- Royal Engineers during the Second World War -
Allied Forces Index
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- 1st Field Sqd. Royal Engineers
- 4 Field Sqd, Royal Engineers
- 6th Airborne Royal Engineers
- 15 Field Park Coy., Royal Engineers
- 17ME, Royal Engineers
- 22 Field Sqd, Royal Engineers
- 39EM, Royal Engineers
- 53rd Bomb Disposal, Royal Engineers
- 60 Special Coy, Royal Engineers
- 100th Field Coy (Royal Monmouthshire), Royal Engineers
- 1018 Docks Operating Company, Royal Engineers
- 166 RCC, Royal Engineers
- 192nd Docks Operating Company, Royal Engineers
- 2nd/1st North Midland Field Coy, Royal Engineers
- 232 Field Coy Royal Engineers
- 256 Field Company, Royal Engineers
- 296 Field Company, Royal Engineers
- 505 Field Coy., Royal Engineers
- 56ME, Royal Engineers
- 579 (Kent Fortress) Field Coy, Royal Engineers
- 663 Artisan Works Coy, Royal Engineers
- 665 Artisan Work Coy Royal Engineers
- 954 Railway Operating Company, Royal Engineers
- 995 Field Coy., Royal Engineers
6th Jun 1944 Complete Suprise
6th Sep 1944 Beeringen, bridge captured & crossing reinstated.
20th Nov 1944 Sappers Clear the Road to Venlo
If you can provide any additional information, especially on actions and locations at specific dates, please add it here.
Those known to have served with
during the Second World War 1939-1945.
- Adams William. Spr. (d.18th Sep 1942)
- Andrew John. Spr.
- Andrew John. Pte.
- Andrew John. Pte.
- Ashen Charles Samuel Frank. Sgt. (d.16th Dec 1945)
- Atkinson Ralph.
- Auerbach Sam.
- Axford Henry Edward. Dvr. (d.4th Feb 1943)
- Axford Henry Edward. Dvr. (d.4th Feb 1943)
- Ayears Horace Ernest. Cpl. (d.17th Jun 1940)
- Barrow James McFarlane. Spr. (d.12th Mar 1943)
- Bird Alfred. Spr.
- Bonham George Francis. L/Cpl. (d.10th Aug 1944)
- Botcher Leslie J. S.. Cpl.
- Bray Lew P.. Sapper
- Brown Dixon. L/Cpl. (d.6th Jun 1944)
- Bruce William. Sgt. (d.11th Mar 1943)
- Burchill Herbert. Major
- Cambers Bernard Charles. Spr. (d.17th Oct 1940)
- Cameron John. Pte.
- Carpenter Horrie George Stanley. Dvr.
- Chapman Ted. WO11 CSM (d.31st May 1940)
- Chapmen George. Spr.
- Cleave Ronald Keith. Spr.
- Clouston John William. Cpl. (d.17th June 1944)
- Collinson Roger. Spr.
- Connolly John James. Pte
- Cook Walter.
- Coulter Jim.
- Cullen William Thomas. SSM.
- Curtis Joseph Charles. Pte.
- Daglish Edward Graham. Spr. (d.6th Jun 1944)
- Daniels Dennis Eli. Spr.
- Derrick Alfred Alexander. L/Cpl. (d.17th June 1940)
- Dey Robert Louvain. Private
- Diver William. Spr.
- Dolman Daniel. Spr. (d.7th April 1945)
- Durrant Donald George. L/Cpl.
- Dyer Jack Edward. RQMS.
- Ecclestone James Henry. Mjr.
- Fisher Clifford Bernard. Sapper
- Fisher Tom Mathew. Spr.
- Frame Alexander.
- Freeman Edward W.. 2nd Lt.
- Galloway John. Spr.
- Gilbert Alexander George. Sergeant
- Glasgow Cyril Walter. Sgt.Maj.
- Glen James. Spr. (d.13th Sep 1945)
- Green William. Dvr.
- Griffiths Griffith Robert. Spr.
- Hackney Joseph Bate.
- Hall Walter Victor. Mjr.
- Hanlon Hugh. Spr.
- Hart Colin. Spr. (d.23rd Jul 1943)
- Hillis John. Sgt. (d.29th Jun 1942)
- Hodkinson George Sydney. L/Cpl.
- Hudson James. Spr. (d.26th Oct 1942)
- Huff Horace. Cpl.
- Hughes Thomas Vernon. Spr.
- Huntley Charles Henry. L/Cpl.
- Inglis Albert. Pte.
- Irvine Thomas. Spr. (d.24th Feb 1944)
- Jacklin William. Dvr. (d.14th Nov 1943)
- Jacobs Joseph.
- Jacobs Paul Daniel.
- Jones Richard Wyndham.
- Judge Arthur. Spr. (d.20th Jul 1940)
- Kinder Robert.
- Laidler Richard Henry. Sgt. (d.29th May 1940)
- Larke Edgar Robert . Sgt Major
- Lay Robert Henry. RSM.
- Lea Sydney. Spr. (d.17th Jun 1940)
- Marriott Arthur. Sapper (d.1945)
- Mason David Reuben. Pte.
- Mason Thomas. Cpl.
- May George William .
- Mayor George W.A.. Spr. (d.5th June 1945)
- McCann John. Spr. (d.27th Dec 1944)
- McCarthy Thomas. Spr.
- McCarthy Thomas.
- Moodie Robert John. Spr.
- Moore Edwin Thomas George. Cpl.
- Nesfield Stanley Hedley. Spr.
- Nichol William Blyth. Spr. (d.25th Apr 1944)
- O'Hara Hugh.
- Orchard George William. Spr. (d.25th Aug 1943)
- Ormston James. Spr. (d.22nd Feb 1943)
- Page Phillip William. Sgt.
- Parker Glyn James.
- Parton John Henry. Dvr.
- Pearson Richard . Spr. (d. )
- Perdik Constantine. Spr. (d.25th Aug 1942)
- Pettifer Stanley. Private
- Peverell Albert Stanley. Spr.
- Pitcher Joseph. L/Cpl (d.17 June 1940)
- Pratt Frank. Spr. (d.22nd Mar 1943)
- Read Frederick Charles. RSM
- Reavley William Hemsley. Spr. (d.14th Apr 1941)
- Redman Gordon. Spr.
- Roberts Roy Clarence. Sgt.
- Robinson Robert Edward. Sapper (d.23rd April 1941)
- Rymell George William. Spr. (d.24th Apr 1943)
- Selleck Leonard Victor. Spr.
- Sharkey William Quinn. Serjeant (d.24th April 1945)
- Simpson David Cooper. Corporal (d.5th Jul 1941)
- Skelton Victor.
- Small William. L/Cpl. (d.29th May 1940)
- Smith William James. Spr.
- Softley George.
- Speight Harold. Pvt. (d.17th Jun 1943)
- Spence Francis Henry. L/Cpl.
- Steward William. CSM.
- Stewart John. Sgt. (d.29th Jun 1942)
- Surtees John. Cpl. (d.7th Aug 1943)
- Sutton Robert James.
- Thornton Arthur.
- Tribe Kenneth. Cpl. (d.7th June 1944)
- Turnbull Robert Bruce. Spr.
- Turner Harry . Sgt.
- Wells Arthur Thomas.
- Whittingstall Alfred John. WO2. (d.13th Nov 1942)
- Wignall Walter Bennett. Major
- Williams Alfred.
- Williams Brinley Norman. Cpl.
- Williams Brinley Norman. Cpl.
- Wiseman Ronald Macdonald. S/Sgt
- Wrightson Errol. Spr. (d.13th Aug 1943)
- Wrigley Fred.
- Wrigley Fred.
- Yabsley William.
- Yates Joseph. Spr. (d.17th Jun 1943)
The names on this list have been submitted by relatives, friends, neighbours and others who wish to remember them, if you have any names to add or any recollections or photos of those listed, please Add a Name to this List
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There are 23 pages in our library tagged Royal Engineers These include information on officers service, letters, diaries, personal accounts and information about actions during the Second World War.
Spr. Sydney Lea 663 Artisan Works Company Royal Engineers (d.17th Jun 1940)My grandfather, Sydney Lea, also went down on the Lancastria on 17th June 1940. He died on his birthday. He was washed up in Ste Marie Sur Mer and is buried in the local cemetary there along with a few others who also lost their lives. The War Graves Commission helped me find him and arranged for his headstone to be changed to reflect this. I visit as often as I can but would like anyone who knew of him to please get in touch.Mandy Heath
2nd Lt. Edward W. Freeman Royal EngineersI am in search of my late grandfather Edward W Freeman who was an Ex.British army officer in the Royal Engineers. 1939 - 1947.
Many many hours, months I have been researching sites and sites for him, but having such little information and no d.o.b or service no. I am starting to think my time is up?
Born in London, stationed in West Sussex. He was commissioned 15th February 1941 as 2nd Lieutenant and posted to Singapore, this is the only memory my mother has of him.
She also has letters from him whilst serving in the war. She last heard of him in 1947 (She was 5yrs old). There was No other contact. When she was able to write herself she wrote to the war office and the RE. hoping to locate and reunite with her father. There was No reply.
60years have now passed on and I as a daughter having listened to her story, you can feel her sadness which makes me more determined to keep going.
She lost her husband (my father) to cancer Christmas Day 2006 after 40yrs of marriage. In her lifetime she has NOW lost the 2 men that meant the world too her.
Please,Please, anyone who may of known Edward W Freeman could you make contact as this would mean the world too us and a final closure for my mother.Lisa Lawrence
Cpl. Leslie J. S. Botcher Royal EngineersLes Botcher was in Stalag 8b with my Father, Arthur Booker, if anyone remembers him or his fellow POW's please get in touch.Barbara Jutsum
Glyn James Parker Royal EngineersMy father, Glyn James Parker, was at Teschen, Stalag 8B, POW No 6811. He was a driver with the Royal Engineers, captured at Dunkirk, and was held until March 1945. I would be very grateful for any information from anyone, as he did not talk a lot about his imprisonment at Stalag 8B. Alan ParkerAlan Parker
Sergeant Alexander George Gilbert 663 Artisan Works Company Royal EngineersMy grandfather was a Lancastria survivor, his name was Sergeant Alexander George Gilbert, 663 Artisan Works Company, Royal Engineers. Does anyone have any information about him?Gary Lomas
L/Cpl Joseph Pitcher Royal Engineers (d.17 June 1940)I am doing some family research and I am trying to trace what happened to my mother's cousin, Joseph Pitcher from Preston, Lancashire born in January 1918. My mother remembers very little of his service history but thought that he died at Dunkirk aged 21.
I have searched the CWGC website and found a record for a L/Cpl Joseph Pitcher, 1894169 in the Royal Engineers who died on 17 June 1940 and is buried at the Pornic War Cemetery. Unfortunately his age is given as unknown and there is no next of kin listed so I am not entirely certain if this is him or not.
It says on the CWGC site that many of the soldiers buried there were on the 'Lancastria'
I am a bit of a novice at researching army history. Is there any way of finding out any more information to confirm his identity and where and what he had been doing prior to his death. Many thanks for any help anyone can provide.Catherine Kirkup
Sapper Clifford Bernard Fisher Royal EngineersI am looking for info about my father Clifford Fisher. My dad often talked about the war, but not long before He died he mentioned that he had been a prisoner of war towards the end of the war, when questioned he said it was too painfull to talk about it, I would like to find out what I can about my dad in the war. I know after the war he went to Christmas Island when they let the bomb off and I know he joined the Black Watch RegimentRuth Carroll
Fred Wrigley Royal EngineersI'm trying to find anybody who may remember my dad, Fred Wrigley from Salford. He was in the Royal Engineers and was a Charge Hand Fitter by trade. He was based in Naples and I think he worked on tanks.
I would love to hear from anyone who knew him and maybe has some photos as I dont have any.Bev Wrigley
Fred Wrigley Royal EngineersI'm trying to find anybody who may remember my dad, Fred Wrigley from Salford. He was in the Royal Engineers and was a Charge Hand Fitter by trade. He was based in Naples and I think he worked on tanks.
I would love to hear from anyone who knew him and maybe has some photos as I dont have any.Bev Wrigley
George William May Royal EngineersGeorge William May was my late grandfather who in 1943/44 was an engineer at Catterick. He was from Sittingbourne in Kent and went to Catterick, for how long I do not know. Apparently he drove tanks and met the Duke of Kent. I was wondering if you had any record of him and if by chance any photos?Sarah Maddison
Pte. Albert Inglis Royal EngineersI would dearly love to hear from anyone who knew my father, Albert Inglis, he died 13 years ago and is still missed greatly. He served with the Royal Engineers in the following campaigns: India 13/2/42-3/5/43. Egypt 4/5/43.20/8/44 C.M.F. 21/8/44-15/2/46.Anita Youle
Sgt. Harry Turner Royal EngineersMy Granddad, Harry Turner was in the Royal Engineers during World War Two, he was with Pai Force in Persia and stayed there until 1945, does anybody know anything about this unit?Kim Gravett
Mjr. James Henry "Ecckle" Ecclestone 14th Div Royal EngineersC. Ecclestone
S/Sgt Ronald Macdonald "Jimmy" Wiseman Royal EngineersMy father, Ronald Wiseman was captured at St Valery on 12th June 1940. He was a POW for 5 years. He joined the Regular Army as a Private at the age of 18 in 1930 and served for 24 years in both R.E. and R.E.M.E. until he retired in 1954. Post war he served in Palestine and then in N.Africa (Tripoli)between about 1947 - 1951. It would be great to hear from anyone who met him during his military service or during his time as POW in Stalag 383 or VlllB.
He told me that on the day he was taken prisoner he handed his Rolex watch to another man to look after. He was in the sea for several hours and when he regained consciousness he was on a stretcher and a POW. Two years later he met up with the man who had looked after his watch for all that time and handed it back to him. He had the watch until the day he died in 1986 at the age of 74.Jill Wells
Spr. George Chapmen Royal EngineersMy great grandad was George Chapman. He had been captured the first time and held in Stalag VIIIb in Germany, he then went on a walk 32k long, and then got transferred to Italy. He was forced by the Germans to fix all of their tanks, so he did and when he fixed them he found a way to damage them and maybe blow them up when the turned their engines on. I love you Great grandad, I wish I could have met you!Louis
Spr. Richard Pearson Croix de Guerre Royal Engineers (d. )I would be grateful if anyone could help me find out more about the Croix de Guerre medal. I have the Supplement to the London Gazette 16th January 1947 which lists this award to my father, Spr Richard Pearson. I do not know his unit, etc only the details as stated in the London Gazette. I would love to know the circumstances in which it was won.Kathryn MacGregor
Spr. Leonard Victor Selleck Royal EngineersWe are looking for details of Leonard Victor Selleck, he was a prisoner of war during ww2 we don't at what camp possibly one in Italy we have recently found a new testament bible belonging to him that was given to him by the "Ecumenical Commission for the Chaplaincy service to the prisoners of war" inside it had his service number 610976 and his prisoner of war number 140865. We also know he was a sapper but this is all can anyone give us details of how to find information on what camp he was at or any other details of his service history, we do know that he escaped from one camp and then the boat he was on was sunk and he was recaptured, any info would be gratefully received.
Update: Leonard was held in Stalag XIB at Fallingbostel, Lower Saxony, Germany, but it is quite likely he was held in other camps too. Please see our family history page for details on how to obtain further records.Tessa Reeves
Pte. Joseph Charles Curtis Royal EngineersI am trying to find out about my late fathers military history. Joe Curtis was in the BEF in France from 23/4/40, he was captured during the evacuation of Dunkirk and was a POW from 10/6/40 to 19/4/45.Melton Curtis
Spr. Dennis Eli "Danny" Daniels 39 E+M PlatoonAlthough I have some photographs of my Dad, Dennis Daniels and other soldiers, I know very little about his war time. I have his army records although they are very difficult to understand. I do know that after the D Day landings he ended up in hospital with burst appendix. Also he had something to with Arnhem and the bridge, I think Bailey Bridges have been mentioned. As I mentioned earlier I do have pictures of him and some of his comrades that I would be willing to share. I would dearly love to know more of what he did in the war. Is there anyone who I could contact that could explain these records to me please, or anyone that was in the same regiment. Thank you.Tricia Hedges
Sgt. Roy Clarence "Robbo" Roberts BEM. 17 M.E. Royal Engineers.I have my Father's scrap book with 154 photos of the colleagues he fought with. Nearly all the Photos are of good quality and are of individuals or pairs of men and all have been named. They spent their time making and then destroying airfields in Tunisia, Casino, and Anzio etc. In Pompeii they were using heavy machinery to remove Ash that had recently fallen from the volcano.
