Corporal John Smeeth

A statement of John Smeeth's account whilst a prisoner of war

Documents relating to John Smeeth's time as a prisoner of war

Items which John Smeeth brought home from POW camps

"The Prisoner of War" newspaper

Corporal John Smeeth


Unit : "D" Company, 4th Battalion The Royal Sussex Regiment.

Served : France (captured).

Army No. : 6400997

POW No. : 15396

Camps : Stalag VIIIA, VIIIB / 344, XIB




Our dad spent most of his WWII service as a prisoner of war in the hands of the German military. As children, he rarely talked to us about his experiences and it wasn't until a few years ago that he unexpectedly 'opened-up' and decided to put pen to paper.


Unbeknown to us, he had kept a diary throughout the war and along with various notes, letters and photographs, he set about to chronicle his memories and experiences. These first went on to paper about ten years ago, but since his death, more information has come to light.


The first part of this book is exactly as it was originally compiled by him. Some additional wartime diaries have been found and this information has been added chronologically; the new items are marked with a '#' after the date.


We felt that, in recompiling his memories it was important not to change anything else that he had originally written. However, so much more is relevant to his period of WWII service that we have added an appendix of information that we hope the reader will find interesting. These include additional photographs, PoW Camp newsletters, programmes for PoW Camp entertainment, and also pictures of some of the items that he brought back home with him at the end of the war. Information about many of the places he passed through, stayed at or worked at are included in the Appendix. They are marked with an asterisk in the body of his writings.


These memories do not always convey the real hardship and difficulties experienced by Prisoners of War. Some stories that he told obviously held painful memories for him and sadly they were not written down by him. This book does, however, give an insight into one man’s life as a Prisoner of War.


In his introduction he noted: 'During my time as a Prisoner of War I simply tried to do what seemed right each day as each day came along'. This 'motto' obviously sustained him throughout the difficult periods of the war and we believe sustained him throughout the rest of his life.


He died peacefully on 4 May 2008 aged 90 years.


Nigel Smeeth

Glynis McLaren

August 2008


All items from John's archive have been donated to the Royal Sussex Regiment Regimental Collection at the Redoubt Fortress, Eastbourne The archive may be freely used for research purposes but remain © The Estate of the late Leslie John Smeeth.



Leslie John Smeeth Royal Sussex Regiment 4th Battalion, D Company



I have found some old notes and have tried to rewrite them. These were written at Prisoner of War Camp Stalag VIIIA* and various other places.


'During my time as a Prisoner of War I simply tried to do what seemed right each day as each day came along.'


My notes start with some recollections from my early training days in England, my eventual mobilisation to France in 1940, and my capture as a Prisoner of War in May 1940.


Towards the end there are references to Camp Griff in some places. This was a bulletin read out to us most days. These bulletins were from radio reports collected by a gang of chaps who had a radio hidden away. Some of the news came from German Guards who could be trusted.


There are many references about rations. Here is some general information:

• A loaf of bread was about 1½ kgs. Loaves were about 8-9 inches long and about 4 inches square. They were a very dark rye bread, very tasty and filling. This bread was the same as issued to the German military.

• Tins of meat. These were usually quite large; the type of meat was unknown.

• Sausage. The sausages were typical German sausages and were about 12 inches long and about 1½ inches thick. Very tasty!

• Cheese. The cheeses were large pieces, mostly long and about 1 kg in weight.

• 'Fish' cheese. These were round and about 4 inches in diameter, 1 inch thick and very tasty.

• Soup Powder. These were large packets about 2-3 pounds in weight. We had to mix with hot water where possible.

• Margarine. This came in large packets of between 1 and 2 pounds.


These rations were the same type of food issued to the German troops. The food we got on working parties was much better; good thick soup with meat. Bread was large bloomer type loaves about 2 kgs, large packs of margarine, and good issues of jam. Most days we also had 6-9 boiled potatoes in their jackets. We also got various other things in Red Cross parcels and Canadian parcels. We received one parcel a month on average. We also bartered with local civvies and could also obtain eggs, flour, oats and other tit-bits in exchange for soap, chocolate and anything else we could part with.


The Diary and Recollections


I joined the 4th Battalion D Company Royal Sussex Regiment early in 1939. I spent two weeks at Warnock Camp near Polegate in June 1939 and was called up on 1 September 1939. I went to Horsham on 3 September 1939, then to Jarvis Brook near Crowborough and then on to Leigh near Sherbourne in Dorset.


I left England in March 1940 and landed at Cherbourg to join the British Expeditionary Force. Details of the movements of the Regiment in 1940 can be found in Chapter XVI of A History of the Royal Sussex Regiment (1701-1953) by G D Martineau. I was one of the escorts to Brigadier Whitty and Colonel Whistler that night. Lieutenant General Sir Lashmer Whistler (known as 'Bolo') was the Commanding Officer of the 4th Battalion. Lieutenant Ainsworth mentioned in the book now lives in Draymans Mews, St Pancras, Chichester. He was also a prisoner of war.


28 May 1940

Mont des Cats*. A day I shall never forget. We were dug in on the side of a hill below the monastery and were being bombed and shelled by the Stukas. They were diving down on us and dropping their bombs. Some were landing only yards away and we were getting covered with soil. When I left this position with another chap (Private Carley) we carried our Bren gun and a box of ammunition back through some trees. Quite a number of our chaps were killed. A short time later we lost contact with our Company. We met an officer from the Royal Artillery and he told us to try to get to Dunkirk. I think that it was about 25 to 30 miles away. We then had to try to find our way to Dunkirk with no maps or help.


29 May 1940

I was taken prisoner near a town in Belgium called Poperinge*. We stayed here for a few days and then moved through Holland. On this part of our journey the Dutch people showed us the Union Jack from their windows, but only when the German guards were out of sight. The old notes I have found are as follows:


5 June 1940

At a place called Enghim


6 June 1940

Enghim to Soinges, 8 miles


7 June 1940

Back to Enghim, 8 miles


9 June 1940

Enghim to Loth, 16 miles


10 June 1940

Loth to Wavre*, 25 miles.


11 June 1940

Wavre to Tienen,19 miles


12 June 1940

Tienen* to St Truiden*,12 miles


13 June 1940

St Truiden to Tongeren*, 15 miles


14 June 1940

Through Maastricht* to Meerson (now in Holland) 20 miles


15 June 1940

Passed through Muirenburg, Heerlen*, to Palenburg,16 miles Now in Germany. Got on a train at Palenburg Station at about 5 p.m. in the afternoon.


16 June 1940

Arrived at a place called Kroogstede* (Bathorn) at about midday after about 20 hours train journey.


I cannot remember what happened between 16 and 21 June.


21 June 1940

Left Kroogstede* at about 8 a.m. and arrived at Lamsdorf* at 11 p.m. on 23 June 1940 after a 39 hour train journey. Lamsdorf is the Prisoner of War Camp Stalag VIIIB*. Here is a picture of Lamsdorf Camp.

