Lieutenant Walter T. G. Cloutman
Unit : 2/28th Australian Infantry Battalion
Served : North Africa (captured)
Army No. : WX11078
POW No. : 1191
Camps : P.G. 78, Stalag VIIA, Oflag 79
Walter Cloutman was born in London in 1910, and came to Western Australia in 1924. He was a volunteer in the Citizen's Military Forces (then called Militia Forces) from 1st July 1928 to 18th January 1932, and then joined the 44th Battalion on the 16th October 1932 for three years, re-engaging in the same Battalion on the same date in 1935. He rose to the rank of Sergeant. During the Second World War he was a Lieutenant in the 2/28th Infantry Battalion. Posted to North Africa, in August 1942 he participated in the disatrous final battle of Ruin Ridge in Alamein, where he was taken prisoner. The following is the diary he wrote while at Oflag 79.
Brunswick July 30, 1944
My Dearest.....I must start off with an apology. Do you remember getting a letter from me written from Sulmona telling you that I was writing a diary letter dating from El Alamein? Well, unfortunately, after writing about 500 pages, giving all the details of our POW life, I had to leave them with my kit when Danny Mulgrave and I jumped the train on our way to Germany in September of last year. Up to now, we have been short of writing paper, but now, having been issued with notebooks from the YMCA, I am going to endeavour to give you an idea of our life.
As before I will start from El Alamein. On the night 16/17 July, 1942, our [PON?] was ordered to attack and occupy a position about 2,000 yards in front of our lines, called Ruin Ridge. This was a fairly strong fortified position which had been giving us quite a bit of trouble, and was holding up our advance in this section of the front. It was to develop into a big stand if successful, and we were told it would be our last show before going home. You can bet that the boys made no mistakes. We went into the attack at 11.30, 600 strong and at 1.30 were in full occupation of the objective. It cost us 200 casualties but we considered at the time that it was worth it. But now comes the snag. After taking Ruin Ridge, further attacks were to come in on either side of us, and at dawn armour was to come up and sweep across our front. Unfortunately for us, these further shows failed, and when daylight arrived we found ourselves in an island in enemy territory. The Germans having reformed their lines behind us we were subjected to a heavy barrage at close quarters until about 9.30, and then in came the German tanks; by this time we had no anti-tank defence and further resistance would have meant a useless sacrifice of lives.
We were rounded up, and marched across the front about 3 miles and then put into trucks, and taken to El Daba. Here we were searched and everything of value, including our watches, were taken from us. It was blazing hot, and we were beginning to suffer from thirst. We were separated from the O.R's and herded into open compounds. Here we received a small ration of water, but no food. Night came, no blankets, and are the desert nights cold!! Next morning we were again put in trucks and taken along the coast to Mersa Matruh. Here we were interrogated, put once more into open compounds, and received a biscuit, and a half tin of Italian bully. It was at Mersa that I experienced my first kindness by an enemy soldier; the Italian sentry on the gate of our compound gave me a cigarette and later 2 Italian officers who came seeking information about some members of their unit who had been captured by us, gave us more smokes. Boy, were they appreciated.
That night, we had the memorable experience of being bombed by our own Air Force, and I can assure you that once is enough for yours truly. We had no shelter and I for one just put my tin hat on the back of my neck, hugged mother earth, and hoped for the best. We were lucky; a C.M.S. in the next compound collected a nasty scalp wound from a piece of flack, otherwise we had a clean sheet. We left Mersa next morning for Tobruk, and never will I forget that ride, 270 miles on a broken road, 30 of us in a trailer, hungry, thirsty, no smokes, and I can assure you I couldn't sit down for 3 days afterwards with any comfort. We arrived at Tobruk about 10 o'clock that night and believe me the officers and men, who had helped defend the place for 6 months the previous year, were pretty down in the mouth at returning in this fashion.
There were no rations laid on for us, as we were unexpected, but some Indian troops who were in the compound, took us into their tents, gave us some food, and shared blankets for the night. The Italian officer in charge also sent in some cigs for us. Next morning we had our first taste of Ersatz coffee, and had an opportunity of having our scratches attended to at an Italian F.D.S. I had a barbwire gash on the back of my right leg which had started to fester, otherwise I was O.K.
About 10a.m. our hated trailers arrived and we prepared to continue our journey. We went though the port, what was left of it, and stopped at a supply dump where we were issued with our own rations -1 biscuit, or half a tin of Italian meat, then on to Derna. Derna is a very pretty town on the coast and is reached by roads which wind in and out through passes. The Italians can certainly build roads. Arrived at Derna about 4 in the afternoon, and were housed for the night in a stinking flea ridden barrack room with cement floors, no blankets, but at least a roof over our heads. Believe it or not we slept!
Barce was our next stop, and we reached that place about 5 o'clock next day, after a journey through some very beautiful country, which was a welcome change after the desert. Barce was the first organised P.O.W. camp we had reached and we stayed here for about 8 days, during which time we had a bath, washed our clothes, had a hot meal "macaroni" once a day, a loaf of bread and were given Italian money with which we were able to purchase toothbrushes, soap, cigs etc. We also had our introduction to Italian 4 person beds, 2 upper and 2 lower.
Our next move was to "Benghazi" and may I forget the week we spent there. Over 100 of us in a big barnlike structure, practically no conveniences, very little water, and a daily ration of a small loaf, about the size of a penny bun, and half a tin of Iti meat. To make matters worse, we were situated in the centre of a number of warehouses and all day long truckloads of food, potatoes, biscuits, flour, lemons and B.beef, most of our own stores shipped from Tobruk, were being unloaded in front of us. Still everything must come to an end, and on a Saturday morning, I forget the date, an Iti officer arrived with a list of names, about 20, of which I was one, and within 30 mins we were on our way to Benghazi Airport. Here we were split up into parties of 10, and boarded Savoirs. I then experienced my first trip in the air and crossed the Med. arriving at Lecce, which is on the heel of Italy, at 5p.m. We had a good crossing, and I really enjoyed the sensation although being dressed in shirt and shorts, it was pretty cold. At Lecce we were met by trucks, this time fitted with seats, and taken through the town, to a disused hospital. We were met by an English speaking Italian officer who was definitely pro British, and who really did all he could to make us comfortable, We had a good feed of macaroni, a ration of vino, and coffee, which after our fare of the last week, seemed like a banquet.
Later he arranged for a barber to come up from the town and we were able to have a much needed haircut and shave. Next morning, after another good feed of spaghetti, we were taken to the railway station and entrained for Bari. I must say that my first introduction to continental trains was surprising. Believe it or not we were placed 6 in a carriage, with of course a guard on the door, and first class carriages, definitely my most comfortable ride since leaving home.
We arrived at Bari, a port on the Adriatic coast in the evening, after a very pleasant trip indeed considering the circumstances. Our friends the trucks met us a the station and took us to the cage, which is situated about 2 miles from the town, in the centre of an olive grove.
Bari was quite a large camp, known as a transit camp, through which all P.O.W.s passed, before being drafted to permanent camps. When we arrived there were about 1500 officers and 2000 O.R.s mostly from Tobruk. There were 3 compounds, O.R.s, officers and the quarantine compound, in the latter all new arrivals had to spend 14 days, then, if having a clean bill of health, passed through to the others. The buildings were large barracks, each contaning about 200.
To our delight, we here made our first acquantance with Red X food parcels, being given 1 between 4 officers and were able to have our first cup of tea since our capture (some 3 weeks) and was it enjoyed!
Incidentally, my first parcel, was shared by Peter Craig, from County Down, Ireland; Earl Haig (a real live Earl), and Tubby Johnson (killed later at Bologna). Life at Bari was pretty dreary, as being a transit camp, there were no permanent organisations. However, as time went on, we got together a library of sorts, a scratchy orchestra, and arranged impromptu concerts. These with bridge (the P.O.W's lifesaver) helped to pass the time. Unfortunately there was no spare ground, so we were unable to have any outdoor games or exercise.
When we were captured we were wearing summer dress, shirt and shorts. There was no Red X clothing at Bari, so you can imagine what our clothes were like after a month or two. Luckily it was still warm weather, but even so colds were fairly prevalent, owing mostly to people washing their one and onlys and putting them on again before properly dried. At Bari, we were given a small amount of camp money, and were able to purchase through the "Iti" canteen a limited supply of necessary toilet articles and an occasional packet of cigs.
