We went to my favourite place; Peaseholme Glen with its little path down the hill. The squirrels follow you as you walk alongside the narrow rushing stream. The statues along the way make you stop and look, but you soon want to move on again because of the sound of the next of the mini-waterfalls. There are a couple of dozen of them. You want to rush from one to the other.
Now, I had heard from many people that there were fairy’s living among the trees. They come here to watch the water sparkle and to hear the children giggle. I had heard this, but I wasn’t sure I believed it. Until the day I saw one. My little visitor heard my talk of them and she ran ahead. Now this is the little girl who when she hears that I am a storyteller she wants to tell me all her stories, but I am not sure she believed me.
Whenever we saw a fairy she was nowhere in sight. Yes, we saw a fairy. Off my little friend would run, and as we tried to catch up there would suddenly be a tiny voice from within the woodland. It was a fairy. Then a few trees ahead along the way my little friend would pop out from the trees and we would tell her about the fairy voice. Off she would run calling out she thought she had heard another one. We chased after her. We didn’t see her, we saw a fairy. Skipping about among the twiglets to the side, dancing and fluttering. Then, sure enough a few saplings ahead out popped little E, “Did you see the fairy?”
This happened all the magical way down the twisting, winding, enchanting pathway.
We came out of the glen, into the park. Normally it is a really really good park, with lots to see. Everyone wants to sit and see. We couldn’t see. It rained so hard that our eyes were inside waterfalls. Our shoes filled. We felt our way up the wide steps to the café, all we could do was have a hot chocolate. If we sat in the warm with a hot chocolate covered in whipped cream, marshmallows and sprinkles we could look out of the window and wait till we saw it stop. It didn’t stop. It rained all day. We couldn’t see out of the window and they announced that they were due to close. We had to go.
We managed to find our way out of the park to the far end of town. We were a long way from anything. Then a bus came. We got on. Now this is a special bus, it is open-topped. People climb up the stairs all excited and sit on the very top to look out and get excited. We didn’t. We were the only people on the bus and we went into the lower deck and were glad to get out of the rain. It rained inside the bus.
The rain was so heavy it was coming on through the seam. In through the ceiling. In through the windows. It concentrated itself into fine thin heavy lines of twisted waterfalls and pointed itself right at you. One stream down a leg, one stream down you neck and one in your eye. The little girl looked up (a bad mistake) and she said, “When we get there can we go on the beach?”
We could not go on the beach. We could not see the beach. So we promised that we could go in the amusements. There are amusement arcades all along the front in ‘sunny’ Scarborough.
We got off the bus. We went to my mum’s. We got dry as best we could. E had more hot chocolate and then it was suggested that it was time to go to the beach. No, we had to explain it wasn’t going to be a beach day.
We went out anyway. I hung back. I let them get ahead and I went in a gift shop.
Then I rushed along and caught them up, just as they went in a big door. It was a large way into a noisy room full of flashing lights. We went to a machine which gives change.
We got two Ps. There were the push a penny games. Big games. You climb up on to a standing step and you pick which slot to put your penny on. You think about when and then, you let it go.
Now some of these have plastic toys in them. Key rings and little creatures from the films. They are supposed to come out with your winnings, they never do. You might see them getting a little nearer the winner’s slot though. That is enough to get you all excited and you put more money in. You get a whole bowl of money from the ‘free two P’ machine and pretty soon you are asking for more.
It does pay out though, clunk clunk clunk, and if you are very very lucky, clunk.
This little girl got lots more winnings than that. Every time there was a clunk the pay out slot was filled with a handful of seashells. They were not on display anywhere and grandma seemed to point the other way for a second as the winning come in. The little girl looked where she pointed and there was nothing, but she had heard the clunk, she looked down. In the winning slot, along with a few pennies, was a handful of beautiful shells. They were all different colours.
We went from arcade to arcade. In everyone, as well as the penny winnings, there they were again, they were all paying out the same. By the time we left the sea front she had a whole bag of beautiful shells. They were just like the ones you see in the gift shops.
