Thanks to John Howes for this report.
Secret Camp Histories Stalag IXC Muhlhausen
Description of Position and Conditions
Stalag IXC was opened in February 1941 [Note: This should read 1940]. It was formerly used as a Nazi Youth Hostel and all the windows were barred or made secure with heavy gauge wire netting similar to pig netting.
The Headquarters was at Bad Sulza and held mostly French and Serbian P/W's with three branch camps. The main one on the outskirts of Muhlhausen for British and American P/W's, one at Langen Salza for Russians and the third at Molsdorf for Italians.
An airfield was built round an old brewery at Rodigen ber Jena just outside Muhlhausen.
The hospital attached was an old stone and brick building about 70 yards long built on a steep hillside at one end of the village about 200 yards off the road which ran below the hill and up the hill to the village. A small river ran nearby parallel with the road on the opposite side to the hospital and a football ground on the other side of the road. There were no buildings between the river and the road where it passed the hospital.
Another larger hospital was built for the Germans about 150 yards from the P/W hospital higher up the hillside. It was comprised of three large barracks and some smaller huts.
The total strength of the camp was 47,405 split up into 1700 labour detachments, about 40 being all British.
Salt mining was the chief industry and some of the chief working detachments were:-
ERFURT - Horticultural Work.
ERFURT - Shoe Factory.
DORNDORF - Two Potassium Mines.
OCHSENBACH - Stone Quarry.
MARSBACH - Stone Quarry.
BLEICHERODE - Salt Mine.
KRAJA - Salt Mine.
BISCHOFFERODA - Salt Mine.
HAEMBACH - Salt Mine.
NIEDERORSCHEL - Plywood Factory.
Only about 500 P/W's were based in the main camp.
Conditions were bad in the beginning and in March 1941 they were reported to be exceedingly bad. Quarters were crowded, as many as 150 lived, ate and slept in a room measuring 120ft x 60 ft. The dirt was frightful with many vermin and the hygienic facilities were primitive in what was described as the "French style" or pit type.
Later in '42 this was taken in hand and there were regular inspections, delousing and cleaning and each P/W had a shower at least once a week.
Laundry had to be done in the washroom and no special room was set aside for drying, consequently the room was always damp. There was no canteen and there were no priests of any religion.
The camp was shut for a short time due to a scare of typhus and was isolated in the spring of 1942. The chief German physician died and two cases among the British were transferred to the special typhus hospital at Bad Borks. It was again closed from January 43 to January 44.
Later in 41 conditions improved though the discipline in the detachments was severe and the work extremely hard. When any P/W's who had attempted to escape were recaptured they were punished severely with cells and bread and water.
All boots and trousers had to be handed in and were locked up each night to help foil any escapes and all shutters had to be kept shut whatever the weather. The path between the barracks and the barbed wire was put out of bounds and P/W's were liable to be shot without warning if they were seen there. Flying boots of R.A.F. personnel were confiscated as they were not considered suitable for camp use. They were given wooden shoes in exchange.
Over 100 Airmen had no R.A.F. uniform. They were promised that they would be moved to a Stalag Luft.
Mail was very irregular and was some times stopped for the whole camp as a punishment. When a tunnel was discovered all parcels were stopped, for ten days. Letters took about six weeks from Britain.
The Camp Commandant was an old man of over 70 years who took an interest in his work though he was more frequently away. He lived in the town and went to and fro for his meals.
Recreation consisted of organised P.T. every day and P/W's were allowed to go outside the camp to the football ground between 1400 and 1600. Deck tennis was played inside the wire. The library was well stocked with 13000 books. There were no indoor games such as ping pong or cards but an orchestra was formed and played were produced in the theatre though only British P/W's were allowed to attend the performances. All indoor entertainment was forbidden for three weeks due to a sketch being given which the Germans considered being insulting to them.
P/W's slept in triple tier bunks with two blankets and a palliasse filled with wood shavings which encouraged lice. There was heating in the barracks which was as well in the winter as many of the windows were broken.
Sheets were never provided even for the sick in hospital.
Nineteen blind P/W's and hundreds of ill and wounded were awaiting repatriation but this was extremely slow.
Food was never good and even then supplemented by Red X parcels it got worse and worse.
Many of the wounded from Dieppe were sent to Stalag IX C and the medical orderlies acted as blood donors. On the 2nd October '42 29 Commandos taken prisoner at Dieppe were handcuffed with Red X string from 8 ock to 12 and again from 1ock to 9 and many more were tied up like cattle every day. These 29 P/W's were still handcuffed in January '43.
Clothing was most insufficient and the canteen was always badly stocked.
N.C.O.'s were not recognised but treated as ordinary Privates and frequent requests to be transferred to an N.C.O.'s camp were refused.
There was no organised Escape Committee but an unofficial Escape Club was formed chiefly made up of P/W's who had already attempted escape from other camps. All Escape material was kept by the Man of Confidence who would supply the necessary equipment to any man who was fit and in a position to attempt an escape.
There were six successful escapes and very many attempted ones which unfortunately did not prove successful.
The six P/W's were:-
Sgt. D.D.W. Nabarro. R.A.F. who escaped via Belgium and was recaptured in Vichy France and then re-escaped by sea to Gibraltar.
