Information for Veterans and their families
: B Company, 6th Durham Light Infantry (TA)
David Parker was born on the 4th August 1914, the day that the Great War began. Of a military family, he joined the Royal Navy at the age of 14 and was posted aboard the training ship HMS Warspite. However life at sea was not at all to his liking, and as the Navy was having little difficulty in recruiting at the time, Parker volunteered for a transfer to the Army. He joined the Durham Light Infantry in November 1929 (picture on left) and after training was sent to Egypt to join their 2nd Battalion, who in March 1930 were posted to India, where amongst other things they served on the North-West Frontier. Parker did not return home until February 1936, where he was transferred to the 1st Battalion who were shortly to leave for China, but in view of his recent tour overseas he was allowed to opt out.
In 1937, whilst based at the DLI depot at Fenham Barracks, Newcastle, Parker met and later married Margaret Elizabeth "Peggy" Donaldson, with whom he had two children, Mary Margaret on the 18th March 1940, and James Edward on the 7th March 1946; it was a family tradition to name the eldest son James. Serving as a Bandsman and a flautist, Parker returned to the 2nd Battalion in 1937 and left for Sudan, but he was repatriated shortly before the declaration of war and was then posted to the 6th Battalion (TA), part of the 50th Division who joined the British Expeditionary Force in France. The picture of David on the right was taken in 1939.
We sailed from England on 29th January 1940 and were stationed near Fresney, Pacy near Evreux; a village outside Amiens and finally at Emmerin near Lille. In each place we stayed for about a month until we got to Emmerin where we remained until just after the Germans broke into Belgium. We then rode to a village almost on the Dutch border, where we made a second line of defence.''After only two days near the border we marched back to La Basse in France where we stayed one night before moving off early the next morning to the Arras area. Our troops attempted to cut off the break through by the German Army and penetrated the German territory for eleven miles, getting so close to the French troops that their shells were beginning to fall around us. The French and our army had planned to cut off the advance which had swept so quickly through the French countryside. We always felt that our T.A. Division had done well against Hitler's trained, crack troops - then along came the aircraft to mow down our lads with no defence except rifle and bren gun. Soon the battalion's strength was reduced by heavy casualties and over came the German troops to finish off what the aircraft had started.
We attacked and entered a village, taking more prisoners than the strength of the Company. Our Company Commander, Major Perry M.C. had sent two Sergeants back with the prisoners, only to find that we had captured another large number. He decided that he could not send yet another sergeant to accompany the men. At that time I was a company clerk with the rank of Lance Corporal and realising that I would not be needed, he detailed me to take the prisoners back to Brigade. Having, with my two companions, completed this task, we made our way back to Battalion H.Q. where I approached the Adjutant asking if he could direct me to B Company. He told us he had no idea of their location and told us to remain there whilst he found out. He never returned. Can you imagine what it is like in a strange country with no map or compass with just the sun to guide you in the right direction? We found out later that the local people were no help to us at all since they blamed the British troops for what happened at Dunkirk though history has shown it was not our fault at all.
Having been abandoned we took plans to travel south, using such cover as we could find. It was now getting quite dark when a German tank suddenly came up the road which crossed ours. At the cross-roads he started to fire along the road in which we were sitting and you can guess how the soldiers ran to get out of the way. I was running too, towards a house, when a Corporal shouted to me, "Do you know anything about tank guns?" This was because an abandoned tank was by the side of the road. I said that, as a bandsman, I knew nothing about them but he replied, "Give me a hand and we'll blow this tank up if possible". I only carried the ammunition which he loaded and fired, blowing up the enemy tank. It stopped firing but the fire lit up the whole area giving away the positions of both armies. All we could see was soldiers, from both sides, running away from the tank and away from the German lines.
We were finally taken prisoner and joined a party of about twenty which was later marched away by a German guard. After a while the British soldiers tried to speak to the guard only to find that he knew no English and some suddenly turned on him and it is believed they killed him with his own rifle. We all scattered as our only thought was to get well away though we had no idea where we were and it was getting light on the morning of 22nd May. We set off across the typical French countryside with its long avenues of trees using such cover as we could find and decided to lie low in a wood during the day and set off at night. About an hour before sunset we heard a tank coming towards us and kept low, thinking we had been discovered. The copse was small and we feared the worst when the tank stopped near us but were relieved to hear a lot of swearing in English! We ran out and were invited by the Major in charge to join them. Their tank had broken down and it was some time before they got it going again.
The Major did not know how the land lay and was unsure whether the British or the Germans held the area though Amiens was still in British hands when he last had news. We rode on the tank and collected a further fourteen British soldiers who clambered aboard also trying to get back to the British lines. After about an hour's travelling it was getting quite dark, when we saw the silhouette of another tank coming towards the cross-roads. Neither tank wanted to give way so, slowing down, we actually hit one another before the others pulled back to let us through and we continued on our way. It was only as the other tank set off that we saw the big white German cross on its side. We went on our way and they went theirs and I do not think they even realised that we were British.
We passed through Albert in total darkness where we passed a German sentry outside a house who ignored us. Later on a German motor cycle, with a side-car manned with a machine gun, followed us for a few hundred yards before overtaking us and vanishing in to the night. On we went and as we approached Amiens, we saw a swinging light in front of us. Not knowing what to expect, the Major invited us to get off the tank but we decided to stay with our luck and remain on board. Slowly we travelled towards the light until, as we reached it, the tank shot forward at speed with us hanging on for dear life. The German soldier fired his pistol at the disappearing tank but had no luck and hit no-one.
Later we passed a German column which had been asleep on the road side though we had been assured by men on the front of the tank that the men were French! When we approached Amiens we could see the town ablaze and full of Germans so decided to make for Boulogne which had not fallen, using minor roads through small villages which were quiet or deserted. About twelve miles from Boulogne the tank ran out of petrol so we had to ditch it in a copse where we smashed it up as much as possible so that it could not be used. The Major and his men then went off to see how the land lay and told us to stay put until they returned but we never saw them again.