We timed it right and got the bus to town. There was plenty of time before the train. So we took the little girl who’s shoes were full of rain into a local café. We had as many burgers and hot dogs as you would like to imagine. We had more hot chocolate of course then fruit pie and ice cream; lashings of ice cream.
Then the little girl said, “Sometimes,” she stared out the window when she spoke, “Sometimes, when I am disappointed, I get a bit naughty. This was a very wet day and I didn’t get to go onto the beach. There will be other days though and we will be in the sun”
We went to the station. I stood on the platform and waved. I will never ever forget the day it rained inside the bus.
I was amazed when Dad told me how his older brother Alf had started talking in his nineties about his experience of being a prisoner of war in the second world war. As he said things my Dad would say something like, ah yes that was in Stalag 18 and Alf said, how did you know that, I never told any body. Alf had forgotten that when he got home he went out walking for hours every day, and my Grandmother told Dad to go with him. So young Ronnie walked alongside Alf along the cliff tops as he talked and talked. He was kind of talking to himself, working it all through. then he never talked of it again for all those many years. Yet my father remembered and when he was in his eighties he wrote it all down, without needing to ask Alf to remind him of anything.
I have published this because it will be of interest to many people, especially family, but also as an aid to a project I was collaborating on. I am working with history students from University Wisconsin, Green Bay on Dad’s steam days memoires and this will be a good reference tool for them.
Memories – Why memories? Attending one of my wife Connie’s history meetings in Burton Fleming Village Church Hall, the secretary gave a talk about his father’s time in the war. I was asked by David one of the members.’ What did you do in the war Ron’ before I could answer we were interrupted by another member. This made me think. When I arrived home I took stock of what I had written about those years; a small book about the bombing in Hull, in which I explained that I worked on the railway in a reserved occupation and in it referred a little to my brother’s time as a Prisoner of War in Germany. Not a lot because he said everything he had told me when he first came home, I had never to talk of it again. The book was accepted by Eden Camp, in one of their competitions. I had also written a large scrap-book of my life story up to the day we came to Scarborough and one about working on the railways from starting in at Dairycoates Locomotive Depot in 1941 till about 1946. What else could I write about, this was on my mind for a few days?
Then later we went on a few days holiday to Tenby in Wales, while on the bus I received a phone call from Phillip.
He is my brother’s eldest son saying he was on holiday in Tenby and could we meet up while we were there. His had been ringing his mother to see how they were. This was how he learnt we were to be in Tenby the same time as they would be.
We had not seen him and Ann his wife for a few years. We arranged to meet at our hotel on the Tuesday afternoon that was our free day of the holiday. We had an enjoyable time catching up on our families and their progress.
In the course of our conversation I found out they knew little about my brother and their mother’s life together from before he and his brother were born.
I knew by experience that he was never forthcoming about his life in the camps and future events.
He always said I ‘talked too much’
As he approached his nineties he began to talk about some of the things he had experienced and produced some tapes he had recorded about life in the army. Barbara, Alf’s wife, said she could not type them because of the language. He had told it in the vernacular of the time in the prison camps.
We have tried hard to get them typed out though friends of our son in York, with very little success. (NB a friend of mine did type up a couple of chapters – word for word, except for the ‘language’ – and Barbara got a copy. I have copies I could post of requested. Adrian)
We both had a good upbringing, with our older sister Lillian, who taught music and ran shows with her students, in which Alf and I took part. He told me that, when I was born at 68 Brunswick Avenue, Beverley road in Hull, he remembered Dad taking him upstairs to see me in my mother’s bed with her.
We moved from there to 48 Foston Grove in East Hull. Some time about 1930 we experienced an earthquake. Our Lillian ran classes and concerts. Kids down our street came on a Sunday morning to buy sweets that my mother sold to pay for the dresses and costumes needed for them. My mother and our Lillian would make the dresses and costumes themselves, often working late into the night.
The shows where held in St, Aiderns hall on Holderness Road and sometimes in East park. I would be four when I first acted on stage doing the Posthorn Gallup with a little girl as my jockey. We were dressed in black and yellow diamond patterned dresses with white ruffled collars.
