No.11101

 

'At the time I write of there were thirty British prisoners of war at a stone quarry which was about a mile from the little old-world village of Greiffenberg, twenty-five miles south-east of Görlitz. The quarry, which had been in existence about fifty years, was in a rise in the middle of a rolling farming area, and the general surroundings were very beautiful indeed during summer, but in the winter, when all the trees were stripped of their leaves and the whole countryside was covered in snow, it was a cheerless place.'

 

'The Lager was on the outskirts of Greiffenberg and was part of an inn known as Scholtisei. The living quarters consisted of a high-walled room with windows near the roof, affording us plenty of light and fresh air. In the old days this room had been used for dances, smoking concerts and the like, so we were certainly comfortable. Our beds were arranged on platforms about four feet above each other, running round two sides of the room, while in the middle of the room were four long trestle tables and benches used for messing. A large flat-type stove on one side was utilised for heating the room, the fuel consisting of a fair-sized barrel of coke issued to us and supplemented by coal, which we appropriated from the blacksmith's shop when necessary. Downstairs lay the kitchen and wash-rooms with a copper porcelain bath, enamel basins and a regular supply of hot water when we returned from work.'

 

'The food was fairly good and well cooked, particularly when our own cooks replaced the two German Fraus; it was quite obvious that the German women had been helping themselves from our rations, and truthfully we could hardly blame them. We received two meals and four hundred grammes of bread per day. Lunch, which consisted of soup of various thickness, was sent to our work, while in the evening we had either potatoes in their jackets or soup. On Wednesday and Sunday there was a fairly substantial meat meal, very often consisting of pork. Furthermore, we carried on a brisk bartering trade with the civvies for eggs and vegetables, and with our own regular Red Cross parcels nobody was ever hungry.'

 

'Working hours varied with the seasons. In mid-winter we worked from 7.15 a.m. to 4.30 p.m., while in summer we toiled from 6.30 a.m. to 5.15 p.m., with free week-ends from 1 p.m. Saturday to blue Monday morning. Approximately half the lager strength were involved in "stone-bashing" - a tiring monotonous job of breaking up stones with a sixteen pound hammer and loading into wagons of about a cubic metre capacity. Our quota was six wagons a day, but we seldom achieved this low figure in spite of periodical threats by the foreman. Speaking for myself, I found six wagons a day was quite enough (I only did it once), but others who had been at the work for some length of time and had become accustomed to the work contended that we were anything but overworked. The civilians, on the other hand, the majority over sixty years of age, filled ten to twelve wagons a day, but to them the work was easy and in the palmy days particularly agreeable. Outside our colony of "stone-bashers" our men were employed in the carpenters' and blacksmiths' shops, repairing wagons, and at the mechanical stone crusher, where the stone was broken down to various sizes ready for use on railway tracks or road building. The work at the crusher seemingly wasn't heavy but rather trying owing to the constant pall of dust, particularly in summer.'

 

'Our relations with the civvies were fairly amicable, and it was quite obvious that most of them were war weary and had lost all hope of victory for their cause. In every firm in Germany there was at least one Party man and he was supreme. At our quarry the Party man was only a humble stone-basher, but the head foreman was powerless without his consent, and permission to stop work owing to inclement weather could only be given by the Party man. The civilians were worse off than we were. Their earnings had no purchasing power, while their food was very poor, and we certainly took the gilt off the ginger-bread by preparing tasty meals before them from the contents of our parcels. Their day's work did not end at the quarry, for they still had to spend hours at haymaking, attending to their potato crops and doing other farm work. Like ourselves, they required a doctor's order before they could remain off work when ill. It amazed us how they performed all their tasks, particularly as the future was one of grave uncertainty with no hope of victory; for a supposedly cultured race it must have been galling.'

 

'Our leisure hours were spent on the village sports field, where either cricket or football matches were played. During summer we were able to go for walks on Sundays in the beautiful surroundings or swim in a nearby lake, very often ending up at an inn to drink beer and listen to the wireless. In the winter evenings we made use of a grand piano, a gramophone and sundry musical instruments or played billiards, ping-pong or card games. Altogether the lager was a very happy one, and I consider the time I spent there the happiest of my prisoner-of-war days.'