Private Sydney Bebbington
Unit : The Cheshire Regiment.
Served : North Africa (captured).
Army No. : 4129747
POW No. : 39685
Camps : P.G. 73, Stalag XVIIIA.
Our personal possessions, watches, rings etc were taken from us by the enemy soldiers. They then herded us in a barb wire compound. We were left there for a whole day in the blazing sun without food or water. I have experienced hunger and thirst before but never to this extent. The craving for water was the worst. I would have given anything for just a cup of water to wet my lips. My tongue swelled up and I thought I was going to die. Of course there were men worse off than me. The following day we were bundled into trucks packed in as tight as sardines and headed across the desert towards Tobruk. From Tobruk we were trucked to Bengazi via a place called Gazala. At the port of Bengazi we were loaded on ships and transported to Southern Italy. On arrival in Italy we landed and were imprisoned in a large POW camp known as PG 73.
The camp was surrounded by a high barbed wire fence with a smaller double fence of trip wires about three yards inside. The prisoners were not allowed to go anywhere near these fences. On each corner of the compound there was high command posts manned by armed guards. Sometimes we would be kicking a ball or tin can about and it would go over the trip wires. It was forbidden to retrieve it without first looking up at the guards and getting their permission. Failure to do this could result in you being shot.
It was incredibly boring in the camp. Nothing to do all day except walking around and around the compound. For the first four months we had very little to eat. A few days rations consisted of a pint cup of what we called skilly. The contents of the skilly were thin watery soup with a bit of macaroni floating on the top. The following day the ration would be rice but very little of that. Once a week we would be given a wafer thin piece of cheese the size of a match box. Once a week we also had a piece of meat the same size but consisting of fat and gristle most probably bone meat. A days ration of bread was a small cob. For young men there was never enough to eat and we were constantly hungry. As time went by we shifted again to a permanent POW camp and we started to receive Red Cross parcels. One parcel was usually distributed between four men but this depended on the rate they got through. Sometimes the parcels had to be shared by more than four men. They were a godsend and made the difference between starvation and just hunger. As the fortunes of war turned against the Axis and the Russians advance we were moved again this time into Austria. I was a prisoner in Italy for eighteen months in PG 73 camp.
The location of the next camp was at a village called Kaisenburg on Stiermark Stalag XVIIIA. Here we were put to work in a graphite mine. It was very hard work and you can imagine the colour we were at knocking off time. The camp in Austria was new and a good one we even had a shower. I spent another eighteen months here before the Russians arrived and released us, they were very welcome and they treated us very well. All together I had been a prisoner for three years. We were wandering along a road enjoying being free when a Russian truck pulled up alongside us. They told us they knew where the British army was. We loaded up and off we went to a bridge across a river and there was the Leicestershire regiment. The Leicester took us in, fed us and took our particulars and made arrangements to fly us home. We flew in a Dakota to Klagenfunt then on to London and a big reception.
I finally arrived home in June. It was wonderful to be back in England after being in the desert and to meet my wife and family again after many years apart. Words cannot describe how I felt, I think my wife Freda wrote to me every single day while I was a POW. The other lads used to laugh when the Sergeant brought the mail. He would call your name out, it was a letter for Bebbington, letter for Bebbington, he once remarked there was nobody else here except Bebbington. Soon after arriving in England after seven days leave I was posted to Hereford Demob Centre known as Bradbury lines. There was an order of Demob and at this camp you had to wait for your number to come up and mine was 26e.
My thanks to Sydney Bebbington and Carl Leckey for this story.
Return to POW Stories Menu