For us anyway… despite how hard staying at home might seem, we’ve all found ways to manage our time. We can still contact our friends and families. We know this will come to an end. As mentioned in a previous post – my granddad spent 5 years as a prisoner of war. He wrote his memories down… Very little news traveled in and out of the camps and as each year passed the conditions worsened. I have since been researching his war and have managed to put some dates to his story. This is April 75 years ago for my granddad after nearly 5 years as a prisoner of war, He was 25.
5th April 1945 – A German officer informed us that the next day we would be leaving Stalag X1D.
6th April 1945 – It turned out that we were loaded with what kit we could carry, given a loaf of bread (no margarine), and marched out going eastwards. We did not cover many miles per day, as we were too weak to walk very fast. At night we slept mostly in farmyards. Some chaps ate their loaf of bread in next to no time! I made mine last as long as possible; Jerry never fed us again. We would raid potato dumps, bordering the roads, Тhe guards were old men who had seen service in World war 1. One night we slept in a large barn containing bales of straw; that was lovely. Another occasion, we found some leeks growing in a farmer’s garden. we started pulling them up, until fired on by a guard – probably over our heads.
17th April 1945 – We came to the River Elbe, which was very wide at this point. A large bridge spanned the river with a small village nestling on the Eastern bank. We had to wait some time before crossing, to let Jerry tanks over going west. Soldiers were riding on top taking up every available space.
19th April 1945 – We were informed that a convoy of Lorries had left Switzerland with Red cross parcels looking for POWs who were being marched East. We were going to get one parcel between two and would collect them from the next village we came to. This was marvelous news and we paired up to collect, then marched some two miles and stopped alongside the road to open them. The chap I paired with, who I did not know, said he hoped we would get chocolate in ours because that was something we could eat right away.
We had not got it completely open, when a cry went up that aircraft flying overhead were coming down in a dive. They were English RAF Typhoon bombers. In the first dive, they dropped a bomb and fired cannon shells. The instinct is to run, which I did – out across this arable field, together with most of the party. On the second dive, they fired cannon shells, so we suffered eight attacks from the four aircraft, killing lots of men. Two chaps I knew very well came over to see how I was. I had some shrapnel in one hand, but not bleeding much. One of the chaps who came over was limping; he took his trousers down to see an unexploded shell which had traveled up under his skin almost to his groin. When I got back to where had left my beloved satchel, I found a hole through it, no sign of the parcel or chap I was sharing with. I went to a dressing station where they were collecting the badly wounded.
My mate with the cannon shell near his groin told me after it had been taken out, that he stuffed a blanket up between his legs hoping that might help if it went off. Two horses and carts picked up the wounded and started off across country to a small town which had cobbled streets. We were placed in a corridor with seats down one side. An airman who played football in Stalag Luft 1 and was called Twinkle Toes, was lying on the floor moaning and saying that he was dying. My hand stopped bleeding and at that moment I felt a bit of a fraud for being there, but of course it could so easily have become infected. After it was bandaged I was sent upstairs to a ward and shared a two-tiered bunk with a New Zealander who was also slightly wounded. We were the only two able to walk. I well remember being given a large bowl of macaroni.
April 20th 1945 – a German officer told us to follow him. We went outside the building to a door where an oldish woman, dressed in black, was waiting. We went inside to find several coffins and German soldiers lying dead. The woman took us to a coffin beside which lay Twinkle Toes. We lifted him in and put the lid on; there was also a Sergeant Brown who had died. We returned to the ward slightly shaken.
April 21st 1945 – We were again told to “Follow me”. This time to a courtyard where a horse and cart lay stacked with several coffins. When we moved off across the uneven cobbles, I remembered being afraid that some would fall off, as they were not tied down. We reached the cemetery where they were unloaded. A German civilian was directing where each coffin should go. Unfortunately our two had to go up a slope, and it was a struggle for us; we were as weak as kittens. Then began the job of digging the graves. An odd shell would come screaming over; the ones you hear have already passed, it’s the ones you don’t hear that get you. The Guard said we were going back for something to eat. I sized it up in my mind and decided that I would not be coming back to dig graves.
Later, after eating some more macaroni, I looked around for somewhere to go. I found some stairs leading up to an uninhabited floor and found a row of toilets which made me think it was formerly a school. I went in one, sat down and went to sleep. It was dark when I woke up. I went down to the ward and no-one said where have you been? That night, the shelling became heavy; those who could, went down into the cellar, nurses, German soldiers, myself and the New Zealander lay on the stone floor and went fast asleep.
April 22nd 1945 – I was woken by a Welshman with a rifle over his shoulder, I jumped up a free man after four years and eleven months. I went up into the ward where there were several soldiers highly amused at the state we were in, different uniforms, etc. One asked how long I had been a POW; when I said five years he said he was still going to school then.
I went out the front to see the troops going by. A German woman, who was crying, came running by saying that Russki Kommt ambulances had arrived to take the wounded away. We came to the bridge which we had crossed some days before. It was now lying in the river, and the houses on the east bank were flattened. We crossed over in an amphibious tank, then on again to a large former German barrack block. We stayed the night here.
April 23rd 1945 – We traveled on to an airfield where we saw the first jet fighters and later that day, we boarded a Dakota which had been adapted to carry stretchers. It was wonderful when we crossed the English coast and saw the green fields.
“Oh to be in England now that April’s there”
We landed at a small airfield near Swindon, and sat down to egg and chips, then headed to an R.A.F. Hospital, called Wroughton, where a nurse took our names and addresses to send to our parents by telegram. My mother later told me that the local postman had told the postmistress that he was going to be the one to deliver it, and that he did.
April 24th 1945 – I was put back into an ambulance to travel up into the Birmingham area, to another R.A.F. hospital. The nursing sister ordered me to bed as she said the shrapnel would be taken out the next day. I did not get into bed, but went for a walk instead, out into the countryside. This I really enjoyed; not having been able to do this for a very long time. When I got back the sister was waiting. I received a dressing down which affected me not one little bit. I had no time for authority at that period of my life. I wish it had stayed with me.
Eventually we were issued with new uniforms and given the all clear to go home, traveled to Paddington, then to Taunton and caught the bus to my home, fourteen miles away. My younger brother met me off the bus, my parents had arranged some decoration for my homecoming.
We’ve had it good really.