Pictures

Erwin Hettwer

Erwin Hettwer

Erwin Hettwer

Erwin Hettwer

Gisburn Hostel

A notebook made from toilet paper

The camp newspaper, New Year's Eve 1945

Erwin Hettwer's discharge papers from 1948

Erwin Hettwer

 

Served : Germany (captured).

Camps : Ostende, Kempton Park, Otley, Skipton, Nuneaton.

 

My life as a WW II POW. March 30, 1945 to May 25 1948

By Erwin Hettwer

 

The Time Before.

 

I was born in 1927, and lived in Silesia, the part of south-east Germany, located between Poland and Czechoslovakia and annexed by Poland after the war.

 

Like every boy of that age, I was conscripted to the Hitler Youth when I was 14, sent to three training camps learning airplane gliding. While this seemed fun for a 15 year old boy, it was of course intended to train young people to serve later in the Luftwaffe.

 

In January 1944, at 16, attending the fifth year of high school, my whole class was sent to an anti-aircraft battery as Luftwaffenhelfer (Air Force Helper). We continued with school in the morning, but were trained in the afternoon to run optical instruments to measure the height and course of incoming planes. Germany did not have Radar at that time.

 

In mid September 1944, now 17 years old I was moved to the Arbeitsdienst (Workers Service). The work in a stone quarry was only the pretext for some more pre-military training. Released from there in mid-November 1944, I spent 2 weeks in December at a camp learning Morse code.

 

Christmas 1944 was the last time I saw my family for many years and I have never seen our home again.

 

On January 5, 1945, I was called to join the Luftwaffe and designated to become a paratrooper. I never saw a plane or a parachute. My basic military training took place in a camp in the northwest of Germany. About 2 month later, at the beginning of March, we were moved to Holland. After spending some time in an area around Zutphen, we were moved closer to the Dutch/German border. The night of March 28, I spent sleeping in a barn. An early alarm got us out and I noticed that I had lost my glasses in the straw. There was no way of finding them in the dark and I am very short-sighted. In the morning of March 29, we moved into position near Ramsdorf, Germany. In the evening we were ordered to draw back, marched the night, were spotted in the morning of March 30 (Good Friday) by an Allied reconnaissance plane and were taken prisoners of war, without having fired a shot. Without my glasses I would not have been able to shoot anyway.

 

When looking back, I am happy that it happened this way.

 

The First Days.

 

The day of our capture, we were taken to some woodworking shop, where we spent the night. We had no idea where we were, in Holland or Germany. We had no food all day and were hungry. Next morning we were loaded on army trucks and moved to a larger camp. It was a terrible ride. The truck was filled with prisoners so tight that everybody had to stand. The truck cover was not high enough to stand upright, so one had to stand somewhat crouched. The trip seemed to last for hours over rough roads that shook the truck and us inside. We were tired, hungry and especially thirsty. Upon arrival and after we got searched, we got some food, a few hard biscuits and about 1/6 of a can of corned beef and we got something to drink, black tea. We had no cups to drink it from, so we used the empty corned beef cans.

 

The camp was an open field enclosed with barbed wire. We were told to stay away from the barbed wire as the guards might call it an attempt to escape and shoot.

 

I was close to the wire fence when I saw a guard waving to me. Because of the warning, I was reluctant to get any closer, but the guard kept waving. He must have sensed that I was scared, so he set the rifle down and waved again. When I got close, he threw 2 packages of biscuits over the fence to me. Can you imagine what that meant to somebody who was really hungry? Yes, I did share some with others.

 

For bedding down for the night we tried to find some patches of grass not yet trampled into the ground. Some drizzle had started and we dug a hole into the ground using again the corned beef cans and sank a biscuit can into it. The biscuits came in tin cans approx. 12 x 12 x 8 inches. In the morning, we had indeed some water in the can. It could have been some ground water plus the rain. What a relief to have a few drops of water to throw into your face. The food was again biscuits, corned beef and black tea.

 

During the day, we were moved to a train station, locked into cattle cars and were on our way to Belgium.

 

The cars had a bit more room and while some were standing up to stretch the legs, some others had room to sit on the floor. There were no toilet facilities. Again we used corned beef cans and disposed of the contents of our bowels or bladders through slots in the side of the car. It was night when we arrived at the train station in Ostende.

 

Belgium, Ostende Camp. April 03 - April 24, 1945

 

It was a very dark night when we were lined up for the march from the train station to the camp. Our platoon tried to stay together. We were hungry, thirsty and tired. We were guarded by Belgian soldiers who seemed to take pleasure in stopping a part of the marchers and then having us run fast to catch up with the others that were in front. At one stop we saw a young Belgian civilian at the side of the road. He started to kick the legs of the prisoners, as soon as they started marching again. What he did not expect was to be grabbed, pulled into the group, get kicked himself and then pushed out into the ditch beside the road. That was when his real trouble started.

 

Not all prisoners were soldiers in uniform. Some had changed into civilian clothes, but were recognized as soldiers and taken prisoners.

 

So, to the Belgian guard the guy in the ditch appeared as a prisoner trying to escape. Before he had the time to explain that he was a Belgian civilian, the guard had beaten him quite badly with his rifle butt.

 

The camp had been a German ammunition depot, consisting of barracks separated by earth walls as high as the barracks. The earth walls had been intended to protect the ammunition in the barracks, should one explode.

 

It was surrounded by a double barbed wire fence with guard towers between the fences. Additional rolls of barbed wire on the ground were to keep the prisoners from even reaching the fence. It was said, that there were 3 camps with about 5000 prisoners each plus the accommodation for the Belgian guards and British administration. We only saw the part of the camp we were in and the exercise yard and barracks of the guards.

 

While waiting to be processed by being searched and de-loused, it had started to rain. We were standing in formation, thirsty and seeing the rain water running off the roofs of the barracks. We had been told that leaving the formation would bear the risk of being shot. But the thirst was so strong, that every time a guard did not pay attention, one would sneak out and catch some rain water in the corned beef can, drink and hand the can to the next guy, so that he could try to get some water too. Some days later, during daytime, I tried to do the same thing. The rain water was washing down the dirt from the roofs and the water was so dirty, that one could not drink it. But that first night, in the dark, it tasted better than champagne.

