and a spare pair of trousers. We had ten minutes rest and we were off again at a more gentle pace. The road still wound upwards and round the mountains. It was beautiful scenery but we could only just keep shuffling along. The sun was beginning to come up and the thought of walking in the gruelling heat was enough to weaken the stoutest heart. We had a brief rest about every hour but each time it seemed harder to get up and start again. At about eight o'clock we reached the top of the pass and we looked down onto a large flat plain with Gravia miles away in the distance. I had long since forgotten to feel hungry just shuffling along the uneven road. Some of the guards were looking a bit the worse for wear. You can imagine how sorry we were for them. Going down hill was a little easier until the cove in charge of our lot decided to take a short cut down the mountain. It was awful. Coming down Snowdon was a picnic in comparison. It would have been easy to escape. I can not explain why we did not. The sun was stronger now and the heat just another burden. Charlie and I did not do much talking just kept blindly on. At about ten o'clock we reached the plain at last. We had no water since three o'clock. Many of the men succumbed to the temptation of a muddy brook much to their sorrow later on. We had about nine more miles to do. A dead level road, hard and flinty but God how dusty. A mile along this road we came across a clear stream. People who make the rules about not drinking on a route march should try marching over the Lamia Pass. I simply wallowed in it. There was no organisation now and POW'S and guards just got belong as best as possible. That road even now I can feel the dust in my throat, the dull ache in my stomach and the unbearable weariness of my whole being. I'm afraid we looked terrible objects, unshaven, sweat grained and ragged. At last we reached the end of the road and heard that the station we were making for was three miles away across ploughed fields and other farm lands. As if to try us out to the utmost limits of our endurance a strong wind sprang up whipped clouds of blinding dust into our aching eyes. Stops were frequent now and each time it was hard to get up and start again. Peasants who tried to hand us food were driven back with bayonets. Fortunately we were allowed to drink as much as we liked. Charlie and I kept each other going with optimistic remarks about the station being just around the next corner. But those kilometres are like the welsh miles, so very elastic. The wind was very strong now and the dust reminded me of the Kamseen in Egypt. But all things must end and round about three o'clock we crawled into the station yard, weary, foot sore and so desperately hungry. We had marched twenty eight miles in twelve hours over a high mountain pass over intolerable roads. That march sticks out in my memory as the worst physical ordeal I have ever experienced. We rested about ten minutes and then had an outstanding piece of luck. A kindly railway official turned on the huge water fountain they use for filling trains. Within two seconds I had all my clothes off and was standing under that torrent of water. God it was cold but truly wonderful. I emerged a new man, still tired, still hungry but comparatively clean and cool. My eyes did not burn so much and I could see clearly again. For about an hour we sat and watched the other poor devils trooping in. Some had tried to make the journey without boots, poor devils. They didn't even have the pleasure of the shower because once more we were lined up and counted into fifties and herded back into cattle trucks. We were promised food in the morning. And so there we were once more crammed on top of each other sweating like hell but I think we were all too far gone to worry. I know I soon dozed off. It was early next morning when we were turned out once more. We were issued with three days rations, cheese, fish and biscuits. Raw fish by the way. The cheese was a particularly rank type of goats cheese peculiar to Greece. When we got it it was practically liquid. Followed another march about a mile across a pontoon bridge and so once more into the crowded hell of a filthy cattle truck. Another day and night just replicas of the others, little water, terrible conditions. The men with dysentery where in a terrible state. Finally we arrived at Salonika. By now the reaction of our long march had set in and we were stiff as hell. From the station to the camp was three miles through the town. God only knows what inner fire kept us going enough to hobble wearily into our new home.
June 14th - 18th. 1941.
The first night we spent here was great. To be able to lie full length and sleep was wonderful after the hell of the past week. We were too exhausted too worry about the filthy conditions. Any hopes we might have had of better was soon quashed by the sight of our rations the next day. A bowl of thin soup at midday, a hard biscuit and one tenth of a loaf at teatime. Worse than the food we had had in Corinth. All the time we were at Salonika this was our only ration. The buildings we slept in was old and full of the biggest bugs I have ever seen. We were out on long check parades being counted over and over again. Prisoners from Crete were arriving everyday. Coming directly by sea to Salonika. We made a few marks selling surplus blankets, clothes etc. to the officers in the next building to us. A loaf of bread when it could be bought cost twelve Marks a loaf or nearly a Pound in real money. The weather was still very hot. We were getting thin as rakes, every movement was an effort. One day we rigged up a bird trap and caught three sparrows. We stewed them in a tin full of water, it was an experience anyway. There was plenty of water but soap had long since become a thing of the past. We had one days work unloading some Italian ships in the docks. We got a lot of food that day and made ourselves ill. I t was grand to feel full again although it was very painful. After that we settled down once more to the usual routine.
