Site hosted by Build your free website today!




Chapter 7 - Liberation


The Liberation March


The morning we marched out of the POW camp for the last time our new German friend was at the main gate accompanied by other German women. They wished us all well and then we set of on a two-day and two-night march. For the previous two weeks when we were threshing corn we could see the Russian army on one side of the river and the American army on the other side. Neither army moved into the others territory; they just sat and watched each other. We were being marched away from the advancing Russian army mainly because the Germans did not want to be caught by the Russians; they feared them.

There was only one wagon pulled by two horses available on that trek. It was used to carry the German kit and equipment as well as the sick and lazy not prepared to march. We knew these people quite well. They claimed to be sick but we knew they were simply lazy. The Guards were quite happy to allow this to continue but the POWs were not.

After the first day one of the horses was ‘wind-broken’ and was unable to go any further. Some people thought that the horse should be shot but the guard took the harness off the horse and allowed it into the nearest field. The POWs responsible for this state of affairs sat on the wagon, expecting the remaining horse to carry on. We soon hauled them all off the wagon and made them all walk. We completed over two hundred miles on that march.

We thought we had do a lot of marching but we then met up with some POWs who had marched from close to Russia through Poland. Some of the POWs died on the march because of the cold.

On the last day American aircraft were overhead strafing a convoy on the road adjacent to us. They must have noticed the difference in the uniforms because they never strafed our convoy. We bedded down in the woods at about 11pm. The following morning we continued our march and we could smell coffee brewing. We thought there was a village close but eventually we came across a Luftwaffe camp and marched straight in without being challenged.

There were about 100 Luftwaffe women to about 80 men resident in the camp. The women supplied us with a good breakfast that morning. The Germans at that time accepted that the war was over for them and they had lost.



In January 1945 the weather was bitterly cold and there had been a heavy snowfall. It was well below zero, but work had to go on no matter what the weather was like.  We were employed at clearing ditches, cutting hedges, lifting spuds and sugar beet – very hard back breaking work under very cold and wet conditions - from first light until darkness fell.

In February the weather had not improved. It was very cold and very changeable.  Snow, sleet and heavy rain, miserable working conditions spent clearing drains, and clearing hedges; working from dawn till dusk.

March was very cold but most of snow has gone.  We were clearing fields that had to be ploughed and ready for planting. All the large stones had to be lifted before sowing started.  There has been a big increase in the Allied air raids, the RAF by night and daylight raids by the USAF.  It was pretty scary at times as the Americans returning from their missions usually dropped bombs to lighten their payload and conserve fuel for the long haul home. 

In April the weather improved and it started to get a lot warmer.  The crops had nearly all been planted that month.  The threshing had started.  That was very dusty work; two machines were going steady all day and there were very few rest periods. Our spirits were high because the war was going our way and we had high hopes of freedom soon.


POW Liberation

It was the Americans who liberated us on 2 May 1945. We were on the northeast area of Warsaw. The night we were liberated we were taken into a large farmyard and there was livestock running around everywhere. There were pigs, hens by the dozen. Somebody said, ‘We’re going to have a good night tonight’.

There was just the farmer’s wife and the two daughters running the farm as the farmer and his sons were in the German army. We asked if we could have a hen and they gave us permission to take some of the hens for our supper. They had a big pan going full of boiling water in the outhouses so we had a good feed and went up into the barn and had a good sleep. Most of the men went into the back of the barn to sleep but the experienced countrymen slept close to the barn door.

When we woke up the sun was shining in the barn door and the German guards had piled up all their weapons in the farmyard. They shouted at us, ‘The war is over!’ The Sergeant of the guard would not give up his weapon unless an officer came to the farm to take his surrender. At about 10am an American tank appeared in the farmyard. That was the 2 May.