 

We were issued a blanket each and assigned to the barracks. There were bunk beds, 3 high, no mattresses and only a few boards in each bed. The only empty bed I could find was one on top with five boards. I arranged them to have one for the head, three for the back and one for the legs. I stretched out on the boards gingerly as they were not that secure. I did not get much sleep as I did not dare to move. As dawn broke, I tried to get out of bed, but the boards moved and I crashed down, taking the two guys in the beds below with me. I collected my boards and asked a fellow prisoner who had been lucky to find a low bunk, if we could share a bed and the boards. Thus the bed had now sufficient boards and they could not move. Having 2 blankets let us put one on the boards and use the other as a cover. This is how I met Hans, we became buddies and our friendship has lasted for over 60 years, with him living in Germany and me in Canada.

 

The hygienic conditions in camp were not great. There was a roofed area with a number of water faucets that had running water for a short time in the morning. It meant lining up to get at the faucet for a quick wash, before the water was turned off again. Although we had no soap, at least one got refreshed.

 

Large steel buckets served as toilets. A tanker railway car was parked inside the camp. The full buckets had to be heaved on top and emptied through a manhole. It was a job everybody tried to avoid, especially during the time when there was no water running in the faucets so one could not wash.

 

Food was scarce. In the morning pails of porridge made from oats, water and some milk powder were brought to the barracks, and some plates and spoons, but not enough for everybody. So while the first group was eating, the others were waiting eagerly to get a plate. They did not need washing; there was nothing left on the plates when they were handed to the next guy. Everybody tried to be at that first serving, as it always seemed that those plates were fuller and had more oats.

 

We also got a piece of bread for the day and in the evening some vegetable soup. With the bread we got some margarine, about the size of 2 of the small patties that a restaurant might serve with a meal. But the margarine came in beautiful brass colored cans and everybody wanted one. Having a can allowed you to get your porridge and veggie soup right away, without waiting for a plate. And I was lucky enough to get one. With a bit of wire from the barbed wire, I made a handle. Now this can and a small wallet was all I owned beside the clothes I was wearing. And there was another use for the can. We had no cushions to put our head on when sleeping. Taking off the jacket and use it as a cushion was out of the question, as the early April nights were cold in an unheated barrack. So I slipped the can under the blanket we were sleeping on and had something to put my head on.

 

After a few days in camp the separation of prisoners started. Other nationalities that had served in the German army, especially the large group of Austrians, were put into separate barracks to be released earlier. Prisoners under the age of 18, which included Hans and me, were also moved into a separate barrack. It had no beds; we slept on the bare cement floor, close to each other for warmth. One day I hit the jack pot. I was commandeered to wash dishes in the kitchen for the guards. There were so many leftovers on the plates, mostly potatoes that for once I could eat until I was no longer hungry. The pants of paratroopers were tied at the bottom, so I filled them with potatoes and other leftovers and smuggled them into the camp. They were not the cleanest when I handed them out, but nobody cared, they were edible. One thing broke my heart. The cooks used bacon to burn out the soot from under the kettles and stove pipes. I would have loved to get just a small piece of that to eat.

 

It was hard enough to sleep on the cement floor and most of the nights the guards on the tower next to our barrack, got great pleasure out of throwing rocks on the corrugated iron roof of the barracks. So, if you had finally fallen asleep, here came that thunder clap and everybody was awake again.

 

We survived the Ostende camp and as paratroopers were considered elite troops, Hans and I and others were told that we would be shipped to England.

 

The Crossing.

 

On April 26, we were taken to a former brick factory close to the Ostende harbor. We were to spend the night in long, low and narrow buildings, which might have been used to dry bricks before firing. The floor was covered with a layer of fine brown dust. To make room for everybody we laid down like sardines, head to tail. The next morning, we tried to shake off as much of the dust as possible, got some more porridge and were taken to a landing craft, the type where the whole front would open to let tanks or trucks roll off on to a beach. The inside was one large, empty room. The floor was steel, covered with rust. Some large buckets served as toilets. There was nothing to sit on but the rusty floor, but there was enough room to also lie down. Which we did, because we crossed the channel by night. By morning we had reached the mouth of the Thames, got off to get on a train, which would take us to Kempton Park.

 

Here we were, unwashed, covered with the brick dust and rust and the news reel was filming our arrival. It was April 28, 1945.

 

Kempton Park.

 

It was embarrassing to know, that we were being filmed while we felt dirty, unkempt and tired. The waiting train was a surprise. It was a passenger train with upholstered seats. In Germany only the first class in the trains had upholstered seats. Sinking into a corner seat, all I wanted to do is close my eyes, enjoy such comfort and perhaps catch up on some sleep. Some of the prisoners had other ideas. They were looking into every ash tray to find some butts, as they had not smoked for a month. I had not started smoking as yet and found their behavior disgusting.

 

We arrived at Kempton Park, a race course near London that had been converted into a transit camp for prisoners arriving in England.

 

We were again searched and here my only possession, the gold colored tin can was taken and thrown on a pile of garbage. I felt I had lost an irreplaceable item. We were also asked to hand over any papers or identification cards which we might have and any wallets. I handed over my small wallet. We were promised to get them back, when we were going to be released. And 3 years later I did indeed get that wallet back.

 

Each of us got thoroughly interviewed. My interviewer tried to convince me that being born in Silesia, I should really be considered to be Polish. I protested and got accepted as being German. As I found out later, a neighbor who could speak Polish, agreed to being Polish and instead of being a German prisoner of war, he ended up as a guard at another POW camp.

 

Passing on to another part of the camp, we stripped down to nothing. All our clothes were put into a bag and sent to be de-loused with steam. Meanwhile we were led to a washroom, where the biggest negro I had ever seen, handed out white towels and bars of soap and we could get under a hot shower. Who cared that it was laundry soap, it foamed and the shower water was warm, there was no rush to get through and I stayed under it until my skin started to wrinkle. In the meantime the clothes came back and the steam had even cleaned them up a bit. After weeks I felt human again. We were fed bowls of vegetable soup, however there were no spoons. We sipped the broth and ate the veggies by using our dog tags as spoons.

 

Next day we were shipped by train to the camp in Otley.

 

Otley, Yorkshire Camp April 29 to June 18, 1945

 

The camp was in 2 parts, surrounded by a high barbed wire fence, guard towers, barbed wire rolls in front of the fence and a single strand of barbed wire in front of that. The single strand of barbed wire indicated the limit of the area prisoners could move in. One part of the camp was for officers only, the other for prisoners below the rank of lieutenant. It was located in an open field outside of the town. Accommodation was in 8-man round tents with pie shaped mattresses and blankets. During day time the mattresses were to be folded over in the middle, the blanket folded and placed on top.

 

There were also some larger tents with tables and benches where food was served. Each camp had its own kitchen.

 

There were facilities for washing; the toilets were the outhouse type, 12 seats in a row. We called it the 12 cylinder.

