Tom Barker passed on October 1st 2008
THE RUSSIAN POW
The snow was drifting down and it was cold, well, at the back end of 1944 it seemed to be cold every where. When we heard news, sometimes we would get news from a Guard or Ferret.
(A ferret was a guard who having been wounded and was bi-lingual was employed in a pow camp to look for anything untoward the inmates were doing or saying, then he would stuff it up for them.)
But I think now we had got to a stage in the war where a lot of them were beginning to see the light, and when the Fuhrer would address every one over the loudspeakers you could see a guard who had stopped to listen, turn and with a shrug and would mutter, "ya, ya, wier haben es alles gehort ein mal" (yes yes, we've heard it all before) and waddled on like a disgruntled duck looking for a pond to jump into.
I was walking round the wire, on the inside that is, and the bloke who was walking with me was negotiating a blower, he wanted me to make him a little machine made out of tins that gave off heat like a miniature blacksmiths forge, good for brewing up, which was our favourite pastime.
And who should we meet with but Hans, well, we didn't know his real name but we called him 'The Hands'. To begin with but it got corrupt to Hans because he was expert in searching, and on one search someone said "cor lummy, luk at 'em ands goin', e' can search me any time," and the name stuck so from that day every one referred to this Ferret as Hans.
Hans was fluent in French and a little Russian, the odd word in English and when called he would correct the bloke calling and reply "nien nien , ich bin Gustav, ( no, my name is Gustav) but in the end he gave up trying to correct us and if some one shouted to him "hey Hans" and he would stop and turn and ask "ya" and the bloke would ask "when yu goin' tu tek yu syanide pill" and with most Germans who didn't understand a word of English but would pretend they did, or were so sick of having their leg pulled, and the stock answer would be "ya ya morgen." ( yes tomorrow)
Then muttered "merde"and the dim of whit would laugh.
Well Hans stopped, and because he knew me, he knew he didn't have to get the interpreter, "Na, was machen sie den?"( now what are you up to) and I replied "wir sind spazieren nach den Russischer Front "( we're taking a walk to the Russian Front), you may well laugh at this pidgin German but it got results sometimes, and you could glean from some of these blokes tit bits which when fitted together gave a good over all picture of what was happening, because if you believed all the bullshit that was coming over on the German news, "the German Army has got a pincer move on Venus, and we have already occupied Mars."
One of our Geordie lads shouted back one day "hey yu Kraut git, come an' see me , ah'm a big mate o' Walt Disney, ah cin git yu Pluto fer nix"
Well we knew Jerry had a flying bomb, but Mars and Venus, do me a favour?.
Hans continued with his German lip exercise and suggested we didn't even make a joke about going to the Russian front where thousands of good German soldiers were dying every day, then he pointed to the knee high single wire that was three yards inside the main wire and wagged a finger " aber nicht da spazieren, verstehen sie"( but don't walk there, understand" and two heads nodded and in unison "ya ya" so we parted company with Hans. When we got back to our hut we passed on the conversation to others, and one bloke putting a tin on his blower with a view to making a hot cup of tea said "yea well
they are the best kind ain't they, dead Jerries, tot, kaput, f ---n' finito, mafeesh, backshee," "yea alright mate, calm down, we got the bleed'n message, came a voice from up top of a bunk.
Then another posh voice joined in with "I take it you don't particularly like the dear old Hun?"
Another day we walked and the bloke with me said "'ere look at 'im then" and this bloke over the wire in the Russian compound was sitting in the snow and weeping while doing a kind of bowing and clasping his hands together in despair over this other bloke with bare feet who must have been crouching out of the icy wind behind this barracks, but he had finally given it away and departed this life, and his body must have keeled over because now he lay like some one sleeping with his knees pulled up, and others must have found him and taken his footware, but the bloke hovering over him with his face awash with tears would stroke the hair of the dead man and pat his shoulder as if to assure him he would feel no more pain.
And as I looked at this scene of abject misery, I could almost feel what that bloke had gone through, until he must have thought in Russian "bugger this, I've had enough" and he would know that if he fell asleep that would be the end. So he just did it, and now all the Swastikas and SS soldiers didn't matter any more. It was as simple as that, well, for him it was, but what about this obvious mate, or son, brother or father who was here now weeping over the still, frozen body, he now had what was already a heavy burden added to by what had happened here, perhaps he was now alone to face what?
" Come on mate , we can't 'elp 'im, said the bloke with me, and we trudged back to the barracks, and because our fuel ration had been cut off as punishment for escape attempts, all the glass in the windows were iced over due to the condensation inside.
I agreed to make the bloke a blower and told him to come back tomorrow, and as soon as he was gone I did on impulse, I was an impulsive bloke, grabbed a packet of biscuits from my parcel and went back to the wire. The bloke was still there so I shouted to him and held up the biscuits and threw them over when he looked. They landed in the snow near him and as he picked them up he kissed the packet and held out his arms as if to hug through the wire, then he was gone. I looked round feeling a bit guilty. I don't know why but I suddenly looked at the guard tower, I sensed some one was watching, and the guard in the tower was leaning on the edge of the woodwork where the nose of a machine gun poked over. He must have watched the whole thing, and as we looked at each other, he slowly put up his fist and his thumb was sticking up. Then he turned and went to the other side of the tower and gazed over at the woods in the distance, and I went back to the cold barracks and my bunk. T.O.B.1997©
2982252 Pte Barker T.O. 1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Born 23 May 1921.