The American Letter

We went up to the leading tank and climbed up the side. The Sergeant invited us on board and offered us cigarettes. We had a long talk and they gave us bread, milk, coffee, cigarettes, chocolate.  He then asked, ‘Are there any Irishmen amongst you boys?’ I spoke up and told him I was from Ballymoney. He asked me, ’Are you from Bushmills?’ I told him I did so he sat down and produced a writing pad. He spent over half an hour composing the letter and then said, ‘I want you to deliver that letter whenever you get home because you will get home long before the post could deliver this letter.’ The letter was addressed to a girl who lived in Nicholls Hotel in Bushmills.


Guard Duties at Dummerstuckhoff

The Americans asked us if we wanted to go to the nearby camp where the Scots Greys were building a camp to contain the German POWs. We decided to stay with the Americans and avoid a return to British military discipline for as long as possible. The Americans gave us armbands and left us in charge of the security of a small farming village called Dummerstuckhoff with approximately 200 inhabitants. It was our job to search all the soldiers passing through the village.

There was a lovely little Garden of Remembrance in the middle of that village with the names of their men folk who had died in WWI. We used to congregate there.

We were lucky to be liberated by the American troops. Some POWs were not so lucky because when the Russians liberated them and forced them to work on rebuilding the airfields and roads for four months.

My chum and I went up to a farmhouse and asked if we could have a bath, the lady said yes. After the bath the lady and her two daughters made tea and gave us white bread and cake.  They all spoke English fairly well.  The lady asked us where we slept and we told her the barn was our bedroom. She told us to come back that evening and sleep in their farmhouse. We went back and they had two beds ready with white sheets. That room was lovely and warm. We didn’t get much sleep that night, couldn’t settle down, not being used to such comfort and kindness.  Breakfast was ready in morning; egg bacon fried bread. We couldn’t eat much at first because our stomachs were not used to such rich food.

We stayed in the village for eight days and had a good time.  We made friends with the farm villagers, as German convoys came our way we took all the food supplies from them and gave it to the villagers, some of them had never seen an orange, or banana. 


The SS Prisoners

A lorry approached us one morning when we were doing guard duties in Dummerstuckhoff. There was an SS officer sitting in the Jeep. We told the officer to get out of the lorry and he informed us that we were scum and he would not be doing anything we asked him to do. We asked him for his pistol but he refused to hand it over. I reached in and pulled his pistol out of the holster and the soldier took it from me. He asked the SS officer if he was for getting out of the lorry and the officer said he would only obey the command of another officer, as we were only dirt. My mate whacked him across the face with his pistol and dragged him out of the lorry. All the German POWs laughed at the plight of the officer because they hated the SS just as much as we did.

We then asked him to open up the back of the lorry to see what he was carrying. It was full of fresh fruit; oranges, apples, tomatoes, chocolate, coffee, flour, white bread and bananas. The driver told us that the truck and its contents were heading for a POW camp full of Germans further on. We allowed the villagers to empty the truck and the contents were evenly distributed amongst the villagers by the village leaders. The children had never seen a banana before and we had to show them how to peel it.

The next day we visited the Garden of Remembrance the villagers came out and supplied us with fresh coffee.


The Move to Lubeck

On the ninth morning we were up early had a good clean up and a very nice breakfast with the lady of the house. We thanked them very much for their kindness.  We then went down into the village. While we were in the village of Dummerstuckhoff a British Army Officer and Sergeant came along asked us how long we had been there. We told them and they were very surprised that the Yanks didn’t tell them. That afternoon we were picked up by truck and moved to the former German Army barracks at Lubeck for two days. The rooms were lovely and everything we needed was there.


