Information for Veterans and their families
This information was provided to me by Bill Forster, Alan's nephew, and it is with his permission that it is reproduced here. The original account is on the BBC People's War website.
The details have been transcribed here exactly as was sent to me via email by Bill.
THE DIARY OF ALAN FORSTER, POW 3921, STALAG VIIIB
October 1944 – May 1945
This is a transcription of the diary kept by my uncle, Alan Forster (1917-93), whilst a prisoner of war at a coal mine in upper Silesia, a work camp of Stalag VIIIB, and on the 900 km march through Bohemia to Regensburg, in the closing months of the war.
It consists of some 15,000 words written in barely legible faded pencil on yellowing pages in a small pocket book. In places it is indecipherable and I have inserted ... to indicate missing passages. I have copied his layout, spelling and punctuation but inserted translations of German words and phrases in square brackets.
If it has a value it lies in its “ordinariness”, its record of tedium, overwork and malnutrition as experienced by a private soldier who by then was in his fifth year of captivity and beginning to despair of ever returning home to his fiancee.
He records day by day what at the time seemed most important: food (or the lack of it), the weather, work, Red Cross parcels, letters received from his fiancee, “Bunty” Hancock, and his family. When appropriate I have inserted brief extracts from his letters to “Bunty”. They were not allowed to send photographs home with their letters.
Once the trek west began he records the places they stopped, the distance covered, the night’s billet, rumours, etc. There are references to bombing raids and occasional atrocities committed by the guards to keep the column of prisoners moving away from the advancing troops of the Red Army. The diary ends with a moving postscript written in 1985 after the death of his wife, “Bunty”.
His diary leaves a great deal unsaid and prompts many questions which I would like to ask him if he were alive today. There are cryptic references to bartering and the occasional red asterisk appears to be a code for which the key was lost on his death.
I hope his diary will be of interest to the family of former prisoners at Klimontow (Stalag VIIIB E702) in the Polish city of Sosnowitz and those who accompanied Alan on the long march west. I may publish it as a book together with an illustrated account of his earlier period of captivity at Leslau (Stalag XXIB) in 1940-41 and Fort Rauch, Posen, (Stalag XXID) from 1941-44 and will be glad to hear from anybody who was themselves a POW at these camps or from members of their family.
Alan Forster (4459370 Pte. A. Forster) enlisted in the 1st Battalion Tyneside Scottish, a newly reconstituted territorial Battalion of the Black Watch, on the 17 January 1940. The recruits were Tynesiders, not necessarily of Scottish descent.
The Battalion left its HQ in Gateshead for Southampton on the 23 April 1940 and embarked for Le Havre with so little notice one soldier was in the cinema with his girl friend when the film was interrupted with an announcement that his unit was to go to the docks. He had to change out of civvies and into his uniform whilst crossing the channel. On landing they went by train to Beauvoir, an aerodrome 7 km from Frevent, where they spent two quiet weeks living under canvass in orchards heavy with blossom.
The Battalion consisted of 660 men organised into a HQ Company and four rifle companies (Companies "A", "B", "C" and "D"). Alan was in the 13th Platoon, "C" Company. On the 17 May they were sent to defend a ten mile length of the Canal du Nord but plans changed constantly and on the 19th they were withdrawn to Hendrecourt where they occupied the grounds of a small chateau. Later that day they were ordered to march to Saultry but due to their evident exhaustion were told to rest for the night at Neuville. They arrived there at 3 am on the 20 May but at 6.50 refugees’ reports of tanks approaching on both flanks forced them to resume marching with “C” company being left to cover the retreat.
THE FINAL STAND
The Tyneside Scottish fought its first and last engagement in this campaign to defend the retreating BEF when they were overrun by the rapidly advancing German forces between Neuville Vitasse and the village of Ficheux on the road to Saultry.
A brief description is given in “The Black Watch and the Kings Enemies” by Brian Fergusson (London: Collins, 1950):
“The companies of the Battalion, under-armed and ill-equipped, continued to fight individual company actions until they had exhausted what little ammunition had been given them for their original role. The provost serjeant was killed as he clambered on to a tank and thrust his rifle through an embrasure. A section of the youngest soldiers, with less than eight weeks' service, was seen to fix bayonets as an enemy tank approached them. Two old-soldier G.S.M.s were both killed behind anti-tank rifles whose crews had already been knocked out”
A more detailed account of the engagement in which these young untested and lightly armed territorials and a few old soldiers held up the advance of a German Panzer division for five valuable hours is given in the Battalion history, published privately in 1947 (no publisher or author given), which I consulted in the Library of the Imperial War Museum, London.
This described how Alan’s Company confronted the enemy in Neuville Vitesse whilst covering the retreat of the other companies:
08.25, immediately after the withdrawal of "D" Company, "C"
Company (Capt. G. D. Harker) in Neuville Vitasse Village was attacked
by enemy A.F.V.s from both flanks. In half an hour's fighting, some of
which took place in houses that were soon ablaze, a determined but costly
resistance was made against the enemy, but at length, with the line of
withdrawal cut to the rear and to both flanks, and with all ammunition
expended, the survivors were compelled to surrender. Captain Harker and
a small party escaped, and remained at large for three days.”
