Lieutenant Eric John Davies
Unit : No.21 Platoon, "D" Company, 2nd Battalion The South Staffordshire Regiment
Army No. : 207782
Awards : Military Cross
Lieutenant Davies originally served with the 2nd Battalion The South Staffordshire Regiment and participated in the invasion of Sicily on the 9th July 1943, where he was captured but subsequently escaped. The following is his report on these events.
1. Exercise Bigot - 9th July 1943.
We left the strip at Kairouan on time in Waco No.12, fourteen in all with the Glider Pilots. Trip was uneventful. About 2215 hrs we saw the coast of Sicily, made a right bank and went North along the coast. There was a lot of flak, both heavy and light, and we were about 5 miles off shore. I saw a flash and a puff of smoke and then saw the tow rope was free. I thought it had been cut by an A.A. shell. We cast off the rope and prepared for a sea landing. When we struck the water, we carried out our ditching drill, the glider then being submerged. I called the roll and all were present. The sea was pretty rough and parts of the Glider gradually broke away, we climbed on to the wings, but men were continually being washed off and Ptes Slaney, Rutter and Toon and I dived off and brought them back. As 6 men could not swim I decided to keep the force together, and swim the whole glider into the shore during the night. I had a fighting knife, so we cut paddles for those who could swim a little, and hand holes for those who could not. Four of us who could swim, swam and pushed the glider towards the shore. As the men were beginning to go to sleep and slip off the wing, we started singing. Morale was excellent, and discipline good. We paddled and sang until dawn, when we found ourselves about a mile from the shore. Ptes Judge and Millard had had to be held on by men detailed during the last hours of darkness. Ptes Rutter and Slaney swam to the shore to see if they could get a boat or contact our troops. On arrival they were taken prisoner. An Italian Motor launch came out and took us on board as prisoners (0830 hrs). The boat was covered in Red Crosses and bristling with guns. We found that we were slightly S of Augusta. The Italians thought the wreckage was of an aeroplane did not know its nationality. In all we were 10 hours in the water.
We were stripped, searched and looted. 2 Spitfires came in and shot up the Seaplane base, and we tried to escape but it was impossible. There I met P/O Samuels, R.A.F., who had been a prisoner there for 2 weeks. During an air-raid I tried to escape, but only got chained to P/O Samuels for my trouble, I was in chains for a few hours only. We were later moved to Lentini Town prison where I met Lt Williams 2 S Staffords, and some of his men who had been picked up at sea in Syracuse Bay. He was wounded and had had no medical assistance, so I did what I could, including setting his hand which was broken, while some of the men held him down. I went to the latrines and tried to escape over the prison wall, but got hauled back and thoroughly pasted for my efforts, and accorded the honour of a special guard of four men. Later we were moved to another town and interrogated by a board of high ranking Officers. We went in one at a time and I was asked to explain the workings of British grenades, including a 36 and a 77. The men were standing just outside the door and I was able to tell them to keep the exit free, as I meant to leave in a hurry. I told the Italian Interrogating Officer that the best way to explain the 36 Grenades was to take it to pieces, starting by taking the pin out. He was just going to do this, and I was preparing to dive for the door, when another officer stopped him. After an excited discussion they threw us all out, and asked us no more questions.
At the camp I was separated from the men and placed in solitary confinement. I was joined during the first night by Lt-Col Kouns of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Div. He had some U.S. gold seal dollars with him and we all but had the Serjeant of the Guard bribed, but he was afraid of the private soldiers, and nothing came of it.
During the day I had been interrogated in style, was taken into a room with the windows closed so as to be in twilight. The interrogating officer sat behind a desk and tried all the usual approaches. The two sentries fixed bayonets and loaded their rifles with elaborate flourishes, and because my identity discs had been taken off me on capture he threatened to have me shot as a spy. Later he tried to bribe me and then the effect of flattery and finally that he would have me shot. I told him to go to Hell and get on with it, that I had given my name rank and number and that was all he was going to get. There was a big map on the wall, and I was able to get out of him that we were at Piazza Armerina.
From Piazza Armerina we were taken North (Williams - Samuels - Col Kouns) skirting Mt Etna to Messina. Twice en route we were machine gunned by Lightnings. When this happened the Italian guards dived for the ditch covering the trucks with their rifles and threatening to shoot the first man to get off the truck. Luckily we were not hit. Along the route we saw groups of burnt-out vehicles which had been shot up by Allied aircraft. At Messina the Germans were ferrying men and vehicles across the Straits, so we were taken S of the town and lodged in a jail. There we were joined by other prisoners. For 24 hours we had no food or water.
