Lance-Corporal Robert J. Beesley
Unit : 2nd/6th Battalion The East Surrey Regiment, 51st Highland Division.
Served : France (captured).
Army No. : 6140794
POW No. : 5353
Camps : Stalag XXB
I was born in Croydon in Surrey on 3 July 1918. Before the First World War had ended in 1920, my family returned to Mortlake in Surrey, where my mother's family lived. My father had a job as a Stoker Engineer and he had served in the Royal Navy from 1900 to 1912. In my childhood, I met Ex-Veterans that lived in Richmond in Surrey, which was near to where I lived. At Richmond there was The Star and Garter Home, which was for the limbless and badly injured Army, Navy and Airmen War Veterans. Also in Richmond was the Poppy Factory. Our schoolteachers were also War Veterans and so the War was all around us as children. As we grew older and learnt to read and write, we learnt more about the War. Mr Benham, Mr Grimshaw and Mr Thompson, who was my teachers and others told us different War stories. They and others would tell us that the War was not over in Germany because they would not forget and forgive.
Men were out of work, so there was little money to go round. There was the Welfare State for handouts. The League of Nations was formed but that did not stop the men stating that the War was far from over. We read that things were not much better in Germany. There was food shortages and no work. We also heard of Hitler and the Nazi Party. In 1933, when Hitler won the Election and became Chancellor, those men that had spoken about the next War, said that it had already started. People called them crazy. In 1933 Hitler, got the German people back to work, they now had bread on their table.
I joined the 2/6 Battalion East Surrey Regiment at the age of nearly 16 years of age. I put my age down as 18 years old, as I had started shaving so I had no problem in joining the Territorial Army, men from the 1914-1918 War also had joined up in the Territorial Army. My first summer camp was at Camberley in Surrey with the Territorial Army. We learnt a lot. On returning home, after the camp, Mondays and Thursdays were training nights. At the Easter holidays, the Officers and the other ranks were at Bisley Rifle range in Surrey shooting at targets, with rifles and also the Lewis gun.
As Hitler and his Nazi party took control of Germany, the German Government complained to the League of Nations about the payment, that Germany had to make to the Allies after the War. They agreed that it was a high price to pay. At this time, the man in the street was saying that the War was not far off. Hitler broke every treaty made in 1919 with the Allies and the World stood by, while the Germans walked in and took back Countries, that had once been theirs. In 1936 I joined the Royal navy and trained as a Stoker. After passing out on square bashing and engineering training, it was Christmas time, we then had a week's leave.
In January 1937 I was drafted to HMS Furious, which was a AirCraft Carrier. It had been built in 1917 as a Battleship, the first Battleship in the World to carry 18 inch guns. But after the War of 1914 -1918, she was then made into an Aircraft carrier and was used to train Fleet Airarm Pilots. In 1938, I found that I was deaf in my left ear. I then reported as sick and was sent to Stone House Hospital in Plymouth. When I was seen by the Doctor, he told me that I would need an operation to remove a bone from my nose and I said no to this. A month later, I was discharged as unfit. During this time, in 1936, the German Army marched in on the Rhineland. The league of nations just wrote a letter to the German Government. The Communists and the Nazi party were at each others throats. The Communists wanted to take over Germany. There was also trouble with the jewish People. Britain and France made an agreement with Poland. They had arranged that if Poland was attacked then both Britain and France would come to their aid. I was out of the Navy so I went to see my Doctor about my deafness. He then sent me to West London hospital for treatment. I then rejoined the Territorial Army.
The summer of 1938, Mr Chamberlain M.P. returned home from a meeting with Hitler. He landed at Croydon Aerodrome and came out waving, to what looked like a piece of paper shouting "Peace in our time". The man in the street just said "Bull". In February 1939, my deafness had been cleared up and I could, once again hear. I tried to return to the Navy but I was turned down. In July 1939, I wrote once again to join the Navy of which I enclosed a doctor's report and letters. I then, in due course, received a reply telling me to report to Whitehall in London for a Medical examination. This I passed and I was then informed that I could return to the Navy for duty. I was told then I would be sent for. I requested to be posted to Chatham Barracks, as my father and mother were getting older in age and it would be ideal, as I could slip up to London to visit them. If they had sent me to Plymouth it would have been too far away. So now I waited to be recalled for service.
In August 1939, we were called to duty and we were posted to the Kent area on Guard duty. Germany had marched into Poland on 3 September 1939. Mr Chamberlain broadcasted to the Nation that we were at War with Germany. Also France had declared War on Germany. The German people had hoped that we would turn a blind eye, once again. The man in the street had always maintained that War was coming but the idiots that we call M.P.s were just turning a blind eye. The news of War had proved that these crazy men were right after all!
The 2/6 Battalion East Surrey Regiment returned to Richmond in Surrey in December 1939 and we were billeted at the Richmond Hill Hotel. In April 1940, we were ordered to France to join the British Expeditionary Forces. On landing in France, D Company was at Fecamp, carrying out guard duty. We did hear that in May 1940, that the Germans had attacked Holland. The 2/6 Battalion East Surrey Regiment was under orders to go to Belgium. D Company remained at Fecamp. Next we were ordered to rejoin the Battalion at Rouen in France. There, our Commanding Officer was relieved of his command and returned to England with his Batman, Corporal Lofthouse. At Rouen, I received three letters, two of them were from home and the other was from the Royal Navy, telling me to report to HMS Pembroke at Chatham in Kent. My mother had been involved in a hit and run accident so I reported to the Company Commander, Major Spearing with both of these letters and he told me not to worry, as we were going home.
It was June 1940, the Battalion had moved out of Rouen in convoys along the route, patrols were sent out and once the Germans had been spotted, we opened up fire as the convoy drove along. It began to get dark and we had entered a wood and here we were ambushed. There were vehicles on fire, rifle machine gun fired on Officers and other ranks and they were climbing out of their vehicles. What remained of the Battalion, which drove into that wood, twenty of us were not with the Battalion. We found a place to rest. Next morning, we ran into a German patrol, they could see us but we could not see them. But, we noticed that when they fired upon us, it had left a ring of smoke. We fired into the smoke and all that we heard was a grunt. When the shooting had stopped, we saw dead Germans, also a Krupp machine gun, which we took with us. Later, we joined up with the Battalion, also the 51st Highland Division. All that you heard, from the French was "Bosch in Paris in 6 months"
We found ourselves in St Valery, with our backs to the sea. There was no way to escape. We did hear that Artillery had been sent to France with No High Explosive shell, only smoke shells. What a waste of men and equipment!! On the 12 June 1940, the French ordered the British to surrender to the Germans. Field Marshall Rommel took the surrender from General Victor Fortune. We were now Prisoners - of -War. One did notice that the French officers was dressed in their best uniforms and they also had suitcases. The soldiers had large back packs, filled with food. But we, the British just stood, as we had no kit, only what we were standing up
There were 250 officers and other ranks that had been taken as Prisoners-of-War, these were what remained of the 51st Highland Division plus there were others of the British Force, that was in the area of St Valery. The French were leading the long column, leaving St Valery. We had been disarmed by the German soldiers. They had taken our jewellery, such as rings and watches from all of the Prisoners-of-War and we had no money as we had not received any pay. We were all hungry as we had not had any food for a day and a half. As we walked along in the column, our thoughts were, what did the future hold for us now?
As we walked there were men that had fallen back, I found myself with Corporal Benham and Corporal M Norris. As we followed along the road, which was full of walking soldiers, our thoughts were of our families at home. How were they coping with the War and all of our friends. What now would happen to the British and French Officers that was not on the line of march. We did not know for sure what had happened to these men. The men were hoping to get some food when we reached the Camp, the weather was very hot, a real June summer day. Just the right day for a lovely swim! We were all sweating, it must have been about 7.00p.m. to 8.00p.m. when we eventually reached the holding Camp. Then we were treated just like cattle, we were herded along the road. We then found ourselves in an open field with barbed wire and German guards outside watching over us. We had water but no food. A senior N.C.O. approached the guards and said how about having any food and the reply came back in German, saying "Do not understand".
It was the 15 June 1940 and the third day of the march. Some of the lads had fallen to the rear, they thought it was better because we were all after food. We passed through a village and the French had put out buckets of water and some did give us food, but even then, we still had to watch it because of the German guards. we passed German troops moving down the front, horses and carts and a Field Kitchen was cooking food for the German troops. We began to break ranks in order to try and get some food. We ate dandelion leaves which tasted like lettuce. Ted Benham had stolen a chicken and we found potatoes in a field growing so we pulled them up and ate the potatoes raw also there were swedes, which had been put out for the cattle, but we ate these as well, raw. We collected stinging nettles, but we kept these, together with the chicken, so that we would then cook them together with any thing else that we could find.
Now the British Prisoners-of-War were pitting their wits against the Germans, we may only be Prisoners-of-War and we were feeling down but we were not finished yet!
