Diary of Charles (Chaz) John Keslake
In this book, I intend to give an account of my life from the time I enlisted in the British Army, during the Second World War, 1939 – 1945, until my discharge.
The contents are entirely for my own use or pleasure, but I hope, should anyone read them, they will not find them too boring or badly written, and that they shall not form a wrong impression from them.
In the latter pages also, I may have a few cartoons or something inserted so that the book may also serve as a souvenir.
As most people will remember, just before war was declared in 1939, the government decided to train men in preparation for the coming conflict.
I, being of or just under the stipulated age, had to register for service under the Militia Act.
British conscription ended in 1919, but twenty years later was resumed (Military Training Act 1939 [May], superseded by National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939 [September]) in the immediate prelude to the Second World War.
Actually, I was just under the age limit, but decided to get into the army and get my training done.
Had I not have been in such a hurry, things may have turned out differently, but fate seemed to take a hand in it, so perhaps it is a good thing that one cannot foresee the future course of one’s life.
I registered for service on June 3rd 1939 at an employment exchange in Camden Town London NW1.
The terms of service were six months with the colours and three and a half years on the reserve.
I received my calling up papers in due course and reported for service on July 17th 1939 to the 22nd Searchlight Militia Depot, Morton Park, Taunton, Somerset.
During the third month of my service, Germany invaded Poland and owing to an agreement, England declared war on Germany.
While at Taunton, I worked in the camp hospital for nearly four months, after which I was posted to the 1st Searchlight Battery, 1st Searchlight Regiment, Kinmel Park, Rhyl, North Wales on January 15th 1940 where I completed my training and received draft leave for France on March 2nd 1940 which expired on March 9th 1940.
We left Rhyl at 10pm on March 15th 1940 travelling overnight from Rhyl to Dover.
After embarking we finally left Dover at about 4pm on March 16th 1940 and landed at Boulogne an hour and a half later.
In France, we took over from a company of Royal Engineers who were billeted thirty kilometres from Boulogne in a Chateaux at a place called Setques (Pronounced Set).
I went to France as a driver to the battery Sergeant Major and while at Setques was batman to a Royal Engineer Officer who came to us for a few days, and who incidentally was a famous racing motorist, quite well known at Brooklands.
After a stay at Setque, we moved to Roubaix where we were billeted in a large house which had been commandeered for us.
While at Roubaix our searchlights went into action for the first time with a fair success.
We were not at Roubaix as long as at Setques but during our stay in Roubaix, the Germans broke through in the Luxembourg area on May 10th and we accordingly retreated to a small village called Gorre (famous during the last war as part of the front line being near Festoubourg) where we gave up our searchlights and were attached to an Infantry division and had to guard bridges etc.
We were only at Gorre a few days when owing to the Germans rapid advance which is now part of the world history, we retreated further back to Calais.
At Calais, we were billeted in a small cottage which had been evacuated by its owners.
The cottage stood at the back of one of Courtaulds (silk manufacturers) huge factories and for a few nights I slept in an air-raid shelter owned by the manager of the factory (who was an Englishman) who told us that the shelter cost £500,000 to build as it was specially ventilated, contained a lavatory, wash basin, and was equipped with a stretcher, besides being fitted with cupboards, deck chairs and forms.
The manager claimed that the shelter could withstand a direct hit from a 500lb bomb.
After a few days at Calais, things began to get a little warm as by now the Germans were again on top of us, so we took up a position as Infantry along the road with Bren and Anti-Tank guns.
Besides the 6th (Heavy) A.A. Battery, ROYAL ARTILLERY already referred to, which had four guns in action in rear of OYEZ Farm and three near FORT VERT, there had also recently been withdrawn to CALAIS, the 1st Searchlight Regiment, ROYAL ARTILLERY, and the 172 Light A.A. Battery, ROYAL ARTILLERY. The two Batteries of the 1st Searchlight Regiment, disposed respectively for illumination and for dazzle effect, had their groups of lights distributed at 3,000 yards intervals in a wide semi-circle round CALAIS. Thus they were necessarily the first to contact the advancing Germans and, fighting as small detachments of infantry, their resistance effectively slowed down the advance of the leading German troops before the majority successfully withdrew within the CALAIS defences.
By the following day, things had got so warm that we had to leave our billets, and took up another excellent position on top of a railway embankment nearer the centre of the town.
