Trooper Albert Jack Budd
Unit : "C" Squadron, 7th Royal Tank Regiment, 4th (Indian) Brigade, 7th Armoured Division.
Served : North Africa (captured).
Army No. : 7915810
POW No. : 258799
Camps : P.G. 52, 65, 70, Stalag IVB and IVF.
Jack Budd was born on the 19th September 1913 and died on the 25th August 2005.
It started on a Sunday 3rd September 1939, I was over at my pal's house and we were digging a hole to put in their Anderson shelter. We heard Chamberlain's speech saying that we were at war with Germany and then shortly after that the air raid siren went! We dug a lot faster after that!!
Then there was a period when nothing much happened; I carried on as usual at work as a sorter. We had rationing, the blackout, gas drill but very little else was different. Then in the start of 1940 the war got started, the Blitzkrieg and then the evacuation of Dunkirk. I saw the trains coming through Penge East station full of British and French soldiers.
Then came the18th August 1940 and I was called up and had to report to the 55th Army Training Regiment R.A.C Ellis Barracks Farnborough, Hants. and I was in the "Tanks".
There followed eight weeks of "square bashing" driving training gunnery training and radio training. We did use real radios but the driving instruction was very basic and done on 15cwt trucks and the gunnery was done in a "mock up" gun turret with a pellet gun fixed to the gun barrel and the targets set up in a sand tray!! The Blitz had just started and although our barracks were staffed, the most we heard was the nightly drone of the bombers going over on their way to London, Coventry etc.
I was pretty lucky and managed to hitch hike my way home on quite a lot of Sundays and was able to see my Mum and Dad and know they were alright. Just before Christmas we were given embarkation leave and on return were kitted up and put on standby.
2. The Trip.
Finally the day came, I think it was 31st December 1940 we left Farnborough and travelled by train to Liverpool and went aboard the liner Britannic, she had not been converted and I was lucky enough to get quartered with three other lads in a cabin on D deck. The voyage was long and not all that interesting although there were some good spots. We left Liverpool and sailed north to the Clyde where we joined up with a large convoy with a heavy escort, which included the Warspite and some old USA destroyers, which were on loan.
The convoy then sailed out and round the north of Ireland and westward toward America then back to Freetown where we took on stores and water, then south down the coast of Africa.
I was on deck on fire watch duty in the early morning when the convoy passed Cape town where some ships left and saw the sun rise over Table Mountain. I think it was the most marvellous sight I have ever seen!!!
Our next port of call was Durban where we were allowed ashore and we were welcomed by the South African people and in many cases invited to their homes for meals, which made a nice change from the rather lousy grub we were getting on the boat. In fact it was that bad that the best grub was the cold meats that were served up to troops who were on night guard etc. at 3am in the morning and if one of the four of us in our cabin was on duty we would call the others who would dress and go to the mess deck for a decent meal. The convoy stayed here for four days and then sailed up the coast toward our destination, which was Port Tewfik on the Red Sea.
There was only one incident on this stage of the journey to break the monotony of sea and more sea; the Britannic developed engine trouble and the convoy left us on our own. The repairs were soon completed and we steamed at top speed to rejoin the convoy. I doubted if the old ship had ever travelled so fast! At Port Tewfik we were transferred to cattle barges to take us ashore and then on to trains for Cairo.
3. The Middle East.
When we arrived in Cairo we went to HQ barracks for final drafting. I was drafted to the 1st RTR who were at Mena by the Pyramids. I was there for about two months and was able to see quite a bit of Cairo as well as visit the Pyramids and see the Sphinx. The Pyramids were within walking distance and it was easy to get in to Cairo by tram. We used to go in on Fridays after pay parade and most of us spent all our pay on the one night and were broke for the rest of the week.
I was attached to A Sqn 1st RTR. the other squadrons being up the "blue". We later moved to Alexandria and our squadron was transferred to the 7th RTR. and we became their C Sqn. In early June there was a big flap on and we received our tanks, which had been rushed out through the Mediterranean for a new offensive and were still in their European camouflage. We had only a few days to prepare before we put the tanks and transport on a train and moved up to Mersa Matrau and to join the other regiments of the 4th. Indian Brigade of the 7th Armoured Div. (The Desert Rats).