I remember Alf singing a song at East Park Show called, Sitting on a Fence All by Yourself in the Moonlight: dressed in a similar outfit. I think we were supposed to be Pierrots.
The takings the shows brought in, our Lillian once told me came to about £6 to £9, remember there were 20 shillings to the pound, so that was a lot of money in those days. As far as I know the profits went to the blind people’s funds.
Dad was a spell foreman at Isis Oil Mill in Stone ferry, earning £4 5s a week. Each 8 hour shift was called a spell, one week starting 7 to 3pm, then 3pm to 11pm, and the next 11pm to 7am. He ran a lot of the activities for the workmen under him; organizing dances at the Beverley Road baths, swimming sports and outdoors sports as well. At the dances he would be the MC. So he and Mam would lead off the dancing, and they loved to dance when the radio was on they would often get up and dance round the kitchen. His trade was Mill Wright, he could do anything in the building trade. He even served his time with a net maker, making his own hammocks – he often slept in one on a warm night at our holiday bungalow! I helped him build the bungalow in our back garden at home, and then assemble it at Charity Farm, Sewerby.
Alf once said, ’He taught us how to save money by showing us some of his skills’. He also would say if you want a helping hand there was one on each end of your arm.
He bought used leather machine belts for five shillings from work and mended our boots with them, when we walked in the rain we left oily patches on the paths.
The first time I took my boots round once I was married to be mended, he said just a minute, went out to his shed and came back with a last and a hammer, he said here you are you are married now mend your own. Good job he had taught me how to.
Alf’s interest was aircraft and flying them. He would take me to Hedon airfield on our bikes to the air circuses, watching biplanes and monoplanes do all the different manoeuvres: loop the loop, falling leaf, spirals and men standing on the wings while flying.
We stood on the side of the road near Southcoates Lane School waving as Amy Johnson went by in a large open car with the Mayor of Hull, after she had flown single-handed to Australia.
He would spend hours making planes with balsa wood and paper canvas then brush banana oil on it to tighten it. The oil stank to high heaven. They were driven by strong elastic bands and would fly a fairly good height and distance. In the run up to Christmas in his spare time he worked for our uncle Will and aunty Gertie at their fish and poultry shop on Holderness Road plucking turkeys and chickens, skinning rabbits for which he got 5 shillings. I knew he had his eye on a model plane made by Meccarno, well, on his way home he bought it.
When Dad saw him bring it in he played war, mainly because Alf had not asked him first if he could buy it.
When we were at home in Hull, on a Sunday we had to go to Sunday school on a morning, Alf would take me there.
I think he was in the choir; he also was altar boy with the Vicar and at some of the main services he walked down the aisle swinging the incense; St, Michaels and All Angels was high church. I asked at Sunday school class what to say if I was asked what religion would I was, the teacher said to say I was a protestant: one who protested his faith in Christ?
Alf taught me to ride my bike, dad had made me. He did not teach me to get off so I rode round the block till I fell off.
When I was 10 he had already been working at Home and Colonial grocery stores nearly a year. Not long after that he worked at Rank’s Flour Mills in Hull they had a baseball league and Ranks had a team in it called Rank’s Green Socks. So he joined and became a good all rounder, ended up playing catcher, he was known as a good one. They played at Craven Park on Holderness Road. American spectators saw him play and offered him a chance to go and play in New York. For some reason Dad did not let him go.
The years up to 1939 where good years, August, I left school and started work at Balloon Yeast Stores as errand lad and warehouse boy. September, came the war with Germany; Christmas of that year was the last we would have as a family till after the war.
The last three months of 1939 Alf spent a lot of it trying to get in the RAF with the hopes of becoming a pilot. To do that in those early months of the war you had to be a well-educated Officer and a Gentleman.
Beginning of January 1940 his call up papers came. After his basic training he passed out as a driver in the Royal Army Service Co. Just before he went to France, I remember returning home from work and as I turned into Stephenson Street there was someone in our front way, as I rode nearer I realized the khaki-clad figure was our Alf.
He was waiting to see me, he was only on a short leave. This was the last time we would see him for over 5 years.