Alan told me they were marched out of the village to hold up the German advance. They rounded a bend and came face to face with the German tanks. Alan, holding one end of an anti-tank gun, dived into the ditch but the soldier on the other end of the gun was killed. Within minutes they were all on their feet, hands in the air, prisoners of war.
The Tyneside Scottish were almost completely wiped out in this engagement.
I was fortunate to obtain copies of the index cards kept by the German’s of Alan’s five long years as a Prisoner of War (POW) from the Veterans Agency in Blackpool. These contain his photograph (with POW number 3921 chalked on a board hung round his neck), finger print, date and place of capture and all subsequent movements.
They were marched south east for three long weeks to a holding camp at Trier on the German frontier near Luxembourg. From there they were transported by train in cattle wagons to Stalag XXIB at Schubin in Poland, arriving on the 11 June. Five weeks later he was moved to Leslau (where eighteen prisoners escaped under cover of a play written and directed by Alan), a small outpost of the main camp at Schubin.
He returned to Schubin on the 12 April 1941 but on the 22 April entrained in cattle wagons for Posen, the German name for the Polish city of Poznan, 100 miles to the south east, where he was to spend nearly four years at Fort Rauch, a nineteenth century fortress on the outskirts of the city. There were 29 forts surrounding Posen, two of which, Fort Rauch and Fort VIII (Grollman) along with outlying labour camps in the area controlled by the German XXI Army Group, constituted Stalag XXID. Fort Prittwitz, identical to Fort Rauch, held Gaullist French soldiers. The POW lived in basement rooms of the strong brick built redoubt of Fort Rauch which was described in an ICRC report in August 1941 as being “a circular building, made of red brick with three floors each with its windows facing an interior court which acts as the hub of the fort. There is no overcrowding and the rooms are not so large that they become noisy when filled with prisoners.” The number of prisoners at Fort Rauch varied but were generally around 750 (out of some 3,000 plus in Stalag XXID as a whole).There were fifty rooms with 30-46 beds per room (they may not all have been in use), a common room and theatre. Charlie Glasgow and Alan were in Room 28. Alan was the stage manager for many of the plays, variety concerts and pantos held in the theatre and sent photographs of the productions home with letters. His friend Phil Goold painted the scenery and since he looked very young often took the female lead (costumes were hired from the Posen Opera House). The prisoners were paid DM4.20 per week for the labouring work they did around Posen. Fort Rauch was demolished after the war (a college stands on the site) but Fort VIII still stands.
As the Germans were forced on the retreat from the advancing Soviet forces the prisoners were transported south to Stalag VIIIB and its complex of outlying labour camps in Upper Silesia near the Czech border. He arrived at Stalag VIIIB Teschen on the 18 August 1944 but on the 24th was sent to work as part of the E702 Arbeitskommando at Klimentowgrub, a coal mine at Klimontow, a village on the outskirts of Sosnowiec in the industrial and mining region of Katowice. His diary begins here on Tuesday 29 October 1944.
Conditions at Klimontow were very poor compared with Fort Rauch:
"This is going to be a tough billet for winter but I don't think ther'll be much better anywhere else around here so rotten is this Stalag V111B. To think we ever grumbled about Rauch!" Monday 13 November 1944.
"Last year at this time we were all looking forward to what we firmly believed would be our last POW Xmas. I at least was sure. We said of Cinderella this will be our last Panto., let's make it a super-show. It was our last, true but only because in this bloody hole nothing in the entertainment line can be done. Good God, are we browned off! I never imagined we would come down as far as this. Looking back to Posen it would seem to have been a dream ..." Saturday 18 November.
THE LONG MARCH WEST
On the 18 January 1945 they were awoken at midnight and told to be ready to move off at 2.30 am. This was the start of a 900 plus kilometre march which only ended near Regensburg in Bavaria, at the heart of the ever shrinking German Reich, where they were finally liberated by the American forces on Monday the 30 April.
The Diary finishes at a reception camp for released POW in Slough where he was debriefed (the interrogation questionnaires completed by liberated prisoners of war can be seen at the National Records Office, Kew; Reference WO 344).
There is a moving Postscript to his Diary written in 1985 after the death of his wife, 'Bunty', which describes the journey North to Newcastle on Tyne by train and the tumultuous welcome they received on arrival at Newcastle Central Station.
My brother, Stephen, was thirteen years old when he met his uncle on the beach at Whitley Bay shortly after his return to England. Alan tried to impress his nephew by speaking to him in German and Steve looking at his thin emaciated figure stepped forward and lifted him off the ground. Alan struggled to free himself but couldn’t and Steve gently set him free.
Five years imprisonment had left its mark on his body but life now had much to offer including marriage to “Bunty” and a family and home of his own.