Every day it was the same, we would try to break ranks or we would starve!. We had been on the march for nearly a week, but on this morning before we left the Camp, we were told by a NCO that the Germans were fed up, by the action of us breaking ranks. We were told that we were soldiers and had to act as soldiers and not to continue this action of breaking ranks. It was on 19 June 1940, we were told that the NCO would lead the British column and we were told to either march or walk but to follow this NCO. For a time we did not break ranks but we had noticed that the men, who was helping the NCO at night, in the Camp and sharing with whatever they got, heard that they broke ranks. They had had the fields and farm yards all to themselves, so it became that either we starved or tried to live as best as we could.
So it was now back to normal, you just had to grab what you could to survive. After about ten days without food from the Germans, the men came to the conclusion that the Germans never had the food to give to us, the Prisoners-of-War. We were being treated worse than cattle, we even tried to eat grass. We were back to the same routine, breaking ranks, go thieving for what we could. Ted Benham had a bad throat and Norris had told him to drink plenty of water. In front of us were four Morroccan soldiers, one was carrying a sack, it smelt really bad. We held our noses because of the smell. A guard approached us and he must have smelt this so he took out a pocket knife and he cut the sack open. What fell out was a horse's head! As it fell to the floor all that we could see that it was alive with maggots. The guard went mad and the Moroccan soldiers ran for their lives.
The French people tried to help as much as they could, but we had to live and the only way to do that was to raid the fields. Ted had stolen another chicken so now we had to find swedes or potatoes or stinging nettles. We also had to get wood for the fire, wood was not a problem to find as the weather had been kind. that night we had chicken stew. There had been no rain but plenty of sunshine. It was still a beautiful summer, but always in our thoughts was of home and our families back in England.
We were told that we were getting near to Belgium. We had lost all sense of time, we did not know the days or the dates, we had been too busy looking for food to help us to survive. As we entered Belgium finding what to eat was getting harder, we never saw anyone smile. We did get some food, but there was too many of us to feed. The French had plenty of food in their back packs. We met some Nuns, they asked for some of our names and addresses. They told us that they would try and let our families know where we were. Ted Norris and myself wrote our names on a packet of Woodbines. We had run out of cigarettes and tobacco, I still had my pipe, which I would put in my mouth, it helped a little although I had no tobacco to go into it. We could still see the German Troops making their way to France. Whenever we could get food from the fields we did or on the wayside. To think that we had come all of this way from St Valery and had not been given any food. We were now sure that the Germans had no food to give to the Prisoners-of-War, they had too many to cater for. Also they did not care if we lived or died. When we arrived at the holding Camp, men asked for medical treatment for different ailments but they received none. We had heard that the fighting in France was now over. Our thoughts went out, had the Germans reached England? One lad had asked a Belgium if he had heard if the Germans had reached England, he replied "No, and they never will" laughing as he walked off.
We were now approaching Holland and as we walked along the road, we noticed a dog that had been harnessed to a cart. Some had bread, some had Red balls of Cheese called Edam. These were for sale as was the bread. Ted and Norris got two loaves of bread. they had said to the Dutchman "I will get the money" but they vanished into the long columns along with their cheeses. I did the same and that night we exchanged bread for cheeses.
Since 12 June 1940, we had received no food from the Germans, we had now reached Holland and some of the lads were missing, either they were in hospital or they were still walking at the rear of the column. Day in and day out it was the same old routine, march all day with no food, only what the French people had given us. It was the same in Belgium as we travelled through it was just the same.
We thought, what is wrong on this particular night when we stopped, we were not going into a field this time but we found ourselves being put into a warehouse. Some went into a large Barracks. This night we slept under cover for the first time.
I heard someone say that "it is 2 July", it was a Saturday when we arrived at the Hook of Holland. One could see barges tied up to a jetty. The French were being loaded on to one of the barges and the British on to another. As we boarded the barge we were given a slice of dark bread, not enough to feed a child, but we took it. When the barges were loaded they pulled away from the jetty and started upstream. We heard we were now on the Rhine. It was either a Tuesday or Wednesday, the barge had been tied up at the jetty. We noticed others had followed. The barges was unloaded and we found ourselves climbing into cattle wagons. We were there a day and one night. The train stopped at Dortmund and the train was unloaded at the Railway station. We were then paraded through the streets of Dortmund. One could not see any Germans with smiles on their faces but you could see the hatred. Otherwise it was a penny for your thoughts time.
We arrived at Dortmund Sports centre and it looked like an open field surrounded by barb wire. On the other side of the barb wire was steel Army helmets of the French, British and Belgiums. The guard was wandering alone, like a little dolly daydream, with not a care in the world. With his rifle and bayonet he was piercing the helmets with the bayonet. Each helmet the bayonet pierced, he went to each French, Belgium and British and he seemed very pleased with the results, until he came to an old looking British helmet, that belonged to the Regular Army. He tried a number of times and nothing happened. he must have tried a little bit harder because then the bayonet broke off at the hilt. You should have seen his face, it was full of bewilderment. One great cheer went up from all of the Prisoners-of-War.
We did not know how long we were to stay at Dortmund. We had received some soup or that is what the Germans called it! To me it was dish water and it looked like washing up water. Turning it over in one's mind, the events from 12 June 1940, the long march with no food, I began to look at how we, the Prisoners-of-War had been treated. None of the Prisoners-of-War had been documented, so far as the British knew we could all been killed in action, even the Germans could have shot all of the British Prisoners-of-War and said that we had died in action. Who would have disputed that? Twice we received this dishwater as soup. On the third day we were marched down to the goods yard and we were handed a slice of brown bread. Once again, we were loaded onto cattle wagons. There were 80 men to each wagon and once again we were off on out travels.
One morning we stopped. It must have been three days later, we heard shouting, open came the wagon doors and the guard shouted "Roust, Roust". We all got out of the wagons, I could not see the name of the station but it was somewhere in Poland. The columns moved off but we were not paraded through the streets this time, we then arrived at the Prisoner-of-War camp. There was wooden huts and a large brick building. We had arrived at Stalag XXB. Different things flash through your mind, I did notice some other Prisoners-of-War, two or three hundred of them. We were then told to find a place to sleep, once again no food. I am not sure but I think, that under the Geneva Convention, the Germans had to feed us. Benham, Norris and myself followed the other Prisoners-of-War up the stairs. We then entered a large room. In the centre was three tier bunks, it was one large bed but no mattresses and no blankets. It stood in the centre of the room and you could walk right around the bed . It could hold three or four hundred men. We then turned into sleep. Throughout the night we could hear some of the men having nightmares. On falling asleep we were all wondering what did the future have in store for us, if we survived!
We all had a bad night and when we did wake up some of the men were already up and about. We heard one of the guards shouting "roust, roust" which translated to get out. We all paraded and a NCO took the parade. His staff were all senior NCO's. Then marched out was a German Officer and we noticed a British soldier standing by the wooden box, which the Officer had used to stand on, so that everyone could see him. The parade was called to attention and some of the men took notice. The NCO, that was in charge of the parade saluted the other Officer and the salute was returned by the other Officer. The officer spoke in German so the British interpreter repeated what had been said. This went on for about a half an hour. We were then dismissed and the Officer marched away. The NCO that commanded the Prisoners-of-War was CSM Savage of the Seaforth Highlanders.
Men were walking around the camp and we found the toilet. It was along trench which had been dug deep and there was a tree pole running right around the trench. It had a roof but it was full of flies and it was very dirty and smelly. This toilet was used by the NCO's and all of the men. After a few days we were documented and a photograph of each man had been taken. Each man either held or he had hanging a board around his neck with his Stalag number. On it, you were then handed a metal tag to hand around your neck. My Stalag number was 5353. If you died or you got killed, half of this tag was put on your coffin and the other half was sent to the International Red Cross.
Half of the camp had soup at midday and the other half had bread, this was changed every week. Bread once a week, soup the next. The food was bad, it was unfit to eat, rotten boiled potatoes, barley soup mixed with cattle blood or spinach. before you ate this you had to drain off the water and took out the spinach. Then you had to tip the sand which had been left on the bottom. Nothing was washed before it was cooked. Potatoes were shovelled into a boiler. My comrades, Benham and Norris got the job of cooking potatoes. One would have thought that there would have been extra for those of us that they knew, not on your life. You exchanged cigarettes or anything worth exchanging to get the extra potatoes, but it was better to burn the bad potatoes before you ate them. Now men were beginning to suffer with the runs (diarrhoea) and we told them to burn their bread also the potatoes and to eat wood ash, that helped some of the men. Some did as you told them but there were others that did not. I cannot say how many men lost their lives due to this.
Next, the Germans were asking for home addresses and also what work you had done before joining the Services. They also wanted your nationality address. You would never have believed of some of the addresses that the men had given. Some of them said the Tower of London, Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, and also to living on barges on the rivers. It was unbelievable that jobs such as Road Sweepers, Dancers, Clockwinders, Bank Staff and Fruit pickers and hearing the wit that went with these answers. Later we learnt why they wanted this information. They started interviewing the Irish men and they asked them why were they fighting with the British? At an interview, an old soldier was asked this question and he replied that he had served in the British Army for 26 years for 3 meals a day, a Sunday suit and 14 shillings (old money) a week, also that he had seen the world. Some days after this we noticed that a working party was being formed. It consisted of about 75 -100 NCO's and Irish men. We wondered if they were going to work in the S S Barracks, the lads said say no more.
