Doug West's Story.
I was sworn in as a boy soldier in the 151st Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery of the 51st Brigade, Royal Artillery, Territorial Army, in January 1937. The Headquarters were at Sloane Square, Chelsea.
On being mobilised at the outbreak of war, we manned 4.5 inch guns on the Isle of Dogs in the heart of London’s Dockland. From then on we manned 3.7 inch semi-mobile guns in Derby and Finsbury Park, London.
Having stood by to serve in Finland, when this country was over-run by the Russians, we were sent to Norway, where we saw action for a few weeks until the evacuation on June 8th, 1940.
The Middle East was the next theatre of operations and after a six week voyage around the Cape of Good Hope, we landed in Egypt.
On 6th November, 1940, we embarked on the cruiser Ajax, of River Plate fame, to land next day at Suda Bay, Crete. Our guns arrived a day later. We were there for the defence of Suda Bay and thus manned guns at several sites on both the north and south sides of the Bay.
After the evacuation of Greece at the end of April, it was inevitably the turn of Crete to be attacked and the Luftwaffe began their blitzkrieg on 20th May, 1941. After fierce fighting for nine days, the invading German airborne troops captured Suda Bay.
We were cut off on the peninsular to the north of Suda Bay, the order was given to destroy what was left of our four 3.7 inch guns and then we made our own way to an assembly point on the shore of the bay about two miles away.
Exhausted, we slept well the first night, then the following day as we were unable to cross the bay, we just had to follow the battle being fought as the rearguard protected our retreating troops making their way to
Sphakia, the evacuation point on the south of the island.
In the evening, the local Greeks told us that the Germans had reached
Sternes, the village above our position, so our O.C., Major Milne, decided to contact them in order to surrender. A party of four made their way up to the village and one of them returned to tell us to make our way up to the village the next morning in groups of about ten to give ourselves up. This we did, but on the way we could hear sporadic bursts of unmistakable German machine gun fire, filling us with alarm, but as it happened nothing dreadful happened to us when we contacted our first captors.
There were about 200 of us including a few other British soldiers who had been rounded up. We were assembled and marched to what had been the 7th General Field Hospital about seven miles away on the other side of
Canea. This was a group of marquees which had suffered some gunfire.
We were amongst the first of the prisoners here as the main body of prisoners did not capitulate until 1st June and they were at
Sphakia. These came straggling in four to five days after us.
The German combat troops who had taken us prisoner treated us very humanely. There was no hurry to fence us in and the main preoccupations were to organise foraging parties to collect food from any source whatever and to bury the dead where they lay. After we left the island, parties were left behind to re-bury the fallen of both sides in a military cemetery.
Parties would go out under a German guard to collect any British army food left around, and also to raid anything growing from oranges to green tomatoes.
It was not long before the heat and empty bellies created an unquenchable thirst for water. This could only be obtained by queuing for ages at the well, then taking the place of the donkey that used to go round and round hauling the endless bucket chain from the bowels of the earth and thus obtain a ration of polluted water.
I remember being on one working party clearing a path for vehicles through the debris that had been
Canea. The parachutist guard, keen to look after his charges, spotted a Greek scurrying along with a large bottle of wine. He called on the Greek to stop, then as the man showed some defiance, he drew his automatic pistol and fired over his head. The courageous Greek could then do no more than hand over the wine, albeit still protesting. The German then got hold of one of those 4 gallon petrol cans, poured the wine and some water into it, also some lump sugar which we had found under the rubble. He stirred the lot up and bid us drink it as it would give us energy, he said.
We found it advantageous to operate in little groups and to share meticulously in anything in the way of food, drink, etc., that came our way. Thus I was "mucking in” with three friends from my unit – Fred
Ellner, Les Milton, and Don Knott.
At the end of June, we were marched to the dock and put aboard the small coaster, the “Madre Catarina”. We had to climb down an iron ladder which was sloping the wrong way into the black hold. I suppose there were about 500 of us in the hold and the only light was from the hatch above.
We were on this boat for four days making the journey to Salonika and it was frightening experience climbing that ladder two or three times a day in our weakened condition through lack of food and the “trots” brought on by the polluted water.
At Salonika we were met by occupation troops and these were a brutal lot that forced us to march through the streets bunched up tight. If the slightest gap appeared between you and the fellow in front, then you got a kick from behind to close you up. Some Greeks were spotted giving us signs of encouragement and they were made to march with us and then made to stand at the entrance to the barracks where we had been taken with their hands in the air for hours.
Salonika was my worst memory, I think. Dispirited, hungry, thirsty, suffering from dysentery and worst of all becoming lousy. I would have died if it had not been for stern support from my old buddy, Fred
Ellner. Conditions were indescribable. In pitch darkness, can you imagine climbing over jam packed bodies to get to the loo which was an overfilled stinking hole in the ground.
One bright memory, though, is the night when in the depth of our misery, a beautiful clear cut tenor voice came through the blackness singing, “Genevieve” and other oldies. Much later I found the owner of that mystery voice. It was Bill Brown of the King’s Royal Rifles. He used to sing for us later in concert parties, but never so sweetly as that night. He maintained that it was the hunger that made him sing so well.
In late July, we were issued one day with a loaf and a small tin of schweinfleisch each and a large tin of meat and veg between seven. We were marched to the station, loaded 40 men to a horse wagon and sent on our way. The heat was tremendous. You could only lie down twenty men each side with your pitiful belongings under your head and someone else's feet up to your chest on both sides. You had to take turns at the grille on each side of the wagon to get a breath of air. The main occupation of course was incessant de-lousing. Thank goodness we four pals were to support each other eking out our rations with some eggs that a couple of them had managed to forage in
We stopped frequently in sidings and were allowed off the train. We traveled the length of Yugoslavia and at Belgrade station, each truck was permitted in turn to go to a Red Cross kitchen set up on the platform to receive a ration of hot mint tea and two of those large hard square dog biscuits per man. I swear that although the biscuits were so hard that they cut your gums to make them bleed while you ate, that this was one of the most delicious meals of my life. Dreaming of sumptuous meals, of course, is the inevitable and most exquisite form of masochism that tortures the hungry man.
The journey lasted seven days and we found ourselves outside Stalag 7 at
Moosburg, filthy, hungry and Iousy.
Outside the gate I noticed a sort of monument which depicted an unending stream of dejected prisoners of all nations trudging on under the most sardonic caption of all time, “NACH BERLIN”.
Before we were allowed into the camp proper, we were stripped of our clothes and belongings, all of our hair was clipped and we went through a marvelous hot shower. Our bodies were emaciated and covered in red weals from scratching and lice bites. While we showered, our clothes and things were decontaminated in a gas chamber. Although we had another subsequent shower and de-louse, this one had been sufficient to rid us of this horrible pestilence.
We were then documented, injected in the chest and given a meal and a bunk in one of those four square three high assemblies that were to become so familiar. The camp at that time was an open camp with no separate, wired off compounds. It contained mainly French prisoners and some Yugoslavs. Very soon the first Russian prisoners began to arrive and their treatment was much less humane than any we had had or were to have.
We made friends with the French prisoners who used to run the theatre. It never ceased to amaze me, the ingenuity and skill of the French, in their artistic creations and stage presentations. They were very clever at doing murals on the outside of buildings, subtly taking the mickey out of the Germans was the underlying theme.
There was a healthy black market already in existence in the camp and I was able to trade my Rolls self stropping razor, which I had amazingly been able to hang on to, for two loaves of bread. About a week later; we were issued with two Red Cross parcels each. These were our salvation and we continued to get them one a week fairly regularly until the last four months of our captivity. One of the Welch Regiment soldiers, “Tracker” by nickname, opened every tin and mixing everything together in one glorious hash, scoffed the lot.
While in this camp, I had a severe bout of bronchitis and this was the first of many recurring attacks. Eventually, I became a chronic case and as a result was finally discharged from the army and am still a war disabled pensioner.
In late August 1941, still in tropical shorts, no cap and a sunburned scalp, we were sent to an Arbeits Kommando at Pasing on the outskirts of Munich. Being below the rank of Bombardier, or Corporal, I had to work.
I was one of a party of eight and worked as a labourer for “Hebels”, a building contractor. One of the first jobs was to shovel gravel into the skip of a concrete mixer. Cur condition was so bad that after one shovelful I had to rest for 10 minutes to build up enough energy for the next one. It took about another four months before I personally got into any sort of physical shape.
In September 1942, we moved, again to “Westend lager”', believe it or not that is a place name, also on the outskirts of Munich. This camp had a small hospital accommodation, a dental clinic and services for prisoners working in and around Munich.
I was still working at the same job. Clothing parcels Red Cross uniform issues had not yet been received, so as winter approached, we were kitted out with ill-fitting and assorted French army clothing. As working people, we earned 7 marks 20 pfennig per week in P.o.W money. My 21st birthday on the 5th October 1941 was spent in the hospital here with bronchitis, with my three good friends toasting my health with half a litre of bier each which I had been able to buy with my last two marks in the canteen.
Carl was a wide boy guard who would come round the hospital rooms, plonk a suitcase on the table, open it up and then do business, accepting chocolate and tea or coffee for sugar and eggs, etc. He was also the escort for prisoners attending the military hospital in the centre of Munich for specialist treatment. He would not dream of walking to the hospital, though, and he would collect the fare from you in
P.o,W. money (which he also dealt in) and take you on the tram. By some amazing means he could also conjure up a hot meal in the hospital for you, also of course for money.
