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AND SO ...

8. GERMANY AND STALAG VIIA ..... from Salonika by train - for the start of "a strange life"

on to Chapter 9. "A Strange Life"


Came the next forenoon with the roll-call of numbers, we were told this was the day we would be on our way to Germany. The sky was filled with black clouds and we were not allowed to go into the hut. At noon we were told to line up to collect our soup; just as my turn came the heavens opened and the rain bucketed down, such that in no time my ration of soup in my Army-issue dish was displaced by rainwater. To cap it all, the rain stopped and as the sun attempted to shine through a break in the clouds I looked to the sky to see a long silver edge in those clouds and I can still hear myself saying, as I attempted to gain some consolation, "Every cloud has a silver lining." One of the old folks’ expressions that I must have gathered.

The rainwater was running off all of us and we waited for the sunshine to dry us. Eventually it made an appearance, together with armed Jerries and their cacophony of "‘Raus, ‘raus, los, los" and we were on our way. I can’t describe it as marching, more like trudging, until we came to a railway goods yard, to find a train of cattle trucks assembled. How did I know that they were cattle trucks? Because they were French wagons and on the side of each of them was stencilled "10 CHEVAUX - 40 HOMMES". When loading the wagon in which I was, Jerry didn’t stop at ‘40 hommes’ - must have been nearer fifty, but as each of us climbed into the wagon we were issued with a whole loaf and a tin of German meat, apparently similar to the front line German soldier’s ration. They must have run out of bully beef from the York’s Stores.

The German Army seemed in a great hurry to win their war, but when it came to moving us P.O.W.’s, or ‘Kriegies’ as we began to call ourselves, they seemed to lose interest. Once the requisite number was pushed and prodded into our wagon the sliding door was shut and latched, and that was that. At the top corner of each side of the wagon was a tiny barred opening and there was a minimum of straw on the floor. All we could do was organise ourselves into a fair distribution of bodies on the floor and it was agreed that as soon as we could discover the direction of the wagon, we would attack a rear corner of the floor to make a hole for toilet purposes. It was going to be a long job because amongst us there was only a collection of knives with shortened blades. The words for the two types of conveniences in the German language are ‘Abort’ and ‘Pissort’ and soon these words could be heard being shouted from the nearby trucks, but Jerry didn’t seem to be listening.

Eventually the shunting began; forward, backward, stop; this exercise continued for some time until at last we were off. Having established a direction, we took turns in attacking a square section in the rear corner of the floor until darkness stopped work. Next morning the train stopped and we were let out for toilet purposes. By now we had collected a German Jew who had become a member of the British Army Pioneer Corps. Known as Harry, he became our interpreter. Together with the German officer in charge, he let us know that, when possible, we would be let out each morning somewhere along the line and given a hot meal. Any damage caused to German equipment would be sabotage, and that meant shooting. Needs must, so once back in the wagon we again took turns to make the hole in the floor. From conversations with other wagons’ occupants when in a crouched position with trousers or shorts down, we learned that a number of holes of convenience were being made! When out of the wagons we were guarded by lines of troops each side of the train, together with machine-gunners on the roof. These were long days, spent delousing; those little creatures were still with me and of course there was not the luxury of a strip-off wash in a horse trough.

The Prisoner of War tags issued to Harold Siddall in 1941, bearing the camp name Stalag VII/A and number 5850

After some days the food supply had been used up; with the heat in the wagon the meat in the tins, once opened, could be literally poured out and the bread became rock-hard and sour. Hunger set in and the promised stops became few and far between. The train often stopped, but not for our convenience. Late one night, somewhere in Yugoslavia, the train stopped at a station; we were "‘raused" out and found ourselves packed together on a platform, well guarded. We almost had bayonets up our bums, so packed and guarded were we. Jerry must have realised the mistake, because we were once more herded back into the wagons and the doors slid shut. After forever the door was opened; out we came to form a line and slowly inch forward to people ladling goulash into our containers and handing out blocks of bread. The fellow handing out my ladle of soup said in English: "It’s only horse meat ", as though apologising, but I couldn’t have cared if it had been made of the camel shot weeks ago. It was beautiful, and if real goulash tastes like that, roll on! That soup was hot and the memory of the taste of the bread, after being dunked, makes my mouth water even as I am writing this episode, fifty two years afterwards.

Once again loaded and locked in the wagon, the train stayed at that station and the guards lined each side. One of the wags in the wagon, come dawn, called out to the guard: "Please may I go to the toilet?" All he received was a snarl of: "Ruhe", which must have meant "Get stuffed".