N.B. The Major referred to was the Second-in-Command of the Tank Regiment, and he was suffering from shell shock. The tank was commanded by 2nd Lieutenant, later Brigadier, Peter Vaux OBE, who revealed that in the confusion of battle David Parker's account of the tank journey may have become distorted. According to Vaux's information his tank did not break down when he first encountered Parker and the others, but this may have been some other tank. He was heading away from the front line towards Doullens when he realized that there were about half a dozen Durhams clinging onto his tank, and he had no idea how they had got there. The incident where they had encountered a German tank was actually a lorry in the middle of a German column. The Germans had taken a wrong turn and in an effort to get back on track had created a solid traffic jam. Vaux directed his tank into this where his driver deliberately rammed the lorry to create a gap, and though there was lots of cursing from the owner of this vehicle, who assumed they were German, they were able to slip by without anyone suspecting that they were British. When the tank ran out of petrol and the moment of their parting came, Vaux suggested that they had to split up into small groups and make their own way. Because everybody was deaf from the noise of the tank, Parker probably did not hear this. Vaux and his men were captured, but escaped soon after. Sadly his driver was killed.
We had a Second Lieutenant from the Durham Light Infantry with us and also a Sergeant and they decided that the best thing would be to lay up in a barn in the middle of a field so we set off along the road to the nearest barn. We suddenly heard people talking, coming towards us round a bend in the road, and we all dived out of sight into cover. It was two civilians and as they approached the officer went out and, with a little French that he knew, he tried to learn if Boulogne had fallen. This went on for some time until one said, "You are English". This was because a lot of Germans dressed in British uniform in an effort to tempt the soldiers to betray their positions. Some Germans had even dropped by parachute behind our lines in anticipation, long before retreat. The two 'civilians' proved to be two R.A.S.C. soldiers also trying to get away. They told us Boulogne had fallen though many years later I found this to be untrue.
On reaching the barn we all settled down to sleep which was broken some time later by approaching voices which turned out to be those of two West Yorkshire Regiment soldiers who joined us and rested until darkness fell. We all set off under the direction of the officer and sergeant and marched for an hour, intending to travel south. I was uneasy and asked my companion to confirm we that we were supposed to be travelling south. When he did so we both went to the sergeant. I said that I remembered from my days in the Intelligence Section, that if the sun sets on your left, as it was doing, then you are walking north. We convinced the sergeant but the officer asked, "Do you think I'm mad?", before agreeing that we were going in the wrong direction. We eventually convinced him and turned round to retrace our route and travel south, travelling at night and sleeping during the day.
We did not get any help from the French who twice told us to leave the area of they would inform the Bosch. Twice we spent the day lying in the middle of a field with the Germans passing along the road a hundred yards away. After eight days we came to the banks of the Somme somewhere near Abbeville. Three of us left the main party when we learned that they intended to swim the Somme in daylight. Some of the men we met again in the Prisoner of War camp and were told that most of the men had been shot trying to swim the wide river. We were later taken by surprise and taken prisoner - possibly because the Germans had been alerted after our companions had been shot.
The time I spent as a Prisoner of War divides into four parts :-
1. The first nine months which were hard, with bad guards and little food. We also had poor health being lousy with sores and a lot of dysentery.
2. About March 1941 the first Red Cross parcels started to get through and I am sure only the lucky few would have survived on the rations without them. Apart from a few bad guards, conditions improved for us.
3. This phase started when Italy was defeated and things got a bit easier as I am sure the Germans realised that they would not win the war.
4. As the Russians and the other Allies marched on to German soil, the guards realised that they would soon be the prisoners and many tried to appear that they had always been good guards. One can not forget.
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After our capture near the Somme we were locked up in a coal shed and a German officer came trying to gain information. When we said that we had come from Belgium and had been on the run for eight days he suddenly turned and told us that the war was now over for us. He said that he had been to England many times and surprised us by adding that he doubted that Germany could win the war though it would take us a long time to beat the Germans. This recollection comforted me throughout my time as a P.O.W.
Whilst on the run we had very little to eat, bar a 'Kay Rations' which was given to all soldiers in battle. We also bought some milk from a farmer for 100 francs which we paid for by pooling our available money.
After captured we were sent to a camp which was an old prison at Doullens where we stayed for two days before being ordered to march. We covered about twenty miles a day and I remember passing through Cambrai. We slept wherever we could, with no cover and little to eat. If we did get anything it was a cup of watery soup measured out into our mess tins. Those who did not have one had to make do with anything they could find. Some even used their tin helmets if nothing else was available. During this time it was not uncommon for prisoners to be shot for trying to escape or even for not doing as they were told.
After some day's march we came to a place which sounds like 'Catalong'. If I remember rightly, it was by the side of a small stream (probably a small town called Catillon on the river Sambre). After spending the night there we were then loaded on to trucks and set off for Germany travelling through Luxembourg to a place just outside Bitburg. The camp was at the top of a hill just off the main road and this was our first taste of how badly we would be treated, since the locals came sightseeing and shouted at us. It was pretty grim there, sleeping where we could on the wooden floor but my most vivid memory is of the latrines. These were just a hole dug in the ground. This pit was several yards long with a tree trunk laying across three posts - one at each end and one in the middle to serve as a 'seat'. Since many of the P.O.W.'s had by then got dysentery the tree sagged almost to the ground with its load of men. I remember one time when there were so many men sitting there that the tree broke and most of the P.O.W.'s fell into the ditch. You can imagine what state they were in especially since there was no way of cleaning oneself so they could have been left like that for days. It must have been a glorious sight for the Germans who came up to the camp laughing and jeering at us. They mistakenly thought the war was won.