 

The food was the usual, porridge in the morning, a piece of bread for the day and some soup in the evening. Except sometimes the porridge had some raisins or dried prunes in it to sweeten it up a bit and some soup was made from dried peas or beans. The bread was fresh and fluffy, but that made it not very filling. I remember it rained a lot and having to stay cramped in the tent with nothing to do or read, just waiting for the next meal, gave way to boredom. But we had a prisoner that spoke Italian and he offered to teach Italian in the larger mess tent. There was no black board, so we used a table, scrubbed it with sand until it was nearly white. The kitchen was using wood for heating the kettles and the charred wood could be used to write on the surface of the table. I still remember a bit of Italian I learned at that time.

 

One of the prisoners had discovered that where the drains from the kitchen were running into the field, a lot of the pits from the prunes had accumulated. So he sat down and opened them between two stones to get at the seed. I know now that the seed contains a trace of cyanide. If one eats one or two it does not really matter, but the amount that he consumed made him sick and he was taken to a hospital. We never heard whether he survived.

 

One late afternoon a group of five or six prisoners were standing close to the fence that separated the two camps, talking to the officers which they knew. They were still clear of the wire that marked the area we were allowed to move in, A shot fell from one of the towers. We got out of the tents, but were warned to stay inside. A guard had fired a shot into the group. It had hit one of the prisoners just below the shoulder and gone through his chest. Although it did not take long for a doctor to arrive from the other camp, the prisoner had already died. It was quite clear, that this had not been an attempt to escape, as the fence was only the dividing fence between the 2 camps and the fallen body was still inside our camp boundaries. Next morning, at roll call the camp commandant apologized for the shooting and promised that it would be investigated. We never heard anything about it again. The rumor mill though had it, that the brother of the guard had been killed during the war and this was his way of taking vengeance.

 

With all the rain, the areas between the tents had turned to mud, which was getting steadily deeper. Somebody had the bright idea that we needed to beautify the camp. It was amazing the things that were built from clay and stones that were found in the camp. Some had true artistic talents. Granted, they were not all Michelangelos, but we suddenly had a project to work on. Some of the lazy ones had grabbed some coke (the burning not the sniffing type). They put it to the sides of the tent by size and just put 2 signs up: Coke Fine, Coke Coarse. Of course, my friend Hans already showed his engineering talent. We built a windmill, that when running was driving a lever which in turn moved an arm on a figure outside sawing wood. For all this, we needed a belt and I had to sacrifice a piece of my suspenders to make that belt. When judged we did not win the competition, but I think we came in second.

 

In Otley we also got a change of clothes and a kit bag. Now we had something more than just whatever we were wearing and we had a change to do the laundry. The outer wear were British army uniforms, dyed darker brown with large bright red patches on the back of the jackets and smaller patches on the front and back of the pant legs.

 

On May 08, we were informed that Germany had surrendered and the war was over.

 

We noticed some changes. Our meager rations were cut even further. While it was assumed, that it was done because Germany no longer had Allied prisoners and could not retaliate, I think it was done to prepare us for volunteering to go to work.

 

Apparently the Geneva Convention does not allow the use of POWs to work for the country they were at war with. However the work of volunteers is acceptable. The hunger got worse, we were getting weaker. During roll call in the morning, which meant standing still for quite some time, people were collapsing. One day, after roll call, with everybody assembled, we were told that if we were to volunteer to go to work, we would be transferred to a better camp and the rations would be increased to a workers rate. I believe, except for 2 holdouts, everybody volunteered.

 

In the morning of June 19, we got an extra helping of porridge and marched out of the Otley camp.

 

Skipton, Yorkshire, Camp June 19 to November 08, 1945

 

I believe the distance from Otley to Skipton is about 15 miles. I looked this up now, as at that time maps or information on the location was strictly a no-no. We marched and even were allowed to sing some German marching songs. Halfway, about noon, we stopped at a field for a rest, some food was waiting for us and even some of the usual metal pails and some toilet paper were provided.

 

Later in the afternoon we arrived at the camp and everybody gave a sigh of relief. Here were barracks and the paths between the barracks were no longer a muddy field. The camp had been occupied before us by Italian POWs. They were now on their way home. Hans and I got into the same barrack. There were bunk beds, 2 high, with mattresses on a wire mesh support. Hans took the upper bunk. Each bed had 2 blankets; we got a mess kit, plate and cutlery. We were shown how to make the bed. The mattress was to be folded in half. The kit bag placed on the head end. One blanket was to be folded in a way that it could be wrapped into the second blanket and then placed on the folded mattress. Spare shoes were to be cleaned and be placed, soles up against the folded mattress. A towel was to be folded, placed on the wire mesh at the foot end and the plate and cutlery placed on it. We had no problems following that, the barrack looked neat when we were at work.

 

For work we were split into groups, some were assigned to work on farms, others to dig drainage ditches and lay clay pipe drains. An attempt was made to assign a prisoner to each group, who could speak English. When asked who could speak English, I did not raise my hand, following the old army rule never to volunteer. But others were saying: "You went to high school, you should be able to speak English". So I was assigned with 2 others to work on a farm. It was time to bring in the hay.

 

Before we were let loose at the English population, we were instructed on how to behave. There would be no fraternizing. Any conversation would be restricted to the subject required for the proper performance at work. We were not allowed to enter any premises and certainly not become friendly with our employers or others. Any disobedience would result in a removal from the workplace and incarceration in camp. The employers were informed of these requirements and also were told not to give us any food.

 

Fortunately most people found that silly and we communicated like normal people. However, we stayed out of the farmhouse and ate our food in a room in the barn. They must have seen that we came with dry slices of bread or just some margarine scratched on them, because we found a bowl of lettuce leaves on the table where we ate. I was somewhat embarrassed, when they asked me to drive the hay truck along the field and I had to tell them that I did not know how to drive.

 

We were driven to work in the back of a lorry with 2 guards armed with rifles. I noticed one of the guards, a young soldier, was constantly moving his jaws. I did not know whether he was grinding his teeth or had some other affliction. I asked the other guard what was wrong with him. He looked and started to laugh, pulled out a small package and handed it to me. And that was the first time I had a piece of chewing gum.

 

When the hay was in, we were assigned to the group that was putting in drainage pipes. We were driven out to the fields, got these long-bladed spades and were told to start digging along the lines that were laid out. An older guy was the foreman, but unfortunately he only spoke Chinese, or at least his mumblings in the Yorkshire dialect sounded to me like that. There was a hut with a stove where he made his tea and also some for us. But we also used it to toast our bread on the top plate. At least that gave it some taste.