I was with the B echelon and only went up as replacements on the second day of what I was later to learn was the action to relieve Tobruk and was named "Battleaxe". Our tanks were then in Capuzzo and I was a replacement for one of the crew of a Matildas named Galahad II.
The tank had a crack crew a Sgt. gunner, Cpl. driver with a MM and a Cpl. radio op. loader; it was the crew commander who had been wounded. The tank itself had come in for some damage, the turret had taken some hits and one of the two engines was knocked out.
The following day we were given the order to engage "thin skin" German column, this was the first time I had ever been in a moving tank!! The job now was to fit me into the crew. I was supposed to be a gunner, but there was no way that the Sgt. was going to hand over to me as a rookie, so it was decided that I should take the Tank Commander's position in the turret and act as spotter. I had so far never seen a German tank and after a short time I spotted some tanks on our far right and signalled to the gunner, he fired off one round but by then we were a bit nearer and it was realised that the tanks were those of the 4th RTR. Luckily no damage was done and it was decided that my best position was as loader. Shortly after we came on the column, but it turned out that it was a full Panzer outfit equipped with Mark IV tanks, which easily outgunned us with our 2pounders. We exchanged a few rounds and they could hit us, but were out of range of our guns so we hull downed in an old Italian desert fort for protection. We stayed there for some time firing intermittently and being fired on by the Germans but finally the only thing left for us to do was to retire and make a run for it. Our Sgt. would not move out until the tank on our right moved. It had been all quiet for some time but finally it moved and we followed making our run for it at our full 4mph, which was all the speed we were able to do!!
I continued loading and the gunner kept firing until we ran out shells and all the time we were being battered by the German panzers. At last they scored a direct hit on our rear and put out our other engine and we came to a stop. When we got hit a great flash of flame came through into the turret and I for one thought this was the end but it then went quiet until there was a rapping on the turret and a voice said, "Come out! For you the war is over" and I was a P.O.W.
5. P.O.W. Libya.
My first night as a prisoner of war was spent in the larger of the German panzer unit who had captured us and they were so sure of their air supremacy that any time a plane was heard they would fire off a verey light. Next day we were handed over to the Italians and spent the next night crowded into an old disused mosque; from there we transferred by lorry to Acroma where we were put in some filthy camel stables our army pay books were taken and we were documented. This completed, we were again put on lorries and transported to Benghazi where there was at least some form of POW camp and some organisation set up in some old garages.
Here we stayed for some time and given letters to write home and proper rations. Later it was decided we would be shipped to Italy so we were on the road again with our destination Tripoli. There were stops on the way, notably Sirte where we spent the night in a tennis court and at Miserati where the night was spent in wog huts and I acquired an old Chianti bottle and a cigar. The bottle gave me the chance to carry some water and the cigar a much-wanted smoke.
At Tarhuna near Tripoli we were housed in very modern barracks but there were no beds, we slept on mats on the floor and modern toilets had no water. The Commandant was a sadist and we all had to stand out in the midday sun to get our food (a kind of pasta swill with perhaps a bit of scraggy meat in it) and here we stayed until a boat was available to take us to Italy.
We sailed on the 31st August 1941 on the M.V. Neptunia a posh Italian liner but she had been stripped down and I think we were being used as cover for the safe passage of Italian and German troops.
6. Capua Italy.
The ship docked at Toranto, and our navy had just given the Ities a bit of a hiding; we did not get a very warm greeting from the civilian population! We were then loaded onto cattle trucks, my first taste of this kind of travel and one to which I was to become very used to, and transported to Capua near Naples and the camp which was tented had a good view of Mount Vesuvius. I was now getting some idea of POW life and just what we could or could not get away with.
Here our senior representative asked the Camp Commandant if we could get some exercise in the form of walks outside the camp. This was arranged and parties of us would form up at the gate to be counted out and accompanied by an Italian officer and soldiers we would walk or rather march a mile or two on the roads around the area. This led to a few laughs, the officer was usually about 5ft. nothing and the soldato were mostly grade C. so we would set off at a good rate and before long the guards would be almost running to keep up and eventually the officer would turn up on a bike!! Otherwise we amused ourselves kicking a ball around and waiting for grub while the Aussies amongst us organised "two up" and beetle races.