The position comprised of some of the Rifle Brigade, Kings Royal Rifles, Queen Victoria Rifles, a few men from the Royal Corps of Signals, ourselves, and one or two odd men from various regiments.
The first time we took up this position we succeeded in putting a German tank out of action, setting it on fire, and killing its occupants as they jumped out, at a range I should say of about four hundred yards.
No. 12 Platoon’s position was actually a little in advance of the railway embankment, being on the ramparts. Here it was soon in action against advanced German troops, who were engaged with light automatic fire, to which the enemy quickly replied with mortars. One section observed German troop-carrying vehicles through a gap in the hedge bordering a road to the Right front, at a range of 450 yards, and put two of the vehicles out of action with A/T rifle fire.
We then retreated from this position, but re-occupied it later.
Just after the second occupation of this position I had a very narrow escape. I was sent to get a lorry, which I had just placed in position, when I was told that tanks were coming up the road behind us, on which information I ran down a nearby cellar, and had just got down there when a shell blew my lorry and the house outside which it was standing out of existence.
No doubt a lucky escape !
From there my troubles began !
After a little more excitement, I arrived on the dock-side and then on to the beach.
The railway station was a complete wreckage, and there were lorries overturned and military and civilian kit strewn everywhere.
Calais May 1940 (Wikipedia)
I have never seen a town such a complete wreck, as before I left, it was absolutely flat.
Calais May 1940
On reaching Calais Station, I joined up with various platoons of the infantry regiments and we slept that night in a field covered by our great-coats and gas-capes.
The following morning the battle continued even more fiercely than before. This however proved to be its last day, as at 6 o’clock that evening (Sunday May 26th 1940) I was taken prisoner of war.
There was no alternative but to surrender, which was done at 1700 hours.
The German officer who captured us spoke perfect English, and we were made to throw away our tin helmets, all arms, and any ammunition which we had.
Then what we termed as ‘the march’ began.
We had to march from our place of capture, inland towards Germany.
The first night of our capture, we were marched all through the night during which there was a very heavy downpour of rain in which we had to stand still for about two hours owing to an air-raid by our own planes which was then in progress.
The following morning, we were rested in an old factory but were so packed in that we could only sit with our knees under our chins.
I can only remember ever being fed by the Germans about three times during the whole of the march, the food we got we had either to beg or steal.
That is not a very pleasant admission to have to make, but I can assure you that hunger is not a very pleasant thing.
I cannot remember the exact details of the march, but I will write them as they come to mind.
We were marched for three weeks, at the end of which we boarded a train comprising of cattle trucks, at Cambrai and started for Germany.
While marching, the French women were very good to us giving us everything they could and welcoming us in every village and town we passed through.
In several of the women’s attempts to give us food or water, they were invariably hit with the butts of our guard’s rifles or their buckets of water kicked over, however, in spite of these atrocities they were still determined to help us.
On the third day of the march, we were caught in another heavy downpour of rain and I can assure you I got really wet, as I only had my battle-dress on, having had the rest of my kit blown up in the lorry at Calais.
That night, still very wet, we were all packed in a church in which I was fortunate enough to get myself a chair but it was most uncomfortable as my clothes were still very wet and my trousers stuck to my legs.
On again during the next day until we came to a large football stadium, only to stop for a few hours during which we received a few hard biscuits and a drop of watery soup but as there were still very large puddles and the ground was very soggy, there was not much rest here.
On leaving the stadium we marched twenty five kilometres to Doullons (Douai) where we were once again packed into an old civilian prison.
As we marched so we multiplied in numbers, so that by the time we reached Doullons (Douai) we had with us some Belgians and French Morrocans.
I shall never forget this prison, the reason for which I will not explain, but we really were having some bad times.
In this prison, I picked up with two ambulance drivers, and we planned to escape shortly after leaving here.
We left the prison and had marched some distance when our chance came to escape – and we took it.
We ran up a narrow lane and flung ourselves in the tall grass, lying there in the blazing sun until the whole column had passed by.
At last we were free !
When the column had passed, we stood up in the field and were seen by an old lady who was more surprised than alarmed, but she gave us some eggs, so things turned out all right.
We intended to make for the coast, but we found that in order to reach it, we should have to go back through or around Doullons (Douai). We decided to go round it !
Between us we had a map, a compass and five hundred francs which enabled us to live very well, as living in France is cheaper than in England.
We decided to keep to the fields, as the roads were full of German convoys.