He fought with the Americans and when laying unconscious in one of their field hospitals was given the Purple Cross. However the next day it was taken off him when they discovered he was a Brit. I believe he was awarded the BEM but I can find no proof of this. However he was mentioned in despatches on two occasions. I would love to put some meat on the brief outline I have of his experiences.Ronald Roberts
Spr. Albert Stanley Peverell 166 RCC Royal EngineersThe only information I have concerning my father, Stan Peverell is that his letters to my mother from Italy and Africa said “Sapper AS Peverell, 1892925, 161 R.C.C. RE., C.M.F
I believe CMF means central mediterreanean force. He was in the Royal Engineers, but what is RCC?Dianne Cutler
Sgt Major Edgar Robert LarkeRobert Larke
L/Cpl. Charles Henry Huntley Royal EngineersI am currently researching my family history, and would really like more information regarding my grandfather, Charles Henry Huntley, and his time as a POW in WW2. Like many, he seldom talked about his WW2 experiences, but I do know that he was taken prisoner on Crete in 1941, and that he was then sent to Stalag 344, Lambinowice, Poland, as POW No. 16479.I believe that he worked in the salt mines and later on a farm. As a child, I remember being fascinated with his tattoos - particularly Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, one on the top of each foot!- which he said had been done whilst a POW. He may have subsequently been moved to a POW camp near Munich, and did not return home until 1946.Andy Newman
L/Cpl. George Sydney "Hodgy" Hodkinson 257 Field Company, 3 Platoon Royal EngineersI am trying to find anyone who is still about who knew my Grandfather. I have a certificate which belonged to him:
For Gallantry. This is to certify that 2141093 L/Cpl George S. Hodkinson was a member of 3 Platoon 257 Field Company R.E. at the Battle of Caen and the Oine Bridgehead in July/August 1944 and that he shares the Honour with the Platoon Commander-in-Chief's Certificate for Gallantry which was awarded to the Platoon Commander Lieutenant F.A.A.S. Younge, R.E. on behalf of the whole Platoon. Signed Major R.L. Commanding Officer 257 Field Company R.E.Steve Hodkinson
Private Robert Louvain Dey 505 Field Company Royal EngineersRobert L Dey - Wartime Memories March 1940 - May 1945
September 3rd 1939 was a memorable date in my life having just returned to Glasgow after spending a few happy days with my fiancée in Northern Ireland after becoming engaged on the 31st August. On the morning of 3rd September 1940 the people of Great Britain were informed that they were now at war with Germany. It was not entirely unexpected, as events in Europe had left no doubt in anyone’s mind that it could hardly be avoided.
Young men in their thousands were being conscripted to serve in the armed forces. Those in the immediate call to arms being army reservists and members of the Territorial Army.
With the British Expeditionary Force established in France the need of further manpower for training was becoming apparent on the home front and so it was that I volunteered for service on 15th February 1940, and was duly posted to 6th Training Battalion of Royal Engineers in Elgin, Morayshire on 15th March 1940.
The training was rigorous, starting off with a three mile run at 6am each morning, then breakfast at 7am, followed by roll call and square bashing until around 11am whence we adjourned to the NAAFI for a mug of tea and a biscuit, I think it cost two pence then. My memories of Elgin were pleasant, the people were friendly, and on a Sunday after church parade some families would invite two or three of us into their homes for afternoon tea.
With our training completed most of us Sappers were posted to other units, and by the middle of May I was posted to 505 Field Coy. R.E. which had just returned from Dunkerque. I thus found myself in Dorset alongside men who had already experienced the hazards of the battlefield and the withdrawal from Dunkerque. During the months ahead we embarked on further training, always on the alert to help repel the invasion of the south coast which never took place.
My fiancée and I had decided we would get married on July 9th 1940, and I was given three days leave to accomplish this as I had to travel to N. Ireland for the ceremony. It took me thirty-three hours of travel to get there as the train was held up repeatedly due to the continuous air raids between Southampton and London. When I arrived at Stranraer harbour the steamer for Larne had already cast off and was about three feet from the quay. I threw my kit bag onto the deck and took a running leap and was helped to land aboard by two of the merchant seamen who caught me as I landed. Needless to say I ignored the shouts of the military police on the dockside. I certainly made sure that I would be at the church on time. I spent my three days special leave in N. Ireland.
Later that year at the end of December I was given a weeks leave which I spent in Glasgow at my parents’ house, my wife having travelled across from N. Ireland to spend the time with me and also meet my family for the first time. During the week I was desirous of letting my wife see as much of Glasgow and surrounding district as possible. We made a journey to Balloch and Loch Lomond and were able to see much of the havoc caused by the heavy bombing on Clydebank. The days passed all too quickly and soon it was time for me to rejoin my unit. The final memory I took with me was of my wife and my father on the platform as the train pulled out of the station. Little did I realise that it would be four and a half years before we met again.
During the next few months I witnessed many air raids and travelled around a number of villages in Somerset and Devon, finally settling in Wimple, Dorset. It was there I contracted mumps and tonsillitis resulting in two weeks stay in hospital at Tiverton. A few weeks after being discharged my unit was issued with tropical clothing and speculation was rife wondering to which part of the theatre of war we would be sent.
Everyone was hoping to get embarkation leave but there was no such luck as we were told to be on 24 hours notice to move. Eventually we were on the move and packed into trains, destination unknown. After travelling overnight it was with mixed feelings we realised that we had crossed the border into Scotland and were proceeding towards Gourock, at The Tail of the Bank. We could see a large convoy of ships waiting to transport us, the flagship being the S.S. Georgie, a Union Castle liner. We sailed the following day, the 22nd May 1941. Little did I know that my wife and my mother had travelled down from Glasgow and watched our convoy departing.
The Voage Begins
The vessel which I found myself aboard was named the S.S. Orduna, an old CP liner of around 16,000 tons. It was my misfortune to find myself berthed in a hammock immediately above the propeller shaft and slightly below the water line. It was no wonder that a few of us decided to look for a sheltered area on deck and spend our nights there. Incidentally, our convoy was escorted by an aircraft carrier, two destroyers and one cruiser, H.M.S. Exeter. We sailed north into the Atlantic then travelled south uneventfully until about the fifth night out. I was sleeping on deck when there was a terrific crash and I awakened to find a ship’s officer going around speaking words of assurance to the ship’s company to the effect that we had not been torpedoed as was feared, but that due to a fault in the ship’s steering gear we had collided with another vessel causing damage to the deck railings and one of the lifeboats, as became visible when it was daylight.
It soon became apparent that the damage to the steering gear on our ship was slowing the convoy down and a decision was made for the rest of the convoy to sail on without us hoping we could effect repairs and catch up with them. You can imagine that the crew and troops aboard the SS Orduna felt alone and very vulnerable without an escort, and to make way to the best of her ability.
It was three days later to the surprise of everyone that we saw the aircraft carrier and the cruiser sailing north towards us. The Aldis lamps were flickering as they signalled a message to us, it read, on our way as part of a force to engage the German battleship “Bismarck”, it was apparently about thirty hours sailing time north of our position. It gave us all a queer feeling to think how unprotected we had been for the past few days. Four days later we sailed into Freetown harbour and met up with the rest of the convoy.
Temporary repairs to our steering were effected, more permanent ones to be carried out when we reached Durban. Prior to leaving Freetown we had a flying visit from enemy aircraft operating from Dakar. I was between decks at the time and could hear the machine gun bullets hitting the metal plating on the ship’s side. Continuing south on our way to Durban we experienced a fire in a forward hold where the motor transport was stored, but it was quickly got under control and so averted another crisis.
As the weather improved we were fascinated by the shoals of dolphins following the ship, and the antics of the flying fish in their lovely colours as they jumped clear out of the sea for several feet. At last we reached the safe haven of Durban where we spent five memorable days. As we docked a gang of Black prisoners were working on the dockside. They were chained together by the ankles, and if they even looked up to the ship and spoke to us they got a lash from a bull whip across their backs. Those were the days of apartheid. Even on the buses black people sat on the opposite side to the white people.
The citizens of Durban, mostly ex patriots from the U.K., were extremely hospitable to all of the British troops. A lot of them were queuing up at the docks in their cars to show us the sights and treat us to a good meal. One middle aged couple took a friend and me on a tour of the sugar cane plantations and then on to a good restaurant for a meal.
Our time in Durban ended we set sail again and noted that HMS Exeter had rejoined the convoy on escort duty. As we sailed into the Indian Ocean, still unaware of our destination, we used to line the ship’s rails and watch the seaplane which was on board the Exeter being winched on and off as it set off and returned after making a check for any enemy U-boats. On one of these return trips as the plane was coming down to land we were horrified to see it blowing up in mid-air. An immediate search was made for the bodies of the crew. We never did find out what actually happened. Some days later the officer commanding the troops on board the SS Orduna died suddenly and his body was put ashore when we reached Aden.
A further day was spent in Aden in taking aboard fresh water etc. after which we proceeded up the Red Sea and knew then that our destination was not the Far East. On arrival at Port Tufich our convoy was under attack from the air and the liner Georgie was severely damaged.
My unit of Royal Engineers had still not been told to change into tropical kit and so we disembarked wearing battledress, and carrying greatcoat, kit bag, back pack, side pack, gas mask, steel helmet plus rifle and ammunition weighing about 14 lbs. In a temperature of 110 degrees it took only a few minutes for the perspiration to fall from us like raindrops.
It was now mid-July and we spent two weeks at Ismalia in Egypt, then set sail from Alexandria by K class destroyer to Cyprus where we were stationed until November. During my stay there I contracted sand-fly fever twice.
We left Cyprus in early November 1941 then spent a month in Haifa before setting out for Kirkuk in N. Iraq where we remained until mid February 1942. The winter was very severe here. It was so cold that eggs were frozen solid, and even though our cooking utensils were washed in hot water icicles had formed on them before a drying cloth could be used. On the return journey when sleeping out on the desert I was attacked by a coyote. I was awakened by it tugging at the blankets I slept in. I called out to the guard and it was soon silenced with a fixed bayonet. Next stop was Syria for three weeks then on through Cairo and into Libya. Each day as we progressed further into the desert we had grim reminders that the war zone was not too far distant. A number of graves, friend and enemy alike marked the route, plus burnt out tanks, and various forms of abandoned transport.
Every night there was a brightly lit sky as Tobruck was heavily attacked, our lines of defence were about three miles distant but the continual roar of explosions would send shock waves through the air, and the ground would tremble at times.
After a large tank battle between Rommel’s forces and our own the British army were forced to retreat and during a rear guard action a large number of us were surrounded and taken prisoner.
Most of my unit of RE’s were dug in and positioned in two or three waddi’s, better described as small ravines, and these positions were taken by a strong patrol of German armoured vehicles heavily armed and late at night. Our C.O and his second in command contacted some of us to inform us that we were completely surrounded and to try to make our way through the enemy lines and break out in small groups of two or three under cover of darkness and hope to meet up with some of our own forces. I and a companion tried this and got to within two hundred yards of a line of vehicles blocking our way when suddenly a stream of tracer bullets came towards us from a machine gun. We quickly backtracked and met up with our commanding officer and a fellow officer to whom we explained what had happened. We were then advised to find a place in which to conceal ourselves and hope that things would take a turn for the better in the near future and hopefully be re-united with our own forces.
My friend and I found a small recess about six feet long and three feet high and four feet deep half way up the side of the wadi. There was a small bush growing in front of it which afforded us some protection from the sun during the day and also from the eyes of the enemy who we discovered were all around us in tanks and other vehicles.
At one time a plane landed bearing we supposed some high ranking officers and we could see them being driven off in a staff car – this would be at a distance of roughly 600 yards from us. We were forced to occupy our place of concealment for four days and nights, with only two small bars of chocolate, and about a pint of water between us. At the end of this period we were feeling quite weak and our tongues were beginning to swell. On the fifth morning we decided to risk coming out of our hollow to try and get our circulation going as we were getting quite cramped with being in a restricted position for so long.
The next thing I remember hearing was the clanking of some kind of track vehicle, then a burst of machine gun fire up the wadi followed by several voices, in German, and we found ourselves staring at six or seven of the Afrika Korps with machine guns pointing at us. One of them said to us in perfect English 'For you the war is over'.
These Germans were all fairly young men, and the one who spoke in English asked us for our name, and rank. He seemed to know that we were from the 50th Division because he said, most of your comrades have already been taken prisoner.
We were then helped into the back of a covered truck as we were both weak from lack of food and water. We were then driven to an area where there was a fairly large concentration of German forces and hundreds of POWs. I soon recognised a number of men from my own company of Royal Engineers and learned that my friend and I were about the last to be captured.
Within a few hours a meagre ration of water was distributed to each POW, some of us including myself were in a bad way as our tongues were so swollen. Shortly after receiving the water the German positions were bombed by British aircraft, and a barrage of 25 lb shells from our own artillery were bursting around us. One German soldier shouted to me, 'Kom Kamerad' and gestured for me to get under one of the large trucks beside him. When the barrage had ceased I learned that a sergeant in my unit had his leg blown off.
Later that evening it was decided to move all the prisoners as the supply of water was getting very low. All of the POWs were packed in open trucks, and the convoy set off at dusk through a gap in the minefields en route for Dema which was some considerable distance along the coast.
We arrived there early the next morning and were handed over to the care of the Italian military authorities as Libya was a colony of Italy and from now on it would be life under Italian guards.
Our first night in Dema the Royal Navy made it their business to fire a few shells into the town, we could hear them screaming overhead as they passed on their way to a chosen target. We cheered on the efforts of the navy and excused them for not knowing that British POWs were in the area.
Two days later we were on the move again, this time we were packed into huge lorries, pulling just as large trailers, roughly about forty of us in each and it was standing room only as we followed the coast road. We had been travelling for just over two hours when a stop was made at a small village and everyone thought we would be allowed to leave the trucks for a few minutes to stretch our legs and relieve ourselves but the Italian officer in charge of our truck gave no such order. In fact when a native woman approached the vehicle carrying a container of water and some cups to hand up to us this officer withdrew his pistol and waving it at the woman told her to go away. Eventually we reached Benghazi and as the convoy of trucks laden with British prisoners passed through the narrow street it was comical to watch the facial expressions of the passing crowds. At first they seemed to think that we were victorious troops advancing through the town, but when the true situation was realised, the scene changed with people leaning from their windows jeering and making crude gestures. Most of them seemed to be real Fascists.
Arriving at our temporary quarters, which was a number of large tents in an area surrounded by high barbed wire, beyond which was a screen of tropical trees and dense foliage, beyond which we could see nothing. The washing facilities left much to be desired while the latrines would even have had a herd of pigs turning away in disgust. >p>Thankfully our stay here was of short duration and we set off for Tripoli arriving there about the end of the first week in June. This time we bypassed the town and found ourselves encamped in a sandy area. Some of us were housed in large tents and my friend and I, along with others were allocated small tents about six feet long and 2 feet 6 inches high, each to contain two persons.
The heat inside them during the day was intense and the discomfort considerable as one had to lie on the sand, and be subjected to the bites of various insects. My particular phobia at this time was in constant dread of being bitten by a scorpion, having encountered a few before being captured. It wasn’t long before I contracted dysentery and had a very sore time of it for several days.
I was not long recovered when I was told to report to the cookhouse to help the Italian cook there. He was quite a friendly person and showed me pictures of his young wife. Like myself he was not long married before he found that his country had need of his services. My worst moments helping him were in carrying 100 kilo sacks of rice and macaroni from a storage point, a distance of about fifty yards. I was bent double under the weight of them. My consolation and reward was an extra plateful of whatever was the food of the day.
