Tom Barker passed on October 1st 2008
POW Camp, P.O.W. no 12244
Don't read this if you are a puritan, also some text contains pigeon English, (fowl language). The following are short anecdotes that may interest you since your remark of four years is a long time to be locked up.
"What did you do all day"?. I will type this stuff in as I can remember it, except to say here that since there is no way for me to remember verbal exchanges exactly. I can vividly remember most situations and will add commentary from my imagination only to give you a better picture of the adversity or humor of the moment.
One of the vices of most service men is risqué language. I think this is brought about some times by the situation he sometimes finds himself in and he uses it to ease the boredom and frustration of army life. If I can I will put in dates where necessary, you can also cross check by writing to the war office File, Barker Thomas Osborne 2982252 1st Bn A & SH. I was also F/Sgt Harry Tenny RAF. According to or for the benefit of the Germans.
At first this caused my mother some concern since she suddenly was getting letters from a bloke she didn't know in Germany. I will come back to Tenny later. So I may as well begin at the beginning of the four years.
I will begin with 1st day, then take each different camp in turn that I was an unwilling guest of Adolf Hitler.
It began about the 1st of June 1940, a group of mixed remnants of regiments, about 200 were on the beach. Also amongst the rocks were a lot of wounded. I can vaguely remember two bods taking me to the beach, my head was bloody so they washed me off in the sea. Somebody had heard from a mate who had been told by a signaler that a submarine was going to take us off Crete. Because stukas would come over without warning the wounded were hidden among the rocks and caves. Anyone who could move under his own steam had to forage for food, water was no problem and I was surprised one day when I saw a bloke going into the sea with water bottles tied round his middle. I found out later there was a fresh water spring about 100 yds out one could clearly see a patch in the salt water, gurgling up.
We slept on the beach every night, the reason for this was the sub. If it did come it would not surface in day light because of the Stuka threat. So we had a lookout system organized, also we would sleep within reach distance of the next man, so if the sub signaled at night the whole mob could be awakened in total silence and be ready to be taken off in small boats. Sound at night carries a long way, and we were not going to give a roaming sniper a chance to pick us off one by one.
We had a lookout posted on top of a hill and he would signal with his shirt because although he could whistle pretty good if the wind was blowing the wrong way we wouldn't hear him, hence the shirt. He would let us now if Stukas were approaching or any other hostile bods, he was also a target for a Jerry sniper, when I pointed this out somebody quietly said "better one than all of us, he knows that". The second day on the beach a group got together and began repairs to a TLC, it had been left by the skipper of the destroyer that put us on Crete. There was another one in a cave further down the beach, it was also damaged. The navy boys who had worked these two TLC's were definitely dischuffed at the male organ who had left them behind. Some said he did right to get going before the Stukas came, however some days later a Stuka did come and while he was setting himself up to dive on the TLC stranded on the beach all the lads working on it downed tools and ran for cover. It was just as well because he put a bomb right through the middle of the TLC and it didn't go off but it made too big a hole to repair.
Later the disappointed repair mob scavenged off it what could be used and repaired the one in the cave. Richard, my son, gave me a book years ago and it has a parallel story. The book is GREECE CRETE AND SYRIA by GAVIN LONG read MAY to end of JUNE.
Anyway they loaded it with wounded and got back to Tobruk. There was also a three masted schooner up on the beach and if you have ever seen ants transporting a dead cockroach this is what it looked like. The similarity ends there because this boat was going no where.
There were blokes on the end of a rope tied to the front of the boat, they even had rollers under it. Some were pushing, there was lots of foreign language flying about and an old Greek bloke was talking to me. I didn't have a clue what he was raving on about till a little lad maybe six or seven came running up to us and talked to the old man. The old man pointed at me then the boat then the water and I thought he was blaming me for nicking his boat, well trying to.
Believe me that boat was going nowhere sitting on soft sand.
Then the little boy had a go at me. Him I could make some sense of. It appeared the boat had been beached some years ago with a view to repairing some of the hull. Anyway to quote the little lad, "boat no swim, on sand too long, big holes in bottom, not good, goodbye". I said "thanks and goodbye". They left, the little boy with his hand covered by the old man's fist. I think it was his grandad. I shouted "thanks" again, and the lad turned his head and shouted, "soright" and waved then they were gone.
Soon it got dark and all that could be heard were the waves pounding on the beach, sometimes the beach can be a very lonely place. Came the night and we got down to sleep on the beach when with a roar a big aircraft flying low went over. We waited for the whistle of bombs but instead he signalled with a light but nobody was quick enough to read it. He came out of the dark and was gone, but we were sure he was trying to tell us the sub was coming. Also if Jerry had seen the air craft signalling he would guess men were on the beach. So we had to keep a sharp look out all the time.
The next day a group went round with a hat and the spiel was, we are going to buy a sheep off the man up the road, he has two. Someone piped up why not just take both, where upon a officer Major McNab 1st A&SH said we are not brigands, we pay for one IF he agrees, we have already approached him and he needs to keep the other one for his family. So since we had money that was not going to be spent we might as well chuck it all into the bag and let the Greek think all his birthdays had come at once.
When the blokes got back with the sheep one of them told me "you should have seen that Greek blokes eyes when we handed over the bag of money for one sheep, they popped out like organ stops. He insisted there were too many drachma (too much money) for one sheep and if he got to keep the bag of money we could take both sheep.
We said take the money pushing the bag into his hands we took one sheep, when he understood he nodded vigorously and chanted "endatcy endatcy",ok ok. We gathered he was happy with the deal. He said some thing about now he could buy a new house. Then the RAF bloke, who had the sheep on a bit of rope asked, "now what?" To which some wit replied "why don't you kiss it"? that reminds me about the bloke who bought an ass once. Then an Ossie grabbed the sheep, cut it's throat, had it skinned, cleaned and quartered, and into this iron pot with a fire under it. Any resemblence to the Hansel und Gretal yarn is coincedental. Other scroungers put in onions potatoes etc, if it could be eaten it went into the pot.
By the way I was walking up Point Walter rd with our Tommy one day, and a bloke gave us a lift in his car. We got to talking about Crete and he said "oh where abouts were you"? I told him the sheep story to which he laughed an said "yea, I remember that, I was the bloke who killed the sheep. He also offered me the loan of a car till I got a job and got a car of my own. I thought it was a nice gesture but I declined the offer and thanked him. I also thought the world was not as big as I thought it was.
Next morning about mid morning somebody pointed down the beach and in the distance about half a mile two figures were approaching. Then every body stopped to look because suddenly someone said they're Jerry's. I had a long barrelled Canadian Ross with a telecopic sight and I lifted it up to take a look to varify they were indeed Germans, one officer and an orderly who was also interpreter. Somebody yelled don't shoot they are carrying a white flag. When the two reached us the officer saluted and said "I salute you all not because of military protacol but you are obviously front line troops and you have put up a hell of a fight. You are to be admired among fighters, with german officers you could rule the world. Somebody muttered "bollocks"! The German officer then went on to say "I will return tomorrow at dawn with a company of men and you will be treated as honerable prisoners of war, and as a German officer I give you my word you will be treated as such "those of you who wish to fight on in the hills don't have a hope, but if that is your wish very well," and he added "Crete is now ours".
When he had gone Major Mcnab said "I am not going to pull rank on you people but as the senior officer here it is up to me to organize some way to minimize casualties “Hands up those who have guns”. A few put up hands some said "but we have no ammo". So the officer said "ok to put up a fight is out of the question, also we have no food and if Jerry takes us at least the wounded will be looked after, so those who wish to can go into the hills and survive". Some left during the course of the day. McNab told me to get rid of that, pointing to my rifle "Jerry does'nt like snipers, not ours anyway "how much ammo have you got"? I replied four rounds, three days ago I had three hundred and fifty". “You have been busy," he said, now go chuck it into the sea.
Next morning a company of Germans arrived. Most of us with guns had already thrown them into the sea. So when they collected us they got blokes only, no watches or food only identity tags, and the rags we were wearing.
They fell us in and a jerry started walking across the front rank counting "iens zwei drie".
Sombody had a little laugh where upon the Jerry sergeant asked with a snarl "warum lauchen sie" why do you laugh.? One of our blokes said "charming". So the Jerry had another snarl and glare. They marched us off the beach and we arrived at Heraklion, a small town on the coast where an officer looked us over. I was picked out along with about nine others who all had a bandages on and we were escorted to a building with a sign in german informing anybody interested it was a hospital.
A bloke in a white outfit took off the bit of shirt that had been wrapped round my head for three or four days, and with a lot of tutting and a smile he dabbed some stuff on and said I was very fortunate because now for me the war was over. There was a putrid smell every where. Then we were marched to Canea. This was a forced march the full length of Crete, since we had allready marched from where we had landed to Heraklion. Somebody guessed it was about hundred and forty miles. During the march we were rested ten minutes in the hour. Being an infantry man and having marched in Palestine on different skirmishes against Syrian bandits and the PLO since early 1939 it did not affect me as it did some others like clerics, sigs, and tank men. But on a low food diet it makes a big difference, and lack of water now made a difference. Jerry was also smart because at certain places along the route he had placed a new set of guards so that every day we had a different set of guards.
The German paratroops we had fought were like the college type of young man you would expect to meet at public schools in England, educated, good manners. But the guards now had changed and brutality took over from orders. Now the rifle butt in the back or a savage kick, a fist in the face, and while some who fell by the wayside sometimes a truck picked them up but some were not seen again. Some blokes took off boots, could not get them back on, big open sores, etc. Sometimes if a bloke straggled behind the main group he would be kicked to keep up. But this only served to add to his misery and if there was no truck handy and he got too far behind, one of the guards would turn round and to boo's and cat call's shoot him. We were too tired to care any more, and the thought crossed my mind "well it's quick", and that smell perstisted.
When we arrived at Canea we were locked up in rooms in a building. I was with about twenty others and looking through the window, I could see the sea. The room looked like a work place but my attention was drawn to a chest of drawers beneath the window. I pulled open one of the two top drawers to find it full of old hand guns. There was what looked like a double barrel Derringer, a flintlock, lots of bits and pieces of guns. When I stared at these somebody said "for christ sake shut the bloody drawer before the guard comes". They could have used this exuse to shoot us, who knows they must have known about the drawer, or did they? We will never know.
Others were locked in other rooms and when on the march we looked to be a thousand strong or more. Also filthy and pathetic. One thing that stood out during that long week's march was that no matter where you were the smell of death was everywhere. Some body got bit by a snake one rest period, he died.
When I was a lad I can't ever remember passing out or feeling faint but since Crete funny things were happening. One day I was looking at a tall tree and as my eye got half way up the trunk the pattern changed as I looked up at where the branches should have been. A giraffe was looking down at me, Iooked down and the roots of the tree were firmly in the ground but when I looked up again there was the giraffe chewing away. I was taken to another medical place because sometimes I was seeing double like a t/v with bad ghosting. By the way there are no loose giraffes on Crete. We were put on Greek boats under heavy guard and discussed with another bloke the possibility of leaving the boat before it got to Greece. The coversation suddenly changed to sharks and possible prop damage and the chance of being shot in the water. I lost interest and consoled myself with the fact "there is always tomorrow", and a tour of Germany would not come amiss.
We arrived in Greece and the camp, what had once been an army barracks was now a pow camp. Kriegsgefangener Lager Salonika. The vermin in this camp had to be seen to be believed. They all had the same capbadge, skull and cross bones. They were the SS pow guards. These animals were recruited from doss houses, brothels, black marketeers, I could go on but I think you get my drift. Then there were the permanant residents rats, bed bugs, lice, and a lot you could not see in the dark. I sometimes think about that officer on the beach "I give you my word as a German officer". That promise ended when we stepped into Salonika camp.
Most of the time we laid around discussing how to get out, but with an empty belly even this was half hearted. Then one day an ox pulling a cart loaded with bread came into the camp and jerry rounded up some of us to form a chain from the cart to a building up some steps where the bread was to be stored. Immediatly conversation turned to lock picking and were there any ex circus bods who could imitate flies, to whit, walk up walls and get through cracked windows. We handed the read from the cart to the building and we got a rhythm going but now and again as the pace picked up odd loaves would fall under the cart so I got under the cart and passed out these loaves.
Now this cart was a very old world cart in that it had what at first glance looked like a tree trunk running from the back to the front of the cart and between the floor of the cart and the trunk was a gap. Making sure the guard was'nt looking I tucked myself into this gap, ten minutes later I was out of the camp. The cart was about a hundred yards from the gate when the guard on the gate spotted my coat dragging on the ground. "Halt" then a thudding of feet. The guard bent and peered under at me and crooked his finger "come rous Tommy". He didn't know my name but Jerry calls all Brits Tommy.
I came out and he assisted me back to the gate. I could tell he was'nt very happy because when we got to the gate he kicked me in the back and I was hurled into a group of our blokes who had gathered to see what was happening. Somebody pushed my head down and said "quick get to the back of the crowd and take that coat off". This I did just as a SS officer came running up waving a pistol shouting to the guard "Where is that man"? Then I really enjoyed the guard's discomfort as the officer stomped up and down screaming at him. There were quite a lot of words so I don't think "dumkopf" would cover it.
One day I joined a group blokes, well I did'nt sign anything but they were going into this drain so I decided I would also nick off with them. We got down into this hole which turned into a concrete pipe about thirty inches across, wide enough to crawl down but one coudn't turn round in it. We got so far along it when all movement stopped. There were cries of "move it, what's the hold up" and God knows how many were down that hole. It was stifling hot and smelly there was refuse on the bottom and sides of the tube, slime everywhere and it crossed my mind even in a situation like this blokes can make fun of a situation that could suddenly become very dangerous. The air was so foul and if Jerry decided to fire down the pipe he did not have to aim. Ricocheting bullets would do terrible damage, also if anybody was hit Jerry would probably not bother to get them out, just leave them in the pipe to die.
Then some body passed the word back we can't go any further there is a blockage. Someone else said "keep your voices down, Jerry will hear us". So we began iching our way backwards and as we were getting out of the hole we were spotted. Four of us were first bundled into a small compound of wire and the next day the sun seemed to be extra hot all that long long day. No water, no food, and we were covered in slime from the sewer the smell was so bad the only consolation I got was the guard had to move from his shady place every time the wind shifted. I cannot remember how long they kept us there but I found myself alone in a black dark room, there was just a grey thread of light under the door. Some times it would brighten then I would hear footsteps. I don't know how long I was in this room, it seemed a very long time, then the light under the door got bright and footsteps came but went by and I heard a door being unlocked. Then more footsteps a door banged shut, the light under the door dimmed and I was left in the quiet dark again. I must have dozed because all of a sudden there was a noise like a fight going on voices were raised now and then a thud, a moan, then quiet. Then it would start all over again. This went on for a long time.
Then it was very quiet for a long time mabye half a day, I didn't know if it was night or day. In fact I was now spending most of my time walking along this wall made of glass blocks. It reached to the sky in any case you could not climb it, there were no footholds and it was too slippery, I walked miles to find a door through it, but to no avail. So I would turn and walk miles in the opposite direction but could find no door. Then I would think I ought to be going the other way. The light under the door brightened and this brought me back to earth, footsteps, the key rattled, wrong key, try the next one in the lock and the door opened and I was half dragged to a room where a jerry was sitting behind a table.
I was asked things like "who was going to hide you"? To which I gave my name rank and number. "Where were you going? Who organised the attempted escape"? and so on. I was told later while this was very brave and proper, it was also very stupid. People like the SS only react to this line by beating the daylights out of you. I also think it is a human quirk, also, this was a good chance to get their own back, because we wiped out the cream of their paratroopers on Crete. Four thousand killed or missing, two and a half thousand wounded, some times one wonders how do you go missing,? What I mean is one can understand a squaddie taking cover in a shell hole, and getting blown up by the next shell? or thinking stuff this for a game of soldiers I'm off. But when some some unhappy bloke is dangling from the end of a bit of string attached to a chute, he has no place to hide, and the answer is simple, most of the para's had grenades stuck in their boots, in their belts, and any other place that was handy.
Trouble was a lot of the grenades were being hit. There would be a puff of smoke, the unhappy Jerry would just dissapear. Then the now empty chute would drift in the breeze and gently fall to earth. Now HE is missing in action. Anyway one of these brave interrogaters had a two foot long piece of rubber pipe like bit cut off a washing machine drain hose, and would smash it against the back of the knee, elbow, across the face, any where were it would hurt most. If you fell down they tried kicking your head all round the room. Fortunatly by this time you are passed caring. If you passed out a cold bucket of water brought you round quick smart, only they did'nt throw it over you, that would wet the floor so they just stuck your head in the bucket and held it there, with your arms up behind your shoulders which they are doing their best to dislocate. You try to ride out the different moves they make but by this time you are past caring. But it was uncumfy because when your head is upside down the water runs up your nose, or in this case down. Ever try sneezing in a bucket of water? One bloke suggested to me later they used the rubber hose so as to leave no marks on their victims for the Red Cross to see, and I queeried, if so, then why did'nt they wear wellies and rubber gloves when endeavering to kick someone to death? Besides the Red Cross are not aware that you exsist until you are allowed to notify them.
I became aware of lots of itching and dry mouth. I hurt all over. When I moved clouds of bedbugs scurried over the floor. I dusted most of them off my clothes but in doing so I squashed a lot of them and boy did they stink. I was covered with so many bites I thought I had measles. My chest hurt when I moved but as I looked around I discovered I had company. There was a bloke lying on the floor and as I was, he also was surrounded by bed bugs, in fact he looked like an ant heap absolutely crawling with red ants. The floor looked like planking tongued and grooved, it looked like it had been a barrack room.
But at this time it was empty exept for this bloke and myself. I tried talking to him but his back was to me and I could hear him wheezing as he breathed. The floor was filthy, bits of paper lay around, a window was open because beneath the window on the floor was a small scattering of leaves. I must have dozed off because two blokes where carrying me in an overcoat and I opened my eyes. When I saw the beautiful blue sky with fleecy clouds I thought Jerry had done it and the next stop was heaven. I just hoped to get there before dark so I could pick out a pretty angel to kip with, well you don't want to wake up in the morning on a cloud next to Boris Karloff. Then I was aware of the two blokes carrying me. I asked about the other bloke on the floor, somebody said "He was dead when we found you. We thought you were too". "Mabye that's what Jerry thought"? I have wondered could he have died from loss of blood, there were an awful lot of bed bugs. Well its a thought.
We were eventually taken to a railyard in Salonica and loaded onto goods wagons. It will save a lot of time at this point if I ask you to look at the film Von Ryen's Express. Now the part where all the prisoners are loaded on and a guard sat on the roof of each wagon is just the same. Some blokes also dug through the floor but unlike in the film sadly they were killed. Because when they got through the hole in the floor and let go they bounced and the next axle caught them and so on until they were just a bundle of bloodied rags. Also we did not get to take over the train. We stopped at Belgrade and were given soup and a piece of bread. I was a bit suprised at its size about four thick slices. The the Jerry with the megaphone said don't eat it all at once there will be no further rations for this journey, the next food will be at our destination Luckenwald in Germany.
So we set off and the problem then arose where to hide the bread. If you went to sleep you could wake up with none. I gave it some thought and decided if I eat two slices now and don't go to sleep I can eat two slices tomorrow and go to sleep with nothing to worry about, the next day can look after itself. I happened to glance through the wire encrusted window and in the distance a big sign informed us we were passing ZAGREB. One of our lads complained he had tummy pains. "I have not been for four days" he said. As the afternoon wore on he suddenly piped up has any body got an empty tin they don't want, there were no offers. Suddenly in desparation he took off his socks and filled them and where before he had been hemmed in now he had plenty of room. Some one grabbed the sock that was allready filled and as he moved to throw it out of the window. Someone suggested if we had a cricketer among us perhaps he could throw it instead and give it a bit of spin and with a bit of luck assisted by the wind he could stump the guard who was perched atop the next wagon. Somebody guffawd " then there'll be two sacks o' shit sittin' o'nt next wagon. The timid among us complained "what happens when we stop". Someone quietly said "if he's stoopid enough ta cum in ere on is own e'll ave a nasty accident."
The frivolity ceased. We now had a hate all Germans complex. We also came to hate body lice, friction sores because of travelling in swaying wagons, and my dirty clothes, everybody had dirty clothes. I won't dwell on this too much, you can watch videos today that will fill you in much better on this subject.
Eventualy the train did stop and this time we got out. I would like to just mention that sometimes when it had stopped before at times, it was because it had to be side tracked to let a military train or goods go by. And then sometimes we would be sitting there for hours. It was hot and smelly. However we arrived at this POW camp and found it to be full of French pow's. Almost straight away somebody yelled line up and we were marched past a French bloke who had a ladle and he was dishing out soup and a slice of bread to each man. I have never ever tasted soup like it. The French certainly know how to tickle the taste buds. But I think when you are really hungry a raw potatoe tastes like ice cream.
So this was LUCKENWALD camp. A lot went on in that camp we got to wash our clothes and have a shower and I remember there was a guard in the room with us, and some body said if he makes a move for the door we go out with him, don't let him lock us in. We had heard rumours of some people being gassed, we also had a photo and finger tips and thumb prints taken. This was stuck to a type written sheet where there was the name rank and number of each individual.
