Gunner Peter Trodden
Unit : Royal Artillery.
Served : Crete (captured)
Army No. : 2565006
POW No. : 17211
Camps : Stalag XVIIIA
Peter Trodden worked as a butcher and had also boxed as a professional. He lived in Altrincham, Cheshire, although he was born in Bury, Lancashire in 1916. He volunteered at the outbreak of war and became a gunner in the Royal Artillery.
On 15th November 1940 his battalion left Paignton for the ill-fated battle of Crete. They travelled by way of Liverpool, Freetown, Durban, the Suez Canal and Beni Usef, Cairo where they had three weeks intensive training. Then via Port Said and on to Crete, where they arrived on 30th January 1941. As is well documented, things did not go well and on 15th July 1941 he and many others sailed for Salonika on the Yalova as POWs.
From there they endured the horrific train journey across Europe to Stalag 18A at Wolfsburg in Austria. They were packed 50 to 60 men in each cattle truck, with one rusty tin as a toilet and one containing a small amount of water. They could not avoid trampling on each other and could not sit or lie down. Peter suffered a very bad hernia on the second day which eventually strangulated. He was in extreme pain and near to death when the train stopped to change crews. An Australian medic begged Morphine from a German doctor and injected Peter with a huge dose. This relaxed his body so much that the hernia popped back (Good stuff, morphine). He had pain from it for many years, but was only operated on in 1961. The train journey lasted five or six days but men who were there, later said it felt like a fortnight. Some died before reaching Austria.
The early months at Stalag were not too bad as the food supply was reasonable and they were fit enough to play football and box. All this was to change in later days. Peter took part in the camp boxing, usually against Aussies who were about three stones heavier than him; he was 9 stone, 9lbs. He always joked in later life "It was a good job they had never boxed before or they would have knocked my bloody head off, they were built like brick sh------es". Many of his opponents became good friends.
After a while men were put in work groups and Peter was in Group 1107/L at Donnersbach where roads were being built. There was no machinery and the work was hard to say the least; it is documented that occasionally they worked in temperatures of 50 below zero.
Peter was also in a work party at a place called Niklasdorf (A/47/GW) where they were ordered to mend German trucks with only very basic tools. For instance, bearings to be replaced had a length of rawhide tied to them, and the other end to a tree. The rawhide was then soaked and as it dried it shrunk and pulled the bearing out.
Men alternated between the working groups and being back in the main camp and as the months and years progressed the conditions, the treatment, and most of all the lack of food became much worse. The sports ceased altogether because nobody had enough energy. There were however attempts to keep up morale by staging shows and comedy routines, and one who took part was Clive Dunn (later of Dad’s Army fame).
The shortage of food became desperate at times (Red Cross parcels were often stolen before reaching the camp) and Peter had for the rest of his life a deep scar on the palm of his hand which was caused by a crust of rock-hard mouldy bread, as he and a French prisoner fought for it after it was discovered in a dustbin.
As if life was not hard enough for the prisoners they were bombed on 18th December 1944 by American planes that mistook the camp for a German base. 46 bombs were dropped, 12 huts destroyed, 48 prisoners killed, and many injured.
Peter always said that however bad things got, the guards were not all "evil fanatics" as they were depicted in films, there were good ones and bad ones-and they too just wanted to get back to their families.
During his captivity there were Jewish children held in a compound for a day on their way to somewhere else. There was only a thin fence between them and the prisoners. The kids were desperate for food and begging through the fence. The prisoners had none to give them, and Peter said even the hardest men were in tears.
He was at a working camp when the Russians liberated them. The surrounding countryside had been Herman Goering's private hunting reserve and there were wild deer. A couple of these were shot and roasted over open fires. The Russians also had very crude spirit distilled from potatoes. The released prisoners eat and drank so much that they were ill for days. Their stomachs were not used to so much food. Peter always said it was the food that did the harm not the alcohol. He used the same excuse many times in his later life but never fooled anybody!!!!!!
Peter and many others travelled by Russian convoy and then British convoy until they reached Italy. They rested a short time there to regain some of their health and to put a bit of weight back on, and then flew home to England in the bomb bay of a Lancaster.
For the first few months at home Peter could not sleep in a bed because it felt too soft for him, he would roll on to the floor and sleep there. He would also swear and scratch in his sleep, thinking he still had lice. He had missed the early years of his daughter (Barbara) and although he loved her, they never seemed to understand each other; after all for five years of their lives they had no contact. His son (Mike) was born in 1946. If he or Barbara left even a scrap of food on their plates, Peter was not a happy man. I'm willing to bet all ex-prisoners felt the same. Children do not understand such things, but Mike at the age of seven asked his dad, "Did you see anybody killed in the war dad"? Peter at first looked stunned and then began to cry and walked outside to be alone. Mike was told by his mum, "Never ask your dad anything like that again".
On a lighter note, Peter always insisted that he was the tallest man ever to serve in the British army, and that he could prove it. He would then show his pay book which gave his height at enlistment as 24ft-1in. and as he used to say, "it must have been correct, cos the army didn't make mistakes". Of course this time they had: it should have said, age 24yrs and 1month.
And so finishes the account of a bad time in the life of an ordinary working class man. But was he ordinary? Were any of them ordinary? Could today's young men survive the same experience? Lets hope they never have to find out.
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