Just before the battle of Britain they made the grade in the air force of sergeant pilot, this was too late for Alf. He was already committed in France.
The first months of the war were called the phoney war, it was not phoney to us, when the news of Dunkirk came, also came a telegram from the War Office telling mam and dad that Alf was missing believed killed.
They both cried. This was the first time I saw my father cry.
A friend of mams, Mrs Tidey also had a similar telegram about her son Vivian. When they met shopping they would ask each other if there was any news. Fourteen weeks later we went to live at our Lillian’s house to be further away from the bombing, she lived at the other side of Hull further away from the dock area. After leaving work I rode to Stephenson Street to see if there was any letters. As I turned into the end of the road I could see my aunty Frances’ father in our front garden, he was our postman, he was waving a postcard and shouting, “Come get this to your mother as quick as you can. Your Alf is alive. He is a prisoner in Germany”, That’s better than being dead.
At the end is a postcard like we received sent at a later date, the address had been altered to where we lived for a few weeks after we were bombed out. I rode as fast as I could to Silverdale Road on Beverley High Road to my sister’s house where we were staying. Mam and our Lillian sat and read and read it. It said he was well. But could we send some food, we were all laughing and crying at the same time, he was alive. Dad made some inquiries on how we could write back to him and send him food parcels. Letters had to be a type of air mail, you had to be careful what you said or they would be censored and sent back. We could send one parcel every three months it had to weigh 10 pounds exactly. Riding round Hull on my yeast round I would get as many bars of chocolate as I could and get the right type of box and paper because if it weighed a fraction of an ounce over, you had to take it home and pack again. On one occasion the string was too thick, this brought it over weight, so I had to find thinner but stronger string. Mrs Tidey called one day to ask mam if we had heard anything. When told of our news, she said that she had not heard anything, but that it gave her hope.
We moved back home because the bombing was all over. In Hull, the area round were our Lillian lived got it badly.
We were bombed out on May the 8th and 9th how could we begin to try and tell Alf.
Lillian’s initials were L M S, Mary being her middle name, we all knew that dad often said when spoken quickly sounded like Hell of a mess. So when Alf asked how were we all getting on, dad wrote saying the house was like your Lillian’s initials.
The years passed, which I have written about in another two stories, one called The Peoples War tells of the story of the war in Hull, 1945 on V E Day dad and I spent most of the day down at the Railway Station. Word had gone round POW’s had been liberated and were on their way home. We saw some arriving home, one was the husband of a woman in Sewerby Village, this gave us hope. She told Dad while they were waiting on the station platform that they had only been married four weeks when he was called up and had not seen him since and she wondered if she would know him. When he arrived Dad said the instance she saw him she ran down the platform shouting his name. He had not altered he had been placed with a farmer in Poland who made him work hard, yet fed him fairly well.
On Sunday morning I woke at 10 o’clock to find that Dad had already gone to the station. The reason I slept in was because I had been working nights all week. About 11 o’clock he came in with Alf, smiling all over his face, kissed mam, who with tears in her eyes gave Alf a kiss and a great hug. He looked at me wondering who I was I suppose; I was five years older and no longer a school boy.
While we all talked he kept his army valise near to him all the time and would not let us touch it. After our dinner he asked if he could go to bed, he slept till next morning. Dad said, ‘I wonder what there is in that valise he won’t let us touch, we decided to have a look, we found it was full of cigarettes, apparently they were currency in the camps. Money to buy food he told me later.
I knew my shed foreman would be at work so I went straight down to see him and asked if it would be possible to have my week’s holiday. When I explained why he immediately said yes. So began a week in my life I have never forgotten.
I had decorated the house with flags and a large banner which said welcome home Alf, mam found him looking round the cottage, he said this is not my home as I knew it, we realized that the 5 and half years he had been away he would have been thinking about 39 Stephenson Street which was the home he left in 1940.
Tuesday I asked him what should we do, “Go for a walk,” was his answer. So we set off down to the cliff top, turned towards Bridlington, and kept walking, when we got nearly to Fraisethorpe I said I thought we should turn back. That week I wore two pair of shoes out walking to Fraisethorpe and back.
