Corporal Harold G. Scharfe
Unit : The Essex Scottish Regiment, 2nd Canadian Division.
Served : France (captured)
Army No. : A21293
POW No. : 25842
Camps : Stalag VIIIB/344, IID, 357
Life in Stalag VIIIB as experienced by Cpl. Harold G. Scharfe taken prisoner August 19,1942 at Dieppe France. The camp is located at Lamsdorf Germany near Breslau, and was occupied by more than 10,000 men. Served with the Essex Scottish Regiment Sept. 6/39 - Sept. 12/45, Canadian 2nd Division.
I enlisted at 17 and father threatened to take me out of service but I convinced him to allow me to stay because I would be with those I went to school with. July 1940 arrived on Empress of Australia at Gurock, Scotland, and by rail transported to Aldershot, England. Later stationed in Brighton and other south coast locations to defend against German invasion, who were only 22 miles away in France. Later trained on the Isle of Wight as a commando and on Aug.19, 1942 participated in one of the biggest blunders of the entire war. The Dieppe Raid. We were told that the element of surprise was the key to this raid being a success. The opposite occurred as we became the fodder for the Germans who were positioned in cliffs overlooking the beaches of Dieppe and in other strategic defensive positions. Before landing we encountered a German patrol and the defenders were advised of our presence in the English Channel. After 9 hours of German fire on an open beach with little or no cover, 907 of my buddies gave their lives and I was lucky and became the guest of Hitler's Third Reich.
The next 4 days and nights were spent standing up in boxcars with little food or water and no toilet facilities. After being treated like animals and putting up with the unbearable stench we arrived at our final destination, Stalag VIII B, Lamsdorf, Germany in the Polish corridor. Oct.8 we were tied with rope every day and eventually we were shackled with chains each day for a total of 13 months and were told we would not be treated as soldiers because we were commandos.
As I recall my arrival date was August 26.1942. After standing up in box cars with little food or water for 4 days and nights we were glad to get on real ground and were welcomed in great style by the British Tommies who already had been prisoners since being captured at Dunkirk France in 1940. They gave us cigarettes and food from their Red Cross parcels and after we were assigned to the Canadian compound they helped us to learn how to adjust to our new way of life.
The Germans divided the compounds of 4 double barrack rooms so that generally each nationality was put in the same compound. Each barracks was made of concrete on a concrete floor with poor lighting and a poorly planned heating system, which consisted of a huge oven fueled by coal, which was in very short supply, which meant the barrack rooms were continually cold. The Germans issued us with 1 blanket and some were very badly worn which meant that we slept in our clothes to keep warm. Our beds were 3 tier bunks made of wood and put together with bed boards to hold a straw mattress. Each room held 120 men. We were provided with 3 tables and 6 benches and the washing hands facility was between the barracks and the other building attached. Water was in very short supply so we were very careful to use water sparingly. The small area between rooms was called the ablution room and was also used to do personal laundry when water was available. Our latrine facility was a 40 holer in another building beyond the 4 barrack room double buildings. It was very primitive and the excrement was hauled away each day by a German workman with the assistance of a horse and a wagon which we referred to as the Honey wagon. It was pumped out of a large hole at the rear of the Out House.
Roll Call was done twice each day in all kinds of weather. The Germans always counted us in fives and many times we were detained for as long as 3 to 4 hours and this took place in the middle of winter and winters in Germany and Poland are very very cold. Our day began with roll call at 6a.m. At 8a.m. we were served a ration of ersatz (artificial) hot tea. Many of us used the tea to shave with because we had no hot water. For 13 months we were shackled with chains by the guards prior to roll call. In good weather we would walk and exercise during the morning and at app.11a.m. we were served bed board soup which did not vary very much during the year. At around 3p.m. a ration of 4 potatoes, fish, cheese, very small ration of sausage, artificial jam, margarine and we had to divide a loaf of heavy black bread between 8 men. Thank God we had Red Cross parcels because we would not have survived on German rations alone. The Red Cross also provided us with sports equipment so that in good weather we were able to play softball, soccer, rugby football, volleyball and other activities. In the early part of my captivity I found we could survive on Red Cross parcels but later in the war when the Allies gained supremacy of the air space over Germany our help from the Red Cross dwindled because of the bombed out railroads. All of the supplies from Red Cross came from Switzerland via rail.