 

Some time later I was assigned to another farm. Here we were to pull weeds from potato fields. When the owner noticed that I could speak and understand English, they kept me at the farm. I tended to those important chores like chopping firewood, cleaning out the pig sty and cooling milk. Next morning I was to prepare the milk cans for the pick up. I had not had a taste of fresh milk for months. There was a measuring cup nearby. I filled it with milk and drank it. As the cup had only a short handle, I really only skimmed the top, not recognizing, that it contained a lot of cream. Having had no or very little fat in my food for all this time and suddenly getting a cup of cream, played hell with my digestion. In the afternoon I had a fever and severe diarrhea. I was admitted to the hospital barrack and treated for dysentery. Two days later I was ok again. I was reassigned to a group that was straightening out and cleaning a small ditch. It was not really hard work and as a bonus there were lots of blackberries growing along the ditch. We sure helped ourselves to them and I was also able to take some back for Hans. He mashed them and used them as jam on his bread. During that time we were issued postcards to write home. These cards had a special coating to prevent the use of invisible ink. A drop of water on the card would turn the wet area brown. I was writing home to my mother, but I never got an answer. Later I found out why. I mentioned in the beginning that I used to live in Silesia and Silesia was annexed by Poland after the war. They had changed the German names of the villages and towns into Polish and the Polish postal service refused to deliver anything with a German address. So my mail went to a waste basket.

 

Until 1947 I had no idea whether I still had a family, where they might be and if they were still alive. In Germany I was considered as missing in action. As I knew of no other relatives or acquaintances outside of Silesia, I had nobody else I could contact.

 

Hans was in luck. His relatives lived in the Eastern part of Bavaria and he had relatives in Switzerland. One day Hans got a parcel from Switzerland. I forgot the content but I still remember the letter from the British Customs. The letter said that in the parcel were cigarettes. The import of cigarettes was subject to a customs charge, but as a POW he had no money, they would allow it free of charge this one time. However the letter was signed: "Your obedient servant". Imagine that, a British government office sending a letter signed like that to a POW. We were impressed.

 

One day a new batch of prisoners arrived. They were POWs coming from the USA and had thought they were on their way home. Instead they had to serve more time in England. They had been prisoners for quite a while. We admired their uniforms. Black shirts, black pants, no patches, just PW printed in white on the shirts and pants.

 

After many years in prison, these guys knew all the tricks. It did not take them long to figure out a way to get out of the camp. With British guards carrying loaded rifles patrolling the fence, they made it out at night, milking cows in the fields. We wondered how they were able to get some fresh milk, but they did not tell.

 

The war being over, with no place to escape to, because Germany was occupied by Allied troops, the British camp administration had a clever idea. They established a camp police made up of POWs. They were now patrolling the fence at night and they caught prisoners trying to sneak out of the camp. Getting caught was not all that bad, 3 days in the calaboose was the usual punishment. So instead being in a large barrack, they had a single room, the food was coming from the guard's kitchen and they had to work by moving coke in wheelbarrows approx. 50 feet from one heap to the other. Nobody cared how much was in the wheelbarrow or how fast you were moving. This was easier than the work outside.

 

Some prisoners were stationed permanently on farms but they were allowed to come back to camp to visit. One of them talked to me and told me that the farmer had a daughter, not quite 16 years old. She was always trying to be close to him. It happened as expected, her mother found them together. The mother was afraid, that the daughter might be pregnant and took her to see a doctor. The doctor diagnosed that she was not pregnant, but noticed that she was not 16 as yet. He had to report it to the authorities. The prisoner was charged with having intercourse with a minor. Old Bailey in their powdered wigs came to town. A British officer was appointed as his defense council. He pleaded guilty and received a "severe" punishment. They ordered him to be deported to Germany. It meant that he was sent home, while we stayed imprisoned for another 3 years. As working prisoners we were getting paid, 2 shillings per week. It was not really money, more like coupons that could only be used for purchases in the camp. One could buy toiletries, pencils, cigarettes but no food. My first purchases were a toothbrush and toothpaste. I did not need to buy a razor and blades, as I did not need to shave as yet.

 

On July 07, I turned 18 years old. My birthday present was a second helping of soup in the evening.

 

In all the time I spent as a POW, I had never seen anybody from the Red Cross and we certainly did not get any support or parcels from that organization. But others cared.

 

It was the Salvation Army that came, asked permission to take us to their hall for a coffee. Prisoners, that gave their word of honor not to escape were allowed to leave on a Sunday afternoon and were treated to coffee and cookies. But it was also different to walk out of the camp not in formation but strolling down the road side by side with the Sally Ann members while they tried to talk to us. Later they came and delivered used books to the camp library. The first book I read was "The Count of Monte Christo". I was amazed that I had no problem reading it.

 

The Salvation Army has remained my favorite charitable organization and I have been supporting it over the years.

 

At the beginning of November, Hans was told that he was going to be transferred to a hostel with about 60 to 70 other prisoners. I went to the German camp leader and asked to be transferred with him. The answer was a straight "No". Yet, I got lucky. They needed one of the prisoners to stay in camp. I was put on the list of transfers but was informed that I had to work in a limestone quarry near Clitheroe. I did not care. We were transferred on November 09, 1945.

 

Hostel Gisburn, November 09, 1945 to May 1948

 

We arrived at a building that had been called the Corner House Café, located at Hwy A59 and the exit to Barnoldswick. I guess it had at one time served as a café, but was changed to a POW hostel to be used by Italian POWs. It was gated with a single barbed wire fence around it. Just outside of the gate was a creek which I believe is part of the Ribble river system. The Building held 2 large and several smaller rooms. The largest room was used as a bedroom, equipped with double bunks, the same as the ones used in Skipton. The other large room was used as a mess hall, but it also had a table tennis table and a snooker table. A German sergeant was camp leader. He had a separate and lockable room, as it also held the little camp store.

 

A British sergeant and a lance corporal and private were assigned as administrators and their bedrooms were in a separate area of the building.

 

The Limestone Quarry.

 

We were taken there by truck, dropped off on the road and walked to the quarry. It had a small building where the workers could brew their tea for lunch and we had our lunch with them.

 

Limestone was blasted out of the quarry walls. Huge rocks were drilled and blasted again. But rocks about 2 ˝ feet in diameter, had to be broken with a heavy steel hammer, as they would have been too large for the crusher at the factory. Small trains of 4 lorries were pulled by a horse to and from the loading area to a winch, which would haul them up to the quarry rim. From there they were running on rails by gravity towards the crusher.

