Driver Robert Battye

 

Unit : Royal Army Service Corps.

Served : France (captured)

Army No. : T/149131

POW No. : 1692

Camps : Stalag IXC

 

Robert Battye was awarded the British Empire Medal for his persistent and thorough attempts to escape from captivity. The following is an article in the Huddersfield Examiner, May 1947, detailing his exploits:

 

Brockholes Man's Escape From Germans

A story of prisoner-of-war in Germany, seven amazing escapes, hard-labour gangs and solitary confinement cells, more thrilling than many novel, were told to an "Examiner" reporter this morning by Brockholes man, Mr. Robert Battye who has been notified that he has been awarded the B.E.M. (Military Division) "in recognition of gallant and distinguished service in the field".

 

As Mr. Battye , the son of Mr. and Mrs. Herman Battye, of the Rock Inn, recounted his adventures, one was reminded of the lurid and stirring tales which are usually to be found in a school boy's weekly magazine, and yet they were everyday experiences of this Brockholes soldier who spent five years of the war as a prisoner in Germany.

 

Mr. Battye's story begins in December 1939, when he became Driver R. Battye R.A.S.C. He went to France in February 1940 and when the Germans were over-running France Driver Battye and his comrades were attempting to transfer patients from a hospital near Boulogne. Unfortunately the enemy moved too quickly for them, and so on May 23, 1940, Driver Battye, together with fifteen of his comrades was taken prisoner by the Germans.

 

Jumped Goods Train

"For a time we were kept in France" said Mr. Battye "and then we were marched north through Lille into Holland, and eventually we were transferred to barges and taken into the heart of Germany." During the march, which lasted about six weeks. Mr. Battye said that the guards took no chances of their escaping, "They were pretty rough at times" he declared.

 

The prisoners were at last confined in a camp in Weimar district, and, according to Mr. Battye, conditions in the early prison camps were very poor. Whenever they travelled by train the prisoners took maps, which were displayed at the stations', in preparation for their intended escapes. "We made our own compasses," said Mr. Battye "from the magnetic type of razor blade, and if the Germans found them we simply made new ones by heating a blade in a fire and shaping a crude needle." Mr. Battye told how in 1941, he made his first escape attempt by "jumping goods trains." He and five more men cut the barbed wire surrounding their camp during the night and then split up, each making his own way towards freedom.

 

"We had chocolate from Red Cross parcels which were just beginning to come though, and we timed our escape so that we shouldn't be missed until roll-call the following morning," said Mr. Battye, who was recaptured at Mannheim. For that escapade he was given three months' hard labour which consisted of breaking stones from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and sawing wood from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

 

Mr. Battye's next escape was extremely short lived. During transportation to another camp in 1942, he and eleven more prisoners climbed out of their cattle truck conveyances and worked their way along the footboards of the train, dropped off the buffers of the last truck as the train slowed down. Escape number three was more elaborate and better planned. "We dyed our battle dress trousers black and acquired civilian coats and civilian money. That time I got as far as Holland before being recaptured." Said Mr. Battye continuing his story. "I was making for Antwerp, and on this occasion I travelled as a passenger on the trains." Mr. Battye told how it was necessary to make short journeys so as not to arouse suspicion. He was able to buy tickets, using the small amount of German that he had picked up during his captivity.

 

While he and his friends were waiting their punishment sentences for their escape, Mr. Battye again cut through the barbed wire outside his camp, and defying the German sentries' dogs, which he declared "weren't much good anyway" he made his way to Hanover. That was in 1943, and again the same year Mr. Battye made another "break". As soon as he got back to his normal camp after serving another period of "solitary" and hard labour, Mr. Battye found a tunnel almost completed.

 

The tunnel was about eighty yards long, said Mr. Battye, but only about eighteen inches high. Through it, he and several more prisoners regained freedom one night in 1943. Again they were captured, this time as they were drying their rain-sod den clothes in a hut in a field. Back they went to hard labour and "solitary" for nine months.

 

Seventh Time Lucky!

Mr. Battye sixth escape was from the salt mines. However, he was again unlucky and apprehended near Frankfurt. After another year's hard labour he and his friends were told to fall in and march eastwards due to the closeness of the American Army. Nothing daunted, they broke ranks, and this time they were not caught again. They reached the American front line safely and were soon having the best that the Americans could give.

 

Now Mr. Battye is back at work at Messrs. Taylor and Jones Ltd. Engineers, Honley. During his captivity he lost three stones which he is still trying to make up. He rarely speaks about his adventures in Germany and since the award of his medal he has become probably the shyest man in the district.

 

 

For his exploits, Driver Battye was awarded the British Empire Medal. His citation reads:

 

Battye was captured in Boulogne on 23 May 1940 and imprisoned in Stalag IXC (Thuringen), Germany.

 

He made 7 attempts to escape, and was meticulous in his planning.

 

He made his first attempt in 1942 from a working camp, after making keys for 3 doors, and jumped a train to Mannheim. He was recaptured, and 5 months later he escaped whilst in transit to Niedorshel. Although well guarded, he managed to get through a window at night with 10 others and jumped while the train was in motion. He was recaptured after 3 days freedom.

 

In November 1942, after very careful planning, he escaped again. He and his friend cut their way through the perimeter wire and tramped to Linefeld. They made their way by train to Dalheim and were eventually caught trying to cross the Dutch frontier after 4 day's freedom.

 

Battye was free for one day on his fourth attempt and was sent to Molsdorf to await trial. A few days later he escaped by tunnel with 52 others and was free for 3 days. He was given nine months hard labour.

 

After three attempts, he finally got away from Mensengrahen salt mine, and had four day's freedom.

 

He finally escaped whilst on the march in April 1945 and reached the American lines.

 

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