Even our parcels from home as well as letters were gradually cut off. All letters were censored and any food in cans in parcels were punctured in order to avoid being used for escape purposes. Softballs and bats were cut into pieces at random to make sure a compass could not be placed inside. From a dozen we would end up with nine. The only music we heard were recordings sent to us by friends. The only time I heard the voice of a woman was on a record. We were continually hearing the voice of Lord Ha Ha over the P.A. system spouting out German propaganda. Stalag VIIIB also had a tunnel completed from an end barrack room, under an in camp road and out into German guard territory under the sentry box he was in. This was in the Canadian compound.
We had an escape committee to screen prisoners to be certain they spoke German, Polish, French, or Dutch and had the proper documents. Everyone wanted to escape but once you were outside the barb wired fence you could be treated as a spy and be shot for no reason. I am told we had 3 get back to England. It took about 9 months to build the tunnel and each Canadian in the compound contributed bed boards to shore up the sides and everyone helped to disperse dirt. Bellows were home made to provide air while one man dug dirt. Finally the enemy discovered this great piece of engineering and did congratulate us on our efforts.
The Geneva Convention states that POW's can be made to work as long as their rank is below corporal. This includes all private soldiers. Work parties were sent out of the camp regularly but the Germans broke the Geneva rules and had men working in mines and doing many other jobs that did not qualify. Our guards were young soldiers recuperating from wounds. Older more understanding veterans of the great depression, who knew Adolph was losing but had to keep silent and a group of very arrogant S.S. troops. The head guard was nicknamed Spitfire because he was very fast and he appeared to be of Mongolian origin and had no decorations on his chest but he was very tough on us and did not bend much.
Because of a shortage of fuel to cook with it was necessary to have a blower. It was constructed of flattened tin cans from the Red Cross parcel. A firepot was made of screen to hold the fuel. A wooden wheel was made and attached to a string and when it was turned it would increase the air flow and in the end conserve fuel. So as long as the wheel is turning very little fuel is required to have a successful brew. This was our only means of cooking and it worked wonders. Someone somewhere in the camp had a radio and we got the news regularly at lunchtime when the guard took a break for his lunch. It was BBC and not the German version which was about 2 weeks behind the truth. We also had our own school, theatre, band, hospital and library. Even though Jews and Arabs were in the same regiments in the British Army they would fight one another and in some instances would be found stabbed to death.
Once a month we were marched to a shower building and were allowed about a 10 minute shower while the bed bugs and lice were being gassed with cyanide.
The medium of exchange was cigarettes and the German soldier was getting a ration of 3 per day. Sometimes from home or the Red Cross we might have as many as 200 cigarettes. Now we have the power to barter with the guards and because I took the trouble to learn a little German I was the one who did the negotiating. We would sometimes pay 10 cigs. for a loaf of bread. In any case all items had a value in cigarettes and supply and demand determined the true values of everything. German guard dogs were brought into the compounds each evening to sniff around before (Lights Out). Eventually the Germans stopped bringing the dogs in because one of our POW's slipped a small piece of chocolate to the dog and from then on he became of no value because he was looking for more chocolate. 3 items in Germany were practically non existent during WWII. They were Cigarettes, coffee, chocolate. My War Log Diary tells me the chains were no longer put on us as of Nov.22/43 and I was moved to Stalag IID near Stettin, Feb.25/44 and then later moved to Stalag 357, Torun, Poland and from Poland I was on a forced Death March for 10 weeks in the latter stages of the war, all the way to a camp near Hannover.