F/Sgt. J.A. McCairns. R.A.F. via Belgium, France and Spain.
Pts. W. MacFarlane. 7 Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. via Belgium, France and Spain.
Pte. J.H.L. Goldie. Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. via Belgium, France and Spain.
Pts. J. Purvis. Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. via Switzerland and France.
Driver T. Speed. R.A.
See Appendix C for full reports.
As there were so many working parties it was comparatively easy to get out of the camp so this and the changing of identity with another P/W was the most usual method adopted.
There were few outside contacts but this did not deter escapers, some of whom made as many as 10 or 11 escapes. Two special camps were opened for recaptured escapers where they were more closely guarded.
Many hundreds of patients passed through the hospital and were the main source of carrying information in and out of the camp and in the later years some of the German civilians living near the camp were extremely helpful though it was always difficult to be sure they could be trusted. The French were found to be very helpful.
Much use was made of all equipment sent to Stalag IX C and a lot of phoney parcels got through without detection in the early days but the Germans were up to all the means of concealment during the latter months and immediately confiscated anything they discovered.
X-ray was not used and the best way of concealing gadgets seems to have been in Christmas crackers, tins of tobacco and housey-housey sets.
Compasses and maps were most useful aids and money, cigarettes and chocolate were also valuable for use in bribing the guards and paying and civilians who helped.
British staff were in control of the postal centre with German guards and if any parcel was expected or suspected to be phoney it was smuggled to the Camp Leader immediately.
Boots and shoes were very carefully examined for articles hidden in the heels.
Little action was taken against any P/W who received a phoney parcel but a closer scrutiny was made of all further parcels received by him.
Captain John Edward Wooding R.A.M.C. was the Medical Officer of the Obermassfeld Hospital attached to Stalag IX C from December 1940 to May 1944 and S.B.M.O. of the Meirungen Hospital until May 1945, was responsible for all communications with the War Office.
It was not generally known that there was this contact as there were so many different nationalities and the personnel was always changing and increasing but those who knew were greatly helped by any news received from Britain.
There were several radios in the camp, including electric, battery and crystal sets. These were either obtained from German, French or Polish civilians outside the camp or by barter with the German guards and special messages were received. This fact was also known only to a few.
Censoring was carried out in the camp mainly by civilians. Mail was divided into groups and each group examined by the same censor. It was very efficiently done though it deteriorated during 1944.
Much information was passed by code letters. Sixty letters were sent to Stalag IX C and fifty seven were received by the War Office.
Of this number fifteen were sent to and fourteen received from Lt/Col. Wilson who wrote from 24th September 1941 to 24th January 1943 when he was transferred to Stalag VIII B, and seventeen were sent and twenty received from Captain Wooding R.A.M.C. the S.B.M.O. who wrote from 28th June 1942 to 22nd August 1943.
Other code writers were:-
Major General Fortune.
Major W.R. Henderson, later transferred to Stalag 344.
Major O'Meara, repatriated in 1944.
Captain C.W. Iliffe. R.A.M.C.
Captain J.B. Sherman.
Captain Hewer, later transferred and repatriated.
Captain J.D. Recordon, repatriated in 1943.
W.O.II. C.E. James, N.Z.E.F., later transferred to Stalag 383.
Sgt. F. McMullen, R.A.F.
Pte. W.G. Barnes.
List of Escape Material Sent
German Marks.... 7210
French Frank.... 2000
Belgian Franks.... 1000
Maps and Passes
Starting Instructions.... 4
Notes on Austria.... 2
Shirt "C".... 3
Draughtsmans Kit for False Paper Production
Drawing Materials.... 1
Carbon Paper.... 1
Insulating Tape.... 1
Needle and Thread.... 1
Plastic Wood.... 1
Account of Escape of 999513 Sgt. NABARRO D.D.W., 10 Squadron, R.A.F.
Captured: 29 Jun 41.
Escaped: 25 Nov 41.
Left: GIBRALTAR, 30 Sep 42.
Arrived: GREENOCK, 5 Oct 42.
R.A.F. Service: 2˝ years.
Private Address: Royal Hotel, WATERFOOT, Lancs.
First Escape Sep 41.
I escaped first in Sep 41 with Sgt. Pilot HALL. We had food for a fortnight, a compass and map tracings of the route to the Italian-Swiss frontier provided by a Frenchman. There were watch towers at the four corners of the compound, but the sentries on these could not see each other, nor could they see immediately below the tower. In broad daylight we climbed over the wire up against one of these towers and out of sight of the sentry. Some one in the camp signalled to us when the sentry was looking the other way, and dashed away into a ditch. Unfortunately two Serbs saw us, and by their excitement roused the suspicions of the guard who looked in our direction and saw us crawling along the ditch. When they re-captured us they found our map tracing, but not the compass which HALL hid between his legs with a bit of sticking plaster.
We were given 24 days in the cells, but were turned out after a week to make room for other escapers. While in prison I talked to a Major in the next door cell who had been in charge of the escape club at OFLAG X C (LUBECK) and he told me about the SCHAFFHAUSEN route.
Second Escape Oct 41.
