Lancaster III JB190 OF –V
WAR FLYING MEMORIES by F/Sgt. Jack Anderson RAAF.
Extract from Bomber Command Losses – 2/3.12.43
Lancaster III JB190 OF –V. Op Berlin. T/O 1705 Bourn. Abandoned in the general vicinity of Kiel, where S/L Garlick, formerly a Lt in The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and a graduate of Edinburgh University, is buried in the War Cemetery. F/S Edwards has no known grave. F/S Charlton’s DFM was not gazetted until 8 May 1945. S/L J.M.Garlick DFC & Bar(+), F/S J.M.Anderson RAAF(pow), P/O A.G.Boyd(pow), F/S E.O.Charlton DFM(pow), W/O F.O.A.Dawkins(pow), F/S M.T.Ward RAAF(pow), F/S F.Edwards(+).
Memories are wonderful thoughts, a man can be lonely, sit and think and almost make himself happy again with memories. Happy with the memories of home, happy with the thoughts of those he loves, those who are thinking of him, memories of some incident in life. What will he do when he gets home, where he will go, he maps a new life. Still there are thoughts of what is to come, and if one will ever get home.
One often thinks if one could look into the future, and could knew what was going to happen, what a relief and help this would be, but when you come to think it all over, one does not want to know the future. The future is mapped out for you, it must happen, and the very though of going through your future, knowing what was coming, the thoughts would drive one mad. So when the unexpected does happen, it’s a shock, still with memories, one can look back on these, and say “Thank God I am home again, with those I love”
Had it been possible for me to have kept notes in a proper way, or had someone with me to write down my thoughts, I could have given a much better story that I am able to give now. But then how was I to know I would be shot down, land over Germany, be taken a prisoner, treated as one could not imagine, go without a bath, without a shave, without cleaning my teeth, smelling as I imagined I did, and a hundred and one other things that I cannot think of at the moment.
Just landing from the plane as I stood up with all I had in the world. I never in my wildest dreams realised that I would be in this position, and so, I have placed together, a few bits of my memories, here and there, and have tried to give a brief account of my experiences in Germany. I feel sure that to those who know me, my family, my relations, and my personal friends, these will prove interesting, so here goes.
I came back from leave, and the first thing I was informed of was that the “Ops” were on. The weather was terrible, surely we won’t go. I doubt if a plane could even go up in such weather, however War is War. We are briefed to have ‘Op Tea’ and on looking round, well I think the boys look very sad, although, under each uniform beats a heart of daringness, and daredevil courage. Courage that made one feel proud that they belong to such a unit. I suppose you wonder, what are your thoughts and feelings when you know that you are on borrowed time. Then you start to think, “I have only a few more trips to do, and then home. You think of home, your wife, your children, what are they doing, and during these memories, you are looking into space, then you hear as if from the clouds “Operations are scrubbed’ Good, now to bed.
December 2nd 1943. Operations are on again and we do night flying tests, but the weather is so bad, I’m sure we won’t go. The weather is really terribly, 20,000ft front. Briefed again, one goes through the same old thoughts, what else is there to do. Our thoughts are always of home, and our dear ones, one never thinks of ones own danger, but about those left behind. Will we go? We do go, and what a night. We are first off, and we race down the runway and stagger into the air, gaining height slowly. Over the channel and we hit the front, and Oh what a night. I’ve never experienced a might like it, and I’ve done quite a lot of night flying in all kinds of weather. However here we are up in the air and on our way.
We get through 17,000ft and we cross the Dutch Coast, then settle down in the kite for our long run to Berlin. Visibility still nil, soon the Bomb Aimer is saying Bomb doors open, when we are attacked by enemy fighter. I am in Bomb Aimer Compartment, and I hear a crunch and the aircraft shudders. I can see tracer shells coming at us. Our Skipper goes into evasive action and Wireless Operator shouts, “Port motor on fire”. I fight my way back to the Feather motors, press fire extinguisher, but no use, the main plane is blazing. We jettison our load and the order is given to “Bale Out”. I clear the escape hatch. The Bomb Aimer is on my heels, so I don my chute. You can’t think, your mind is blank, you just work, and carry out orders, there is no panic, your time is almost here, you don’t know how long you have to live, you think of home again, and your loved ones, these thoughts go through your mind, quicker than any plane can travel. I have my chute on, I look down, can this be possible, after all my trips, must I land in Germany, well I have to go, so here goes, and I wonder where.
I shall never forget that awful feeling in my tummy, I have never jumped before, but this time, it’s my life. I have to leave an aircraft that has always come home to base, I have to leave an aircraft that has carried me hundreds and thousands of miles, I have learned to love this Aircraft, and now I have to go and leave it.
Normally we are flying though space, the aircraft is safe and good, you can speak to the crew, sip your coffee, but now I must jump into space, and this cold blast of air through the escape hatch makes me wonder.
So the time is here, with less time then it takes to tell you, or for you to read it, out I go with my chute held to my chest, and my fingers on the release ring. I jump, I go through space, I’m in the air now, I have no time t o think, I can’t. The chute opens with a colossal report, and I feel my harness jerk hard. Then I am on my way down. Visibility is nil, I have trouble to breath, I’m not afraid, one does not get time to think, one does not get time to be afraid, I’m just there in space, and just as if I was on a swing, looking down, but I can’t see anything.