While walking he avoided any officers and any women. He was in a working camp where the highest rank was sergeant, for five years the only Officers and women he saw were German. We walked and he talked and he said I was never to tell anyone about what he had told me.
Alf said after his training he was stationed in Margate, then he went to France, they had five bullets apiece.
When the convoy stopped for the night they were given pick-handles to guard the trucks with, mainly to stop thieves steeling their petrol till they got near the Germans.
I asked how near was he from the fighting, from the truck he could see grey uniform figures in the distant.
They were being shelled and fired at, to see the burnt out lorry with the drivers in was not a pretty sight and at night you could see men running and tracer bullets would stop and a man would fall.
He was given orders to take some V I Ps to Dunkirk, they came to a bridge over a river and an Officer waved them across, he said they were lucky as he had orders to blow the bridge. He and his men did do that, Alf said even though there where people on it. They came to a place called Doulleens as they approached the main road through he stopped and when he was by asked the captain with him why, he said I have a feeling I should not drive down there. The Captain ordered him to get going or he would shoot him, the vehicle behind got impatient whipped round them and hit a mine not far in front of them killing themselves. His Captain took notice of him after that.
Sometime after this he must have been taken prisoner, because he said they escaped and the two of them were given clothes and a map by some French to find their way to Dunkirk. Three days later they walked round a hedge straight into a German tank crew having a brew up, they walked passed them whistling, one of the Germans saw their British army boots, once again they were prisoners. The front line troops treated them fairly well, I gathered one of the Officers had been at Oxford in England before the war. The troops in the rear were a different kettle of fish if you refused to give them your gold rings, they would cut your finger off to get it.
The next day we set off again and I listened as we walked, time and distant passed with me not noticing, fascinated with what he told me. He said he was gathered in a field with hundreds of others, while there he met a lad who had been at Southcoates Lane School with him who admired the blanket Alf had to cover his self up with.
That night it was a strong wind and heavy rain the field was full of hollows and some of them filled with the rain water. Some of the men who slept in them in a very exhaustive sleep drowned. He said he was on higher ground therefore lucky in one way, the only thing was someone had pinched his blanket.
They were loaded into cattle wagons, they were not allowed to sit down but had to stand till the wagon had 75 to 80 in it. If you wanted to go to the toilet your mates round you suffered. He said that as they passed under a bridge a young woman tossed a packet of food down but it went between the wagons. How many days they travelled he did not say, I gathered that they ended up at Trier from there they marched to an old Hitler youth camp, not far from it he collapsed on the road side, some black mates picked him up and carried him into the camp, I asked him what would have happened to him if they had not took him into the camp, he said the guards would have cracked his skull with a rifle butt and I would not have a brother. When inside they were told to strip ready to be deloused, he said they put them into a shower room and washed them down with a hose pipe, first with cold water then with scalding hot water; they all changed colour he said.
Then they were given Polish uniforms to wear which still had bullet holes in them, it was obvious what had happened to the polish offices and men.
The next place talked about was a Fort they were in, he and some others were sent down into the cellars in which potatoes had been stored, but were going rotten. Their job was to sort out the good ones which was rather messy.
One of the officers who was drunk started taking pot shots at them with his luger; Alf never said if he hit anyone.
What he did say was that in one part of the castle there was a pile of bodies of some of the prisoners who had died of malnutrition or had been shot and the Camp Commander would not let them be buried.
I went to bed with all this on my mind and wondered what was to follow the next morning. The morning came we were walking again, he said they were moved to a working camp that held 500 men near Bromberg (Bydgoszoz) and Thorn (Torun). There were 29 to a hut.
One of them in his hut was Harry Nichols who for his bravery was awarded the first Victoria Cross of the war; Harry survived the war and went to live in Australia.
The German bands they sometimes heard when out working played a song about, We are sailing against England. They would land on the East coast of England and strike across the country to Liverpool cutting the country in half. That is why they did not bomb Salt End on the Humber they would have needed the petrol. They said they would send our men to labour camps in Europe and give women to German Officers and their men to create a German country.