The next day we were issued with a slice of bread and a teaspoon of sugar, also a piece of cheese the size of four sugar lumps. This cheese was like a cake of chalk covered with a solution that looked and smelled like the glue we used to mend byke punctures with back home. Also each man was issued with a voucher for soup. It was about the same size as a bingo ticket but it was devided into days of the week inc sunday by perforations, so there was mononag, deinstag, mittwock, donnerstag, fritag,sunarbend, suntag. and the last square had the date on it. So if you lost your ticket it was good bye grub. Usually if you were genuine the other blokes would give a spoonfull each to make up the lost ration, but it did not happen very often believe me.
The next day was the same exept instead of the teaspoon of sugar we got a teaspoon of marmalade, and so on. One day there was a buz going round and sure enough we got red cross cards to fill in to send home, Name rank number and now another number POW 12244. Some body then made a comforting remark "Well that's good, now when some body gets shot, the red cross can inform the next of kin".
Then we were issued with what looked like kippers. Some body remarked "cor don't they remind you of some body". Another voice said "yea,yew,yew smell loik shit, go an ave a wash, mucky b******." I had blacked out a couple of times in the rail wagon and one day when I fell flat on my face on roll call parade. I was taken to the camp hospital where the German doctor fumed, why had I not been treated before this. I was treated for two damaged and one broken rib, a bone in the neck was chipped, I had plueresy due to lung lining damage, and some times not very often I would see double. I also had a broken jaw. The doc suggested when I was hit on the head on Crete my head was whipped round so quick it dislocated my jaw, then when I fell that's what broke it. I can't remember how long I was in that place, but it was not unpleasant.
Then they brought in one of our blokes, he was bomb happy, the silly grin, vacant eyes, had trouble just walking, had to be fed, and led, and watched or he would wander. If he wandered too close to the wire he could get shot. The Jerry orderly (male nurse) fussed over him got him a comic book to look at. Also went to a lot of trouble finding a music box with a little ballerina twisting and bouncing to the tinkle tinkle of the tune. This German orderly dressed in white with an armband denoting he was a medic, would feed him and look after his other needs. He wound up the music box one day and put it by his bed, a bit later he went to wind it up again but instead he pulled up the sheet over the blokes face, as he walked by his eyes were wet. Well, I thought, they are not all monsters.
Then one day a group of us were taken to the railway station and we boarded a train. We had to stand in the isle. The train was full and to my left sitting were a group of Hitler youth, about six of them. As I glanced toward them the nearest youth maybe seventeen years old stared at me then said something. Because he now had the attention of his mates, still staring, he mimed picking bugs off his shirt, dropping them on the floor then grinding his boot on then, they all had a laugh at this. I kept my gaze fixed on him and he finaly looked away. When he did look back again as I guessed he would, I still was looking at him. He finally went pink in the face and looked uncomfortable, I left it at that and turned my back to them for the rest of the journey. Don't push it I thought.
We got off that train and waited in the lee of the station house wall because there was a biting cold wind blowing. One of the blokes had got a fag from somebody but he had no way of lighting it, near us was a German civvy, he looked like an office walla. So our bloke strolls over and asks "Haben sie fire, (he didn't know how to pronounce feuer) bitte"? (light please) The bloke scowled back and our bloke said "remind me never to come here for a holiday. Miserable B******” Anyway we got on the train without further ado and when we got off the guard said now we march to the camp. So we did. Somebody said lets show these b******* how to march, and we did. All the way to the camp, I think we could have given the grenadier guards a run for their money.
Anyway the guard had a smile on his face as we marched into camp halted, right turned, and stood at ease. This was Stalag 303 near the village of Teltow. The camp commandant's name was Herr Montag, would stand no nonsense but he was a decent enough bloke. His view on life was the war cannot last forever, so if we have mutual respect there would be every chance of us getting home safe at the end of it. If you imagine this PC screen as a map of the camp then it would be surrounded by a double barbed wire fence. The only exit-entry gate was at top left. The recreation hall and cookhouse complex was accross the top, now another double fence ran center screen across. There was a gate in this fence just left of center. The bottom half of the screen contained all six wooden huts, four were filled with pows, one was used as the camp hospital, and one was used as a canteen come library but as yet there were no books and nothing in the canteen. From the middle wire to the cookhouse there was a veg patch, and to the right of that was a concrete swimming pool. Well actually it was there in case of fire, but as I said before Herr Montag was a decent bloke, and he let us swim in it on sundays when it was hot weather. From the middle wire to the gate was the guards barracks, so there was always a sentry at the main gate with a guard house backup, there was a sentry on the middle gate only at night. About 200yrds across the road and some tall grass was a railway shunting yard, about half a mile further and we could see the village. So if you walked from the railway on the main road you took the first left and you came to our camp, but if you were to carry on up this lane another 500yrds you would arrive at a political prisoners camp.
Now and again almost every day we became aware of bodies being brought out and dumped in a large hole in the ground. One sunday, we did not work on sunday, I heard "ayeup what goin' on over there then". At the opposite side of the camp to the railway as a slight hill its top could be seen over the roofs of our buildings, and running like mad was this scarecrow of a man. He had escaped from the political camp. His mad dash soon became a stumbling shamble as the incline of the hill took its toll on his under nourished body. We were soon all at the wire shouting" run you can do it”. Soon it was obvious he wasn't going to make it because he fell down and it wasn't long before the guards reached him. We stood and watched unbeleaving as they slowly beat him to death. We knew he was dead because when the guard left they left the body lying there. About half an hour later two blokes in vertical black and white striped jarmers came with a sentry picked up the body and took it back to the pit and tipped it in then with a shovel threw lime over it.
We found out later that when some body died his mates would say he was sick so they could
collect and share his rations. In winter they were lucky but in summer they could not get away
with it for so long, and if the wind was blowing our way we also knew.
Get down into the shelters and as we Iooked out past the guard we could see the searchlights sweeping around looking for a target. They picked up a plane high up and all hell let loose. Soon I heard zip thud and more hissing and thuds until suddenly I realised it was shrapnel coming down all over the place. The guard also woke up and we all dived under cover. Some body said make room for the gaurd, somebody else said "stuff im 'e's got a tin 'at on we ave'nt". Then there was this one big explosion, we thought it was so close the cook house was gone. But next morning we learned it had mown down a huge circle of grass and pieces of shrapnel had sythed through the hospital and it killed one of our blokes in his sick bed. But the rail shunting yard was a mess, here were rail lines pointing at the sky, one still had wooden sleepers hanging off it. Buildings had been blown away, and part of a signal arm was found at the other side of our camp.
It was mid winter so the powers that be decided it would a good time to dredge a stream under a bridge. So we got on the train for a few miles, got off and walked to where this bridge was. A jerry civvy came and unlocked a wooden hut and issued us with rubber thigh boots, then a long handeled bull nosed shovel and explained that he wanted us to go into this water. "How do we go into the water some one asked?" Same way as you got here dummy, put one leg in front of the other and if you are as stupid as you look you'll fall over”. "But there's thick ice on the water" complained the winger. After about an hour of pantomime we still did'nt under stand "nix fershtehen, nix compri". The guard put a round up the spout and pointed his rifle at us and suddenly it all became very clear.
So with out more ado we broke the ice and entered the water. One thing I learned very quickly was don't touch any metal with your bare hands, if you did, you're skin immediately stuck to it. It was freezing, so if you complained of the cold and tried to get out the guard would push with his rifle so you had to stay in. I discovered by working faster you could raise body heat so the blood to my feet was that little bit warmer plus I had wrapped my feet in rags, this worked in my favour. Some of the lads who had only the rubber boots on got frost bite and lost toes. One bloke lost his foot on one leg and all his toes on the other. We sent a deputation to the camp commandant and the guard was transferred to another camp. I think what swung it was a lady who lived nearby the bridge saw our plight and made some hot erzats coffee but when she brought it out to us the guard said "no" and "go away." So maybe she rang up and protested. Any way the commandant informed us that job could be resumed come summer when the weather would be warmer.
The food and soup was usually served round about six when all work parties got in. The camp interpretor who was also a pow told us that there would be cakes in the canteen also drinks, starting next week. There were loud hooraas and roll on next week.
When next week arrived there was a queue a mile long out side the canteen. Then we found out the drink was a rough apple cider, sour to taste and gave some blokes belly pains. The cakes turned out to be cakes of soap, it was like candle wax mixed with sand, but it worked, after a fashion. We found out the soap was being made at a political camp so we refused to use it. Eventualy all the boxes of soap began to over flow in the canteen so Herr Montag had them all taken away. We never got another issue of that particular soap again in that camp.
A notice was put up one day informing us that since we had been such good boys the camp commandant had arranged with one of the local village elders to put on a film show for us. "Oh goody, I hope its Betty Grable" and other such comments. So sunday afternoon we were all assembled in the recreation hall and waited and waited and waited. Finally the camp commandant came in and said "sorry gentlemen I got the wrong sunday, 'it's next week". So next week we were there again and we were told the bloke with the film had a bad cold, so a lot of Betty Grable fans trundled back to their barracks. Remarks like "jees i'm really pissed off”, and "I giv this bloke two fags for 'is seat at the back, I was goin'to cuddle me cushion. Then we did get to see a film, but it was a dreary comedy in German so nobody could understand it. But we pretended we enjoyed it because after all the camp commandant did'nt have to go out of his way for us.
I got into a conversation with another bloke because he was a Geordie and my gran was a Geordie. He told me that every body in Salonika camp stopped all escape attempts after our attempt because some blokes before me had got out and Jerry said that for each pow that got out they would collect 10 Greeks at random off the streets and shoot them. While I had been in that dark room they had already done that. One was an old man and a woman with a twelve year old boy.
The next job three of us got was to walk to the village with a guard and he went to a shed at the back of this pub next to the rail station. He came back with a saw and some rope and pointed to a tree that had a branch which looked like it was going to grow straight through one of the bedroom windows of the pub, so I got up the tree, tied the rope on then began to saw through the branch. The window slid open and out popped the head of a pretty blond girl, this was even better than the movies. She shouted down to the guard and he nodded and smiled and said "ya ya". I nearly fell out of the tree as she smiled at me sweetly withdrew her head and closed the window. Up to now all girls I'd known always said “no no”. With the branch cut and safely on the ground we had just got tidied up when the blond girl came out with what looked like four stubbies of beer. She put them on the table with another of those sweet smiles turned and disapeared back into the pub. The guard changed the points in my brain just then because he gave me a friendly nudge with his elbow and said "shone was pretty, yes". I agreed. The lable on the bottles informed us it was Kinderbrot beer.
After that things got a bit mundane, we did however get one or two lighter moments like when a guard came in to each room enquiring if there was anyone interested in rabbits. One answer he got was "We all are if they are in a pie". Another was "keep your rabbits, but could we have some dancing girls instead"? He looked at us a bit shocked and said "What would you do with dancing girls"? To which came the reply "cor, don't yore dad tell you nuffink"? and "there would'nt be a lot of dancin" or "we'd come up with something given time."
Some work parties would walk down a lane behind a small row of houses and passing one back garden we noticed a young woman doing some gardening. Now we all knew fratting with the enemy was a very and I do mean very dicy game. However this did not deter one young Irish hopeful. It all started with that pretty smile again, then it moved on to passing little notes. They did it like this, the guard always up front and us walking along in three ranks. The Irish bloke always made sure to be in the rank nearest the wall, and as we walked past the bottom of that particular garden, he waited till she was looking then threw the note into her garden. Since it had a stone wrapped in it it landed not too far away from her. There were a few reprimands from the other blokes when they saw what he was up to. "Bloody fool, you know she will shot with you if you are caught". But love is blind. Also bacause they were'nt Robert Taylor types, I think maybe it was a bit of sour grapes, envy, whatever.? Any way they refined their postal system until not even we could see well not without blinking any way. The love notes were written in German by who else but the pow camp interp and when Irish got an answer the interp would translate for him. By now Irish was madly in love and did'nt seem to care if he did got caught. Then after weeks and weeks of misery God switched the light on for him. I want to see the camp commandant he told the interp. "You ARE mad" said he, but Irish said ssssss in his ear.
They both went to the camp office and it was agreed that Irish escorted by a guard could go out into the woods to forage for rabbit food for the camp commandant's pet rabbits. Irish said he loved rabbits so much that he gave his word he would not attempt to escape. We all agreed certain rabbit habits were begining to rub off onto Irish. Then lady luck in the guise of The Red Cross stepped in. We got one parcel between two men, it was like xmas had come early, so now Irish had some ammo to further his cause. He told us that when he went to get rabbit food that sunday with the guard he took out of his pocket a bar of chocolate broke a bit off and watched the guard drool. So he gave him a bit, then the next sunday he gave him a whole bar of choc and told him "for your wife" but don't tell any body. The guard agreed. He was also hooked, now Irish let his girl friend know where he would be every sunday afternoon. So now every sunday afternoon the guard and Irish would go to the wood the guard would pocket a unopened tin of coffee worth about six months pay on the black market. He would sit quietly at the edge of the wood and wait for the return of the happy wanderer. Irish would go into the gloom of the wood for half hour or more and return flushed and happy with a bag full of rabbit food. I lost track of Irish after a while. The only sad thing I thought was Irish was wed and the girl's husband was in Russia, so it could not have a happy ending. Come to think of it Walt Disney's Snow White was a lot better.
I took some of the empty tins (ex red cross) and by joining them together made a boat. One of the guards said he had an old gramaphone I could have, if I would make a boat for his son. So I now had a motor for my boat, all the other boats I made had sails. Can you imagine a nice summer day sitting by a pool watching blokes racing each others model boats. The commandant and some of the guards got caught up in the spirit of the meet and I was complemented on my inginuity. I think the guards were bored, but now even they would join in. Soon, the enthusiasm of this sporty event was not lost on some of the punting fraternity, little cards were being erected round the pool declaring Big Fred's or Lucky Norm would give 4 to 1 on #5. For the 'hedification of them wot is higorent' in the realm of mechanics, I would like to point out that in a gramaphone motor of the 1920-30's, you wound a handle this wound up a very strong spring which was in a steel barrel. While winding clockwise you could compress the spring and if you stopped palls dropped into a toothed wheel and held the now gathered energy, also if you wound in the opposite direction the winding handle would disengage itself from the winding apparatus which was now being held by the palls. The energy escapes through a chain of gear wheels the last of which is the govenor. To control the speed of the gramaphone move a lever to adjust a leather pad that would act as a brake because as the govenor begins to turn when you set it going three balanced weights on springs move outwards due to centrefugal force, pulling up a brass disk, as soon as the brass disk makes contact with the leather pad it restricts the speed and keeps it constant. The turntable (the bit you put the record on) is usually the next gear to the spring, it was to this shaft I used to drive the prop on my boat. Sorry that bit may be a bit dull for some but it does help you understand what happens next. My boat was clockwork, the other boats were sail. While they could really move sometimes reach the other end of the pool, so if I set the rudder the boat would go there albeit slowly. Call it sour grapes if you wish but I thought it was pay back time for some of these punters who were giving some of the lads a hard time.
Come sunday and I told some of my mates I would remove the govenor from my boat and the boat would streak to the other end of the pool. Put all your fags on it, I gloated. Well, I think some of the other lads got wind of it, so lots of fags changed hands and there was a great air of excitement prevailed round the pool. Also I noticed there were a lot more blokes round the pond. Ready, get set, go, all the boats were away and I Iet go of mine, for a second the prop churned the water to a froth the boat lurched forward then as the prop got a grip of the water the reaction turned the boat on to its side and it sank. I thought, I,ll get it tomorrow. I never did. There was talk of "chuck him after his bloody boat.” But they soon drifted back to their huts muttering like a lot off discruntled ducks, thinking about lost fags.
There was an air raid one night, we got one about once a week, one where we actually had to take cover in the dugouts. The dugouts were like slit trenches lined with sheets of straight corrigated iron, another sheet fixed over the top and the whole thing filled over with sand. There was a hole in the middle and steps were cut into the sandy soil with bits of wood to stop them collapsing when it rained. One time I was amongst the first in and some times you could get a snapshot because jerry fired something called flaming onions, as they lit up the sky so you could have a quick gleg at your surroundings which before was black as ink. I found that with a little effort I could move the corner of the metal sheet and after a whispered confab pressed it back. When the all clear sounded and we got back to our beds there were exited whispering going on about how far was the wire to the air raid shelter and if a tunnel came up outside the wire which sentry box was nearest. So once all the relevent intelligence had been fed to the escape committe after about a month of pretending to be Sherlock Holmes, well you could'nt go up to one the Jerries, come to think of it that name fits, well most of them are sh lavetries anyway. You could not go to Jerry and say "er, exuse me Hans”. I could have called him Dick, but Hans sounds more German. “That grassy patch near #4 tower that reaches from the air raid shelter to the wire, we were thinking of putting in some potatoes and maybe some beans, could you tell us how long it is"?. I will not dwell on that because I can remember the long nights staying awake waiting for an air raid and thinking all Jerrys were Dicks anyway, or at least the female equivalent, then I thought about how the sand transported from the hole was pathetic. Having bent the metal just enough to scrape sand out we now had to use a peg to keep it back in it's original posision.
Jerry made good use of ferrits. These were usually somebody who had been wounded and had a working knowledge of another language. For a french camp the ferret would be a Jerry with a second language in French, our's had a second language in English and if we knew he was listening we would break into Indi or Arabic, some Welsh blokes used to taunt the hell out of him. Some times on the train you would get a lot of fun watching some of the smart looking civvies. If you were discussing something you could spot straight away if he was listening. "Oh I know where you mean" this was the signal to set the ball rolling. "I thought they pulled that place down" and if they were having a drink from a flask you waited to come out with the punch line, "Na they're building wings for spitfires now, sometimes they stopped in mid gulp and made a choking noise. "You'll be ok in a minute mate". Somebody would grin at him "just take a few deep brefs." Some just used cockney slang to good effect.
The people I had no time for and most were above the rank of private were the people who would make remarks like "well I've done my bit I can sit here till its over". I don't think I heard it ever from a regular soldier. My view was I was still a soldier and my pay would not stop until I was dead. My motto was stuff the Germans. It still is. And a lot of this bullshit 'forgive and forget' is not on in my book, they will try again one way or the other. If and when I got the chance to do some thing usefull, I did it.
For instance, on a work party near a rail siding, call to the guard with a bit of pantomime clutching your middle call out "pingle pause postern, toilet break, guard". He wave and shout "ja ja" and continue looking at a dirty book. Once round behind the wagons lift the lid on an axle box scoop most of the grease out fill it with sand and gravel whack as much grease in to hide it wipe hands on grass and emerge ajusting your clothing, then get as far away from that spot as you could. I must have done this a total of thirty to forty times over about eight months, others did it too. I was'nt alone. I would have been if I'd been caught. But when young etc. By the way all German rail engines had Rader mussen rollen fur den Sieg (wheels must roll for victory) painted on the side of the tender (that's the bit immediatley behind the engine with coal in it). Well some of these wheels were due for a rest. The stub end of an axle on a goods wagon goes into the axle box and it turns round inside two white metal castings to make these castings requires just a little more heat than is used to melt lead, so the wagon would not get far before the sand would cause friction and friction creats heat. So the metal melts and leaks out of the axle box. When this happens the waggon starts to bounce. Two things can happen, the coupling can snap, that means the train is cut in two and if on an incline it can stop then roll the other way. If another train is coming he can't get out of the way in time. The other thing to happen was the wagon would jump the rails and it would drag all the following rolling stock with it. Half of a white metal casting was half brick in size. Two put together made a bearing.
Another work party worked for Lenz & Weber Baugeselshaft. On this party I was the interpreter The old gaffer had been in the first world war as had his head bricky, the bricky proudly opened his jacket to show the label made in Manchester England. "Ja I vos in England erst war pow, cald vet, (cold, wet,). The gaffer and I got on well together he would rant on and I would nod or shake my head. Somebody took pity on him one day, he was filling this old pipe with dried daisy heads and this bloke, one of our bods who also had a pipe, pulled out a tin of Digger Flake and took the pipe off the old bloke. He reamed out the daisy heads and stuffed it full of Digger Flake and handed it back, the old boy lit up inhaled and "shizer, opium"? He gasped, then he had to sit down because it made him giddy. The old boy always called me Freiderich. All day I had to guess what he wanted when he spoke, actually body language helped mostly. I think some of the lads knew as much German as me but I was dumb enough to think I was smarter than them. Or they were smart enough not to get involved. We built, or rather the Jerry old blokes were building a complex, it looked like a small house. Next to it was a huge square hole where it turned out a twenty foot square of concrete was poured, now because of the small workforce this block had to be started and added to each day. This gave us a golden opportunity to chuck in any tools that were laying around. The gaurd started searching each of us at the end of work time when we fell in to go home. We stopped doing this particular practice when we found the old bloke was getting a rough time from his boss, plus it really did not effect the war effort any way.
Then we found out what the concrete was for. It was the foundation for a crane which would load loco's with coal from a bunker. So it was on again, little old ladies were not going to live in this house and sit watching trains go by, it was the control cabin for this complex which would water and coal engines on the railway. So somebody sneaked a look at the plans table in the hut held down by a brick so the wind did'nt blow them away. So we had a heads together sssss, yea and lets ssss, na, too risky.
