Hillie Feldman - World War Two And Me

World  War  Two  And  Me  1939 TO 1945


I N T R O D U C T I O N
 

This introduction has three or four reasons for coming to life.
First of all  I have to thank Arnie Friedman for suggesting that I write this Story at this stage, because although I had good intentions to someday tell the story of my five and a half years in The Army I always put it off for some more appropriate time, but a little while back when I started to take notice of how many of my Comrades in Arms and friends I have had all my life, have suddenly disappeared from the scene, I realized that we are after all, mortal, and so I decided to get along with this tale while I still drew breath
Secondly Arnie suggested that he would translate my story into Hebrew for the Kibbutz Magazine, and would publish it in serial Form, and so in order to make this possible, I had to write ahead of him.
I especially have to thank a long time, good and close friend Joe Caras, who appealed to me several times to get stuck in and get my story down on paper. Now that I have completed the story I can at last say to him that a copy will soon be on the way to him
I also wanted to place on record that the events told in this Story began and ended over fifty years ago,   that apart from speaking to a few friends about some of the info, I made no serious research, but tell the story only as it comes back to me, as I think of those long ago days when I was young enough to appreciate the various phases  we lived through in the process of an ordinary citizen, being fabricated into a hardened Soldier that gave me enough toughness and spirit to live through everything that was thrown at us or came our way in the Five and a half years we proudly wore the Uniform of our Transvaal Scottish Regiment.
Finally when one goes to War and is optimistic in the main, one never ever imagines oneself dead or wounded and certainly not a Prisoner of War caged behind wire like a trapped animal at times angry and frustrated beyond the wildest imagination.
Last but certainly not least I hereby thank my wife Ida Feldman known to her many relations and friends as “Cooksie” for putting up with all the hours I spent at my computer preparing the telling of this tale.
A Tale which did not always go smoothly for her or I, and for her very useful help in checking words and spelling throughout its preparation.

C H A P T E R  O N E

This story really begins with “Kristal Nacht” In Berlin in 1938 when I was a young man 19 years old living in Johannesburg South Africa where I was born and raised and already very involved in Judaism and Jewish Affairs from the tender age of 10. when I joined Norman Lourie”s fledgling Habonim Movement and learned not only about Israel but about the whole world of Jews, Jewry, and Judaism so the impact that this hateful attack on fellow Jews in Germany was absolutely earth-shattering to me and my peer group in Habonim Johannesburg South Africa.

I well remember making an oath, to myself, that somehow I would one day help fight Hitlerism.

Hopefully smash it to bits, and save the Jews from the awful treatment that they were already having at the time, never ever dreaming that it could go to the extremes that it did go to later.

From early in 1939, there was talk about War coming and so myself AND FRIENDS BOTH JEWISH AND NON JEWISH, joined up as early as March of 1939, so that as soon as war would break out we would be already trained to get into action quickly.

When War finally broke out on September the 3rd 1939 our group which included my friends Duncan Black, Wyn Hastrop, Benny Goldberg, Bunny Aronowitz, Chippy Brener, Phillip Jude and myself were all old Soldiers already, having gone through intensive training around the foothills of the Witwatersrand and over flat lands of the area bordering the Transvaal near Vereeniging. As we were all volunteers our training was done in our own time during week- ends and Square Bashing “drill” was done at the Union Grounds, Johannesburg, on evenings after work.

We all chose to Join the 2nd Transvaal Scottish Regiment based in Johannesburg because of its fabulous reputation as a fighting unit in France at Delville Wood and because of other Battle Honors it had accumulated over the many years of its existence. Of course the glamour of the Kilt was a big draw card and the fact that the unit was highly regarded clinched the deal as far as we were concerned.

Within a week of War being declared we were called to our Regiment and asked to sign the Red Oath that allowed the Army to take us out of South Africa to do battle where ever we were needed.

Soon after at a regular Night Parade we were asked if we would be prepared to voluntarily transfer to the First Transvaal Scottish Regiment to fill their numbers because they would be going in to action immediately. All of us knew what we wanted and took the plunge straight away. But as they got more volunteers than they needed they gave us a chance to join the Third Regiment Transvaal Scottish based in Benoni who were scheduled for other exciting duties, so we were given to believe. WE ended up doing guard duty on the Mozambique Transvaal border, but that is another part of the Story.

After three months duty on a post outside the border town of Resona Garcia we finally moved to our training Camp at Barberton. Here we were really put through the mill with all night marches at speed and under full kit rifle blankets ammunition etc. weighing 90lbs.

We also went on day marches in the broiling heat, and finally went on a two day march, which for the honor of the regiment no one was allowed to fall out, and quite a few of us crawled the last couple of hundred yards on our hands and knees, so that our Colonel could get a report that no-one had failed.

The next morning we marched down the hill behind our Scottish Pipers to the rousing tune of a fabulous band that easily helped eat up  23 miles and got us back to camp to the cheers of ‘a big audience who had specially come to say good-bye as we were moving off to the real war in a few days.

On the 8th December 1940 in glorious Durban weather on a lovely bright Sun-shiny day we boarded our ship and took off to Mombassa on our way to Kenya and the battle for  Ethiopia.

>From Mombassa I know we moved around quite a lot and I even managed to see the Island of Zanzibar. some time during our sojourn  in Kenya I remember being at places like Nanuki, Nairobi, Lake Paradise, Thompson’s Falls right on the Equator, Gil Gil, Chopper Gough and Turby Hills where the heat was so devastating, that none of us thought that we would last out another day.  We did and even fried eggs on the bonnet of our trucks, the Sun supplying the power. Then our guides informed us  when, coming through the Chaldi Desert, a wilderness of rocks and scrub and pitiless heat, that no white man had ever crossed before. The temperatures in this area were cruel and one had difficulty in breathing. Our approach from this direction acted as a complete surprise to the Italian forces and our superior armament helped us quickly take Mega from the Italians who had been in this hostile climate for a number of years and probably would have been happy to be anywhere else. They quickly threw in the sponge and soon after the South African Flag was hoisted to indicate the end of the BATTLE for Mega an important fortification on the road to Addis Ababa.

Fort Hobok was next on the list and after three days and nights pinned down on the slopes of a mountain in Ice cold rain which penetrated the stupid ground sheet one used for a mac’.  The thing that bugged us most was that we could not remove our boots for three days and nights, and we were starting to talk about trench feet, which condition our troops in France suffered during the First World War

At this Point we decided to soften up the enemy by a huge Barrage of cannon and Mortar fire plus a few Bombs dropped from a couple of aircraft we had with us. This did the trick and one short sharp charge with very little fire coming from the enemy and we were in to what looked like an old time castle with battlements portcullis and a dry moat to finish off the Mediaeval appearance. The castle apart from the damage done by our barrage was indescribably filthy and looked as if no one had bothered to clean it out in years. Even though it was damp outside with more rain threatening we decided to sleep where the air was purer and from our point of view safer health wise, than the filthy quarters the Italian Troops had been using for all the years they had been there.

At this time we heard that our first Regiment Transvaal Scottish had done very well on a different front and were now very close to Addis Ababa.

We imagined we would be fighting alongside them on the march to Addis Ababa, but Field Marshall Jan Smuts, and the other top Brass, had different plans for us.

So we returned to a beautiful Camp in the forest area of Nanuki where life for the first time in all the months was easier and we were given time to recuperate from our battles in East Africa.

Battles which also consisted of fighting the constant invasion of flies, fleas, mosquitoes and many other creatures such as scorpions, snakes, and wild animals, where there certainly was a full roll-call of the Animals from Noah’s Ark present in full force, and sometimes very dangerous.

After a couple of months of this heavenly place word came through that we were off to Mombassa, and probably back to South Africa, to fill in our missing numbers lost in battle or down with some lousy chronic illness.

Incidentally as there was a large percentage of Jews in the Regiment We became known as the “Yiddishe Jocks” and had to suffer the question old and young wanted to know, “Wot do you wear under your Kilts Mon” When we finally boarded Ship in MOMBASSA a lot of bets were being taken whether we would turn right to go home or left maybe to Egypt to do battle in the Western Desert.

For a long while the Ship held its course Southwards, towards South Africa and Home Sweet Home. However to our great disappointment the Captain had reached the point, where he was allowed to open his secret orders  and the word soon got around that we were off to Suez to meet our transport that had gone over-land to prepare for our arrival.

Egypt was every bit the place of Sunshine, shifting sand, Pyramids, the Sphinx, the Suez Canal, Date Palms and belts of green vegetation and black soil along the irrigation network fronting on stark desert only yards away exactly according to the popular travel books. From the clothes of the peasant farmers and the donkeys circling forever to draw water, time seem to have stood still for four or five thousand years.

As we landed having supposed to have arrived secretly, we were greeted in the docks by Egyptian urchins who shouted in Afrikaans “Goeie  More en Welkom.” Our Journey had been so secret that everyone in the World except our Folks at home knew that we were being assembled for the battles yet to take place in the Western Desert.

With our Transport team all ready to shift us, we were soon on our way to the largest Military Camp any of us had seen in all our lives.

Helwan, where we met the New Zealand and Ausie Units, who had arrived via Cape Town earlier than us and were well settled and very friendly to us.

On their way to Egypt they had stopped over in Cape Town and Durban and some of them had a chance to visit Johannesburg as well. They had been so well treated by our folk, that they could not thank us enough for the hospitality given them, in South Africa

After a very welcome rest and an opportunity to do a lot of sightseeing in Cairo and Alexandria as well as Port Said and trips along the Nile we were off again to Mersa Matru where we lived in underground dugouts and battled with all the plagues of Egypt, excepting now they seem to have grown in to a more deadly species, and on top of which we had to learn to deal with desert wind storms that turned everything into a howling blizzard, effecting your eyes, your nose ,mouth and ears. With the burning sun reflecting the light into already red and sore eyes you soon found that you were going Desert Blind.

I came down with this and was sent back to the New Zealand Hospital near Cairo where after a few days in the dark I was fine and able to get some leave. Herbie Frootko a Cheder friend of mine from age four was at the Hospital at the same time so we decided to pool our resources and with the New Zealand Captain’s O.K. agreed  to spend a week in Palestine, now thank G-d Israel. We were probably amongst the earliest of the Habonim movement to set foot in Israel. Tel Aviv was a little white village with a few buildings and the main street at the time was Allenby. We naturally visited Jerusalem and made our way to the Wailing Wall, which at that time was hardly more than a broad lane entirely surrounded by buildings and with the British Soldiers sitting on guard on top of the wall. We were taken sightseeing to other parts of the country and were not as popular as we could have been if we were not mistaken for British Soldiers who were hated by our kin back in 1941.

Our fabulous holiday over, we returned to the New Zealand Hospital to await our official discharge, from the Hospital, as fit to return to our Regiment

We were informed that if we did not return to our unit in a hurry we would miss them as they were moving out on maneuvers but actually going through the wire into Libya to help our forces surrounded at Tobruk. We managed to get several lifts and eventually caught up with them already loading up to go into what soon became the most hectic and dangerous time of our lives.

What took place now, as we broke through the wire indicating the borders of Libya, was what developed into the terrible defeat of the 5th brigade of the 2nd Division of the South African Army by two and a half Panzer Divisions under Gen. Rommel’s personal command..

Rommel was escaping from a superior force of the 8th div.

Cutting across the Desert he came upon our force outside Tobruk attacking the Germans who surrounded Tobruk.

  After an amazing three day fight against both Rommel’s forces and the Germans who ringed Tobruk our infantry Brigade was no match for them, they being heavily armored Tanks, and with terrible casualties on our side we had to surrender.

The area we fought in was alongside the EL Adam Air Field at a place called Sidi Rezegh. It was here that we lost our Colonel known admiringly by the name of Cowboy Kirby because he always had two 45 revolvers in his holsters. Here too I lost two of my personal mates Hastrop  and Phil Jude. Phil died right alongside the Colonel whose position behind a burnt out Tank was hit by a German mortar.  Hastrop died still firing his Bren gun just to the side of me, with a snipers bullet through his head.

It was now my turn to take over the Bren gun, which I immediately moved to a different position. Lucky for me because as I looked back to our previous position the bush we had been firing from disappeared in a  hail of bullets. We ran out of ammunition, of water to cool our Bofor guns, which the gunners had been firing over open sights to halt many a charging tank in the battle. We were low on food and totally exhausted.

That night we decided to take advantage of the dark to look for our missing mates as at that time we were not sure if some were not lying on the battlefield wounded.  Six of us, volunteered to go, but after three hours in the dark and exposed to the occasional search lights, the Germans kept on using to check that there was no counter attack taking place, we only managed to find one chap who was delirious from pain and could only be hauled back after a medical Sergeant knocked him out with a potent injection.

It was on the third day late in the afternoon we were told every man for himself. A few of us hid in the bushes in a dip in the ground and when it was dark enough made for some trucks which we recognized as our own, only to discover that they were in the enemies hands and we walked right into Rommel’s Headquarters where a short and very excited German held us up with a Luger and we were face to face with Rommel who told us that” for you the War is over” and if you try to escape now,  it would be his Army’s duty to shoot us.

We were welcomed by our compatriots who had been taken prisoner earlier that day and this was the beginning of what turned out to be three and a half years of P.O.W. life.

Early next morning we were told that only the wounded and very ill personnel would travel by truck. The rest of us were in for three days of walking, through the Western desert, part of the Sahara that spreads out for hundreds of rock hard miles in every direction, interspersed with shifting sands which only camels stand a chance of getting through.

At this point we were handed over to a brigade of Italians while Rommel, hastily made tracks for some other spot where apparently an Indian Brigade was coming up fast on the horizon.

That first day of being P.O.W.’s first to the Germans and now to the Italians was a day none of us who is around to tell the story  have ever forgotten. The morning started off quite cold as it does do in the desert but by 10.00 a.m. the sun beat down fiercely and cries were going out all around “water, water” or aqua as we quickly learnt to shout. Our complaints were of no avail and all we had from our guards was “Avanti via” or as one of the American speaking guards called out “Shut up and get going.”

Only at mid-day  that day, did we stop in a   depression in the shade of some overhanging rocks that the water truck caught up with us, and only after the guards in our area had filled their bottles were we allowed water equal to a cup of water each per day. We stayed in this slightly sheltered spot until 3.00 PM when the temperature reached 140. Fahrenheit and would gradually cool down until by the middle of the night it was freezing and below freezing. We suffered from the intense heat during the day and cried with the pain of the bitter cold until absolutely exhausted we slept the sleep of the dead, at least some of us did.

Next morning we were up at 5.00 a.m. and plus minus 3000 men stretched out over the desert, the fit leading the way, while the rest went slower and slower as their strength started to give out and some of the older guys looked like they were at deaths door. At one stage during the morning a youngster by the name of Opperman said he was going to lie down and die in the desert. . He had been walking alongside me so I simply turned round to him and said seeing that he wanted to die I would kick him to death and make it easier for him. When his exhausted body took in this statement he quickly changed his mind and said if I could help him a bit he would be able to keep up.

From then on for the whole of the rest of the walk I dragged him along with me. During the heat of the day the men in advance suddenly called out that there was a lake of water ahead and the whole crowd started to run towards the trees and the water every one could see.” Mirage” shouted the guards but no one would take notice and nothing could stop this crazy rush with everyone promising them-selves they would jump in clothes and all.

When at last we got to the place where the lake should have been, there was nothing but rocks and sand, and at last the disheveled hopeless mob lay down on the ground too exhausted even to cry.

That night after an impossible day we marched into some warehouse buildings and were told to make ourselves comfortable on the concrete floor. We quickly searched through the buildings and found some abandoned packing paper and Newspaper which when we went to sleep that night we stuffed down our clothes and with the building protecting us from the wind and the warmth of the paper we slept much more comfortably.

CHAPTER TWO

The next morning almost before ‘dawn we were ordered outside the building to assemble for an issue of water and a crust of stale bread that tasted like cake. At this time they were more generous with the water and allowed us each to fill our bellies with this heavenly liquid. Then we formed up again and were off for another day in the merciless sun which ended up at a hastily wired square  near a few trees and odd tufts of scraggy looking grass and some shade giving boulders, the largest of which we grabbed for our group and there we threw ourselves down too tired to talk. The heat and thirst still being terrible we eventually found enough energy to go in search of whatever we could find in the way of food or water. I eventually got hold of the American speaking Italian, who was quite willing to take a watch from me in exchange for a cup of water and a handful of dates. When some of the others saw that the Ito honored his bargain a roaring trade started up because at that stage the chaps were so thirsty they would have given their grandmothers for a glass of water and something to eat. We were certainly learning all about hunger and thirst and got to know a lot more about this condition as the years of captivity rolled by.

A couple of days in this barbed wire square and the word went around that we were being taken to Benghazi a nearby Port on the Mediterranean. Some trucks drew up and Italian Medics looked through the ranks and took away the sick and walking wounded as well as some of our own medics to help them look after the guys who were worse for wear including my Opperman whom I had looked after for three days.  I got no,’ thank you,’ from him nor did I expect any.

Breaking up the groups into sections of about two hundred at a time we were all eventually carted off to what looked like a fortress and concrete industrial buildings that seemed to have been standing unoccupied for years. Here we were provided with cardboard strips for our beds and our first hot meal in days. No shortage of water and although there were no showers we could get under the taps and get a half bath feeling better than we had since the Sidi-Rezegh Battle.

At Benghazi Our Jailers gradually took away, to what they promised us was better accommodation at a permanent camp in Tripoli, all those who fell in each time they called for groups to go.

. We talked it over amongst ourselves and decided that as the British were attacking along the coast we stood a better chance by staying put.

We started to make a stock of food we could exist on if the Italians decided not to force us to go when there were obvious signs of them pulling out from the area. WE stayed on to the last, hiding in bomb shelters until sections of the Black garbed Fascist Soldiers or Police started to throw hand grenades into our hiding places and forced us out into the open. We were told any more trouble from us and we would be shot.

Under close guard we were marched through the town of Benghazi where every soul in the town was happy to tell us that Italy and Germany would be Victorious. Apart from the taunts and some tomatoes hurled by Hoodlums, most of the crowd watched silently because so many families had children in the army serving all over the World and were possibly thinking to themselves that the same thing might be happening to their loved ones.

Our march now took us down to the Docks, where surrounded by troops and some sailors we were taken on to an Italian Cruiser where we were put into cabins with a guard at every door.

We were soon pulling out of the harbor and out to the open sea.

Because the R.A.F. bombers and fighters were chasing everything that moved at sea we stuck very close to the coast line.

Tossing as well as rolling it was not long before almost everybody on board was terribly sea sick and the whole ship reeked of vomit and urine on every deck.

Even our guards were so seasick they looked more dead than alive. One of our healthier comrades, removed the Italian’s bayonet from his scabbard, and showing him signs that he would cut his throat,   calmly, opened a tin of bully beef and proceeded to swallow his meal in front of the guard and the rest of us, who were too ill to even protest.

Feeling a little better after a while we fell to talking about the possibility of taking over the cruiser. With so many of the guards ill and even a lot of the sailors if we had enough chaps, well, we could possibly bring it off.

Trouble was that the Captain was thinking about the possibility himself, and very soon after our discussion the guards who were ill were schlepped away by armed sailors. They now replaced the soldiers each with a rifle and bayonet at the ready, while other sailors mounted machine guns over looking the passage where many of us were housed. The thought seemed good at the time, but once there was no more a surprise element we quickly scrapped the idea.

The rolling and pitching soon came to an end and while it was still daylight we pulled into the naval yard at Tripoli

The Captain stood on his bridge looking down knowingly on us and waved a smiling good bye, as we were safely marched off the ship to waiting military trucks.

Now we were on our way to a new very smart camp where there was a mixture of all types of Prisoners picked up in several theaters of the War. The days moved rapidly along and all of us at this stage had long hair, long beards and in some cases huge mustaches that entirely seemed to change our personalities.

A couple of days just before Christmas we were told we were moving out that day,  and we were taken back to the Docks at Tripoli where we were put on an old cargo boat for a very quick trip to Naples where we arrived on Xmas day. Coming from the sand and bright sunshine of Africa a very different sight met our eyes. Naples looked the perfect Xmas winter Post card,  with a heavy layer of snow on the houses, buildings, roads and treetops.

We were happy to leave the ship after having spent the night in a bitterly cold hold, right at the bottom of the ship.  The metal plates of the hold were so cold that if you accidentally came into contact with the metal you left chunks of skin sticking to the ship.

Once again we were on our way to a new P.O.W.camp,  but there was no Xmas dinner waiting for anyone except perhaps the big brass amongst the Italians who seemed very excited to be back in their own country. Arriving at the camp we were marched into a tent Town and Duncan Black and I were the only two left of our group now with both Jude and Hastrop casualties in Africa and Benny Bunny and Chippy off somewhere else.

WE of course knew a lot of the other chaps from our platoon but had not been very close to them up to now.  Because all of us were sharing the same hard knocks we started to get closer to a few of them especially those who had been friendly with Tiger Chilvers a guy we all liked who had been killed at Sidi Rezegh on the first day of the battle.

As every tent was the spitting image of every other one, in our Tent Town, if and when you had to leave your tent, to visit the latrines, you first of all stuck to the gravel road as far as it took you.

Then plowed your way through mud and slush, to get to this very popular watering hole, as some of the more polite people called it.

In order to find our own tent we had to have one of our chaps sitting at the entrance looking out for our fellows and calling to them when he spotted them in the area. this went on quite well until we were all called to the Barber shop, where we subjected to having our hair completely removed which included our beards and mustaches as well. The result was total confusion as now no one recognized any one and it took quite a few days before any-one of us accepted and recognized the change.

We were soon back to the hungry days again and we spent every waking hour talking about and looking for any scrap to satisfy our maddening hunger. On one occasion a horse and cart was being driven through the main road outside our tent carrying the load of potatoes meant for the kitchen. The Italian driver sitting high on his cart did not notice some of the prisoners who were hiding along side his cart and reaching over were methodically emptying the cart while some Italian speaking chaps were keeping the driver diverted until they felt they had collected enough for our tent.