I asked him if he had ever received any parcels, yes he replied the only thing was the German guards smashed them with their rifle butts and broke them all up, they saved what they could and put the rest in big pans boiled it up and ate it.
They went out work digging trenches on Herman Goring’s estate, it was sandy soil, there was no shoring boards if you were not careful the sides would collapse and bury you. Marching to work he said he saw young girls who were Jews scrubbing the pavements with little brushes.
One day in camp he had been to the bogs, as he came out another lad went in and in the dark as he came out turned the wrong way strode over the trip wire and the guard in tower shot him. He thought how easily it could have been himself. He and another prisoner had toothache, they were taken by a guard to a dentist who said he would take the tooth out, he also said he could not use anaesthetic he needed it for his regular customers. They still had them out.
He and another lad took really ill, they sent them to a ramshackled hospital. The beds were wooden benches, after laying there for some time without any attention the other lad said ‘Alf I am getting out of here.’
He asked him how, we can hardly walk, as he watched the lad just laid back and died. I said what did you do, well I got up and asked to go back to camp and stayed well away from doctors and hospitals.
You were always hungry he told me, when they got their bread ration it was often mouldy. If a new prisoner had arrived they would all be round the table watching him because they knew he would cut off the mould, when he did they scooped it up and ate it. It was not long before he ate the bread; mould or no mould.
When they received Red Cross parcels he said they were best of friends it was different they were on German rations.
One of the guards differed with their Sergeant who in the course of the argument took the guards rifle off him. He was ordered by an Officer to give the guard his rifle back, he tossed it back and the guard dropped it, the guard was given a dressing down by the Officer and put on a charge. Yet he never said a word to the Sergeant just grinned and walked away. One guard who was such a nasty individual they wondered how they could get rid of him. The winter came and as they marched home up a very steep hill at the top they saw the locals had made a rather long steep toboggan run down the side of the hill. That night they worked out how they could deal with guard.
The next night coming home in a dark cold frosty evening as they neared the top of the hill the leading men edged the guard near the top of the toboggan run then pretended to trip over knocking a mate down in front of him causing the guard to fall down the slide, by the time he slid down on his backside to the bottom he had worn his trousers out.
Alf said they never saw him again.
It appeared boredom affected some of the prisoners in different ways; one was continually taking a cigarette lighter to pieces and putting it to together again, after months of doing this he suddenly said he knew why he was doing it.
When he was taken prisoner with a group of his fellow soldiers they were stood against wall and the Germans machine gunned them, as they fell he was buried underneath his mates one gave him the lighter and said keep this and it will remind you of us and were we are. The night came and even though he was wounded managed to push his way out and crawl away. When he was captured again they treated him better and when he got out of hospital he was sent to Stalag 20a were Alf was.
One who received a Dear John letter went quiet and played on an old piano they had acquired most of the time he was in camp. When anyone received a Dear John letter, he would go quiet walk away and not speak for days.
While watching a camp concert he said he saw a Welsh sergeant’s hair go white as he sang the Land of our Fathers. Just before he came on stage the German guard gave him a letter which said his father, mother, wife and kids had all been killed in an air raid in Liverpool where he lived.
They were moved again, this time to a place called Marienburg (Malbork) near Danzig (Gdansk). Danzig was a port, the only one the Poles had. Somewhere about this time the name of another prisoner came up in his conversation called Kippax; I never learnt his full name. He said Kippax had landed at Calais with the London Rifles in the morning as the Germans entered the town and by the afternoon he was a prisoner. When he arrived at the camp of Alf’s I never found out. I gathered that being brought up in Soho he was very street-wise.
They were sent to work in some newly built apartments in Danzig, when the central heating was turned on it was just like a big sprinkler all the rooms were wet though. French POW’s had been working there and just before they left they had knocked holes in pipes with six inch nails. When they were occupied the apartments each side of the entrance was occupied by Nazi party members so they could report who went in and out.
Roll call one morning they were asked if there were any plumbers among them if so step forward Kippax stepped forward taking Alf with him, who whispered, ‘I’m not a plumber’, Kippax said you are now.