Well one day it was presented to us like the proverbial xmas turkey. Measuring took place, sticks were hammered into the ground, this bloke came out with a spyglass on a tripod and when he got it set up and looked though it, two of our blokes got in front of it put their arms round each other and pretended to be two shy girls fluttering their eyes at the camera. The old gaffer laughed the bloke with the apparatus had no sense of humour. The guard just scowled. Anyway string was finally attached to the sticks so if you can imagine a twenty foot slab of concrete in the ground and about three yards away from it and going all the way round it were two lines of string. So at the corners where they crossed each other they formed a square about three foot square.
So while the locals were in the cabin at midday busy scoffing, they had this funny way of eating well, call it delivery. We usually pick up a sandwich, bite a bit off and chew, maybe because their head is shaped different to ours (square) they eat thus. Pull out pocket knife, open blade wipe on trouser leg, pick up sandwich, with the knife firmly gripped only by the fingers open the hand so that the thumb can be placed at the back of the sandwich, now draw the blade toward the thumb, cutting off a portion of the sandwich'. Then with this bit of sitting on the blade it is transported to the mouth. Remarks like “I hope he cuts his f****** tongue off” were whispered, and "If they had cut something else off after the last war we would not be sitting here now”. You tell them Stanley, I certainly will Olly. So we moved the string, nothing haphazard, we got a bit of stick and moved each string six inches further out. From then on we pondered what we had done, till someone came up with the magnificent idea. On the train some times would be French blokes who worked all over the place. They did not have guards, maybe they were pro german, who cares, but what mattered was we could scrounge off them or barter Frog ciggies. They were shocking to smoke. Anyway the idea was cut them into short stubs which were lit then put out. If suddenly you were searched these were ignored but when the time came we put some of these round the building site. The French Underground movement had struck again. The name of those ciggies by the way was SWEET CAPAREL, in a blue packet and packaged just like American camel cigs. By the way if you knew why they had that particular brand name you would cease smoking forthwith. Come to think of it, the Frog cigs used to rip your throat out as well. Russian cigs, dried pig crap ground up and mixed with red pepper to hide the aroma. Only trouble with those, if you forgot to pinch the tube in two or three places you would'nt have to wait for lung cancer, you could quite easily choke to death on the spot.
The effort we had put into this particuler project bore fruit, boy did it ever. On the top of the concrete block another was made and on top of this they would mount a crane. Now the brickies set to and at each corner of the concrete about three feet away(plus six inches), were four footings of concrete where they built up four columbs. When these were finished a steel girder was to be fitted to the main concrete and rest on these pillows. Well said the boss with a puzzled look "I do'nt under stand how they could be so stupid to make these girders short." That afternoon was like going to see the three stooges. The people who had supplied the steel were there, the bloke who had drawn the plans was there, the gestapo were there. They glared at us, and they wanted a stooge because we were handy, but the old man woud'nt have any of it.
It was obvious he stuck up for us which was just as well, because a lot of sabotage was going on in our area and they could not find somebody to shoot. Well to cut a long story, one Jerry a bit brighter than the others pulled out a big leather bound tape measure had a quick squiz at the drawing and went round all the columns then started sceaming at the old man, I felt lousy. One of the gestapo glared at one of our blokes as he pushed passed him. He had plenty of room but it was obvious to us he wanted blood and he made a point of pushing him out of the way. We had had this kind of treatment before and there was no way one of us was going to fall for it, it fizzled out. To get round the discrepancy for which we were to blame, Jerry dug out one side of each column, got some big wooden levers, and ho heaved the columns to a new position. So the iron girders would now fit, then put the earth back behind the columbs and stomped it in with his foot. Somebody remarked "that's what is known as Jerry building".
About a quarter of a mile away was a factory and you would not beleive the security, towers, patrols, dogs. We were intrested in this factory because it was Daimler Benz. Because of the security, we decided they could carry on making what ever they wished.
Then one day a train went roaring past and some body shouted look at that, smoke was streaming from one wagon. Later that after noon I asked the guard "pingle pause", "ja ja", so as I walked over the line I picked up tear drops of white metal, and put them in my pocket. These I saved till I had enough to make useful things like spoons, cap badges, keys etc. To melt the metal I made a small blower. This was made from a dried milk tin and indeed was a blacksmith's forge in miniature. I could boil a dixie of water to make tea in a matter of mins. Cries of make me one, make me one. Soon the ablution block would have smoke pouring out of the windows and any one going in for wash or to shave would come out coughing and wiping eyes.
The first time we lit up Jerry came running he thought the place was on fire. We politely told him to "f*** off "we were making morning tea. There was a sergeant from a Welsh regiment, he resided across the passage with nine other bods. He got permission from the camp commandant to go up into the rec hall when every body got in from work and had had their nourishing soup. I must tell you about the soup here cos if I do'nt, I may forget.
It's no big deal but it gives you a clue how like an animal one can get to be once there is adversity. Each room had a dixie, the dixie is an oval shaped container on which there is a clamped lid. It had a handle to carry it with. It was big enough to hold soup for twenty people, so,since we were ten men to a room, the dixie would be half filled. So when the whistle blew to let us know it was trough time, you could if you wer'nt a dancer get knocked off your feet. The camp town races or dixie rush take your pick. Somebody leaning against his bed drawled "you'd thing Betty Grable was on the front lawn doing a strip the way some of these blokes carry on, well I mean what must Jerry think"? At first it was like that, then it got sneaky. It started with this cockny bloke, Thompson, he was always laid on his bunk reading a book. He had thick glasses, he was a dodger, (bludger) what I mean is everbody either washed windows when nec or swept the floor, he did nothing. I do'nt know where or how he got them but he seemed to have an unending supply of apples and when it was quiet all one would hear was suddenly waaaaaaark. If you were quick enough you would see him lowering his leg, scrruncch chomp -chmp-chomp chomp. I don't know if he enjoyed eating apples all day or if he was just trying to get the room to himself by filling it with foul gas with the hope of driving every one else to seek residence elswhere. Then one day we found out it could talk, "you blokes need a farver figur" he said looking round the room, and his eyes looked like two big gold fish bowls full of mucky water. “I bin thinkin, that soup, corse I ain't volenteerin tu fetch it, but if some body used their loaf us cud be be-er off than we are, nawa'meen. Na eres wat yu do, yer bloke wi dixie waits till there's a queue then he gets in line wi rest on em, savvy, cos them big vats is full o' soup and them idle buggers don't stir em tu much. Well, ah mean it only common sence if yer think abaht it, first there gets water offen the top. In the middle it gets thicker, but like ah sed use yer loaf an ger all that thick stuff off 'n bottom”. Some looked at each other and slowly nodded at this brilliant strategy. Somebody said quietly, "how sick do you have to be to get repatriated"?
But the greedy prevailed and this plan was implemented. The first time it worked and would you believe it, this Thompson put half of his stew into another tin topped up both tins with hot water then tried to flog off one for cigs. We ganged up on him and he moved to another hut where he continued with his greedy habits. Trouble was the whole thing back fired on every body who tried this tactic. You see it was not long before word got round so that now when the whistle blew chow time every body was hanging back. Well eventually the commandant saw what was happening and nipped it in the bud straight away. Without warning one day the whistle blew and every body hung back and we knew after twenty minutes the gate would be shut, so they started to drift up to collect the soup. About fifteen dixies were half filled, hat was the correct amount for each room but the last five dixie carriers where informed "sorry there is not enough soup left. You can have a bit of bread instead."
On the following Sunday the camp was searched, then there was a roll call, then the camp commandant addressed the assembly "I am dissapointed with you men, normally, I would begin a meeting with gentlemen, but today I cannot because you do'nt act like gentlemen. I will not tollerate this kind of behaviour. I am aware that some of you did not participate in this venture, but in Germany because you did not stop it, you are equally guilty. I will address you as gentlemen when you have earned the right to that title. Dismiss”. He had made his point and the atmosphere in the camp now was begining to be opppressive. "Any body coming for a swim"? "Piss off and drown yerself why do'nt yer". "Well I only asked, you don't have to get your knickers in a twist" and other such niceties were bandied round the room. And "Where's that book I lent you Chalky"? "Oi aint got yer soddin book, oi puts it on yer soddin flea pit din oi" an if yer can't look arter yer soddin gear don't epect me to, sod off". I wondered if in peace time perchance he was a gardener. Maybe not, the flowers would wilt, well it is said they do respond to music.
Getting back to the Welsh sergeant, he wanted to start a Welsh choir, and as I said before he had got the ok to use the recreation hall. So he gets all these budding Bing Crosby type's and you should have heard the noise that suddenly erupted from the rec hall. One bright bod remarked "ow can you ave a bleed'n Welsh choir wiv on'y one bleedin' Welsh man in it”. Most of the Jerry guards were on their way to the shelters when they realised it was not an air raid, perhaps somebody was being interviewed by the gestapo in the rec hall? Anyway they practiced, and as it turned out one of the better of the tunes was "Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more" to which a visiting padre remarked, "my goodness they really do sing that rather well don't you think"? Someone muttered "We'd sing it to Jerry if we thought it would do any good".
One day a group was selected, this was achieved by the Jerry camp gefrieter (corporal) morning roll call would be over and before we dismissed this corporal would ask if any body was familiar with building. "Yea, ah got a tent in me bed every mornin" and "we got a tunnel goin aht of ere" This banter was lost on the guard who looked and probably was bored to the long hairs that stuck out of his nose and ears. "That's it, he's deaf," somebody volenteered, "he aught to be in Madam Tussauds". "Why? 'e aint good lookin". "No but they could use the wax". "And ere cum de mummy". "Who said Boris Karloff was dead"? "He is, they just stuck im in a Jerry uniform and wound im up, soon as e winds down i'm gorn”. "Come on you's blokes leave him alone he can't help it”. "No, but the commandant can, he aught to bury him".
Finally he would collect about seven of us and we were told to parade in half an hour outside the guard room. This was always like mum taking you for a walk round the park, you know, you can tip up seats, throw stones at somebodies dog. It goes beserk trying to get at you, and when the owner of said poodle chuck's you a reprimand you return with Churchill's victory sign, but with the back of the hand facing the target, and with a slight up and down movement it means 'up yours'. If there is a bloke painting the fence you kick the tin of paint over and you are dead safe if you smile at him and say "sorry." You know the feeling "nil desperandum" and "never have sex on a saw table”, you might accidently catch the on off switch. And if it's a new acuaintance you could catch something else which in time will invariably result in the same thing, your voice which hitherto was baritone or bass will suddenly change to suprano and squeeky. Wet cement also used to draw us like a magnet, signatures would appear as if by magic, once our little group had passed. Things like Dik Ed wos ere 1940. and Up Yours Adolf. My favourite was, “Give it up you can't win”. Depends on who's reading it and to what you are referring. Sometimes a free French cross would appear during the night and someone would mutter as we passed "Vive la France". Then a bit later on you'd notice some one had re surfaced it, so we would line up and all ten of us would march across it.
Well we sauntered up to the guard room and sat on the grass, five minutes later this ghost about six foot tall comes out, actualy he looked taller because he was slim built, a better word would be gaunt. He was also very pale, and some one whispered "ere, he's ain't 'ere for long". He came out of the guard room rifle slung over his shoulder and what looked like railway warrants which he was stuffing into his tunic. "Aufstehen" he said looking round at us (stand up) we fell in, in three ranks, and just as quietly "rech's rum, we turned to the right, commando marsh". We marched out of the gate to the railway station got on the train and travelled about ten miles got off and walked half a mile down a lane and came to a field. Then a civvy in a truck that had a what looked like a steam boiler on one side arrived with tools. As soon as he stopped he opened the top of this boiler thing and stuffed a load of wood chips into it, wriggled a little lever at the bottom and a load of ash fell out, so the truck engine ran on this gas that came from the wood cooking in the top bit.
We did not have every thing our own way. If Jerry felt like it he could single out some body on one pretext or another, stick them against the wall and shoot them. In 1940 Jerry was top dog and he knew it and if you got a camp commandant who was a b*****as well as a nazi look out or better still keep your mouth shut and keep out of his way. The most dangerous times were just after an air raid. Sometimes the commandant would parade us when we would get a surprise visit from the gestapo, whispered questions would fly, the gestapo would walk down our ranks with a card in his hand and when he finally left it turned out they were looking for a French saboteur. Sometimes they hid in any camp they could get into. The only flaw from our point of view was if somebody matched the picture and the gestapo were in a bad mood they would'nt bother looking for somebody else, and we got another chore, burial detail. And it would be sunday so's not to interfere with work quota.
On monday we again went to this field down a lane, again this truck turned up. The civvy was a friendly sort of bloke and handing out a pair of shears to me and indicated he would like me to go round the field trimming all the hedges. “Today?" “Nien, nien, nein wocke wieliecht" and he chuckled (no no mabye a week). The others got tools like a sythe, a rake, some a ball of string to tie up all the clipped branches. We lost our selves in our work, it was a nice day and I got back ache. I lay on the grass hoping to relieve it the bloke came over and had a smile on his face, "Immer langsam"don't work so hard. The others were engrossed in their work. One was reaping and you could see he was not used to using a sythe, another was following him raking up the clover and hay. "Mind you don't cut your foot off". To which our whistful mate replied, "I should be that lucky". "You won't find too many angels in this lot, but the'yre not a bad crowd."
Then the guard got a name, one of our blokes yelled "ayup, where's Lofty?” We all looked round. Somebody said "well I'll be buggered there he is", and about quarter of a mile away sure enough was the guard carrying his dixie coming toward us. Behind him about half a mile away was a factory and factories have canteens and Lofty had gone all that way to get stew. Then we got another surprise the bloke digs out some old cracked small plates and bent spoons told us to sit. Lofty put the dixie on the grass and motioned with his hand to get stuck in, we did. When one of our blokes asked Lofty if he was having some, he gave us to understand he'd had a good lunch at the factory. We also found out he had been wounded two or three times, and had been in hospital a long time. He showed us a photo of his wife and two kids, he was proud of them.
One day as we came off the station we had to wait because Lofty was having an argument with the ticket collector. We had got through the barrier and were mabye some fifty yards away and we waited. At another gate were three Jerry civvy cops and one was demanding people to show their identidy cards "auswise cart bitte". Now we had with us a bloke called Smith and unfortunately he had this malady. He thought he was a tape recorder. Just as unfortunately having just recorded the cop he decided to replay it "auswice cart bitte" he squarked like a parrot. The cop nearest to him heard him and came charging over pulling out a pistol. This cop would perhaps be fifty years old greying hair, beer gut, about five eight or nine, and appeared to be in charge of the group. Now he was purple with rage and grabbing one of Smith's arms and twisting upwards he rammed the gun behind Smith's head where it joins the neck and screaming in German, it looked like he was trying to break the arm. Everybody, including civvy passengers stopped and waited for the bang. The ticket collector and Lofty turned to see what was happening and immediately Lofty came running. Lofty shouted to the cop who took no notice and as Smith involuntarily bent forward to puke, the pistol at the back of his head followed him down. At this point Lofty suddenly whipped the rifle off his shoulder and with a quick movement of the hand put one up the spout then stuck the muzzle in the cop's ear and quietly said "weg traiten". "Yetz" (walk away, now,) for about thirty seconds nobody moved then Lofty made a jabbing movement in the cop's ear with his gun muzzle and the cop suddenly got the message because now he had ear ache, well a bruised ear. In the back ground a train was hissing steam off, then the cop let go of Smith's arm and grabbed his ear and began to rub it. Smith had the common sense to stay still. The cop turned to Lofty still with the pistol in his hand. Lofty said something all the while keeping his rifle in the cop's face. The cop put the pistol in its holster then Lofty gave him a barrage of words among which were something to do with fighting at the front. The cop went bright red and seething with anger turning on his heel went over to his mates still massaging his ear and proceeded to give them a hard time, maybe because they did'nt back him up or mabye trying to save face. Only when the civvy cops were out of sight did Lofty put the safety catch on and put the rifle back on his shoulder. Then he wagged a finger at us and said "pass auf" (watch out). We suddenly slacked off with the mick taking, in so far as civvy cops were concerned. We did however sometime later resume our favourite pastime as we got bored. Like the time we were having a discussion on the railway platform, "Gentleman Jim never wore gloves. cam orf it" and “you should have seen that darkey bloke, cor e' could punch”. "Looks like some body's havin a punch up over yonder". “Where"? "That bird wiv a purple blouse, cor don't get too close she'll poke your eye out, looks like two little boys under a blanket havin a fight".
We got another issue of red cross parcels, one between two again, now after being on just enough food to do a certain amount of work, this extra food was not only better tasting but it caused, how does one say, well funny 'as in strange things began to happen. The first night about midnight there was this long rasping noise. Ten minutes went by and it sounded like a long, long, sigh with a full stop at the end. Then there was this smell which began to seep round the room "gawd some bugger's died its night we can't even open a window”. "I'm going to have a fag”. "Shit, you'll blow us all up". Quiet would return for a while then someone else decided to show off his musical talents, with a huge rrrrrrrrmph. Cries of "do you know Tiger rag" and “do you play requests”. "Well" said our hero, "the last parcel we got I played God save the queen, but half way frew t' chorus I shit mesen”. In the morning one bloke streched up in his bunk and said "jees I was chasing Betty Grable last night". "Did you catch her?" a bored voice queried. "Yea I was running on free legs". Another bloke complained he'd fell out of bed and cracked his shirt.
One could hear other curious noises at night. At one time I was sure we had a spy in our room. In the dark of the night I could hear some body was transmitting morse until I realised there were no dashes. I listened and sure enough there it was again, like a clock ticking tic tic tic tic tic then somebody snarled "I'm gonna kick that prick who's beatin' his dick then maybe we can get some sleep" and "aw put a sock in it", and “up yours". Finally peace would set in, then sniff snuffle sniff sniff "shit, f***off wiv yu dogs yu krout b******". And some body would kick the wooden wall of the barrack with his bare foot and in the quiet of the night it sounded like a military band was about to strike up, boom,boom,boom, "f***off an' tek yer flea ridden mongrels wit yer". "You might at least be polite and request them to desist and take their quadraped wormsacks some other place to crap”. A titter ran round the room, well half way round because by now some were dropping off. Then the saw hit a knot, well it sounded like it. Actualy it was a well aimed boot thudding against one blokes bunk,"shut yer snorin shit 'ed".
We were a happy band. Our little commando went hither and yon, doing this and doing that. Lofty wasn't a German guard any more he was one of us. The only difference was he slept in the Jerry barracks and was'nt locked in at night. The rifle he carried was an ornament, we would not even consider escape, one new bloke ventured a suggestion in that direction whereupon he was politely informed he would have great difficulty trying to wee without a willy "Oh,suddenly we are all pro German", he quipped. "Na mate, just pro Lofty" an' you'd do well ter mek yer mind up Lofty looks arter us, an' us looks arter 'im, an iff'n you can't see it ger off'n this bleedin' commando quick smart". Basically the answer was quiet simple, SURVIVAL. Lofty would go to the toilet and his rifle would be leaning against a tree, nobody would touch it. We had I think, mutual respect for each other. We could wait, we just woud'nt drop Lofty in it. We would wait and kill two birds with one escape so to speak.
Summer slipped into autumn and all the leaves turned to yellow and brown, blue skies turned to grey and one afternoon one of our blokes was sitting on a pile of leaves wiping his eyes". What's matter mate"? "Aw," came the reply "me bloody kid's goin't to be growd up when I gets home. He won't bloody know me". I think mabye what switched him on was the fact that snow flakes were falling and memories of Christmas were begining to surface, it was a time to be with family and your kids if you had any. Those that did'nt, had mum and dad. Also it was obvious Christmas would be here before it all ended. Fortunatly we had no fortune teller with us either, to tell us we would miss the next three. Then one saturday as we were dismissing at the guard room, having just got in from work, Lofty told us "morgan ich fahren zu hauser auf urlaub”, tomorrow I'm going home on leave. Immediatly there were cries of "how long for" and "good on yer Lofty" and at the back of your mind is that little niggle will we get him back? What is the next guard going to be like? Any way as soon as we got into our barrack room a suggestion was put forward and carried, we would all chip in something from our r.c. parcel so that Lofty and his family could have a good Christmas. A bloke called Howard went round and negotiated, well what he did was as he collected he might get a bar of palmolive soap, now you may think 'a bar of soap'? Well in Germany in WW II a bar of palmolive was worth the quivelent of $100 Aust today, a tin of coffee would be in the region of $1000 on the black market, so Howard would barter this for that and that for this, so that a bloke putting in a tin of coffee took out maybe two bars of soap and two blocks of chocolate as change so to speak. Well this worked out because we came up with a grand total of a tin of coffee, four bars of chocolate, three bars of palmolive, a tin of pipe tobacco and a fifty tin of Player's cigs. Then we got the inerp to go to the gate with the camp senior officer, our bloke and he requested to see the commandant. They were escorted to his office and the senior officer (our bloke)asked if we could give Lofty and his family this parcel, we had wrapped it up well. The commandant frowned (I think he was play acting) it is not customery for pow's to give presents to guards. “I only wish I could be so popular with my own men, however that is neither here nor there, of course you may, but, only because it will soon be Christmas." He asked his batman to fetch Lofty, "you may hand it to him personally", he said to our bloke. Lofty came in and our bloke handed him the parcel and said through the intrp" for your kids Lofty" have a good Chrismas if we don't meet again", that bloke had the wrong job he should have been a prophet.