We stayed there for only a few days and were then marched to the local railway station, again being shouted at, spat upon and suffering all manner of things being thrown at us. Some of the men were kicked but luckily the words were not understood by most of these 'Englanders'. We were all thrown into cattle trucks with kicks and blows from rifle butts; some fifty of us in each, just crammed in together. When once sitting with your knees up there was not room to stretch so we just stayed like that until we reached Berlin where the doors were opened. There we were allowed to get out of the trucks and were given some watery soup and a slice of bread before being bundled back into the trucks and on our way once more. One truck had been a coal waggon so many of the men were in a terrible state by the time we reached Poland. The truck doors were opened at Poznan though we were not allowed to get off and it was here that we first learned how the Germans treated the Poles. One man threw a cigarette to an English prisoner and was bayoneted before being roughly dragged away by the guards.
We arrived at Torun and were put into some old Russian forts which had been build many years before and were in a terrible state. It was here that I met Sam Kidd who later became a noted British actor. It was really tough there with little food; one cup of watery soup and a loaf between seven men for the day. I remember looking out of a hole in the wall and seeing a prisoner kick a sick P.O.W. who shouted at him, only to receive a bullet which was fired by the guard and which hit the wall and ricocheted. We were all ordered that we must salute all N.C.O.'s from Corporal upwards but the senior W.O.I, a R.S.M. Chivers of the Royal West Kents said, at once and in front of the Camp Commandant, that the first man to salute him would get a punch in the eye.
At this time spirits were at their lowest ebb since most of us had dysentery and we all wondered how long the war would last. There was a Spiritualist in the camp who said he could find out through a seance so after a lot of persuading he agreed to try to contact the spirit world. There was a long table running the length of the room and we were instructed to sit holding hands to complete a circle. This we did and the seance started with the only sound being that of the medium. Unfortunately, in one of the quiet bits a soldier 'blew off' and we all collapsed into laughter so the seance was cancelled and we never found out how long we would be prisoners.
I went on a working party into the town and the Poles, forbidden to even speak to us, took great risks to speak when they could and give us small gifts.
Ill-treatment was very common at this camp and when a Sgt. Major of the Queen's Regiment got into trouble, two Germans were sent to beat him up. In the event it was the Germans who got the beating and we were all paraded with the guards' machine guns loaded and ready to fire while a number of soldiers were sent into the cell to do the beating up. Feeling ran very high and it was only the action of R.S.M. Chivers which prevented a riot with the prisoners being slaughtered.
Prisoners were always escaping from this camp and I remember the Commandant parading us and informing us that though we may be strong, he was stronger and would in future tie up anyone who tried to escape. That night twenty men escaped; we believed by tunnelling out of the fort.
The thing I remember best about Fort 13 was the made up concert and at the end we sang 'God Save the King', which I have never before or since heard sung so loudly and so loyally.
I left Torun after three weeks and joined a working party which was building a dam to prevent the stream overflowing in the thaw after the winter. At night we were locked into a barn which had no light or windows and was pitch dark. It is strange how we turn to God and to prayers in the dark. Some of the men were against this at first but in the end we all joined in. One night we were praying, a light appeared at the top of the wall which looked like a shadow of the painting of the Good Shepherd. This seemed to boost the lads.
One day when working from this camp a guard asked if any prisoner could drive a 'pferd', this being the German word for 'horse'. The chosen P.O.W. was away for quite a time having thought he said 'Ford' meaning a car and being unable to find it! One day a German asked if there was a carpenter amongst us and when I said that I was, he just said "Come with me". We went about a mile away from the stream and I began to wonder what I had let myself in for when I was handed an axe, saw and hammer. We then returned and I was instructed to fashion pieces of wood to be stuck in the tuffets which finished off the top of the bank. We remained at that camp for about two months before we moved again to Praust, near Danzig working on the roads (Danzig is now Gdansk).
Our Guard Commander was a terror as we found out on Christmas Day. We were billetted in a Polish house which was surrounded by barbed-wire and which had a little shed in the garden. For a joke, one of the prisoners wrote, 'Hitler's Workshop', on the shed door and the guard tried without success to find the culprit. Despite the bitter cold winter we were made to stand all night outside, though we were dressed only in the summer clothing we were wearing when we were captured. This was my first Christmas in the hands of the Germans. This Guard Commander was so cruel that I think we were lucky that none of us was shot as we later heard was quite a common occurrence.
Whilst we were working on the road we were allowed to go about twenty yards away for toilet purposes and since we all had dysentery there was a steady stream of men. Suddenly, for no reason, the distance allowed was reduced to five yards until one P.O.W. pulled down his trousers and with his back to the road relieved himself to a roar of laughter from the men and shouts of outrage from the Germans.
After about three months we were sent threshing to the local farms and it was there that we made our first contact with the local people - mostly Polish girls and a few Danzigers of German origin. It was a boost to morale to be in the company of women for the time we were working. One girl was pregnant and we were told that she had been raped by a German soldier.
I recall the enormous size of the sugar beet field where we were sent to lift the crop. Though the ground was not flat it was possible to stand in the middle and not see the end of the field in any direction. The farmer collected us each morning in his cart and returned us to camp in the evening. Every morning we passed a group of children on their way to school and they all said, "Heil Hitler", which was the way Germans always greeted each other. Later in the year we even heard the same greeting at the opening of telephone conversations. Some of the prisoners responded to the children with, "........ Hitler", using a good old army swear word. In time some of the children responded in the same way thinking they were learning English. One day we were accompanied by the Guard Commander and the children greeted us as we had taught them. There was silence in the cart apart from the Corporal's correct response of "Heil Hitler".