COAL MINE AT KLIMONTOW: E702 STALAG VIIIB
Stalag VIIIB was originally at Lamsdorf, the German name for Lambinowice, near Oppeln on the River Oder in Silesia. Most of Silesia had been German for centuries, either as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire or latterly of Prussia and it became part of unified Germany in 1871. The population in the heavily industrialised region of upper Silesia in the far South East was, however, predominantly Polish and Roman Catholic but after 1939 many Silesian Poles were deported and replaced by Germans settlers.
Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf was the largest Stalag in the Third Reich with many tens of thousands of prisoners, mostly Russian but with a smaller camp of some 16,000 POW from Britain, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa in its midst. Confusingly, at the end of 1943 Lamsdorf was designated Stalag 344 and a sub-camp at Teschen, some 125 km to the south east, became the new Stalag VIIIB. The Imperial War Museum in London has a large number of books by former POW at Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf in its library and there is a web site (http://www.lamsdorfreunited.co.uk/) devoted to stories posted by former prisoners run by the daughter of the author of one such book as well as many postings on the “Peoples War” web site.
Unlike Lamsdorf, there were only a few hundred prisoners at Teschen, which was mainly an administrative centre for the Arbeitskommando, work detachments, away from the main camp. When the ICRC (the International Committee of the Red Cross, who regularly inspected of POW Camps), sent their inspectors to Teschen on the 17 January 1945, days before its final evacuation, there were only 389 prisoners (of which 64 were in the hospital) but Teschen was also responsible for 13,336 at 64 Arbeitskommando. These were identified by a prefix to the Stalag VIIIB designation which began with an E. For example, the 1,200 POW making synthetic rubber and petroleum at the giant IG Farben industrial complex at Monowice, known as Auschwitz 111, 30 km. south of Katowice, were at E715 Stalag VIIIB (http://www.auschwitz-muzeum.oswiecim.pl/new/index.php?language=EN&tryb=stale&id=228).
The Vojensky ustredni archive in Prague holds the captured German records of Stalag VIIIB including lists of all the Arbeitskommando where British POW were held giving the location, type of work, employer (often a private company), number of POW held and the army unit responsible for their security. There were 66 Arbeitskommando on the lists in Appendix 3.1 and 3.2 issued by Stalag VIIIB Teschen on the 1 June 1944. E702 Klimentowgrub in the Bendsburg administrative area had 254 British KGF (POW) employed by Werksdir. Bismarck in mining. A separate report on South African POW dated 22 April 1944 (see Appendix 3.3 and 3.4) listed Arbeitskommando with 9,442 British POW and there may be similar reports for other nationalities.
The diary begins at a camp near a coal mine on the 24 October 1944. Neither the place or even the region is identified in the diary but his letters home to Bunty gave the address as Stalag VIIIB E702 and this provided the clue which led to its identification as Klimontow, a small village on the outskirts of the city of Sosnowitz (Sosnowiec) in Silesia.
The ICRC sent its inspectors to E702 Klimontow on two occasions, on the 21 June and on the 18 September 1944, and translations of their reports are held at the NRO in Kew (Reference WO 224/27). In June there were 250 POWs but another 150 were expected shortly (these were from Stalag XXID and included Alan). In September the number had increased to 309 with 70 working underground in the mine in three shifts of 8 3/4 hours (but the mine was stopped work at the time of their visit). There was a complaint that the only meat was horse-flesh and a lack of vegetables but the main complaint was the lack of a sports ground which had been crossed by a defensive trench making it unusable. The recent intake of POW from Posen were unhappy about the loss of their kit which had remained in a locked waggon of the train and sent to Lamsdorf.
Kamil Nowak who has been researching the history of Klimontow (www.klimontow-sosnowiec.prv.pl) where he lives and is keen to hear from former British POW at Klimontow. Although his web site is mainly in Polish the photographs give some idea of what it was like at the time.
Sosnowitz (Sosnowiec), the third largest city in upper Silesia, had a population of some 220,000 in 1939, 22% of which were Jewish (but they had been sent to Auschwitz, 30 kms south, by 1943). There were seven or eight coal mines in the area and about five POW labour camps linked to Stalag VIIIB. Courtney Smithers was at E902 in Hindenburg (Polish Zabrze) and Jack Bryson at E579, near Saznowitz. Today Klimontow has been absorbed into Sosnowiec, one of the cities in the massive industrial and mining conurbation centred on Katowice.
In 1944 Klimontow had a population of around 15,000 with the coal mine, Bismark II, on its northern outskirts. There were 267 British POW at E702, including six South Africans (see Appendix 3) plus other nationalities living in timber barracks on sandy ground to the north of the mine.
Eric Marchant’s experience as a POW at Klimontow is described on the Peoples War web site at http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A6471245.
“In June 1943 Eric and 12 others were sent to camp number E702 at the coal mines in Sosnowiec in southern Poland. The mines here were deep, going down four levels, and it was frightening as the cage plummeted down to the shafts.
The prisoners of war worked as the labourers for the Polish men working in the mines. The prisoners did the hardest tasks, and conditions were not pleasant – the mines were damp and wet, there was water everywhere. Each man was issued with an ID tag and a carbide lamp every time he went down into the mine. The lamp had a flint on it so that it could be lit and it made a gas that burnt when water from the mine dripped onto the lamp.
