Lieutenant Bruce Carstairs Jeffrey
Unit : 181 Field Ambulance RAMC; 1st Airlanding Brigade, 1st Airborne Division.
Served : North-West Europe (captured).
Army No. : 291381
POW No. : 52890
Camps : Stalag IXC.
Bruce Jeffrey was born on the 20th July 1919, the second son of Reverend Thomas and Caroline Jeffrey. He grew up in Edinburgh and studied Medicine at the University, from where he qualified in 1941. Joining the army in 1942, he was the Resuscitation Officer of the 181 Field Ambulance, responsible for ensuring patient had sufficient fluids before going to surgery, and also post-op care. He was captured in Holland at the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944, and as a medic he was sent to the temporary medical hospital established at Apeldoorn, 15 miles north of Arnhem, where 1,700 of the battle's many wounded were treated.
On the 12th October Bruce left Apeldoorn, accompanying a party of wounded to Stalag IXC. The following comes from letters he wrote home to his family.
24/10/44 - Dear Mother, If you could only see me now! I am sitting in the mess of a very comfortable Allied POW hospital in Germany after an afternoon spent in having a rare long walk over the very picturesque hill country they have around here, rounded off by a real tightener of a tea of salmon and potatoes, bread, butter, jam and cheese! It's a long story honey, and a pretty gruesome one - but its all over now. I'm safe and well, doing my own job to my own countrymen, I'm in good company, I'm getting good food, I'm optimistic and happy and (keep this to yourself) feel rather full of myself. Get in touch with the Red Cross and get the gen about sending me parcels. I could do with some English Cigarettes (Players) - loads of them. Apart from that I can think of few things I need except perhaps a few Readers Digests or something like that. I have plenty of warm clothing - but this building is centrally heated! I have been made anesthetist and blood transfusion officer to the hospital. Love, Bruce
24/10/44 - Dear Dad, This is my second letter. Excuse my queer prose but I must (1) write legibly (2) save space and (3) not displease the censor. I am learning a lot of surgery in this place. I hope you have not forgotten to keep all the newspapers since 17th September. Believe me I will be able to add some personal touches to the news when I get home. Tell Mother to lay in plenty of dried egg and McVita for round about the Christmas season for that is when I imagine she will feel the pinch. I am dying for news of the family especially Archie and Isobel. I do hope you have not been worrying too much and that I was not posted missing for too long. Go and see Mrs Allardice, 76 Bangor Road, Leith, whose husband is an orderly in this place and she will be able to give you more information that I can squeeze into two letters. At the moment, 8.30 p.m. we are having a light supper of tea biscuits and jam and mushrooms which we picked on our walk this afternoon after which I am going to sink into my spring mattress! Love, Bruce
04/11/44 - Well, I've got quite into the way of this place by now. As things have worked out, quite a lot of my friends are now here both as patients and doctors. I have now got a ward of about 30 patients, mostly American airmen who have been shot down., They are sometimes great fun. I sat down at the piano in the corridor outside the other day and started a rare session of Scottish song-singing. I spend most of my free time, when we are not out for a walk, reading. The library is as good as the MacDonald Road one any day. I'm doing some writing as well. In fact I never felt less like a prisoner in my life. I'm getting more butter, jam, and cheese than we ever had at home during the war. We had a marvellous drink last night of reconstituted cream and malted milk. Keep all newspapers. I believe the "Illustrated London News" has some good articles about the operation. I'm keeping some of the German newspapers. Love, Bruce
04/11/44 - This is a continuation of the last letter. We write 2 letters every 10 days and about 6 post cards a month. The trouble is I feel I can never really let myself go when I write and send a good racy, homey letter. I have quite settled down to staying in this country till the end of the war. The chances of being repatriated are very remote and any way there is plenty of hard work to be done on our own lads who find themselves "in the bay" along with us. I'm certainly being far more of a doctor here than I've ever been since leaving the Astley Ainslie. I like to think of my pay piling up back in the Edinburgh bank. This episode in my life, believe me, has increased my interest in politics. There is nothing like first hand experience. The only thing we lack here is the news from the British point of view and I would give a lot to have heard Frank Phillips doing his stuff at 6 o'clock tonight. Love, Bruce