During the trip to Messina Col Kouns and I planned an escape from the vehicles by cutting the canvas and jumping when the trucks slowed down. The hole was discovered and sewn up. We cut it again, and again it was sewn up. The rear truck was brought up to within 30 yards, with tommy gunners sitting on the front wings covering us. Two men sat on the front wings of our truck facing backwards with the same task. The looked most uncomfortable with their heads freezing and their backsides burning from the heat of the engine.
The next day we were taken across the Straits in assault craft after nearly being lynched by the civilian population in Messina. The trip only took 20 mins and gave us no time to put Col Kouns plan; to rush the Italian guards and German crew and take over the boat, into operation.
After the crossing we were taken by rail to P.W. Camp at Capua, where the Officers were put in a separate compound. It was then the 16th July, and we remained there until about mid-August. We occupied our time planning escapes, and assembling escape kits, mine consisted of a compass which I had sewn in my shorts in Africa, a map of Sicily which I stole from an Italian guard, and maps of Italy and the Swiss frontier which we made, these were on eight thin sheets of paper sewn in my clothing; a hacksaw blade which was given me (mine had been found during the initial search at Capua), a pair of wirecutters which I made from a pair of dental forceps, a water bottle and a pack which I took from the Italian store during an air raid. Concentrated food I saved from our Red Cross Parcels. The Italians punctured all the tinned food, but we immediately covered the holes with sticking plaster.
I obtained the dental forceps by pretending that I was suffering from toothache, my guards took me to the dental room, where the Italian dentist, very third rate, examined my teeth and told me there was nothing wrong. I insisted that there was, and he hastily drilled four holes in my teeth, and told my guards to bring me back the next day to have them filled. I could see his sets of forceps on the table, so I promptly fainted. They sat me on a form nearby. Between my groans I edged up to the table and slipped a set of forceps into my pocket. It was a bit tricky because they stuck in the box, and there were about 15 Italians in the room at the time. When I had them I said I was alright and was marched back. I promptly buried them, and after 2 days I converted them into wirecutters with my hacksaw.
My first serious attempt was with Capt Lash of No.3 Commando through the wire. We managed to cut the main wire during the night intending to go through two nights later and throw a blanket over the outer belt of wire. We camouflaged the hole very carefully but some other Officer made a recce through it during the next night and did not cover it up on his return and the guards discovered it.
The second attempt was by means of a tunnel. It was started by Lts Brooke - Johnson and Capt Weir S.A.S. (captured in Africa), Lash and I joined in. The entrance to the tunnel was in the canteen, and was intended to go under the wire and emerge by the Guards quarters in the P.A.D. trenches. We worked on it 18 hrs a day for three weeks in shifts of 4. We sank a vertical shaft of 9 ft, and went off at right angles. The earth was put in the roof of the building we were digging in. About the beginning of August Fortresses bombed Capua railway station and hit an ammunition train and dump, which went up. It was a mile away, but the explosions were so great that they all but wrecked the camp, bringing down doors and windows and splitting the walls and ceilings. The roof of the Canteen and recreation room where we had hidden the evacuated earth, collapsed and about a ton of earth poured down. We camouflaged it hastily, and told the Italians that we were so sorry about the bombardment, that we would clean up the very battered officer's compound for them. All the earth was carted away and hidden in the camp area, without the tunnel being discovered, and we set to work again. When the tunnel was about 40 or 50 ft long and we had only a few feet to go, we were all moved from the Capua Camp to No.19 Camp Bologna, except for the Americans, who were sent to another camp. Later as a free man I returned to Capua, then in the hands of the 5th Army, and found the tunnel still undiscovered, although the Germans had been using it as a prison camp.
There were no real chances on the train to Bologna, because Lash, who was with me, was too ill to jump off the train. At No.19 Camp, Bologna we started planning escape again, but before we could evolve anything concrete Italy capitulated.