The first person we approached for food was a boy who was working in the fields and who agreed on our production of some of the money to bring us something.
We gave him some money and telling us to wait where we were, away he went.
He came back later with two bottles of home made wine, a large bottle of fresh milk, a dozen eggs, about a pound of home made butter and some bread which, when totalled showed that we had very good value for the amount of money we had given him.
After our meal, we carried on with our journey, and once missed being seen by a German Officer by the skin of our teeth.
The following evening we came to a farmhouse on the top of a hill and were carefully watching points as to who was about, when we saw a German Officer leave the house.
After a little however we decided to approach the farmer for some food.
One of us accordingly went carefully up to the house and we were given a good meal by the farmer’s wife for a few francs.
After our meal, she gave us some water in which we washed and shaved.
A little later the farmer himself came out to see us and his wife brought us out some pancakes which she had cooked especially for us.
We met here a young French lad who was in the same position as us, being an escaped POW He showed us his papers and pay book which he had down the leg of his trousers.
The farmer would not allow us to sleep anywhere in his farmyard for fear of us getting caught, but gave us permission to sleep in one of his store sheds a little distance from the farmhouse where we passed a fairly good night in the hay, (accompanied by a few rats) and left on our way early the next morning.
Later that afternoon, we crossed a main road in full view of a German convoy, after which we decided to rest for a short time.
We had not rested more than a few minutes when along came some Germans on patrol.
Alas, our freedom was at an end.
They did not at first know whether to stop so we concluded that they were not looking for us, but as one of them came back after having gone about 10 yards past us, we were caught.
This German took us back to their headquarters which was in a large farmhouse, where we were taken before two German Generals who also spoke perfect English.
We were taken into the General’s room singly, I being the first to go in.
One of them took my particulars and asked me why I had escaped, to which I told him I was hungry, so he gave us a tin of English corned beef (out of his own bag) and a loaf of bread between us.
We were then taken back to the prison in Doullons (Douai).
I forgot to mention that when we first escaped, we left our tunics in the field into which we had run, and as we were taken back to our last stop we had to go over the same route so on passing the same field were able to rescue our tunics.
As the German troops seemed to be in every village and farmhouse, we gave up the idea of escaping and carried on with the march.
As I said, we entrained at Cambrai and were packed in cattle trucks along with the French and Belgian troops.
For days and nights on end I had no sleep at all as it was impossible to sleep with your knees forced up under your chin, and in such a state the nights seemed so long as the train would go for about half an hour and then stopped for several hours.
One point which I have overlooked, and which on looking back is as one bright light on a sea of misery.
When we were first taken prisoner, the German troops were quite confident that they would be in London within three weeks, to which our lads replied – Yes, as prisoners – and they were not far wrong.
At last, after days of travelling in these abominable conditions, we arrived at our first camp inside Germany – Trier, which is just inside the German-Luxembourg border.
Here we disembarked and were marched to our first organised camp, at the top of a very steep hill which overlooked the River Mosselle and gave me the finest view I think I have ever seen.
The town (or city) of Trier itself stands in the Mosselle valley, but the prison camp is on the top of a hill.
The camp comprised of rows upon rows of wooden huts, which on looking inside looked like store sheds (Stalag XIID/Z)
Here there were already thousands of French and Belgians and despite the fact that there were two large cookhouses they had a very poor system of serving the food.
We lined up for our food from the time we arrived, until eleven o’clock at night.
I was last in the queue (as usual) and did better than the others, as, by the time I reached the counter they had almost run out of soup, so while the others only got a bowl of soup, I got half a bowl of soup, a large mug of coffee, two thick slices of dry bread and a thick slice of cheese.
By the time I had received my rations, it was well after lights out, so we were just pushed into one of the huts and had to find our way round the best way we could.
The next morning we were again on the move, but before we left, were given some breakfast.
After breakfast, we packed up (I said ‘packed up’) but what we packed, I don’t know as the only kit we had was that which we stood up in) were given a loaf of bread, and away again on another two days train journey to Limburg (Stalag XXIIA)
This camp at Limberg was still in course of construction, and there were only a few English and Polish troops there.
Likewise at this camp, we slept on the floor on some straw but as this was a permanent camp the organisation was a little better.
I have since heard that this camp turned out to be one of the best camps in Germany, and although I was only there for seven days, I can quite believe it.
