Private Walter Alan Armstrong
Unit : Royal Artillery.
Served : North Africa (captured)
Army No. : 926613
POW No. : 260379
Camps : Stalag IVB, IVF
This is the diary of Walter Alan Armstrong (1914-1969) kept between 15 Jan - 7 May 1945 while he was a prisoner of war in Germany (Stalag IVF Hartsmanndorf) near Chemnitz in south-eastern Germany. The diary was written in pencil in a small blue notebook consisting of 80 pages. According to information from the Red Cross he had previously been a prisoner in Stalag IVB and CCN 65 PM350 in Italy following his capture in Tobruk on 21 June 1942. Walter was a private in the Royal Artillery. He was also a POW in Japan but this is not recorded in the Red Cross records. Walter was born in Chester-le-Street, Durham and lived in Whitley Bay, Northumberland before and after the war. He trained as a solicitor in the 1930s. After the war he returned to being a solicitor, eventually moving to Bournemouth around 1949 where he worked for the corporation. He died in 1969 of lung cancer. Before he died, he gave the diary to his son, Joseph, asking him not to show it to his mother as he was worried it would upset her. He never spoke about his time as a POW.
15th January 1945
For months I have toyed with the idea of keeping a journal, always with the view that some day, some how I shall write a book. A simple understandable object though not perhaps so simple in execution. What is the plot to be? What the column to be converted to a maypole with the circumstantial ribbons of the details of Gefangenschaft? But that must wait. Imagination cannot be called upon to operate in vacuo. It must be stimulated, sustained by contact with a filled wider life than exist within the confines of barbed wire and a barricade behind which the mind and memory are constrained and restricted into atrophe. The contacts among ourselves, the lesser contact with the outside world through the Germans we meet, the wider visions of books serve as a drug to blind one to the wire. Such flights of fancy as do entertain me are unreal leaden footed things pinioned always to the eternal depressing round.
What then is the object of this journal? To pin down the factual background of the unborn book, to card the ribbons for the Maypole Memory, I have found is capricious. I remember, for example, that when I was stationed at Penn Street, I was bored, browned off, but I cannot remember why. I cannot conceive the circumstances which induced the state of mind when all seems to have been favourable to contentment. Only occasionally the corner of the curtain of oblivion is momentarily lifted to give me a fleeting glimpse of weekend guards, of delayed trade tests, of others leaving on schemes of greater interest in the other parts of the country, of a handful of triviata bringing about the effect. Closer to hand I find myself unable to recollect coherently the circumstances of my imprisonment in North Africa barely a couple of years ago. To guard against such lapses applying to present conditions is therefore my aim. But this will not be a day to day diary, it will be more a repository for such impressions as I think are likely to elude the memory, for such recollections as may from time to time be recaptured of previous experience.
Perhaps the best place to start is the letter. This I drafted for Ferries early last week and omitting formal parts (of which naturally George has kept no copy) it read: "It is felt that the circumstances now obtaining in the Komando are such as to warrant my appealing to you to deal with the complaints set out below.
The strength of the Komando is 53 men of whom 43 are engaged in heavy outdoor employment in a "Gasholz" yard, 7 work in a [brush] factory and 2 are employed on heavy work in a wood yard attached to the factory. In spite of repeated applications I am not allowed to detail a man as billet orderly. The complaints arise chiefly out of the treatment meted out to the 43 "Gazholz" workers, at whose instance I write this letter, but they apply also in varying degrees to the other men.
The most pressing complaint relates to the hours worked. All men work 60 hours a week. Enquiries made of many other British prisoners not in the Revier and elsewhere have failed to show any other men engaged in similar outdoor work who work such long hours. The majority appear to work about 48 hours a week. The position is aggravated by the fact that at weekends any railway wagons which arrived must be attended to by some or all of the men - a duty which usually involves an extra 1½ - 2 hours work, last weekend, Jan 6th-7th saw about 35 men working at least 2½ hours, 21 of them working over 4 hours. All my attempts to obtain time off during the week to compensate for the weekend work have resulted in failure. The German civilian workers, to whose conditions of work we are supposed to conform, are not called upon to take part in this work. Usually, the only civilian present is the yard foreman. The men feel that they cannot carry on in these conditions for much longer on the food with which they are issued. In this connection, it is pointed out that the Komando is situated at a considerable altitude where the weather, as the Contral Officer has agreed in conversation, is exceptionally severe. Since the New Year, the work has been carried on in about a foot of snow which shows no signs of diminishing. Other complaints, all of which I suggest are reasonable, are too numerous to set out in detail now but may be summarised as follows:
1. The Area Control Officer is unable and the Management unable or unwilling to supply adequate working clothing, clogs, gloves, aprons and the like, all of which have been shown to be essential.
2. The guards appear to exceed their duties in that they act as overseers of the work apparently conforming to instructions given them by the Management.
3. The billets allotted to us are still in need of improvements to the system of ventilation and sanitation although we have occupied them for over two months.
4. Although adequate bathing facilities exist on the premises, access to them is permitted only after continued pressure on my part and at long intervals.
Altogether I am of the opinion that the conditions constitute a grave menace to the health of the men, an opinion which seems to be supported by the number of men suffering from chills and other ailments brought about by under nourishment and exposure and also by the fact that several men are steadily losing weight. I earnestly urge your immediate attention to the matters raised. If your duties permit of your visiting the Komando I shall welcome the opportunity of discussing the conditions further. If you find yourself unable to take any action I would appreciate it if you would let me have your opinion as to the method I should adopt in pressing the complaints."