En route we were constantly strafed by our own airmen who did not know we were POW's. On May 2 1945, thanks to both American and British troops, I became a free man and it was time to get even with those who treated us badly. Instead of being assisted back to freedom by Allied troops my buddy Whit Coulter and I decided to take a car from the German doctor who was attached to the defeated division and we headed for the nearest autobahn and were soon caught going too fast by American MP's. Once we convinced them that we were ex POW's they provided us with maps, food and gasoline. Our intention was to sell the car in Belgium to have party money but the American authorities had other ideas and they took the car from us and did get us proper transportation by truck to Brussels where we spent 7 days in a dream of freedom and were eventually picked up by our own Military police for being AWOL. After 30 days in hospital in England, I boarded the Queen Mary and arrived in New York Harbour to a great welcome on July 12, 1945. The next phase of this adventure was the longest train ride of my life but when it ended the girl I left behind me was there waiting at the station to greet me. Edith and I were married the following year in February and have since enjoyed 2 wonderful sons Larry and Raymond as well as 8 grandchildren. In Feb/2006 we will be married 60 years and I might add that we have never had a cross word. In conclusion being a POW is an embarrassing experience and you are always being threatened with the uncertainties and you know the end is going to come sometime and you hope that it will end in your favour. Every day I am reminded how precious freedom is and am also reminded that it is not free. My motto "Every Day Is A Bonus".
Harold Scharfe, POW No.25842
From the War Log Diary of Harold Scharfe
By an unknown Canadian Prisoner of War, captured at Dieppe.
It was the 18th day of August in 1942.
We sailed away from England and no one knew where to.
We had received no orders, no friends to see us leave.
The 2nd Canadian Division with the blue patch on their sleeve.
Early the next morning, when everything was still,
We saw the tracer bullets come at us from the hill.
But we kept right on a 'sailing, and no man will forget
The morning that we landed, on the beaches of Dieppe.
The enemy was waiting and had taken up his posts.
We met a hail of bullets as we landed on the coast.
But every man there landed or at least he tried.
Tho' many there were wounded and many also died.
It was early in the morning, when we started in to fight.
The mortar shells came at us from left and front and right.
They shelled us from the cliffs and bombed us from the air,
But the 2nd Canadian Division were not so easily scared.
We fought there for 9 hours, from 5a.m. til 2.
Our losses were terrific, but there was nothing we could do.
The Navy came to help us but their boats they could not land,
So we had to surrender at Dieppe, there on that stretch of sand.
What is left of us are prisoners, beneath a foreign flag.
Here in the heart of "Deutschland" in a camp they call "Stalag".
Many of our comrades fell, but we never will forget.
They gave their lives a fighting in the battle of Dieppe.
When this war is over and once again we're free.
To our homeland we'll be sailing, to a land of liberty.
Though many have a battle scar, I'm sure no man can forget
The morning that we landed on the French coast at Dieppe.
We thank you for all that you do
Every day you are helping us through
Delicious hot tea we can frequently brew
Coffee and cocoa we thought we'd not get
Remember the joys of the first cigarette
Oh! for some chocolate was once the cry
Seems-the RED CROSS has heard the great sigh
Sincerely we thank thee for all that you do.
Sometimes we're browned off
Or feel rather blue
Or even be feeling quite sad
Come what may there's one thing that's true
In RED CROSS we'll always be glad
Every parcel we have the luck to receive
Tom, Dick or Harry is proud to receive
You'll join me in saying it's true
RED CROSS --We thank you for
All that you do.
Excerpts from letters sent to POW's
Darling I am glad you were shot down before flying became dangerous. What would you like in your first parcel? (Mail took 4 months one way)
Darling I hope you are staying true to me. My sympathies are all for you and that is why I write.
Darling I have had a baby but don't worry the American officer has promised to send you cigarettes each month.
I was home when we got word that you were missing------that was a blessing wasn't it
Darling in 2 weeks I am going down to Kent for a week. Do you mind?
Are the German girls good looking? (Had not seen a female or heard the voice of a female except on records played occasionally)
From the wife of a POW who has a 6 year old daughter who says to her mother----I wish I had a baby brother or sister and mother replied that she would have to ask the child's father and he is in a German pow camp. The reply to her mom was "Can't we have a baby anyway and surprise Dad when he comes home"
I hope you are behaving at the dances.