On the 8th September, the day on which Italy packed in, I was still in the Officers Camp Concentranento P.G. 19 at Bologna. In the afternoon our guards appeared without arms, and told us of the capitulation, this information was received by radio. Brigadier Mountain the senior British Officer immediately demanded our release, but the guards refused this until after they received confirmation from their Military Authorities. Finally it was agreed that if no confirmation had been received by 0600 hrs 9th September they would release us. Sometime after midnight on the morning of the 9th the Italians told us that the Germans had surrounded the camp and taken it over. There were nearly 900 Officer prisoners in the Camp at the time, and most of them decided to make a break for it somehow. I went up to the main gate and found the Germans there so I went to the back of the camp and found a gap in the inner barrier of wire. With me was Lieut Shepherdson, Durham Light Infantry who asked if he could come along because he had no compass, maps or plans of his own for escaping. It was agreed that as I had intended to escape before, I should lead the expedition. We reached the outer wire, covered by arc lamps and Italian Guards. We could see no Germans so we sent the Italians down the road to see if there were any Germans there, they returned and told us there were. With the assistance of Brigadier Mountain who had now come up to the outer wire. We persuaded the Sentry, a private soldier, to open the gate in the wire, by telling him that it was the Commandants order. By now there were 40 or 50 Officers behind us waiting to get out. The gate now being open the Sentries were pushed aside and we were on to a tarmac road; other Officers were following us. We moved a 100 yards down the road when a machine gun opened up from 200 yards apparently firing at the men escaping in the glare of the arc lights. We went flat, crawled off the road into a ditch, moved down the ditch and got through a thick hedge into the wood. Other prisoners also got into a wood and the Germans tried to clear it by moving back and forth in extended order, firing Schmeissers from the hip. As the line passed us, we lay down or stood close to a tree. Eventually we got through the wood and crawled into a vine-yard and then moved North until we hit the railway line. There we bumped into the Germans again who fired at us with automatic weapons as we tried to cross the line, we crawled back and set off East away from the line, and at dawn hid up in a field of high crops. We had now been free about 4 or 5 hours and were about a mile away from the concentration camp.
During the day we heard German soldiers and Italian voices about 50 yards away from us, we dared hardly move a hand for fear of making a slight noise and being discovered. In the evening we moved off S.E. towards the hills and reached St. Lazzaro about midnight. There we contacted some Italians who gave us civilian clothes, food and 500 Lire each. Hiding in trees and woods we spent 3 or 4 days in that area, resting and making plans. About this time we met a young Italian couple who were going South to get away from the Germans, they agreed to help us get South. I decided to go to Castel del Rio so we walked and went by train via Imola and Monghidoro. We walked most of the way, a short train journey being an experiment of mine and had proved successful. The Italian couple who agreed to help us didn't move with us but near us, contacting us only when essential. They bought all our train tickets during the escape: it was worked this way. Shepherdson and I waited away from the Station while they went in and bought 4 tickets, they then came out and dropped two tickets as they passed us and we picking them up followed them to the train at a distance of about 100 yards or so. There was no communication between us and them on the train but we made contact again after the journey. From Castel del Rio we walked and went by train to Firenze via Firenzuola and arrived there about 16th September. From Firenze we took the train to Rome via Arrezzo after waiting 4 hours which we spent in a large Church or Cathedral, there an Italian verger asked me something and not getting a reply became very insistent so I pretended to be mad and he left me. I returned to Shepherdson whom I had left in another part of the Church and we left too, hurriedly. Outside the Church a German soldier asked us for information about the Church which we explained with a watch and very bad French. We left Firenze about 1600 hours changed trains and stations at Arezzo and arrived in Rome in the early hours of the morning. I had not intended to go into the City but to get off outside and make a detour to the railway South of Rome on foot. Unfortunately the train didn't stop before Rome and was moving too fast for us to leave it. North of Rome the railway line and small stations had been heavily bombed but the line, of course, was still open. A lot of damage had been done.