The Tale of the Letter
H. B. and I decided that the Letter ought to be written. We had all been called out to work on too many Saturday afternoons; complaints to the too elderly Feldwebel had achieved nothing. George's reproaches to the Control Officer and his representations had met with the comfortless reply that the working hours permitted in the area were 72 per week and we were working only 60 so what? The rations were being steadily reduced (later on I shall reproduce one of the scales of rations) and we had the gravest suspicions that we were being robbed in the kitchen, though this of course defied proof; once again the Feldwebel proved to be a broken reed; I believe though already Memory may be playing its tricks, that we were feeling doubtful as to the future of further parcels issue. Generally everyone had had enough.
The notion occurred to me. Let us step over the Control Officer to Hartmanndsorf. Unlike most of my bright ideas I mentioned it to Harry, he was enthusiastic and kept to the preparation of a draft. This was hurriedly brought about and presented as a fait accompli to George. He was sick at the time and acquiesced albeit apathetically, but acquiesce he did. He fair copied and dispatched it - it was his decision to post it; our suggestion was personal delivery when George, or his deputy, next went for parcels but this was ruled out: the Letter must be regularly censored. This was the 11th January.
We received no acknowledgement but the Letter did serve some useful purpose. Quite how it arose I cannot remember but the usual row arose in the Lager a few days later. The usual cries were lifted; everyone talking at once, everyone offering suggestions, impracticable, and recriminations. So Geo. announced that the Letter had been sent. I read the copy; no one else could read it. Geo had kept no more legible copy and in any event he is incapable of reading aloud even from type script. It was received with a degree of acclamation which surprised me, which it did not deserve and amazingly its quieting effect continued for days.
A series of phenomena occurred. Within a week or so gloves came from Aue, the first of the winter. [Burkhardt] distributed half a dozen pairs of clogs, a dozen pair of gloves came from the management. Sacking for aprons became more easily obtained. We had a bath. More gloves came from Aue. The guards seemed to me to ease up in the Yard. A tub was provided for our washing. A rather hazy schema was recommenced to give people who worked at the weekend the equivalent time off during the week. The culminating effect - the Feldwebel left, we were soon officially told, as the result of complaints lodged by the Chef relating to the lack of discipline, but we had our doubts. With the coming of the new Komando Führer the time off scheme was taken firmly in hand and slowly food improved, an improvement which has continued up to date (4 March).
Then, I think on or about 25 Feb we heard of the Letter again. The Feldwebel from the Control Offices brought it covered with censorship stamps and signatures of the Capt of the Major of the Control Offices. He reprimanded George for writing it and repeating all the old arguments said that nothing could be done. George has since shown no enthusiasm for writing to the Chief Man of Confidence.
American . No. 10 -
Meat & Veg Stew 12oz
Chopped Ham 12oz
Liver Paté 6oz Jam 6oz
Grated Tuna 6oz
Process Cheese 8oz
Or Sardines 2 at 3 1/4oz
Chocolate 4oz or ?? 8 oz
Sugar 8 oz
Sweets 4 oz
Coffee 2 oz
Prunes (or raisins) 6oz
Powdered Milk 16 oz
Vitamin Tablets Soap 2 tabs
Haricot Oxtail 16oz
Meat Roll 10oz
Pilchards 7 oz
Milk Cocoa 4oz
Rolled Oats Strawberries in syrup
Mixed vegetables Soap 1 tab
Pilchards 15 oz
Egg Powder -
Rice 16 oz (?)
Biscuits 8 oz
Lentils 16 oz
Margarine 8 0z
Indian flour 16 oz
Sugar 2 slabs
Curry power 2 oz
Raspberries in syrup
Tea 2 oz
Chocolate 4 oz
Soap 1 tab.
Invalid Diet Supplement
*Egg Powder 2 tins
*Soup Powder 2 tins
*Tea 2 pkts
*Yeastex Powered Milk
*Strawberries in Syrup Bemac
*Chocolate 2 oz
Events of February
Completed from memory 11th March
Weather remarkably mild throughout the whole month - no Balaclava except on one or two days. Second half very frequent air raid alarms. Weekends altered to start Sunday midday - this to cope with a lack of electricity on Mondays. This, in the second half of the month, was abandoned, the electric supply difficulty having been straightened out. We ran out of parcels chiefly due to our anticipating the issue of reserve stock, but succeeded in getting an issue of American in the nick of time. An emergency call for George to Hartsmannsdorf sees us supplied with enough for March.
The month ends with a rather belated order forbidding parcels stuffs from being taken from the camp, this to prevent bartering. Escapades by Devlin & Petters & Wilslaw. Lice make their appearance.
Events of March
First few days plenty of alarms. We hear that Chemnitz suffers.
Very timely alarm - just after breakfast until 11.45.
Intermittent breakdown in power supply.
No power. We finish work at 5.15. Power received at 5.45.
George caves in to a very little clamour & issues parcels.
2 ½ hours overtime for me. Raining. Weather during the week, cold snow. Thawing on Saturday.
No wagons. First clear day I can remember this year.
Unusual alarm 3 p.m. for half an hour.
I have my time off - from Vesper. News (from Aue) very good. Everyone starts computing 60 days.
English parcels issue without any request. Dick's childish tantrums over receiving another Chippenham.
Rumour that the bread ration is to be cut for everyone in the yard but about 4.
1½ hours work for everyone. Morning alarm 11.15 - 1.20. Weather improves during the week to a peak Thursday & Friday. Saturday much colder. Rain & hail particularly during the afternoon. News rumours during the week all encouraging.
Geo. S makes his all too usual whine about bread ration. Alarm 1.10 to 3.10. As we come up to the usual Vesper we are called back by the Chef. He is in a furious temper - apparently he carries a revolver. An argument develops between the Chef and the Feldwebel as a result of which the latter rushes off to Aue. We indulge in speculation as to whether the F will be transferred, the C rebuked or we removed - or all three. Opinion (H B's and mine) favours the latter though conditions may make it difficult. Maybe after all, all will be conveniently forgotten.
