My experiences of being shot down over France and consequent experiences during the period of which I was at large in France and afterwards as a prisoner in France and Germany.
29-7-44 Signed B. Allen
At seven o’clock on the evening of this date, my Crew in company with others were briefed for a bombing raid on railway marshaling yards at Drex in Northern France. The briefing was no different from any other occasion, and after looking at the target, and listening to the Intelligence Officer’s account of the defenses in the area, one was inclined to discuss the target with contempt and express the opinion that the ‘Op’ was a ‘piece of cake’ to quote R.A.F. slang expression. However, this was not to be the case, at least for myself and the Crew, as this story goes on to relate.
I, on this particular evening, feeling not quite so happy as usual. I had one of those hunches which are not easy to explain, and not being
of a superstitious nature, I tried to banish the feeling from my mind, but found this very difficult to do, especially during the time that elapsed before “take off” when another incident, or should I say misunderstanding between my skipper occurred with the ground crew Sgt. in charge of our aircraft. The Sgt. remarked “ bring it back tonight will you?”, to which my skipper replied “I always do bring it back, only the mugs get shot down”. However, this was not the Sgt’s meaning, he meant bring it back to the correct dispersal, and not from the Op as my skipper thought. The reason for the Sgt’s remark, was that on the two previous op’s we had left the aircraft on the perimeter track and the ground crew had had to tow it into the dispersal in the morning. This was additional work for the ground crew who were already very much overworked. This incident did much to add to the uncomfortable frame of mind that I was already in.
“Take off” was on time, and we, along with all the other aircraft got off without mishap. The journey out was fairly quiet, we met with little or no flak over the French coast, and the sky seemed devoid of enemy fighters until we came to the “run up” on the target, where it began to get a little hot, though by no means as hot as the German targets were. The bomb aimer directed the plane on to the target, and gave the words “bombs gone” to the skipper, to which the skipper replied “bomb doors closing”. No sooner had he got the words from his mouth than there was a terrific crash, me seat collapsed, my intercom went dead, I felt terrific pain in my left leg, and the aircraft was
filled with flame and smoke. I scrambled for my parachute which was lying near the main entrance of the aircraft, up this end the smoke and flames were most dense. At first I couldn’t find my chute in the smoke, my eyes were running and sore, and the aircraft was swinging from side to side so that I fell to the floor and had to claw my way along by clutching at the hydraulic pipes along the sides of the fuselage. I got to my chute and hooked it on, simultaneously there was another crash, the plane gave a lurch and the next thing I knew I was sailing through space. I grabbed the rip cord and pulled it, the chute opened quite easily and I floated down to earth wondering what had happened, and listening to the second wave of Lanc’s bombing the target.
I then looked at the ground and to my horror, I appeared to be descending into the centre of a canal, so I immediately opened the hydrogen bottle by pulling down the lever, and by so doing inflated the “Mae West”. A few moments later I hit the ground, and imagine my surprise when I discovered that the ‘canal’ was not water at all, but an aerodrome runway.
The next thing I did was to check up on my limbs for breaks etc., and found much to my relief that I had no worse injury than a badly bruised left leg. Next I gathered up my chute, and set off across the drome to the nearest side of the perimeter. On the way I came up to a M.E.109 fighter plane. I looked round cautiously for a guard, and finding none, proceeded to examine the fighter with a view to pinching it and flying it to England. However, I could not make head or tail of the controls or instruments as all
the instructions were in German and I unfortunately did not understand a word of German. After ten minutes I gave up the idea, and proceeded to find my way out of the drome, this I did by climbing over the barbed wire fence. I decided then that my next move was to get as far away from the area altogether, in case I had been seen coming down. I set off in a westerly direction and kept walking across corn fields from about 2.30 when I had hit the ground, until dawn which was about five o’clock. In that time I covered about four to five miles and in the process my boots had become waterlogged and they were extremely uncomfortable so I then decided to hide up in a wood at the edge of a corn field until I could more or less get my bearings and to let my boots and socks get dry again.
From this moment my adventures in France were to start, little did I know what was before me.
Luckily as the morning progressed the sun became hotter and I was soon dry. I had a good look round and I saw that there were two clusters of buildings, one to the south, and one to the north, the northernmost looking the most likely place to get help. The buildings in the south looked like a fair sized village, and a mast that stuck up in the sky indicated a radio location station and the presence in the village of Germans, the very people I did not wish to contact especially as I still had on my uniform, so I hid up all day until 11 o’clock that night. It was very monotonous but it gave my leg a chance to rest and to lose some of its pain. By 11 o’clock it was quite dark and I set off across the fields towards the group of farm buildings, which on getting nearer I discovered to be a small village called Trembloy le Viconte, this name
which I discovered later that night.
I walked very cautiously into the village, and as quiet as I was, every dog in the place barked like the devil. I think every damned house in France has a dog, much to my disgust. These dogs became a source of worry to me, because all the houses strangely enough were situated in a great yard with the house at one end and stables and cowsheds etc. at the other end, the dog usually loose in the yard. All the yards and buildings were surrounded by a high wall with a large wrought iron gate. As I passed these gates the dogs ran barking to the gates and tried to jump over them to get at me, luckily the gates were all closed.
At about midnight, I had come upon a farm with apparently no dog, so I made up my mind to approach it with a view to obtaining help. Remembering all the instructions I had received from time to time during my training I entered the yard very carefully, and noticed a light over one of the outhouses so I decided to try that first. I knocked quietly on the door, then ducked behind another small building which gave me a clear view of the door and also the way out of the yard again in the event of a Bosche opening the door.
The door opened and much to my relief a young fellow of about 17 looked out so I walked up to him and explained who I was and my position in France. He dragged me inside, and I was very surprised to find myself inside a converted cowshed with six beds along one wall, five of them occupied by youths of about the same age as the one who had let me in. The first youth whose name I learned was Jeanne, and seemed to be the senior, woke up the other youths and explained to them my predicament. The result was rather startling. At the sight of my uniform they all started chatting at once, in French of course, until the place sounded
like a monkey house. One thing that amazed me, they accepted me at face value for what I was, and did not ask me to identify myself at once. I gathered that I must have been the first R.A.F. man they had contacted. The forst few moments were spent by all the boys dashing around, and offering me food and wine which at the time I did not particularly want, as the shaking I had taken when being shot down had deprived me of my appetite, and had so upset my nerves that my hands were trembling like an old man with ague – this fortunately was not to be permanent. After a while they had a conference, and I gathered from signs and the little French that I knew, that nothing was to be done that night, and they invited me to sleep in the spare bed in the room which I gladly accepted as my leg was giving me hell and I was very tired.