There were three shifts each day, each shift being about 8 hours long: 6am till 2pm, 2pm till 10pm and then the night shift which was 10pm until 6am the next morning. The morning and afternoon shifts dug out the coal and the evening shift moved equipment and supports into position for the next day’s work. Eric worked at night moving equipment and putting in new support structures, it was unpleasant and dangerous work.
Prisoners thought about trying to sabotage the mine, but there were always men working on the lowest levels so any attempt would inevitably endanger many prisoners. On occasion the lift was damaged and men in lower levels had to escape by a complex system of ladders, but nothing more extensive was done because the resultant loss of life would have been great.
The men lived in huts beside the mine. There were 10 to 12 men in each hut; men on different shifts were billeted together, this made it very difficult to get any real sleep. The food was the same as at the other camps – bread and coffee for breakfast and one meal a day of soup. Thankfully the men were still able to receive their Red Cross Parcels; Eric is sure that without them they would not have survived.
After a short while Eric got bronchitis and was sent to the infirmary. The infirmary was run by a Jewish prisoner John Gotea, who had joined the British army but was from Athlith near Haifa. Eric has always felt very grateful to John Gotea because he persuaded the German doctors that Eric was too ill to work and should be sent back to the main camp at Lamsdorf; without this help Eric might not have survived.”
The pictures below are of the coalmine at Klimontow in 1924 (on left) and between 1933-41 (on right).
Alan was sent from Stalag XXID to the main camp at Teschen on the 18 August but by the 24 August he had arrived E702 at Klimontow where he was a surface worker, the underground work being done by Polish miners. All the books by former POW at Stalag VIIIB say they dreaded being sent to work in the coal mines. Conditions were very severe and they were not allowed to send photographs with their letters home but the Polish people were friendly and the prisoners would sometimes give gifts of food and chocolate (received in Red Cross parcels) to Polish children.
the evacuation of the camp in January 1945 and the arrival of the soviet
army it was used as a prison camp for German POW and, probably, for the
internment of German civilians. It was demolished in 1965. The closure of
the mine in 1995 was a major blow to the local economy.
One, I don’t know – I really can’t imagine – my
precious, what you’ll be thinking of me when you receive this letter.
It’s such a long time since I’ve been able to write you ...
I feel very bitter about it for the circumstances were beyond my control
& I thought in my innocence that we ‘old kriegies’ would
never return to 1940 days again. I was, however, mistaken (note change
of address & here we are on a pit-head, growing steadily dirtier).
I thought, darling, that I’d been browned off at times during the
last three years in the home (we came to regard it as a ‘home’)
we had – but my feelings were never as deep as this. However, I
can’t put it down here in black & white so I’ll just have
to explain (with a wealth of detail) when I get back.
Tuesday Oct 29/44
to work morning until 11.30 on PM … had free day last Thursday.
Wrote letter … Bun telling her how bloody things are here –
should I send it or not? …. stopped yesterday. Weather … –
not too cold.
LETTER HOME – KRIEGSGEFANGENENPOST
another wordless week gone by. This is certainly a deadly place without
letters & I don’t fancy spending winter here a little but especially
as parcels have also stopped with a consequent cessation of fags. ...
It’s a Sunday afternoon which may have meant something sometime
but here it is just another day complete with work: I did my share of
a task this morning so until tomorrow (6,00) I’m relatively free.
But what to do? Forgive me if I appear rather gloomy my love but honestly
this place is enough to give anyone the willies & when I think how
near our reunion seemed to be three months ago & how much more distant
it appears now, my optimism nearly deserts me entirely.
Monday October 30
Quite a reasonable day … the fact heaps of letters & about 50 parcels … up & my not receiving any. … worked at 4.00 after being … do afternoon. … two bars … packet 17 left. Had one bar … room issue which consisted of 12 for 25 …. – quite inadequate. Saw the …. engine for the first time 48 inch x 40 inch … lovely job. Heard two of a kit … a 70 ft face.
Tuesday Oct 31
a bad day again. Finished at … Another 23 parcels up but again …
I don’t figure – how much longer. Dear French fags are for
next month (25) – foul weeds! A lovely afternoon with a warm sun.
Wednesday Nov. 1st
Got our momento Morris back on the party today unfortunately loosing Bighead. Today was memorable in as much as I had a decent drink before we finished. Very exhilarated or the following hour. Many of the Poles are leaving the Grube [pit] for .... viz. Danzig, Cracow, .... also a ... in the morning that the mine was closing – later denied, need to ...
Thursday Nov. 2nd
a mood of virtuous self-satisfaction engendered by my having a free day
& forcing myself to clear up all my dirty linen. Tomorrow’s
work starts me afresh – it’s 24 hours nearer ... the pig made
an exhibition of himself next door this morning doing his best to tear
the place apart.
on Holzplatz [literally, wooden square; either a place where wood was
stored or the name of an assembly area i.e. a square] & today unloaded
3 tons or so of ... between the .... Finished at 3.00, a nasty wet afternoon.