My second escape was made in Oct 41. I was in the potato cart cleaning it out, when the guard, getting impatient, drove off with me still inside. When we got near a wood I jumped off and hid in it. On this occasion I happened to have with me a weeks supply of Vitamin tablets. I then jumped two goods trains, but three days later was caught asleep in a wagon at APOLDA. This time I was sentenced to 21 days in the cells but I only completed 15. I had by now made two dozen keys for the window of the cell and we were always able to keep anyone in them provided with food.
I then set about making preparations for escape with a Belgian, whose christian name in Godefroi; he found out the times of the train, and I got sixty marks, a pair of slacks, and a leather jacket from a Frenchman in return for a fountain pen, a wrist watch, and an Army greatcoat. He also provided maps. I improved my French by conversation with a Corsican.
Final Escape 25 Nov 41
We escaped on 25 Nov by going up to the guard at 0630 hrs and saying we were going to clean out the Commandant's office, which was outside the main wire. He let us through without fuss, as he had been on duty for three hours and was due to be relieved. We had then only a single strand of barbed wire to negotiate and this presented no difficulty. We went to the next village and caught a local train towards BERLIN. Godefroi spoke German and throughout he bought the tickets without exciting comment. We changed at NAUMBURG and went into the country till 1600 hrs when we caught a train for APOLDA arriving there at about 1730 hrs. We walked about the town for an hour and then caught a train to KASSEL at about 1900 hrs. We did not go about together, but met in the station lavatory to make our plans and decide which trains we were going to take. I carried a lot of 10 pfennig pieces in order to be able to lock myself in the lavatories and avoid being seen hanging about stations. It was also a convenient place to shave. The train to KASSEL was very crowded but we managed to get seats. There was an R.A.F. raid during the journey and the train stopped for three hours. Through this we missed our connection and had to wait 15 hours at KASSEL. We walked about the town and then went into a buffet and slept the night there near some German soldiers. We bought beer and Ersatz coffee but no food. Our chocolate and vitamin tablets, provided by Red Cross, kept us going for a week.
The following morning we caught a train at 1100 hrs to KOBLENZ arriving at 1700 hrs. We had to wait over night and caught a train on the morning of 30 Nov to GEROLSTEIN about 50kms from the Luxembourg frontier.
[30 Nov Recapture at GEROLSTEIN] At GEROLSTEIN we were caught leaving the station. It was Sunday, which is strictly observed in this Catholic part of Germany, and our unusual appearance attracted attention. The station police asked for our papers, but our forged documents purporting to belong to Belgian workers did not deceive them. We were taken to a cell underneath the police station where we found a French escaped P/W. [1 Dec Escape] We all escaped the following morning by going to a washing place, knocking out the guard and getting out of the window. We then ran across country due South for about 12 kms. At about mid-day we hid in some woods beside a railway and river. We started off again at night by full moon. It was very cold and our shoes were waterlogged. We went due west and arrived at PRUM the following morning (2 Dec). We hid in a little copse, forded a river that evening, and carried on all night. The following morning (3 Dec) without realising it we crossed the frontier into Luxembourg (near TROIS VIERGES). We went on by day to HOUFFALIZE in Belgium, where we stayed the night at a cafe, the proprietor of which recognised us as escaped P/W. It was the first place we tried and the people were extremely sympathetic. We saw no guard on the frontier, except the customs post at TROIS VIERGES. But we realised we had got out of GERMANY by the fact that people looked so much more cheerful.
Godefroi knew this part of the country and we went by tram to BASTOGNE and then on by train to LIBRAMONT. We stayed the night at Godefroi's home near here.
[4 Dec France] The next day I went on by train with the Frenchman via NAMUR and CHARLEROI to ERQUELINNES on the Belgian-French frontier. We walked over the frontier to JEUMONT without being stopped. Godefroi's father had given me 600 Belgian francs which enabled me to reach PARIS by train. We travelled first to ST QUENTIN, crossed the red line on foot near MONTESCOURT without being stopped and went on by train to PARIS.
I then decided to get to ROUEN to see if I could find a friend of mine, Pte. Jim SUMNER, R.A.S.C. whom I believed to be in Heilag ROUEN, to see if I could help him. However I could find no trace of him. A Frenchman in STALAG IX C had given me his home address in ROUEN, and I went there and his parents put me up for the night. The next afternoon I went to PARIS and stayed the night with a gendarme, the brother of another Frenchman in STALAG IX C.
I then went to NEVERS by train to find the Frenchman with whom I had escaped from GEROLSTEIN. He told me how to get across the Demarcation Line, wrongly as it turned out. I was caught by the Germans just South of NEVERS, when I was crossing back to Occupied France by mistake after having already crossed once in the other direction. I told them I was trying to get into the Occupied Zone, and they sent me back into Unoccupied France. I thought this might be a trap, and so walked down the road towards SANCOINS. I thought the Germans were probably watching me and would recapture me if they saw me trying to hide. The result was that I was captured by the French.
Account of Escape of 154718 F/Sgt. McCAIRNS J.A., 616 Sqn, Fighter Command R.A.F.
Captured: GRAVELINES. 6 Jul. 41.
Escaped: STALAG IX C (BAD SULZA) 22 Jan. 42.