And so the train proceeded, stopping frequently to let other traffic pass. One fine morning we actually stopped for a convenience call which sticks in my memory because a number of youths appeared carrying packets of apples. They had obviously done this before and appeared to supply the guards before wandering along the line, carrying out a barter service. There wasn’t very much with which to barter, but I remembered my sixpence with a hole in it. I showed it to one of the youngsters, but he wasn’t very impressed and wandered on. Perhaps it might have been better if he had not returned, but he did; pickings must have been poor, because he offered me four scrawny little apples for my sixpence with a hole in it. Like a fool I accepted: it was food! And on an empty stomach. The next morning in that closed wagon I had to make a dash for the hole in the floor. An apple a day keeps the doctor away! We had only that one issue of soup over those many days of journeying. Once we were issued with a small tin of meat and sometimes a handful of biscuits, as hard as iron. Sometimes the train stopped near a watering point for engines and from these we collected water, but it was a precious commodity.

There was not a lot to raise a laugh on that journey. But one instance comes to mind, when we stopped near an engine watering point. By this time we were all looking scruffy and one squaddie decided he would have a shave, using his Rolls Razor. Not in plentiful supply nowadays, that razor was a compact unit. I used one myself until the beard-growing days. It went to the bottom of the Mediterranean when the bows of 1030 were blown off. The blade could be sharpened by stropping and honing in its case, but the operation caused a loud clicking noise. Quite unconcerned, the soldier carried on clicking until the noise caused concern among the guards, who began to react as though they meant business. The fact that they were ganging up on the noise made by a Rolls Razor made us see the funny side. But Jerry, with his poor sense of humour, decided that enough was enough, and back in the wagons we went. The guards travelled in passenger coaches and when we finally arrived in Bavaria, at Stalag VIIA, a Prisoner of War camp near Munich, they were relatively fresh, whereas we were smelling a bit high, to say the least.

Unloaded from the wagons, formed up and counted and counted, we were herded along until we came to the entrance to Stalag VIIA, where there was a large metal arch, on which were the words: "ARBEIT MACHT FREI". This was translated by our Harry thus: "Work makes Freedom."

We were taken into what could only be described as a sheep-shearing shed, where French P.O.W.s were wielding hand-operated clippers for the purpose of shearing our heads of hair. When my turn came, my tonsorialist was as good as the next, because I was completely shorn. When I pointed to my beard he shook his head negatively; there was nothing on the daily orders about shearing beards! Now our predicament caused a lightening of spirits and hilarity; we just laughed at one another’s appearance. Where before there had been burnt brown faces, now there were burnt brown faces and snow-white heads of many different shapes and sizes. I was the only one recognisable because I still had my beard and we just laughed at one another because of that sudden contrast. We were going to one another asking: "Who are you?" When the hairdressing session was completed, walking in a carpet of different-coloured hair, we were ushered into the next part of the building to find several deep circular containers of a thick, yellow, sulphurous liquid. We were made to strip off and bathe in these containers and scrub one another’s back. There was another laugh when my compatriots yelled: "Not you, sailor; we know what sailors are!" We were told to leave all of our uniforms on the floor, but in the assembled crowd I picked up my khaki shorts, Naval belt, socks and boots. Liquid running from me, I went with the others into the building to be clothed. We had evidently been de-loused, thank goodness! On the floor were heaps of various uniforms; I was issued with something like cotton underpants which were secured with a drawstring, and a shirt of rather coarse material. Then I had to find something out of the uniforms that would fit me. There seemed to be very little in the way of anything British, but I did finish up with a Highland regiment jacket, something worn by a Scottish soldier as a dress jacket, I would imagine, because the arms were long enough, but the jacket ended on my hips. The only trousers I could find to fit me were a pair of Yugoslav soldier’s jodphurs, which ended just below my knees. So picture, if you can, a British sailor, with a white bald head, a beard which had gone to seed, outwardly clad in a jacket which nearly fitted, a pair of something or other acting as trousers, socks and boots. A pity there isn’t a picture to complement this description!

When considered dressed we went into another shed where, seated at tables, French P.O.W.s took down our particulars, and upon mine I placed a thumb-print. I was given an aluminium, rectangular identity disc, to be worn around the neck, on which was stamped ‘Stalag VIIA:5850’. Stamped in two places so that, should I die whilst in captivity, one half of the aluminium disc would be sent to the International Red Cross in Geneva. Presumably the other half would be buried with me.

