Private Walter "Joe" Chamberlain
Unit : 2nd Battalion The Royal East Kent Regiment (The Buffs).
Served : France (captured).
Army No. : 6288895
Camps : Stalag XXA, XXB.
Taken prisoner of war on 21st. May 1940. Evacuated to an unknown Town then, by night, to Belgian Grenadiers Barracks in Brussels by lorries going back for supplies. Arrived about mid-night. We are paraded to look at the spot where Nurse [?] met her death. Immediate interrogation by German S.S. who threatened to shoot our Officers if information was not given. Our pay-books, Army papers etc; were destroyed when danger of falling into Enemy hands was imminent. Threat of shooting our Officers was not carried out. (Threat was only bluff.) No information was given as we only knew our own sector of the front.
May 22nd / 23rd
German celebrate the future invasion of England.
May 24th / 25th
To-day is my Birthday. Perhaps their shoot me for it. Both days spent in all kinds of fatigues.
March begins by road, from Brussels to Maastricht in Holland. In various big towns we are made to march through the main streets for propaganda purposes. Our C.O. [Commanding Officer] (15/19 Hussars) ordered men to march to attention and sing throughout Hasselt. (This was done in high spirits.) Morale was shaken by the suddenness of the collapse of the French and Belgians. Collapse ----- our main hope lies in Churchill. Severe shortage of food ----- Belgian civilians helped us. But water buckets were kicked over by brutal German guards and the civilians were punished. This march took ten days by a round-about route.
Embarkation on trains. (70 men to one cattle truck) from Maastricht, Holland to Bocholt, Germany. Stayed at Bocholt three days. We are all vaccinated.
Transported by train to Thorn Stalag XXA Poland. 70 men to one truck as before. Journey lasted three days. It was impossible to sleep owing to over-crowding. Rations ----- Nil.
Arrive at Thorn XXA, in the early morning. Very hungry and tired. No facilities during the journey for sick men, or for men committing acts of nature. Rations issued at Thorn. 4 men to share one 2lb; loaf and a little margarine. Remain at Thorn putting up tents and wire for arrival of future prisoners.
Detailed for outside working party. (Detachment 237 men.) Transported by train to Gotenhafen (Gydinya) Poland, to work for the Town council. Arrived at eight o'clock at night to find camp heavily damaged by shell fire from the sea. Prospects of making a good Camp.
Rest day. We start clearing up plaster and get in straw, and generally making ourselves comfortable.
Working parties detailed. I am to organise repairs of the Camp. Making beds mainly of wooden construction, (72 three tiers.) from second hand boards sent from the Town yard. Hours 6 to 4. We are attached to Stalag XXB Marienburg.
August to December 1940
Camp very good. Not many complaints. Sick bay built. Regular attention by doctor. One hot meal a day.
Concert organised by ourselves. We have a three day holiday. Boxing contests. Decorations. Rations:- Two packets of dried fish, 4 litres of beer, extra bread and Golash dinner with sweet.
New Year 1941
We arrange concert with one days Holiday. 2 litres of beer per man.
Arrival of Red Cross Parcels. High delight. Morale goes up one hundred per cent. The Germans dished them out as if the parcels were coming from them.
I go to Stalag XXB, Marienburg, for a week but am sent back to Gotenhafen.
March to September
Our main jobs during these months was pulling stones out of the sea (The Baltic) to build a promenade. We worked 15 mins in the water and 10 mins out. During September this job was finished and some of us planned to escape to Sweden. We made a compass out of a cheese box and three razor blades.
We start to convert the camp into a maternity camp for Russian girl slave workers. On October the 25th we leave the camp and go to Marienburg. We stay in Stalag XXB for three days and are then transported to Rosenburg.
We arrive at Rosenburg to work on the farms, and are marched round the Town by the guard and then to the Camp. The camp was very gloomy and the lighting inadequate. There were old wooden beds which were full of bugs and old blankets which we have to repair our-selves. The best news was that we were to receive two meals a day, but we were to work harder.