In Rome there was a curfew, and as soon as we left the station a German came up to us and asked us something. We didn't know what it was and said we could not help him. He then tried Italian and we pointed to a large building and told him he would find everything there. He was definitely suspicious so we walked away quickly. It was very dark and we hid in the back streets, while our Italian assistant bought us train tickets for Cisterna di Littoria. We got off the train a few miles from the station, and made our way into the mountains, with the idea of following down the North East flank towards Naples. In the area of Priverno; Shepherdson and I agreed to separate because Shepherdson's feet were pretty bad and he preferred to lie up with the two Italians and wait for the Allies to pass them. We thought that they had reached Gaeta. I decided to go South through the German lines. I moved down the flank of the mountains following roughly the line Castro - Pico - Esperia, moving by day, by compass alone as I had no large scale map. I had long since decided that movement by day was a 100% better than movement by night. At this time whenever I came to German telephone wires, with the aid of two stones I carried for that purpose, I cut a piece out of the wire about 50 yards long and carried it off with me and hid it. From Esperia I went almost due East, swam the river Carigliano North of St Anria di Vallefredda. All the bridges were guarded it was a river too fast to stand up in, about 5 feet deep, 80 yards wide, with steep banks. Thence S.E. to the plain South of the rd junc Vairano and into the mountains East of Pietramelra. By now my feet were in a bad state so I lay up for some days and then tried to cross the river Volturno. The fighting there was too fierce so I could not get across. Later I heard that the Allies had crossed the river so I went through the German lines and eventually made contact with the U.S. 3rd Div on the evening of 18th October at Statigliano. There I was able to give them some information and they fought a short battle. During my wait for the Allies to cross the River Volturno I kept myself fit by logging and sawing wood, and climbing in the mountains. On the night of the 18th I went back through the German lines to make a recce of Roccaromana - for a possible enemy counter-attack. An Italian I knew told me it was coming. At dawn I found a German Platoon had come up into the hills, and chose to occupy and dig in around the farm I was operating from, East of the town. I was nearly taken prisoner by the Germans but managed to crawl away and returned to the U.S. Lines. The Italian occupants of the house were captured. The farm then received a thorough plastering from the American Artillery.
Note. All Italian men are now being picked up by the Germans and made to do forced labour in the front line or where ever they are needed. The women are put into soldiers brothels.
It took me exactly 40 days, from the night I broke out of the Cage at Bologna to reach the Allied lines.
Escape attempts fall into two types:
1. Before one has been passed back to a permanent P.W. Camp.
2. After reaching an organised P.W. Camp.
For the first, the quick break and run technique is the best. It is essential to seize every opportunity, and not to wait in vain for the "perfect" one. There isn't such a thing. Failures must not be taken too much to heart. Don't rely on other people, and don't wait for the other man to try it first. An escape kit is not essential.
For the second type, thorough planning and a good escape kit is essential. Again failing must not discourage further attempts and neither must the anti-escape prisoner be allowed to discourage one. It is the standing rule in most cages that all escape plans be submitted to the S.B.O. (Senior British Officer) and Escape Committee if it exists. This rule avoid innocent torpedoing of others plans and provides useful information and co-operation. It is wise to have one man in Command of the escape whose word will be final. Once out it is better to avoid shortcuts; if there are two ways of doing a thing the longest and hardest will prove to be the best. On a long journey one with experience, reaches a stage of depression when one doesn't care if one succeeds or not. Keep going, it's worth it.
During all stages of an escape "IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEED, TRY, TRY, TRY, AGAIN".
Prisoners of War.
The following information has been brought back by Lieut E.J. Davies of P.O.W. in enemy hands.
2. S Staffords.
Personnel of Glider No.12 (Waco) - Unwounded and P.O.W. 27.7.43. Capua.
5124171 Pte Millard H.
4920339 Pte O'Donnell W.
4927394 L/C Rutter J.
4923569 Pte White C.
6103120 Pte Ramsay H.
4918425 L/C Bennett L.
4927052 Pte Judge A.
5125236 Pte Rodgers A.
4917665 Pte Toon T.
4916486 Pte Slaney D.
4923147 Pte Goode J.
Personnel of Glider No.130 (Horsa)
Lt. Williams P.O.W. Camp Bolgn 8.9.43
4032834 Pte Owen T. -do- -do-
This Glider landed in the sea between Syracuse and Augusta, and about half the load (32) were drowned. Lt Davies does not know the names of the survivors.
1 Border Regt.
Lt. Loudon - Unhurt - P.O.W. Camp Bologna
1 Glider Pilot Regt
C/Sjt and Sjt Pilots of Glider No.12 (Waco) P.O.W. Camp Capua 27.7.43
Durham Light Infantry
Lt Sidney Shepherdson 17, Foster St., Oldham, Lancs. - Escaped P.O.W. Camp Bologna, last seen Priverno Area - 22.9.43.