On arrival I was appointed Room Canteen Repesentative and later Bungalow Rep. The system we worked on was very unsatisfactory and from the start I entertained ideas of a canteen of our own within the camp. About the end of September I managed to get the S.P.O. and camp Q.M. interested and was told to put forward a definite scheme. After a bit of thought, and a few enquiries from the "Iti" interpreter, I made a suggestion of the following. All officers of the camp to subscribe 50 lire. This gave me a working capital of about 10,000 lire. A room was requisitioned and with tables, shelves, etc., from the Itis my shop came into being. I was made manager and proceeded to obtain stock. In my previous book, I had quotations of prices etc., but have forgotten them now but believe me they were pretty fantastic. I was able to obtain cakes, jam, wine, tinned fish and stationery, toilet articles. etc., all of which found ready sales., In 6 weeks I returned the capital to the subscribing officers, and the shop was a reality and paid for. It gave me a full time job and sure helped to pass the time.
About this time, a large draft of officers left the camp and among them was Peter Craig, who, up to this time, I had been sharing Red X etc. My next partner was Danny Mulgrave, who I have mentioned in my letters. Towards the end of Nov., the Australian officers, numbering about 30, received orders to move, and we shifted to Sulmona, the Aussie camp. It was the start of winter, and as you can guess, our clothing was in a pretty bad state, and we were feeling the cold. We left Bari about 8 o'clock at night and reached Sulmona at 2 o'clock the following day, and what a surprise awaited us. After the usual search, we were taken to the officer's compound, here we were met by the S.A.O. and found tea and cigarettes waiting for us, then taken to our bungalow. Lunch was then served, and we saw tablecloths, etc., for the first time. After lunch we had a hot shower, our first in the [Bag?], issued with Red X parcels, then taken to the Q.M. store and given battledress, boots, socks, thick underwear and shirts. By this time we felt like kings.
One of the first of the chaps I met here was Scotty Ross, and Steve McHenry who had been captured the previous year. Bari is situated between Rome and the east coast of Italy and on the side of a mountain overlooking quite a large valley. There were about 5,000 O.R.s and 250 officers here. Here again lack of room, was our chief complaint although there was a football ground outside the compound where we were allowed (some of us) to go once a week. Inside the compounds the only exercising place was a path 100 yds long and 5 ft wide, not much for 250. We had 2 mess rooms, 1 English officers and the other Aussies and they were run very well.
Life was a little easier here, the camp was well organised - a good library, canteen, Red X parcels, cigs, and several good concert parties who produced some very good plays. Xmas arrived and was celebrated in good style. We saved up our rations and with the aid of the Black Market, had a good tuck in. We even had a Christmas tree and a Father Xmas. On Boxing Day we had a pantomime and a cabaret! After Christmas the time began to drag again, the weather was very cold. Red X parcels ran out and altogether we were getting miserable and then the mail, and private parcels started to arrive.
The first letter I received was from Aunt Di and soon afterwards I received one from My Darling wife. From then on things were a lot brighter. During this period, I had not done anything except play bridge and read all sorts of books. I decided to study a bit of Italian and later it came in very handy. Early in April there was a bit of a row in connection with the running of the canteen and I was approached and asked to take over. This I was very glad to do and soon found my time fully occupied again and the days slipping by.
All this time the news from outside was getting better and our hopes began to soar and when on July 10 the Allies landed on Sicily we thought we would be out by Xmas. By the 3rd week in July our hosts began to get breezy and all officers were shifted north. Our crowd were taken to Bologna just north of the Appenines to a new camp. Life at this time was not unpleasant - mail and parcels were coming through well and we were expecting the Italians to collapse at any time. The next excitement was Musso's downfall and from then on our treatment by the Itis greatly improved.
8th Sept and the Italian Armistice. The camp by this time, 1200 strong, went mad with joy, and we all thought our captivity had come to an end. The S.B.O. took over the camp from the Itis and the gates were thrown open. But! we were in an area thick with Germans and were not sure if they were going to get out or stay. Accordingly, we were given orders not to leave camp that night, but to have small luggage packed and be ready to leave next mornng, our plan being to endeavour to make our way south in small groups.
At 1.30 a.m. we were aroused and told that the Germans were moving around the camp. We grabbed our things and tried to make a bolt for it. A crowd of us went for the main gate, to be greeted by machine gun fire. We ducked back and about 80 got out through the side gate only to run into another German patrol. By this time the camp was in an uproar. Shots were firing in all directions, officers running this way and that and Germans everywhere. After about an hour we were rounded up and put into a small enclosure with M.G.s trained on us. We thought we had "had it". However, morning arrived and we were let back into the camp and on counting heads it was found that about 50 had got away. Tubby Johnson had been killed and 2 others wounded, but not seriously.
During the day German patrols operating around the camp brought in about 30, leaving about 20, who apparently got clear. Among these were Eric Harrod and Colin Ellis from the 28th. What has happened to them we do not know yet. They may still be hiding up in Bologna. Time alone will tell. We were not told anything by the Germans about our future movements and all sorts of rumours were flying around. We all thought that they were going to leave the country and quite expected to wake up one morning and find them gone.
Alas! on the morning of the 11th Sept we were told to be ready to leave for Germany with hand luggage only. By 9 o'clock that morning a fleet of trucks arrved and we were taken through Bologna to Moderna, a town some 30-40 miles north. Here we were put into cattle trucks, 30 to a truck. As you can guess there was not much room to move and being hot weather we could hardly breathe. We stayed at Moderna that night and next day started north for the Brenner Pass. Several of us decided to have a smack at escaping. The trucks were very much like our guards vans at home. Large sliding doors unfortunately barred on the outside and small ventilation grills heavily wired. We decided to cut a hole in the side of the truck. We had no tools so made a couple of makeshift saws by serrating the edges of table knives. It was not easy work but by 10 o'clock that night, after working in relays, we managed to complete a hole big enough to squeeze through.. At this time we were approaching Verona a town on the foothills of the northern Italian Alps. We cut cards to see who was to go out first and Danny and I cut the 3rd position. The first pair got away O.K. jumping at about 15 miles an hour. One of them stumbled and appeared to hurt his ankle but got up alright, There were no shots fired so we assumed they had not been seen. This was surprising as it was a moonlight night and every 3rd truck was a flat top with machine guns on it. Before any more of us could get away we ran into Verona and then followed an hour which I am sure added 5 years to my life.
We had put a suitcase over the hole to try and cover it up and to my horror 3 German guards came along and sat on the steps at the end of the truck almost touching the hole. As they had a nasty habit of shooting through any holes they found and I was sitting down with my back to the case you may guess I was pretty uncomfortable. All good things must come to an end and about 11.30 we started off again with our exit undiscovered. Another snag now arose. At Verona we had taken on an "Electric" and were batting along at 30-40 miles an hour, much too fast for jumping. Our hearts fell but fortunately we soon came to the mountains and slowed down and the next pair got away. Danny and I quickly followed. When I jumped I found that there was no cover, and a fence running alongside the track. It was hopeless to try and jump the fence, so I took the risk and just leant against it and watched the train go by.
It was a grand feeling when we stood on the track and watched the red light of the train disappearing in the distance and realised that we were out in the open, with no guards, free to go where we liked. We looked around and saw that we were in an upper valley, with mountains all around us. To the west and running parallel with the railway, was a fairly wide river. The ADIGES. It appeared to be guarded and we decided to head east towards Yugoslavia where at this time the partisans were gaining ground.
Our first move was to get away from the railway, where there was a possibiity of meeting German patrols. On the east of the line was a small village which we decided to avoid and so made for the high ground south of the village. After climbing for an hour we were both dead beat. Lack of sleep, the heat in the truck and the excitement of escaping all helped to weaken us together with the fact that we had been inside for 15 months without exercise, and little food. We laid down in the scrub, just off a footpath, and were both soon asleep. When we awoke, the sun was shining and a look at our watches showed 7.30. We looked around and saw a farm house in the middle of an orchard and decided to chance everything, and contact the people. We approached the house carefully, and saw a middle-aged man working in the garden. We called him and in broken Italian told him who we were. He was quite friendly, but told us to keep hiding in the scrub as a German patrol was operating in the vicinity and, in fact, patrolled the path by which we had slept the previous night! A little later he came out to us bringing milk and bread and some very old clothes which we quickly donned, being glad to get rid of our uniforms which made us so distinctive. He then gave us directions to go to a nearby villa, where he assured us we would receive assistance. It was a distance away, and being careful not to be seen, we made our way to the side door. We were met by a middle-aged woman, quite well dressed, who spoke to us in German. Danny replied and in broken German, mingled with French, explained our position, We were invited inside, and there met 3 more women, 2 of whom were quite young. They told us that they were really Austrians, belonging to the Austria of pre-1914, and told us that we would have to go quickly as the Germans garrisoned in the area often called at their house. However, they were very friendly, fixing up Danny's knee which he had hurt jumping the train, and giving us haversacks, clothes, food, wine and money. They then pointed out to us a track which would take us east across the mountainrs, and off we started. Thus, within 8 hours of escaping from the train, we were clothed in civvies and had everything necessary for hiking across country. We started our climb and, although both feeling weak, made good progress. Danny, with his short legs, stood the climbing better than I, but on the level my long legs more than made up for it. That day we kept pushing east and by night had skirted 2 high peaks and were on the side of a mountain, well up, overlooking a long, wide valley, through which ran a main road. Along this we could see many German trucks passing, so decided not to venture down. We found a small stream trickling through the rocks, and bedded down for the night after eating sparingly of our rations. It was very cold, so we drank the wine to warm up our tummies.
