Private William George Gibbard
Unit : Mortar Platoon, Support Company, 2nd Parachute Battalion, 1st Airborne Division.
Served : North Africa, Italy, North-West Europe (captured).
Army No. : 5387525
Camps : Stalag IV?, XIIA
Bill Gibbard served with Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry and, in 1940, was posted to France to become a part of the British Expeditionary Force. In 1943 he transferred to the Airborne Forces and was posted to the 2nd Parachute Battalion. In September 1944, the Battalion landed in the Arnhem area and held the Arnhem road bridge for four days before being compelled to surrender through a lack of ammunition. To read Bill Gibbard's experiences during the Battle, go to http://www.pegasusarchive.org/arnhem/bill_gibbard.htm
'By the third day we had almost run out of ammunition and were losing contact with our command. At some stage we had lost touch with Sgt McCreath but did not know what happened to him. Our position had become impossible and the order came 'Every man for himself'. Our instructions had been to make our way back across the river, where boats were waiting to join up with other forces. By this time the Germans had over-run our positions. We split into pairs, myself with Ron Mousel. We got as far as the Eusebius church, where 9 of us sheltered for the night. German troops came into the church at around 2am and we were all taken prisoner.'
'Along with many other prisoners, I was put in a cattle truck and we set off on a three-day journey into Germany. We were continually bombed and machine-gunned by our own aircraft, who clearly had no idea we were on the train. We were taken to Stalag XII, where we were interrogated. Amongst the 2nd Parachute Regiment men with me there were Ron Mousel, Ted Duffle, 'Chinny' Chandler and 'Geordie' Hutton. Whilst there we celebrated Ron's 21st birthday by making him a cake - which was more like a fruitless bread pudding!'
'Each day we were marched from the camp to the town to board a train. We were taken to areas to repair railway tracks damaged by Allied bombing. It was a regular thing for the trains to be attacked by allied aircraft. The train would stop and the crew and guards would take shelter from the shelling, leaving the prisoners on board. Our pilots would have had no idea that we were on the train and we inevitably suffered casualties.'
'After about 9 weeks Ted Duffle and I ran away from a working party (which was not difficult!). We stayed in the area for some 48 hours but lack of food was a problem. We went to a house to ask for food but whilst the woman fed us her husband had gone off to raise the alarm. The first thing we knew was an army personnel carrier arriving at the house and we were taken back to Stalag XII. After 2 days of being confined to camp we were transferred to Stalag IV.'
'Stalag IV was a tougher regime and there were none of our mates there, the prisoners being predominantly Scots. Again we were on working parties, repairing railway lines in the Dresden area. Conditions in the camp were reasonable in as much as we were treated all right by the guards and had regular food, albeit poor quality. This was supplemented by one Red Cross parcel between two, usually only once a month. The worse thing was the accommodation, which was in huts. We had bunk beds with thin, straw mattresses. Lice were a major problem and the routine was that on a Sunday we would strip off and go through a decontamination chamber, where we were sprayed with jets of steam.'
'Ted Duffield and I made another escape from a working party, this time being free for 5 days. We remained in the same area, living off of raw vegetables that we stole from gardens. It was obvious that we were not going to get away and were becoming weak from hunger. In the end we gave ourselves up to a German patrol and were taken back to the camp.'
'After the Allied planes bombed Dresden we were taken to the town to help dig into the ruins to find survivors and bodies. This was a bad experience and I have been haunted by what I saw there. When we found a body we were withdrawn from the scene by the guards, as they had to protect us from angry civilians.'
'In May 1945 American Forces liberated the camp. Prior to their arrival we had been kept in the camp for no apparent reason but it later became clear that the guards had known that the Americans were approaching. We remained in the camp for a few days, before starting our journey back to England. I had lost three stone in weight but otherwise was quite well!'
'I remained friends with Ron Mousel and, in 1945, he acted as Godfather to my daughter, Margaret. Unfortunately I lost touch with Ron over the years and the only thing I know is that he came from Shoreham-on-Sea.'
'My wife had no idea that I was being held as a prisoner of war. She had received a letter, dated 6 October 1944, from the Officer in Charge of Records, regretting to inform her that a report had been received from the War Office to the effect that '5387525 Private Gibbard William George was posted as "missing" on 25 September 1944 in north west Europe'. She and her father tried to get further information from the Army and the Red Cross but without success. Eventually, at the end of November 1944, she received a postcard I had sent to her from the camp.'
'Whilst I was a prisoner of war my wife received a letter, addressed to me at my home address. This was from a young Dutch woman called Willi Hazendonk, from Arnhem. She had found my New Testament in a garden near Arnhem Bridge, where her father had his office. My wife corresponded with Willi during the time that I was a prisoner and we kept up this correspondence for some time after the war, until we eventually lost contact.'
'I was on Ginkel Heath for the 1998 commemoration when I met Peter Burton and his Dutch wife, Shannie. We spoke about Willi and through some friends of theirs, Adrian and Barte Otte from Eppe, an article was published in the Arnhem newspaper, together with a photograph of Willi, taken when she was 18. By the following day three people had contacted Adrian and Barty, saying they knew where Willi was living and this was followed by a call from Willi herself (her married name was Willi Blokland-Hazendonk). I was thrilled when Willi wrote to me and we were privileged to meet her and her husband when we went to Arnhem in 1999. Unfortunately, Willi died the following year. She had presented my New Testament to the Airborne Museum at Hartenstein, from where I retrieved it as a treasured heirloom.'
Thanks to Bill Gibbard and Nigel Lambert for this story.
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