Stalag VIIIB / 344


On one of these journeys another chap and myself got fed up with marching and while we were going along a road through some woods, we dived into the woods when a guard turned his back. After lying low for quite a while we then went back to the road to see who was about. It was all clear. After a while a lorry came towards us. It stopped and the driver, a German soldier, got out. It was a covered lorry. He told us to get into the back. He gave us some bread and a large piece of sausage (not all Germans are wicked). We eventually finished up in a German barracks and later the rest of the chaps who were on the march that day came in.


From records held by the International Committee of the Red cross he was held as a prisoner of war in German hands. He arrived at Stalag VIIIB on 23 June 1940, coming from Stalag XIIA (according to a list dated 31 July 1940).


23 June 1940

Arrived at the Camp Stalag VIIIB. This was a new camp and very large containing a large number of huts fitted with 3-tier bunks. Each hut held between 200 and 300 men. After a while about 70 others and myself left the camp as a working party. We went to a village called Oberwitz in Poland near a place called Katowitz. Our billet was a large village hall attached to a pub. It contained 3-tier bunk beds with table down the centre. At the pub end were the guards quarters and at the back was a large yard fenced in with barbed wire. Close to the village was the River Oder. During the winter of 1939/40 it had flooded the local area and a lot of dyke walls were damaged. We had to rebuild these under the supervision of a local engineer. It was hard work but out in the fresh air. Our rations were quite good including hot soup when we came back in the evening. We had to make our own entertainment. We were at this place until about January 1941. The winter set in and it started to snow in October. It turned very cold and the River Oder froze over which stopped the barges getting through and it just kept snowing. As we had finished working on the riverbanks we had to go out to help clear the roads of snow (we had to earn our rations) and to do any other odd jobs in the area. We spent our first Christmas as Prisoners of War at this place. We had extra rations and the lady from the pub gave us all a cigar each. As far as I can remember we were taken back to the main camp (Stalag VIIIB) in January 1941. There were a lot of stories I could tell about our stay at Oberwitz, but it would take too long to put pen to paper.


January to March 1941

Once again I left Stalag VIIIB*, this time to join a coal-mining working party near the town of Gleiwitz*, a large coal mining area in Poland. The camp was quite large with very comfortable huts. Each hut had bunk beds (two men to a bunk) and was home to 20 men. The hut was heated by a large coal burning stove. I can't remember how many huts there were at the moment. We also had a recreation area in the centre, a First Aid hut with an English Doctor and a large hut with showers etc. In our part there were about six huts, a toilet block and a wash room. Our compound also contained the Red Cross parcel store. We also had a large building for meetings and concerts. We had to make our own entertainment. At the end of a show we used to sing the National Anthem but this was soon banned, so we sang 'Land of Hope and Glory' which the Germans did not understand. The camp served two pits, Castellengo and Abwehr (not sure about the spelling). The picture on the left [below] was taken at the E51 mining party in a large hall at the pithead.

E51 Kommando


The picture on the right [below] was of the band at a musical concert laid on by the pit people. On the wall behind the band was a picture of Hitler. We had it obliterated before we would accept it.


E51 Kommando


I was put in a working party for the first one. The pit was about a mile away. We used to work in three shifts; 6.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m., 2.00 p.m. to 10.00 p.m., and 10.00 p.m. to 6.00 a.m. Sometimes I did not have to work the night shift. For the early shift we used to have to leave the camp between 4.30 and 5 a.m. We had to be ready to go down before the civvy miners; 'first down and last up' were the orders. We were issued with old clothes and boots, and an acetylene lamp; this mine did not contain any dangerous gasses. We did all sorts of jobs in the pit. I cannot remember off hand how deep we went but it was over 1000 feet. We had to walk about half a mile to our section. The main 'roads' were well lit contained all of the lines for the small tubs which each held about half a ton of coal. The coalface we worked on was about 21 feet and the smaller one about 8 feet.


The coal was blasted out with gelignite. They drilled holes into the face with a drill about five feet long and then bunged in the charges. The charges had a long fuse attached. The hauer (miner) was in charge of the drilling etc. with his mate the 'under-hauer'. While this was going in we did a bit of cleaning up or sat and had a rest. After everything was set we would disappear into the smaller passage out of harms way and warn anyone close by or in the next working by shouting 'brent' the German's way of saying 'blasting'. When the blast went off all of our lamps would go out. After a while when the dust settled, the hauer and his mate would go back to see if it was safe. By the way, we did have large electric lamps to work under. When we got the all clear, in we went to remove the coal. Usually it was one of us, the hauer, and his mate. Usually there was enough coal for about six hours' work. We would stop at intervals while the hauer and his mate put up the props. These were like small telegraph poles and were called 'stempals'. We used to help but the other two did the donkeywork. Some days it was hard work and hot. Each section was expected to reach a target for the number of buckets for their shift. We often got breakdowns and quite a number of rests.


There were quite a number of other jobs to do in a section including, helping the electrician cleaning around the conveyor belts, working on the tubs, issuing out the different pit props. After the coal was removed we would help to dam up the workings. These were filled with sand that was pumped down with water from above through large iron pipes. The gang that I worked with were around five in number. They didn't let me do much of the heavy lifting. For a while I was attached to the safety and rescue section. At one time we had to work on a section where there had, at an earlier date, been a fire. We were split into gangs of four and worked for about thirty minutes. We then came out to rest for a while. We could only wear a pair of shorts as it was so hot. The civvy miners only did six-hour shifts and were allowed up but we had to stay in the shower room until the others came up at the end of their eight-hour shift. I also worked at the bottom of the lift shaft helping to control the full tubs going up and the empty ones going down. It was very cold at the bottom on this job in the winter and we were issued with extra clothes; a warm overcoat. I think that I could write a whole book about my time at this pit.


Later on I was transferred to the other pit at Abwehr, this pit was much deeper. At the bottom of the shaft we had to go by a small electric train to our place of work; a journey of about 15 minutes. The place I was given was very steep but not so high as the last pit. One day there was an accident in our section and one of the chaps was killed. He was buried with full military honours in the local church ground. I attended his funeral and local people looked after his grave. There were all sorts of happenings at this working party, which was called E51. I could write a separate book. One day I will tell you some that stick in my mind.


15 April 1942

Molly and I got engaged. I was a Prisoner of War on coal mining working party E51 when I wrote to her. I arranged with my mother to give her £5.00 to buy an engagement ring. The ring cost £4:17s:6d (£4.87½) and Molly kept the half-crown change. The coin has now passed to Stephen, my grandson.


E51 Kommando


This picture was taken at the E51 working (mining) party near Gleiwitz, Silesia, Poland. These chaps are from the hut that I was in. I am on the left in the back row. Next to me (to my left) is Freddy Stiggear. He and I paired up and shared rations and Red Cross parcels. In the middle row, fifth from the left, is Brummie Lewis my partner in the cribbage tournaments, l cannot remember any other names. We were all dressed in our best clothes for this photograph. I cannot remember the exact date that it was taken but I think that is was sometime in 1941.


This picture (right) [below] was taken at the Gleiwitz coal mine in 1943 or 1944. I can remember a lot of the faces but not the names. The only one I can remember is a chap called Crouch from Iden in Sussex. He is the last one in the back row.