Spoke to Geordie about writing ... Getting tired of my purely German rations
& coffee without milk & sugar. Spuds beet & toast aren’t
a very satisfactory diet but I’m afraid though better than we’d
been getting at Posen – that’s a small consolation, however,
considering what we’ve all – & some especially –
lost. At present the rations here are as follows. 500 oz of bread per
day, soup (supplemented by Red X food from spoiled parcels) about 1 1/2
lts. jam & sugar works out at around a dessert spoonful per day (issued
fortnightly), marj. 1 oz per day. Soap is very short – there now
appears to be no regular issue except for miners who get 5 bars a month.
Cigs, in the shape of French Tropu... 50 per month (when they come). The
cookhouse is certainly very good to that which we have been used. Cleanliness
is a watchword there. This week we have already had one dry dinner of
potato mash & gravy, tomorrow mash, fishcakes (from salmon in parcels)
& beetroot of which there seems to be plenty here.
SAT. NOV. 4
on the same part today. Simply stood & froze all the afternoon until
3.30 when we went in. About 60 fags & clothing parcels in but again
non for me.
SUNDAY NOV. 5
out digging a trench this morning – would have thought nothing of
it in Posen but it tired me out by the time we were finished. A trench
2m wide x 1.10 deep x 3m long. All wet clay stones sand & coal –
horrible! Finished at 12.00 & in to a good dinner. Red cabbage does
look a horrible mess when it has been boiled! Had a good two-bucket bath
in the afternoon & gave myself a more careful than usual once over
with the manicure instruments & consequently feel – & look
a trifle cleaner than usual. The German shoved their oar in today by stating
they hadn’t enough guards to allow our going to the depot for the
eagerly awaited parcels ... another example of their constant awkwardness
for it’s a futile stupid excuse. The cookhouse brewed tea today
– proper army tack! All water. There is also a ten-day sugar issue
which works out at roughly 8 spoons per man – trifle less.
MONDAY NOV 6
Had a free day. Entirely non-productive I may add as beyond cleaning down the beds with Taff I only read. Had a 35 fag issue, the last, so we’re told, for at least month.
Tuesday Nov 7
Put on No 6 party but as the guard did not turn up I remained in idleness – well not quite as we scrubbed out the room. Day was highly successful due to the advent of the last Red X parcel – one between two. Splashed a bit and turned out a “Krugie trifle” – ingredients 5 biscuits, qt of milk, raisins, two German pudding powders, three spoons sugar – water and … Got up from table feeling satisfied which was a nice change. No wonder really for the completed mess weighed about 6 lbs at a conservative estimate and the two of us ate it in one go. Had quite a lot of luck at cards and dominoes – about 30 RM up.
Wednesday Nov. 8
The main item today is, of course, snow. The earliest I’ve seen here in all my previous four winters! Was on the schlossers [metal worker’s] party today, a nice change, spent most of my time over the fire, prima! The extra stuff from the parcels came up, we benefited to the extent of a tin of butter, one of milk, raisins & prunes.Owing to bad weather showing itself inside the rooms on the ends of the huts, the occupants thereof were evacuated (according to some sort of plan) into other rooms. We were unfortunate enough to receive three of these men which brings the room total up to 24 and makes us very crowded. Still, I suppose that’s an advantage in the winter.
Thursday Nov 9
Sadly I note parcels – a few – were up today. But I figured in the mail stakes having two from Bun one from Mother and the same from Red [his elder brother, my father, at this time serving in the Royal Navy aboard HMS Venomous] . Also managed to arrange things with a Pole. I await a reply anxiously. Weather was again cold and wet and the day, as usual, dragged endlessly.
Friday Nov 10th
with the Schlossers again and what a hellish day! Snow, wind and rain.
It’s now been snowing since late afternoon and it’s beginning
to find foothold on the sodden earth. The wind carrying it is raw and
wet seeming, giving a foretaste of winter here. I don’t fancy it.
Paid 12 RM for two small tins of boot polish. Black market prices run
roughly speaking slightly higher than those prevailing in Posen but owing
to the extra food allowed to the Polish miners rationed stuff is easier
to get. As I understand it not many people are actually in the position
of laying hands on the raw material but instead purchase the food coupons
so prices (100) vary between 10.50 – 16.00 RM.
Saturday Nov 11
Again a blasted parcel list up (30) – again it holds nothing for me. Was out on electricians party today. Got 10 .. for pkt coffee and 100s for soap. Needless to say there was very little electricity about, the work we did for the whole time was devoured by our shifting machinery from here to there and back again. In fact the usual stupid, futile sort of work I’ve done for the last four bloody years. Answered Bun’s two letters (Aug 16 – 30) and asked several questions which memory brought back to me as I wrote her – bloody Roll on!
Sunday Nov 12
Had a day off and made good use of it all washing and bathing done by role call. Wrote to Paymaster and to Mother. Boots and shoes all dubinned against the continual wetness underfoot. Apart from this nothing constructive done except to try to remember all the American Mates – with lots of assistance helpful and otherwise, this was done.
