Second Lieutenant A. D. Rowan-Hamilton

 

National Archives catalogue reference - WO 208/3307/25

 

Name: 2/Lt. A. D. Rowan-Hamilton

Unit: Black Watch.

Captured: St. Valery, 12th June 1940.

Escaped: Biberach, 13th September 1941.

Left: Gibraltar, 6th July 1942.

Arrived: Gourock, 12th July 1942.

Army Service: 3 years.

Peacetime Profession: Army.

Private Address: Bonkyl, Duns, Berwickshire.

 

I was platoon commander of A Coy, 1 Bn. Black Watch, which was, with B Coy, holding a position overlooking the village of ST PIERRE on 11 Jun 40. At 1800 hrs we were shelled by mortars and machine-gunned and it was decided by B Coy Comdr to withdraw. As we were under fire there was some confusion and I found myself with my Coy Comdr and about 50 men of A and B Coys in a wood where we hoped to find C and D Coys. We spent the night there and in the morning received orders to march into ST VALERY. There I was left with 2 other subalterns and 50 men in a school, while the Coy Comdr went to reconnoitre. About 0900 hrs German tanks drove into ST VALERY and 2 Germans with L.M.Gs occupied the only exit to our billet and demanded our surrender. We were taken to the main square and later officers were separated from the men before we began our march to HOLLAND.

 

In Germany I was first sent to Oflag VII C/H (Laufen) and then to Stalag XXID (POSEN). Finally in Jun 41 I was sent to Oflag VB (BIBERACH). Soon after my arrival there a tunnel was begun (in account by Lt. DUNCAN (S/P.G.(G)639)). I acted as outside guard during the construction of this tunnel and was one of the last to leave it on the night of 13 Sep 41.

 

Night of 13/14 Sep 41:

 

I entered the tunnel at about 0245 hrs. The man in front did not signal his departure as arranged so there was some delay. I left the tunnel at approximately 0330 hrs on Sunday, 14 Sep, and followed the tracks of preceding officers. Half way across a field I noticed that I had lost my water-bottle, which I had bought from a P/W from Greece who had smuggled it in. I went back a little way, but being still in full view of the sentries, had to give it up. I crossed a ploughed field and a potato field and turned right under cover of the potatoes, when I could crawl on hands and knees.

 

I was soon out of sight of the sentries, so stood up and set out for the rendez-vous point, where a road running north entered a wood about one mile West of the Camp. The country is quite open but I had to use my compass. I had arranged to meet two friends, Lt. BURNABY ATKINS, The Black Watch and Lt. FLETCHER, Rifle Brigade, who had left the tunnel considerably ahead of me. Owing to the delay in the tunnel and the late hour I did not expect to find them and this proved correct.

 

The original plan was to proceed N.W. I sat down for five minutes to rest and think. Morale was very low owing to the loss of my water bottle, thirst and the fact that, quite unexpectedly, I was alone. It was getting near dawn, so I decided to get as far away from the Camp as possible - i.e. continue due West. I followed a ride in a wood, then a path across fields and then entered another wood. There was a choice of two rides which forked at a narrow angle. I chose the wrong one and got lost. I retraced my steps, took the other ride, and - as I emerged from the wood - realised that dawn was breaking. I was in a panic at the lack of water, so continued across country to the next wood, which I could see quite clearly. There, on the edge of the wood, I luckily found water and, after drinking my fill, lay up in good cover.

 

Hide-up first day, Sunday 14 Sep:

 

I cut some fir branches to lie on and kept dry and comfortable. I put on extra pants and vests, changed my socks and wrapped my feet in dry parts of my trousers, which I had taken off. I took off my coat and put on a ground sheet, with my coat over my legs. I spent all day lying thus and was quite warm but unable to sleep, as I was overexcited and not tired. Morale was bad - I was bored and missed company. Water was now my problem, but I was not at all hungry and had to force myself to eat four small meals, at 0530, 1130, 1530 and 1930 hrs. It started to rain at 1800 hrs and I packed up as soon as it was dark and set off.