I was awakened by the boys at six o’clock which I considered to be the middle of the night, but was apparently quite normal for them. They were all dressed ready for work, in very poor clothes I noted. With them was another man, obviously older than the others, and decidedly more cautious. He asked me to produce papers or some means of identification – I produced my discs and these alonf with my uniform more or less satisfied him. After the interrogation, we all trooped out of the cowshed, and walked very silently through the village until we came to a wood with a narrow pathway running through it. We walked along here for about 500 yards, and came out into a small glade with a shed in one corner. The older of the boys, whom, I had learned the evening before, had been evacuated along with the other boys from Paris, indicated by signs and the aid of my watch, that he wished me to stay in the shed until 9 o’clock that evening. I did not relish waiting all that time alone but I had placed myself in their hands and naturally I abided by their arrangements. One of the boys produced four French loaves
a piece of cooked veal, and a bottle of wine, these they gave to me and then left to go to work.
That day the sun was very hot, and I lay outside the shed sunbathing, but the time dragged very slowly. I was getting a little impatient to move on, and was very worried as I thought of the shock my Mother was to receive that morning when she received notification of my plane failing to return.
The greater part of the afternoon I spent planning my course, and the routes I was to take to make my escape. Luckily on bailing out of the plane I had managed to retain my escape kit complete with maps and money, so with the aid of these I decided to make my way to the lines, and try to reach the British troops at a place called Troarn.
The evening passed slower than the rest of the day, but at last the boys came at half past nine, and with them bought a suit of clothes, a shirt and a pair of shoes, also a bag containing food and more wine.
I took off my uniform and put on the civilian suit which strangely enough fitted me almost perfectly, the shoes were a bit large but were better for walking in than my heavy flying boots. The clothes incidentally, were better than those the boys themselves were wearing so I offered to pay for them but they wouldn’t hear of my doing so. After shaking hands and saying goodbye, I set off walking in the direction of the battlefront. I walked through the night and the next day averaging about twenty miles. The following night I slept in a barn, rather fatigued, and then set off again early in the morning and kept walking until eight o’clock the next morning. In the course of my walking, I had not seen any Germans except for a few cars and lorries that were going towards the front. On the morning of the fourth day I came to a small town by the name of Mileobois. In the centre of the town was a large chateau situated in it’s own park. I approached the chateau with a view to getting food and probably sleep. I received a very pleasant surprise on reaching the door, for it was opened by a young man,
who, after I had explained who I was answered in perfect English, and invited me inside. The house was very large and must have contained at least 80 rooms, to one of these the Frenchman directed me and later brought me food and wine. I slept the whole of that day, and in the evening, I took a hot bath which was very welcome, then I was introduced to the Frenchman’s Father and Mother, who much to my great delight could also speak fluent English. We had dinner, and then a very interesting conversation, during which I learnt that the son had spent three years in a Gestapo prison in Germany. Hence their eagerness to help me. He had been an officer in the French Artillery until the fall of France. About ten o’clock the same evening I prepared to leave these very good people and proceeded on my way to the front line. The lady of the house packed me some more food and wine so that I would not have to ask for any for at least three days.
The next three or four days were uneventful except that I borrowed a bicycle in one village that I passed through, but after travelling for about forty miles on it I went into a ditch and buckled the front wheel, so I left it there and continued walking. By this time I was starting to see more German troops, and consequently took precautions to avoid them, this naturally meant that I had to walk more on minor roads and to strictly avoid the towns, although I was dressed in civvies. It did not pay to take too many risks.
About twenty miles from the lines I came to a small village Croecy devoid of Germans but on this occasion, was full of evacuees from Caen and Troarn. By this time my food was gone so I approached a small café where I obtained wine and after I had explained my identity, some food. In the café was a girl of fifteen who could speak a little English, having been taught the language in school in Paris. The girl with her Mother had been evacuated from Paris because of R.A.F. bombing, but they bore no malice over this. They let me bathe my feet, and then gave me more comfortable shoes to wear on
the remainder of my journey. I left the village again, the name of which O forgot to mention was Courey, and set off again on the final stages of my one hundred and thirty mile trip across France, or I should say over Normandy.
I should mention that up till now, I had not seen or heard of any of my Crew, and I am very much afraid they were all killed. There is a slight possibility that some of them baled out as the aircraft was a few moments before it blew up.
As I walked along I could hear the British and Germans guns getting much louder and nearer so I guessed that I was getting pretty close to the front lines. I should at this stage have found some place to hide up in and await the advance of the British and American forces, but I was a little too eager to get back to my Squadron and home, so I kept on.
I stayed that night at a farm about fifteen miles from the lines. There were some young French people there who had been bombed out of their homes in Rouen and at first they were loathe to help me, in fact, one young fellow wanted to hand me over to the Hun, however, they clamed down and we were soon on very friendly terms, the same young man spoke English fluently. The Farmer was a nice old chap and he gave me a good supper, and then bought me coffee in the morning before I left the barn where they had fixed up a bed for me, not having any room in the small farm house due to the crowd of evacuees living there.
The next few days were full of excitement, and considerably nerve-racking. As I progressed towards the front I encountered more and more Germans and less civilians. One of the villages I passed through, had in the centre of it a magnificent cathedral, much the largest I have ever seen. It was built
of white chalky stones, and was obviously very old, it was designed in the form of a great square with the chapel at one end, and the other three sides containing many leaded windows. It had the appearance of a monastery which I believe now that it must have been. I forgot to mention before, but in every village and small town that I passed through the only church was Catholic. I went into many of them, and although they were all very old, they were very beautiful inside, especially the altars and the statues. The priests in their spare time were, strangely enough, either farmers or gardeners. I spoke to a number of them but only one could speak English and he, only a little. I walked into a church in a small town, very close to the lines, at half past six in the morning. As I arrived inside, a service was just starting, and the Church was packed, I think everyone in the village was there. I believe from my experiences in France, that ninety-nine per cent of the French people are Catholics. I stopped to the end of the service which was exactly the same as our own in England, and then proceeded on the last stage of my journey, and ultimate capture.
By this time, my feet were blistered and sore, and on the next day I could hardly walk at all. I went to a cottage kept by a very old couple to try and obtain a drink, and the old man took me on to the next village in a small cart drawn by a horse. This ride was very welcome, and took me almost as far as I could go
by day, so I started looking round for somewhere to hide up with a view to letting the Germans come past me in their retreat. I walked though the town of Troarn, which at that time was infested with Germans, and was the centre of activities. Every minute a salvo of shells from the British guns came over, and burst among the buildings; I had one or two very narrow escapes. On one occasion I went into a large barn to sleep, at about ten o’clock in the evening, but I had no sooner entered the place than a flight of Typhoons came over and dive bombed the place, so I moved out of there very quickly, especially when the roof started falling in on top of me. I was very surprised that by this time I had never been challenged by the Bosche. Once I thought my time was up, as I was walking along the main road through Troarn. Both side of the roads were lined with Bosche, all manning machine guns or mortars; about half way down the road a German corporal stepped out of a gun post and walked up to me, my heart almost stopped beating, but he only asked me for a light for his cigarette. I was able to supply him with one from a box of matches supplied by the R.A.F. in my escape kit. Luckily he spoke French and I was able to understand him.
