Private Bernard Holland

 

Unit : Royal Army Service Corps.

Served : North Africa (captured).

Army No. : 74656

POW No. : 220744

Camps : P.G. 65, 53, Stalags IVB, VIIIB / 344.

 

1941

 

We left England on 15th August, sailing on the HMTS "Orion", of 22 thousand tons.

 

Arrived Cape Town about 11th September, spending 3 days shore leave, coming back to the ship every night. A very enjoyable time was spent there.

 

After refuelling at Freetown for two days we eventually arrived at Aden. Embarking in barges. Date was 1st October. Whole trip taking 6 weeks 6 days.

 

Only real excitement was when one night just after 9pm the boat suddenly stopped dead, jolting us all over the deck. Boat stations alarm sounded and we all made our way to the lifeboats. We found out that the escort the "Revenge" had hit our bows. The excuse that the steering apparatus had gone wrong. Fortunately we made our own way to Cape Town.

 

We embarked and camps at Port Teubruk. Moving during the night in Egyptian trains which were converted cattle trucks being packed in like sardines.

 

That night or early morning we arrived at El Te Hag (Thursday 2nd October 1941), where we stayed three weeks spent getting lorries, motor cycles kit etc. Food was not too good, having to eat biscuits for the first time instead of bread.

 

The flies made things worse. Never had we seen so many flies in our lives. Especially as they settled on the jam.

 

We slept in tents holding 10 men, looking out for scorpions. These scorpions are like a small crab, green or black. They have a bad sting which they inject by their tail. The black scorpion sting is very dangerous but we did not encounter these until the next stop.

 

We left El Le Hag on about the 15th October 1941, travelling by lorry, Geoff, Morley, myself and a few others.

 

On 17th October 1941 we collided with a lorry which was stationary. Two Warwickshire lads were injured. Morley being winded. After a cramped journey we arrived at Amorier.

 

 

1942

 

Taken prisoner on 21st June 1942 at Tubruk NA by Jerry. Taken over by Italians and taken by lorry to Bengazi. There to N end of Italy Brindisi, where we stayed one week. Little food just a small 250 gram loaf and soup for two days. Came over by a small boat all kept in the holds which were locked down on the boat 24 hours.

 

Left Brindisi after a week where we had our first RC parcel one between ten. With this parcel we split everything. What a thrill it was.

 

From Brindisi we went to Camp 65 Gravinia. Had to march to station - 12 miles.

 

Stayed at Camp 65 one years.

 

Little food the Italians gave us. Thanks to Red Cross whose parcels kept us going (bread issue 200 grams - 1/2 pound).

 

 

1943

 

Left Camp 65 (Gravinia) on 8th July to Camp 53 - only technicians, fitters, welders etc.

 

At Camp 53 one week, left on 20th July 1943 where we arrived by train (coaches) in Germany travelling through Austria and Brenner Pass which was the most marvellous country I have yet seen. Arrived Germany 21st July 1943, one year after being captured. Arrived Stalag 4B (IVB) on 23rd July. Deloused etc. Dentists Saturday 7th August.

 

9th August left IVB for Stalag VIIIB where we stayed a short while. 1 Pk a week, food fairly good. Met several Coventry boys including Hugh Morris, Les Hickman, Bill Green, Bill Martin etc.

 

Left VIIIB for working camp KOO E711 on 1st September which was at Heydebreke. About 70 miles from Poland.

 

6th September 1943 started work Commando 13 - pipe fitting. E711 good camp. Bread 350 grams. 1 RC Pack and bread etc from civvies at work.

 

E711 300 men - later 700.

 

Dentists 17th November - 1 stopped at Black Hammer.

 

 

1944-45

 

Moved to new lager 11 March 1944. At 711 were bombed frequently. Camp hit during one raid had many narrow escapes. Left camp E711 by force - reason Russians making big push in Poland. Left E711 September 1944 - weather cold and plenty of snow about. Gun fire heard during day but had to move. Moved with sledge with Morley, Geoff and self, 12 loaves, 5 RC parcels. Started September 1944 - marched 850K (650 miles) approximately. Marched without bread for 3 weeks. Lived only on soup. Weather cold got frost bite in toes. Average march per day 20K (15 miles). One day marched 50K (35 miles) on no food. On journey saw hundreds of dead Jews who were on the march same as us. Many of our lads dropped out day by day. Geoff left us during March, also Morley.

 

Arrived Beyreuth 3rd April 1945. Went by cattle truck to Nurnberg where we stayed at Camp 13B where I went sick. Rest of lads marched. I stayed here and was fed by Yanks. Camp having a hot time by shelling.

 

Freed 17th April 1945.

 

Wednesday 25th April 1945. Left Nurnberg Camp XIIID to aerodrome about 30K away (23 miles) and deloused. New Yanks clothes (some fitted others didn't). Then to drome where we waited in Red Cross Hospital tents for our turn for planes (CR 43). While waiting had good meal stew, potatoes, chocolate, drink, white bread and peanut marge (2 chocolates) cigs, matches and fruit bars.

 

Planes left Nuremberg 4.10 after we had our photos taken with Marlene Dietrich. Left 10 mins past 4. Arrived Brussels 10 past 6 - 2 hours flying.

 

Stayed in Camp at Brussels one day. After signing forms etc.

 

Thursday 26th April left Brussels Camp where we departed by train to Bruges. Stayed at Bruges Camp where had a good meal and organisation. Slept in hotel "Europe".

 

27th April. Stayed at Bruges - Knock. 28th April 10am left Knock for Ostend by lorry.

 

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