I go to work on the farm and am sent log shearing for tool handles. The hours seem long although they are shortening because of the lack of light so that we get more time to ourselves.
From Nov 15th to Jan 21st 1945
We work very hard in all weathers, and there are complaints about working in the rain. We organise raiding parties to go out at night and bring in food, coal etc, and to contact various Poles and Russians who help us immensely. I organise a band to celebrate our victories and we entice guards to leave our camp and to neglect their duties. The camp Commandant falls in with our ideas and leaves the camp at night entirely in our hands so that he can visit a Polish girl. (She too is in league with us.) We therefore force the guard room door, (we have a lock expert among us) to get English news from the guards radio. This worked a treat until the set breaks down from the strain. Late in 1944 we distill our own whiskey from sugar beet. I build a tunnel and various alternative means of escape for our nightly raids. Acts of sabotage on the farm machinery are common, and tool handles are broken. All the way through we were helped constantly by Russian and Polish slave workers. The Germans fell easy victim to our ideas and think that because of our pretence at friendliness we are mad, but ----- There was a method in our madness.
January 21st 1945
We are moving out to-day to go to another farm 8 kilos away. We discover that we are in for a long march to somewhere and there is now no chance of escape as the snow is knee deep and it is too cold to hide in the open. We have no idea of the whereabouts of the Russians and although there is rumour in plenty we have no actual facts. We march 20 kilos to Fradstadt (Freystadt) where we sleep the night.
The next move is to Graudenz, 47 kilos, where we rest all day and take the studs out of our boots. Here we obtain a sledge for 20 marks and the going is better. We receive rations 5 loafs per man, margarine 2 men which we pack on our sledge. I am put in charge of rations for 10 men.
We cross the vistula by night. It was very cold, 20 degrees of frost. (Centigrade.) Impossible to cut Bread because it is frozen. I ration them out 3 slices per man per day.
To Nuremburg. The sledge proves its worth. It is very cold and the Russian prisoners teach us how to get fires going in the snow.
January 26th and 27th
To Tuchala. It is still very cold and we must ration ourselves more or the food will not see us through. I am in charge of food for 10 men which we pack onto sledges. I continue with this job right through the march, and I am forced to give out margarine in lumps as it is impossible to spread owing to the intense cold. Many casualties from frost bite. Many are left to die in the snow.
We head for Konitz, the last German occupied town, but must travel overland route. The going is rough and it is still very cold. We trudge through snowdrifts sometimes waist deep. Many of the men are suffering from frost bite and the Germans leave them behind to die of exposure.
We arrived at Schlochau.
We stay at Schlochau in an old disused saw mill. It is still very cold and there is plenty of snow. Rumours now of transport by train. However, we are moved to Schlochau castle and Church. The Vicar and the wardens have forsaken their church and the Germans force an entrance with an axe and we are billeted there. We found an organist among us who promptly entertained us with music. We had been in the church but two hours when the sirens sounded and we were forced to evacuate the town. Everyone is chasing around in confusion. We also find that the German lines of communication are in the utmost confusion as well, what with evacuees, prisoners and farm carts. Here, one lorry must tow three cars owing to the shortage of petrol. There are plenty of accidents.
We must make for Baldenburg. 49 Kilos away. We have travelled mainly by overland routes up to this time, but now we stick to the roads. We are still very cold and hungry but, our rations will last until the thaw sets in. We reach Baldenburg in less than 24 hours, through a severe blizzard. Here we heard that we had lost 5 comrades during the night and all say, "when shall we come out of this white hell". We have lost many comrades by the wayside during this terrible march although, the exact numbers are not known to us. At Baldenburg we are lucky in as much as we find billets in an evacuated French Camp. I managed to get three cooked meals here. Mainly "spud" soup, but we all regain a lot of our strength.
We move out, bound for Rublitz. The snow is softening, but there is still plenty of it. We all carry 20 lbs; of potatoes in our packs.
On to Belgard, where we stay at the USAAF prisoners camp. Stalag Luft, No.4. We stay one day. The Americans gives us their soup ration and their cigarettes. They also want to give us a parcel each but the Germans will not allow this. The American M.O. [Medical Officer] attends our frost-bite casualties, but the Germans say that all must march on further.