E51 Kommando


I left the E51 working party and returned to the main camp Stalag VIIIB at Gorlitz*. As far as I can remember it was about September 1944. The hut I moved to was Hut 35B, but I am a bit hazy about what really happened. I was able to leave the mining party as I was an NCO and could leave to go back to the main camp.


All I can remember is that there were a lot of Canadian Prisoners of War there. These were from the Canadian troops that tried to land at Cherbourg, I think to test out the German coastal forces. From what I can remember the Canadians took some German prisoners and tied their hands behind their backs so that they couldn't escape. When some of the Canadian tried to leave the shore, some other Germans found their chaps tied up and captured the Canadians. This landing was a failure and most of the Canadians were taken prisoner. The idea of this attempted landing was to test the German coastal defences ready for the D-Day landings. The Canadian Prisoners of War were put in a compound at Stalag VIIIA and, as a reprisal, were tied up. There were a lot of RAF Prisoners of War in this compound and the Germans also tied them up.


As I was an NCO and did not have to go out on a working party, the Germans decided to round up all of the NCOs in our compound and put us in with the Canadians and the RAF and tie us up as well. This meant that we were tied up with our hands in front from about 8.00 a.m. We were untied at midday for an hour so that we could get our soup etc. and then retied until about 5.00 or 6.00 p.m. We used to untie our own hands sometimes, but we had to be careful not to get caught by the guards who were always roaming around. If anyone was caught they were taken to a hut, where the guards had their quarters, stood against the wall, feet together and with your nose touching the wall. The guards would chain your hands behind your back. Sometimes this would last quite a while. I was caught once with my hands untied and was chained up. I was really lucky and got released after about an hour when the guards changed over. At the moment I am a bit confused concerning the dates and year that this happened. It was very cold and I got terrible chilblains on my hands through being tied up. My fingers began to look very angry. I had to go and see the German doctor who said that I had to be untied. I then had to have an injection in my rump every day for a week and four large tablets a day for two weeks. It was not long before they got rid of my chilblains and I have never had any since. As I was not allowed to be tied up again, I was told that I would have to go out on a working party.


E13253 Kommando


This photograph was taken at the E13253 working party at Munsterberg* in, I think, 1943. The picture was taken on the factory football pitch. We all dressed up for the occasion but unfortunately, the guard who took it made a bit of a mess of it.


Back Row L to R

• Les Perry. Before he married and emigrated to Canada he lived at Morden, London

• 7th from the left is me.

• 12th from the left is Billy Butler who was also at our wedding

• 20th from the left is a chap called Spackman


Middle Row L to R

• 6th from the left is Ron Clark


Front Row L to R

• 3rd from the left in the light jacket is Eddy Slark. He was my cleaner on the working party. He came from London and was a good worker and helped me a lot while I was in charge of the working party. Behind him is the Sergeant who was in charge of the working party at the time. I took over in charge of the working party after he left.


I was sent out on a working party known as E13253 (which was later known as E108) to a place called Munsterberg*. I can’t remember the date but I think that it was about the middle of 1943. This was a fairly large factory making all sorts of earthenware but not cups, saucers, plates etc. This factory made all sorts of glazed pipes, from very small ones to large ones over a metre across. They also made white sink units and toilet pans.


The factory and places for stacking up the stuff covered many acres. It was served by a main line railway where a lot of trucks came each day. It also had a small gauge railway with a little diesel engine. I worked on this railway with another chap and two civvies; one was called Bruno and the other was called Amil. We travelled around the site collecting the stuff from the kilns and making up orders. They were a couple of good chaps and hated the name of Hitler. We used to get all sorts of extras from these chaps such as eggs, oats, bread and fruit and we would swap soap, chocolate, and cigarettes with them. After a while Amil was called up and I used to drive the small engine. I also got friendly with another civvy who also brought me some extras.


Our billet at this working party was a very large old house in the grounds of the factory. The downstairs was fitted out with three bedrooms with two tier bunk beds. Also downstairs were two large rooms used as dining rooms, one with a large cooking range. We also had lockers in these rooms to keep our odds and ends such as food etc. The food was very good with good rations. Upstairs was a room where our Red Cross and personal parcels were kept. These were under lock and key. We could get anything from there in the evening. Also upstairs was another large room where we kept our best and spare clothes. Our soup and potato ration was cooked in a kitchen in the factory by Polish girls. They were internees and wore clothes with a yellow triangle and a black ‘P' on it. They had their quarters close by and some of them also worked in the factory. We used to give them little extras such as soap and chocolate. They were good workers and always cheerful. They were also free to go out and about unlike us.


Our hours of work were also quite good; about 8-9 hours a days and Saturday mornings. Sometimes our civvies collected us from our billet and we were free of any guards during the day. In the factory there were some large shower rooms. We had one with a locker each so most days we could have a shower. We were free most weekends and sometimes on Saturday afternoons small parties of us were allowed, with a guard, to visit the town of Munsterberg to do some shopping. We could get odds and ends such as razor blades and some bottles of beer. This was a weak beer called ‘malt beer' and very nice and sweet.


Our money was specially printed Prisoner of War money and some of the shops were allowed to take it. We used to draw wages about every two weeks from the factory.


Those working in the kilns got more than the others did, as it was a hot and hard job. On most days they were finished by 2.00 p.m. as the gangs they worked with were on piecework. It was very nice to walk around the town for a couple of hours looking at the shops. We were never abused by any of the civvy people. We always went out looking clean and smartly dressed as we all had our Army uniform.


The factory had its own football pitch and we would use it on a Sunday afternoon. We had some good fun there as there were enough of us to make up some teams. Some of the German youngsters used to come and watch us. We used to take same chocolate or sweets for them when the guard wasn't looking. One little girl about 10 years old was called Anna. I 'adopted' her and would put some chocolate in my greatcoat pocket. She would sit down by it and take the chocolate out when the guard wasn't looking. It was through her that my daughter Glynis was called Glynis Anna. I have often wondered what happened to her.


In May 1944 the Sergeant in charge of our working party returned to the main camp Stalag VIIIA. As I was a Corporal I was asked to take over the working party. I would not have to go out to work, but stay in and see that the place was kept clean and tidy, give out the mail and parcels etc. With me was another chap called Eddie Slark. He helped with the cleaning and was a good hard worker. We got on well together.


We also had our own medical chap, a part-time shoe repairer and a barber. All except the medical chap had to go out to work. The medical chap had to look after anyone that might be sick and most days he would visit the local hospital with a guard. We did get a few minor accidents in the factory. Our first aid chap was an Australian called Ron Clark (more about him later). Ron and I had our own cosy little room outside joining on to the main building.


Although most of us could understand a bit of German, another chap, called Eddie Whitehead, was our interpreter. If the guard had anything special to tell us Eddie would have to explain it to us. The guardroom was part of the house but outside of our compound. The guard commander was a very nice young German who had got frostbite in his toes while at the Russian Front. He had lost some of his toes, which made him walk badly. He treated us very well and knew what war was like. He had four or five guards under him. They were elderly men, too old for active service. We got on very well with them, as some of them were old enough to be our fathers. If we swore at them in English they would grin and say 'Ja Ja', not knowing what we had said!