The next day was sunday some blokes were doing their washing, others just lazing or appeared to be lazing around, in a pow camp you never know when the lid is going to blow off. However somebody walking round the wire suddenly piped up "there goes Lofty". There he was on the out side of the wire on the way to the station. Suddenly someone yelled "aufweidersehen Lofty" somebody else called "let's hear it for Lofty, fo-or he's a golly good fellow, he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fe-elow and so say all of us, hip,hip,ra hip,hip, ra hip,hip,ra Lofty turned and waved and held up his parcel, and a gruff voice said "bugger me, he's cryin". We drifted from the wire in ones and twos and soon there was just one bloke slowly strolling round the wire with an open book in his hand. It seemed like a long day.
Somebody shouted "hey there's a van at the gate" and "so what, it's bin before". "Yea, but I think it's a post van”. Suddenly the card game is abandoned and there is a rush to the window. Cries of “shit your right" and "wonder if she's sent me ciggies" and "you got a 'ope, some big fat slob of a gestapo bloke ull be sittin' back smokin' isell sisk, serve the b****** right 'n all, thievin' gits”. About an hour later our postie comes in to our barracks and shouts "mail up" and a voice at the back simpered "OOH happy memories". Another voice said "shit in it, an' listen for yu name". Quiet prevailed and the mail man who had been patiently waiting for the parry and thrust of wit to subside finally took the first letter from the bundle held in his hand "Bell" he cried, "where's ding dong"? "In the lew ah think, ahl tek it fr'im". "McCartney, ere, Farnsworth, over here old boy”. “Thank you”. “Death”. “I say old chum do you mind, but the name is De-Aath, thanks awfully”. “I say it looks like a bill, good lord it's from my tailor". Another voice piped "aint 'e the unlucky one." Then dipping into the bag again the postie brought out another fist full of letters. When these had been claimed, he brought out a parcel. Then another, until finally the bag was empty. Some disappointed bods picked up books, others just laid on their bunks and gazed at the bed boards supporting the bloke above. Another bloke was taking his disappointment out of the home made dart board. Finally every thing got back to normal. “Whose for a game of cards"? "Awe shove your cards". "Yea, one at a time". "Don' be like that, what did I do"? "Nuffink ahm just cheesed off". "Aint we all".
Then there was a bloke ashen faced at the door, "they just cut a bloke down in t' wash house". "Who"? "I dunno, I wen' in for a wash an' I seed these blokes roun' 'im, somebody said he'd gor a le'er, y'naw wun o' they dear John things”. "Well that's one way to escape". "Yea, but there's no future in it".
Monday morning "lose, aufstehen, mach shnell,siet zum arbiet, Monday morning", hurry, get up, quickly, time for work, we had our new guard. The commandant was full of his usual wit, "well gentlemen” he began, then you had a job to hear who was saying what because there was muttering in the ranks, like "all of a sudden we are gentlemen", and "cut the crap". Then the commandant "come, come, gentlemen" and cries of "love to" and “I did'nt know you cared". The commandant not being dirty minded was completly lost in this morass of words. Finally he stalked off into his office and banged shut the door". “Farkuenall", somebody shouted after him.
Charming we thought, now we've got one just the opposite. A small group started chanting "‘ere cum de turd, ere cum de turd”, as the guard approached and some one else chirped, "I fort Frankenstien ony made one monsta". He did, “we were wondering where you had got to". So they marched us down to the station and we got onto the train and we got off the train and waited for another one. That was the day I found out that I too could do someting stupid.
We were about twenty blokes on this commando, so if you could picture a railway station house and ajoining buildings with a platform on the other and a metal bridge joining the two platforms. Well we were on the platform having come over the bridge, and we were lazing about waiting for the train when in the far blue yonder I could see these two dots moving ever so slowly to my left, I whispered "aircraft", somebody said "what you whisperin' fer"? “Where"? “You o.k. mate"? I said "look at the top of that flag mast now come half way down it, and they are passing it------now. "Yea, I see em they're ME109's they're coming over the station and they are low. As they suddely came over the station house, where before they had not been heard, now with an air shattering roar, they passed over the station house. On impulse I shouted "ACTUNG SPITFIRE". I still wonder today how nobody was trampled to death. I also wondered what would have happened if our train had come just then, because most of the people on our side plaform were hiding on the side of the line under the platform overhang. A civvy cop came and had a go at us, but maybe because he was on his own, and we did not cringe, when he snarled at us he thought better of it. Any way the magically cleared platforms were soon humming with life again.
Then the train finally came we got on and travelled a few miles then got off, formed up and walked to these sand pits. There was grass on the top so it looked like an ordinary field or paddock but some one had dug down about twenty feet so there was this sand face for about a mile long and the bottom of the gully was about fifty yards wide. Close to the sand face was a set of narrow gauge lines. Sitting on these lines was a small steam engine attached to about ten steel tip up skips on wheels. The railway lines curled out of this field and dissapeared into the distance. The german civvy told us what to do, go to the buda(shed) pick up a shovel each, come back here and with two men to a wagon fill them with sand. This is a piece of cake some body scoffed, "I love playing with bucket and spade, bit like Blackpool." But as we had nearly filled one skip and were contemplating having a lay in the sun another little engine with ten skips came chuffing round the corner and as we all stopped to stare at it with cries of "fair crack of the whip" and “I want me cards” (employment cards necessarry in England to get a job). The boss holds them while you are working for him. The Jerry civvy starts shouting "lose, lose, arbiet, arbiet," come on work. And he pushed the nearest bloke to him towards the sand and made motions to dig. The guard who was sitting on the grass about fifty yards away was busy picking his teeth with a match and did'nt seem to be interested. The bloke who had been pushed just stood there so the civvy went to push him again at the same time mouthing "arbiet, arbiet" but he got the shock of his life when the bloke lifted the shovel like a double handed sword and snarled at the Jerry "the next f******step will be your last, "F***off you kraut b******or i'll do ya”. By this time the guards interest had been aroused and he ambled over and pointed the rifle at our bloke, "lose, arbiet". But I think our bloke had pulled the plug and he could not get it back in not without losing face. We were in it together so we stuck together and when one bloke said "posten" (gaurd) the guard looked at him and the bloke pointed to the guards rifle and held up four fingers then pointed to each of us in turn. The guard got the message, at most he could, if fast enough have shot four blokes but then he would have to reload and realising this he lowered the rifle, where upon one of our blokes snarled at the civvy "EnglnderKriegsgefangener Nicht Juden" (British pows not Jews) "piss off square 'ed".
It was a stalemate until midmorning when a natty dressed civvy came with another one who could translate, more or less. He got the gist of the situation and explained at great length to the top man, who in turn had a lot of heated words with the civvy, who had started it all.
So we thrashed out the details, “no we were not going to load two trains on the trot we needed a rest in between", well how long a rest"? "How about the rest of the day "? "Let's be serious gentlemen". "There's that word again". “OK how about one train per hour", it was bandied back and forth then the civvy gent realised it was getting past lunch time and no more wagons had been filled. Also the commando at the other end would be idle, so without more ado he agreed to our terms and we went back to work. But the crafty sod moved starting time up one hour so we retaliated by going slow.
Well we had agreed to one skip per hour, that's four in the morning and four in the afternoon total eight. But now he alters the start time an hour, that means six extra loads per week. Not on. So we parried by going slow, so now he is getting five a day six if he's lucky. The guard meanwhile is there only to see no one escapes. He wants no part of what's going on and stresses this in no uncertain terms when the civvy appeals to him to make us work faster. They threatened to shoot some of us and one of our barrack room lawers drawled "I thought Germans were intelligent, obviously I was wrong, how stupid can you get, the more you shoot the less work gets done". Heads were nodded so this argument was valid. So they tried another angle, let's make them work sundays, so we agreed. There were smiles all round. Until our bloke pointed out that in England when a holiday is worked you got paid double time or two days in lue thereof. "Bat ve air not in England" to which our man replied "yea, well that makes it worse still don't it cos normally we would get workin away from 'ome allowance I think it's called 'ardship money, I think I'm right in sayin that, aint I Chalky". Chalky nodded. "Bat ve air at var". To which our bloke replied "I know that, you know that". But he said "try telling it to our shop steward" by now the Jerry is slowly edging round the twist, purple in the face now he throws up his arms, "vat ist a shop stevart. Ve don hev shop stevart in chormany". Quick as a flash someone said "no mate you got some thin' a lot bleedin' worse, you got bleedin' 'itler. Personally I'd raa'ver 'ave bleedin' foul pest or colorado bleedin beetle, f*** 'itler, and like a motley mob of monks the others intoned "aaaaammen" "f*** 'itler". Somebody with compassion held out a handkerchief, "ere mate, you keep it, you might need it agin".
This bickering was finally resolved when the powers that be understood they had a time bomb waiting to go off, and only needed the right jolt. So they finally accepted a proposal set by our blokes who had worked it out, and it worked like a charm. They decided and Jerry accepted eight wagons a day. We queeried even if we fill them all by three o clock, they laughed "ya, ya, "you cen fill zem by midday ent go home". So we did, and some days they were filled by midday. And during summer it was nice just lounging all afternoon by the pool. By the way, the system of work proposed by us, and accepted so readily by the Bosch was called 'pensum arbiet. In English it is known as peacework (a quota). That really got up Jerry's nose and when the bloke in the posh suit came to see the commandant he was told to get lost, a bargain is a bargain he was politely informed.
I was shovelling like mad one day, we had bets on whose skip could be filled the quickest, when I saw lots of pretty lights flickering and woke up in hospital where the doc said "you have a damaged", I can't remember what he called it but it is the large bone at the base of the neck between the shoulders. I said I knew about it from the German doctor at Luckenwald. Anyway after a few days I was moved to my own bunk and I laid there for about another six days. Have you ever noticed, to move you have to move your head first, and since I could not lift my head off the pillow I was'nt going anywhere. As it got better I could turn on my side and one day I heard somebody suggesting we stir up the guard on the wire. It must have been sunday, other wise everybody would have been at work. Now because I could not lift my head and could only hear something was afoot, I was quiet surprised when I looked through the window and saw two arabs with prayer mats saunter past the guard who was busy picking his nose, rolling the proceeds into a ball, inspecting it closely then with a flick of his thumb tried to smash the nearest window with it. The guard suddenly stopped in mid pick and with half of his middle finger poked somewhere behind his left eye, he turned like a slow motion ballet dancer to follow these two mystical figures. I heard some body say "we should have had a third bloke with them, the guard would probably have run into that wood and come back with a christmas tree". The two dressed as arabs got to the end of the barracks spread their mats and pretended to pray. Having done that they came back and as they passed the guard the guard said some thing to them. They both bowed and scraped chanting in Arabic "anna musharif effendi", I don't under stand sir and run like hell down the side of the barracks. When they came into the room they were gasping and laughing. Older blokes took a dim view "you are going to bait the guards once too often", but smiled.
There was a iron manhole cover in the vegy patch. I noticed it one day when I went for a swim. I was on my own, my neck was a lot better, and the doc said, make the most of the rest of the week. If the Jerry doctor makes a suprise visit I could be in hot water if you are not sick. I said "don't worry about it doc, come monday I'll be back on the sand detail". “No" said doc "I talked to the commandant about your neck, and it was his suggestion you go to the other commando, unloading the skips. I’m given to understand it is the less arduous task." Anyhow the next monday broke the monotony. I joined these nine blokes and now the unit was ten strong. Soon arriving at this new place I noticed the Jerry foreman, "Wot's that"? I asked. “What’s what" said a bloke nearby". “That" I replied pointing to this, what I thought was a life sized cardboard cut out of one of the three stooges in a golfers outfit. "Oh him, he's Polish". “What Cherry Blossom or French"? “No, you clot, he's from Poland". I knew a woman who had a wooden baby. "Really"? “Yea, the father was a Pole"
Back to this Pole, he was about five two, thick set. Well definitely thick, beady eyes, he wore a flat cap, looked like somebody had beaten his head in with a plank, a Stewart tartan shirt, olive green tie with a stick pin which looked like a six inch nail with a golf ball glued to it. Over this opulant display of threads, he was wearing a good imitation of a Canadian lumberjack's jacket. His legs which looked like they had been ripped off a billiard table were adorned by plus fours, brown plus fours, knitted socks up to the knees and brown highly polished square toed shoes. I wondered if when he takes his shoes of at night, did he have square toes. He also had a hanky sticking out of his top pocket and it reeked of ashes of roses. I thought, my god if he drops his hand at the wrist with this mob looking on he's a dead duck or some thing similar, and in my minds eye I could see what looked like a rugby scrum with the Pole as the ball. I did'nt like him at first sight, the first thing that came to mind was we are in this war because of Poland and here we have a Pole free as a bird working for the Germans. "Ere you 'erd that sayin', up the pole. Well it'll mean 'im if he starts any funny stuff wiv us." I agreed. The full skips would come in along the narrow guage railway and stop just short of the road, then we would tip them up and all the sand would fall out. When the train had gone we would level the sand.
One of our blokes had been standing in the wrong place when somebody pulled the lever to tip the sand. Somebody yelled quick grab a shovel, all we could see were two legs sticking out from under this upturned tub. Two bods got either side of the tub could'nt move it. Cries of "we're going to be too late". Shouts of “empty the tub". Two blokes with shovels were going bersek, the sand was fly'ing out of the uprurned tub. Some others were ty'ing to remove the sand off the trapped blokes legs. See if you can clear the sand for him to breath", and "I can't get far enough under, the bloody wheel's in the way, no,no, don't move the wagon till I see where his head is, right get hold of the tub now and lift”. By now the two bods try'ing to lift had been joined by two more and with an enormous shout of heave the tub screeched upright. We got him clear of the sand and cleaned him off. Somebody checked to see if anything was broken, part of his scalp was torn back, and he said he did'nt feel very well. He spent the next week in hosptal. It also suddenly dawned on us that here there were no safety rules, no body to appeal to. Well there was always the camp commandant and he was always happy to see us so happy in our work. When some thing like this happened suddenly he was stone deaf, or we had leprosy. Anyway we soldiered on to coin a phrase .
"lose,aufshtehen,come mien herren,lose,lose siet zum appell". "hurry, get up, come gentlemen, hurry, hurry, time for roll call". "F**off it's Sunday, ya, ya, richtig es ist suntag, lose rouse mit eur". So we fell in for roll call. The commandant came out of his office with his usual jaunty swagger, “Gentlemen, I am touched by your enthusiasm to impress me with your regal presence, I am indeed honoured to have you as my guests, you slouch up here like a lot af tramps and have the audacity to call your self soldiers, all I can see are a lot of unshaven louts”. "Tell you what commandant, you come wiv' us on monday and work along wiv us, instead of sittin' in that office all day playin' wiv' yer pet ferrit, an see ow you feels firs' thin' of a mornin'. All the sentries reported all present and correct and when this part of the proceedings was done the order "dick smith" (nothing to do with today's electronics) (dismiss) was usually given. But today the commandant just stood there and did not move. The guards just stood still, and gradually our blokes stopped telling jokes or arguing until everything was so still it was eerie. You could have heard a pin drop.
The commandant quietly said "gentlemen we have our differences, but can we put them aside just for one day, because of your esteem for' --------'-(I can't remember the name he said, but we knew him as Lofty), sadly I have to inform you that he died in his bed in his sleep, due to wounds, he leaves a wife and two children”. The brit senior officer turned to the parade and said "when called to attension there will be absolute silence and no one will move until you get the order to stand at ease, we will now pay our respects to a gentleman, P'RAAADE SHAN". For two minutes we stood there. When told to stand at ease the commandant said "gentlemen”, and there was a long pause as his eyes scanned the parade, “what can I say”. He turned and swiftly strode away. I think from that day on he had a dent in his armour. We were dicksmithed (dissmissed) and the blokes wandered quietly back to their barracks. That was a funny Sunday. It seemed an extra long day. Nobody went to the pond. Nobody wanted to go weeding in the vegy patch, I wanted to, but if I had I would have stuck out like a sore thumb.
I was interested in that iron man hole cover, how far up did the water come. I had by this time worked out that it had nothing to do with the sewage, so it could only be connected with the pool. Now if some body could get under that iron lid ? the only way to do that would be from the pool. So the following sunday I went for a swim and for a lot of sundays after that, until one day this grill of thick wire that was embedded in the concrete finally fell out becuase of my continual picking at it with nails scavenged from the wood work of our barracks. I must have worn down three nails at least. I let it fall into all the other rubbish on the floor of the pool. Then I returned to the barrack room. Soon we were having a confab about the iron lid. Lets leave it for a while and see if the grating is repaired, “good idea”. Protests like "but it does'nt go any where", to which I would reply "nobody is twisting your arm, but when I'm sitting in Lyon's cafe stuffing myself with steak and cream buns I'll spare a thought for you sitting here sipping your soup, you get nothing without effort”.
We were standing on the platform waiting as usual for the train, minding our own buisness, when this Jerry civvy comes onto the platform, "aiyup, bait time". This was the signal to take the mick, of course every body was up to it we had all noticed this civvy. But when bait is heard it's like waving a salmon the size of a marlin in front of your average angler. We waited till he got just passed the middle of us and we sprang to attention parroting "hiel Hitler" and flung up our arms. The response was immediate "hiel hitler and up went the arm”. Suddenly he realised who we were and his face darkened with anger. "Farfluchter englander kriegsgefangener" he snarled (cursed english prisoners of war). To which someone replied "up yours kraut". The guards did'nt bother us too much. We kept them sweet with a little bit of chocolate, the odd ciggy. I noticed some red painted fire buckets on the platform, if I had'nt I would have fallen over them. I think Jerry thought Tom Barker's coming to day let's trip him up. Well I watched this Jerry come through the barrier. He looked like he'd just stepped out of Harrods of London, Homberg hat striped trousers, black jacket, furled umberella, natty tie, spats, and of course a brief case. Under the hat brim these two black beads were going like the winscreen wipers on a car surveying all and sundry. He backs up to one of these fire buckets and casually pulls out a thin cheroot which he lit and turning round puts the match into the sand in the fire bucket. While doing a quick imitation of him, I'm watching a tennis match routine. He runs his fingers through the sand and brings out a tin af coffee, which like a flash disappears into his pocket. So this is the middle man I thought. Come to think of it he did look a bit like Capone. On another occasion I noticed this scruffy looking bloke sitting on a seat, looked like he was waiting for a train. Now and again he would take his hand from his pocket and there was what appeared to be a note. Suddenly he spotted a civvy copper come onto the platform and he was gone, I thought mabye one of our blokes who had escaped from another camp and needed help. Two days later we heard one of the French underground had been caught and shot by the gestapo near the station where we got on the train to go to work.
It was'nt long before the Polish foreman was in trouble. When a train has been and the sand is heaped up in a row we would level it off by shovelling it over the edge of the now long heap.
The idea was to have a wedge of sand each side of the road then stick a bridge over it. Neat, now you had over and under roads, no need for traffic sigs etc, and it cut accidents. But that was in the future ten years from now a lot can happen in one year let alone ten. Usally, if it rained we would get under a tree for shelter. The Pole didn’t mind this, but if there was a train to be unloaded he led us to understand we could shelter when we had emptied the train, and he would sit in his little wooden hut eating a sandwich and drinking erzats coffee. "That bloke is over due for a lesson on how to behave when he has company, and I know just the thing to bring him down a peg". So we had another of those "sss, yea, an'ssss o.k. lets do it” . So the next time we did the "ho rook" (all together heave) routine on the line which by now was one story high, we gave it one more as soon as his back was turned. Then when the next train of sand arrived the bank of sand under it would slide and the complete train would roll over and down the enbankment. The train driver had to jump for it. When it happened the pole was stunned. He screamed at the train driver who returned it with interest and pointed out he only drove the train you (the Pole) are in charge of this bit of line. The pole turned to the guard for support, and the guard shrugged and walked away muttering. We clapped the guard, the pole grabbed a shovel and we clapped and shouted "bravo". Boiling with rage the Pole smashed the shovel across the end of a truck. "Take that man's name segeant, barrack room damages" somebody called out. So we got a day off because they had to bring in some heavy lifting gear to restore the train to the line. They also had to replace some of the line because it was too badly twisted to use. About a month later one of our blokes said "who puts the grease in the wheel box on these trucks". Another bod said, "when they are waiting up yonder to be filled, there is this greaser, who gives em a squirt now and agin so to speak". "I wonder if we could get some of it"? was the query. "Gawd, you don't need 'im, help yerself, just get a spoon and take some out of each wagon, ten wagons that's twenty wheels. What d'ye want with all that grease"? "Well, you know, that end near the road, if we were to put grease on the track only where the engine is, ‘cos the trucks have no brakes, only the engine has an' when he goes to stop he's going to keep going”.
The idea was voted not on, there could be kids walking by, it's like setting a bomb, once set you have no further control of it, also it smacked too much of sabotage for which you are immediately shot and we could not blame it on the Pole. The last one clinched it, so the idea was given the boot. We did however tip another train over the side and the Pole got the blame again, so they axed him. The next bloke was an old Jerry, some bod remarked "God they are scraping the bottom of the barrel". God made no reply.