Then came the inoculation; seemingly the same syringe was used on the whole batch of us; the inoculation was in my left breast and it went in like a thump from a heavyweight boxer. When all had been dealt with we formed up to proceed down the long road; it was then I realised what a Prisoner of War camp was. On each side of that road were walls of barbed wire as high as perhaps fifteen feet, and although at first I didn’t realise it, similar walls branched off at right angles making compounds. Initially Stalag VIIA had been a camp for French P.O.W.s and we were the first British contingent to enter. Confined to their compounds, the French threw cigarettes to us, together with matches. Those cigarettes were Gauloises, made from a strong black tobacco and I actually saw some of our fellows fall to their knees when they inhaled the smoke. At the bottom of that long wired road was the compound into which we went.

I chose the middle bunk of a three-tiered set, on which was a palliasse containing a minimum amount of straw, resting on seven strips of wood. On the palliasse was a thin, dark grey blanket and a piece of cloth to serve as a towel. Our evening meal was ready for us; apparently we had been expected the day before and the French cooks had been able to save the rations. The meal consisted of fish soup, and I actually had two helpings because my aluminium dish was small.

Beside the huts, which formed a square, there was a lavatory without running water, serving for dual needs - everything expended into a huge crater. Don’t bother to ask what we used for toilet paper: there wasn’t any. We took our dish of cold water and cleansed ourselves. Each hut was in the form of semi-detached accomodation, divided by a wash-place consisting of cement troughs into which cold water could run. The windows had wooden shutters, hinged on the outside; come lock-up time these were shut and barred by the guards, who also locked the door, effectively sealing us in. A couple of Alsatian dogs were let loose in the compound, searchlights from the watchtowers swept the area frequently: all this to ensure that nobody could do us harm during the night, I presume!

The first morning saw me wake with an itch - this time caused by fleas; everybody was the same; the things lived in the straw and on us. But the first night’s sleep was absolute, due to the respite from travelling in the wagon, I suppose. But for the remainder of the time in Stalag VIIA I never had a good night’s sleep. Fleas and hunger saw to that, and we were all in the same boat. It was here that I met and formed a strong friendship with Bob Andrews, known as Andy. We were the only Westcountry people in that hut: he came from Newton Ferrers; so it was natural that we should pair off. A bricklayer by profession, when called up it was as a gunner in the Royal Artillery.

For a few days we were isolated in our compound, then after roll-call one morning the gates were opened and we were free to wander into the other compounds, all occupied by French P.O.W.s who had been there since the French capitulation, about a year before. When Andy and I wandered into a French hut we were made welcome and those who could speak English wanted the latest information we could give. In one hut were P.O.W.s from the Maginot Line who, when captured, had walked out with all their kit, so their hut was like home from home. I can’t recall whether they received any Red Cross Parcels of food, but each month they received thick, hard, unsweetened biscuits from the French Government which went a long way towards supplementing the daily ration of food. P.O.W.s were supposed, by the Geneva Convention, to receive the same victuals as base-line troops of the detaining power. Each morning we received a ladle of mint tea and a seventh of a loaf of bread - dark brown stuff, said to contain sawdust for bulk. In the late afternoon the food consisted of a ladle of soup: sometimes cabbage soup, sometimes turnip soup and, very occasionally, fish soup. Fleas and hunger were the constant tormentors; hunger was there all the time and all we could talk about was Red Cross parcels.

Then one day we were each given a pre-printed postcard, on which were the following four sentences: I am well. I am not well. I am wounded. I am not wounded. We borrowed a pencil from a French P.O.W. and deleted the lines which did not apply. So when mine arrived home months later, care of the International Red Cross in Geneva, it read so: "I am a Prisoner of War. I am well. I am not wounded." Any additions would cancel the card. When the card arrived, my Dad and Mabel took it to the Naval Barracks, where I had been posted ‘Missing in Action’. So at least the Powers That Be could put me back on the pay register!

One day Andy and I were in the wash-place of our hut and in our conversation one of us said "Ta", our Westcountry version of "Thanks". I don’t know what we were thanking one another for, but just at that moment a P.O.W. was passing by. When he heard that abbreviation he stopped and said: "Are you from Plymouth?" When we acknowledged this he said that his home was in Plymstock. It turned out that he was on his own so we invited him to join us, which he readily did. He was Jack Adams, a corporal in the Royal Engineers. And so originated the Three Musketeers from Kriegieland. Strangely enough his two sisters worked in the same tailoring factory where Mabel had served her apprenticeship. Small world!