We lived on awful rations for a few more weeks, consisting of a loaf of bread not larger than a small bun and what looked like coffee made from burnt acorns representing breakfast,

  A thin soup with some diced potato and another small” pani” at lunch time, the lucky days were when some squares of meat were added to the soup.” Oh for the days,” we said to each other, when Mama had served her rich chicken soup with a fliegel or a stick halz and big keneidelach balls floating in a rich brew with as much available as your appetite had called for.

One Sunday morning when most of the local populace was in church we were hurried off to a siding outside Naples and pushed into box cars of the local railways which had signs outside each coach which read “Suitable for the transport of ten Horses or forty Humans”. We were pushed into the box cars in lots of 50 hardly any sitting roomand a barrel in one corner for urinating.

When the train finally got on the way and the barrel started to slop over the nearest started to suffer with little relief for the four days that we were on the journey to our new camp set up at a place 45 kilos from Genoa

On the way to this Camp known as Camp Fifty Two or as we soon learned to say in Italian “CAMPO CINQUANTE DUO” after stops and shunting in and out of sidings as more important railway traffic was allowed through we saw through the slats in the side of our box cars the Leaning Tower of Piza as well as the COLISEUM IN ROME and slithers of what could have been Vatican City.

Everyone on our train, about 300 souls, were finally released from our Box Car - Hell, looking like what the cat had dragged in and stinking to high heaven. We were only given a short time to assemble with our miserable possessions formed up in columns of four and set off on a 15 kilometer march to our final camp in Italy.

Camp 52, was in a beautiful setting on a gentle slope nestling at the foot of tree, bush and grass covered hills.

Everything grew in profusion, and though we were too tired on arrival to appreciate this lovely scene, after what we had been through on our trip here.

We did in later days feel a lot less battered and broken compared to the misery of the western desert and the days we had spent in East Africa and the Ethiopian Mountains. We also did not soon forget our extremely dangerous trip on the Italian cruiser, nor the danger of crossing the Med.

The first inkling we got that we had arrived, was the shouting and yelling as all the prisoners behind the wire, came to the main gate to greet us.

In fact everybody who was fit enough to come to the huge double gates, plus every one of the Italian Guards on duty or off duty showed up to inspect this bedraggled lot of humanity which we the New arrivals represented. Our batch of 300 were the first lot for some months to arrive at camp 52 so we were cause for quite a lot of excitement in this out of the way place.

Now the noise grew louder, and when some of our party were recognized by the chaps on the other side of the wire, it sounded like everyone had gone berserk, and some of the chaps inside were dancing for joy.

Especially, when one of them, recognized his younger brother, whom we found out later, he had been mistakenly told was dead.

As we stood at the gate waiting for the Italian Colonel to address us through an interpreter I suddenly recognized Harry Margo, a fellow I knew well from home.

​ He, in the confusion of the War, had also been reported missing and later confirmed as dead, standing strong and tall in the crowd at the gate. We waved like crazy at each other while I convinced myself that I was not staring at a ghost. I was also very excited when I saw my cousins Mike Coleman and his brother Sam who had been wounded in the eye and was soon to be sent home in a prisoner exchange.

I think the Italian Colonel commander of the camp spoke about the fact that if we did not give our guards too much trouble we would find the Camp comfortable but if not He could and would punish trouble makers, in ways that would make said people very unhappy.

The guards from the camp now relieved the one’s who had been on the trip with us and the new guards pushed us into a double line to count us once again after the many times that we had been through their checking  -system on the journey. The side gate was now opened and while lots of guards including the Camp Commandant looked on.          

 We were allowed through the small side gate ten at a time for Processing, With the formalities soon behind us  we were shown our new quarters by an English Sergeant Major who was the recognized man in charge on our side. Dumping our miserable parcels on the beds we chose in Hut 10, Duncan and myself went outside to take part in the excited get- together that were going on all over the camp.

In time we settled down in our new camp, spent many hours during the day listening to what had happened to our various friends and found again relations. We heard of how some of the fellows had been on a ship torpedoed by our own submarine who of course had no way of knowing that friendly P>O>W>’s were on board. The ship was close to the coast of Greece and managed to get into shallow water before sinking so the only people lost were guys who dived overboard and were killed by the propeller or killed or wounded by the explosion when the torpedo struck below the waterline.

We heard of others who actually escaped in the western desert by taking their guard hostage grabbing an Italian truck and meeting up with our own troops as they moved up the coast. I suppose we were pitched some tall stories of “derring -do” and Heroism far beyond the line of duty but at the time we accepted everything we were told until we got to know the story tellers better.

Of course like prisoners anywhere in the world one of the main topics of conversation any day or night was how to ESCAPE.

 Anyone who had any sort of reasonable or even crazy plan for an individual or larger escape was through proper channels, introduced to the escape Committee whose leader was never ever mentioned and was only known to one other person. There were so many tunnels being dug that those in the know had to make sure that the whole Camp did not sink anything up to 8 feet in the underground honeycomb that was being prepared by different groups. At times the guards went around with crow bars and sharp tools looking for these tunnels.

 Sometimes a tunnel was found and we were all kicked out of our huts to stand in the heat or even the snow during winter while everyone was counted by, in my opinion people, who had no knowledge of Arithmetic. At one time after a couple of guys went missing we were kept out in the snow and bitter cold wind almost the whole night while the Camp Commandant and his Officers refused to accept the result of a dozen different counts that took place that evening and night as we stood in line getting more miserable and mad as we were not given our supper and only after a lot of protest and pain were we even  allowed to go to the toilets.

For quite a long while we had no books in the camp. This worried a lot of us who were keen readers, and we appealed to our Sgt. Maj. to push the Camp Commandant to approach the Red Cross, who were probably swimming in books donated by the whole world.

They no doubt possessed books in almost all the European languages, and we wanted  to get our fair share for a Camp with a Prisoner population of plus minus 5000 prisoners.

A few months later we were swamped with books and a few of us took up the task of acting as librarians for each hut. I was provided with a space behind my bed to keep about 50 books mostly hard cover in those days when soft cover was hardly known. When it was Library time I placed the books neatly on my bed and every one was invited to selec_ta book they wanted to read. When the selection had been made and where there was more than one person wanting a particular book we drew lots the others were called up to fetch the book, they had chosen and those not in demand were exchanged with Hut Number 11 or Hut number 9.

We also soon discovered amongst the Prisoners some very good lecturers on a variety of Subjects. As we formed a free University in that one had to pay no fees , it became a wonderful idea to attend as many lectures as one could to pass the time of day and to open one’s mind to all this knowledge that was going begging. I put my name down for Philosophy, Logic, Journalism, and Geology. At that time we also started a Camp Wall news Paper where news about Home, items extracted from letters received, Good News Items etc. No politics or War News was allowed I wrote feature articles some of which were published in the six copies we put up in the camp weekly.

Sport was not neglected, and being fit was considered a must, especially if you intended to take part in any escape or to do your own thing if you did not wish to rely only on the Escape Committee.

Apart from spending hours and hours walking around the perimeter of the camp, which was a well-worn path always under the watchful eyes of the guards in their  Posts  perched high above the wire, with search lights and Machine guns trained in line with the electric fence that was another hazard if any one had thoughts of going through the wire, we played Basket Ball, Badminton, Soccer, Cricket and we trained for a Novices Boxing Match which was advertised as being Inter-National in that those who took part would represent their country for the Match. For a very short while I was a camp Springbok. We also had boxers from New Zealand Australia, England, and Canada.

Despite the fact that we were again going through a food shortage, once I became involved with the boxing .I arranged with my friends and my second to save all the sugar rations we were given

 The idea was that I would be fed a teaspoon full of sugar to boost my energy for the bout. My second would have enough supplies to feed me a teaspoon before each round.

My second was a professional, and practicing with him gave me a lot of confidence in the efficacy of the sugar.

Came the big day the Camp- Hall was fitted out with a full sized Boxing Ring. Each of the countries represented were allowed to put their National Flag up and we all had Mascots, Cheer-leaders and Supporters were there in their dozens and the Hall was full of noise and excitement. In a high Position at the back of the Hall The Camp Commandant took his place in what looked like a Royal Box, any way he had his group of Officers with him and was given the program translated by his interpreter.

The Bouts started and my match was slated for the third item. I prepared myself to fight an elimination bout with another South African who was no novice. He gave me a pretty bad hammering although I lasted out three rounds and got in a couple of decent blows. He was disqualified when they judged by his footwork that he was a very experienced Boxer and when they had him in front of the Committee he admitted as much.

After his disqualification I was called back and told that I had won the bout due to his false Application. That afternoon I was back in the Match and this time I met a New Zealand guy who was a coal-heaver at home and who kept himself fit and strong with muscle building exercises. The match went the allotted 3 Rounds. When I punched him my arm felt as if I had hit a brick wall. When he hit me I shuddered from head to toe. He won the Match on points, which was well deserved. My second said I did everything right but that I was not built for this sort of guy. I was happy to fall into my bed in one piece but I did notice that some of the camp bullies treated me with respect after my international Debut. It took me ten days after this event to stop hurting.

Every one including the Camp Commandant were so delighted with this Boxing Spectacle that it was a popular subject for quite a few weeks after the International Match and mysteriously quite a lot of training equipment soon arrived for the boxing fraternity to do their thing.

Suddenly, it must have been from heaven, food parcels started to arrive.

  Some from Canada and others from England. I cannot remember for certain but there were Red Cross Parcels from New Zealand and possibly Australia.  Immediately they were handed out to us we were warned by our medical people to not over eat on stomachs that had seen near starvation for so many months. The warning did not help much and soon after the first allocation there was a lot of illness about as a result of the sudden enrichment of our food.

One of the things that did change was that the parcels contained cigarettes,  and the nonsmokers, and those who had wisely given up smoking during the shortages, were able to trade their cigarette rations for the best articles in the food parcels which kept on arriving at that time. As Cigarettes did not always accompany the parcels their scarcity put up their market value and the Non Smokers reaped the benefit of this extra wind-fall. I was one of the lucky ones because although I had been a fairly heavy smoker previously now my common sense told me that I would be far better off with a better diet Smoking was taboo, for the rest of my incarceration.

C  H  A  P  T  E  R    T  H  R  E  E

One of the things which every one of us at that time were eternally grateful for was the fact that the parcels contained good supplies of tea and coffee and a very welcome amount of condensed milk and cocoa. No matter how many things went wrong, quite often with news from home, or things that cropped up because of 5,000 men of all types and varied ages of anything between twenty years old and forty five, living in close proximity with each other and not knowing how long this situation was going to go on for, was certainly enough reason for some terrible arguments and fights sometimes between individuals but often between groups or gangs which could have led to a lot of bloodshed if the Authorities had not interfered.  One could always find solace in a good cup of coffee or tea. As a matter of fact even the smokers were not keen to part with their beverages and so tea and coffee drew top prices in the barter market, which was active morning noon and night.

In order to have a cup of tea etc. the old system of boiling water in some sort of Billy-can suspended over an open fire was just too slow and cumbersome and so our South African Engineers soon hit on an idea which became standard practice throughout the Prisoner of War Camps of Europe and possibly further  afield at a later stage.

I Know that we called it the Blower, and like all good ideas, was a very simple construction of empty tins having the closed end removed thus making a pipe when linked together.

A propeller with a handle attached was used to blow air through the pipe, to a tin in which a fire was started and which after a few turns of the handle caused such a strong flame that it took no time at all to boil the water placed on top of the heat.

Fortunately there were plenty enough tins but as everyone at one stage was making these new Presto Blower Stoves the tins were in big demand and very few if ever found their way into the refuse.

Our mining Engineers from South Africa because of their expertise brought with them from their Jobs in the Witwatersrand mines had worked out a method to get lights into the Tunnels by surreptitiously taking power from wherever the leads were out of sight of the Guards especially at the latrines nearest the barbed wire where everyone had a good reason to visit there at any hour of the day or night, had also found the timber props they needed by robbing any vacant beds of all their supports , still had a big problem how to get air to the guys doing the tunneling.

Once the new Blower was invented they simply made a bigger version and almost openly delivered air to the tunnellers by planting their blower in the middle of all the others that the chaps were using, and as the guards were used to seeing our fellows making hot water ready for their brews all day long, the additional Blower went unnoticed and was mainly responsible for our first successful escape from “Campo Cinquante Duo.”

For the people who liked their Sun-Downer or Noggin every night the absence of Beer and Liquor was a big problem for a while but even this difficulty was soon overcome when we discovered amongst our various talents and experts in almost every field we had guys who had made a bit of a living out of moonshining by selling a highly potent drink much stronger than Vodka or Cane Spirit called Witblitz or Mampoer to the blacks in South Africa who were not allowed to buy spirits legally at that time in the turbulent history of that crazy Land .These guys somehow managed to get hold of  a large tin or metal Barrel which they first carefully placed under the floor of their hut directly in their sleeping area so as to be able to keep an eye on their concoction, using potato yeast which they knew how to grow they filled the barrel with water allowing space for the turnip tops and other vegetables which they obtained from our chaps doing duty in the Ito kitchen and with the sugar plus any fruit they got their hands on they declared the brew was on its way towards fermentation and in due course they would siphon the  mix  and produce a spirit that could put you out for the count, after two tots,   as I and many others soon found out.

Drink was supposed to be forbidden in all Prisoner of War Camps, so the people who made and ran the Still, which according to the experts was as good as you would get anywhere in the world, were very careful to keep the “Booze” outlet or “Speak- Eezy” as the Americans called it in the days of Prohibition very much under the wraps, but in a Camp where  everyone lived so closely to everyone else it did not take long before the queues started to form, because anything different to normal was a wonderful diversion and even nondrinkers lined up to see the new  development.

In any case with all the precautions that the Still owners took and the guys fully co-operated because the benefit for the people who had wanted to celebrate things like Birthdays and Anniversaries and could now have a real party against what had been a wishy- washy Tea or Coffee Affair, was apparent to all and so their customers were behaving well when the Italian guards were around inside the Camp during the day but at night when we were mainly left to our own devices the celebrations after the drink had circulated for a while could only be described as fantastic until the day that everything came out in the open in a very unexpected way.

The Italians had an annoying habit of pulling us all out of our huts at short notice and with the British Sgt Major acting as a witness to see that nothing was taken of ours or planted on us they conducted a search looking for Weapons, Escape Equipment, Maps or Compasses, Radios, Tools or Civilian Clothing or anything else that was considered dangerous from their point of view. They also made regular checks to see if there were signs of any one trying or preparing to escape.  Well one morning soon after most of us had had our breakfast they decided to do a check to see if everybody who was supposed to be in the Camp was present and accounted for, this excluded the wood detail who were sent out to bring in fuel for our fires as well as for the Italian guards. As usual their Arithmetic was horrible and none of the guards including their Top Brass could agree about the count and so We had to stand all morning in the cold wind that was blowing at the time while they struggled with their accounting. In the meantime the Still owners and Operators were getting more and more anxious as they had been preparing a new brew and their experience told them that it should be ready any time now.

Suddenly there was an explosion that could be heard throughout the Camp and brought out every guard  running with their Rifles at the ready not knowing what to expect. We realized immediately that our hut was the Epicenter  of what sounded like an earthquake. When the Officers burst into our hut to see what this was all about a shout of laughter came from them and as all the soldiers who were counting us had joined in the rush to our hut we were also free to go look. The sight that met our eyes was unbelievable. The Brew had been busy fermenting and not having anyone present to control it had built up enough gas to blow the lid through the trapdoor and almost the whole hut was covered in turnip tops and a stinking mess of all the ingredients that went into making our High Octane Witblitz were now attached to the ceiling, the windows, doors, walls, floor, our bedding, our clothes,. that hung around and every other surface.

Although when everyone  stopped laughing our Sgt. Major tried to talk the Colonel out of taking a tough approach, he would not listen and so the culprits were marched off to jail, all the Still equipment and the stock of readymade stuff was confiscated and we the tenants of Hut 10. had to spend about a week cleaning up but unfortunately it took at least two more weeks to get rid of the stench. For a while after this event, the members of Hut No.10 were known far and wide as the “Stinker Drinkers” The Non-Drinkers objected strongly but eventually took the whole thing in good Spirit.

It did not take too long before a new group got into the lucrative business of High Octane Liquor and a New Still with New Directors were soon active again supplying the steady demand that existed and which like everything else was paid for in Cigarettes or Camp Vouchers which had their true value in cigarettes. We did not have a Stock Exchange in Camp but every last item was valued in cigarettes and a small tin of Jam was worth 12 cigs, a packet of tea 30 cigs and Coffee 25 cigs and so on. The liquor being local production after the initial excitement settled down to a price of 3 cigs a tot.

>From all these activities we eventually created a few Capitalists who in short time seemed to have formed themselves into a jun, Mafia Organization who appeared to be interested and involved in every money making project that was on the go. They controlled the liquor trade, they had almost all the cigarettes that were available, and in time got a hold of good supplies of Tea and Coffee using the power of their hold on cigarette stocks to outbid everybody for what they wanted. They of course then manipulated prices to suit themselves.

In order to guard their possessions they recruited some tough guys whom they kept happy with supplies of Cigarettes food and drink and the Camp started to look and  act like any Normal or Abnormal Society.

We were very fortunate indeed that after our first couple of Months in Camp 52. an Australian Padre was allocated to our Camp and although after all these years I cannot remember his Name he was known to all and sundry as Bob but I think his name was Robert Bradley, a decent guy who soon got around to saying hello to everyone and as he was truly undenominational he made friends of everyone including Catholics, Jews, and Bush BAPTISTS.

Bob was a real gentleman and was fantastically well educated having apart from other things studied Greek and Latin as well as Philosophy and Logic.  But what fascinated all of us who had dealings with him was that he had a photographic memory and was able to call up what he needed to know on the instant. He was actually a human computer long before Computers were invented.

He fortunately arrived at the time that there were no books in the camp apart from some small copies of ST, James version of the Bible.  Soon there was a notice on the Padre’s door to say that he was prepared to start a story circle in a sheltered spot under a couple of trees  at nine the next morning and that the story would be The Hounds of the Baskervilles. About six of us assembled next morning and Duncan and I were amazed that Bob after a short introduction started telling us the Story of the Baskervilles completely from memory . We were even more astonished when the books did arrive in the Camp and amongst them was a copy of The Hounds of the Baskervilles. Without telling Bob who was about half way through his story when the book arrived that we had the book and when we turned to the chapter that he was telling us about we were astounded to find that his memory was so good that he practically put in the comas and full stops exactly according to the book in front of us.

Surprisingly after the books arrived his group did not fall away but grew because everyone who was interested in literature wanted to see Bob’s memory  in action. He soon had a group of about twenty people sitting at his feet and absorbing his every word because his presentation was excellent and from years of practice he could pitch his very pleasant voice according to the size of his audience and the venue.

He now decided to make use of his wide knowledge and offered our group and other interested chaps a series of lectures on philosophy and logic, and very quickly filled his numbers that he could handle and after a few weeks in the open, the group were allowed to use a part of the Hall which was certainly more comfortable. At one time dealing with the Greek Philosophers he wrote on the blackboard the name he was dealing with in classical Greek and when we told him we did not know what he was writing he looked at the board in amazement and translated it back into English to everybody’s amusement. He was himself a true philosopher and spent a lot of his time putting over the idea that one should never give up one’s search for wisdom. He tried to show, as black as things might look, it was up to us to search out a better way to deal with our daily difficulties.

What he and other lecturers started was actually or did become later when

we were finally moved to Germany what we all thought we could rightly call

The University of the World

People who work hard or spend their day in study and, even the section of the Camp who lay about, needed some form of entertainment which was eventually supplied by a group of fellows who in civilian life had taken part in the Theater or had been interested in music or who had written plays in London or New York as well as Johannesburg, Sydney and anywhere else.

When word got about  that this group was being formed they then discovered that there were a few costume designers and even artists who had been involved in designing sets for the stage and soon too we had a lighting expert as well as an army Technician who could handle sound equipment and knew a lot about spotlights and flood lights and was a real wizard with a limited amount of tools producing from pieces of tin and lengths of flex all sorts of things to help the Entertainment Company.

Our Padre Bob came to our rescue and helped approach the Colonel whom he made an enthusiastic Patron of our Theater and Entertainment plan by telling him that he and his Top Brass would be invited to our Shows whenever we were ready to go on stage.

With his influence We soon had all the timber we needed to build the stage and the cardboard to make the sets as well as the paint nails and screws to make a decent job of the Hall.

While all this was going on the THEATER COMPANY STARTED AN AMBITIOUS PRODUCTION nothing less than Madame Butterfly. This without any Musical Score which had to be written from memory by a couple of our Experts singing and humming the tune while one of them prepared the music Sheets for the, what eventually became our Camp Orchestra.

As usual in any Army there are bandsmen, but when the Camp was advised through our Weekly Wall Newspaper that we wanted to make a Camp Orchestra quite a number of people rolled up to tell us that we had far more talent amongst our plus minus 5000. than we ever imagined and soon we had a very excited crowd of potential Musicians ready to start but not a single instrument.

It so happened at this time the Camp was informed that a Red Cross Delegation or Inspectorate would be visiting the Camp in about two Months from Switzerland and the Colonel was very anxious to give them a good reception so when he was informed that we had a ready and willing Orchestra sans instruments he put our problem right for us by bringing in every musical item we could use including stands to hold the musical sheets.

Soon we had a hell of a din coming from the back of the Hall as the Orchestra assembled for their Practice Sessions. The caterwauling was unbelievable but after a short while everyone got used to his instrument and in later sessions the music sounded quite sweet and very Professional.  In the meantime a choir had been chosen and they too were in practice under the baton of the Sgt. Major whose Welsh background showed up strongly and when he was in good voice as the Padre said “you could hear the Angels singing.”

All this activity was making its impact on the Camp’s Population and there was definitely a better Spirit in the Camp as so many people were involved in one or other project to prepare for the great day.