15/11/44 - Dear Mother, Well it doesn't seem like 10 days since I wrote last. We had a "clinical meeting" the other day among the thirty odd doctors, when several of them showed their prize cases and lectured about them. It was just like being back at the Edinburgh Royal. The standard of work done here is very high indeed. We get some drugs through the Red Cross (such as Penicillin) which are scarce even in England. I have never read so many books in my life as I have in the past month (I will have been here a month tomorrow). There are two medical students here who have sat their first year exams while actually prisoners. This gives me a chance to do my big professional act in showing them how to do blood transfusions and odd jobs about the ward. This transfusion business is something I am pretty hot on now for I did scores back at Arnhem in coal-cellars and such-like places. Believe me, the line I am going to shoot when I get back! This letter is continued in letter 6. Love, Bruce
15/11/44 - Dear Dad, I was thinking the other day how lucky I am to have got out of my little battle with (a) a whole skin and (b) a lot more surgical experience and self-confidence than when I started. An interesting aspect of this hospital is that it has representative doctors from America, Australia, New Zealand as well as Britain, and their treatment of the same type of case varies enormously. Also they are all good talkers. The Scottish element is strong. We had a Scotland v. the Rest snow fight the other day during one of our walks. Every Sunday we have a good hard game of rugby and hope next Sunday to have an Airborne v. the Rest match. We finish each game with the good old-fashioned hot and cold shower. Now I must hurry and close this letter as it is nearly 11 o'clock which is lights-out time. I have been sitting eating dried prunes as I write. Need I say again that I am well fed, in comfortable quarters, busy, in good health, in good company and happy. Love, Bruce
25/11/44 - Dear Mother, I spent a real sweaty morning in the theatre helping to take out the kidney of one of my airman patients. He had the "gravel", of all things to develop after crashing in enemy territory. There is not one man in the ward who couldn't tell a hair-raising story about his war experiences. I am simply bursting for news of the family. Is Archie home? Has Bella gone to France? What is Lewis saying? etcetera. I reckon by now that my first letters have reached you and I feel good about that. Now I expect to get a reply from you in approximately, and optimistically, four weeks. A lot of things can happen in your weeks however. Now keep all the newspapers in the meantime and I'll have a rare read when I get back and I can relate my own side of the picture to the British side. We have been making quite fancy things with this German bread of which I am getting quite fond. We had jam fritters today with Welsh Rarebit to follow by a cunning management of bread, jam and cheese. Love, Bruce
25/11/44 - Dear Dad, See last letter. This meal, by the way, was only a snack at 9 p.m. just to satisfy pure greed. I'll tell you someone you might go and see if you have time. Mr Flockhart, 16 Hope Place, Levenhall, Musselburgh. His son is the dental officer of one of the parachute field ambulance in here with me now and has just lit my cigarette. We two are the chief cooks of the mess and whenever anything fancy is to be made it is us who make it. He is great fun and has an inexhaustible store of juicy Scottish jokes which only I can enjoy. To be quite honest the whole mess is great fun and I'm sure I haven't laughed so much for years. (I am reading several good books just now, "Art of Reading", "Q", "English for Pleasure" by L.A.G. Strong, Fowler's "King's English", and "Rats Lice and History" by some American. It is now 9 p.m. and the wardmaster has just come up to tell me that the kidney patient is getting a bit restless so I must go and see him. Don't forget the dried eggs and white cod fried at Christmas. Love, Bruce
05/12/44 - Dear Mother, I have to write my letters in a great rush today. It is now 10.15 p.m. and the lights go out at 11.00. I started off giving a blood transfusion at 6.15 tonight and had a hell of a job. I didn't finish till 9.30 Added to that I was working all day in the theatre and feel like a bit of chewed string. However I'm very well. I was just thinking the other day I have probably never been so healthy in my life. I have regular meals, regular exercise, am asleep every night at 11 p.m. and have enough work to keep me going most of the day. We do all sorts of exciting operations here that are usually only done by people like Sir John Fraser at home. I assist at those and get a chance of seeing the operation all through. In fact I'm getting far more experience than I would have got if I had got back over the Rhine at the end of the Arnhem business. Love, Bruce