Monday Nov. 13
free day. The weather is lovely and has inspired me to scrub out our food
cupboard which is nearly – but not quite – empty. That is
to say that between the two of us we have half a tin of Klim, a packet
of coffee, about 2 ozs of butter, a few raisins and 4 pudding powders
(if the Wobble doesn’t confiscate them!) Add some issue marg and
you have our poverty complete.
Tuesday Nov 14
Out on Electricians. Not a bad day on the whole. Definitely feeling the pinch as regards food now – I think it’s even more noticeable in winter than in summer. P. parcels and letters were ... again, needless to say without affecting me.
Wednesday Nov 15
Today should, I suppose, be noted in large letters in my life – I have been down the hole! 420 m deep. But I was only further depressed by my experience. I shan’t write further about it. The first 20 men of a supposed 90 are going to parts unknown. I shall be next and I don’t know whether to be pleased or sorry. One thing is I think certain – nowhere else shall we get such large rations for such a small amount of work. Otherwise I shan’t be sorry to have a change. Still again, we wait & see.
Thursday Nov 16
a day! Outside all the time digging a narrow, deep and very muddy trench
in the midst of a blizzard. The snow lay half melting on the previously
sodden earth & over all was a layer of liquid black mud. Horrible
and depressing are hardly enough to describe it. But we finished, thank
God, at 3.00 and I returned to an upset room. The beds had had to be re-arranged
owing to several leaks in the ceiling and now, consequently, we’re
all herded together – I sincerely trust the place freezes up before
very much longer. However, one nice thing happened – I received
six letters from Bun which I read over my tea. She told me of being hungry
and in a café and at the moment of writing ordering her meal. I
was eating toast, a staple only diet these days. We had a cheese issue
today – both of the peculiar tasteless white stuff & the old
5” of it lying in the morning and still lying tonight except where
it has been trodden into a wet and horrible slush. Went out on Holzplatz
at 9.30 & loaded a wagon with pipes (iron naturally) before dinner
& again in the afternoon. Rather a snip for a days work as the latter
was loaded in 45 minutes. Got paid too – 4.10 RM – a munificent
sum. Of course I had 22 days off last month with my toe.
Sat Nov 18
go out until 12.00 & was back again by 2.30 having loaded up 50 railways
lines. Had a good shower over in the pithead baths. Received two letters
– one from Bun and one from Mother – wish I was as optimistic
as they seem to be. I’m only glad that those at home can’t
see us in this godforsaken place. Last year at this time we were all looking
forward to what we firmly believed would be our last POW Xmas. I at least
was sure. We said of Cinderella this will be our last Panto., let’s
make it a super-show. It was our last, true but only because in this bloody
hole nothing in the entertainment line can be done. Good God, are we browned
off! I never imagined we would come down as far as this. Looking back
to Posen it would seem to have been a dream …
Sunday Nov 19
Worked on the coal heap. Apparently one of the local mines has broken down so we are getting all the waggons which used to go to them. Looks as though There’ll be bags of work here unfortunately. Phil [Goold] goes away tomorrow … this is a sad blow indeed. 5 men altogether. Had my claim upon the Paymaster returned – here one must fill in a form. Why don’t we hear of these things. £200 to Mother. Wrote to Bun answering all letters for Sept – I think I’ve had them all now, anyway it’s pretty good for this dump.
Monday Nov 20
Spent today loading a wagon with an electric coal-cutter weighing 1 1/2 tons – very awkward but infinitely preferable to playing around with a shovel. Spent from 12.00 – 1.20 in the trench – appears to have been heavy forces of bombers around the area. Nothing of real interest apart from the sad fact that the camp appears empty without Flip and Basil. Drew 2 bars soap. Issue of 50 French fags per man.
Weds Nov 22
at 12.00 again for the last time I think as we’ve got the sack.
Handed over the doings – let’s see how long it takes this
time. Hear Phil [Goold] is at a camp 40kms from here. Usual thing –
start off for one place and finish at another.
Thursday Nov 23
Well, another 33 men go tomorrow, including Basil Coe and Geoff Holden, two people with whom I have lived ever since Leslau 1940. Which leaves old Charlie [Glasgow] on his own … once there were five – still can’t understand how it’s worked here, someone pulls strings – of that I’m sure. I wonder how much longer I’ll be here – now I could stay, I think, after hearing about the rations at the camps. Leschin is very bad according to reports & I can only hope they’re the usual restless rumours – God help anyone who is forced to live on the rations we’ve heard about.
Friday Nov 24
Went on sand today, which upsets all plans or eating – naturally! Owing to all these people going away it has occasioned considerable upset. Several new men have come into the room & cupboard made for big argument. General feeling between the old members of consternation & deep depression. One thing is certain – I don’t fancy this place.