Left: Gibraltar, 29 Apr 42.
Arrived: HENDON, 30 Apr 42.
R.A.F. Service: 3 years.
Private Address: 20 Chapel Gate, Retford, Notts.
[Stalag IXC (Bad Sulza)] On the morning of 14 Jul I left DULAG LUFT in a party of 53 N.C.O.s for STALAG IXC. We entrained at FRANKFURT, and arrived at BAD SULZA about 0200 hrs on 15 Jul. On the journey our boots were taken from us. We travelled in two parties in adjacent coaches with only two guards to each party. It would have been possible for me, but for my injured leg, to escape through the lavatory window on the journey.
At 1600 hrs we were taken from the train to a disused factory which is part of STALAG IXC. We were put into filthy rooms in which there were rats running about. After two hours we were taken to a Biergarten beside the saline baths. There we were searched, had particulars taken, and were issued with identity discs. The searching was done by three censors, but not efficiently, as we were allowed to empty our own pockets. Notebooks were being confiscated, but many of us had them returned later. After being searched we were passed on to another official who took particulars such as height and weight and also our thumb impressions. I smeared some chewing gum over my thumb and ruined the impression, but the German was too lazy to fill in a new form and make me give an impression. We were then given numbers and Stalag discs and marched into the camp.
[20 Nov. FIRST ESCAPE] I made my first attempt at escape on 20th November with Sgt. KENNETH FENTON, R.A.F. The prisoners' part of the camp is surrounded by two fences of barbed wire each 8 or 9 ft. high. Between the two fences is a space about 5 ft., in which there is one coil of barbed wire about one or 2 ft. high. After two British airmen had got out across the wire, a third fence of four strands of barbed wire about 3 ft. high had been put up all round the camp inside the fences at a space of about 2 yds from them. Outside the camp proper are four barracks surrounded by single barbed-wire fence, also 8 ft. or 9 ft. high. At night the sentry patrolled the edges of the camp proper. Outside there was one man near the main entrance to the camp and another outside the hotel about 200 yards away, where the Intelligence Office and the more important camp officers are situated.
We decided that there were two ways of getting out of the camp. The first, which had been tried twice, once by Belgians and the second time by an Englishman and a Pole, was to walk out of the camp by day along with the Belgians, who were allowed out, or with a British working party. One could then conceal oneself in the lavatory of one of the barrack buildings which was used as a mess. All the barrack buildings were empty at night except for the one nearest the entrance to the camp which was used as a guard room. This gave one opportunity of climbing the outside fence at night, but, in our opinion, this was outweighed by the disadvantage of having to spend a day in hiding.
FENTON and I decided on a different way. At 0630 hours we put on French uniforms, over which we wore British Army greatcoats on which French buttons had been sown. We went out with a Belgian named GODFROID, who was going out with a working party to sweep out the barracks. We got behind the mess hut and nipped over the barbed wire. I wore woolen gloves and mittens made of khaki blanket material. As I was crossing a wooden fence about 3 ft. 6 ins. high a searchlight came on, but I was not noticed.
We could not go down the river which ran outside the camp, as two sentries were patrolling that road. We managed, however, to find a footbridge across a stream running into the river, and made for the saline bath building. We clambered up on to a promenade which runs round a building and searched for a stairway on the other side. We could not find a stairway and I let myself drop only to find that we had been no more than 18 ins. from the ground. We now got on a path which led to the main road at NAUMBERG. It was a wet morning and still dark and although there were some people about, we were not challenged. We walked about 300 yds. towards NAUMBERG and then cut off into the mountains, where we hid all day in the woods. At 1800 hrs. we broke camp, after a wet and unpleasant day, we got into the open, and traversed some lanes only to find ourselves heading for BAD SULZA. About 1830 hrs. we must have past at least a dozen people. It was still half-light, and though they regarded us with astonishment, they did not say anything. Once we were sure there was no one in sight, we got into the fields and reached the main railway line from BAD SULZA to WEIMAR, which we followed past a brightly lit Russian P/W camp. Our original intention was to make for one of three places - WEIMAR, APOLDA or KOLLODA - at each of which, we had been told by a Frenchman in the camp, there was an aerodrome. We planned to seize and aircraft from one of these aerodromes. After we walked along the railway for about an hour, a goods train drew up near the station and we jumped into a coal truck.
[21 Nov. WEIMAR] By about 0200 hrs on 21 November we were in WEIMAR. Our coal truck was shunted off into a siding, on both sides of which there were factories. We left the railway on the North side, crossed a factory yard and a scrap yard, and reached a road in WEIMAR running parallel to the railway. While we were standing in a gap in a hedge trying to work out the possible direction of the aerodrome, we heard footsteps and ducked behind the hedge; but a torch was shone on me, and a man in uniform asked me what I was doing. I said I was a Frenchman working in WEIMAR. He asked who I was working for, and I said "Herr Engelhart", that being the name of the Camp Commandant at Stalag IX C and the only German name I could think of. The man obviously did not believe me, and said we must go with him to the police station. FENTON walked on his right hand and I on his left, the policeman carrying his revolver in his hand. He showed no signs of hostility, and probably did not realise we were escaped British P/W. After a time we turned a corner into a residential part of WEIMAR. About 25 yards down this road I wheeled round and dashed for the corner. No shots were fired, and I got away. I learned afterwards that FENTON bolted in the opposite direction, but right into the arms of a soldier who was out walked with his girl.