We now reached a stage where the members of the cast had to be chosen and a bit of a talent Competition was on the go to find suitable Actors as well as men willing and able to do the Female parts. Surprisingly there were quite a few applicants. The trouble started when they came on stage in drag and with suitable bosoms protruding where necessary  had a Hall full of Sex- Starved red blooded, hungry young men climbing the chairs and heading for the stage who quickly convinced themselves into believing that this was the real thing, and the so called Ladies had to be hurriedly escorted out back into their normal clothes to avoid a lot of crazy guys.

Further Talent Competitions took place only in front of the Judges in private with a few strong men to act as Body Guards in every sense of the word.

This was not the only time that the Sex Problem came out in the open, so to speak. There was a time earlier on when we were still settling in, when a local farmer used to deliver vegetables to the Camp Kitchen which was over near the main gate but hidden by some trees and a large hedge which more or less screened the main road. However there were always a few of the idlers who in order to satisfy their curiosity about what was going on in the outside World took up a position near the only gap in the hedge and watched what arrived, who delivered and had themselves a good time calling to whoever approached trying out bits of the Italian they had already picked up. At this time the Italian delivering to the Kitchen usually brought with his 15 year old son to help him. On this occasion for some unknown reason he brought with him his pretty 18 year old Daughter. As soon as She appeared things got so hectic that a few guards had to be brought out and chase the guys away from the fence. After this the gap was closed by a Huge wooden board and the entertainment on that side came to an immediate end.

Of course Homosexuality was here, as well as any place where men were incarcerated, a topic of concern to those who were supposed to look out for the welfare of the men. But as the Padre said if two Consenting  Adults decided that, that was the way they wanted to live, there was little that anyone could do, but never the less he included a general Sex Talk in his weekly Sermon. Even though he was a popular Padre to all and sundry I doubt if anything any one could say could make any difference.

Letters to and from home was a major subject of interest practically right throughout our days as P.O.W’s. When the mail first arrived the lucky guys who received up to 10 letters that had been censored by our own censors and no doubt been looked at by the Italian Intelligence hoping to find something that our people let slip through, would do a merry jig or quietly disappear to read their post in peace whereas the others who had drawn no Mail walked around anxious and quite disconsolate only changing their mood when home friends of theirs shared their letters and showed them that they had regards for them by people who said they hoped they had received letters written to them. These letters did eventually pitch up but only after quite a few tears had been shed by the guys who had been waiting while the Mail traveled round to a half a dozen different Camps in Italy looking for them.

Later on when we were in Germany and because all the Railways were heavily bombed by our Air force as well as the American heavy Bombers  and little food could come through and our Red Cross Parcels were affected as well, we had reached a real sorry state with guys so hungry they could no longer get out of bed and people keeling over from sheer weakness when they only got up to go to the toilet.

Hunger was something we faced each day with little hope for the future. It was at this time that I caused quite a stir in our Johannesburg circle by writing to my folks that things were going well and we were busy celebrating “YOM KIPPUR” every day. I was told by Chippy and others when we eventually got home that I had disturbed a lot of people who immediately climbed in and sent parcels to the South African P. O. W’s in Italy. They also gave larger Donations to the Red Cross and urged them to find a way of getting parcels through to us. Anyway some extra parcels did arrive for us so my letter did some good when the parcels reached us.

At that time Israel was not yet in existence as far as the outside World was concerned and the Yom Kippur War was still long years ahead and so most of the Christian World were not aware of its name or meaning.

CHAPTER  FOUR

After much preparation The OPENING DAY for THE THEATER was almost upon us and the excitement and frenzy was now building up to a hysteria of expectation as the Players were preparing for a dress rehearsal which was going to be done behind closed doors and only the People who had to be there would be allowed in. The Orchestra had been practicing day and night and sounded like they were in fine fettle and half the Camp were already humming the lyrics from Madame Butterfly while the Electricians and stage managers were busy checking everything from the lights to the Sound Equipment to the lowering and raising of the curtain and the Theater team were busy putting in extra seats strengthening the stage and making sure that the main door and minor outlets were smooth while our voluntary Fire Brigade went round checking the Sand Buckets and Hose pipes that had been installed.

The Camp Sgt. Major, The Padre, The Theater Director, Various Managers and The Italian Officers made a complete Inspection of all systems and gave their full endorsement that the Show could go ahead as planned and that Saturday Afternoon would be opening time. The Main Show to which the Big Brass had been invited would be Saturday Night and as some of the Swiss Red Cross Delegation had already arrived They would attend The second Show as the guests of the Camp Commandant. The Outside Artists finished off the big posters they were putting up and We the Camp Journalists were invited to attend both shows so that we could do a good job on the Feature Critique for the Camp Wall Newspaper.

The Italian Press got word of the Madame Butterfly Story and wanted to do a feature article for the local Newspaper and although the place was packed full they managed to arrange for a Photographer and a Reporter to get seats almost on the stage.

As the Hall could only seat about 500 at a time every body agreed the fairest way would be to draw a block of Seats for each hut and the Captain of each hut would look after his crowd. Funnily enough not everyone was keen to see the show so in the end the distribution of the tickets became easier than we thought.

The Afternoon show was splendid and the behavior of the crowd was excellent as everyone enjoyed the show so much they would not allow the possible rowdies to interrupt their obvious enjoyment and the result was that the chaps left the show in an ecstatic mood.

The evening Show had a couple of hic-cups as the Red Cross Delegation arrived late having taken a wrong turn at the fork and only because they met one of the Camp Officers on the road were they able to get back to the camp in reasonable time. The Show as expected went off splendidly and the applause at the end of the Evening seemed like it was never going to finish. All those who took part in the different sections were called on the stage and had the personal satisfaction of knowing that their efforts were well appreciated.  The Big Laugh was when they called the “ girls” up to receive Bouquets and every Photographer amongst the Red Cross and the local Press took photographs of all the lovely ladies and one of them asked for a date with the leading lady.

For the whole length of the Season of Madame Butterfly the camp was in a wonderful mood and added to this for a while just after the visit by the Red Cross we had the biggest delivery of parcels we ever had and it was decided to spin out the rationing of the parcels to the chaps by allowing one parcel per week per each, as long as adequate stocks lasted.

After a while the Entertainment Committee and the hall became the center of activities for the whole Camp and Madame Butterfly was the first in a series of plays and entertainment that the Players handled. Encouraged by the marvelous and well deserved praise they got for their first undertaking they  now carried on with some very ambitious Items and tackled  John Steinbecks “ Of Mice and Men” which according to the Posters  they put out was the play  that shocked London and New York and was the hit of the 1940’s Steinbeck was already well, known for his “Grapes of Wrath” so a good turnout was expected and the show  ran even longer than Madame Butterfly. This was soon followed by Oscar Wilde’s “The importance of being Ernest.” Any way they again had an outstanding success and some of the players were specially lauded for their presentations. People who were “Play Goer Fundi” felt that London would not have done better.

While all this was going on, on  the surface, the Entertainment group did a lot of “Undercover Work” for the Escape Dept. and with all their Know- How they could offer a whole basket of “goodies.” to them. The Costume Dept.  undertook, to turn out a Man’s two piece suit or a Ladies Tailored  Outfit within three days if called upon. With the type- writer that was lent to them for a couple of hours each day to prepare scripts for each of the Actors/  actresses They were soon very secretly turning out any sort of Travel Document or ID.  or even Passports if they could get hold of a document or pictures of one. Amongst other things they had acquired a very good Camera and where they got film and dark room chemicals from, one was not advised to ask, but they assured us that it was all available to them >From their stock of props they could fit one out with genuine looking mustaches and beards of all designs as well as set hair and change the color to suit the I.D.  They had not yet tried their hand at forging money but even this was possible.

In time we got to know the different characters in the camp and sometimes when they were in their cups or spoke in boast we got to learn the background to a lot of these fellows who in the main were decent enough but force of circumstances turned out some very queer people. Amongst them were chaps who admitted they knew how to crack a safe, had learned in the mines how to handle explosives, open almost any car window in a few seconds and were experts at pinching cars. Some had got into the Armies of the Commonwealth Countries ahead of the Police and turned out to be better citizens because of the Army discipline and the fact that they were treated equally to everyone else and were allowed to make a new start.

Although we were not supposed to know anything about the progress of the war excepting what the occasional new Prisoner captured later than ourselves was able to tell us, We managed from time to time with bribery I suppose or sheer cheek to bring in the odd forbidden Radio.  We also managed to get hold of excellent Maps, and eventually were in the position to follow the War in detail either because the Italians were already of a mind to throw in the sponge and did not seem to care, but we did notice a friendlier attitude coming from our Jailers as the War wound on towards the time of their surrender.

There was a feeling of Suppressed joy in the air, but also a feeling that we were not going to get out so easily and we somehow knew that when we were happy, tragedy was always round the corner.

One Incident I will never forget happened only a few weeks before we left CAMPO CINQUANTE Duo. All through our P.O.W. days in Italy we saw from time to time The  Black Shirted Fascistic coming and going and always seeming to have more power than the normal Army. Somehow they learned about an intended escape and set up a machine gun to wait for the guys to break out of their Tunnel. Three chaps were leaving that night but at the last minute we heard that another two were joining them. There was hardly any moon that night and so as soon as dark cloud massed up the guys went ahead said good-bye to the escape Committee and took off . We heard later from the only guy who managed to escape through the Tunnel back into the Camp that they had just removed the last bit of earth and bushes at the end of their Tunnel and had slithered out into the open when a search light turned the area into daylight and the black shirted Fascist shouted to them to stop and at the same time turned a machine gun on them killing three of them outright and seriously wounding the Fourth. Our fifth guy had the fright of his life and as they had not seen him getting away they did not look for him although we went through quite a bit of misery when they had special searches throughout the camp looking for anything that could be useful to us while we tried to get back to so called normal life.

We mourned the loss of the three that died but we also lauded their bravery. One of the last things that a few of us undertook was to write to the Parents of the three Chaps who had been killed and try and indicate to them how much respect we had for our Dead comrades in Arms. The wounded chap who was in an excellent State of fitness, made a very quick recovery.

We now started to see signs of Italian guards due for leave remaining  away a long time, and it looked to us as if they were all leaving the sinking Ship and staying at home to lick their wounds.

.We heard complaints from the guards that they were doing extra-long Spells of Duty because there was no one to relieve them. On the Radio we heard over. that our Troops were well on their way to us  and Now the talk about a possible Capitulation was in the air all the time.  We were quietly preparing for the day when we would be able to walk through the Big Gates to Freedom.

Came a day when the Fence watchers who spent all their waking day watching everything the Italians did came rushing in to report that they saw the Colonel’s car loaded up for a long Journey and all the Officers in Civilian clothes Driving Or riding away on Motor Cycles or Bikes as if the devil was after them. The few guards that were left were helping themselves to the Camp stores and would soon be gone.

The Sgt., Major immediately called a meeting of the whole Camp. He advised that the British were Appealing to all P.O.W.’s not to leave the Camps because if thousands of Men were on the roads it  would cramp the Armies Advance to relieve us. We were to stay in our Camps until they came through. They wished us luck and would be seeing us soon.  A lot of  guys said they were now going to look after their own interest and were leaving right away. Surprisingly the Sgt. Major said good luck to them and briskly walked away to prepare his Papers and his own kit expecting the British any time.

Duncan and I talked it over and decided to stay put because with all the activities, the bombing of  the roads and the Total confusion that was taking place in advance of the Army we were just as likely to be killed by our own side as by the enemy. Most of the Chaps in Camp thought it made good sense and got busy celebrating.

. With no Italians around the store rooms were opened and all the Red Cross Parcels were brought into Camp and under the Padres Eye a fair Distribution took place.

If we only had known, we only had two more days of so called freedom, but in the meantime because I had a mass of papers , Poems I had written and copies of Feature Articles I wanted to save Duncan got stuck in and with some material from an old Army coat which we helped ourselves to from the Costume Department he turned out for me a beautiful shoulder bag that took my whole store of papers I wanted to save. Apart from everybody packing the few possessions they had plus as much food or and cigarettes they believed they would need until they saw evidence of victuals in front of their eyes which they were almost sure the relief would supply, there was a continuous  Party which went on  throughout  the day and a good part of the night until exhaustion took over and the whole Camp was at last out for the Count.

Early the following morning to our horror the trucks and Jeeps we heard on the road turned out to be the German Army who with planned efficiency we had not seen in Italy for a long time surrounded the camp and immediately called for our Sgt. Major and the Padre and  told them  that the Camp was surrounded by his Company and that He the Senior Officer had given instructions to shoot anybody at all who gave his soldiers any trouble. He also told us in a meeting he called of the whole Camp that we must be ready to move at any time and that he wanted things to remain peaceful and that if anyone had different ideas they better forget them quickly.

Much , much later we found out that a party of six of the chaps had gone out of the gate that night and sat themselves up on the hill where they could watch the road to see who would be coming to the camp. They watched the whole process of the camp being taken over by the Jerries and under cover of the bushes and trees  made their way further up the hill  to a farm house where they remained hidden until the British forces entered the area and they were soon on their way to Egypt and eventually home sweet home.

It was a terribly bitter blow for all of us especially being back in the hands of the Germans, and coming off the heights of joy and happiness almost ecstasy that we had been in for almost three days was just too much for many of the fellows who literally cried their eyes  out when they realized that freedom had been snatched away from them  and they once again were  to be confined behind the wire of a very different set of Jailers.

Those of us who were Jewish were approached by a number of our Christian friends who were concerned about what would happen to us but were assured that the Germans were tied to the Geneva Convention and so many of their own people were prisoners in different parts of the world they would just have to go by the Convention. I don’t know how much we believed in this ourselves but as we had nothing else to hang our hopes on this just had to do.

Without any warning the hateful German shouts of “Auf stehen” and “Raus” shattered the still morning air as armed German guards came to the door of each hut at their favorite call time of 4.00 a.m.  Most of us had been wide awake all night discussing our new situation so it wasn’t long before everyone was out of the hut standing in a group of very upset humanity. A couple of stragglers came out with the German who went in to round them up shouting and  pushing them along with the butt  of his rifle and cursing them to hell and back. We had a strong feeling that the Germans themselves were upset at the New situation that had come about since the Italians had Capitulated and as they were not getting any good news from any front they must have started to realize that their 1.000 year Reich wasn’t going to last very long.

In no time at all the first group of about 500 were assembled outside the main Gate and in columns of four we were led through a road block  and just like so many sheep we  were counted as each lot  of four came through. Now we were pushed briskly along our 15 mile track back to the siding where we were originally off-loaded by the Italians.

On the road as usual the fit were soon way ahead of the march and as we had an escort of Troops mounted on Motor Bikes as well as Bicycles and of course walking soldiers we were for the first few miles very closely escorted, but soon because the line was being stretched out, the watch was

not as close and a couple of guys unseen dived into a dip close to the road and with suitable cover from the bushes and trees managed to get clean away although one guy was spotted diving into a ditch and was Cold –Bloodedly killed by the guard. They now rode up and down the sorry procession telling everyone that those who could not keep up with the March would be shot. and from what we had already seen they certainly meant it The day was hot and as we moved along we started to be affected by the temperature and a prickly  heat made every step unpleasant and soon our whole body was covered in sweat and as we wore more clothes than usual so as to transport as much as we could, our bags that we were carrying started to weigh a ton and the straps were cutting into our shoulders and very soon the guys started to dump their precious possessions along the road and no one bothered to even look at them.

It was here after a terrible mental struggle, that I made up my mind to dump the shoulder bag that Duncan had made for me, with two years of precious Diaries Poems and Paper Notes that I had accumulated,  almost from the beginning of the time, we had been in the hands of the Italians.

I don’t think that I really had much choice, and As Duncan said while he was helping me to take the bag off my shoulder as  we marched along, if you slow down they will shoot  you, and the bag is not worth your life.  I let the bag roll off my shoulder, it hit the ground and rolled into a ditch and I have never since then stopped wandering who found it and what they thought of my two years of notes.

We arrived at the siding totally exhausted and mad as hell..

Here a whole group of German guards were waiting to take over from our camp escort who as soon as they handed us over climbed into waiting trucks and singing a military march of theirs soon disappeared down the road in a cloud of dust.

For a couple of hours we were left in the heat of the morning while the German Hauptman kept glancing at his wrist watch and getting obviously annoyed about the fact that the train to take us on our journey had not yet arrived.

With the arrival of a German Brigadier, with his important looking escort, and lots of “Heil Hitlers,”  salutes, and clicking of the heels and arm waving,  plus “   “ this and that,  and loud guttural commands,  things started to happen, as the Brigadier gave instructions for a motor bike and side car dispatch rider to go 10 miles up the road,  to the nearby main station,  while at the same time the brigadier demanded that the linesman in his retinue shin up a nearby telephone post  and bring him a field telephone which once he had a connection he tore the skin off some underling and within the hour not one but two trains came rolling up to the siding.  and the job of loading us into the familiar “ten horses and forty humans” was soon on the way and in no time at all, our five hundred miserable human beings were loaded into our mobile cramped  quarters for how long we did not know. The usual toilet drum was pushed into a corner, with the understanding, that all four corners of the Box Car would get their turn to suffer the odor and slops of this horrible toilet. In a packed car you had to be on your feet most of the journey, as only a few people could sit on the floor at any one time in this stifling overcrowded Hell- Hole.

CHAPTER FIVE

It's amazing how when everyone is suffering and in real misery that there is always someone who is looked to by the crowd to give a lead or make a scheme or suggestion that will make life a little easier. My friend Duncan was just such a man and when the moaning and grumbling started to get out of hand and the noise in our hot Box car was becoming impossible, to get attention He shouted on the top of his very powerful voice. “Shud up and listen, if you want us all to die in this Hell-Hole you just carry on and when you have finished fighting amongst yourselves most of us will be very dead and they will just chuck us out of this car like dead dogs, and either they will push some more guys in or just disconnect the car and let us rot in some siding. Better we calm down and see how we can make ourselves more comfortable.”

The bitching and groaning stopped long enough for him to talk again. “Look the big problem is that there is little room to sit down and the guys round the bucket are entitled to a break, so let's just draw matches and five blokes at a time will sit down and each group of five will draw and we’ll change around in rotation and it will be fair to everyone—O.K.” and before they could even answer, he said “I’m prepared  to be the first one at the bucket.” Our group with Duncan was willing to go along with him and so a better spirit was established and although the circumstances remained the same and the suffering we had to endure was constantly with us we somehow felt more like a working group than a truckload of selfish individuals.

Little things in normal life are of major importance when one is sunk in misery and every nerve in one’s body is crying out for relief from hunger, cold or heat, thirst or total exhaustion and perhaps angry that someone has not only invaded your space but is claiming much more than he is entitled to. Some very ugly thoughts go through one’s mind, and murder is not the least of them. On the other hand when some little thing happens to give one even temporary relief the feeling of joy is overwhelming. In our party of five two of the guys suggested that although they were entitled to sit down they would stand and give one of our section a chance to stretch out. It was only a piece of space on the filthy iron hard floor, but when one has been standing for hours and every bone and muscle is in agony, a chance to stretch out even for a half hour is like getting the keys to heaven.

Once our P.O.W. Train got out of the siding and on to the main line we found that we were one of dozens of trains traveling northwards towards Germany as the Germans were moving everything they could lay their hands on now that Italy was going to be out of the War.

Because the heat and stench was so overpowering we soon had guys starting to puke up everything they had, had in the days of celebration and then we knew that there was not going to be many of us alive if we did not get some fresh air into the place soon.

There was a metal strip in one corner of the box car which apparently was being used to brace the timber and after our experts had a look at this and decided that it was loose enough with a bit of hard work to prize open and off the wall, we soon had a couple of our most powerful guys working, and when after an hour or so, while everyone made place for them, they won the battle, they immediately started smashing at the iron hard walls. Using the metal like a crow bar, they gradually chipped a hole big enough to let in some air.

As one team tired a second team took over  and after a while we had enough air to breathe, and eventually we  managed to make a hole  in the floor to get rid of the urine that made all the difference to our Box Car life.

All around us like a huge procession we saw and heard the movement of traffic heading Northwards towards the Brenner Pass where Italy ends and Germany begins, and what a variety of traffic there was, we heard cattle cars passing with very unhappy animals mooing and lowing, we heard sheep and goats, we caught glimpses of Italian Soldiers who had been taken prisoner by the Germans to be used no doubt in some way for Germany’s benefit now that Italy had thrown in the sponge.

There were truckloads of Civilian cars as well as huge Lorries and Trailer Trucks, there were Farm Vehicles and Ploughs and Tractors as well as what looked like Parts of Hangers and even Fabricated factory Buildings. There were German Tanks and Italian armored Vehicles, There were Train loads of Gasoline with up to forty railway trucks previously belonging to Italy now grabbed by Germany for their own purposes attached to Italian Locomotives that was also part of their plunder.

Through our peephole we also saw what looked like medical trucks loaded in a hurry and loaded with just about Italy’s total Medical Supplies. They took wheat and all sorts of food supplies leaving their former Ally and Partner in their 1000 year Scheme to suffer and starve. We saw canvas covered trucks with Artillery Barrels pointing skyward and open trucks with AK. AK Guns fully manned as protection against aircraft. My impression all these years was that the whole of Italy was being moved over to Germany.

We of course were on the slower moving traffic and often sent into sidings to allow troop trains and other urgent traffic through while we slowly frazzled with the heat and had to make a terrible row while banging with our boots on the inside of our Car in order to  force the guards looking after us or at least their Officers, to open our door to get a breath of cool air and water which in this heat was just never enough.

We passed through crowded Stations where the civilians looked smartly dressed and a couple of well turned out women caused a sensation even though most of the chaps were too miserable to give the opposite sex much thought. We skirted round some big Towns and a couple of the chaps who had traveled extensively before the War seemed to know the places and eventually after about three days we came to a stand- still in the goods Yard of the Northern City of Balognia where for the first time they, Our Captors let us get out and under close guard we were allowed to stretch our aching legs and a few at a time were allowed to cross the tracks to a tap at the edge of the railway fence.