On leaving there, we made another two days train journey to Lamsdorf in Upper Silesia, which I thought at the time was my final camp, but I am afraid events proved differently. (Stalag VIIIB/344)
At this stage, I think it is of interest to consult a map, where you will notice the difference in the time it took us to travel from Trier to Limberg and from Limberg to Lamsdorf. It took us 2 days to do each journey.
We arrived at Lamsdorf on Sunday June 23rd 1940 and were there for a month under very poor conditions after which I volunteered to go out on a working party.
The Sergeant Major in charge of the barrack room at Lamsdorf came in and asked for volunteers for farm labouring so of course there was a general rush, but on arriving at the ‘farm’, we found it was a state owned paper factory at Krappitz. (Work Camp E8)
There were one hundred men sent to this job and on arrival, found that there were already one hundred Englishmen there.
We were billeted at Krappitz in a dance hall attached to a guest house owned by a very stout German who acted as our cook until the newness wore off, but he must have made a pile of money out of us, as he was able to buy a new car on the strength of it so he had no cause for complaint.
We arrived at Krappitz on Tuesday July 23rd 1940 and started work the following day.
On starting work, we were given such jobs as emptying trucks of soda, timber and coal.
We started work at 6 ‘clock in the morning which made it necessary to get up at 4.30 as we had a two kilometre march, and finished at 5.30 in the evening, but as the seasons of the year changed, so the working hours changed to correspond with them.
We returned to Lamsdorf periodically for cleansing purposes, and by now you will have realised that we were lousy, which is not a very nice thing to have to admit, but nevertheless true.
On these cleansing trips, we were conveyed to Lamsdorf by the factory lorry, and as we were well packed in it, and the journey was long, it was not very pleasant, but necessary.
When we first went out to work we had no overcoats, but later we received an old overcoat – mine being French- which being too small for me, I was able to change it with another fellow whose Polish coat was too large for him.
Perhaps you can picture how we looked in those days.
Take myself for instance. I had my own battledress trousers, and coat, an old shirt which was torn right across the back, my French overcoat, and for a hat I had the inside of a French steel helmet, which consists of strips of thick leather, which did not completely cover my head and as I had no hair, things were not too good.
On Tuesday September 3rd 1940 we were inoculated in the left breast, but what it was for, I never found out, but I am afraid the needles which were used were blunt as the German doctor made five attempts to stick the needle in me. (Diptheria?)
I wrote my first card home on Saturday July 6th 1940 and received my first letter in reply on Thursday November 21st 1940 which had been posted (if I remember correctly) on September 3rd 1940.
What a relief to hear from home, and to know that everything and everyone was still well, as although we knew nothing about it, during that lapse of time, the ‘Battle of Britain’ had been fought – and won.
So far, communications had not enabled us to receive red Cross supplies so all we had at Christmas was what the Germans supplied us with which I think was an extra piece of meat, a piece of pastry and a bottle of beer.
On January 21st 1941 I received a Christmas Red Cross parcel, which although a month late, was the brightest thing which had happened so far.
I’m afraid that an ex-POW will never be able to repay the Red Cross society for the great work which they did for us, and only we were able to appreciate the value of that great work.
After a time, the fellows used to take the red Cross supplies as a matter of course, but they were soon made to realise, when at times the supplies ran out, which, fortunately for us wasn’t often.
Without complaining too much about myself, I must give you the reason for my return to Lamsdorf on September 4th 1941.
Ever since I was caught, I had suffered with bad feet, due partly to the terrible condition of our system and due partly to the footwear which was then available.
The cause of my return was a large ulcer on my left ankle, the scar of which I still bear today, and probably always shall.
I should have gone straight into hospital on arriving at Lamsdorf, but as a new batch of prisoners had just arrived from Crete, the hospital was full, so I was sent to bed in the room where I remained for 6 weeks.
After staying in Lamsdorf for 2 months I returned to Krappitz (E.8) arriving there on November 6th 1941.
On January 2nd 1942 I went into the civilian hospital with supposed kidney trouble, but I think the doctor put me in there for a rest more than for anything else. I came out on January 10th 1942.
On March 20th 1942 I again went into the same hospital, but this time I really was ill. I had rheumatic fever.
I never wish to be so ill again in my life, and I am sure it was only the sisters who saved me, they did everything possible for me, and I only hope that one day, there may come a chance to repay them.