Sausagemeat for breakfast. A fortnight ago we missed an issue & understood we would be lucky to get any more. Since then we have not missed having it three times a week instead of twice as before. The clamped potatoes are being lifted. We have always considered these as a reserve but actually there is a small railway wagon load which should last for some months. Search Light Bill turned up just before the 9.30 bell. We must be getting him trained. This inspection, which in the summer was regarded as a damn nuisance, is now looked on as a welcome Tuesday rest. And necessary. For four weeks in succession lice or nits have been found but today looks like a blank (as I write the search is almost over without result). Later - the search was without result. I do not know whether to feel relieved at the thought that at last we are getting rid of the pests or disappointed that the inspection may cease, though not, I suppose, for a week or two. Today's alarm 12.30 - 1.35. We gain only 20 minutes. The German workers must be taking their meals in the shelter. Evening brings us startlingly good news rumours - maybe too good to be true; omissions give me cause to doubt its alleged authenticity. [Here there is a note: On to page 34]
Look up information on Mead.
What is YOGHORT - food mentioned in A Handful of Dust.
These are apparently on the all important subject FOOD, as they always are in such times as we are now enduring. Latest, investigate, eggs - goose and turkey.
From Alfred Noyes "Voltaire" - "The Christian religion is not to be proved by metaphysics. Reason is as far below faith as the finite is below the infinite. We are concerned here only with reason; and reason among men counts for so little that it is not worthwhile for anyone to be offended over it." Preface to Remarques sur les Pensées de M Pascal" "The fact that I wish to destroy the rats in my house does not mean that I do not believe it had an architect."
'Le présent est affreux, s'il n'est point d'avenir, Si la nuit de tombeau detruit l'être qui pense'
Poem on the Lisbon Earthquake
The present is frightful if there is no future, and the night of the tomb destroys the intellectual being.
More food queries - What is TORTILLAS and TAMALE? Mexican
Freelance Journalism presents opportunities for pulling in a few shekels. According to H.J.B. the London Evening Press is almost full of articles on miscellaneous subjects mostly topical, all of which yield to the writer a few guineas (pre war 3 to 5). The provincial papers apparently do not pay so well. Nationals pay better but practically are open only to the specialist: all articles of general interest are written by writers on the staff. Periodicals pay better but require much longer articles. Agencies which charge commission have better opportunities of placing work. I must consider this further.
Yet another food point. Articles I must not forget to include in my post war diet are: Macaroni, Noodles etc; Curry; Caraway seeds; Olive oil for frying; Yeateze, Suet puddings with date etc fillings. Caraway seeds improve boiled beet.
I want to try my hand at cobbling one day.
Consider buying an Auto cycle
Gardening. I have been thinking over the possibility of improving the back garden. A lot of arbeit is involved and probably the ground redeemed would have to lie fallow for some time. The scheme is to cut down the trees and the hedge, which exclude the sun and exhaust the soil for yards around, and, if found possible to pull down the fence and substitute a lighter one, perhaps of wire. Then plant a more attractive and maybe a productive hedge of rasp logan, or blackberry.
Cooking is a science, or art, which whenever I am hungry, I intend to take up. The collection of recipes seems to be an interesting hobby and one which can be followed cheaply. Write firms which advertise their own recipes, buy second-hand cook books, guide books can be investigated etc.
'Shell' county guide books
Me As at March 18
I am almost overwhelmed by boredom; in the week I look forward to the week-end to reduce the interminable monotony of 'arbeit'; by Sunday afternoon the tedium of the week-end drives me to anticipate with relief the time killing properties or work. I detest all mankind particularly my fellows, principally I suppose because there are few among them with any pretensions to intelligence, and what is shown I know so well as to be able to forecast its slightest manifestation. This is borne out by the visit of a battery surveyor a couple of weeks ago. He was a Cambridge graduate and the few minutes talk I had with him revived and stimulated me for days.
The mental atrophe into which I have sunk has physical effects. For some time past German rations have been very small (a list appears elsewhere) and the half parcel on which we have subsisted for 6 months ago has proved insufficient to maintain any weight. It is clearly demonstrable that I have lost all surplus flesh; but I am not convinced that my muscular development has been impaired. Yet such is the effect of monotony that I have frequently experienced a feeling of physical exhaustion. This usually occurs during the latter part of periods of work which is consistent with it being true physical weariness; that it is not so is, to my mind, shown by the fact that a few minutes of reasonable conversation can have a restorative effect capable of lasting up to an hour. That this effect, in its turn, is not forced is evidenced, negatively, by the absence of any increased reaction afterwards. And at the end of each day I am not unduly distressed.
I am, of course, hungry and consequently my thoughts centre around food. I have heard many who disagree with me but I prefer to encourage such thoughts with the object of allowing free outlet to the feelings giving rise to them. Many others appear to concentrate their thoughts on the progress of the war as indicated in the endless succession of news rumours we hear. It seems that this is a dangerous and unhealthy attitude to adopt. One's thoughts must inevitably outstrip troop movements and to dwell on the probably results of each move as we hear of it is to conjure up a nervous expectancy, the failure or delay in obtaining satisfaction of which must, in my view, have a depressing effect. So I try to avoid it.
One solace I have been denied lately - that of religion. I have lost Faith. I find it difficult to reduce this to any degree of coherence. During the periods of standing at my machine my thoughts drift and beat around the whole subject without ever attaining a semblance of order. What is the object, the end of Life? Is it to be snuffed out like a candle flame? Is the Future, Eternity just a fathomless void? Most of my time I am haunted by the possibility: that any objects I might strive for are not, in the end, worth the striving, that the perfect manner of living is just to float down the stream avoiding obstacles, avoiding hopes and ambitions, not fighting for position or even for security.
