Signalman William Thomas

 

National Archives catalogue reference - WO 208/3324/7

 

Name: 4187654 Sigmn. Thomas, William.

Unit: Divisional Signals, 51st (Highland) Division.

Captured: St. Valery ex Caux, 12th June 1940.

Escaped: Stalag XVIII C, 20th June 1944.

Left: France, 5th October 1944.

Arrived: U.K., 5th October 1944.

Date of Birth: 4th November 1908.

Army Service: Since March 1927.

Peacetime Profession: Regular soldier.

Private Address: 49 Stanley Road, Teddington, Middlesex.

 

1. Capture:

 

When I went to FRANCE in Sep 39 I was attached to the 3rd Div. In Jan 40 I was transferred to the 51st (H) Div. and I was captured with them at ST. VALERY-EN-CAUX on 12 Jun 40.

 

2. Camp in which imprisoned:

 

Internment camp at ST. HIPPOLYTE DU FORT            Jan - Mar 41.

Civilian prisons at LE BOULOU and MONTPELLIER   Mar - Oct 41.

ST. HIPPOLYTE DU FORT                                          Oct 41 - Mar 42.

FORT DE LA REVERE                                                 Mar - Sep 42.

CAMP CHAMBARAND                                              Sep - Dec 42.

P.G. 73 (CARPI)                                                            Dec 42 - Oct 43.

Stalag XVIII C (MARKT PONGAU ST JOHANN)      Oct 43 - 20 Jun 44.

 

3. First Escape:

 

After being captured at ST. VALERY EN CAUX we were marched on foot into BELGIUM. I escaped from the column of route, about three weeks after capture, somewhere between RENAIX (N.W. EUROPE 1:250,000, Sheet 2, J 04) and BRUSSELS. I made my way on foot back towards FRANCE and crossed the frontier somewhere near CONDE SUR L'ESCAUT (J 01). I then went on to LOOS (H 63) where I stayed for the next seven months with a family with whom I had previously been billeted. Sigmn. BEATTIE (M.I.9/SPG/WEA/2/1/1) was staying with me at the same house. During the time we were here we got in touch with several people purporting to belong to escape organisations, but nothing ever came of any plans which were made for us.

 

In Jan 41 BEATTIE and I, together with Gnr. BROWN, R.H.A., Gnr. SMITH, R.A. (S/P.G.(F) 1078) and two other British soldiers whose names I have forgotten, were taken by an unknown Frenchman to MARSEILLES. For three weeks we lived in MARSEILLES staying at different hotels. At the end of that time BROWN, SMITH and I were caught by a French policeman and sent to ST. HIPPOLYTE DU FORT. We did not pay our unknown French guide the 1,000 francs that he had demanded for the journey.

 

On 3 Mar 41, after we had been in ST. HIPPOLYTE for one week, BROWN, SMITH and I climbed over the camp wall at night. We made our way by bus and train towards the Spanish frontier, and on 5 Mar we were caught by French policemen at LE BOULOU (IBERIAN PENINSULA 1:250,000, Sheet S 0880, G 3630). We were taken to a civilian gaol and there sentenced to one years' imprisonment for carrying false papers. In May 41 we were transferred to a prison in MONTPELLIER and during the time we were here we were constantly appealing against our sentence. In Oct 41 we were returned to ST. HIPPOLYTE DU FORT.

 

In Mar 42 I received special permission from the S.B.O. of the camp, W/Cdr. W.W. STRAIGHT (S/P.G.(-) 787), to marry Julia Louise CALLEWAIT, who lived at 86 rue la Farge, LOOS.

 

On 17 Mar the camp was moved to FORT DE LA REVERE. On 20 Sep we were moved to Camp CHAMBARAND, and on 6 Dec 42 we were transferred to Campo 73 (CARPI) (ITALY).

 

4. Attempted Escapes:

 

(a) First attempt.

 

On 20 Sep 43, after the Germans had taken over Campo 73, I cut the perimeter wire and got out of the camp with Gnr. BROWN, R.H.A. We were caught almost immediately, but did not received any punishment.

 

(b) Second attempt.