7. Chiavari Italy.
We were here for a couple of months and the rainy season started when we were moved by the usual cattle trucks to Northern Italy to the town of Chiavari. The actual camp was some kilos out of the town at a small village named Piano di Coreglia and only just been constructed and we were now installed in proper wooden huts which were largely allocated by nationality.
The area was quite scenic being a long narrow valley with the road following the stream and churches and hamlets on the upper slopes it also had connections with Christopher Columbus. It was winter at the time and although we were not getting many Red Cross food parcels, the rations were not too bad and included wine and cigarettes once a week. While here I got a whitlow and was operated on by an Italian doctor and due to the crude system of administering an anaesthetic I was told that my heart stopped, but fortunately for me I was saved by the quick action of the English orderly.
8. Gravina Italy.
In the spring of 1942 I was on the move again, this time it was south to Campo 3450 Gravina and for some reason we travelled in a normal train so I was able to see some of the sights including the Leaning Tower of Pisa and part of Rome. On arrival at Gravina we found that this camp consisted of three compounds with stone built barracks, stores and cookhouse.
Each compound was to a great extent run by the senior NCO as the Italians idea seemed to be to have guards on the perimeter wire and to do roll calls but to leave the rest to us. The compound I was in was run by a CPO of a submarine, which had been forced to surface in the Mediterranean and was captured by an Italian destroyer. Needless to say most of the jobs were held by naval personal and for a short time we had watches rung in by a bell, but as most of us had no idea what was going on we soon reverted to normal time. Here life became a little more normal or I was getting used to it. There was a small canteen and as we now got a small allowance of lira we were able to buy figs and some other items and together with the Red Cross Parcels which were thankfully now arriving fairly regularly things were not too bad.
These parcels sent by the British Red Cross & Canadian Red Cross were a life saver for us POWs and without them a lot of us would not have survived; they contained tinned meat ,veg, soups, jam, margarine, cocoa, coffee and milk also tea & chocolate, in the Canadian ones there was "real" butter and a large tin of KLIM which was dried milk. Not much was wasted, the cardboard boxes were used for storage of our few belongings the empty tins for all kinds of things when us "tinbashers" got cracking and the wooden crates in which the Canadian parcels came for furniture or stage props. Life here became quite established, friendships built up, clubs were formed, classes were held, football teams run and a library and theatre created in some of the buildings.
The chief occupation was however "The Brew Up" and for this we needed heat, at first we used wood and small fires but as the supply diminished and the slats of our beds got less and less someone devised the "blower" which was made from tins etc. and was like a small forge which used only a small amount of wood and was blown at first by bellows but later various types of fans. After this came the electric period!! when some genius put two tins of different sizes and both ends cut out together and insulated from each other by bits of wood and attached wires to them and to the electric supply. This went on alright for a while but as the numbers increased the fuses blew and had to be substituted with lengths of barbed wire and finally one afternoon the perimeter lights came on at about 3.00pm and the brewers came on at 4.00pm and the lights went down to just a faint orange glow!!!
At this time I became friendly with a fellow Tank man Lew (Ginger) Dorf who was Jewish and from the 2nd. Tanks and we managed to stay together until the end of our captivity. Each compound tried to out do the other in things we could do and we were very proud of our Theatre, which had an orchestra pit, swing curtains and fade and dim lights. It was possible to buy musical instruments from the Italians with the Lira we received and from barter of some of our possessions and we had enough people to provide both a good orchestra and theatre company.
Ginger and I both managed to get on the Company, he as a performer and I as a stage carpenter and odd job man. This after the Commandant had been to a concert at the Theatre led all the company including us being given an extra loaf (about the size of a very small bun) a day and escape the next close crop haircut. With the talent discovered in our compound the company were able to put on several concerts and a number of plays; one of the best was our pantomime "Aladdin" in which I played the Genii.
We got news now and again from the Italians or new POWs who arrived at the camp and when a large number of South Africans arrived and we heard of the fall of Tobruk morale was at low ebb but we were still sure that we would win in the end. It was also possible when you entered a new camp to tell what the position was in respect of parcels: if the general talk was of women then parcels were OK but it was of food then things were not so good. In early 1943 the news improved and with the Axis forces driven out of North Africa and the invasion of Sicily it was decided that the Allies were too close and we were on the move again, this time north to another camp at Monturana, which was about half way up Italy and in the foothills of the Apennines.