But always at the back of my consciousness is the conflicting conviction of a Divine Providence - a Plan. Maybe the whole cause of the trouble is that I have a gregarious nature, that the life of a hermit is not for me. I depend on human intellectual intercourse. Meditation is good, but it needs feeding. In other words, my meditation is not creative but assimilative. The hope arises that my return to the amenities of civilisation, to contact with intelligent minds, will revive in me the lost Faith in God and myself. It is to be wished, even if it is not the Ultimate Truth for, at worst, it is a spiritual opiate.
As at April 6th
With the rapid approach of the relieving American troops I find myself in a very strange frame of mind. While I am delighted at the prospect on an early release from servitude, I have dim, rather formless, apprehension. Everyone else seems to be quite confident that in a flash all will be well. Tall, tough Yankees will roll up loaded with rations; we will be spirited away (by air) and within a couple of days will be home on leave. My more realist mind sees something very different. Thousands of prisoners and internees are to be dealt with. They are horribly rounded into pens, given subsistence rations and left till called for, maybe for weeks. Then a slow sorting process, a moving back to base camps in, perhaps, Belgium, more delay awaiting transport to England and yet more red tape there. Ultimately what? [Note on page 34: From 21]
Wednesday 21st March
Another bright morning. The weather lately, and in fact all the winter, has been unexpectedly kind and has confounded the local prophets, including ourselves who had too keen memories of last winter. Further snow is forecast for the end of the month but it seems unlikely; still, the wind is moving round towards the North again so results are to be seen. Today's alarm is once again timely 9.30 just as we were starting to move outside. The raids appear to be in another period of intensity - a dismal prospect for scores of thousands of unfortunates who were no more - and no less - responsible for the war than was I. All clear 10.45 Bombs dropped. The Event of the Week. Announcement that in all alarms we are to go out into the wilds. This raises a general approval so far as relates to daytime raids and protests as to night.
Yesterday's order cancelled. No alarm. Beautiful weather. Parcel issue Indian (see page 14)
The fine weather continues and improves. Nevertheless I am very browned off until 8 o'clock when the rumour comes of official German news so good that the end seems to be almost a matter of days. I am cheered up. Peculiar alarm 12.00 - 13.45 - no planes heard. Usually the sirens have not been heard until the planes are overhead. Swedes makes their appearance in the skilly. Later Geo F makes an announcement of further cuts in rations; talks depressingly of 'half-rations'. But I wonder is this not the result of yet another misinterpretation on Geo's part? Evening brings unofficial news of a (large) consignment of parcels by road from Geneva.
Saturday 24th March
The amazing spell of weather shows further improvement. Under its effect I put in quite a fair amount of work until shortly before mid-day when the alarm sounds. As happened yesterday we hear no planes & I with a few others spend the time sitting on a log in warm sunshine. Immediately after the 'raiders past' signal at 12.30 planes are heard and even seen by some people and we hear bombs falling in the far distance. At dinner time comes a row. The 'skilly' is nearly the worst ever. A thin, watery soup of presumable rye and with a little potato. We call in the Feldwebel and protest vigorously but to no avail. Yesterday's 'half-rations' seem to be a grim reality. It further appears that the bread ration is to be cut, possibly by 100gr a day in our case, but no official news has arrived yet.
I shudder to think of the near future unless the parcels arrive quickly. Not that I doubt my own ability to carry on. I am thinking of the irritation and bad temper which will be produced in the Komando. For myself, I am still convinced that I will take no harm for at least six weeks - probably considerably longer - a period which, if we have not been very seriously misled, should see the end of the war. But in any event I have an optimistic feeling us that the Providence which has protected us so long will not now desert us. Meanwhile today brings no news. This week we have lost, I think, 6 hrs work.
Sunday 25th March
This seems to be developing along the lines of every other diary I have attempted to keep - a mere record of triviata which after a week peters out for sheer boredom. However in the circumstances which it is written this is perhaps a good thing. It is these trivial things that I want to capture. So here is an account of a day, today.
07.00 I wake up, smoke half a cigarette, all that can be afforded in these hard times, when my total tobacco resources are 30 Players, a little Players pipe tobacco, I think an ounce or so of Craven mixture, a packet (50gr) of Serbian weed, and a reserve packet of Three Castles, I read a short story by Stephen Crane, my library book for the week.
08.00 Rise and bath. Breakfast - a cup of mixed Ovaltine and Horlicks (very good too) & 6 thin pieces of bread and German jam. Scrub down the table. Shave. Already there is a small crowd round the oven cooking rice, chappatties, toast and odds and ends. This will continue all day. Lie and read spasmodically until 11.15. Shake blankets outside; it is once again a beautiful morning. About half past ten there was an alarm which lasted only about half an hour. Another started about half past eleven and is still going on as I write, about noon. But we have seen and heard nothing.
13.00 Dinner. Potatoes (about the same issue as usual), a thin & rather distasteful gravy and quite a fair sized ration of some of the toughest meat I have ever eaten, probably horse flesh. After dinner some of us took stools outside and sat in the sun until 4 o' clock. No guards with us. I just sat and thought of nothing in particular. Conversation, what there was of it, was desultory.
4.15 Tea, boiled rice with tinned raspberries make me feel reasonably satisfied. Sitting after dinner talking to Harry Bishop we discussed the question of newspaper articles. This is a subject I must bear in mind. It seems to offer possibilities (see note on p 23). Today so far has proved to be unusually free of boredom, a monster which generally holds me in its clutches every weekend. Geo says he is going Hartsmannsdorf this week. While I expect nothing, we may yet hope. Evening I write a card home. Ten-ish - bed.