We had finished work for another day and got the train back to camp. We marched up the road and into the gate, halted, tuned left and waited to be counted. Usually a guard comes out of the guard room and counts us and goes back into the guard room. But today,just because I have a torpedo shaped loaf of bread under my tunic two guards come out. While one is counting, the other is busy searching all the blokes. Of course when he gets to me and he runs his hands over my tunic it is obvious I have some thig hidden there. "Was haben sie da unten"? (what have you under your jacket?), and being not too bright I replied "es ist eine u boot" (it is a submarine). The guard smiled "ach so sie sind ien frisches yunger was"? (Oh so you are a clever boy what?). Personally I think "So, your a smart arse?" would fit better. Any way the two of them escorted me to the guard room where a bloke was trying to tattoo 'Brits give me the shits' on his left fore arm while trying to drown his sorrows in a bottle of shnapps. The three had a confab and suddenly I was grabbed both my arms were pinned on the table and in two seconds flat I had Stalaglll D on my right forearm. Then I think the snapps began to work overtime, he had three goes at putting 12244 on my left arm. I lost the bread. I reported the incident. The lost bread I knew we could do nothing about, but the tattooing was another matter. But our bloke pointed out it had happened because the commandant was away for a few days, if I wanted to push this issue it could make the guards turn nasty, then everybody would catch the flack on all commando's. Besides you can get it rubbed off when you get home. I had to be content with that. On my way to my barrack I heard the pipes being played. It was Smithy one of our pipers and as he walked up and down slowly in the confines of the wash house. His eyes were streaming and he was playing a lament, Fingals Weeping, A tribute to the fallen. I came out straight away to give him privacy.
Sunday came and I gave the iron lid some thought. So to cover my activities in that direction I enlisted the aid of some mates and we decided to pool bash for a hour or so whilst the others were having a swim, I was having a butcher's along the tube that led to the iron lid. I had already established the hieght of water under the lid so I knew there was room to breath. I only went in a couple of yards then backed out and got out of the pool. I wasn’t sure if I got in I could turn round to get back because I could not use the lid in day time, I would be spotted immediately. I would lay on my bunk pondering all angles to the iron lid. In frustration one sunday I got four blokes to go with me to the pond. Leaving it as late as we dared, we all dived in together and while the others got out, I swam under to the tube and crawled along until I could see iron rungs going up to the lid. I thought well that's a bonus at least there is something to stand on, so climbing up the rungs I could finally see the sky through the key holes in the lid. It seemed an eternity till dark, I heard the middle wire guard go by and somebody in the Jerry block started a gramaphone playing. Then it started to rain and I suddenly realised I was cold. The skin on my hands was all wrinkled and the water started to creep up my neck because the pool level was rising due to the rain. Outside it was pitch black and I pushed at the lid to lift it. By now I was having to angle my head to breath. The lid was stuck and I was beginning to wish I was in my bunk. Putting the back of my hand on my head I lunged upward at the lid and it lifted. I crawled out and put the lid back. At least the rain was warmer than the water I had just left. I crawled along in the darkened row of vegies back to the pool and uncovered my clothes and put them on, then I got into the pool and washed off most of the mud. Then I got in the shelter of the jerry block and waited to let the water run off, while there the work party from the cookhouse walked by so I joined them and walked past the guard on the middle wire into my own block. Cries of "bugger me it's Doggy, we fought yow was long gone", when I walked in. To which I replied "well some of you were right, it does't go any where”, and noticed one or two smug faeces. I would like to point out here that I was unaware that a party would be returning from the cook house at that particular time when I joined them. Sometimes even now, I muse “how lucky can you get". It also made me become more wary, to us it seemed a prank, an adventure, call it what you will. But to Jerry it was a very serious war. Incidentally a few days later I got this cold and it stuck to me like glue for about three weeks it seemed, then I got sinus trouble and I put it all down to the cold water in the pipe.
Sunday morning roll call the camp feldwebel (sergeant) asked "are there any people here who have knowledge of farm work? Any one interested report here tomorrow morning, it does not matter if you are working elsewhere we will find some one to replace you”. So on monday morning about twenty of us were taken to the railway station and after maybe fourty miles we got off and walked to this village, the first old bloke we saw the guard asked him directions. The old Jerry asked "wer sind die auslander" (who are the foreiners), to which the guard replied "Englander". The old bloke said "mach's nichts" (does'nt matter) and pointed to a house on the corner of a lane.
Now this house had a high wall with broken glass set in concrete on top and it streched to the next building on the left. To the right was what looked like a long barn and from the back of that to the next tall building was another wall also covered in broken glass. The barn type building had barbed wire criss crossed across the windows and I counted four big windows, the far one was smaller and narrow. I also noted the small window had no barbed wire over it. In the left wall where two big gates which when opened and could admit two horses and a farm wagon. This gate we were marched through and we right turned and walked into this big barn. On entering the barn we found near the door, but more to the center of the room was big pot bellied stove, on the left was what looked like a stage, so I thought maybe it was used as a theatre for the entire village 'cum Michaelmas' or when ever there was a special event.
On the floor were sacks of straw and the guard pointed to these and "schlafen", so we gathered these were our new beds. The guard then walked through the barn and turning to the right went into a passage way that led to the house. At this stage I was looking at the windows from the inside looking out and all the windows facing the lane had barbed wire nailed on but the ones facing into the farmyard had none. Well it was pretty obvious with broken glass on the wall top, we would not be going out that way. To start with we would need a ladder to get up the wall and having got to the top you could break a leg jumping down not counting the sharp glass to cross.
Finally the guard came back with blankets and gave us one each. When we pointed out it was cold in this big old barn he pointed to the stove and shrugged. We got settled in and wondered what was going to happen next. We got a fire going in the stove and when it got going it changed everything. Soon the pot belly started to glow a dull red and even at three yards away you could feel the warmth from it. This was not so bad after all. Then the guard brought in a dixie full of stew along with tin plates and spoons and a slice of bread each and it was'nt long before we were lounging on these sacks of straw. You had to get used to them or you would just roll off them. After jumping up and down on them once or twice then turn them over and doing the same to that side they finally capitulated and allowed you to lay there without chucking you off. The only trouble was because the sacks were only so long you had to roll up another empty sack to use as a pillow, trouble with this was, if you moved too much during the night, the straw sack parted company with your pillow sack and you could wake up with a stiff neck. To overcome this we would tie string round both ends of the pillow and sew it through the top of the straw sack and it solved the problem. We did'nt know it at the time but this was only the first problem we were to encounter on this job.
Another was washing our clothes. To do this meant you had to strip, wrap a drying cloth or rag or newspaper wrapped round you held in check by a bit of string. Then wash your clothes and put them near the stove to dry. Now in a pow camp there is no problem because there are no civilians, but here there are windows all over the place and any one coming in from the house, well you never can tell when it might just not be the guard. I could just imagine a little old lady not knowing we were there and hearing us being noisy thinking perhaps there was a concert for the village going on and she was missing out, coming in and suddenly seeing us all naked and having a heart attack. Sabotage, und shoot the mongrels, poor defenceless little old lady, Poland had lots of little old ladies, und men, und kids, und so on.
Well the first day, up at seven, wash under the pump, brrr the water was freezing but it did get the circulation going. Then fall in and march to this small farm about a mile away from the village. There we were taken by this French bloke to a field where there were three very long heaps of what looked like straw and dirt mixed. I recognised it for what it was, a potato pie, this is where the potatoes are stored when they are first dug up and collected. They are put in these long heaps the covered over with straw, the earth is thrown on to stop the wind blowing the straw away, also it stops the frost in winter time from damaging the spuds. By the way did you know Hitler came from Ireland originally, he was called Spud Murhpy then he moved to Germany and changed his name to Dick Tater. Then monsewer le Frog took us to this what looked like a mangle, but with a long drum made of meshed wire actually it was a potatoe riddler. Potatoes are loaded into one end and they are graded simply by turning the handle causing the drum to go round. The potatoes then tumble round and down the tube, small ones drop through the mesh, bigger ones fall through further down and the largest make it out of the end and into sacks. The smaller ones are usualy saved as pig feed, the next size are saved for self use on the farm and the biggest go to market. In winter everything is covered with rime so the last thing you would want to do is grab that handle with bare hands, so out of some sacking we made mittens. That solved that problem then the Frog had a go at us for cutting up sacks. We told him "ok, you turn the handle with no mittens". As he wandered off muttering to himself a new phrase was invented by one of our more educated colleagues "F***off mierd kopf." Now if you look at that, it is interesting to note there are in fact four languages involved in this collage of words, there is Fowl language, English, French, and German. In essence what we have is a masterpiece which when translated into one language is roughly F***off shit head.
If it was a nice day, well every day is a nice day, some are just better than others. If the sun is shining and you can look around, maybe there are some wild flowers like violets in the hedge bottoms or crocus on the bank, sometimes you can see buds pushing up through the snow. Keep winding the handle round and round and round and round and round, and thinking why does somebody have to spoil it. All these pretty flowers and someone comes along and pulls them up just to stick in a jug. Leave them where they are, then the next person who comes by can also enjoy the view. Stuff it, let somebody else have a go "here Dicko, you have go". "Not me". "No, nor ‘im". "Only time e's in'erestid is if it goes up an' dahn”. So somebody else would take a turn and I would take a turn at sewing the now full sacks of potatoes, but first they had to be weighed. Yes, you guessed it, before you can get any work done most blokes wanted to know how much they weighed, well maybe it was because the scales were a bit like a seesaw it brought back marital or child hood memories. “It's all in the mind”, a big bloke got on and we had to change the weights round. He was heavier built than most and he weighed just over twelve stone, "cor stone the crows" he growled. "I was fifteen stone before these b****** got me”. Somebody else chimed in with "ow abaht stonin' some more crows en ap'n us cud ave for'n'twenny black birds baked in a pie, hu, hu, hu," and ark at ‘im "bleedin' potty loriette o' stalag tree'o'bleedin' tree".
I also had lost weight, it did not bother me too much because I never was a fanatic in that direction. The next day it rained so we did quite a bit of sheltering in the wagon shed, and you know what they say about idle hands. Well that's when you start hatching plots. "Doggy you gor a brain loik a can o' worms". "Ah mean w'ere do's yer ger all these ideas" (because I would put forward different formulae) for escaping. Some one suggested I had a one track mind and I agreed. I said "the track starts here and ends at our front door back home". "If you keep your eyes and ears open and make mental notes, you also can have a brain like a can of worms”. To which our resident wit replied "yea, ba in 'is case 'e don't 'ave a can opener, do ee". I would catch some ones eye and they would just smile and slowly shake the head and we would continue working. They wer'nt a bad mob of blokes, about four o'clock we would pack up for the night this entailed covering over the pie so the frost during the night would be kept at bay. I think everyone had one potatoe in his pocket and I think the guard knew we had but he said nothing. So when we got back to our barn cum billet, since we got stew when we got in we decided to roast them by the fire for supper. The guard even brought in some salt and wagging a finger said "sie can nicht mair wie eine bringen" (Don't bring back more than one) in other words don't get greedy and spoil it. So we left it at that and every body was happy.
The odd egg was pilfered straight from the horses mouth, so to speak, so it would be made into an omlette and four blokes got to share it. Next time another four would share it and so on. One bloke really smacked his lips and said "I heard abaht this bloke who went into a cafe and the waitress said "we have a special treat today". "Oh yea, I said tryin' ta be perlite". "Yes”, she said, “there is some nice tongue, or calf cheek". "No fanks" I said, well I did'nt fancy any fing out of an animals mouf' so she brings me these two boiled eggs, luvly they was too. "We were going though this potatoe pie like nobodies business and we had stacked up quite a sizeable pile all in bags and weighed ready for market. Then these two Frogs would come with a wagon and ox, load them and take them away. I noticed that these two Frenchmen came every day to work on bicycles which were leaned up against the wall. At about quarter to four they would leave on their bikes, this did not mean anything to me at the time, but later on I also noticed that on a thursday night they must stay over for the night, because normaly we get to workin in the morning and they usualy turn up at about half an hour later. But friday morning they were already there, so they maybe get paid thursday and stay to play cards with the farmer. Well I put this info in a pigeon hole as it were and carried on with the good work.
We did not work on sundays so we would wash our clothes out. I was busy washing my shirt and the guard came out and watched me with an amused look on his face. Suddenly he said to me "lieber Gott warum so feil seife" (dear God why do you use so much soap). He was'nt a bad bloke, in fact a bit later on he stopped carrying his rifle round and left it in his room, presumably locked up, he did not know us that well I think. Well, it was sunday and I had washed my clothes so I wandered inside. Most of the other blokes were out side in the farm yard and the guard was out there with them. It was a good day to wash clothes, warm wind nice sunshine. There was a bloke from the Black Watch inside and quick as a flash I checked the guards position and whispered to jock “keep your eye on the guard”. "Yea right, what's on" he whispered back. "I don't know yet but I've got a feeling there's no wire on that little window. "Och they would'ny be that stupid" he said "would they"? I said I thought the little window would have to be where the end of the stage was, so again I asked him to watch the guard, "if he stands up start whistling" I said. "Ok", said jock "watch yerrsel". I climbed onto the stage and to the left was a door. I opened it and it was a small dressing room with a few clothes on a peg. I nipped quietly over to the opposite door opened it and lo and behold there was the window. I tried it and it opened without a sound and closing it quickly I closed the door and got off the stage then walked to the door. The guard was sitting in the yard cleaning under his nails with a match stick and enjoying the sunshine meanwhile my heart was thumping away because suddenly a plan was taking shape, the can of worms was working overtime. I got the jock bloke in a corner and we had a confab. I told him my idea and he thought it couldn’t lose.
Actually you did'nt have to be a genius to think up this idea, it was mostly common sense, but jock thought it could work and I thought it would work. It was two to nothing so the vote was carried and we would start the ball rolling straight away. Quite simply, the idea was that since Jerry had zones, if we could get out of our zone quietly at night hide up during the day, keep to the country away from roads, walk in the shadows of hedges so you are not seen in the moon light, live off the land then no one could give you away. Once out of the area it was that simple, and to get out of our of the area in one night, two bikes would be a great help. With a bit of luck we could contact the underground and go from there. So we arranged it for next week. In the meantime we dried bread and sewed it into our overcoats, fresh vegies we could get from farms we passed by, and then we were like two kids waiting for christmas.
The guard would retire to his room once we got in from work, maybe to have a wash up. Then about half an hour would go by. He would appear with the stew or soup. The menu was varied by the way, one night we would have potatoe stew, the next night it would be potatoe soup, the next night it would be soup with potatoes in it. Then for a change we would have boiled potatoes with their jackets on, and soon blokes were wandering around like zombies muttering, "the Ayes have it". Sunday night you got a change, a bowl of sourkraut (cabbage boiled in vinegar). One night we got lentils. All I could see were bed bugs, because they look like bed bugs, sometimes your mind plays tricks and you are so convinced, they seem to move, so there is no way am I going to eat these.
The guard would sit by the pot bellied stove all evening. Sometimes when he felt like it, he would ask one of our blokes to sit for him. He would sketch their portrait, and he was good. When it appeared everyone was down for the night, he would put out the light and retire to his quarters. The silence would be broken only by a snore, or a sound like somebody had let go of the balloon before tying some string on it. Sometimes to ease the tension somebody would say in the quiet dark "I don't believe it", and a weary voice would query, "oh, what don't you believe?" "I'm getting fat" came the reply. "Nor on spuds yu aint" and "tek yer 'and offenit and go ter sleep". Another voice volenteered "maybe yow is pregnant". "Yu'll both be f****** pregnant if yu don shit in it an go to sleep".
Next morning it was over cast but not raining, mabye a bit cold. Coming out of that warm barn into the cold morning air, combined with a wash in the icy water from the pump served to wake us up. Now a brisk walk would get the red corpuscles racing round your system. Then some twit started, "left, left, I ad a good job but I left," and when he shut up some body else decided to imitate RSM Britain of the Welsh guards of world renown ie the loudest voice in the British army, "eft ite, eft ite, eft ite eft,cor, you are a slovenly lot what are you"? And some blokes would yell "were a slovenly lot sarn major" and everybody would shout "never seen anything like it in all me loife". The guard would have a puzzled smile and maybe he could be forgiven for thinking we were cracking up, well it let steam off.
I watched out for our friendly Froggies and they arrived about a quarter hour after we got to work. They leaned their trusty iron steeds against a shed and went into the house. "I'll bet they are having bacon and eggs, hot buttered rolls and". "And you'll get a hot roll in a minute minus the butter if you don't shut up about grub" somebody snarled. About half an hour later le Frog and his offsider came sauntering out and went into a shed where there was some farm machinery. We could hear a lot of banging and knocking. Somebody suggested they ought to put a red light up outside "well, it sounds like a Frog knockin' shop, it may as well look like one". Another voice said "yea put a sign up an' call it The Plough Inn" or “The Knotted Pine”. To which a mournful voice "I'm pinin' ter get knotted”, another replied "yea, well don't come near me, oi got me own problems don' oi”.
The two French blokes had nothing to do with us. They were not unsociable but they kept mostly to themselves. If they passed us we got "bonsoir" or "parlay vous Francais" or similar. Apart from that they may as well have been on the moon. About a quarter to four they got on their bikes and pedalled off. Then at four or a little after it, did'nt matter really, we were not going anywhere special, we would set off for the barn. It was always nice to sit on the straw and relax. I was next to the Black Watch bloke, never did get his name, somebody got the stove going and it was'nt long before the room was warmer.
I told jock that as soon as the guard went to bed I would give him ten minutes to settle down then I was going to snoop behind the two big curtains that covered the stage front. I had given some thought to these windows and the only thing that jelled was since one looked in to the farm yard, it was pointless going through that one. The other one had been missed or the other answer was since the curtains were drawn no one saw them at all. Either way, I was going to look at the one that looked onto the lane. Some blokes played cards and another group told dirty jokes. Some wanted only to lay there and enjoy the moment, mabye thinking about family or girl friend. Finally all was quiet and the guard was sitting by the stove. I was wide awake, heart going like a trip hammer. Finally the guard streched got up and went down the passage. I waited listening and I thought I heard a bed creak, so very quietly I got up and got to the stage and climbed up and slipped through the curtains. That was good because now if the guard came out anyway he could not see me if I kept still. Jock was going to cough violently should the guard come in. I had a look round this small dressing room, there was a top hat, tails, a scarf, some coloured silks in a drawer and hanging from a peg a brightly coloured stick with a star on top, some kids magic wand. It crossed my mind so I grasped it tight and wished I was home, there was no puff of smoke and nothing changed so I thought "bugger the fairies, they are never around when you need them". So I had a look at the window and sure enough there was no wire on it, not only that I slid the catch and the window slid open upwards silently, closing it without a sound I got back behind the curtains and looked up the passage. Now if Jerry stays put tilI get to my bed, I slipped silently through the curtains and off the stage, then moved to the stove, because it accurred to me if Jerry suddenly opened his door, he'd wonder what I was up to half way between my bed and the stage. But if I was near the stove, I could use the exscuse I was cold. Now the distance to my bed was half as long and I could say I had been warming myself, but the guard did not come out and I told jock what I had found out. We whispered about this and that until somebody growled "put a sock in it why don'yer”. So we put a sock in it and I lay looking at the glow on the stove for a long time. Soon a zzz zzz was coming from the bloke near me and I thought what was I leading him into, still it was his choice. Then I thought if caught, one bloke could act as an imbecile, but two would be sucpicious. I must have fallen asleep because suddenly "aufstehen alle, guten morgen mien herren, haben sie gut geshlafen"? get up every body, good morning, gentlmen, did you sleep well.
Well we had the dried bread and carrots sewn into our coats and today was Thursday. I was on pins and needles the jock bloke looked at me and winked as much as to say, "well, this is it today's the day". We went out side and washed in the cold water from the pump, after a brisk rub down with the sacking that served as a towel we fell in ready for work. What breakfast?, you only got one meal a day, that was soup when you got in from work, why do you think we nicked what ever we could?. So a good guard or a bad guard could make like tolerable or just down right miserable. We marched down the lane and passed a cow looking over a gate and one of the blokes shouted at it "moo ya ugly lukin b*****”. Somebody else chimed in with "you'll have to put more bull into it Dicko, she's just not interested". Another voice quipped "oi dunno happen she's berra lukin an ma missus". "Yea, you wud screw a scabby dog geordie"
We got to work without further ado and soon the potatoes were flying, shovel the dirt away, sew the the bags up, "bonsoir meseur". "F***off Frog ahm busy”, "non, non, silver plate”, and the Frog was stood there with a pail and a tin cup, dipping the cup into the hot whatever it was. He offered it to one of our blokes. Cries of "watch it Blakey, you don't know where that bucket has been", another "yea, could ave bin under 'is bed all night". It turned out to be mint tea, I think. What you do is fill the pail with boiling water, go into the garden and pull out a mint bush, dunk it in the boiled water two or three times, and walla mint tea. From my point of view, the only good thing was it was hot, since there was no milk or sugar involved. There were no other advantages, except perhaps it stopped your draining sytem from healing up or growing over. Still it proved the Frogs were human after all, unless there was an ulterior motive for this sudden act of generosity. Well I thought, after today it would not involve us any more, so I just thanked them and continued with what I was doing.