I was really sorry when I had to leave there on April 8th 1942. The guard was returning to Lamsdorf on April 9th and I had to go with him, where on arriving I was again sent straight to bed where I remained until June 8th 1942.
On July 24th 1942 I went out on a different working party (E.272) which was at a small sawmill at Falkenberg, not very far (13 kilometres) from Lamsdorf.
The strength of the party was thirty men and the billets were quite good, my friend and I having a small room to ourselves with sheets and pillowcases on the bed.
Here also, we had our washing done for us, which after having done it myself previously, was quite a change.
Life here was quite pleasant, as, being only a small party we got more privileges and freedom, on Sundays we were able to go out for walks or could play football only about three hundred yards from our billets.
This Christmas (1942-43) was the best I had spent as a POW, but I will not attempt to describe it, suffice it to say once again, many thanks to the Red Cross society.
Another New Year started which we saw come in, staying up until 2 o’clock in the morning, we all said it would be the last one in captivity – but I’m afraid we were one out.
Life went on normally until August 20th 1943 when I once again had to return to Lamsdorf, having broken out in small yellow-heads all down my left arm.
I spent my birthday in the billet waiting to return to the Stalag.
On reaching Lamsdorf, my arm was badly swollen, and I was sent straight to hospital as soon as I saw the German doctor.
This time I went in on August 21st 1943 remaining until October 26th 1943.
On coming out of the hospital, one of my NCO’s found me a job in the camp and I started work in the Red Cross Store.
I really must tell you something about Whitsun 1944. I was still in Lamsdorf, and they made the best effort I have seen in POW life, it is only a pity that there were so many German cameras clicking (there were also a few of our own clicking).
First of all, (on Whit Monday) they started off with a grand carnival parade, all the participants being in fancy dress, which started at 10 o’clock in the morning.
The parade marched round the camp, finishing up on the football field at the top of the camp.
Sports occupied the afternoon, supported a fairground, but was such a good effort that it reminded one too much of home, which isn’t a good thing in that life.
I should have gone out to work on July 28th 1944, but on the previous night, I slept in my old billet and when on the following morning I arrived in the working compound, I found I had ‘missed the boat’, or in other words that the party had left earlier in the morning.
In order to get me out of the working compound, the doctor admitted me to hospital, where during my stay, I had a boil on the inside of my bottom lip.
I have forgotten to mention that I also had a skin disease on my upper lip for which I was treated at the same time, but the doctor told me I could not get it cured until I got home.
In order to try and cure this skin complaint, I was sent twice to Breslau, where I saw a Professor who is reputed to be one of the cleverest men in Germany, but as they would do nothing for me, I was discharged on September 9th 1944.
My POW life seems nothing but a succession of hospital stays as I again went into the camp hospital on January 28th 1945 with frostbite to the two small toes on my right foot.
If you followed the progress of the war, and also followed these dates which I quote, you will remember that the Russian forces had been very active in our area, and accordingly, while I was in hospital the camp was evacuated.
We were told that every consideration would be given to the sick men on the train journey (as we were being evacuated by train) but I am afraid the consideration was very poor.
On March 2nd 1945 we were taken from the hospital to the station where we boarded the train, consisting of cattle trucks, at about 2.30pm and were locked in almost immediately.
The train started as soon as everyone had boarded, and there we remained for 6½ days.
We were however, allowed out once a day for about a quarter of an hour.
There were thirty four men in our truck, and as we all had our own kit, you can believe me when I say it was a bit crowded, but not quite so much as those at the end of the train who had forty and more men per truck.
I made up my mind to follow the route we took, as no-one not even the guards (or so they said) knew where we were going.
The route we took was as follows : –
ANNAHOF to NEISSE
- NEISSE via KOLIN to PRAGUE
- PRAGUE via SHAM to REGENSBURG
- REGENSBURG to MUNICH
- MUNICH to ROSENHEIM
- ROSENHEIM to SALZBURG
- SALZBURG to WELS
- WELS to LINZ (DANUBE)
- LINZ via ST. POLTIN to KREMS (DANUBE)
(approximately 370 miles by road map)
I think a few remarks are called for on certain places ‘en route’.
Firstly it will be noticed how many times we crossed the Rover Danube (4 times and once on return to Lintz with Americans).
Again, if the map is consulted, it will show that we were taken a very long way round to get to Krems, the reason for this, (and for this you can take my word) being due to the vast damage to the German Railways by the Allied aircraft.
