WW II, a British focus



memories of Pte Tom Barker
1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders

Tom Barker passed on October 1st 2008poppy.gif - 1571 Bytes


Being a P.O.W. did have some rare lighter moments. Like the time when we had been working all day filling sand skips. We had worked in the fine rain that would now and again abate and the sun would try to get through the clouds while the guard and Polish foreman sat in the little hut talking and watching us.

But now we were marching, very damp and dejected back to our camp, and if the water was turned off in the bath house all we could hope for would be a cold shower then get into bed to try and get warm.

We had marched to work along this road many times. And it was on one of these occasions I spotted apple blossom on some trees that were lining one side of the lane.

I made a mental note and every time we walked down the lane it was like watching one of those speeded up movies that show a plant that normally takes a month to flower doing so in a couple of minutes. Only these trees seemed to be going the other way.

However it did finally drop the flowers then tiny apples began to form. We took notice each time we passed and gradually they got bigger. Somebody noticed me looking extra long one day, as the green became more yellow and a rosy flush of red began to creep over one side of the apples.

" Yu cin fergit the apples owd mate, yu got Buckley chance o' sinkin yer fangs inter them" quaffed the scruffy bloke next to me. I said, " well when they begin to drop and if the guard isn't looking we could pick one up on passing one day"

" Yea mate" returned the scruffy one, "one bleddin' apple aint gonna go far among this 'ungry lot o' scroungers"

Red Cross parcels at this time and for another twelve months were just a dream. All we got per day was a pint of thin potato soup and a bit of black bread.

But I thought he did have a valid point, the bloke who picks up the apple could get shot for, 'Pilfering' And the others would cry "shame " But if he got away with it they would all wanted a piece of the apple, but they were not prepared to risk it themselves.

Sometimes God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes lots of things that are not related suddenly come together and it's like you get a spare birthday.

One of these occasions happened one day but alas it did me no good. We had finished work and the clouds were darkening. We just hoped we could get back to camp before it began to belt down with rain or hail. The apples were ripe on the trees and the only thing that worried me was they soon would be picked.

Since we had seen none on the ground we assumed children were picking them all up. We were marching towards the railway station and just to our right were the line of apple tree loaded down with red apples.

The trees were spaced at about twenty paces apart and the last tree before the railway station was about a hundred yards away.

Then the cloud darkened sky opened up and the rain poured down, and the noise of the rain hitting the ground was like the sound a combined harvester going flat out.

The guard who had been dry and warm all day suddenly ducked under the apple tree and beckoned for us to join him.

Since the guard had his back to me I climbed into the lower branches and was soon passing down apples and stashing them inside my shirt.

Then the rain stopped just a suddenly as it began and the guard turned to usher everyone out because we did not want to miss the train.

I was up the tree and the guard could not see me, but when everyone got lined up to walk again the guard spotted one missing Instead of three men at the back there were only two.

Taking the rifle off his shoulder he dashed under the apple tree and there was I. The guard aimed the rifle and mouthed, "nah los, mach schnell, runter commen, du shiez drek Englander" "now hurry up and come down" the rest was complimentory.

Observing he wasn't very happy I clambered down and he then made me unload the apples out of my shirt.

Once he was sure I had no more he made a point of pushing me back into the ranks with his rifle and we marched off for the station.

I often think of that situation and remember that the others would watch the guard as we marched, and when they were sure he was not looking they would produce an apple and bite, then stow it away again. And if the guard glanced round they would stop chewing. All the others were busy chewing apples all the way to the station and I got none.

I guess it just wasn't my day.

2982252 Pte Barker T.O. 1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Born 23 May 1921.
Tom Barker