I had to attend the military hospital for some ear treatment. While we were in the passage outside the reception office, the German soldiers were reporting and scouting ‘Heil Hitler’ as they made the raised arm salute. We were patiently waiting for the Germans to be treated first when a vociferous doctor arrived, and appeared to be haranguing the Germans, who stiffened to attention and were visibly shaking as he passed by. Well, he spotted us and yelled, at me, "Ah, Englander,
kom." Full of trepidation, I was sat on a stool with the doctor sitting at right angles to me on another stool. He placed a funnel in my ear and with a six inch long needle poised at the opening to the funnel, he boomed, “Who do you tink vil gevinen der
Var?" Well, with the heroic courage of the condemned man making his last defiant utterance, I squeaked, "Well, I think we will." At which he almost fell off of his stool laughing.
Nevertheless, this doctor with the utmost delicacy went on to clean the ear out with numerous swabs of cotton wool attached to the end of the needle. He then puffed in some powder and. after several treatments at weekly intervals, and heeding his instructions not to get water in the ear, the trouble cleared up, not to reappear until I went swimming after the war. In return, at least he got some amusement out of practising his fractured English.
The civilians with whom we worked, the general German public and the guards here in Munich, we found almost without exception, very friendly and sympathetic.
It snowed before Christmas and it was a long and the worst winter in living memory. We were put to work clearing the streets of Munich. It was so cold that the hafts of ice breaking tools would break with brittleness.
There were handcarts with large wheels and a pan that could swivel upside down inside the circumference of the wheels. These were used to carry snow to an uncovered manhole and tipped so that the snow was carried away to the river Isar in a rushing torrent.
The Australians would occasionally call down the manhole to an imaginary colleague telling him to move away before the next load. This used to disturb some of the locals who knew very well that the environment was below street level and were sucked in every time.
Another trick of the Australians was to point to a spot in the sky and all group around pointing and staring at the same spot. In no time at all, the populace would be intently searching for some imaginary menace.
I did get frostbite in the fingers of my right hand when they came in contact with the metal handle of the cart I was pushing, through a hole in my cloth mitts. I cried with pain when the feeling came back into my fingers and big white blisters came up. I was lucky not to be so badly affected that they would have to be amputated, but others were not so lucky and there were cases amongst us of amputated toes.
There was no heating in the huts during this winter and the cold was the worst hardship at this time.
The black market was flourishing through our contacts with the civilian people. In exchange for coffee, tea or chocolate from the Red Cross parcel you could obtain bread, sugar, eggs and 'meta' tablets. These were a sort of solidified methylated spirit tablet that you could set light to brew up tea or coffee. Mind you, when the light was put out you would find a veritable snow storm of flakes that these burning tablets give off together with the burning meths smell.
Of course, if you were searched on returning home from work and the contraband was discovered, it was immediately confiscated. The most ambitious deal realised in these early days was an electric heating ring which was duly wired secretly into the lighting circuit.
A concert party developed from singing acts, monologues, etc., into a proficient group that produced the First World War play “Journey's End” under the organising influence of Don Tandy, Don Nesbit and others. These two had some professional experience in civilian life and their persuasive powers were such that the actors for the roles of German prisoners of war were dressed in borrowed German uniforms. Hand painted posters were made for every show and I have photographs of actors and other activities in the camps obtained through benevolent, co-operative and suitably remunerated guards. Later I was to become more involved in entertainments personally.
There were three arbeits kommandos with British and Australian prisoners around Munich. each with about 500 prisoners. Working parties went out daily and were of from about 8 to 20 people under 1 or 2 guards. You would be transported to your place of work in lorries, coaches, buses with trailers, or even the public service single decker trams with trailers.
Work varied from trench digging, building labouring, cemetery ground work, or even grave digging. I had one short spell in a gravel pit and when the thaw came at the end of March, we were switched from snow clearing to city dustmen. As the city vehicles had not been able to get around during the freeze up, great mounds of domestic rubbish had piled up and we were called on to load the open lorries and off load at the tip.
About the beginning of April 1942, we moved to “Waldfriedhof” camp, a little further out. As I said, there were about 500 of us there, 200 being Australians. There were three dormitory double skinned, double glazed huts, a kitchen and canteen hut and a guards' hut. There were 12 of us to a room with two tier bunks, table, benches and stove. Very clean and quite comfortable accommodation.
By this time, things had improved considerably. The hard winter was about over, Red Cross parcels were in regular weekly supply, (thank God again for those parcels), supplies of new British battle dress uniforms were reaching us together with, boots, socks, shirts, etc. We had adjusted to our position and exploited all avenues to our advantage. We had got the measure of German psyche and through wheeling and dealing and much chipping in by the whole community we were able to buy harmonicas, a drum kit, guitar, banjo and an accordion to form a band for one thing and other recognisable morale "boosters. In fact, in this camp we were extremely fortunate and this was the most tolerable part of my
The guard who had been regularly in charge of our small working party was from Vienna, his name was Leopold
Brucker. He was in his late twenties, a quiet and very likeable man. He protected us from any possible impositions that might have come from civilians. He took photographs of us in the camp and then stamped so that we could send them to our families and when we found out that his little boy was ill, we just naturally rallied round, and made him accept tins of Ovaltine and chocolate and all that from our Red Cross parcels. Later he became a gefreiter and was on the office staff at the camp. I would like to think that he has survived the war and has had a happy life since.
Through the spring and summer of 1942, I worked for Stadt bau on the other side of Munich near
Fresing, I think. We traveled by coach and we got to know the geography of Munich pretty well. We were working for the council, you might say, on the construction of what was to be a pig farm. These were long brick built buildings with tiled stalls and troughs very well designed, modern structures for the mass production of pigs.
I wonder whether the farm was ever completed because we committed every bit of sabotage possible. For instance, in a chain of men unloading bricks from hand to hand, the pile of dropped and broken bricks would exceed the pile of whole bricks being stacked.
In the camp, an element of goonishness prevailed and we were often spontaneously entertained by some crazy acts. I remember one evening there was a commotion in one room with people reeling around pretending they were in a submarine out of control. A final shout came "Open the portholes" and all the laughing spectators at the doorway were drenched with a bucket of water thrown at them.
The standard food provided by -the Germans was a loaf between about six people, a ration of potatoes boiled in their jackets, a bowl of soup per day and on occasion, some ersatz margarine, jam or cheese. In the mornings, a jug of ersatz coffee could be had from the kitchen until someone designed an immersion heater with razor blades on a block of wood and connected to the lights again. Before turning in at night, the heater would be dropped into the jug with cold water in it and in the morning when the duty guard came round yelling for everyone to "Auf gets" and switching on the lights, we just stayed put until the water boiled. Then the duty prisoner would get up and make the communal tea and we would have tea in bed.
I was roped into the concert party and always got the part of an American in the sketches. Don Nesbit got hold of some scripts and we did “Gang Shows”, “They lived on Broadway", "The Maidens Folly", "It pays to Advertise", "Rookery Nook", "Saloon Bar". “Me and my Girl”. The Harmonica band “Cav and his Cavaliers" provided music for the musicals. The two German camp interpreters provided us with seven suits between them for our use in plays, on condition of course that they were not used for escaping. We all used to contribute towards the hire of stage costumes which were obtained from a theatrical agency in Munich.
Some of our female impersonators were quite attractive and in one case it was thought advisable to provide him with a bodyguard, just in case; although I can honestly say that in all my
P.o.W. experience I never saw undecorous acts of sexual behaviour.
There were amorous liaisons through contact with the fairer sex at work. In one case, the lad would go over the wire almost every night to meet the lady in a copse nearby and then return the same way. Ultimately, the girl got hold of some civilian clothes, left them for him near his place of work and he escaped. Unfortunately, like all the other attempted escapes, he did not get very far before being picked up. Incidentally, people were attempting to escape at the rate of five per week from this camp.
Other activities were organised such as boxing matches, athletics, 'cockfighting’, that is two people trying to knock each other off of a horizontal round pole with sand bags, and the Australians, having got hold of rugby type ball, introduced us to the amazing game of Australian football.
There were quizzes in which a lanky, pipe smoking, rather scruffy older Australian, whom we nicknamed "The professor*, seemed never to be stuck for the answer and our Jewish camp leader and interpreter Harry always did quite well at these too.
However, for all these distractions and with the Germans extolling their successes over the British in the Middle East and although universally everyone was sure that we’d triumph in the end, it seemed that it was now going to be a long wait. Deep down, the gnawing yearning in every was expressed in the often repeated phrase "Roll on the Boat",
My bouts of bronchitis were so frequent that eventually the doctors decided that I was permanently sick and should be returned to the Stalag excused of all work. The entertainments committee though did not want to lose me, so an arrangement was made whereby I did the light job of picking up paper around the camp. I would show myself at Appell stabbing at the ground with a nail attached to a stick and when all the working parties had disappeared I would retire to the stage and busy myself with props, for the next play, all tools had been entrusted to me for safekeeping.
As our group of four had now been split up, while I was at Waldfriedhof I teamed up with ‘Jock’ Arthur Ellis. He used to call me the ‘Yank’ as I was talking practically the whole time in an American accent as practise for my parts. He too was a wonderful friend.
One night in November 1942, there was an air raid warning and a British aeroplane was picked up by the searchlights. It dropped its bombs and one exploded a hundred yards outside the camp perimeter. By some fluke the implosion after the burst plucked the wall nearest the explosion of the middles hut from its fixings and let it fall flat on the ground.
Fortunately, no one was hurt but the first impression on looking across from our own hut was that reminiscent of a giant dolls house with the wall removed to see the furnishings and contents, most of the people sitting in a shocked state on the edge of their bunks in their underwear.