 

The quarry workers worked on piece work. They were paid by the number of lorries they loaded and sent to the winch. Each worker carried rings with a number which were put on each full lorry and it identified his output and thus determined his pay. POWs could not be forced to work piece work, so 2 prisoners were assigned to one worker and each would fill 2 lorries.

 

Every occupation has to be learned. While the worker would look at the rock, turn it, hit it with the hammer once and it broke into pieces, we would just chip corners off and nearly break our backs doing it. So the worker tried to show us the trick. But it made us think. Why could we not work as a team, he would break and we would load the stones. The lorries still went up, 2 credited to him and 2 to us. But of course his output went up, because 2 people load faster than one and he did not have to switch from breaking to loading. It made him and us more efficient. He was happy because his pay went up. The system worked just fine for him and us.

 

I also got promoted. The worker running the winch was old and got sick. The other workers must not have been interested in that job, because it was not piece work and paid less. So perhaps because I could speak some English, they did choose me. Now I hooked 4 empty lorries to a steel rope, waited until 4 full ones were hooked on the other rope, sent the empty ones down, while the full ones were coming up. Disconnected them, pushed them on the rails towards the crusher and gave them a light push. I thought I had it made.

 

Christmas 1945

 

There was no time to get bored after returning from work. The manufacture of toys had begun. Miraculously small hand tools appeared in camp. We also found a gold mine, the local garbage dump. I guess we introduced recycling before it became fashionable in this century. Old tool handles were sliced into wheels for cars and trains, tin cans were hammered into shapes and the British army donated, without their knowledge, boards from empty ammunition boxes, which were stored in the unused part of the limestone quarry. Old potato sacks were washed dyed and turned into slippers. The proceeds from the sales were of course in English money. We were getting rich. We also found discarded shoes. They needed repair and a polish, but we had the time and ended up with shoes. Another way of getting proper money was by barter. I bought Woodbine cigarettes which sold in the camp for ten and a half pence per pack and sold them to the guards or fellow workers in the quarry for ten pence. I lost half a penny on the deal, but I had it now in English money. The store in Gisburn sold small loaves of bread for four and a half pence, so a package of Woodbines could be turned into 2 loaves of bread. On the way to work we asked the driver to stop at the store. I had collected money from the others, hopped out of the truck and bought the bread, which of course was against any rules we were supposed to follow.

 

One day, as I came out of the store with an armful of loaves, I faced the local bobby. He came towards me and I already saw myself for 3 days in the calaboose. Instead, he took half of the loaves, carried them to the truck and wished us a good day.

 

With Christmas Eve approaching, a farmer had allowed the prisoner that worked for him, to get a small spruce tree from his bush. We were able to buy some candles and saved the tin foil from the cigarette packages for decorations. Everybody purchased a small item from the camp store, wrapped it and it went into a bag as presents.

 

Christmas Eve 1945.

 

When the first candle was lit and dedicated to our loved ones at home, most of the men had a lump in their throats and tears in their eyes. I felt so sad, as I did not even know whether I still had a family, where they might be and whether I would ever find them again.

 

As a special favor we would be allowed to attend midnight mass at the Roman Catholic Church in Barnoldswick, if we gave our word of honor to return right after mass. It was a cold night and we did not have any overcoats, but most of us walked the 2 miles to attend mass. We were not sure what to expect from the parishioners, so we stayed in the back of the church. The catholic mass is the same in both countries which made us feel at home. At the end of the mass, as the lights were extinguished and only the tree lights were lit, they sang : "Quiet Night, Holy Night" At the end, the priest came forward and said that they had some friends with them in church that night, and that they might like to sing it in their own language. We did sing: "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht" and we were quite touched by that kind offer. As soon as the lights came on, we were surrounded by people wishing us a Merry Christmas and wanting to take us home with them. But we had given our word of honor and reluctantly had to leave.

 

And this is how I always remember the people of that area, kind and hospitable.

 

A Change of Jobs.

 

One of the cooks was taken ill, sent back to the camp in Skipton and never returned. The camp leader needed a replacement. A few months earlier he would have been swamped with people volunteering for the job. Since we were able to buy bread and supplement our rations with that, one had to weigh having enough food, against being cooped up in camp, never being able to interact with people outside the camp and getting up every day at 5 in the morning to prepare breakfast. In short, there were no volunteers. One evening, the German camp leader came to me and told me that he is assigning me to kitchen duty. I do not know the reason for choosing me, but perhaps he felt that being the youngest in camp, I should not work in the quarry. Or perhaps he expected the least resistance from me to follow orders. So the camp had a new junior cook.

 

My Pen Pal Mary.

 

On the evening of the last working day at the quarry, we stopped again at the store in Gisburn and I went in to make some purchases. I was served by two beautiful teenage girls. I told them, that this was my last day outside of the camp and I would not be able to come to the store anymore as I was going to be a cook. When I left and said good night, one of the girls said : "Gute Nacht". I was surprised because her pronunciation was perfect. I smiled and left.

 

The job in the kitchen was easy, cooking porridge was no problem, washing dishes, peeling potatoes required no special talent and preparing the simple meals at night was easy to learn.

 

But being cooped up behind barbed wire all the time, with only the same people to communicate in the evening, never seeing anything else but the surroundings of the camp through the barbed wire, were starting to take its toll.

 

While most of the others were getting mail and had heard from their families I felt all alone. We had no idea how long our imprisonment might last. It was nearly one year since the war was over and yet not one prisoner had been sent home. And if I would be sent home, where would I go? I no longer had a home, Silesia now belonged to Poland. What would I do? I needed 3 more years just to get my high school diploma. The idea of suicide did not seem such a terrible way out. Then one night, one of the older prisoners working in Gisburn said to me, that the daughter of his employer told him that she knows me and whether I am still in camp. Of course I did not know who he was talking about, but he mentioned, that she was in high school and taking German. Then it dawned on me, the girl from the store. And by sending a note a beautiful friendship started. I was able to improve my English and she tried a bit of German, but mostly we used English to communicate. The thoughts of suicide were wiped out by one note from a friendly girl.

 

I now had somebody that liked me although I had nothing to offer her, no dates no dances, no flowers, just letters. But what her letters did for me in this darkest time of my life, I will always cherish.

 

Our Guards.

 

I have mentioned before, that we did have guards in camp, a sergeant and two lower ranks. I guess they had rifles with them, but they were there as overseers or administrators. Most of the evenings one stayed behind and the other 2 went into town to have a beer or perhaps a date. What was the other one to do, he mingled with us. There was Taffy from Wales, Jock from Scotland and our sergeant from Ireland. Taffy was a junior snooker champion and he showed us how to play snooker and Jock became center forward in our soccer team. The Irish sergeant was so proudly Irish, that if we wanted to get his goat, we called him English. His face would become beet red and he would explode.

