Sergeant Samuel Herbert Cooke

 

National Archives catalogue reference - WO 208/3324/110

 

Name: 7011496 Sgt. Cooke, Samuel Herbert.

Unit: Royal Sussex Regiment, 44th Brigade.

Captured: Hazebrouck, 27th May 1940.

Escaped: Stalag VIIIB, Lamsdorf, 22nd April 1944.

Date of Birth: 22nd March 1912.

Army Service: Since 23rd April 1931.

Peacetime Profession: Regular Army.

Private Address: 3, Boyd's Terrace, Lisburn, Co. Antrim, N. Ireland.

 

1. CAPTURE.

 

I was captured at HAZEBROUCK on 27 May 40.

 

2. CAMPS IN WHICH IMPRISONED.

 

Stalag VIIIB (LAMSDORF) (Central Europe, 1:250,000, Sheet P.51, H.9461): mid-Jun 40 - 22 Apr 44.

Also at working camps attached to Stalag VIIIB

        At HINDENBURG: Apr - May 41.

        At RATIBOR: Jun - Sep 43.

 

3. ATTEMPTED ESCAPES.

 

(a) First Attempt.

 

My first attempt was in Nov 40. I got out through the fence at about 2200 hours. There were lights round the camp, but they only used shed pools of radiance, and did not illuminate large patches of ground. I had timed the sentries, and managed to get through the wire unseen. I was in battle dress, and walked for about 30 km. On the outskirts of NEISSE (Central Europe, 1:250,000, Sheet P 51, H 75) I went into a barn to sleep, and was discovered there next morning by two German policemen. They took me to a Police Station in NEISSE, and the following day an escort arrived and took me back to STALAG VIIIB by train. I was given 14 days' cells, and bread and water for this attempt.

 

(b) Second Attempt.

 

About Apr - May 41 I offered to take a working party and go to the coal mines at HINDENBURG, SILESIA (Sheet Q 51, X 47), as I thought that I should have a good chance of escaping to POLAND from there. We lived in wooden huts and I was responsible for the cookhouse which was outside the actual hutments.

 

After five days I went to the cookhouse and did not return. I left at about 1700 hrs, and walked all night, to the other side of HINDEBURG. I got into a stationary goods train, which eventually started travelling East. Early next morning I got off the train (it halted quite frequently) and hid in the forest all day. At night I got into another goods train, and hid in a truck of timber. About five miles out of KRAKOW (Sheet Q 51, Z 24) in the very early hours of the morning, I left the train and walked towards the city. While in STALAG VIIIIB, and later in the working party, I had made friends with a Polish Corporal who gave me an address in KRAKOW where he said I could obtain help. I had learned quite a lot of German and a few words of Polish. I had committed the address to memory and torn up the paper on which it had been written.

 

I walked in the city, still in British battle dress, and came to the main railway station, which was near the street that I wanted. Here a German patrol halted me, asking for papers. I tried to bluff, but eventually had to say I had none, and was a British P/W from STALAG VIIIB. I purposely did not say I came from a working party, as I knew that the guards got into trouble over escapes, and revenged themselves on the other PW. The patrol took me to a Gestapo office in KRAKOW, and I was kept in the cells with Polish prisoners for twelve days. Then a German N.C.O. from STALAG VIIIB, who had been on leave, arrived, and asked me if I was from a working party. I still said I was from the main camp, and he escorted me back to LAMSDORF. Three days later I was taken before the Commandant, and asked why I had tried to escape, and told that it was "quite impossible as we were much too far away". I said that I had to escape, and intended to go on trying. I was given 14 days' cells and a diet of bread and water, as before.

 

(c) Third Attempt.

 

Though the summer of 1942 was good, I decided to wait a bit longer, and I remained in Camp until Oct 42. I joined forces with a Corporal and an L.A.C., both R.A.F. (names unknown). We managed to get hold of a pair of wire cutters from another PW. We got through the wire all right, and once outside the Camp we separated, as the R.A.F. men were making for FRANCE.

 

I walked a long way, but lost my bearings and went round in circles. I was caught next day by the police in a small village only about 20 kms away from LAMSDORF. I was taken back the same day and given 10 days' cells.

 

(d) Fourth Attempt.

 

About May - Jun 43 I offered to go out with another working party, and was sent to RATIBOR (Sheet P 51, Y 05). I said, untruthfully, that I was a cook, and was put into the cookhouses which provided food for about 800 men employed in the working party at SIEMAN's electrical works. For the first three weeks I found no chance of getting away, as we were well watched. We wore civilian overalls which were distinguished by a red triangular patch, of some kind of paint, on the backs.