Capt Walmsley - P.O.W. Camp Bologna - 8.9.43
Capt John Lash - P.O.W. Camp Bologna - 8.9.43.
a/m Coy Comdr, 3 Subalterns and some of his men are also P.O.W.
P/O Samuels - Wellington Sqdn - Observer, P.O.W. - Bologna, 8.9.43 shot down at sea off Augusta, sole survivor.
Lt Richard Bentley - (Fortress Pilot) P.O.W. Capua 27.7.43.
82nd Airborne U.S. Army.
Lt-Col Kouns - Parachutist - P.O.W. Capua 27.7.43.
Signature of Escaped Prisoner of War: [E.J. Davies]
Signature of Witness: [?]
Date: 27 October 43.
For his numerous attempts to escape, Lieutenant Davies was awarded the Military Cross. His citation reads:
This Officer's glider crashed into the sea off Sicily on the night of July 9th, 1943. Although the glider was several miles from the coast, Lieutenant Davies kept his party together and paddled the glider towards the shore until an Italian motor launch came out and took them aboard as prisoners.
Lieutenant Davies was taken to Capua, from which prison camp he made two attempts to escape; one of which involved digging a tunnel 40 feet long with bare hands.
He was then moved back to Bologna. On 8th September, 1943, the Italians surrendered, and the camp was to be taken over by the Germans. Lieutenant Davies and several other officers decided to make a dash for it, and Lieutenant Davies was elected leader. The break-out was successful in spite of German opposition; and, after a dangerous journey right through the German lines, he reached the American 3rd Division on the evening of October 18th. His perilous journey of 380 miles took him 5½ weeks.
Lieutenant Davies brought back valuable information of other British and American prisoners of war.
He showed courage, initiative and resource of the highest order.
Lieutenant Davies subsequently joined the Parachute Regiment and on completion of his training was posted to the 1st Parachute Battalion and given command of No.10 Platoon of "T" Company. During the briefing for Operation Market Garden in September 1944, he recalled that the officers of the battalion "objected without exception to the dropping zone and volunteered en masse to jump on or a bit to the south of the objective. This request and the reason for it was passed on to higher command but refused."
On the second day of the operation, Monday 18th September, Lieutenant-Colonel Dobie decided to abandon his objective of seizing the high ground to the north of Arnhem and instead tried to reach Arnhem Bridge. As soon as they crossed the railway line on the lower "Lion" route, they came under fire from enemy infantry in the houses ahead of them, as well as from armoured cars on the Den Brink high ground to the north, and from a brickworks and wool factory to the south. As a first phase of resuming the advance, No.10 Platoon were personally briefed by Dobie to take the factory area and engage the enemy in the neighbouring houses. Davies wrote:
He said he was giving the orders personally because it was most important to the battalion that we took the area of the chimneys ahead on the hill and up the road in front of us from where we were being held up, and he knew that I could and would do it.
I had got about twelve men left and went straight in with them. We passed our company commander and his second in command lying together by the side of the road in a ditch and looking a bit out of it with the Colonel running the show, and charged straight up the road to the high ground with the buildings at the top. It was a good fast advance under sniper and machine-gun fire, and we all got to the top - no casualties. Once we had taken the factory area, we placed a Bren gun in position to fire into the houses from whence the trouble came, and the gunner engaged the target area by firing into the house windows. He was stopped soon after with a bullet in his face. The house was still occupied by some screaming Dutch people - what a row! A young girl ran from one house doorway to another and was shot through the upper leg. My medics attended to her, but we had to hold the mother off; she went berserk. Food and drink were offered to us by civilians as the battle raged! I had eight or nine men left with me. I decided to try to advance further as the factory was now cleared. The civilians disappeared, sensibly going to their cellars.
We went after a machine-gun nest with a Bren and a rifleman. Old soldiers say that you never see the one that hits you. I did - it was a tracer. I was on one knee and, as I positioned the Bren gunner on to his target, I saw the tracer bullet coming over in a flat arc from our right flank. The bullet went through the top of both my legs, severing the sciatic nerve in my right leg on the way. A second bullet then went through my small pack and wounded me in the neck. I believe the same sniper must have got Jack Hellingoe [Lieutenant, No.11 Platoon, wounded] before our chaps got him.
Badly wounded, Eric Davies played no further part in the battle and was taken prisoner on Sunday 24th September 1944, but he managed to escape from a train on the 7th October, and remained in hiding in Holland until the Allied advance overtook him on the 17th April 1945. The following is his M.I.9 evasion report which he gave two days later. Note that questions which were not applicable to his circumstances, and to which no answer was given, have been omitted.