I sway alarmingly as a plunge through clouds, then all a sudden nice and steady; I just appear to hang there. All kinds of thought again rush through my head, my whole life in a split second. Where will I land, on a tree, building, or crash down a cliff? . I seem to be a frightful long time in the air. I don’t appear to be moving, but I must be, I can’t stay there just put. Am I caught up somewhere like an airman in the chimney? I look up by pulling on the cords; yes I am still going down, good. Then I think will an aircraft dash into my chute, and chop me up. It’s a funny thing, one does not get scared. Don’t for a moment think that I was frightened, I wasn’t, but these thoughts go through your mind, while you are up there. It’s a funny feeling, I could not explain it to you, and if you were in the same position, you would not be able to explain it either.
Well I’m still going down, I must hit the deck sometime, so legs up and don’t brace myself, land as you have read. I sail through another cloud and I see something dark under me, and then CRASH. I hit the deck in a heap, unhurt. I say my prayers. I gather up my chute, and then I see I have landed in a paddock, make to order. SO THIS IS GERMANY! Well, what next.
PICKED UP IN GERMANY
After landing unhurt from our burning plane, but very much shaken, I pause for a moment to take stock of my position and the surroundings. I can see the red glow in the distance, the last remains of our aircraft, and I must admit I got a lump in my throat. The aircraft I was so comfortable in, the aircraft that had carried me so many miles, there it was, like me going into space. I jumped, I had landed and was unhurt, and I was safe on “Mother Earth”. I waved a sincere last good bye to the aircraft, it went out of sight, and crashed to be no more, so passed a good friend, that I have a happy memory of.
Jack was shot down in the vicinity of Oldenburg near Kiel, Germany
Where was I? I take my bearings by compass, and find that I’m going to head west. It is bitterly cold, and very foggy, I cannot see anything, although I see the faint outline of a house on my left. I must avoid this, but where I am going, and what I am going to do? I don’t know, here’s to luck, and my fate for the future. After heading across the fields for some time, which appeared to me to be hours and hours, I came to a dead end in a swamp. I make my way along the edge, and then I came to a road. I realise that it is foolish to travel by road, but what am I to do. Here am I, in Germany, I don’t know the place, I don’t know where to go, I know no one, I must just walk on and trust to luck. I am forced to travel on the road. Everything was quiet, not a sound, darkness, it would try anyone’s nerves. I had not gone far, when somebody screamed at me in German, and, I heard the click, of the bolt of his rifle. Not wanting to be shot in cold blood, I call out “Englander”, then from nowhere, two men approach me, they are the Folkstrum (People’s Army). They march me back along the road and take me into a house, which is a kind of shop, where they sold cigarettes and drinks, etc. These men asked me for cigarettes, I handed them my packet, one of them gave me a cigarette and kept the balance for himself. At first they made no attempt to search me and told me that their job was to search for survivors of crashed RAF aircraft.
These men were very interested in me, and a school boy, very blonde a typical German, could speak some English, he told me he had learned it at school. They told me where I had landed, and that I would be taken to a Luft Camp. They gave me some apples, also gave me a drink, and were quite chatty, but to me they appeared a little scared. It was here that I saw my first Nazi Soldier with his crooked cross on his arm.
They searched me for arms but allowed me to keep my escape concentrated food and chocolate. The chocolate I shared with the German boy, and other children there. I was an attraction, never in Australia had people flocked to see me, but here in Germany, I’m sure all the village came to see me, so I must have been on show. Then the civilian Police came in, one a very nasty fellow, he searched me, and very roughly too. I was then left under two guards until the morning.
Through the night they brought in our Wireless Operator, they would not let us speak to one another. The Wireless Operator appeared very dazed and stupid to me, he was also talking too much, and I naturally warned up to ‘shut up’ for which I received some special attention from the guards. In the morning we were both marched down the road to the station, where we were put on the train. Of course I did not have the slightest idea, where I was, only that I was in Germany.
During the train journey in the crowded carriage one German passenger called me every name, but a gentleman, such as a murderer of women and children, and lots of other things, but I won’t go into details. I just had to ignore him, and for this he got very mad, our guard spoke to him in German, and he did not bother us any more.
We were taken to a Luft Camp (Possibly Luft Stalag 3) and searched again. A record was taken of my name, Rank, and Number, and all my belongings. I must say they were very good, and treated us like gentlemen. I was placed in a prison cell for the first time in my life. After this ordeal, and it certainly was an ordeal, I had been through a lot of experiences during the last 48 hours, I just remembered that I had, had no sleep. No wonder I was feeling the strain, so I lay down, and I must have slept for eight hours. The guard came round and I asked him for something to eat and drink. He brought me half a loaf of black bread and sausages, also margarine, also some black coffee, which was terrible to drink, after RAF rations. I soon acquired a taste for their black bread, it was a case of I had to. I enjoyed that meal. The guard gave me his towel and soap, and I had a good wash, he did not lock me up again, and allowed me to go in and talk to our crew, that is some of our crew. There were only three of us now. The guards were very interested in our clothing and, boots, etc. They tried hard to teach me German, became quite friendly, showed me photos of their wives and sweethearts, and were very anxious to get my views of the war. The only thing I told them was that Germany was well beaten, and the war would be over soon.
They treated me very well, and many a pleasant evening I spent with them. One morning we were taken to another Luft Camp (Possibly Dulag Luft) and it was here that all Aircrew of crashed planes were held, and then sent to Frankfurt for interrogation. Here I met two more of our crew and they were in bad shape, cold and hungry, we had plenty to eat, so fed them up well. So far only my Skipper and Rear Gunner were not accounted for, and unfortunately they were killed.