What happened next seemed like a dream while three of us were taking water a train suddenly shunted between us and our guards and a train coming from the opposite side also pulled in at that moment putting two trains as a shield for us. Without any deliberation we took off from the yard and walking not running so as not to cause any suspicion we strolled across the road hid in some bushes on the side of the mountain overlooking the yard and using tall grass and the bushes growing on the edge of a gully we followed the water course  up the mountain and we were soon out of sight of the Railroad yards and the hated Box Car.

This is where I really missed Duncan because the opportunity arose so suddenly and he was not with me when we decided to go.  When we realized the enormity of what we had done and the threat that had been repeated to us more than once that we would be shot if we tried to escape, we were in a very trembly state and so exhausted that we felt if we could get into a good hiding place for the night we would be able to sleep for twenty four hours at least. The funny part was that when we discussed our having got away as easily and calmly as we had. we laughed hysterically but very quietly as we had no idea where we were and had not at that stage made any plans except to try and stay out of sight  until we possibly ran into a friendly farmer where we could make ourselves comfortable or perhaps link up with a partisan group who were causing the Italians a lot of trouble for some time and now would be giving the Germans similar treatment.

We stayed for a while in what we felt was a good hide-out, as we had our backs against a small cliff and we were in amongst high grass, bushes and trees and we had a clear vision of any one coming up towards our hiding place,  but could not be seen from the gully or a nearby path that wound past the cliff and headed for the higher part of the mountain.

We decided that while it was still daylight we should carefully search around for a farmhouse, and take a chance that the farmer would help us as most of the farming community had never been happy with the fascists and now that they saw the Germans leaving and Italy was now out of the War we were sure that most of them would be happy to help us.

We left our hiding place one at a time and using bushes as cover alongside the path we eventually got to a high position where we could look down a valley to what looked the ideal place for us. A stream ran down the mountain and about a mile away nestling in a hollow we could make out what looked like out buildings of a substantial looking Farm. As this was exactly what we were looking for we set out at a good pace and in a short time found ourselves in a beautiful setting.

We hardly had a chance to draw breath when  we  heard a friendly call coming from the entrance to one of the buildings , “ Bon giorno,” a white haired thin looking sun burned to almost a chestnut shade, farmer  looked over the three of us while his hunting rifle though easily held  was a weapon he obviously knew how to use, was at the ready. Knowing some Italian from our two years in Italy we answered his greeting and then using English I told him that we were P.O.W.s and had escaped from the train that the Germans were taking us to Germany and that they seem to be taking away the whole of Italy or as much as they could carry at this stage.

I also told him that I had seen hundreds of Italian Soldiers being taken as well who were obviously prisoners to the Germans. He said He knew because all the soldiers in this area had been rounded up and some of his own relations had been taken. Glancing carefully around he said we should keep out of sight and he told us to go in to a near by building and wait for him.

A few minutes later He arrived with his daughter aged about 17 and a son much bigger built than himself. His son aged about 20 had a club foot which had kept him out of the Army. Both of them were also armed with hunting rifles and had kept us in sight ever since we showed up on the farm and all the time their father was talking to us.

The old man’s name was Michael and he told us his daughter’s name was Maria and the son’s name Aldo. although he had welcomed us he was still a little suspicious and asked to see our Dog tags, that done he seemed more relaxed and told us that before he became a farmer he had been a ship’s engineer and had spent a lot of time when off duty in the States where he had met his wife an Italian girl from his own part of Italy. At this point his daughter said something and he turned around and apologized and offered us food and drink and his son and daughter went to fetch us what must have been the first home cooked meal we had in a long, long time. He even brought out a bottle of wine which tasted pretty good with the wholesome farm food we were consuming.

He could see we were absolutely dead beat so he indicated we should bunk down in the shed we were in and brought in a thick layer of fresh straw to make our beds and Maria brought us three well stuffed pillows and before leaving the Son and the old man assured us that they would be keeping a look out and if he blew on the whistle which he used for calling his dog we should know to hide away in a corner storeroom and to remember to take the pillows with us and scatter the straw.

Earlier while talking to us He told us that his wife had gone to her brothers place for a couple of days as her Sister in Law was not well and She was expected back tomorrow.

WE wasted no  time and I imagine all three of us were asleep before they had taken ten steps away from the shed. It must have been Four O clock in the afternoon when we went to sleep and we did not waken until 7 a.m. the next morning to find Maria and Aldo with a big jug of hot coffee for us.  They eventually gave us what we considered a hearty breakfast and we learned that both of them had learned English at School but because their parents were both English speaking it had helped them more than they were able to learn in class.   They both had a quaint pronunciation,  which was a sort of mix of Italian American. They were friendly but were worried in case the Germans were still around as some of them had been seen patrolling about ten miles away.

Most of the day we stayed in the shed talking quietly and sometimes snoozing, our hosts brought us Cheese and bread and coffee and at times a jug of water that we polished off pretty quickly as it was so hot in the shed. In the late Afternoon Michael brought in his wife Anne, a good looking woman in her late fifties with hair that still showed streaks of raven black that she must have had in her younger years. She told us that although a lot of the Germans had left the District already there were still some patrols about and it might be safer for us to leave tonight and go on to her brother’s place where he could possibly put us in touch with the Partisans who would lead us through the mountains where we would be able to contact our own People.

WE waited until 10 o clock that evening and when it looked dark enough we said good-bye to our wonderful Hosts and promised them if we got away we would write to them. Michael, his wife Anne and his Daughter Maria gave us big bear hugs when we left and Aldo said he would take us to a place in the mountain where he would point out the road we had to take in order to get to his Uncle’s farm.

For about two hours we followed a rough footpath in complete darkness often stumbling over rocks and bushes  and even when we wanted to curse it had to be done in silence as we stealthily followed our leader. Aldo stopped frequently for us to catch him up and when we finally got to the position he was to leave us, he shook hands all around after explaining in detail where we were to go and what we were to try and avoid He slipped away into the darkness and we only heard a slight scrabble or two and no more.

As soon as there was enough light we took off one at a time down a fairly steep decline descending as silently as we could into the unknown.

CHAPTER   SIX

 It was bitingly cold in the very early morning and  we were not too warmly dressed but the action and the tension kept us moving while the thoughts upper most in our minds was with a little bit of luck we could soon put an end to our trauma and be safely back with friends again. We soon left behind the steep bit and now we were on a fairly flat piece of ground strewn about with rocks and bushes and here and there a knoll of tall trees. At last we came to a brook with the pure mountain water running over some flat stones in the shade of a huge rock and a lot of low growing bushes interspersed with taller trees.

Here we decided to stop and rest for a while and get a decent drink of water while we had a small breakfast of bread and cheese that we had taken with us as a gift from our farmer friends.

The weather had started to turn warmer and as we were still cold from the night before, we were happy to be warming up in the sun and reluctant to leave our pleasant spot.  Breakfast finished we decided to get along to see if we could spot the places  Aldo had  said   we would see,  some land marks once we got back on the slope of the next mountain range. Refreshed by the rest and the snacks we quickly scrambled up the slopes again and soon it was like looking at a familiar Map,  so good was Aldo’s description.

Within minutes  we spotted the steeple of the church he had described and also a tall granary and a bunch of trees on the edge of a village and as we looked we could see the river which ran alongside the village glinting in the morning sun. From where we now stood the road or better still the path wound down the hill alongside a large outcrop of the mountain which looked stark and black against the backdrop of the restful sunny Valley.

Taking every precaution we slowly descended the black outcrop and just when we were congratulating ourselves about getting down safely we ran into a German patrol who were coming down a path on the other side of the black spur and I don’t know who was more surprised we or the Germans who seemed to be the last patrol in the District as the whole Army seemed to be intent on getting back to Germany as fast as they could.

A short order from their Sergeant and suddenly ten assorted weapons were pointed at our heads. The sergeant spoke to us in German, we told him we did not understand what he was saying in our rather poor Italian. He was no fool and said to us you are probably some more of ,those runaway prisoners of war. He saw the leather thong I was wearing around my neck and immediately recognized the dog tag and told his patrol that we were P.O.W.s.

He now spoke to us in English, with hardly any accent and said he wanted to know where we escaped and as the truth in this case is better than a lie, I told him that we had escaped from the train at Balognia, but to make it safe for our Italian friends who had helped us I said we only got away the previous evening and that we were hoping to meet our own people very soon as we heard that since Italy capitulated they would soon be in this Area.

The Sergeant now allowed his Patrol to rest on the rocks surrounding us and moments later each of them pulled out from their Knapsacks a hunk of cheese or a piece of polony and a chunk of bread as well as a flask of coffee still surprisingly hot.

We sat three miserable blokes very upset that we had again lost our freedom with our backs resting against a large boulder knowing that we would soon be back behind the wire. We did not talk to each other or even exchange a look and I now spent my time studying each of our hated enemies. I noticed that except for the Sergeant and his Corporal who were mature men the rest of the Patrol looked like youngsters of 18 or 19. All of them looked over tired and needing a shave and a good night's rest. With their N.C.O.’s sitting close to them they were wary of saying anything at all unless they were given a particular order and ate their meal almost in silence.

The Sergeant Suddenly called on us to stand up and detailed one of his patrols to search us for weapons while the others stood at the ready in case they had any trouble with us. All he found was our few crusts of bread and cheese that we had saved for the journey, a small pocket Knife that I always kept, and a small pocket Bible that one of the guys had with him.

Now with three of the “Jerries” leading and the Sergeant and the rest of the patrol walking behind us we set off for the small village we had been heading for no longer free men,  and very unhappy that we had been caught and would probably be back in a box car and off to Germany.

Moving at a steady pace We reached the outskirts of the Village quite quickly and saw ahead of us a number of Army trucks standing in line next to a wired -in square in which quite a large group of men were standing around. When we got nearer we recognized our own uniforms and then we heard shouts of laughter as the chaps inside enjoyed the fact that we were captured as well. Without much explanation the German Sergeant Handed us over to the Officer at the gate who added us to his tally and opened the gate for us to join our comrades in arms, who had escaped from different Trains in the area and had been picked up more quickly than we had, most of them had only been free for no more than two or three hours.

One of the Chaps whom we knew, was with the Transvaal Irish, and as soon as he recognized us  came over to hear our Story, and complimented us on the fact that we had managed to be free for nearly Four Days while he was picked up by the German Military Police almost as he stepped out of the railway yard. While we were talking we heard shouts from a corner of the square that food was being served and we noticed the German Cook Sergeant and two of his helpers starting to ladle out soup and small rolls of bread.  We then realized just how hungry we were and rushed to join the queue who were being dealt with speedily. A bowl of hot vegetable soup and the roll of bread was just not enough and as quickly as we finished we joined the line for some more. It was obvious to me that the Jerries were about to leave this place and were using their stores quite liberally as nothing was said against us having a double helping which to us at the time seemed like seventh Heaven.

Later in the afternoon we noticed that a line of trucks was being loaded with stores of all types including arms and ammunition and just when the trucks were ready to pull away some big brass arrived and soon after guards were sent to put out a protective cordon all around their Headquarters on the opposite side of the road.

Then a flurry of orders were dished out, three empty trucks drove up to the gates, the gates were thrown open and we were all instructed to get into the trucks, twelve per vehicle. We got in,  two guards took up their place at the end of the truck, the driver was accompanied by  a soldier with a machine gun while a  motor Bike with side car containing one well-armed Jerry fell in behind us as we pulled out of the square no doubt on our way to Germany. Behind our three trucks came a long convoy of vehicles.

This trip was not a very long one and after having climbed a steep road for some while we suddenly came to an abrupt halt. and a group of soldiers were sent forward to check the territory as word had come through according to what a German Speaking British Chap told us that an earlier Convoy had been attacked by a group of Partisans and some burnt out vehicles had been spotted on the edge of the wood ahead of us.

Apparently a decision was soon taken to avoid the trouble spot and our truck being in the lead we returned a half mile down the road and then took the open road to Bologna and soon we were back at the City and pulled up at a siding, a few kilometers  North of where we had been previously.

Here again we saw masses of just about everything the Railways could move on wheels being put into use to take Germany”s huge plunder Northwards.

Waiting at the siding under the watchful eyes of our German guards we were able to see from the siding overlooking one of Italy’s Major Roads, convoys  of transport moving in the direction of Germany and although we did not hear much about the fighting going on  South of us  we could see that  our Forces could not have been far away because everyone was in such a hurry to move out that if a truck broke down it was literally thrown off the road no matter its contents only so that the convoy could come through.

A little while later an engine pulling about ten of the well-known Box cars,  all full of shouting grumbling P.O.W.’s,  pulled into the siding and we were hustled into the last coach on the train the only empty one at that stage. As we were only 35 escapees we actually had a bit of spare space when we checked around, it was like having an extra lounge added to the usual accommodation provided. This Box Car  had open slats through which we had a good lot of fresh air  and also afforded us a decent  view of the area we were running through.

A few hours later as we continued our trip Northwards it started to get icy cold and we were now running through an area that had high mountains so close to our train that in order to try and see the top of the mountain we had to practically lie on our backs. Some hours later we saw signs indicating that we were running through the Brenner Pass and we could see Swiss Style Chalets looking like Xmas Cards.

We were now in Germany and although we were Heartsore that we had not escaped, we somehow felt that we were on the winning side, and even if it was still going to take time, G-d willing we would come out tops.

Not very far over the border we were shunted into a siding and although we could hear quite a lot of talking going on there was no movement to let us out and as the temperature had dropped quite a lot since leaving Italy and the Box Car was warm in comparison to the outside we decided to wait events quietly. After about an hour we heard a commotion going on and saw a convoy of trucks coming along to meet our Train. The usual guttural Shouts in German “RAUS || and “AUFGEHTS” and the wagon doors were rolling back while every tin pot Corporal was shouting on the top of his lungs for our Trainload of Prisoners to get out on to the platform and line up to be chased into the waiting trucks.

An hour later we arrived at our new Camp which was grim looking without any green vegetation anywhere within a half mile of this ugly wired in prison and its miserable looking gray huts. Above at each corner and at evenly spaced positions along the perimeter were the usual guard platforms where sentries with machine guns and search lights  kept close watch on everything that went on in the camp below and additional guards walked around the perimeter while exactly one hundred yards away  was a very similar camp with Russian Prisoners who were not protected by the Geneva Convention and certainly were treated awfully as far as food and their clothes and even footwear was concerned.  While we were in this Camp We learned that some of the Russians had come down with Typhoid and G-d knows what other diseases they suffered from due to the terrible treatment meted out to them.

It was probably because of the Danger of Typhoid and worse spreading to our Camp and other Camps in the area that shortened our stay in this horrible locale. Although we only spent about five weeks in this place we did manage to see and help some of the Russians with food and on occasion although the Germans did not like us speaking to them we managed to have a sort of chat to them as the truck that took them to a nearby forest to chop wood for the guards at their Camp stopped to pick up water at a pump near our fence and while loading barrels of water we managed to pass food across to them and give some hungry guys a reason to smile.

At the end of the fourth week in this miserable place where nothing happened except the changing of the guard, which looked pretty sloppy to us and mealtimes when we queued for the usual paltry portions and would have gone away hungry if it had not been for the Red Cross Parcels which we received after the first week of our arrival and the next lot two weeks later.  With these Parcels to supplement the camp rations we managed  to stay fairly healthy even though many of us had dropped an enormous amount of weight from the time we had first become Prisoners of war over  two years before.

All the five weeks we were in this place it was absolute boredom, there was no organized sport,  we had no musical instruments and everyone too dejected even to get up a sing song. There wasn’t a soccer Ball in the Camp and the Germans did not care to supply one despite the fact that we could see them playing in a field opposite their Barracks. One day standing near the main gate we saw a couple of Ambulances go through the gate at the Russian Camp and soon after a couple more came charging along. We knew they had trouble there before this but this confirmed now that they were having an outbreak of something serious and so the very next day when the whole camp was called to an Assembly and told that we had to be ready to leave next morning We were not surprised.

The Camp that we were leaving was one we were happy to say good-bye to, and we were particularly surprised  when we got to the railway siding to find that this time we would be traveling not in Box Cars but for us almost sheer luxury we were pushed into normal looking train Compartments excepting every window had Prison Bars and the guards in the Passages had some nasty looking sub Machine Guns. As we were only eight to a compartment we thought we had won the Irish Sweepstakes.

Where we were going seemed to be a State secret but it did not take some of our fellows too long to wheedle out of one of the guards that he was going to an area not too far from his home. We of course expressed an interest where he lived and he told us that his family lived in Stetin. When he was asked to explain where that was he said it was a City on the coast of Northern Germany in Ober Silesia which sounded like it was the other end of the earth.

One of the chaps in our Compartment said his People had come from Poland and from what they had told him their Home Town was Cracow which his Dad had said was only fifty Kilometers from the River Oder which was part of Ober Silesia.

If the guard had his story right we realized that we were going to be crossing the whole of Germany to get to  our next Camp. As it did not make much difference to us where we were going while still prisoners,  we now treated this move as a sort of Cook’s Tour of Germany, and as we were more comfortable than we had been  on any journey previously we decided to relax and enjoy every minute of it.

There were times when we tired of the endless country side the crowded stations with platforms filled with Soldiers and civilians staring at our prison train possibly thinking who this lot of Prisoners might be and hating us as much as we hated them, especially in places where the bombers had been quite recently and the Station Buildings were in a shambles and the nearby Industrial Area looked like a giant Steamroller had operated there. When we finally got to the Station at  Dresden we heard that our Bombers had been there the night before and the huge glass dome that used to cover the Station was torn apart, smoking wreckage of blown apart coaches littered the lines and dozens of breakdown crews were busy in every direction trying to clear the mess, while the Fire Brigade Men were still damping down fires that had been burning all night.

When I thought back to earlier times when Dresden was known for its ART and the beautiful Porcelain Ornaments it created,  in more peaceful times, one wandered why man’s stupidity,  greed and hatred, was allowed to bring such a terrible catastrophe to the whole world and turn beauty into tragedy and misery.

Although we felt that the Germans could not pay a high enough price, for their arrogance, and lack of conscience, about the pain they had inflicted on the people of the World, never-the-less seeing the devastation  we came across almost everywhere on our trip and knowing the tragedy the people must be suffering we certainly did not enjoy this part of the trip, although some of the chaps said in plain words “it bloody well serves them right.’

On the rest of the journey to the village of Oppeln situated on the river Oder 45 kilometers from Breslau we saw the same scene repeated many times.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Even though we had already been in Germany for about six Weeks it suddenly occurred to me that I was now in the Lion’s Den so to speak and the leading Anti-Semitic State in the World was now my Jailer. Up to now the only evidence of the Nazis I had seen was badges and banners and Swastika flags on some of the stations and flying over Government Buildings that we passed. Being a Jew in these surroundings gave me an awful feeling for a while and then gradually I accepted the fact that unless Germany won the War which looked very doubtful at this stage, they would have to keep to the terms of the Geneva convention, which protected the Armies of the Nations who had signed. the agreement from any abuse because of Religion Color or Creed.

Our arrival at Lamsdorf known as Stalag 34B which was a huge Prisoner of War Camp a couple of Kilometers outside the Village of Oppeln was starting to feel like a routine event.

Here too we were off-loaded at a Railway siding but this time we were almost opposite the Main Gates of the Camp and so after being shouted off the Coaches we were assembled on the platform surrounded by the guards who had accompanied us  while a lot of the Camp Guards looked on with Machine pistols and Rifles at the ready.

We were pushed into line by some N.C.O.’s  and in single line we were counted as we moved along the platform. At some stage we were halted  for a check count and while we were waiting a Train came in carrying what looked to me like Russians  who we later heard were in their train for many days and had obviously been very badly treated and were in such a poor condition that the very first one to be hauled out was a soldier well over six foot who looked like a scare-crow. With a guard walking behind him he tottered a few steps along the platform and fell down dead in front of the sentry looking after him. The sentry screamed at the corpse to get up and when no move came from him he kicked the dead body a couple of times, simply walked back to the group he was with, as if this was a daily occurrence.

Blood-curdling screams came from the Russian Train followed by shouts of anger and horror against the guard and the whole German Army, when the noise coming from the Russians  was understood by our group who now saw the dead man  who was behind most of them they started to break line to get closer at the same time roaring curses at the armed Germans on the platform.  The Noise so upset one of the German Captains that He pulled his Revolver  out of his holster and screaming on top of his voice for silence fired a couple of shots in the air. The shock of the loud cracks of the revolver brought every one to a stand-still. The Captain very efficiently called two guards to arrest  the soldier responsible for the outburst and four others to move the dead Russian while at the same time he ordered the Russian train to be sealed again and removed from the Station. He now turned to our line and warned every one that he wouldn’t hesitate to call on his Soldiers to shoot us down if we broke line without permission.

Hearing the altercation a group of German Soldiers with weapons at the ready rushed across to assist their compatriots on the platform.  Now with a heavy guard around us we were Marched over ten at a time to our new Camp where hundreds of our fellow Prisoners had rushed down to the gate to see what the excitement was about and to greet us. Later we learned that we were regarded as Heroes because we had escaped. I don’t think that any of us thought about being heroic because in reality we were just disappointed and frustrated.

When we got through the Main Gate We had to wait in line outside an office block where we had to be processed photographed etc.  When my turn came I found I had to talk to a woman Sergeant in the Wehrmacht who started off politely enough questioning me about my antecedents, I discovered in Germany they want Details including your grandparents on your Father's side as well as your Mother's side. All this was taking place while we stood outside the building talking through an open hatch from where  you could see what was going on but were kept clear of the staff as well as the desks where lay all the files and equipment which coped with the German demand for detail.

When she heard my name was Feldman she wanted to know if it was spelt with two Nns. She was hardly listening and immediately afterwards asked me if I came from South west Africa which had been a German Colony before World War 1.  I told her I was born in Johannesburg and had lived my whole Life there. Then having taken from me my Home Address, Birth Date. She wanted to know my religion. when I told her I was Jewish, She refused to talk to me any further and treated me as if I had some terrible Disease. She called to a Male Corporal who finished off the cross Examination like he had more important things to look after. I was then directed to the next door Office where the photography Dept. consisted of a bare office with some Camera equipment, Lights and a couple of benches where the victims had to sit.