With the end of June not far away we were taken from our camp and transported to the docks in Tripoli and put aboard an Italian cargo steamer and installed in the holds below decks and the hatches secured above us. The only illumination being from a few small electric lamps as the portholes were covered over. We left Tripoli under cover of darkness and the following day the hold covers were opened up and the prisoners were allowed up on deck for a breath of fresh air and to receive a portion of food which consisted of a piece of dark bread and some cheese washed down by some coffee. We noted to our surprise that there were some German soldiers also aboard and a number of them were posted as guards over us while others were scattered about the decks, manning various guns such as anti-aircraft, etc.
With our crossing of the Mediterranean Sea having been accomplished without mishap we docked at Taranto, which we noticed was a naval base on the heel of Italy. There were numerous submarines tied up at their berths and a couple of destroyers. However, before we could observe too much we were hustled ashore into large sheds, where we were all formed into ranks of two abreast and counted to make sure that no one was missing. We were then given a close haircut and a red patch on our sleeve to denote that we were POW and marched off to another building where we had a shower followed by a medical inspection. Thereafter we stood in line to receive our ration of food for the day. This consisted of a small tin of cooked horseflesh, plus a biscuit about the size of a saucer and half an inch thick - it was so hard that it had to be soaked in water for about an hour before it was soft enough to eat. After a sleepless night on the stone floor of a large shed we were put on to trucks and set off in convoy for a transit camp situated in Capua, where a large number of POWs, including South African and Indian troops, were all awaiting transportation to permanent camps.
Here we had at least one warm meal a day consisting of a ladle of stew made with macaroni or pasta, we called it skilly. Our other daily meal was usually a piece of bread (brown) with a piece of cheese or meat. After two weeks here it was now mid July, about two hundred of us were taken to railway sidings outside the town, and around 7pm we were all put into goods wagons, the doors closed and barred from the outside and after about thirty minutes the train moved off, travelling all night with the exception of one stop which was made to allow for toilet relief. The truck doors when opened revealed a line of guards standing along the track side all heavily armed to make sure no person escaped during this brief stop which was around 1am. We were all too cold and tired to think of escape; the sight of so many heavily armed guards did not encourage us.
Once aboard the rolling stock again we all tried to snatch some sleep, there was insufficient space to stretch out, the lucky ones were those who managed to find a floor space and had their back supported against the side of the wagon. After what seemed an interminable journey we were finally at our journey’s end and learned that we had arrived at the town of Modena. We were quickly assembled and as we started marching through the suburbs a number of civilians lined the streets to watch us go by. It was I think their first sight of POWs and many of the women were quite sympathetic and were shedding tears and saying 'poor men, que poveri soldati'. It was a comforting thought to know that they were quite distressed to see us in our present state. We marched for about two miles and eventually arrived at our prison camp which was named P.G.73, its full name being Prizzonieri de Guerra Campo Numero 73.
On entering the camp enclosure we were issued with a mattress cover and directed to bales of straw from which we proceeded to fill our mattress covers. These we were told to carry to where a large number of tents had been erected and we were then told that each tent would hold ten men, this was to be our temporary accommodation until our permanent camp would be ready in about a week’s time. Our mattresses were placed on the ground and it was quite difficult to sleep at times as small lizards and field mice used to run over our heads and faces at night.
It was a welcome relief to be eventually moved into a permanent camp and billeted in huts with bunk beds which had they been getting prepared for us. We were not exactly new entrants to the camp as it was already occupied with prisoners from the South African Army and also other British Forces. The camp consisted of two large compounds with several huts in each, each compound was surrounded by twelve feet high barbed wire fences and strategically placed observation towers, usually manned by two guards with a machine gun.
We had hardly settled into our huts when we were all ordered out on to the parade ground and stood to attention. The camp Commandant who was a colonel and his staff of Italian officers then came out to take a roll call to make sure that there were no absentees.
The camp interpreter, who was an Italian then told us the name of Commandant who said he hoped we would be comfortable in this our new home for the duration of the war. Until such time as Red Cross parcels would arrive for the POWs the camp Commandant said he would supplement our food with fruit from his neighbouring farm. We learned that the Commandant was anti-Nazi and that although he expected the rules to be obeyed he would also listen to any complaints the camp committee would bring to him.
Our food was very frugal for a couple of months. Breakfast consisted of a cup of coffee unsweetened, lunch was a bowl of soup and the evening meal consisted of a small portion of dark brown bread plus either a piece of cheese or meat about two inches square.
The camp was visited by a delegation from the Swiss Red Cross in late August 1942 and the following month each prisoner received a food parcel about the size of a shoe box. The contents of the parcels varied as some were packed in New Zealand, some Canada and others in Great Britain. They usually contained 1 Packet Biscuits, 1 Tin Milk, 1 Tin Bacon (2 oz), 1 Tin Egg Powder (1 oz), 1 tin Butter (8 oz), Tea (2 oz). These continued on a regular basis for which we were all thankful, as most of us were all losing weight on the normal camp rations.
I have omitted to mention that the facilities at the camp for washing oneself or clothing was extremely poor. There were about two wash houses in each compound. Inside these were two long benches about twenty feet long on which were a number of galvanised water channels into which a trickle of cold water would drop from taps spaced at intervals above them. The small squares of soap as provided would hardly lather and it was difficult to wash one's body properly. It was only a matter of weeks before everyone became infected with lice. The prisoners were taken to a special unit in the camp, their clothes removed and placed into a machine with high-pressure steam which was supposed to kill off these vermin. Eventually most of our clothing had to be destroyed and everyone was more or less left with only boots and a pair of shorts. With the cold weather now upon us I had to wrap my two blankets round myself as I walked round the compound trying to keep warm and then wrap them round myself in my bunk at night to also keep warm.
It was November of 1942 before a fresh issue of clothes came through from the Red Cross and the parcels coming in to us also contained a bar of toilet soap which we thought was sheer luxury.
Mail of any kind was always in short supply and when a delivery was announced there was always a rush of prisoners to the receiving point hoping to hear their name called out. Some were disappointed, but what a joy it was to receive a letter from a loved one at home - it would be read over and over again.
Recreation of any kind was non existent. The inmates of the huts would often have a spelling bee to keep their minds active. Some of the prisoners who were mechanically minded or were clever with their hands, would save up the empty tins and make tin chests to hold their belongings, others managed to make water tight drinking mugs with handles attached.
In the early part of 1943 the occupants of each hut were taken out on a rotation basis to visit a water melon farm about a mile from the camp. Here the melons could be picked as they grew and paid for. I think they cost ten lire each which was about half of what we received for pay at the camp each week. This was only a one off outing but it was good to get outside of the barbed wire for one day even though we had an armed escort. This was one gesture by the camp commandant that was well appreciated.
News regarding the progress of the war did not reach the camp very often, unless it was to the advantage of the enemy. By the beginning of May 1943 it was becoming apparent that the allied forces were meeting with some success. Through the camp interpreter it was made known to us that the war in North Africa was over and that the Allies had since made landings in Sicily and on the mainland of Italy. It brought new hope to all the POWs to know that our forces were making progress. The attitude of the camp guards was becoming more friendly to us. During the early part of June two of the prisoners from the other compound escaped but were recaptured within a matter of days.
The subsequent action taken by the camp authorities after this was to have roll calls twice daily and also the tinned food in our Red Cross parcels were punctured so that they had to be consumed quickly. The idea being to prevent any intended escapee being able to hoard and build up a stock that would provide sustenance for a few days to anyone that might attempt to escape.
In the beginning of July it was announced that volunteers were required to go to a camp in the north of Italy where prisoners would be put to work and provided with extra food for so doing. The extra rations proved to be a great incentive and around fifty of us were taken to Bologna railway station and we occupied a normal coach in a passenger train, and were soon on our way.
All the main line stations we stopped at were busy and the blinds were drawn on our coach windows so that those on the platform would not be able to see too much of us. As we travelled north towards the Brenner Pass the scenery was really beautiful and the Italian officer who was in charge of us would say 'you fellows are really lucky, you are getting this trip for nothing, in peace time the tourists would pay a lot of money for this same trip'. By mid afternoon our train was well into a mountainous region and we finally stopped at a place called Predazzo. After alighting we then had a short bus journey to a single line railway station where we boarded a two coach electric train and travelled through very lengthy tunnels sometimes which went right through the mountains. When we came out of these tunnels the view was wonderful as looking down into the valleys we could see the roads winding their ways with many hairpin bends right up the mountainsides. It really was a trip to remember, so full of grandeur.
At last we reached our destination and noted that the small station was named Bellamonte, meaning beautiful mountain. It was certainly appropriately named. From here it was about ten minutes march to our new camp which was named PG113.
This camp was only about fifty yards from the main road and was very compact, consisting of one large hut which accommodated the POWs and two smaller huts which held the three or four Italian officers, while the other one housed the guards and stores.
Being at such a high altitude I found it took quite a few days to get used to the change of air. One had to take short breaths until the lungs got used to it. No doubt this is why mountaineers required supplies of oxygen, but eventually everyone got acclimatised to the change.
As it was a Thursday when we arrived here no working parties were formed until Monday the following week. We had no idea what was expected of us or what type of work we had to do. The normal routine was that we would have breakfast at 7am and for this meal we had a small loaf of bread and a mug of black coffee substitute and by 8am we were marched out of camp following the road for about a half mile until we came to a bridge which crossed a river running parallel to the road in both directions. On the far side of the river was an old mine and beyond that open country for about a quarter mile leading to the base of a mountain some 3000 metres high which was known as Il Cardinal, one of the highest peaks in the Dolomites.
On arrival at the site we were expected to work at each one of us was given either a pick or shovel and spaced out at intervals and told to start digging holes in the river banks. Needless to say none of the POWs were very keen to exert themselves on behalf of the enemy war effort and besides which we were all very weak and undernourished. The ground was very rocky and hard and we did not make much impression on it. At the end of the working day, each pair was lucky if they managed to excavate a trough of roughly four feet long and six inches deep. The Italian sergeant in charge of the working party shouted at us, but eventually had to accept that he was not going to get any more work done other than what we were determined to do.
As we marched to our working site each morning we always marched with pride and keeping in step with heads high and arms swinging. Our guards almost had to trot to keep alongside us. On one such occasion a convoy of German trucks was approaching us and in the lead was a staff car containing some high ranking officers. As the car drew level with us our sergeant in charge shouted from the front of our column, “Eyes Right”. This was acknowledged by the senior German officer standing up in his car, turning to face us marching past giving us the traditional military salute in reply.
Despite the fact that we only made a show of working we still received the extra food as promised. A mug of the local wine was also issued each day. I used to give my ration of wine away, as I was a teetotaller. It was only later that I realised that the wine was of nutritional benefit and I should have kept it.
By this time it was mid September 1943 and rumours were rife. Some stated that the British Forces were only eighty miles away just south of Venice. How wrong they were as we discovered a few weeks later. Other rumours were that the Germans were sending large reinforcements into Italy and were digging in somewhere in the Dolomites. As it so happened during the last week in September, the Italian staff and guards in the camp got word that Italy had capitulated and were now out of the war. It was rumoured that German forces were taking over all POW camps and that a strong force was on its way to our camp. During the panic and indecision that followed our interpreter officer told a few of us that he was making for his own home in the province of Trento. To do that he would have to climb Il Cardinal first to get into the province of Belluno and then find his way from there. Half a dozen of us asked if he would take us over the mountain with him and to this he agreed. Within ten minutes we had slipped out of camp and made our way across the river to the workings of the old mine.
We traversed to the other end of the old mine tunnel and came out into a wooded area that screened us from the road. Here we rested and contemplated the step we had just taken. Most of us, in leaving the camp, had taken with us what food had remained from our last issue of parcels a few days previously and also our two blankets. None of us had ever climbed a mountain of some nine thousand feet before and pondered on the best way to tackle it.
Our interpreter was quite familiar with this type of terrain and he explained that we would have to do it in stages. As we had left our camp about 10.30am in the morning it was agreed that we should try to make for the base of the summit before nightfall. Undaunted, we made progress in a sort of zig zag fashion as our guide explained this was the easiest way instead of a direct climb. Approximately every hour we halted for a ten-minute rest and by late afternoon we were about halfway up and looking back down marvelled at just how much ground we had covered. All of us were extremely tired and warm with the exertion and decided on a half-hour rest before continuing on our climb.
It was our objective before darkness fell to reach the bottom of a wide gully we could see which led to the summit, the slopes became steeper and were interspersed with a lot of loose shale and large boulders. Progress was much slower as our breathing became laboured and rest stops became more frequent.
Eventually as it was approaching dusk we reached our goal and looked around for a sheltered place to spend the night and finally settled in a small hollow, each of us having a meal from our small stock that we had brought with us. Those of us who had cigarettes shared them after which we unwrapped our blankets and snuggled into them for the night.
It was one of the longest nights I experienced. It was difficult to sleep as the cold was intense despite us wearing our new issue of battledress plus the blankets. In the grey light of dawn we all got up and walked about swinging arms to restore circulation to our limbs.
With the sun rising we were able to take stock of our surroundings much better and realised that we had quite a formidable task ahead of us. The gully up which we had to climb was about thirty feet wide at the base and tapering upwards for about 150 yards at varying degrees of slope. The gully itself was one mass of boulders in all directions, the smallest about 2 feet in diameter with the larger ones being 4 – 6 feet in diameter not to mention various slabs of irregular sized rock.
We realised that any excess baggage would have to be abandoned, thus it was that blankets and tins of food were left behind, a few biscuits stuffed into our pockets for emergency and trusting Providence for the next meal.
The climb ahead of us required both of our arms to haul ourselves up over one large boulder after another, and finally after three hours of an endurance test we reached the summit.
There was open ground here for at least twenty yards and rough tracks going in several directions. What was more interesting was the amount of old heavy wire cable lying around and several hundred empty tins and rusty bayonets and other relics of military occupation. We learned at a later date that this site was part of the Italian-Austrian defence position of the 1914-1918 great war.
The view from this height was magnificent. One could see a distance of fifty miles on a clear day. The interpreter told us that Venice was eighty miles to the south, that we should go that way and try to link up with British Forces. He said he was going west towards Trento and two of my comrades went with him, one of them was named Smudger Smith and the chap we knew as Edward. After shaking hands and wishing each other good luck we parted company. My companions were Taffy (Hugh Jones), Bill and George Gordon. We set a course downhill following a small burn which eventually formed a stream about ten feet wide and three feet deep about one mile further on. We decided at this point it would do us all the world of good if we could all have a bath. Thus we stripped off and sharing a bar of soap jumped in at the deep end so to speak. The water was extremely cold and minutes later we were out again drying ourselves off with our shirts.
As we proceeded the sun was shining brightly and the downward slope was soon down to a gentle incline, the time about midday and soon we saw a small group of people coming uphill towards us. These turned out to be two elderly women and two younger men. We carried on calling out to them as we passed 'Buon Giorno' to which they replied in a like manner with a smile. A short time later into view came the roofs of houses and around a bend in the trail was a small village and as we passed the third cottage a young woman came down the path with a bucket which she proceeded to fill with water from a hand pump. We stopped and I said to her 'Posso bevere aqua'. She smiled and said 'Momento' ran back into the house and came back with an elderly man who after looking at us said 'you boys are English'. We said we were prisoners escaped and making our way south to join up with our own forces.
He looked up and down to make sure nobody was about and then told us to follow him into the house. His command of the English language was quite good. He told us he had worked in the coalmines in the U.S.A. before the war and had come back to Italy in 1936. The young woman we had met outside was his niece who was called Daria, her husband was serving on the Russian Front. <>He arranged for her to make us some food, a stew of some kind with macaroni and beans. It was very palatable and was our first decent meal in two days. The village he lived in was called Canal San Bovo. He informed us that there were German soldiers stationed at two of the larger villages within two or three miles and that they had been alerted to look out for escaped POWs.