Strangely, a couple of months later during the only other air raid on Munich while we were there, a stick of incendiary bombs landed on one of the huts and completely burnt it out. Again, no-one was hurt, but of course, some kit was lost. The prisoners were then housed in the theatre hut for the time until we had to move on.
At Christmas time, it was arranged for us to have a church service in a Munich church, conducted by our own padre, an Australian.
We all thought this would be a fine time to put on a show. So everyone put on their best uniform and polished their boots for a change. It can be imagined that prisoners reacting against their former irksome disciplinary constraints in these matters tend to relax in standards of dress and deportment, the compulsion element being eliminated. Anyway, about 300 of us turned out spick and span and marched to the church like guardsmen. This caused quite a stir amongst the civilians who stared boggle eyed and amazed. The German guards were confused but could do nothing about it. After the service, we took great delight in repeating the performance on the march back to camp. This was the only opportunity we had to show the flag thus.
March 1943 saw us moved back to the main camp Stalag 7A prior to being moved to Stalag 8B in Upper Silesia.
Stalag 7A had changed considerably. High barbed wire fences had been put up to segregate groups of two or three huts into compounds. The French and Yugoslavs were still there, but there were now a lot of Russians and also the first Americans had been taken prisoner in North Africa.
Free movement was allowed between the compounds in the daytime up to the evening
Appell, except for the Russians who were kept locked in their compounds and treated by the German guards as if they were mad dogs.
Being taken in the desert, the Americans like us were poorly clad at first and were very glad of the clothing which we were able to pass on to them from our own belongings, which were ample by that time.
I was delighted to meet up with real Americans and was enthralled with their accents and graphic way of talking. In their turn, the Americans appreciated the impromptu concert we put on for them on a stage made out of tables in their own hut.
We did what we could to pass food to the Russians who were obviously ravenous. The Russian compound adjoined ours and there was a common latrine building but with a solid wall dividing the two compounds. However, the Russians had knocked a hole in this wall and. we could pass food to the hands waving in supplication through the hole.
I was sickened when a guard came in, forced us away from the hole at gun point and then proceeded to smash at the unsuspecting hands of the Russians with his rifle butt.
Similarly, outside the British were catcalling and barracking the Germans for the brutal treatment they were handing out to the Russians, when one of them turned his gun and fired into the ground on the British
P.o.W. side, the ricocheting bullet wounding one of our lads in the back. Thus suddenly you are reminded of the precariousness of being a prisoner of war.
Within a couple of weeks, still in March 1943, all the British and Australian P.o.Ws were moved by train from Stalag 7A at
Moosburg, Bavaria, to Stalag 8B at Lansdorf, Upper Silesia. We were moved in horse wagons again and the journey took three days and two nights. Although it was cold and uncomfortable, at least we were in better physical shape and with a supply of food from our Red Cross parcels, we did not suffer the same degree of hardship as our early train journey to
Stalag 8B looked bleak and somewhat bigger than Stalag 7A. The wired off compounds had about three huts in each one, brick huts with openings for windows and doors but without windows, window frames, doors and door frames, these having long since been removed and burnt as fuel for brew ups. Some of the windows were replaced with opaque sheets made up of food tins flattened out and riveted together in some fashion.
Tins were flattened and shaped and joined in many ingenious ways to make all sorts of things, primarily stoves and “blowers”.
A "blower” was a remarkably efficient device for extracting the maximum amount of heat from various fuels for the purpose of brewing up tea or coffee. What it was basically was a base on which was mounted, at one end a wheel which you turned by hand. Around the wheel was a belt which in turn drove an impeller fan at a geared up number of revs. The fan was ducted, to a bowl with holes in the bottom that acted as a grate on which you boiled the pot of water. It was a miniature forge in fact with which with a few scraps of cardboard, or a twig or the smallest amount of anything combustible you could boil a pint of so of water. Of course, this was a boon to us with tea to brew and not much else other than imagination to convert it into something
The operation of these devices was, however, not permitted by the Germans as they used to salvage the tins from our Red Cross parcels. So from time to time they would tour the camp and smash any “blowers” that they could find. But once they were destroyed, the bashers would immediately set to work to make an even better one.
Anyway, on arriving at Stalag 8B, we were confined to the compound and the next day we underwent a medical grading examination. The fittest people, Grade 1, were destined to work in coal mines, Grade 2 were to be sent to work in quarries and such work, and factory work was the lot for Grade 3 people. Well, of course, I was Grade 3 and due to be sent to a working camp in the early hours of the following day.
However, there were a number of R.A.F. prisoners of war in the next compound and it came to my ears that certain of these prisoners were anxious to change identities with soldiers due to go out on working parties, with the object of making escape attempts. Escaping from Stalags with their barbed wire fences and machine gun posts was unthinkable, but escaping from working parties was quite easy and common. You just walked off the job when nobody was looking.
Well, together with another lad, I offered myself as a “swap over” as these changes were called then and that is how Gunner D. west became Sergeant Clinton Gunning for a period of about seven months.
The real Clinton Gunning was a dark six footer whereas I was average height, blue eyed and fair. I mention this because rather remarkably, I survived several identity checks which involved comparison of photographs and details with visual inspection. The Germans had cottoned on to this particular deception.
I learned that Clinton had been a professional pianist with Jack Payne before joining the
R.A.F. and when I met up with him again, he entertained us on the piano in the theatre and I was delighted to hear “boogy woogy” for the first time and played with great virtuosity too.
Of course we swapped uniforms and the identity plates that were issued by the Germans. I was also able to supply my fellow conspirator with other clothing as I was relatively well off being an established prisoner, whereas he had only recently been shot down and literally only possessed the clothes he stood up in. As a matter of interest, Clinton was a navigator and was in an Operations Training Unit taking part in a leaflet dropping raid over Flushing in Holland, when their Wellington was shot down. He never actually took part in a bomb dropping raid at all.
I was in for a rude shock next morning at Appell. To my amazement, bundles of handcuffs were carried in and issued to everyone and I learned that these had to be worn from morning Appell to evening
Appell. This was a reprisal punishment for all prisoners taken during the Dieppe raid on the 19th August 1942, and for all
R.A.F. prisoners taken after that raid. I was told that the Germans had recovered some of their defunct soldiers who had previously been captured by the allied invading troops and that these bodies were discovered with their hands tied. One of the objects of the raid had been to capture prisoners for interrogation.
The reprisal applied to several hundred French Canadian soldiers who were housed in one of the huts in the same compound as the
R.A.F. people and in a compound with a couple of huts on the other side of the roadway.
The handcuffs had about a foot of chain joining them and would just about allow you to put your hands in your trouser pockets.
A guard would patrol the huts and anyone caught not wearing their manacles would be made to stand outside against the barbed wire like a naughty boy for a couple of hours. Every time a guard entered a hut, the cry "watch your chains” would go up to be followed by a rattling as everyone removed the chains from their pockets and put the manacles on their wrists. It was, of course, quite easy to remove one’s own handcuffs with the aid of a sardine tin opening key.
I had now lost contact with all my comrades from my own unit and all the prisoners that I had been thrown in with till then.
The static population of the Stalag at that time was somewhere in the order of 12,000 people, I estimated. It was also the headquarters for controlling many thousands of prisoners working in
'Arbeits Kommandos’ scattered over a large area of Silesia.
There was a hospital and dental clinic for the treatment of both Stalag residents and to which people from working camps were also brought in.
The majority of people in the Stalag were made up of British and Australian troops, with the contingent of French Canadians captured at Dieppe. There were about 300 Indian soldiers and a surprising bunch of about 200 Spanish troops. Apparently, these were a remnant of Republican soldiers who had fled to France in the last stages of the Spanish Civil War and had subsequently joined the French Foreign Legion, only to be captured by the Germans on France's capitulation. There were of course the two groups of
R.A.F. people; those unhandcuffed, pre Dieppe, and those handcuffed. post Dieppe.
The Air Force people were overflow from Stalag Luft 3. I should say also that there were a number of Royal Canadian Air Force people among the 'boys in the blue uniforms.
All flying personnel had at least the rank of sergeant so under the rules of tile Geneva Convention there was no question of their being sent out to working camps.
In the camp also was a compound full of war disabled soldiers, many with limbs missing. Their hopes of repatriation were dashed many times by abortive international negotiations but happily, repatriation ultimately took place late in 1943 and they sailed home by way of Sweden.
Settling down with the new crowd was no trouble at all. “Swap overs” were readily accepted and integrated into the community. The huts were divided into three sections with a dormitory both ends and a wash house in the middle. Each dormitory section had a leader, in our case a warrant officer, whose job was to organise the necessary fatigues and to pass on instructions from the German command and the British camp leadership.
The three tiered bunks took up three quarters of the space and the only other furniture was the tables and benches along one wall of the hut. You were organised into groups of eight for the purpose of food ration distribution and each group had a table and two benches. Our group consisted of four Englishmen, a Welshman, a colourful Brazilian Wimpy pilot, and two happy go lucky rather small Canadian buddies named Bud Roach and Bill Gammon.
One of the first things to sort out now was how to inform my family that nothing was amiss but that I was now to be addressed with a different
P.o.W. number, rank and name. I could not write under my own name as all mail was censored by the Germans and any mail addressed to me would automatically go to my “swap over”.
Well, I wrote a very clever letter, as I thought, to my wife, who was then my fiancée and referred to my mother as Aunt, quite certain that recognising my hand writing and combined. with the content of the letter, all would be clear as daylight. Alas, all was not clear, it threw everyone into confusion, perhaps they thought I had gone mad. My sister wrote to me asking outright why I had changed my name. Fortunately this passed the censor unnoticed. Eventually by referring to the British Red Cross, my family were told that we had been bad boys and explained what must have happened.