At dawn, after an uncomfortable night, we had a wash in the stream, and continued east. After a while, the path we were following veered S.E. and, as the valley appeared to be getting narrower, and as we did not wish to approach the road, we decided to follow the path. About 10a.m. we came across an isolated farm house. We knocked on the door, and a small girl about 12 years old came out and told us that her parents had gone to the nearest town, She gave us some polenta (a kind of bread made from maize meal) and we washed it down with a drink of milk. Her young brother then arrived and told us that there was a village not far away, in which a number of escaped Italian soldiers were hiding. All this talk was in very broken Italian and, after managing to make him understand, he offered to take us part of the way.
About midday, we arrived at the village and were soon surrounded by a crowd of curious villagers. At first our reception was not very warm, as we were taken for German spies but after half an hour of very difficult talking, we convinced them who we were. We were then made welcome and taken to a house. Here we were given a meal and had a good sleep in a comfortable bed. That evening a chap arrived who spoke a bit of English and turned out to be a school teacher. Through him we explained that we wanted to hide up for a while and also that we were anxious to get to a radio so that we could get some news thus enabling us to make definite plans. He was most helpful and within a short time we were in another house listening to the B.B.C. It was a great moment, listening to an English broadcast again, and we both greatly enjoyed a force's programme. Then came the news and, as the Yugoslav partisans appeared to be doing well, we decided to make our way to Yugoslavia.
Next morning, after a good night's sleep and a good breakfast, we left the village accompanied by two young men who had offered to put us on our way. About midday they showed us a road which led through a pass in the mountains and then left us. There was no other way to get past this particular place and, as we were getting over our fear of meeting people, we stepped off along the road which led around the side of a hill and through a tunnel on the road. We overtook a woman and a child, and Danny struck up a conversation in German. Suddenly we heard the engine of a truck approaching, and fearing they were Germans, we jumped off the edge of the road and hid in a culvert. After the truck had passed we climbed back to the road and rejoined the woman who told us not to worry but to walk along with her, and we looked like a couple of ordinary Italians. We went on and Danny explained our position to her and asked if she could help. She said that she did not have much to offer us, but would help us, as her husband had been taken off to Germany to work. She took us to her house and gave us a feed, and put us up for the night.
The next day, after ascertaining German movements in the neighbourhood, we again set out following the line of mountains in a general easterly direction. Towards late afternoon, we again approached an isolated house, and asked for shelter, but this time were met with a refusal, being taken for Germans. We then went to a village and Danny found a man that spoke French but here again we had no luck and, with night approaching, were feeling pretty miserable. However, a mile or so past the village we came to another house and here were more fortunate. Another French speaking Italian listened to our story and told us that, although they could not take us in, he would take us to his cousin, who lived in a nearby village, out of the way of the main roads, where we could stay awhile and hear the radio. This we readily accepted and, after a good meal, we set out.
After an hour's walking we arrived at a village of about a score of better class houses, and were taken and introduced to his cousin. Our story was again told, and he said he would help us for a while. We again listened to the B.B.C. and then went to bed. Next morning early we got up, and our host suggested that we go out for the day woodcutting. We would be out of the way of curious eyes and would have something to occupy our minds. At midday, a servant girl brought us a dixie of minestrone (macaroni soup). At dusk we returned to the village. Supper, radio and to bed.
Next morning our host met us with a long face and told us that fascists had been making enquiries about us and so to save making trouble we decided to move on. They told us of an "albergo" about 4 miles away, where we might stay for a while, and we decided to go there. The daughter of the house, a girl about 15, went with us to show the way and introduced us to the woman who ran the place. On arrival, we were told that we could sleep in the hay shed, but, owing to shortage of food, could not stay long. The next day was Sunday and the girl came over again bringing us food, and told us that her brother, who had just come from Udine, a place on the Y.S. (Yugoslavia) border, would come at 9 o'clock next morning and take us on our way. This cheered us up no end but, unfortunately, that night was not very comfortable as 5 Germans arrived at the albergo and stayed the night. They left early next morning but our nerves were badly frayed. 9 o'clock arrived and Luis had not turned up. We waited till ten, debating what we would do, when a motor cycle came down the road with 2 German soldiers on it. One jumped off and went into the front of the albergo, and the other want round the back. This was too much for us and we decided to beat it.
After walking for some hours across country, we spotted another isolated albergo, and warily approached it. We found it closed down but an old man was living there as caretaker. He gave us a meal of polenta, milk, and cheese, and during a long and difficult talk in Italian directed us to a village in the valley "San Pietro" where there was a man who spoke English. We thanked him and made our way down a very steep track to the valley below. We found the village about dusk, and enquired for the house of the "English speaking Italian". We found it at last and walked in. We saw a woman and enquired "Is there anybody here that speaks English?" and a voice from the next room, in very nasal American, replied "You're durned tooting ah do". We went in and met a lanky, elderly man, who told us that he had been in America for 14 years. We had a long talk, while his wife prepared a terrific feed. After hearing our tale, he told us he would help us all he could, but that it was unsafe to stay in the village as the Germans were continually passing through and that he was not sure of the local carabinerie, "Police". of which there were three stationed in the village. He took our boots to the local cobbler and had studs put in to help us climb the mountains; took us to hear the B.B.C. and then bedded us down in his hay shed.
Early next morning, after giving us breakfast, filling our bags with food and giving us money, he gave us directions to the next village, and we set out, our road being back up the mountains - very steep, and a drizzle of rain did not make us very happy. About a mile up the road we turned a bend and saw in front of us the three "caraba" from the village carrying rifles and accompanied by a dog. We looked at one another, what now? and decided to keep going. After a while one of them dropped back and started to talk to us in Italian. "Soldate?" no reply "Escapari?". We thought "we have had it". Danny, taking the bull by the horns, replied in English. "We are British Officers." Imagine our surprise when the carab said in English "British Officers? Why, I am an Italian Officer". He shook us by the hand, called to his companions and told them. They gave us cigarettes, offered us money and asked where we were going. We told them and they replied that as it was too wet to go walking about, why not come back to the village. We scented a trap, but could hardly refuse, so retraced our steps. On arriving back at "San Peitro" we were taken to the carab H.Q. given wine and made very welcome. We explained our position to the carab who first spoke to us and, after telling us that he was not really a carab, but was just hiding up, promised to see what he could do to help us. Late that afternoon he came with a young man who spoke good French and who told us that he was a member of the local partisans, would we like to join them. They were living in a cave up the mountainside and were being fed by the local people. We had another talk with our carab friend who was convinced that it would only be a few weeks before the Germans left their country and that it would be a good idea to join the locals. Danny and I had a confab and decided that it would give us time to get more fit, and also to improve our Italian which we were picking up fast, and so we decided to go with our new friend.
We started out and, after a heart-breaking climb, we arrived more dead than alive at the cave. There were about 20 men in the band, all locals, and mostly young men who had run away from the army on the declaration of the armistice and were keeping out of the way of the Germans as many Italians were being sent to Germany to work. All were certain that the Allies would land fresh troops in the north, and that Italy would be fully liberated in a few weeks. Quite honestly, Danny and I believed the same.
We had been with these partisans about 3 days when a message came up from the village that the German garrison had left the valley and that we were to go down. Most of the party went to their homes but Dan and I and a couple of the more sceptical decided to stay put until we got more news. Next morning we got the full truth. Apparently a number of these partisan bands had been giving the Germans a fair amount of trouble and ther local "Kommandant" had told the Podestars of the villages that if the young men would return to their homes, they would not interfere with them. When we heard this the rest of us returned to the village and Dan and I were met by a guide who took us to a house just outside the village where we were given a room, and told we could stay. The villagers brought up blankets, food, furniture etc., and did all they could to make us comfortable. We even had a radio.