9. Monturana. Italy.
While we were here the Italians surrendered and we were told by our senior NCOs to stay put as our forces had landed both north and south of our camp and would soon be here. The guards left and for ten days the camp was run by our own people and we were free to roam the countryside. Some of the lads decided to go south and meet our forces but our little party just went out to the nearest village where the villagers gave us wine and for the barter of two pairs of socks gave us quite a good meal. I quite enjoyed this taste of freedom and got thoroughly drunk on one of these trips. But as our troops had not turned up after two or three days our party decided it was time to get moving and planned to go the following morning but then someone spied a motor column coming in our direction and the cry went up "the British are here" then as they got nearer we saw the swastikas.
We were soon to learn the difference between a Pg. of the Italians and a Kg of the Germans. The first night they took over; the perimeter lights were not working, so they set up fixed lines of fire across the camp to keep our heads down. Next day or the day after we were all marched down to the railway and herded into cattle trucks and unlike the Italians who travelled in the trucks with us and left the doors part open to give us some light and ventilation, the doors were shut and sealed and the armed guards rode on the roof.
10. Into Germany.
We travelled north through the night and must have passed through the Bremmer Pass for when the doors were opened we were in Austria; here we were given some food and drink and allowed to get down and stretch our legs, then on again into Germany. The next time the doors were opened we were at an old Jewish concentration camp which we learnt was called Jacobsthal and we were housed in barracks with long shelf like beds which were three high and ran the whole length of the huts. When darkness came the guards came into the compound and patrolled with Alsatian dogs.
We only stayed here a couple of days and then marched to Muhlburg and Stalag IVb which was a large POW camp with prisoners of all nations including many Russians. Here we had our hair cropped off with horse trimmers, our clothing taken away to be deloused and given a shower and inoculations; it was a good job that we didn't know about the extermination camps because these were the same type of shower rooms used in them. After a few days we were on the move again out to work camps, everyone under the rank of corporal [Hitler's rank] were made to work. Oh the train journey Ginger who could speak German, found out how the parties were made up and the type of work. So when we heard that the next party to be dropped off was to be a party of 18 to work on the railway Ginger and I and another 16 made up the party and we were dropped off at the next stop and my new address became Stalag IVf Arb. Com. N4 Netzschkau Vogt.
11. Netzschkau. Germany.
We were billeted in a sports pavilion in which lived a young women with one child, she did the cooking and there were two guards, Rudi, who had served on the Russian front and Pop who was a party member and more important than his army rank. Our own party was made up of quite a mixture of types, there was Ginger and two other Jewish lads while amongst the rest there were lads from London, Manchester, Croydon, Devon, East Anglia and Ireland and there were representatives of the Tanks, Engineers, Commandos, SAS, the Long Range Desert Group and the Infantry. However we managed to all get on well with each other, which was just as well because we were to be together for the next seventeen months until our release.
Netzschkau was a small village between Reichenbach and Plauen on a main line from Leipzig and Dresden to Southern Germany and Italy and in the early day of working on the line we saw through trains from Poland to Italy.
Our work consisted of plate laying and we usually worked in pairs and dug out and renewed the ballast between a certain number of sleepers.
We were marched down to our local station and went by train to either Reichenbach or Plauen depending on where we were working and as we were not allowed to travel with civilians if there was no room for us they had to move out to give us room.
Another aspect of our work in the winter months was snow clearing and the snow was so deep and solid that it was possible to chop it out in cubes a foot or so square. Our work was assessed in the first week or so and we were then paid a certain number of Marks in Largergeld which could be spent, if there was anything to buy, in the local shop where our guards got our rations.
Our plate laying gang consisted of the eighteen of us one old German civilian worker, who claimed to us to be a communist, and the foreman. The usual stint was for each pair of us to dig out the old ballast under and between four sleepers and replace with new and then stub or ram the stones under the sleepers to level up the track. We were supposed to dig out and fill in as we went but as it was easier to dig out several sleepers at a time, we would do this and leave these sleepers unsupported, you should have seen the ganger panic when a train came along!!
