Jean O'Brien

Jean O'Brien at Bischofferode

Jean O'Brien at Bischofferode

Jean O'Brien at Bischofferode

Jean O'Brien shortly after returning to England in May 1945

Private Jean J. D. O'Brien


Unit : Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal Regiment

Served : France (captured)

Army No. : D61352

POW No. : 43082

Camps : Stalag IXC


The following is a transcript of Jean O'Brien's diary of the Second World War.


September 14 1939

Volunteered in the Fusiliers Mont-Royal Regiment Noted (this regiments is all French Canadian). Part of the 5th Canadian Brigade with the Blackwatch (Montreal) and Maissonneuve (Quebec) Regiments. On November 6 the Regiment is installed in a building called Motordrome.


From September 1939 to May 1940

Training in Montreal. On May 24 we leave Montreal to Valcartier with the 5th Brigade to prepare for the summer training.


June 22

First leave.


June 29

Get aboard the boat 'Empress of Australia' and sail to Halifax. Departure From Halifax to Iceland on July 1, 1940.


July 7

Arrived in Iceland. The country seems very poor. We get to the new camp at 6 pm. It is funny that there is no night here, the sun shines at 1.30 am. The problem of sleeping is clear.


July 10

We marched to the Capital and from there to the centre of the island. We arrived in the evening (Hot Springs) hot water (Hevergardi), and we're housed in tents. The rainy season has arrived. It rains non stop for 15 days. First ration of Rum, not very strong a bit a Rum and lots of water.


August 1940

Working on the new airport and Military Highway (we work hard).


August 27, 1940

One heartening event, the arrival of the RAF 98th Squadron They take over the Kaldadarnes airfield.


September 1940

New British planes arrive in Iceland. We are expecting German bombing any day now.


October 31

Replaced by the Tyneside Scottish Regiment, we leave Iceland on board the Antonia, waiting 5 days in the port of Reykjavik. We depart, after 2 days of rough seas, the boat is like a bowl, we arrive at the port of Gourock, Scotland. Take the train to Aldershot 7 pm. Get there at 2.30 pm. Walk from the station to the military barracks (Talavera Barracks). 9 pm first alert, bombing in distance. We train and practice discipline every day. I am chosen for the Intelligence Section.


November 1940

First leave in England, 9 days in the big city of Manchester, reminds me Montreal.


December 1940

Christmas leave in London for 48 hours. See the underground trains. Returns to Camp Cove (Guillemont Barracks).


January 1941

Military Training, we practice marksmanship at Aldershot. Walk 8 miles to the firing area every day. Have been promoted Lance Corporal in the Intelligence.


February 1941

Receive cigarette packages from Canada.


March 1941

9 days leave in Birmingham, beautiful city, met a friend from the Maisonneuve, return to Cove.


April and May 1941

15 days Brigade Headquarters return to Regiments, permission to go to London for 48 hours. Visited the Union Jack Club and Beaver Club and hotel for visiting soldiers.


June and July 1941

Leave Coves (Guillemond Barracks). Go to go to the South West coast to replace the second battalion of the 4th South Lancashires. Arrive in Sussex Leves a charming little city, many historic places. Visit the house, Joan of Boulin, mistress and wife of Henry 8.


August 1941

Autumn manoeuvre in Camberley, Code name: Bumper exercise, which lasted 7 days and 7 nights.


September 1941

Return to Leves Sussex end Sept.


October 1941

7 days leave in London.


November 1941

Our regiment is assigned to replace the Canadian Camerons at Newhaven, we must defend the underground fort located to the west of the port.


December 1941

Leave Leves, Sussex, for Newhaven New Barracks. A cinema, a canteen. Travel between Newhaven and Leves.


December 25, 1941

Visit a friend at Leves. Receive packages from Dad, Gerard and Claire, as well as cigarettes from Eva and Mary.


January 1942

Newhaven. Me and Bouchard get to know 'C' and 'R' we are meeting with Mclean's, Beaudouin, Buddy Bouchard, P. Leduc.


Feb Mar 1942

Training (Coastal defences) Newhaven, Peacehaven, Winter manoeuvres.


March 22, 1942

Newhaven. 2 days leave in London with Rose-Robert Denning good friends, help them with the garden.