One day I was taken to an office in the German compound near the camp entrance where my P.O.W. disc and number were checked against the form the French P.O.W. had completed. When it was established that I was indeed a member of the Royal Navy, I was told that I had to make myself ready to be transferred to a Marlag in Northern Germany, which was a Prisoner of War camp for Royal Navy P.O.W.s. When? Nobody knew. I just had to hold myself ready to be transferred.

Assuaging hunger became the main need in those days; the bill of fare remained fairly constant, except that on an occasional day there would also be an issue of boiled potatoes, which worked out at about three each. What a pantomime each issue turned out to be! In order that each man should have as fair an issue as possible, the potatoes were put on a clear space on the stone floor, then shared by size into the number of rows, according to the number of men in the hut. Talk about microscopic eyesight! The senior member of the hut had the unenviable job of sorting the potatoes as fairly as possible, according to size. Once issued, the spuds were devoured instantly, skins and all. Hard cheese on anyone who had a bad spud; it was part of his ration.

One day came the buzz that working parties were being assembled to work for private employers. According to the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war who were non-commissioned officers could be made to work for the detaining power as long as they were not employed in war work. N.C.O.s could volunteer if they so wished. The bait was food. We were assured we would receive the same rations as civilian workers in the firm in which we were employed. Bob, Jack and I stuck together and were rounded up to go on the same working party. The fact that I was a sailor seemed to be forgotten and thirty six of us were gathered together to go to a work camp, known as an ‘Arbeit Lager’, in Munich. Just like the other members, I was issued with an overcoat of doubtful origin and quality, together with a pair of cloth gaiters and two square pieces of flannel called Fusslappe, which would line the inside of the boots. During my scrounging sessions around the compounds I had acquired a French Army water bottle, shaped something like a spade; so I had a small dish, a combination spoon and fork and a water bottle. I was relatively well-off! We were rounded up, taken to a hut near the main gate and made to strip off; our clothing was minutely searched, our identity discs checked. When re-clothed and counted, we were told that we would be known as the Hauptbahnhof Partei, so we promptly called ourselves the ‘Op and Offs’. At that time nobody had a clue what the title stood for, but we soon learned. We collected a couple of armed guards, were counted once more, discs checked and we set off to the railway depot. Wonder of wonders, this time we were put into a railway carriage and rode into Munich station in style. I was back in civilisation and realised what I was missing. Several people must have asked the guards who we were, because they frequently replied: "Englaender" and we were stared at as though we had come from the moon. We were the first P.O.W.s they had seen, and from the way I was dressed, they could have thought I came from the moon! By this time our heads were showing a bit of fuzz and the once white scalps had changed to a darker hue from the sun.

Harking back to the Stalag, I recall the French told us that they used dandelion leaves to complement their menu. That was good enough for us; we went around the edge of the compound, as near the trip wires as we dared, and cleared the camp of dandelion leaves. Dust and all, they had a bitter taste, but they were food. Pass the mayonnaise, please!

Once out of the station we marched to our work camp. I am not too sure, but I believe it was a part of Munich called Pasing. What I do remember is that, like all work camps, it had a number, 2780A. Here I made my first acquaintance with the continental figure 7 with a line through it; initially we thought that the camp number was 2F80A. Each hut contained two rooms with twelve sets of triple bunks, six on each side, and a bare wooden table in the centre, taking up most of the free space. The room was illuminated by a very low-wattage bulb, operated naturally from elsewhere. The hinged window was double-glazed with shutters on the outside. 2780A was on the corner of the road, well and truly walled with barbed wire, but open to view from passers-by. The boundary trip-wire was for us guests a warning of how close a kriegie could approach. The camp was evidently owned by the Hauptbahnhof, the main railway station in Munich, by whom Bob, Jack and I would be employed. Other huts were rented to other firms which employed P.O.W.s. The members of our hut consisted of a mixed bag. The outstanding members, other than we three, were three Australians: Ron Waddell, Bluey Lee, so called because he had red hair, and Harry Woodward. They became the Aussie Three Musketeers who, like us, shared everything - which at that time was nothing.

After being allotted our room, the next operation was to collect a thin grey blanket and a palliasse, which had to be filled as full as possible with fresh straw. That evening two tall, narrow cupboards were delivered to each room so we had spaces in which to keep our meagre belongings. The first meal was issued and - surprise, surprise - it was cabbage soup! And, because we were workers, we discovered, every soup ration would be accompanied by an issue of boiled potatoes. So came the ritual of laying out thirty six lines of potatoes, each being as near as possible of similar-sized potatoes. The same night-time rules applied as in the Stalag; once locked in, that was that. The window was shuttered, the entrance door locked, after a short while a guard would bang on the shutters as a warning and soon afterwards lights were extinguished. Night-night, pleasant dreams; hope you remembered to go to the toilet!