Life continued undisturbed for a few days, during which we studied hard at Italian and listened to the news. Every day someone from the village came to see us bringing food, and occasionally smokes. One day a strange lady arrived, accompanied by one of our friends, and brought us a parcel of delicacies, such as butter and sugar, which were very scarce. When she was leaving she handed me an envelope in which was a 500 lira note. We protested that it was too much and when she insisted that we take it, offered a receipt. This was declined and she told us that her husband was an officer who was somewhere in Y.S. and she hoped that someone was helping him
Another lot of visitors were two men, one of whom had been in Australia for a number of years, and the other in America. They told us that they were from a village higher up the mountain and that if things got hot where we were, we could go to their village.
About 3 o'clock in the afternoon, a couple of days later, we were preparing to go down to the village with one of the locals, when a warning arrived that Germans were in the place, and on looking down the road we saw 3 of them coming up towards our house. We had no time to get anything so, accompanied by the local, ducked up the mountainside and watched events. Sure enough they went straight to our place and we realised that someone had given us away. We had a confab, and the local decided to take us to his uncle's place about 8 miles away. On the way we met a woodcutter from San Pietro and he took a message to our friends telling where we had gone and asking them if they could salvage our kit. We spent the night at the uncle's place and, as it was impossible to stay owing to the shortage of food, decided we would go to the village where "Augusto", the chap who had been to Australia lived. By this time we had good maps of the area, were pretty fit, could make ourselves readily understood in "Iti" and were ready to move about more freely.
At 8 o'clock that morning, we were met at the top of the track leading to S.P. by a 15 year old boy who, at 3a.m. had gone to our room, packed our kit and humped the lot up the mountain to us. He told us that the Germans, after making many enquiries about us, hung about till evening to see if we returned and then left, leaving our kit untouched. Keeping away from tracks, we made our way towards Augusto's place reaching there at dusk. We quickly found the house and made known our plight. To our disappointment Augusto told us that it was unsafe to stay as a 'flap' was on and the Germans were active in the vicinity, but that we could stay the night and next morning he would take us further on to a place where we could find shelter for a while.
At dawn we started off and after a terrific climb, up and down very steep ravines, we reached another village. Here we were introduced to a "proffesori" who turned out to be the organiser of the local underground front organisation. Tonio said that he would arrange somewhere for us to stay and that, if we desired, he would arrange for us to go to "Switzerland" with a guide and forged passports. The last two days of heavy climbing had affected Dan's knee and he was limping badly, so Tonio said that we should rest up for a while while arrangements were made. After dark we were taken to a 'contrado' about 2 miles away and left in a very nicely furnished house. We were told that someone would see us in the morning. In a short time we were fast asleep in the most comfortable bed we had slept in since leaving home. Next morning we arose early, had a wash and, from the windows, had a look around. About 8.30 a woman and a young man came to the house bringing coffee and polenta and introduced themselves. They told us that Tonio would be around later and put us in the picture. About 10 o'clock Tonio arrived and told us of the arrangements he had made
The contrado was composed of 8 houses, spread around in their own paddocks, and the occupants were all related. The main house was the one just up the hill from us, and there the old people lived. In the others were the various sons and daughters and their families. The house where we were was for the next son when he had got married and in the meantime it was available for visitors. He told us that we could sleep here and go to the main house for our meals. We could move about within the contrado but to keep our eyes open for strangers, and keep away from the roads. He then took us up and introduced us to the family. They were Luigi and his wife, a son 21 who had run away from the army, 2 daughters 15 & 17, lad of 12, and a cousin about 30, whose husband was a P.O.W. The other houses were occupied by 1) the daughter-in-law of Luigi, whose husband was missing, 2) a nephew and his family of 3 small children, 3) "Old Luis" a brother of Luigi. The others were more distant relatives who we did not get to know very well.
The first few days passed rapidly. We had hot baths, washed our clothes, and Tonio bought more respectable clothes for us on the black market. The 500 lira note thus came in very handy. On the fourth day Tonio brought us a visitor, a woman of about 35, who spoke very good English and who was the interpreter for the local organisation. She told us of different officers and O.R.s who they had helped, sending some to Switzerland and some to Yugoslavia, and also that they had at that moment a party of 12 O.R.s who were on their way to Y.S. Would we like to see them. She said that they were about 2 hours walk away and as Dan's leg was not yet right I went off to see them.
They were lodged in a woodcutter's hut, and looked quite happy and well fed. I saw then a couple of times and then they were moved on. By this time Dan's leg was O.K. again and we had a long talk about our future movements.
1. Yugoslavia? We decided against this as the patriots bad been pushed off the border, and things did not appear to be going too well.
2. Switzerland? The reports from here indicated that although we could probably get in alright, we would be interned until the cessation of hostilities.
3. Go south and try to get through to our troops? We were told that the Rivers Adiges and Po were heavily guarded and that it would be practically impossible. (We learnt later that several tried to get though but many were killed or recaptured).
4. Sit tight for the winter, which was very close and in the meantime try to make arrangements to obtain a small boat from Venice, and go down the Adriatic.
After much discussion, and consultation with Tonio and Luigi, we decided to stay where we were. At this time all hands in the contrado were engaged in getting in a store of wood to keep the fires going during the winter, as for 4 months they were practically snowed up. To keep fit, and to occupy our time, Dan and I joined in and were soon pulling our weight with the rest.
Everything was going smoothly until one Friday night, 3 weeks after our arrival; Dan and I had gone to bed early. It was about 9 o'clock. We were lying down talking, when we heard the sound of an engine. We were in an out of the way place, and during the 3 weeks had not seen a vehicle of any sort near. Dan jumped out of bed and said that he could see lights, and hear voices calling out at Luigi's, which was about 300 yards from our place. We watched and about 10 o'clock saw a number of people leave Luigi's and go to a truck and depart. We wondered what it could all be about and went back to bed. About 11 o'clock we were awakened by a knock on the door, and in came Luigi and his son. They were very shaken and told us that a party of German soldiers had arrived at 8.30, surrounded the house, and had demanded to know where the 2 "Inglesi" were. They denied all knowledge of us; the Germans searched the house and outbuildings, but of course could find no trace of us.
They then took the boy outside and for half an hour alternately cajoled and threatened him; unless he told them where we were they would shoot him. He denied ever having seen us and at last, apparently satisfied we were not there, they left. Luigi was worried in case they returned, so we dressed, grabbed out kit, which after our previous experiences we kept ready packed, and went to "old Luis" house, which was on the edge of the contrada., furtherest from the road and nearest the getaway path. Also, he had a good watchdog. After a drink of vino, Dan and I retired to the hay shed and buried ourselves in the hay as the night was darned cold by this time.
Next morning we had a confab and decided that it was unsafe to stay around so we went down the valley a bit and found a cave which we fixed up as a temporary abode. Meanwhile, Maria, the eldest girl took a message to the "professori" asking him to find another place to stay. For 4 days we stayed in hiding with only Luigi and his son, knowing where we were. A message from Tonio arrived saying that we could join a large band of partisans, some fifteen miles away. Now, after our first experience of these gentry, we were not too keen about repeating it and, added to this, was the fact that snow had started to fall and travelling was already difficult. Luigi then had an idea, We were to go back to the contrada, say goodbye to everyone, go away down the valley, and that night double back and hide in his daughter-in-law's loft. We were to stay inside the whole time and only Luigi, his wife, son and daughter-in-law would know we were there. In a few days the whole place would be snowed up and we would be safe for the winter. Dan and I talked it over and decided to accept. The plan went off O.K, and that night we crept back after dark and found everything ready for us. Then followed a very boring time and for the next 2 weeks we hardly moved out of our room.
Then came the news that the Allies were making further advances in the south and practically all the Germans from our area were withdrawn and we began to feel easier. On Wed. 17th Nov., Luigi came running into the house and told us that a party carrying rifles was coming along the road. Dan and I ducked out the back, and made a beeline for our hide-out in the cave. A message came later that it was all clear, and we returned, but the damage was done and we must have been seen, as on Friday night, 19th Nov., we were sitting down having dinner when the door suddenly opened and we were looking at the wrong end of an automatic rifle held by a determined looking German. The place was surrounded and resistance was useless. Once again we were prisoners.
The German officer in charge of the party was quite decent about things; he told us to finish our meal and collect our gear. We then sat by the fire and had a smoke. He assured us that the people with whom we were staying would not be harmed and, after thanking them, we set out for the main road. Here we were met by a car and taken to Asiago. We were lodged for the night in the local lock-up and early next morning left by train for Vicenza. Although we were not given any chance to escape again, our escort treated us very well.
At Vicenza we were questioned by the C.O. of the district and when we had satisfied him that we were officers, we were sent on to Padawa, which we reached that night. Here we were lodged in the cage, and found ourselves with a motley crew. The majority were Italians, officers and O.R.s, and about 50 British. There was one other officer, Laurie Krailing, who like us had been recaptured. We stayed at Padawa for 2 days and then were entrained for Germany.