It was half past three and I could not keep my eyes from glancing at the bikes leaning against the wooden shed. Four 'o'clock and the Frogs had dissapeared into the house, "lose,alle man fertig machen" (ok everybody finish what you are doing). So we finished and fell in to come home. On the way home we passed the five barred gate the cow had been looking over, and somebody said "yu girl frend's gorn Dicko", to which Dicko replied "up yours". As we passed the little window, I looked at it out of the corner of my eye expecting maybe to see it wired over. Surely somebody else must have noticed. God dam, I the only one that's really awake, Jock would not have known if I had'nt pointed it out to him. We had not told anyone else, but we had to tell the others before we left, because we wanted them to cover for us when we left. We turned right at the corner and I noticed the front door of the farm house was set back. The door was actually built into the corner of the house, so as you stood at the front door there was an over hang as the rest of the building seemed to loom over you. We continued round the corner to the big double doors only one of which was open and walked in to the farm yard. There were now some cows in the middle enclosure. They must have been brought in while we were at work because we had seen no sign of them before. Come to think of it, we had seen no one to do with the farm or the village exept the old bloke when we first arrived. After a wash under the pump we settled down to wait for tonight's horses duvers or whatever was in the offalling. It turned out to be millet "shit, oi feeds me bleedin budgie bleedin millet don' oi, oi aint eatin no bleedin millet, hey Fritz". And angrily turning to the guard, and then to me he snarled "hey Doggy tell this c*** ahm not gonna work all day for a ladle full of bleedin bird seed”, and suddenly we realised that on his own, he was going nowhere.
I think we all felt the same disgust but he was more volatile and suddenly this had triggered him off. Well, for the official issue of food doled out to us, not counting the odd nicked potatoe we suddenly knew why the Indians had gone beserk at the battle of Wounded Knee. He was right you can't get out if you don't put in. So I asked all the blokes what they wanted to do. One bloke said "ok, ask the guard if the farmer will give us some thing else, add that we are not animals nor birds, and if he expects to get any work done tomorrow, we expect to be fed accordingly. Also add what we get to eat will reflect in tomorrows work".
So I translated this to the guard as best as I could. It could'nt have been that bad because he grabbed the dixie and went through the passage and I could hear a heated debate going on. Then the guard came back and made with his hand like he was bouncing a rubber ball on the pavement. I took it to mean, simmer down and wait, which we did since we had nothing better to do other than listen to our tum's rumbling. We must have waited an hour or more, then a door at the end of the passage opened and a voice shouted "essen". The guard got up and walked down the passage and after an exchange of words came back with the dixie full of stew, put it on the floor, and said to me and I told the blokes word for word, "I'm to blame, I picked up the wrong dixie, the other one was for the pigs". So I asked the guard why had it taken over an hour to change dixies, I then added "I also heard the farmer ask you to tell us this lie. I may not be fluent in German but I am also not stupid". The guard went very red and I was beginning to feel a little out of my depth, so I said quietly "lass mal liegen" let's leave it at that". So the guard went and sat on his seat near the stove and we got stuck into the stew. I had upset the guard, but if the farmer could get away with feeding us pig swill he would have done. I do think the guard was not aware of what was in the dixie. In truth the guard was between the devil and the deep blue sea, if you get my drift. Anyway, we got settled for the night and it seemed an extra long time before the guard finally roused himself streched and stood up, looked all around, put out the light and quietly walked through the passage, opened a door, closed the door. As he closed the door the last of the light dissapeared, now all you could see was very dim because the only light came from the glow of the stove, but it was enough for what we had in mind.
We whispered instructions to the two bods either side of us. The reaction was immediate, "shit, yer crazy pair of b******". Jock whipered urgently, "for christ sake, keep your voice down". Well they accepted what was about to happen, but with apprehension. We waited till all was quiet and still, some were snoring gently. Then a chilling thought accurred to me, what if it was a set up, what if some wharp minded Jerry prick had left that window on purpose and there was a sniper waiting outside, maybe up in somebodies warm bed room sipping schnapps and muttering come on Tommy (not me personally), any Tommy will do. Yep' I'll bet a pound to a pinch of sh snuff he's got the rifle laid across the window sill and his feet up on a chair. Probably chewing on a sausage, yea, I had'nt thought of that, he could have a mate with him. I was jolted out of my revery by a nudge from Jock "hey, he whispered are we goin' then or wha'“. I whispered back, "I just had a thought, before we get out of the window, let's get that brush and put a coat over it and fasten a bunch of straw above it to look like a head, ok”. "Why"? "Just a precaution" I whispered, "do it". He did it, and we made our beds look like there was somebody in them by piling straw up and covering it with the blankets.
Then we crept onto the stage and into the little room on the right. It was unreal because in the silence of the night the boards seemed to scream, actually there was only the odd creak as an old board protested as it took our weight. It was us, or rather me, Jock did'nt seem to be bothered too much, but I was hearing and sensing and sniffing the air and trying to see into the shadows outside. I could see a building in the distance only very dim because it was so dark out side. I felt relief because in this light even with a scope someone would be battling to see us. Anyway, I was still not going to be caught with my pants down as the saying goes. So I quietly lifted up the bottom half of the window and taking the now disguised broom and standing behind the wall I pushed the ensemble through the window, at the same time motioning to jock to get behind the brickwork at his side. Then I began inching the brush down so it would look like a bloke slowly climbing down, I was thinking any minute now. Nothing happened, and still I waited so I made it look like he was climbing back in. Still nothing, so I laid down the brush and put my leg over the sill and climbed down to the ground and was immediately joined by jock. We set off down the lane, I wanted to run spread my arms out and take off. Unfortunatley it's not that simple, we were now escaped British soldiers and as such could be shot on sight. That was one problem, now we encountered another, it started to rain, our immediate goal was the two bicycles about a mile away.
At first the rain was a fine rain, but it was still wet, and it was'nt too long before we were both like two drowned rats, soaked to the skin. It dawned on me that we could now say goodbye dried food sewn in our coats. We had gone maybe quarter of a mile and we were enveloped in fog. Suddenly this bloke on a byke with no lights came out of the fog and almost ran me down. "shizer noch mal" he said, that's shit twice. Maybe he thought that should cover both of us, that is if he saw jock as well due to the fog. Well, we just plodded on, about five minutes later, I said to Jock, "listen". We both stood stock still and heard this engine noise coming nearer and nearer. Jock said "that b****** has shopped us”. Then I saw a light coming toward us and thought, any minute now and as if one string worked us both we dived into this gully at the side of the road. Presto, just what we both needed most, a bath in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night when we were already wet through. The gully was full of water and it was cold and as I was about to suggest giving it away and try another day, Jock said "I vote we give it away till another day". I said "I second that motion". So jock said, "thank f*** fer thaaat. If aahd known aahd ave sed it errlier". So we retraced our footsteps hoping the guard was still abed. All the way back and our shoes were making funny noises because of the water in them. I'd heard the noise somewhere before but could not quiet place it, now that's going to aggravate me till I can pin it down. We got back to about a hundred yards away from the window, also the rain was now pouring down so it drowned out any noise we might be making when I heard a woman laugh, then some muttered words and another titter. Well thought I, half his luck on a night like this, still beggars can't be choosers. Then it suddenly dawned on me it was the guard's voice and it was coming from the front door, that's it they are in the shelter of the front door. I whispered to Jock and we sank down into the grass because if we were to proceed one of them was bound to spot us. I whispered to Jock, "won't be long now ", just to perk his spirit up a little. He whispered back "I don't see any movement, mabye he's gone tae sleep on the jooob, and it must be aboot three en the morrrnin". The rain poured, we prayed, the guard screwed literally, we screwed the guard verbally, and all together it was a screwed up night. I wished I had a robot so I could wind it up and program it to go to Berlin and screw Hitler and all his fornicating colleagues. Finally, I heard through the noise of the rain "gut nacht leibchen". Jock must have heard it too because he muttered, "aboot f****** time, to which I whispered "No, he's passed that, now it's his bed time, we both had a snigger at this dim wit. I had a sneaky feeling we were both releasing tension that had been building all night. A light suddenly streaked out from the front door and then dissapeared as the door was closed, Only then did I realise I was so cold, we had been laid immobile for so long in the wet grass. I whispered to Jock "let's give him time to have a look round then go to bed", Jock nodded. So somewhere around four in the morning we quietly got back through the window and took off our clothes and put them near the stove to dry. Jock said "what if the guard sees em"? "Tell him we both had the shits during the night and had to wash them". "What if he asks what gave us the shits". "Tell him the truth, he does". Then I remembered where I'd heard that noise my shoes were making in the rain.
A mate and I were standing under an open window in Sisters st Cairo, at the time we thought it was the local plumber unblocking a drain, later we learned it was a brothel so it was a squaddie blocking someone else's drain. We certainly got around. The next day was twice as long as it should have been, the guard did'nt even notice the clothes near the stove, probably because we always use this method in wet weather. It's a good job he was'nt too observant either or he would have noticed two blokes yawning their heads off all day. We finished work and trudged home and after the usual stew which had improved markedly and laid on our beds of straw chewing the fat with the other blokes, it's always the same though, some blokes hang back. They need a paper signed by Jerry to say "We the under signed promise not to hoot, root, or shoot said pows if caught trying to escape, we do however retain the right to give them a good F****** or reprimand which ever is applicable to each individual case”, signed A.H.for the German high command. And to cap it off, a voice about three beds away queeried "der, were there any wimen on't street wen yer was avin yer moonlite stroll". I said "funny you should mention that Horace, well every body else called him Horace, personally I thought horse would have fitted better. Maybe the vicar who christened him thought that was as close as he could get with out being offensive to the parents. "Well Horace” I said, “you now that little wood we pass on the way to work”. Horace sits up and his eyes are peering at us. "Well" I said "funny things were happening in there, there were rustling noises and groans, and creaking noises". Horace is gripping his straw mattress and starting to drool, "yea an' then wot"? Whereupon Jock piped up "it was on'y two trees get'n nawted, yu twit”. Horace came back with, "ah di'nt naw trees did that". Somebody else said, "Horace, have a lie down mate, you'll feel better in the morning”. "Naw, ah wan't ta naw abaht thay trees, cos ah did'nt naw they did tha'“. "Go to sleep yu dawsy bugger" somebody snarled. And some one queeried "How did he get in the army"? Someone replied "he won’t have any trouble getting out”. Someone else added "he should live that long". Then some body started the ball rolling with, there was a young man from Kent etc. I must have dozed off because it only seemed like half and hour and "aufstehen mien herren". "Oh, Gawd it's work time agin'“.
So we trudged to work, and we riddled and piddled, we got some more of that frog mint tea, and riddled and piddled some more until thankfully it was time to go home, well back to the barn. Sunday came and we washed our clothes. The sun was shining and I thought, yes, a nice day, why could it not have been like this when we got out that night. Hell, there's alway another day, also, I was a bit surprised no one else seemed interested in escaping. Then after giving it a bit of thought, some were married and wanted to play it safe, some just had no guts, and others just could not be bothered. One way or the other, maybe Jock and I were the only two that needed a psychologist. Any way we were going to try again cum Thursday. This time we were not going to mess about with drying food. We would get out and play it by ear after that. I was sitting out side in the sun and day dreaming when the guard came out and queeried "na younger, was machen sie den" now boy what are you doing. To which I replied "tag traumen nur" only day dreaming. "Ya,ya," said the guard and disappeared inside.
Well, I thought, at least we are on speaking terms again. After that the guard was his amiable self again. One night we were joking after we had eaten, some body was telling a yarn. Suddenly in the far distance I could hear thud, thud, thud--thud, thud, thud. "That's bombing”, I said, everybody clammed up. Now, because it was so quiet, there it was again, then a new noise joined in, ack ack guns. "Somebody's copping it", somebody whispered. We must have listened to it for about quarter of an hour or more before it was all quiet again. Somebody broke the tension with "I wus a choir boy wunce" and another chipped in "I bet you kept trippin' over your surplus". Then another voice joined in "did yer ere abaht the free dwarfs" etc. etc., until finally all was quiet and the guard sat in silence by the stove, along way off a dog barked breifly. About half an hour later the guard got up had a quick perv round, put out the light, and silently edged to the passage where the gloom swallowed him up, a shaft of light at the end of the passage, then it too was gone.
During the night somebody startled us all awake, shouting and sobbing he was jabbing with an imaginary rifle and bayonet at an imaginary foe, "Grab ‘im, Dicko". Then the guard was there with his rifle, "for christ sake yu supid b****** don't you go near im, F***off, and leave us alone”. The guard did'nt need to understand English, I think his own common sense told him not to interfere. Finally, we got the bloke fully awake and he looked round, "what, is it work time allready”. The guard who had stayed in the shadows of the passage now came out minus his rifle. Then he surprised us all, he dug into his pocket and came out with a hip flask. Unscrewing the cap he filled it with schnapps and offered it to the bloke who drank it down and grimaced. The guard, smiling, took the cap and screwed it back on and put the flask back in his pocket, "schlafen yetz ya"? go to sleep now yes? Then he made for the passage way. As he passed I said "vielen dank" many thanks. He replied "bitte", short for please don't mention it, and disappeared down the passage way.
I was awake for a long time and I could hear the rain coming from about half a mile away. At first I heard this way in the distance sound of some body pouring rice into a wooden tub, then as it came nearer you could hear it was rain, and did it rain. When it was time to get up the guard came in and said to me "kine arbite heuter", no work today. Then pointing out of the window "raigen der gansen tag" it was going to rain all day. "Bloody good" said one of our blokes, I can do with a day off. Well, after we had played pontoon, three card brag, and find the lady, no, we did'nt go round groping one another, but I had a sneaking suspicion we wer'nt far off that stage if we were kept locked up like this much longer. I found myself looking out of the window, elbows on the sill, chin resting in my hands, and I was miles away. The rain was running down the window pane and puddles had formed outside. Inside it was warm and dry, I would have given a million pounds just then to walk through our front door at home. My reverie was interupted by a couple of ducks, I don't know where they came from but they waddled into one of the pools of water that had formed out side the window and were having a good romp or bath or what ever it was that ducks do in rain water pools just outside a window where a load of blokes are locked in, flap, flap,quack, quack, look at us, we're free.
The next day was beautiful, blue sky fluffy clouds and way up high there were vapour trails lots of them. But it was good to get out and when we got to work every thing seemed to be back to normal. One of our blokes strayed over to the shed with the farm machinery in it and you could see him thinking. He looked up at the building, hoping perhaps, if he really concentrated a red light might appear, "half yer luck Fred, watch out fer that bleedin' dog e' likes bones".
Thursday came round again and Jock was raring to go. This time we did'nt mess around with a broom and coat, but we took precautions, like making sure the guard was in his room and not standing on tiptoe outside the front door like a train signal on the railway. We got out of the window, no problems, it was dark, but we could see the odd star so there was some cloud floating around. With ears listening for different noises we walked quickly up the lane towards the farm and the Frog bikes. If we could get out of the immediate area and lie low somewhere near a farm, then move on quickly to the next, at night you can burrow into a hay stack where it is warm and dry, anyway first things first.
We got to the farm and there in the dim star light were the two bikes leaning against the shed. Very quietly we started to wheel them when I discovered the tyres were flat on both bykes and the valves were gone, so they had the pump, "quick put them back" I whispered. Jock was angry, "all this way fer nothin” he snarled. Then he put the bike back and so did I, "ahm away" he whispered. I whispered back to him, "don't be daft man, you will be caught tomorrow, but if we go back now no one be any the wiser, an if we bide our time some thing else could turn up, be patient". "I, ok" said jock "sorry but yur reight, c'mon let's away". We got back with out mishap, and when we got nearer to the barn we laid on the grass and listened just to make sure no one was about. All was still, so very quietly we climbed back in and checked through the curtains to make sure the guard was'nt by the stove. Silentley we got back to our straw bed and thankfully collapsed.
In the morning the two blokes covering for us said no one but them knew we had gone. I thought later it was maybe as well, because if a lot had got out it could have got a bit out of hand. Well, we decided to wait and see what turned up in the future, but before next thursday turned up, we were returned to the main camp. And suprise, suprise, we got moved again and we kept moving for ever it seemed. But marching, eventually we got to this camp, we were halted then counted through the main gate. Once inside another guard counted us so many to a hut where we settled down wondering what was coming next. A lot were too tired to be bothered with questions and answers and just fell asleep. Then a triangle rattled and somebody said grub up, and guess what, pig swill again.
In the morning we were paraded, and a guard who was the spitting image of dopy in Snow White and the seven snakes came bumping out of the guard room. As he walked the rifle which was slung over his shoulder kept bumping on the ground. Left, bump, right, bump, then somebody started to whistle the blue danube and somebody said "tread on that Dicko", "Somebody has left the lavertory door open". This brought forth a gust of laughter from the parade, and the jerry sergeant did'nt think it was all that funny, even though he knew no English. He knew we were taking the mick and he started screaming abuse at us. We quickly realised this was not Stalag 303 Teltow any more. These were not your average German gentlemen, and it looked like we would have to tread softly again. Any of you people work on a building site asked the interp, fallin on the left here, also bricklayers, plasterers, painters on the left here, and give your number to the bloke at the table.
I was not a bricky but I put my hand up anyway and moved over to the table where a Jerry was seated writing in a school exercise book, without looking up he continued writing but held out his hand "nummer" he said. I replied “twelve two four four", where upon he looked up and quick as a flash his hand darted out to grab the number plate hanging round my neck. He tried to pull me down so he could read the number but I stayed put. I was not about to bow to any kraut b******. He let go and started screaming the odds, a Jerry sergeant came running but by this time, I had taken off the number plate and put it on the table. "Was ist lose mit euch"? he queeried looking at me angrily (what is wrong with you?). I replied "Garnicht herr feld wabel, mien nummer ist auf den tish” (nothing, my number is on the table) and I added "er ist krank" (he is sick). The bloke at the table nearly blew up as he handed back my number plate and told me to put it back round my neck, then he pushed me to make room for the next bloke. I thought yep, you are truly in the soup, so to speak. Watch it.
I did watch it too, these jerries were just itching for you to put a foot wrong. At one job a guard was driving a horse and wagon, a flat tray type wagon. He stopped in the gate way and one of our blokes went to push through between the cart and the corner of the brick building. As he got half way, the Jerry made the horse move forward and because the cart was at an angle the movement trapped and crushed the unfortunate bloke and ribs punctured his lungs. We could not prove anything but it did'nt matter, if we could nothing came of it. We swore if given the chance that b*****would not see the end of the war.
On a brighter note we would work all morning then half hour break for lunch. I was a bit surprised but there we were sitting at a table with these French blokes and in the middle of the table was a big plate with boiled potatoes in their jackets, some cheese and bread, man this was the way to go. The only thing that spoilt it was the weather, it was bitterly cold, also one of the guards was keeping an eye on me. One of our blokes said to me one day, "you're not a brickie are you" and I said "no but don't tell them". He said “I think that guard knows, he's been watching you and you have left out a lot of keying in bricks”.
The next day the guard singled me out and I was taken off that commando. But I was put on another one also to do with building. On this job I had to carry bricks in a hod and mix mortar, also gone was the midday break and the feed. The time spent in this camp is not only difficult to remember but what I can recall is, it was a misery hole. It was always cold at night and dogs were always either barking or wailing or sniffing under the boards. The days were not so bad because you could work and get warm, the only trouble was, on less food and no RC parcels we were all losing weight rapidly. I could touch my mid finger with my thumb round the fat part of my arm, and when anybody got out we did not see them again. I would like to think they made it or if caught went to another camp. This was just one monotonous day after another and I was glad when some body said there is a roumer we are moving. There were so many miserable days in that camp my mind chooses to forget. There were some tall chimneys in the distance and if the wind blew our way there was always an unpleasant smell.
We marched out of the gate of Stalag 404 and no one had a clue where we were going. Somebody said we were going to a big camp near Colditz, "shit" some body said "you don't get out of Colditz in a hurry". The march was just one monotonous day after another, the guards rode in trucks, sometimes one would walk just for the exersise and sometimes you would notice one of the guards pointing at somebody and nudging his mate, then they would have a laugh at somebody limping along. One of our blokes snarled "cum dark I'm gone". He could'nt have been more wrong. When it got dark the truck up front had search lights on it and they looked back over the column, it also had twin machine guns mounted on the back,at the rear of the column was the same set up, exept the lights were directed forward. We marched through the night and through the next day. Ten minutes rest every hour, then back on your feet and those first few steps were murder. Soon some were walking in their bare feet and when the ten minute rest came up they found the soles of their feet were just a red pulp. It got to be afternoon and it was sunny and warm and one of our blokes carrying a piano accordion said "stuff it, I can't take anymore of this". But a bloke I was good mates with used to do weights, and he was also in the Argylls, said "ere, give it ere" and grabbed the piano accordion and slung it over his shoulder. "I would'nt give them b******* the satifaction”, he growled. A Jerry guard who looked more like a hungry four foot ferret than a man, gave him a shove and shouted "lose marsh", and he did it again, and five minutes later he did it again, the big bloke took no notice just trudged on and was'nt lagging. We knew the next time the little Jerry guard came up behind him and gave him another push, it was the little bloke abusing his authority as a guard and he was deriving great satifaction in taking it out on somebody a lot bigger than himself for a change, safe in the knowlege the big bloke could not retaliate.