Shortly after this incident I came
to a barn which appeared to be very conveniently situated in the centre of the German lines but not particularly near to any of the troops.
I stayed in there for four days and nights, but there was no sign of the Bosche coming back, and by this time I was very hungry as I had not eaten for five days. I was so weak from lack of food and exercise that I decided to come out of the barn and find a place to hide up nearer the village where I could get food.
The nearest village was called St. Paire, about three kilometers from Troarn, and about seven miles from Caen. As I passed through St. Paire I came upon a small café standing a little way from the road, and as I was by that time a little desperate for food I decided to go in and try my luck at obtaining some from them. I walked inside and the only other occupant was a young fellow who appeared to be the proprietor; I asked for food and drink, but was told that they could not give me any food as the Huns had been and taken what they had for that day. I had a glass of wine which cost me thirty francs. (I forgot to mention that I had two thousand francs in my escape kit, and it was from this supply that I was able to pay for the wine). After about 10 minutes, I had weighed up the young Frenchman, and
decided to tell him who I was. The result was rather startling, he took me through into the private parlour, and introduced me to his mother who asked me to sit down to lunch with them. They gave me a very good meal accompanied by the almost inevitable wine, which appears to be included in all French meals. In the room also, were two girls, whom I learned were the sisters of the young fellow, and were twins, their age they told me was eighteen, the boy was 22. After lunch the boy came in with an old Farmer, and they took me on an old hay cart along a path into some marsh land, and imagine my surprise, when an English Officer (1st Lt.) of the 9th Airbourne Infantry Division, and eight ‘other ranks’ including a glider plot, emerged from a very well camouflaged ditch. It was a very pleasant surprise to see Englishmen again. They told me that the glider in which they had been flying had been released about fifteen miles from rendezvous and as a result, they were cut off from the remainder of the Division and were hiding up in the hope that our invading armies would get them out. They had been three days in the hide out, and the French Café Proprietor and the Farmer were bringing them food three times a day. I stayed with them for three
days. On the second day, the Lieut. And myself went out on a reconnaissance to try and find a weak point in the lines through which we might reach our men. We were both in civvies, and set off at about eleven o’clock in the morning, our objectives was a long stretch of cornfields between Troarn and Caen. O reach the cornfields we had to pass a German Divisional H.Q. and two large concentrations of vehicles i.e. tanks, supply trucks, motor cycles, etc. that were parked on the edge of the racecourse, and under a belt of trees, naturally these were well guarded. However, we strolled casually past these, and the Bosche never even gave a glance. Next we came to the railway line from Toarn to Caen and we had to cross this at a small signal box that was now deserted as the line had been well and truly wrecked by R.A.F. and U.S.A.A.F. Beyond the Railway line was the stretch of cornfields that we had planned, with the aid of maps and photographs to investigate.
We crossed the line and entered the field. On our right was a belt of trees which concealed a German heavy gun battery which included a rocket gun. These were all firing shells into our lines at the Northern end of the cornfields at the rate of about a dozen per minute. We could see them bursting amongst the trees less than a mile away, we were so near to our own men, and yet so far. The strangest thing about the whole business was that we could not see a single
Hun in the whole area.
The two of us began to feel very elated, and we set off to walk in the direction of the lines. After walking for about half a mile through the cornfields, we received our first shock of the day. A section of the corn began to move, and to our surprise, we came upon a Hun outpost with about eight men in it, all very cleverly camouflaged with the corn. One of the men stood up and called to us to go over, we were about thirty yards away at this time. When the Hun stood up we stopped and turned in another direction as though we had not seen him. He was not to be fooled however, and started to walk towards us, at the same time brandishing a Schmeiser sub-machine gun, so we decided to stop. He came up to us, and asked in very good French for our papers (identification), I produced my identity card, the one that I had got from the French civilian who had given me the civvie clothes. The Hun, a Corporal, examined my card then asked the lieutenant for his but of course he had not got one. I was just wondering what he would do when he started fumbling in his pocket as though for his papers, but he produced a Browning automatic pistol instead and sticking it in the German’s chest he fired and shot him through the heart. I grabbed my identity card from the German’s hand just as he was falling to the ground, and then, realizing that it was useless carrying on set off running
back the way we had come, at each step expecting a volley of bullets from the remaining Huns in the outpost. However, much to our surprise, and great relief, not a shot was fired. We made for a ditch and decided to hide up in it whilst we made up our minds whether to make a second attempt to get through the lines after dark or return to the other fellows in the marshes at st. Paire. After an hour or so we decided to go back to the other chaps, which was now almost as dangerous as trying to get through the lines, where we had casually strolled past Germans, we had now to strictly avoid them. This was not so easy as there were Germans all around us, and to go past the first batch we had to climb a wall about eleven feet high, drop over the other side, and then make our way across some grounds that contained a group of buildings which appeared to be German H.Q. of some sort. As the Lieutenant slid down the other side of the wall, half of the wall fell down after him with a roar like thunder, or so it seemed to me, but strangely enough no one seemed to have heard the row, so we started across the grounds. About two-thirds of the way over we came to a small river which we had to cross by means of a log, there being no bridge. I got over O.K. but the Lieutenant slipped off and got a wetting, but
we had to carry on. At the other side of the grounds we had to climb the wall again, but this time we did it more quietly.
The next stage of the journey included the Park containing the tanks and trucks which I mentioned passing on the way out. This was not so easy so we decoded to go across a field of wheat on out knees and then through the row of vehicles on our stomachs, this took us between two Guards who were posted ten yards apart. We got through without incident, and regained the road which we proceeded along in our stockinged feet. The rest of the journey was without incident except that we got a bit off track, and eventually arrived back in the marshes just as dawn was breaking; the chaps were very glad to see us safe as they thought that we must have been caught, or even worse killed.