1. No. 207782 Rank Lieut Name Davies E.J.
2. Decorations: (U.S.A.A.F.: No. of missions) M.C.
3. Were you wounded? Give details Yes. GSW both legs. 18 Sep 44.
4. Ship (Navy), Unit (Army), Sqn. (Air Force) 1 Bn Para Regt.
5. Div. (Army) or Gp. (Air Force) 1 A/B Div.
6. Job (Pl. Comd, Rfn., etc.) Pl Comd.
7. Date of Birth 9 Dec 1918
8. Length of Service 5 and 1/4 years.
9. Peace time occupation Student
10. Private address 50, Oxberry Ave, Fulham, London.
11. Did you carry any form of identification, or photograph? Officers Identity Paper.
12. Do you speak French, or any other foreign language? No.
15. Post in Crew No.1.
17. Type of aircraft, place, date, time of departure DC Nr Peterboro. 17 Sep 44. About 1000 hrs.
18. Where and when did you come down? Wolfheze (NWE 250,000 Sheet 2a & 3a) E 67) Nr Oosterbeek. 1300 hrs. 17 Sep 44.
19. How did you dispose of your parachute, harness and mae west? Left on DZ. Parachute destroyed.
20.Were all secret papers and equipment destroyed? On captured - Yes.
Wounded 18 Sep 44
Prisoner 24 Sep 44
Escaped on way to Germany from train 7 Oct 44.
Reached Allied Lines 17 Apr 45.
Particulars given on capture to the enemy: 207782 Sgt Vincent Vere.
Reason: Wanted for "murder"(?) of sentry escaping from con camp in Italy.
8 Oct 44 - 27 Nov 44. Mr A. Scholten (Schoolmaster), Overijsel, Postb, Hattem (Z 83). Clothes food and housing. Medical attention and comforts. Also civilian identity papers. I cannot say too much for the help given by the man and his family. He ran many grave risks assisting me - at the time I was unable to walk. [Pencilled note: They know the name of the 2 doctors who attended me]
28 Nov 44 - 25 Dec 44. Mrs Docter, Oostendorp (Z 62). Food and housing.
25 Dec 44 - 19 Mar 45. Mr L. V.D. Schaar, Nunspeet (Z 62). In this house I was operated on by a Dr Renkin of Zwolle (Z 83) (nerve specialist). The operation was a major show taking more than 3 hours. For many weeks I could not move from my bed. This naturally placed the Schaar's in grave danger. Also for some 2 months Mrs V.D. Schaar gave me Swedish (?) massage for the leg; this I understand from the Doctors here has saved me from being lame for life. Need I say more?
19 Mar - 3 Apr 45. Also 15 Apr - 17 Apr 45. Mr Woltman, 48, Jachtlaan, Apeldoorn (Z 70). Food and housing.
3 Apr 45 - 12 Apr 45. Mr W.V. Wessel, Nijkerkerveen (Nr Nijkerk). Food and housing.
Account of Escape of
207782 Lt. Eric John Davies M.C., 1st Bn. Parachute Regt. 1st Airborne Division.
Captured: Arnhem, 24 Sep 44.
Escaped: From train near Zwolle, 5 Oct 44.
Date of Birth: 9 Dec 18.
Army Service: 18 Jan 40.
Peacetime Profession: Student.
Private Address: 50 Oxberry Avenue, Fulham, London, S.W.
(For details of previous escape from German hands in Italy see MI9/S/P.G./Misc/Int/507.)
I was badly wounded at Arnhem on 18 Sep 44. About thirty men got me back to a dressing station in the middle of the fighting zone and I was rounded up on 24 Sep. We were taken to Apeldoorn and put into Dutch Barracks, where we received no medical attention.
On 30 Sep at Apeldoorn, I found I could move my shoulders and stood up. Then and there I decided to make plans for escape.
On 5 Oct, we were taken to Apeldoorn station en route for Germany. We remained in the station in an ambulance train, heavily guarded until 7 Oct, when we were moved N. and N.E. Being considered seriously ill, I had been allowed a pillow and had been able to retain all my escape kit.