Here a Staff Sergeant of the Wehrmacht was in charge and wasted no time in dishing me out with my Number, which I had to hold up to my chest so that the number would appear on my photograph. A FRONT VIEW A SIDE VIEW like a common criminal and then I was out back in the sunlight where I had to join the line once again to be allocated my accommodation.

Because of a pledge Duncan and I had made each other, which was if for any reason if either of us had a chance to escape and the other was not available for whatever reason , we were to take it and we would compare notes again after the War if we both came out alive.

It was the sort of thing good friends could tell each other without any hang ups—in fact we would only hope and pray that the lucky one got home early.

When the chance arose in Balognia because I was on the other side of the tracks when the two trains came in between us and the others, I took the chance with two almost strangers to me, to escape even though I had to part with Duncan, and even to this day cannot, recall their names because they were not very positive personalities.

The very first thing I did when I got into Lamsdorf was immediately set out to find Duncan. I eventually found out that he had been sent out on a working party to a forest area not far from the Camp. I was told that the group would be away for two weeks and so I spent a lot of my time near the main gate waiting for Duncan to get back. It was nearly a month before his crowd eventually returned and it was great to see the look of wonderment on his face when He made out that I was calling his name while he was still on the other side of the fence. Our get together was something to remember for the rest of our days.

Lamsdorf was a Camp of Ten Thousand Prisoners from most of The commonwealth and North America. There were New Zealanders, Australians, South Africans, Canadians and Americans with a large proportion of men from the British Isles. You could soon Make out from their speech who were the Irish, who the Scots, and no doubt who the Welsh were. As everyone spoke English of some sort, we did not have much difficulty getting along with each other. Although sometimes these differences lead to a few Battles Royal The actual Huts were a better quality than those provided in Italy and the facilities were a lot better all around..

When Duncan went out on the Timber Work Party He immediately lost his accommodation so that when he got back he asked to be sent to the Hut I was in and having made a lot of friends amongst the British Office Staff. he had no difficulty in getting allocated to our Hut and in a bed quite near mine. I remember that although we were all in one Camp the ten thousand were divided into wired in sections of about ten huts to a section and a hundred men per hut. Although we could freely circulate through all ten sections the fact seemed to me that if there were any security problems The Germans could have quickly isolated any section of the Camp. After I had been in the Camp a short while a couple of hundred Jewish Volunteers of the British Army from Palestine arrived in our Camp and they seemed to us to be pretty tough Cookies. This was an amazing development Jews volunteering to join the British Troops as for a number of years they had been arch enemies. The way these chaps settled into the Camp and very soon took a major part in everything going on was a topic of conversation for quite a long time.

Outside our block of huts and fronting on the main road that ran through the Camp were a number of fairly Deep reservoirs which when I inquired what their purpose was, I was told that they were there in case of fire.  Sometime later I was to see them put to other purpose. I had not been in 34B very long when I fell foul of the authorities One morning after a hectic game of Net Ball three of us Duncan a chap by the name of Paul with whom we had got quite friendly and myself were on our way to the showers.  As we were walking three abreast we came towards a very fussy German Hauptman {Captain] Paul and Duncan were on the outside and as we came up to him they saluted him but I did not as I was the center man and it was not necessary for me to salute. We had only got a couple of yards past him when he sent his guard that was with him to fetch me back and through this guard who was also his interpreter he demanded to know why I had not saluted him. I told him that once the two outside guys had saluted it was not necessary for me to salute him. He still went on shouting in GERMAN “WARM HABEN SIE MICH NICHT GEGRUSD” He now told me you go back to your hut no shower for you today. I had only taken ten steps towards my hut , when he called me back. I came back to him and enquired what he wanted. As I again did not salute him He immediately told his Postern to arrest me and I was marched out of the Camp and handed over to the Sergeant at the Jail House.

Here my Name and Number were recorded  then I had to empty my pockets and when I hung on to my tiny pocket knife and He searched me after I had emptied my pockets and he  found this knife he turned round and gave me such a punch in the chest that I went flying across the Office. He would have gone on beating  me if the Officer had not arrived to make sure that I was being jailed.

Without any further ado I was pushed into a sour smelling cell with the usual bed with rock hard mattress some ragged smelly blankets  a bucket in the corner and a heavily barred window  so high up that the only way I could see the outside World was by jumping to catch a hold on the bars and pulling myself up to window height. This position was so tiring to my arms that I could only glimpse the outside World before I dropped back on my bed.

During the night I heard a scuffle in the passage, and later the cell next door to mine clanged shut after the escort gave the new inmate a warning that next time he would be shot. As soon as the guards were out of earshot I asked my Neighbor who he was  and he more or less mumbled that his name was Jock Blint and he was going to  sleep. Nothing more doing I went to sleep myself.

At. the guard rattled on my door and  I had to hand him the slops from my cell and he pushed a new bucket in and locked the door again and never answered my requestor water and food. A little later my neighbor started to move about his cell and I could hear him mumbling, so I called to him to ask him if he was alright. He said he was, but before he was prepared to go into any detail he wanted to know who I was. I told him the stupid reason for me being locked up, and a little while later he told me he had escaped from a working party, had been caught and handed over to the Gestapo who had beaten seven kinds of shit out of him.  He said they had allowed him to recover from the assault for a few days before bringing him back to the camp. He said they would probably keep him in Jail for a while yet.

I soon heard that we were the only two people in the Jail a place that could house up to ten people at a time; we spent the whole time when we were able to talk to each other, swapping Stories of our Life and experiences. Jock told me, that he had escaped ten times over the last couple of years and although a couple of times he had been out quite a while he had never got away successfully, he was still determined to try.

After three days in the Jail the Sergeant in charge came to my door and asked his assistant to open up and bring me through to the Office. Here before he let me out he returned my few bits and pieces including my pocket knife and warned me if I ever had to come to his Jail again he would make things a lot harder for me.

Outside in the bright light of day I found Duncan and Paul waiting for me.  They were not told when I would be coming out, so every morning they called around and waited to see if today was the day. When they asked if they could visit me the sergeant said only if they were in jail themselves. As we walked back to our hut they gave me  the news of events that had taken place while I was locked up. The British and American Bombers had been out night after night and had been bombing targets all over Germany, Industrial areas, Railway stations and in one particular case they hit an important ammunition dump and the reported that the pilots had described the resulting explosions as the biggest Fireworks display that any one had put on for Guy Fawkes night ever.

They were also interested in the Stories that Jock Blint had told me about his ten escapes but were not sure that they were prepared to believe him.  It was not until some months later that we met up with Jock again. They only released him seven weeks after they released me. When I had not heard from him I thought it possible that he had either been transferred to another P.O.W. Camp or had gone out on a working Party.

One evening when we were brewing tea before going to bed Jock Blint who was looking for me Heard Duncan Shouting for me to come and fetch my tea, and hearing the name Hillie, Jock asked Duncan if he was calling for Hillie Feldman, and when the answer was yes, He said that his name was Jock Blint and He had only recently come out of Jail for escaping, and Duncan quite excitedly called for me again and told me that Jock Blint was waiting to see me.

As I had not seen him while in Jail except that he described himself as being a shortie, I did not know how he looked but was happy to meet him in the flesh. We  Called Paul and then and all four of us sat on small stools in an open section of the hut and talked until lights out. Jock was staying in a hut two away from us  and so was our near neighbor and both Duncan and Paul were as fascinated by him as I was. and so we now became a foursome and in time we were able to hear about his escapes. He told me to my surprise that though his name did not sound Jewish he came from a very Jewish family who were well known in Glasgow. I never did get round to finding what his name was other than his Nick Name Jock. Although Jock was short,  about five foot five and half inches, He was certainly a very determined character, with a very lively brain and a good sense of humour and very knowledgeable, in fact a bit of a walking encyclopedia, with the courage of a lion.

On one of his escapes he had actually got on to a boat in the Port of Stetin and hidden amongst the coal. Unfortunately the Ship was searched with some very wild Alsatians and if the dogs had not been on chains and held on to by the dog handlers he would have been eaten alive. In any case he had a terrible time breathing in coal dust and nearly frozen by the time the dogs chased him out of his hiding place. Unknown to him there were three other guys hiding in another part of the hold and when they compared notes in the first lock up they were taken to, one of the chaps reckoned they had been given away by a Swedish sailor because they were not able to pay the full price of what he expected or wanted. Here too the Gestapo got into the picture and gave them a very rough time until they were handed back to the Army.

One night as usual the talk got round to the subject of escaping and Jock reckoned the best way to escape was to get on to a Working Party and where ever we got to it was usually  a lot easier to escape because we would not be as strictly guarded and would have a better chance of getting the clothes and equipment.

A couple of months later an advert went up on the Camp Notice Board that ten people were needed to work at a Kazerne to Off-Load Trains bringing in wheat and Sugar etc., for the civilian population.

Jock Happened to be at the board when the notice went up and to make sure that we  would be the first names handed in he simply removed the notice and brought it round to us so that we would be the first on the list  We decided that all the ten names should be people that we knew and quietly spoke to six guys, we agreed would be suitable and got a hundred per cent agreement that we would all volunteer for the job, and as Jock said if the worst comes to the worst we would at least have a lot of food around us.

A few days after we handed in our names we were told to report to the Office and were advised to be on standby until we were needed. Six days later we were on our way to the Kazerne which was the Central Depot for food supplies for the whole Area. The Camp we stayed in was in a forest overlooking a huge Railway Goods and Storage Depot with Railway lines coming into the Kazerne from every direction.

The wooden Huts we were to stay in were brand new and as far as we were concerned were absolute luxury and the hut we moved into was fitted out for four, two upstairs and two down. We had a stove with a chimney carrying away all the fumes. A wash up sink and a shower and Toilet WE arrived at the work Camp quite late in the Afternoon so we were given a chance to settle in and make ourselves comfortable. The others in our party were put into the Hut next  door.

The following Morning at 6a.m. The wake up hooter sounded and we had to report for Duty in the Yard where the German foreman was already breaking seals on the goods coaches and our first task of the Day was to clear a train-load of beet sugar. From memory the bags weighed 200lbs, which We soon  learned how to handle. I suppose we were very fit  and as each of us came along to receive our bag on our back the chaps in the truck placed the weight high up on our shoulders and we then had to charge into the storage shed where two of our party were waiting to off-load the bags into rows five bags high. We changed around every hour or so giving everyone a turn at the different jobs and discovered in due course that every job was equally energy consuming, but we also found after a few days that we were a good team of ten and we still found time to help ourselves to the flour and sugar when some of our chaps kept the foreman busy at the far end of the row while we were filling cloth bags of whatever commodity we could lay our hands on either in the truck or out of bags we shunted out of view in the corner of the shed.

The Kazerne supplied us with Coal

Briquettes which were a mixture of coal dust and cement, formed in a mould.

In order to carry the coal and sometimes fire wood they gave us a large hand  -cart to pull our daily supply in to the Camp. We of course expected our cart to be checked, each time we came  through the gates .  After a short while when they did not or couldn’t be bothered to make much of a search we started to pile our overcoats on to the cart and under the briquettes and coats lots of goodies came into our Camp.

It was some weeks before Xmas and the whole area of the woods and the Kazerne were covered in a fine white glistening powder of snow. One day Duncan said it would be lovely if we could have a duck for our Xmas Dinner.  WE talked about it a few times and I eventually decided I would like to make Duncan happy, so about four days before the great occasion I told Duncan that with a little bit of luck he might yet have a Xmas Gift.

Every day as we left the Kazerne we passed the Colonel’s House. He represented the Military Command for the Kazerne and the District around.  We noticed that alongside his house he kept a small wired in pen in which his batman was fattening up some ducks for the colonels Xmas Dinner. We had with us a half bottle of vodka one of our chaps had traded cigs with the Free French who were working nearby and Jock who could speak a pretty good German had talked our guard into celebrating Xmas early by letting him have a good few tots of our precious Vodka. We had also arranged for one of the wheels on our cart to be so loose that as we got past the Colonels house with a little bit of encouragement from one of us  the wheel would come off, and the plan worked like a dream.

Being winter and fairly dark already as the chaps struggled with the wheel and our very tipsy guard leaned against a tree while he kept an eye on the chaps doing the repair Jock and I quickly got in to the pen put our duck into the bag and it only took a couple of seconds to throttle him and creeping up to the cart we were able to hide our prize under the coal and coats and with our additional help we soon got the wheel fixed and were quickly on our way to the camp with the guard singing happily all the way still in a fairly drunken state.

When we went through the Camp gate they asked our guard why we were later than usual and after he had explained that we had trouble with the wheel there were no further questions and We went triumphantly into our Hut and told Duncan that He would be able to have roasted Duck for his Xmas Dinner.

As we had already collected some new potatoes from the field that bordered on the Kazerne and green peas as well, we decided not to wait for Xmas and have our special Dinner the following night. The Menu was to be duck soup thickened up with vegetables we managed to extract from the kitchen helped by our friends on the kitchen staff. Then roast Duck with new potatoes and

greenpeas followed by xmas puddings from our Red Cross parcels and a cup of hot chocolate thanks to our parcels and then a nightcap of a tot each of the balance of our vodka. Incidentally every last feather of the duck when we stripped it was used to fill up a couple of cushions and after our

gargantuan meal the bones were burnt in our stove so that all evidence of the duck having passed our way was destroyed. In later days we often referred happily to the time that all four of us had sat down to a roasted duck for dinner. The fact that we had eaten Duck intended for the Colonel’s

dinner made the memory even sweeter We were certainly not idle during the time we were on the working party.  Two of our main objects were always in front of us. One to help Jock with his eleventh try at escaping and Two to do whatever sabotage we could to the German War effort.

Jock said that he would only be interested in making another try after winter as it was too dangerous to be out in the open in the middle of winter and he was taking the opportunity with better food and accommodation to strengthen up after the bad times he had in the hands of the Gestapo.

In the Meantime we took every opportunity to help get Jock the civilian clothes he needed for his escape, because as he said, if he could merge in with the local civilians it made his chances very much better. We struck up a strong friendship with the French workers who were also employed at the Kazerne and we were lucky enough to find a couple of their people who spoke English and were prepared to supply us with civilian clothes no questions asked. Of course it had to be in the form of trade and so our friends in Camp many of them Non Smokers were prepared to hand over cigarettes in exchange for Jam or Meat Loaves or whatever, so having accumulated enough for our French traders we did the swap for a shirt ,sox  a pair of pants and our best deal was a pair of shoes as it had to be the right size and comfortable  enough for Jock to do plenty of foot slogging once he was away on the open road.

Getting the civilian clothes past the various gates and check points was all part of the danger and excitement we lived by the whole time we were on the working Party. We had almost become Professional smugglers at this time and we were taking fairly large quantities of flour sugar and even Danish butter into our section of the camp.

One day a train pulled up alongside our siding and a quick glance at the label told us that the contents were Barrels of butter from Denmark.  Immediately we all decided that we just had to have a barrel of butter for our own use and our game plan was to occupy our foreman with some problem in the shed while our trusty Hand cart was quietly brought closer to the position we were working at, at the time. With one of the chaps standing in the coach and passing on the Barrel to his helper standing on the platform the idea was that the helper rolled the Butter to the first one in line who sent it on to the next one and so down the line. Our gang inside the warehouse had to keep the foreman busy showing them how to stack the Barrels in the cold room. Of course they acted very Dumb and only when they were sure that the Barrel we needed  was safely in the bottom of the hand cart did the explanation the foreman was giving them come clear and they pleased him by doing it exactly as he wanted it done, and that night with our Tea we had the very best butter in the World on our bread, and for a long time afterwards.

The variety of food we unloaded from the various trains we handled was enormous and there were times when I was in seventh Heaven getting hold of food I particularly loved, and the goods coach which arrived a few days later had a coach load of Sauer Kraut for our siding.  This time we quietly arranged for an accident The barrels were quickly rolled to the door of the goods truck and as they  rolled along the guy who was supposed to handle them was distracted for a moment and a  Barrel tipped off edge of the coach and fell and smashed open on the ground and a few minutes later I had a taste of Sauer Kraut that actually made my mouth water and even today after more than a half a century the taste comes back to me strongly if I just recall this event. I knew the taste of Sauer Kraut from my youth and had missed it more strongly than I ever thought I would.  Funnily enough the main customers for this windfall were passing German Soldiers, our own Chaps said it was stinky stuff and wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole. I told them that their taste buds had not been educated.

Just after Xmas we had one of the heaviest falls of snow this area had, had in thirty years. A snow storm started on Friday midday so we packed up early and all headed back to our huts which we quickly proceeded to heat up with our supply of wood and briquettes and spent the first hours resting while the snow piled up higher and higher against our door and windows.  When we looked out and realized that we were not  going to be able to get out of our hut Duncan and I started a game of chess that went on for the three days that we were snowed in. During our months in Lamsdorf we got busy amongst other things carving a set of chess men for just such an eventuality and one of the chaps who was good at Marquetry made us a board of dark and light woods. It was so well done I’m sure it would have fetched a fortune on the open market.

To this day I remember with deep satisfaction that we were so evenly matched that any of us could have come out on top, and every game seemed to go on forever. apart from the occasional sing song Paul and Jock spent their time reading and sleeping, but for Duncan and I there wasn’t  much sleep  for either  of  us.

One thing we did not have to worry about was food, because with all the flour and sugar we had we  were able to trade these items with the French Neighbors for things like eggs and bread and even fresh milk, and sometimes chocolate. so all in all we felt like Millionaires in our new hut with  all the food and luxuries we were having at that time.

CHAPTER   8

Our helping ourselves to Sugar got me into a lot of trouble soon after Xmas and taught us a lesson which we remembered for a long time.

In order to remove the Sugar we made ourselves long cloth pipes which we could attach with strong string to our belts and hung down the leg of our trousers on the inside could not be noticed except that one had to be careful to walk slowly so that the cloth pipe with its weight of sugar did not start to swing like a pendulum or the movement might be noticed and reported by anyone who could be in our vicinity and was not friendly to us.

Having used these cloth pipes innumerable times we started to get careless and did not check the stitching so that one day just after I had loaded my sugar  before knocking off time, and we were busy with the last load in the warehouse, my cloth pipe sprung a leak and as I walked away from the foreman towards the hand cart a trickle of sugar in a thin stream began pouring over my boot and leaving a white trail behind me. I had only gone ten yards or so when I felt the foreman’s hand on my shoulder and him shouting excitedly about the Sugar. I at first did not understand what He was excited about and said I had finished my job and was going home.

He then called a nearby soldier and explained to him what was happening.  Looking back on my trail I realized that I had been caught Red Handed and made no excuses. In the meantime all the chaps working with me had a chance to quickly get rid of their pipes under the bottom of the warehouse building where the ground fell away to a spot out of sight from the path and when I passed them later, all of them looked like little innocent Angels and were most surprised that I was involved in this business of removing sugar illegally from the warehouse..

I was told that I was to be charged and would have to be ready to come up for trial the next morning. When the others left for work next morning I waved good-bye to them and most of them shouted advice to me. Most of what they said was ridiculous and I decided not to tell any stupid stories but admit that I was guilty. At 8.30a.m. a guard fetched me and we had to walk a mile or so along a road I had not been before and found it so interesting I had almost reached the building where my trial was supposed to take place, before I suddenly remembered the reason for my walk.

The soldier handed me over to a Court Orderly who having ascertained how I spent my name put me into a boxed in platform up a short stairway and I found myself looking at an empty Bench until there was a sudden call for silence and three Officers walked in. I and the few people in court rose to attention and the Officers sat down and had a bit of a chat before their Senior man in the center called to the court Orderly to mention the case I was told to stay on my feet while the prosecutor told the story of my misdemeanor after I had already pleaded guilty to the charge. For my embarrassment the long pipe was held up with the tell-tale hole and the description given to the Officers how the trail of sugar leads to my shoe.  There was some laughter when the Officers were being told how the cloth pipe was hidden under my pants. I gave no argument agreed the evidence was correct and a few minutes later I was     sentenced to seven days in Jail and was told by the Judge that I would have got a  heavier sentence, but the fact that I had not wasted the court’s time was taken into consideration.

With the Original guard still in charge of me I had another walk of about a mile, through beautiful  country side with everything bursting forth in early Spring Weather before we reached the Jail House where the Sergeant in charge gave instructions for me to be put into the cell nearest the office.

I soon discovered that I was the only one in the jail at that time, so in

effect it was like being in solitary confinement

The actual cell was twelve foot long by about four and a half foot wide, but the window was at a reasonable height and if I stood on my bed I could look out of the window and see the occasional military truck or car go by, as well as the odd farmer’s cart taking milk churns to the local depot or civilian car mostly driven by young soldiers from the nearby Training Station.

Looking around the cell as soon as I stepped into it and the guard .had withdrawn, I came across a loose brick and after I had listened carefully and no one seemed to be around, I  prized the brick out  with the spoon I was given for my meals and quite easily it came away and groping into the space the brick had occupied I found a book, a box with ten matches and a small parcel with three cigarettes  in some tissue paper. The book I examined and found that it was a cowboy yarn with the first twenty four pages missing as well as the last ten. For quite a while I sat looking at the book wondering whether I would even be bothered to start reading it as the story was one without a beginning or end.

The matches and cigarettes I quickly packed back in the space behind the brick and I made sure that when I put the brick back it fitted in exactly and in addition I picked up dirt from the cell floor and using the dirt I pushed it into the open spaces around the brick so that the wall looked as solid as the rest.

I hid the book under my mattress and cleaned the mess away from the floor under the brick and lay back on my bed to rest and think things over. What in the merry H--- was I going to do on my own locked behind Bars for the next seven days and seemingly interminable nights.