There was one guard whom we later called 'George' that we first thought was a terror until one bitterly cold morning he came to us on the road job. Remember, we were all in summer clothing and had no gloves and no-one could work for more than five minutes. One of the prisoners challenged 'George' to work in those conditions and he ordered us to make a fire so as to get a little warmth. That was little use so he returned us all to camp. You should have heard the German Commandant telling his soldiers off. From the day 'George' became one of the best guards in the camp and when he left us we were sorry to see him go.
I had a small cyst just under my ear which had been there for years. It was the size of a small marble and I complained that it was hurting. I was sent to the larger camp at Danzig and spent three weeks there dodging the doctors until one German came up and asked what I was in hospital for. When I told him, he took me straight to the doctor who put a needle in, cut it open, and took out a small bag of yellow stuff and then put in one stitch. The next morning I left in a cart with a German 'brown shirt' to go back to Praust. One the way we stopped and the German went into a cafe and bought us a drink which was red and in a glass like a sherry glass. It made us feel a bit tipsy and he asked us in English if we had enjoyed our drink. We said that we had and thanked him for it. I think it was the first bit of kindness which I received from a German.
We stayed at this camp until early Spring when we were moved to Bonzack where we were cutting wood to smoke haddock. At this camp the guard asked us if we would like to go for a march and while we were marching we were ordered to sing, 'There'll Always be an England'. Patriotic songs such as 'God Save the King', 'Land of Hope and Glory' etc, were banned at the camp. The senior Warrant Officer realised what the guard was up to and instructed the men to sing, 'Pack up your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag', which we all sang at the top of our voices. A few days later, one man was singing the same song in the washroom and was hauled away to Danzig to appear before the German Commander who spoke perfect English. The poor prisoner did not know what he had done wrong and was told that he had been heard singing 'There'll Always be an England', a forbidden song. The prisoner denied this and to prove it, sang 'Pack up your Troubles'. "Is this the song you heard?" the guard was asked. "Yes", he replied. "It is 'There'll Always be an England'". The Commandant went red in the face and shouted at the guard who left the camp the next day.
In the place where we worked was a lady who spoke English with an American accent and we decided to tell her that German P.O.W.s got a cigarette ration in England and we were silly enough to tell her this in good old English soldiers' language. Two of us were marched back to camp to the Guard Commander. He told us through our interpreter that in future we should use our heads and choose more carefully who we were talking to. He nevertheless made us do extra work for a week. He was a German nut but no Nazi. At this time in the war we met very few people who did not wholeheartedly support Hitler but later on we found many more though they were still a small minority of the population as a whole.
Later on we helped prepare this sea-side place for the summer by painting huts etc. One day whilst we were inside one of the huts a lady came down to the shore and was only a couple of hundred yards away when she took off all her clothes to have a swim. You can imagine what the lads said when they saw this naked woman though they were disappointed later when she walked past us and we realised that she was about sixty. While at Bonzack we saw a German battleship lying out to sea and after the Hood and Bismark had been sunk we were told that it was the Bismark which we had seen. She must have sailed to be sunk at sea.
We left Bonzack in April or May and were taken to Chapletz (Schapletz?) in the old Polish Corridor where we were set to work on a road, reducing the steep slope at the junction with the main road. I was put in charge of a horse and carriage, driving it about half a mile to pick up stones about 4" square which were then put on the road surface to make it solid. The horse was blind so the slightest touch on the reign caused the horse to turn and to go up the bank. I had to manoeuvre the animal between an engine tractor and a horse and cart which were parked on opposite sides of the road with the back of one in line with the front of the other. Just when I thought I was clear some-one spoke to me and startled the horse which went over the top. It was not a big drop and I blamed the engine driver claiming he had blown his horn at the wrong moment and frightened the horse. I got away with it.
This was the first place we had numbers of men trying to escape the Germans. All were caught and some were killed. Many of those captured were sent to other camps and we met them again later at the large camp at Marienburg in East Prussia.
It was now about midsummer and a party of us was paraded one day and told to pack our kit and march to the station. We arrived early so the guard told us to come into the cafe. This caused a near riot amongst the Germans in there and when we tried to leave the guard became wild at both us and the civilians. In the end we were made to stand still while he had a quick drink and we all trooped back on to the platform. We later heard that a complaint had been made and he suddenly departed from the farm to which he had been posted
The train took us to Hornstein where we were met by a farmer with his cart and taken to Krief Koll where we were to do land work for one of the local leading Nazis who was Second in Command of the Area Nazi Party. His name was Homier and he had a crippled arm which he said had been caused when he was a P.O.W. in Russia in the First World War. He certainly hated the Russians and I think he hated us too. He was very happy with the war news at this time since things were going very badly for the Allies. It was the time when Japan entered the war and I remember the farmer's son coming into the hut to tell us the joyful news that Singapore had been taken by the Japs. We were played cards and one Corporal just looked up and said, "So what?" and continued playing. However when we were alone we discussed this incredible news and next day an old German friend if he could confirm this news. He had often told us of his antagonism for Hitler and when he later lost his son in Africa his attitude did not change at all.
Life at Krief Koll was quite good though the work was hard and long until winter set in and the short daylight days were spent in dung shifting from the farm out to the fields. It was here that we learned enough of the German language to carry on a conversation. First we worked on the farm doing weeding alongside Polish girls and later were set to work drying sugar beet leaves to provide cattle fodder for the winter. We also dried the beet leaves for other farms in the area.
It is the signal for merry-making in Poland, when the last harvest cart is brought home. Water is thrown over the cart and the workers throw water over each other. In peacetime the farmer provides beer and food whilst the family sits and watches the workers have their harvest supper. On the last cart this year was a huge man called Bozo who had been an army boxer. One of the Germans was just about to douse him with water but he put the fear of God into the man. All the P.O.W.s just walked away though we would have loved to join in the fun. But we were the enemy of Germany and wondered why we should give them pleasure.