 

But the one I will never forget was Corporal Hartman. He was older than Taffy and Jock, was married and had a 6 year old daughter. While the others went out every night on a rotating basis, he only went out on payday, went to the pub for a beer and a chat with the lads and came back. As the guards quarters were next to the kitchen we talked to each other a lot. When I kidded him that the other guards had lots of girlfriends in town, he replied: "Erwin, they have lots of girls and yet they have none. I have a wife and daughter and they belong to me alone".

 

He was a simple man, who worked in a brick factory, but he was a "Mensch". When we first saw each other he seemed surprised. Later when we sat down and chatted, he said: "You know Erwin I seem to know you, but how can that be?" And I replied that I had the same feeling. He told me that he had been in Holland and in Germany and we compared the places. He mentioned guarding a camp, the first one I was in. So I asked him if he threw 2 packages of biscuits over the fence to a prisoner. And then we both remembered. Here we met again and did not have to be afraid of each other anymore.

 

One day he told me that on the weekend he would be alone, the others being away and on furlough and his wife and daughter were coming to visit him. This was against the rules and would we keep it quiet. Of course we did, but having a child in camp got the people excited. Most had children at home, which they had not seen for a long time. The toy manufacture started, people wanted a present for the little girl. It was like a family celebration. In the afternoon Corporal Hartman wanted to take his wife and the girl and show them the neighborhood. The little girl did not want to leave and told him that she would rather stay with the Germans. It made us so proud and we were sorry when they left and hugged us.

 

He was eagerly waiting to be demobbed and to get back to his family. When he finally got his demobilization papers, he came into the kitchen, papers in hand and jumped clear over the kitchen table. But on the day he left, he hugged us and had tears in his eyes. We lost a friend.

 

One evening two of the guards brought two young ladies to their quarters and they were going to stay the night. Just that night a jeep came into the camp carrying an officer and his driver for a surprise inspection. I saw them coming, dashed into the guards quarters, locked the girls into the guards washroom while the guards were fixing up their rooms. We quickly agreed that the washroom was locked because the toilet was blocked and would be repaired next day. It worked; the girls were not found out and they were quite grateful for the warning.

 

Things are Getting Better.

 

I mentioned before about feeling depressed from never seeing anything else but the barbed wire fence and not knowing when this would change.

 

A small change was introduced in 1946. Those prisoners employed in the camp, were allowed to leave the camp and walk up to 5 miles away from the camp, but the non-fraternization rules still had to be followed, no entering of villages, premises or talking to civilians. It got me out of the camp and if somebody stopped and talked to me and I mentioned that I was not allowed to talk to them, they just laughed and said that these were silly army rules and had nothing to do with them. I started making friends outside. I also got more daring and walked into the town of Barnoldswick. Every time I did that, it seemed to become a small adventure.

 

The Library.

 

I discovered the Paragon Library on Skipton Road. It was a private library and there was a charge for the books. But after a short while, when the owners were sure that I was returning the books, they no longer charged me and over the years I must have read every Edgar Wallace detective story and every Tarzan book they had on their shelves.

 

The Watchmaker.

 

The crystal on my wristwatch, which I had bartered from another prisoner, broke. I found a watchmaker in Barnoldswick and walked into his shop. I asked him how much he would charge me for installing a new crystal. He looked at me, scratched his head and said: "7 shillings for an Englishman, 2 shillings for a POW". When I looked surprised, he told me that he had been a POW in the Rhineland in WW I and had been treated very well. Now he was returning that kindness. He took me to the back of his store, poured a cup of tea and we talked. He invited me to come back any time for a chat.

 

As time went by, the water and shockproof watches came on the market. I would have loved to own one, but I could not afford the price of 4 pounds for the watch. He told me to be patient and indeed a watch was returned to him and he sold it to me for 2 pounds. I still have that watch, keeping it as a memento.

 

The Movie.

 

Prior to the war, we kids were able to watch Western movies like Tom Mix and we loved it. But that was stopped during the war.

 

Walking through Barnoldswick, I found the movie house and they were playing a Western. It was still in black and white of course but I loved to see it. I was not quite sure; would they throw me out if I walked in? I had the money to pay for my ticket. My desire to see the movie was stronger than my fear of being embarrassed and kicked out. I waited until the movie had started and the theater was dark when I walked in. I sat down beside a lady. She looked at me a few times and I wondered whether she would call out, that a German POW was sitting in the audience. But she opened a bag of candies and offered me one.

 

The Sheldrakes.

 

On one of my excursions into town a gentleman started to talk to me. It must have been quite interesting for him, because he invited me to visit him at home and he gave me his home address. Yet I was too shy to go to his house. I imagined myself standing in front of the house with his wife coming to the door and not knowing anything about the invitation. But a few weeks later, when I was in town again, I met him and his wife. He said: "See, this is the POW I was telling you about." and she said: "You men can never get anything right. You just do not leave an invitation open; ask him when he is going to come?" We made an appointment, had nice evening together and I got an open invitation to drop in any time. I liked Mrs. Sheldrake, she was such a motherly type and I missed my own mother. Their son Bill was about my age and about my size. One evening he told his parents that he was going to take me out. He put some of his clothes out, I changed into civilian clothes and we went to his club. We had a beer, played some snooker, I talked to his friends and although I could not hide my German accent, nobody seemed to care.

 

Mrs. Sheldrake knew that I had not found my family yet and tried to convince me to stay in England. She was going to find a good wife for me. Some time later we were indeed offered to stay on as civilian workers. The hostel would be converted into a rooming house, the workers would be paid 4 pounds/week plus free room and board. I was to stay on as their cook and would earn 5 pounds/week. I signed a contract to stay for one year and was offered a job in a hotel kitchen after the year. Mrs. Sheldrake was happy for me.

 

The Collapse of Non-Fraternization.

 

It did not go with a big bang, it just gradually crept in. As soon as the rest of the prisoners were allowed to leave the camp in their spare time, contacts with the civilian population increased. Most of the prisoners had learned to communicate in English, although writing was another story.

 

The Girlfriends.

 

Some of the younger prisoners met young ladies. They were able to communicate verbally, but if they got a note from them or wanted to tell them something on paper, they came to me for help. I obviously did not have any experience in writing love letters to ladies that I did not even know, but I guess reading a lot, which included romance novels, helped. The prisoners got love letters back, which in turn I had to answer. I wondered, if these ladies ever got together and while talking about their German boyfriends compared notes, they would think that all Germans had the same handwriting and writing style.