05/12/44 - Dear Mother, I got a book out of the shelves in the mess to lay this letter on to write it. It was the Punch Almanac of 1896 and I have been reading for the past two hours. On Tuesday this week I went over to the Convalescent Hospital attached to this place which is about eight miles away. I went there about 2 p.m. by a bus carrying some patients and did a job of blood-grouping some of the staff so that I could call on them if I needed a pint of blood. Afterwards I had supper in their mess and came back by train. This was a completely fascinating experience. We had to wait in the station (with a guard of course) for about ¼ hour and I had a fine opportunity (not for the first time) of seeing the Germans in their everyday urban life. I would not have missed this education for worlds. I really cannot describe how interesting it was but I will have a rare story to tell when I get back. In fact the difficulty will be to stop me talking. Tons of love, Bruce
05/12/44 - Dear Dad, See last letter. Talking about Arnhem I can now shoot a bit more of my line!! We were captured by the Germans after 3 days while we were running a dressing station in a house in the suburbs of Arnhem.. Next day however we were recaptured by the British troops but captured again a few days later. All week we were right in between the two sides. Often there were Germans in the house on one side and British troops in the house on the other side. In addition I was called away for a few days to be M.O. to a small group of troops who were doing a special job. (This was a lot less hectic than it sounds but it looks very well on paper). The only thing I still long for is news of the family. I hope to have your first letter by Xmas if I am still here to receive them. Don't forget about laying in a good stock of dried egg and MacVita for you never know when there will be a sudden demand for these commodities. Tons of love, Bruce
05/01/45 - Dear Dad, I will always write to Mother first so your letter will be a continuation of it. Every day we are getting wounded soldiers and airmen from the Western Front. Each one has a fascinating story to tell. Some of the older prisoners are very interesting too. Most of them date back to Greece and Dunkirk but we have two Commando medical students captured at St. Nazaire who have become my particular pals. My wardmaster was captured (a Canadian) at Dieppe and the dresser at the convalescent hospital was shot down on the third day of the war. By the way there is a chance I may transfer to this better hospital (about five miles away). It will be a fine change for me and two officers of my unit are there already. It has better facilities in the way of books and accommodation than here, and there is a rest from having to attend seriously ill men all the time. I took a pint of blood off a Skye man today (very broad accent) to give to a Mississippi Top Sergeant. Cosmopolitan! Much love, Bruce
15/01/45 - Dear Mother, A sergeant in the airborne who was one of my patients at Arnhem, arrived at the hospital the other day having been referred here from another hospital in Germany. He was very surprised to see me as he had heard that I had got shot in Holland while trying to escape. I do not know how this rumour got around and I hope it does not get to you before this letter. I spent a very satisfying morning yesterday giving a badly wounded man, newly in from the Western Front, two pints of blood (drawn off from two of the nursing orderlies). To see the bloom coming back into the faces of these men beats a ham and egg tea any day. Quite apart from what it does to their constitution, their whole personality changes - they recover their self-respect and their courage as well as their appetite. This countryside is now a fairy land of snow and icicles - literally . I cannot even begin to describe how overwhelmingly beautiful it is. I think I'll bring my family here after the war for their holidays! Much love, Bruce