April 1942

Leave Newhaven for Lover Beeding, Near Harsham. An old castle for our barrack.


May 1942 and June 1942

Preparing to depart for the Isle of Wight for special training, arrive at Ryde. Marched 5 miles for cantonment. Training begins the day after. Very difficult in water up to our necks. Soaked day and night. The soldier game is not funny.


July 1942

Preparations. We are going to Dieppe in France.


July 5, 1942

The move is cancelled later and we returned to the English mainland. Got a letter from Rolland, he will be in London July 15, got my leave on July 14, I arrived in London at 8 p.m. Meet Rolland (my brother) at Beaver Club the 15, we talk and drink to celebrate our reunion.


July 16, 1942

Return to London the next day for my luggage. I have had a happy holiday and go back a Lover Beeding.


17 August 1942

Preparations for Dieppe. 24 hours leave to attend Leves Leduc wedding, return August 18, 1942. Everything is ready, we are moving to Littlehampton (Shoreman) at 2:30 p.m.


August 19, 1942

Dieppe Attack. We land at 7:00 am in the water, injured at 8:00 am in the left jaw and my right ear, tried to reembark on a TLC but there was an explosion and I was injured again, in my back and several places on my body. I was still conscious but unable to swim in the water. Taken prisoner 5:45 pm. They put me on a train with all the injured in the direction of Rouen. Arrive at the hospital in Rouen on August 20 at 9:10 am. Dressing temporary, a lot of Morphine.


August 21, 1942

They put me in a train again and arrived in Germany on August 28, 1942. Hospital of Statdroda in Germany.


August 29, 1942

Operation number one, they gives me morphine and replace the fractured jaw.


September 5, 1942

Operation number two, they put wires in to attach the jaw. Liquid food for the next 3 months.


October 1942

First letters from a friend in England.


November 1942

Operation on the right shoulder, right ear under treatment.


December 1942

At Statdroda hospital, the doctor removes the wire from my jaw and I have my first solid meal. Christmas, received 100 cigarettes from the Red Cross, and Dad's first letter from Canada.


January 1943

Move from Statdroda Hospital to Obermasfeld Hospital attached to Stalag IXC. I have been looked at by a specialist, Dr. Major Cuffey, he is a specialist in the nose, throat and ear section.


On January 25

Letters from friends and family in Canada.


February 1943

First cigarettes package of 1000 cigarettes from Dad. A lot of smoke in the Hospital. Meeting with a member of FMR at Obermasfeld Major Painchaud, Lieut Allard Capt. Préfontaine, Jalbert, Langevin Alexandre, Henri, Poliquin, Varin, Chapedelaine.


March 1943

A letter and photo always arrives every week at Obermasfeld Hospital. Treatment to restore jaw and right ear. A mandatory physical in the afternoon hours three days a week. Concert given by the orchestra of Obermasfeld (Sanitary and officers) comedy drama and music.


April 1943

Problem with my right ear continuous leaking, will soon undergo an operation. Right shoulder injury reopened. Letters from Dad, as well as Eva Mary. Letters from England. Got 500 cigarettes, cornflakes.


May 1943

Another concert in Obermasfeld, new musicians very good orchestra. Life in the hospital: 07.00 hrs wake up, 07.30 hrs breakfast, 09.00 hrs inspection by British Senior Officer standing at the foot of the bed for patient who can walk other remain in bed, 12.00 hrs dinner, 12.30 hrs to 15.00 hrs all patients rest in bed, 15.00 hrs to 17.00 hrs walk in the hospital courtyard, 17.00 hrs dinner, 17.30 hrs bridge and amusements in the halls, visiting other patients, 20.00 hrs call, 20.30 hrs lights off for the night, 24.00 hrs Medics night visit.


June 1943

Got 2 packages, and 5 packs of cigarettes in two days. On June 8 warned that the operation will take place on June 15. Ostiguy return to Obermasfeld and appear before the Mixe medical board (Switzerland and Germany).