June 18th - 25th. 1941.
Strong rumours of Russia being in the war. Can't say I fancy the Russians as Allies. Any day now we are liable to be moved on our next step of the journey. Food was getting scarcer but one no longer felt hungry. Every movement was slow and deliberate. At last we were told we were moving tomorrow.
June 26th. 1941.
By midday we were all ready on the square with our scanty belongings and four days rations. A bit better than before. For the four days we had one loaf, one fifth of a tin of Bully, one fifth of a tin of swine fat and six biscuits. We left the camp and had the long walk to the station through the centre of Salonika. One incident sticks out in my mind . A little lad about ten tried to give one of the prisoners a few figs. A guard caught hold of him and pushed him into the middle of us frightening the kid into thinking that he would have to come to Germany with us. The kid was in a terrible state, poor little bastard. When we finally arrived at the station the guard gave him a hefty kick and sent him back. The Jerry thought it a great joke. At last we were packed in the trucks, the usual fifty to a truck. There is no need for me to describe the next four days, they were similar to those other days in every way. Cramped positions, shortage of water, infrequent stops and barely any light or air. There was a cloud burst at one station and we managed to fill all the bottles in the truck, very welcome. Towards the end of the journey we began to travel through some wonderful scenery, high mountains and pine forests. We found out afterwards we were in The Southern Tyrol. Finally we arrived at a Camp beautifully situated in a valley near Wolfberg [Stalag 18a, Karten?]. It was very isolated but I felt I could be quite happy here. We had a good feed a fifth of a new loaf and a bowl of thick soup. We had a wash and a shave. Some of the rest of the Bakery section were already installed there and things began to look a bit brighter. But it was too good to be true. In the afternoon they found there were too many in the camp, so we being the last arrivals were turned out. Back into the train again only thirty to a truck this time. It was like heaven. Another night in the train and we arrived at Marburg a little town that a couple of months ago had been in Yugoslavia. Now it had become part of Austria. We were turned out into a big warehouse, locked in and left for the night.
July 3rd. 1941.
We began a period of sheer boredom . We rose at half past four when the doors were unlocked. At six we had a drink of coffee. From then until eleven we played cards or slept. At eleven we lined up on the siding that ran in front of the warehouse. After being counted and checked a dozen times, these Jerries can't count for nuts we were dished out a cupful of watery soup. After lunch we were allowed into the warehouse usually to sleep until five, when we lined up again, counted and dished out with a cup of mint tea and roughly half a pound of bread and a teaspoon of jam. We then hung around till eight o'clock when we were locked in again for the night after being counted again. We had ten days of this monotonous existence. Every day was alike. We were herded in this confined space with Palestine Jews, Arabs, Cypriots, Australians and New Zealanders. The scramble at meal times was nauseating. I felt if only I could getaway from this rabble I could live like a civilised human being. The Jews we have here open business's at the slightest provocation. Many of them speak German so they negotiate the sale of fountain pens, wallets and so on for bread and cigarettes with the German guards. Needless to say they take an excessive middleman's profit. I feel rotten during these days I have dysentery and feel terribly low and fed up. I crave for an hour or two of complete solitude. The days drag on. Fortunately the weather is fine. When everyone is out of the main building one just sits down dejectedly on the railway lines waiting for the next grub line up. Space is so limited that one can get no exercise at all.
July 10th. 1941.
Today we were officially registered, classified and numbered. I became Prisoner No.6306. Charlie is 6307, Daher 6305. We all put ourselves down as cook/bakers hoping for some job in the food line. We had our fingerprints taken and were photographed with our numbers hung round our neck for all the world like a gang of Sing Sing cowards. Next day we went down to the main Stalag, an old Serbian barracks in the town and were deloused. This was a relief. Lots more English prisoners here waiting to go out on farms, road making or other similar work. I don't care a damn what I do if only I can find some interest in life. Still feel pretty sick but keep struggling on, I have seen too many men give way.