Apparently his village had been searched the week previously so it was unlikely the Germans would be back in the near future. He said we could stay the night, but we would have to get rid of our army clothes and boots. He would arrange for more suitable attire for us that would help us to blend in with the mode of the locals. This he did and after providing us with a piece of bread and salami sausage each, we said cheerio the following morning early before the villagers were up and about. His niece Daria took us across some fields and pointed out the main road which she said we had to cross, go down a steep embankment to the banks of a large river, it was called Piave and follow it downstream until we saw a metal bridge crossing it. We had to climb up to the road again about two hundred yards before the bridge, make sure there was no vehicles approaching, then cross the road and climb up the steep embankment on the other side until we found a track about a hundred yards above, turn right and follow it to the village of Zorzoi.
Proceeding on course along a narrow track which kept rising upwards we eventually topped a small incline and found ourselves looking down on what we presumed to be the village of Zorzoi, some four hundred yards below us. This downward trail was narrow and winding and halfway down we were accosted by a man who immediately said to us 'Tu sei inglese', to which we responded 'Si'. Our knowledge of the Italian language was limited to a few words only such as fame (hungry), fredo (cold), mangare (to eat) and fumare (to smoke). It was much later with a basic knowledge of French that I had that I was able to understand and converse quite well.
To continue this man said 'Andiamo' and gestured for us to follow him down into the village. The time would hve been about 6pm in the evening. Having ascertained that there was nobody on the village road he conducted us to what seemed to be a small hotel with a bar downstairs. Once inside he sat us at a corner table, saying 'momento' he then left the saloon and returned a few minutes later with a middle-aged man who was the padroni or innkeeper.
We were agreeably surprised when this person spoke to us in halting English with an American accent. He knew immediately that we were escaped POWs and asked where we had come from. He was very impressed when we told him and of how we had climbed the mountain etc. to get to our present location. He thought it was quite an achievement.
He went behind the bar and returned with a glass of wine for each of us. He said that the Germans sometimes came into the village from their base across the river in a small town called Serbo. He said he would have a word with the local priest about finding us a place to sleep, he thought it would be safer if we moved on to the neighbouring village of Croce D’Aune, a mile further on at the end of the valley. An hour later we were led out and on to a trail beyond the village square and passed into the care of the priest who led us to a house some 400 yards on higher up from the village and well away from the road and the rear of which gave access to hills which were well covered with trees. An ideal location if we had to make ourselves scarce in a hurry.
The owner of the house was a pleasant gentleman of around seventy years of age, who then introduced us to his wife and his daughter, a woman of about forty I thought, her name was Medagina and after much passing of time I had good cause to be thankful to her and her family who were of considerable assistance to me personally.
Her parents were quite comfortable financially as far as village standards went, they owned three milk cows. Her younger brother Don Gelindo was a priest in the village of L’Arena two or three miles away while her sister was a nun in the town of Feltre, all these places being in the province or region of Belluno.
For the next two nights we slept in a loft above the cowshed and the heat from the cattle underneath us kept us warm during the night. Our mattress by the way being a thick carpet of dried leaves, which was held in the loft as cattle bedding.
We parted from this family with regret as they had been so kind, but apparently there was the odd fascist in the area who would easily have denounced us to the Germans. A nephew of the family escorted us part of the way to Croce D’Aune and told us where to make for which was the home of a gent by the name Benedetto fu Francisco, it sounded very aristocratic. He was in fact a farmer come dealer in timber and had a good sized area of hillside behind his property with a good cover of trees.
He made us welcome and had been informed to expect us. Apparently his son was due to arrive shortly from Feltre. When he did so he was driving a four wheeled cart pulled by two large bullocks with wooden yokes over their necks to which was attached the harness. Benedetto Junior was a likeable young man about in his late twenties. We then had a meal of salami and polenta (this was made from maize meal and looked like a large yellow dumpling when tipped out on to a large square board). It was then sliced into pieces by slipping a strong thread under it and pulling upwards.
We were to eat a lot of polenta before we went hungry. It was part of a regular diet with the villagers. After we had eaten our meal he gave us a piece of tobacco leaf which we managed to shred with a sharp knife and roll a cigarette wrapped in a piece of old newspaper. We then tried to hold a dialogue with father and son, naming ourselves as Roberto, Hugo, Ernesto and Georgio, explaining which part of Great Britain each of us came from.
In the later afternoon we were taken outside and shown the general lay of the land. Along the road which led from the house were a few villas about six or seven hundred yards distant. These apparently belonged to wealthy Italians who used them occasionally during the summer to perhaps spend a long weekend in. One of them had been occupied recently by a naval officer who had been on leave. The others had not been occupied for well over a year. Beyond them about a further half mile was a large hotel which apparently was the peacetime venue for skiers and was known as Croce D’Aune; the main road from there leading down through the hills to the town of Feltre.
On the other side of Benedetto’s house was a large hut where straw and leaves were stored for use by the animals for bedding and it was in this hut that our new sleeping quarters were to be. It had two windows, one commanding a view of the road going towards the hotel which was out of sight around a bend in the road, the other window looking down a valley in which lay the village Aune, about 600 yards distant The ground in front of the hut sloping gently downwards while to the rear wooded slopes rose to several hundred feet and likewise on the right hand side of the valley leading beyond Aune and on to Zorzoi.
The first few weeks of our stay here was quite uneventful. We had a visit from the local priest Don Piero who was slightly built and of a very nervous disposition. He was constantly impressing upon us the danger to the people of the vilage should the Germans (Tedeschi) become aware that they were harbouring us. We spent our time during the day assisting Benedetto senior to fell trees and, with the use of saw and machete, remove the foliage and branches from the trunks, then saw the trunks into suitable lengths that would load on the cart for transporting down to the town of Feltre.
About the middle of October, Benedetto had a visit from one of his friends from Feltre, he was introduced as Dario Di Paoli. He was a sort of civil servant and he was employed in council buildings under the control of the Germans. He brought us some cigarettes and apples and peaches which we were glad to receive. He had heard about us from other sources who, he assured us, were absolutely trustworthy. Dario himself told us that he was quite friendly with the German colonel who was in charge of administration in Feltre and that he was in a position to hear if any detrimental moves against us were likely to be made. The Germans had their informers also.
At the end of October Benedetto was closing up his holdings here and moving down to Feltre for the winter months which meant that my three companions and I had to look for other accommodation, but Dario talked Benedetto into letting us have the use of the shed that we slept in. We could go down to the village of Aune during the day and could be sure to get a meal of some sort at the various houses. This worked out all right until about the end of November when word was sent to us by Dario from Feltre that a raid was being made on our hut sometime during the night. We lost no time in leaving the village with a couple of hours of daylight to spare and returned to our hut belonging to Benedetto and quickly packed up our belongings and removed all traces of occupancy from the hut, even to the extent of removing candles, raking up the straw and piles of leaves so as not to give the impression of being slept in, then closed the door behind us. It had a simple latch and bar, as was the case in most of these mountain huts or chalets. We then went down to the village again where two of the local men had collected supplies of beans, pasta, macaroni, and some lard, bread and cheese for us. They then led us through an area of timber through to a valley at the end of which stood a fair sized cottage with a stone floor, large open fireplace and an assortment of cooking pots and a neat stack of cut timber plus dried foliage and twigs for lighting a fire. There were also a few candles and a few boxes of matches in a table drawer. Seating was comprised of a few small stools. The upper floor held a good supply of dried leaves which would provide bedding for us. In the event of an impending raid by the Germans at any time we were shown an escape route up the hillside behind us where we could climb to a height of several hundred feet and remain in concealment quite safely.
We passed an uneventful night after the two villagers left us, but we were informed two days later that a search had been made of our previous hideout and that Benedetto had been taken in for questioning but had later been released without harm as nothing could be proven against him.
As Christmas approached the villagers of Aune felt that it would be too cold for us in our present habitat and in a joint effort organised by the local baker is Ferucco Gorza and an old lady named Catrina Corrente we were installed in a house in the centre of the village. It comprised a ground floor kitchen with a wooden floor. It had a kitchen table and four chairs and a short flight of stairs which led to a bedroom upstairs. Catrina would stay with her sister-in-law and would only move back to her house, so as not to arouse suspicion, if we, the four POWs had to vacate it in a hurry. Regarding the flight of stairs, these had cleverly been altered so that the first four steps could be removed in one piece and replaced quickly. Under the stairs was a space large enough to conceal us.
We appreciated the use of the village house as the months of January and February 1944 were very cold with snow to a depth of seven or eight inches. The villagers kept us supplied with food, each family making a contribution of some sort towards our subsistence.
During the month of March we heard lots of gunfire and when we questioned the villagers about it they said it was coming from high up in the mountains in the vicinity of Feltre.
Apparently the partisans had quite a strong group, a lot of them being local men. Sometimes they would come down from the hills and attack German supply trucks in the region of Croce D’Aune. This caused a lot of alarm for our safety and they suggested we move back to the village of Zorzoi again. I think also that it may have been the fear of reprisals against the village should they be found to be harbouring not only partisans but escaped prisoners, so we thanked them for taking care of us and went back to Zorzoi and hoped we could settle in there again.
We had known for some considerable time that the Allied forces were still several hundred miles to the south of us and not just eighty as pre-supposed when we first escaped from our concentration camp. In addition the Germans were pouring extra troops into the north of Italy to form a line of defence in case of retreat and we were beginning to feel less secure every day.
On arriving back in Zorzoi again we cautiously approached the dwelling of our good friend Medagina and explained our position to her. She bade us to wait in the loft above the cowshed and returned some twenty minutes later with her brother-in-law Tony Baldo who had agreed to put us up at his place which was a small farm on the outskirts of the village and on a slightly higher piece of land. It was approached by a path some quarter of a mile long. His farmhouse was a long building with living quarters upstairs and store shed underneath and cowshed at other end. His family consisted of his wife and three young children, a boy about eleven and two girls aged nine and seven years. In the front was a large cherry tree about thirty feet from the house. It had a massive trunk and branches and on many an occasion we would climb up and eat the ripe cherries. Beyond there was a large field and when the hay had ripened we would learn to use the scythe and cut the hay and load it onto a cart and stack it onto two haystacks near the house.
These haystacks would rise to a height of nine or sometimes twelve feet high with a large pole at each corner and a sloping canopy or roof placed on top leaving a space of about two feet between the underside of it and the top of the hay. There were peg holes in the poles so that as the hay was used and the level dropped the pegs could support the canopy.
During the months of April and May we would explore the various trails between the two villages and also the paths going up the wooded slopes of the mountain immediately above the villages of Zorzoi and Aune until we knew them as well as the locals. In June we were sorry learn that the partisans had a shoot out with some German troops near Aune and some were taken prisoner and hung in the village by means of a meat hook on the end of a rope being stuck into their throat before being hauled up.
Some of the cattle were killed and a number of houses set on fire. This news caused great alarm to our friends and the people in the village. It was therefore agreed that we would move to a chalet two or three hundred feet up the mountain slope and we would be kept informed of events and food would be brought to us every other day. We had several reports of the Germans knowing that we were in the area and that rewards were being offered for information leading to our whereabouts. On occasions we were given definite news that a big search was to be made to look for us and once or twice we left our chalet and came down and climbed up the poles on the haystacks, lying on the hay on top under the canopy and spent the night there.
During July we discovered a small cave lying in the side of a concealed hollow in the centre of a forest. The opening was just about 2 foot 6 inches high concealed by bushes in front while inside it was about four feet high and about eight feet long. It became our home for three days. Before occupying it we informed Tony Baldo where we were, we showed it to him so that he could let us know when things quietened down again. From now on we were always on the move from one location to another.
During the months of July and August those villagers who owned a few cows would drive them almost to the summit of the high hills above the village where the summer grazing was. There at a height of 1200 feet was fairly level ground in all directions. A person could walk for miles on these concealed plateaux.
While the cattle were grazing butter and cheese was being made, also a product called ricotta, not unlike cheese but much softer. These were produced in a fairly strong building built from the rocks and stones lying in the area. Butter churns and cheese making equipment having been carried up on the backs of mules to start the process many years earlier. My companions and I used to make the journey up the mountainside every second or third day and bring down some milk for our own use. It took us one and a half-hours to make the upward trip and forty five minutes on the descent. We each had a strong wooden staff to help us on our trip.
By mid August we were living in a hut some five hundred feet above the village. It was situated on the fringe of a heavily wooded area and had a good view in all directions. We were sitting outside on the grass one afternoon when we saw a well dressed gentleman, suitably attired for climbing approaching us from the lower slopes. On reaching us he spoke in perfect English saying 'your friend Dario di Paoli told me where to find you'. He was a Swiss importer and exporter with business interest in Italy and Sicily. His name was Hans Vogt and he could speak four languages fluently, English, French, Italian and German. He had a full rucksack on his back which contained various kinds of tinned foods, cigarettes, and two bars of soap which we were glad to see as the villagers home-made soap left a lot to be desired. Hans brought us up to date on the course of the war and it was gratifying to know that the allies war effort was gathering momentum and that Germany was now being heavily bombarded by the R.A.F.
Hans asked us how we were off for clothes. We said we only had what was on us. Our boots had worn out long ago and our leather uppers had been nailed onto thick one piece wooden soles which made it very awkward for walking and climbing. Unfortunately he could not help us in that respect as leather was virtually non existent in Italy, even food supplies were getting short, such items as butter, jam, lard, sugar and eggs, even meat, had disappeared from most of the villages one and only shop, which was supplied once a month.
Hans talked to us for an hour, he said that if clothing could be procured he would bring something back in a few days time. He kept his word and we each got a jacket of some kind, a pair of socks and a pair of towels and some razor blades for our use. He was returning to Switzerland and took our names and addresses and promised to do what he could about letting the British Consul know that we were alive and well and get this passed on to our families.
After Hans left we kept busy by helping the villagers to cut their supply of winter timber and taking it back down to the village packed on to large hand drawn sleighs. One had to stand in between the shafts and proceed down narrow rocky paths, lean back and with our legs forward dig our heels in to act as a brake to prevent the load from travelling too fast. As the leaves fell off the trees on the mountain slopes the villagers would sweep the leaves up and pile them into huge sacks, load half a dozen sacks then on to the sleighs and take them down to the village for bedding for the cattle. The rest of the mountain slopes were well swept and the leaves stored in the various huts and chalets scattered around.
Towards the middle of September, while working amongst the timber, word came up from below that two truckloads of German soldiers had arrived in the village. We then had to return to our hut, pick up our belongings and we made our way through the timber to the end of a small valley and then climbed up a slope for about fifty yards to a concealed path and followed this upwards for about a quarter mile and some four hundred feet higher up.
During the course of our wandering up this part of the mountainside we had to squeeze through a small natural tunnel in the rock about four feet long and roughly three feet wide and slightly less in height. On emerging from this and turning round a bend in the path we were startled and not a little scared by the sight of an eagle with wings fully spread hovering just six feet above us and to our left away from the cliff face. It was obviously in an aggressive mood and the reason being a nest with two young eagles in it was situated in a rocky hollow on the right of the path. It was a sight we were not likely to forget. I can still see that cruel beak. We knew what these eagles were capable of as from a vantage point on several occasions we had watched them swooping down and lift up a young lamb or chicken and carry them up aloft to their eyrie.
After our encounter with the eagle without injury to ourselves we soon found a secluded spot offering security and shelter for the night. The following morning after a night without sleep we found the valley below was shrouded in a white mist which covered the tall pine trees. It was like being above the clouds, nothing could be seen so we dare not try to descend to a lower level.
By midday the sun was high in the sky but the mist was still hugging the valley below and we decided to follow the path and see where it would lead us. The path eventually rose over the brow of the hill and continued along quite a wide stretch until we eventually saw this building which turned out to be the place where we had collected our supply of milk from and where the butter and cheese was made. It was nice to be among friends again and they did not know we had spent the night up on the side of the distant valley. A good meal of hot stew was served up to us followed by bread and cheese and a glass of milk.
It was suggested we spend the night in the loft above the cowshed as someone from the village was due up the following day and would surely bring news of what was happening down below.