The German Officers in the camp took photos of men, one on a visit showed Buckingham Palace with the German flag flying above it. This did not go down very well. Another time there was two Officers and they asked two Prisoners-of-War to do the Nazi salute and their photos were taken. The Officers gave them some bread but as the Officers walked away, the men grabbed and the cry went out "What shall we do with them" and someone shouted "Throw them in the Cesspit" and they did! One morning when we were on parade, the Camp Commandant told the interpreter to climb on his box. This he did and he was told to say "Tell them you are a Jew" and he said to shout it louder. This the man did and all of a sudden, one large cheer went up for the men.
We were walking alive with lice, Night and morning one could see the men's shirts and trousers had been taken off and they were trying to kill the lice. When a German Company of troops or the Hitler Youth passed the camp they always broke into singing one of their War songs singing the "downfall of England", then the men would mock them and sing the same song but ended it with "Germany no more". The other Prisoners-of-War in the camp were 250 Polish officers and every night at sundown they would gather at the top of the camp for a sing song and also prayed for about a half an hour, this happened 7 days a week.
Ted Benham and Norris were together and I met a man called George Gee, who was also from the East Surrey's. We worked together, waiting for a working party, a man went sick. This working party lived in the camp but went out every day but returned at night. The farm was about 5 miles the other side of the village. When we arrived at the farm, my job was painting the doors and house. The farm belonged to a German officer. He had lost a leg in the War with Poland. While I was working in the house, the others worked with the Polish labour on the land. We had good food here. We had a snack about 10.30a.m and lunch at 12.00p.m then a snack when we finished work. I had some paint undercoat so I rubbed it down to do it and I noticed a window was open above the door. I stood on the steps and looked in and I saw sausages hanging down also pickled eggs, so I helped myself and I took this food back to the camp. George also managed to get some extra, but you had to keep this to yourselves. I got potatoes, swedes, you name it, if it was there I found it. I had this job for 5 weeks. After having a snack, I was sitting down when the farmer walked in and he called me everything and then he hit me with his walking stick. I was taken out of the house, to wait for the farmer. Then a rope was put around my neck and I was then tied to the back of a buggy and the horse walked all the way to the camp. Then out came the guard and spoke to the farmer. By this time the farmer had cooled down a bit and he said sorry. The guard told me to march and as I did I got a kick up the backside and then I was taken to punishment camp.
We never left the camp. To get our food, two men would collect our rations then the men would return to the punishment camp, which was a large tent. We slept on straw and after our meal, I joined them, baling out the new toilets. As I was the newest member, I was at the bottom. We used a pail, which we part filled with toilet, then we passed it up to a tank which was on a cart. When the tank was full, it was pulled and pushed out of the camp onto a field. As it run out at the back, it was pulled along the field and once the tap was open, you pulled hard. I did this job with others for 14 days and then I was returned to the main camp. We were writing cards to home then the first Red Cross parcel arrived. The NCO moved the parcels to the Stores. When the job was finished, there was 50 parcels went missing. It could not have been the NCO because there were 4 guards present at all times when the parcels were issued. It was 12 men to each parcel and we all got a taste of the ration of bread which was 12 men to a loaf. But when the bread was unfit to eat then it was down to 8 men to a loaf. If the bread was mouldy then we just burnt it in the fire and then we ate it. I have seen men give up their bread rations for a cigarette, this was then passed around and their bread was shared with Gordon Rolls, who was also in the camp. This man had been left a fortune before the war. It was a pity to see him let himself go. He would give out I O U's for a man's ration of bread. An old soldier took a hand in trying to help this man and to try to keep him clean. He looked after him all the time that he was a Prisoner-of-War. He had parcels sent to him and a brand new uniform, shirts, underwear and boots. He did look very smart, while the rest of us had Dutch clogs to wear. We had no boots to wear and we had to wait until they arrived. As our uniforms wore out we were dressed in Polish, Dutch or Belgium uniforms.
George Gee and myself plus another 100 other Prisoners-of-War were going on a working party. We arrived at a Nunnery but without nuns! This was our billet and we were to build a road between two large lakes. The Polish villagers said that this was a complete waste of time, but the Germans knew better! Men were digging into a hill, loading the skips. They then pushed them to the site, shifting the soil on the land between the lake. One day, after lunch our guard took the men to a Jewish Cemetary and there we were ordered to break every tombstone. The lads said no way! But next we heard the bolts on the rifle going back, it was a stand off, either we did it or we would have been shot. Under protest we carried out what was ordered and went ahead and done their dirty work. I think that night every man prayed for forgiveness for carrying out this barbaric action.
Winter 1940 was now on us and we could not work, the men now had started to understand some German, so men went out working in the town. We did this in turn. We were about early this morning and along came a job at a German Barracks unloading coal. For this we got half a loaf of bread each and thick soup before we returned at night to the camp. Also we had German weak tea laced with Schnapps and this made us feel warm. Schnapps is a spirit. We were sending letters home once a month and we were also receiving letters also some parcels. The first parcel that I received was of carbolic soap, chocolate and clothing. The chocolate tasted of carbolic soap but we all ate it and that was for 12 of us in our room.
It was Christmas and no work. We had such a blow out on pea soup that we wondered if we could take the strain!. It was just to say you had a meal at Christmas away from home, not knowing what was happening. None of us slept that night.
Two days later and once again at the Barracks unloading food from Railway wagons. We, each had 15 men on the job and had a loaf each. Even the guard took a shave. We had also stolen a box of dried vegetables. This was in packets, the guard also had one. Some of the guards would turn a blind eye, so some would tell you what was going on in the news, but even they had to watch what they said or done. Throughout he winter it had been bad, the money that we had earned was now gone and the lads were now using brown paper or cardboard as substitute cigarettes. You smoked whatever you could get hold of.
It was back to working off the road, we still got work at the Barracks and also
got extra food, but we still stole whenever we could. We then returned to the camp.
The working party returned to Camp. but it was not the camp that we had left. This camp was at Marianberg. This was a large camp where there were British, French and Serbians. We found a billet and moved in. We then had a walk around it to see what the layout was. We did hear that there had been escapes by the Prisoners-of-War and that they had been returned to the camp. One story was that there was one Prisoner-of-War that was on the run and had been found asleep by some German Land Army women. After they had finished with him, he had no skin on his body. The Prisoners-of-War had said that he was in hospital very ill. I cannot say if this was true or not, but by seeing the Nazi women, one would expect such a reaction. We then heard of a spy that was in the camp, a German, that spoke English, said that he had escaped and been returned back to the camp. One of the lads said "Where do you come from in England"? The man replied "Bradford". But when he was asked to name some of the streets there, he had a few right but the others were not located in Bradford. They had a wireless set but only the Builder and also a Pole knew where it was hidden. It was best not to ask too many questions or you, yourself could find yourself being thrown into the cesspit.
There were quite a few rumours flying around the camp. One could not say if they were true or not. But one thing that one did notice was that the men was still very defiant. The food was a little better there and we were receiving letters from home and also receiving Red Cross parcels, which was shared by 4 men or sometime 2 to a parcel. The way to try and fool the guards was that now, some of the Prisoners-of-War could speak and understand German, speak or not they understood German.
Every morning all of the camp attended parade, we were all counted and we stood in lines of three's. This seemed the only way that the Germans could count. After parade the Prisoners-of-War were found work, some were marched to work outside of the camp, they always returned at night. Wednesday afternoon was a football match which had the French playing against Serbs, England was against the french. This always brought a crowd of German civilians to the camp. The machine gun tower was full of German guards. the match would kick off playing well, then the dirty tricks would start. At half time, the French and the British would start to complain. They would then kick off again and you would then have a fight break out. A French wrestler would walk on to the pitch and then there was trouble. Fights broke out and that would be the end of the game. There was a Serbian soldier, who was always playing a tin whistle. It did not matter if he was sitting, walking or on parade, he would still play his whistle. The germans always thought that he was wrong in the head. They never stopped him playing his whistle.
It was now December 1941, and it had now been another year passed. The Prisoners-of-War made the best that they could in the circumstances, to try and enjoy themselves. But they were always thinking of their loved ones that were back home. In fact, even when you were resting, your thoughts were always about family and your loved ones. Sometimes we heard about what was going on with the War. In 1940, we had heard about the bombing of England but it was forbidden of us to listen to German news broadcast. Sometimes we did get information about the War, but never enough to get a true picture of what really was happening.
You would turn over in your mind, why had France fallen? But you could read the answer in a French soldier's face. Also when they repeatedly said "Bosch in Paris in 6 months". If their General could not see that the French soldiers had had enough, why were they filling their back packs with food. Some of them threw their rifles away. Once the low ranks lose faith, what hope is there of fighting a losing battle. You can shout all of the encouragement, to fight on, but once their minds are made up, you have lost. The fleeing civilians did not help by blocking the road, saying that the Bosch was coming.