The bread is so good you can see the vitamins crawling around in it.
A true blonde will never say "dye"
My mother is French and my father is a dentist, so I am French by extraction.
One must be broadminded. Even a sausage cannot afford to be thin skinned.
A man loves a woman for her sex appeal. A woman loves a man for his cheques appeal.
I pray for your safe keeping
With every hour that chimes
Thru all the pain and peril
And terror of the times
My thoughts are ever with you
Although we are apart
In daytime and in darkness
You are in my mind and heart
We cannot be together
These troubled times to share
But may you be protected
This is my constant prayer
That you may be delivered
Thru all the strife and strain
God have you in his keeping
Until we meet again
It's a fact that :
"A Lucky Break"
A collision took place between two International soccer players at a playoff game of soccer at Stalag VIII B. This resulted in a broken leg of one of the spectators on the sidelines. The player, himself a doctor was concerned with treating the sideline spectator. The spectator did not for one minute try to portray a great deal of pain, usually associated with this type of injury. Turning to the doctor the spectator said to the doctor "Don't worry about the leg sir, it will make an excellent brew up". The spectator was a repatriated with a wooden leg.
"Interred but alive"
During a softball game at Stalag VIIIB a centerfielder went a long way backwards to catch a long fly ball in the British compound. A manhole cover of the 3rd Reich's sewage disposal system had been removed and not replaced. At one point the ball and ballplayer disappeared into the Glistening Gold. When the player emerged he still had the object of venture. Interviewed after the incident and a cold sponge bath he observed that "Now that I am disinterred, I still think Softball to be a splendid game. (English pow's were just learning the game of softball from equipment on loan from the Canadian compound)
"The Brew must go on"
At Stalag 357 Fallingsbostel fence posts were removed in order to obtain fuel. Eventually the complete fence between the Air Force compound and the Army compound were in the hands of the Pow's. A rough box was also taken to custody for fuel instead of being used for some unfortunate dead Pow.
"Friendly German guard dogs"
Once the ferocious guard dogs used by the German guards had a taste of hershey chocolate from the Red Cross parcel they became very friendly with the Pow's looking for more.
Of all the places in the world
At least it seems to me
A prison camp is not the place
For women's eyes to see
For months behind a barbed wire fence
Can warp the sanest mind
Unless it keeps some ort of hold
Or somehow strength can find
And hunger causes men to steal
To get some filthy stew
And some behave like animals
The lowest thing to do
The saddest thing of all to see
Is virile manhood brave
Reduced to fleshless skin and bones
Like those due for the grave
So God forbid that you my son
Should ever captured be
And pray that all your battles then
Shall end in VICTORY
He grabbed me round my slender neck
I could not call or scream
He dragged me to his dining room
Where he could not be seen
He tore away my flimsy wrap
And looked upon my form
I was so cold and wet and scared
Whilst he was hot and warm
His feverish lips he pressed to mine
I gave him every drop
He drained me of my very self
I could not make him stop
He made me what I am today
That's why you find me here
A broken bottle cast away
That once was filled with beer
Tho' clouds may blot out the horizon
And the days seem weary and long
Just think of the dawn of tomorrow
And cheer up your heart with a song
For if every day we keep smiling
And stick to our word "Carry On"
The shadows will break into sunshine
And Right will soon triumph over Wrong
Winston Churchill was a Pow in British East Africa (Nov.1899) and his description is as follows:
It's a melancholy state. You are in the power of the enemy. You owe your life to his humanity, your daily bread to his compassion. You must obey his orders. Await his pleasure. Possess your soul in patience. The days are very long. The hours crawl like paralyzed centipedes. Even the easiest and best regulated prison is odious. Companions quarrel over trifles and get least possible pleasure from each others company and least possible pleasure from each others society. You feel a constant humiliation in being fenced in by railings and barbed wire and being continually watched by armed men and webbed about by a tangle of regulations and restrictions.
Harold Scharfe sadly passed away on the 26th September 2008.
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