June 15

Wake up at 06.00 hrs and take a cup of tea. Operation schedule for 09.30 hrs. 08.30 hrs receive injection of morphine. 09.00 hrs carried on stretcher receive the first injection and immediately asleep. Operation at 9:30 am. Awakened from the operation at 20.00 pm hrs, head a bit heavy but not in pain. Sanitary tells me that the operation has been very successful, receive an injection of morphine to sleep until midnight. I sleep until the morning, wake up the right ear a bit sensitive, bed rest for 3 days. On 4th day temperatures rise to 104+, visit from Dr. Major Cuffey specialist Simoneau arrived at the hospital. At the end of June I began to get up a bit, visit Jalbert.


July 1943

Right ear receives treatment, Dr. tells me that I will remain deaf in my right ear. Got 300 cigarettes from the Red Cross.


September 1943

Left hospital Obermasfeld for Zweiglager Mühlhausen. See all my prisoner friends from the Fusilier Mont-Royal Regiment.


October 1943

Beginning in October moving from Mühlhausen to Langen Salza for medical assessment of prisoners (if they are fit to fight again or not). The first prisoner of war is repatriated to their respective countries, Canada, England, New Zealand, Australia. Back to Zweiglager Mühlhausen. In late October I left Mühlhausen for a work camp, a salt mine called Bischefferode 1015. Arrived Bischefferode 1015 and received a medical examination. They tell me that I must not work in the mine, right ear seeps continuously. I remain at Bischefferode and did light work in the camp (I expect to be sent back to Zweiglager).


November 1943

Cleaned the concert hall and maintained the property in the camp. Met more friends from the hospital and FMR, A. Poliquin - we are the only two French Canadian in the camp. Preparations for Christmas, bleached the ceiling and walls, painted the tables and benches. We are 18 persons to a room, no limit coal for heating. Christmas Parcels arrives at Camp 1015.


December 1943

Got packages from Dad, letters and photos from Canada, to date I have received 65 letters from Canada and 12 from England, 8 photos. In the early evening A. Redpath left for Obermasfeld Hospital. Dance and light beer.


December 24 43

Room 5 wins first prize for decoration, 600 cigarettes. Door closed till 10 o'clock pm, light all night.


On 25 December 43

Christmas Dinner Parcels from the Red Cross. Ate meat roll, bacon, stew, fruit cakes, chocolate pudding, biscuits, Canadian coffee. Music concert by the orchestra of Camp.


Jan. 1 44

The new year began with temperatures reminiscent of Canada. Attended a service given by H. Warriner (Chaplain of the Camp). I received packages from the Red Cross and 50 cigarettes. Football match. In the evening there was a concert by the camp orchestra, Conductor: E. BENNET Piano: G. CONDIE Violin: CLARK, GUTHIVE, PETNE Guitar: GLOVES Drummer: SELDON. Comedy later in the evening by C. FRYER. During the month of January I received 44 packs of cigarettes from Canada and several letters from the family.


February 44

The temperature changes often and there is a lot of snow. Gave my name to appear before the committee (Mixes Médical Commission).


March 44

Poliquin has been hospitalized since January, I visited him at the Bleicherode Hospital.


April 44

Returned to Langen Salza for the Mixte Medical Commission, Poliquin and I met several other FMR regiment, Dextrase, Sauvé, Blanchard, Levesque, Varin, Massicote, Bourdon. We were not lucky, the Medical Commission has told us that our wounds are not sufficient to be repatriated. Dextrase receive a recommendation for the next Commission and another whose name escapes me at the moment. Poliquin off work for 3 months and no change for me, I remain in the Camp 1015. During April all Canadians are gathered in the camp, we left Bischofferode to return the same day (very disappointed).


May 44

Opening of the soft ball season. We teach the English, Scottish, Australians how to play softball. A game is played between workers above ground and pit workers. Most of the pit workers are Canadian. We win with a high score. The temperature is ideal, and the place is very beautiful, fields and hills are green. Every night after work we spend an hour on the sports field.


June 44

The temperature continues to be ideal, many sports during the month. A dramatic concert (Explosion) is given by the actors of the camp, a drama about a coal mine, Macdonald plays the accordion.


July 44

A great soft ball game between the Canadians and the rest of the Empire, after a tough game the Canadians lost 15 to 12, the Canadians did not play too good.


Sept. 44

The temperature is ideal. The news is very good and we hope to be home for Christmas. Already we think of turkey, chicken, whisky and beer and all our friends and relatives.