Somehow I must have fallen asleep because I woke up when the Postern was shouting at me that he had “Essen” for me. The word for food I certainly understood and now that he mentioned it I was as hungry as a Hunter. I heard him talking to someone in the passage, and then my door opened and he handed me the usual vegetable Soup a small roll of bread a solid piece of leber wurst and a cup of what looked like a cup of coffee, which could have been anything from Burned acorns to burnt wheat with a bit of real Coffee mixed in.

I finished my  meal and dutifully handed back the tray and dishes when the guard banged on my door. He mumbled something and when he was gone I somehow knew that I was not going to be taken out for exercise or a breath of fresh air and wanting to keep fit I started to pace up and down the cell which was twelve foot to the door  or I could walk six foot alongside my bed than about four foot to the wall at the end of my bed and then six foot to the wall and then another four foot would take me alongside the door and I could then repeat the exercise until I had enough for the meantime. I then slung myself on to my bed  and throwing off my shoes I pulled the blankets up and was asleep again in no time.

When I woke again I lay on my bed and the whole War from the beginning when I joined the Army right up to me finding myself in this cell went through my mind. Its funny how just out of the blue incidents not connected to anything in particular come back to you. I thought of the time when we were training at Barberton and we had a vicious Sergeant a real sadist who we nick named Fred. His great Joy when we were all dressed in our neat going out Uniform with leave passes ready to be picked up, calling us back on parade, marching us to a spot on the parade ground where it was wet and thick with mud, telling us we were under fire and forcing us to drop in the mud. We of course had to go back to our Bungalow  throw off our messed up stuff and shower,  clean up and change into our second best clothes and pass inspection,  before we finally got out late and desperately trying to get a lift to get into town and have your leg pulled by the guys who did not have this monster for an N.C.O.

When he did this to us on another occasion we decided that something special had to be done to put an end to this guy and all the chaps in our platoon worked out a psychological attack on this menace  that would really scare him and hopefully right out of our Battalion We started one night by putting  a .303  rifle cartridge on his pillow with his name scratched on it. That night when everyone had settled down for the night  a ghostly voice from the far corner of the bungalow called out “You’ll soon be dead Sergeant Fred” Soon another voice closer to his bed but heavily disguised “A bullet in your head Sergeant Fred” and then a ghostly chuckle starting at one corner and gradually going along the row which at three in the morning even scared me.

We kept this up for quite a number of weeks and when finally he found a dead chicken with a generous helping of tomato sauce spread over his pillow with his own bayonet pinning this mess to his cushion I think he really got the message. One day we were informed by our Corporal and soon confirmed by our Platoon Commander that Fred was away on sick leave and after some more weeks we heard that he had been boarded out of the Army with a Hiatus Hernia. The night we heard the news we had a big Booze up that proved to us convincingly that he was a very hated man.

At  a much later  stage the joke was on us because after he got back to civilian life he joined the stock exchange and made a small fortune while we were slogging it out in the Army.

My mind went back to another occasion when we were leaving South Africa and we had a morning free on the beach at Durban. I knew that my Sister in law was on holiday in Durban and just when I  began to think  that I was not going to find her an excited voice shouted out my name and there she was with her eldest child on the beach. That was when I heard that my brother who was a Doctor with the Medical Corp had already gone to Kenya and we thought that seeing that I was going in the same direction I would probably meet up with him. Finally when I got to Gil Gil there was a message from my brother Captain Max Feldman that he was looking for me and could I make contact with the Medical Corp while they were stationed at Gil Gil, when I got his message I was lucky to see the tail lamp of his convoy disappearing over the first hill and despite many attempts to meet up with each other we never ever got together during the Years of the War.

While lying in bed I thought to myself how lucky I am to be in Jail. More space for myself than I had for a long, long time. No noise no interference from any source. Three meals a day. and all the time in the world to rest, recuperate, read if I wanted to, and dream my dreams. Fortunately the cell was kept warm by some central heating system and I was left severely alone, the only person living in my Jail other than myself was the guard and occasionally I heard the voice of someone in a more senior position whom my guard gave a lot of respect, but to me in the seven days I was in Jail never said any word outside his absolute duty.

After a couple of days in Jail I made a go of reading the Cowboy Book. It was the usual story how this lone Cowboy comes riding into the Town of Deep Gulch to look for the man who killed his father in cold blood,  in a Poker game, with the first twenty four pages missing I had to construct my own Story from what came afterwards.  By the time I caught up with the writer our Hero had already been involved in a Bar room Brawl and although only lightly wounded He is being well looked after by the Inn Keepers daughter who of course is very young and beautiful and  very appreciative of the fact that the Cowboy came to her protection when the district bully made some unsavory suggestions to her.

After several exciting episodes in which the cowboy comes out on top his new found girl-friend who is deeply in love with him at this stage makes some discreet inquiries on his behalf and confirms that the Town’s  very crooked Sheriff is the man who killed his father. Two missing fingers on his left hand and a tattoo of a naked woman with a snake coiled round her body on his forearm is final proof for Brad, thats the Cowboys name,  now knows that the Sheriff is his Dad’s murderer.

The final act comes when Brad is in a poker game with a group which includes the Sheriff and after a few rounds of drink the sheriff suddenly recognizes the younger version of the guy he killed fifteen years before and thinks he is seeing a ghost,  who has come back to haunt him. He tries to draw a gun to shoot Brad down but he is pulled back into his seat and held down by the guys around him. This leads to Brad accusing the Sheriff of his Dad’s murder followed by a high noon setting where the two face each other in front of the whole population of Deep Gulch in a duel in the main road.

The Sheriff takes a cowardly shot at Brad, and misses,   and turns tail and runs for his horse. Someone in the crowd whose life was messed up by the Sheriff shoots him as he mounts his horse and the nasty Sheriff is out of the Story. The lone Cowboy takes over the Sheriff’s Job, Cleans up the Town and the happy citizens of Deep Gulch attend the wedding of Brad to the beautiful Daughter of the Inn Keeper.

The last ten pages of the story is my own creation as those pages were missing and I think the Author would have been satisfied with my version.  The thing was that I picked up a most unlikely Book for me to read and having no choices made the best of what could have been an awful waste of time but once I got myself involved in trying to create both a possible beginning  and a suitable ending I was actually putting myself in the Author’s  Shoes and that made me feel quite creative.

Needless to say over the next few days I read this book a few times and as an exercise I gave the story different beginnings and different endings but eventually decided that the best one was the first effort.

I doubt if I ever had much interest in re-incarnation but an incident happened to me when we got to Mombassa which stayed in my mind all the years since. Four of us Duncan, Phil, Wynn and myself were given some hours of leave, soon after the boat docked,  and so looking very smart in our Transvaal Scottish Uniforms with our Berets sporting red feathers we walked down the road from the Docks towards the center of the Town. We were still about a half a block from the main road when I suddenly had a strong feeling that I knew exactly what we would be seeing when we turned the next corner. It was such a strong feeling that I just had to stop the guys and tell them. They of course thought that either I was leading them up the garden path  or I was slightly round the bend. When I replied that I was not physically around the bend yet and could still tell them what they were going to see. They gathered around me and demanded full details so that they could check up on me. I was quite willing to oblige and they listened very carefully.

When we then turned the corner,  me slightly behind the others I had a real shock because there in front of us was the scene I had described in full detail. The chaps were pretty shaken too and I think they treated me with slightly more respect than hitherto. Even though they still ragged me about it they were impressed.

Lights out in my cell was at ten. O clock, so I only read until about Nine and then lay back on my bed and sang every song I could remember in what I thought was a reasonably good and harmonious voice. What the guard thought about my singing I do not know but he never complained nor  did he pass any compliments.

Towards the last evening of my stay in my silent fortress my mind became busy with the Battle of Sidi Rezegh and I remembered clearly as if I was looking at a film of the event long before we got to know TV. and the days when you could flick a switch or punch a button and you could watch the whole world in the comfort of your lounge.

Here right inside my head I could vividly see and hear the night before the Battle when Duncan , Phil, Wynn and myself were lying under our truck talking in low voices about what we would be faced with the next day and I think it was Wynn who said to Phil “what do you think our chances are  of coming out alive tomorrow” and Phil replied quite seriously “ I think this time is going to see the end of me” and Duncan and I spoke up and told him he was talking a load of crap. Phil was a chap who was no more than average height but solid like a tank, in fact the forearm of his right arm looked a lot like Popeye’s  arm the character made famous by the spinach advert. I said to Phil that it would probably take a bomb to kill him because he was so solid.

We saw just how solid he was when one of the crowd we were friendly with, a chap by the name of Mac van der Merwe challenged Phil to a wrestling Match and Phil said to him “Mac You better change your mind about this wrestling Match because I don’t want to hurt you.” Phil came from a very tough neighborhood and for a couple of years before he joined the Army Phil had wrestled for a living.

Mac of course laughed at him and the two of them immediately stripped ready for the fight which took place in an empty Bungalow next to the one we slept in. In no time at all we formed a circle and Mac who was a splendid figure of a man, six foot two inches every bit solid muscle made to catch Phil in a bear hug. Phil did not seem to resist but went over backwards taking Mac with him.

As soon as Phil felt his back on the ground he lifted his knees and pulling hard with his arms he threw Mac right over his head and as quick as a flash he was sitting on a very winded Mac who Phil now got into an arm lock, so painful for Mac that he pleaded for mercy to save his arm from being snapped. After this Mac who was in reality a jovial giant realized that there was much more to Phil than what appeared on the surface.

Back in my mind to Sidi Rezigh. We got up next morning to find that our section had been chosen to be the tip of the arrow in our advance towards the El Adam Airfield and the Battle for Sidi Rezigh. Phil was sent for by Our Colonel to be his special Courier to cart messages all over the battlefield when and where necessary.

It was the last time we saw Phil alive and within an hour or so a mortar bomb fired by the Germans landed right near the Colonel’s position which was sited behind a tank on a rise overlooking the battle field and both Duncan and I  got to hear some time later that that was what killed the Colonel and Phil.  Wynn who had taken charge of the Bren gun from Phil because of his being wanted by the Colonel could not have fired more than a dozen rounds before he collected a bullet right through the forehead. As I was next in line for the Bren Gun I had to crawl under fire to his side gently remove Wynn from the gun and with the Bren now in my possession I set myself up in a new position so that I would not be a second target for a very accurate sniper.  Wynn was the one who asked Phil what he thought of his chances of coming through the Battle O.K. He there after remained very quiet until we fell asleep.

Talking it over later Duncan and I felt that Wynn must have been thinking that he would not come out alive either.

Another event that came to mind in the Battle of Sidi Rezigh was that just as we were going into action  that first morning Bert a corporal alongside me said “Now we’ll see when we come under fire that you bloody Jews will run like rabbits” I was so astounded At this statement coming out of the blue that it took me a couple of seconds to try and hold back my temper and then I saw stars and I said to him “if you don’t take that back I’m going to kill you” and I slung my rifle over my shoulder and went to attack him.  Someone interfered and said, “ are you guys crazy fighting each other right here on the front line. you can both get yourselves Court Martialed  and shot.”

We broke apart and now we were being fired on and the bullets were coming in our direction thick and fast. It was not long before Bert who was in a position slightly behind me was wounded in the leg and screamed for help, so I picked him up and gave him a firemans grip over my shoulder and went about fifty yards back to a first field dressing Station in a hollow behind some trees. He did not say anything and after getting myself a drink of water went back to my position with my section. I never saw that guy again because he was sent down the line and eventually got back to South Africa one of the brave war wounded and I ended up  as a P.O.W. for a long long time. I somehow had a twisted satisfaction that I saved this character and stayed on through the rest of the Battle.

On the second last evening of my stay in Jail there was a terrible air raid which looked like it would last forever because the air raid sirens went off around nine and never sounded the all clear for a long time after midnight. The whole Jail shook as tons of bombs rained  down on the area and although I should have been frightened out of my wits, being locked up, as I was, and no way of getting to an air raid shelter, or even a hole in the ground, somehow I was not,  and felt that the guys upstairs knew exactly where my Jail was and were keeping their  bombs away from me.  Looking out of the window I could see a small part of the sky and continually the search lights in a nearby Ak Ak position swept the heavens and picked  up  a sky full of bombers. The noise of hundreds of planes was deafening, added to the roar of the bombs and  the screaming whistle they made as they fell plus the bark of the nearby anti-Aircraft guns and all the other sounds of dogs barking their heads off and alarmed cattle mooing and lowing  was enough to make one believe that you had arrived in Hades ahead of time.

Next morning, looking out in daylight, I could see some buildings near the court house and also on the other side of the field looking like gutted wrecks,  with the smoke still rising. I who wanted to see Germany blown to Smithereens got no satisfaction from the  destruction I could see,  knowing from the size of the air raid how much more must have been done to the Industrial Area  and how many lives must have been lost even though they were the hated enemy and always the unnecessary death of thousands of children, anybody’s children, worried me deeply.

There was a time when I was at the New Zealand Hospital near Cairo when the Germans made a raid on the Industrial area nearby and a carelessly dropped Bomb fell  right on the ward  next to ours killing six patients and a couple of Nurses. I was in a rather heavy sleep at the time but I know that my brain registered the noise of the falling bomb the air raid siren and the explosion when without waiting for anything else  I  dived straight through the window and landed on top of some guys in an air raid trench who must have thought they were hit by a bomb.

Twenty years after this incident a neighbors burglar alarm went off when the roof of his house  was hit by lightning. It was a typical Johannesburg Transvaal storm that came from nowhere with enormous zig zag flashes of lightening, whitening the ink black clouds while the thunder sounded like a nearby artillery duel and the house reverbrated from the thunder’s force.  I was having a rest on my bed one Saturday afternoon when the combination of all this must have brought back the long ago air raid and without any thinking,  I,  to my embarrassment, found myself under my bed.  My wife wanting to know what I was doing.

On the last afternoon when my seven days solitary was nearly up, I removed the loose brick from the wall and before putting the cowboy yarn back again I wrote on a corner of the front page, Make your own story for the missing pages—It's Fun. I was pretty sure that the next inmate with time on his hands would find the loose brick and the treasure trove, and if a smoker would no doubt be happy that I left him the treasure.

Next morning at six a.m. the guard opened my cell door and smiled at me for the first time and indicated to me that my sentence was now over and I was going back to my Camp. As we walked along the road on the way back to the Camp evidence of the last night’s Air Raid was just everywhere, avenues of trees torn to shreds, roads and field_spock marked and some farm sheds and buildings flattened but the real damage when we got there was the nearby Industrial sector that had taken a huge beating and still had fire brigades busy damping down burning buildings and others battling to mend broken water pipes, torn apart electric cables and other parts of the damaged infra-structure that would take many weeks to put to rights. Just before we got back to the Kazerne which was a short way from our Camp a workers Building block of flats tilted crazily towards the forest in the back ground.   A heavy bomb had done  a surgical job on the building and cut it neatly in half.

I got quite a welcome from my friends when they returned from work that evening and they all wanted to know how I enjoyed my Holiday. They filled me in on the Air raids and said that the sky was full of planes for hours and they heard that the railways had been smashed all around our area and the damage must have been enormous because the foreman had told them they would not be offloading any railroad trucks for a while and would be working in the warehouse turning over the bags of flour and sugar so as to keep the insect world and the microbes at bay.

As far as we were concerned the job of working in the warehouse was very much easier as we worked in pairs taking apart the stacks of five and putting the bag that was on top at the bottom and so on.  We were able to talk to each other as we worked along the rows with the foreman keeping a tally on the rows completed and so we had quite a bit of fun and felt quite rested compared to the previous job where we were carting heavy loads on our backs all day.

With all our trading with the French for clothes for Jock we finally collected for him all that he needed even  getting hold of a short coat that he  could wear if he ran into Icy weather, which was quite possible as we were on the edge of Spring and April could still be wet and cold.

One morning I noticed Jock carrying a kind of a haversack as we were leaving our house and plonking it down in the cart he said to Paul, Duncan and myself that  he was going to hide his clothes in the foremans hut where we usually went for our nine o clock breakfast break. He had noticed a place at the bottom of a cupboard that no one used when we all had to take shelter from a sudden snow blizzard that struck just as we were having breakfast sometime earlier.

We felt it was a bit risky but as he told us it would be easier for him to get away if he did not arouse the foreman’s suspicions. We discussed Jock’s plan all day in whispers when we were able to get close to each other out of earshot of the Foreman who was kept busy checking the work that was done. Jock reckoned now that the weather had warmed up quite a bit he would be ready to go the next day.

The following morning at breakfast while we were all eating and keeping the foreman busy with questions in our reasonably intelligent German, Jock casually walked over to the hut and disappeared inside appearing a  very short while later dressed in civilian clothes with his haversack over his shoulder and wheeling a bike that one of the Polish workers had left against the hut. In perfect German and very much at his ease he passed by our group rode down to the railway tracks where a German soldier helped lift his bike over the railway line and soon appeared on the tarmac road that passed alongside the Warehouse and gave us all a cheerful wave as he rode by. Jock was now on his eleventh escape and I was very delighted that our group had helped him get away.

There was another Air raid that afternoon and we all made for a very big Shelter  a few hundred yards from where we worked and although we shared the shelter with some civilians none of them made any bitter remarks to us as we were part of a  large mixed labour force who served the area and they could not distinguish who we were.  The All clear siren was sounded too soon and as our foreman was one of the first out of the shelter I suppose to be at the entrance to count his flock a lost Bomber that was hit and was on his way down,  dropped his bombs right near the entrance to our shelter and our guard and several others who walked out early were killed on the spot.

When our team walked out we were rounded up and taken back to the warehouse to work with another team until a new foreman was found for us, late in the afternoon. Our last Foreman had made little impression on us. He had more or less kept to himself while keeping an eye on us, as I found out when He saw to my week in Jail.

With the Foreman killed and in the confusion created by the bombing Jock’s absence was not noticed for a while and when we were asked where he was we said we did not know but maybe he was killed in the bombing.

The Bomber that was hit and came down somewhere in our area was a topic of conversation for a while and we wondered just how many air crews our people were losing at this time. With hundreds of planes taking part in the raids even if the losses were small percentage wise it could still amount to a lot of good guys being killed.

About a week later after we had been through almost constant Bombing Raids day and Night we were told by our New Foreman that all of us would be leaving the comfort of the warehouse and going around to help store winter Bales of Hay at the Sheds on the other side of the Kazerne. We had not done anything like this before and we were more than a little bored with the warehouse job and this was to be a new experience for us.

When we arrived on the new job we found that previous teams had already built up one shed lot and just looking at the height to which the stack went we realized that we had a big job in front of us.

Forty of our Camp were allocated this Job and soon found out that our bodies that had been strong when we were carrying the bags into the warehouse had weakened a bit while we were doing the softer job turning the bags  but remarkably after the first few days we were every bit as strong

and we found that we took to the job  like a duck to water. The stacks went up to the height of a seven story Building and we took the Bales on our backs and schlepped them to the first level where men were stationed to receive them from us and get them on to the next level and so on until the final level was reached and when that level was full we started to do the same on the lower levels until we had completed the Stack We then had to carry on making a whole new Shed which was a lot more difficult as when we first arrived to start on the hay the slopes and levels had already been created and we were only doing a repetitive job.

We learnt how to use the Baling hooks like professionals and after a while we could plonk the Bales just where we wanted them and with a little fancy work with the baling hook move it neatly into position. Even our foreman was surprised how quickly we mastered the job

By the second day of working in the hay we had already decided that if we could put the whole lot on fire it would be a wonderful piece of sabotage because as Germany was  starting to feel the pinch with regard to petrol supplies,  they were as far as we could see in our area,  reverting to using horses and carts for transport, and if we could destroy this huge stack of food meant to feed the alternative transport we would really be doing them a shot in the eye.

After a lot of discussion we came to the conclusion that there was no rush and we could wait at least until we finished stacking the new shed and then hopefully send them all off on the same day.

A few weeks later the second shed was almost fully stacked and our foreman was very complimentary how well and fast we had worked and we too were proud of our job knowing that we were now ready for a huge Bon-fire. In our team we had an expert in sabotage who was to be the boss of the job. He advised us to leave open passages between the stacks of hay so that on every level once the fire took hold the wind blowing through the passages would more quickly burn the stack down. This saboteur was a chap really on his toes and he noticed that there was a pile of bitumen being used for repairing one of the roads we usually used coming to our new job in and out of camp. So on several occasions our Hand cart had a break down near this stack and while the guard was keeping an eye on the crowd helping at the cart, he took time to smear a whole large ball of string liberally with bitumen. When all was ready He conducted a few experiments with some loads of hay he brought back into our camp out of sight of the camp guards.  Apart from the bitumen he had got his hands on some other fuel as well and using a combination of several things was satisfied that he had what he needed—a slow burning fuse that once  alight would get well into the stack and would not flare up until the prevailing wind came up long after we were back in camp.

He now showed us how he attached a burning cigarette to a piece of his fuse which lead back to a box of matches with the heads of the matches sticking out of the box. My attitude was leave it to the expert  and we would help him as much as we could although I had several doubts about whether the cigarette would do its job and whether the fuse etc. Duncan also expressed some doubts to me but as our saboteur was in charge of a job we all wanted to do we were not complaining.The following morning half the team worked on finishing the stack while the foreman had the other half of the team working on a New stack. Our saboteur had a chance to put his theory into practice while we dragged out the job putting the finishing touches to the stack. At lunch time the Foreman came round and though he could see we were going very slowly in view of the good job we had done already he was not complaining. He asked us when we thought we would be finished and we told him that everything should be finished that night.  He was pleased with our answer but did not realize what we really meant.

CHAPTER   9

When we knocked off work at the Haystack that evening We knew that our work there  was over and each of us who were part of the sabotage plan felt very bucked with ourselves but more than a little nervous as to what would

happen if the stack burned down and somehow our part in the affair was

discovered

I said a little prayer to myself as we walked along pulling our Handcart and so as not to be seen acting any differently we sang as we walked and addressed our guard occasionally and got him to congratulate us on a Job well done.

As soon as we got into camp we prepared and ate our supper and were soon asleep after a very tiring and nerve wracking day.