At the Luft Camp (Possibly Luft Stalag 3) they gave us an excellent dinner of soup, pork and vegetables, also plenty of coffee and black bread. We were in an Air Raid Shelter underneath a building, with only one guard. He was a good chap and we wandered about as we liked. An SS Officer came into us, he did not want information, as he had been in England, and was very anxious to talk with us about England. He had been on the Russian front, and told us terrible tales of the fighting there. He shared his cigarettes with us, and really seemed a good fellow. We were also visited by the pilot of the fighter who claimed to have shot us down. He shook hands with me said he was sorry, but war is war, and it could have been him. He also said I had no need to worry, for me the war was over, a lot of consolation that was. In chatting to him, the information I gathered was that two planes had crashed in flames; eight bodies were in one and four bodies in the other. Of our plane I could not get any information.
One German guard tried to amuse us by showing us dirty French postcards. They all appeared to me to be pretty fed up with the war, and wished that is was all over. More RAF Aircrew came in, some badly wounded and burnt. Most of them had lost their flying boots when they bailed out, and they had some queer footwear on, mostly clogs.
We were all taken by train to Frankfurt (Possibly Dulag Luft Interrogation camp at Oberursel. This was the main Nazi Interrogation camp for Allied airmen), all the wounded went to Hospital, (Possibly Dulag Luft Hospital at Hohemark) and we were slapped into cells to do our solitary confinement. They took every article from us, even cigarettes. The room I was in was 12 x 12 having a bed with one blanked, the room was pitch black, but was centrally heated so it was hot and stuffy, I really thought I was going to suffocate. You get “Claustrophobia”, I could speak to the chap in the cell next door by shouting, but as I did not know who he was, I thought it might be a trick to gain information.
I used to push the signal for the guard, and do as many trips to the “Lav” as I could, wasting time and doing anything to keep out of the cell. I tried to amuse myself in many ways, by counting scratches on the wall when they left the lights on, thinking and doing all the silly things one could not imagine, however one had to pass the time away, and you have not any idea how long an hour is, how many minutes there are in an hour, when you are in a cell like this, it seemed ages, the time would go so slowly I did not even know what time it was, what day it was, and at times if it was day time or night time.
While in my cell I found part of a German Newspaper and naturally tried to read it. I used to pace three steps each way do a bit of physical training and not sleep through the day so that I could sleep at night. Time passed very slowly. We were given two slices of bread, and a plate of soup every day, I sure was very hungry.
A Bogus Red Cross man came to see me, he wanted me to sign papers which I refused to do, which made him very annoyed. The beds were full of fleas, they certainly had a great feed of me, what you could do, you were there, and just had to put up with anything. On the 7th day I was taken in to be interrogated by English speaking Officer, he was rather amused at my age, and said “You must have good parachute”, as I weighed about 13 Stone 7 Lbs at that time. He was very interested in Australia, and knew quite a bit about the Country. He could not understand why we came from England to fight them. Why didn’t I stop at home and fight the Japs, he wanted to know this, and I told him “The Japs were not in the war when I left Australia” so he said “I understand that you Australians are nothing else but professional fighters, and you go where the wars are, and fight as long as you are paid well”. He also inquired about our blacks. Now I will give you some idea of the sense of humour of the Germans. I said “The Blacks are in the Australian Army fighting the Japs, and when they kill one, they eat him”, he was horrified, and I was amazed at him believing me. He tried many ways to get information from me, but I informed him I could not give him any, as I would be Court Martialled when I returned to England, he replied that no one could know, but I wasn’t fooled. He amazed me with the information, he had collected about our crew, and as we were Path Finder Force carrying secret equipment, he was desperate for information, he threatened to have me shot or hand me over to the Gestapo, also various other things.
I asked him for cigarettes and he refused, I told him that we were both in the same racket, but on different sides, and when the war was over, he would be kicked out and forgotten, just as I would be also. This shook him a bit and then he threw me a packet of fags. He asked me how I liked my cell; I replied that it wasn’t bad. “A good place for mediations and sleeping” he said “was it nice and hot” he said, I said “too damn hot”, “well you can go back there and stew until you give me more information” he said.
Seven days later the guards came in and returned all my personal belongings and told me I was going to another camp, where I would be well treated. I didn’t believe them, thinking it was another trick, but in the morning my cell door was thrown open and I joined about 50 more RAF fellows going out. After being cooped up so long, everybody was talking at once, and with our beards and very dirty faces we looked and felt terrible. The Germans unfortunately kept some of our crew behind, trying to get information from them.
11th December 1943. After leaving solitary confinement we went to Dulag Luft camp (Possibly Dulag Luft Transit camp at Wretzlar), and here we are issued with more clothing as we only had the clothing we stood up in. Here we were photographed and issued with new underclothing, towels, shaving gear etc, and also a new (RAF) top coat and also issued with French cigarettes, terrible, but we smoked them.
We were billeted in good quarters, with plenty of books and games and here I took my clothes off for the first time and had a cold bath, it was winter time. I put on clean underwear, had a shave and felt much better. They had a community Mess staffed with British POWs and they put on excellent meals. We were also given 50 cigarettes and a slab of chocolate. Life was starting to be much better, but how long would this last. I could not believe it was real.