Oct. 44

The softball season is over, a big game of football (soccer) between England and Scotland, England won a very fast game, Scotland had several injured during the game. We play cards every Sunday night during October, I won the third prize playing with Larry Beales. Armand Poliquin left, we hope to see him in Canada soon. Cigarettes are very rare in the Camp, ration of 25 cigarettes from the Red Cross has ended.


Nov. 44

It's raining a lot and we are all thinking that this will hopefully be finished for Christmas. Jack Hughes leaves Bischofferode as the man of confidence, John Mallon was elected temporarily man of confidence, awaiting the arrival of the new Zwiglager man of confidence, Sgt Ballantyne. Frank Snell fulfilled the duties of Sanitary. The staff of Camp Staff now is Sgt. A. Ballantyne Man of confidence, Frank Snell Sanitary, Larry Harnby & John Donoghue Cooks, John Dickenson cobbler, Ferge Hoather Tailleur Hollings Arthur & Pat O'Brien (Lager Arbiter). A package arrived from Canada in late November. I got 1300 cigarettes and personal packages from Dad. Cigarettes are welcome and we start to smoke again. Got letters from the family.


December 1944

Red Cross parcels arrived, we consumed the contents immediately. Each package of the British Red Cross contains -- 2 ounces of tea -- 2 ounces sugar -- 8 ounces of Biscuits -- 8 ounces of meat roll -- 12 ounces of boiled meat -- Condensed milk -- 8 ounces bacon or salmon -- 8 ounces margarine -- 12 ounces of jam or marmalade -- 4 ounces of chocolate -- Pack cocoa -- Dried fruit or flower cake -- 2 ounces of soap -- Yorkshire pudding -- 8 ounces of vegetables -- 2 ounces of cheese.


Each package of the Canadian Red Cross contains -- 8 ounces of meat (WFP) -- 12 ounces of corn beef -- 16 ounces of jam or marmalade -- 16 ounces of fresh butter (Maple leaf) -- 8 ounces sugar -- 4 ounces of cheese -- 16 ounces biscuits McCormick -- 2 ounces of soap -- 8 ounces of milk chocolate -- 8 ounces of salmon -- 2 ounces of sardines -- 8 ounces of coffee or tea -- 8 ounces of grape -- 4 ounces of plums.


Each package from the American Red Cross contains -- 8 ounces of meat (first) -- 12 ounces of corn beef -- Vitamin 'C' -- 8 ounces of salmon -- 2 ounces of coffee or tea -- 2 ounces of peanut butter -- 16 ounces of margarine olé -- 2 ounces of pure jams -- 4 oz pâté de foie gras -- 2 tablets of soap -- 4 ounces of biscuits -- 4 chocolate bars 8 ounces -- 150 cigarettes.


Each package of the Red Cross of the New Zealand contains -- 16 ounces of butter (Empire) -- 12 ounces corn beef -- 8 ounces of cheese -- 12 ounces of jam (Empire) -- 12 ounces of green peas -- 4 ounces of tea -- 8 ounces of coffee -- 4 ounces chocolate (from army type Ration) -- iron ration -- 8 ounces sheep (cornel) -- 6 ounces brown sugar -- A box of honey.


December 25, 1944

Christmas Day looks like an ordinary day. During the morning we had a church service in the Anglican Church by the prisoner H Warriner. Christmas Dinner, game of football in the afternoon. In the evening there was a programme of communal music and song by the camp orchestra. After that a game of Bridge. No letters from Canada or England. The cold temperatures and snow are starting.


New Year's Eve 44

Lights remain lit until midnight. Preparations to celebrate the new year.


January 1945

We start the year in the hope that the war will soon end. The news from the Western Front is very good as well as the Eastern Front. During the course of January some letters arrived from Canada. I received one from Dad dated from November 16 44. Hopefully packs of cigarettes will arrive soon, the cigarette situation is not very good, 3 cigs a day or a pipe of tobacco. Visit the headquarters at Bad Sulza, Stalag IXC with Sgt Ballantyne and A Hollings.