The following night we settled down about ten o’clock as usual, but we were awakened by the sound of German voices all around the ditch in which we were concealed. This was naturally a great shock as we never expected the Germans to start digging in anywhere within a mile of us. This situation then called for an immediate decision on our port, so after a whispered counsel of war we decided to get out as quickly and quietly as possible and make our way back to a hiding place that the paratroopers
had previously used. We gathered together what few items of it we had, and then in single file we started out from the ditch. About twenty yards from the ditch we struck the main path or outlet from the marshes, and about ten yards down this path we saw, much to our horror, a number of Germans walking towards us in a single file with full pack on their backs as though they were just reporting to that area. The first three went past us without seeing us in the darkness, but the forth man spotted us and let out a shout, at the same time he started taking his rifle from his shoulder where it was slung on his equipment. The next minute our chaps and the Huns opened up at one another from close range, and the next few moments were like a nightmare. I was unarmed, and in the centre of the two parties, bullets were humming past my ears like bees, how I was not hit remains a miracle. On top of the shooting, all the Germans were shouting at the top of their voices, and others were answering them from a distance, it was pandemonium for about two to three minutes. I don’t know whether anyone
was hit, and I did not wait to see, I took a header over this hedge and into the marshes out of the line of fire. I stayed quite still until all the noise and firing had subsided, and then started to crawl out of the marsh, but here again my troubles started. The reeds in the marsh had dried on the surface with the hot sun that had been on them for days, and every time I made a move they cracked like dry twigs in a forest. My nerves by this time were pretty ragged, what with the aircraft being shot down, and them all incidents following it, so that each crack of the reeds to me sounded like pistol shots, and in the silence which followed the shooting they echoed all over the place. To make matters worse, every time I made a sound, some Hun let fire with a rifle across the marsh, and although he could not see me, he was getting very close and I was getting a sweat on. After a few shots I decided to stay still and wait for a while, in the hope that the Germans would sheer off and then make another attempt to get out. I waited about an hour, but by this time it was getting
fairly light as dawn was fast approaching. I decided to move again, this time a little recklessly, and as a result made a terrific noise, but strangely enough got out into a small patch between high rushes that led to the main path out of the marches. I started along this path quite nonchalantly, hoping to brazen my way past any Germans that I may have the misfortune to encounter; but at this stage my luck had completely left me and I walked bang into a the arms of a couple of Hun corporals and my freedom in France was at an end.
They searched me, and finding my escape map and compass accused me of being a saboteur, I was very lucky not to be shot on the spot. I showed my R.A.F. identity disc and when I realised the game was up I tried to make them understand that I was in the R.A.F. but they seemed very reluctant to believe me so I was marched off to the Commandant. The Commandant’s H.Q. was a large coach, very well camouflaged, and hidden under a large tree. As it was only half past four in the morning when I was caught, I was placed under guard at the
foot of the tree until the commandant awoke, this was about nine o’clock. In the meantime, I was questioned by a First Lieutenant who could speak fairly good English. I gave him my number and rank only as I had been instructed by our Intelligence Officers, I refused to give him any information about my Squadron or anything else of military import. The Officer began to get annoyed, and he was going to have me shot as a spy, but I stuck to my guns, hoping he was bluffing, as this luckily proved to be the case, nevertheless I was getting a little hot under the collar, and wondering if the little information I could give them was worth getting shot for. A few moments later there were sounds of movement in the coach, and all the Bosches started dashing around, all obviously scared of the Commandant.
In this, my first personal contact with the Germans, I noticed how strong was the discipline, even in these front line troops. After my experiences with the First lieutenant I visualized all sorts of tortures at the hands of the big noise, but when I was called in to see him, before asking me a single question about myself, he asked me when I had last eaten, on hearing my reply that I had not eaten for 2 days, he
immediately ordered his batman to get me some breakfast, which he brought to me in the form of three large biscuits covered in butter and jam and a glass of milk. After I had finished the food, the Commandant whom I learned was a Hauptman (Captain) asked me a few questions about my whereabouts when shot down, the number of my Squadron and it’s base, also various other items of military information, all of which I refused to give to him.
I was beginning to fear the worst, but finally he stood up and said “I see it is a waste of my time trying to get information from you, so I will now stop questioning you, you are a good soldier”.
I was ordered to take up my position outside of the coach again, this I did, and was there until about twelve o’clock when a car drove up, and the driver, a Sgt. ordered me into the back whilst the Commandant himself came and sat in the front by the driver. We left the front line H.Q. and set off to a small town called Dozule, there I was again taken into a coach and interrogated by three German Officers. I again refused them information, and within an hour was back on the road, this time with a young driver of about twenty years of age, and a young guard who told me his age was eighteen. They
were both very friendly, and on the way to the temporary prison camp which was my destination, we stopped in a village and they took me into a small café where people gave me a drink and some bread and meat. After I had finished my meal, they gave me a further loaf of bread to take along with me.
The remainder of the journey was spent by the young guard showing me photographs of his family and self.
We arrived at our destination which was an old brickyard which the Hun had commandeered. Here I was placed in a room with about twelve other chaps, mainly paratroopers. Our bed was a heap of straw on the floor. The date incidentally was 24th of June, exactly fourteen days after I was shot down.
I was in the brickyard about eight days, during which time our number grew to forty, including two fighter pilots, one Aussie and one Canadian, also two Yankee Aircrew boys from a marauder crew. The remainder were either paratroopers or commandos. On the last day we were there, a Sgt/ Mjr Commando and one of the Yanks made a break but were caught at eleven o’clock the same night and shot.
The remainder of us were put into a van and taken to a large prison camp at a place called Alenon. This place was full of Americans and British, but only about thirty aircrew. We only stayed there until lunch-time, and we were then placed in an open lorry and the thirty of us were taken to a town called Chartres about fifty miles from Paris. Here we were handed over to the Luftwaffe and taken from the original in Cartres where we had been first taken and which contained about a thousand Moroccans captured in the Libyan campaign, to a large college in the centre of the town that had been converted into a temporary prison camp. This college was three or four stories high, and contained a science laboratory still fully equipped, numerous other classrooms, and a beautiful little Catholic Chapel. The Chapel with it’s seats and benches all piled up on the latter, was to be our prison for a short while, and our beds once again a heap of straw on the floor. Our guards were very young and did not look at all safe with the Schmeisers and rifles with which they were armed. One lad, aged eighteen, could speak a little English and
we used to spend the time kidding him about their losing the War. He was a typical young Nazi and still firmly believed they were winning the war, but by the time we have finished with him he was feeling quite depressed.
We were again interrogated at Chartres, and were given food which we were very glad of. After three days our party grew to thirty-five, and we were taken out at three o’clock on the morning of the 11th of July, and taken by coach to Paris.
This Journey was a very interesting one, and in the interest of our surroundings we could almost forget that we were prisoners. Our journey took us past the aerodromes on which I had landed by parachute nearly three weeks previously, and which now appeared to have had a severe bombing since that occasion F.W. 190’s and M.E. 109’s were however, still operating and I could see in three hangers a number of M.E. 210’s, that I had not suspected were in the area. A few miles farther and we entered Versailles. The coach took us right up the centre of the city, past the Palace and, to a large group of grey buildings that were the French School of Aeronautics. We were only there for a few minutes
and then we proceeded on our way to Paris. The most notable thing about the journey from Versailles to Paris was that we were passing through built up areas all the time and we never really knew when we were out of one town and into the other.