I struck the first lane I could off the main road on the right, trying to get clear of the town. The lane was bordered by fences and led past an Arbeitskommando into a large field, on the other side of which was a large factory. This factory was patrolled, and I could hear Germans talking very near me. After lying for about 45 minutes I went back up the lane past the Arbeitskommando and took a turning on the left into a residential area. From there I got onto a road which I thought was going East back to BAD SULZA, and decided my best plan was to return in a railway and hide in a truck. I followed a single line railway to the main railway near the goods yard, and, getting into one of three passenger coaches standing in a siding, slept on the seat until about 0600 hrs. I then went into the lavatory where I remained all day. The coaches were standing only 200 yards away from a Russian Arbeitskommando. About 100 Russians were working on the railway close by me all day, and at one time they actually moved the coaches.
About 2030 hrs I left the siding and went to the main line to wait for a suitable train. After less than an hour a train pulled up beside me and I jumped on to an empty truck in which I lay down flat. We went through WEIMAR station which was well lit up, at about 5 miles an hour. The first time the train stopped I moved to a brake van. At ERFURT I took the consignment bill from the side of the truck, having heard from the French and Belgians in the camp that this would give an indication of the trains destination. Unfortunately the writing was in Gothic script which I could not read. The last station at which I saw a sign was GOTHA. After that I must have dozed off. I was awakened at about 0700 hrs next morning (22 Nov) with a lamp shining in my face and an astonished German saying, "Was?" I jumped out through the other door and found myself between two platforms in the middle of a station. Lights were flashed on me. I ran about 20 yds down the train, but, realising I could not escape, I just packed up. The Germans led me back to the brake van and then to the stationmaster's office. I discovered that this was WARBURG station and that the truck in which I was travelling had stopped near the stationmaster's office beside the main clock. In the stationmaster's office I was asked if I was a Russian. I also learned that the train on which I was travelling had been bound for HOLLAND.
On this attempted escape I had the following equipment:-
Clothes:- Very long Army khaki greatcoat with French buttons. Khaki trousers, blue tunic, black civilian peaked cap.
Food:- I carried my food in a corset arrangement which I had made of tent cloth bought from a Frenchman. This garment fitted close to me. It buttoned down the front and had supporting shoulder straps. I had the following food:- 4˝lb. bars of chocolate. 30 French military biscuits. 2 small tins of Horlicks tablets. Glucose sweets (Athlete's friend). 14 Vitamin tablets issued by the Germans. 2 large packets of dates (which I found very nourishing). All this food except the vitamin tablets came from Red Cross parcels. We reckoned on having sufficient for a week, though originally we had intended to be out only three days.
Maps:- Rough tracing of a German railway map such as is found in German trains. I left more detailed tracing in the camp, as I did not expect to need it. I also managed to secure another copy of the German railway map from one of the coaches in which I hid in the siding at WEIMAR.
Compasses:- One stud and one swinger sown into my uniform. I tried to use the stud compass in the train, but it would not work there.
Groundsheet:- Wrapped round left leg.
Pliers:- A pair of pliers with wire cutters bought for seven tins of food from a Serb in the camp who got them from a factory where he was working. I had these pliers in a case made of blanket material strapped to my right leg.
I had the addresses of Belgians in the Stalag sewn into one of my shoulder straps and the swinger sown into the other.
Account of Escape of 822156 Driver Speed. Thomas. 23 Fd.Bde.R.A. 51st Highland Division
Captured: 12 Ju 40.
Escaped: 23 May 43.
Left: Switzerland, 3 Oct 44.
Arrived: U.K., 24 Oct 44.
Date of Birth: 31 Jul 14.
Army Service: Since August 32.
Private Address: 307 Lees Road. Oldham. Lancs.
I was captured at St Valery on 12th June 1940 when the 51st (H) Div. surrendered. We were marched through France Belgium and Holland to STALAG IX C MUHLHAUSEN.
20 July 42. Escaped from train near GOTHA
On 20 July 42 approximately 100 P/W's were being removed by rail from Stalag IXC to another camp. (Location unknown). When we were about 8 Kms North of GOTHA ten other P/W's and I broke open the door of the wagon in which we were travelling and jumped off the train at approximately 2000 hours.
21 July 42. Recaptured at GOTHA
I walked a short distance towards GOTHA and hid in a wood. The following morning 21 July I was recaptured by Military Police while I was attempting to board a goods train in the railway yard on the outskirts of GOTHA. I was taken to a Military Prison in GOTHA and I remained there in cells until 27 July when I was taken back to Stalag IX C. I was not further punished for this escape.
On the night of the 24th May 43 in company with 11 other men (names unknown) I escaped from the working camp at ERFURT. This was a special camp for ex-escapers. A few hours before our escape we stole civilian clothes from a German workers locker where we worked.