Next, we come to Prague, capital of Czechoslovakia, which is built on a hill with a large chimney standing right on the top, affording an excellent landmark.
To me, the whole city looks dirty and dreary.
The houses are built on the ‘flats’ system, and are from five to seven stories high, and painted various light water colours, chiefly yellow.
There was still evidence of the German bombing of that city when the Germans marched into Czechoslovakia.
The next place worthy of mention is Regensburg. This place stands on the River Danube and had been heavily bombed.
As we continued our journey, so we saw more and more evidence of the activity of our planes.
The next large place we came to was Rosenheim which had also been heavily bombed, much damage being done to the railway and a number of the houses.
This place had apparently been recently visit, as in one particular street the civilians were just erecting a water pump in the middle of the street.
I find I have omitted to mention Munich which I should have put between Regensburg and Rosenheim.
We passed through Munich in the early hours of the morning so I didn’t see the place itself but some of the end trucks of our train were taken off there.
On we went, coming next to Salzburg, which was the most heavily bombed place so far.
There were no windows in any of the houses, roofs were blown off and the station had been heavily damaged.
Salzburg is a typically Bavarian city and is surrounded by hills.
On again to Wels which, although not a large place had quite recently received it’s share of attention from our Air Force.
Here the houses had again suffered, but chiefly from blast, the railway having had it’s share, with some railway trucks overturned.
At Wels, our train turned back and we were taken to a small lager two stations down a side line.
It was apparent that they were just trying to get us into any camp which could take us.
This camp was a French working camp and only two hundred of our men got off here.
We clearly weren’t expected here and no-one seemed to know anything whatever about us.
We were issued with some bread and meat and were kept in the train overnight, leaving again the next day at 12.15pm. And going back to Wels.
Wels it may be said, can be easily recognised by twin church spires standing on top of a hill and can be seen from a great distance.
A few miles outside Wels at Leonding there was a large force of AA guns covering Wels.
The next important place on our journey was Linz, which incidentally is the birthplace of Richard Tauber the famous singer, and which also stands on the River Danube.
I don’t think I have ever seen a place reduced to such a shambles from bombing as was Linz.
The place appeared to have been practically evacuated by the civilians, the railway sidings (which were very extensive) were just a shambles, with whole trains blown off the lines, huge craters in the earth, rails twisted into various shapes and whole sections of the track standing in the air or mixed up with the wagons.
There was also a German tank standing on its nose, in fact everything looked as if it had been picked up by a mighty hand and scattered all over the place, in any order.
I should estimate that this siding comprised of about twenty or thirty sets of rails, and the one which we were on was the only one working, and I imagine it would take some considerable time to clear the place up, even if the RAF left them alone.
From Linz we ran on the main Vienna line as far as St. Poltin (about 60 kilometres from Vienna) where we branched off to the north and finally arrived at Krems which also stands on the Danube.
We arrived here and were marched five kilometres (uphill all the way) to Stalag XVIIB (17B) which stands right on the top of a very steep hill.
This camp was an international camp and so we didn’t fare so well here, the whole camp seeming to lack organisation.
We were all crowded into two large rooms until the following day, when we were de-loused and all our hair cut off (making for me the 6th time of losing my hair).
The poor organisation of the damp is shown in the fact that the procedure of de-lousing started at 3pm that day and lasted until 6 o’clock the next morning, myself, I got into bed at 3am in the morning.
We ran into a bad time here as there were no Red Cross supplies (they having run out the week previous to us arriving) and the German rations were very poor.
The soup consisted of dehydrated vegetables, surrounded by plenty of water, and the bread ration was 8 men to a loaf, dropping the following week to 9 to a loaf.
Up to our arrival, Krems had not been bombed, but almost every day we saw hundreds of planes going over to bomb Vienna.
Soon after our arrival however, Krems came under the eagle eye of the RAF and the railway station and a few nearby houses were badly damaged.
We watched the planes during the bombing, they seemed to get into position as they approached our camp and you could hear a terrific swishing/buzzing sound as the bombs came down.
In this camp there were some American airmen but they were not allowed much freedom as they were kept locked in their own compound.
After we had been there about a month, things began to happen on that sector of the East Front, the Russians advanced and took Vienna which caused the Germans to evacuate this camp.
The evacuation started with the Americans who were fit, (the unfit in all cases being left behind) and was followed by the French, British, Serbs, Italians and Russians.