After a good nights sleep we came down from the loft and managed to wash and shave in warm water and breakfast on a piece of bread broken up into a bowl of hot milk. By midday two of the villagers had come up to collect some of the dairy produce to take it away to barter for other commodities which were in short supply. This was the way of life as money had little or no value. We prepared to go back down to the village as the news was that it was safe to do so. As was our custom we visited a few of our friends to see what, if anything, they had managed to collect from the people in the village for our sustenance. Anything that was edible and storable was welcome such as beans, maize meal, macaroni, pasta, lard or small onions, along with any apples or peaches or pears. Sometimes when we had to keep clear of the village we used to survive by helping ourselves to a bunch of grapes off some of the vineyards as we passed by.
Time was passing quickly, the cattle were all down from their summer grazing and back in their stallas or byres as we knew them. As the weather got colder people would sit in beside the cattle and spin wool from the sheep or goats. This way they would save on the wood burning and also keep warm. It was now into October and a woman had given us the use of a hut on the outskirts of the village much nearer to the point grom which the Germans would normally approach.
At first we thought it was too risky but after viewing it and noting that it was just one hundred yards from the base of a thickly wooded slope and nearby clumps of bushes we decided to accept her offer. It was well stocked with leaves, almost three feet deep so we should be warm enough lying on them. Things went smoothly for the first week so as I was the best speaker of Italian it was arranged I should go into the village at night and try and see what news I could pick up and also see what were the possibilities of acquiring some tobacco or cigarettes.
I was halfway to the village square and had just passed a number of houses when I was accosted by a tall stranger wearing a trench coat and soft hat. He said, “Como si chiamo?” (what is your name), I responded quickly by giving him in reply “Umberto Artonello” which was the name of the local schoolteacher. He further said “Dove andare” (where are you going), I replied in rapid Italian “Andiamo a la paese por bevere il vino, non ho tempo per parlare, Ciao” (I am going to the village to drink the wine, I have no time to speak with you, cheerio). I think my rapid speech took him by surprise, anyway I was allowed to continue on my way. I am sure he was a German but not too sure of Italian.
A few days later at 5 am we were roused by someone battering the door and shouting “Inlglese scampa I Tedeschi la fatto un grande restrelament por tutto in torno la paese”. It was the woman who owned the hut telling us that the Germans were in the village and also high up in the woods above us and were working their way down.
We left her to tidy up after removing all our personal effects and going round the rear of the hut and away from the village concealed ourselves in a large clump of thick shrubs. After about ten minutes we could hear a lot of voices shouting to each other in German some distance above us and soon we heard them quite close and were almost afraid to breathe. Soon we heard a commotion coming from the hut we had just recently vacated and realised the Germans were questioning the woman.
When we were satisfied that the area was completely clear of all German troops we retreated further from the scene to a vantage point on the hill overlooking the bridge crossing the river Piave. We remained here well concealed for two days without either food or water then hunger forced us to take to the high trails through the timber covered slopes and eventually made our way down to Tony Baldo’s farm at night to learn that the woman whose hut we had slept in had been released after questioning.
Tony’s wife gave us all a bowl of warm soup and some cold polenta and cheese and also a supply of pasta and beans to keep us going for a few days then told us to use their hut high up on the hill among the trees.
Before leaving we were told that the school teacher wanted to see me so we all went to see him together. Apparently he wanted me to deliver a rucksack full of goods for an officer recently in an Alpine Regiment but I had to deliver it to a group of partisans who would collect if from me just above the village of Aune. I was also handed a Beretta automatic pistol for the use of the Alpine officer. I was to deliver it exactly at 11pm and come on my own. I had first of all to call at the house of the baker in Aune where a guide would take me to the hand-over point.
My companions and I left the school teacher’s house and made our way to Tony Baldo’s hut on the hillside. We brewed up some coffee and I left them at 10pm and set off on my own through one of the lower tracks which would take me to Aune. It was extremely dark at night travelling through the forests and difficult to see more than a few yards ahead and one had to be careful not to stumble over roots of trees and protruding rocks.
I found my guide sitting at a table in the baker’s house with three or four pistols lying on the table in front of him and he was twirling a small point 22 round his forefinger. He made me nervous just watching him. After a few minutes we left the baker and arrived at our rendezvous with the partisans. I had to ask for Albino whom I had met the previous year. Albino then took me aside and called “Capitano”. The Alpine captain shook my hand and thanked me for bringing the rucksack and also the Beretta pistol. He also told me that the Germans were retreating and that he felt that perhaps it would be safer for me and my companions if we joined them in their camp high up in the mountains. He said they had two other British POWs from another area who had joined them recently. The captain then told me he was going to Venice as he had business affairs to look after and that I should think over what he had told me. We shook hands and I said cheerio and I took my leave and made my way back to my other three companions, arriving back with them about 1am.
During the next few weeks the weather was getting colder and as the allied forces advanced so the partisans harassed the Germans who in turn became more active around the villages as they tried to take over the already dwindling supplies of food.
ome nights rather than sleep in a hut we would resort to sleeping out on the hillside and on one occasion we found our blankets lightly covered with snow and our bodies numb with cold.
Towards the end of November we had a visit one evening from one of the partisans whose family lived in Aune. He informed us that they, the partisans, had received word to the effect that the Germans intended to make a big search for escaped POWs during the next few days. We were strongly advised to leave our place of refuge in Zorzoi and to come up to the partisan camp high up in the mountains. We agreed to do so the following night and would say farewell to our friends in the village and tell them what was happening.
The next night at 10pm we met our partisan guide and set out on what was to be a journey of several hours. There was a full moon and we took the route up to the top of the gully where the villagers made their cheese and butter, then our guide turned to the right and after half an hour walking we came upon a long valley about a quarter mile wide. (From the village looking upwards a person would only see the peak of the mountains and never suspect that such valleys existed out of sight).
We must have walked for miles around the various valleys concealed beneath the mountain peaks. A stop was made around 1.30am for a fifteen-minute rest and a smoke before resuming our journey. We eventually reached the partisan camp at nearly 4am having been challenged twice by guards on the approaches and were allowed to pass after acknowledging a password from our guide.
We were taken into a long hut and shown a space where we could lie down and sleep off the effects of our very strenuous walk during the past six hours. It was the best night’s rest we had for a few months, wakening at about 11am, we washed and were ready to meet Bruno who had been elected as leader. There were about thirty members of the partisan group plus the two English lads called Ernie and George. Everyone seemed to be well armed, most having a rifle and a light machine pistol.
Everyone queued up for a meal around noon. It consisted of thick soup with a good portion of meat thrown in. Apparently a live bullock had been acquired recently and had been slaughtered two days previously thus assuring a supply of fresh meat for a few days.
The next day being 1st December 1944 my group of six POWs were each given a rifle and a light machine gun, also extra ammunition and sent in pairs to various positions around the camp to act as guards and observers. I should explain here that this group of partisans were known as the Brigade Garibaldi and the camp itself was in an area roughly the size of a football pitch surrounded by sloping ground on all sides except one, the high ground rising to 400 feet on one side ‘A’, 200 feet on the opposite side ‘B’, at the head of the camp the huts, three of them, were backed onto an almost vertical hill of about 250 feet high ‘C’ and at the opposite end ‘D’, dropping sharply into a valley some 500 feet deep, access to and fro made possible by use of what might be termed a narrow winding path about two feet wide which eventually led to some village two or three miles distant.
At this end of the camp also was a small hut which was to become the sleeping quarters for us POWs. Fifty yards to the left of our hut was a track rising to the summit of our partisan camp and on to an emergency escape route along what was knows at The Devil’s Pass which I saw for the first time some weeks later.
The first day was spent in doing guard duty 200 feet up on side ‘B;. There was a small hut up there that could sleep four while two were on guard. The idea was to keep under surveillance a track that wound its way down to a valley some 3000 feet below. There was open countryside for miles straight ahead and beyond were a range of mountains, which separated Italy from Austria and Switzerland.
On a clear day the view was one of sheer grandeur on other days the clouds were below us and we could see nothing. The weather was good for the time of the year. Some days the sky was very clear and when off duty we could watch the Allied bombers, including a number of Flying Fortresses, making their way towards Germany.
Small groups of partisans were always making excursions down below and we heard they had cut the hair from the heads of some Italian women who had apparently been fraternising with the Germans. On one occasion they brought one up to the camp and after interrogating her for information they had made her kneel and shot her in the back of the head.
The week before Christmas a young German soldier was brought up to the camp. He was made to do a lot of odd jobs about the place and when in contact with him he told us in English that he was a pay clerk, he was 26 years of age, had a wife and one child and that he had been due to return to Germany for Christmas.
A few days later he was made to dig a deep trench in the ground, calmly shot and pushed into it. We did not see this happen but were told about it. This sort of atrocity sickened us but we deemed it safer to keep our mouths shut as anything could happen up here and the outside world would not know about it.
Christmas passed, just another day, but my thoughts were back home with my wife and family, wondering if the Swiss gentleman had managed to be the means of letting her know that I was alive and still keeping one step ahead of the Germans.
With the beginning of January 1945 came the snow, all eight inches of it, and the glare was dazzling. By the end of the second week there was some excitement one night as a plane circled around the camp and five parachutes were seen dropping down towards us.
When morning came we learned that two British officers and two Italian officers had been dropped into the camp along with supplies.
Later that day the British officers came along to see us. I was told they were Major Ross and Captain Simpson. Whether that was their correct names I would not know as apparently their work was to liaise with partisans and underground groups and try to co-ordinate their activities. At least we were told that the war was progressing in our favour and to stick it out until this area was liberated.
A few days later around the 20th January we, the POWs, were guarding position D looking down the valley when we suddenly heard the clatter of heavy machine guns to our rear and to our right at position A and could see that the Germans were attacking the camp from three sides. We could see large numbers of them silhouetted on the hills at the skyline. The long approach to the camp entrance was being defended by the partisan machine guns while across to the right of my position and the POWs the Germans were seen appearing with two or three pack mules which they quickly unloaded and within a short time my position was being targeted with mortar fire, our own rifle fire doing little or no damage. We took shelter where possible in hollows or behind rocks until after about half an hour the order came to evacuate the positions as our machine gun posts had been destroyed.
The British and Italian officers came down to us and shouted make for the escape route above, as quick as you can. We looked up the hill and saw partisans from all directions making for the Devil’s Pass. It was a steep climb and my companions and I were gasping for breath as we reached a small gap that led to the pass.
Behind us bullets were pinging off the rocks and at times I wondered if I would be lucky enough to make it as it was obvious from the noise and cries behind that several of the partisans had been wounded or taken prisoner.
When we reached the Devil’s Pass I could see it was aptly named, it was no more than eighteen inches wide from the hillside to the edge beyond which was a drop of several hundred feet. The pass ran for about 100 yards of hard packed snow, it was nerve racking. In front of me were several partisans and the four officers. I thought if they can do it so can I. It was a case of keep an eye on the person in front and don’t look down. After what seemed an eternity I could see those in front of me were turning a corner in the path and I was glad to see that the ground to the left of me had risen to a height of about fifteen feet. The hazardous part of the path was behind me and to my relief so were my other five POW companions. About twenty yards further along this path the four officers were having a discussion with two of the partisans, the others were still going forward. We halted by the Major and were advised that one of the partisans would take the two British officers and four of the POWs to a ledge out of sight of the main path where we could remain concealed until we felt that the Germans had left the area. The two Italian officers and the other two POWs would go with the main band of partisans and hopefully get away from this area safely.
The partisan who remained with our group to guide us then led us along the path for a further ten yards and turned into an opening to the left of us about five feet wide and some fifteen feet in height covered mostly with large rocks and boulders from which a lot of the snow had disappeared. When we reached the top of this the descent on the other side was steeper and longer ending in an almost flat area going forward for about twenty feet and beyond that a drop of over one thousand feet. The partisan guided us on to a concealed ledge to the left side, this ledge was about twelve feet long and no more than four feet wide and covered in snow. With our hands and rifle butts we pushed all the snow to the edge of the ledge and made a ridge the length of the ledge about one foot high and six inches in depth. When this compacted and froze it would be a footrest for us all to prevent us from sliding over the edge to the depths below.
We spent four full days and nights on this ledge huddled together with only two blankets and the two officers’ army coats to keep us warm. None of us had any food and we survived by eating snow for the next four days. Sleep was virtually impossible, and to keep our circulation going we were continually swinging our arms and wiggling our feet.
During our four days on the ledge we had no idea as to how the rest of the partisans had fared. There was a lot of sporadic gunfire during the first three days echoing about the mountains and also occasional shouting from it seemed somewhere above us. The fourth day and night not a sound was heard, then on the fifth day, the 25th January 1945, the partisan decided to climb back up the way we had come down to have a look around to see if the way was clear for us to leave and make a descent to the lower regions.
After about thirty minutes he came back and told us he thought it was safe to make a move, it was doubtful if any of us would have survived another two days in our present state without food and heat.
It was decided therefore to move out just before 3pm and one by one we carefully moved off the ledge to the bottom of the rocky incline we had to ascend and descend to get back on to the trail leading away from the Devil’s Pass. When we had stamped our feet and swung our arms a bit to restore circulation we started the ascent. I was last in line and had climbed up about ten feet when someone above me dislodged a few stones and some of them landed on my hands as I was climbing.
I immediately lost my grip and began to slide backwards striking my forehead on a hard substance as I fell, continuing to slide on the snow covered stretch of gravel. I remember shouting out in alarm “Help, help, please God help me”. I was conscious of coming to a halt, lying full-length face down and feeling cold and numb. I could feel moisture trickling down past my chin and thought my face must be cut. Feeling very much alone I again shouted “Help” wondering if my companions had perhaps gone on unaware of what had happened to me. I thought don’t panic and shouted again for help and after about ten minutes I heard a voice telling me to lie still. Raising my head a few inches I saw the major crawling towards me. He then wriggled out of his army greatcoat and holding it by the collar he threw it towards my arms which were stretched out on top of the snow in front of me. He then said, “Get a grip of my coat Bob and I will try and pull you back a bit”. My reply was to the effect that my hands were numb. He replied, “You must if you want to save your life, you are only about four or five feet from the edge of the drop”. I then asked him to get the coat a bit closer to me so that I could get my hands one inside of each pocket. Eventually this was achieved and I was pulled up to safety and brought on the main path of descent. The freezing temperature had helped to congeal and stop my wound from bleeding and the captain quickly put a field dressing and bandage on my head.
After a long and dangerous journey down the mountainside during which time I can remember walking along a narrow ledge about the width of my feet for about three yards and with my back to the wall of a cliff behind me and further on crossing a natural rock bridge of uneven surface and about two feet wide. This bridge spanned a gorge some two hundred feet deep and only one person at a time could cross it. I can still see some of my companions waiting on the other side saying “Come on Bob, you can do it”. There is no doubt that in adversity or emergency it is truly amazing what the human body is capable of.
Once over the other side of the gorge it was downhill all the way following the usual pattern of narrow slippery trails. Progress was slower than usual, as I was feeling a bit light-headed on account of my head wound and I was only beginning to feel the pain now. Two hours further travel and we could see a large red glow about several hundred yards away and a number of persons were revealed near it. The partisan who was leading us called a halt and said to wait and he would go ahead and investigate. He returned about twenty minutes later to say that the red glow was the hot embers of what had been a large bonfire and the people round about it were partisans who like us had been hiding out in various places.
It was now about 3am, date 26th January 1945 and we stayed around the heat of the fire for an hour before moving on to reach the nearest habitation so that we could perhaps get some food and also the Major was anxious that they could look at my injury in daylight to see how serious it might be. Two of the partisans that we had joined up with were familiar with this territory and by 7am had brought us to a farmhouse about a mile from the nearest village.
The farmer and his wife were quickly told of our needs and agreed to help providing we did not stay too long and thus endanger them. We were all given a mug of hot coffee laced with their own special brand of pure alcohol as distilled from their own grapes. It was like nectar and within minutes I could feel my body warming up from the very soles of my feet. This was followed by a bowl of warm milk and bread to break into it and it was most welcome, a second helping was giving us a contented feeling.
The dressing on my head was removed. It had to be eased off gently because of dried blood. It was bathed with clean cloths in warm water and re-dressed with a bandage provided by the Major this time who also stated that I needed the service of a doctor as soon as possible.