24 May 43. Escaped from working camp at ERFURT
We lifted up the floorboards of the dormitory in the camp and crawled under neath the hut to an opening in the side nearest the wire. The first man of the party crawled to the fence at 2100 hours and cut a hole in the wire. A string was attached at the opening in the side of the hut and it led through the hole which had been made in the wire. After receiving a signal from the first man the rest of the party followed him at intervals of about two minutes. We had previously drawn lots for places and I was ninth. When my turn came I crawled from under the hut and through the hole. When I was some distance outside the fence I got to my feet and walked through ERFURT. After travelling some distance I hid in a disused hut beside the Autobahn, South of the town.
25th May 43. Stole bicycle at ARNSTADT
I remained there until about 1200 hours on 25th May when I walked to ARNSTADT and stole a bicycle from outside a house. I cycled back to the hut where I had spent the previous night and collected my belongings.
26th May 43. Near SCHWEINFURT
At 1700 hours I left the hut at cycled through ARNSTADT. I spent that night in a wood about 2 Km South of the town. On 26th May I cycled south without incident and spent the night in a wood about 2 Km north of SCHWEINFURT.
27 May 43. Near HEILBRONN
The following morning I continued cycling south and passed through WURZBURG about 1100 hours. At dusk I discovered I was approaching HEILBRONN instead of HALL as I had intended. I spent that night in a barn on the outskirts of HEILBRONN. One of the tyres of my bicycle was punctured.
28 May 43. Stole bicycle at HEILBRONN
At 1000 hours on 28 May I entered HEILBRONN on foot to obtain another bicycle. As I walked through the town a policeman cycled past me and stopped outside a building about fifty yards from me. The policeman went into the building leaving his bicycle outside. I stole this bicycle and rode off. I returned to the barn where I had spent the previous night and collected my belongings. I then cycled south through HEILBRONN and STUTTGART.
28 May 43. Near TUBINGEN
On approaching TUBINGEN I took cramp in my right knee and had to get off the bicycle. I went into a wood and rested until 0800 hours on 29 May. By this time my knee was fit and I continued to cycle south, passing through TUBINGEN, ROTTWEIL, DONAU-ESCHINGEN, HUFINGEN.
29th May 43. Near WALDSHUT
After passing through HUFINGEN I took the wrong road and became hopelessly lost in the Black Forest. At dusk I came across a signpost marked "ST BLASIEN". After finding this place on my map I proceeded to a forest about 7 Km east of WALDSHUT, where I spent the night.
30th May 43. Swam across RHINE near WALDSHUT
On the morning of 30 May I cycled through WALDSHUT and hid in the forest about 8 kms west of the town. I remained there until nightfall when I crept through the forest to the River RHINE. I tied my clothing on my back and swan to the opposite bank. I do not know how long I was in the river, but I was exhausted when I reached the other side. A Swiss peasant found me on the river bank and gave me shelter until the police arrived. I was then taken to the British Legation in BERNE. I remained in Switzerland until 3rd October 44, when I was repatriated to the U.K.
Account of Escape of 2977912 Pte. Macfarlane, 7 Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 51 (H) Div.
Captured: Abbeville 6 Jun 40.
Escaped: Unterbreizbach 20 Mar 42.
Left: Gibraltar, 20 Aug 42.
Arrived: Greenock, 26 Aug 42.
Army Service: 11 years.
Private Address: 11 Rochead Place. DUMBARTON.
I was captured at Abbeville on 6th June 1940 and sent to Stalag IX C. After two days I was sent to a working part at Steudnitz at the cement works and then in Sept. 41 to the salt mines at Unterbreizbach where I was employed in the turning shop.
About the beginning of 42 I began planning to escape with Pte. James Goldie of my unit with whom I had been since capture. We saved chocolate biscuits and tea from Red Cross parcels and discussed ways of getting out of the camp. The mines were working in two shifts. I worked from 0600 to 1800 hrs, and Goldie from 1400 to 2200 hrs. We decided to escape on the night of 21 Mar. This was a Saturday and we reckoned there would be a chance of our not being missed on the Sunday. I made a jemmy in the turning shop and burst open the gate on the East side of the camp which was only used by the guards and the women working in the kitchen. We were locked up at 2100 hours in our huts, and the doors were not opened again until 2245, when the second shift came in from work. There were two sentries and four women who worked in the cook house. After the women finished at 1900 the two guards became responsible for the feeding of the second shift when it came off work. One of them ought to have remained on guard outside but we knew that they both generally went into the dining room. I broke the lock of the gate about 2030 and the gate remained open till 2245 when Goldie and I left. Two other men of our regiment were to have come with us, but they did not turn up, though we waited ten minutes for them.
The following is a summary of our equipment and plans.
We wore ordinary battle dress on top of which we had blue over alls with "K.G." in red on the back. We were able to conceal these letters with rucksacks which we made out of sacks.
We had collected sufficient chocolate and biscuits for ten days six tins of sardines, and about 6 lbs of tea. Our idea was to use the tea as bribes.
We had two maps of Germany and adjacent countries, one of which Goldie had got from an anti Nazi German working underground with him in the mine, and the other I got from a Pole who worked at the head of the shaft. I told the Pole I was going to escape, but did not tell him how or when.