Our billet was a long room with bunk beds round the sides for the sixteen men and our guard was a very good man who was in his forties and had been a P.O.W. himself during the first world war having been held in a camp in Northern Ireland. He told us he had been treated well there and intended to treat us the same. He spoke good English and was clearly a man who loved his country dearly but who was no Nazi. It was at this camp that we started to receive regular weekly parcels.
The farmer's son was later called up into the army and when I heard it was to be in the Tank Corps, I put the fear of God into him by telling him that the life expectancy of tank crews was about two weeks. He was not at all a happy man when his call-up papers arrived and we later learned that he lost an arm and a leg.
The farmer also had a second farm which he had stolen from the Poles and to which we went for about a month in the late summer. Here in the heart of Poland we learned how much the Poles thought about the British - which to them meant the English. When they first heard we were coming, the locals got very excited thinking we would be big, strong men and we did hear that some thought we would have horns like the Vikings. We must have been a disappointment when they saw some men about as tall as me amongst the group (5' 5").
We managed to get hold of a wireless which we hid under the coke stove and used it to listen to news broadcasts from home though the news was not very good. It was here that we heard Russia had been invaded and saw our first Russian plane fly over. We never saw another one until the end of the war. Back on the main farm in Krief Koll the farmer would open his windows and let us hear Lord Haw Haw on the wireless, speaking in English with the German propaganda which was intended to depress us. Yet, it never did and we somehow always knew that we would win the war in the end. We started to spread propaganda of our own, making up all sorts of tales about the Allied victories. Suddenly we had a Gestapo raid and they searched every nook and cranny asking each one of us where we got the information, and we all replied that the farmer had opened his window so that we may listen to his wireless.
After the episode of the bogus 'war news' the guard helped us to escape from the farm at Krief Koll to other duties since we thought things were getting a bit hot for us there. When we were set to hoe a field, he advised us not to hoe the rows but to remove every single weed. This meant that the Poles were almost out of sight whilst we had cleared only a few yards and claimed this was the way weeding is done in England. The Head Army Officer for the area was summoned and on seeing our clear little patch in comparison with the work done by the Poles he went away and in two days we were replaced by Russian P.O.W.s.
Our next move was to Marienburg in East Prussia which had the biggest P.O.W. camp in the area. We had a wireless there and heard of the advance of the British Armies into Africa under General Montgomery. We also heard about the siege of Stalingrad which soon put our spirits high. We had been there for only a short time when some of us escaped. We had been hoarding our Red Cross parcels for the journey but during one period, no parcels came and we were forced to dip into our stored rations. This caused a fatal delay for instead of making a break in the middle of summer, it was early October and the weather was very cold. Travelling was slow and we only had our battledress with a boiler suit on top. By the time November came along we had only travelled 300 kilometres and decided to give ourselves up since a live P.O.W. is better than a dead one. We went to the policeman in a small village where we knocked on the door and asked if he would return us to Marienburg. He asked, "What do you expect me to do about it?", and was about to close the door when he asked, "By the way - who are you?". We replied "Prisoners of war", and again he turned away before whipping round and asking "Who?". When we made clear that we were escaped British P.O.W.s the guns suddenly came out. He clearly did not know what to do with us and telephoned Marienburg for advice and was told to put us in the nearest army unit's prison. He said he knew a Gestapo prison near-by but we insisted that we were P.O.W.s and not civilians so we were sent to an S.S. prison some miles away. It often makes me laugh when I remember the actions of that policeman when we arrived on his doorstep.
Life in the prison was very tough, with Germans in there for all sorts of things and they often used to sing "God Save the King" to mock us. The Senior Officer used to come in very drunk every night and come in expecting everyone to stand up as soon as he arrived. If we were asleep and therefore not standing up we were kicked out of bed in a not very friendly fashion. Luckily we were only there for about three days before a guard from the camp came to collect us. Before we left, some of the anti-Nazi prisoners gave us food and cigarettes to take with us - how they got it we never knew. Our punishment was three weeks in prison in solitary confinement.
There were a lot of Australians in this camp and two of them made up a private language which they called 'Museltrop'. It did upset the guards especially those who spoke and understood English. One of the guards asked if anyone could do milking and when I said I could, I was told that I would be called at 5.30am the next morning. Of course I could not do milking at all but I was taken to the farm and the farmer brought a bucket and a stool and left me to it. Now milking looks very easy but it is not, and after half an hour the milk did not even cover the bottom of the bucket. The farmer asked me how long I would be and I replied, "Christmas", which was still a long way off. The farmer must have known that I could not milk a cow.
Soon after this we were on our travels again to Tczew on the border of the Free State and Poland which was a military camp. There we were again set to work road making where we started to dig up bodies which the Poles told us were those of their countrymen which had been shot by the Germans when they raided Poland. We met one girl whose whole family had been killed while she was away from home. One P.O.W. got very friendly with a local girl and we fixed a bar so we could get out of camp. One day, he left us just as a German officer came up. The man said, "Heil Hitler", and the officer replied with both going on their way. The man was out with his girl-friend in some field when they had the first big air-raid on Danzig and we worried that he would not get back.
We had not been at Tczew for long before a party of us was sent to a camp where we had our worst guard in the whole of the war. He used to take all our paraffin and left us sitting in the dark for most of the winter months. On Christmas Day, we had nothing but the German food because he made us put all our gear into another room and could only get it when he gave permission. One fellow prisoner got very sick but he was still made to work. Luckily, an officer came round and we pointed out that the man was sick and the guard was ordered to get him to the hospital at Marienburg. The sick man got in touch with C.S.M. Fulton, who was the contact man with the Swiss camp visitors and as a result the whole working party was withdrawn.