February 1945

No news from Canada, we hope something will happen. No change in news on the Western Front, continuous air alerts day and night. American parcel arrived, contained in a package -- 3 boxes of butter 3 ounces each -- 2 cans of ham and egg mixed -- 2 box of pork and beef mixture of 2½ ounces each -- A packet of cookies -- 6 ounces of cheese -- A box of powdered milk -- A box of Cocoa -- 2 ounces of instant coffee -- 2 ounces of pâté de foie -- A box of pure jam 2 ounces -- 2 bar of soap 'Swan' -- A package of broth powder -- 4 packets of powdered soup -- A packet of 6 vitamin 'C' tablets -- 5 packs of 'Camel' cigarettes. GOt a letter from Real and Mary, 1000 cigarettes from Dad. A lot of smoke in the rooms. 500 cigarettes are smoked in 2 days. A concert is giving by the theatre group, the title of the drama is (explosion), stories of coal miners, after the drama a comedy with a different group of actors, Room No. 4, the performance was very good, the piece (explosion) has been played in another camp. Another drama to be staged soon about the trenches during the war 14-18, lead actor Tpe troy accompanied by Pluto Cotgrane, actor Rex Davis, Sgt Excell other character, Eddie Lacombe. An interpreter came from Hauplager Bad Sulza.


March 1945

The evacuated prisoners from Poland and Eastern Germany are starting to arrive in the valley of Thuringia. The concert hall was transformed into a room, thirty-five evacuees are expected to 1015, 35 beds are waiting for them. American Red Cross and English Red Cross parcels arrived, as well as packets of cigarettes, I received 1000 cigarettes from Alberta (Shipsham Red Cross). The news from the Wester Front is very good, American troops are approaching Kassel. The days are counted, as soon as the front line is 30 kilometres away we must evacuate our Camp.


April 1945

The front is approaching we expect the order to leave any time.


April 5, 1945

Evacuation from the Camp Bischofferode AB.KMDO 1015. Today the weather is cloudy and windy, in the evening it rains. We walked 16 miles today. The American planes are dangerous, one flew low over the column of prisoners walking east on the roads and several times the plane fired, we had to lie in the ditch. Tonight we sleep in a wet barn.


April 6, 1945

The weather rains continuously, we walk 24 miles soaked to the skin. When we got to a village called Wetra we slept in a barn.


April 7, 1945

Weather is cloudy and windy. We are in the mountains of the Harz. This morning we climbed a mountain 600 meters high. Today we walked 21 miles. Tonight it's cold and there was an air raid in the area. We received a pound of bread at (Konigshutte). We sleep in a mill saw, the straw is wet. It is very cold tonight.


April 8, 1945

Sunday, day of rest, it is sunny but cold with a light wind. We spend the day in the mill. During the morning there was an air raid approximately 40 miles from us. The city is in flames. Despite the sun in the afternoon it's cold.


April 9, 1945

Today we marched on. Ration 3 lbs of bread 75 grams of butter ¼ lbs sausage. Left the mill 8 o'clock in the morning. Walk eastwards. Very high in the mountains of Harzunter. Arrived at Huttenrode Have, walked 15 miles today, we sleep in a big barn with some Polish workers (20 year old women working on the farm).


April 10, 1945

We spent the day in the barn, lots of planes flying above us. During the night the German artillery opened fore. Several hundred bombers pass over during the night, the place is hot.


April 11, 1945

We leave Huttenrode at 7.15 hrs in the morning. Long walk during the day, we pass through Blankenburg, Weterhausen. Air Raid by a fighter plane, we had to leave the road for a ditch. The plane went over us, it is very dangerous this morning. In the afternoon we came near Quedlinburg. Another air raid, we had to get off the road. There is a lot of German transport, fighter aircraft attacked the road behind us. 12 aircraft opened fire on Halberstadt, ran from the Highway and 2 inches nearer and it would be the end of me. We are entering Quedlinburg in the afternoon approaching a large grain factory. At 5h 00 pm light bomber planes bombed the road we had just left. We walked 22 Miles today.


April 12, 1945

Good news this morning, the Yankees are at 17 miles away. Quedlinburg is an open city, the airport is demolished and German troops are evacuating the city, civilians ran to raid the ration truck, taking military boots. A large military warehouses is taken over by starving civilians.


April 13, 1945

The American troops turn left from Quedlinburg and once again we are disappointed. We returned to the road and arrived at Radisleben, hot soup and coffee was given by German women. Today we walked 11 Miles. We sleep in a barn with no straw. It is cold and rainy.