 

Sometime in Sep 43 I decided to get away. I removed the paint patch from my overalls with benzine, then went into a hut, stole the first civilian cap I saw, and walked out of the main gate. I was not asked for a pass; it was a Saturday, and numbers of civilian workers were entering and leaving, as they were on shift work. I had been exchanging chocolate and cigarettes with the guards for German money, and had accumulated about 140 Rm. I had no papers. I travelled by passenger train from RATIBOR to the outskirts of BERLIN, changing once on the way at a station the name of which I now forget. This time I was making for FRANCE. There was no control on the train, but immediately I stepped on to the platform I saw there was a control. I was arrested and taken to BERLIN police station. I was interrogated for two or three days, and my photograph and fingerprints were taken. I think this was done in order to compare them with those held at STALAG VIIIB. Once again I had said that I was from the main camp, and I was soon taken back to LAMSDORF, this time by a German military guard. I was given 21 days' cells, and severely warned that the next escape would end in my being shot. I did not believe this, however.

 

(e) Fifth Attempt.

 

About six weeks afterwards, late in Oct 43, I decided to try for POLAND again. I had read and studied a good deal about the country, and had seen maps which I knew almost by heart. I also talked with the Polish prisoners, and they told me a lot about their country. One day I went with two men to draw coal from the dump just outside the main camp. It was about mid-day, and I believe the sentries must just have been changed for I sent my two men back to Camp with the coal, and stayed out myself. My absence was not detected then and I stayed in the pine forests which surrounded the camp. Towards evening I was walking through the trees (there was snow on the ground), and I was suddenly halted. Three of the Camp guards off duty, were apparently out for a walk, as they were unarmed. They asked how I had got out, and I said I was just out for a stroll. I was taken before the Commandant who admonished me sternly, but did not punish me further.

 

4. FINAL ESCAPE.

 

I decided to make for RUSSIA on my next attempt. The British Medical Officer helped me considerably, giving me food and chocolate, and he tried to get me a false pass. I got hold of a pair of wire-cutters from a P/W who worked on camp construction work, and got through the wire fence at 2300 hours on the night of 22 Apr 44. I had obtained some German money by the usual methods, and wore civilian clothes which I got from Polish civilians. I walked to OPPELN (Sheet P 51, J 17), a distance of about 3 km, and kept to the open country, avoiding the main roads. On arrival at the station, I took a ticket to TRZEBINIA (Sheet Q 51, Y 95) on the frontier between GERMANY and the POLISH General Government. The train left during the morning, and I travelled with some Poles who spoke to me. On hearing who I was and that I was going to RUSSIA, they gave me an address in WARSAW where I could get help. They also advised me to leave the train just before TRZEBINIA, as they said there would be an inspection of papers there. The journey took about 24 hours.

 

I left the train as advised, and walked through the city, going by the signposts which said that the frontier was about seven kilometres distant. I was making for KRAKOW and then WARSAW. Shortly after leaving the town I went into the forest, as I knew that the frontier would be well guarded. The frontier was the main road, and there were patrols, machine gun posts, and artillery there. I avoided the heavily guarded places, and crossed over in thick forest. After walking about seven kilometres I joined the main road to KRAKOW. It was about 25 km from this point to KRAKOW. On the road I met a Polish patrol of two men who asked for my papers. They were on the point of taking me to the police station, but when I said that I was an Englishman they let me proceed after advising me to avoid the main road.

 

I walked by the side roads to the city, and arrived, feeling very tired, at about 1700 hours, 24 Apr 44. I asked a Polish policeman the way to the station, saying that I was English. He told me to travel by express train, as there was less chance of meeting a patrol on these trains. There were many German troops and Gestapo police in the city, but I was only once stopped by a German, an Army Captain, who asked the way to the station. I said I did not know, and left him. I booked a ticket to WARSAW by the express which left at about 1900 hours. This journey took eight hours. I again travelled with Poles, who did not question me, though they probably guess who I was.

 

On arrival in WARSAW, at 0330 hours on 25 Apr 44, I had to find somewhere to hide until daylight, and finally found a ruined house where I lay down and slept. It was very cold, and I had finished my supply of food some time ago. No one disturbed me, and in the morning I found a Polish civilian who directed me to the address I wanted. This place was only about half a kilometre away from where I had spent the night. I made myself known to the Pole who admitted me to the flat, and he was finally satisfied with my story. He took a full statement from me in English, which he knew well. He told me to stay in the flat, as it would be dangerous to go out without papers. I stayed with him for three weeks, being well fed and cared for. Then he gave me Belgian papers and 5,000 zloty. 3,000 was, he said, from the British Government and the remainder from the Polish Government. I signed a receipt for the 3,000 zloty.