How one was to fill the days and not to get bored to death now that one was no longer compelled to work six days a week, or have the interest of the concert party as before?
In fact, the choice was boundless from sport, entertainment , music, education, gambling and even setting up in business on your own.
There were many fine sportsmen and entertainers in the camp. It seems that if a man had some sort of special talent, ways were found to keep him in the
Stalag. I believe that most of the kitchen workers and others on regular camp jobs fell into this category. Perhaps it’s an impression, I could not prove it.
There was a five-a-side football league which provided some very energetic and entertaining sport, with supporters as enthusiastic as any soccer club could claim. Big matches and events were always embellished with the bag pipe band in attendance to start off proceedings with a playing and marching display.
Athletics meetings were arranged with sprints, distance races, high and. long jumps. Of course, some of the field events were not possible through lack of apparatus, although some ingenious makeshift solutions were found.
The Indians were good performers at athletics and I remember one tall extremely thin competitor running his heart out to win the mile.
The Canadians were very lucky in that they received so much gear and personal parcels through the International Red Cross. Their own government contributed large amounts and their own families and local organizations were willing and able to be very generous in their gifts to their own
Because of this, they were able to organise soft ball games and American “grid iron” football matches but their plans to set up an ice hockey rink was foiled because the weather never really got cold enough for a long enough period to freeze all the hundreds of buckets of water that were thrown onto the sports field. They never did use their skates.
I Ioved the “Soft Ball”. This is very similar to baseball but played with a smaller club and larger ball, although it is softer than a baseball it is still pretty solid and inflexible.
The game was played with great gusto and skill, with tremendous strikes when the club connected with the ball, great catches and the speed with which the ball was passed from one fielder to another had to be seen to be believed.
But the most entertaining aspect of the game for me was the way in which the supporters would ''chat on the side", with their lurid and picturesque comments, keeping the game alive when the ball was dead.
I never actually played in a game but I used to borrow a ball and a glove and enjoy practising pitching and catching with one or the other of them.
For the American Grid Iron football, truth to tell, the only gear consisted of the ball, the rest was improvisation. The players used to pad their shoulders and bodies as best they could, but even so there were some nasty injuries and even broken bones due to the all out body charging involved. Of course the pitch could not be marked out but progress was assessed between plays by two men on the side lines with a measured length of string.
Yes, I found the American games very enjoyable and amusing to watch.
As regards entertainment, I have already mentioned the Pipe Band. This would turn out in full regalia and give a concert from time to time in the various compounds. There is nothing more stirring or moving than the pipes and drums at close quarters. I was always amused at the order to "Quick March" or "Slow March" for the band to start playing, when in fact they played standing motionless in a circle.
From time to time too you could hear a piper practising on his chanter, sitting in the loneliest place he could find, with his back to the latrine wall, like a sad snake charmer.
There were small musical groups who could come together to form an orchestra and give a concert in the theatre.
In one variety show is the camp theatre amongst the usual singing acts and sketches, a female impersonator from the Spanish group did a Flamenco dance, complete with castanets. It was a sensation.
There was a school next to the chapel and it was possible for those that were sufficiently dedicated to study advanced subjects, assisted by people who were properly qualified in civilian life before joining the services.
I used to read a lot until the bridge bug hit me. We all started off knowing little more than the basic rules. Then we acquired various text books on the game. I studied the Culbertson system. Of course, the environment was ideal. Lots of time, lots of players and lots of enthusiasm. We played rubber after rubber and discussed and argued over practically every hand. Naturally, with any aptitude at all, you must get quite skilful eventually and this skill worked to ay advantage later.
There were quite a few chess players in the camp but they seemed to be less gregarious than other people. They seemed to be quite happy at times sitting on their bunks studying moves from one of the chess masters’ books, or simply playing a solo game religiously moving pieces, first white, then black.
The Germans did not waste time looking for individuals if rules were broken or something happened to displease them. Their one remedy was to punish the whole camp. So for about fifty per cent of the time, prisoners were confined to their own compounds, which curtailed most of the sports and entertainment activities described.
The universal currency in the camp was cigarettes. We had our weekly Red Cross issue of fifty, plus any that managed to survive the hazardous passage as personal parcels.
My fiancée was sending me a gift of two hundred cigarettes every month yet I never received one. Whereas an old civilian friend who had been a prisoner of war in the First World War organized collections in the local, namely the "Railway Bell" pub at Tooting Junction, in order to send cigarettes to local lads in
P.o.W, camps. These parcels all contained 1000 Wills Gold Flake cigarettes and were therefore quite bulky and I wonder, cynically perhaps, if the fact that the larger parcels could not be easily concealed by any one of a number of handlers who might be dishonest, accounted for the fact that many more larger parcels than smaller ones got right through.
In fact, all of the parcels sent from the Railway Bell arrived, but funnily enough, only during my swap over period, so my opposite number got the benefit of these, also too of a couple of the three monthly clothing parcels that were permitted. Unfortunately, I received no parcels at all in the name of Gunning so my personal stock of clothing deteriorated during this period.
The Canadians were the richest people in the camp due to the enormous quantities of cigarettes they received in personal parcels. When chits were handed out for them to claim these parcels they usually had several at a time and they would grab a kit bag to collect them from the parcel room.
Bud and Bill were very generous and could give us less well off a hundred cigarettes at a time when they knew we were short, as well as leave a supply on the table for us to help ourselves.
Easy come, easy go. Many of the people rich in cigarettes currency were drawn to the crap tables and many thousands of cigarettes would change hands in one dice session alone.
The Australians on the other hand were addicted to the coin game of two-up and would spend hours standing in a ring betting a couple of cigarettes at a time on the toss of the coins.
There were people who also ran swap shops, making a couple of cigarettes profit on all articles bought or sold.
So you can see that life was anything but dull in this Stalag. Nevertheless, the yearning for it all to be over and to be back in that paradise called home never ceased to grow.
One day, about three months later, the very dirty and unshaven real Clinton Gunning arrived. He had been on the loose from the working party and was picked up in a railway yard after eleven days, while trying to fix a trip on a goods train, freedom bound. He had survived on a stock of chocolate and tinned cheese, mainly which he had saved up from his own Red Cross food parcels or acquired from other prisoners. Other tinned foods like ham and corned beef were made perishable on issue by the Germans, by the simple expedient of stabbing all tins.
Clinton had to spend the mandatory two weeks in the bunker, that is the punishment hut for offenders. What it meant was that you were confined to that compound and received no Red Cross food. When he came out, he was still keen to go out on another working party and to try his luck again and to carry on with the ”Swap over” arrangement.
He was duly sent out on an aerodrome working camp and there he met up with three other
R.A.F. “swap overs”. Inevitably, they began to think about the possibility of hijacking an aircraft to make good their escape. Unfortunately, during a night reconnoitering attempt, all four were surprised by a patrolling guard as they were climbing over their camp perimeter fence with their faces blackened. In fact, they thought the guard was the more surprised and even terrified by the encounter.
Back to the Stalag they were brought and after another spell in the bunker, Clinton decided that he had had enough of escape attempts so we reverted to our proper identities after about six months of masquerading. lt would be another five months, in late February 1944, before I was sent out to another working camp. Perhaps the undeserved reputation for being an escapee had something to do with that.
I met up with an old friend from Territorial Army days in the NCO’s compound, Bombardier Fee. I used to visit him for a yarn quite often and on one occasion an amazing coincidence occurred. I spotted a face that was familiar but I could hardly believe it was the person who I knew it must be. It was in fact my future wife’s brother in law, Charles Boon. I had met him twice before the war and he was a militiaman caught in uniform at the outbreak of war. He was taken prisoner of war in France in May 1940 and so had spent one more year than myself in prison camps.
At this time, he had one of the more cushy P.o.W. jobs working on a farm along with only two other
P.o.Ws. He was in the Stalag for just a couple of weeks for medical treatment.
I was glad to be able to let them know back home that he was alright as he could not write a proper letter. In fact, my future sister in law had had no news of her husband for so long after his capture that she was about to be declared a war widow,
One incident that one laughs at afterwards, but which could have had tragic consequences, occurred while I was still in the
R.A.F. compound. This compound was located next to the last compound at the farthest point from the camp entrance and services, such as they were. Because of its position, very little water would reach the huts during the course of the day on account of the drop in pressure caused by usage in the rest of the camp.
One day, the Germans sealed off this compound and when one of the soldiers approached the fence to ask for a billy can of water from someone on our side of the fence, he was shoved away by a surly guard. The infuriated soldier then brought the billy can crashing down on the guard’s helmet and then ran a zig zag course across the ground towards the nearest hut. Meanwhile, the guard brought up his rifle and tried to draw a bead on the fugitive. As if by magic, a gap opened up as people in the crowded compound ran away from the line of fire. But the soldier at full tilt took a headlong dive straight through one of the window openings and lived to tell the tale as they say.
In September 1943, until just before I resumed my own identity and moved to other quarters, there was an influx of P.o.Ws from Italy. These had been captured by the Italians but were taken over by the Germans immediately after Italy capitulated to the Allies.
They were scattered over the whole Stalag and conditions became quite crowded in the huts. For the first time since arriving in Germany, there were not bunks for everyone and people had to sleep on floors and tables wherever they could. It was some months before the majority were displaced presumably to working camps in the main.