Once more we were in trucks similar to the ones we escaped from but this time our boots were taken away. However, Dan and I made up our minds to have another go as soon as we got moving. We tied paper around our feet and started to make our knives ready. Unfortunately our hopes were dashed to the ground when, just before the train started, a German officer came to the truck and told Laurie, Dan and I to get out. He then apologised to us for putting us in the truck with the O.R.s and took us to the carriage where the German escort were travelling. We were given a compartment with a guard on the door and that was that! Our chance of escaping again had gone with the wind and in 3 days we were in Germany at a place called Mooseburg near Munich in Austria.
Mooseburg was a very large "Stamlager", i.e. a camp where all prisoners are taken, tabulated, and drafted to various camps all over Germany. All nations were represented - British, American, French, Poles, Russians, Slavs, Greeks and others. There must have been about 50,000 altogether. We were taken to the British Officers cage and found there about 500 officers all, like ourselves, from Italy. Our civilian clothes were taken from us and we were given a weird collection of garments in their place. I had a pair of Russian trousers, an English jacket and a French great coat. These, with a pair of German cotton u/pants, completed my wardrobe. As the place was covered with frozen snow, you may guess that I was not very warm.
We were at Mooseburg about 3 weeks during which time we had the good fortune to get Red X parcels and cigarettes, a hot bath, a walk on parole, and a visit to the cinema to see an American film. I also took the opportunity to send you your wireless message and a letter.
Mid-December we left Mooseburg for Marisch Truban, which is in the extreme S.E. part of Germany almost on the border of Czeckoslovakia, actually in Sudetenland. The journey was most uncomfortable. We were 30 to a truck, and the trip took 4 days. We were very glad to arrive I can assure you.
Marisch Truban was a pleasant surprise to us. Originally it was a Czeck Military Academy. The main building was 4 stories high and had accommodation for 1,500. We were housed about 8 to each room, had elec. light, during the winter internal heating, hot showers once a week, a swimming pool (used as a skating rink) a football pitch; Red X parcels and, for most people, plenty of mail and private parcels.
The Entertainment Committee got busy and in a short time we had a very good theatre going. Xmas, however, was pretty dull and definitely the hungriest I have yet spent. All this time the news was improving on the Eastern front, and as we were near the Polish border the camp was wanted for a military hospital, we received orders in May to pack up again.
Our destination this time proved to be Brunswick, which is in Central Germany, west of Berlin. On this trip the Germans were determined that no attempts were made at escaping. We were as before in trucks, but this time each truck had 6 German guards inside; our boots, braces and belts were taken from us and we were handcuffed. In spite of these precautions two officers escaped on the journey and, in our own truck, we managed to cut through two boards, but did not have time to finish the job. The handcuffs I might say did not stay on us long. We picked the locks on them and, after a bit of practise, could shed them in about 10 seconds.
Our move to Brunswick had brought us into the bombed area of Germany. Our camp was originally a Luftwaffe Training Camp, being near a fighter drome, and composed of 8 two storied buildings with rooms holding from 8 to 16 officers in each. Our first view of the camp was rather grim, as 2 buildings on the outskirts had been demolished by bombs, and in the fieds around were a number of huge craters, visible proof that we were in the area visited by the R.A.F. A few days after our arrival our fears were justified, after a wailing of sirens. We had a hectic half hour, during which time the buildings shook and flak dropped all over the camp. The R.A.F. was greeting our arrival by bombing the drome. We prayed that they knew where we were and did not have a go at the camp. From then on raids were almost a daily occurrence and one day we had proof that our campsite was known to the R.A.F. when two planes came down low and machine gunned right around the perimeter.
Red X parcels continued to arrive and, although the German rations were pretty light, we were not exactly hungry. Mail and private parcels improved and everyone, including myself, had a good supply of smokes. In all I had 300 from Canada, 400 from England, 1/2 lb tobacco from the Red X and 2 clothing parcels from you, one sent off in July 43, and the other sent off in Jan 44. The parcel sent in July was extremely useful, having in it everything I needed. My mail in May was the best I have ever had. I received in all 16 letters. Since then it has had a relapse, as I have only had 8 since the end of May till now (24 Sept).
The 24th of August is a day I shall never forget. At 10 a.m. we had a red warning and for an hour nothing happened and we thought that it was a raid on some other town in our area; then, about 11 a.m. the A/A guns in our vicinity opened up and bombs began to fall near the camp on the west side of us. We realised then they were bombing an aircraft factory near us. A large number of incendaries were being used and the smoke from the fires caused by them drifted over the camp. Then, with a terrific explosion, a 500 lb bomb, dropped in an open space right in the middle of the camp. We at once realised that the planes had got off the target and we all ducked for cover. In a few seconds Hell was let loose! Showers of incendaries, & A.P., dropped in the camp and in 10 minutes as many heavy bombs dropped inside the perimeter. All the buildings were set alight but were saved by the prompt action of a few, who braved flying splinters, and A.P. bombs, climbed on to the roofs and put the fires out. The raid lasted about 30 minutes and when the noise of the planes died away we all crept out very shaken to look around, What a sight! On 3 sides of the perimeter large buildings were aflame, and a pall of smoke spread over the whole camp. Inside the camp was a litter of broken tiles, glass and bomb craters. Practically every window in the camp was broken and most of the tiles were gone from the roofs. Luckily the heavy bombs had missed our buildings, but one was grazed by a bomb, and was a wreck.
The building I was in was missed by about 10 yards. The kitchen was wrecked and there were gaping craters in the ground between the buildings. We could not hope to get off unscathed and awaited muster parade with trepidation. When all had been checked we found our numbers decreased by 4 deaths, and about 20 wounded, 1 of whom has since died and many still in hospital. However, all were agreed that, in view of the size and intensity of the raid, we had got out of it very light.
After the raid the camp was completely disorganised. We had no light for 2 weeks. Water at infrequent intervals. No central cooking and as the sewer pipes had been burst, sanitary arrangements broke down in most houses. Today, a month later, we are almost straight again. Everyone in the camp has worked hard; the sewer has been mended, roofs repaired, windows replaced, a new kitchen erected and 2 days ago, water started to come in regularly again. But! our nerves are badly shaken and on the sound of the alarm these days, many hurry to the cellars; as these alarms are pretty frequent they have a busy time.
Now, having brought you up to date, rather sketchily I must admit, I will give you a daily write up and you will get an idea of how our days are filled.
Sept 24. I am a lazy old man these days. Got up at my usual hour (8 o'clock) had a shave, washed and dressed. Ossy Symonds, my half section these days, had a cup of tea made, which we drank and then morning roll call at 8.30. 9 o'clock breakfast, Canadian Red X coffee, a Canadian biscuit soaked in water overnight with a handful of raisins, with cream, made out of Klein powdered milk and a slice of German black bread, Canadian butter and marmalade (Ossy and I reckon that it is a good thing to have as good a meal as possible in the morning, even if you have to go without a bit for the rest of the day), cleaned up the dishes and, as it was raining, sat down and brought this book up to date. At 12.30 we made a fire and got a brew of tea ready for lunch. 1.00 lunch, 4 boiled potatoes, 2 slices bread and German jam (don't ask us what the jam is mde of) and a cup of tea. After lunch, more writing. 3 o'clock - afternoon tea from the cookhouse (no eats). Had my last cigarette at tea time. We are on half issue of Red X supplies now which means only 25 cigs per week. By keeping my cig ends, and re-rolling them, I have managed to last out till now but have 'had it' now until next Wed., which is issue day. Lights went out at 10 o'clock last night. The first warning of a raid at night a "Red" warning (aircraft in area) went at 10.45 and a 'Yellow" (aircraft leaving area) followed by an All Clear went at 11.15. No incidents and a quiet night. Time now 4.15. Roll call is at 6 o'clock, until then I'll read a book.
Monday 25th. Well I didn't read that book after all. I was feeling a bit cold and went up to the concrete for a brisk turn, met L/Col Napier and we talked and walked till 5.30. Roll call 6 o'clock. Dinner, boiled potatoes, 1/4 tin Bully, cup of tea, cleared away. Played bridge with Gordon Young against John Driver and Bill Shaw till 10.30, had a win by 3000 (3 marks). Lights out at 11. No raid, a quiet night. Up at 8 o'clock, cup of tea. Roll call 8.30. Breakfast, Canadian biscuits and raisins, slice of bread and marmalade, cup of tea. Missed my morning cig. 10-11 worked on the windows (we are returning the frames to the Germans for replacement of glass), washed a pair of socks. Ted Heaton came to light with a cigarette (much enjoyed). Will draw a rough plan on the back page to give you an idea of the camp layout. 12.30 lunch, fried some potatoes in German marge and had a cup of tea. After lunch read till teatime. Walked on the concrete till roll call. Batch of mail in, none for me. Dinner, Bully hotpot. In the evening went to an Indian show with Ossy. Interrupted at 9.15 by lights going out. No incidents. A quiet night.