News before dinner is so good that I come to the conclusion that there is no reason why the war should not end this week, and no reason why it should. Fritz asks if I am ill. I miss the opportunity and say 'no'. This is the second time I have been asked this in the last few days. Last time, about Thursday, it was Jeepers. I was thin about the face & working in the sheds has kept me paler than the others. The Feldwebel leaves tomorrow. As from midday, at the Foreman's instructions, Thewliss and I take turns on the machine. Two alarms today, total officially 1 ½ hours. Afternoon raid big but no bombs heard. Further alarm 9.30 pm.
Nothing worth reporting. An uneventful day with signs of a break in the weather. The Feldwebel is not leaving. No alarm.
Another depressing day, Fog, Rain, Fog. We keep up with the news. Since last Thursday was a big order (40 wagons) was completed we have not sent out any gasholz by rail though we have sent out 5 empties (unprecedented).
Thursday 29th March
A much more cheerful day though the weather is not too good. As a 'punishment' we are deprived of the 'Vesper' break, apparently at illegible's orders, and have a row with the Feldwebel in the process. His parting shot is that we must make up time lost in future alarms by working on Sundays. Very shortly afterwards, we have our first alarm since Monday. It lasts only 1/4 hour. Evening our final parcel issue Diet supplement between four plus a few items from surplus American parcels. We drew the marked items on page 15.
Friday 30th March Good Friday.
Opens quietly. I am expecting a troublesome weekend. Everyone is hungry and irritation is to be anticipated. Last night's issue will not keep most of them quiet for long and then we can only hope that the feeling of optimism will do the trick. Yesterday George & I reviewed our food position and decided that we can have a meal, small, every day until Sunday week 8th April. Will this be enough to see us through either to the end or to the arrival of further parcels. We had hoped that the holidays would bring the end of all 'arbeit' but it was always a long shot and this morning we hear a vague rumour that the Yanks we had assumed to be making for this area have halted. But still they are not so far away - less than 100 miles.
Afternoon. After a skilly which was remarkably good considering its obvious 'half rations' ingredients (Curry powder was a great help) one railway wagon came in, was unloaded and left empty.
News flash - the Yanks are still going on. 4.30 Tea. Communal brew of coffee, soup, bread & jam. Spreads are now very low - hardly any margarine a spoonful or so of German jam. Later in the evening I have a wash down and do my washing (last weekend's). Not altogether appropriate to Good Friday but 'the better the day, the better the deed'.
Saturday 31st March
Another long lie-in. The bread ration is late in arriving but fortunately Geo and I have enough in hand not to be affected. Harry and Ron are again the victims of the thief; a bar of chocolate vanishes in the night. Suspicion falls upon Sam. There are squabbles in the Lager and some come to blows. I have my hair cut. Out walking in the yard for 20 mins but it is rather cold though fine weather. After tea I make a tidy up of my kit to find that the Craven mixture I mentioned last Sunday has vanished. The tobacco position is now grim; in the Lager, a little Serbian tobacco (less than ½ oz) a little English scraps (about ½oz) plenty of papers (nearly 5 pkts); in the Magazine 1 pkt Players - of which I owe Vic one and 1 pkt Three Castles. Obviously some pretty strict rationing is indicated.
Sunday 1st April
I watch Smithy mend a pair of boots. This is something I want to try myself. Some day when I get home… Dinner Meat, quite good, potatoes and gravy. Surprising a pink blancmangy ('arters'). I wash 8 prs of socks which have demanded attention for months, and 8 handkerchiefs, and my current week's washing. A most unusual attempt. I wonder what are the chances of going to Gosforth for the Plate this year.
Monday 2nd April
For dinner, noodle soup and 'arters'. We must be winning the war. For tea, we cook a pudding. Ingredients 8 oz Indian flour, 1½ oz egg powder, 1oz sugar, 1oz Horlicks, ½oz margarine, Salt, Water, Steamed and serve with Condensed Milk as a sauce. It was quite eatable - we should have eaten it any case - rather like German bread but without the sour taste. Strangely after four days holiday I am not browned off.
Tuesday 3rd April
Arbeit Good News (that our people are not more than 50 to 60 miles away) cheers me up for a while but the effect does not last all day.
Early 10 min alarm at 8.45 sends me up to Frühstuck early. A second one (at the moment unfinished) starts 9.30 to keep us in. All clear 10.25. No news yet - or expected today. Mail comes through, quite a batch of it. Only one for me, an elderly one dated 14.11.45 (sic). Unofficial news of an alteration in bread ration normal up 40 gr ours down 40 gr. This seems to be a wangle and we await an official statement. The first two-skilly day. This evening's 'soup' was better than expected and thickened with a little curried rice was quite good.
Thursday 5th April
It seems more certain than ever that if the next week or two does not see us clear of the war, at least we should have been recaptured. This, it is not I think, too much to hope, might happen by the end of the week. Of which I intend to write more elsewhere. Today's alarm - 10.25 till dinner. Parcels day (but no parcels) brings a more cheerful view that they may be released by the Swiss representative and reach us via Aue in a few days. But I am quite resigned never to see any more. And I hope the urgent need will never arise.
