Corporal W. F. Gardner

 

National Archives catalogue reference - WO 208/3307/18

 

Name: 5567722 Cpl. Gardner, W. F.

Unit: 2nd Wiltshire Regiment

Captured: Arras, 23rd May 1940.

Escaped: Hirson, 30th June 1940.

Left: Gibraltar, 30th December 1941.

Arrived: Gourock, 4th January 1942.

Army Service: 11 years, 6 months.

Peacetime Profession: Physical Training Instructor.

Private Address: 32 Eastwood Drive, Rainham, Essex.

 

I was taken prisoner at ARRAS at about 2200 hrs on 23 May 40 with a crowd of my comrades. I was taken to the KOMMANDATUR there and searched by German soldiers in the presence of several young German officers. My battle-dress tunic was taken off and searched very carefully. They only felt in my trouser pockets and frisked by trousers. I had already torn all references to my unit from my pay-book and no information could be gained from it. I was interrogated in a farm-yard at ARRAS by a young officer, who spoke perfect English. The C/O also interrogated me there. He also spoke perfect English. British heavy guns were shelling at that moment, and the main part of the interrogation concerned the calibre of these guns. I refused to answer any questions, so the interrogation officer drew his revolver and placed it on his knee. There were several other German officers standing around, but no other British Ps/W were present.

 

The interrogation lasted only a short time, and I was then put in a hut with four other British Ps/W. They were from my Bn. but from another Coy., and I do not know their names. They had already been interrogated.

 

On 24 May we were forced to carry German wounded. We at first refused to do this, but our guards kicked and prodded us and forced us to do this work. Between 0900 hrs and 1000 hrs I was taken off this work and put in an ambulance and taken to the main road to join a P/W convoy. The other British Ps/W were not with me in the ambulance. The P/W convoy consisted of large lorries, and we were taken to the fort at CAMBRAI. Here there were roughly 500 British Ps/W and 10,000 French.

 

On 25 May we started to march to Germany. On the way the guards were brutal and bullying, and one man just behind me was shot. I heard that others had been shot as well. On the way, the French Ps/W were fed first and the British had to take what was left. The French Ps/W acted in an unfriendly manner towards us. We had to sleep in fields on the way.

 

Just after we had crossed the LUXEMBOURG frontier I escaped with a sergeant of my own regt. - Sgt. NICHOLS, Wilts. Regt. The column was marching round a corner and the guards were watching one way, so the sergeant and I went through the hedge the other way. This was on the evening of 27 May. We kept to fields all the way and decided to try to make for the coast. We lived on what we could find, as we did not trust anyone to give us food.

 

On 30 May about 1700 hrs we were recaptured by some German troops a few miles East of RHEIMS. We were taken to VIRSON (?) in a car with two sentries and a driver. There we were interrogated by an officer and stripped and searched very thoroughly. We did not give away any information. The interrogation was not brutal. We stayed at VIRSON doing fatigues for three days. Older men guarded us here, and we were treated quite well and give quite good food.

 

On 4 Jun we were sent to HIRSON in a car. There was a P/W camp there. About 500 French Ps/W were already there, and we also found another five Englishmen. The food was terrible and the guards brutal. A young french officer was the camp leader. NICHOLS, as a sergeant was not made to work, but I was. At first I refused and pretended I was ill. The French officer came while I was in bed and told me that I had to work and he poked me with his stick. NICHOLS pointed out that we were not used to such treatment in the British Army and the Frenchman apologised. One day I did go to work, however, and NICHOLS volunteered to work the same day, as we wanted to see how the land lay for escaping. We shovelled coal on the railway.

 

The food at HIRSON was half a ladleful of beans and a small piece of bread twice a day.

 

The female relatives of the French Ps/W were allowed to visit inside the camp once a week. I got to know a Frenchman who had worked in London, and one of his relatives agreed to smuggle in some women's clothes for me. I changed quickly and walked out of the front gate with the women when the visiting hour was up. No passes were required either for entering or leaving the camp. Sgt. NICHOLS escaped the same day (30 Jun), but how or when I do not know, as I have not seen him since.

 

I left the Frenchwomen just outside the Camp gate and decided to make for CALAIS. On 1 Jul I broke into an old house and stole some civilian clothes. On my way I knocked at farms and was given food and occasionally money.

 

About the middle of August I reached ISBERGUES between ST OMER and LILLERS, where a Frenchwoman took me in. I stayed for two days there. I then cycled on to CALAIS, but found it had been occupied by the Germans, so I went along the coast to BREST looking for a boat. I was not challenged on the way, although there were a lot of Germans about. On reaching BREST, I found it impossible to get a boat. After another fruitless visit to CALAIS, I returned to ISBERGUEST to my former helper. She pressed me to stay with her for the duration of the war, and I agreed to stay the winter.