Saturday Nov. 25
on sand again. A lovely day except for rain – late afternoon. Norman
had a fag parcel – 500 – he luckily managed to buy 1 1/2 pounds
at the rate of 60 per 1/2 pound – current market price. Had a beautifully
hot shower over in the bathhouse, so hot in fact it was almost a Turkish
Sunday Nov 26
One way and another this has been a strenuous day. Went out on PA and unloaded some small railway lines. A more than usually stupid guard brought us in to Fruhstuck during which we were on parade 25 minutes owing to the parade being one short. Upon our reappearance we were given a wagon full of spuds to play with – 18 tons. Without our knowledge this was expected to be an accord job [Akkordarbeit: piece work, paid by results] but we cribbed. Naturally, we wanted to come in for dinner and return again thus managing to haul two lots of contraband and after a lot of agitation we managed it – I’m apparently unpopular but that’s no fresh worry. Anyway, between us we managed about 1/2 cwt of spuds which should keep the wolf from the door for quite a while.
Monday Nov. 27
rotten day on sand – got in at 3.30. Winter has started again –
it honestly seems only a month or two ago since the last. Nothing else
has happened of any noteworthy importance.
Another long and very weary day on sand. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if it were not for the walk which is the last straw after 8 hours on one’s feet. The march takes an hour over, presumably, a mixture of mud & sand. When we go out in the morning at 6 o’clock it’s quite dark & one stumbles over the frozen cart-tracks, tussoks, etc. When we return these obstacles have turned into mud into which one flounders drunkenly … The most harrowing part is the climb up the hill. About 300 yards of about 1 in 5, slime and stones. By the time I’ve reached the top my heart is like a steam-hammer. Still – it can’t before much longer – we hope! Had small jam issue. 1/2 cup between two.
Thursday 30 Nov
Sand again. Cold and misty. Got in at 2.40. Small sugar issue. Feldwebel [German N.C.O] is back again, gone is our peace.
Friday Dec 1
Xmas approaches rapidly … last year I was quite certain I’d be home this Xmas – now I’m growing a trifle doubtful!
Saturday Dec 2
20 more men for the hut & a promise of 40 more to come. Came in off sand at about 2.30 was at Mifka Grube [probably Nifkagrube, Polish Niwkagrube, also part of Sosnowiec] on coal – a nice little job. A mine in full production (staffed by South Africans) who go about, apparently, without guards.
Sunday Dec 3
until 1.50 collecting broken down wagons on the sand-coal party. Which
would have been interesting but for the cold wind which fairly froze my
marrow. There were a few free days – maybe I’ll have one soon.
Monday Dec 4
Small parcel list – no luck. Rained and blew like fury all day & I’m very wet and very very browned off. This looks as if it may go on for ever and ever.
Tuesday Dec 5
Coal-sand today. A freezing but – thank God – a dry day with a strong E. wind. We returned at 3.00 very browned off indeed. Lack of food is now noticeable in the fellow’s tempers – it’s the same as the nine weeks we had in Rauch without parcels. People snap at one another quite easily and quite trifling incidents (at ordinary times) are magnified into major insults. It’s stupid I know but it wouldn’t be quite so bad if there were plenty of fags – but there’s not! Such is this ghastly life! If only I could get back on PA again things would be OK for we’ve still stuff to contact.
Wed Dec 6
Norman and I had a full day. Managed with effort of will to do all my washing. Relief! Been a most pleasant change to be around a while and just read. Small air raid alarm, a single plane flew around all afternoon without being in anyway inconvenienced by sporadic flak around it.
Thursday Dec 7
Out collecting broken wagons – got back at 3.00. Small sugar issue.
Friday Dec 8
again. Was in earlier than I’ve ever been on the job – 1.50.
We had a clothing card check today. Surprising how many things fellows
seemed to have handed in at Rauch! Wardrobes are being steadily eaten
now. Rumour has it that we are to have a loaf a piece at Xmas & 1/2
a parcel. I hope the latter is true as it would make a world of difference.
Sat 9 Dec
at 6.00. Back in at 7.30. Out at 8.30 back at 10.30 all without any work
being accomplished. No wagons to load pipes upon.
Tuesday 12 Dec
Started the morning working on the new hut. Came in at 10.30 for an air raid – very near – heavy bombing all around the district. Pamphlets dropped in which they say the war will be over in a month. Same old rubbish. Went clamping again afterwards getting back in a 4.45. All our sack of spuds taken out of the cupboard. Our spuds given us to us from the cook house – bloody silly game I call it.
Wednesday 13 December
at all important.
Thursday 14 Dec.
Shifted the small loco half around the pit – 17 of us amid the snow. Returned or rather were dragged back at the Feldwebels [NCO] order at 16.00 – dawn to dark, that’s us now! There has been a heavy fall of the usual brand of fine dry powdery Polish snow which is quite alright if the temperature keeps below 5 degrees but is hellish to work in once it melts. Small cheese issued tonight – two pats per man. The Poles had their usual schnapps and sardine issue from the mine today but unluckily I didn’t manage to be on the spot due to the bloody engine so I missed my monthly excess (?).
Saturday Dec 16
by 12.00 in repayment for last night and (thank God) had my washing drying
by 1.00. Feel very virtuous indeed!
Sunday Dec 17
free day for the camp with the exception of 20 men. An air raid broke
the morning up a little – certainly a lovely day. Sparkling snow
under a brilliant sun but it isn’t appreciated due to the lack of
decent food and the imminence of Xmas.