I got a medical orderly to strap my wounds. In the train I managed to cut through the lock of the window and jumped on to the track near Zwolle. My plan was to get away to the W. of Holland. I crawled for about three hours and after resting, got to a Dutch farm (address and name unknown) where I spent the rest of the night. Next morning I identified myself to the family who carried me out to a hole in a field and brought me food. In the evening, I was taken back to the farm and met an underground worker. During the night I was towed by bicycle to Zalk about 30 km. away.
I remained with that family until 27 Nov, by which time I was able to walk and had become fairly fit.
On 27 Nov, I planned to get back to my own lines. On 28 Nov, I went to Oostendorp, near the coast. Owing to the attempted mass crossing of the Rhine, I had to hide up and remained with the family until Christmas. Meanwhile, my leg had become paralysed from below the knee. Whilst at Oostendorp, I met a doctor who examined my leg and ordered an operation. For this purpose, I went to Nunspert (about 25 km. S.W. of Zwolle) and on 26 Dec, a Doctor from Zwolle performed the operation. I remained with this family until 19 Mar. At this house I met P/O. D. Duncliffe (S/P.G.(-) 3016). During this period there were many Gestapo raids.
On 19 Mar 45, word got around that there was to be another massed crossing of the Rhine so we went together to Apeldoorn where we separated.
I remained with a family until 3 Apr, when I moved to Barneveld (13 km. E. of Amersfoort) and thence to Nijkerkerveen (10 km. S. of Nijkerk) where I was to hide up until everyone was assembled. The scheme was organised by a Dutch/Englishman. We were to have crossed about the 5 Apr and on that date we heard the crossing was off, probably owing to the advance of the 1st Canadian Army. I remained at Nijkerkerveen until 12 Apr and then spent two nights in a field as the Germans were retreating.
On 13 Apr I met S/Sgt. Prince (S/P.G.(H) 3004) and Pte. Lynch (S/P.G.(H) 3005) both of the 156 Bn. Para Regt. and from then on my story is the same as that of S/Sgt Prince.
During the period that I was in Holland, I used the name of Sgt. Vincent Vere, but my own No. 207782. The reason for this was because I knew there was a reward offered for me in Italy after I had escaped owing to a shooting affair.
On the 17th July 1985, Davies added:
I, Eric John Vere-Davies of Durban, South Africa hereby make the following statement:-
I am a British subject by birth and during World War II was an officer in the 1st Battalion The Parachute Regiment, 1st Airborne Division (No 207782). I fought at Arnhem in 1944, was wounded, made prisoner and later escaped from the Germans en route by train to a P.O.W. camp in Germany, this being my second escape in this war. I jumped the train by night near Zalk, made contact with the Dutch Underground movement and was concealed by the family Scholten in Zalk until my wounds had healed. I later underwent surgery by a brave Dutch surgeon, Dr Renking, from Zwolle in Nunspeet in the house of Mr van der Schaar and then was passed down to Apeldoorn to the Woltman's 'Submarine Base' at Jachtlaan 48, Apeldoorn. The Submarine Base so called was the home of Capt. Woltman of the Dutch army who commanded the base and was actively assisted by one of his sons Job and his daughter Tiny. Apart from myself, several other airborne soldiers from Arnhem such as Sgt. Prince and Wade and Morris were sheltered and concealed at Jachtlaan 48 as were numerically even more RAF and USAF pilots and aircrew. P.O. Duncliffe of the RAF whom I knew personally from the Nunspeet hideout was one of them. Job and Tiny Woltman were both engaged full time at the Submarine Base and acted as guides and escorts when escapees and evaders were moved to and from the Apeldoorn base and also performed many other dangerous duties necessary for the maintenance and operation of such an underground unit for escaped and evading Allied airmen and soldiers. All three Woltmans abovementioned lived at Jachtlaan 48 during the war together with the rest of the Woltman family and were constantly active and bold in the face of the occupying enemy and were still there on 17 April 1945 as I was also when Apeldoorn was liberated. The son Job and daughter Tiny were particularly involved during two occasions upon which I was housed at Jachtlaan 48 and deserve our recognition and thanks for their brave and patriotic services to Allied soldiers and airmen behind enemy lines. Any further information may be had on request to the undersigned.
Signed at Durban this 17th day of July 1985.
Capt. E J Vere-Davies MC
Thanks to Bob Hilton and John Howes for this account.
Back to 2nd South Staffordshires
Back to Biographies Menu