One amusing incident I forgot to mention, was in the front of the Palace of Versailles. An old lady not knowing that we were prisoners and thinking we were tourists came up to the coach trying to sell us postcards with views of the City on them.
Another notable feature of the journey through the streets was almost every third shop was a café, with dozens of tables and chairs out on the pavement, and a gaudy coloured awning over the top. One of the sights I had the pleasure of seeing the Eiffel Tower, I would have preferred to see it under happier circumstances, but it was still very impressive, especially as we crossed the River Seine with the Tower in view all the time, it was a marvelous sight.
We drove around Paris until we arrived at the Gare du Nord which is the main Railway Station in Paris, and is right
in the centre of the town. Here we drew up outside the entrance whilst the Ober Feltwebel (Sergeant) in charge went into the canteen on the Platform to try to obtain food for us. After a few minutes he came out and took myself and three others into the Canteen which was being run by the German Red Cross girls. It was a strange sight to see German soldiers, sailors and airmen sitting around reading magazines and newspapers and drinking ersatz tea without sugar or milk, two items which are almost unobtainable in both France and Germany.
In one corner of the Canteen were three French girls selling silk stockings, handkerchiefs etc. We went through into the kitchen where we received bread and cheese, also macaroni soup for the thirty-five of us. As we came out onto the platform again, we passed a young fellow very smartly dressed in a brown suit, wearing no hat, and, with his hands stuck in his pockets, was apparently interested only in the trains but as I drew level with him he said “hard luck mate”, in perfectly good English, so I suppose he was just one of the many Englishmen in Paris waiting for the British to take the town so they could get home again.
We ate the soup incidentally, sitting on the pavement, this naturally aroused the interest of the French people in the vicinity. At first these people had appeared not to be interested in us, obviously afraid of the guards, but as their numbers grew they started to give us a sly wink now and again. By the time we were ready to move off, terrific crowds had collected around us, and all along the streets away from the station. As we drove away German soldiers had to push back the crowd with rifles, they were by this time openly cheering us and giving us the ‘V’ sign.
We drove round to the back of the station into the Goods Yard, and there we were directed to a wagon where we were to stay until twelve o’clock when we were transferred to a coach and taken across France into Frankfurt, Germany. As it was only six o’clock we had quite a long wait in this truck, so we asked the guard to let us walk up and down the yard, this he agreed to but only five of us at a time with two guards. A little amusement was provided about eight o’clock by two sailors and a soldier rolling along the line of trucks almost blind drunk, and each with a bottle of brandy in his hand. Every time one of them staggered my heart missed
a beat in fear he dropped the bottle of brandy. They came up to our party, and drunkenly insisted that the Feltwebel have a drink, he did so and then told the soldier to give me a drink. The Ober Feltwebel by the way, had shown signs of friendliness towards me all through the journey, no doubt the reason being because I was of the same rank as himself. This he pointed out to the soldier who came as smartly to attention as he could, and saluting me, he offered me the bottle, needless to say, I had a good drink. At twelve o’clock we were transferred to the coach, and were on our way to Germany.
The remainder of that night we travelled only a very short distance, and the next day was even slower as the Germans were scared stiff of our aircraft spotting us and straffing the train, this having been a popular sport with our Spitfires, Typhoons and American Lightnings for months past. However, the journey was very grim from start to finish. We were too cramped to sleep, and we were not getting any food other than the issue of half a loaf that we received in Paris. The journey was more or less uneventful, we saw many signs of bomb damage especially to the railway where our airforces had done a really
good job of work. We arrived in Frankfurt after four very miserable days on the train. The railway coach was Italian, and built I should think about the same time as the Ark. We were taken a little way past Frankfurt to a place called Oberussel, here we boarded a tram-car, the last thing that I ever expected to ride upon in Germany. We travelled roughly two miles on the tram-car, and finally arrived at the now famous Dulag Luft. This place I had heard so much of in England as it is quite notorious for its’ treatment of R.A.F. Flyers. The principle object in being taken there is to be interrogated by German Intelligence Officers. Immediately on arrival in the Camp we were again searched and then placed in single cells almost like Dartmoor I should imagine. The following morning we were taken out one at a time, and were interviewed by a German Officer. I was very lucky as my interrogation lasted only a few minutes during which time they succeeded in getting my number, rank and name. I was then taken back to my cell No.26, where I spent one more night and then was taken out, and placed in another compound where there
were large huts and lots of other fellows so I felt a little more cheerful. Some of the chaps were kept in solitary for as long as six weeks, being taken out at intervals for further interrogation and grilling. If I had stayed in the cell much longer I would have gone crackers in a few days.
The following day, we were on our way again, this time to a transit camp at a place called Wietzlar, about forty miles from Dulag Luft. On arrival at Wietzlar we were to be sent to Camps all over Germany. There were a lot of Americans at the transit camp, including a Colonel ex-mustang pilot. He was in charge of us at the camp.
The conditions here were very good after Dulag Luft and France, the food being exceptionally good. We had to stay here until there were sufficient R.A.F. personnel to make up a party to travel to a permanent camp. Here were a lot of Americans in the camp but they go to separate camps from the R.A.F. However, as the food was both good and plentiful I did not mind staying there for a week or two, the food of course, was Red Cross, also cigarettes, which we got in quite good supply. At the end of the week however, forty of us were taken
to the station again, this time we marched as we were all feeling much better than when we had arrived at the transit camp. We boarded a train this time with barred windows, and just as uncomfortable as the one on which we had travelled from France. For rations, we had one Red Cross parcel between two men, also one German loaf between two. This journey was a little more interesting than the first, as we passed through many German towns including Dresden, Liepzig and Breslau, all were pretty well knocked about as one can guess considering the bombing they have had from the R.A.F. and the U.S.A.A.F. Frankfurt also was very badly wrecked.
The German countryside is very beautiful and we noticed that there was hardly a yard of ground which was not growing something, especially vegetables and fruit trees. The houses all seem to be built very large and picturesque, and very clean. I can’t understand why these Germans don’t get wise to themselves and look after their own Country instead of interfering with everybody else.
On the morning of the fifth day of travel through Germany, we arrived at our destination, a new camp at Bankau in upper Silesia, only eight miles from the Polish
border, and a little more to the Czechoslovakian border. The camp had only been open two weeks and there were only about three hundred chaps in it. Hey were all in small huts each built to hold six people. These huts were just temporary structures that had been erected until the permanent structures were completed. We were informed that we were to move into the new camp in October.