Everyone had weird and wonderful tales to tell of their crashes some almost unbelievable but quite true. We all helped with fatigues in the kitchens and chopping wood for the fires. After breaking Jerry’s axes and two saws, he would not let us chop any more wood, said that it was sabotage, he was very mad with us. We spent a week in this camp it was like heaven, to what we had been through in the cells. We also wrote our first letter home, but it was six weeks before they knew I was a POW. What a letter it could have been, I could have written for a week, but then this was not allowed, paper was limited, and I was anxious to get a few lines about myself to my dear wife and children.
There were over 400 POWs there including USA Aircrew, and the weird and wonderful stories of being shot down etc were amusing to hear. We stopped there for over a week and enjoyed it. Jerry left us entirely alone. We were being sent to Stalag 4B, and we were told it was only a transit camp and later on we will go to a Luft Camp, but we never left Stalag 4B until the Russians released us in April 1945.
Each of us then was issued with a Red Cross parcel, and then we were taken to the station in a truck. An amusing incident happened, the German guard getting up on our truck gave me his machine gun to hold while he got in, and I could have blown him to bits.
Also we were warned not to annoy German people, by making noises like bombs falling, also not to smoke or laugh on railway stations. Our car was up near engine so if train was to be shot up, we were going cop it as well.
On our journey we were crammed into a boxcar, and it was almost impossible to lie down. There was no Lav, and some of the chaps had dysentery, you can image the mess. We were allowed off the train once a day to relieve ourselves. It was a terrible journey in train with no lavatory and guards would not allow us out, some of the chaps dirtied their pants. We were only allowed off the train once a day to relieve ourselves, On the journey we were fed with Jerry rations, it was a nightmare trip. We arrived at Muhlberg after three days.
PRISONER OF WAR LIFE
18th December 1943. We got off the train a Muhlberg and marched to Stalag 4B we had some cripples, these boys were placed in a cart pulled by a Russian POW. Before going in the camp, we were lectured by an Interpreter how to behave ourselves and act like soldiers. Here we were searched again, and any Red Cross tins of food we had were punctured. Jerry let me go by for two cigarettes, I realised that they could be bribed, to what extent I found out later. We are given hot showers and our clothes deloused, we are also vaccinated and inoculated against nearly every contagious disease. My vaccination didn’t heal up for three months, what a mess. Then they took my flying boots and RAF watch. I had destroyed my own flying boots before they got them, as I knew quite well that I would not have them long. They supplied me with clogs and it was over three months before I got boots, and they were elevens, and I take sixes. Everywhere I went I used to be tramping on my pals feet, they were sure like boats. After this they marched us to our hut and life began as a POW at Stalag 4B. Our greatest worry was how long would it be before our people knew we were safe.
Muhlberg, Brandenburg, Germany
We were placed in a hut with 200 other chaps, and have only been issued with Dixies and no other eating tools. We had to buy forks and knifes on the black Market. In this hut we had to eat, sleep and live. The hut measured 100 x 25 ft are three deckers, and 18 beds in a block about 18 inches apart, if you drew a top bed, it was not so bad, but the bottom beds were frightfully dirty.
Our issue was two blankets and a wood shaving mattress. Laundry was hung up all round the hut to dry and of course blocked the light and fresh air. There were two flat top crudely made fires, and on these you must queue up and do your cooking, which took hours to cook, so you can imagine what we had to put up with and how we had to manage, but after all we did manage and filled in the time too. Coal was rationed, but by bribing Jerry you could get plenty, we also made plates, pans, etc. out of tins from our Red Cross parcels.
Sitting up late one night it amazed me how we parked ourselves for sleep, about midnight, all is quiet except for the chaps groaning and talking in their sleep. The hut was kept clean, and we all took our turn at fatigues.
We collected our Jerry rations from the stores and cook house, rations included soup, which we never used, it was terrible, but the Russians were pleased to get it as they were in bad shape. We got black bread and lard, but you soon develop a taste for it, some spuds, a small issue of sugar and marg, also peas and fresh cabbage, when we got it. The meat was in the soup, great long stings of it, it looked terrible, you’d never think of eating it anywhere else, but after getting a horse’s tooth also his eye in the soup, I then left all the soups alone. Sometimes we got Jerry fish and meat in tins, this was very good. Jerry’s substitute coffee was fair and his margarine was very good. We had our brews made out of tea from the Red Cross parcels and these were made in a huge copper for the hut, were very economical. Every hut had a hut leader, elected by the men, and his word was law, and if you disobeyed you could be Court Martialled. The only place there was any room was in bed.
The first I remember of the Russians was the terrible state they were in, dirty clothes, of all descriptions, patched and torn, all were wearing clogs, they would lick the tins we threw out, and grab any bit of food. If Jerry found them near your hut, he would bash them and chase them away, but if you are hungry, bashing does not matter much, I have seen these Russians eat out spud peelings out of the garbage, we gave them all we could, and when I learnt to understand Russian, found them good chaps most of them were all well educated, and spoke two or three languages.
Our clothing and boots were repaired by our own cobblers with Red Cross leather etc. I was very sick the first winter (1943), I started off with boils, and never got better for over three months. How you miss your home, and your bed and the attention you get at home, and then at times grumble if you do not feel the best, after what I have been through, I’m never going to grumble again. I also had dysentery, and this was terrible, it lasted all the winter, and it was sure the proper dysentery, generally about 20 trips to the Lav, then my feet swelled up, I was a cripple, could just stagger as far as the Lav. I couldn’t eat, just lay in bed, and wondered if I would ever get better.