 

The Difficulty of Word for Word Translation.

 

Two of our prisoners got invited to a party at a home in town. There was food and drink and dancing, They were asked whether they had parties like that in Germany and what they were doing at these parties. They replied that they did the same things, eat, drink and dance. But while in England at that time they danced slow dances and they did it without bothering to roll up the carpet, they wanted to say that for the waltzes and polkas in Germany, they were dancing on a bare floor.

 

What they did say was: "But we always dance on a naked bottom". They did not get it why the rest of the people were killing themselves laughing.

 

The Baptist Church in Burnley.

 

The minister had asked the guards whether two English speaking prisoners could join them at a meeting. A fellow prisoner and I were chosen to attend that meeting. They wanted to do something special for us and held the meeting in a café known for its fine teas. And fine it was indeed. The sandwiches were paper thin and covered with things we had not seen in years and the little cakes were delicious. The mostly older ladies were just nibbling on these things. My buddy looked at me and we were trying to decide whether to be polite and also just nibble or to dig in. We consoled ourselves that if we do not eat the food it will most likely go to waste, so we dug in. It seemed to surprise the ladies and they questioned us about the food we were getting in camp. We told them and afterwards these good-hearted ladies came by the camp once in a while and dropped off some goodies, much appreciated also by the other prisoners.

 

The Soccer Games.

 

In 1947, a soccer club in Barnoldswick asked if we were interested in playing a game against their second team. The problem was that of the about 65 prisoners in the hostel, quite a number were 40 years and older and they had not played in years. We were able to get a ball for our team to do some training, but we seemed to be missing one player. As the team started to kick the ball around, we found him, Jock our guard from Scotland. He was put into black pants with a blue patch and a blue short sleeved shirt with a black patch and we had our center forward.

 

There was quite a crowd at the soccer field for the match and of course most of us were there to cheer for our team. Willy was our goalkeeper. Every time there was a kickoff from the goal, we shouted: "Hau Ruck" (pronounced "how rook") and every time the ball came close to our goal we shouted : "Willy". The crowd liked that and before you knew, they were shouting with us: "Hau Ruck" and "Willy". We won 2:1. The local crowd disliked their own goalkeeper. Every time he stopped a ball he pretended to be hurt and the crowd knew that from other games. We enjoyed their support.

 

After the game, they were all around us, talking to us and inviting us. I was standing beside Jock, who had scored one of the goals. A lady started to talk to him and when he started to answer in his best Scottish brogue, she looked at him in his POW garb and said: "My god, how many years have they kept you in Scotland?"

 

Bert Trautman.

 

Some might still remember that at that time the Manchester City soccer club discovered the talents of a POW as a goal keeper. He stayed in England after his release, got married, played for the club, broke his collar bone during the final cup match but played to the end of the game. They won the cup that year. He was treated like a hero.

 

I am Found.

 

I have mentioned before that because my home was in Silesia, which was annexed by Poland after the war, I could not contact my family and they in turn considered me as missing in action.

 

Some time after the war, the Red Cross established a central site in Hamburg dedicated to bring families together. We were issued cards to fill out with our name and former address, next of kin etc. I had filled one out and it was sent to the Red Cross in Hamburg. I had given up listening to the names called when mail arrived in camp, but in 1947 my name was called. I looked at the envelope, but I did not recognize the handwriting.

 

It turned out, the letter was from an uncle of mine. He had served as an officer in the German army, was wounded at the Russian front and ended up in a military hospital in Western Germany, which was part of the British zone. He had been trying to contact his parents, my grandparents and was not successful. But he managed to find my mother as he was able to get the new Polish address. She told him that I was still missing. He wrote to the Red Cross, got my card with the address of my camp and contacted me. He also sent the new Polish address for my mother to me and sent my address in England to her. From that time I received letters from her and I wrote back, but it took 14 years until we saw each other again.

 

Another uncle of mine, my godfather, had been taken POW in France, was released and settled in Hannover. My younger brother, 15 years old at that time, had escaped from Silesia before the new Polish border was closed and had joined my uncle. I now had contacts in Western Germany.

 

The End is in Sight.

 

Perhaps the most stressful thing on our minds was not knowing when we would be free. It felt like being sentenced to an indefinite prison term.

 

Although nothing was officially told to us, in 1947 we heard through the grapevine that the release of prisoners had started. It was done on a first in, first out basis. The first POWs were mostly pilots, seamen, soldiers from the African campaign, etc. Their numbers were relatively small. The gross were taken after D-Day. As myself and nearly all of the others in the Camp in Skipton and its hostels were taken prisoner at the end of the war, we knew, we would be released last and had no idea when that would be. There was never an official time schedule given.

 

I have mentioned before, that I had signed up to stay another year in England after our release. Early in 1948 plans were made to convert our hostel into a rooming house. The double bunks were to be replaced with single beds, the barbed wire fence torn down. The 1-year contract would be binding; people would have to stay at the job with the pay they contracted for. After the year they would be free to change jobs or go back to Germany.

 

However, it was not supposed to be. About February 1948, we were told that only a certain number of German prisoners had been allotted for staying in Yorkshire and that number had already been filled. We would be sent back to Germany.

 

I did not know whether to be elated or to be sorry. I knew I could not go home, as my former home was now in Poland. I had no real skills to support myself, as I had been drafted before I had even finished high school. The only relatives I had in Germany were my uncle and my brother, living in one room in a house partially damaged by bombs.

 

It also did upset my "foster mother", the sweet and kind Mrs. Sheldrake. She was going to write to the government to let me stay. I assume she had already picked out a girl she was going to introduce me to. I never told her, that secretly my heart already belonged to another girl - my pen pal, Mary.

 

The Dismantling.

 

In April 1948 the gross of the prisoners were moved from the hostel back to the camp in Skipton. I had to say goodbye to my buddy Hans. About half a dozen men including myself stayed to help in the clean up. I was now cooking for a small crew and sorted and packed unused kitchen utensils. A few civilian workmen came to cut down the barbed wire fence and to do some inside renovations. I have to admit to feeling melancholic when it was time to leave and move back to Skipton.

 

The camp was also being dismantled. Most of the prisoners were gone. I moved now into the former guard's kitchen, cooking for about 20 men.

 

But this also came to an end and in the beginning of May we were moved to a pre-release camp in Nuneaton, Warwickshire.