15/01/45 - Dear Dad, I am getting quite a reputation here as a literary critic. I happened to be talking about writing to one of the majors one day, so about two days later he shyly produced some short stories he had written. They were atrocious. I gave him a lecture for about half an hour, more or less repeating what you have told me, e.g. "hard writing is easy reading", "avoid the word 'very'" etc etc which seemed to have impressed him. Now, today, I got a long screed of stuff from a Colonel here which Sheena would have been ashamed to write, and have been requested "to give my opinion and help on it." It is amazing what grown men will write, and what's more, be proud of. Some patients are being repatriated soon. I have asked some of them to write you or even call and see you, so don't be surprised if some queer looking one-armed chap rings the bell. I am still wondering about Archie and Bella and all of you - how you are getting on, what Andrew and Lewis and Caroline and Sheena have got to say about all this - Much love, Bruce
25/01/45 - Dear Mother, We had a quiz programme in one of the wards tonight. I was given the job of setting the questions. Among some of the questions and answers received (mostly from Americans) were "What is a "wee bairn?" … - a small hill! Who wrote Gray's Elegy?…..Lamb! The whole thing went down very well and we are having it again. The one about the 'wee bairn' was asked of a Texan and his answer caused an uproar among the Scotsmen in the ward. One of the patients nearly broke my clean record the other day by stopping breathing on the operating table when I was giving him an anaesthetic. He started again after a few minutes and I, too, was able to breathe again. It is a soul destroying experience which comes at least five times to any doctor. Thank goodness I have only four more times to go. I have just finished the "Way of All Flesh" by Sam Butler. You MUST read it. Its all about how a father and mother maltreated a son so that he grew up with a warped mind!!!!!!!!! Love, Bruce
05/02/45 - Dear Mother, Queen Victoria used to write to her children "I am fairly well and hope you are very well." Well, I am disgustingly well and hope you are indescribably well. I am half way through "Precious Bone" by Mary Webb. It is an entrancing book. I think I can remember you reading it and enjoying it immensely. I am going to be a bit more busy from now on as I have taken on the job of anaesthetist in one of the two operating theatres as well as being Blood Transfusion Officer and looking after thirty patients. I am now giving about four transfusions a week. This entails getting two orderlies, a well patient, and bleeding a pint from each of them and then giving the two pints into a patient through his veins. I can do this now pretty well with my eyes shut. The only thing that worries me is that I think I am putting on weight despite the three long walks a week. There is no justice. Tons of love to all, Bruce
The Death March
On the 29th March 1945, Stalag IXC was evacuated and its inmates joined the 'Death March'. Due to the close proximity of the Russian Army to the German mainland, many camps in the east were emptied and their prisoners forced westwards. Already weak from malnutrition, many men lost their lives or became gravely sick as a result of this relentless march, covering many miles per day and sleeping out in the open in frequently appalling conditions. What follows is what can be deciphered from notes Bruce Jeffrey made during the March.
29.3 Left 0800 with handcart. Gunfire around Tresa. Arrived about 4. Men pinching bread. Slept French Arb K.
30.3 Left 0700 crossed Autobahn and Fulcha. Stopped Altmorchen. Child with cuts.
1.4 Left 0100 arriving about 1200 at place NW of Reichensachen. ++ strafe.
2.4 Left 0100 passed Eschwege. Bridge blown just after us. Lost Major who stayed behind with case then later passed on K. wagon. He stayed at Diedorf. We stayed at Heyrode. I slept in wagon. M. Currie came over with message.
3.4 Left during night to Klein Weshbach. Slept next to oven. Made Lynch batman. Passed Muhlhausen.
4.4 Left early morning to place where there was a big barn and smaller farmhouse where L. G. and I slept together. Krauts left here. Names in other book + 2 more. Rest day on 5.4
6.4. Started early morning to place N. of Weimar. Slept in cart inside byre. Left 36 Krauts of which 11 had even to walk.
7.4 Arrived Zottelstedt. Slept in big barn all day + had shits during march.
8.4 Rest day. Wrote diary felt better. Men very irritable. V. little discipline. What the Hell is to be done? V. homesick. However good experience and hope to get back home some day. Left 10 p.m. Ultimatum to goons.
9.4 Passed Apolder. Arrived late in morning. Med Sgt Grey got cigs and meal from him. Met up and slept with men. Poppendorf.
10.4 Arrived Lederhose passed Helmsdorf. Burning buildings. Worst march yet. Few halts. Slept through strafing of station 400 yards away, never heard it.
11.4 Chicken and met up again with Guy. Coffee and sweet biscuits. Arranged leaving 73 of sick and 12 Frogs to go to Stalsoda. 12 Red Cross parcels.