In the meantime the guard at Marienburg had been changed to two very good men, one of whom had been a prisoner in the first war. We had to go to a village right in the middle of Poland, miles from habitation. The farm was at its centre and we were able to talk to the Poles who were very friendly and hated the Germans. After a while the guard left us alone and most of the P.O.W.s went to visit Polish homes in the evenings until one day the guard turned up at eleven o'clock at night and found only two of us in the hut. He must have got in a sweat and said that in future the hut would be locked at nine o'clock every night but we made a hole in the roof so we could still get out. I got an invitation from the carpenter who lived in the village and the way there went through the corner of a small forest which had wild boar in it so we never returned that way at night but kept to the road. One night we were returning when we heard a car coming up the road and since there was a wall on both sides the only thing we could do was to stand with our faces to the wall and with our coat collars pulled well up. The car sailed past and it turned out to be a police car - possibly Gestapo. I worked with a policeman and a Russian girl who had been captured near Moscow and brought to Germany to work. It took her some time to realise I was English but when she knew she did all my washing and darning. I gave her chocolate for doing it.
As winter set in we returned to Marienburg and it was then that I started to referee football matches between the teams in the camp including those of the French and Serbs. One guard came up and asked where I had learned to referee telling me that he had refereed the World Cup Final in Berlin in 1936. It was here that I met Max Schnelling, the boxer who was one time heavy-weight champion of the world. We heard that he was later sent away because he was too familiar with the prisoners. At the same camp I also met Cpl. Harry Gibbs who would later be a well known boxing referee.
In the middle of 1943 I went to Danzig, where air raids were now common and worked beside the railway. A Russian officer was brought to the camp and the Germans were annoyed when the P.O.W.s saluted him. He did not remain there long. As we went to work in the morning we had to walk up the line for about 100yds, cross the line and then return nearly as far on the other side. Part way down were the railway points which were operated with a lever at the side of the track. To change the lines the lever had to be pushed over and then down or the lines did not touch leaving a gap of several inches. One day as we walked round, a train came which passed between us and the guard on the other side of the crossing so my companion quickly changed the line without pushing the lever down. Half an hour later we heard steam fly and such a noise that we went to see and found an engine on its side right in the middle of the crossing, which blocked the line for an hour or more. We sweated for a long time after that in case we were caught but the fuss soon died down. We later asked what had happened and we were told that the engine driver had neglected to close the points properly and that he was now in prison. We did not care since he was a German.
Two of the P.O.W.s worked in the car shop alongside a Polish girl we called Lizzie, who hated every German, both men and women, because she had a hard time of it at the beginning of the war. One day as she walked down the far side of the room she threw a tool at the picture of Hitler, swearing as she did so. Unfortunately she was seen by a man who was a supporter of Hitler and a real Nazi. He went off to report her and the last we saw of Lizzie was her running across the spare ground towards the town. We never knew what happened to her but as the Russians were close, we hoped she got away.
My friend in the camp was a Welshman who had somehow managed to keep the gold watch which he had brought with him from home. This was most unusual since if you were captured your valuables were taken away from you. Officially this was so they could not help you escape but sometimes it was because the German wanted it for himself. When we were in the Danzig camp, Taffy's watch stopped and nothing he could do would make it work again. I suggested that we ask one of the guards who spoke good English, if he would take it into Danzig to get the watch mended if we gave him 200 cigarettes for his trouble. It could not be repaired in Danzig so the guard offered to take it into Hamburg when he went on leave and get the watch repaired there. Taffy agreed but when the German came back to the camp he said that the watch was not ready and that it would be sent on. We all pulled Taffy's leg that he had lost his watch and when the guard was posted away from the camp we all told him what a fool he had been to trust a German. Some months later one of the P.O.W.s came running to tell Taffy the German had come back and when he saw Taffy he handed him the watch saying that no repair was possible. Since he had travelled 50km back to the camp, he still got his 200 cigarettes and it really changed our opinion of some Germans.
I was not told of any of the bad ill-treatment which we suffered. There was lots which is best forgotten. Life was very hard and tough. Without the Red Cross most of us would not have come home. Many of the men died and were buried. At one time in Marienburg I attended many funerals. We went to the cemetery gate and the coffin was brought there and we did the best we could for the departed - often with the guards shouting to us to get on with it.
It was in Danzig that we heard that Italy had surrendered and were also told about D Day at seven o'clock in the morning though we had to wait until eleven to know the whole news. A number of Poles had a wireless which they would have in turn though not in a routine fashion. This was because to have a wireless meant death if you were caught. Our contact was Franz Korski who gave us what news he had and he kept watch for trouble over the wireless. If he put his hand between the buttons of his coat with the forearm level with the ground it meant someone was near who he did not trust. He came to us with his arm in this warning way and merely whispered that the British had landed in France. Later in the morning when the work-shop was clear of everybody but Franz he told us all he had heard about the landing.
We had a lot of P.O.W.s on the run who asked us for help. Sometimes we would get them in the camp for a day or two and sometimes, without letting the other prisoners know, Franz would get them away to the Resistance Movement outside Danzig. We had one chap whom we got into camp and hid at roll call. He was there for four days before Franz made arrangements for him to leave. He must follow Franz down the line and on to the train, getting off at Gdynia where he must not approach Franz until spoken to. Something went wrong and the man returned to camp within half an hour. The sergeant was not happy with his story and decided we must get this man out of our camp as soon as possible and on to the big camp in Danzig. We used to take a sick party there when necessary to see the English doctor so this man joined the group going to Danzig and so that the numbers would look right, a man returned from that camp in his place. Only a couple of days later there was a Gestapo raid on the Danzig camp and this same man seemed to get out so easily that we wondered if he had been planted by the Germans. The two officers of the camp were taken away and were questioned with ill-treatment and never returned to Danzig but were sent to Marienburg which was the H.Q. of the area.