We leave camp bound for Korlin. The snows start to disappear. We abandon our sledges and carry our packs. The snow starts to disappear and it is getting warmer. We are now having severe muscle pains due to marching on the hard ground and, are forbidden to light any more fires.
We march on to Kammin.
To Swinemunde. Here we cross 5 Kilos by the ferry. I am feeling much weaker but we sell two bars of soap for bread.
On to Anklam. I have an attack of dysentery through eating frozen turnips. Rest.
To Demmin. We rest a few days. Rumours here for Red Cross parcels to be collected at the next big town. I am very ill now and passing blood. We pal, a medico, looks after me.
We move off again but I am very weak and ill. My pals urge me to, "Keep bashing on Joe". I think, perhaps I can drop out on this march and thus avoid being a burden to my mates so, mention this to a pal who replies, "Dont be silly, just keep bashing on". Thus, we arrive in Treptow.
We move in the direction of Ken-Brandenburg.
Then on to Malchin.
We arrive at Malchin.
We march to Teterov, but we do not march so many kilos as the German Kommandant realises now that we are very weak. We may not light fires and are forced to eat potatoes raw. I am still very weak from dysentery but my medico pal cures me by giving my charcoal scraped from burnt wood. I also take a little oatmeal that we get from a pigsty. We move out for Krakow.
Feb. 23rd, 24th, 25th
To Krakow and Ganzlin. Then by overland route to Parchin and Nanstadt.
.... between three of us. Here we have to change companies. Company 2/397 are to be relieved by Company 1/610. We are split into 100 men parties. But the Guards are now even more brutal and not so easy-going. We stay at Schwerin 8 days where we receive one soup a day, made from 30 lbs of potatoes for 100 men. We also get 300 grams of bread.
We leave Schwerin and proceed to Ludwighurst.
We sleep this night tightly packed into barns which are very uncomfortable and un-healthy.
On to Pedeburg where we stay two days.
We move on to Wittenburg and so, cross the Elbe.
We go to Osterburg and rest again to await orders. Find that we are bound for Stendal.
We arrive at Stendal. Here my pal Ginger the medico falls sick and gets worse. I am left to carry out sick parade as he gives me instructions from his bed. I try to act as doctor to 3000 screaming patients. Six of our men die in the night.
No actual dates can be ascertained since under the circumstances no-one knew the real dates owing to lack of news. Most of the dates given are sheer guess work.
We stay in this hell camp at "Stendal" and are constantly bombed by our own Bombers and Artillery.
The Yanks arrive, "Thank God".
March began Jan 21st 1945 @ 1400 hours.
End of march 31 March 1945 @ 1200 hours.
Established Stendall as Stalag IIA. Hard work on railways. Area damaged by our planes. Rations 200 g bread, ¾ litre of soup (so called) 15 gms marg.
Liberated April Friday 13th by 9th Spearhead Armoured Div.
April 16 - 27. In camp.
To base at Milderheim near: Hannover. Flown by plane via Brussels & Calais to England. Touched Blighty soil at 1040 Sat 22/4/45.
April 22. 1700 hrs. Transport by plane to England. Arrive at 22.40 hrs. RAF Reception Camp.
Admitted to hospital Sun 23 Asbridge 12.50 hrs.
April 22 - May 7th.
May 8 - May 11. Stayed with family:- Miss Peggy Holdstock, 117 Chalmont Road, Tooting, SW17.
"Joe" Chamberlain weight 6 stone when he was liberated. The Americans who freed him were so disgusted by what they found that they surrounded the German guards who had fled into a small wood and attacked it with flamethrowers. "Joe" Chamberlain died at the age of 82 from cancer of the bilary duct; a very rare cancer possibly caused by a long term parasitical infestation. Having eating frozen turnips, wholemeal from pig sties and drank water from dykes whilst on the Long March, it is quite possible that this caused his death.
My thanks to David Chamberlain for this account.
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