In many ways we were lucky working on the railway, because we got heavy workers rations and we also found that we could knock off coal blocks for our fire and swedes from passing trucks with a bit of dexterous use of our long handled forks, once we got a sack of sugar! The guards and fellow workers were not over worried as they were also benefiting from our spoils. On one occasion when we were working on a remote bit of line with only one house in sight the woman told the guard that she would report us to the police, but Ginger who was the interpreter told the guard to tell her that we would get her some coal blocks so we shot some down the embankment into her garden and everything was O.K.
The guard who normally came to work with us was Rudi, who was friendly and passed on bits of news but the other one was a very complex character. In his opinion next to the Germans we were the best and this stood us in good for he got us all it was possible in the way of clothing boots etc. and also arranged for us to go out for walks on Sundays and on one took us to Reichenbach where we had a kick around with a football and a couple of beers at the back of a beer garden. He also managed to get us a trip to a cinema and opened up the club room in our building where there was a piano got us some beer and we had a sing-song, but on another occasion loaded his rifle and threatened to shoot us because we argued over the wearing of greatcoats. We were also lucky in that he had a friend in the local sausage factory who gave him cans of the liquor that sausages were boiled in and this made a hell of a difference to the taste of our normal stew which was mainly swedes.
We had two Christmas's, here and both times the guards got us a Xmas tree and some paper to make decorations and on the first one a barrel of beer. The first one we had a pretty good time as the Red Cross parcels were coming in and we were getting parcels of cigarettes from home but the second one was a bit grim because after the D Day invasion parcels and mail were not getting through and we were by then nearly down to basic German rations.
We used to do our little bits of sabotage, removing split pins from the springs on wagons or the dispatch notes or just leaving our tools on the line to get smashed. We also used to get one over on the Germans by taking advantage of their feeling of superiority; if we came on a very hard bit when digging out we would just shout "STEIN" and the ganger would come along and slog away at it while we took a break and a smoke.
As our troops drove east and the Russians drove west our two guards were withdrawn for other duties and replaced by two older men. POW's were being marched westward away from the advancing Red Army and soon before the end we were asked if we wanted to stay and work or march. We opted to stay and it was only a few days later that the Yanks arrived.
During these last few days before we were released one or two things occurred, Ginger went into the local sick ward with swelling of the ankles or a kind of berri berri. He was therefore not with us when we picked up with the American forces and we saw a train load of Jewish concentration camp prisoners come through in open trucks in freezing weather clad only in their pyjama type uniform. They were dragging tins on string over the side of the trucks to get snow for a drink and we tried to throw them something to eat from what we had with us; they were a terrible sight.
On the last day as a POW we went to Plauen as usual but before long the "panzer alarms" sounded, indicating that allied forces were in the area and the guard decided that it was best to get us back to our camp. On arriving at the station we found that no trains were running and a German Officer ordered us to unload some wagons, but when the doors were opened we found they contained anti-tank rockets and we informed the officer that this was against the Geneva Convention and we refused to do so. No fuss was made as I guess they knew it was all over, and we walked back to Netzchskau and our evening meal.
12. Free at Last.
The following morning we awoke to find that the door was open and the guards were gone and white flags were hanging out from all the houses!!!!
We decided that as we were free we might as well go down to the village and have a look around, so we went down the main street and found that most of the people were helping themselves to what was left in the shops, we joined in but there was hardly anything worth having except that we made the baker give us a couple of fresh baked loaves. They had been ordered to hand in all weapons, radios and cameras at the town hall, so after collecting a few cameras each and a decent radio for the camp we retreated to our camp to plan our next move. It was decided that the thing to do was to make contact with the proper American Forces as it seemed that we knew they were there but the Yanks didn't know we were there. As soon as we made contact they started feeding us with eggs and bacon and white bread (I had never seen it whiter) and having a jaw with us about the area and how we were treated. They were an anti-tank mob part of the American 3rd Army and had four days earlier been on the Rhine so that at least of late the advance had been fairly easy. They were unable to send us back, but fixed us up in the local "schloss" until we were able to arrange transport to Frankfurt where we had heard POW's were being flown home to Britain.