The lads learnt that Japan had attacked America at Pearl Harbour. This was early in December 1941, then we heard of the sinking of the American War ships. This was all new to us. America then declared War on japan. The word got around that Germany had declared War on America. This really cheered the lads up. Once America put their factories on War footings, we said "God help Japan and Germany".
It was Christmas day and we had pea and vegetable soup, we received no gifts from the Nazis. The lads made the best that they could but there was no beer or spirits. But we did enjoy ourselves. Sleeping that night, you were dozing and then you could hear the men having nightmares, shouting in their sleep. Boxing day it was a free for all and we spent our time kicking a football. It was a cold, dry cold day. There was also snow, The new year was a madhouse, we all hoped that we would soon be all going home. As the months passed, we remained at the same address. We, George and myself joined a large working party to work on a large farm. Once again we had first class travel in cattle wagons! The time spent in the main camp was not too bad, we had been out on our day job. We had 3 months at the Sugar beet factory, unloading sugar beet from the wagons. This was being used to make sugar, we also had quite a lot of sugar, when we left the factory.
The guard opened the wagon sliding doors and he shouted "Roust, Roust". We were in a Railway goods yard and lined up to be counted. No one else has escaped. Then off we go to this farm. We must have walked or marched some 2 to 3 miles. We had arrived, the guard showed us our billet and into the billet we went. We found our beds and started to unpack, what we call our kit. At about 6.30 p.m. we were ordered out of our billet, then counted and then led away for about a quarter of a mile. We were told to halt then ordered to enter this long building. We were told to sit down at the tables, we noticed, on the other side of the room, sat civilians, eating soup and bread. A man and a woman came out of the kitchen, carrying a bucket full of soup. Our plates were full, we also had bread. We all got stuck into the hot soup. After our meal we formed up and were marched back to our billet and then they locked us up for the night.
Next morning we heard "Roust, Roust", so we got up, washed and dressed then went on parade to be counted and then we were marched away. We had a hot drink of coffee, which was made from burned barley. It was wet and warm. Next we were marched away up to the fields. The Poles, as we had learned waived working together. The Prisoners-of-War were on the left of the Poles then the Poles went to the other side of the field and then returned to where we were. We were thinning out plants and they were well ahead of us. We were up from the starting line, when the Poles reached the end of the rows. They started working towards the Prisoners-of-War, when we all met up about two yards from the starting line. the next line up was much different, it ran in order, one Pole and then one women Prisoner-of-War. This was carried along the starting line, so if you were slow, the Poles helped you, that was our days work. We had soup at lunchtime then we had bread and lard that night with coffee.
Each day was the same cleaning the fields, also the potato fields, then stacking corn to dry. We did hear that it was a 1000 acre farm and they made Schnapps, which is a german spirit drink, made from potatoes. We did work on the thrashing machine. At lunchtime, we had bread and cheese. Soup at night. We had spent the summer here and the guard informed us that we were going to the Sugar beet factory, when we had finished potato picking. We had a change of guards, but one morning we had a surprise. One of the guards came in to wake us and he shouted "Wake, Wake" in English, then he said "Where is your hand?". We were that surprised but they called him a traitor. he replied "No, No" He told us that his father was British and his mother was German. His father had married his mother and stopped in Germany after the last War. As his mother was German he had been con-scripted into the German Army, if he had not had done so, then he would have been imprisoned. He could do guard duty or be sent elsewhere but not to the British Front because he might have deserted to the British side.
We asked him if there were many of them and he replied "Yes". Some of the men were being held as political prisoners. It had been a hot summer and the lads were quite sunburnt and they looked well. We had received letters from home and also some Red Cross parcels each, for the first time. We learnt that the Serbian, who played the tin whistle had been repatriated back home, to Serbia and that he had joined the Partisans. We also had heard that some French Prisoners-of-War had been found hung in the toilets. The Germans were investigating these hangings. I found myself day dreaming one evening and one thought of some of the ideas that they had dreamt up to outwit the Germans. One lad spoke and wrote perfect German, you could not fault him. he had also made his uniform to look like the Hitler Youth, complete with the red Swatzika arm band. He had escaped from a working party, so how the German Police had stopped him, we were not quite sure. But they took him back to the Police station for further questioning. Something that he had said must have slipped. They told him to take off all of his clothes and that was when they found his Prisoner-of-War tag around his neck. So now he was back to square one. We did hear that Germany had attacked Russia and how the Germans were knocking on the door of Moscow in 1941. Also that Rudolf Hess had crashed in Scotland. We did not know if any of this was true or not, until we were told it by word or mouth.
The time was about due for all of us Prisoners-of-War to leave for the Sugar beet factory. We were in our billet at around 6.00p.m. when a guard knocked on our door. This was very strange to us, he pushed it open and said in English "May I come in" It was not our usual guard and we could not have stopped him coming in. He entered our billet and started to speak. He said that he needed a Prisoner-of-War for a small farm as another Prisoner-of-War had to be returned to go into hospital. He spoke to a number of us and then he turned to me and said was I in charge. I replied that I was a NCO working with the men. He then asked me to come to this farm. I thought about the hard work that it was at the Sugar beet factory and I decided to say yes. I got all of kit together and said good luck to the men that I was leaving behind. I was now on my way. We walked about 5 miles to a village and the guard said that there were two parties of Prisoners-of-War. We entered the farm yard and I waited by the door until he guard returned with the farmer. I was then told to come into the farm. The farmer went right, into the house. The guard and myself went left, which led into the kitchen. There was a man and a woman sitting, eating food. The guard told me to sit and the woman filled a plate with milk soup and noodles. There was also a bowl of fried potatoes. I ate my soup and then I was taken to my billet. There were 8 British Prisoners-of-War and they welcomed the new men. I found my bed and the guard then told us lights out.
The next morning I was awaked by the shouting , by one of the guards, shouting of "Roust, Roust", which was a way of saying Good Morning. I dressed and washed then had a quick look around. We were all sleeping in the back room of the farm on two tier bunks which had straw mattresses. I had only one blanket over the mattress to cover me. I also had a feather quilt which kept me very warm. The other lads went off to work and the guard took me to the farm, he then handed me over to a Polish worker and I was told to call him Paul. The woman's name was Sheba, so Paul had told me. I was shown by Paul, what job that I would be doing and that was cleaning out the stables, then feeding and cleaning out the cow's manure from the cows. I had to push up the clean bedding and then clear the manure onto a barrow, wheel it to the dung heap. Sheba then milked the cows, I then cleared the horse's stables. I was told then to give another feed to the cows. I also had to clear the sump of the cows, horses and the pig urine night and morning. I thought to myself here is another chapter of my life.
At 8.30 a.m. we went into the kitchen for breakfast and on my plate I had 4 slices of bread, one black pudding with cheese and one lard coffee, with milk but no sugar. This was wet and warm but drinkable. I enjoyed my breakfast and the German frau said "No man or beast should leave the farm until they had eaten," even the guard had his food at the farm. After breakfast I did jobs about the yard and the barn. I then had to bring in fresh bedding for the cows, also the horses. the animals were out working. I never saw much of the farmer, Mr Waltherr. At about 12.00 p.m., Paul returned with the horse and took it into the stables. Paul then fed the three horses and I fed the cows. Paul washed his hands and he said to me "come". We went into the kitchen where there was a lovely fire into the stove. We had pea soup with bits of meat floating on the top of it. All three of us sat down together. After lunch, Paul returned to the fields. I went chopping wood for the fire, after doing that I worked around the yard again. The chickens were around in the yard. The farmer had a dog and when he saw me, he went for me. But it was because he did not know me. I spoke to him but he was not at all sure of me. Then the guard asked me if I was getting on alright, of which I replied "Yes" Also if the food was alright and again I said "Yes". At 4.00 p.m. Paul returned to the yard and unharnessed the horse, then fed and bedded them down.
We went again to the kitchen, whereby we were given a coffee and a slice of bread and lard. Sheba had started milking. Paul and I began cutting up swedes with the hand cutting machine. At about 6.30 p.m. we were called in for our supper. This was a fry up with a fried egg on top. After supper, the guard took me back to the billet, the others returned a little later. We were all in the billet and I introduced myself. They said that their names were, Bert, Jimmy, Tich, Digger, Green, Smith and Reg, so there was 8 of us. At the other camp there was 10 men, but these men were very suspicious of the men. I said to them, "believe what you like". I told them I came from Mortlake and that my unit was the East Surrey Regiment. The man called Bert had been a bus conductor and he knew where I came from. He asked me if Mortlake was near to the River Thames at Barnes and Richmond. He also knew the bus garage at Mortlake. I replied that it was situated at Avondale Road near the railway. He then knew that I had been telling the truth. he said to the others "It is OK, he is not a spy" but the others were still not convinced. But in the end I won them round.
It had started to snow, so Paul could not work in the fields, so it was back to the barn, on the thrashing machine, then Paul and I would us the clapping machine to get the grain from the chaff. This took us a day and a half. Paul and I loaded the grain and it was taken to the collection point. The snow has begun to get deeper and no wagon would come out, so we had to get the sledge out. This was made into a wagon to enable it to carry grain, potatoes and swedes and whatever else we needed to carry. It was now very cold but not a wet cold but it was quite dry. The snow made lovely snowballs! I was chatting to Bert one evening and he asked me what had happened to the others that I had left at the other camp. I told him that they were working at the Sugar beet factory, that would have been Tate and Lyles of London.