Early in the morning four men had to go to the Kueche - the kitchen - to collect the loaves and a churn of mint tea. When the loaves had been cut into seven parts, the bread and tea was breakfast. So each morning five loaves and one seventh of a loaf were collected. Sometimes there would be a large seventh and sometimes a small seventh, depending on the disposition of the German soldier; so regardless of its size, each of us had to take a turn at receiving the odd seventh of a loaf. Repast consumed and toiletries completed, there came the German soldier who acted as interpreter. He could speak American English, and what a bar-steward he was, as further encounters will explain. When we heard him shout "Oppanoffparty" our shower mustered outside our hut and we marched to the main entrance of that closely-wired camp. We seemed to be counted by every guard in the camp, each armed with a clipboard; we showed our identity discs and the numbers were checked. We were advised to learn the German for our numbers, because that would mean less time standing around each morning. But as one wag was heard to observe, the longer we stayed, the less time we would have for work! Eventually we collected two armed guards and marched off in columns of four to the Railway Goods Yard.

There we discovered that we were to be the Tick-Tocking Party, maintaining railway tracks wherever required. ‘Tick-Tocking?’ you ask. Yes, because that was the noise made by the metal pick as it struck the stone ballast to force it under the wooden sleepers. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Not so, quoth I. The picks in question differed from the normal type, in that one end of the metal part was welded into a fairly large steel ball, which was used to hammer the ballast under the sleepers. To level a length of railway line meant that some of the fellows had to jack up the sleepers while others wheelbarrowed the large lumps of stone ballast as near as possible to the required spaces; then the Tick-Tockers would set to work, ramming the ballast into place. After repairing a length of track, a shunting engine and a cattle truck appeared and the thirty six of us piled into the truck to ride up and down the track several times - this to convince the overseers that we had not sabotaged anything, I presume.

Perhaps when reading this you will find it difficult to realise that this work was really a type of hard labour and our undernourished bodies weren’t up to it. Thus it paid to learn quickly some German expressions. So after a Jerry workman had gabbled and gesticulated for about ten minutes, he would invariably end his speech with the expression: "Verstehen Sie?" To us this meant: "Do you understand?" Whereupon we rapidly learned to say: "Nicht verstehen." As our pronunciation wasn’t pure Deutsch, it became standard to say: "Fushstain Nicht" and the standard retort from the overseers would be: "Nicht verstehen! Nicht verstehen! Die Englaender verstehen immer nicht. Dummkoepfe!" And that was another word learned to add to the vocabulary.

To Arbeitslager 2780A was assigned a junior German officer who was our official interpreter, known as the Dolmetscher. He was a simple sort of lad whose job was to cycle to the various working parties to iron out language difficulties - and he had a full-time job! His interpretation of the English language was on the weak side. He learned more expressions from us than he had ever learned at school. We had to use any means possible to avoid work, so as soon as he appeared it was the signal to drop everything and crowd around to hear a translation of something said by the civvies, to ask questions to stretch out the time. The answers were quickly forgotten when we were questioned by the boss after the Dolmy had cycled off to the next working party. It sounds hilarious, but that work was hard labour.

We marched four or five miles to work each morning, after a breakfast of a thin slice of so-called bread and a cup of mint tea. All that did was clear the tubes. The dinner-time break was a half-hour, when we would each be given a small bowl of cabbage soup. Some of the crowd would bring their bread ration to eat with the soup, but we preferred to stick it out and have ours with the evening repast. A favourite meal of the civilian workers was a piece of fat bacon toasted in front of the brazier; as the fat melted it would be rubbed onto a piece of bread and eaten. That smell used to drive us crazy - talk about mouth-watering! I am certain they did this deliberately to get their revenge for us being so deliberately thick.