The winter was terrible, we don’t know what winter is in Australia, there were great falls of snow and hard frost, it was impossible to keep warm, you are frozen to the bone. I used to sleep with my clothes on to keep a little bit warm. We could get a hot sower about once every week, and so kept fairly clean.
We had two check parades a day, morning and evening, and anyone found outside his hut after 8.p.m. was shot at without warning. If you went closer than 6 feet to the outside fences, you were also shot at.
Fresh water was scarce, one tap to about 400 men, after 10 P.M. the pressure increased and on hot nights you could have a cold wash down. We entertained ourselves with hut shows by very good artists, we also had musical Instruments supplied by the Red Cross, and we developed some very fine Orchestras.
Later on we built our own Theatre, and put on some first rate shows, some of them the fest I have ever seen, with all the dress and stage effects done entirely by POWs. The women’s dresses for the leading “Ladies” were really amazing, one week we had variety, and the next would be a play. We also had lectures on every subject, some were amusing and I was lectured on Australian Dirt Track Racing and the Motor Trade. We used different huts every night, there were 10,000 British there so you had plenty of scope. We also had football, cricket, boxing and other sports.
Religion was catered for, there was a Roman Catholic Chapel built by the French, but too small for Sunday, so Mass was in the Theatre for that day. Most of the time we had an English Priest, but there were plenty of Priests, there were French, Dutch, Polish and Italian. I have seen as many as 12 Priests saying their Mass on week days in the Chapel.
Confessions on Saturday afternoons, and all the different nationalities there about two yards apart, but nobody cared. When the English Priest was absent, a French or Dutch Priest heard Confessions, he had a sheet of paper (written by our Priest) with all the sins in English and French, and you pointed to your particular vice and everything worked our O.K.
The Choir at Christmas and Easter was lovely, every nation was represented in the Choir, and I doubt if I have ever hear better Some of the Priests understood English, as they were learning in the camp, if you spoke slowly and loudly they understood, but very embarrassing at Confession. The Protestants also had their own Services. Corpus Christie was celebrated by a precession through the camp, also Anzac day by permission of the German Commanding Officer.
I found plenty of pals here from my own squadron and there were also 100 Australians here. We worked it out that about half were saved out of each aircraft that crashed over Germany, out of 10,000 Australians lost only 800 became POWs so I considered our losses were very heavy.
When summer came it was very nice and all my afflictions left me, including a bad skin rash, which disappeared with the sun tan. Then along came the bugs, fleas, and louse, the heat brought them out, Jerry would fumigate our huts, but only the weak bugs died and the survivors attacked you worse then ever, everybody was lousy at some time or other, I found out, to let them have a good feed off you, then you might get some sleep.
At Christmas time all the huts were decorated and Jerry supplied fir trees for Christmas Trees. Jerry takes his Christmas very serious, he also supplied a few barrels of beer for the first Christmas (1943), but it was terrible stuff. There was also a so called swimming pool, but our Medical Officer forbade us to swim in it, it was polluted, but it was good for skating on in the winter.
I received my first letter from my wife seven months (July 1944) after I landed in Germany, we used to get four letter cards and two letters to send home a month, but what could we write on them, they were heavily censored, you never wrote anything to worry your people. I had picked up a fair bit of German language, we could also buy some German papers to practice on, but the news was very misleading in them, they were still winning the war.
We had a small radio built by a POW from parts bought from German guards. The BBC News was typed out, and read out in the huts every night after 8.p.m so we knew all the war news. Jerry searched our huts frequently to find our radio, but he never found it, we always knew when he was going to search. Jerry would not allow us to have any tools, or iron bars which were handy for making things. Tools could be supplied by the Russians working in the German factories.
We kept all Aircrew together as NCOs don’t work, and we were more of a nuisance to the Germans. One of the bright pieces of our life was when about 300 Polish women were in our camp, they were in a different compound under heavy guard, but that didn’t stop our boys making love to them. There were some broken hearts when they went away.
I became very friendly with a Russian boy 19 years of age and we managed to understand one another. I was able to teach him English and he taught me what Russian I know. The Russians were in a different compound under German guards, but they could cut the wire and come into our camp. My Russian pal was an interpreter for the Germans in the vegetable garden. He used to supply me with plenty of greens, also tomatoes and strawberries etc. He was able to get plenty of onions, and as these were unprocurable to most POWs, we worked up a nice business selling them for cigarettes. Cigarettes were fairly plentiful at that time. He introduced me to other Russians, and they included Engineers, Doctors, Artists, men of many professions. They were very interested in the outside world, and I spent all my spare time telling them all I could.
I had heard plenty about Communism before I was a POW, but the only thing I found out from my Russian Friends that was true, was that there is not much religion in Russia, this rot they talk about Communism in Australia was never heard of in Russia, and my Russian pals had a great laugh over it. I found that they were very ordinary people, like us, fond of home life and the Theatre. They work hard, have a good education and never let you down. Plenty of the other nationalities worked in with Jerry, and told him everything we were doing, but not the Russians. This Russian boy was captured when he was 18, and he was put in a hell of a camp where 30,000 Russians died of Typhus. He managed to get out in a working party and got a job in a German Post Office, where he built himself up by pinching food parcels that came through the post, and by trading with the German civilians.