July 15th. 1941.
They called for 200 volunteers today. It took Charlie and I about thirty seconds to crab our scanty belongings and get in the line up. We were lined up and moved to the main barracks and bundled into one of the rooms to bed down and were immediately split up into small parties. We were one of a party of thirty. We were given over to an Austrian guard who marched us about two miles to a barracks set doing odd jobs. Chopping wood, sweeping up etc. It was great to be comparatively lonely and at least we had left the rest behind. The soldiers gave us plenty of bread and cigarettes. We were quite a novelty. I slept happy that night, quite exhausted after our four mile walk Soon after this we moved to Reinberg an Austrian mountain village and worked on a farm until Easter 1945.
Alan's Diary ends here but the nearly four years that he spent working on a farm in Austria were captured in a series of letters he sent to Anne his wife and some photographs taken during the time. Unfortunately my dear Mum (bless her) got rid of the letters when we moved house in the seventy's. The photo's do capture some of the experiences he and his fellow POW's had at the time and the following account of Alan's release was written by him when he finally returned home.
All the weeks of wondering and waiting finally came to an end on Easter Sunday Morning. On the Saturday we had carried on much the same as we had done for the last three and a half years. We had cleaned the camp, chopped wood that was destined never to be burnt by us. Plucked the usual quota of chickens and so on. We played cards as was our custom on Saturdays until nearly midnight and I remember that I had been as unlucky as always. About two o'clock on the Sunday morning we were awakened by a frantic knocking on the outside door. We listened intently to the conversation that took place between our guard and the nocturnal visitor. Any hopes that we might have held that the commotion was caused by British Parachutists was quickly stilled by the Guard entering the room followed by an interofficer (Corporal). In a very excited voice he shouted "Get up, get up we must move out of this village by nine o'clock". The Russians are very near. It will be easy to imagine the excitement this bit of news caused. A nine o'clock start meant that most of us would have to go to our Farms before daybreak if we were to collect our belongings and most importantly some food for the journey. There was some discussion about hiding in the woods till the Russians came but I and most of the others were against this. We had managed to hang on to our miserable skins for four years and it seemed very foolhardy to deliberately place ourselves in a very warm "No Mans Land". During the following three weeks we often wondered if we had reasoned things out in their most logical order. When we eventually got to know what happened in Reinberg after we left we were proven right on all counts. But I am getting too far ahead with my story, From what we could get out of the Guard and little bits of news that we had gathered from other camps in the district we anticipated being moved in the direction of The Austrian Alps. As this meant that every day would bring us closer to our own boys we set about packing our few belongings with a glad heart. During the last few days we had heard many stories about Hitler making his last stand in these mountains but we were not greatly alarmed by these stories. Everything had moved with such rapidity in the last fortnight we doubted if even Hitler knew if he was coming or going. Official instructions were to collect two days rations from the Farms. After two days we would be fed from supply points along the route. Knowing the German mind pretty well by now we one and all decided to take as much food as it was possible to carry. This decision meant leaving much of our spare clothing and most of our carefully hoarded souvenirs behind. We who had starved in the early days knew that the piece of shrapnel that just missed you was poor consolation when the pangs of hunger tore the stomach into agonising knots. Clothing was different in a way as a pair of boots or a shirt could always be converted into a loaf of bread or a couple of pounds of potatoes. Long before light Jock and Pat and the others on the distant farms left to collect their belongings. Over the quiet stillness of the sleeping valley dawn was breaking as I made my way to my farm. The old leaning double doors into the farmyard seemed very hard to open as if they resented such an early intrusion. Through the archway where I had so often yoked up the oxen during the past years. Up the stairs into the kitchen. The Schnieder had just got up and was lighting the fire. As always the kitchen was full of smoke. My farm being one of the older farms cooking was done on the open hearth system, the smoke escaping through a whole in the roof. "Gute morgan Herr Schneidermiester".At my greeting the old man looked up startled at seeing me so early. "Was machen sieserhfruh". I tried to allay his fears a little by explaining that most of the tales we had heard about Russian atrocities were no doubt German propaganda. Into the big living room I went next to explain it all over again in my halting German to Othillie and Resl who were still tucked up in the bed under the window. It was hard too think that these two who had been most kind to me would probably have to pay the most dearly in the coming occupation of Reinberg by the Russians. Othillie was nineteen and Resl just sixteen that very day. They asked me if they