Apparently the doctor served a wide area and it was not known precisely where he would be at any given time. The farmer agreed to provide a horse drawn sleigh which the partisans could return to him when they had finished with it. The Major then thanked the farmer and paid him for his services and also gave the two partisans a sum of money and told them to get me to a doctor as soon as they could. I was then put on the sleigh and after saying goodbye to the Major and Captain who knew where they were going, our party which included myself, Hugh, Ernie and Bill plus the two partisans set off around 1pm and we travelled for miles around three villages, always waiting on the outskirts of each village while one of the two partisans made the enquiries for the doctor. Eventually at 7pm that same evening I was taken into the back room of a village equivalent of a bar and a few minutes later the doctor came in and sat me in a chair and removed the bandages from my head. His first words were “E molto male”, meaning my wound was quite serious. He said that I really required hospital treatment as there was a gaping would in my forehead and broken bones. The best he could do was stitch my wound. He had no painkiller, I could feel every stitch going in, about twenty of them, as the fracture ran from above my eye to the crown of my head above the hairline. When he finished I thanked him and he wished me luck. The partisans then paid him and enquired about a place for us to stay. The doctor mentioned a family and gave directions and eventually we ended up bedding down in beside some cattle that night. The partisans said they would bed down not too far away.
It seemed as though we had hardly put our heads down before we were being wakened at 6am and told we would have to move quickly as apparently the Germans had been informed that there were partisans in the area also a wounded POW and three others. The two partisans returned with the horse and sleigh and once more I was on the move. Some miles outside the village the partisans stopped and helped me up from the sleigh then told me and my companions to make our way up the hillside facing us and over the brow of the hill we would see a hut on the verge of a forest. We were told to stay there and keep out of sight and someone would bring us something to eat later in the day. It was late afternoon before we saw someone coming towards us. He brought some bread, a piece of cheese and a portion of salami sausage for each of us. He said we would have to move on in the morning and he would be back then and point us in the direction of Aune some twenty miles farther north. It was difficult to sleep that night even though we were almost submerged under the layer of leaves in the hut. I was beginning to get a headache.
True to his word the partisan came back the following day at about 10am. We were travelling light just the clothes we stood up in. He lead us through the trees for about half an hour then we angled downhill and before long we were at the side of a river which had swollen considerably with the recent snow, and it was running quite swiftly. This is where I leave you said our guide, “You will need to cross over, then turn left which is facing north and keep going”. We said farewell and thought now we are on our own again until we get back into territory where we are known. Eventually we got to the other side of the river but not before our trousers were soaked to above the knees and our boots were squelching with every step forward. After roughly travelling for what we thought was about eight miles we saw a few houses ahead of us and we decided to make for the more distant one and ask for help.
The door was opened by a middle-aged woman who called her husband and we explained we were Inglese POWs and we wanted to be able to dry our wet clothes and a place to rest for the night. After much deliberation they said we could stay in the loft of the shed at the back of the house. The man said if we removed our wet clothes he would have them dried for the morning and he would bring us some old sacking to put over us until then, also he would get his wife to make some pasta and bring it to us when ready. We thanked him and told him we would be on our way the next morning.
On the move again and a bit warmer in our dry clothes, and with only twelve miles to go before we reached Zorzoi sometime in the afternoon. We were finally able to look down on Croce D’Aune, Aune and further on at the end of the valley the village of Zorzoi. It was a good feeling to know that help would be available in the way of food and shelter again. Everything looked peaceful, smoke curling up from the houses and no sign of any German vehicles on the roads anywhere.
We passed through Aune, pausing briefly to acknowledge greetings from old friends who had heard about my head injury and could see I was heavily bandaged. Within half an hour we were in Zorzoi, calling first at Tony Baldo’s place. My three companions remained at Tony’s house and Tony himself took me down to the house of Medagina whose brother was a priest in Larina. This family had heard about my being injured, all of the village was concerned as they could not help but hear about the attack on the partisan camp.
While a meal was being prepared, I brought Medagine and her parents up to date on all that had transpired during the past two months since I had left. After I had eaten Tony came back into the house and told the family the barn was now ready for me to sleep in. Tony had made a concealed room in the barn with a bunk in it for me to sleep on. This had been done by putting in a wood partition at one end of the barn and stacking bales of straw against it. Entrance and exit could be made by moving two of the bales. From my bed I could watch out through gaps in wooden sides and see who was moving up and down the village street. My food was brought to me and the doctor who lived a quarter of a mile away was brought to the barn to see me. He said he would come back and remove the stitches in a week’s time. This he did, and applied something to my wound and put a fresh bandage on it which he said could be removed again in about two weeks.
The bandage was removed about mid February and it was only then that my three friends and I were re-united as they had gone back to a hut on the hillside. They told me when they first saw the wound in my head that it was thought that I would not survive as they could see the broken bone was pushing inwards and my head was split open for about four inches. It was amazing that I had managed to keep going, even the Major had told them he thought my chances of survival were slim.
By the end of March the snow had all cleared away and the grass was quite long in the fields, so much so that when walking across them it was with trepidation as the odd snake used to slide across our feet. I was suffering a lot of headaches by this time and could not take much strenuous exertion. Food was becoming scarce for the villagers and a lot of them were starting to live on a diet of beans. Pasta and macaroni and spaghetti were almost non existent as the Germans were commandeering all the supplies of flour.
The Germans were all appearing more frequently in the district. Don Gelindo said it would be better if we POWs split up, one here and one there. He said I could go to his village of Larina, but to get there we had to pass through the town of Serbo, where there were a number of German soldiers stationed. Once we reached the town I would have to follow behind him just keeping him in sight until we came to his own village where he would wait for me and conduct me to his house which had a main door just on the village square. The building consisted of basement, ground floor, first and second floors. At night I slept in a small room on the top floor, by day I stayed in a room in the basement and my meals were brought down to me by an elderly housekeeper whose name was Maria.
Across the passage from my day room in the basement was another door which was locked. This apparently led into a schoolroom where young children were taught each day. I could hear them doing their lessons and chattering away at times although I never did see any of them.
What Don Gelindo did not tell me was that a company of German soldiers were billeted in a hall next door to him and that two German officers usually dropped in to see him two evenings a week to play cards with him and have a glass of wine. It was not unusual for one or two of the soldiers to call in and see Don Gelindo at anytime if they required to see a priest. In fact on one occasion I was coming downstairs in the morning to go to my basement room for the day when just as I was about to approach the street level the front door opened and in walked two German soldiers.
With a smile on my face I said “Good morning, Don Gelindo will see you upstairs”. Their acceptance of me as a local was acknowledged by a nod of the head and they walked past me up the stairs. When in my own room I could hear their heavy boots as they walked up and down on guard duty.
There was a further fall of snow in mid April when it turned very cold. My room being at the top of the house was like a cold storage at times and I lay shivering in bed at night. I told Don Gelindo and he instructed his housekeeper to put a fire in my room to warm it up. This she did but with the window closed the fumes from the burning wood was too much and I woke up vomiting over the bedclothes and falling out of bed. The thump I made brought both Don Gelindo and Maria up and they found me semi conscious on the floor.
The next thing I remember was someone rubbing my hands and face and something being given me to drink. It was the doctor trying to revive me. After a further day in bed with extra blankets I soon recovered.
After this our meals were very frugal. They consisted of beans and dandelion leaves twice a day with a glass of wine after each meal. It was now the end of April and the Allies were less than eighty miles away. One evening there was a lot of noise coming from the village square. Apparently most of the Germans had withdrawn from the village leaving only a dozen rearguard troops. The commotion was caused by partisans entering the village and entering the Germans’ billets had forced them to take off their boots and uniforms at gunpoint and then taken this clothing away with them and left the soldiers in their underwear. Don Gelindo was so afraid he took me out of the house at dusk and told me to stay hidden down in a small valley until it was safe for me to return again.
I remained concealed in a small recess between some large boulders with just enough room to sit with knees up and leaning with my back against a rock. When darkness had fallen the next evening I made my way back cautiously and peering over the wall which surround the village square was relieved to see that it was devoid of people and quickly ran across to Don Gelindo’s door and knocked on it gently. The priest opened the door himself and let me in, asking my pardon for not coming to see me earlier.
The Germans had since left in a truck which had apparently been sent for their withdrawal as it now appeared that they were retreating quickly.
At the end of the first week in May the priest took me out on a small balcony on the top floor and passing me a pair of binoculars told me to focus on a road which climbed up the valley leading to the bridge crossing the River Piave some two miles distant, just below the village of Zorzoi.
To my delight and amazement I could see a long column of vehicles headed by tanks all bearing the insignia of the U.S.A. I was so excited I shouted to Don Gelini “C’e L’Americani”, “por noi la guerra e finito” (It is the Americans, the war is over for us”).
Don Gelindo then said “Come Robert we will ring the church bells” and so it was I found myself on the end of a rope pulling on the bells for peace. The village square soon filled up and everyone was amazed to learn that I had been living in the priest’s house for the past two months unknown to anyone.
The following morning I said farewell to Don Gelindo, as he advised me to get back to Zorzoi and join up with my friends, and then contact whatever Allied forces we could and get arrangements made to be repatriated back to the United Kingdom again.
When I got the length of the bridge over the river Piave I came across an American tank and a truck, and they were having a heated argument with some partisans who had taken about half a dozen German soldiers prisoners. The partisans on recognising me said the Americans wanted to take over the prisoners, while the partisans wanted them to be taken to the prison in the nearest town which was Feltre. I translated for the benefit of the Americans and their sergeant in reply said to me, “Gee bud, you speak good English for an Itie”. When I told them who I was they all shook my hand and then I had to explain to the partisans that the Germans would have to be handed over to the Americans as prisoners of war. It was agreed and it ended amicably. I then learned that one of my friends had been shot in the arm when helping to attack a German column in flight across the bridge. He had since had treatment and was ok and I was told all my comrades were in the village of Zorzoi waiting for me to return.
We slept in our usual lofts in the village that night and the next day I procured paper and pencil to write a letter thanking the villagers for their kindness to us in providing food and shelter for the six of us during the past twenty months. 1 and the other POWs all signed our names, rank and numbers and told the local priest to make sure someone in authority received it so that the community could be rewarded in some way.
We then reported to the senior American officer in charge of the occupying forces and asked for assistance in getting back to our own army or whoever it was caring for missing POWs.
The following morning we were put aboard a truck en route for the south of Italy. The whole village turned out to wave us goodbye and after travelling all day we landed in Florence that evening. We were placed in accommodation, confined to billets and told to be ready to move off to Rome in the morning.
On the way down we saw the amount of devastation caused by the bombing and shelling by both sides. The bridge of the mighty river Po was down and we had to cross over on pontoons, an uncomfortable experience.
It was evening before we arrived in Rome and here we were able to receive a new issue of clothing from the skin out, also towel, soap, and razor and new boots which was a great relief from the wooden soles. After this we all paid a visit to the showers and felt on top of the world and felt so clean again.
Next we had a good army meal of steak, beans, potatoes, followed by custard and apples and a mug of good strong tea with sugar and milk, a real treat. Afterwards we lay on our beds and listened to the broadcast on the radio and so to bed. The next morning we were all interrogated and gave an account of our experiences, since we escaped from camp. We gave our names, rank and army number and the last unit or regiment we served in. We were given an aerogramme on which to write home to our next of kin. After lunch we sat in a wired off compound and watched the various aircraft flying over, including some of the new USAF B29 bombers that had been just recently put into service.
Later that day after our evening meal we were taken into the city of Rome and dropped off the truck at 6pm and told we would be picked up again at the same spot at 10pm and to be there waiting. My friends and I, six of us strolled up one of the main boulevards admiring the sights. It was a lovely clear evening as we paused outside a big cinema to look at what was being shown on screen. It was a good film with all the old film stars we knew and as we looked in the vestibule, the notice board said ‘For Officers Only’, while behind us an American voice said to us, “Do you guys want to go in and see the movies”. We said it would be great, but it is for Officers only. By this time the person whom we presumed to be the manager appeared in a dinner suit and said to us "“on permesso, e per officiale"”, meaning you are not allowed in, the cinema is for officers only. The American GI who had spoken to us then pulled out his service pistol and told the manager to step aside that these POWs were going to see the film whether he liked it or not. The GI then took us upstairs and to our embarrassment sat us all down in the same row as that occupied by some high ranking officers, saying to us, enjoy the show guys. We were left in our seats undisturbed throughout the showing of the films. Maybe the red POW patches on our tunics had some effect, but we never heard any more about it.
The next day I think it was about 5th May 1945 we were on our way to Naples and were billeted in high flats with small balconies on which we used to stand and look out. We were all vaccinated the following morning and in the evening joined by other POWs. A bus load of us were taken to the Royal Opera Theatre and watched a really nice show.
Two days later we had an excursion to Pompeii but instead of seeing the old ruins some of us took to the beach and had a swim, going out to a small island, more of a sandbank. We relaxed there for an hour before going back to the beach where some of the lads were watching our clothes.
During the next few days a lot of POWs were flown home, but on the 12th May we joined a few hundred other British troops at the docks and were put aboard a steamer for dear old Blighty. We were able to receive £3 each on board from the paymaster and so could buy a few personal effects from the ship’s store. The food aboard the ship was very good, but the accommodation was a bit cramped and I had to sleep on top of a table in the dining hall for the journey home via the Mediterranean, the Bay of Biscay and with a stop in Gibraltar harbour en route to take on fresh water etc.
We had visions of docking at one of the large ports in England, but as we progressed further North I knew we were heading for the Clyde and we did, docking at King George V dock in Glasgow at 6pm on 22nd May 1945. Everyone was allowed to send a telegram off to their folks or rather the forms were made out and collected by someone on board ship to be sent off. The next morning we were put aboard a train and despatched to Haywards Heath in Sussex, where we all got a new pair of black shoes. That was a change from the usual army regulation footwear.
We were then given a medical examination which lasted about ten minutes, when the M.O. said to me “you can go now” I immediately said to him, “what about the injury to my head sir”. He looked up and asked me how I came by that and what treatment I had received for it. I replied, “none at all”. The next morning I was given a travel warrant for London and was told to report to the Atkinson Morley Hospital in St Johns Wood, where I was x-rayed, examined by a brain specialist, a Dr McKissock who I later learned was one of the top five brain surgeons in the world. He heard an account of how I had come by my head injury and told me I was a remarkable young man, that it was miraculous how I had survived and no disease had set in.
He asked me where I was going to stay for the time being and I said either in Glasgow or Northern Ireland. I was advised to enjoy my demobilisation leave and build up my strength and he would send for me in due course.
I was back in Glasgow in two days time where my wife, father and my two sisters met me coming out of St Enoch station. Before I even got the chance to embrace my wife whom I had not seen for four years and five months, I was surrounded by four or five women who danced around me to give me a welcome back to Scotland.
It was wonderful to be home again and to hear of all the changes that had taken place since I left to go overseas. More than anything I wanted to be with my dear wife to hear how she had been able to cope with the shock of hearing that I had been posted missing, presumed to be taken prisoner. I learned that my wife had tried every avenue to try and get news about me, even to the extent of writing to the Vatican to see if I was listed as a prisoner in Italy. Her faith was remarkable, she was so certain I would come home again. Once she knew I was alive and well all her time was spent in house hunting, never letting up she called regularly on property factors, until at last her efforts were rewarded and we had a place of our own to set up house in.
My concern also was to get in touch with my previous employers, to arrange to take up my old job again after I had an operation on my head.
In due course I received word to report back to the Atkinson Morley Hospital in London where I had an operation to insert a metal plate about the size of a large duck egg in the front of my head. The injury had been described as a depressed frontal fracture of the skull and Dr McKissock had fully explained to me what he intended doing and even showed me a piece of the tantallan metal that he was going to make the plate from. He inspired every confidence in his skill. Two weeks after my operation I was taken to Euston station in London in an army staff car, met at Euston by an officer in the British Red Cross who had a wheel chair waiting for me and we were allotted a first class compartment to ourselves on the night train for Scotland.