April 14, 1945

We must leave Radisleben. An artillery barrage is expected as the lines are not far from us. Walked in the morning. Passed through a village occupied by the Germans. We cannot go further as the roads are closed.


April 15, 1945

Rest in a barn waiting for the Americans.


April 16, 1945

The same as yesterday. They are approaching, at night an artillery barrage falls 2 miles from us. We are in no-mans land.


April 17, 1945

After spending the night under a bombardment, this morning we are in the middle of the front line, the Germans in front of us and the Yankees behind us. We are in a barn behind the village, which has just fallen to the Allies. Finally at 13h00 in the afternoon the American Army came and we are free. All German soldiers are disarmed and we take the road to the rear. Two American soldiers captured 3 sergeants and 16 German guards. We noticed the Americans jeep, all prisoners became almost ,ad with joy. The American Sergeant told us later that he had never seen so much excitement, we laughed and sang and several cried, but tears of joy. Some of us had been prisoners for 5 years from the campaign in France. We received an emergency ration from American soldiers and several cigarettes and cigars for the first time in 32 months, and I read the Americans newspapers. During the evening we were transported 12 Miles behind the front. We listened to the radio from the BBC in London. In a few days we will be flying to England. During the evening I visited the ruins of Hedslett.


April 18, 1945

Waiting for transport. During the day we received American food. Several trucks and cars are requisitioned. The German civilians are queuing for bread.


April 19, 1945

During the night, German paratroopers were dropped around us and we received the order to stay together if you do not want to be caught again. The tanks left Hedstedt to mop up the paratroopers. During the evening we learn that the mopping up is almost concluded.


April 20, 1945

We are still waiting for transport.


April 21, 1945

No transport.


April 22, 1945

Having served as an interpreter for former French prisoners I learned that we are leaving Hedstedt for Hall during the evening, tomorrow we leave for an airport.


April 23, 1945

Arrived to the airport in midday, but there are no planes so we must wait.


April 24-25-26-27

No planes we are staying in Merserburg.


April 28, 1945

Finally the planes arrived, we embark for France. Over Germany on our way to France we encountered bad weather and are forced to land near Coblenz. We change planes and two hours later we arrived at Camp havens France, an American rest Camp. An American fanfare is waiting for us. They play good music. After a wonderful dinner we go to bed.


April 29, 1945

Now we are waiting for transport to England. During the evening we went to visit Le Havre, which was heavily bombed during the first few days of the invasion. A glass of wine costs 15 francs. We met American officers who had invited us to celebrate our liberation, we had some glass of wine and cognac.


April 30, 1945

A very long to wait for the aircraft. Today we received 60 cigarettes from the Red Cross, a pack of pipe tobacco, luxury soap and a pack of gum. A box of matches and two chocolate bars.


May 1, 1945

Getting impatient that there are no planes.


May 2, 1945

The planes are here and we embarked for England. During the trip, which lasts one and a half hours, we pass through a storm. Finally we see the English countryside below us. We arrived at an airport. A hangar was prepared in advance and a sign (welcome home boys) a band of the Royal Air Force, we get out of the plane to the sound of military music. Disinfection starts I could say continues since our release we have been disinfected 7 times and again today We are brought to a camp for a medical after a small lunch is served by the WAAFS. We leave the camp for the Canadian hospital for a medical inspection, see Doctor, Dentist, x-ray, diet, rest. We receive 5 pounds.


May 3, 1945

Identification issued by intelligence officer. Rest and prepare to undergo the process.


May 4, 1945

Entered a hospital.


May 5, 1945

Pass x ray, saw a specialist for the ears.


May 6, 1945

Other medical inspection this morning. During the afternoon we were at the theatre to see 'Garrison' a show given by the Canadian navy, 2 rows of seats are reserved. During the programme we are introduced to the audience as returned from the prisoner Camp.


May 7, 1945

Waiting to get back home.


May 8, 1945

The war is over in Europe. Only 5 receive their passes out. Still waiting to get back home and am disappointed.




Jean O'Brien was demobilised from the army on the 8th August 1945. My thanks to his son, Roger, for this account.


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