The Black Market was everywhere in Germany. In our camp was the biggest of all. The POWs generally numbered about 20,000 and when we were liberated there were 25,000 or more there. The camp was about 1000 yards long and about 500 yards wide, so there was not much room to move round. It was possible to buy anything for cigarettes and Red Cross food. The guards would come into our hut with tooth brushes, tooth paste, matches, shaving gear, mirrors, wine and fruit in season; in fact some of them were a walking Woolworth’s. If you wanted anything outside the guards would procure it at a price.
We were not so badly off for food, while receiving Red Cross parcels, but these cut out in September. Then we were put on half parcels, and it was necessary to eat your German Rations. We were getting sufficient food but after Christmas Red Cross parcels finished.
I spent my second Christmas (1944) as a POW in terrible cold winter and felt the worse through shortage of food. The new German push in the west didn’t cheer us up. Wood and coal were very short. We improved this by pulling down fences and grabbing anything that would burn. Jerry became so mad, he threatened to shoot on sight anyone caught in the act, but our raiding parties were very well organised, a few did get caught, but they received solitary confinement, we were able to get food and cigarettes into them.
The boys made Christmas cakes and puddings and also decorating them, some of them would kill a horse, most of the boys were very sick after Christmas. We received 3 USA parcels and half a Canadian parcel between 10 men also 30 Cigarettes, so managed a fairly good Christmas dinner. Black Market was doing colossal business and prices were terrific. Bully Beef was 35 cigarettes, and rose to 50 cigarettes. Breakfast consisted of two slices of break and Jerry Coffee, but spreads were scarce. Dinner was Soup and spuds stewed or roasted. Tea was two more slices of Bread and weak Tea with no milk or sugar. I got my usual issue of Chilblains and managed to cure them by wearing clogs again, one thing, clogs do keep your feet warm.
Some cigarette parcels came through, the Canadians seemed to get most of them, they were always well supplied with parcels from home, and it used to make us jealous. Christmas concerts were very good, and we managed extra brews. We made an Electric Heater out of tins for boiling water. If Jerry caught you it was in the “cooler”. My Luck changed I received 600 cigarettes from England, and they were a God send, and they meant extra food.
The POWs previous to 1944 had a terrible time with no food parcels. Jerry was losing the war when I arrived there, and he was much more lenient to us. The usual punishment for being late for Parade was to make the whole squad stand to attention for several hours; I have seen men collapse in the cold weather.
We got USA prisoners in our hut, 100 of them, and it was so congested that they had to sleep on the forms and tables. They were in bad shape for food, and we couldn’t help them much. They also suffered from exposure and all were bad with Dysentery, so bad too, 300 men using the same lavatory through the night. What a mess, most of them messed their pants. They took sometime to adapt themselves to POW Life and we helped them all we could. Cigarettes stealing became rampant and the ones who were caught were thrashed and beaten up unmercifully. Stealing is worse than murder in a POW camp. They were also given solitary confinement by the Germans. We received small issues of parcels, about seven men to a parcel useless when hungry.
Moral of the camp was very low, The Forts coming over and raiding used to cheer us up. We could watch the dog fights and Ack Ack. Because of shortage of fuel we made small hand blowers out of tins and scraps. They were very good and required very little fuel. Would boil water in five minutes and with the congested cooking on the stove they were great. If Jerry ever caught us using one, he would destroy them and then we made another one. We used to get outside on wood details, and it was very pleasant to look round. If Parcels came, Jerry had no transport, so we used to carry them from Muhlberg about five miles away.
Have you ever been hungry, I mean real hungry? No you haven’t, you nave no idea what it is like, you can’t realise it, I hope you never are, and yet I have seen chaps sell their bread rations for a smoke. Tempers get very very frayed, and the best of pals would start fighting. It was pitiful to see ten men watching a loaf of bread, being cut up and divided among them. There was always trouble over the pieces, some were bigger than others, and at times we used to cut cards for them.
You won’t believe me, because you haven’t been hungry, but its true, we couldn’t help it, we caught a cat and skinned it. It made a good stew. Watches were very cheap, chaps selling them for a few cigarettes or food, even rings or anything you could sell. My one ambition when I got out of here was to never to be hungry again. I was very sorry for the young chaps, we older ones could stand the hunger better. The Russians are getting close, and we are scared, we will be put on the march. The Russian POWs have cigarettes, they got through trading on the black market, and they are buying up watches and jewellery. Well we got a few parcels, and these helped us along and improved the morale. Great excitement when a Fort is shot up and the crew baled out over our camp. Many a time I looked at my bread ration and wished it was twice as big. We have no spreads, and eat our bread dry. There is no salt in the camp. I still do some business with my Russian friend and get extra food. He also invites me for supper, and I was very grateful to him. He is a great pal to me.
My weight dropped alarmingly, and I manage to get more food than other POWs thanks to my friendship with the Russians. I saw a Russian shot to-day for stealing a few spuds. The German shot him through the back, from a few yards. The topic always turns to food, and if you read a book, it is always about huge meals they are consuming. Eating is more important than the war news. Red Cross trucks arrive, nine men to a parcel and seven Cigarettes, better than nothing. The Germans remove Guards from Russian compound in February the war must be nearly over. I spend my last few Cigarettes on spuds and bread. Felt much better. One time we gave the Russians our spud peelings but now we eat them. The foreign POWs seem better off than us; they work outside and pinch extra food. In good times we traded Red Cross food to the foreign POWs, how the position is reversed.