At eleven ‘o clock that evening I remembered being awakened by Sirens and Bells and guards screaming that we had to wake up and come help put out a fire at the Haystacks. For the benefit of the guards we all appeared amazed that such a terrible thing was happening and of course we were all willing to come and help put out the fire.

As most of us were dressed in no time at all, we were soon on our way to the Haystacks. We did not need a compass to find our way there as the whole night-sky was lit by huge orange flames that turned night in to day and showed dozens of Fire Brigade machines already battling with an inferno at every stack. It seems according to the story we were able to piece together that the local Doctor who had been out to a very sick patient was coming back to his house at about 10.30pm. and passing the Kazerne had noticed tongues of flame and a huge black cloud coming from the oldest stack, had rushed through the village to the far side where the local Fire Brigade was housed and raised the alarm. When the Commander of the Brigade saw the size of the fire he called on the Army for assistance as well as broadcasting for help from all the surrounding Villages.

By the time we got there the whole area was surrounded by the Army and Police with their Brigades in full action drawing water from a nearby Dam and battling with a tremendous fire in the face of a brisk wind that made their effort quite hopeless. They soon gave up the fight for the oldest stack where the fire had originated and were trying to save stacks two and three which were burning fiercely from wind swept sparks that were at the same time endangering the Kazerne itself and so some of the brigades were sent to damp down the sheds where the sparks were falling thick and fast and jeopardizing all the food stocks that we had a hand in stacking, the wheat, and sugar, and butter, and much much more over the many months we had worked there.

The heat coming from the fires was so fierce that even at a distance of many meters one felt that one was being scorched and the Army ordered everyone back because the buildings were in danger of collapsing. Suddenly while we were pulling back there was a tremendous explosion in stack one as the internal heat blew the Roof off the stack and the whole shed came tumbling down narrowly missing some of the firemen who were running for their lives.

The fire fight went on all night but  little was saved, soon after stack one collapsed stack two blew up and only a portion of stack three was saved when the wind died down at three in the morning and putting all their combined effort into stack three they were able to save about 40% of the fodder. The Kazerne itself was saved but the tons of water poured on the roof had also done a lot of damage where it had run under the sheds and also poured in through faults in the roof.

When the fire was finally put out We were sent back to our Camp not having achieved much in helping but as there were so many professional firefighters we were not really needed and so  we put up a big pretense in helping and were thanked by the Camp Commandant for being on duty all night. For a good few weeks while an investigation went on for the causes of the fire we were holding thumbs that suspicion would not turn in our direction.

With the bombing carrying on day and night and very little traffic arriving at the Kazerne as the railways were a prime target and the lines were continually destroyed it was finally decided to send us back to Lamsdorf.  We were happy to be going as we wanted to distance ourselves from our sabotage work and we felt that we had achieved two Major objects, Jock Blint’s escape and our very special monkey wrench in the works, a little bit extra towards Hitler’s defeat.

A week after the Big fire we were marched to a nearby siding and waited for the train to be carted back to our Main Camp. When we finally got on the train we noticed that they were ordinary coaches and although there were civilians on the train we joined other prisoners who were under guard in the last two trucks.  We found in our section of the train ten airmen who had escaped from their camp, been recaptured and  were being returned to an Air force Camp not too  far from our Camp. They were a tough lot and said now they had had their first try at escaping they would make a better job of it next time.

They were taken off the train two stops before us, and went off to cheers from all our crowd who admired their guts in escaping and particularly liked their spirit. Also on board our train were a group of musicians who had been touring the various P.O.W. Camps in Germany to entertain the men with Military Marches, Pop Music and Classics, and were popular wherever they had been.

I fell into conversation with one very tall fellow who told me he was the big Drummer in the Grenadier Guards. A Regiment who were known to be extremely well - trained Soldiers with just about the best Military Band in the World. When we arrived at Lamsdorf I walked through the outer gate together with him. At the Inner Gate we were stopped by a German Captain who wanted to know what we were bringing into Camp. I had nothing to declare so I got through without   trouble. My friend the guardsman was asked what he was hiding in his Big Drum and in a very upright Military stance and Voice barked out that he had a seven valve wireless Sir  The Captain laughed and said “He makes jokes with me” and opening the gate He pushed him through. As we walked along to find out where we would now be staying I asked Him what he was hiding in his Big Drum. He said “Exactly what I told the Captain a Seven Valve wireless.” We had a good laugh and He told me if I looked him up I could listen in to some of the programs.

It did not take us long to settle back in to camp especially as our beds were available to us in the same hut we had been in and the people in the hut excepting for one or two were the same people whom we had been friendly with before we left.

A few days later I was strolling past the water reservoir on the road outside our Hut when one of the chaps pointed out to me that the week before we came back to camp Jerry had dragged two bodies  out of the water.  He said that they were naked and that their hands were missing hacked off at the wrists He said that although He was sure that the escape committee would know all about it, he suggested that these guys had been spies planted on us to find out what was going on in the camp Escapes etc. He was sure the committee found out that they were spies and had done them in and by removing their hands they had indicated to the authorities that they knew who the people were and the Germans would have a lot of difficulty establishing that they were their own people.

We were not left idle for very long and one of the jobs we always had to do especially nearer to winter was to  go into the nearby forests to chop down trees to provide fuel for the Camp. In our part of the world, we were only 50 km’s from Cracow and the wind that blew from the Russian Steppes brought in its wake lots of snow and sometimes bitter cold. On one of the trips after we had been chopping trees for some time we noticed some people in what looked like pygamas working in the forest carrying small parcels of brushwood, they obviously did not have the strength to do more. When we got nearer we noticed that they had yellow Magen Davids on their clothes . We were shocked when we realized that they were Jews from A nearby Concentration Camp. They were so emaciated that they looked as if the slightest wind could blow them away.

Now for the first time I was coming across the Nazi Plan to eliminate Jews from the world and that was to drive Jews from all over the world into Concentration Camps where they could work them to death on a starvation Diet and in conditions that even Animals would not be allowed to live in.  At that stage I had not yet heard about the ovens which were being used by the Nazis to destroy Jews wholesale.

As soon as we realized how starved these people were we approached all the guys in our working party and asked them to sacrifice the food they had with them for the day and had a very good response. A couple of us  worked our way nearer to the  Jewish workers and indicating that we were putting our parcels at the foot of trees near where they were working. We wept openly when we saw them so hungry that they could hardly wait to remove the paper before they began wolfing down the food.  Every day for weeks after we found them, we made it our business to bring extra food with us out of our camp for them.

At one stage before we discovered the Jewish Concentration Camp Prisoners we used to take a great delight when chopping down trees to cut the tree in such a way that we could aim the tree we were chopping to fall in the direction of the guards looking after us and only at the last minute shouting Timber and having a good laugh at their expense when they had to scamper out of the way to save themselves. This stunt came to a quick end when we realized that the only way we could remain on the job to help our Jewish Compatriots was to behave well so that we would not give our guards reason to put us off the job. More importantly we realized that in playing the fool we might endanger our friends who would not have had the strength to get out of the way of a falling tree aimed in the wrong direction.

In the last months of 1944 the sky was so filled with allied bombers and fighter support that on any clear day that they pitched up one would have imagined that the Germans could not possibly miss bringing down the American or English planes so thick were they coming over the area in which we were. We could already sense that Germany was a defeated nation and it was only a matter of time before with the allies pushing from one side and the Russians coming in from the East that the Reich that Hitler had promised would last a thousand Years would hardly exist more than a Dozen and We who had enough reason to hate the Nazis and all they stood for would soon to be able to celebrate their absolute Downfall.

In these days because of an almost total lack of fuel we never saw in our Area any German Planes going up, but we and some of our Air force personnel were amazed and delighted to see the first Jet fighter we ever did see coming from the Russian side, We could hardly believe our eyes when we saw at what speed the plane streaked across the sky.

For a long time when our bombers were coming over at night we realized that the fact that the P.O.W. Camp lights had to be left on all night according to various international agreements so as to protect the P.O.W.’s was a very useful Marker to our Fighters and Bombers who used our Camp as their Beacon to find their way to the Industrial area which they had already flattened more than once.

Eventually the Germans did cotton on and every now and again they blacked out the Camp with an excuse that there was trouble at the local Power Station.

At Lamsdorf the feeling as we started 1945 was that we were winning the War and that it was only a matter of time before we would be  getting back to our loved ones after all the tough years we had ;lived through.

One thing we were sure of was that if we were to be released from our P.O.W. camp we did not want to be rescued by the Russians and much preferred to be freed by our own side. ..The news that we were able to pick up from the illegal Radios in our camp was so good that some of the Chaps started as early as January to celebrate the Allied Victory. Others who had been captured very early in the war in the French debacle, British Soldiers who had almost five years behind wire  said quite rightly that they had been disappointed so often about when they would be free that they would only celebrate when they were safely back home with their own families.

One Sunday Morning we awoke to find that the German Camp guards had surrounded our Huts during the night and now we got instructions to get fully dressed and ready to leave the camp. We were warned not to try and take too much stuff as we would be marching a long way.  The kitchen had been organized and as we came out of our Huts a queue was forming for a bun sized bread, a cup of coffee, ersatz, and a piece of polony and a piece of hard yellow cheese. We were given about twenty minutes to swallow our breakfast and then marched towards the main gate which was also the entrance to the Camp Hospital outside the Hospital the column came to a standstill waiting for other huts to catch up before we left the camp. Fine snow was already falling and the thought of going out into this sort of weather was not too pleasant, that is why I reacted so quickly when my Cousin Mike Coleman who was on the Hospital Verandah and recognized me.  Shouted  “Hillie don’t  be a shmo  get out of the march and come here . You are crazy to go into the snow’.

There was a lot of confusion at the time and none of the Germans were paying any particular attention to us so Duncan and Myself pushed our way through the crowd at the Hospital gate and mingled with Mike and the others on the verandah. As soon as the column of marchers pulled out  we got back into Camp through the Hospital and were found a place where some of the Chaps had left with the march intending of course to escape if any chance cropped up.

We soon discovered that about three thousand marchers had gone out in that first lot and a few days later the second batch were assembled and went off in slightly better weather but still promises of snow in the air. When the third lot went off we heard  that about 60% of the camp had now left and were running into bitterly cold conditions immediately they left Camp and long after the war we found out that quite a number of those Marchers suffered from frost bite and in a few bad cases they had,  had to have fingers or toes amputated.

As one can imagine the camp was now very unsettled and all sorts of rumors were circulating, WE were going to be handed over to the Russians who were expected at almost any time, We were going to be left to our own devices while the Camp Commandant, his Officers and men would disappear into civvie life knowing nothing about the Camp. We were to stay put and the British and American Army would be arriving before the Russians to rescue us.

After six weeks of living from day to day wondering what was to be-come of us, we were told to be ready to leave at short notice. The weather at this stage had improved a lot and the Chaps who were working in the Admin.  Office told us that we would not be walking as the others had to, but going by train and we could expect to leave the following day.

Next morning without any fuss everyone in the camp including the hospital inmates were brought out of the camp and with hardly a glance backwards  we left Lamsdorf forever. The only memory I have of that train Journey was that I was not well and being crowded into the usual 40 men or 8 horses traveling Box on wheels I felt so claustrophobic that I could gladly have killed anyone who invaded the little bit of territory I felt belonged to me.

I remember at 4a.m. one very cold morning we were allowed out of our coach on a small siding in Prague to get a breath of fresh air surrounded by Nazi Soldiers who appeared to be 14year olds dressed in brown uniforms with swastikas on their lapels and shoulders with a sprinkling of men in their 70s. These youngsters were terrible types, dyed in the wool, Nazis who looked,  as if, we gave them any reason at all, they would be pleased to murder us. The next place I remember we were put down in Northern Bavaria from where we joined in a march of a million people P.O.W.s Free French, Italians, people from Britain and The British Commonwealth, Americans and men from every part of Europe and the World We were all being marched towards the Alps where we were to be held as hostages when Germany could  have used us to try to get better terms when they were brought to the surrender table.

Chapter 10

When we left Lamsdorf or at least a week beforehand I had started to destroy 15 months of notes in the form of diaries, Poetry I had written in my more creative moments, Feature articles I had written for the Camp wall Paper, some Sketches I had drawn, and a whole host of notes I had kept from

different lectures I attended at our own self-created University where the lecturers were  people  from Universities all over Europe, Britain and the U.S.A. and the students were from every walk of life seeking knowledge while sitting behind the wire in what could have been enforced idleness but

for their enthusiasm. We had been in the Lamsdorf Camp for over a year when the time came to move on and like people everywhere we had settled down to the Camp life in such a way that we were reluctant to leave our relatively warm hut for the unknown strange places outside even though our every waking minute thoughts were all centered around our getting shot of our barbed wire existence and attaining that almost impossible dream—freedom.

Now as this procession of a million men marched along the byways of Bavaria one started to get the feel that the whole World was on the March and when my stomach reminded me that it was a long time since last I had any food in my mouth I wondered how the Germans intended to feed this mass of human beings.

My answer came from the common people. We were now frequently passing through little villages and the women of these places flocked to the road the Army was using and stood in Line to hand over to us all sorts of food and cheese sometimes even slices of cake and biscuits. Even though, unless they had been hoarding, they could not have had much for themselves. With guards in front of us to each side and behind we were always under their watchful eyes but as the days wound on and all of us wondering when we were ever going to stop or get to a destination that was a little more comfortable than the rough conditions we were having on the March it suddenly struck me that although we were being shepherded along to get us away from the Allies and the Russians,  that it was the retreat of the German Army that we were witnessing and taking part in. Some Nights after a hard days walking when a halt was called we literally dropped where we stood, on the side of the road, and slept with the rain falling on us to wake eventually with frozen feet or cramped limbs so that one had to stand and stamp around till the   blood started  flowing and the cramp diminished. Occasionally we were lucky and were allowed to sleep in some farmers shed while our guards had to do their duty out in the bitter cold.

We were always hungry so if we were put into a shed the very first thing we did was look for any kind of food that a farmer may have hidden away from the Army or prying Government Inspectors. In our search one night we found a dozen eggs in a corner of the shed and the chap that found it said that they were still warm so they must be fresh and with that he immediately cracked the egg to drink it raw. Soon after, everyone in that part of the shed made for the door because the stench that came out of that egg was absolutely overpowering. The egg was almost ready to produce a chick. What we had found were nest eggs with the absent mother either already in the pot or taken to safety by the owner just before we arrived As we moved down the road we started to hear what sounded like distant thunder first coming from the right of us and later from the left, we were not sure what it was until we saw the night sky light up and our guards were starting to become nervous and worried. Some of the guys who were from an artillery unit said it was definitely big Guns, both American and British and possibly Russian as well. A sergeant in the Artillery said as far as he was concerned he would put his head on a Block that what we saw and heard was German AK AK guns.

At one stage after we had walked all day and half the night we were only allowed to rest for four or five hours and then set off again for another day and a half only to find that we had gone a complete circle and we were back in the same Town we were in three days before. No one seemed to care very much but we came to the conclusion that someone at the top was beginning to lose his marbles.

One late afternoon as we came round the outskirts  of a small farming village we noticed that the Guards ahead of us had already rounded a building and those behind us were at that moment still out of sight, three of us Paul a chap I remember by the name of Douglas and I took off immediately down a narrow side street and  sticking to the shadows  and close to some Farm buildings Paul who was tall and long limbed found a door in a shed well off the ground and springing up forced it open helped us into the shed and pulling himself up closed the door behind us. Looking carefully around in the half light of the setting sun we realized that we were in a hay loft and quickly climbing the stairs to the top level of the building we were happy to see that we had enough hay to make a comfortable bed for ourselves and within minutes for the first time in many days we dropped off to sleep not caring about the future but only happy that we were no longer on the march.

Next morning we awoke to the sound of bird calls and chattering pigeons who seemed to object to our presence in their area. It took quite a few minutes for us to realize where we were, and a feeling of euphoria overcame us, when we realized that at the moment we were free to do nothing, but keep warm and rest, and get rid of the absolute weariness we felt through our whole system, after the many days of rough tough treatment we had been through, exposed to the elements. We spoke to each other in whispers and moved around quietly so that if any one came into the shed they would have no inkling of our presence. From our high position in the shed, we were about five stories high we  had a view on one side of the open fieldstone the west of the shed, while on the other side we could see a small portion of the road we had escaped from and noticed that there were still prisoners moving along the road under guard looking as weary as we had felt on that same Road. On the third side we could look into the yard of the farm house and we could see  what appeared to be the entrance to the kitchen. Opposite the lane we had used to escape was a small derelict farm building that seemed a home for swallows and other birds.

We were now as hungry as hunters, but as we had saved as much bread and other food as we could from what we had picked up on the road we agreed to have some of it for a much needed breakfast. We also had a fair amount of water in our flasks and although we were careful to ration our food we immediately felt better after our meal and had the heart now to face our problems and start to plan how to get away to our own people. We now decided that one of us would remain on guard so that we could take turns to sleep. I decided to do first shift and it did not take long for Paul and Douglas to go back into a coma. Thank Goodness neither of them snored and as both of them were light sleepers normally I did not think I would have much difficulty waking them if I had to.

Looking over towards the yard a door suddenly opened and man dressed in a farm overall walked over to a pump and dashed some water into his face grabbed a rough towel off a nearby line  rubbed himself dry and spitting on to the cobblestones turned to call someone from the kitchen. A girl called out that she was coming and a moment later joined the farmer, she looked so much like him that it was obviously his daughter. They spoke for a moment then the Farmer walked off behind the house while the girl came straight towards the shed we were in, I quickly got myself out of sight and quietly crawled over to Paul whom I knew was a light sleeper and at the same time that I woke him I put my hand up to my mouth to indicate that he wasn’t even to whisper. I pointed downstairs to the door and lying flat we looked down at the girl coming through the big shed entrance. She picked up a hay fork and with practiced ease  started moving the hay at the lower level towards the door.

Douglas slept quietly on so we did not disturb him but stayed on watch hoping that the pitchfork would not come too  near to us. With a clear sky and the sun warming things up the shed started to get hotter  and the girl threw off her waistcoat and carried on working until beads of perspiration started to show on her face. She stopped for a moment to cool off and pulling off her blouse, now topless, she carried on methodically building a big pile, of hay at the door. For a moment Paul and I looked at each other amused but not saying a word until he whispered in my ear that he hoped it was going  to be very hot soon.

At this stage we woke up Douglas and now we were all doing a very pleasant guard duty, In a little while, the girl heard a cart rumbling over the cobblestones and pulling her blouse over her head went to meet her father who drew his horse and cart up to the shed door. He already had a half a cart of baled hay and now came to load the loose hay his daughter had prepared.  He said he was going for breakfast and she simply picked up her pitch fork and in what appeared to be very easy action she loaded the Cart very neatly and quickly and went off through the kitchen door for her own breakfast.

For the rest of the day and the following Night we only wanted to sleep but all of us took turns doing guard duty and the time passed fairly quickly and although during the afternoon the farmer came to collect some buckets and a few tools from the barn, He never came anywhere near us so we felt quite happy with ourselves and very much at ease.

On the third day we started to feel well rested and spoke about getting on with the escape to find our own Army whom We were pretty sure could not be far away from us. What encouraged us too was the bombardment we could hear coming from what we decided must be American artillery only about six miles away. We also heard a lot of Air Activity, although the Bombs dropped sounded very far away.

We saw little of the Farm family although we did catch a glimpse of Mother and Daughter hanging out the washing on the line and the farmer going off for a walk with a sturdy walking stick in his hand.

We now decided that we would leave our safe nest at three in the morning and head towards the Artillery barrage we could hear almost continuously.  It seemed the time, of night when few people would be around and we felt we would not have to go very far to find our own People. Picking up all our kit we moved one at a time like ghosts, crept quietly down the stairs, and listening with full concentration for any unfriendly sounds we went silently out of the shed through the yard  and out of a small pedestrian gate and into the adjoining field where we lay down for a while to see if we had perhaps disturbed anyone. Then we got going across the field_sand kept walking in the direction of the Artillery which only got louder as we went. We could also hear what sounded to us like a thousand American Air Planes. Soon we were climbing a bit of a rise through a well forested area and as we got to the end of the trees we could see search Lights sweeping the Sky and Ak Ak shells bursting in the air.

As we were getting to what looked like a very busy place we decided to get across a road that lay in front of us as quickly as possible and into a deep ditch running alongside the road. We must have walked a half a mile up the ditch when it suddenly petered out and cautiously climbing up a gentle slope  we suddenly ran into a barbed wire fence and as we touched the wire a Search light caught us blindingly in its light and a German Guard with a sub-machine gun called us to halt while two other Guards near by also shouted a warning and coming through an opening in the fence we had not noticed marched us through and across a square where we found ourselves in the heart of a German Ak Ak position and subjected to the stares of the Gunners who a moment later were busy shooting at the last of the American and British Bombers for that night.

A few minutes later we were marched in front of the German Colonel who wanted to know who we were and where we came from. We had decided amongst ourselves that if we were caught escaping we would tell the truth and so we told him that we had  been on the big march and saw an opportunity to escape and found a shed where we hid for three days and early today we decided to try and get back to our own lines as we believed the Americans were in the area..

The Colonel spoke a very good English and as his unit was part of the Airforce he called up the Army and arranged for us to be collected by them.  He mentioned in passing that we were lucky that we were not handed over to the Gestapo. As things had now quietened down he told his batman to give us coffee and mentioned that he had spent quite a lot of time before the war in England on family business that is why he spoke English. Soon after a truck with Four soldiers pulled up outside the Colonel’s Headquarters and we found ourselves in the truck heading for the little village where we had just come from.

At the Army Headquarters in the village we were brought before a German Hauptman who wasted little time with us but called a Sergeant and ordered us to show  him  the farm house we broke into, and in no time at all we were back at the place  that we left that morning in high hopes of getting free at last.