One of the worst jobs on this Tick-Tocking skylark was when lengths of line had to be replaced. We knew this when the ‘tulip’ spanners were issued and a groan always ascended to the skies. Using the long spanners, we had to disconnect the fishplates from the lengths of rail and lift the rail from the sleepers. Jerry always got his revenge on us on these occasions. There were never enough of us to lift a length of rail, and they were so heavy. The ganger would shout: "Eins, zwei, drei, los!", whereupon we would shout "One, two, six" and endeavour to lift. Under normal conditions, with normal food, we could have accomplished the job. At first when lifting, we were placed any old where and there was nothing concentrated, so we sorted ourselves into similarly-sized partners each side of the rail, but lifting was still damned hard labour. Then the replacement rails would be brought and levered off the long wagon, to be manhandled into place and connected. Upon completion, along came the shunting engine and the wagon. All aboard, and the engine would be traversed up and down the section until the ganger was satisfied.

We had the same two guards each day and one of them remembered a bit of his English lessons, because at the end of each long day, when we mustered to march off, he would invariably say: "Hurry, hurry, it’s high time." So of course he was named "Hurry Hurry." I remember one evening in September 1942, when marching back to camp, we were made to wait while a long convoy of Army vehicles passed us. A crowd of Jewish workers stopped alongside us and one of them, dressed in what appeared to be a striped pyjama suit, asked me if I was English. I affirmed and he said: "Can you give me a cigarette?" When I explained that none of us had any cigarettes, he asked for half a cigarette, or even a dog-end. I had a job to convince him that we had none at all. While talking I noticed that several of the Jews were carrying a brick in each hand. When I asked the reason for this, I was told that in the opinion of their guards they had not done a good enough day’s work, so their punishment was to carry the bricks and return them next morning. I could not help but think that, had those rules applied to us, we would be carrying concrete blocks for our delaying moves!

And so those long days passed. Just like the others, I lived for that return to the camp for the share-out of potatoes and so-called soup to be eaten with the remainder of the bread. It was no use trying to save any bread; by the next day it would begin to smell like fish-glue - besides I for one didn’t have the will-power.

Then one evening upon return from Arbeit we were each given a P.O.W. postcard to write our first few words home. We were told by Dolmy that we could ask for parcels to be sent, but that the weight limit was ten kilogrammes. Like the others, all I could think about was food and it was farcical as we prompted one another with suggestions, expecting that the parcels would be delivered in a week or two. They never came.

On Sundays there was an issue of jam and margarine. This worked out to be an Oxo-sized cube of Tafel-Margarine and a tablespoon of red jam, said to be made from turnips and coloured with cochineal. As for the margarine, we arranged to forego the weekly ration and took it in turns to wait, in order to have a larger portion from the cube. We were paid seventy pfennigs a day in Prison Camp money; this was printed especially for us ‘kriegies’ and could only be spent in the camp canteen which, if I remember correctly, only sold ‘Klingen’, razor blades, ‘Rasierseifen’, a sort of shaving soap (and ‘sort of’ was an excellent description for that stuff), and ‘Zahnpulver’, again a ‘sort of’ toothpaste. Each received four marks twenty pfennigs in a proper workman’s envelope, which was for six days work of nine or ten hours a day. At that time the exchange rate was fifteen marks to the pound, so we were never going to be millionaires! Later, a weekly ration of rather coarse, sandy soap was on sale and we were allowed a hot shower once every ten days. Other than that, all water was cold.

The Prisoner of War camp currency first used by Harold Siddall in 1941

In early October the weather began to turn cold and on those long stretches of open railway track the winds showed us how inadequate our clothing was. This was a dead loss, because we had to put a bit of effort into our work in order to keep warm. There was an agreement between us that when Dolmy next made a visit we would concentrate on moaning to him about the poor clothing. After several of these sessions, blow me if one Sunday large bundles of British Army uniforms didn’t arrive in the canteen and, hut by hut, we were able to choose clothing of a suitable fit. These were all parts of captured uniforms which had been de-loused. Having discarded my comical outfit, I finished up with a forage cap, brown pullover, an early-issue Army overcoat, a somewhat-modern issue pair of trousers with leg pouch pockets and a British Army greatcoat, which was a real treasure-find, considering there were not many of those coats to fit six-footers. At the same time, each of us was issued with a pair of mittens, called ‘Handschuhe’, made from old army materials. And so our moans and badgering of Dolmy paid off. More about my pair of Handschuhe later in the tale.

We also collected an Australian Sergeant Major to be our camp leader; a doctor in the form of a Major in the Medical Corps and British Army bandsmen who became our medical orderlies. A German Naval doctor was attached to the camp, mainly to decide how ill a kriegie was, in order to be granted the almost unobtainable "Bett Ruhe", which meant "bed rest". Everything was going to be all right when the Red Cross parcels came, or, better still, those parcels for which we had written home.


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revised 27/9/11