 

One day in December a woman belonging to an organisation, took me to a photographer's and after a few days returned with an identity card stamped by the police at ST. OMER. This woman came several times to see me. About the end of Jan 41 a middle-aged Frenchman, who said he came from an organisation, arrived with a car. I was given two hours to get ready and then was driven to AUCHEL. We stayed the night in a house there and then went on to PARIS. We crossed the Zone Interdite at ABBEVILLE. It was strictly controlled, but my driver had a German pass allowing him to take passengers into the occupied territory to work for the Germans. There were two other Frenchmen and two Frenchwomen in the car. Identity cards were not checked, as my driver made such a fuss about the German pass.

 

We drove on to PARIS, where the French passengers left us. I went with my driver to a house in PARIS and stayed there for two days. We then drove on to VIERZON on the Line of DEMARCATION. In a cafe standing by itself about 2 miles West of VIERZON we met a Frenchman who was helping Frenchmen to cross the line. The driver had not known him before and merely found this out in the course of conversation. This man told me where to cross. There are two canals running parallel. The first is crossed by a bridge and on the second there was hidden a rowing boat. These canals were not guarded at that point. The first canal was just outside the cafe, and the second was about 200 metres further on. I crossed alone, leaving the driver and the other Frenchman in the cafe.

 

After crossing I went to the nearest farm and was given food and slept the night in a barn. In the farm was a man who was going to CHATEAUROUX the next day by train, and he offered to take me along with him. When we arrived he advised me to report to the French soldiers who were guarding the station, and I did this. I was taken to the barracks and interrogated but not searched by a French officer. I did not say anything about the people who had helped me.

 

I was kept there for a day and then I was sent with a sentry to ST. HIPPOLYTE. This was at the end of March. About 200 British soldiers were there, and we were allowed to go out. In the Camp I met Pte. WILLIAMSON, T., (S/P.G.(B)647) and Pte. McLAREN, J., (S/P.G.(-)646), both 2 Seaforths.

 

I was in ST. HIPPOLYTE three months and made about five unsuccessful attempts to escape. During Jun I worked out a plan of escape with Ptes. WILLIAMSON and McLAREN, and on 25 Jun I cut through a bar in a window. I had arranged to meet McLAREN and WILLIAMSON at NIMES, as they were to try to get out two days later. Five others escaped with me including two R.A.F. men - Sgt. GRIFFITHS, R.E., R.A.F., (S/P.G.(-)480) and Sgt. MILLER, F.H., R.A.F., (S/P.G.(-)482). The R.A.F. Sergeants and I got away, but the other three were arrested just outside ST. HIPPOLYTE. We walked to NIMES and met WILLIAMSON and McLAREN, as arranged, at the house of an American, whose address we had been given in ST. HIPPOLYTE.

 

We spent two days with the American, who gave us tickets to PERPIGNAN where it had been arranged a guide and a car should be ready for us in a garage. At sunset we left with the Spanish guide, and the car took us right to the frontier. We crossed on foot and walked for twelve hours to FIGUERAS. We walked another day from FIGUREAS to GERONA, and there we jumped a goods train to BARCELONA, where the Spanish guide left us as the Consulate.

 

The British Consul gave us tickets for MADRID and an emergency identification certificate, which proved valueless when the train was controlled. We were arrested in BARCELONA on 11 Jul and transferred to LAYRIDA prison on 10 Aug. From there we were sent to SARAGOSSA prison (11 Aug), ST. SEBASTIAN (14 Aug), IRUN (16 Aug) and MIRANDA (19 Aug). We were released from MIRANDA on 31 Oct and taken to MADRID for repatriation.

 

 

Privates J. McLaren and T. Williamson

 

National Archives catalogue reference - WO 208/3307/19

 

Captured: St. Valery, 12th June 1940.

Escaped: Renaix, 20th June 1940.

Left: Gibraltar, 30th December 1941.

Arrived: Gourock, 4th January 1942.

 

Name: 2818441 Pte. McLaren, J.

Unit: 2nd Seaforth Highlanders.

Army Service: 10 years.

Peacetime Profession: Bus Conductor.

Private Address: 562 Calder St., Polmadie, Glasgow.

 

Name: 2815481 Pte. Williamson, T.

Unit: 2nd Seaforth Highlanders.

Army Service: 10 years.

Peacetime Profession: Labourer.