The short time that I was in charge of the working party eleven different chaps escaped. These escapes were very amusing and caused a lot of head scratching amongst the Germans. Every time someone went, I was on the carpet. They wanted to know why they went. They never did find out the routes of the escapes.


Before I took charge of the working party I was working in the factory. I was taken ill, with what I don't really know, except that I had a very high temperature. I was taken to hospital in a large wicker basket in wheels. I think that it was about three miles.

• I was first admitted on 15 January 1943

• Came out 27 January 1943

• Taken back again 30 January 1943

• Out again 3 March 1943

• Taken back again 2 April 1943

• Out again 12 April 1943


The treatment I received involved being wrapped in a cold wet sheet covered with a lot of blankets and drinking very hot red wine. This was supposed to sweat the fever out of me. The hospital was called Krankenhaus der Elisabethinerinnen Munsterberg and was run by the Sisters of Mercy. Most of the time I was in a private ward. There were military doctors and the hospital was full of wounded soldiers from the Russian Front. The nurse who looked after me most of the time was Sister Valentine. She was a lovely person and got me a lot of extra bits. The food was also very good. When the sick came down from the camp, which was at least twice a week, they were allowed to visit me and bring me some books and my mail etc.


According to records held by the International Committee of the Red Cross he was transferred from Stalag VIIIB to Stalag VIIIA on 19 October 1943 (according to a list dated 19 October 1943). A further list dated 13 March 1944 shows him detained in Stalag VIIIA. A copy of the ICRC attestation is contained in the appendix.


After I came out of hospital it was then that I was put in charge of the working party and it was then, as I said earlier, that we had the escapes which did not please the Germans.


8 February 1944 #

Had two teeth filled


12 February 1944

Heavy snow the whole day


18 February 1944

More heavy snow. Received 3 letters


26 March 1944

Slight snow


27-30 March 1944

Snow all these days


31 March 1944 #

The first real fine day for a long time; just like summer


1 April 1944

More snow. Snow fell on and off for most of the month of April.


9 April 1944 #

Had three warnings last night and another one this afternoon in the middle of our match so we had to stop until the all clear went. It only lasted for three quarters of an hour.


30 April 1944 #

Played football this afternoon. The first half we played in a heavy snow storm. Freezing cold. Won 3-2; half time 2-0 down.


We still managed to play a game or two of football during this cold spell and the factory work carried on. They asked me if I would like to join another working party and I thought that this might be a change. Nothing more was said about this, then one evening the guard came in and said that I would be leaving in the morning but wouldn't say where I was going. It was quite a rush to sort things out at such short notice.


19 May 1944 #

Took over charge of E13253


29 June 1944 #

Weighed myself today 65.5 kgs


30 June 1944 #

Paid 3 Marks and 20 pfennigs to Stalag for clogs.


8 September 1944

Left Munsterberg. On the way to the station I asked the guard where we were going. He wouldn't say and just grinned. Later that day after the train journey, I landed up at the main camp Stalag VIIIA near a place called Gorlitz. I went into a large compound of mostly British chaps. My hut was number 36A. The English Officer in charge of the camp sent me for. He wanted to know what went on at Munsterberg and why I was sent back. He had a chat with me and thanked me for my help at the camp.


12 September 1944 #

Air raid today at about 11:35. Between 300 and 400 of our planes passed over here.


6 November 1944 #

Had a chest x-ray today.


18 November 1944 #

First fall of snow.


14 December 1944 #

Sergeant F C Ingles died today from injuries received while playing rugby yesterday.


18 December 1944 #

Burial of Sergeant F C Ingles.


22 December 1944 #

Received inoculations for Typhus (1st dose)


29 December 1944 #

Received inoculations for Typhus (2nd dose)


A typhus inoculation card


The picture here shows the delousing of bed boards probably in the late summer of 1944.


Prisoners delousing bed boards


While at this main camp I used to play football for our Hut 36A. We had three teams, 1st , 2nd, and 3rd Divisions. Division 1 was the Pirates. Division 2 was the Musketeers and Division 3 was the Racketeers (my team). Here are a few pictures of some of the teams taken at Gorlitz in 1944.


A football team A football team A football team


Our hut's team had black shirts with a large skull and cross bones on the front. Sometimes l was picked to play for the Musketeers. We kept as fit as possibly by taking long walks around the compound and relying on our Red Cross parcels. We also got Canadian parcels from the Canadian Red Cross. These were very good parcels indeed and a bit larger than the British parcels.


We also got cigarettes, but most of these were used to barter for bread which was 'wangled' into the camp from outside the barracks from outside bakeries by the guards and the prisoners that worked in the bakeries. At times we could get a two kg loaf for 20 cigarettes. Sometimes this doubled. There were also many other rackets being run such as meat, eggs, and fresh vegetables. I spent a lot of my time making model blowers. Our chaps brought in the idea when they were moved from the Italian Prisoner of War camps. A full size blower was about 18 inches long, 10 inches wide, and 12 inches high. These were built using Red Cross parcel tins with a base made from bed boards. I used to work from drawings, cutting out the tin bits with a small set of scissors. I used to get a few cigarettes or some extra food for them. One of the models I made went to a chap named Pat Stocker from South Africa; I wonder if he has still got it, if he is alive that is. The fuel for the blowers was anything that could be burnt. The best fuel was a coal briquette that we nicked from the coal wagon that came round with the fuel for our hut stoves. The guards would always look the other way for a few cigarettes, chocolate or soap.


A homemade 'blower' for cooking food and boiling water


Roll call was every morning on the football pitch, wet of fine. We always had to form up in fives, as it was easier for the guards to count. Sometimes we would have to stand outside for as much as two hours while out huts were searched. This was done mostly by the German SS guards. When we did return the place was a shambles; they used to turn the place upside down looking for guns, radios, large knives and many other things. Another thing they would do would be to open Red Cross tins so that we had to eat the contents quickly; otherwise they would go bad.


They would also be looking for Russian Prisoners of War who were in another compound in the camp. The Russians would get into our compound for food. They would do odd jobs for us such as washing our shirts etc. They had all sorts of ways of getting into us. A lot of them were proper Red Army soldiers, always clean and tidy. The Russian Prisoners of War were treated very badly. They had no Red Cross parcels and were not protected by the Geneva Convention, as we were (not that it always worked). One morning one of them was trying to get back to his compound by climbing over the wire. He was seen by a guard, who shot him, and left him hanging over the wire as a warning of what would happen to others who tried to get over the wire. We often used to see the wagon coming out of their compound with the dead. The bodies were taken outside the camp and buried in large graves. A lot of the Russian Prisoners of War were put out to work on farms and various other places. They were the lucky ones, who got extra food, clean billets and clothes. When I was at Munsterberg there were some Russian Prisoners of War at a farm near us so we used to collect up any spare clothing, Red Cross tins, cigarettes, and anything else going. I used to go with a couple of chaps and a guard to visit them and I must say that they were very glad and grateful for what we did for them.