 

Nuneaton, Warwickshire May 1948

 

The camp seemed like a throwback to 1945. Miserable food, strict enforcement of rules, searches of the barracks in the evenings, a sergeant wallowing in his own importance. The men before us had also been busy fabricating toys and yet the searches never discovered that a lot of tools were hidden under a removable table top.

 

Prisoners ready to be released during the next 2 weeks did not have to work and were allowed to leave the camp in daytime. Those not listed yet for release, were sent to work in brick factories. We were told that those jobs were hard and physically demanding and we could expect to be assigned to them.

 

In our barrack I met another prisoner who was my age and also a student when he was captured. The next day he came to me and said in the camp office was a note on the board that they were looking for 3 painters. He convinced me, that painting was easier than working in the brick factory. So we applied. We were told that the 3rd applicant was a plasterer and not a painter, but with us being painters we should be ok. The job was at a private residence, we would be paid by the owner who would pick us up in the morning and bring us back at night. To allow that deal, we were to be placed on the list of prisoners to be released and thus not sent to the brick factories.

 

The plasterer was really the only one that knew anything about painting. As it turned out, our new employer owned the Prince's Café on Prince's Street. The café was located across the street from a textile factory and workers came over to buy lunches for take-out or eat their lunches at the café.

 

Mr. McNaught, the owner, drove us to a paint store where we picked up the paint and tools. Under the guidance of the plasterer we painted the café over a weekend. As we were not paid by the hour we were not hurried along and I think we did a decent job because Mr. McNaught proudly showed off his café painted by his German specialists. The job finished he hummed and hawed and finally telling us that now he needed a bricklayer. He wanted to tear out an old fireplace in one of the rooms and install a new one. Now, a German plasterer is also quite able to lay bricks, so we assured him that we would do the job. So again we hopped in the car, went to pick up a fireplace, tore out the old one and fitted the new one. Of course, to make the room look nice it also needed painting. This made other rooms look shabby and so we went on painting.

 

And he had another job. The wooden garage in his backyard was in a sad shape and hard to drive into. If it could be turned 90 degrees, it would be much easier to drive in. So, we got the bricks, dug and laid a proper brick foundation, repaired the bottom part of the wooden garage turned it and he had the garage he wanted.

 

The turning of the garage also required changes to the old wooden fence. It was slowly rotting on the top an bottom. Mr. McNaught shook his head and said that at that moment he really did not have the money for a new fence, as wood was expensive. No problem, we took the old boards off, cut the rotten parts on top and bottom, got some new wood for the frame and to finish the top, nailed the old boards back. He had his fence. With some new paint it looked like new. He shook his head and said: "Boys, I sure wish I could keep you here. I could make a lot of money with you guys".

 

But he also showed his gratitude. He paid us, he provided good lunches for us and in the evening he packed all the left-over food from the café for us to take to the camp. The guys in the barrack were always eagerly waiting for our return and the goodies we were bringing back.

 

When we said good-bye because we were now leaving for Germany, he mentioned that he would have never believed the jobs German painters can do. At that time we told him that we were not even painters.

 

The Trip Back.

 

Somehow I remember very little about the crossing of the channel except that it was on a normal passenger ship in daytime and we landed in Holland. A train was waiting to take us Munsterlager, a camp all former POWs had to pass through before being sent to the destination of their choice.

 

Discharge papers were prepared, some money in Reichsmark was issued to us and on the next day, May 25, 1948, I was on my way to Hannover. It was the address of my uncle and brother, my only relatives in the Western occupied zones of Germany.

 

Here I was, 20 years old, away from my family since I was 16, had spent 3 months in the German Army and 3 years and 2 months as a Prisoner of War. I had not finished high school, did not learn a trade. My clothes were a British army uniform dyed dark brown to hide the red patches on the back of the jacket and the pants, which had identified us a POWs. In my kit bag I had a change of underwear. The money that had been issued to me was of no value as food was rationed and there was nothing in the stores to buy.

 

I found my uncle's and brother's address, one room in a house partially damaged by bombs. They both had worked initially with picks and shovels clearing ruins and rubble left from the bombings, but had found employment in offices. With strong family bonds there was no question that I would join them, although it meant, that again I would have to share a bed. It was also clear that while they could offer me accommodation, I would have to find a job to support myself.

 

Life as a Civilian - a Quick Review.

 

I Find a Job.

 

One of my favorite subjects in high school had been Chemistry. I immediately found employment in the technical laboratory of an oil refinery. When they discovered I was able to read and translate American test methods, I gained a bit of status.

 

The "Wirtschaftswunder) (Economic miracle).

 

In June of 1948, Germany changed the currency to Deutsche Mark. All monies given to me at my release was worthless. Everybody received 40 Deutsche Mark. But miraculously the stores seemed to fill up with goods. Prison had taught me to live frugally and save. My first larger purchases were a suit and a bicycle.

 

Back to School.

 

In the spring of 1949 night school classes were offered leading to senior matriculation. I enrolled with 47 other students. It was a hard undertaking to work 48 hours, 6 days per week, and go to school from 6:00 -10:00 p.m. from Monday to Friday and 2 hours on Saturday afternoon. To get to school after my shift, I had to ride my bicycle for 8 miles one way. It left no time for any social life and showed up in the rapid decrease of our class size. After one year the class was down to 8 students. All 8 stayed for the second year, only 4 actually graduated in spring of 1951.

 

What Now?

 

I had my senior matriculation and got a small increase in my pay. Yet I knew I had to do something if I wanted a better future. I talked to my friend Hans, who was studying Physics and one of my cousins, studying Medicine, both at the University in Munich. They convinced me to try it too. I also discussed it with my boss, the chief chemist. He assured me, that I could always have my old job back and he offered me employment during the semester breaks. I worked for another year and in 1952, having saved a war chest of 500 DM, I enrolled at the Technical University of Hannover. With some stipends, earning money by tutoring high school students and working during the semester breaks I made it through University, graduating in 1959 as Diplom Chemiker (equivalent to an MSc.in Chemistry).

 

Back to Work.

 

A small company in Hannover that specialized in the manufacture of cleaners and disinfectants hired me even before my final exams. Having found employment and earning a salary, I got married.

 

There was always this itch to see more of the world before settling down with children. I quit my job and in 1961 we emigrated to Canada. A new plant in London, Ontario, that manufactured telephones was looking for a chemical engineer and I was hired. I stayed 27 years, managing engineering departments for manufacturing, research and development, flexible manufacturing (Robotics). In 1968, I became a Canadian Citizen, a move I never regretted.

 

And for those, who wonder what became of my friend Hans. He graduated with a Ph.D. in Physics and directed a large R&D department of a multinational company in Munich.

 

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