 

Night march, 14/15 Sep:


I set off on a compass bearing across open country which was easy going. The Camp searchlights could still be seen, and I realised what a very short distance I had covered the night before. The sentries were obviously jittery and kept turning their searchlights on. I continued due West until I found myself bogged in a swamp. I fell into a ditch and eventually had to retrace my steps for about half an hour as this was the only way of getting out. I realised that this was the swamp around BUCHAU LAKE. I decided to follow a road southwards and then take the first road running West, as I assumed the road would take me safely over the swamp. But the first road West that I took ended under water, so I had to retrace my steps again. I eventually got on to a main road running slightly North of West. It was raining very hard, morale was low, and I decided to take the risk and follow it. Twice I met bicycles, but their lights warned me and I was able to take cover in a ditch. Taking into consideration the filthy weather and the fact that it was midnight I think these must have been military or police patrols.

 

I reached a village but could not strike a light to read the name owing to the presence of two girls. I went through the village, crossed a narrow-gauge single-track railway and was almost certain the village was BUCHAU.

 

The rest of the night was a nightmare. I continued to go across country but my compass had got wet and was not working satisfactorily. At one time I found myself marched East which shook me badly. It was a dark, rainy and overclouded night. When the moon got up I thought dawn was about to break, so I reconnoitred a hide-out for the day. I tried to sleep but was too wet and cold, and I eventually realised that it was only 0200 hours and not dawn. I was getting rather light-headed but set off in a westerly direction. I could see no wood and was afraid of dawn catching me in the open. (It is important to have a watch. I had none). My eyes began to play tricks on me, and so did my ears. I was hoping to cross the railway running North and South through SAULGAU. I kept imagining that I heard trains, but it can only have been the wind in the trees. I met a man crossing a field - a bad moment - but his presence there was presumably as questionable as mine for he said nothing. I reached another wood and tried to improve my compass but only made it worse. I then decided to lie up and wait for dawn.

 

Hide-up 2nd day, 15 Sep:

 

Much the same as the day before. I slept a little - it rained slightly - I was not hungry and tried to repair my compass. I had only a vague idea as to my position but knew I could not be far out. I decided that, when it got dark, I would march S.W. and would then hit either the railway to my South or one running through SAULGAU.

 

Night March, Monday 15 Sep:

 

I started before it was dark and worked South along the edge of a wood, hoping to be able to spot my position before it got dark. I struck S.W. across the valley and found a signpost saying "SAULGAU". I crossed the mainroad running N.W. to SAULGAU, continued across country and crossed the railway just South of SAULGAU. Morale was now very high, the night was clear and stars made it much easier to steer a course. There were convenient tracks which made for very good going, but there was very little water and I was thankful to get a drink at a village pump 7 kms from OSTRACH.

 

Approaching OSTRACH from the N.E., I turned West just before reaching it in order to avoid the town. I crossed a road running N.N.W. and entered a wood where I got lost but eventually struck a track running west. I reached a cross-roads and found a signpost saying 8 kms to PFULLENDORF. There was no water about and I was very thirsty and I decided I would have to drink at PFULLENDORF pump. To do so I would have to reach the village well before dawn. I would have to hurry, but was tired and for the first time footsore. It required a great effort to quicken my pace and I was panicky lest I should not get there in time. I found a large puddle in the road which was not very clean, but I drank my fill and continued walking at a less exacting speed. Shortly afterwards I emerged from the wood, crossed a stream and turned N.W. to avoid PFULLENDORF. It was open country and I began to look for a hide-out. There were no woods to be seen in the bright moonlight. I got involved in a big village, left it to the North and made for the only wood I could see. My feet were very sore for the last bit. The wood proved useless. It was getting light as I struck westwards to another wood. I tried to jump a stream and fell in, but found that the wood was good for hiding in.

 

Hide-up 3rd day, Tuesday 16 Sep:

 

My feet were horribly bloated and blistered but I had made a very successful night's march and my morale was very high, as I knew my position to be N.W. of PFULLENDORF.

