Driver J. Smith

 

National Archives catalogue reference - WO 208/3307/4

 

Name: T/95011 Dvr. Smith, J.

Unit: 3 G.H.Q. R.A.S.C., attached to the 51st (Highland) Division.

Captured: St. Valery-en-Caux, 12th June 1940.

Escaped: Near St. Valery-ex-Caux, 15th June 1940.

Left: Gibraltar, 30th December 1941.

Arrived: Gourock, 4th January 1942.

Army Service: 2 years, 4 months.

Peacetime Profession: Motor Driver.

Private Address: Locomotive Inn, 373, Rochdale Road, Collyhurst, Manchester, 9.

 

I was captured at ST. VALERY-EX-CAUX about 1600 hrs. on 12 Jun 40 and was frisked by a German Corporal in the presence of an officer. I had no pay-book or documents, as I had burned them. I was not interrogated, and at no time while I was in German hands was I even asked my name. We were treated very badly and got nothing to eat. If we spoke, the German guards kicked us and hit us with their rifles.

 

My friend Dvr. Ellis, V., of the same company (whom I last saw at ST. HIPPOLYTE) was with me, and we decided to escape as soon as possible. We were kept for two days on a farm near ST. VALERY, and on the third day we were marched off. About 10 kms. from ST. VALERY we stopped to rest, and while the guards were talking, ELLIS and I slipped into a cornfield. We stayed in the field till night and then went to a house, where the man took us in and gave us food. He wanted us to stay there, but we were afraid the Germans might search for us, so after he gave us some civilian clothes we moved on. We slept during the day and walked on at night. After three nights we came to LENS, which we skirted, and went on to ARRAS. From there we continued to POMMIER, where we had billeted. We spent a week in POMMIER till work was found for us on a farm near the village of L'HERLIERE, between ARRAS and DOULLENS. We stayed there for about eight months, working in exchange for board and lodging.

 

Just before Christmas a neighbouring farmer introduced us to a girl from the village of BAVINCOURT, in the same district, who said she could get us to a British Consul in the South of France. About 4 Jan 41 we went to the girl's home in BAVINCOURT for three days. During that time a priest took our photographs and gave us identity cards. At 0800 hrs on 7 Jun the priest took us to the main road and told us to get on a bus on which we would see a woman in a grey coat and a green hat next whom we were to sit. At the nearest railway station we entrained from ABBEVILLE with the Frenchwoman. On the train we met another Frenchwoman with Cpl. THOMAS, J.R. (S/P.G.(-)473). At ABBEVILLE we were given identity papers to enable us to leave the Zone Interdite. This we did by crossing a canal footbridge, and caught the train at another station in ABBEVILLE for PARIS. In PARIS we all stayed the night in a hotel near the station.

 

On 8 Jan we caught a train at 0900 hrs for DAX, South of BORDEAUX. From there we went by electric train to SALIES DE BEARN, where on 9 Jan, we crossed the Line of Demarcation. We crossed without being seen by the German guards and had no difficulty with the French gendarmes. We walked to the nearest village across the boundary and went by bus and train to PAU. After a fortnight in PAU we went to MARSEILLES. Our original French guide and another woman who had accompanied us from SALIES DE BEARN left us in MARSEILLES (24 Jan) and we went to the Seaman's Mission, as we had no money left. Two days later the police arrested us and took us to FORT ST JEAN. The place was so filthy I did not stay there even one night, but walked out with Pte. ROYSTON, F. (now in MIRANDA).

 

ROYSTON and I returned to MARSEILLES. An Englishman gave us the equivalent of 4 in French francs, and with this money we went to a different hotel each night, leaving early next morning to avoid the police control at 0500 hrs. We lived like this for about a fortnight, feeding at the Mission.

 

With our last 200 frs. we went by train to CANNES and MONTE CARLO, but in neither of those places nor in CETTE, which we tried later after a brief stay in MARSEILLES, was it possible to get a boat for SPAIN. We therefore returned to PAU.

 

In PAU we met a man claiming to be from the 2-eme Bureau who said he could get us across the PYRENEES at a cost of 3000 frs. each. Another man, also claiming to come from the 2-eme Bureau, said we could get from CETTE to BARCELONA by ship for the same price. We got in tough with British friends in MARSEILLES, one of whom came to PAU and said 1000 frs. would be put down immediately for the voyage from CETTE and the rest paid on arrival in BARCELONA. Accordingly, we went to CETTE. With us were:- Dvr. GREEN, T.P. (S/P.G.(F)715), Sigm. MACDONALD, L.R. (S/P.G.(F)479), and Gnr BICHENO, B. (in ST HIPPOLYTE). In CETTE we met a clergyman who sent us to a hotel. Four days later the police interrogated us at the hotel about the clergyman who had apparently been denounced. We denied knowing him, but were arrested and sent to MONTPELLIER, where we were again interrogated about those who had helped us. We did not disclose anything.

 

Two days later we were sent to ST HIPPOLYTE. After a fortnight I escaped by cutting through some wire in a latrine in the afternoon and slipping out at night. I waited inside the fort for at least an hour for another man who was to have followed me. As he did not turn up, I got out of the camp and walked alone to NIMES, where an American sheltered me for a week. Another American then took me to his house in MONTPELLIER. There I was joined by ROYSTON who had also got out of ST HIPPOLYTE and had been in hospital in NIMES.

 

During Sep ROYSTON and I made an unsuccessful attempt to cross the PYRENEES from PERPIGNAN and LAROQUE. The guide left us in the mountains and ROYSTON and I separated. I returned to MONTPELLIER. I did not see ROYSTON again till he arrived in MIRANDA just before I left.

 

About 20 Sep I again left MONTPELLIER. I went by train to PERPIGNAN and walked to LAROQUE. I reached there at dawn (21 Sep) and walked on into the mountains without a guide. On the French side of the frontier I met two Spanish "Reds" who were living in a little hut. After dark they put me on a path to FIGUERAS, which I reached about 0800 hrs next morning. I was arrested by the Spanish police and sent to BARCELONA and MIRANDA DEL EBRO, where I was detained for 11 weeks before the British Consul secured my release.

 

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