Tuesday 26th. Up at 8, cup of tea. Roll call at 8.30. Breakfast. biscuit porridge made by crushing biscuits and putting in boiling water, bread and marmalade, cup of tea. After breakfast went to see Danny; Hutch gave me a smoke. Went to the canteen and collected matches and French cigarettes for the Coy (I am the Coy Canteen Rep), 1 box of matches per head (the first for two months) and 2&2/5th cigarettes per head. Ossy, who smokes a pipe and has tobacco, gave me his and in return I gave him my matches. Lunch, boiled potatoes, bread and butter, cup of tea. Read a book till tea time. After tea spent an hour breaking up wood with a piece of rock. Mail arrived at 5.20, whoopee! a letter and a snap from Aunt Di. Still no Aussie mail in the camp. It's nearly 2 months since any arrived. 3,000 food parcels arrived here today; they will keep us going a bit longer. Roll call 6 o'clock. Dinner, salmon and potato pie, bread and butter, cup of tea. Have run out of sugar. Still, parcels tomorrow (Wed). Played bridge with Butch Hutchinson, against Clarence Brown and Jimmy Stenning (a weekly match), 2,000 down, lost 2 marks. Lights went out at 10.55 and stayed out nearly all night. Someone must have been "copping it".
Weds 27th. Up at 8. Had a shower - Brrr.... it was cold. Cup of tea. Roll call. Breakfast, a Can. biscuit, bread and marmalade, cup of coffee. Bingo Little gave me a cig. Collected window frames and took them to the main gate to have glass put in. 10.30 collected Beer from the canteen. At 10.30 a Yellow went on the way back, followed by a Red. Opened the remaining windows. If they are left closed they are liable to be blown out by blast. O.K. the yellow has gone, and there is the "all clear" (probably a raid on Berlin and they passed through our area). The cigs have arrived and I have got my issue for the week - 25. Guess they won't last long. Lunch, pea soup. After lunch did a bit of Iti. 3 o'clock tea. Collected Red X parcel, had a bad draw, got a broken parcel, 2 tins P.F. biscuits, 2oz tin cheese, 2 oz tin egg powder, 8oz tin marg, 10oz tin jam, small tin salmon, tin of bacon, tin of bully beef, tin of celery soup, 2oz block of sugar, 4oz block of choc. This, together with German rations, has got to last two of us till next Wed. I had arranged with Danny to swap my chocolate for cigs, but unfortunately our choc and sugar was in small pieces in the bottom of the box. Had a walk on the concrete till roll call. Small mail. Bingo Little the only one in our room to score. Fred Ordish of Canberra, received a 2 Aug from down under, so looks as if a mail is in from home, here's hoping. Dinner, fried meat roll, spinach, potatoes, tea. Went to the theatre to see a variety show, it was jolly good. Some of the 'WOMEN'!? were grand. Just got back to quarters when the lights went out, followed by a Yellow and a Red at 10.15. All Clear at 10.45. A quiet night.
Thursday 28. Roll call 8.30. Breakfast, soaked apricots, bread and jam, tea and a cig. Have decided to keep my cigs for after meals, don't know how long it will last. After breakfast walked for 1&1/2 hours on the concrete. Mail just in - MacMurtry and John Driver the only lucky ones. Went down to the basement and did some washing. When I came back upstairs I discovered that an alarm was on, a Red. Went out on the balcony and watched for nearly 2 hours. Flight after flight of bombers and fighters passed over, very high up. All Clear went at 1.30 and we had lunch, potatoes, fried bread, tea. Read till teatime. Dreary sort of life isn't it? Nothing to do and all day to do it in! Usual walk till Roll Call. Dinner, German hotpot. In the evening went to the flicks and saw a German film. Back to quarters just in time for beat the lights which went out at 9.30. A very clear moonlight night; watched from the balcony the approach ot the bombers. We could see the sparkle of the flak miles away, and then gradually coming closer, till the local battery went into action. They dropped white flares, which changed to green, and red flares, all very pretty but a bit close. Yellow and All Clear went at 10.20, the lights came on, only to go out again at 10.50. No alarm so went to sleep. Awakened at 4a.m. by another Red, too comfortable in bed and no close firing so went to sleep again.
Friday Sept 29. Same old grind. Roll call, breakfast, the last of our Canadian biscuits, and tea. Weather cold but sunny. Went for sharp walk till 10.30 then worked on canteen a/cs till lunch time, squaring up for the end of the month. Lunch, bread and cheese, and cocoa. Walked again till teatime. Very restless and find it hard to settle down to anything. Read a book till 5 o'clock and walked again until roll call. Dinner, salmon & potatoes No mail in the camp tonight, the Germans are starting a new racket; in future all mail will be distributed at morning roll call. More delay! Tonight Ossy and I are gong to the cabaret. Tell you about it later. Just a show; some of the acts were very weak. Came home 9.15, lights went out at 10.30 but no alarm. Quiet night.
Sat 30. Roll call 8.30. Breakfast, bread and jam, tea. Walked most of the morning. Lunch, potatoes, bread. Yellow and Red, a short sharp raid on the drome. Tea. Read a book and made some porridge for the morning. No mail in the camp yet, a bit of a deadlock. Dinner, potatoes, bully, tea. Went to the flicks again, saw the same film as Thursday night. Once again just got back to quarters when out went the lights. No incidents. A quiet night.
Sunday, Oct. 1. Roll call 8.30. Breakfast, porridge, bread and jam, coffee. Worked on a/cs all the morning. Lunch, barley porridge, tea. Weather is getting wet and cold so decided to make a smokeless heater so that we can cook inside., Had it fnished by 5 o'clock. It works swell. Dinner, German stew and veg. In the evening played bridge with Gordon Young, against Lt Col. Napier and Paddy. Lights went out at 10.30, no alarm so went to bed Woke up at 1a.m. with a/a going up in all directions and bombs dropping on the drome. Dived down below. All over in 20 minutes, back to bed.
Monday Oct 2. Roll call 8.30. Breakfast, bread and jam, coffee. Went for walk. 10 o'clock Yellow, 10.15 Red, 10.30 Yellow, 10.45 Red, 11.00 Yellow, 11.15 All Clear. Guess they will have alarms all day soon. Lunch, potatoes, bread and jam, cocoa. Read a book till teatime. After tea went walking with Danny Mulgrave (gave me a cig), mine had run out, but I still have a few "butts". Roll call 6 o'clock. Dinner, made a bully and veg stew. Playing bridge with Bill Shaw, against 2 Sikhs tonight. Play interrupted at 8.20 by lights out, a Red. Came back to our own bungalow, and went out on the balcony to look see. 3 verey lights to the N.W. a few moments later the a/a opened up, very close. Here they come whoosh - whoosh - whoosh. Boy, they are close, about 4 waves, they have shut up the a/a. 9 o'clock all over, thank goodness! Went up on the roof, a good fire burning over to the west about a mile away, near enough, thank you! Mail still a deadlock! Will knock off now, and write you, and Di, a letter. Finished the letters, lights went out again at 10.40. No alarm, a quiet night.
Tuesday Oct 3. Roll call 8.30. Breakfast, bread and butter and tea. Went over to the technical library and got a book on commercial economics. There are a number of books there, mostly American, but should be able to pick up a few hints. Am thinking of opening chain stores in a small way, after the war and am trying to read up the subject. Lunch, potatoes, bread and butter, cocoa. Read till tea. Read and walked till roll call. Dinner, fried some egg powder and bacon, mashed spuds, tea. In the evening played bridge with Butch Hutchinson, against Clarence Brown and Ken Marsh; finished all square. Just finished the last rubber at 10.05 when the lights went out. Went out on the balcony, but no sign of anyhing. The lights did not come on again so went to bed. A quiet night.