The weather had got very bad, so we thought it would probably snow before Christmas. When it was a few weeks later it was Christmas 1942. We tried to do as best as we could, to decorate our billet. We did have a Christmas tree and we had a good fire in the stove. We all went to our farms to feed the cattle and to clean out the stables. Paul was having trouble getting water at the pond, so I took an axe to him. But it was very hard trying to break the ice. We then filled the barrel with water and ice, then we returned to the yard. We took the barrel into the stables. Sheba had been shovelling snow into the feed troughs. We then went to have breakfast and then returned back to our billet. I had received a letter from home so we now had letters to reply to. I then returned to the farm for Christmas lunch. We had roast chicken, potatoes boiled and white custard pudding. my thoughts turned to home at what sort of Christmas my family would be having. Paul, Sheba and myself had a plain cake with sugar baked on top. Christmas, at the billet was very quiet. We just laid on our bunks and the weather outside was bad. We had a job to walk to and from work. It was beginning to get on our nerves and we would all be glad when winter was over. The weeks dragged by and it was the same routine.
It was now March 1942 and we were just beginning to see a change in the weather. As the weeks went by, it was now Spring. Paul was back in the fields working. The Germans wanted the Poles to sign documents. When the documents arrived, Paul signed his but Sheba would not sign hers. In June, Paul was called up to join the German Army. Frau Walterherr asked me what my name was in German and I replied "Bob or Robert" She said because Paul had been called up to the Services, that his job would now fall to me. A few days later, Alex, from the other village arrived to take my place, cleaning out the stables. I now had learnt the names of the horses. There was Schueller who had been Polish transport Army horse, then there was Hans, who was a farm horse part Shire, then there was the mare called Gert and she had been an Officer's Cavalry horse. But the horse named Schueller was quite a character. Whenever the Frau was about, he would nay and Frau would come in and put more ground oats in the trough and water. Then they did not have to eat the food , they just drank it.
The daughter of the farmer lived at the farm with a baby girl. I did not see much of her or her baby. Her husband was in the German Army and at that moment he was in Russia. I noticed that whenever a visitor came to the billet, he had lunch, tea and supper at the farm. It was now Spring and nearly every Sunday, two of the Officers would visit the farm. I was also told that Herr Walterherr had been a Prisoner-of-War in Russia in the 1914/1917. He had suffered frostbite in his feet.
I had to show Alex what he was expected to do on the farm, he also had to fill the boiler with potatoes for the pigs and children. He had done the job at his last farm, I found out that the name of the farm was Hans. One morning, Hans come to Robert so off we went down to the field and he showed me how to plough with Hans and Gert. The horse, after about an hour, he gave me the reins and he stopped with me until we returned to the farm for lunch. After lunch, I went out with the horse to continue along ploughing the field each day, for nearly a week. I ploughed the field and he would come down to see if I was doing the job as I was shown. Once the field had been finished, he ploughed the part of the field and across the bottom. It was very interesting work. I was out alone doing the job. Our day to collect and deliver to milk to the factory, Hans dropped the cart the first time. After that I travelled alone.
I met other Prisoners-of-War, sometimes they would tell you news about the war and other times they would pass a message. All news was shared by the other Prisoners-of-War. We did hear a rumour of what the Prisoners-of-War were doing at the Sauerkraut Factory. It is unprintable to tell you what it was, it was only a rumour and if one was to write about all of their remorses in their life, it would fill pages. Then one cannot say if it was true or not. Hans showed me how to harrow the field. He now had left me on my own, he would start the first two rows and then he was off. Hans planted the field with rye, oats, wheat, and black peas for the cattle. The house garden was for planting peas, carrots, herbs and tomatoes. There was also an orchard which had apples, cooking cherries and also bee hives.
It was Sunday, after lunch. Time to think about Easter coloured eggs. Every now and then a packet of German tobacco was put in your pocket, from who, you did not know. If you was short of a smoke, Hans would leave his tobacco tray and cigarette papers on the kitchen window sill. We had received parcels from home and my father had sent tobacco through the Red Cross. We wondered how our families were coping with the food rationing. All of us were living well, two were not so Sheba gave me some flour. I stole the eggs and we would make pancakes for the evening. In the billet at night, you had to watch your tongue, you would sometimes hear movements by the window. If you did hear anything, you would put your fingers to your lips and then the subject would be changed. Planting potatoes, Hans had the horse. He went over to field. Frau, Sheba, Alex and myself planted the potatoes, banking up the spuds. I lead the horse Hans. When the potatoes was about 6 inches high I would then harrow the field a day later. Then the potatoes would be banked up again.
When in August, we spent two days cutting peat in all the fields. We opened the hole that Hans had cut down. When it was deep enough, I had a cutting tool and then Hans would cut down and I would cut across first. When we had finished, we had a swim. We did the same thing the next day. The peat was food for the winter. When Hans's wife went to the mill with grain for flour, Frau Patygee was in charge, she used to chat to Alex whenever she could. I noticed, that she always flirted with the German Officers. Cutting the corn, out came an old machine. First a passage round the field was made. Hans would cut and I would bundle, then tie them with the cutting machine. Frau Patygee, Sheba and Alex would just cut. I bundled them up and stacked them to dry. This was done to all of the field but not the cattle peas. You would be loading the corn on to the wagon, this would be done by Alex and myself. Potato picking was also done by the same people. Once all of the field had been cleared it was back to thrashing again.
As 1943 began to close, we did hear that Russia was fighting back. A barn fire, we all turned up and by the time that the Germans had said "Heil Hitler" the barn had been burnt to the ground. Also when we heard "Heil Hitler" we would say "Sh-- so High" Hans son was a Bergermaster of the town. He came and took the honeycombs from the hives. He took the honey out and when he left, he had taken the lot. There was shouting in the yard, Frau and Sheba. The Frau had hit Sheba, Sheba had hit her back and then Hans punched Sheba. She went to the Police, they came and took her away. She got 6 months for this and two days later there was a new girl, which had been from another village. She was Ukranian. With the arrival of this new girl, whose name was Ungar and she was from the Ukraine. We thought that there maybe changes because Sheba had done all of our washing and darned our socks. We were allowed a bath, which was in the cellar. But for change, would it be the same as it was before. I found out that Alex had worked with the new girl before.
1943 was now coming to an end. There was a Polish man, who lived in the next village and he was built like one of those Japanese Wrestlers, he would not sign any documents. He told us that he had been born a Pole and that he was always going to be a Pole and stop as a Pole. The Police, who went around on these pop, pop motor cycles. They had this Pole hand cuffed, with his hands at the back of him. They also had put a rope around his neck. If he had tried to stop the Police, they would have probably gone straight over the handle bars of the cycle. He could pick up about a hundred weight in one hand and he could carry six hundred weight on his back, with no problem. The farmer cried when they saw the Police taking him away. On Dicker and Ditch's farm, foot and mouth had broken out and they were not allowed to leave the farm. The cattle were not ordered to be killed but their mouths had to be treated with vinegar and also their feet.
The Prisoners-of-War had a good grape vine, where they could pass on messages. You either did this by word of mouth or you passed notes, but had to be careful not to be found out. We were also told, that if we ever got asked for help by an escaped Prisoner-of-War. we had to help as much as possible. Dicker had said that he had done this once before, but he was a bastard German, so we said, to be on the safe side to ask questions and to ask them for their tags. After Sheba had been released from prison, I met her one day when I was working in the fields and Hans was getting the ducks ready to be killed. He plucked the feathers off the ducks, when he had killed them. When he killed them he would let them bleed to death. But we never saw any ducks on our food table. The ducks blood was cooked with dried apple rings and this was a dinner, which was served with potatoes. This would taste very good, but we never ate the head or the feet.
In the town of Honstein there were quite a few Prisoner-of-War working, Some were at the seed collecting point. When the Pole was called up to the milk factory, he would just take a few eggs. It was surprising to find what you could get in return for these. You could get tobacco, sugar and everything, that would help us.
When we first got a Canadian food parcel. we found that we had a packet of gold dust, this was coffee, yes real coffee! It was very surprising what you could get for that. When you had this you were very rich, at least for a while! But this was shared with the others at the billet. The Germans were always after soaps with perfume. If you had this you could get two loaves of bread for this. But there was only one thing that the Prisoners-of-War really wanted - that was their freedom! This proved to be the hardest thing to get.
After Sheba was arrested, there was a lot of changes at the farm. The German Officers brought to Frau Walterherr, wild boar and venison meat. All of us had a share of this. One morning I was helping Ungar, the new help, to milk. I heard someone fall from the window behind me, so I got up and went around to the back of the house by the window. He was watching to see if Ungar and myself were having sex. I done my nut. I called him a bastard. He apologised and I said to him "Do you want me to get a three years imprisonment". If you were found just talking to a German woman or a Polish woman and if the guards had been told that you were talking about sex, the punishment was three years in prison.