There had been a number of attempts from the camp, but none of the men had tried to escape otherwise than on foot, and they had all been recaptured. We decided to try and jump on railway wagons at Gerstungen about 12 miles N.E. of Unterbreizbach.
We took 6 days to get to Gerstungen walking in a circle to avoid detection. We walked at night avoiding villages, and slept in the woods by day. There was snow on the ground up to our knees, and quite frequently we had to use melted snow instead of water. On our second night out we left our hiding place rather early and were crossing a main road near a village when we were stopped by a German. We told him we were Frenchmen going to Gerstungen and when he asked us why we did not speak French we admitted we were English. By giving him cigarettes we persuaded him to let us go, but we suspect he reported our presence to other villagers, because we were chased very shortly afterwards. We managed to hide in a wood and our pursuers did not come in after us.
We reached the goods station at Gerstungen on the night of the 26 March. We broke the lead seal of a closed salt wagon and entered by the door. We then opened a window, came out by the door, which we resealed, and got in by the window. There were quite a few railwaymen about, but no one saw us. We had plenty of room on top of the sacks of salt inside the wagon.
Unfortunately the train only moved for a few hours at a time and then lay up for half a day or so, so that the journey to Belgium which would have taken about two days normal travelling, lasted eight days.
We had neglected to take water with us, and did not leave the wagon during the numerous stops for fear of being seen. We suffered terribly from thirst, and during the last few days were unable to eat the food we had brought with us. We knew the wagon was bound for Belgium as we saw the destination written in German on the notice on the side of the truck. In Belgium a French notice was substituted for the German one.
We were able to check our position on one of our maps by watching the names of the stations we passed through. On Good Friday 3rd April we arrived in HASSELT. We remained in the wagon all day and most of the night and then dropped out about 0400 hrs. (4th April) We walked to a stream on the outskirts of Hasselt where we washed and made tea in tin cans picked up on the road. We then walked to Tirlemont, the journey occupying two days.
We had to walk by day as we could find no cover for hiding. We were still in our blue overalls over battle dress but though we walked on the main road no one challenged us. On 5th April we approached a house in Kessel Loo and asked for water to make tea, speaking in broken German, which the people understood. An old woman took us in and kept us for the night.
Early next morning we were taken by bicycle to Louvain where we were sheltered for six weeks by people who belonged to a Belgian patriotic organisation. We then went to live with another family who put us in touch with an organisation with arranged for our return to the U.K.
Account of Escape of 2985254 Pte Goldie J.M.L., 7 Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. 51 (H) Div.
Captured: near Abbeville 6 Jun 40.
Escaped: Unterbreizbach 20 Mar 42.
Left: Gibraltar 29 Aug 42.
Arrived: Gourock 9 Sep 42.
Army Service: 3 years.
Private Address: 60 Newhall Street, Glasgow S.E.
I was captured near Abbeville on 6 June 40 while serving with the Battalion Bren carriers which had been sent from Battalion H.Q. to assist C. Coy. I was captured with Capt Hewitt C Coy and ten other ranks.
After capture I was sent to Germany to Stalag IX C and from there to the cement works at Steudnitz about 7 miles from Bad Sulza. I remained at the camp till September 41 when I was sent to the salt mines at Unterbreizbach.
I escaped from the camp at Unterbreizbach on 21st March 42 with Pte. Macfarlane. The facts of our escape are as stated in his report except for the following details:-
1. There were 4 pairs of P/W's in the camp who were interested in escaping and the original plan was for us to go with 6 others and then split into groups of two. In the end only Macfarlane and I tried. We waited for two others but they did not turn up.
2. In addition to the chocolate, biscuits, sardines and tea mentioned in Marfarlane's report, we took with us in our rucksacks a change of under clothes, shirts towels and a blanket, as well as some soap, which we thought would be useful in paying for help. Our packs weighed about 40 pounds each.
3. As mentioned by Macfarlane we secured two maps. In exchange for a great coat a German Communist who worked with me in a saltmine gave me a map of the local state. Unfortunately I left this map behind my bed in the camp. The map which Macfarlane got from a Pole was of Western Europe. We used this to check our position while travelling by goods train to Belgium.
4. Railway wagons bound for destinations outside Germany bear on their side green destination labels marked "Ausgang".
5. The fastening of the sealed wagon into which we broke consisted of an iron bar and an eye with wire twisted round the eye and soldered. We broke the solder and of course had to replace the wire without it, but the operation was not detected.
6. After arriving at HASSELT we spent two days on a goods train which was marked Antwerp. When it did not move we started walking to Louvain. We attracted a certain amount of attention on the road because of our large packs but we made a point of keeping ourselves clean and shaven and also cleaned our boots regularly. No one stopped us on the way.
Account of Escape of 4270748 Fus. Purvis. J., 7 Bn. Royal Northumberland Fusiliers.
Captured: St Valery-en-caux. 12 Jun 40.
Escaped: Merkers 20 Apr 43.
Left: Marseilles, 5 Oct 44.
Arrived: U.K. 4 Nov 44.
Date of birth: 22 Sep. 1912.
Army Service: Territorial Army Jul 34.
Private Address: 51 Maple Street. Ashington. Northumberland.