By this time the guards were a lot better, as they must have known that the war was lost. They lost their bombastic and victorious attitude. We often saw them talking in groups and since the fall of Italy the news was very bad for them and they became much friendlier.
The air-raids on Danzig were often carried out by the Yank in the daytime and the British at night. We found that the Yanks came over, dropped their bombs and went. There was usually only a short time between the alarm and the all clear. When the British came they circled around and most of their targets were hit while the Yanks spread bombs all over the place. One night at dusk, we were walking round the camp when suddenly we saw planes overhead. Someone shouted, "By God, they are British", and they were too. We could see the markings on them. There was an air-raid shelter near by but we did not use it and forgetting the danger would stand out and watch.
The first picture we saw was at another camp in Stolsenburg in Danzig and I remember it was the first time I heard Vera Lynn sing though I can not remember the song. Later we found out that she was the Forces Sweetheart. One of the men got dressed in clothes he had borrowed from some French civilian workers and went off to the pictures where he got talking to a German girl. All went well until the interval when he lit an English cigarette which gave him away. The report made big headlines in the local papers.
Two P.O.W.s were working cleaning waggons when a goose wandered by which they killed and hit it under the dung, intending to get it back to camp for a good meal. Unfortunately, they must have been seen because the place was suddenly flooded with troops and they were taken away to Army H.Q.. They returned to camp a week later saying that they got away with it by claiming that the goose must have hit its head on an over-head wire and they had put the body in the dung with the intention of taking it to the guards when work was over.
A Jewish lad called Issey Gorsevitch, who came from Glasgow, had been captured with us in 1940. He was a great bargainer and from about 1943 we used to give him a few cigarettes and he would get things for us. One time he got me a small accordion which none of us could play. A small Polish boy of about ten used to come nearby and play so one day I went over and gave it to him and he was over the moon with it. I remember he could play by ear and one day we asked him to play a tune which he did not already know. One prisoner with a terrible voice sang the tune and the lad played it as he had heard it sung. We had a good laugh.
Click any of the images below to enlarge them
There was a long table in our room and we brought strips of wood from the carpentry shop each day until we had almost boarded in the underside of it. There we put our stores and by Christmas we had enough for a good old time. The guard was a reasonable man and said there would be a roll call on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas night and we could stay the night in any room we chose. When the guard came I was sitting half drunk on some of the stuff Izzy had got for us after having chicken with all the trimmings that the guard knew nothing about. He was a Pole who had joined the German Army to fight the Russians and had been wounded. We offered him a drink since they had no drinks of their own and had only ordinary food for Christmas, but he was afraid to accept and refused it. By the next year, in 1944 he was still with us but did not refuse a second time.
When we were in Danzig a lot of people, captured after the Warsaw rising, were in a truck which stopped just outside our camp. One of them was a British lady and they were in a terrible state and were being badly treated by the guards. She, knowing we were also British called across her name and told us what had happened in Warsaw.
I had been at this camp for nearly two years when, with the Russians approaching, the Germans moved us out on the 19th February 1945. We were rounded up at our work-place, returned to camp and within half an hour were off to the big camp. In all the rush we were not able to say goodbye to Franz who had been such a good friend giving us news. That same day we set off to march across the north of Europe. We crossed the Oder at Wollen by boat and continued marching across Germany.
The names of the towns we passed through are :-
Stolp, Koslin, Cammin, Wollin, Swinemund, Anklam, Neubrandedburg, Neustreltz, Gustow, Wismar, Schwerin, Laurenburg, Perleburg, Stendal and Wittenburg.
In Stolp we were marched into a school for the night and across the road we found a party of girls in pyjamas and had a good chat to them. The next morning the place was absolutely quiet and we were told by a Pole that the girls had been told that they could take a bath there but when they were in the water they were all electrocuted, killing the lot. In one place we went into a barn for the night and found a number of Airforce P.O.W.s who were in a very bad way with terrible guards. They were on German rations of a small cup of soup each and a loaf between seven. We gave them some of our Red Cross parcel contents but they marched off before us and we later found their haversacks by the roadside with the gifts still inside. The guards had made them throw it all away.
It was on the march from Danzig that Lance Corporal Harry Nichols learned that he had been awarded the V.C.. He had been with us in the French campaign and had been badly wounded. We were told to parade in a hut and as we stood there Lance Corporal Nichols was asked for but he had not arrived. We thought something was wrong. A German General arrived and still no Harry. At last he did arrive with guards prodding him with their rifles. When he saw the General he just casually strolled up to him and the General put out his hand to shake hands but Harry kept his in his pockets. The General said, "If you will not shake hands with me as a German, will you shake hands with me as a soldier?". Harry's hands remained in his pockets and the General then told him that he had been awarded the highest award for gallantry that a soldier can be given.
In our party we had disguised two Russians with battledress and Scots hats. They spoke virtually no English. Every morning two prisoners had to clear out the officer's room before we marched off and one terrible day he chose these two and started giving them instructions which they did not understand at all. A Sgt. quickly stepped in and said it was no good speaking to them as they were Welshmen. When the officer replied that Welshmen speak English he was told that these two did not and would need an interpreter but the day was saved when the officer lost patience and chose two different men. Later these men were handed over to some Russian troops and that was the last we heard of them.
When we reached Wittenberg we stayed for a week. We had picked up Red Cross parcels in some of the towns on our way but were short of bread so went into the town to trade some cigarettes and on the fourth day we managed it. We were set to loading bricks on to waggons beside the railway where a train stood which was loaded with people wearing what looked like blue and white striped pyjamas. All day long we heard firing going on, on the far side of the train on what we thought was a rifle range. Local people told us that the Allies were very close and as we left we realised that we were billetted in a potato loading of the siding and were allowed to walk on the platform where the potatoes were unloaded at harvest time. From there we saw dead bodies being loaded on to the truck and it appeared that the Germans had been shooting the people in the pyjamas.