In April the Danes came to our camp, and they received five food parcels to two men, the parcels were sent direct from Denmark, with extra food they trade it for watches, clothing and anything they could get from the British POWs. I have sold everything; I only have the clothes I wear left. I have no smokes, and I never realised before, what it is to have no smokes. I lasted a day without a smoke, and then my Russian friend gave me a smoke, how I enjoyed that smoke. The Russians were grinding wheat to flour in small hand mills and selling for Cigarettes. They are great businessmen these Russians, and when they get cigarettes, they don’t smoke them, but they keep them for trading.
If you wanted to escape from Stalag 4B, it was not much trouble. We had an excellent committee there. They made all arrangements, we could go out in working parties, and walk off, through the wire and many other ways. Change your identity with a Soldier, as Aircrew were not permitted out. You had to carry chocolate and raisins and other food with you. My job was to supply clothes, pliers for cutting wire, compasses, and other things they wanted. All these I secured from the Russian POWs as I knew them well, and could speak some Russian. They called me the Russian Confidence Man. Escaping was useless, because of the 100 chaps who escaped every one was picked up, and I don’t know of anyone who reached England. Germany was too vast, and no one outside would assist you, they would turn you in. A German Officer told me, that he did not worry about anyone who escaped or bother searching for them. He was quite sure they would get picked up, he was right. It is impossible to move about Germany without special Identity Cards and everyone was suspicious of you, every chap who spoke fluent German was picked up. If you wanted a change, a few days or weeks on the loose, all you had to do was to escape, but they always came back.
We dug a tunnel for a massed escape, and I supplied the tools. It was lit by electric light, and supplied with fresh air, it was also timbered. Too many knew about it, and with only a few yards to go, the Jerry Guards came straight to it. They brought the lavatory carts along and filled it up again. Perhaps it was a good job, because its possible quite a few would have been shot in the attempt. At any rate, it kept the boys busy for some time and gave them an added interest in life.
April 17th 1945. We are in the front line now. An aircraft shoots up ammunition trains near our camp, and it was still exploding a week after. There is a ring of smoke round the camp, from the bombing and fires can be seen at night. The barracks shake and quiver all night. . Aircraft everywhere in the sky and I hope they don’t drop a bomb in our camp. We are all getting “Bomb Happy” and it is impossible to sleep with all the bombing and strafing going on. A tragedy occurred to-day, a USA Mustangs shoots up camp, killing five men and wounding others. They mistook our camp for a German concentration. Cannon shells ripped the huts to pieces. It was an unfortunate mistake, and I’ll never forget as long as I live the crack of their guns. Raids every day, we watch bombs dropping from aircraft and see them explode. When will these Jerries give up, they are well beaten. My tummy will never get used to bombs; every one that explodes makes my tummy drop into my boots. I think it must be the noise, or the feeling, or the memory of what they do. My nerves now are in a frightful state after what I have been through. However, good news, I got some salt from the Russians, things are not so bad.
The end is near, the German Commanding Officer said we could march west to meet the Yanks, but we refused and said we would wait for the Russians. All the Poles go they don’t like the Russians.
April 20th 1945. At 2359 hours the German Guards and Staff move off, and we see the Russian Army at last, they arrive at 7.a.m. and we are liberated at last. All Russian POWs leave camp at 10.a.m. and make their own way back home. Everybody s very excited and anxious to start moving west, but we are advised to wait for the Yanks and transport. The Russians do not have sufficient food for us, so they advise us to go out, and help ourselves but being British, we don’t loot. After seeing foreign POWs returning with plenty of food, out we go. The British Authorities said we would be shot buy the Russians, but I knew we would not be. The Germans had left their homes intact, and we found plenty to eat. I could forgive the Germans a lot, but when we saw how well off they were for everything, food, really everything, and here we were as a matter of fact starving in their camps, through lack of food, then I wonder how anyone could have been so miserable, stocking themselves, and leaving us as we were.
In prison our system craved for sugar and fats, our skins were dry and wrinkled. I started off spooning sugar and molasses, and then I found large jars of preserves, what a feed I had, I’ll never forget it. I did not seem to want to stop, and I wondered where it was all going, but I had been without food for so long that I was just craving for food food food. I had to get a cart to cart home all the food I collected. I cooked a wonderful meal and then I went to bed happy and contented and full of good food for the first time this year, or really since I can remember. I had forgotten my stomach, and the next day I was sick, I’ll never forget it, for three days I never got out of bed, only when necessary. My poor Tummy couldn’t stand the good food that I had not been used to, and so I suffered for having that meal, but it was really good, if only to see.
Cooking went on for 24 hours every day, pork, poultry and all kinds of meat were cooked, and I never saw such gorging, more like savages. They brought home table clothes and lovely cutlery, the place looked like a swell Hotel, what a change, what a scene, after all we had been through, eating cooked cats, potatoes and the peelings, and then coming to live like this, could it be true or was I dreaming, It was true alright. Here was I sick through eating too much good food. It was really funny when you come to think of it all, everyone had bikes to ride, and in my tours round the camp, all you could see was heaps of feathers and slaughtered animals. You would see dozens of our chaps cutting junks of meat off the animals they killed.
German civilians left behind were dazed, they couldn’t seem to realise that the Russians had occupied the very heart of Germany. We were on east bank of the Elbe, and we had watched the Germans trying to get over to the west and be with the Yanks. They had all kinds of conveyances, including small hand carts with some of their belongings piled on, and their old mothers and fathers sitting on the top. A lot of them were in their bare feet, their boots having given out. Speaking to some of them, they were sure scared of the Russians. Anyway the Russians were only paying them in their own coin. Their homes had been looted of all valuables.
