Private William F. Hewitt
Unit : C Company, 2nd South Staffordshires; 1st Airlanding Brigade, 1st Airborne Division.
Served : North-West Europe (captured).
Army No. : 14585465
POW No. : 117597
Camps : Stalag XIB.
In 1939, William Hewitt was employed in an aircraft factory, building Spitfires. In 1943 he joined the British Army and was posted to the 2nd Battalion of the South Staffordshires, part of the 1st Airborne Division. The Division was the vanguard of the ill-fated Operation Market Garden, and on the 17th September 1944 they were dropped into Arnhem, Holland. During the furious battle that followed, William Hewitt was wounded in the chin by a mortar fragment; he was captured on the 25th September.
To read more of William Hewitt's experiences at Arnhem, go to http://www.pegasusarchive.org/arnhem/william_hewitt.htm
Sept 24th -
Efforts were made to withdraw the remaining fighting force across the river. I had no idea where the withdrawal was taking place. I stayed to help the wounded.
Sept 25th at Temp Hospital -
All now 'Prisoners-of-War'. We were loaded on trucks and taken to Apeldoorn Hospital and only then saw the destruction of houses etc. - and masses of civilians walking along the streets - to where?
In this hospital I remained for 2 days - given food - but conditions were dreadful. People suffering pain and smell of decaying flesh from wounds.
Sept 27th 10.00 am -
Walking wounded and stretcher cases loaded into railway cattle-wagons. At night the wagons set off for the journey to Fallingbostel, North Germany. It took 4 days, at night pulling into stations and some being bombed by the R.A.F.
All this time the wagon doors were closed except for 'occasional' convenience. I cannot remember having food or drinks. On passing through stations en route German civilians jeered, calling us "Churchill's Butchers".
October 1st -
Afternoon we arrived at Fallingbostel and having to lift out dead and stretcher cases - walking wounded pushed to the road - counted by guards and marched 1 mile (2km) uphill to STALAG 11B.
Here we were asked for "activity information" and any "valuables" were taken from us. Stretcher cases taken to hospital, others into huts - isolating us from 'long-term' prisoners-of-war' - into appalling conditions.
I was in Stalag 11B and given only meagre food and drink.
Mid October -
150 Airborne troops (various regiments) were elected to go and work down the "lead mine" under the Hertz Mountains. I was one of the '150'. We were once more put into railway wagons to make the 24 hour journey to the small mining village of Bad Grund. Conditions improved here - we 150 men were allocated 2 rooms - each containing 3-tier bunk beds (75 in each room) - facilities were down below.
Work 'shift routine' was decided by German 'mine' officers, i.e.:
Work parties to clean and cook for mine workers, working 11 floors down mine, 8 hours each shift, 6 days a week.
At each mine face were 2 forced Labour (Dutch, French etc)
1 German miner
Cooks and mine workers alternating each week, early and late shift. Meat sparse, cabbage soup was the worst meal but our cooks did a super job for us with whatever they had.
After 6 weeks all felt much fitter, but needed to improve our diet, which could only be achieved by the advent of Red Cross parcels. Complaints were made to German Commandant, stating production 'MAY BE' improved with the arrival of food parcels. Eventually were informed "Parcels had arrived at the 'railway siding 17km away." But no transport available.
At this point I would explain that we 150 POW's were paid 200 DM per person per month.
170 DM per person being deducted by the Germans for our "keep".
30 DM for ourselves.
During the following nights after shift and after payday, we would play card games using our DM as 'stakes'. The winner gave all the Deutschmarks to our appointed leader, who tried to buy razor-blades or a 'lager' to drink.
Then, how to obtain our Red Cross parcels: we were told a cart was available, knowing this and the DM that our leader had, a horse was purchased from a local farmer (and was later butchered and eaten).
The German Commandant stated the rules to enable us to collect these parcels:
1 German soldier would accompany
2 English POWs on condition - we gave 50% of our complete cigarette allocation to him.
Parcels arrived, we decided 2 persons would share 1 parcel per week. As weeks passed we were allowed 'pit head showers'. Each Sunday and feeling fitter we needed recreation - football and boxing were the answer.
1944 Xmas came and went. Where were our armies? - we asked ourselves.
March 1945 -
Now it is almost over and things are happening i.e. 100 POWs arrived at our camp, they had been marched around Germany for 5-6 weeks, were in a dreadful state and we were told to prepare to join them next day.
Next Day 8.00 am -
We began the walk towards Berlin, sleeping in fields huddled together for warmth at night. On our 5th morning, German guards disappeared. American forces had taken over.
April 14th 1945 -
We are freed in the town of 'Halberstat'. First aims: how to get home quickly to my wife and 16 month old son.
First obtain a car, this I and my buddies accomplished and set off for Calais, but 2 hours later the car broke down and Americans came to our aid - also with food and billeted us in a house for one night.
Next Day 6.00 am -
They had another car for us, telling us to get moving quickly - we did so arriving at Hildersheim midday.
There an American MP asked "Where are you making for?" ENGLAND! I said. He then suggested we drive to Hildersheim airfield from where we would be flown to England.
Here we registered our names and were placed on flight lists. There were hundreds of ex POWs and being the last to arrive - we would be the last out. But our car was now in great demand by airfield controllers and I was no way prepared to hand it over unless I was given an early flight. This I was given the next day. I and the car waited on the airfield until 6.00 pm (18.00 hrs). When I boarded the plane I handed over the car and the keys as agreed.
It is now 16th April 1945 -
Two days later I was home with my family and to be happy once more.
Thanks to William Hewitt for contributing his story to the site.
Offsite Links: The Battle of Arnhem Archive.
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