We managed to pick up transport in the next day or so and with one stop on the way at a town (I forget the name) where they billeted us in a small hotel after turning out the Germans, we reached Eisenach where a POW centre had been set up and flights were being arranged from Gotha.
The accommodation was an army depot and barracks and our little party went on a foraging expedition in search of anything to make things easier such as a battery and some lamps so that we could fix up lights in our room and a stove to cook on. I had a surprise in one of the garages I found a captured 7th Batt R.T.R Matilda tank of the same type as the one I was captured in. Unfortunately the weather closed down and for three days it was impossible to get any planes off, but as soon as the skies cleared the Americans got as many as possible to Brussels. They used Dakotas and were in such a hurry to get us off that at some times there were three planes on the runway at the same time!! We landed at Brussels and were driven into a barracks where we were covered in DDT and documented and told to be ready to be flown out to England. Nothing seemed to happen so we took a chance on it and went into the city returning in the evening. The following morning our index was called over the tannoy and we left for the airport, unluckily when it came to our turn there were no planes left but a squadron of Lancaster bombers volunteered to come out and get us after returning from a mission, so we were on our way. They housed us anywhere there was any space and I was not one of the lucky ones who were able to see the "White cliffs of Dover" as we passed over the coast. We soon arrived at an airfield somewhere near Aylesbury and were getting V.I.P treatment with warrant officers carrying our kit, blankets on the seats of the troop carriers and our beds made up ready for us. We had been fitted out with new uniform in Brussels including some horrible khaki berets, which we refused to wear, and had made it necessary for special orders to be issued to the "Red Caps" not to pull us in for not wearing caps. Now we had our regimental badges etc sewn on by a devoted party of ladies and next day we were on our way to London and a travel pass home.
It was wonderful to be home again and as I came down the road from Penge Station I saw that Mum had got a Union Jack from somewhere and hung it and a Welcome Home banner out of the upstairs window of 29 Lennard Road!!! It was a marvellous and tearful reunion and Mum and I had so much to tell each other; it had been over four years since we had said goodbye and I went "off to war". Dad had died and Mum looked a lot older and frailer than when I had last seen her, there were also plenty of signs of the bombing that Penge had taken. For her part she was a bit shocked that I was so thin; under 9 stone, and had saved some of her meagre ration for me to have a treat, but fortunately we had all been issued with double ration cards so things were not as bad as she had expected. I was given six weeks leave and during this time Mum and I got around visiting family and friends while others visited us. Ginger came to see me and tell me how he got home; he had been in the medical place when he was released and went back almost at once with the Red Cross and as a result of this and a word given by the doctor in his case notes, he was discharged right away and even awarded a small pension.
15. Back In Again.
After my leave expired I was instructed to report to a R.A.C Selection Unit at Crawley in Sussex and here I met up with other POW's from tank units including the Sgt and Cpl from my old tank and one young lad from the Recce Regt. who was captured just before the war ended and was a POW just ten days. We were all given a sort of basic renewal training, but as I, along with the rest of the lads, had got our eventual de-mob numbers those like me under 25 were not given weapon training. The fact that we were all ex POW's must have been a headache to the staff but we ourselves had a good few laughs and also a good few beers. I had an interview with an officer who asked why I had not got promotion with over five years of service. I pointed out that my service could be said to consist of 8 weeks training, 8 weeks voyage, 8 weeks with the forces in the Middle East (including 8 hours of military action) and most of the rest as a POW, it did not allow much time for promotion. As I was a sorter in civil life I was attached to the Royal Engineers (Postal Section) at Nottingham to finish out my service. There were quite a few of us ex POW's and we had a lot of time to make up as far as beer and entertainment so we had quite a hectic time. We had mostly been put in the sorting offices together but after the "J Day" celebrations when we ran a bit wild and nearly set the office on fire with fireworks they decided to split us up and I ended up with a cushy job in the Quartermasters Stores. Here I finished my time and met many of my old pals from the South Eastern District Post Office passing through on their way to de-mob. Finally my turn came and I went to York and then to Olympia in London where I was given a de-mob suit, raincoat, hat, shoes etc and I was back in "Civvy Street" !!!!
My thanks to Karen Shrosbery for this account.
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