Personal comfort diminished on removing to the “Labour Exchange” compound where I was to await placing in a working camp. I did have a bunk but as most of the loose board cross supports had been long since filched for fuel purposes, going to bed was something of a high wire balancing act. The object was to place the boards, under the very thin wood shaving filled mattresses at strategic points to support the prone body and all your worldly goods contained in your kit bag. When you consider that I had five boards in widths varying from two to four inches, this was no mean feat and turning over in bed called for extra skill.
With the onset of winter, it was considered more comfortable on the bunk than on the cold. concrete floor.
As this was a transit hut and did not have long staying inmates, there was no great communal desire to make it home from home, so the window openings were not boarded up and it was a very bleak place indeed. I was glad in fact when I was removed to the Kalkstickstoffe Arbeits Lager at Konigshutte in February 1944. The first impression on entering the only dormitory hut was one of delicious warmth. Unknown, unlimited stocks of coke fuel were available to stoke the huge round iron stoves with their sloping metal flues that gave up even more massive quantities of heat before turning upwards to disappear through the roof. These stoves used to glow red and were really quite a danger but day and night they glowed the winter away and it is a miracle that the hut was never burned down or that anyone was seriously burned as they were quite unguarded.
There too was a large hot plate also stoked with coke day and night so brew ups were available at all times. People also were able to cook dishes concocted from the Red Cross parcel ingredients.
I was allocated to work on the carbide furnaces and was duly marched off next morning for the six o’clock shift. The factory entrance was only a few yards away from the camp entrance on the opposite side of the road.
The first sight of the carbide furnaces at the firing floor level was sensational. Flames were leaping eight to ten feet in the air from ground level as if trying to devour the great carbon blocks which were clamped and suspended above them. It had the aspect of a hellish inferno.
In the one huge bay there were four of these electric arc furnaces, each with three great carbon electrodes lowered into them. Over the flames, clouds of white smoke were hurtling upwards to the roof which was hidden in the gloom way above and still unilluminated by the flames.
A cacophony of loud hums assaulted the ears as the electricity sped from unseen transformers along great bunches of copper strips emanating from holes in the floor and attached to the rear of the suspended carbons. I soon found out why you had to wear the wooden clogs that had been issued. It was quite impossible to walk over the steel plate floor because you would get electric shocks through the nails in your boots. The whole place seemed to be electrified.
Operators fed the furnaces with a mixture of coke and crushed limestone which was spread in measured amounts along the base of the electrodes by means of swinging chutes. These were operated from a station in front of the furnace, by means of capstan wheels.
The heat was intense. We had to shovel coke and limestone on to the back of the furnace where the chutes could not reach. It was necessary to stand behind wire mesh heat screens to do this. In fact, we worked half an hour at a time with half an hour in the rest room, where we could quaff as much soda water as we liked, this being provided by the factory. Of course, one sweated gallons.
Each furnace had a Pole in charge, another civilian operated the overhead cranes from which the electrodes were suspended, another supervised the tapping of the furnace every hour on the level below the firing floor and yet another on the floor below that remotely controlled the train of cast iron pans that were filled with the molten carbide from the furnace.
It was quite spectacular to see the furnace tapped. For about six tappings out of the normal eight during a shift, all that was necessary was to pull a suspended metal screen on rollers in front of the tapping hole in the wall of the furnace. The operator would then insert a rod about l6mm
dia. and 4 metres long over a roller in the screen and prod a hole through the solidified carbide sealing the hole. The molten carbide would then cascade through the hole over a water cooled spout through a hole in the floor, to be caught in the pans of the train below.
The thing was that the heat at the centre of the furnace was 4000 centigrade and the temperature of the carbide as it left the furnace was 2500 centigrade. Thus, you should be blinded by the light given off unless the dark goggles issued were worn. Also operators could only approach the opening to within 3 metres wearing an asbestos apron, a wire mesh head mask and gloves. Any bare flesh such as a bit of wrist would be immediately scorched.
During the tapping period when the flow of carbide got sluggish, rods would be inserted through the screen and right into the furnace. They would be pushed in and out a couple of times and then withdrawn. Amazingly, after about 5 seconds in the furnace, they would be white hot and as stiff as a piece of string.
Once during every tapping we would be called on to help lift and insert the heavy bar called the “stange”. With a
"Ruk Zuk, Ruk Zuk, Ruk Zuk" from the foreman, the bar would .also be shoved in and out for about 10 seconds. Bearing in mind that this bar was about 50 millimetres in
dia., 5 metres long and extremely heavy, it would still be white hot and bent like a piece of wire when removed and had to be immediately hammered straight ready for the next tapping.
I was fascinated by all these spectacular happenings but the dirtiest job was renewing burnt out carbons.
The furnace would be shut down and the old carbons lifted and run to a shielded truck on a railway line behind the line of furnaces. Cascades of grey soot would be dislodged by the overhead crane and traveling suspension gear to fall on you. It took the weight of six men on the end of a huge spanner to unlock the water cooled clamps at the top of the carbons.
The glowing old carbons would then be wheeled away to be dumped in a cooling pit while great new carbons were brought up to be clamped in position. The civilians worked at great speed to get the furnace back in operation without losing too much heat. Everybody was called in to give a hand in this operation, that is if you could find the
P.o.Ws. We would all suddenly disappear when we knew this operation was about to take place.
I remember on one occasion when a large piece of a carbon broke off and of course, a new carbon was called for. Now one of the plant's directors was a heavily jowled German who wore a flat cap. He used to talk in a quacking type of voice so was naturally christened Donald Duck by the lads. He happened to be passing when the usual panic rush started and I can still see the look of amazement on his face and hear his bewildered quacking
"Wo sind die leute von oven zwei unten" (Where are the downstairs people from No. 2 furnace). Obviously, he had not learned of the talent British prisoners had for foiling all attempts to get them to work productively, or even to get them to work at all. Civilians always seemed to love their work.
There was a sad occurrence just prior to my arrival at the camp when an Australian soldier had died of an illness and had been accorded a military funeral with all the camp in attendance. There were wreaths and the sounding of the last post by our trumpet player. Photographs were taken by one of the guards and I have a set of these still.
I learned that one of the local girls working at the factory had fallen in love with this prisoner and in her grief at his death had committed suicide by leaping into a pan of molten carbide as the furnace was being tapped.
There were a mixture of people at the camp who I had known at Munich and also quite a few who had been taken prisoner in France a year earlier.
I was drawn back into entertainment by some of my old friends and we organised quite a number of events from musicals to quizzes and spelling bees.
One lad scripted his version of “Me and my Girl” completely in rhyme which turned out very well.
We had permission to use the factory stage and hall provided we could find a guard to escort us across the road and give us his time in attendance. We never had any trouble in this respect as a packet of cigarettes always did the trick.
There was quite a lot of enthusiasm from the band, the players and the poster artists but we found that apathy was beginning to affect a lot of those who had been prisoners the longest.
Admitted that working eight or twelve hour shifts for seven days a week was very wearing but it seemed sad that some people would rather spend the rest of their time in bed rather than take up some diversion or let some other silly devils try to brighten their lives a little.
The response to our efforts was only lukewarm and in decided contrast to the enthusiastic reception we used to get in Munich.
I still found time to play bridge and teaming up with Ron Last who was a Kings Royal Rifles Man and who I had known previously. We were very successful. We would play for one cigarette per hundred points and the winnings kept me comfortably in cigarettes during a period when parcels were not arriving.
Ron played the fiddle in the band and there was a trumpeter, an accordion player, a drummer and a couple of harmonica players. The trumpeter was the leader and a very good musician.
One character in the camp had a way with chickens. The chickens belonged to locals living in flats close to the camp and when they approached, our friend would encourage them to come right up to the fence with a handful of crumbs. He would then grab them one at a time and swinging them round, at arms length describing a large circle in the air he would put their heads under their wing and set them down and they would remain motionless and hypnotised until he released their heads and let them free.
Another trick was to grab a chicken and holding its head, let it follow a circle traced on the ground. This too used to mesmerise the chicken and it would stay with its head glued to the point on the circle where it was released. This act was performed many times, much to the amusement of people on both sides of the fence.
Of course, the sequel to this was that once in a while when nobody was looking, a chicken would terminally disappear to enhance the diet of the chicken hypnotiser and his friends, with a rapid incineration of every last feather and bone of evidence.
A couple of Yorkshiremen had. teamed up and got on remarkably well together until one day, they got hold of a bottle of schnapps. Now any hooch from methylated spirits to distilled metal polish was known under the general heading as schnapps and having obtained some once at great expense and taking but one sip, I became a confirmed teetotaler for the duration.
Well, the younger of these Yorkshiremen became very boisterous and noisy in his hiccups. The older one, fearful that the guards would be alarmed and investigate, decided to administer a sedative to quieten him in the classical manner of the one off knock out punch delivered to the point of the jaw.
Alas, in my experience, other than on the cinema screen, in real life this never works. In fact, the younger man who had been sitting on his bunk was knocked flat on his back, remaining there for a full half second. Then he shot to his feet instantaneously sober and lethal.
All hell was let Ioose as he tried to murder his erstwhile friend. It took the rest of us to restrain him and eventually calm him down after a very long time. It was the end of a lovely friendship I’m afraid.
Of course the working environment did nothing to help my bronchial condition and after several minor bouts of bronchitis, I was finally sent to the
P.o.W. hospital at Tost, with a bad bout of acute bronchitis in November 1944.
Whilst there, I was sent to a German military hospital for X-ray examination. I was strapped to the machine and the doctor could tilt you to any position. He then sat directly in front of a screen and could observe your internal workings as beams were shot through your body. Knowing what I do now, I dread to think of the colossal amount of radiation I was subjected to then and can only imagine that the X-Ray doctors could never have survived such continuous operation of the machine.
