Information for Veterans and their families

George Jacobs

I heard from John Jacobs in January 2005 as he had opened a copy of the Daily Express newspaper and been astounded to see a photographs of the Death March at the end of WWII with his father staring out at him from the page. You can read the article on Danny Dorlin's page here.

John provided me with the following information on his father, George Jacobs (aka Bob) as follows:

" As I have read from a lot of families listed on different sites, my father did not talk about his experiences during his time as a prisoner. He did on certain occasions say things about the march and how cold it was, and how he 'bonded' with certain people and did not get on with others. All very vague and not much to go on!!!!"

George was at Dunkirk in 1940 and was captured 3 days later after being 'grassed' by a frenchman who had put him up in his barn and promised he would look after him.

"During the 'march' he had a handful of potato peelings that he had somehow boiled ready to eat. As he was about to eat them he saw, through a fence, a young woman with a small child looking at him. He was cold and hungry but he gave his peelings to the woman. How could he do that???? I guess
they were made of different stuff than us."

George was in Stalag XXB for 5 years. He was friends with Rex Pearson and Jim Gates.

"Sadly, he died last January aged 83, but I got a shock in todays' Daily Express, on page 40-41 there is a story regarding the 'death march' and looking out from the page is my father - he is third from left wearing a white shirt."

This is the story that John provided to me - in his own words...

1939 – 1946 Stalag XXB Poland and the Death March

My father, George William Frederick Jacobs was 19 years old in 1939 when he was ‘called up’ for action. He was the eldest of five children, living at home in Yiewsley Middlesex and he worked for the local grocer delivering goods on a tradesmen’s bicycle.

He was not well travelled and in some circumstances quite naïve, for instance, the local wood yard had a ‘hooter/siren’ that was sounded every day at 12.00 to signify to the workers that it was lunchtime, the local people took advantage of this by setting their clocks to the sounds of the 12.00 hooter.

The first time my father left home was in 1939, on his first day’s army training he realised that the time was 12.15, looking amazed he said to everyone in his billet “did anyone hear the 12.00 hooter?” he really thought that everyone in the country had a 12.00 hooter!!!!

He was part of the landing party at Dunkirk and apparently was landed on the wrong beach where he, and a dozen other troops, ran for cover in a sparsely wooded area, as they were separated from their commanding officer and had little or no ammunition they decided to stay where they were for the night or until they could return to their battalion.

They were woken suddenly on the second day, a dive-bomber was screaming out of the sky down towards their position; my father and his mates ran in all directions, my father decided to run towards the woods but was grabbed from behind by a man named Jim Gates, he said “no, not that way, lets go over there”. They ran and hid behind a tree, when the attack had finished they made their way back to the others.

They were amazed to find an 18-foot wide river between them and where they left the others, Jim said “how the bloody hell did we cross that”!!! They checked their clothes and found them to be totally dry. They could not understand how they got across the river but they assumed they must have jumped across.

So they tried to jump back; taking a long run up Jim Gates made it only half way across, Dad fared no better. When they dragged themselves out, now soaking wet, they found the other men, all killed by the dive-bomber, somehow Jim knew which way to run and Dad was pleased to have met him.

From that day, Jim and my father became inseparable.

Jim and my father had now become separated from the rest of their unit; they made their way inland and were taken in by a kindly French couple that fed them and offered them shelter in the outside barn, they stayed there for three days.

On the third day they were roughly woken by German soldiers where my father received a blow to the side of his neck by a rifle butt, this blow snapped a tendon in his neck, which affected him, for the rest of his life.

They were arrested and became PoWs the Frenchman had betrayed them.

I don’t know what happened next but my father ended up in Stalag XXB in Poland.

He only ever spoke of two other inmates, Jim Gates and Rex Pearson who, so he said, “played football together in the camp” apparently one day they played against a German team, he used to tell his grandchildren that he “Once played for England”!!!

Whilst interred in the camp he said that conditions were not so bad, he had food/water and a place to sleep. Red cross parcels arrived regularly but his letters home never reached there. The only letter to get ‘home’ was from the war office telling his parents that he had been killed in action.

He told me about life in the camp, when the Red Cross parcels arrived, how the prisoners would ‘swap’ items, he said that cigarettes were the best currency you could have, although Dad didn’t smoke he always kept a good supply of cigarettes, he would charge one cigarette for a packet of sweets/chocolate, two would get him a tin of corned beef etc.

He spoke about the forced march; he called it the “2000 mile march”. He used to tell me about having to sleep in the snow; they would all lie down in long rows, if someone wanted to ‘roll over’ the shout went out, “all turn now” and in unison they all turned over together. The lucky ones were those in the middle where it was quite a bit warmer, so they would all take turns at being on the outside.

At some point as a prisoner, my father had managed to collect and save some potato peelings that he found lying on the ground, during one of their rest breaks he went off and hid behind a broken wooden fence, he lit a small fire and started to boil the peelings in an old tin to make, what he referred to as ‘soup’, this was going to be quite a feast!