 

Night march, Tuesday 16 Sep:

 

I set off S.W., crossed a railway, followed it for a bit, then took a road going S.W. again and then went cross country for some way. The country was becoming more difficult so I followed the road to STOCKACH. I had to get into the ditch when a lorry passed but otherwise saw no-one. I crossed the railway at STOCKACH, took a road running N.W., found a track running West and followed it. I got lost in a wood and found I was going South and had been doing so for some time. Eventually I got a chance of emerging from the wood by descending a steep slope. Not until I was well embroiled did I realise that the slope was almost vertical and covered with tenacious and prickly climbing undergrowth. It was lucky that this was strong as at one time I was suspended head down by the heels. It took me a long time to fight, cut and push my way down the slope and I was torn, exhausted and lost by the end. The moon was up and showed the country to be covered with small steep hills. I could find no roads running West and decided to strike N.E. until I hit the railway and then start again. Dawn interrupted me and I had to climb a cliff-like hill to lie up.

 

Hide-up 4th day, Wednesday 17 Sep:

 

I lay down completely exhausted, my feet were bad and I was lost. Morale was low. I ate some apples that I had collected but all other food revolved me and I only managed to eat a little.

 

Night March, Wednesday 17 Sep:

 

I set off before dark, going along the edge of a wood in order to try and spot my position. I soon found myself looking down on to the railway and the village of BLEICH and the place where I had left the road the night before. I decided, owing to the difficulty of the country, to stick to roads. As soon as it was dark I set off along a road going N.W. In the first five minutes I had to jump into a ditch three times because of bicyclists. I decided this was too dangerous so took the first track I found running West. This ended in a village so I went across country. I got lost in the woods again and eventually emerged on to a track running North and South which I recognised from the map, so I followed it till I hit the main STOCKACH - ENGEN road. I followed this to EIGELATINGEN, then went across country to AACH. I crossed the river at AACH by the main road and took the EHINGEN road. I had intended to get S.W. of DUCHTLINGEN that night, but it was now 0330, my feet were sore and I was going very slowly. It was not worth the risk of being seen going into my final hide out in daylight so I decided to stop for the night.

 

Hide out 5th day, Thursday 18 Sep:

 

I slept until dawn, then made a bed and changed my clothes. My feet were bad, but morale was good. I was within 10 miles of the frontier and intended to cross it next night. I spent the day sleeping and studying the map.

 

Final Night March, Thursday 18 Sep:

 

My route was to be entirely across country, as I did not intend to get caught on a road so near the frontier. To march in a westerly direction by compass is quite easy, but to march on a bearing with the idea of arriving at a definite spot proved very much more difficult, with the result that I was unable to avoid roads and villages as completely as I had hoped.

 

I left all luggage behind in a hide-out and carried only gloves, cap, comforter for crossing the frontier and ovosport, Horlicks' tablets and meat cubes in case I should have to spend one more day on the frontier.

 

I set off at dusk. I left the road N.W. of EHINGEN and struck S.S.W. for the road-river junction just North of MULHAUSEN. There were a lot of drainage ditches about and I hit a big one which I assumed to be the one marked on the map. I followed it West to cross it by a road bridge. I realised I was in the southern outskirts of EHINGEN and followed the road South to MULHAUSEN. I walked in an orchard 100 yards to the right of the road until I hit the river marked on the map, which is unjumpable. I turned left till I hit the road, crossed the river and then turned S.W. through an orchard. I crossed river and road quite easily.

 

I now received a surprise. I had expected to traverse low ground between the two high points of HOHENKRÄHEN and HOHENSTOFFELN, but I found that on crossing the railway I was faced with a definite ascent and there was no very clear view of either of the high points. Also it is difficult to distinguish woods in the dark, and it was obvious that there were more woods on the ground than those marked on the map. As the only real check on my course was a certain wood and as I also had to change direction there, it was essential that I should not miss it. I decided therefore to go due South and hit the road entering DUCHTLINGEN.

 

I began to climb, crossed several roads and tracks not marked on the map and then, descending, hit the DUCHTLINGEN road. However I was not certain, so I followed it into the village. I checked up on my position and set my course S.W. by the compass. The sky was overclouded but the stars were still of some use. I recognized the wood I was looking for. The woods on HOHENSTOFFELN were visible too and I continued S.W. until I crossed a small road and hit the railway.