One thing I was very pleased to see when I arrived was that there were many facilities for sport, especially football. A Scots chap and myself want to work on a football ground, and with some timber that we got from the Germans we made some goalposts. The camp was split into eight divisions, so each of the divisions selected two teams and we started a league.
I met quite a number of chaps from my Squadron who had been shot down before me, and each week a new batch comes into the camp, and everyone flocks over to see them in the hope that some more of their crew may have turned up.
November 29th 1944
After a lapse of a few months I have decided to add to this story with a brief description of life in the camp. Since I last finished writing I have moved into the new camp and we have got more or less organized in
the new barracks. Where we had six in the old huts we now have sixteen in each room. Each barrack is divided into ten rooms with sixteen men in each. There were three hundred men on the camp when I arrived, there are now fifteen hundred. I have made two drawings of the camp to give an idea of what they are like. I am with some decent fellows in my room, nine of them have come from another camp where they have been prisoners for three years. They were flying such planes as Manchesters and Hampdens. One of them was on the same Squadron as Rolly Crawley. For rations on the camp, we do not do so badly, although things are tightening up with each day as the Allies progress further into Germany. We used to get one parcel per week from the Red Cross, but they have been cut to one every two weeks. We expect conditions to get much worse before it finally ends but we don’t mind that because it will mean that the War is finishing and we will be going home, I hope.
The weather has been bad since we came into the new camp so there has been very little outdoor sport. However, we are having a few dry days at the present time so we are getting a few games of football again. Recently we have had a stage built in the Entertainment block and have been putting on a few shows. We have a good accordion
band, and another classical orchestra is being formed, the instruments have been provided by the Swedish Y.M.C.A. We are also putting on a number of plays such as “French Without Tears”, “Journeys End” etc.. I have a small part in “Journeys End” as a German Soldier. I have been learning German ever since I came on the camp, and can speak the language quite well now.
Each week as a new batch of prisoners come in I look for members of my crew, but I fear that my earlier suspicions were well founded, and they were all killed. Tough on Bill Cousins the rear-gunner who had been married the week before we were shot down.
December, and faced with the prospect of spending Christmas here, not a very exciting prospect but one which we must face with resignation. We will have to make the best of a very bad job. As the situation on the battle front gets worse for Germany, so do the conditions in the camp. First, and most important, the Red Cross parcels stopped coming through so regularly due principally to our aircraft bombing and strafing the railways. The result is that parcel issues have been cut to one every two weeks instead of every week.
The Germans are being gradually cut also, but not yet drastically, however, it does mean that Christmas will be grim.
The weather has definitely broken up now, and at the moment of writing it is snowing heavily and strong cold winds are blowing from the east across Poland from Russia. The hut I am billeted in is open to these winds and window is just a solid pane of ice, both inside and out. If the reader would care to turn to the drawing I have done of the camp, they will see my window facing due east. Strangely enough, I haven’t found it very cold yet, though the fellows who have been prisoners for three years or more are huddled round the stove like old women, it is pitiful to see their lack of resistance. Either I am hot blooded or their existence has been weakened by undernourishment.
January 14th 1945
Christmas has been and gone, and it was as grim as I expected it to be. The situation reached its worst when we ran out of parcels, and had to exist on German rations as we had fifteen cigarettes to last us for two weeks. My greatest disappointment was in not receiving a letter in time for Christmas, in fact, up to now I have
not yet received any mail.
An unhappy incident occurred, the day after Boxing Day during an air raid. Whilst a raid is in progress anywhere in the vicinity of the camp, everyone is compelled to stay in the barracks, but one Canadian absentmindedly wandered outside the door and a guard shot him. He died twenty minutes later.
15th January, 1945
Have just learned today that a new Russian offensive has opened in the sector opposite our camps. It is rumoured that the camp will be evacuated, but nothing definite has been heard.
17th of January
The Russians are coming up fast and we have been instructed to pack, and be ready to leave at a moments notice.
18th of January 1945
Last night we had a Russian air raid in the town very close to the camp, it was very close and we are moving out in the morning.
9th February 1945
Little did I know what was before me when I last made an entry in this book, we have just experienced three weeks of hell. We left Bankau at 06.30 hours on Friday the 19th of January, it was snowing hard, and a high cold wind was blowing, we were told the temperature was 26° below zero, the roads were covered in ice and snow. Fifteen hundred of us set off to march to Sargan
north-west of Breslau, a large camp believed to contain 65,000 prisoners. The going was very hard, and after a few miles, we were all feeling pretty done up, the wind was the chief trouble and the ground being frozen, it was a terrible strain on our legs a we were floundering all over the place. Our route on that first day took us from Kretzburg on the Polish border, through Konstadt to a village called Wintersfeld, there we were herded like sheep into barns until we could neither sit or lay down. This was a terrible night, made worse by the fact that we were all very fatigued and badly needed a sleep, but it was impossible to obtain any. We had marched all through the day until dusk and had covered 24 kilometers (15 miles).
At a quarter past one, we were called out of the barns, fell in and told to march again as the Russians were coming up rapidly behind us, and we were less than a day ahead of them. The Germans marched us all through the night, and the next day. The latter half of the journey being through forests and up steep hills, so we were soon very exhausted, we were throwing away items of kit all the way along to lessen the load on our backs. In a very short time we had only the clothes that we stood in and our two blankets tied round our necks. One chap broke a leg in falling on the ice and was pulled along on a sledge by his crewmates. This was one of the longest march of the whole period. We stopped again in a deserted
brick factory at a village by the name of Carlsrue. However, we were not to get much rest this time, as the German Officer in charge informed us that the Russians were coming up so fast they were almost upon us, and the German Artillery were taking over the brick yard as a defense zone. At eight o’clock we started again, to march all through the night, and to make it worse a terrible blizzard blew up again. That night was a nightmare, our object was to cross the River Oder before the morning as the Germans hoped to make a stand there. Men were dropping like flies and the M.O. and two Padres were working like niggers helping them along. We finally got across the river which is very wide at this point, at about eight o’clock in the morning. We were covered in snow and frost, and in a very pitiable condition. Here we were herded into a dirty old cowshed, stinking of dung and cattle, and had to lie on wet smelling straw. However, we were so fatigued that we were soon asleep. The total distance for the day and two nights of marching was 41 kilometers and 12 up to the brickyard, making a total in all of 53 kilometers.