Monday Dec 18
sparkling day and on the whole quite successful. A very heavy raid near
us lasting until 1.00. Bought my first Polish tobacco today … how
are the mighty fallen indeed!!
Tuesday Dec 19
Very cold again. We managed to get in at 11.45 for dinner & as we entered the gates the siren blew. Another 1 1/2 hrs in the shelter.
Wednesday Dec 20
Cold and damp. Remarkable how we get away so easily on our jobs – I hope it continues until we finish here. An amazing thing tonight – we had an issue of Red X jam from God knows where. A small quantity true (two tins, 1 lb each, and 4 1/2 tins Lemon Curd) but a welcome change. Took out Norman’s boots today and saw the contact very luckily; all that remains is to get the stuff in …
Thursday Dec 21
out on a …. job after we came in at 4.00 – unloading ….
a couple of carts of oats.
Friday Dec 22
Nothing to report.
Saturday Dec 23
great difficulty managed to …
Sunday Dec 24
P.A. had a free day while land worked. The miners had to do a double shift to get their holiday but for all that the night shift …. at 6.15 pm … what a sickening place this is … Still today has been pleasant. The room has been quiet & four of us sat around the fort (?) in the afternoon chatting about anything and nothing. It struck me rather as an intimate family gathering somehow.
Tuesday Dec 26
purposely left Xmas mention until today to see if I still felt better
better about it. We worked from 6 am to 6 pm with a meagre break for dinner
shovelling coal – about 300 or so tons. The coal heap is …
well & they seized upon the chance offered, by the other pits being
closed for the holiday, of having the wagons they would otherwise have
used. So we worked – best to draw a veil over it I think. However,
we had a nice dinner of mashed spuds mixed with pork, turnips & a
pound of sausage each, very nice. As soon as I came in at night, I washed,
changed shaved and had tea – also from the cookhouse composed of
two meat (RX) sandwiches and an excellent biscuit duff and tea. Then out
to the quite eagerly awaited variety show during which Norman & I
consumed the drink. I became well lit and enjoyed myself thoroughly. Supper
was bread & cheese & marmite with tea & beer. Bed at 11.30.
I slept like a log until 4.00 when I … with after effects –
…! That was …. Xmas & I’ll never forget it –
the first one I’ve ever worked.
Wednesday Dec 27
Thursday Dec 28
a heap of dirt from one place to the other but in spite of opposition
finished at 4.00.
Friday Dec 29
a new job – a sand Grube [pit] about 5K from here as the crow flies
but about 12 as the train crawls [probably a sand pit at a place called
Maczki-Bor in Polish, a goods train still runs there].
Saturday Dec 30
has depreciated sharply. We think the Admiral had had a hand in this.
Didn’t get in until 5.45.
Sunday Dec 31
This is the last time I shall write in this for 1944 – solemn thought. I have a free day tomorrow at the expense of the miners. Goodbye to 1944. 1945 will, I hope and pray, bring us freedom. Taking it by and large this year has been the worst in Gefangenschaft [imprisonment].
Monday Jan 1. 1945
Had today free – the miners were out on our job. It was a terrible New Years day I must say … better not to comment upon it.
LETTER HOME – KRIEGSGEFANGENENPOST
here we are kicking off on another year – what do you think it will
bring? Last year at this time I was quite certain I wouldn’t see
another Xmas over here – absolutely positive about it – we
both were, weren’t we darling? But now I don’t know; sometimes
it seems as though this could go on endlessly, especially when I’m
as browned off as I am at this moment! Speaking out of years of experience
this has been the deadliest holiday (?) I’ve ever had. It’s
over now & I’m not sorry for it is, in many ways, a relief –
I’ll tell you all about it when I get back for it’s no use
having this letter censored out of existence. Certainly the memory of
this Xmas will remain vividly & burningly with me the rest of my life.
Tuesday Jan 2
Work. Terrible. Out on the sand job every bloody thing frozen hard, the sand just like rock.
Wednesday Jan 3
same. God! How long the days are!
No change. A small sugar issue at night – half a …. tea between two for the week.
Friday Jan 5
Nothing of note – there seems to be so little time now of my own that I shan’t write anything further in this until I’m in the mood or until something specially exciting happens.
* Jan 10
Sunday Jan 14
I am on my bed after another day spent in Germany’s service.
Norman & I were peacefully lying about 12.00 listening to the wireless
we were rudely disturbed by the door being blown open and the boys told
to be ready for a 2.30 am move off. What a night! Air raids off and on,
a bomb ten yards from the Lager, all the ……… in hand
lobbed out (unequally of course) clothing etc. What a night. We eventually
paraded about 7.00 o’clock Friday morning and after being ….
warned by Ti…ale that any man breaking ranks would be shot we staggered
off on a perfectly horrible march to Dombrowo (which must have been a
lovely camp) owing to the snow and too much kit. During the Friday night
we made a sledge of sorts for five men. Air raids were constant. If only
I’d known what I know now – 9 weeks later – I would
have escaped. We were all fools, absolute idiots!
J. Goold, 87 Park Street, Grange Park, London N21
K? P Lane 6394
Anatole (with full name in Greek?)