He was placed with a Polish Plumber who taught him as they went along. It stood him in good stead later in the future. The plumber had turned German, when asked why, well as a Pole my children starve; now I get German food rations for them. Once again hunger raised its head. Kippax was given a job in the plumber’s store, by giving a little extra gear away, in other words fiddling; he got some bread in return to take back to camp.
When marched to and from camp to work, the Sergeant would call them to attention when passing though civilian areas. Marching smartly to show they had no fear and when issued with new uniforms from England they looked smarter than the German guards. When he mentioned fear I asked him if there was any time when things went wrong and nothing seemed to matter. Yes he replied, once when working on the railway they were near a signal cabin and a train of box wagons pulled in the sidings, the German guards with it opened the doors, they were full of Hungarian women. They were Jews on their way to a concentration camp. One young woman who had a tin in her hand wanted to fill it with water at a tap outside the signal cabin and the guard stopped her. Alf said, we all went quiet, started towards him and demanded he let her go to the tap. He took the safety catch off his gun and prepared to shoot us. The signalman shouted down to him not to be a fool he may kill some of us, the rest of us would get him and we would have. He let her and she was loaded up with the rest of the women, one of the lads said she had just a few pieces of potato in the tin.
On one occasion while carrying buckets of a type of soup made with cabbage to their huts for their meal which they were sick of having anyway, they knew the German Guards would be sat outside their office having a smoke, as they passed one of them accidently tripped over giving them the opportunity to tip some of the buckets over the guards covering them with the contents.
At one point some of them were sent to work in a sugar factory, one of the lads said as they returned to camp at night and stopped to be searched, the guards told them to hold their great coats away from their body’s while being searched, this meant the inside of their coats was not touched, so if they stitched a handkerchief at waist level they could fill it with sugar and get it into camp. This went on for a few weeks till they got a stock of it. Then one day one of them had a small hole in his handkerchief and a small stream of sugar began to pile up at the back of him. Before they could warn him the guard saw it. That was the end of that. Alf said in the confusion he managed to toss a shoulder bag of food he had scrounged to his mate Kappa on the other side of the fence. The guards searched their huts looking for sugar, some of the lads managed to salvage some of it.
Life in the huts could be very boring he told me, if the weather was very bad and they were confined in for weeks they got very depressed. Kappa ran a race game with Alf’s help. You had two dices and six race horses, you throw the dice the first one represented a horse number, the second one the amount of squares the horse could move. They gambled with German paper money they got sometimes for work they did. Lit their cigs with them and rolled tea leafs they had mashed till white in them when they had no tobacco to smoke. The Germans said if they banked it they could claim it back. They just laughed. Kippax decided he and Alf should put some in the bank; money they had won on the horse race, even though they would probably not see it anymore.
Xmas 1943 they ate better than we did. While working they took the chance to nick some rabbits and chickens. One of the prisoners in their hut had been a chef in a big hotel in London, he said if they saved some of their chocolate out of the Red Cross parcels he would make each of them a mass log. The only meat we had was a piece of sausage about a pound and half in weight that my uncle Donald who was a butcher brought us. We were bombed out and living with another aunt and uncle. So the sausage had to do for six of us.
One of his fellow prisoners found some red material and made them a red poppy each and on 11th, November turned out for 6.00 am roll call and almost immediately they were surrounded by SS troops with their machine guns at the ready. They were asked where was their radio and was that how they knew about the Russian Victories at Sebastopol and celebrating them by wearing the red poppy. The camp Sergeant explained that it was world war one armistice day and it was to commemorate the dead of that war that was why they were wearing the poppy.
They were stood in the icy cold all day waiting for verification from Headquarters in Berlin. It came late at night.
Only then did the guards allow them back into their huts. I often wondered what they said to the poppy maker.
One of the worst jobs they had was when they were ordered to bury some Russian prisoners of war, some of them looked as if they were still alive, he said they knew that if they complained they would be hit with a rifle butt and thrown in the pit with them.