So he did it again, but even a steel bar has its limits. When the little B****** shoved again, the big bloke turned,and in so doing added momentum to the sizzling right hook. He swung at the Jerry. It sounded like a meat axe chopping into a carcass as the big fist slammed into the side of the guards head. The guard flew two yards before hitting the ground, then slid on the road until the grass verge stopped the slide. We cheered, then there was a bang, and looking from the still guard to where the bang came from, we were just in time to see the big bloke sink to the ground. For a second or two all was still, then this officer who had shot the big bloke started blowing a whistle like they have at footy matches. Before we could gather our wits there were guards everywhere. Suddenly the truck with the two machine guns was there. It had quickly come up the side of the column and was on the grass verge menacing the the crowd who were round the big bloke. Two guards picked up the knocked out Jerry (I hoped his neck was broken), and the officer made two of our blokes drag the now dead big bloke to the the side of the road and he was left there.
The officer then motioned with his pistol and snarled at us "lose,Marsh", we marched. The truck stayed put until the end of the column had passed it, then it tucked itself behind the column again and crawled along behind ever watchful. Looking back all that could be seen was a mound in the grass with a khaki over coat over it. In the distance it looked like a fort you see in western movies. As we got closer and closer, we could see over the gate STALAG 4B MULEBERG.
Thank God, at last we could stop walking. We staggered through the gate and once all the columb was inside we were halted and counted off to huts that were either side of the road. Once inside, we got a bunk and put our meagre gear on it. Then we were told to get ready for the showers. We were led by this jerry down the side of the block to what appeared to be an ablutions center. We went in and stripped and I was under this torrent of water and it was terrific, clean at last. Then I noticed this bloke who was sideling up to bathers and talking. Heads were shaken and I thought, maybe we have a queer amongst us, so I grabbed my towel or what passed as a towel and got ready to give him a nutty flick. It can be very painful properly delivered, however, when he got to me he said "my name is Tenny, Harry Tenny". I said that's nice, what's your problem"? "Well" he said, and I said "you won't get any wishes here". "No you don't understand, I'm RAF and I want to swap places with somebody who goes out on work parties, no body seems to be interested, you see anyone in the RAF can't get out of the camp, and this is a good way to start, by going out on a work commando". "You want your head looking at" I told him. "It's not that easy, what do you think I've been doing this last two years". He replied with "they are forming up outside, all we need do is swap jackets and number disks". I thought what the hell in for a penny etc.
We swapped and agreed any mail that came was private and would be smuggled to each other when possible, parcels would be kept so if I got a parcel from home Tenny got to keep it and viccy virca. Then the fun started, or I thought it was going to be. I ran out and joined the RAF blokes outside and just in time because a guard came and told us to fall in. He then counted us and marched us off to another hut. So it was here I got clued in as to what was happening. Tenny had explained to his mates what he was doing, so I was not exactly a total stranger to them. They on the other hand were a little stand offish to begin with, well I could have been a Jerry stooge. The bunks were three bunks high, bottom bunk, middle bunk, and top bunk I got a middle bunk.
These blokes were totally different to the mob than I had spent the last two years with. They were sergeants and upward, but I think most officer types were sent to an offlag , pow camp for officers. One day this bloke comes over and sits on my bunk and asked what was my mothers name. I told him it was Annie (it actualy was) but since Annie was also Tenny's mother's name I was in the clear. By this time I realized they were having a go at me and as someone said later "got to keep you on your toes old thing , what"? To which I replied "make sure nobody catches you touching yours". Somebody at the other end of the hut was shouting “Tenny, where is Tenny”. I shouted back "here, what is it"? "Oh, it's ok old boy just checking". This lasted for a week, but I was grateful to those blokes, there were times when I almost boobed. And I actualy finally became Tenny.
Two bunks away on the top bunk was this tall bloke with a mop of sandy hair and a moustache. Flying officer kite type moustache he was reading a Zane Grey western story, when a bloke who was walking by suddenly stopped in mid stride and said "good lord, Hawky, how are you old boy" and turning to a bloke nearby "I did'nt know you had Hawsley Hill in this barracks". Hawsley Hill sounding very bored turned on his other side and continued reading and muttering "Gawd, who left your cage door open". And the bloke continued with "when we get back Hawky, don't forget you owe me a tenner". Hawky pretended to snore.
We had a picture on the wall it was about three feet square and it was painted by a bloke by the name of Coulson. It was similar to what the yanks had on their bombers, girls that were all legs and tight blouses. Someone requested it be taken down because of the racket that started as soon as it was lights out. But we learned later on the other side was a map and as soon as Jerry locked the door at night, out would come the pins and we would trace where the Yanks were and where the Russians were. Before bed all pins were removed and the sexy picture would be turned face out again to the delight of the more depraved and those that were inmates.
Jiggeling, no not at night but during the day you would boil a tin of water and if you had an agreement with another bod he would also boil a tin of water, then one of you would jiggle a tea bag so many times in one tin, then so many times in the other tin, and you would save this tea bag until it no longer coloured the water. Then it was the other blokes turn to supply a tea bag and so on. Bread, you would not believe some of the systems they cooked up to make sure no one got a crumb more that somebody else. I saw it measured, weighed, sighted along, tapped to make sure there were no air pockets in it, put on a seesaw, in case one end was heavier than the other.
The stove system was unique, it was built of bricks to about three feet high and it was five feet wide and eight feet long. It had a door at one end to push fuel (wood) into, and a quarter inch thick iron plate built in. On this iron plate which would get red hot in the middle, we would push our tins to boil or fry or cook. If a tin boiled someone would look at the tag attached to said tin and holler the number, "number five tin boiling, and number twelve”. Then if no one came to clain the tins or tin, it would be put to the outside of the group of tins and slowly it would work its way to the middle again.
One day some clot got a tin of Irish stew from a RC parcel and put it on the stove. Well he had'nt punctured it and when it exploded with a mighty bang it scattered other tins and some bods got burns. We had to get ladders to scrape it off the cieling before it began to stink. Cries of "what clot forgot to puncture his pot"? and "bladdy idiot" and another idiot pointing and mouthing "wizard prang, old boy". Another was "how stupid can you get”. The victim, being up the ladder doing his best to remove what was left of his irish stew from the ceiling was of course the center of attention and had to endure this ribaldry until finally he came down and sulked off to his bunk. Grabbing a book from under his pillow, he settled down to read, content in the knowledge that stew would soon be in the offing from Jerry, and with a muttered "stuff 'em" he got engrossed in his book.
Well stew was issued, actually it was a change, it was sauerkraute, a kind of cabbage pickelled in vinegar. I did'nt mind it I was glad of the change from the everlasting spud. Then this bloke comes over and said "may I sit down"? I said "certainly what are you flogging". "No, it's nothing like that he said". I said "nothing like what". He said "Christ your edgy". I said, "if I was Christ I would'nt be here to start with and I'm always edgy, what do you want"? So he said "one of the blokes told me you speak German, you are the bloke who swapped with Tenny"? The hair on the back of my neck began to stand up, "what bloke" I said "I'm Tenny and I havent swapped anything with anybody, now bugger off before I plant you". "O k, keep you're hair on but if you do speak German it would come in handy for some of our blokes who are thinking about getting out from one time or another". After he had gone this bloke with a pipe going came cruising across, some blokes walk a little hesitant and some boldy. If he was lucky enough to have had a bottle recently then he may stagger a little but this bloke cruised, reminded me of one of those Stephen Foster paddle steamers on the missisippi. So with with pipe going at flank speed ahead he cruised up to my bunk, and putting everything in full reverse he slowed to a stop. Then he took the pipe out and said, "trouble with these god awful things they make you're eyes water if the wind's wrong". "Why do you smoke the god awful thing then"? I queried. "Ha, ha, jolly good" he quaffed, "well old boy, actually it's for appearences that's all”, and lowering his voice "actually I came to tell you good show about Tenny”. “What", I said "I don't know what this is all about but I'm Tenny and you're the second bloke today". "No, it's ok old chap, we know Tenny, and if it's any consolation, you can rely on us to back you up. We had to run a check on you as soon as you came here. Let's face it old man, you could have been a gerry ferret, what"? Well I suppose he was right, I could have been. And I finished the debate with "I know who you all are" (I did'nt have a clue), “and you know I'm Tenny so if everybody is happy". With that I walked outside just in time to hear the Jerry whistles and yelling "lose appel".
So we all got out side and fell in for roll call but the Jerry guards motioned us to this building where trestle tables had been set up and there were four officers checking papers. We were formed into A an B queues and C and D and so on. I thought well here goes nothin'. I also noted the extra Jerry guards round the room and they did not have rifles, they had auto pistols. Of course they were looking for me, of this I was sure, somebody has tipped them off, Tenny has been caught and tortured. Now they would give me a going over, I was so busy thinking all this stuff when suddenly I am at the table and without blinking an eye I said "Tenny, Harry" and gave my number plate for him to look at, then I almost fell over as he turned the page and there was Tenny's picture looking up at me. I thought if he winks, I'm dreaming, but I wasn’t dreaming and this officer said with a bored voice, "lose abtraiten" (march away). So I abtraited and I could not believe it, back in the barrack room I heard a voice say "whose the lucky boy then". Another voice said "pack it in chaps, don’t push your luck, that could have been a sticky situation and I think Tenny handled it very well".
It turned out they were looking for some free French blokes who had been doing a bit of blowing up and Jerry was not a bit chuffed to learn they could be hiding in our camp. Hawksley Hill was laid on his back, he had a pillow under his head and from his lofty perch on the top bunk he waved this magazine, "would you look at those he chortled indicating a picture of a girl with what looked like two foot balls stuck up her blouse, "not exactley moth balls woud'nt you say". Someone came back with, "it would have to be a bladdy big moth". Someone else joined in with "yea big as a lanc bomber, not only that you would probably keep rolling off”. Hawksly Hill turned the page this way and that way and held it at different angles finally he burst out with, "gawd it says here she is changing her sex". Somebody said "your joking, with a body like that, what a waste”. Hawk said "says here, she would like to write a book”. Somebody said "I know a good title, how about from knickers to knackers" and someone else chipped in, "or why be a c***all your life". At this there was a roar of laughter and I felt good.
I was over by the wire one day and this column of dishevelled pitifully thin figures came shambling by. I was joined by another of our blokes and he grunted "Russians, poor b*******"“, just then a cart came out of an alley and it was full of trash and potatoe peelings. The Russians were all over it like a rash and shoving potatoe peelings into their mouths and flinging more off so others could get some. But soon there were guards there kicking and fisting. One had a pick handle and he was laying about him with gusto, soon there were Russians laying knocked out or dead. Then came the blondie guard, he pulled out a pistol and would shoot to cripple, in the elbow or the knee, he never missed a chance to make their life even more unbearable. Let's face it, you can be crawling with lice, you are already starving to death, can't remember when you bathed last. You are not sure when you are going to get food, if you get some it just prolongs the agony. Eventually you get to the stage when you say enough is enough, and in our case we had a saying "If I've got to go, I'm going to take one of them with me, or two”, chance would be a fine thing.
Trolling round the compound with this bloke I'd got pally with, suddenly he pointed into the sky and said "good lord look at that". And high,so high you could not see the planes, were these vapour trails. We stopped and watched for a while, then we could see little black dots half way down the black dots dissapeared. A little later we heard the explosions and they really were giving Liepzig a pasting.
Jerry said we could use the concert hall and I strolled up there one day for a quick sticky beak and lo and behold there was the lone ranger complete with sombrero spurs and chaps and he had a mate dressed likewise. So it turned out they where country western singers, and seeing as how that was one of my favourite hobbies we got talking and comparing notes. Then when they found out I was handy with my hands they asked me to make each of them a six shooter in a holster and ammo round the belt just like Tom Mix in the movies. So I did, and it really finished off the outfit. We kept the six gun bit quiet until the opening night and when they walked onto the stage the Jerries who were sitting in the front row suddenly got very nervous when they spotted the sixguns, well the butts sticking out of the top of the holster. They had a whispered confab with the commandant who got up and asked to see one of the pistols. He had a good laugh when the bloke pulled out the butt only and handed it to him. When he saw it was made of wood and blacked with boot polish he said "unbeleivable". "It looks so real from down there". Jerry never left any thing to chance.
Next we had a comedian, and most of his jokes were from the ark, probably Noah wrote them. I did a bit of trading and got some paints. I think they were water colours, only because I can't remember having any varnish or turps, and Jerry was a bit funny about inflamm liquids. I set to and painted the battle of Sidi Barrani from a personel point of view. It was about three foot by three foot and when it was finished I hung it on the wall, and a group of bods used it as a dart board. Just accross the room another bloke was painting a Lanc bomber, his name was Coulson. Our Richard came to see us one day in 1995 and said to me "I've brought you a picture for your bedroom dad" and would you believe it, I watched Coulson paint the original on the table opposite my bunk in 1943.
My estimation of better educated young men took a steep dive the day one of them bought a cat from a Jerry guard. It appeared a group of our young gallants had clubbed together to get this cat. I knew nothing of it until this particular day I went into the wash house to shave and this group came in with this cat, the first thing that came to mind was “that's nice a bloke has got himself a pet”. But then they filled a trough and dunked the cat under, and as soon as the cat got over the initial shock it started clawing. Soon one of our hero's had scatches on his arms and chest and reluctantly he had to let go, but before the cat could get a good hold to get out, another young valiant dunked it under and held it long enough to stupify it. Thinking it was dead, because it had stopped struggling, another nerd took out a pen knife and started to skin it, well, he did'nt actually get started, because the cat woke up suddenly and he got a hefty scratching also. The cat bolted but it could not get out because someone had closed the door. When I think back about it I often wish I'd been more awake, but this all happened so fast I did'nt get a chance to open the door. However our brave band of hero's soon had it cornered. One of them had wrapped a towel round his hand and arm and grabbed the now spitting snarling cat by it's hind legs. While it was trying to claw him, he swung it against the concrete upright of the wash trough and smashed its head with such a thud it had to be dead now. However, with blood now showing on it's fur, the cat still showed signs of fight. The bloke hit it against the wash trough a second time, but this time he swiftly pushed its head under the water in the trough and waited till there were no more bubbles coming to the surface. Another bloke who had been minding his own business till now said "I bet you feel real big men now, five blokes to kill a cat, for what? Even an animal kills for a reason, and don't use the exuse your hungry. You people give me the runs, you get food from Jerry, you get food from the red cross, you are not at the starving stage by a long shot, some of you have'nt been here long enough to be hungry yet". At this outburst one bod said "seeing as how it's none of your business old boy, I suggest you keep your nose out of it". And with that they took their kill and went to the other end of the wash room. Then voices could be heard "well I think it was a good idea, after all we are short of protein, and if we are going to make a break for it, well we need all the help we can get. Then to cap it off, the same voice that evening was heard to say "I'm comfy here till the end of the war. Anybody want to offer me any advance on five cigs for this delicious rabbit leg”.
Now there were vapour trails in the sky more often, according to our map the Russians were advancing and we were getting a bit on edge, roumer had it that Hitler had given the order for all pows to be shot if the Russians got too close. We would cheer when we heard some place or other had fallen, then the advance would bog down, and soon all the revellery died down as well. Then the Yanks would take a town or what ever and it was on again.
One day an aicraft came out of the blue, it was a long range fighter, and somebody recognised it as an American long range escort fighter. All the blokes in the compound who were playing football stopped to watch it as it swooped over the camp with a tremendous roar and a climb you would'nt believe. At the top of the climb it just lazily rolled over and pointed it's nose at the footy compound were all the blokes were stood with mouths agape. Suddenly somebody screamed "he's attacking take cover take cover". To the left of the footy compound were the ablutions, these were double brick buildings with the usual door and two windows and everybody raced toward this building and got it between themselves and the now diving plane. Screaming down, suddenly it looked like he had a row of kids sparklers flickering on the front edge of his wings and just as sudden bits of brick were being chipped away and dust was being kicked up as bullets (505 cal.,about the size of your thumb) were thudding into the ground. He passed over and did another dive on us, all the time the blokes in the compound were jockeying for position keeping him at the other side of the building. Suddenly we noticed this train, it was a goods train and he had seen the aircraft and was desperetly trying to make it to some woods. It was only half a mile from us so we had a ring side seat so to speak. The train was chuffing like mad and the pilot of the plane must have thought this was a more positive target, so with a flick of the wing he changed course and screamed down on the train. Soon bits were flying off the train, and you could hear bullets ricocheting as they hit metal. Then one of the wagons erupted it must have had ammo in it, flames were leaping out of other wagons. Then he concentrated on the engine and two little figures jumped out and ran for the woods. Suddenly there was this almighty cloud of steam bursting from the engine and slowly the train came to a halt. Meanwhile some bright spark had been busy, he had accuired a bucket of white wash and was on the roof of one of the barracks painting 'pow' on the roof in big letters. "Now that's what I call using you loaf" someone remarked.
Then this bloke came out of the wash house and his face had blood on it, "must ave cut mesen shavin" he said. When somebody pointed it out "that don't look like a razor cut" said one concened on looker, so when they had a perv into the wash house they found a 505 round had punched a hole through the first brick, then knocked out the inside brick and carried on across the wash house, brushed this blokes face just taking a bit of skin off, and smahed through the window. Then the hunt was on everybody wanted that round as a souvenir but we could not find it. We had all agreed the bloke with the burn mark on his face should have it to remind him how close to eternity he had been.
About a hundred yards away there was a hole where a light pole was to be erected. A group of blokes had been digging this hole and it was about six feet deep and about two by two feet across. When the plane had finally gone I counted five blokes getting out of this hole, and I suddenly saw the humour of the situation, Jerry has ferrits why can't we have moles. Sadly one of our blokes was killed out right and another wounded. Two Jerry guards were also killed. They were on a detail taking out waste to bury in the nearby field and the vehicle used looked like a gun barrel. Actualy it was a very long wooden barrel used only for this one purpose, unfortunatly our gung ho hero in the plane did not stop to ponder. It looked like a group of blokes pulling a gun from where he sat so he cannot be condemed for doing his job.
About two days later we were having a game of footy, it was a nice day and about two in the afternoon. Some blokes were just sitting around watching the game, the ball by the way was a bundle of rags wrapped round with string, one blokes gave it a hefty kick and it sailed through the wire, hit this little wood hut in this vegy patch and fell down in among the vegies. Close by was a watch tower so we waved our arms and shouted to the guard could we get our ball. The guard waved ok get your ball, so one of my mates who I had known from Stirling castle Aldershot, Palestine, Ciaro, the desert and Crete, got on hands and knees and putting his arm through the wire started iching the ball along so he could grasp it. Mean while the guard in the tower was waching him. Then a window in the little wooden hut opened and the blond headed guard was suddenly leaning out of it, he had a Luger pistol in his hand and putting it to the back of my mates head pulled the trigger. The shot crashed out and for seconds we could not beleive what we had seen. Then a mighty roar went up as about sixty blokes run toward the shed and tried to climb the wire, whistles where blown, the guard in the tower swung the machine gun round to face into the camp. Other guards came running and suddenly an officer appeared and shouted to the men to get down off the wire. As they hesitated, the officer said he would count to three, then give the order to fire if there was one man still on the wire. He got to two and everybody was off the wire. The officer then went to a gate in the wire and walked through to the shed and looked in but it was empty. He came back and asked some of us what did the guard look like, and when we explained what had happened, he said he would look into it. Meanwhile, somebody had gone to the camp hospital and got a mobile stretcher, it had bicycle wheels on it. Two blokes lifted the body onto the stretcher and covered it over with a blanket. I had to watch all this. It was like a slow motion film. I found my self bawling like a kid. I went back to my bunk and pulled out of my paliase some of the string. We always saved the string from red cross parcels, this I plaited to make a garrot, then I fashioned two pegs of wood and looped the string through these rolled it up and carried it in my pocket.
The next day at roll call when the counting was finished, instead of being dismissed we were told to line up into a and b groups and c and d groups. Somebody said "oh, oh" they are looking for somebody". Eventualy we shuffled closer and closer to the door into the building and once inside it was a bit warmer, then word flew back to us they are checking finger prints. Here and there along the walls were posted guards with machine pistols, when I thought no one was waching I would slip back a couple of blokes. I did this quit a few times, so I was working my way back to the door. Then I thought one of the guards was watching me out of the corner of his eye so I stopped doing it and decided to bluff it out. A gut feeling told me it was'nt going to work this time. I was third from the table when all of a sudden the air raid siren sounded. Everybody scattered and the guards, caught totally unawares, did'nt know whether to have a shine shave or a hair cut. We were out of there and long gone. I suddenly realized I was wet through with sweat and the thudding was not bombs, it was my pump going like the clappers. I sat on my bunk for a long time then everybody dived under their beds as this whistling sound got louder and whump with a hell of a bang the bomb went off. There was another big bumb, "shit" somebody said "that one didn’t go off and it’s in here".
