5 - Prisoner of War Camps
arrived at Lamsdorf in the afternoon and marched to Stalag VIIIb
– an absolute hell of a POW camp. There was a big arch at the entrance to the camp
with the words Arbicht Macht Frei (Work Will Make You Free). On the
exit was the term, Kraft Durch Fruee Macht Frei (Strength Through
first entering Stalag VIIIb we were all photographed with our hair.
Our heads were then shaved and another photograph was taken for the
moved into barrack room with three tier beds and about 250 men in
one room. The billet was so crowded that you slept head-to-toe with
another prisoner. But that eased off because as soon as you started
in the work parties the Germans kept you away from the main camp.
I spent most of my incarceration at POW work camps the other prison
camp I am familiar with was Stalag IIIA at Luckenwal near Potsdam.
That move happened because we started working in northeastern areas
of Germany. Stalag VIIIB catered for the areas of Silesia
only set routine in the POW camps was a roll call every morning and
a roll call in the evening, sometimes. The only other parades were
for coffee or food issues. The remainder of the day was spent lying
about, arguing about the progress of the war, playing football,
walking around the camp and then returning to make yourself a cup
of tea if there was any left in your Red Cross Parcel.
was little opportunity to escape from the camps. W e knew that many
prisoners had escaped before we arrived but we were unaware of
one block, all the men were shackled together in pairs or threes.
These escapees had been recaptured and that was to be their
long-term punishment, 5 months later they were still chained
together. It must have been agony for them because they were
shackled for feeding, toilet, washing and sleeping.
was no money in the POW camps. In the last eighteen months of our
incarceration they started to give us Prisoner of War money. That
amounted to 5 marks each week and we were allowed to use that money
outside the POW camp. The shops in the village had nothing much
else to sell but it would buy you razor blades or shaving soap. We
were not allowed to enter the shop and the shopkeepers were not
allowed to sell us cigarettes. One of our German guards would take
our money outside the shop and go into the shop and make the
purchase. The other guard would wait outside and cover the
first POW camp was at Lansdorf and our Senior NCO was a Sergeant
Major. For the first week there he paraded and drilled us for
fifteen minutes each morning. As expected the Germans ridiculed us
but we kept up the drill for the first week and it moulded us into
a team and showed the Germans that they had not broken our spirit.
also lifted our spirits when he said that the Sergeant Major of the
POWs had also been a POW for two years during the First World War
and he knew how to deal with his captors.
Sergeant Major said the main priority was not discipline but to
maintain your personal hygiene and uniform. The most serious act
was theft and even the Germans frowned upon any POW caught stealing
from a comrade.
Sergeant POW maintained discipline in each billet. There was one
task everyone hated and that was cleaning the toilets. If you were
found guilty of any misdemeanour your punishment was extra toilet
cleaning duties. With over one hundred men going through every hour
it was not a very pleasant job. The toilets were a simple affair,
just a row of boards with at least twenty holes to sit over. There
was no privacy. On a regular basis a tractor would come into the
compound and tow away the septic tank.
Germans only came into the accommodation to wake you in the morning
and do a roll call. When they came into your billet you had to be
sitting on the side of the bed. Sometimes they would do the same in
the evenings. Again you had to be sitting on the side of your bed
for them to do the count.
dared not approach the barbed wire perimeter. If you touched the
wire at the perimeter one of the guards in the tower would shout
down to you. If you did not move back the guard would fire a burst
down the perimeter.
the POWs in our accommodation were British. The only foreigner who
ever lived with us was a soldier with a Polish father and an
many of the areas we were accommodated all the signposts had been
removed by the Poles to make life difficult for the Germans.
Because of that we never learned the name of some of the places we
were sent to.
POW Camp Guards
was one young prison guard who was a bit different from the
remainder of the guard; he always carried a pistol as well as a
rifle. He had a habit of hitting you hard with the butt of his
rifle. One morning we were supposed to be on the job at 7am but we
were still in our beds. The young prison guard had been out
drinking the night before and did not parade on time. He came into
the billet with a bayonet fixed on the end of his rifle and was
shouting his head off to get us out of bed. He came at me with the
bayonet and drew blood so I lifted a pillow and hit him between the
eyes with it. I then jumped out of bed and took the rifle off him.