 

On 25 Sep 43 the camp was evacuated to GERMANY. Gnr. BROWN R.H.A., Pte. BROWN, East Surreys, a corporal in the Gordon Highlanders, and I had previously dug a large hole in the ground in which we intended to hide when the camp was evacuated. On 25 Sep we went into hiding in the hole, taking with us a supply of food and water. We were discovered 36 hours later. We were then made to bring in the dead bodies of three soldiers who had been shot during the night while attempting to escape. We were never able to identify these bodies. We were also beaten all over our bodies by German guards who used life preservers, sticks and gun butts. After a journey of two days we arrived at Stalag XVIIIC (MARKT PONGAU ST JOHANN).

 

(c) Third attempted Escape:

 

On 8 May 44 I escaped from a working party at SALZBURG (GERMANY 1:100,000, Sheet 108, 3315) where I was engaged on tailoring work. I got away from here without any difficulty, as there were very few guards and those we had were very lax. With me was a Frenchman who went under the assumed name of Edouard POLARD. His P/W number was 30. Near SALZBURG we boarded a goods train and made my way towards the Swiss frontier, passing through INNSBRUCK (Sheet 159, 5436) and BREGENZ (Sheet 157, 5436). On 13 May 444 when we were about twelve miles from BREGENZ the train was searched at a frontier post and we were discovered. We had no money or papers with us. We were returned to MARKT PONGAU ST. JOHANN and there sentence to seven days' solitary confinement. However, as we were waiting for a place in the cells for ten days, we actually did 17 days on bread and water.

 

5. Escape:

 

On 20 Jun 44 POLARD and I again escaped from a working party at SALZBURG. This time we were under stricter surveillance, but at 0700 hrs we made a dash for it and got away unseen. I escaped in my uniform, but in SALZBURG I bought civilian clothes from French workers with chocolate and cigarettes that I had brought away with me. We boarded a stationary goods train near SALZBURG and travelled via MUNICH (Sheet 155, 6833) - ULM (Sheet 146, 7264) - STUTTGART (Sheet 138, 1204) - KARLSRUHE (5630) - MULHOUSE (GERMANY 1:250,000, Sheet K 48, V 70) to BELFORT (A 39). The train we boarded was carrying only military goods, and we were hidden in at caterpillar lorry. We had brought with us a good supply of food and water, but, owing to the fact that we spent five days in a marshalling yard about 30 km. from MULHOUSE, we ran out of food, and for the last two days of our journey we were also without water.

 

At BELFORT we boarded a passenger train without difficulty and travelled to CHAUMONT (FRANCE 1:250,000, Sheet 17, Z 05). We did not buy tickets for this journey. At CHAUMONT POLARD and I slept out in the open for one night. Next day we parted company and POLARD made his way to PARIS.

 

With the aid of French engine drivers I made my way to MONTLUCON. I speak French fluently, and I had no trouble in getting help. I was passed on to different engine drivers and always travelled in the engine. I went through DIJON (Sheet 17, 066) - CHALONS-SUR-SAONE (Sheet 23, N 90) - LYONS (Sheet 27, X 98) - ST. ETIENNE (X 64) - LE PUY (Sheet 31, N 20) - CLERMONT FERRAND (Sheet 26, W 58) and MONTLUCON (Sheet 22, R 14). I arrived here on 21 Jul and could not continue as the railway line had been bombed. I had spent eight days in LYONS while waiting for false identity papers to be made out. I do not know the names or addresses of the people I stayed with, as I was constantly on the move. I also spent a night in LE PUY. Here I went to an office for repatriated French P/W. Although the officials knew who I was, I received shelter.

 

At MONTLUCON I went to the railway depot, but the people here were unable to help me, owing to the proximity of German troops. However, a railwayman took me to the house of a woman living nearby who had sheltered many other evaders. I do not know her name or address.

 

The next day (22 Jul) I joined the F.F.I. About 1 Aug, Capt. FARMER, R.A. asked me if I would assist him with radio work. I worked with Capt. FARMER until 24 Sep. On 29 Sep I reported to PARIS, where I was briefly interrogated. I left FRANCE for the U.K. on 5 Oct.

 

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