We marched out again on the 21st of January to a place called Wanson, another 28 Kils. (17½ miles), here our food was exhausted and we were getting very hungry, we met Poles and Russians on the farms that we stopped at, and we were exchanging soap for potatoes. We met lots of people
from German occupied countries, they were chiefly peasants working on the farms. I should have mentioned that all the farms are very large, and are state owned, the farmers live in a group of houses in the centre of the farming area, almost like a small town. There are great barns and cow sheds, and into these the Germans herded us after each days march. The Germans prevented us talking to the Poles and Russians as much as they could. Food from the 22nd January became so short, that we had to march only one day in two as the chaps were getting very weak and ill. Every place we stopped at we left a number of sick behind to be brought along on carts drawn by horses. By the way, due to the enormous shortage of fuel in Germany, the Germans used a tremendous amount of horse drawn transport, and what few trucks they used were only very essential military lorries; these burning charcoal and each towing as many as three smaller cars to save fuel. The roads from Poland were jammed with horses and carts packed with civilian refugees with their belongings. I imagine it was like France in 1940. We saw a number of Russians that had joined the German Army when the Germans were on top, and these refused to fight when the great Russian armies commenced their latest attack. The Germans put them under guard again and put them with us. One very outstanding feature of the march was the shops that were closed in each of the towns, through lack of provisions to sell, especially food
shops, these appeared to have been shut for years. The food situation in Germany is very bad, I don’t know how the armies carry on with the poor rations that they receive, and the civilians are in a far worse state. The next few days of marching were very much the same, except that the food situation became more critical. We were cut down to 1/6 of a loaf of bread per day with half a cup of thin barley soup for which we had to queue for as long as two hours. The total mileage covered in the next few marching days was 62 ½ miles or 100 kilometers. The towns or villages that we stayed at were, Heidersdorf, Pfaffendorf, Standorf and Peterswitz. From the last place names, our food ran out completely and we went three days on four bread biscuits. The English Medical Officer told the German Commandant that we could not march any further without food, but it did not make any difference, we still had to march. The German Officer told us that we may go the rest of the journey by train from the next town, this cheered us a little but we were not very hopeful. The German promises were not to be relied upon as we had learned many times before.
About this time, at a large road junction, on one of the now famous auto-bahns, we met another great column of English prisoners from a camp called Lansdorf, those poor devils had been bombed by the Russians
in mistake for German barracks. There were one hundred killed and six hundred wounded, the others were evacuated.
At Peterswdtz, we learned that the Russians had captured Breslau so we were not to go to Sargon after all as the camp there was also being evacuated. The next few days were spent just marching ahead of the advancing Russians with no fixed destination, the prospects for us were very bad as we were by this time in a very bad condition through lack of food, and tramping the roads and living in cowsheds like cattle for endless weeks was a grim existence. In some of the farms the fellows were groveling in cow and pig food for the tops of sugar beet and carrots that had lain under the snow for weeks and were rotten. Dysentery was rampant and the Medical Officer was having a terrible time.
Our next two days of marching took us to Prousnitz and then on to Goldberg where we were supposed to get on board a train, which prospect cheered the men considerably, but this proved to be just another of the Commandant’s idle and empty promises. We stayed at Prousnitz for two days and then marched out to Goldberg where we were again installed in a barn, this time in a very filthy farm yard, and where our awful predicament really reached a most grim state. The first thing, out bread ration was cut to an eighth of a loaf, and soup almost disappeared.
We looked a rough crowd by this time, we had been marching for sixteen days and were unshaven and in the most cases unwashed. We had not had our clothes off either day or night from leaving Bankau, many of the chaps were lousy through sleeping in dirty cowshed and barns. The worst part of the whole trip was the perpetual hunger which we were all suffering from. Men were exchanging gold watches, some valued at £15 and £20 for one small loaf of bread.
5th February 1945
The seventeenth day on the road and a nightmare march through the night ended the marching. We had again been promised rail transport from Goldberg and had 10 K to march to get to the town and station. We left the farm in the middle of the night and we set off marching in a long weary straggling column, and after an hour we were caught in a fierce blizzard whilst out in the open and on top of a range of hills. It was terrible to see men collapsing in the snow and laying there until the Padre’s coaxed them to go on. We passed on dead man frozen in the snow, it made one think of stories we had heard of the Artic region. We passed lots of German Army transports stuck in snow drifts, some overturned, and Germans cursed us because we would not help them dig the trucks out. We arrived in the Railway Station at eight o’clock the next morning and were herded into the box cars, 56
men to a truck and were packed in worse than in the barns, we could neither sit or lie down, it was grim. We only travelled 200k’s (125 miles) but it took us three days. We stood as long as sixteen hours at a time in sidings with about two or three travelling in between, and worst of all, we had no food whatsoever throughout the journey on the train, the result being that we were all too weak to stand on arrival at our destination. It took us two and a half hours to stagger, I won’t say march, to the P.O.W. Camp, outside the town. The Camp number was IIIA and was an old last war camp, at the moment containing 38,000 men and built for 8,000. There were French, Yugoslavs, Serbs, Italians, Poles, Russians, Americans and English prisoners in separate compounds. It was very much overcrowded, we were put into barracks meant to hold 150 men, 400 in each, it was almost as bad as the train.
At this camp we expected to get Red Cross Parcels, but there were none to be had, and hadn’t been for weeks previously. The German rations were also very poor, namely 1/24 of a 1lb. block of margarine, 1/5 of a loaf of bread and 1 cup of thin soup per day, the whole camp was in a state of semi-starvation. On arrival in the Camp, we were taken for a hot shower which we badly needed and when I had stripped off my clothes I was quite
scared at the sight of my thin limbs and exposed ribs, I looked almost emaciated, it will take a long while to get our bodies built up and our strength back.
The whole twenty-one days of the marching was a grim nightmare which is best forgotten, but not easy to forget, and the sooner the War ends so that we can get home from this horrible camp, the better.
12th February 1945
A few words about IIIA. We have so little food that we can only lie on our beds all day and think of home and food, we have no energy for anything else. It is a large camp, divided into a number of smaller compounds each of these containing so many men. The Officers are in one, Americans, Serbs, Poles, French etc., in the others, yet they meticulously count us twice a day at 7.00a.m. and 5.00p.m. How they think anyone can escape heaven knows, there are about nine walls of barbed wire before you reach the outer fence, and there are hordes of armed guards all along the wire.
14th February 1945
We learned today that our bread is to be decreased again from today so that we now receive three ounces per day. If the War does not end very soon a lot of us will not survive this imprisonment, we are taking on the appearance of skeletons, I
would not like my Mother to see me in this condition.
23rd February 1945
Since last making an entry in this book I have had seven days in bed (if you can call it a bed) with tonsillitis and flu, and due to our undernourishment condition I have had a rough time. The food rations are getting less, due we are told to the R.A.F. bombing of Berlin, which is only 25 miles away, and also to rail junctions in this area. Germany is in a grim state and I don’t know how they stand up to this pounding that they are receiving from the Allied Air Forces. A sensation was created by the British Camp Leader giving us each twelve cigarettes, the first since Christmas. It was a decided booster of moral.