 

During my stay, I believe my host was checking up on my story, and I think he was in touch with ENGLAND. After I had been given my documents, I went out and about, trying to avoid patrols when possible, but my papers passed satisfactorily on the few occasions when I was stopped. My host and I were the only occupants of the flat, though Polish officers often came in for conferences. After I had been in WARSAW for about two months I eventually persuaded my host to let me help him in his work of distributing arms. These were stolen from German-controlled factories in POLAND, stored in the flat, and then taken in small numbers to other houses in the city. I was allowed to help him for the next two months with this work. In WARSAW I met eight or ten other British troops, including an officer who was also an escaper. He used to pay us 3,000 zloty a month. The Poles gave the British and American escapers every possible help, and I have the greatest admiration for them.

 

In Aug 44 I heard that the Russians were advancing in the direction of WARSAW, and decided to try to join them if they came within 100 km. of the city. My host advised me against it, but I decided I would try. I soon heard that the Russians were close to RADOSC.

 

I took a train to RADOSC and my papers were passed as satisfactory on the journey. I then started to walk towards the Russian lines, German troops taking no notice of me. I gave myself up to the first Russian I met, and he thought I was a German. He took me to a Headquarters where I was interrogated by a Colonel who spoke English. This interrogation lasted nearly three days, and covered my entire Army career. I could not convince him that I was English, and I was escorted to KOVEL by road, arriving at 1600 hours 18 Aug 44. I was put into the potato cellar of a private house. The cellar was about 6 ft x 6 ft with potatoes all over the floor, and only straw on which to sleep. I had had a very small meal at RADOSC on 18 Aug and nothing more until 1500 hours on 19 Aug.

 

I was re-interrogated by a Russian Major on 19 Aug and had to give not only my Army life but my entire life history. I spent the next few days alone in the cellar, with very bad food, and I was closely guarded. Four days later I was taken to BREST LITOVSK by lorry. The journey lasted from 1100 till 2100 hrs on 23 Aug. I noticed the most terrible devastation wherever I went in POLAND. I was put into a small cell, 10 ft x 10 ft, and slept on straw as before. I shared it with eight Russian escapers (soldiers) from GERMANY, and an Italian officer of Marines. The Russians were released before I was. Here my interrogation lasted for 3/4 days, in periods of three to four hours at a time, the Colonel who saw me, asked for the fullest particulars all over again. After it ended I demanded to see the Colonel to find out when I was going to be sent to MOSCOW. The answer was always "tomorrow", but it was the twelfth day when I was finally taken to MINSK in a lorry with two guards. The trip took two days and I had no food at all.

 

On arrival at MINSK I was questioned for four hours by a Major. I asked for food, but though it was promised, it was never brought to me. Next morning I saw the same officer and was subjected to exactly the same questioning as before. Then I was given a good meal of American pork sausages and a white loaf. The sergeant guard told me in German that his officer was now convinced that I was English, hence the good meal. That night, 7 Sep 44, at 1900 hours, I left by train with a civilian escort, for MOSCOW. While he was absent from the compartment I noticed from his passport that the escort was a Lieutenant. I think he was in the police. The journey took two days, and we fed well from American preserved food out of the escort's suitcase. I spoke in German to two Russian civilians in the carriage, rather to the annoyance of my escort who spoke no German. These civilians could not understand why a British soldier travelling to MOSCOW should need an escort.

 

On arrival in MOSCOW, I was taken by underground train to a large building facing on to a square, with a sentry outside the entrance. It was about ten minutes walk from the underground station. Here my interrogation went on for more than six hours, and the Colonel seemed unfriendly and suspicious of me. After the interview, I was taken by car, with two civilians as escort, to a place about 2 km away. I did not know then where this house was, but I think I could find my way there now. I was given a bed for the night, and next morning a woman who seemed to be in charge of the house, brought me a small amount of Russian food. The Lieutenant was still in the house, as well as the other escort, and there was an Italian officer of Marines, who was also apparently having his credentials checked up. On the second day I asked to see the British Consul, but my escort refused, saying that I would soon be released. This was 11 Sep 44, and though I asked daily to see the Consul, nothing happened. I asked for some books, and the woman gave me a German book which was taken away by my escort, who remained in the room with me. I was again interrogated, this time in my room by the two civilians who had escorted me when I first arrived in MOSCOW. It was exhaustive as before, and they said they did not know when I should be released.

 

After ten days in this house I was taken to the police headquarters for further questioning. This lasted about one hour. I asked for cigarettes, books, and to be allowed some exercise. Later I received a few Russian cigarettes, but no books, and I was not allowed out for exercise, as I had no papers. I had asked repeatedly to be allowed to shave, and at last, on 21 Sep 44, they permitted this. I think this was because they knew that I was going to see a British representative on that day. I was given a good meal, the only one I had in MOSCOW, and taken by car to the Military OTDEL, where I met Colonel BRINCKMAN and Captain SQUIRE. After this meeting I was taken back to the house. At about 1500 hours the next day (22 Sep) a car and escort took me to the OTDEL again, and I was finally released.

 

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