Bombardier Mike H. Jackson

 

Unit : 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force

Served : Greece (captured).

Army No. : 20739

POW No. : 8214

Camps : Stalag 383.

 

The following is an article written by Mike Jackson for the "NZ POW-WOW" magazine, September 1969.

 

COILS OF BARBED WIRE RUSTING IN THE REEDS

By MIKE JACKSON

 

Canadian Mike Jackson, a member of Westport Branch, recently returned to Europe and retraced his steps to Stalag 383. In a letter to Ron Dickson, of Oamaru, Mike recounted his experiences on the trip. Mike came out to New Zealand just before the war, joined the New Zealand Army and was taken P.O.W. in the Greek campaign. Mike, who was well liked and a non-smoker, received colossal cigarette and tobacco parcels from various Canadian and U.S. organisations and his generosity with these luxuries will never be forgotten by the inmates of Hut 155, Stalag 383, Hohenfels, Bavaria.

 

In Regensburg, which is quite fantastic, I walked out to a house where a Greek and I had stayed a week before the Yanks found us a plane. The owner, a school teacher, was still there and we were thrilled to see each other, and of course, the Schnapps was promptly produced. He told me he had often thought about me. His wife was there, and she spoke better or heard better than he did, so we were all able to make ourselves understood.

 

One day we rented a VW and headed out across the Danube to Hohenfels - no one had to tell me the way!! We stopped at Pielenhofen, that monastery on the river, where we spent a day during March in 1945 before the S.S. gave us the "bums rush". It was much the same, but the road now cuts through above the walled perimeter instead of through it.

 

Soon after that, we had to make a detour through the high country before again joining the old road leading to the camp. From Hohenfels village, below and out of sight of the camp, the road leading up the hill was barred by a striped pole, some barbed wire and a not­ice which said "Eintritt Verboten -Truppenubungsplatz". Disappointed, I continued on round a lower road (over the hill from the Sportsplatz) and finally came to a wide, paved road leading up to the camp.

 

"Deutsch Heir"

 

At the sentry post a chap in U.S. uniform, complete with steel helmet and 45 automatic, stopped me. I got out and said cheerfully "Good morning." He answered, "Versteh Nicht English-Deutsch heir." I nearly fell over with shock! After recovering my composure I explained my mission in my best Deutsch. He understood, said he was sorry, but could not give me permission to enter without a pass. Funny, I thought to myself, here I am trying to talk my way back into 383! Disappointed again, I turned around and headed back along the road until I came to a new and impressive building marked E.T.A.

 

It occurred to me that this could be something to do with the military so I entered and in the foyer barged into the manager of the factory, which, incidentally, turned out hush-hush electrical equipment. "Could he help me," he asked. I explained my mission. He was very sympathetic and after protracted negotiations (in German) he told me to report back to the sentry, which I did.

 

An American sergeant-major wrote me a pass to tour the camp, but warned me not to stray off the tarmac road, or the car would probably be used for target practice by a tank!

 

I could not recognise the scene until I topped; the hill. There was very little left, but I located the old main gate-coils of barbed wire were still rusting away in the reeds. The buildings outside the main gate and across the road from it, which housed the Camp Post Office, were still there.

 

Typical Weather

 

We drove around the old perimeter below where the cookhouse stood and up to the end of Sportsplatz, on or near the original old road. Standing there looking over this rather desolate scene it was hard to imagine it as it was in the bad old days-there was generally an air of unreality about it all. A German woman there told me it had been used by Poles for some years after the war ended. We drove back through torrents of rain-typical Hohenfels weather! 

 

I was amazed how everyone we met, German or American, were so nice to us, because we were really just being a nuisance. They seemed to recognise this as a sort of holy pilgrimage and did everything possible to assist.

 

Next day we headed south of Regensburg, over the march route. I had an excellent local map and soon spotted Petzhofen and Tymering, the village on the hill where we had all been quartered in those big barns. I realised then what a long way we had walked during those grim days.

 

After enquiries I soon found the barn I occupied and the old farmer was still there! He told me how well he remembered the time the P.O.W.s were there. The barn had changed very little, but it had a new tile roof. A younger man in the village recounted how he had helped to bury four chaps who had been shot in the vicinity. He was 15 years old at the time! He spoke a Bavarian dialect, so it was not too clear to me whether the chaps were P.O.W.s, airmen or U.S. soldiers.

 

We continued our journey along the now familiar march route. Barely two kilos from the village the road took a right angle turn to the right, by a farmyard. I soon found the exact spot, a little swamp, where I made my exit that evening 23 years ago. The little pines I remembered so well and which had kept me out of sight had now grown to about 25 feet. The swamp was still there, but I was sorry to see it had since been used extensively as a rubbish dump.

 

Across the road, the forest came to the edge of the road, and I decided to camp there for the night, just as I did years ago. A dog barked incessantly, just as one did the first time I was there. The farmer and his wife looked very puzzled when they saw me having my photo taken standing near the swamp.

 

Thanks to Kerry Single - krsingle@xtra.co.nz - for this story.

 

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