Wednesday, Oct 4. Parcel Day!! Roll call 8.30. Breakfast, porridge, bread and butter, tea. Very excited, my name was called out on the mail list this morning and as most of the Aussies have had mail in from home recently I am hoping for the best. Collected letter at 10.30, bad luck not from you. It was from Di. Sept 3 in answer to mine of July 21. Pity we can't get mail from home as quick as that. 11 o'clock collected Red X parcel. 2 tins biscuits, 1/2 lb butter, tin bully beef, bacon, salmon, egg pdr, jam, cheese, chocolate, soap, salt, peas and porridge. Now I have got to work out a menu for two of us out of that for a week! Collected cigs. Ossy got tobacco, so that means another week on 25. Saw Danny Mulgrave and swapped chocolate for 16 fags, that gives me 7 a day, a bit better. Lunch, fried bread and spuds, cocoa. Read till tea. Have had word tht 132 new officers are coming here and 2 of them will be in our room and that will make 12. We are crowding up a bit, still new faces will be a bit of a change. Dinner, salmon and spuds, tea. Lights went out at 8.20. Went to bed.
Thursday, Oct 5. Roll call 8.30. Breakfast, prunes, bread and jam, coffee. To make room for the extra bed, our cupboards have to go out in the passage so I spent the morning making a wall cupboard to keep essentials in. Lunch, dried veg soup, bread and cheese, cocoa. Got a new book, called "Selling"! from the library and read till tea. After tea walked till roll call. Dinner, boiled spuds and bully beef. Started to play bridge, but lights went out at 7.30, several alarms but no incidents. A quiet night.
Friday Oct 6. Breakfast, porridge, bread and butter, tea. The new boys have arrived, 16 to our Coy. We got two Canadians. Had a move around of furniture and a clean up. A Red at 11 0'clock, Yellow at 11.45, All Clear at 12.30. Saw planes passing but they didn't stop, thank goodness. Lunch, boiled spuds,, bread and jam. (We get a nice varied diet, don't we? Guess I won't complain about food when I get home). Carried on straightening up after lunch and finished by teatime. 3 o'clock and now I'll read till 5 o'clock and then go walking. Dinner, roast spuds, bully and peas. Tried to play bridge in the evening but the lights kept going out; apart from a rumbling in the distance, a quiet night.
Saturday, Oct 7. Breakfast, bread and jam, tea. Went for a walk till 10.30 then to the canteen and collected matches etc., for the Coy and dished it out. A Red at 11.15, a large number of planes passed going east and the a/a opened up. Alarm lasted until 1.30 when another group of planes passed going west. Lunch, scrambled egg powder, bread and butter, cocoa. Read "Selling" until tea. Read again till 5 o'clock, walked until roll call. Grand news, a letter for me from Australia. News at last. I collect it tomorrow morning! Will I be waiting on the door step! Dinner, boiled spuds, and bully, tea. The lights only went out once, for an hour so got through some bridge. Gordon and I against Brown and Stenning. Won 4 marks. A quiet night.
Sunday, Oct 8. Breakfast, porridge, bread and butter, tea. Went down and collected letter, 24 July, from Win and I did think it would be from you. Never mind, better luck next time. Will knock off now and write a card. Lunch, potatoes, bread and marg, tea. Watched Basketball finals all afternoon. Dinner, German stew, tea. Played bridge, Gordon & I v. John Driver and Bill Shaw. Won 2 marks. A quiet night.
Monday, Oct 9. Breakfast, bread and German marg, tea. (the larder is getting low). Walked most of the morning. Lunch, barley soup, bread and marg, cocoa. Read until tea. After tea played bridge with Gordon against David Cox and a Canadian. Won by 6000. Dinner, bully beef and boiled spuds. Had an issue of German jam today. Out of milk, no morning tea till Wednesday. Lights just gone out; only for 1/2 hour. Will give bridge a rest tonight and have a read. Tomorrow morning the Coy have an x-ray. Guess I haven't got anything to worry about! Lights went out again, and a Yellow went, no incidents. A quiet night.
Tuesday, Oct 10. No tea this morning (no milk or sugar). Breakfast, sardines, bread & goon jam. After breakfast went over to 2L for x-ray. Went to see Butch (he gave me a cig. Walked till lunch. Boiled spuds, bread & goon jam. Played bridge till tea. Ted Heaton and I v. Bill Shaw & John Driver. Got a letter from England (from Doreen) Sept 22!! How's that 17 days! She says they have had a nice letter from Ruby and that everything is O.K. That will put my mind to rest until I hear from you. After tea went to the flicks and saw a German film. Dinner, bacon and mashed spuds, erstaz coffee, and now wlll write to you, and Doreen! Afraid I didn't get the letters away; Bill asked us to carry on with the bridge so played till ten o'clock. Lost 1 mark. Lights went out so went to bed. A quiet night.
Wednesday, Oct 11. Parcel Day!! Breakfast, bread and jam. Collected parcel, tin butter, marmalade, Klein, 4oz cheese, chocolate, sardines, soap, sugar, 25 cigs. Ossy got cigs so I gave him my last 2oz tin of tobacco for his pipe, and I got his cigs so have 50 this week. Got a message to go to the optician and found out that my specs sent by Di in May have arrived. They are good'o. A number of private parcels arrived this morning. Only 1 for our coy but it is a good sign to see them still coming in. May get one soon, and now I'll write those letters. Lunch, Bratling soup and cocoa. Got the letters away and read till tea. Walked until roll call. Dinner, fried meat roll, boiled spuds, ersatz coffee.
Thursday, Oct 12. Breakfast, sardines, bread and marmalade, coffee. Have been informed that all camp currency is being withdrawn, so worked all morning on a/cs as I have to return all cash to officers in future. We have to work on book entries. Lunch, boiled spuds, bread and jam, tea. A/cs again until tea. Had a Yellow followed by a Red this morning but except for the sound of planes and a rumbling in the distance, we had no incidents. After tea, went for a walk with Ray Conway. We had a long talk about home. Dinner, cottage pie, bread and butter, ersatz coffee. Tonight, if there are no interruptions, Gordon and I are going to play bridge against Ken Marsh and Tony Kelley. A fair mail in today and some private parcels. Glad they are still coming in. May get some cigs soon. Bridge was a washout, lights went out at 8.30. A red alarm. Went out on the bridge and saw a lot of flashes in the north, probably Bremen. A quiet night.
Friday, Oct 13. Breakfast, can biscuits, raisins, bread and marmalade, coffee. A/cs all morning. Got a new book from the library called Retail Store Management and Organisation; an American book by Prof. Robinson & Brisco. Lunch, dried veg soup and cocoa. Settled all cash a/cs; from now on it will be book entries. Mail and parcels still arriving. Dinner, cold bully, boiled spuds. Played bridge with John Driver, against Bill Shaw and Bingo. A quiet night.
Saturday, Oct 14. Breakfast, biscuit porridge. Walked most of the morning. Got another shirt from Red X. Lunch, veg soup, bread and jam, cocoa. Read till tea, and went walking again. Parcel list is up. 60 for this Coy. I have got a clothing parcel, Ossy tobacco, Ted Heaton cigs and MacKenzie clothing. Collect tomorrow. Dinner, German stew, ersatz coffee. Have a splitting head. Think it is my new glasses, not used to them yet. Played bridge with Gordon against Brown & Stenning, a rotten evening, down 1600. Went to bed early, 10.15. Woke up at 2.30am with the sirens wailing, a Red. Flares fell soon after and Brunswick started to cop it. Red lasted till 3.30 and large fires were started, smoke everywhere. They must have hit an ammo dump as for a long time after the raid explosions kept occurring.
Sunday, Oct 15. Breakfast, prunes, bread and marmalade, coffee. Went over to the parcels store but a Red interrupted issue; continued at 10.30 but clothing parcels were put off until tomorrow. Ted got 500 Capstans, and Ossy 4oz 3 Nuns. We have agreed to run a cig pool in the room, each person receiving a cig parcel puts 1/3rd into the pool for distribution so I got 16 cigs from Ted. The fire at Brunswick is sure a 'beaut'. The sun was blotted out this morning and the sky is still heavy this afternoon. Needless to say the water has been cut off. Lunch, barley, bread & jam, tea. Weather mucky. Read all afternoon. Dinner, fried meat roll, boiled spuds, coffee. Tried to play bridge but lights kept going off. A quiet night.
Monday, Oct 16. Breakfast, fried meat roll, bread and marmalade, coffee. Collected parcel from Di sent off 8 June. Swell parcel, 2&1/2 lbs choc, pair of sports shoes, khaki shorts, towel, t.brush, 2 dentifrice, 15 PK, 12 razor blades, 2 summerweight singlets, 2 pr u/pants, tin opener, boot polish and polisher. Gave 1 pound of choc to the boys in the room, swapped the towel and boot polish for 60 cigs so am O.K. for smokes for a while. Lunch, boiled spuds, tea. Read again in afternoon, It is too muddy to walk about much, Water still off, but fire appears to have died down. Terrific damage reported in the town. Dinner, Bully hot pot, bread ration reduced by 1/8th loaf per week. No bridge. Got a cold coming, had headaches for two or three days. Went to bed early. A quiet night.