They were to be prepared to march 20 kilometres per day for about 6 days, and were making for a camp near Linz.
As history now shows, on April 27th 1945 Mussolini was captured by the 8th British Army along with two other of his ministers
On the evening that was announced, I was, personally listening in to the news at 9pm.
On the following evening or early on the Sunday morning, it was announced that Himmler had sent to Britain and America for unconditional surrender, but the statement was proved false and life in the camp went on just the same.
I think our camp was among the last to be liberated as we were only about 70 kilometres from Vienna, right over to the east of Austria, which took us well away from the Western Front, although we were very near the Russian lines on two occasions that at Lamsdorf and Krems, but we seemed fated not to be taken by them as in both cases they were less than 15 kilometres away from us.
We stayed in the camp however, until the date on which the Armistice was due to take effect, when, on that morning, a Russian Officer walked into the camp.
As there were a number of Russian prisoners in the camp, he met with a great reception, and he was hoisted onto people’s shoulders and even tossed into the air.
I think every hut had a flag flying, but of course, red flags were predominant, each hut flying the flag of the inhabitants of that hut.
The Russians however did not seem to take any notice of us, admittedly the food was a little better, but with regard to moving us, nothing at all was done.
After the Russians took over the camp, we were allowed outside the camp on pass and with such a pass I went into Krems (5 kilometres away) on Friday evening 12th May 1945 to have a look at the damage done to it by the RAF in their two raids upon it.
We had heard previously that it was well knocked about but when I actually saw it, it made me realise exactly what terrific damage was being done by the RAF.
The railway station and about a hundred yards of the line on either side of it simply did not exist.
The inhabitants of Krems however were quite pleased with the bombing as they told us that the RAF came over to hit the railway, and hit it they did.
Apparently the whole population of Krems expected to be homeless after a raid and were quite pleased when they found that only a very few buildings on either side of the railway were damaged.
While down in Krems that evening, an English 15 cwt lorry drew up behind us and an English Major told us to get straight back to camp if we wished to leave for home the next morning.
We of course didn’t need twice telling and made our way back to camp with all speed.
The next morning, a convoy of British lorries duly arrived to take the British personnel away.
These lorries had the job of travelling any distance in front of their lines, that is of course into the Russian lines, picking up British prisoners of war.
We all got into these lorries, but I was one of the unfortunate ones and had to get off owing, presumably to something I had eaten previously and which had upset my stomach.
There were only two of us who were left behind, and you can imagine our feelings when we saw all our boys leaving the camp – on their way home.
The two of us then were left in a camp full of Frenchmen, Serbs, Italians and Russians, but soon we were joined by a few odd Englishmen who had been living outside the camp since the Russians took over.
When we got off the lorries, we were told that a convoy of ambulances would come back in a few days which would pick us up.
May I add, at this point, that the camp had absolutely gone to ruin, there were huge fires in some of the roads, huts all broken for firewood, and at the top of the camp, whole families of men, women and children were living together in the huts.
You have heard stories of the conditions existing in the now famous ‘Belson’ horror camp, that end of our camp compared favourably with that.
There were incidentally two births in the camp just prior to the English leaving at which our Doctor officiated.
Enough however of conditions in the camp, I will carry on with my journey homewards.
Duly then, in actual fact on the 15th May 1945 we met the American ambulance column who had travelled 100 kilometres from Linz.
We left that god-forsaken camp (not with any regrets) at 7am on the 15th and travelled, by keeping to the River Danube the whole time, the 100 kilometres back to Linz.
On arrival at Linz the Americans had some difficulty in finding us accommodation, as there were no more planes for England until the following morning.
We were taken a few kilometres outside Linz to a large German concentration camp where we were given excellent sleeping accommodation for the night. (Mauthausen Concentration Camp – south east of Linz)
Apparently we should have gone straight to this camp as one whole block had been specifically cleared, cleaned and disinfected for us.
The next morning we left this camp and were driven to a large aerodrome about 2 kilometres from the camp, where there were Super Fortresses landing and taking off at the rate of about 10 per minute.
We were driven to the other side of the huge runway to our plane.
There were about 20,000 Frenchmen to be evacuated that day, and it was thought that we would have to come to England via Paris.
As however, we picked up still a few more Englishmen on the aerodrome there were just enough to fill a plane and so it was decided to fly us direct to England.
We finally left the aerodrome at 10.15am on the 16th May 1945 and flew, as I said, straight to England.