I had done some sabotage to one of the machines. How Hans had found out, I do not know. But one Saturday I was taken by the guard to Honstein Police Station. The Frau had given me food for the weekend, this was about 12.00 to 1.00 p.m. I was locked in a cell and later I was given some coffee, which was wet and warm. Also had some food then slept. Sunday had coffee in the morning and they had put a pail in the cell for my toilet needs. Monday had coffee, ate the food that I had left. The guard came to collect me and I was taken to the farm. I had a hot bath and all of my clothes were thrown into the boiler, while I had my bath. I was handed my own underwear and a civilian pair of trousers. I then had my lunch and I was told, by the guard to go to the billet and sleep, which I did. I could never understand why Hans Walterherr always called me a "black devil" But this name stuck with me. Nothing had changed since I had come to work for the Walterherrs, you still did the same work. We had killed a few pigs, they were then brought out and weighed. They were then returned and another larger pig was then brought out. After the Bergermaster returned home, either Hans killed the pig or he did. The blood was collected and a small sample was taken by the postman for testing. Then you never saw the family for a few weeks after that until the pigs had been cut up. They made black puddings and brawn.
We had found leaflets on our beds about joining the German Army and to fight in Russia. A German uniform with a Union Jack on one sleeve and the St George and the Dragon on the other. You also would receive Four thousand Marks which would be spent on a holiday in Berlin. But these Germans had forgotten, that in 1940, when we were starving of food, that if we had joined then we would be considered traitors. They would never have been able to escape and if caught by the Russians it would be death. Did Germany think that we were that mad? We burned all of the leaflets.
THE STORY OF THE POW COWBOY. They said he was crazy. He had made two wooden pistols also a hobby horse. Also had made a pair of chaps. But when he was back to the main camp, he then saw the Camp Commander. The man had tied up his horse. He bedded his horse down for the night and gave it some grass. The next morning he went outside to feed his horse. He was then taken to hospital. This person was trying to work his ticket home but I never found out if he did or not. More Russians had arrived to work in the village and on some of the farms. They were all very young men. I wondered if there was anything going on with Frau Pacticy and Alex, but it was nothing to do with me.
Since coming to Germany, we had found that Hitler had enemies, not everyone was swayed by him. All of the flag waving that was going on and the salutes of "Heil Hitler", in some cases it was all for show. We could not understand why the Germans went mad when the heard the words "GENEVA CONVENTIONS" I will never forget when Hans Walterherr was waiting for news on the wireless. All morning there was no news. A party of men friends had arrived and they were speaking. "No news, is history repeating itself" Hans had said. But at 1.00p.m. the news came over that the Germans were retreating from Moscow 1942. Their faces now were not so good. Then in February 1943, Stalingrad was retaken by the Russians. The War now did not seen so good for the Germans now!
As 1944 approached, our routine at the farm remained the same as the days gone past. The snow went and in January, we could not work on the land. The horse's had had a good rest. On the journey to the milk collecting point, the Prisoners-of-War faces were all smiles. They had heard that Russia had Leningrad back. Things were now beginning to look up.
In April, we moved from our winter retreat to our summer retreat. The stables, as the day went by. We had a change of guards and this new guard was a right so-so. Nothing was ever right for him. When he broke the news that an Officer was arriving to inspect the billet, it had to be as clean as a new pin. We did the best that we could do, in the circumstances. It was now May and the officer was due to arrive on the following Tuesday. The next morning the German guard came in and shouted "ROUST, ROUST" He entered the stables and he picked on a man called Smith and told him to wash. The guard left the stables 10 minutes later. He saw Smith and that he was still making his bed and he shouted to him "Why have you not washed" Smith pointed out that there was only one bowl to wash in. The guard shouted back at him "I'll get my rifle and will shoot you dead" When he returned, he had his rifle, put it up to his shoulder and he shot Smith in the left hip. There were eight Prisoners-of-War as witnesses to this. The guard went out and we put Smith onto his bed. We did what we could for him and put a paper bandage on the wound and waited for a Doctor to arrive. But no Doctor came. Smith lay on his bed all day. We all took turns to watch him. At 12 o'clock an ambulance arrived to pick up the body of Smith. The British Medical orderly said that he had heard that Smith had died. They then drove Smith to hospital but we heard that he died the next morning at 3.00 a.m. This man would have been alive today if the guard had not lied at the Court of Enquiry. The German farmer had said that we were all trouble makers but we all told the truth. We then had a new guard. I requested a move to another camp, I then went to Dicker and Tich's farm, the worst in the area. They had 7 children, one in arms. The Polish helped. The German soldier was just using his wife for breeding. On the Tuesday morning, the guard told me to pack my kit and I was going to Danzig. Once again I was on my way, but could it be to go to prison, as we all had witnessed a murder. That was me, Bert, Green, Dicker, Tich, Alex and Jimmy.
We travelled to Danzig by train, the guard that accompanied us did not speak a word all the time that we were on the train. I was looking out of the window, when I saw Tate and Lyles of London. This was the company that was using the Sugar beet factory, where we had been working. The train did stop at some of the stations. When we arrived at Danzig station, we got off the train and started to walk along the road, outside of the station. I noticed that there was a Jewish woman repairing the road, also a German guard. I turned around and said "Are they prisoners?" The guard replied "That they are Jews. I noticed a different uniform, it was a Russian Kossack. I had previously seen these Russians at a show that was on at the Olympia at Kensington.
We walked for about an hour and a half then we had arrived at Danzig brewery. We went in through the yard, I noticed that there was a barbed wire fence, I thought I was back home again! I was taken to the guard, a Prisoner-of-War Sergeant came into the room and the guard told him that I was the replacement. The Sergeant's name was Bill Smith, he was in charge of the Prisoners-of-War working party. He never did any work in the brewery. Later, I was told that there were 28 Prisoners-of-War in the working party. That evening, when the men returned from work, I was introduced to the men. There was Taffy Jones and his brother-in-law Ted Evans. I sat down and had tea with them. After tea, men were leaving the billet to shower before supper. Supper was at 7.00 p.m. and we had a fry up. This was an egg, bread and lard, then after we had supper, the men played cards and wrote cards for home. Some were reading books and they also had beer to drink, even the guard walked down with a large jug of beer that he had filled and then he returned to his quarters. At 10.30 p.m. it was lights out and so to bed. The sleeping quarters was another long room which had 40 beds in it.
Next morning we were woken up to the shouting of "Roust, Roust". It was Sergeant Smith that was calling us to get up at 6.00 a.m. We got dressed and washed up then had a cup of tea. We were told that breakfast would be at 9.00 a.m. so off we went to work until that time. As we got ready for work, Taffy said to me "Put on a warm pullover as it is cold in the cellar". Dave and Fred said "You will be working with us" so away we went to work. We had to clean out large barrels and they had a man hole in the bottom. Dave showed me how to get in and out and for me to have a try at doing it. I laid on the floor and put my head inside, then I pulled myself in. Dave followed then a brush and a wooden bucket was passed in and the light was already inside. Dave then showed me how to do the job and I had to scrub all around the barrel. When this had been finished, a hose pipe was passed in and then you washed it all around the barrel. Dave worked with me to 9.00 a.m. and then we went in for breakfast. We had black pudding, fried bread, an egg and a mug of tea. We finished breakfast at 9.30 a.m. and then we went back to work. Dave had told me not to be so particular about the work, but to just do the job. On our return back, I was introduced to the German staff. When I spoke to them in German, they turned around and asked me if I was a Pollack? I told them that I was not and that I was English and no Pole. Any how after that I was handed a copper mug full of beer. It was yeast, beer and sugar, it was quite warm. I drank some of it and when it went down it was quite warming. Then we went back on the job. Lunch was at 12.00 p.m. and this consisted of meat pie and vegetables. We resumed work at 1.00 p.m. and had more beer. At 4.30 p.m. we finished work for the day. Dave said to me to go and have a shower but when the warm air hit me, I felt quite drunk. I had a shower and I did not have any tea but I went to my bunk and laid down and before I knew it I was asleep. It was supper time when I eventually woke up. That evening, while playing cards, 4 of the men were talking and I heard one of them say "Don't be daft, the men did not run away at Dunkirk. It was an order and they had been ordered by Gort, to withdraw" They replied "Yes, but why were the men throwing away their rifles?" "I saw them" said one of the French " I saw them run, also the Germans, I tell you they did". I had heard this story before in France, but I kept quiet as I did not want to be drawn into this discussion.
We did the same job the next day. Dave said to me "Watch this" I could see the men with buckets. The staff of the cellar said that it was time for the cooked beer to be pumped from the cooking houses into the vats, which was half full of water. This beer was coming over was strong and back came the men with their buckets full of beer. Behind the barrels, it was hidden, in went the sugar water then the yeast. This would then be left until it was ready for drinking.