On arrival at Stalag IX C I was interrogated and remained here for eight days. I was then sent back to the camp at Molsdorf where I was interrogated again and after three weeks was sent to the camp at Romhild.
In Dec 42 I was sent to the working camp at Merkers. The conditions here were appalling and the mattresses and clothing were full of bugs and lice. We complained to the authorities but nothing was done.
There were 47 men in the camp and at the end of two days we all decided to escape. We had discovered a part of the wiring which was weak and worked at it with pickaxes when ever we had a chance. On the night of the third day after I had arrived at the camp all but twelve men got out. I went with Private Dukes and two other men. We were making our way to Fulda but were captured two days later in a snowstorm. We had reached a railway siding and climbed up into an empty goods wagon which shortly afterwards was moved into a near by station where we were caught.
Four guards and an Officer came for us and marched us three kms to the town with our arms above our heads. If we lowered our hands we were hit on the fingers with rifle butts while the two guards behind kept prodding us with their bayonets. When we arrived at our destination we were made to stand with our faces to the wall for another hour with our hands still above our heads. Then we were marched to our house where we were made to strip while our clothes were examined. We were put into a civilian prison for three days and then sent back to Merkers.
The 12 men who had been unable to get out of the camp at the time of our escape were severely beaten up. All the escapers were eventually rounded up.
As a punishment for escaping we were made to work an extra two hours a day digging trenches. This was an addition to the eight hours we were already doing in the mine. Our food was very bad during this time. We received two meals a day consisting of dry bread and coffee for breakfast and sauerkraut or potatoes for our evening meal.
About Feb 43 Gunner Martin R.A. and I planned to escape again. We collected food for the next six weeks by taking a sandwich to work with us each day. I hid mine in the salt factory in which I worked.
Martin was working on the railway a quarter of a mile away from the salt mine.
We decided to wait for a misty morning when we could escape and hide independently in the woods close by for the day. We intended meeting at midnight that night at the power station. We were then to hide ourselves in a salt wagon bound for Switzerland.
On 29th April we decided to put our plan into effect. That morning I went to the latrines with two other men while the guard waited outside. My two companions covered me while I eluded the guard by going round the back of the latrines. I had intended to hide under the salt trucks but seeing several German civilians there I changed my mind and ran straight for the 12 foot wire fence and heaved myself over. As I reached the top I was seen by an engine driver who shouted at me. I dropped down on the other side and ran hard for the woods where I remained in hiding for the rest of the day in spite of search parties with dogs.
At midnight I returned to the power station and waited till 0130 for Martin but he did not turn up. I returned to the factory unobserved collected my food, stole a bottle of coffee from the civilians canteen which was unlocked and returned to the woods. I stayed in the woods for the whole of the next day (30 April) and once again returned to the power station at midnight. I waited till 0200 and then went back to the woods for the whole of the next day. (1st May) That night I came back past the Power station in case Martin should show up. I climbed over the fence into the salt factory which was not guarded and hid under a weighing machine. I remained under the weighing machine until 0930 the next morning. (2nd May) when the Germans went to the canteen for breakfast. I then left my hiding place and made my way towards the salt wagons. I chose one marked "Ausland Italien" and got into it, covering myself with salt. Half an hour later the guard came along and sealed the wagon.
Shortly afterwards the wagon was hitched to an engine and we started to move. We reached Fulda where we remained till nightfall. For the next few days we travelled between 2000 and 2300 and 0200 and 0630 hrs. We went through Vacha, Meiningen, Mannheim, Rastatt and Freiberg.
We arrived at Basle on 6th May. Here the trucks were inspected and resealed. Six hours later we crossed into Switzerland though I did not know this at the time. I was desperately thirsty by this time and had almost decided to risk getting out of the wagon when we started to move again. After two hours we stopped again. I listened to the people talking and heard only German spoken, so I remained where I was. We continued our journey for another hour and then stopped once more. This time I heard both German and French spoken and left the wagon through a small window. I approached a railway worker and asked first in English and then in German for some thing to drink. He took me to a hut where he gave me some wine. While I was drinking the wine the Swiss Military Police entered.
I was given some food and then taken to Barasone where I spent the night in the local prison. The next day I was sent to Berne where I contacted the British Legation. I remained in Switzerland till Jul 44. I worked at the press dept. of the British Legation for a few months and then went to stay at Le Basset on Lake Geneva till July 44.
On 24th July 44 I left Switzerland accompanied by two Belgians. We arrived in Toulouse on 29 July. Here we stayed in a boarding house for two days. A woman then called for me and took me back for the night at her house. The next day a man came and took me to a house two miles outside Toulouse where I remained for two days. I was then told it was impossible to send me back to the U.K. and that the only alternative was to join the Maquis. I was taken to the station where I met an Officer of the Maquis who took me to a small town which was at that time held by the Maquis. From here I was taken to a small town which I think was La Bastide du Salat S.W. of Toulouse. I remained fighting with the Maquis till 30 Sept. and took part in four battles with them.
On 30 Sept. I contacted a British Officer at Decize. On 1st Oct I left Maquis and made my way to Marseilles by American transport. Here I met up with the first contingent of repatriates from Switzerland and reported to a British Officer.
I left Marseilles about 5th October for the U.K. via Naples.