12.4 Sent off sick and came on with French stragglers. Left column to see Allenby at Braunsdorf. Got cig papers and razor blades and some tins of ham. Then travelled alone. ++ aerial activity. Ammo and weapons. Two separate keen Nazis. Man banging his head against tree. Burkasdorf and sick Frog. On to Muncha on cart. Heard about Scott dying.
13.4 Long lie. Sick parade picked about 30 English and 20 Frogs. Dubec said leave list with Winkelman before 10 a.m. on 14. Good feeling. Another rest day.
14.4 Handed list to Winkle (straw warm because of some horse manure in it). Ulcers on heels with dirty necrotic bases and pinched out edges. Guard that wanted to join the Gefangeners. A certain respect for people that were still Nazis. Slight disrespect for those who said allies caput - such is human nature. Men who fell out not so much from a desire to escape but from an irresistible craving to flop down somewhere and sleep. Guard going wild (watch dog) as we went thro Helmsdorf with burning buildings. Women and children. Jim, who spoke broken German with a strong Australian drawl. While I silently reviled the God that made me and the Hen-lice in straw. Men cooked eggs for us left 8 p.m. with sick wagon of Frogs.
15.4 Arrived. Had row with Winkle about Farmplan and place for us. Both satisfactory. Airborne and Yanks joined us. Sick wagon laid on automatically. Left 8 o'clock.
16.4 Arrived Burkhardgrun. Tiny cowstall. Serbian 1st pig killed, left 8 o'clock.
17.4 Arrived Langenan near Posseck. Bigger cowstall 2nd pig killed. Dined off it. Lovely place and good weather.
18.4 Arrived 8 kms from Ayberg. 20 of sick left at last place. Winkle told me to write out report. Very tired. Heard Chemnitz fallen. Everything seems an effort
19.4 Rest day thank God! Boy with poisoned foot. Trying to get some more off march. Peas pinched. Handed report to Heinke. Left 8 p.m.
20.4 Young fellow with bad shoulder. Heard Regensburg and Eger fallen. Dumplings, sauerkraut and pork for dinner. 19 eggs food ++. Brew of tea. Left 8 p.m.
21.4 Arrived early. Slept with porters till daylight then billet across road. Thick bed lucky pancakes for dinner. Red Cross parcel . Tank alarm in evening. Left 8 p.m. Dulsec said rest 22nd.
21.4 Arrived Carstall two Frenchmen. Poor feeding. Found our own billet. Had meal cooked. Rain in evening. Left 8 p.m.
22.4 Rain ++. Marched behind political prisoners. 8 to first walk. Very cold and depressing. Date Unknown Tanks up done arranging. Now infantry up - better more transport - they now will do arranging. Now not going to Cham. Talk of delousing plant at WEIDEN. May all have to go through it. Sick have been evacuated. Berlin has fallen. Working on principle that we will stay here a week.
Church hall. Excess rations kept till next issue. Making bread? Into groups of 25. Plane and truck load. Names and particulars in triplicate. What is civilian food situation? Still military discipline. Take names. Refer to me. Most have forgotten how to be soldiers. Don't want to go home as rabble like the Russians. Prestige going to adjoining villages. One man not come back. Sick daily at 10. M.P.s are here.
31.4 Arrived at place and slept next horses. Left kit on Jerry cart.
When he was repatriated to the UK, Bruce was given the customary period of leave before he rejoined the army. After the war, promoted to Captain, he accompanied the 6th Airborne Division to Palestine where he died on the 3rd March 1946. A strong swimmer, he was in the habit of going for a dip every day, but it is believed that on this particular occasion a party of soldiers had accompanied him and one of these men got into difficulty. Jeffrey went to his aid, but in saving the life of this man he lost his own. He is buried in Ramleh Military Cemetery in Israel.
Thanks to Bruce Jeffrey's niece, Sheena MacDonald, for this story.
Offsite Links: The Battle of Arnhem Archive.
Return to POW Stories Menu