Since I had come to the brewery, I had noticed the men was suffering from the D.T.s, which was caused by drinking too much of the beer. I spoke to Dave about this and he said " Sorry, but I do not know you well enough to tell you our secrets". Yet I had been informed that all of the Red Cross parcels went to the kitchen. You had chocolate, soap and all the food. I then heard that a week before I arrived there had been 14 parcels had arrived, they were Canadian, which meant that it was 14 bags of gold dust! The lorries were driven by Germans, they all had a Prisoners-of-War working on the delivery lorry. They had a wood burner on the side. I now had been working at the brewery for 6 weeks and there was always plenty of beer to drink, which had been stolen from the cellar. It was German Officers beer! This beer was the best and very strong. Dave then told me about the electrician. He had keys to fit every door in his workshop, which was in the loft. He had a still working on electricity and the sugar water was stolen from the cellar and taken to the workshop, then the water and the yeast was added. When it had finished working, you then had Schnapps.
Bill Bilham was talking of repatriation. He had twice been on interview at the medical panel German team, the allies and the International Red Cross. The Germans had agreed to the list also the Allies. But the Swiss International Red Cross disagreed. They always kept some back. Bill Bilham, at the last meeting had asked them "Why?" The reply was "We do not want Germany invading Switzerland" Bill said "BULL SH..". I was asked many questions of what I did. I told them that I had been in the Navy as a Stoker and things had been going well. I had received my money for the work, as we all did. I learnt one night, that we all paid for our quarters, the wire, all of our food and for the guards. This all had to be taken out of our money. The guards did the shopping for the men. Our camp money, the Germans exchanged in the German Army canteen. It was no good complaining but we had tobacco and every thing that we needed. Bill Bilham was off once again on a medical interview, to see if he could go home. We all wished him the best of luck. A week later Sergeant Smith told us that Bill Bilham was going home.
Sergeant Smith said "The machinist in the machine room wants to see you, because you was a Stoker in the Navy" I replied "Yes" He then said "Will you work on our boiler?" I replied "Yes". All that I had to do was to take over at 8.00 a.m. every day, Monday to Friday. I had to stoke the boilers, watch the steam and water gauge. I was now set, as I did not have to endure any more of those cold dungeons. Wheeling in the coal one day I looked up and saw Aircraft in the sky. They were British planes and later we had heard that they had flown to Warsaw and dropped arms and ammunition and then flown to Russia. We were all just about ready for bed when we heard Aircraft flying off, next, the Air raid warning went off. We were told to go to the cellar under the Big house. There were three landings and we were at the bottom. I thought to myself "God help us should this house be hit" Dave found a air shaft and up we all climbed. Then we sat and watched the bombing of the Naval Dockyard. The wireless was in the electrician's workshop, but only he knew where the hiding place was.
The coffee, which was gold dust to us, was used to exchange for food. We always had a large joint on a Sunday, some 20-25 pounds in weight. We had legs of pork, a full hand sometimes, also we had horse meat. The Germans also got fed from our kitchen. They were as good as gold. On other weeks, the guard took the men to the beach, but it was up to you whether you went or if you wanted to stay at the billet. I had washing to do this time but the lads enjoyed their swim. But there was a complaint made about the Prisoners-of-War being at the beach, with all of the German families being there as well.
The camp at Stolenzberg, I had heard that they had refused to go to work over the matter of food. An Officer entered the camp asking questions of why this was happening. He drove away from the camp, but a little while later he returned, and he had brought with him 3 tanks and troops. He addressed the camp and said "I will give you 5 minutes to leave to start work or I will flatten the camp and you will all be dead". Someone said "Remember Lingfield racecourse when the Jerries did the same and that was because the bacon had been over cooked"
We were now coming to Christmas and 1945. Again, we wondered what was going to happen.
Russia was knocking on the door in February 1945 and we were told we would soon be leaving and moving back to Germany.
One night, after we had our tea, one of the lads "What is Polish measles" and someone shouted "Grow up and use your common sense" end of
In late February early March, we were ordered to pack our kit as we were leaving.
The snow had melted and it was quite warm out. We packed all of our kit and marched out of the brewery up to the large camp. Here we found the camp was full to overflowing of Prisoners-of-War. I met Bert and the rest of the gang from my last working place on the farm. Here we heard of a German liner that had been in Danzig since the beginning of the War. It had been used to train German Navy Ratings. When it left Danzig, it was full of German civilians, Navy Ratings and some soldiers. We had heard that it had
been sunk by a Russian submarine. That was the news, but I could not say if this was true or not.
Before the march, I met Ginger. He had been sent to the farms to work but not at the Walterherr's farm. We had received a Red Cross parcel, which was shared between the three of us, that was Ginger, Green and myself. We were to march out of Poland into Germany, another bloody march but how far? As we marched away, Ginger said "Shall all three of us vanish along the road" We thought about this idea as we marched. We had been marching a good three or four hours. Later, we had seen men leave the ranks. Some had returned but some others had not. Ginger said "I'm off to the toilet" He went so I followed but Green did not come. We waited until the column had marched away and we were waiting for Green but he never turned up. We moved out and cut across country, so as not to return to Danzig, where we had come from. It was a long walk and when we reached the road to Hornstein, we just kept going. It must have been between 11.00p.m. and 12.00p.m. when we came to a check point. Two German soldiers were on duty and they stopped us both. We could not have run or we would have been shot. They asked us in German, where were we going? I said "We have got lost from the line of march into Germany and that we were going to return to the village, where we had worked". They let us pass and a few miles later, we cut up a back road to the village. We entered the barn through the back door and then made a hiding place. Then we settled down to sleep.
The next morning, a Ukranian girl came into the barn. Ginger called her and she was pleased to see him, as he had worked with this girl. That night all of the Ukranians came to the barn and they helped us getting food. We spent two weeks there, waiting for the Russians. That night, our friends informed us that the S S Military and also the German M.P.s were seeking Army deserters. Any of them that they found was either shot or hung. Had they had found us we would have ended up the same way as a deserter, either at the end of a rope or a bullet. So we decided to walk away and out of the village and hide. Then we decided to walk into the German guards with the Prisoners-of-War, who were now doing our jobs.
Ginger went to his farm and I walked down to the Walterherr's farm. They welcomed me. Hans said "here comes the black devil" in German. I had coffee and something to eat. I went into the stables, Hans the shire horse had been put down because of his foot. Schueller neighed and Gert just whimpered. She was just wasting away. The Vet could not find out what was wrong with her. I cut some sugar beet to give to her and she was eating this when I left. A German guard arrived, Ginger and I were now on our way back to Danzig. We were taken to a French Prisoner-of-War camp. We were taken to the punishment block and dropped our kit. We were free to come and go as we liked. Other British Prisoners-of-War were also at the camp.
One morning, at about 11.30 a.m. the Air Raid warning sounded. The French all rushed to the Air raid shelters and the British Prisoners-of-War raced to the kitchen for the thick soup. A week later, we, the British was marched down to the Docks, we then boarded a ship. The British was then led to the stern of the ship and told to climb down into the hold. There was straw on the bottom of the hold plus the toilet bucket. The ship was Belgium ship and the crew was Belgium but had German guards. The name of the ship was SS LYS. We learned in the folksel, there were 250 Polish Officers and in the forward hold there were 8 to 10 Thousand Russians Prisoners-of-War. We were on the Baltic sea, one could see ice floating on the water. It was rumoured that the Belgium crew were going to take over the ship and run it into Sweden. How the Germans found out, we will never know. They were all arrested and put under guard. Some of the Poles and four British Prisoners-of-War helped to stoke the boiler. Days later, we arrived at Le Beck. We were then marched to a cattle holding pens, God knows what had happened to the Russians and the Poles. We each received a Red Cross Parcel. It was Canadian. We did hear that the Germans had found 5 dead Russians in the hold, with their livers missing. True or false I do not know. A few days later, the British was loaded onto cattle wagons to be taken further into Germany. We had travelled a day and a night. We then stopped, none of us understood why the train had stopped. We noticed that some British and German aircraft lay in wreckage around the land. Next morning the train returned to Le Beck and to the cattle market.
We lived on the Red Cross parcels and the food. The Germans gave us no food whatsoever. The warehouses, in the Docks were full of Red Cross parcels. There were ships in the harbour full of Political prisoners and we did hear that the Germans, were going to take the ships out into the Baltic and sink them. But a British Destroyer appeared at the entrance of the harbour. The guards of the Political prisoners had disappeared. We were in the yard of the cattle market, when shouting came from the Political prisoners and as we looked towards them and to the ships, we saw two bodies hanging from the yard arm. Also in the railway siding, a German train had arrived with pom pom guns mounted on the wagons. The German troops got off the train to stretch their legs and made sure that we could not approach them. We did hear that an ultimatum had been given to Le Beck citizens and the Army. It was either a open City or it would be shelled and bombed.
The Bergermaster and the Military Commander declared Le Beck an open City. The first British troops that we saw were from the Cheshire Regiment. They came and marched away the Germans from the train. They told us that these bastards, the Germans, had turned their guns on British troops and they were now pleased that they were now in their hands. We were now free to do as we wished. We tried to get some more Red Cross parcels for food, but we were informed that they were for the Displaced persons. Ginger and I took a walk through the streets of Le Beck. The shoe shop was full of shoes and boots. As we walked further, we passed a grocery store, we heard voices, English voices and then tried the doors, they were all locked. We then went to the rear of the store, the rear door opened and surprise, surprise, the British soldiers were filling sacks of German food. Ginger said to them could we help them. But somebody said "NO" and told us to "F... OFF".