During my stay of four weeks in the hospital, a dentist who had been an officer in a machine gun unit fixed my teeth. I had about four extractions and goodness knows how many fillings, these being done with the aid of the most ancient treadle drill machine could ever hope to see. Anyway, I was very grateful to have that behind me as my teeth had given as a lot of pain and trouble. Most of the patients seemed to have ulcer trouble and the standard treatment seemed to consist strangely of a potato juice diet.
Eventually, I was sent back not directly to the working camp but to a Stalag at
Teschen. This stalag was now designated No. 8 B and the old Stalag 8B at Lansdorf was now designated No. 344 for some unaccountable reason.
I met up again with one of my old buddies Lea Milton who was languishing in the Stalag suffering from dermatitis and was unable to be sent to a working camp.
This stalag was overcrowded and without many social facilities so I was quite relieved to be returned to the Carbide Factory.
Due to my record of chest illness in this camp, they took me off the carbide furnace work and put me on the transport gang. The shift consisted of twelve hours now instead of eight hours. The work consisted of moving stuff around between the buildings of this very large plant.
There was a narrow gauge railway line all round the plant and we had to manually push skips along this line.
It was now winter again and very cold. After having spent the summer working in such extreme heat conditions on the furnace, I keenly felt the cold.
The work was outside work so between jobs we used to make our way to the coke store and light a fire in a huge brazier. The trouble was that you had to keep turning like a joint on a spit as the front facing the fire would toast, while the back away from the fire would freeze. The poor old civilian in charge of us had a job getting us away from the fire to do much work at all.
It was now after Christmas, snow was on the ground and it was obvious that the war was going badly for the Germans. We speculated on how it was all going to end.
Red Cross parcels were spasmodic now and after more than three and a half years of captivity, we were pretty fed up with it all.
On January 22nd 1945, we were suddenly ordered to prepare to march out and evacuate the camp in the early hours of the following day.
This was it. We now knew that the last stags had begun.
Since I had returned from Teschen, I had teamed up with a young lad from Birmingham named Bert Eustace. I thought that it would be possible to take more blankets and desirable gear with us if we built a toboggan to pull between us, but not being very optimistic about being allowed to keep the toboggan for too long, as a precautionary measure I said that we should divide the gear into that which could be shouldered and that which would have to be ditched in the event with the toboggan.
I set Bert to work preparing the gear while I got to work with hammer, saw and nails to convert our bunk into a toboggan. This did not take long and turned out quite well. I then got hold of a needle and shoemaker's twine from the camp cobbler and sewed a pair of strong army trouser braces on to my kit bag to make a rucksack. We roped the kit bags, two cardboard boxes which had been packed by Bert and three blankets each to the toboggan.
All that day we had been hearing the rumble of gunfire in the distance so it was obvious the Russians were advancing and that it had been left quite late to move us away from the front and in towards the
Two horses and carts had arrived and they were loaded with the German guards' belongings and with the stock of food left in the camp.
It was three in the morning when we left, it was snowing and the horses and carts headed the column which was rather strung out and untidy because of the various toboggans like ours. Nevertheless, we were moving at a steady pace and the toboggan was a terrific asset making light of our load. About every five
kilometres, we halted for a rest but there was a certain urgency by the guards to keep us moving.
After about twelve kilometres, we had to negotiate a small fence and cross a field and the column got well and truly stretched out, so inevitably my foreboding was realised and we were ordered to ditch the toboggans.
So there we were, each left with a kit bag, one blanket and one mysterious parcel to be carried between the two of us. We had managed to stow the food from the other box into the two kit bags.
At the next halt for a rest, in order to lighten my load further, I threw into the snow at the side of the road, all the copies of the concert party scripts which I had been keeping as souvenirs.
My improvised rucksack was working perfectly and all it needed was my partner to lift it up while I slipped my arms through the straps.
However, all that Bert had to secure his kit bag on to his shoulders was a piece of rope and after lifting his kit bag crossways on to his shoulders, the rope had to be wrapped round across his chest and tied in a bow in the middle of his back. This chore of tying and untying the rope became ever more irksome as it had to be done with gloves off, numb fingers and a rope that got more and more frayed with every operation.
We had been trudging on side by side holding the string with which the mysterious box was tied, with one hand each, changing sides and hands when the string cut into the hands through our thin cloth mittens. The box seemed to get heavier right through the day.
After we had gone about thirty kilometres and during a rest when we were sitting on our kit bags, I casually asked Bert what was in the box and he said "A "book". I immediately tore off the string and opened up the box and there, all on its own filling the whole box, was a beautifully bound volume of "Gone with the Wind". Well, I was horrified and dumbstruck. Then taking the book and heaving it into the snow as far as one could possibly throw such a heavy object, I just made the one comment, "Well, that's gone with the bloody wind now".
It was well into the night, it was bitterly cold and had been snowing all day, when after covering forty two
kilometres, we were put into a large room in an inn at Orzesne.
Marching in the same column but as a separate unit was a Kommando of Cypriot Greeks of about the sane number as our own
The Greeks were already in the inn when we were put in with them in the same room. So there were about four hundred bodies crammed together on a straw covered floor. We were exhausted, but due to the combined body heat, not too cold that night. A bread ration was issued and miraculously some potatoes, boiled as ever in their jackets.
It was necessary to take stock of the situation. Obviously, the immediate future was going to be tough and hazardous but the end of the war could not now be too far distant, so the object must be to stay alive to enjoy that much dreamed of vision of returning to that paradise called home.
I had plenty of clothing and a good pair of army boots. I was in pretty good physical shape for me, that is, I had no bronchitis at that time.
It seemed to me that my own priorities must be to keep as warm as possible and to conserve energy. With this in mind, I donned three undervests and two pairs of army long John underpants under the normal soldier's clothing. It would serve the purpose of conserving body warmth and would also be easier to carry than in the ruck sack.
Then I sorted out the absolutely bare essentials to be carried. A couple of heavy turkish towels, shirts and a heavy woolen jumper were all reluctantly left in the straw for anyone to take. These articles might have come in handy later on to use in exchange for food, but I knew I had to travel light and could not risk burning up too much energy carrying unnecessary weight.
I did keep a small bundle of souvenir photographs, but my large bundle of letters had to be sacrificed and were ceremoniously burnt, at least providing a brief moment of warmth in what was to be a long numbing period of cold.
Long before dawn we were again on the march. The going was easier for me as regards the lighter load I had to carry but we were still aching from the previous day's long march and the cold was intense. Most people struggled on with much heavier loads, hanging on to the previous belongings accumulated over long periods of captivity but I never ever regretted throwing away so much stuff.
January 24th, and after another long hard day's slog of 35 kilometres, we were finally billeted in an old deserted mansion. A bowl of gritze soup was issued together with another ration of bread from the supplies on the cart. We were eking out our meagre Red Cross parcel food that we had brought with us.
We were now is the town of Ratibor and from then on, we always traveled as an individual Kommando unit and were not billeted with another unit as we had been on the first night. In front of us marched the Cypriot Kommando and in front of them, the column was now headed, by a heavily guarded party of about a thousand Russian prisoners.
As we marched through Ratibor, there was another grim reminder of the horrors of war. There was the body of a Russian soldier just curled up lying on his side in the snow with a grin on his unshaven wizened face. More horrifically, two women fifty yards away were gossiping and laughing in the doorway of a house in full view of what must have been a savage tragedy.
The Russians were still treated brutally and there were many who died on that terrible march, either from starvation or the bullets of a merciless hate filled captor. To straggle and not have strength enough to keep up with the main party was to die for a Russian.
January 25th, another long day’s march of 28 kilometres, crossing the river Oder and finishing the day at Streitkirch in a barn.
Now the barns were all very similar in some respects. They had an upstairs and. downstairs. The upstairs was reached by climbing a home made ladder and the floor of the upstairs was made of irregular planks precariously placed on irregular poles or any support that might have been lying around when the farmers boy was told to make a barn. As a consequence, people who found themselves upstairs were always in danger of falling through the floor and the downstairs accommodation was the more sought after by the rapidly acquired intelligence of the itinerant
P.o.W. Hence, as a bam billet hove into view, there would be an undignified scramble by the thrusters to grab the favoured downstairs space.
Unfortunately for me, I have always been endowed with the incurable "After you George" complex and can unfailingly guarantee to be the last in any first come first served situation. Hence Douggie boy would inevitably find himself with his similarly benighted "buddy climbing a rickety ladder up to a rickety top floor.
The problem was worse if you found yourself wanting to spend a penny in the pitch dark of the night. No lights allowed and gingerly stepping over bodies onto non existent floor boards, finding and negotiating the ladder and ultimately reversing the process was no mean feat. It was necessary to find one’s way to your bed space as two or three men would be sharing blankets. One slept fully clothed, it goes without saying.
The next day was a rest day, then on 27 kilometres to some stables at
Kranarth. It snowed heavily that day and trudging along a barren landscape, life was getting increasingly more miserable. After another rest day on January 29th we found ourselves billeted in a hospital at
Gratz. Here we said goodbye to several of the lads who were suffering in various ways and it was intended that they would stay in the hospital until taken over by the advancing Russians. Unfortunately for them, they were forced at gun point by some retreating German troops to resume their march and caught up with us three days later, having had to cover the same amount of ground more quickly than the rest of us more able bodied people.