The Red Cross officer was well supplied with flasks of tea, coffee and a variety of sandwiches for the journey. Our destination was Ballochmyle Hospital in Ayrshire where I was to undergo skin grafting at the hands of Sir A McIndoe the famous plastic surgeon. After two weeks there I was sent home without having to undergo any skin grafting operation as my head was healing up very well externally although I suffered very severe headaches for a long time afterwards and still do but to a lesser extent.
I remained officially a member of H.M. Forces until February 1946 when my period of army reservist ended.Robert L Dey
Private Stanley Pettifer Royal EngineersMy father, Stanley Pettifer, was captured at Dunkirk, aged 21. He said that he was a POW in Poland, probably in the Gdansk area. He was in Stalag XXA. He worked on a farm. I have several photos from the camp when they were performing shows. In some of them is the actor Sam Kydd.
I know that my father, towards the end of the war, was on a very long march, in deep snow, that lasted several weeks. I think about 3,000 men started out, and about 300 survived. My father survived by swapping his daily ration of cigarettes for chocolate. He spoke very little about his time as a POW, and I would really like to hear from anyone who remembers him or has any info at all. He died in 1982.Doreen Pettifer
Sgt. Phillip William "Pancho" Page Sussex Coy. Royal EngineersMy Dad Phillip Page served with George Notcher, Knight, Tiny Rummery, Harry Draper and loads of smashing blokes in the Engineers. They travelled a lot during the War and lost a lot of the Company. When I was a kid they told me the funny stories from their travels and they all kept in contact for a long time after the war.Gregory Page
Cpl. Thomas Mason Royal EngineersI have very little information to go on about my grandfather, Thomas Mason who served with the Royal Engineers in Holland from 1941 to 1945. I do know that he was a diver, can anyone give any additional information?Michelle Mason
Spr. Griffith Robert Griffiths Royal EngineersI am trying disparately to find information about my Dad, Griffith Griffiths. I know very little other than he was captured at the beginning of World War II and spent the whole duration of the War in Stalag 8 B.
Sadly my dad died of cancer at the age of 46, I was 17 months old at the time and unfortunately my Grandparents died before I was born and my mum died before I was really old enough to question her about what Dad might have said.
All I know is that he had spoken of a long walk and that he made a tiny little ornamental vase of flowers out of some sort of bread. I don't know what his service number or who he served with and don't know where to begin to search either. All I have is a couple of photographs of him in uniform. I can send them if you think it might be helpful. Any help or advice would be so appreciated by myself and my 4 sisters.
POW records list G.R.Griffiths, army number 16073, as held in Stalag8b, he served with the Royal Engineers.Diane Griffiths
Spr. Ronald Keith Cleave Military Medal 256 Field Company Royal EngineersMy Father enlisted at Collompton in Devon on the 19.10.1939. He was 19 at the time. He had happy memories of training camps where local villagers would supply the troops with tea and buns or on passes out of camp they would be bought pints of beer in a local pub. One time I know he and a mate nearly missed the train taking them to their next posting while being entertained by some local villagers in the pub. They made it by the skin of their teeth.
Dad's company was posted to the Orkneys around Christmas time where their job was building the huts that the troops following on behind would use. It was bitterly cold, not much cheer that Christmas. Once their posting there was finished they travelled back by train. My father talked about how slow the train travelled, they could pick wild flowers on the trackside at times. There were stops at stations where buckets of tea were provided.
My Dad also talked about being involved in laying booby traps on the beaches to prevent an invasion of the South Coast.
Like lots of other troops Dad served in Africa. They travelled by ship and landed in South Africa and saw the Table Top mountain. He also experienced the Colour Bar when he went into a local pub and was told he was in the wrong bar, he was in the black's bar. The landlord tried to order the other men out, but My father insisted they stayed. I don't know how long he was in South Africa, but he ended up in the deserts of Iraq. While he was in the desert my father spoke of how every week they would all have to take their beds apart and debug them. Every morning before putting on his boots he had to turn them upside down and bang them on the floor so that any scorpions or other poisonous creatures fell out. Travelling in the desert was hard, very hot by day, very cold by night. The armoured vehicles broke down or overheated at times. Drinks of tea were made by using water from the vehicle's radiator.
As an engineer my father was involved in laying mines and defusing them where neccessary. He also helped build the Bailey bridges which were used to create quick routes over rivers and gorges. Often these were to replace previous ones which had been destroyed by the enemy.
After the Africa Campaign my Father was sent to Italy. He won his Military medal there in Callibreto. He defused some mines while under enemy fire. While in Italy he saw Venice and didn't think much of the canals which were rather dirty at the time. While in Italy he developed a love of Opera or to be more exact Opera Houses. Dad found they were often the only place that he could get a beer.
On the 20.6.44 my Father was taken ill with pneumonia and was off sick for a few weeks. I remember he told me that while sick he was given M+B tablets which he thought was a type of penicillin.
For a while my father was stationed in Austria which he loved. The beautiful scenery and the majestic mountains enthralled him. He stayed at a place called Seeboden and worked for 6 months building hutted camps and hospitals. Sapper Cleave left Austria from Villach station on 17.02.46 he was bound for Calais and then Blighty. Dad was demobbed in 1946, but remained on the reservist list till the day he died in 2007.
Amongst my father's effects I found a letter he wrote to PR Sgt. dated March 2nd 1945.
Subject. Loss of bayonet.
I beg to report the loss of my bayonet which occurred during training on March 1st '45. A large area of ground was covered during this training and a search proved of no avail. I beg to deny the loss was through my neglect.
My father enjoyed telling his stories of his time in the army. He never told of awful things, just the interesting and happy bits. It wasn't until he was in his 80s that we found out the truth behind his Military Medal. He seemed to enjoy the camaraderie of army life.Pamela Randall
Alfred "Taffy" Williams 56 ME. Royal EngineersAlfred Williams first disembarkment with the Royal Engineers was in the Azores. He landed in France June 18th 1944 on`GOLD` Beach and later volunteered along with his sergeant to drive their bulldozer through the mine fields into Caen. He rode shotgun, the sergeant, whose bulldozer was bigger, was awarded the French cross of honour. He was also one of the unfortunate men to be working clearing the thousands of dead bodies at Belsen concentration camp and told me in his later years that he could still smell the rotting corpses.
Post war he played football for a local German team and was sent to the 'glass house' for assaulting two Germans.Aled Williams
SSM. William Thomas Cullen 22nd Field Squadron Royal EngineersMy father, William Thomas Cullen, served in 22nd Field Squadron, Royal Engineers. He was always reluctant to talk about the war, and only gave this information later in life. Other information I have found on the internet. He was injured at Tobruk. He and other wounded were being transported in a convoy of ambulances when they were ambushed by the Italians. The other wounded soldier in my father's ambulance was killed. My father was sent to the Military hospital in Parma.
He was later sent to Stalag 18A/Z at Spittal and der Drau. He did not have good memories of his treatment there. I have vague memories of him talking about being on a farm in Austria. My father died in 1977.Cath Black
Spr. Thomas McCarthy 100th Army Field Company Royal Monmouthshire Royal EngineersMy dad, Thomas McCarthy of the 100th Army Field Company Royal Monmouthshire, Royal Engineers was captured at Wattou, near Dunkirk on 29.5.1940. After a time in Stalag X11A and Stalag 344 he was transferred to Stalag V111B at Teschen on the Polish border. He remained there as a POW (no 15356) until the ‘death march’ on 20.1.1945. On 9 May 1945 he and other survivors crossed American lines at Karlsbad.
Sadly, my Dad died of ill health in 1963 when his three children were very young, so we were never able to talk to him about his time as a POW. But we did have left to us a very small notebook in which he kept a record of the ‘death march’ which is reprinted below. Tom used a pencil stub to bravely keep a record of what happened, despite the risks to him. The original of the notebook in now in the Regimental Museum in Monmouth.
Copy of handwritten log of Sapper Thomas (Tom) McCarthy:-
January 20TH 1945 Started marching, given one loaf 2000grams
January 25th 1945
Total: 4033 grams
- 1/3 Loaf 1 kilo 333 grams
- ¼ Loaf 2 Kilo 500 grams
- ¼ loaf 2 kilo 500 grams
- 1/5th loaf 2 kilo 400 grams
- 1/6 Loaf 1800 grms 300 grams
February 19th 1945: Stopped marching. For the last 30 days we were given 4033 grams or 8 &4/5lbs of bread, and 2lbs of marg for 42 men and a soup a day except for 4 days when we got a few potatoes. Some parties had Red Cross food to start, but we had none, nor cigs. In the 30 days we marched 420 KM. We stared with 314 English about 400 Russians and 40 labourers.
20th February 1945: The weather is very cold, everything is freezing. If you take your boots off at night you have trouble to get them on in the morning. If you don’t you cannot sleep with the cold. Some days, and on the forced night march the boots were freezing while marching. The night marching was hell. A lot of men were put in hospital with frost bitten feet and ears. The RMC chap with us told me that some would have to have one foot off and a few would lose two. Seven Russians passed out that first week, I saw three of them at one barn. The only thing that kept me going was the thought that we were going west and that was going home.
24th February 1945: We have had 250 grams of bread per day since the 19th except for one day it was stopped as two men were found stealing potatoes and one day no soup.
25th February 1945: Still in the same barn, things are very bad. You can sell one days bread for 3 cigs. Getting weak, blackout when I stand up. A lot have got dysentery and one chap fainted. Lost the Pole last night - I had to get rid of all his clothes. I spend all my time thinking of food. Guards shot Russian for stealing potatoes and planted him ten minutes later in the yard. Sandy gone to hospital. One Red Cross parcel for thirty five men - I got half a tin of Ovaltine.
12th March 1945: Marched 22 KM west to a new barn. New guards much better. Started with Aussie and Keyes.
15th March 1945: Weather much better. Had a wash down. First time I’ve had my pants off since starting.
16th March 1945: Went to bed with pants and pullover off.
25th March 1945: Letter home and washed down. About thirty men working cutting wood. One or two men to a house.
29th March 1945: Had half a Red Cross parcel. I went out working for a day and had too much to eat. After so long on so little I’ve been ill all day. I’ve also got piles. Good news heard today that our troops are 240kms west.
5th April 1945: Marching again- given half a loaf for two days, going to a Stalag- marched 25KM, rained all day.
6th April 1945: Marched 26KM- its not a Stalag just new huts for the 1200 men. Anyway it’s the finish of the march (we hope). It’s the first time we’ve had a bed since 20th January. We have been having seven men to a loaf, we are hoping it won’t be less.
8th April 1945: Ten men to a loaf. Met H. Harris, P. Evans, Stan Fowler and G. Franklin. Half the camp is lousy. Can’t get water to drink, but got a parcel a man. I can’t leave the butter alone- I’ve been eating it with a spoon.
13th April 1945: George away with the NCO- I have not done any work yet been going sick.
14th April 1945: I had to go to work
16th April 1945:
Five hundred men came to the camp for the night. They say the Yanks are near Dresden. Everyone sent back to the camp from work. We are hoping we’re not off. got 4 cigs a man from the Red Cross.
19th April 1945: Big air battle over the camp. One 4 engine bomber came down near the camp, and a few further away. No news but all hoping for the best.
20th April 1945: Things getting bad. Sold my cigs for 1 and ½ loafs. We can hear gun fire. A few planes bombed somewhere west of the camp. We could see the bombs leaving the planes.
21st April 1945: We can hear guns but cannot tell where or how far away as we're in the hills. Water came on at 2.00 am this morning. I got up and got three soupbowls full for a bath. Found a few lice in my vest.
24th April 1945: I think we were hoping for too much. Everything gone quiet, no air raids or gunfire. Feel weak when I walk about. Everyone is the same. All you can hear is men talking of food. It don’t worry me now. There is talk of moving. Hope not- if we have to sleep out in the woods it will kill us.
25th April: They want seven hundred men for work tomorrow- I went sick today but must see MO in the morning. Sold my cigarette lighter for 2 cigars
26th April: Seen the MO. He told me my chest is all right but there is something wrong with my heart. He did not say what. Anyway no work. Seven hundred men had to go to Pirna.
27th April 1945: Done some washing, and when I went to get my dinner I had my socks swiped. Heard the Lambsdorf crowd are away.
30th April 1945: Got a smoke- Kaye sold his socks. Good soup not water.
1st May 1945: BBC news given out (good). The war must be over they have just given us half a cup of milk at 9.00pm at night, and the soup today was very good.
2nd May 1945: They came into the hut at 1.00am this morning with the news that Hitler had been killed, and Donitz has taken over, and a few hours later that Berlin has fallen.
3rd May 1945: BBC news very good. We are all waiting for the finish. Half a cup of milk.
4th May 1945: Fifty german cigarettes a man, the first since 1940 that we could get. Yesterday bread was 15 cigarettes, this morning it is 3. BBC says the north has fallen. It seems we will be the last. German and Polish MO passed me as unfit to march.
5th May 1945: Talk of the sick moving and the camp can hear guns
6th May 1945: Ready to move at 6.00am but not going now until 1.00 don’t know where to, but near a hospital- guns going all night.
7th May 1945: Left Hohenstine at 1.00pm. Got to Bilin at 10.00pm. Seen the doc at hospital. Left Bilin for Stalag 1Vc (Teplice)- hear the war is over.
8th May 1945: They say we can march to our lines, or stay- I am moving. 3.00pm over taken by Russians at Dubi.
9th May 1945: Started marching to the Yanks. Got a lift 28kms that makes 80K. At Karlsbad slept out.
9th May 1945: Behind the Yank lines!
10th May 1945: New house at Eger- Slept!Gabrielle Taylor
Dvr. William Jacklin Royal Engineers (d.14th Nov 1943)My aunt met William Jacklin during the war when he was stationed in Northern Ireland. He was a Protestant and she a Roman Catholic. William became a Roman Catholic so he and my aunt could marry. When William returned to England to commence with the war he made my mum promise that she would look after my aunt when he was away at war.
One evening my mum was walking home to my grandparent's house and she saw william walking towards her and then disappear. Next day a telegram arrived to say that he had been shot accidentally at his barracks. William died on the 14th November, 1943. His body was brought back to my aunt in N. Ireland and he is buried in the local cemetery. My aunt was only 21 and just married a year.
If anyone knew a Wiliam Jacklin service no. 195007 Royal Engineers or served with him I would like to hear from them.Carmel Curry
Spr. John Galloway Royal EngineersMy father served as a Sapper in the North African Campaign before being shipped over to Greece in 1941, where he was captured, I think in the Bay of Corinth, by the Germans on 29 April 1941. I know that he was imprisoned firstly in Stalag 4B (Mûhlberg) and at a later date transferred to Stalag 4C (Wistritz), but have no idea, record or means of finding out when.
My father died, aged 83, in 1998. He spent his working life as a bricklayer, but it was his recollection of his wartime experiences and his command of German which led to my studying the language and engaging in Twinning activities between my county in Scotland (East Lothian) and its twin county in Germany (Spree-Neisse), which is situated only 2 hours by train from Mûhlberg.
I have visited Mûhlberg on 2 occasions, most recently only 2 weeks ago with a group of students. Frau Stamm gave us an illuminating guided tour on both occasions.Alex Galloway
Spr. Stanley Hedley Nesfield Royal EngineersI have just recently discovered that a great uncle of mine, Stanley Nesfield, was a POW at Stalag VIIIb (Lamsdorf), and I was searching the web for more info when I found this great site.
Uncle Stan served pre-war in India with DWR, but was a sapper with the Royal Engineers when captured at or near Dunkirk 1940. His army number was 4609648, and POW number 11416. The only information I have is that he was in camp 344, Labinowice (Lamsdorf/Stalag VIIIb). Uncle Stan died in 1982, and I am told he never spoke about his time in Lamsdorf, but I am trying to piece together this informaton as a record for our family. I would really like to find out more about his time at Lamsdorf, and how he came to get back to the UK.
Hope someone can help and offer some advice on where to look for more information.Peter
Major Herbert Burchill Royal EngineersMy father Herbert Burchill joined up in 1942 as he was not released by his company until then. He lived and worked in The Republic of Ireland which was neutral all through the war. Upon travelling to England he signed up with the Royal Engineers and was sent to Elgin for his training. He had served his time training as an engineer at the Inchicore Works of the Irish Railways. Thus he was assigned to the Railway section of the Royal Engineers.