While in the air, I listened to Dianna Durban singing ‘Because’ (Deanna Durbin)
May I give you at this stage, a short description of flying.
Travelling in an aeroplane is much the same as travelling in a car, except that there is far more noise, and the movement is much smoother.
Perhaps it would be better to say that it is like travelling in a small motor boat.
I sat next to the wireless operator throughout the journey, and as it had two windows in that compartment and the day was fine and very warm, I had a wonderful view of the countryside over which we were passing.
I was amazed at the clearness with which everything on the ground could be seen.
I could see on looking down, a train moving along, a car driving along the road, and even people walking across a road.
The crew of this plane was American, who were very good to us.
We flew at roughly 160 mph over a journey of 456 miles, from Linz to Ford, Sussex, the journey taking about 3½ to 4 hours.
We landed if I remember correctly, somewhere around 2pm (to be exact 2.35pm.)
On landing we were taken into a hall, where we were given some refreshments, after which we were taken by lorry to a dispersal centre where we were fitted out and sent on leave within 24 hours.
We stayed overnight in this dispersal camp where we had spring beds, mats etc. and everyone seemed so friendly.
There was no reveille for us, we just got up when we liked, washed, and wandered down to breakfast when we were ready.
After breakfast they started on us.
We were re-clothed, paid, interviewed, and away to the station by 2pm – not bad going for what we had to get through.
I caught the 2pm train from Worthing after being taken from the camp to the station by lorry, and travelling to Victoria, I arrived at my own home at about 3.30pm. (17th May 1945).
Of course telegrams had preceded me and of course the flags were all flying and the ‘Welcome Home’ also in a prominent position.
I was given 5 weeks leave and while on that leave, was granted a weeks extension, making a total of six weeks leave.
During my leave I was called before the Ministry of Pensions Medical Board and was passed by them as being A1.
I reported to them on 21st June 1045 and almost a month later, on 12th July 1945 I was instructed to report to OC, 175 Field Regiment No.1 Crash Camp, Hartford Bridge, near Morpeth, Northumberland.
The journey from London to Newcastle takes about 6 hours, so I caught the 12.30pm train from Kings Cross which arrived at Newcastle at 6.45pm where we were met by a fleet of lorries which conveyed us to the camp 16 miles outside Newcastle.
We were put through a very stiff 3 weeks course, which included such tests as running 1 mile, walking 5 miles, 100 yards run, high jump, long jump and some pulls on the parallel bars.
We had also various educational, mechanical and intelligence tests.
After completing my 3 weeks at this camp, I should have been posted to another unit with the rest of the chaps, but just prior to them leaving I was told unofficially that I was to be discharged from the Army owing to some skin trouble (Sycosis Barbae) which I had on my face.
On the 1st August 1945 I was officially notified that I was being discharged, and on the following day 2nd August 1945 (Friday) I was sent to York to get my civilian clothes, with which we were fitted by the army.
I got my civilian clothes on the Friday and the following day again Saturday 3rd August 1945 after handing in our equipment etc. and receiving my discharge papers, I left the unit for home.
I was very surprised to meet quite a number of my old regiment at Newcastle a number of whom I had not seen since before we were taken prisoner.
On leaving the camp I had arranged to meet my young lady whom I did finally meet, and we came home together, arriving about 11.30pm.
My leave took effect from 4th August 1945 and lasted until 30th November 1945, but after getting married soon after my leave commenced, I decided to re-start work which I did on 24th September 1945.
I don’t think I even saw my uniform during my leave and so until the next time, closed a chapter of ‘glorious loyalty’ (or so it’s said) in the British Army.
It should be noted that : –
Hitler came into power 1933
Germany marched into Austria 1938
Germany marched into Switzerland 1939
Germany marched into Poland Sept 1939
War between England and Germany declared Sept 3 1939
France fell to Germany June 24 1940
Italy came into the war 1940
Russia came into the war June 22 1941
American and Japan entered the war (Pearl Harbour
Dec. 12 1941
Singapore fell to Japan 1942
Africa fell to Britain 1943
Second front started in France (Cherbourg) June 6 1944
Allied troops crossed the Rhine (Remmingham
Roosevelt died April 20 1945
Mussolini died April 29 1945
Hitler died May 1 1945
Capitulation to allied of all German forces
In M.W. Germany, Heligoland, Trilian Islands