Tuesday, Oct 17. The days are ticking on, the allies will have to hurry if we are to get out of here this year! Breakfast, Can bisc, and raisins, bread & marmalade, coffee. The Germans have received a new order from the O.K.W. that all Red X food supplies must be kept outside the wire. They started shifting the store today so we got our week's issue a day early. A Canadian parcel between 2 again. Danny had an Australian news letter this morning. It says that the cabinet is considering gratuities for returned servicemen. Hope it comes off, every little helps doesn't it? Lunch bread and cheese, cocoa. Read until 5 o'clock, then walked on the concrete. Roll call is now 5.30 on account of the light. Dinner, meat roll, potatoes, and fresh cabbage, the first for some time and it was appreciated. Got a July letter from Yvette, also a snap tonight, so will knock off now and write to Yvette & Di. A quiet night.
Wednesday, Oct. 18 Breakfast, biscuit porridge. A wet morning. Roll call inside; a Red most of the morning. Lunch, boiled spuds and tea. Cig issue, swapped our Canadian choc for 24 cigs. Am OK for about 3 weeks now. Another Red at 3.30. Did some washing this afternoon as the water was on for an hour. Dinner, salmon pie and ersatz coffee. Another Red this evening. The RAF are certainly busy these days. Lights went on again at 9.15 so played a bit of bridge and now to bed. Night night.
Thursday, 19 Oct. Breakfast, sardines. Another wet day. Stayed in and read all day. Lunch, Bratling soup. Dinner, cold bully, boiled spuds. Played pontoon in the evening. Lost 2 marks.
Friday, 20 Oct. Breakfast, biscuit porridge. Weather a bit better. Saw the sun for a while and went for a walk. Lunch, boiled spuds and cocoa. Bridge this afternoon. Hutch & I against Brown and Stenning, down 600. Dinner, fried meat roll, mashed spuds & chickweed? Tonight bridge (if lights allow). Aug mail from Australia in, am hoping for the best.
Saturday, Oct 21. A Red Letter Day. Darling. I got an Aug 5 letter from you today. We are certainly having a bad spin with mail. I do hope that you have had more by now. Breakfast, raisins and Can. biscuits. Had a job of work in the Red X store for a while this morning. Lunch, pea soup and cocoa. Read till tea,. Went for a walk with Ray till roll call. Dinner, salmon and boiled spuds. Tonight I will write you a letter and then bridge if lights permit. I wil be surprised if they do as we haven't had an alarm for 2 days now, almost unheard of! Wasn't far out, a Red went at 7.45 and lights were out for an hour, however they were not for us and we spent a quiet night.
Sunday, Oct 22. Breakfast, biscuits and raisins, coffee. A new bunch of officers have arrived from the Arnheim show, among them an R.A.M.C. Major, an Australian doctor who was in Aussie last year. He has been giving us an idea (Damn! another Red, guess the lights will be gone soon) of what things are like at home. Lunch, boiled spuds and cocoa. A Red at 2.30 and shortly afterwards several waves of bombers gave Brunswick another work over. Things got warm for a while. After tea another Red at 4 o'clock but it didn't last long. A few booms a long way off. They must have hit a factory this afternoon as a good fire has started and there have been a number of explosions. Dinner, German stew. Out!! 7.30 lights on again, nothing to be seen. Must have been Berlin.
Monday, Oct 23. A rather peculiar happening during the night, a terrific explosion! No alarm or planes. Reckon something blew up as a result of the raid. Breakfast, prunes, bread and marmalade, coffee. Lunch, Bratling soup, cocoa. Dinner, bully fritters, mashed potatoes, ersatz. A lousy day. Wet and cold. Saw a German flm this afternoon, not bad but it was very cold up in the attic and the film was 3/4 of an hour late in starting owing to no current. Water is still off. Two alarms again tonight but no incidents. Very browned off. Am going to bed. Am I fed up with this life! Another alarm at 10 o'clock but otherwise a quiet night.
Tuesday 24. Breakfast, biscuit porridge, coffee. Had a game of Basketball this morning, followed by a cold shower. Very enjoyable. Lunch, boiled potatoes, cocoa. A 2 hour Red this afternoon; a lot of planes passed over. We could not see them on account of the clouds, except for one that came down low firing its cannons. Dinner, salmon pie, ersatz coffee. Started a game of bridge tonight but had only jut started when a Red sounded and the lights went out. It is 9.20 and the lights have only just come on again. The Germans are certainly not getting much peace from raids. News continues to be interesting. Hungary has almost had it. Czeckoslavakia is being attached and now East Russia is being invaded. Belgrade has been abandoned by the Germans, also Athens. On the west we are advancing into Holland. It surely can't last much longer. There are two schools of thought here (a) that Montgomery is buiilding up for a terrific onslaught which will sweep through and finish the war this year (b) that we will builid up during the winter and finish in the spring. Needless to say which one I am hoping for.
Wednesday 25. Breakfast, bread & cheese, coffee. Did some book- keeping and then started washing. Lunch, dried cabbage soup, bread and jam. tea. Continued washing, a Red sounded at 11 o'clock, all clear at 1.30. Read from tea until roll call. Dinner, tinned steak, boiled potatoes. So far the lights have not gone out yet, touch wood. Played pontoon tonight, won 5 marks. This week we do not have parcels but Argentine Bulk, most of it goes into central messing but each pair is issued with 1 lb butter, 5oz choc, 8oz sugar 4/5ths tin of jam, 2/5ths tin honey, tin condensed milk and a packet of biscuits plus 25 cigs. The steak we had for dinner tonight was part of the issue, and a very agreeable change to Bully, and now to bed. Night night. Send me a letter tomorrow please!
Thursday 26. Breakfast, bread and cheese, coffee. Lunch, boiled spuds, cocoa. Dinner, cottage pie and tea. The weather is getting colder and winter is fast approaching. Another squabble about mail is cropping up. None today. The S.B.O. is fighting it out with the Commandant, and we are hoping for the best. Spent most of the day reading Tom Jones. Had a short game of bridge this afternoon., Only one Red so far today. Lasted 2 hours but not in our area.
Friday 27. Breakfast, fried meat roll, fried bread. Lunch, pea soup. Dinner, Bully and boiled potatoes.
Saturday, Oct 28. Breakfast, soaked prunes. Lunch, boiled spuds. Dinner, more mashed pots. A very wet day. Roll call inside. Squared up canteen a/cs. Played bridge this afternoon. Mail has been fixed up again. Over 1100 letters in this morning. Out of cigs and fed up. A Red warning this morning, but no incidents.
Sunday, Oct 29. Breakfast, bread & cheese. Lunch, millet. Dinner, bully fritters, boiled spuds. Bad weather continued. Read all day.
Wednesday, Nov. 1. Breakfast, bread & honey. Lunch boiled spuds. Dinner, sausage ? & mash. No parcels today as new arrangement for distribution. Should get 1/2 Can. parcel tomorrow. Issue of 25 cigs today. Roll call altered again. Weather getting bad and roll call in future inside 8.30 & 6 o'clock, rather a longwinded affair but better than standing around in the rain. 2 Reds today. Lights out from 8 till 10 tonight. Heard a lot of planes going over but they didn't stop, thank goodness. Probably Berlin again. Am giving up hope of getting out this year but it should be early next; let's hope I will be home by 22 May!
Thursday, Nov. 2. Breakfast, prunes. Lunch, pea soup. Dinner, meat roll, b.potatoes, dried beans. The R.A.F. are certainly busy these days! Planes floating around most of the day with the local a/a having an occasional pop at them. Lights out and a Red from 7.15 to 9 o'clock.
Friday, Nov 3. Breakfast, bisc porridge. Lunch, boiled spuds. Dinner, bully hot pot. R.A.F. having a rest today, no alarm until tonight and then only a short Yellow. The first time lights have not gone out for a week. Just had word that 250 private parcels have arrived. They will be sorted tomorrow. Hope I am lucky enough to get some cigs. Mail slow again. If I don't get one tomorrow, I will drop you another card. 11 o'clock, time for lights out. Night night.
Walter Cloutman, having been released from captivity, was flown to the UK on the 4th May 1945, but due to convalescence it was not until the 8th August that he left the country for his native Australia. Sailing in the "Orion", he disembarked in Sydney on the 21st September. In the years that followed, Walter Cloutman owned and ran several businesses, including a general store, a newsagency and a service station. He died in 1987. My thanks to his children, Margaret Elvis, Marilyn Anderson and Darrell Cloutman, for their kind permission to display his diary.
Return to POW Stories Menu