Back at Stalag VIIIA one day, I had a very pleasant surprise. For into my hut came Ron Clarke the medical chap from Munsterberg. He had got fed up and asked to come back to the camp. I managed to get him back into my block of bunk beds. We had a lot to talk about. Ron was quite an artist. He used to paint regimental badges onto white handkerchiefs. He also coloured black and white photographs, and painted coloured pictures from photographs. This little line and my blowers brought us some perks. Ron and I had our photo taken at the camp as we looked quite fit thanks to the Red Cross parcels and the extras we earned with our sidelines. When I left the camp on Thursday 15 February 1945, Ron, being a medical orderly, was left behind to look after the sick. This is a picture of me with Ron Clark who was with me at the Munsterberg working party E13253 (later E108). Ron was our medical chap. Ron is an Australian of the Second Australian Imperial Force. He was taken as a Prisoner of War on Crete after quite a while on the run. He is also in our wedding photograph.


Ron Clark and John Smeeth



While we were at Stalag VIIIA we had plenty of entertainment. We had a large building used as a theatre. We had some very good shows put on by some of the chaps who formed a theatre company. One show was 'The Man Who Came to Dinner'. One of the players was Jimmy McFarlane from Chichester. He was an intelligence Sergeant in our Regiment. After the war he worked as an administrator at St Richard's Hospital, Chichester. These pictures show some of the scenes from the show. Jimmy McFarlane is the tall 'lady' on the right in the bottom [far right] picture. I also have a programme somewhere. (See Appendix)


A scene from "The Man Who Came To Dinner" A scene from "The Man Who Came To Dinner" A scene from "The Man Who Came To Dinner" A scene from "The Man Who Came To Dinner"


19 November 1944

This picture was taken at Stalag VIIIA. I think that it was of some of the lads from Hut 35B who played football for the hut. I am in the back row 8th from the left. In the front row, second from the left is a chap called Spackman who was with me at Munsterberg.


British prisoners


Here is another picture of me taken in December 1944. I know that it was very cold and had been snowing. I am on the left. I cannot remember the name of the other chap.


British prisoners


The two pictures below show roll calls during the winter of 1944/45. The top [left] one shows a general view of a roll call held on the football pitch. It was very cold. The bottom picture [right] shows me on the right. The big chap in the front row on the right was the Regimental Sergeant Major in charge of our hut 35B. We always stood in fives to be counted. The two English chaps with the German Officer are English NCOs who were in charge of the compound.


Roll call, winter 1944/45 Roll call, winter 1944/45


There are many more stories that I could write about our antics whilst at Stalag VIIIA. Some are very amusing, some not so, and some sad ones. I stayed in Prisoner of War Camp Stalag VIIIA until we were evacuated on 15 February 1945 after about five months here. This picture of me, Corporal L J Smeeth, Prisoner of War number 15396, was taken at Stalag VIIIA near Gorlitz, East Germany.


Corporal John Smeeth


1 January 1944 #

Heavy snow


4 January 1944 #

Saw the film Dixie Dugan. The Germans banned this film after four showings


10-13 January 1945 #

In bed with ‘flu. Saturday


13 January 1945

Molly's birthday. About 1800 American Prisoners of War arrived here from France and Belgium. They were taken just before Christmas. The Germans took them on their offensive. The Americans were all NCOs etc. They arrived here in a very sorry state, with very little clothing. We collected tea, milk and sugar for them and got them fitted up with a good hot drink.


Monday 15 January 1945

We drew our last Red Cross food issue; half a Canadian parcel, but no cigs we have not had a cigarette issue since about the first week in December. The remainder of the food parcels were given to the Americans; one between four. The German food here at the moment is not good, but enough to stop one from starving. Our first meal of the day is at 11 o'clock. Usually about 5 to eight potatoes per man and a little soup which is usually dried vegetables (which one must eat before they can say what it is like). About once a week we get pea soup and also swedes. Bread is issued every day; one kilo loaf (just over two pounds?) between seven men. About three times a week we share six men to a loaf. To be exact, our bread ration is 2225 grams per week. We get margarine six days a week (500 grams a day between 20 men); cheese is generally issued on Saturday. The jam issue is on Fridays, but for the last four weeks we have received none but we have been given about 75 grams of sugar as a jam issue. Drinks are as follows; hot water at 5 o'clock in the morning and coffee at 1 o'clock. According to the news here we are about 70 miles from the Russian front. Breslau, which is about 180 km from here is in Russian hands. We have been expecting about 8000 Prisoners of War for the last week; they are supposed to be marching here but where they are coming from nobody seems to know. The latest report we have is that they will not be coming here; as to where they are or what has happened to them is a mystery.


Week ending 28 January 1945

For the last week things that have happened and the news has been amazing. The Russian advance in the last two weeks has been a real tonic to us. At the moment this camp is in a state of excitement and we are expecting anything. Here are a few of the main events and points that have happened in the last week or two.


27 January 1945

The camp canteen started to sell out. Quite a lot of junk was dished out. The spare kit that we handed in a short time ago was issued out to us again.


28 January 1945

A small party of medical orderlies has just arrived here. They came from somewhere near Kattowitz O/S after a long journey just missed being taken by the Russians. With them they brought quite a large quantity of cigs which they handed into the camp, and much to our enjoyment, we have just received an issue of 18 per man.


Sunday evening 28 January 1945

The men that arrived here today were the Red Cross parcel staff at Teshen. They left there six days ago. They brought with them 60 Red Cross parcels that were given to our infirmary. No news is yet available of our working parties near the Russian front. Camp Griff - Russians about 100 miles from Berlin.


Monday 29 January 1945

The weather yesterday and today has been terrible; very cold and snowing hard the whole time. Heard today that there are about 3000 Prisoners of War expected here in the next day or so. They are marching from Lamsdorf camp (I think that this is still Stalag VIIIB). We have been given to understand that they are about 40 km away in a very cold and hungry state. I have heard that some food from here was sent to them this afternoon. A lot of prisoners are down with the flu. Very little mail coming in and no personal parcels since Xmas. Camp Griff - Heard that the Russians are still doing well and that they are about 65 miles from here.


Tuesday 31 January 1945

Weather unchanged; cold and still snowing slightly. This morning about 50 of our chaps arrived here from a working party near Kattowitz, attached to Teschen VIIIB. They had been on the road for 10 days; two days marching and the rest of the way by rail in a cattle truck. They were looking in a sorry state; dirty, unshaven and hungry. We received a jam ration yesterday; the first for over four weeks. The camp at the moment certainly looks a dreary, God forsaken hole with snow everywhere and icicles over six feet long hanging from the huts. The place is getting very overcrowded. A hut consists of two halves, A and B. One hundred men in one half is sufficient but we have 171 men and it looks like we will be getting more. The main thing is that I am keeping fit as there are a lot down with the flu. 'The Camp' our weekly newspaper has been reduced by a half. This evening it has turned much milder and the snow has started to melt. Camp Griff- Nothing startling; news still very cheerful.