Well after the raid was over, somebody discovered the clock I had made had fallen off the wall the vibration from the bomb that went off slid the clock along the nail that held it, and the weight of the clock bent the nail and the clock slid off. By the way the clock weight was a bucket of concrete.
One day the door burst open and a load of yanks came in and because it was winter they made straight for the stove. With cries of "oh boy heat", they started pushing through the crowd that were already at the stove, no manners the yanks, most of our blokes thought the same. In fact one bloke voiced his opinion "like bloody animals he said". When one picked up a tin of tea belonging to one of our blokes and put it to his mouth to drink, the owner put his hand under it and tipped it up almost choking the thief, certainly wetting him all down his neck and shirt. If he had asked it would have been different, but he did'nt.
It must have been a temporary stay because by lock up time they had all been moved to an enclosure of their own. So once more peace reigned, but for how long. We kept watching the map on the wall, first the Russians would move up and stop, then the Yanks would move some more and the two forces gradually crept closer to one another. There was a radio somewhere and no one knew where, but that was not important. The less who knew the safer it was, and some clever bod reasoned that if the radio was moved it would not be long before Jerry knew were it was, so instead the radio stayed put and the info was fed out. The info was fed out with a bow and arrow, sounds daft but it's true. Jerry would lock us all in at night, shutters were put over the windows and the lights would go out about nine. Dogs would be let loose in the compound and search lights would come on when least expected. Connecting each block was a brick wash house and toilets for use by the two barracks. These had windows, but no glass, and Jerry did not have shutters on these windows. When it was about midnight a bloke with a bow and arrow would shoot the arrow into the next wash house which was about fifty feet away. If he missed he could retreave the arrow and try again, because tied to the arrow was some light string, also tied to the arrow was todays news. When read it was passed on in like manner, the last hut to get it would read and burn.
The last hut by the way was no 8, but this camp was so big. There was the French section, the Russian compound, the Brits compound, the RAF compound, a political prisoners compound, and these had to be seen to be believed. The RAF compound had eight wash houses that meant sixteen huts. Then somebody sidled up to me and said "Tenny's been caught", and walked away, I made straight for my bunk and sat there wondering what to do next. Then the bloke with a pipe and grey hair came over and sat down, "you don't look too good old son" he said quietly, "Just carry on as if nothing has happened and play it by ear, by the way Tenny was found sheltering from the rain in a shop door way in Berlin by a civvy copper". I could'nt believe anyone could be that stupid. But then when I stopped to think about it, Templehof airport was there, maybe he was going to nick a plane. I thought that would be right landing just outside Rochdale, the local brass band playing, everybody flinging garlands of flowers round his neck 'our hero'. But the bloke was right don't panic. If Tenny kept his end up he would get the cooler and I was off the hook, if not then both of us could walk the plank. Wait and see.
Tenny got the cooler. About a week later I saw this commando going out to work and lo and behold who was waving ta ta, but Tenny. I waved back and thought “here we go again”. There was a bloke, he was one of ours. I don't which mob he belonged to but he had got this Russian Cossack hat from some where, it was snow white and he had on this black outfit with jackboots and spurs. He had been to a dentist in Berlin who, at this blokes request had taken out a tooth slightly left of center, a perfectly good tooth, then paid the dentist extra to fit a gold tooth. Now when he smiled it winked at you, somebody passed a comment, "Gawd, now ah've seen everythin’”. "Is oss gorraway didit"?. " Yew gor any vodca mate"?.
News time, it was just after twelve and in the dark somebody had been waiting behind the door and heard the rattle of the arrow as it hit the wash trough. Straight away he dived in and got the paper off the arrow and gave the line a tug, the arrow quickly vanished over the window sill.
"Right blokes, keep it down" was the plea of the reader, and watch the doors. Everybody settled down and the bloke read out the news quietly, then he added for those who did'nt hear get it off those who did, good night. Always after we got some news, good or bad there were always some people who would have done it different, so arguments were tossed about untill finaly no one cared any more and went to sleep.
Usually you would wake up to cans rattling or someone at the stove arguing his tin was there first, but what has happened to roll call?. "Hey, there's no guard in the tower". It was true there was no guard on the tower and I ran to the front door and was just in time to see this woman on a pony, 'a woman cossack'. I did a second take, and sure enough she raced by at full gallop, she had this long whip and was really living it up. It looked like a circus had hit town. She was wearing a leather jacket and crossed over her body were bandoliers of ammo. She also had a sword, and slung over her back was a carbine. Bloke near me said with a grin "can you imagine her standing up in court and saying I was raped your honour".
He dashed out of sight then there was a comotion over the fence in the Russian compound and we strained to see. It dawned on me if there were in fact no guards, what the hell were we doing here. Then my attention was taken again, what was going on over there,now some of the blokes were moving over to the wire to see better. God, I could'nt believe what was happening, the Russian prisoners had found the blonde guard hiding in one of the huts, so he'd been here all the time. He was being beaten and when he put his hands up to protect his face someone grabbed and held one arm and hacked at the hand at the wrist. When it was finally hacked off they grabbed the other one they treated it in like manner. Then a rope was fastened round his feet and he was hauled up on to a lamp post. His head was about five feet from the ground. The blood by now had stopped spurting from the severed wrists and was dripping. A Russian strode forward, I thought he was giving the upside down blondie a hug, but when he stepped back he had severed the guards head and he lifted it up for every one to see. Then he tossed it to the side of the road and urinated on it. And I thought those who live by the sword etc.
I saw this poster and went over and read it, “You are strongly advised to stay put until your people come to get you. Russian soldiers do not recognise any uniform that is not Russian, therefore, you will be fired upon if seen out of camps”.
I went back to my bunk and the bloke in the next bunk saw that I was getting ready to take off. "Where are you going?" he asked. I explained what I was doing, also, that when Italy packed in the war, the pows just sat and waited and Jerry came and picked them up. "But that can't happen here" he said. I said "you want to wait and find out, that's your choice, me, I'm gone. You know what could happen when the Russians get to Berlin and the Yanks get to Berlin. It happened in Italy it can happen in Berlin, I'm not going to wait for it to go one way or the other. And I'm not going to spend another four in bloody Siberia I'm off t'ra." "Hang on I'm coming with you" he said. He hurriedly took only what was necessary, and when he paused I said "don't worry about shaving gear just roll a bit of soap in your flannel wrap it in your towel and stuff it in your pocket, pocket something you can eat and let’s get away from here. You need the towel and soap, not just to wash, but if you get hit, and if you want the lew go, don't wait, because if you get hit it could make the difference whether you make it or not”. "You don't sound like RAF" he queried. I said "I'm not, I'm a regular in the Argylls. I swapped ID with Tenny and I think its ironic, he's mabye going to be working another three months in Germany and I'll be home”. I took a long last look at the sentry tower and we set off,
Now according to the map behind the picture of the pinup, the Elbe river is left of the camp so face in that direction and look to see where the sun is and we set off. We must have walked for an hour when we came upon the biggest rhubarb plant I had ever seen. Suddenly shots rang out. We both ducked down into the rhubarb and very carefully I edged toward the crest of the rise and looked down into this village. A Russian soldier came out of a shop and his arms were full of crockery and a bottle in his hand. As he reached the pavement he just opened his arms and all the crockery hit the pavement with a crash. As this was happening two soldiers had a woman between them. She was crying and struggling as they crossed the street and entered a house. Just to my left and almost level with me was a window with shutters. A woman leaned out to grab the shutters intending to close them I suppose. Anyway a Russian across the street saw the movement and brought up his tommy gun, as the woman was closing the shutters he stiched a pattern right across the window, she must have died behind the shutters.
We kept well down and wriggled back out of sight of the village, then we walked some more until in the distance I recognised one of our uniforms. As we approached suddenly a Russian soldier took aim at us but the lad in khaki pushed up the gun and made signs we were on the same side. As we mooched around one of the Russians suddenly grabbed a half grown pig and with a razor sharp knife cut half of it's backside off, then let it go. I thought immediatley of a fire work, 'light fuse and retire' that pig thought it's backside was on fire, the last we saw of it it was heading for the woods. The Russian gave the sliced bit of backside to me and so not to offend I took it, and thanked him. I did'nt know it at the time, but later on I found out that place was in fact Torgau, we were told there is nothing for you here, head for the American lines. So we did. The bloke with me made a small fire and grilled the meat. I did'nt want any so he ate the lot, then he got the runs and was sick.
We walked until we came to another village, there was no one around so we had a look into some of the houses that had open doors. In one house there was a kettle on a stove boiling itself dry. I refilled it and put it back on the stove and in one of the cupboards I found a bottle of Camp coffee. The lable had an Indian with a turban holding a bottle of Camp coffee across the top it said 'with chicory'. I said to my freind "I wonder how long they have saved this for". He thought because of the dust on the bottle maybe since the first war. I wondered if it was safe to drink, then I thought what the hell, I'm sick of just water. There was also some evaporated milk unopened so we had a cup of coffee, very strong, and it was delicious.
We went outside and a flock of geese came by, my mate grabbed one and tried to wring its neck but to no avail and he had to let it go. I thought it was just as well, we had to get going. We selected what might come in handy, like a box of matches and a jar of what looked like brawn in a jam jar with a sealed lid. If we heard any signs of life we ducked out of sight among the big bunches of ferns and other plants until it was safe to come out. After we had been doing this for a while we eventually left the village behind and it was not long before we came to a river.
This has got to be the Elbe. I suggested we walk along the bank and find some means of getting across. My mate said, "why don't we just swim across". I explained to him that if we attempted this we could get swept down stream and some Russians or Jerries could pot us from the bank, no we must not cross here.
So we kept walking along the bank until we came to a barge tied up to a post on the bank. We could not find a small boat tied to it so I said, "we ought to go further and try a gain". As we were leaving a yank voice said "hey bud, you want some chips"? We were completly taken by surprise, and I thought Bark you are slipping. If that had been a Jerry with a gun, you would have been long gone. Any way we went back on board and settled down to chips fried in a pan. As I was stuffing myself with chips I noticed the coal fire burning on the wooden floor of the barge and I looked at the yank and said "that's going to burn right through the bottom of the barge". To which, with a sick grin, he replied "now aint that a cryin' shame, but we aint gonna to watch it, we just gonna finish these”, and holding up a long chip he inspected it from all angles before chomping down on it narrowly missing his fingers, "an' then we're gone”.
Having finished the chips I waited for the others to finish theirs and meanwhile I had a look round the barge. It was a bit like the ones people live in on Manchester ship canal, long and narrow it was beautifully painted, more like a gipsy caravan. I thought what a shame to burn or leave to burn some thing like this, but as the yank said "it's Jerry’s, burn it". We had boarded the boat from the landward side but we left it on the other side and jumped into this small rowing boat that had been hidden from the bank. One of the yanks said "shit there's only one oar". The other said "now what, how do we get across"? I said "skull with one oar". The yank looked and queeried "can you do that". I said "I did back home in the river when I was a kid, come on, but you are going to have to help, grab a long bit of flat wood each and paddle like your life depends on it, if we start to drift down river we'll be like those pot ducks you see in the shooting booth at the fairground”.
We pushed away from the side of the barge and straight away the current got the boat. But with me at the back skulling like mad and the others paddling with their bits of wood and sometimes missing so that we would be drenched with water a few times. Gradually they got better and we were keeping the little boat level with the opposite bank which now was getting closer. My hands were getting sore but we persevered until finally we could reach out and grab at weeds growing on the bank. Thankfully, we all got out and now we had to get our bearings. We let the boat go and it swiftly disappeared down river.
We then set off and walked a couple of miles when we came upon a group of houses. Going to the nearest house I knocked on the door and and I saw the curtain move. I knocked again and after a little wait the door opened and this lady appeared, " bitte entschuldigung, aber wo ist die burgermiester" (please exuse me but were is the mayor), I asked her. In good english she replied "I worked in a hospital in Birmingham before the war and we don't have anyone in charge here but if I were you I would go over to that shed and you will find lots of hay in there, bury into it in case someone comes. I will bring you something to eat and drink but keep quiet because I have seen SS moving about in those woods over there” and she nodded with her head towards the woods about half a mile away. Then she asked "which camp are you from"? and suddenly I was wary again. We got settled into the shed and decided we would stay the night and the others didn't have a clue so I said ok we split up the watch. "I aint doin' no watchin"' said one yank, but the other yank said "no the guy's right we get caught we get dead, ok ". To me he said "ok so what"? and I said " we can get caught just as easy outside as in here, but in here we are warm in the hay, we need sleep, and we are out of the rain. Now if that woman is genuine all we have to do is make it to morning, we do an hour each, but one of us at all times must keep watch to ensure no one creeps up on this shack," Then the bloke who was peering through a crack in the door whispered "that broad's coming", When she arrived she said “don't come out, you don't know who is watching, and I always come with this bucket for fire wood”. She stepped into the shed and in the bucket were some sandwiches and a pot of tea, and I mean real tea. She then piled sticks of wood into the bucket, making sure they could be seen sticking out of the top and backing out she closed the door. Our bloke on the door said she has gone in now and closed the door.
It was nice and warm and it was not long before I was trying to keep my eyes open. Suddenly one of the yanks said "listen, that is a jeep engine". Sure enough as I peeped through the crack in the door I could see the Jeep in the distance coming along the dirtroad. One of the yanks made to go out but I held the door tight "wait" I said "they could be Jerry". But the yank was heavier than me and he pushed me out of the way and ran toward the jeep. Two figures in the back sprang to their feet and trained guns on the running yank. The jeep stopped and the yank was showing his dog tags and motioning toward us. We also had come out and the woman came out of her house, the bloke in charge of the jeep said "we'll take our two boys, but you two will have to make you're own way back to our lines, here take this to keep you going till you get there", and with that he slung us a K ration pack each and roared off in the jeep.
We got back into the hay and went straight off to sleep, but I made sure we were at the back of the shed so if any one came in and started sticking sharp things into the hay the would not reach us. In the morning we went over to the house and thanked the lady and she flushed with pleasure, "may we use you're pump". As we washed she brought out a towel and a little packet of sandwiches, each as we washed up. Take the towels and use them when you wash in a stream or pond and good luck. We said thanks, goodbye and set off through the wood.
We had been going for about an hour when I spotted this bike. It was like the bikes coppers at home used to ride, tall frame, carrier on the back, back step at the back axle, three speed. I looked up to heaven and said "thanks", but I think he was out for the day. Anyway, I looked around and there he was, this bloke was mowing the clover in the field and since he was eight hundred yards away, he would have a lot of catching up to do. As I got hold of the bike, the RAF bloke looked a bit shocked, "you're not going to pinch his byke". I said “you watch me". "But you can't". And I replied, "look we are in Germany, that bike will help to get us out of Germany and the bloke who owns the bike was one of those who put Hitler in power, his vote anyway. If you want to walk ok, but I'm off”. And getting onto the byke I was about to push off when he said, "I suppose your right, but I can't stand on that thing" pointing to the step. I said "ok you get on the front and pedal and I'll get on the step".
We did it this way and we went for miles. He pedalled along at a leisurly pace and I stood with one foot on the step and the other leg kneeling on the carrier behind the seat. I bet when that bloke finished reaping in the field he would blow his top. "Weers'me bike, shizer, und donner wetter noch mal”(twice). Well it had to happen the bike had no pump and because of the extra weight on the back wheel when matey ran over the roots of a tree sticking up in the road the back tire got pinched and went flat. From then on it was too painful on the knee to continue, so we slung the bike and walked.
Up ahead was a bend in the road and just as I heard the sound of engines it was too late to dive to the side of the road because they had already seen us. A forrest of guns swung our way and we put up our hands. The motorized colomn stopped and we were beckoned to advance. As we got nearer we could make out they were yanks and maybe a couple of our blokes. They wanted to know what we were doing here and I explained we had just got out of Salag 4B. "OK but watch it there are still armed SS in these woods, if you follow this road where we have just come along it will take you to an air strip, go there and stay put ok". I said "ok and thanks". Then he threw down two K rations, "see you around bud", and banged on the top of the lid and with a roar off they went..
We had gone quarter of a mile and I noticed the RAF bloke looking at me kind of funny. I thought what’s eating him now, he suddenly burst out with "youre really with it Bark, without maps and using your head, you have got us back. I would'nt have had a clue which way to go”. I said more to the point we are now free as birds and for the next fifty yards we cavorted and danced and yelled "we're bloody free".
As we got nearer to the end of the wood a jeep with one bloke in it came up to us and stopped. The bloke asked what we were doing here, "you could get shot just wandering around, there are still a lot of SS wandering about, I'm a bit surprised you got through without mishap". I told him we had seen the American armed column and they had suggested we kept walking in this direction, but we had seen no one else. I told him we were not tourists but we were ex pows and we wanted to get to the American or preferably the British lines. He asked us to jump into his jeep, we did, and he turned it round. We soon were on this air strip and he asked us to get out and stay on this very spot and wait. He told us that Lancaster bombers were ferrying people like us to France, so stay put and you are at the front of the queue for tomorrow. I asked him do we stay here all night?. He said if you go somewhere else to sleep, someone will get your place so stay put if you want to be first away, and stay away from those people. He pointed to a group of about a thousand skinny figures in black and white pajamas. Some were trying to stay standing, others were laid down, some were busy picking and killing lice from their clothing, some were dying, some were dead. The bloke told us the Americans have just brought these people here from the gas chambers.
We were there about an hour when this bloke comes across from the control tower and he asked us who we were and how long had we been here. We explained and he said “you won't be going anywhere today, we've just had a message, no more air movement till tomorrow”. Then in the distance we saw this DC3 coming in. The bloke looked through his binocs and said “it looks like Tedder's plane we are expecting him, he won't take you ,you will have to wait till tomorrow”. The plane landed and two figures got out and one had binocs. We could see we were being looked at. Then the other figure came jogging over, he was a sergeant, and he asked who we were. We again explained and he said come with me. He led us over to this plane, the other figure turned out to be air marshal Tedder, “now what are you two lads up to he quiried?” We explained again. At the end he asked the sergeant to get us something to eat and added "while you are doing that, I'm going over to get that clock for my front room", he pointed to a huge clock in the distance, must have been a joke. When he got back, he was coming into the plane as the sergeant was bringing in two plates of ham and eggs from the galley, "God" he said "don't give them that, I don't want them to be sick on my carpet, do them a glass of milk each and whisk an egg in it, and add a splash of Johny Walker”.
So we set off and I'm looking out of the window watching the ground whizz by. Then somebody was shaking me, "we are nearly there" and I thought I'd fallen asleep turning the handle on the potatoe riddler. But it was for real, Tedder picked up a phone and issued instructions to the pilot who circled this building, then he said to us "have a look at this", and pointed to this building. “That had really been shot up”, and he continued "the Jerries really put up a fight in that building”.
We landed at Riemes in France, I was taken to a tent and the other bloke into another tent. It was'nt till later that it accured to me they had done this to interogate us seperatly in case we weren’t who we said we were. Also, a telegram form to let my folks know where I was, plus a form to fill in to inform the people at the war office what theatres of war I had operated in. Then I was taken to a delousing station and showers, I was told to strip leave everything and go through this shower. Having done this, I was issued with clean battle dress, shirt, etc. The only thing I had were the disks round my neck to remind me of a nightmare.
The next day I wandered around and was told "stay near your room because you could be called any time". The following day a group of us were taken to the airstrip and we got into the bomb bay of this Lanc. It was great to know we would soon be in England, till some dick head said "I hope he does'nt forget himself and say "bomb doors open". I looked round and grabbed hold of a bracket sticking out and did'nt let go until the plane had landed. When we got out, on impulse, I dropped on my knees and rubbed my face in the grass. A nurse came toward me and I said its ok I just got carried away. She had tears in her eyes and she said that was so beautiful, “welcome home hero”, she put her arm round my shoulder then I was close to tears. I was not alone, other blokes were unashamedly crying and some had relatives to greet them. There were news reel blokes and cameras clicking, I was glad to get away from it all and sit quiet.
The nurse took me over to a table and a bloke asked questions. I can't remember what about but there were lots of tables and nurses and blokes asking questions, it was overwhelming. Then we were taken to #100 reception camp Buckinghamshire. This was a big mansion turned over to the government for the war I suppose. I was shown into this dormitory with beds with snow white sheets, and somebody said "at meal times you will hear the bell, if you don't, or you don't feel like eating, you can go to the kitchen anytime, night or day, and make a sandwich. There is always a urn of hot tea on the stove, there is a library down there and if you would like to you can go sit by the river".
I plumped for the river so I could sit and sort myself out. It is very hard to explain to someone how, for four years you have been mentally and physically abused every day. The Russians closed in, fortunatly, the threat was never carried out, but we weren’t to know that. Then suddenly all this kindness. I think one Scottish gentleman put it rather aptley "ye canna poot bile'en warter en tae ah cauld glass, et wull brek". I thought that summed up our position rather well.
I set off down the stairs and out of the front door and walking across the lawn and two bods with a ball came strolling over. One asked me "coming for a game of footy". I shook my head and looked around to see if there was a wooden shed with a little window in it. There were no guard towers, no barbed wire, just beautiful trees, flowers, and green grass, and it was quiet. From there I went home. Tenny came home about three months later, at his wedding we exchanged our pow number tags back again, and with a grin said "thanks".
2982252 Pte Barker T.O. 1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Born 23 May 1921.