When we arrived at the farm house and the Family were told the reason for our visit they were absolutely shocked to know that we had been living for three days on their premises without them knowing anything about it. When we went round to the back,  and showed them how we had got in,  the farmer said yes he had found the door damaged,  but as he could not see anything missing, He repaired it  and thought nothing more of it. We told the Sergeant that the Family had not been aware of our existence.

The farmer then suggested we all have coffee and some home baked  farm Bread and strong Yellow Cheese which we found delicious especially because we were starving not having eaten for a good many hours. For a while his daughter had been sitting silently with the occasional shy look in our direction, her mind must have returned to the time she was working topless with the hay because she turned quite pink and with something between a smile and a giggle she quietly left the room.

In no time at all we found ourselves back on the march and after another couple of weeks on the road we arrived at a place called HerreGottsHausen a little village about 20 miles from {Munchen] Or Munich as we knew it.

On the 24th of April we were taken to the farm belonging to the Mayor of the Village where about Fifty of us were billeted quite comfortably in the main house and the outside buildings. We were told that we would soon be free as the American Forces under Patton were coming up rapidly, in our Direction. On the 28th April after an enormous amount of Artillery and small arms fire the night before we were told that The Americans had been sighted a few miles outside our village. A little while later an American Scout car leading an enormous American Tank came into VIEW. The Villagers who did not want their VILLAGE TO BE BLOWN APART brought out huge white calico sheets on which our chaps had written P.O.W. in large black letters.  A group of about twenty of us ran out to meet the scout car and the tank and were greeted with enthusiasm by the Tank crew and the guys in the scout car. Only after greeting the Yanks did we realize that we were free. FREE FREE  FREE  FREE. Paul, Douglas and I looked at each other and went absolutely Crazy for a while.

In the meantime a lot of the guys climbed on the tank and insisted in riding on the tank up to the village hall where the tank and the scout car halted and were soon joined by other tanks and truck loads of troops.

WE went back to the farm to find that all the Guards had dis appeared including some of the Gestapo who had always been in the background but were a menace to us the whole trip and we remembered stories how they had ill treated people like Jock Blint who had a lot to tell us about the treatment they had meted out to him and others that he had been with on different escapes.

A huge celebration was now going on which lasted four days until all the farm animals had been sacrificed to appease our hunger and all the drink available on the farm or brought in by clever scavengers turned into empty bottles.  I was amused to see how quickly every body’s talents came into play.

There was a very talented N.Z. Butcher amongst the crowd at the Farm and as soon as the German Guards disappeared He was called upon to use his talents to slaughter the Mayors best Pig. Many willing hands helped him to erect a suitable table in the Yard and the slaughter that took place was almost like a religious ritual and everyone waited in line for their piece of pork and bacon. I and some of the others decided that We would prefer Duck so our Butcher obliged and soon the whole Yard was filled with the lovely aroma of meat on the braai, the very best scent our noses had enjoyed in many a year.

That same afternoon a jeep pulled up in the farm yard and a couple of American Officers stepped out and asked our Senior Man to call us all together. They then told the Assembly that they were truly happy that we had arrived this far safely and wanted us to know that although the American Army had swept the enemy out of the way there were still a number of desperadoes hanging out in the woods and although we were now free men we were advised to await the American escorts who would see us safely through the surrounding area. The Officer in Charge told us that they had captured a lot of men in civilian clothes whom they believed could possibly be Gestapo and wanted us to identify any that we might recognize who had possibly  been on the march with us.

Just at the Farm entrance there were a group of civilians guarded by a number of Military Police. We very soon pointed out to them eight  of the men we knew to be Gestapo and one of the Police had to stop a hysterical Ex-P.O.W. from attacking the worst of the bunch who he said had killed his buddy in cold blood. Those eight were removed by another batch of Military Police and soon after we heard machine gun shots and were later told that the matter  had been attended to.

The following day all of us went to the main Road leading into the Village to Welcome General Patton and his Head Quarter Officers who were all standing in their Jeeps to receive the Cheers and Welcome  of hundreds of American troops, The local Population  and hundreds of Prisoners of War who had been pouring into the village. during the last few days. We also went to get our share of Coffee and DoughNuts being dished out almost on the front Line. WE were Amazed to hear that although the American Troops had only arrived the day before they already had full length Cinema Shows on the go to entertain Soldiers who had a few free days after the Battles they had just been through.  
                 

CHAPTER    ELEVEN

We waited Four days, on the Mayors Farm, but heard no further talk about the escort the Yanks were going to supply to move us through the woods, supposed to be occupied by Nazi Desperadoes. That night we decided we would take our chances and try and hitch a ride to Munich where we felt we would be able to find out what was happening and speed our trip home. So the next morning found us out on the main road trying to hitch and it did not take long before a truck pulled up and the three of us were invited to join the driver and his well-armed mate who, had just dropped a load of provisions at the “ Q” Stores for the Army and were on their way back to Munich for more supplies.

We spoke to the Americans about having heard that there were Jerries in the woods and they confirmed this was the case  and they told us where the Road entered the Woods they would be picking up an escort of armed troop trucks as well as a tank who would lead the way, so we had nothing to worry about.  They had both been through the Woods a good many times and although some shots were fired at them on several occasions as soon as they replied with massive firepower the German Werewolves had melted into the forest and they went through with no further trouble.

After we collected our escort we had no trouble and found ourselves very soon in the center of Munich where we were dropped outside a leading Restaurant. Although we did not feel properly dressed for the occasion we walked into the Restaurant as if we owned the place and seated ourselves at one of the best tables which amazingly had a five piece smartly dressed Band playing classical Music. Without any money in our pockets we ordered Tea and Pastries and when they arrived we lost no time in polishing them off. Just for the Hell of it we ordered a second round and told the Restaurantier that the American Army would pay for it. He never raised a murmur and wished us a good day. We felt that Germany owed us a hell of a lot, and I hate to think what might have happened had there been an argument.

We walked through the streets of Munich like country Bumpkins happy to be free but so long away from civilization that we were not quite with it, and a couple times wandering into the streets without looking properly we could have got ourselves killed. Whomever We bumped into we asked where we should go to get back to our People. Most of the Americans did not have a clue until we met an Airforce Sergeant who told us that we should make for the nearby Town of Regensberg where the SOUTH AFRICANS were being taken to Le Havre in France.

It was already late in the afternoon and pretty cold and as we certainly were not going to be sleeping in the street we decided to look for a place for the night and then we would head for Regensberg next morning. Walking into the suburbs of Munich we found a block of Flats that looked deserted and going upstairs to the best looking one we tried the door after knocking and found it open so we walked in to what at that time was absolute luxury after three and a half  years of P.O.W. life. We could not believe what we were seeing when we walked into the bedroom and found a huge double bed with snowy white sheets. Clean fresh towels in the bathroom and even some tinned food in the kitchen. Needless to say that night was something very special and as there was no one to thank next morning we wasted no time in getting out to the Regensberg Road where we picked up a lift almost immediately right to the Airfield where we met other South Africans already standing in line to get into a couple of American Cargo Planes that were being used to ferry us to Le Havre in France.

Very efficiently the Yanks processed us and quite soon we were up in the air flying over Germany and heading for France. We sat in bucket seats and had a good view of the scenery below and what I particularly remember of that trip is that going over both Germany and France there seemed to be a Castle on every hill. The Feudal system must have been very good for the Aristocrats who occupied the Castles and the beautiful Estates around them.

We landed safely in Le Havre and we were once again amazed at the efficiency of the Americans. In no time at all we were lead into showers where we threw out all the kit we were wearing which ended up in heaps to be burned. We were fitted out with razors shaving brushes and soap and a complete lot of new clothes and boots. and those who wanted haircuts stood in lines outside a very well-staffed hairdressing saloon. We were then taken into the mess tent and equipped with cutlery crockery and etc and again stood in line to get the very best food we had, had in years. Even today my mouth waters when I think of that meal in Le Havre.

We were of course fitted out with beds blankets etc, and allocated tents for the duration of our stay there which we were told by the Top Brass would not be very long. After all that attention and the excitement of being out of Germany at last, we felt so exhausted, that we climbed into bed early in the Afternoon and slept until Supper time, which of course was the very best. A few of us went along to the local Bistro and sampled their wines, or as they themselves indicated, the local plonk.

Two days later we were taken down to the Harbor and went on board a ferry which took us across to Southampton where we were put on Buses to Brighton and Hove and found a lot of our friends who had already been in England for some weeks, so we who hoped to escape earlier than the others actually arrived very much later and made the agony at home a lot worse because we were listed as missing when most of our friends were already accounted for.

We were of course given a chance immediately to contact our Folks and when we told them about the three months Program that was laid on for us they not only encouraged me to take advantage of it but cabled me a big sum of money to make sure that I enjoyed myself.

The following Morning all the New Arrivals were called together in the Mess Hall alongside the flats that had been allocated to us and told that the British Government and the South African Government had arranged a three month program for us in England which would give us a chance to recuperate.  Those who for any reason wanted to go home sooner would be allowed to do so as soon as suitable transport could be found for them.

Because Britain was still on Rations we would be given very generous allocations of Ration Coupons  up to Four times more than the normal quantities dished out to the Citizens.  There were any Number of Shows, Plays,  Musical Shows,  Opera, Ballet and Sporting events we would be able to see free or half charge and we would be given programs to make our choices. Furthermore if we needed Medical treatment or had Dental problems or any other problems we were told whom to see and we would get priority over the local Citizens. We were also told where to go for information about Sight seeing in London or further afield. For a long time after this meeting we could not get over our amazement at the Cornucopia laid before us and having experienced five Years in the Army we were not sure if this wonderful Three Months Holiday of Plenty would really happen. It just sounded too delicious to be true.

We wasted no time obtaining Passes for ourselves for two weeks at a time which could be renewed whenever. Like Millions had done throughout History.  We rushed off to see the sights of London  and in no time at all London became familiar to us. Trafalgar Square with its Lions and Pigeons  as well as South Africa House The Haymarket, Marble Arch,  Piccadilly Circus, Kew Gardens Kensington Gardens, Fleet Street  and Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard Westminster and Big Ben, The Tower and the Beefeaters. Oxford Road, The London Taxis and London Buses. I remember we traveled the Underground from Hounds Ditch to Elephant and Castle. We visited Speakers Corner and listened to speeches in favor of and against just everything under the Sun. We went to petticoat Lane and bought what we were told were bargains at perhaps inflated prices. Around the corner we came across a market for Pets and were amazed at the variety of animals on display.  We saw Shows at the Haymarket that other people sat in queues for days to get any kind of ticket.  All we had to do was go to a ticket bureau at Trafalgar and when we showed our Passes we were given V.I.P. treatment, specially sponsored by His Majesty’s Government.

London was a pleasure and new surprise every Day. We went to Madam Tussauds Wax Works Display and we also made the mistake of talking to a Policeman who turned out to be another Wax Work Display and soon after we got the fright of our lives when still  another Policeman turned out to be the real thing. He came across to help us just when we decided that he was  wax Figure. We went to see the Docks and  boated on the Thames. On another day We  went on a pleasure boat cruise up the river as far as Oxford, and were delighted how tranquil the river was when we got away from the busy Dock Area.

We spent hours and hours at the Tate Gallery and had a feast of Art which I repeated thirty years later when I had a chance to visit London again. We spent most of one day at the National Gallery and were fascinated by the Egyptology display.

A couple of weeks in London was as much as we could handle for the meanwhile. All of us had appointments with Doctors and Dentists that would keep us busy for days. I was particularly fortunate in that I was recommended to see an old Scotch Dentist and got along with him like a

house on fire. He had a room full of patients waiting for him but when his Nurse showed him my Document which said I was an Ex. P.O.W. he immediately told her that I was to come into his surgery as soon as he finished the patient he was attending to. When I walked in he gave me a very big welcome and said he was happy to attend anybody who as he put it had done more than their bit for King and Country. He said to me in his very Scottish accent “Aye Laddie you’ve placed yourself in good hands and you will be well looked after.” When he heard that I was  of the Transvaal Scottish he wanted to know more about the Regiment and when I told him that we were affiliated to the  Black Watch he shook my hand enthusiastically and said that it was his own Regiment when he lived in Glasgow as a youngster He looked in my mouth and said that he had a lot of work to do for me, as I probably had no dental attention all the years I was a Prisoner. I confirmed that, and he said no more talking we’ll get on with the job.

When we were free of other chores while in Brighton we studied the local talent while trying to bathe in the sea. The water was colder than we expected  and the pebbles on the beach was something it took a lot of getting used to. We soon made friends  with some girls who lived in London but had come down for a   holiday to Brighton.

There was a girl Pat who was an oustandingly good looking girl with a very nice figure to boot, a pleasant voice and a ready smile.  Her father owned a Pub in London and as she was  returning home in a couple of days we were told that if we came up to London we were invited to come along.

While I was in Brighton I had an address to visit a cousin of mine Jessica Coleman. I took a Taxi to the Address given me and noticed a Woman on her bended knees polishing the cemented pathway into the flat . I very politely asked her if she knew where I could find Jessica Coleman. She looked up at me and shouted “Oh my goodness -its Hillie Feldman” I helped her on to her feet and she planted a big kiss on my cheek and said “You must have thought that I was the Char” I said that is exactly what I did think. She said I realized that because white women don’t do this kind of work in South Africa. We had a good laugh together and I was immediately invited in for the best homemade meal I had  in a long, long time. We sat chatting for the rest of the day in her lovely bright flat in Brighton interspersed with one cup of tea after another while I told her the story of my life since  I last saw her  before the War. I was also able to give her regards from both her brothers who were with me practically throughout the War although they were In the Transvaal Irish which was part of our Brigade. Before I left her I talked her into accepting a book of ration tickets which she said I did not realize but I was giving her pure Gold.  I said she was entitled to it because it had been given to us to help those who looked after us and she certainly had done just that.

CHAPTER   TWELVE

When the Dentists and the Doctors had finished checking and treating us we made plans to go back to London and I met up again with Herbie Frootko whom I had not seen for some time. We were offered a week at a very special price in Stratford on Avon to enjoy The Shakespeare Festival which of course included six nights of the Bard’s Plays put on by the best Shakespeare Cast in the whole of England. Incidentally we had the finest seats and were treated like Royalty. Moira Lister a Young South African actress was deservedly in the cast and we got to meet her personally at the end of the week when a special Dance was put on for the Ex- P.O.W group which included a number of Americans. I asked Moira for a dance and as she consented I had the pleasure of knowing that I was dancing with a lady who over the years became famous and incidentally was the best looking lady in

the Hall

We also got friendly with some American Officers of both sexes, hired some bicycles and went riding through some beautiful country side close to the Avon where graceful Swans floated on the river and we stopped in the adjoining Village for a real treat, strawberries and cream, so fresh and tasty I have never forgotten it. We visited Ann Hathaway’s Cottage and hired a couple of boats and went rowing on the Avon on a lovely Summer Sunday.

Because Stratford had a huge number of Pubs we decided that we would spend a whole afternoon trying the liquid offerings in every one of the Pubs.  >From the discussion we soon came to an arrangement that we would give the only nonalcoholic drinker 20 English Pounds which He was to hand over to the drinker who kept up with the others but remained on his feet when the majority were out or called a halt. Just one drink in each Pub we said.  When we had all paid our entrance fee the Contest  started. In quick time we visited four Pubs in the Village High Street.

In those days I only drank brandy and so after four glasses I was ready to retire, never mind the Prize. As I was now officially out of the running I stayed with the guys but only drank cold drinks. By the time we got to the sixth Pub a lot of the chaps had forgotten what it was all about and two of the contestants were lost at the fifth Pub. After this no one knew what happened as some of the guys were so drunk they started to shout and fight while others got into a maudlin mood and sang and cried at the same time.  At this stage a meeting of Sober and partly sober American and South Africans decided to call off the contest as the local residents who had been enjoying the happening up to that stage were getting worried that it might get out of hand.

After a lot of hard work we managed to get the whole Party back to the Hotel and put the worst cases to bed and Peace reigned once more.

When we got to London again we were told of a special tour about to go to Glasgow and Edinburgh and Scottish places of interest. I had three very good reasons why I wanted to see Scotland. The first was that I hoped to find Jock Blint who on his thirteenth escape  attempt had managed to get home through Sweden. Two,  I had met a girl from Edinburgh who had invited me to spend a couple of days at her parents home, and three,  both Herbie and I were keen to meet up with members of the Black Watch to whom our Regiment The Transvaal Scottish was affiliated.

We were told that the Tour was of one week's duration but that we were free to come and go on quite a number of Days as long as we returned with the Tour to London.

In addition to those reasons for going to Scotland I had read a lot of Scottish History and being in a Scottish Regiment to miss out Scotland when one was so nearby would have been like not wanting to visit Jerusalem when one was in Tel aviv.

Our trip to Scotland turned out to be a great success, except for one great disappointment. I never got to see my friend Jock Blint because unknown to me a few weeks before I arrived in Scotland Jock committed suicide as a result of the terrible treatment he had been subjected to by the Gestapo.

He had succeeded in doing what he was determined to do after 12 Escapes he

finally got clean away but it must have played on his mind to such an

extent that he could no longer live with it. I often wondered if we had

seen him earlier would it have made any difference

I met the girl who invited me to spend a couple of days with her family.  They were marvelous to me and treated me like a long lost son. They took me with them to a family Picnic and I went sailing down the Clyde. I think they appreciated the big lot of Ration Tickets I gave them as a thank you for their hospitality. They hoped I would keep in touch but somehow it did not workout and I never saw them again.

Herbie and I when we got together again Toured Edinburgh Castle. We watched a night Tattoo outside the walls of the Castle and were very impressed by the discipline of the soldiers and the Bagpipes and Drums brought back a lot of memories. The Band was magnificent and the march and counter march under arc lights and colored search lights stirred everyone present. The applause at the end of the evening, certainly showed the enthusiasm of the audience. We toured The City from one end to the other and went on to Hollyrood Palace, the huge paintings on the walls, the Magnificent furniture and carpets looked like they were worth a King’s Ransom We had pleasant weather that day so were able to look around the fantastic Gardens with its water Features and its wonderful maze, It did not take us long to get lost but fortunately one of the guides came along and rescued us.

Our next stop was Glasgow  and we did all the right things expected of visitors. We immediately found some members of the Black Watch who knew of the Transvaal Scottish connection with their Regiment and so that Saturday night we were drunk on Scotch whisky and hanging on to the pole outside the Pub we sang the popular refrain  which included the words “When I get drunk on a Saturday night, Glasgow belongs to me”.  Glasgow was not any where as beautiful as Edinburgh, in fact in June 1945 it looked grim and gray although when we got out of Town and into the country side everything in the Summer Sun looked verdant and lovely.

Our trip to Scotland came to an end and Herbie and I and others who were on the trip reckoned that we had, had a wonderful time and if it were ever possible we would go back there again. Arriving in London we were offered tickets to see The Ballet Russe at the Sadler Wells Theater and quite a number of us took up the tickets even though we had never ever had a chance to watch Ballet before.  We really had no idea what to expect and most of us were enchanted by the beauty of the Dancers and the sets, and the sheer vitality of the leading Ballerina and her partner who effortlessly seemed to float his partner above his head and brought her gently down as if she weighed nothing at all. The music too was magnificent and obviously inspired the Dancers to great heights.  I don’t know how it affected the others but after that show I certainly was sold on ballet.

Although on several occasions we went back to Brighton to recuperate from our activities or for Medical reasons or to pick up mail and messages, we were crazy about London and went back there again and again to explore new places and sample the delights of London which seemed to be never ending.  At the end of our stay in Britain I think we knew London a lot better than many of the native Londoners. Having read A lot about England and especially about London it was grand  to see in front of me the Thames so rich in history, the Tower and the Tower Bridge, with a little bit of imagination one could in one’s mind's eye see the whole parade of Royalty walking or boating in these familiar places from Queen Boadicea right through to King George VI.

Towards the end all further leave was refused as we had to be prepared to leave at short notice. WE used the phone rather a lot to say good-bye to the many friends we had made while moving around all over the British Isles—Some of the Brighton girls and those on holiday in Brighton came to say a tearful good-bye, all of them wished us well and hoped that they would see us again, and from the stories I heard later on, some of those girls ended up in South Africa as wives of the Chaps they had met on that exceptional Holiday  in the Summer of 1945.

In the Last week of July we were on board a Castle Liner heading back for home and now that we were on our way we were anxiously counting the minutes until we docked in Cape town. As far as we were concerned the trip home was quite luxurious, and when we eventually sighted Table Mountain and knew we were back in South Africa the Jubilation was something I have remembered all my life.

All our Families were impatiently waiting to see us,  and on the day that we entrained on Cape town Station we were told that we would arrive at Park Station Johannesburg, collect our equipment and march over to the Old Wanderers Sports Ground which was later taken over by the Railways in order to build the new modern Railway Station that still stands today, and there.  After an address by the top Brass we would be dismissed so as to say Hello to our Families, Relations and friends. I doubt if the army had a chance to make any address to either the Ex. P.O.W.s or their families. I only remember that as soon as MY FAMILY SPOTTED ME I was just about run over by my excited Parents Sisters and Brothers  Family and friends all trying to get to me at the same time.

This was probably the best day in our lives after being away from home for almost the whole period of the War.

There was however one tragedy in our lives which those who were informed about it have never forgotten. The day we arrived in Cape town One family who were too impatient to wait for their Son and Brother to get to Johannesburg or possibly happened to be in Cape town at the time went to the Docks to meet him. He happened to look up and spotting his family was so excited that he rushed across the road without looking and was killed by a taxi right in front of them.

In my case the celebration about my return to the bosom of my family after an absence of nearly five years went on for quite a few weeks and I remember being invited to lunches and Dinners by family and friends who wanted to hear my Story first Hand.

As I was still not officially discharged by the Army at that time and wanted to get back into my own business as quickly as possible,  I had planned opening an Office again as an Estate Agent, I reported to the Army Depot in the Southern Suburbs of Johannesburg and as I made a very good case for my early  discharge was out within a month of my returning to Johannesburg. And so back to Civvy Street.

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