Thursday 1 February 1945

It has been thawing all night and much warmer; the first warm spell for over six weeks. Went for a walk round the camp this morning; the first time for over a week; very wet and slushy under foot. The Americans moved into huts amongst us yesterday and today; they had been separated from us since they came in. Camp Griff - Russians about 75 miles from Berlin, rest of the news very cheerful.


Friday 2 February 1945

Still very mild and thawing. The camp is getting like a mud pond. About 50 chaps came in from Lamsdorf. They had fallen out of the march through sickness. Our rations of sugar, meat, margarine, etc. have been cut down owing to all of the extras we have in the camp. Camp Griff - News still quite cheerful.


Saturday 3 February 1945

Once again my birthday, 27 years old, my 5th birthday in this country as a Prisoner of War. By the look of things it could be the last. This afternoon some more of the lads from Lamsdorf came in. I do not know how many; they were looking very tired and worn out but in good spirits. I shall know later more about this march and experiences, and how things are with them. This morning at about 6.30 there was a very heavy explosion near here. It shook the whole camp. Heard later that it was an ammo truck that went up. About midday an air raid near here, we could hear the bombing quite plainly. A few letters came in tonight, the first for a couple of days. My last was on 20 January. Weather still warm and mild; snow nearly all gone and camp in a very muddy state. Swapped my tunic with a Yank for his combat jacket.


Sunday 4 February 1945

Had a check parade at 8.30. Weather turned colder it froze during the night. I still do not know how many of our lads came in yesterday from Lamsdorf. They left Lamsdorf camp at 2 p.m. on 22 January; 13 days on the march. I have heard that 41 of the lads died on this march and I have also heard that 4 guards died. I do not know what truth there is in it, but I hope to find out later. Their rations were very small; one fifth of a loaf per day and for two days they received nothing. They marched about 20 km per day, stayed in barns etc. at night. Distance covered about 250 km. We have in this camp now nationalities from all over the world. They are as follows English, South Africans, Americans, Russians, French, Belgians, Serbs, Poles, Spaniards, Palestinians, Slovakians, Italians. Quite a lot of cosmopolitans, and as for languages, I think that nearly every language under the sun is spoken here. Camp Griff - Russians still going strong, about 60 km from Berlin and about 35 miles from Stettin. Western front also very exciting with signs of a big offensive. Berlin heavily bombed. The town of Posen has fallen to the Russians.


Monday 5 February 1945

Very mild and misty rain. The camp is now one big pond of mud. Very overcrowded; about 11000 in here now and about another 13000 expected from Lamsdorf today. Quite a lot of civilian refugees passing the camp in horse and carts etc. this morning. If this war does not end soon, this country (Germany) will be in a very sad state. Another batch of lads from Lamsdorf arrived late this afternoon; with this that arrived on 3 February we have now got about 3000 of them from Lamsdorf. I did meet up with a couple of lads that I was previously with at an earlier working party. No Camp Griff today.


Tuesday 6 February 1945

Roll call at 7.00 a.m. instead of 7.30 a.m. Raining hard. Had to stand for 45 minutes on roll call, just one of the hardships we have to put up with. Camp Griff - News we have heard, very good. The Eastern front is about 45 km from Berlin.


Wednesday 7 February 1945

Weather is much brighter, sun trying to shine. Camp still in a very muddy state just like a farmyard. Our hut is getting very overcrowded, over 200 now. Camp Griff - Still very cheerful.


Thursday 8 February 1945

Weather is still very mild but raining slightly. Quite a lot of lads from working parties coming in. We have been told that we might have to sleep two to a bed. This week our bread ration has been cut (6 to a loaf). The loaves are a different type and smaller. A few December 1944 letters arrived here this morning. Camp Griff - Still very cheerful. As it was read out here last night, we were told that our man of confidence had written to the protecting Prisoners of War asking for a representative to be sent here regarding our treatment which is against the Geneva Convention. The German Commander here said he had been in touch with HQ in Berlin and the answer was that Lamsdorf personnel who had arrived here would be leaving shortly. He also said that the NCOs would be leaving shortly. He more or less told us to stand by, but most of us have been prepared for the last two weeks, so as not to be caught napping.


Friday 9 February 1945

Much finer this morning, slight frost. Camp rumours very exciting today. Russians are advancing in this direction and we are told that they are at a town called Leignitz, about 80 km from here. The news that we have been expecting for a long time is that we are going to move. The order was as follows: 'Tomorrow 1000 Russian prisoners and the Lamsdorf personnel that are here will leave on Sunday 11 February. The private ranks and staff would not leave. The senior medical officer and Padre would travel with us and we would take two days rations.' As far as we could make out it would be in the direction of Dresden.


Saturday 10 February 1945

Up at 5 a.m. This morning had a cold shower (perhaps the last one or bath for a week or so). After breakfast and a good haircut, started to sort out my kit for tomorrow. The first batch of the Lamsdorf chaps left at about 11 a.m. Was told this afternoon that we are not leaving tomorrow, but on Monday 12 February, unless it all gets changed again. The Lamsdorf chaps that left this morning have returned. The Yanks had been told that they are leaving at 8 a.m. on Sunday 11 February 1945 and now this has also been cancelled. It has just been given out that all privates and lance corporals graded A3, B4 and MB (i.e. those unfit for work) and the party that came from Teschen on 28 January 1945 to be prepared to move tomorrow 11 February 1945. At the moment, the order still stands. Today, quite a few left and after a while they returned because there was no transport for them. At the moment the rumours are getting very exciting. According to what we hear, the war is as good as over. All of us here expect to hear at any moment that it is over. Although we have had no Red Cross parcels or cigarettes, everybody is in the best of spirits (well almost) and eagerly waiting to see what is going to happen next. We have now been told that they are not going to evacuate the camp owing to the Russian front being so close. The cooking up of any food (which is not a lot) and the sorting out of kit has been in full swing. We have now been told that the NCOs and a few others will be leaving on Monday 12 February. We shall have to wait and see. Camp Griff - Still very cheerful and we all think that the end is very near. Heard that the Russians are now at a place called Strehlen about 20 km from Munsterberg which is where I was in September last year before I returned to this camp. I wonder what has happened to the lads from there?


Sunday 11 February 1945

Slight frost this morning but sunny. Ground drying up nicely. Enjoyed a walk around the camp for an hour this morning. Some of the lads are building small carts in preparation for our move. Camp rumours still very cheerful; was told this afternoon that we would not be leaving tomorrow (12 February 1945). At the moment it looks as if we shall see the end of the war in this camp or the Russians will be here soon. Today they have put a guard on duty inside our hut. Camp Griff - Still very good.


Monday 12 February 1945

Slight snow on the ground this morning. Camp still very muddy. No news yet about moving. The camp rumours are still very good this morning. Our margarine issue today has been cut to 25 men to a pat instead of 20. Our margarine ration is now down to 20 grams from 25 grams per man. On Thursday we will get meat soup to make up for a cut in our bread ration. Have been told that when we move the whole camp will go and only the sick will remain. Yesterday and today a lot of German military equipment and men have been passing here. Camp Griff - News is very good; and we stand a very good chance of being cut off. Russians about 125 miles from Berlin, south-east from here. They are also 20 miles from the Baltic port of Stettin. Good news also from the western front.