Friday 6th April
Another dull morning. Since the month started the weather has been considerably colder. Indeed yesterday I put on my clogs again. The news continues good. 45 kms from Plauen is one push, 15 on another (though the latter is not too reliable). The sugar or some of it has come and will be issued this afternoon. Alarm starts 9.30 just as the bell rings. All clear 11.10. I opened my last packet of Players last night and after paying debts and smoking some I [To 52]
Copy [the following is in German but translated here] 73rd allocation period from 9.3. to 8.4.1945 for the English
Bread per man per day 0.260kg (normal weight)
" " " " " 0.370 kg (heavy build)
Meat " " " " 0.055 "
Margarine " " " " 0.020 "
Cheese " " " " 0.002 "
Kvark " " " 0.004 "
Cereal products " " 0.008 "
Macaroni (pasta) " " 0.006 "
Marmelade " " 0.020 "
Sugar " " 0.020 "
Erzatz coffee " " 0.004 "
Sausage " " 0.019 "
Potato " " 0.240 "
Swedes " " 0.240 "
Here it has been taken into consideration that the 73rd allocation period is three days longer.
Am left with 2½ cigarettes at the moment of writing (9.45 am). During the afternoon the weather becomes worse with a heavy hail storm settling down to a depressing evening. The sugar is issued, there seems a definite possibility of parcels in the next few days (Tuesday or Wednesday) - apparently 1 Xmas and 1 1/2 or 1/2 another per man to last the duration - German tobacco issues definitely Tuesday. The latter two items encourage me to unwisely break into my last reserve packet of Three Castles. In spite of all the good news I am thoroughly browned off all day.
Saturday 7th April
A bright day but cold North East wind. No alarm - Total time apparently lost this week 4 3/4, actually rather more. We get no reliable news during the morning but an unknown Jerry volunteers the information that we shall be free in three days. On the strength of it I do my washing for the weekend during the afternoon. My older K D shirt is now practically finished and I am pleased that my massing instinct forbade my throwing away the better of my old Italian PP shirts. It will yet come in useful.
I am feeling pretty disgusted with life during the evening - this is probably caused by jealously - the Kommando's plutocrats live on a scale I cannot emulate - when the Feldwebel comes in looking rather agitated and announces the impending arrival of an "English Hauptmann". A moments questioning reveals that this is merely the Padre who is to stay the night with us. He gives us a pretty comprehensive survey of the news which bears out of most of our latest rumours but is not so far advanced. He also brings mail - one letter for me dated 10th January - including an official intimation that a Xmas parcel issue (1 between 2) is now awaiting collection. This is a consignment addressed to the Stalag. The other parcels, diverted to Hartmannsdorf, await permission from Geneva but there are hopes that they will be released. Alarm late at night - about half-past-ten lasts most of the night.
Sunday 8th April
My fifth anniversary in the Army. I was called 7.30 to go out to load a wagon at 8 o' clock (May it be my last overtime as a prisoner!). One of the most uninspiring features of the Allied advance has been the lack of effort in the work. In the last week or so, admittedly, the hopper has more often been full than otherwise but nevertheless the wagons have continued to come in monotonously. Chances of getting those parcels today were early washed out. I have a feeling that we shall never see them.
The Padre held his service at 11 o' clock, a rather wishy-washy Matins cutting out most of the order and inserting the Easter portions of H.C. There are either three or four alarms during the day and additionally we hear planes in the distance. Can we infer that the attack in this area is starting at last? Tomorrow will probably show. As I am starting my last cigarette, Geo S spontaneously offers to lend me a packet. I accept. He has more faith in the future than I have and if he loses by it, it will not be on my conscience.
Monday 9th April
We go into breakfast to find that the bread ration has unexpectedly been increased. And so, it turns out later, have most of the other rations. Odd alarms throughout the day total 2 hrs loss of work. There is no power on in the afternoon and it remains off until after I go to bed at 8 o' clock.
Tuesday 10th April
A big day. For the first time we see fighters - American Thunderbolts strafe the road about 5 p.m. The Gerry cigarette issue shows up - 39 French cigarettes per man - it should have been 40 but, as usual, they sent an issue short. Finally the last arrangement was that the chauffeur should bring the parcels tomorrow evening.
The increased ration scale is wrong. Such is the latest information but what the correct rations are is not yet known. It is said to be 200 gr bread normal and 400 heavy but we await confirmation. Alarm 3/4 hr during the morning and a second just in time after dinner to keep us in the Lager all clear 2.15 Monday evening saw the last of our parcels - foods - 1/2 lb of lentils boosted up Geo's and mine evening skilly. Incidentally these skillies are keeping up quite a fair standard. The Xmas parcels fail to arrive and again we are promised them tomorrow. A third alarm sends us up to the Lager at 6 o'clock and brings up the total time lost to 2 1/4 hours, which I think is a record.
Thursday 12th April
A dull damp day. I feel very weak and miserable all day largely due to flatulence I hope. Sirens sound on and off all day but only one alarm affects us. S. L Bill visits us. He is very excited over the bombing locally. In the afternoon I am relieved by Thewliss - my first relief for over a week - and it is as good as a holiday. The parcels arrive (for the whole area) and we draw a Xmas parcel (there are 18 of these and 9 American). It is I think the best I have ever seen.
Friday the 13th
Unlucky for some. Until breakfast I am in working mood. Then we find that the bread ration has again been altered. We suffer a cut to 350g which works out in practice to half of a loaf - 315 - 310. My issue measures 5 1/2" by 3 1/4" by 2 1/8" thick. Breakfast brings the big news - the offensive we have been awaiting has begun. More details pour in during the morning and everything indicates an early release. There is no power during the second period and no real pretence at work. The afternoon steps back towards normal.
Loenitz Kommando collects its parcels from us and brings the news that another K has moved. This looks as though we may get an additional issue of one between six at least. For myself the possibility of the others being unable to collect with still further buckshees for us presents itself and the day closes on a note of unparalleled optimism.