British Attitude to POWs

The reception we got from the British army in Lubeck wasn’t very pleasant, a lot of nasty remarks about POWs and white feathers and the colour yellow was said a number of times.  Some of us left the barracks and went into town, and stayed there the first night. The following day we returned to the barracks and reported to the officer in charge. We told him about the way we had been received by his liberating troops and asked him to return us to the Americans as there we were treated like men and soldiers.  He said no, but orders would be posted to treat us as fellow soldiers but sad to say it wasn’t obeyed for very long,


The ENSA Show

We were free to walk about our immediate area; which was very enjoyable. The first area we stopped in was Schwerin and we would stroll along the riverbank and then back to our accommodation.  One night we finished our stroll and made our way to the ENSA show being held in this former German army base. There was a young Sergeant at the door and he asked us where we thought we were going. After we told him we wanted to see the show he informed us that the show was only for ‘fighting men’. We stayed calm; after all we had just spent five years behind the wire and did not want to spend another day in captivity for striking a stupid young Sergeant.

As we walked away an ATS Sergeant stopped us and asked us what the problem was. We told her what had happened and she got between us and hooked her arms into ours and then steered us back to the Sergeant. ‘Why did you refuse these two men permission to enter this building?’ she asked. The Sergeant tried to bluff his way but she caught him by the shoulders and threw him out of the road. She then said, ‘I’m senior to you so you can report me if you want. But I do not believe you ever heard a shot fired in anger and these boys have. You are only a signaller well behind the lines.’

We enjoyed the front row of ENSA show because the ATS Sergeant walked up to the row of red and gold braid. She informed the officers that we had been turned away because the Sergeant had said only fighting men are allowed in. With that the nearest officer stood up and shouted,’Shift!’ With that command the whole row moved and made room for the three of us. The cigarettes were passed round and the officer asked us questions about our experiences as POWs. Near the end of the show one of the female singers asked the audience if there were any Irishmen in the house. I was nominated and she asked me was there any particular song that I would like to hear. I asked her to sing ‘Danny Boy’ and she more than obliged, leaving the stage to sit on my knee and then the officers knee to the hilarity of the whole audience.

The next day four friends of the Sergeant cornered us. They started to circle around us so we asked them were they drunk or something. They replied that they were trying to see how wide the yellow stripe was on our backs. We reported the group to the guard commander who thought he could not do anything for us. We asked him if he was one of them. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked. I told him they were calling us cowards and looking for the yellow stripe on our backs.

The following day we were paraded for an interview about our experiences at the hand of the Sergeant. The ATS Sergeant was also called in to give evidence. The officer concluded that the Sergeants behaviour was unwarranted and the incident should not have happened. The officers decided to demote the Sergeant and if we could identify the other four assailants they would be kicked out of the army.

At no time in the future was I ever treated with the disrespect shown by that Sergeant and his friends. But the psychological damage he inflicted on me has stayed with me since that 1945 incident.

It was no joke being behind barbed wire for six years. It also depended on who captured you. Sometimes we were treated well and on other occasions we were treated brutally. We always knew how the war was going by the attitude of the guards towards us. When the Germans were losing the war at any stage they were very brutal towards their prisoners. You had to be careful and not step out of line at these times. The younger guards were always the worst. They used the butt of their rifle against you more often and when the occasion presented itself they would use the bayonet on you. They were also in the habit of carrying a big stick or baton because that was easier to use than the rifle.


The Belsen Daytrip

That same day a trip was arranged to visit Belsen. We went with a group, mostly ATS girls and some young soldiers.  On the way into camp we stopped the bus and dismounted. We didn’t want to go any closer. We could imagine what it would be like as we had seen pictures taken and smuggled out by some guards who had been there on duty. As we waited for the bus to return we could smell the scent of gas, and death. The bus came back, everyone on the bus was sick and far from happy, not a very pleasant day for those girls. They would remember it for the remainder of their lives.

The next day we went into town to have a look round and to see how the local people would welcome us as we were still wearing the uniforms with the black diamond on the back and one on the left leg. We were pleasantly surprised by the reception we received from all. We met café owners who asked us to come in for tea or coffee and cake. There was plenty to talk about, they thought POWs were not too badly treated; some had the idea that we were all below average intelligence and most of us were criminals and must not be approached at any time. That is what they had been told by the German Police and Army. We all had a good day.