A fellow prisoner, a Sergeant from the Intelligence Corps witnessed
all this and he came over and took the rifle from me.
Sergeant of the Guard came into the hut and asked us what was going
on. The Intelligence Sergeant threw the rifle down in front of the
Guard Commander and told him the full story. The Guard Sergeant
then told us that our guard should have paraded at 4am and got us
out of bed for 4am but had failed to do so. Because none of the
Guard liked him they had given him enough leeway to get him into
bother. The Guard Sergeant had also found out that our guard was in
the SS. He had been badly wounded and was sent to the POW camp as
part of his recuperation.
guard was taken away that day and we found out that he had been
sent to the Russian Front. Six weeks later he was back in hospital
again, badly wounded. One of the prisoners was friendly with
another guard and we managed to send the wounded SS man some
letters designed to upset him.
guard knew what was going on but we bribed him and were able to
continue our exchanges for the three-week treatment period. Once
you gave a German a packet of cigarettes the first thing they did
was to take the cigarettes out of the packet and put it into a
cigarette case. They did not want to be caught with an English
cigarette packet in their possession. I the cigarettes had a cork
tip they would break off the cork tip. The guards would never smoke
English cigarettes in front of other Germans.
first thing you got in the morning was coffee, that’s all. It
wasn’t real coffee but it was called Ersatz and there was no
sugar or milk. Sometimes it tasted like coffee and sometimes it
didn’t and usually by the time it reached you it was cold. There
was nothing else for breakfast. Then we received our bread ration
shortly after that. This was a small loaf of brown bread, (it was
almost black) between four of us. Each man got two very thin slices
out of that loaf.
midday the men came back from the cookhouse with two great troughs
of food. One day it would be sauerkraut and the following day they
would contain potato soup.
was supposed to be some meat in the meal but this never happened.
Those at the front of the dinner queue had the best pickings of the
meal. Those at the back of the queue had to settle for the cold
leftovers. The dinner queues were sorry sights to see, all of the
POWs lined up clutching their mess tins hoping to get a substantial
only change to this regime occurred when you were working outside
the main camp. Sometimes you had an extra slice of bread to look
forward to. There was nothing to eat in the evening, only a mug of
were no special days when it came to food. It was the same fare
every day. On a Sunday some camps made an exception and allowed the
prisoners to rest in the afternoon.
was never a special meal laid on for Christmas, just more of the
same. The Red Cross tried to make a difference at Christmas time
but the parcels were usually late if you were working outside the
camp. There were no fat POWs; I was only about seven stone when I
was liberated which was a big drop from the eleven stone I weighed
before my capture. If you worked on a farm you were usually well
fed. The farmer knew how to get the best out of you required you to
be well fed. The relationships between the farmers and the POWs was
usually very good, in fact many former POWs returned to Germany and
married the farmers daughters.
the coal mines and the salt mines we were better fed. We had more
vegetables, such as turnip and cabbage and sauerkraut. If we ever
got the chance we took it to supply ourselves with the local
produce. Extra cabbages and carrots were all welcome and we ate
them all raw. We always managed to steal something and I believe
that is what kept us alive for so long. One day we were tasked to
go out and pick tomatoes. At times we ate one tomato for every
tomato we put in the basket. The guards soon picked this up and
they took us off the detail and gave the job to the Poles.
We were supposed to receive one Red Cross parcel every month, but that did not always happen.
we received parcels from our own regiments and these parcels were
usually individually addressed. The Red Cross parcels sometimes
contained food but the Regimental parcels never did, only toilet
gear and cigarettes. Between
the two groups, the Red Cross and our regimental parcels, I
received a parcel every couple of months. There was one peculiar
rule we came up against when we were first placed in a POW camp.
Before entering the camp we were searched and all razor blades were
taken off us. But once we were inside the main camp we had access
to razor blades. The Canadian and American Red Cross parcels were
always welcome for their high quality content. We also enjoyed Red
Cross parcels that had been packed in Scotland because they usually
contained a good supply of porridge oats.
the Red Cross parcels were handled by the Germans on their journey
to us I suspect many parcels went astray. We never did receive our
full quota at any time because that quota never reached the POW
day we were issued with Red Cross parcels at a railway station.