He was about to taste his concoction when he noticed a young girl, possibly in her teens, cradling a small child in her arms, looking at him from the other side of the fence. She was dirty and bedraggled and was looking hungrily at his ‘soup’.

Ignoring his own hunger he handed his tin to her, she hesitated for a moment then grabbed the tin, my father did not look back as he rejoined his group.

On his return home he often told me that as he walked through the door, his father, who by the way lost his leg in the First World War, was sitting on the kitchen table with his head bowed. For nearly 6 yrs he thought my father had been killed in action, it was a lot for him to take when he walked in.

Shortly after his return home, my father started work in the local wood yard, his first job was ‘pushing a broom’, and he told me once how that felt, after being away and kept prisoner for nearly 6 yrs, and now all was doing was sweeping up sawdust, he became very depressed at that time.

My father married Annie Woolley in 1947 and had two children, my brother ‘Brian’ was born in 1948 and I was born in 1951 and we lived in West Drayton, Middlesex.

Jim Gates and my father lost touch with each other, although he knew that Jim had returned to the Channel Isle of Jersey. In 1966 we had a family holiday in Jersey, the main aim was to try to contact Jim again. As we boarded the taxi to our hotel my father begun talking to the driver, he said that was trying to find his old mate, the taxi driver asked what his name was, my father laughed and said “oh you won’t know him, his name is Jim”, the taxi driver said “do you mean Jim Gates”?

My father could not believe his luck, what seemed like and impossible task, to track down someone he had not seen or heard from for over 20yrs and the first person on Jersey he spoke to actually knew him.

Within 20 minutes we pulled up on Jim’s driveway, my father was convinced that the taxi driver had got the wrong Jim Gates until Jim opened his door to see who was sitting on his driveway. “Bloody hell, it is him” my father said and he jumped out of the taxi, they did not say a word, they just stood there looking at each other, then ran towards each other and hugged. I was around 14yrs old and did not appreciate the moment.

My father and Jim spent the best part 14 days together reminiscing about their ordeal and catching up on their lives, and never lost touch again.

My father became a carpenter; although he was a cabinet maker his passion was making moulds for reinforced concrete, which he did for many years, later in life he made the sets for television shows such as ‘The Good Life’, he actually made the black range (stove) in Tom’s kitchen!!

After he retired he made Georgian dolls houses to order and he gave a lot of his time working for the local shopkeepers, repairing windows, fixing doors, making counters, etc.

When he was 80yrs old he complained that his legs hurt, I asked him why and he said that he had been playing in goal with the local kids over the park!!!

At 82 yrs he was still doing a paper round!!!

My father died in January 2004 aged 84yrs.

John provided me with the following photographs. Do you remember George or recognise anyone in the pictures? (Click to enlarge)

Soldiers Service Book
The ‘Rascals’, Stalag XXB 1943
George ‘Bob’ is on drums
George ‘Bob’ Jacobs is front row extreme left
George aged 20yrs, 2nd from right on the day of his capture, June 1940 France, also Tom McGrath but not sure which one?
George on the day he left home for training, April 1940 aged 20yrs
George and his mate Jim Gates
Stalag XXB 1943
George ‘Bob’ Jacobs November 2003
(Died January 21st 2004)

20th August 2009

I received an email from Julie as follows:

"Hi, my name is Julie Crotty and I was trying to find out details of my Dad's movements, capture and incarceration during WWII, when I happened upon your website.
My Dad didn't talk much about his experiences and he died, sadly in 1981. His name is Norman Kay, he was the youngest of seven from Blackburn in Lancashire and he was in the Royal Engineers from 15.10.39 to 24.6.46. I believe he was captured at Dunkirk and that he was on the 'Death March'. His prisoner number was 15251 and I know he was in Stalag XXa(35) as this is recorded on the back of a photo from there.
I have a couple more photos with my Dad on them, one of which has puzzled me because it has the address of a R.G. Jacobs, Yiewsley in Middlesex. Imagine my shock when browsing your website that I came accross an account from John Jacobs about his Dad - George Jacobs (aka Bob) from Yiewsley in Middlesex! It sounds as though he was captured in similar circumstances to my Dad, although I have only a sketchy idea of this from my Mum, and that he became a carpenter like my Dad.
I am really excited to find out whether the R.G. Jacobs of my photo is John's Dad or maybe a relative.
Another photo is of Arthur Reginald (Reg) Howard from the Bury/Bolton area of Lancashire competing in a boxing match. He was captured with my Dad and they remained very good friends. My 'Uncle' Reg was Best Man at his wedding and I was a bridesmaid at his son John's wedding. Sadly we lost touch after Reg's wife, Agnes, died.
I would be immensely grateful if you could find any information about my Dad and if you could enlighten me any more about George Jacobs.
I eagerly await your reply".

I have contacted John Jacobs to see if this is indeed George!

21st August 2009

Heard from Julie that John had been in touch and it was indeed his father's address. Julie will be sending the photo shortly.