Private Address: 4 Polmadie St, Glasgow, S.2.

 

We were captured at ST. VALERY-EN-CAUX on 12 Jun 40 and were interrogated at a German Officer. He merely asked us our unit, which we refused to give. The guards were threatening and boastful. We marched via ROUEN, AUMALE, DOULLENS, ST. POL, BETHUNE and TOURNAI to RENAIX. On the way, two British P/Ws were shot for stepping out of the column to get water from the French people who were lining the roads with food, etc.

 

We escaped at RENAIX on 20 Jun by breaking away from the column into a corn-field. Pte. LIVINGSTONE of our Bn. escaped with us, but he is still at ST. HIPPOLYTE. After crawling through the cornfield we were seen by a small boy who took us to his mother. She gave us civilian clothes, food, and money and we moved on after half an hour. We decided to make for CALAIS, and after walking for three hours reached HALLUIN and made for a cafe which we knew there, having been billeted in the village. We had a meal there and went on to COMINES, where a woman in a cafe recognised us as British and put us up for the night. We went on through ARMENTIERES to BAILLEUL, where we had also been billeted. Some friends there put us up for the night.

 

Next day we went on towards ST. OMER and just before we got there a farmer picked us up and advised us not to go into the town, as it was full of Germans and there was a curfew at 2100 hrs. He put us up for the night. In the morning we skirted ST. OMER and went on to TILQUES, where an old road-worker stopped us and took us to his home nearby. We stayed there for five months. Pte. John SYME and Pte. Harry COWAN, A. & S.H., stayed there also, having been in the house five days when we arrived.

 

Every day a woman from TILQUES, who spoke English, came to see us. Her sister, who worked for an Organisation is LILLE was brought to see us after we had been there for a week. She took our photographs and brought us back identity cards which had been stamped at the Mairie in ST. OMER. Another woman who had a flat in ST. OMER came to see us once a month. She was an important person in an Organisation.

 

One day in October, while we were at TILQUES, Pte. COWAN, who was very cocksure and wandered around quite a lot openly, went to AIRE with a Frenchwoman. In AIRE, they were arrested, and the woman was forced to speak and denounced the man in whose house we were staying. He was later arrested and given ten years.

 

Immediately she heard of the arrest in AIRE the lady from the Organisation in ST. OMER came to TILQUES. With LIVINGSTONE and SYME we were both moved to ST. OMER and disposed of as follows:-

 

Pte. McLAREN:- I stayed with the lady from the Organisation for three weeks. She then took me by lorry to ROUBAIX, where I was sheltered at CROIX, about a mile South-West of the town. I was there about a month.

 

Pte. WILLIAMSON:- A week after McLAREN had gone to CROIX the same lady took LIVINGSTONE and me by lorry to a Catholic Club in ROUBAIX. We stayed there about a month.

 

Pte. SYME:- Went to stay with a barber in ST. OMER, and we did not see him again till we reached ST. HIPPOLYTE.

 

In ROUBAIX, the two of us and LIVINGSTONE were provided with 500 francs each and a guide to take us out of the Zone Interdite. The party also included eight Frenchmen who wanted to join the Free French Forces.

 

We went by train to LILLE, where we changed into the PARIS train. On the way the train stopped at a little village, the only stop, and we all got out and went out of the station to a little cafe about 100 yards away. Here the woman was obviously expecting us. The cafe was full, and there were German troops there. When we arrived, the woman greeted us with "Tourjours le Football", as our party was eleven strong, and no one paid any further attention to us. We stayed there about an hour and then returned to the train which was still waiting at the station.

 

We were not controlled, and on arrival at the Gare du Nord in PARIS we went to a hotel near the station for the night.

 

The next day we left the Gare d'Austerlitz for TOURS at 0700 hrs. We got out there and the guide took us to a cafe for a meal. We then walked 20 kms. to the Line of Demarcation on the river opposite LOCHES. There we met a Frenchman and we each paid him 100 frs. Fifty francs were said to be for him and the other fifty for the German sentry who was guarding the bridge near which we crossed. We crossed in a little boat near the bridge and walked to LOCHES. There we took the train to TOULOUSE, where we waited five hours in the station to get the train for MARSEILLES. Here the right Frenchmen and the guide left us with an Englishman, who took us to the Seaman's Mission. From there we had to go to ST. HIPPOLYTE and there we met Cpl. GARDNER, W.F. (S/P.G.(B)648). We escaped from ST. HIPPOLYTE by sawing the bars of a window (Jun) and joined Cpl. GARDNER in NIMES. From this point our account corresponds with his.

 

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