From Gratz we climbed all day for 20 kilometres to an inn at Dittendorf. Here the landlord spoke some English and was very kind in providing us with a bowl of soup. We had had very little food for the past two days and the hunger pangs were on us again.
On January 30th, we set out across the plateau and the snow came down heavier than ever. There were constant hold ups and it was impossible for the horses to move the carts any further. The carts had to be abandoned and the German guards shouldered their own packs.
We seemed to spend most of the day standing still in the driving snow. A sheet of soft ice formed down one side of my great coat extending over my face and eyebrows. I wondered how long we would be able to last under these conditions. We stumbled on for 20 kilometres and arrived at Bautsch where we were housed in a gymnasium. Straw covered the floor of the gymnasium and what is good for animals in their usual environment also serves as better than nothing for humans in the absence of a proper bed.
There was no inclination to use any of the apparatus on hand but it was not long before word went round that there was a large heap of seed potatoes in the cellar.
As the majority of our recent food intake had come from foraged swedes and such like staple items, the opportunity of a more acceptable diet supplement could not be missed, so everyone helped themselves to generous amounts to be consumed on subsequent days.
February 1st was a rest day and the next day, off we went again. Weather conditions had improved a little, in fact it had begun to thaw.
We had marched some distance when there was an inexplicable long delay of a couple of hours. Then, as we moved forward, there was evidence of a scuffle in the snow and some largish round brown tins were scattered around. A little further on, two heavy grim faced SS troupers were standing guard with sub machine guns over a group of about twenty Russian P.o.Ws who were squatted in the snow and some of whom were wailing.
After we had. passed this spot, our own guards told us that the Russians had broken into a food store and stolen tins of meat. The SS had been called in and they had searched the Russians after they had set out. Those found with tins wore taken out and were to be summarily executed after the column had passed by.
Remembering the couple of pounds of potatoes in my own pack, a cold hand of fear clutched my own heart as I grieved for the poor wretches that fate had treated so cruelly.
On we went averaging about 20 kilometres a day, staying in barns and with some rest days, through
Andersdorf, Augest, Potsatsch, Welebasch, Sickelsdorf, Richnig, and
Hermanitz. They were steering us clear of towns and billeting us in farms off the beaten track.
I believe we were heading north west towards Dresden when we were switched to a westerly course and entered Bohemia, the northern region of Czechoslovakia, on the l8th February.
Our first billet was in the social centre in Ober Jellon. This was a hall with a stage. We gathered that Russian prisoners had previously been placed in this hall as there were tatty bits of cloth in the straw on the floor. We had seen poorly clad Russian prisoners with strips of cloth in place of boots even in some cases.
Now 0ber Jellon was a small town and a very hospitable one too, we were to find out.
The Germans had locked us in the hall and put a guard on the front door. What they did not realise was that a window was unlocked at the back of the hall, through which
P.o.Ws. were disappearing rapidly. The Czechs had taken up vantage points and were signaling to us when it was clear to leave the building and take to the streets.
As everyone else was doing it, Bert and I decided to try our luck and found ourselves outside a butcher's shop which had blinds over the windows. We were plucking up courage to go in and scrounge some food when a lady walked out of the shop and signaled us to follow her. Not far away she let herself into a flat and invited us in, scruffy though we were.
In German she asked us if we would like something to eat which of course got an enthusiastic affirmative reply. In the meantime, her young son of about eight years old came out whom she introduced and although we could not understand his language, he was very friendly and showed us his toys and amused us while his mother disappeared into the kitchen.
Very soon she reappeared with two piping hot plates of delicious food, a concoction I could not identify but which seemed like the most tasty dish I for one had ever had.
We told her something of ourselves and she asked us if it mattered whether the Germans knew we were here. She only asked because she had a German officer billeted in her apartment. After this titbit of information, we quickly took our leave and returned to the hall where everyone was agog similar stories. Apparently out of two hundred prisoners, at one time only four were left in the hall. I wonder what would have happened if the guards had decided to check up on us at that point in time.
Unfortunately, we had a terrible legacy of our stay in the hall. Two days later when we were in a barn at
Wischka, we were all scratching ourselves like mad. Yes, we had picked up lice again, which must have been from the straw and obviously originating from the Russians.
Every day now, often at the end of a march or several times during a rest day, time had to be spent de lousing. This consisted of meticulously going over the seams of all worn clothing and popping the lice between thumb nails.
Lice breed at a phenomenal rate and feed on the body leaving a maddeningly itchy rash. There were no means of washing and drying clothing and the only relief where possible was to risk pneumonia by stripping off and taking it in turns to bathe under the farmers pump. This, while snow was still on the ground. However, it did do something to cool off the red welts caused by the bites and the inevitable scratching.
I rate being continuously lousy as being a worse hardship than being continuously numb with cold, or hungry or being without cigarettes, all of which we were experiencing at this time.
Our rate of progress now slowed down up to the end of February. We spent three days in a barn at
Fullenhof, two days in a barn at Lautersdorf, one night similarly at
Halofaus, and two days at Aubilitz.
The Czechs were fantastic and disregarding the risks of being caught, surreptitiously often passed food to us. We gathered that they were looking forward to the Russians arriving and liberating thorn from the German tyrannical regime.
On several occasions, we were glad to rob the pigs of a cooked meal of rotting potatoes and. other vegetables. Hardly the most appetising of fare but as it was a question of survival, diffidence could be dispensed with.
Some people never lost their craving for tobacco and all sorts of substitutes were tried from hay and clover to I do not know what weeds. Cigarette papers were not available but a lad who had carried and cherished a copy of
"Mein Kampf” as a souvenir was finally persuaded to part with it page by page for substitute
"Rizlas”. Inadequately, I must say.
Several of the lads had decided to escape and make their own way. This was rather a risky business as we had been warned that escaping was no longer a sport and anyone caught in a prohibited zone would be shot.
After one head count revealing that two people had so left the company, the German officer in charge of the whole column arrived and through our interpreter told us that until we all gave our undertaking that no-one else would escape, we would not be allowed into the barn which was to be our billet for the night.
As the thaw had started and we were standing ankle deep in slush, one might have expected a quick capitulation. Remarkably, not one man was willing to give that undertaking and after two hours of miserable shuffling from one foot to another, the officer relented, with a more healthy respect for the British spirit I suspect and allowed us to take up temporary residence.
The pace of the march increased as we were moved westwards across Czechoslovakia. March 1st and we were at
Ktowa, then twenty eight kilometers on to Judendorf, then another 30 to
Kropatsch-Wrulitz, where we stayed in factory building. Then back to barns at
Oberchistwi, Slosin and Selewtschitz.
We must have been passing just to the north of Prague at this time. On to
Jedor-Melitz, Meshuchin and having left Czechoslovakia, we arrived at Muckof on the 14th March.
The weather was still cold although the snow had all gone. Fortunately, my chest had not given me any trouble, my boots were in good shape still too, which was not the case with some of my friends. So there we were, still being moved on to goodness knows where after seven weeks of wandering and privations. Food still being the main necessity of life, it was here that we arrived at a barn which had some bags of flour stored in it.
This was seen as a gift from heaven and there was a general helping yourself to the flour. But the farmer arrived and asked
"Wer hat mein Mehl genommen?" (i.e. who has stolen my flour?) He then gave the ultimatum to return the flour within half an hour or he would send for the SS troops.
With the memory of what happened after Bautsch brought vividly to mind again, hurriedly and silently the flour was returned to the sacks.
We trudged on now in German territory again, stopping at Lieben, Deutsche Klimes and
Mullersgrun. Then on March 20th, we were marvelously reached by a white wagon and issued with four American Red Cross food parcels between five people. This was at
The white wagons were white painted vans with the Red Cross boldly shown that were allowed across the border from Switzerland, for the purpose of succouring the many thousands of P.o.Ws being moved into Germany away from the battle fronts.
Of course, this was a red letter day and did much to raise our spirits which were at rock bottom at that time.
There was evidence of the increased allied sir attacks with strips of silver foil hanging from the hedges and covering the countryside everywhere. This, of course, was the "Window" dropped by the bombers as a radar countering device.
Then we experienced the terrifying sight of a thousand bomber raid on its way to its target in broad daylight. They were in flights of about thirty aircraft, all four engined bombers, flying inexorably in the same direction at a considerable height. The thunderous roar of the engines alone was enough to strike terror into anyone who might be in a potential target area.
It was a heartening sight for us, as their unopposed passage was another sign of the collapse of Germany and the end of our not very envious position.
Still, we were kept marching with a rest day every third day to
Waaschugrun, Haid, Ujeat, Alohma, Obertreffinfeld and Altenstadt, where we rested for three days till the last day of March.
April 1st and we were marched six kilometres to Weiden, where we were put aboard a train of open railway trucks. This seemed a better way of traveling until out of the blue, four American fighter planes appeared flying low. Then, despite our frenzied but futile waving of arms, they attacked the train with machine gun fire and rockets, making two passes over the target. It was all over in a couple of minutes. The train had come to a halt and we all climbed over the sides of the truck and raced for the fields at the side of the track.
After a while we were rounded up by the guards and reassembled on the track. The only casualties being the locomotive which had been knocked out with the driver and two guards who were riding on the foot-plate being killed as well. After a couple of hours, another engine was attached and we continued our apprehensive way to Regensburg about 90 kilometres from
We spent a sleepless night in a siding near a railway shed. A small shunting engine was traveling out and returning to the shed through the night. We discovered that coffee could be made with the hot water blown out with steam from a pipe near the wheels of this engine and the driver was most amused and obliged us by filling our mugs at the asking. We still had coffee from the American Red Cross food parcels, not having had the facility to boil water up till then.