Before we knew what was happening another group of SS soldiers came
along and grabbed all the parcels, tipped the contents out and
stamped everything into the ground.
day we were told to get ready to go to Berlin and pick up Red Cross
parcels for the remainder of the prisoners. These parcels were
specially made up by the Red Cross with standard contents and
issued periodically to all POWs. They contained toothpaste, soap,
tinned meat, chocolate bars, razor blades and cigarettes. The
German guards took about twenty of us from Spandau East to Spandau
West. While we waited in Spandau East we were all smoking. The area
was packed with people. German males and females were constantly
coming up to us and asking for cigarettes. Some of the POWs lit a
full cigarette in front of the Germans and then ground the full
cigarette underfoot saying, ‘That’s how you Germans treated us
when we were passing through with nothing’. That action started a
riot and the guards had to get us into a station room until the
parcels were ready to pick up.
POW was told to carry four parcels each. The ordinary Germans were
so starved of food and luxuries that the guards had a difficult
time keeping them away from us as we carried the parcels through
the railway station. We all had to be accommodated in a carriage
where the ordinary German had no access. We kicked one of the
parcels open and allowed the guards to take whatever they wanted.
They were just as desperate as the ordinary Germans for these
was a time when I did not receive my parcels for over two months. I
thought that the parcel system must have changed. I went down to
the offices where the regimental parcels were issued from. The
Sergeant Major in charge of the parcel distribution checked the
issues book where each prisoner had to sign for their parcels and
noted that my parcels had been signed for. I informed the Sergeant
Major that my army number was correct but the signature in the book
was not mine.
checking out my signature against those entered in the book it was
confirmed that someone else had been signing for my parcels. The
Sergeant Major would not reveal the identity of the thief in fear
of the retribution we would extract.
was later claimed that the thief had been moved to another camp for
his own safety.
parcels were very welcome because some of the items issued by the
Germans were inferior. On one occasion I had to stop using German
issue soap because it brought me out in a severe rash.
Camp Sick Parades
could report sick when necessary but your treatment always depended
on where you were located. If you were at an isolated location the
Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) detailed to accompany your work
group would have administered the treatment. Their rank was usually
a Corporal or Sergeant. If they were unable to help you he called
the German guard commander and they organised your transfer back to
the main camp, Stalag VIIIb. The German guard commanders always
accepted the word of the RAMC NCO and made arrangements to have you
you went back to Stalag VIIIb you were treated and as soon as you
were fit for work you were posted off to any outlying work camp,
not necessarily to the one you just left.
you were working near a populated area the German guards would take
you to the nearest medical facility such as a hospital. On some
occasions British army doctors who were also POWs travelled around
the main camps and administered to the sick.
the outlying working parties, the Royal Army Medical Corps
prisoners attached conducted the POW dental treatment. If you were
back in the main camp both German and Allied dental surgeons would
conduct dental parades. You tried to avoid the German Dental
surgeons because they had a reputation for extracting teeth on the
flimsiest of excuses. If you complained about toothache they would
pull a tooth, even the wrong one, just as long as they got a tooth.
Achieson from Bendooragh also had himself repatriated. He was about
6foot 2 inches tall. One day he approached me bent over and walking
with the aid of a walking stick. I said, ‘Hello Archie, what’s
wrong with you?’ Archie replied, ‘I have developed a bad back
and I’m off to the hospital for treatment’. He then asked me to
join him and do the same so that we would be repatriated. He told
me that he had been pulling the same stunt for over a year and the
doctors could not find the problem. They were on the verge of
hour later I saw him come back from the hospital, still looking old
and frail. Just then a soldier came out of the billet and shouted
out, ‘Grub Up! Although it was the usual sauerkraut and spuds,
Archie ran down the road like a one year-old greyhound, he was
nearly first in the queue. I went into the billet and challenged
him about his back condition. He told me that there were times you
had to move fast. Archie was repatriated in 1943.
favourite shirt was an American army issue. I had to sew a black
diamond on the back. The diamond extended from the neck to the
waist and out to the elbows.
had to have a black diamond sewn onto our trousers on the left leg
from the waist to the knee and out to the seams.
many occasions the Germans would take our photographs for
propaganda purposes. Those selected for the photo would have to
dress in brand new uniforms. After the photo was taken the clothing