should leave and join the endless stream of refugees heading west. I told them the war would be over in a month at the most and that if they ran away now there would be nothing for them when and if they were ever able to return to the village. I explained that up here in the mountains the war would probably pass them by. Perhaps I said the Russians will come take away food and grain and pass on. You will always have the house and land to start afresh. They decided to stay and do what they should have done weeks ago, namely hide some of their grain and other food deep in the woods in cases or sacks. Queer folk for in spite of all these urgent happenings both the Tailor and Resl decided that they must go to the church for the annual blessing of the crops. This was when little crosses of Palm were placed in the corner of each field. It was the most important day of their year. We prisoners were pretty mad too at missing Easter Sunday dinner as it was the best dinner of the year. It always began with the cold roast pork and hard boiled eggs and grated horseradish with white bread. All this was the blessed food, that is the food that had been blessed by the Priest at church that morning. After this came the dinner, noodle soup, hot roast pork, sauerkraut and potatoes. For sweet we always had beautiful sponge cake and tea with lashings of schnapps. All this glorious food was followed by the blessing of the crops which meant the entire household going out into the fields and praying. How different it would be today , no feasting, no merrymaking, nothing but apprehension and anxiety. I drank a cup of coffee, promised to come over later for my breakfast and rations and went back to the Jager. Here everything was in turmoil. The junk and debris collected in the time we had been here was being ruthlessly jettisoned to make room for the food we hoped to get from our farms. Charlie who in the five years that I had known him had never been able to throw anything away "in case it might be useful" was having a terrible struggle with his inborn caution and commonsense. I followed the theory that I had used on previous forced marches under German supervision namely that it is easier to carry any spare clothing by wearing it rather than carrying it. I optimistically hoped to be released within a month and saw no reason for taking more than one battledress and change of underclothes. The rest of my clothes I made into a bundle for my old farmer. Shorty and Dixie decided that they might as well cook the chicken they had got for dinner even if it meant eating it as they marched. In the excitement this poor chicken was completely forgotten and as far as I know is still in the oven. About seven o'clock I went back to the farm to have my breakfast, collect my rations and give the old boy my unwanted belongings. They made me a wonderful breakfast of cold pork, horseradish and hard boiled eggs. Then began the most important task of getting my rations together. First we went up into the Grain loft to pick out a suitable piece of meat. I chose a square piece of bacon about three pounds in weight and another piece from the back about seven pounds. It was only the difficulty of carrying more that made me stop at these modest amounts. The Tailor was quite willing that I should take more. A ten pound loaf, two dozen hard boiled eggs, sugar, lard and the cake made especially for Easter completed my stock of food for the journey. Time was getting on and there seemed nothing more I could do at the farm. Tears were beginning to flow from Dilli's and Resl's eyes and even the old man was blowing his nose a little too often. My own feelings were very mixed. I was jubilant that the war was nearly over, most anxious what the next few weeks might have in store for me and a real feeling of sorrow at leaving my good friends the Prenners to their uncertain fate.
Alan does not recount in any further diaries how he returned home. I do know that after leaving Reinberg he travelled through Austria via Katschberg, Villach and Venice and then into Italy to Foggia and Bari. He was then flown back to England and arrived on June2nd.1945. I am not clear at which point he was reunited with The British Army. He had been away from England and my Mum since June 29th. 1940. This was the day after he had boarded The Queen Mary on The Clyde and set sail to Freetown and then on to Cairo. Alexandria and Athens. He was discharged from the army towards the end of 1945 and resumed his career as a Baker with his father in Coventry. He owned "Harvey's Gold Medal Bakery" until 1967 and then continued with wholesale bread delivery until finally retiring in about 1985. He was married to Anne, the love of his life for Fifty seven years until she passed away in 1997. After the war his friendship with fellow soldier and baker Charlie Jenkins continued. Minerva, the girl Charlie had married just before being captured in Greece was reunited with him. They lived in Atherstone and were frequent visitors to our home until their deaths. Alan was a much loved father and grandfather and finally passed away in July 2008 at the grand old age of ninety two. He never spoke too much of his army life and his time as a POW but I am pleased to have taken the time with my one fingered typing to have copied this Diary and recollection of his capture and release during World War Two. He kept an almost day to day diary of his army life prior to his capture and I shall endeavour to copy this as well before too long.
Richard Harvey February 2014
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