Private Ralph Amato

 

Unit : The Cameronian Highlanders, 51st Highland Division.

Served : France (captured).

Army No. : 2933328

POW No. : 18035

Camps : Stalag XXB

 

I was called up in January 1940 and joined the Cameronian Highlanders. We were taken to Inverness Barracks for 2 months training, then moved to Nairn for 2 months further training, we were billeted in the Town Hall…  In May that year, we were sent to France. A friend William Campbell was with me, we got the train from Nairn to Southampton and then sailed to Cherbourg from there we were marched to a camp outside Lemanns in France. At night we were taken into the town by truck to spend the evenings.

 

Approximately 2 weeks later we were on the move again. We were given instructions to move, but not told why! We were told to start marching, the Germans were only a 1/4 of a mile away and ready to attack. Three of us went to the N.A.F.F.I. (canteen) to take cigarettes, fill our water cans with whiskey. I filled a glass with 12 eggs and drank it - so the Germans couldn't get the goods! We joined the others in camp, there were Germans everywhere. We kept retreating. In St. Valery we were eventually surrounded and taken prisoners of war.

 

What was left of the 51st Division were taken to farms, here we kept waiting with nothing to eat for a week. They then marched us through France, Germany and Poland to STALAG XXB. This took  about 4 months, during this time we were in either cattle trucks or on foot. Sometimes we were kept in these trucks for 3 to 4 days without being let out. We had nothing to eat and marched about 21 miles every day. Along the way, French women came out of their homes and gave us bread. Since we were all starving we all made a mad rush for the food, this must have frightened the women because they all ran away.

 

At one stage in THORNE in Poland , there was a British Sergeant Major who received preferential treatment. He had his own place to live, potatoes were grown here, which he claimed for himself. Because of my hunger I stole some of these potatoes and was caught. The Sergeant Major reported me to the Germans and I was put in a castle dungeon alone for a week. During this time I was fed a small piece of bread and given water every 3 days, I had to sleep on a stone floor.

 

In the camp at STALAG XXB, the Germans gave us 1/4 of a pint of very watery soup for lunch and 1 loaf of "black bread" between 5 of us in the evening, we were given Erzatt's coffee in the morning and at night.

 

About one year later, British Red Cross parcels started to arrive, we were given one parcel between two, each parcel contained 2oz of tea, 1/2 lb of sugar, sweets, chocolate and condensed milk. After about another year we started to receive Canadian Red Cross parcels, of which we were given one each per week containing 1lb of butter, 1/2lb of coffee, 1lb of sugar, a large bar of chocolate, sweets, one tin of powdered milk, a large packet of  biscuits, 50 cigarettes, etc. Some people barttered cigarettes for food. The parcels were delivered by ship then by lorry to the camps.

 

About 1 year after arriving at the camp the Germans asked for volunteers to do some labouring on farms, digging ditches in factories. This was very cold in the winter. I volunteered to work on the farms, where I stayed in billets, with beds in. The farmers gave us food. I worked on a small farm and was treated very well, I was allowed to eat inside the house at the family table. The British were often given preferential treatment as opposed to the Poles. We were allowed to stay on the farms for only a few months, before being sent somewhere else. This was to ensure that we didn't become too attached to each other.

 

The Germans treated the Jews very badly, shaving their hair off. At this stage we were not aware of the gas chambers, etc., these were not public until later.

 

On one of the farms I was sent to work on, I met up with the Sergeant Major, who 2 years earlier had been the cause of my being imprisoned in the castle dungeon for stealing potatoes. We got into a fight, you could say I had my revenge on him.

 

After 4 years as a POW, the Germans had us on the march again this time because the of invading Russians. There was 9 of us in my group. I had saved supplies of milk and tea, etc. from the Red Cross parcels and some I had got from the German households. Four of the group were not helping, so we left them. We marched for 4 1/2 months across Germany. One day I left my four remaining companions and walked across a field, I saw a German officer coming towards me. He drew out his gun, but instead of shooting me, he handed me the gun. Then I saw a big British tank, with a soldier at the front, I gave him the gun.

 

We were taken to a small village by the British soldiers, where we slept in the Germans houses. The villagers had to sleep in the fields. We remained there for about one week before being flown to Belgium. There we were given money and clothes to go out in. About 2 days later we were flown to England. We were given one months compassionate leave.

 

I was later stationed at a Y.M.C.A in Chelsea until my discharge.

 

My thanks to Sam Gillan for this story.

 

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