Tuesday 13 February 1945

Weather very dirty again, cold with snow and rain. Up to midday nothing exciting has happened; no news of moving as yet. This evening we were told about moving. The Yanks are supposed to be moving and 160 of our chaps. It works out at about 20 from each of our huts. It was drawn who should go from our hut. The rest of us have been told that we will be leaving on Thursday 15 February; that is if no further changes take place. Quite a lot of planes over this area in the last two days. According to rumours the Russians are getting very close to this place. Camp Griff - News still very good.


Wednesday 14 February 1945

Very mild again; raining first thing this morning. About 1450 Yanks and 152 of our lads left at 7.30. Tomorrow, if no further change, the rest of the Lamsdorf lads and those from Stalag VIIIA will leave at the same time. During the night the air raid warnings went about six times. The camp orders this afternoon are that we will leave at 6.30 in the morning taking rations for two days. One loaf between two men and a tin of meat between ten men. I am afraid we are now in for a tough time I am sure food will be very scarce. We are looking on the bright side knowing that the end of the war is getting very close. We are not sure where we will be heading, but from what we can gather it is a place Southwest of Dresden, that is if the Russians do not beat us to it. That is all for the moment. Now we must wait and see what tomorrow brings forth. Today we had an issue of 10 cigarettes per man. These were from private parcels that could not be forwarded on to their respective camps. I must say that these few cigarettes were very welcome. Camp Griff - The best news for many a day, Russians said to be about 24 miles from this camp. The air raid warnings we heard last night were caused by our boys when they bombed Dresden. News of the Western Front still very good.


Thursday 15 February 1945

Rations; one loaf of bread between two and 10 men to a tin of meat. Got up at 5 a.m.; left at 8.30 a.m. Air raid at about midday while marching. Our planes passed over us. We saw, passing amongst the clouds, about 100 planes and could hear many more quite plainly. Last night we heard some very heavy bombing. All along the roads, blockading and defence work is in progress. Bridges are being made ready for blasting. A lot of evacuees on the move. After marching about 25 km we arrived at our destination at about 4.30 p.m., near Reichenbach. Slept in a barn, packed like cattle, about 800 of us; slept rather cold and cramped. Topics of interest on the march; dumping of kit, carts etc. Stopped for a while on the march for something to eat and a rest. I dumped one towel, a pair of old socks and my leggings. A rough day. Gorlitz. Half a loaf, and a tin of meat between ten men.


Friday 16 February 1945

Up at 6.30. Left at 8.30. Had a hot drink before leaving. Marched about 20 km to an unknown place. Stayed in another barn; not so crowded as last night. Electric light in the barn. Topics of interest on the march; defence work, evacuees, roadblocks being got ready. This marching quite tough. Hot water at the end for a drink. Feet sore and tired.


Saturday 17 February 1945

Had a good comfortable nights sleep. Up at 6.30 a.m.; a piece of dry bread for breakfast. Last night some apples were pinched from here so we are being punished this morning by not getting hot water for a drink; also not being able to get a wash. Marched about 10 km to some German barracks at Bautzen*. Barracks called King Albert; no troops here. We drew three days rations; one loaf between two men, a tin of meat between three, some cheese between eleven and one packet of soup powder per man. Left Bautzen and marched another 15 km to a farm. Slept in a barn. A tiring journey. Weather fine but cold. Points of interest today; evacuees and a lot of transport on the roads. On the walls at Bautzen and in some of the shop windows were signs such as 'VICTORY' or 'SIBERIA'. First drink at 7.30 p.m. for quite awhile.


Sunday 18 February 1945

Up at 6.30. Had a good nights sleep. About 30 of us slept in a loft; not cramped, electric light. And hot water for a drink. Left at about 8.45 a.m. A cold wind to start with but it turned much warmer and sunny later. March to a town called Kamenz* (about 14 km). Good roads. Marched to some German Barracks, a lot of evacuees; passed quite a few road blocks being prepared. Arrived in the barracks at about 1 p.m. At 3 p.m. drew a good ladle of barley soup and some coffee. Left the barracks at about 5 p.m. and marched about 3 km to a church. About 700 of us went to this church but only about 300 could get in. The rest of us marched back to the barracks, arriving at about 7 p.m. We stood around until about 9 p.m., half-frozen to death. We were put into a building already filled with our chaps. I managed to find a spot on a heap of wood shavings. I couldn't sleep, it was too cold.


Monday 19 February 1945

Up at 6.30 a.m., no wash, got some hot coffee, left at about 8 a.m. I left with another batch of chaps; marched about 16 km to a large German barracks at a place called Konigsbruck*. Arrived at 2 p.m. and was put in a large hall half filled with seats. About 800 of us got in; it was very cramped but warm. Got a hot drink and some soup. At 5 p.m. went to the German kitchen and got some more hot soup. Also drew some rations for two days; one loaf between three men, soup powder between three and a half pound tin of cheese between four. Notes of interest on route; evacuees and roadblocks. Had a good nights sleep.


Tuesday 20 February 1945

Up at about 6 a.m. Had a wash and shave, my first shave since 14 February. Left at about 8.30 a.m. after getting some hot mint tea. Also managed to get a drink of tea at midday. It's just like a summer's day, the best day for quite a while. Beginning to feel the strain of the march, beginning to ache all over and feet not too good.. My left foot is beginning to swell. Also getting very hungry. Started to eat some dry soup powder and some raw carrots I got a few days ago. Distance today about 25 km. Arrived at a small village called Kalkrueth at about 5 p.m. Was left hanging around for 1½ hours. Eventually got put in a barn that was already full, did manage to get a little sleep. Notes of interest on route; evacuees, and endless roadblocks.


Wednesday 21 February 1945

Up at about 6 a.m., a rotten nights sleep. Raining hard. Drew one large sausage between 10 men (a good ration). Left about 9 a.m. No drink or wash. Marched to some German barracks near Meissen*. It rained until 1 p.m. Kit got very wet. We march along very muddy farm roads. Arrived at about 2.30 p.m. Had an issue of hot barley soup. Went into a good billet and managed to get some sleep.


Thursday 22 February 1945

Up at 6.30 a.m. Drew one days ration; one loaf between four and ½ lb. of sausage between four. Left at about 9.30 a.m. Notes of interest while marching today; evacuees, roadblocks and defences. Marched to a town called Lommatzsch*. Distance about 20 km. Arrived at about 3 p.m. Drew a good hot barley soup at the station and then marched about another 3 km to a farm. Slept in a barn. No wash today. Obtained on the march today a few carrots and a bit of bread. My rough notes end here. In another old notebook l have found the following; mainly places, dates, distances marched, and rations.


24 February 1945

Dobelin. Rations today; 'half a loaf of bread and one tin of meat between three men to last three days.