27th March 1945
The moral of the chaps has received a great fillip at the news of Field Marshall Montgomery’s big drive in the West, and we are all beginning to see visions of an early finish to the War and our return home. The food in Germany has become worse during the last week. Our rations have again been cut very drastically by order of the German High Command. We now receive three thin slices of black bread, and a half lire of soup per day. Luckily a consignment of Red Cross food parcels came in, and we each received one this week, it will supplement the meager German rations for a few days.
The area of this camp is about two square miles and is situated twenty five miles from Berlin. The air-raid sirens are howling day and night as the R.A.F.
and the Yanks bomb Berlin and Leipzig. The Germans in the principal towns of Germany must be bomb happy by now, we stand for hours every day watching dog fights between American and German fighters, its quite thrilling especially when great formations of Allied bombers fly over to bomb Berlin.
9th April 1945
News keep on coming in every day of the Allies push in the West, and we are all looking forward to being released, as quite a number of P.O.W. camps have been already. It will be great to get home again, especially from the point of view of food. The rations are getting less every day, and the quality worse.
11th April 1945
Once again we have had the grim news that we are to be moved from the camp to another camp in Bavaria, near Munich, we are to go in the morning at 8 o’clock. The distance is so great and the railway service so bad that we don’t expect to get to 7A Camp inside two or three weeks, if at all, it is possible we may be cut off by the Americans in the Leipzig area.
12th April 1945
We marched down to Luckenwalde and boarded box cars on the Railway for our journey South. There were sixteen hundred of us, twelve hundred Officers and four hundred N.C.O.’s, all R.A.F. Air Crews, they seem to be hanging on like grim death to R.A.F. Personnel. However, the box cars will be better than another march like the one from Bankau, we are to be packed 40 in a truck like cattle.
15th April 1945
After two days hanging around at the Goods Yard at the Luckenwalde Station, we are back at the Camp again, as the Germans realised that they would be unable to move us to the new Camp due to the speed of the Americans advance on Leipzig. The Country is almost cut in half so it looks as though we will now remain in IIIA until we are taken by the Allies or Russians, who we have just heard have also launched a large scale attack on Berlin.
The two days that we were in the town were quite a pleasant change. The weather was good, and we were given a surprising amount of liberty, such as talking to the German civilians, and walking up and down the railway tracks. We were exchange soap for eggs and bread from the civvies, soap being the only thing we have plenty of, and a thing of which the Germans are very short. A tablet of English soap will purchase the half of the town. The Germans are getting very slack and easy with us now that it is near the end of the War, they know that they have lost and are doing their best to be friendly with the prisoners, but we won’t wear them. All the young men have been put in the front lines and only sixty year old Volk Sturm (Home Guards) guard the camp, some of them are almost too old to carry a rifle.
20th April 1945
Strong rumours are running round the camp that the Russian Army is within eleven kilometers from the Camp, so if it is true they should be here by the morning.
21st April 1945
Apparently the rumours were true regarding the Russians, as all the guards have got their kit packed, and are ready to move out this morning, some of them have gone already, and the remainder are more or less on their way.
We can hear the Russians fighting in the town already and the last of the Germans are leaving the camp. The k’g’s are breaking down the wire, and roaming all over the camp, great excitement is everywhere.
A Norwegian General has taken command of the camp, with an R.A.F. Wing Commander as second in command, guards were organized to prevent the food stores being looted by the Russian prisoners who have gone berserk.
The sky is full of Russian and German aircraft engaged in combat, it is very thrilling to watch but very dangerous, occasionally one comes down and strafes the camp, and it is not very funny, especially as the buildings are so flimsy and are no protection from cannon shells.
22nd April 1945
At six o’clock this morning a Russian tank entered the camp, and at last we were liberated, the fellows went mad, cheering their heads off. An Officer jumped out of the tank and the R.A.F. lads mobbed him, he was very embarrassed at the enthusiasm shown him, and I gave him my last cigarette, and was happy to do so.
At ten o’clock a whole armoured column moved into the camp, they were also mobbed. Some of the tanks had Germans riding on top, they had been taken in advance. I am very pleased that we are fighting with the Russians, and not against them, they are a very ugly, bestial crowd, half savage and very badly clothed. In the town of Luckenwalde they looted, and wrecked everything, shooting all the German civilians that they met and destroying the shops and houses. I can almost feel sorry for the Germans.
The camp is now completely in the hands of the Prisoners with a Norwegian General in camp, great excitement is everywhere.
A Norwegian General in command, he being the senior Officer at the camp, and the second in command is W/Cdr. Collard R.A.F.
When my brother Bill arrived home I was very thrilled when he gave me his Diary inscribed on the cover “Dedicated to my Sister”. HE EXPLAINED THAT NOW HE WAS SAFELY HOME HE WOULD FINISH WRITING IT UP FOR ME, BUT AS TIME WENT ON he seemed less inclined to even want to talk about it so it remained unfinished.
However, on his first evening at home he did tell me what happened when the Russians reached the camp he was then in at a place called Luckenwalde just a few miles outside of Berlin. This was the camp to which they had been force marched by the Germans from the POW camp in Silesia, Poland (about 800 miles) when they were retreating from the Russians. Many of the POW’s died on the way, Bill was one of the lucky ones.
This is the final chapter as Bill told it to me.
“The Joy they felt when the Russians broke into the camp was very short lived and after a few hours freedom, they were very securely back in their huts and the camp had more armed guards around it than when it was in German hands. Bill did say that when the Russians stormed in they (the POW’s) ran out into the town but when they saw the very dreadful behavior of the Russians they felt sick and went back into the camp. The following day they were delighted to see a convoy of American Army trucks surround the camp and they cheered and shouted expecting to be released but their excitement turned to horror when they saw the American Officers in charge being escorted back to their armoured cars and all the convoy moved off again. The POW’s couldn’t believe their eyes and the Russians wouldn’t tell them anything and treated them very badly. This happened again on each of the next three days and on the third day Bill managed to squeeze through trees and bushes and up to the barbed wire where he got the attention of a black American truck driver parked just outside. He told Bill they had come to take the POW’s to freedom but the Russians wouldn’t part with them. The driver after talking to Bill for a while said he didn’t like the look of things and if any of them wanted to take a chance and ‘run for it’ he would back during the night and help them because he didn’t trust the Russians and said he himself wouldn’t like to be in their hands and his officers were very worried about the POW’s. Bill told him he would like to risk it so it was arranged that the driver would come back at an arranged time during the night and bring what was necessary to cut the wire.
He told Bill his truck could carry 20 but not one more so it was up to Bill to arrange it with the POW’s. Enough of them gave their names to Bill to make up this number and when it was time to go he went quietly to each one to tell them but only 5 of them came with him. The others had decoded they may be released the next day so they didn’t want to risk it.