Visiting some of the homes, I found they were very nice and they had every electric device to lighten the woman’s work, and nicely furnished too. They had good linen and cutlery and plenty of good clothes. All the houses were self contained, with a cellar to store and keep all the food stuffs and fuel to avoid going outside in the winter, some had very nice bath rooms and libraries. I also visited a Dairy, very clean, spotless, and the cows very well groomed and well fed. There are no fences on the farms, and these farms are scientifically worked, they had very few tractors as there was a shortage of fuel, but you would see a horse and a cow yoked to a plough and working well.
All the lavatories in the camp were empted by pumps into long containers on carts and pulled by a horse or bullock to the farm. These containers were empted on the farms and used as a fertilizer. The farms are also worked by slave labour. The Germans were working the farms, when we were released, and the women work just as hard as the men. The Germans who missed crossing the Elbe were coming back pulling their loads behind them. You were a little inclined to feel sorry for them.
The Germans went out of their way to make friends with us, and of course all their homes were opened to us. Some took advantage of this, but most preferred non-fraternisation. It is easy to change face when beaten.
The Russians issued us with bread and other rations, so now we had plenty to eat. My tummy was now back to normal, so while waiting for transport, we went for long tours around the country. We visited bombed cities and other interesting places. Cooking still went on 24 hours a day, and you could see a great difference in the POWs, they are putting on weight, and looked very much better.
We had no lights or running water, water had to be drawn from the wells. POWs made their own way west, but as the west was not cleaned up they will find it difficult to make their way home.
May 6th 1945. We leave for Reisa which is about 30 kilometre walk and we must carry all our own belongings, so at last we say good bye to Stalag 4B. On the march they started to jettison surplus gear and loot, and what a pile they left on the road. We passed plenty of burnt out trucks and tanks and see plenty of bomb damage. As we approach Reisa we see thousands of cars abandoned in the rush to get away from the Russians. Some of them were very nice vehicles. The one that took my fancy had a motor in the rear directly over the differential. Most of the cars had USA engines but were called Opels and other German names.
The Bridge over the Elbe had been destroyed, and there was a pontoon bridge built. I saw plenty of Russian tanks and self propelled guns. There is no doubt about it, the Russians were well equipped. I also saw the Russians driving carts loaded with loot and spare parts, they also had horses tied behind, all belonging to Jerry. The Russians threw us cigarettes and cigars and also food. We were billeted in Reisa in a German Barracks, and they were very well fitted out, we had sheets etc. also good bath rooms, but no hot water, our own cook house staff ran the kitchens. I managed it get a radio, and we heard the BBC in comfort the first time for sixteen months. It was really lovely to sleep in sheets after very dirty blankets.
I took a look round Reisa, not damaged very much, but looting went on just the same. The warehouse I visit was full of rice, macaroni, sultanas, coffee, sugar, and many other things. Everyone helped themselves, and then let the German civilians have what was left. Breweries were also located. The canned meat, milk and cheese done up like toothpaste, was very good.
I saw a truck load of women, and thinking they were Russians I spoke to them. They informed me they were Russian Comfort Women for the Army and they were Hungarians. The Russians invited me to dinner, and they had plenty of liquor there. Dinner was served in huge containers, and you were given a spoon and a lump of black bread, and dive in. If a Russian gets a nice piece of meat in the stew, he always insists you have it, being the guest, if you wish you can scrape the pot clean. We got plenty of cigarettes, cigars and tobacco but no papers, but we rolled cigarettes in newspaper like our Russian friends. German Civilians hope the Yanks will take over Reisa. Most of our chaps are living with German women and walking about arm in arm with them, the Russians are disgusted with them. The Germans are cleaning up the cities, and we see scared German soldiers making their way home by themselves. The roads are jammed with refugee Germans making their way home on foot, dragging their loads and old people. We also see Russian POWs driving German conveyances and riding bikes loaded with loot.
The Russians arranged for us to have hot baths in the local bath house, these were well fitted out and run by German women but most embarrassing when they came into your bathrooms to see if the water was hot enough and insisted on scrubbing our backs, you could hear our chaps gasping, as they went round each bath. We went out and got fresh pork by killing a pig at a near by farm, none of us being butchers, well you can just imagine the killings..
. THE WAR IS OVER AND WHAT CELEBRATIONS
May 8th 1945. Celebrations went on for two days. The Russians were drunk and tearing up streets in cars and motor bikes, shooting off guns and verity lights, we were as scared as the Jerries. Most of our chaps make their own way home and we came to an outdoor swimming pool, and found German women showing off their forms, it looked liked an Aussie beach scene. I went on long tours through the country, what fools the German people are. It is really a lovely country in the summer and a great agricultural district with very rich crops.
I went to Mass at the Reisa Church, very nice inside and we sung the Mass, there were quite a few Germans there also. I noticed the women don’t wear hats in church. The German women’s “hair do’s” compare well with anything I have seen at home, their clothes are very well cut and of good quality, most of them wear wooden soled shoes.
I went to a Russian concert, it was very good. I dined with the Russian Officers and we had plates and forks this time, and plenty of wine and cigars. All the POWs were putting on weight fast and looking well. The Germans swept the streets and decorating them, also flew red flags, to give us a send off; we were to leave for Halle soon. I was very sorry to leave the Russians, I found them to be great pals and extremely generous and polite.