A shell came flying over the town and hit the big Singer factory which had been making arms. The German officer in charge would let us march out of Wittenburg only after we promised that we would wait outside the town until the Allies came along but the first American tank which crossed the Elbe was so far ahead of their troops that they had to retreat and the Germans blew up the bridge. We heard later that it was some time before the Americans could take the town. We returned to a small village near the railway where a German woman came and asked the guards if some of the P.O.W.s could do some work for her. The guard took out six men who had been captured near the Maginot Line very early in the war. The guard left the woman to return the men to the group after finishing the work but as they were walking along the road they met an S.S. tank. They were told to march and when they reached us they stopped but the Tank Commander shot at them and told them to march on. We called our guard who went to say the men were his prisoners but the S.S. fired at him and told him to go. They marched on for ten minutes to a place which was hidden by trees when we heard firing which killed all but the oldest of the men. He died that night and we buried them all in the local church-yard.
We were marched out of the town and retraced our route north, back to a village about seven miles outside Schwerin. Here a British plane flew overhead and waved to us one evening. Next morning when making a fire to heat water, I saw a tank coming up the road and asked an American prisoner where the Germans had got a tank like that from. He looked and went mad saying, "By God. It's one of ours". The whole camp went mad and the guards marched off. Some tried to run away and were shot for their trouble. The last time I heard, "Heil Hitler", was when the Germans were told to march off up the road carrying a white flag and they came to our camp where we rounded them up. One was a high ranking German officer and he was taken away after someone took his watch the same as had been done to us in 1940. His aide tried to go with him but was prevented from doing so by an American Officer. The German gave the Nazi salute before turning away and was kicked in the back by one of the ex-prisoners and finished up face down in the mud. We must have rounded up about 3,000 or more Germans who slept in the fields with us guarding them and some of our men went across the valley to a village where they met some Russians.
When the time came to leave we were taken in an army truck to Luneburg Barracks where we were de-loused, medically examined and re-kitted. For two days we waited at Luneburg airport for a plane to take us home. While we were there a plane landed and out stepped Monty who came over and said the war was ceasing and that he had signed the German surrender. We flew to Brussels where we changed air-craft for the last plane to fly out to Wing in Buckinghamshire. As we flew over England we saw all the bonfires burning below as a sign of our victory. It was V.E. Day. We were taken to London which we expected to see as flattened as the German cities were. The Germans had told us that London had been destroyed. We were surprised to find so much of it untouched though the centre was in ruins.
Everywhere we went on our way home we were greeted with hugs and kisses making a lump in the throat. Even the military police carried our bags. One put me on the train home and I felt so full up that I would have liked to be left alone for a while so I sat in the train pretending to be asleep for over an hour but at last I opened my eyes. Across the carriage was a soldier who was telling the other passengers how he was going back to Germany and what he would do to them when he got there. He would let the Germans know who was boss. I asked him if he had been a prisoner and he said he had been one for three weeks. When I told him I had been imprisoned for five years we heard no more bragging about what he would do to the Germans. When I got back home, the first person to greet me was Mary, the five year old daughter I had never seen, shouting "Dad, Dad". Peggy had been in the cinema with Mary when a message came up on the screen for her to return home. There she found a message that I would be home soon. From being a little girl, Mary had been shown pictures of her Dad and had been told that she would see me 'one sunny day'. Now that day had come and as I got off the bus she crossed the road and rushed to greet me as though she had known me all my life. I was home again.
In January 1950 he began a tour of the Far East that would last for a year, after which he was posted to Gibraltar for a month.
In November 1954 he moved to the Royal Army Pay Corps and in the following march joined 156 Provost Coy with whom he stayed for three years. Having refereed the Army Cup Final in 1956, Parker's next move was to the Royal Corps of Signals, followed by the Royal Artillery shortly after.
In June 1960 he was posted to Singapore for three months before joining the transit camp of the Gurkhas, from where he sailed home in June 1963.
Parker was discharged from the Army in January 1965, having given it more than 35 years of loyal service.
Other than general service decorations, he was awarded the Long Service Medal and Good Conduct Medal.Following his army service, David Parker served for a further 12 years as a Special Constable and was awarded their Long Service Medal. He was also very active in the British Legion which he served unstintingly and faithfully. In addition he organised the St. Patrick's Holiday Club which ensured a holiday for many who would otherwise have gone without.
In 1988 he celebrated his Golden Wedding Anniversary. One of his proudest mementos from that occasion was the letter of congratulations, sent from Clarence House on behalf of The Queen Mother, which read:
"Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother has just heard that you celebrated you Golden Wedding on 17th October, and has bidden me write to offer you and your wife Her Majesty's congratulations on this special occasion. The Queen Mother, as Colonel-in-Chief of the Light Infantry, was delighted to learn of your very many years of service to this country, and her Majesty has asked me to send you and your wife her warmest good wishes for the future."
Though the recorded date of their anniversary was incorrect, this letter was greatly prized.
Two years later, when he was 76 years old, David Parker died suddenly and unexpectedly at about 10:15 p.m. on Wednesday 31st October 1990. His funeral was attended by a host of family, friends, an ex-servicemen who had travelled from far afield to be there. The coffin was draped in the Union Flag and there were three standards carried by members of the British Legion. As a final tribute, the Last Post was played at the graveside by a bugler of the 2nd Battalion The Light Infantry. On the headstone, in reference to "The Faithful Durhams", is written "Ever Faithful".
thanks to Jim Parker for all of his help in putting this story on the
I would like to thank Jim Parker and Mark Hickman for their permission to publish this article and the images.
The original can be found on Mark's Prisoner of War website.