 

I knew that the AUTOKURS, on a big road, ran North of the railway from HILZINGEN to RIEDHEIM and then South of it, and as I had not crossed the road I decided I was West of RIEDHEIM. I decided to check up on my position before attempting to cross the frontier, so I walked East along the railway as I thought towards RIEDHEIM. But I reached HILZINGEN, so I must have been mistaken in the dark as to the size of the road I had crossed North of the railway. I followed the AUTOKURS road back the way I had come - it was signposted heavily as Route XIII, which I thought ominous! I returned through RIEDHEIM until the road went under the railway. I did not realise the village was RIEDHEIM. As I did not dare follow the road under the railway I turned right and followed the railway. I was now more or less lost - I was uncertain as to the position on the map of HILZINGEN and did not know the name of the present village. I decided to strike my last few matches and look at my map. This I did and realised at once that I was in the right place, just West of RIEDHEIM. I turned S.W. and crossed the railway and the road. I had intended to crawl over the frontier from here, but after experiments I decided this was not necessary for the following reasons:

 

        1) The hillside sloped up from me towards the frontier, therefore I should never be silhouetted.

        2) It was very dark, I was darkly dressed with my face and hands covered and therefore I should be almost invisible.

        3) There was grass underfoot. It makes less noise to raise one foot carefully over grass and put it down gently than to crawl through grass.

        4) I knew how exhausting crawling is, and to have control of my breath and muscles if I should see a sentry would be invaluable.

 

I therefore set out walking, lifting one foot, putting it down gently and then listening before moving the other foot. I crossed a path and a stream only a few feet from each other. The stream was 6 feet broad but only had a few inches of water in it so I crossed easily.

 

I could see a wood on the frontier, half left. I passed 500 yards to the West of it, through an orchard. I followed a line of trees as I was now crossing the horizon. I crawled about 200 yards of what I thought was the crest, crossed a path, and then turned South, walking carefully. I passed within 100 yards of the wood on the right. After passing it, I hit a road and turned right into THAYNGEN.

 

I was now almost certain I was in THAYNGEN, where I intended to give myself up to the Swiss authorities, but thought I had better check up on it. By the light coming from one of the several unblackedout windows I looked at my map and then set off to see if I could find the roads leaving THAYNGEN as shown on my map.

 

There was quite a lot of people about and considerable interest was taken un my shabby appearance and halting gait. Matches were struck in front of me. A torch was flashed on me and a man in the uniform of the Swiss Frontier Guards accosted me. He said it was his job to know everyone in the town, but that he had never seen me before. I told him I was a British Officer. He took me to the Customs Office. I saw the time was nearly six. By 7 o'clock I had been taken down to the police station, where, with 11 Frenchmen who had crossed that night, I was given chocolate to drink and bread to eat. I was later removed by a civilian who took my particulars. He then took me and the Frenchmen and handed us over to the SCHAFFHAUSEN police.

 

I was searched and put in a cell at about 1100 hrs. A few hours later I descended to give my life history again. I suggested that I should be put in a hotel and said it was not done to imprison British officers - the British Consul would pay. I was told something might be done but I would have to remain in a cell until the next day. I was glad to do so as I was very tired. I slept the clock round twice and at lunch time next day I asked how long I was to stay in the cell. I could not get hold of anybody in authority as they had all knocked off for the weekend, it being Saturday afternoon, so it looked as thought I should be there till Monday at the earliest.

 

On Sunday, however, I was sent for by the "Hauptmann" who apologised for keeping me in a cell, but said he had no choice but to do so until he heard from the Swiss military authorities, whom he had already informed of my arrival. He said I would go to BERNE in a day or two but meanwhile refused to communicate, or let me communicate, with the British Legation.

 

Almost immediately after this, Captain WOOLLATT (S/P.G.(G)638) arrived and was put in my cell. On Monday, two Dutch officers arrived and shortly after we all went to an hotel, apparently on the orders of the Swiss Army Authorities.

 

In prison we had been fed on soup and bread twice daily. In the hotel we could do what we liked but were not allowed to leave it. We spent Monday and Tuesday nights in the hotel and left for BERNE on Wednesday morning, 24 Sep.

 

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