We saw German soldiers walking to the compound. A few days later, we were loaded into a wagon and taken by road to Lunerberg. On arrival, I met Bert Marable, he was with me at the farm of Walterherr. I said to him "Where is Green?" He replied "You wait until he sees you" I said "Why?" He said "You and Ginger left the line of march and took the Red Cross parcels" Both Ginger and I said to Bert "That Green was going to follow, but he did not" I said "Lets go and see him" Bert replied "He is dead, he was killed at a railway goods yard, when the Ally planes had bombed it" he also said that there were other Prisoners-of-War had been killed by Ally planes on the march. They appeared with their guns firing and when the Prisoners-of-War stood in the road, the Pilot must have known that they were Prisoners-of-War. They flew over the column, did a Victory Roll, then flew back over the column.
Every day, Bert said that the planes would appear and fly over the column, do a Victory Roll and then flew away. He also said that the German guards got between the Prisoners-of-War. We were then taken to a barracks where we slept.
At the weekend, we went down to the town and we notices that the ATS and WRAF waiting in the square, roped off with
Red Caps on duty. The lads were walking passed shouting rude remarks such as "Officers groundsheets". The women were not allowed to walk the streets alone but could be escorted by a service man, he signed for her and had to return her.
We boarded a Lancaster Bomber and we had heard that the Air transport had needed a rest, and that was why we had been allocated to go in the Lancaster. We had a bag of boiled sweets and a paper bag. There was 26 to 30 Prisoners-of-War on the plane and on take off , we were all told to push up as far as possible, because of the weight of the load that was on the plane. Once we were in the air, the crew let the men look below at all of the damage that they could see. The Pilot told us that he would be flying over Germany, Holland, Belgium and France and then we would be able to see all of the damage that had been done in this War. Around 5.00 p.m. at Crew Aerodrome. We got out of the plane and then we were escorted to a shed and inside this shed were four people in white overalls, with a pipe in their hands. This was wanted to enable them to delouse us all. It was done on our hair, neck, arms, legs, the tops of our trousers and then the backs of our trousers. We were then taken into one of the hangar and we were given tea and sandwiches but no beer. I noticed there was an Para Officer, that was in Le Beck Barracks. Some had said that he had been a prisoner-of-War for only 6 weeks, not long enough to sh.., yet he was getting the same treatment as us. We had gone through this hell for years! Later that evening, we boarded a train. We had been told that we were being taken to a holding centre. As we travelled, we took a walk along the train to see if there was anyone that we knew. Walking back. This Para Officer, who had only been a Prisoner-of-War for 6 weeks, said that he had had whisky, gin and rum. We Prisoners-of-War for nearly 5 years could not even get a pint of beer. When I said this to him all he did was just smiled.
Next morning, we arrived at Horley in Surrey. We were given breakfast and then we entered the billet and we were given our next orders. We were then documented. On Thursday and Friday we had showers. All of our kit was dumped and we were issued with new uniforms and kitted out. Saturday was rest day and we were given aid. On Sunday, after breakfast we had a travel warrant issued to us and we were on our way home. On arriving in London and coming out of the station, we had been told that one of the Prisoners-of-War, returning home, had been hit by a car.
I arrived at my home station at Mortlake in Surrey at about 12.30 p.m. I walked home and nobody knew that I was even in England. As I entered my street, West Road, there was children playing but I never met anyone that I knew. When I got to my house, the house seemed to come over me. It was like I was being crushed, it was a very funny feeling on entering my parents house, it was nearly 1.00 p.m. My mother was cooking the Sunday lunch, which was a leg of lamb. My mother looked around when I entered the door and she started to cry. I said "Hallo Mum, where is Dad, is he up the allotment?" She replied that my sister, Rose and her children were out walking with my Dad and that they would not be long, before they came home. A few minutes later he arrived, carrying a sack over his shoulder, also my sister and her children came in with him. My sister then started to cry also the children. Their father had been killed earlier in the War at Monte Casino in Italy.
It was very strange coming home after spending 5 years as a Prisoner-of-War, I felt lost and I needed somewhere to hide. We had lunch and then my parents started to ask me questions of which I could not answer. I was lost for words. I could not worry my mother and father with the problem that I had about coming home. I had to overcome my experiences that I had faced in the last 5 years. I felt like a stranger and all of my family were strangers to me. How could I tell my mother my story about what I had gone through since April 1940 to when I returned home. It would have broken her heart if I had told her of all the hardships that I had endured under the Germans. To my mind, my mother and my father had suffered enough, bearing in mind that hey had witnessed two world Wars. My mother had also lost a brother, who was killed on a mine sweeper. A son-in-law Bob May and also a brother, Bobby Ellen.
They were asking me questions for about a day, after I had returned, but I could not tell them anything. In fact, I was told to get out of the house because I would not speak very much. At nights I would hear the slightest noise, then I would either get up or put my fingers to my lips. My mates, Corporal Benham and Corporal Norris were also home but I never saw Norris again. But Ted and I walked into a public house to have a drink at the Bar, and there was our old C S C Blossom Austin, who was Himmler's guard. When he committed suicide, he had got away from France. But he drank his pint in the Bar and before we could get to speak to him, he walked out of the public house. We never met up with him again.
One afternoon, my mother and I were alone in the house. She asked me if some of the roads have trees growing each side. I replied that they did. She then told me that she had had a dream about me in 1940. My mother said that all that she could see was along line of men, but could not see their faces, and I had turned to her and smiled, then patted my mother on her left shoulder. My mother asked if I had been wounded and I told her no, but she thought that I had been. She then handed me the Woodbine packet which had my name and address on it, my message had got through. There were other messages which had been received by the Ministry of Defence, but one could not be sure. My mother had said that when the Air raids were on, there was no trains or buses. You had to walk home from a town called Whitton in Middlesex to my home in Mortlake in Surrey, which was about 10 miles. Then all that she could provide for tea was a jacket baked potato, dripping, salt and pepper. Later my dad would go out fire watching. Bombs was dropped on Watney's brewery Sports field, also Mortlake and Hammersmith's cemeteries in Kew Road in Richmond in Surrey. Kew Road was closed and the smell was terrible. Even in death, these graves were not allowed their peace and they could not leave the dead alone.
The men working on Watney's Garage were repairing the roof at the back of our house. Then there was a plane with its guns blazing, and he just managed to get on his ladder and slide into our garden. Ho could I tell my Mother of what I had seen and how I had lived since 1940. Being starved, walking alive with lice.
On the following Saturday evening, my Father and I went out for a drink at the public house. He spoke about the War and of what had happened since 1940. Now my father was a man of the world, he had served aboard a naval ship in the Russia and Japanese war, so he knew a little about the world and the people. He had also been in China when the German fleet visited China in 1911. When they entered the harbour, the British cleared for action. I had heard these stories many times. I said to my dad "I will tell you what did happen, but it would have to be in my time and when I felt ready to do so" I forget how many times that I had been told to leave my parents house because of my not being able to adapt to home life. My mother told me that the girl, who I had been engaged to before the war, had now got married, so I picked up on a old girlfriend by the name of Hilda Richards.
I had my rations and clothing cards stolen. No-one in our street ever locked their doors so any one could just walk in. It was just KNOCK, CALL AND WALK IN. I did get replacement cards and they must have felt sorry for me, because when I told the lady that I had just returned home after being a Prisoner-of-War for 5 years. While on leave, I had a letter to report to London for an interview. When I attended this interview, all that I could see was soldiers, who were all Ex Prisoners-of-War. I reported in at the desk and I was told to wait until my name was called out. There were two men that carried out the interview and they spoke about our treatment. They asked if I had made any attempts to escape. I answered their questions, then out of the blue they asked me "Were you with Driver Smith when he was shot?" I replied "Yes I was" They then asked me to tell my side of the story relating to this incident. I told my story and then I was told that I was a War Crimes witness.
My girlfriend, Hilda and I spoke about getting married. We then approached our families, my family thought it was a good idea and Hilda's family could see no problem. So we applied for a Special Licence and we were then married at a Church in Shepherds Bush in London on Saturday 25 August. After we were married then the questions started to be asked about my time away in the War. "Why were you a Prisoner-of-War?" "What did you do?" Why don't you tell your Mother about it?" It went on and on, day in and day out and I just said "I will talk about it when I am good and ready" But once again I had made a mistake.
In September 1945. I received a letter that my leave was drawing to a close. I had to report to a camp in St Johns Wood which was near to High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. Since getting married, I not only had my mother nagging me but now I had my wife as well. Both on my back. I thought, how could I tell them my experiences, being starved, running alive with lice and the deplorable way that I had lived for two and a half years. Also of the men, who were comrades that had died of dysentery, then looked out of the window and saw the lice leaving the bodies of the dead. How the men had died of despair and these were men that were rough and ready men that would survive. But when you had the little rich boys which did not have a clue on how to survive. On September 20 1945 I said goodbye to my family and my wife and went off on my travels again.
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