25 February 1945

Leisig. One days rations; two loaves between 9 men.


26 February 1945

Badlausick. Two days rations; one sausage (about 4 lb.) between 30 men. Borna. Issue of half a loaf.


27 February 1945

Borna. Two days rations; 2 oz sausage and 2 oz of raw sausage meat.


1 March 1945

Zeitz. Two days rations; half a loaf and one fifth of an 'unknown' loaf, one tin of meat between 10 men.


2 March 1945

Eisenberg. Two days rations; two loaves between 5 men, 1½ oz. sausage.


5 March 1945

Jena. One days ration; 3 loaves between 16 men.


6 March 1945

Mellingen. One days ration; Ό loaf.


7 March 1945

Mellingen. One days ration; Ό loaf and 1 oz sausage.


8 March 1945

Mellingen. One days ration; Ό loaf and 1 oz sausage.


9 March 1945

Near Erfurt. One days ration; Ό loaf and 3 oz sausage.


10 March 1945

Near Gotha. One days ration; three loaves between 13 men, Όlb. cheese.


12 March 1945

Near Muhlhausen. One days ration; loaf and 2 oz sausage.


13 March 1945

Near Muhlhausen. One days ration; 1/5 loaf and 125 grams of cheese.


14 & 15 March 1945

Near Muhlhausen. Drawing what they called 'hospital rations'; I can't remember what they were.


16 March 1945

Near Muhlhausen. One days ration; Ό loaf and 2 oz sausage.


17 March 1945

Gunterode. Today's ration issued yesterday.


18 March 1945

Arrived at a brick factory at a place called Duderstadt*. Today's rations issued yesterday. I can remember a bit about this place. It was a very large brick factory - not working. I was put in a kiln with a lot of others. A lot were also put up in the drying rooms over the kilns. They were told not to light any fires, but some ignored this. A guard outside could see a fire going and put a shot through a window and killed one of our chaps. In the kiln I was next to a young London chap who was suffering from frostbite in his toes. He could hardly walk so I did what I could for him getting any rations that were going. This young chap's name was Jimmy Pike. Spent four days in this brick factory.


23 March 1945

The rations we got at this place per day were as follows: 1/6 of a loaf, mint tea, margarine, sausage or cheese, and soup Left this place (Duderstadt) by train. Issued with loaf and 2 small 'fish' cheeses. They had to evacuate all of the sick. Jimmy Pike was one who had to go and I took him to the siding where the cattle trucks were waiting. They were calling out the names of those to go. Sometimes a name would not answer. Jimmy's name was called and he was helped off with a medical orderly. A couple more names were called and then one wasn't answered so I called out that it was me. Off I went to join Jimmy. When we got to the truck an orderly (one of ours) asked me for my name. I told him what I had done and he told me to get into the back of the truck and hope that the German guard did not check up. Later that day off we went, much to my relief. I was able to stay with Jimmy and help him on the journey. By the way; our toilet for the journey was a bucket in the corner. It was quite comfortable in the truck because we had plenty of straw and a medical orderly to look after us.


24 March 1945

Arrived at a place called Fallingbostel* at about 5 p. m. after travelling all day yesterday and all night. We were then taken to a large Prisoner of War camp (Stalag XIB). Rations for 24th were issued on the train; of a loaf and two fish cheeses. We were told that these were our rations for 25th. A bit now about this camp. It was quite a new camp and was occupied by the Red Devils. They had only been Prisoners of War for a few weeks. Jimmy was taken to the camp hospital and I was billeted in one of the huts. I was able to go and visit Jimmy in hospital. I have never known what happened to him and never heard or seen him since. I have a dinner fork that I got from some German stores outside the camp. The fork is marked 'Offizierheim Fallingbostel'. (Officers home Fallingbostel)


25 March 1945

Our rations at this camp are as follows.

    • 1 loaf between seven men on Sundays and 1/6 on weekdays.

    • A little sugar every day,

    • A small portion of margarine about twice a week,

    • Sausage once or twice a week,

    • If no jam a double issue of sugar,

    • Half a fish cheese once or twice a week,

    • Coffee morning and afternoon,

    • Soup at midday, and

    • Boiled spuds, perhaps as many as six


This is the end of my notes. The following has been written from memory. The boys of the 7th Armoured Division (the Desert Rats) liberated us at this camp. I can remember them coming into the camp in their tanks. I think that it was about 21 April 1945. While I was in the camp at Fallingbostel, the lads that came with the 7th Armoured Division brought us lots of rations etc. One of the truck drivers was John Bull, Jesse Stubbs brother. I was wearing a cap at the time with a Royal Sussex badge in it, so he asked me where I was from in Sussex. You can guess the rest. I left the camp about a week later and went somewhere in the west of Germany. I was given some clean clothes etc. and then flown back to England in an old Dakota plane. I had dysentery and spent most of the flight on the bod! We landed at an aerodrome near Tring, Hertfordshire, I think. Was taken by a WAAF into a hanger that was turned into a first aid post. I was deloused and given a bed, issued with plenty of tea and cake, which my poor old tummy didn't want because of the dysentery. Later we were taken to a hospital in Ashridge Park* (in grounds like Goodwood). I was examined by a doctor and put on a fish diet. As soon as I got to the hospital they sent a telegram to my mother. Molly and my mum came to visit me a couple of days later. It was the first time that I had seen them since 1940. Molly will tell more about the visits.


8 May 1945

VE Day. I cannot remember a thing about it! I believe that I was probably at the hospital at Ashridge Park in Hertfordshire. A programme on television on 8 May 1995 didn't bring back any memories whatsoever.


This is a picture of me with Bert Hansford taken at 88 Grove Road, Chichester. I met Bert at the E51 coal mining working party. I think he came from the London area. He married a Chichester girl (his cousin) and they lived in Bognor Road. Bert had a tobacco and sweet shop in Bognor Road, Chichester near the junction with Whyke Road. This is now a hairdresser's shop. I do not know what happened to him after he left the shop.


Corporal John Smeeth


Molly and I were married at St Peter the Great, West Street, Chichester, on 9 June 1945. In this picture I am shaking hands with Ron Clark, and between us is Billy Butler. My sister, Peg, is on the right.


Corporal John Smeeth


3 October 1985 to 7 October 1985

Return Visit to Fallingbostel

In 1985 I went back to Fallingbostel. The Queen's Regiment invited us out. There were four of us from the Chichester Branch of the Royal Sussex Regiment. We went by coach from Victoria; left at 11.30 a.m. took the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk and arrived at the barracks in Fallingbostel at about 6 a.m. the next morning. The barracks were called Barbara. We were allocated a room, very comfortable, and were guests of the Sergeants' mess. All of the drinks etc. were free! They entertained us very well. We had a trip to Celle* and also visited the Belsen* Camp where many thousands of Jews died. We left Fallingbostel on the 7th at 11 a.m. and arrived back at Victoria at about 5 a.m. the following morning. A marvellous trip but rather tiring. I did not find out anything about the Prisoner of War camp that I was at (Stalag XIB).


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