The next day we were marched to a farm at Sin Sing just outside the city of
Regensburg. Here we stayed until April l4th and we were put to work for the first time since leaving the carbide factory.
Regensburg had been badly hit in a recent bombing raid and the main railway sheds and marshalling yards were a shambles. We were to be put to work clearing debris with the object no doubt of getting the railway into some sort of working order. To get to the railway yards we had to cross the river Danube, which far from being blue, was a decided green
colour, was fast flowing and definitely unnavigable in the normal sense.
There was however a unique ferry which carried about thirty people across at a time. It was a flat bottomed raft like boat which was restricted from being swept downstream by a long wire attached to an overhead wheel running on a heavy cable stretched across the river. The ferryman utilising the power of the flowing water simply inserted a paddle into the water at an angle and the ferry effortlessly traveled across the river.
Thus we were transported in parties, reassembled on the other side and marched to the yards to work amongst smashed up engines, rails and buildings. It was there, trying to lift heavy pieces of rubble, that I realized how weak we had all become again through lack of nutrition.
There were increasing bomber raids passing over and the continuous rumble and thunder of bombs hitting some distant target would go on for what seemed hours. We trembled at the thought that should Regensburg be hit again, then how could anyone survive such fury.
We were moved from Sin Sing to a barn at Obertraubing where another week passed by. We were still taken to work in the railway yards but now we had to cross the river on a single path pedestrian walkway alongside the track of a railway bridge that was still standing.
Later this bridge was destroyed by bombing, tragically with a party of British prisoners of war crossing at the time. I believe that about thirty of them were killed.
It was obvious that the end was in sight. Marauding fighter planes were patrolling the area hitting likely moving targets so with the full agreement of the farmers, we painted in very large letters P.O.W on the roofs of the barns which we were occupying from then on.
On the night of April 23rd, we marched to Loarderberg, a distance of 32 kilomseres and the following night we marched a further 21 kilometres to a farm at
This was our last billet as prisoners of war. On the night of the 28th April, our guards marched off, leaving only four volunteer unarmed guards with us.
Mid morning the following day, a flying column of the American Army consisting of light armoured vehicles and jeeps passed by on the road below the farm and we now knew that the day we had dreamed of for four years had arrived. We were liberated.
We had been advised to keep to the barn for a while but later that day, we made our way to the village and there the two of us contacted a jocular pair of GIs in charge of a jeep who had been taking stock of the village.
ln their typical American style, they gave us a picturesque account of their progress through Bavaria. At
Ingolstadt, they had discovered a wine cellar in a bombed out shop and had salvaged a goodly number of bottles of wine which now were carefully stashed in the back of the jeep together with a variety of iron rations.
We were very soon regaled with freshly baked white bread, ham and egg from a tin and washed down with the best German hock.
It was very happy pair of liberated P.o.Ws who staggered back to the barn that evening to await further developments.
The weather had turned very sunny and warm. We were now back in Bavaria within a day's march of Munich which we had left two years previously, having walked the best part of one thousand kilometers from our work camp in
Our erstwhile guards were taken over by the Americans and marched away with sympathetic wishes of good luck from all of us. After all, they had suffered almost as much as ourselves during the march and at no time had they treated us with undue harshness personally.
French food parcels arrived the next day with, to our palates, rather unusual items of food, including raw garlic. I must admit that for once, our hungry bellies were confronted with something that even they could not take.
The most welcome attention we received was from a de-lousing operator who blew
D.D.T. powder at three points on our bodies – under the armpits and through the flies to the crutch. This simple treatment was one hundred per cent effective, although we had several more similar treatments on the way home.
Our instructions were to stay put until transport was arranged for us.
We thought that a little fresh meat would be good for us, so we headed for the chicken run. As lay partner had no stomach for killing a bird, he agreed to prepare and cook it if I would provide him with a carcass.
Well, eventually, after much squawking and flapping, I seized a bird and although quite a novice, I hope dispatched it effectively, though it is hard to tell in these cases. Nonetheless, we had an excellent meal and my partner had shown some unsuspected culinary talents in primitive circumstances.
The farmer now had two hundred unwelcome and hungry guests over whom he could exert no authoritative control and viewing with alarm his rapidly diminishing poultry stock, he donated his most elderly and sick cow for our consumption.
There was a butcher amongst our ranks and fortunately, a meat inspector too. Suffice it again to say that the animal was dispatched effectively by the butcher and the meat inspector was able to separate what was fit and what was unfit to eat,
Thus we languished in glorious sunshine, fretting for transport home, gracefully accepting the further gift of a pig from the farmer without further ravishing his chicken coop.
After two long weeks on the 11th May, a convoy of American lorries all driven by black drivers arrived. They drove hell for leather through clouds of choking dust, taking us to Lanshut aerodrome. It is a wonder that no one was decapitated by the unexpected field telephone wires that were stretched at no great height across the roads.
The aerodrome had been well and truly shot up and was littered with battered and burnt out German aircraft.
We were separated into groups and given a flight number and told to be ready to go when the number was called, whenever that would be. Some ex P.o.Ws had already been waiting a couple of weeks for transport and were very disgruntled.
There were no living facilities there so we both settled down on the ground under the wing of the wreck of a Heinkel bomber.
Next morning we sat about making a brew up in a leisurely fashion when suddenly the air was filled with a procession of Dakota aircraft. These were landing on the field and
taxi-ing round for immediate take off again. Flight numbers were being shouted and we found ourselves running to catch our plane with a mug of hot tea in one hand and our kit in the other. The next thing we knew, we were sitting in bucket metal seats along both sides of the ‘plane and experiencing our first taste of flying.
We were taken to Brussels and were whisked in lorries to the very well organised and welcoming No. 1 Canadian Transit Camp (Ex
P.O.W.). An information sheet was issued telling us the order of proceedings from medical inspection, pay, new clothing, showers ….. Oh, those beautiful hot showers ….. de-lousing dusting, interrogation etc.
The novelty of being free to wander round the city had to be savoured, so we went for a long walk through the streets and enjoyed a couple of cognacs on the way.
The next day, we were whisked to the airport again and had our second flight in a Dakota, to an aerodrome near
Amersham. Before we entered the hanger building, we had to pass through a screened off cubicle for yet another dusting with
D.D.T. powder. What we did not know was that a welcoming reception was awaiting us inside the building and
W.R.A.F. girls were waiting to escort us one by one as we emerged. My amazement was only matched by my embarrassment as I was still doing up my fly buttons as I came through.
After being regaled with all sorts of delicious eats, like cakes and sandwiches and as much hot tea as you wished, we were again loaded on lorries for another transit camp.
The most wonderful sound that I did. not realise existed, came to me as if for the first time in my life. I had not thought that the English language spoken in the normal way by the female voice could be so beautiful and such music to the ears. This was only matched by the sound of laughing children as they called to us as we passed by.
Of course, we could not wait to get home but we were still soldiers and subject to the dictates of army life. It was decreed that we had to spend forty eight impatient and yearning hours in the transit camp before leaving for home.
We were given a telegram form each to inform our people of our arrival in England and the time we would be getting home. I chose to let my fiancée know that I would be picking her up on the way home as she was living with her sister and was only about a mile from my parents’ home.
On the morning of 15th May, we entrained for London, practically four years after having been captured on Crete. Before catching the Underground train for Colliers Wood, I left the main line station and found a barber's shop to get a short back and sides and shampoo, just to get rid of the last traces of unkemptness still visible.
My future wife was rather non-plussed when I arrived at her door, a neighbour had just put a baby in her arms to hold at that moment, so it was several unnerving seconds before she could hand over the baby to her sister and throw herself into my arms. Her brother-in-law, whom I had last seen nearly two years previously in Stalag 8B
Lansdorf, had beaten me home by a week.
We immediately set off walking for my home, arm in arm and a kit bag over one shoulder. Two of my sisters, who are both rather short, came running along the road as fast as their legs could take them, to hurl themselves on me. They grabbed my kit bag and then I was free to run and embrace my father who was waiting in the middle of the road with tears streaming down his face and only able to repeat the words "My boy, my boy”. And then, with a terrible effort, I entered the door for the most emotional moment of all, to meet my mother. My cup of happiness was full and life was very good again.
Some of that initial exhilarating elation might have diminished over the years, but there is still a large slice of euphoria left, even now.
Webmaster's note. Follow this link for an image of Stermes memorial
Update April 2012
Following publication of Doug's story, the
son of another member of 151 Battery contacted me with some information
for Doug. Patrick Wallace's father L/Bdr Alec Wallace (nicknamed
Nellie) was in 151 Battery and captured on Crete. Alec Wallace was also
sent to Munich, where he said he worked in railway yards, mentioning a
suburb called Allach, where I believe there is or was a locomotive works.
Later he was sent to Stalag VIIIB/344, and to a work detail in a coalmine
at Bory near Krakow, ending up at Stalag 383 at Hohenfels in Bavaria.
Patrick later discovered an online German
newsreel clip of captured POWs on Crete that showed someone very like his
father at about 11 seconds in. It can be viewed http://www.britishpathe.com/video/german-troops-in-crete-aka-british-prisoners-in
Patrick also advises that his father served
some time on the Isle of Dogs at an establishment that was in an
area known as the Mudchute where the anti-aircraft guns were sited.
Some military structures remain and are in use as pens on the City Farm.
Local enthusiasts have re-installed a 3.7 gun in one as a reminder of the
Blitz period. See http://www.mudchute.org/about-us/mudchutes-anti-aircraft-display
for more information
My thanks to Patrick for the additional