Saturday 14th April
The leanest birthday of my life. While confident that we shall be released within a very few days I do not feel justified in persuading George to co-operate in caning the parcels which would have been easy. We content ourselves with the Xmas cake for tea. Not a bad cake but hardly deserving the name - mainly a sponge with currants and sultanas. The morning was dull and cold with a good deal of mist - the sort of day when it felt that the war might well last for ever. But it was not without its encouraging signs. Military traffic on the road further increased; all the official photographs of Hitler are removed from the factory; papers are burned; later in the afternoon there is considerable activity in the factory yard - continued evacuation of the aircraft people - volksturme coming and going. Altogether the optimism grows to a peak during the afternoon and even the calling out of 9 men to deal with 6 wagons did not affect the general conviction that there would be no work on Monday. This conviction however faded during the evening and by the morning of
everyone appears reconciled to the prospect of working until out people actually appear over the hill. Air raid alarms sounded during the night for the first time since Tuesday although there has been continuous air activity. For the first time for months, since Sept or Oct I have parcels food for breakfast, baked beans on toast. For tea Xmas pudding and custard. It is very good but not nearly as good as the one I hope is being kept at home for me. In the evening we hear nearby Ack Ack. For the first time for some days the war does seem to be moving nearer to us. I am inclined to revive my hope that we have finished our arbeit. Incidentally five or six fellows were called out to lead a wagon this morning. The trains are still running! Is the news that the Yanks are in the outskirts of Zwickau true?
Monday 16th April
The worst of feeling tolerably satisfied (stomachically) is that the innards continue afterwards to demand further satisfaction. All the morning I felt hungry and not therefore too cheerful. The skilly was not too good practically swedes and water with a suspicion of potatoes. I wasn't helped by smoking my last few scraps of tobacco. However, during the day it becomes more and more certain that we are now practically encircled. All that remains is to be collected and forecasts vary between 6 hours and 8 days. Everyone is confident in the evening and the agitation starts for the distribution of the 22 parcels left in the Magazin. It is worth noting that the same phenomenon occurs every day - spirits start low at "Auf stellen" and rise until midday, sag in the afternoon and soar in the evening. Mail - a fair size batch of it - turns up at breakfast time. I get one from Doreen [his younger sister, transcriber's note] dated 13.12.44.
Tuesday 17th April 1945 2 p.m.
The Day (?) It opens pretty much as usual. I sleep in a little and do not light the fire until just before Reveille. I have been lighting the copper fire since Ono turned the job in two or three weeks ago. No one did a great deal of work before breakfast being much too occupied in the local progress of the war - a little desultory "strafing" - a few vehicles and infantry struggling down the road - a little small arms fire not so far away. By breakfast time the news has the Yanks approaching Falkenstein.
After Frühstuck even less work is done until at 10.45 we were called in. On instructions from the Betrube we are to be locked in the Lager. Quite a good skilly is served up at midday. Today's 'wurst' issue comes up as rissoles and there is also boiled beet which will go down nicely with the Spam. Everyone is busy bathing, cleaning up, making preparations for an early departure, agitating for immediate release of those parcels (although Geo cannot get at them until the Feldwebel returns from Aue (if he does get back). I wash my pyjamas.
The alarm has sounded as bombers fly over - the first time for some days. In the afternoon I tried to put in a little sleep but it was perfectly useless. Half the boys had worked up and maintained a state of noisy hysteria which frustrated all such intentions. We may have to work tomorrow- we learn that the Holsplatz has kept going this afternoon. Apparently the Chef is to be consulted.
Wednesday 18th April
A disturbed night with a fair amount of local artillery fire, with only one or two guns employed, is followed by an early Reveille as usual. But this merely routine, the guard does not know whether we work or not, and as it turns out we do not. I complete my preparations for moving and fill in the rest of the time playing bridge. It is just as well I have not been weighed lately. It might have worried me. I was weighed in the factory - 58 ½ kg or about 9 stone 3 - a drop of about 33 lbs on my weight about this time last year. We are being relieved apparently just in time. In the afternoon the F gives permission to issue the rest of the parcels. Naturally we duck the Xmas pudding. However - no complaints. The contents of the American parcel are drawn for and we win 20 cigarettes - very welcome, too. A supper of batter (Yorkshire) pudding and jam sends me to bed satisfied.
After a good night's sleep I woke early feeling, for the first time, that they will be here today. Geoff through the window at about 10 o' clock puts them all round us 6 or 7 km away so perhaps my feeling will prove an accurate forecast. Not that I am at all worried. After waiting so long another day or two will make little difference though many of the boys cannot acquire the same attitude. But it had better not be for too long - after breakfast our remaining parcels stuff are three tins - Spam, Xmas cake, roast pork - and the skillies have fallen off badly during the last couple of days, maybe because all the German workers are being issued with substantial quantities of potatoes from store. I indulge in a final or nearly final sorting of kit disposing of all my surplus kit including my working trousers. This gives rise to a certain misgiving later. About tea time Ferries is called away. He is gone for some time and on his return announces that we are to go back to work tomorrow. We suspect that this is a bluff and decide to call it. We argue with the Feldw. who calls in the Chef. He collapses without much of a fight. The ration position is difficult. Bread is to be cut to 200 gr and we are to have 3 skillies a day. Whether this is conditional on us working is not made clear.
Hitler's birthday An excellent night's sleep during which, so I am told, the artillery fire becomes much worse.
[one page here with Food parcel list as follows]
Food parcels English Christmas 1944 (North Row?)
Roast Pork and stuffing 1lb sugar
Wilson's stewed steak 1 lb N&P Xmas cake
Spam 12 oz P.F Xmas pudding
Heinz baked beans Green's Yorkshire pudding
Butter 8 oz Green's custard powder
Honey 8 oz Sardines
Tea 2 oz Rowntree's Blended
Nestlés milk Chocolate 4 oz
English Christmas 1943 (from memory)
Steak & Kidney 1 lb Christmas Pudding
Tournedos of beef 1lb Christmas cake
Bacon ?oz Jam (?)