Kippax said one day, we have an invite out to dinner, Alf thought him mad. Apparently the apartment he had been working in was occupied by a high ranking Naval Officer, who told Kippax if they could get out of camp without being seen he would cook them a meal. Somehow they managed to do as he asked. He entertained them to a good meal when asked why, he replied that he was not a Nazi just a German who if did not do as he was told like them he would be shot.
Before the war when he was a Captain of a merchant ship he had often docked at Hull and in that port he had been made welcome and hoped by helping them, he was returning their friendship.
I asked him if they had ever tried to escape. He and Kippax had once while working near the docks in Danzig, they had managed to get aboard a Swedish cargo boat, when the Swedish sailors returning from a good day out saw them they started making a lot of noise which started to attract the Germen guards on the docks, so they made best of it and went back to where they had been working.
One morning, train loads of people, a lot still in their night attire, began arriving in Danzig and were in a shocked state, they were survivors from the bombed city of Dresden. When they found out that some of the lads were British POWs they hung them if they got their hands on any of them.
On one day of my walks with him I had said about the distance we were walking each day, he just laughed and said
I walked 500 miles on half a loaf of bread with a broken bone in my foot. I did not take much notice at the time.
What he told me then brought it to reality. They were told the Russians were getting near and they were to be marched towards Germany away from them, has they marched they passed a concentration camp and saw SS Troops drowning the women prisoners, he said they put all the sick and those that could not walk on carts, then fastened those that could walk to the carts with chains who were then made to pull the carts into a nearby lake and drown themselves.
They marched he said, from Poland to a place in I think somewhere on the river Elbe in Germany, they passed Peenemunde, from Danzig to Peenemunde on the map as the crow flies is well over 400 miles. Peenemunde is where the rockets were being made. Marching on he said there was that feeling all the time of hunger, they saw a field of carrots, the Guards shot some of them trying to get some. Yet they stripped the field clean of carrots even though they were shot at. He said he and a large number of the lads were halted near what I think was Harburg railway station and had to take cover under the wagons because it was bombed by British planes. The next morning when they woke up they noticed some of the guards had gone and one of the lads came and said he had found an open wagon with butter and eggs in it and there was no guards with it, ‘lets go and get some.’ One of the lads had found a bottle of schnapps and he was shouting the houses near had white flags out. They laughed at him, they said he was drunk. Then to their amazement American soldiers started to arrive, it took a long time Alf said before they were being set free. The Americans plied them with food which was too rich for their stomachs and they were sick.
As soon as they got used to the fact they were liberated he said they saw the SS officers and Germen soldiers taking their insignia off their uniforms to avoid arrest, but the Yanks did not take any notice when told what they were doing.
He did say some of his mates caught one of their guards who had always ill treated them, he did not say what happened to him only that he did not like the noise that came from the wagon they had him in.
They were taken to an airfield and told they would be flown home to England. He was going to get that flight in a plane he always wanted. When the air crew saw the amount of gear they wanted to take home with them, they showed them a crashed plane at the top of the airfield and said you can only take a certain amount with or they would end up like the ones in that plane. On the way home he said the crew flew over Harburg so they could see how badly the bombing had been, allowing them to see it from the bomb bay.
On landing in England they were deloused and issued with new uniforms and examined by doctors and interviewed by an Officer. He was granted all the leave he had missed and sent on his way home. He was asked had he put any money in a German bank, he said yes and after he had been home for a while he received a cheque for £16, he wished he had put more in. Sometime after he had been home we were walking near Joyland amusements we met one of the men he had been with in the fort at Torun. He asked Alf if he remembered the officer who would not let them bury their dead, Alf said he would never forget. Well Alf he replied, I have been to the Nuremburg trials as a witness and he was sentenced to be hung for war crimes.
After about two months leave, he was posted to a Company Supply Depot at Working.
All these years later, as I told you at the beginning of this tale, Alf has started to talk of his experiences at last. When I listened to him again the decades fell away. When I showed that I already knew some of the stories he was telling me he was astonished that I knew already. Those weeks of walking and talking with his ‘kid brother’ had been a way of getting it off his chest. He had had no idea that as his younger brother I had carried the memories with me, silently sharing his burden and full of admiration for someone who had gone through so much.