Salmon 7 oz Butter 8 oz
Tea 2 oz Plain chocolate 4 oz
Nestlés milk Chocolate biscuits 8 oz
[diary continues on 20th April]
The morning skilly promised yesterday does not appear. The bread ration is the usual amount but we are told that there is enough left for only three days. The cellar is to be prepared immediately for use as a shelter and we are warned to be prepared to stay there anything up to 48 hours. Subject to me collecting, and if possible cleaning, a flat mess tin from Dick, my kit is now packed ready to move in 5 mins. In the afternoon the shelter is prepared. The F is insistent that we be ready to go down at a moment's notice. My kit is packed. Fritz says the Yankees are expected tomorrow. Positively the last of the parcels stuff is distributed - a couple of Milk parcels are broken up and drawn for. We drew a tin of cheese and a packet of lime fruit drops.
Saturday 21st April
Bread ration for 2 days is issued - 200 g per day. The first additional skilly is issued at 9.0 - quite what it is is unknown and various guesses are hazarded. Mine is marrow. We spend the morning helping the civilians to move their kit into the cellar. Troops pulled into the Longholz Platz during the night but they are said to be leaving tonight. Lack of electricity sends us to bed at 8 o'clock.
The morning soup fails to appear. Later the Chef actually apologises for this. The troops - artillery leave the Holzplatz during the morning. Midday meal is quite good - creamed potatoes with onion, gravy and meat. Evening we have noodle soup and the morning soup - a brown gravy-like soup. Continued lack of power has us in bed early again. The Americans are said to be 12 km away.
Another dull day confirms that the Yanks are 12 kilos away. There is raised the possibility that when Aue falls we shall be marched to Allied lines. The town has not yet gone but the Feldwebel is unable to get there - the road has been bombed. The power comes on after dinner. The weather which was beautiful last week broke on Saturday afternoon and now there is a fair covering of wet snow. The spick and span appearance presented by everyone on Tuesday and Wednesday has now worn off. I am back on my old routine of shaving every other day. Ties are not now generally worn. On Saturday morning I weighed myself again (see page 67) I go 64 kg a big lift which does not seem to be completely accounted for by additional clothing - B.D. jacket, cap and boots (for slippers). Since Friday night I have depended on charity - Victor - for smokes. The war seems to be completely at a standstill and we have heard practically nothing since Saturday. Final flash - from Jeepers - 8 kiloms and coming on.
Tuesday 24th April
Continued silence. It is said that 2 American tanks have been knocked out a few kilos away. They are supposed to be awaiting reinforcements. The snow has cleared away but it remains cold. I am more browned off than ever before in the afternoon but the feeling lifts a little later on.
Morale takes a steep upwards turn as the local artillery fires up again. Three more old P.O.Ws are brought in. They walked off from their Lager when they were expecting to move. They walked along roads all day before they were stopped by a German officer. Harry and I hold preliminary discussions on the subject of clearing off - the plan to be put into operation in about 10 days time when the moon should be more favourable.
Tuesday 26th April
A better day. The weather improves, the local signs of the war continue. The tobacco situation is slightly easier as Jeepers gives me a small and quite good cigar. The new guard also contributes a little of his tobacco to give me three or four small rolls.
Another empty day brightening as the evening draws on to increased warlike activity. The Feldwebel has orders to report to Aue on Monday when he may get directives to march us to the Allied lines. But a lorry load of rations comes in from somewhere near Chemnitz. I am not too hopeful.
A much more hopeful day. Continuous artillery fire all day long indicates at least reasonably strong patrol activity. And the news indicates that the Yanks are also approaching from Carlstad. The activity continues into and through the night. At 12.15 a.m. (Sunday) we are wakened by the Feldwebel and Fritz. The night watchman has surprised Cheshire out of the window.
The best signs to date. The Chef seems very amiable, tells us he wants to march us back and that the F. has taken a message to Aue to this effect. The F. on return gives the usual answer - two or three days perhaps - if the Yanks come within an hour's march. But we hear privately the F. is to leave us tonight or tomorrow and his successor the unter officier is in favour of our going. The Chef also is going to Aue tomorrow presumably to press the matter. He cannot like us to eat his rations. 25g tobacco from Jeepers eases that situation also.
Monday 30th April
The Big Potato Rush. I am given legitimately (H.J.B) a box full. 3.0 p.m. News. Germany has apparently offered to capitulate to England and America but not yet to Russia. When do we leave? During the night - Sun - Mon - I have a touch of diarrhoea. So have many of the others including some of the guard. But by morning I have shaken it off.
Tuesday 1st May
A further day of waiting. The Spud rush continues. We get more food now than for many months but what food?
Geo goes to Aue. Visit by the ex Welfare Officer from Hartsmannsdorf. Ferrier brings back negative results from Aue. The Allied Command has forbidden K.Gs from being moved from their Lagers.
A day of activity: we put our old billet into decent order and a select party of eight moves in. The first night is very cold.
According the news Denmark, Holland, N Germany have packed in. Only Czechs and illegible fight on.
A dull and miserable day until the afternoon a spirited little battle breaks out practically within sight. We watch the shells landing in Schönheide. Later in the evening we evacuate into the cellar. An uncomfortable night. During the week the plundering of the rations in the cellar has steadily increased. I refrain. Sardine issue Saturday evening.
With a view to further nights below Harry and I acquire deck chairs. A party goes to Aue to collect rations. They bring back news that the war finishes, or an armistice starts, at 4 o' clock today. It is very quiet but we hear a few isolated explosions up to the time of writing 5.50. The Americans are still 6 kilos away. No matter in which direction they come they never seem to get any closer. Only the German 7th Army holds out apparently.
[The diary ends here]
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