He landed in Europe on D+3 and told me that he was present at the opening of Dachau. After the surrender he was posted to Berlin where he was responsible for the operation of a section of the German Railways. He was demobed in 1946 and returned to Ireland in good health. Subsequently he lived in England and The United States. He died in 1993 at the age of 85.John Burchill
Cpl. Horace Ernest Ayears 579 Field Coy. Royal Engineers (d.17th Jun 1940)My father, Cpl H E Ayears of Kent Fortress Royal Engineers TA, died on the Lancastria. He should have returned on the Duchess Of York but he volunteered to return to Honfleur with Captain T Goodwin (who survived) and party to destroy oil storage depot there. When they returned to the docks the Duchess Of York had sailed, so they boarded Lancastria.
I have been told he was asleep in No 1 hold at time of bomb. I have obtained a lot of information from C.C. Brazier's book "XD Operations". It also contains a Roll Of Honour from his party from Kent Fortress Royal Engineers who died with him.
- Sapper H.W.Blackman.
- Lance Cpl.E.G.Brown.
- Lance Cpl.E.E.Plummer
- Lance Cpl.Shute.
Incidentally my mothers wedding ring fell off at 4 pm on the 17th of June 1940 into a bowl of water.Allan Ayears
Spr. Bernard Charles Cambers 560 Field Coy Royal Engineers (d.17th Oct 1940)My father's brother Bernard Cambers along with Dennis Cooke, John Pratt were all Royal Engineers killed whilst laying mines at Gt. Yarmouth 1940. Can anyone remember this incident or have any information?Ann Maddams
Spr. Alfred Bird Royal EngineersI am trying to find any information on my father Sapper Alfred Bird, Royal Engineers who was held captive in both Stalags XX1B and XX1D throughout the whole of the war. He died when I was only 13 years old. My mother is 92 years. I would dearly love to find out anything about these camps or anyone who may remember him. Christine ShawChristine & Don Shaw
Spr. Gordon Redman Royal EngineersMy dad Gordon Redman was in the second world war as a sapper. his regiment was essex fortress 469 medium company 74 battery AA royal engineers. He was a cook in Oswestry where he met J B Priestly and he was at Languard fort Felixstowe and Mistly. It would be nice to hear from anyone who knew him.Vicki Manning
Spr. Tom Mathew Fisher 247 Field Park coy. Royal EngineersTom Fisher sailed on the SS Princess of Japan on the 12th of Nov 1941 from Scotland to Bombay, via Freetown, Siera Leone and Durban, South Africa. Where he changed ships and sailed to Basra via the Gulf, arriving on the 17th Feb 1942 and going from there to Shaiba, then on to Bagdad in March then Ramadi s later in the month. He arrived in Habbaniya, Iraq maybe in April then went to Awasi and back to Bagdad on the 24th of July. He went to Kermanshah, Iran on the 6th of July 1942 then to Quarakqun, Iraq on the 23rd of Nov 1942 and back to Bagdad on the 1st of January 1943. Later that month he went to Kirkuk, then Musaiyib, Iraq on the 18th Feb 1943 and back to Bagdad on 14th March. Four days later he moved to Shaiba then to Haifa, Palestine on the 24th April 1943, to Tel aviv four days later. On the 3rd of January 1944 he went to Tahag and was transferred to REME at Tel el Kebir on the 10th February 1944, he was transferred back to RE at Adassia on the 7th of May 1944 and went on to Tel el Keibir Adabeya then to Quassassin in September 1944
Names in his unit in Ramadi 1942 when they were constructing a road to Hit are:
I'm looking for more information. Particulary when they ran into combat. I don't think they saw a lot of combat but some of the photos he took show that he saw deadly combat at least once.
- L/Cpl Webster
- Sgnt Mocdale
- Cpl Richards
Cpl. Brinley Norman Williams Royal EngineersMy father, Bryn Williams, served in the war from 1939 in the Royal Engineers. He was just 21 when he joined up as a sapper, and became an engineer artificer. He initially served in France, and then in the Middle East. That was the only part of his war he ever spoke about - with stories and photos (now lost) of his time in the Holy Land.
He then went to North Africa, and his army records show that he was captured at Gazala, which I understand was part of the Battle of Tobruk. He was captured in June 1942 and was 'in Italian hands'. He was transferred to Germany 'Stalag V111B through Stalag IVB' and was liberated in April 1945. Dad never talked about this time of his life, but I do recall seeing a newspaper cutting that my grandmother had kept. It reported his return from the war, and that his health was very poor. My grandmother fed him on raw eggs in milk, which was all his digestion could manage. She told me that they had been so hungry that they had eaten grass.
I guess there will be few, if any, people who remember him, but I should be really interested to find out more if I can.Su Milchard
Jim Coulter Royal EngineersMy neigbour, Jim Coulter, served in the Royal Engineeers, he was captured and was placed in Stalag 8b. Does anyone remember him? He was asking of a Ron Tovey of Monmouth who he hasn't seen since.Will Armstrong
Spr. William Diver Royal EngineersMy grandfather William Driver enlisted in the Royal Engineers in November 1939 aged 43, having also fought previously in World War 1. He served with the British Expeditionary Force in France up until the evacuation from Dunkirk in May 1940, was then posted to the Middle East and finally to Crete where he was taken prisoner in May 1941. He was transported to Lamsdorf where he spent four years in Stalag 344 until his liberation by the Russians in April of 1945. His prison number was 8273. He died in the mid 1960s so I never had the opportunity to talk to him about his wartime experiences, but my father has told me some of the details. He suffered severe deprivations as did all the POWs, and was struck with a rifle by a guard for passing a cigarette butt to a fellow prisoner. This affected his eyesight for the remainder of his life.
I've travelled to Crete a number of times, but would love to find out more about the camp where he was held. I have a photograph taken in the camp with him on the far right of a group of POWs. I also have some German newspaper clippings showing the airborne invasion of Crete, and some postcards that he sent from the camp.Gerry Diver
WO11 CSM Ted Chapman MM. Royal Engineers (d.31st May 1940)My great uncle Ted Chapman was killed on the beaches of Dunkirk. My nan always talked of her brother Ted with great affection, and always told us when he was killed, his men refused to leave him on the beaches they carried his body home which must off been hard for them.
After nan passed away I came across a picture of his grave stone. Cutting a long story short I found Ted in the Royal Engineers graveyard in Shornecliffe. It's a beautiful cemetary overlooking the sea. I would like to find out more about how my uncle Ted was killed and any other information about him and his men.Jeff Warne
Sgt.Maj. Cyril Walter Glasgow Royal EngineersMy great grandad, Cyril Glasgow, was in the Royal Engineers, he was a seargant major. He served in many countries Afica, Germany, Italy. He did mainly bomb disposal.Sarah James
Spr. John Andrew Royal EngineersMy father, John Andrew, joined the Army in October 1939 for the duration of the war with the Royal Engineers as a Sapper, at the Drill Hall, Stoke On Trent. He was 19 years and 11 months old.
He was told to go to Plymouth by the Sergeant, and he went with his friend Albert who was from Fenton Stoke on Trent. They then moved from Plymouth to Dovercourt and on the 1st of December 1939 the company sailed to France and docked at Cherbourg, they stayed there for a short while then went to Boulogne, where they all slept in a fish market. They all moved out of the fish market, just as they had left there the Germans bombed the fish market. They all went into the army trucks and moved to Camiers then to Etaples then back to Boulogne. They were all surrounded by German snipers at the docks in Boulogne and all had to make a run for it to the railway station and they got there The Welsh Guards were already there. The Royal Engineers and The Welsh Guards had run out of ammunition. and were surrounded by the Germans. One of the German soldiers had his finger on the trigger and he was laughing when he said, well lads the war is over for you. They were all now prisoners of war.
They all left Boulogne on the 25th of May 1940 and had to march into Germany, which took three weeks, sleeping in open fields in all sorts of weather. Then they marched into Poland to a big city called Poznan. To an underground fort which had big metal doors. They were at the fort for 11 months.
Then they left Poland by rail into railway wagons which had sliding doors, they were pushed like cattle and taken to a prisoner of war camp which was Stalag 344. They worked at a grave stone factory and the other half at a paper mill. Some of the prisoners were moved to Stalag v111B at Lamsdorf. My Dad was one of those people, he worked in the salt mines but he started to cough up blood and was moved to working in the Black Forest sawing down trees.
When Dad was in Stalag V111B he met Commander Douglas Bader, who was known for trying to escape. My Dad was interested in music, so were some other soldiers that dad knew. Dad played the harmonica; one played the banjo, the accordion also the guitar. Dad had been playing the harmonica since the age of three. An English Officer asked my Dad if he would play his harmonica in the concert Dad said that he was nervous in front of a lot of people. The Officer told him to close his eyes so he wouldn’t see anybody. So Dad agreed to play his harmonica in the concert. This was 1944. The Americans and the Russians joined forces with England and the prisoners heard that there was going to be an invasion which did happen in June 1944.
The prisoners of war woke up one morning just after Christmas 1945, and found that all the guards had left the camp. The prisoners of war got into the army trucks that had been left and went their separate ways. Dad was helped by some Russian soldiers who gave him some food. Dad then reached the American lines and was deloused and taken by plane with some other prisoners of war and to England. My Dad didn’t go home straight away he was taken to Bournemouth Hospital until he could go home.Dorothy Plimb
Richard Wyndham Jones 100th Coy Monmouthshire Royal EngineersMy grandfather, Wyndham Jones, was evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940. I believe he was with the 100th Coy of the Monmouthshire Royal Engineers, and was one of few of that company who was evacuated from Dunkirk. He never spoke of what happened, apart from very summarised answers to a few people. I have read accounts of both the 100th and 101st Coy on the Monmouthshire Royal Engineers website and I would be grateful if anyone has access to any records of my grandfather.Mike Jones
CSM. William Steward MID. Royal EngineersMy Grandfather, William Steward was in the Royal Engineers. Before WWII he was in the reserves whilst working in the building trade as a ‘brickie’ in the Kidderminster area. He was called up to first be a basic trainer for the new recruits, as he told me training those called up to stay alive. He was sent to North Africa before moving on to Italy, fighting up to Monte Cassino. He said North Africa no picnic but nothing prepared you for the horrors and conditions experienced in Italy, cold mud, wet, shells and death. Newspaper was highly sought after so that you could put it inside your tunic and down your trouser legs as insulation.
The only detailed story he told, as he would not talk about the horrors and death, concerned an episode where he as a Colour Sergeant Major ‘borrowed’ a US army jeep that was not being used, and ‘found’ a good number of railway sleepers, transported them back to where he was stationed and excavated a bunker lined it with the railway sleepers then recovered it with several feet of soil. By all accounts it was a great, shell proof, relatively dry and warmer than being under canvas; the only problem some ‘officers’ noticed it and commandeered it for a communications post and he was back outside.
He was Mentioned in Dispatches, for what I don't know. What I do know is that he was strong, over 6 foot tall with a big chest 16 1/2 inch color and came with a hand shake that would break your hand if not ready for it. He was working class and took pride in rank of Colour Sergeant Major, refusing to be promoted to non commission officer ranks; to him it would have been a betrayal of his roots to become an officer.Duncan Steward
Spr. Thomas Vernon Hughes Royal EngineersMy sister and I went to Gdansk recently to find where our father, Thomas Vernon Hughes was held prisoner in Stalag 20b Malbork. He was captured on the 25th of May 1940 between Boulogne and Calais and released by the Americans 9th Army 12th April 1945.
If anyone can remember him or wishes to contact me for more information please get in touch.Marion Hughes
RQMS. Jack Edward Dyer North Staffordshire RegimentI am Jack Dyer's daughter and am now writing my father's story: The trek out of Burma through the jungle. Daddy joined North Staffordshire Regiment in Calcutta 1942 and was sent straight to Bombay with rank of Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant and transferred to Royal Engineers. I am trying to have some acknowledgement from the North Staffordshire Regiment on his joining or something of his joining. I have been told previously that all records at Calcutta were destroyed due to the impending invasion of the Japanese into India. Could anyone direct me to someone who would at least have records of Calcutta or Bombay for 1942.Patsy Evans
L/Cpl. Francis Henry Spence 995 Field Coy. Royal EngineersMy father was a sapper. He joined the South Lancs Regiment (Prince of Wales Volunteers) in 1923, he left in 1935 and joined the Royal Engineers in 1939. He served in France and in North Africa and I found two letters to my mother from Tunisia. He mentions places he has been starting with Bone where I assume he landed and several other places including Souk Ahras, Tunis and Enfidaville. In one letter he writes that he has learned that his younger brother was within a mile of him and he had not realized. He said 'I can't say that I'm glad he's here. I don't wish anyone here, to me its just a neccessary evil.'Dot Griew
Joseph Jacobs Royal EngineersMy late father Joseph Jacobs, like many men, never talked about his wartime experiences. I visited the National Archive and looked through the Questionnaires completed by POW's when liberated by the British Military only to find that there wasn't one for him.
What I do know are his German POW details after capture and holding by the the Italians: Full name Joseph Jacobs Service Number: T/279560 Army Service Corps then Royal Engineers. German Prison of War Number 154744. He was held prisoner in Stalag XVIIa then Stalag XVIIb - both near Vienna, modern day Austria and was repatriated to London in May 1945.John Jacobs
Ralph Atkinson Royal EngineersMy grandfather's name was Ralph Atkinson. He served with the Royal Engineers in the 2nd World War, Bomb Disposal. I do not know a great deal about my Grandfather, other than he died in 1944-45 of wounds whilst lifting a bomb from its crater. The tripod gave way, and the chain lifting the bomb, ripped through his leg, he later died of his wounds. He originally came from Newcastle. He is buried in the Kingsthorpe Cemetery, Northampton. I would dearly like to know more about my Grandfather. This is all I know about him.Stewart Atkinson
Cpl. Horace "Harry" Huff Royal EngineersMy Grandad was Horace Huff, the camp barber, and a prisoner for 6 years during World War 2. It has been interesting to read other accounts of the camp Stalag 383 and the goings on. His story makes me so proud and I am sure there are many like it from the time spent there. Towards the end of the war all huts were marched out of the camp on their way to Berlin. My Grandad noticed the number of people who were contracting dysentery and being shot. My Grandad encouraged an Australian man to break ranks and roll down a bank into some woods and made shelter in the rough ground. The pair then spent a week living in the woods living on berries and raw farm produce. They then heard an American tank coming with German prisoners and were enlisted to guard prisoners at the farm. The farmer's wife was unwilling to let the pair near her small children gathering them and repeating 'nein' to my Grandad. With some persuasion using a photo of my mother, who was 2, she became more friendly and after a few days there the American troops returned. From there my grandfather was taken to a repatriation camp and sent back to England. He was 6 stones in weight upon his return and went into a rehab program visiting local factories and natural sites of beauty to re-aclimatise with England. This was a big help to his recovery and he soon became a good humoured and hard working steel worker once again.Richard Kitson
Cpl. Kenneth Tribe 256 Field Coy Royal Engineers (d.7th June 1944)I began delving some years ago into my husband's family history and discovered that his mother, Marjorie, had been briefly married to Kenneth Tribe a WW2 soldier of the Royal Engineers. The marriage took place in Ardwick, Manchester in 1942 when Kenneth was only 22 and less than 2 years later he was dead. Further research revealed that Corporal Tribe was part of the campaign in Italy and it was here in June 1944 that he and countless other young soldiers lost their lives. Kenneth is buried in Naples War Cemetery. Marjorie never talked about her first husband and went on to marry again.
Kenneth's mother, Mabel, was a widow and as far as I can find had no other children. One can only imagine the sorrow and anguish shared by a mother and a new bride. Marjorie kept nothing to remind her of her first husband not even a photograph and took her sorrow to the grave but his memory will always live on in the history of our family.Linda Turner
Dvr. Horrie George Stanley Carpenter Royal EngineersMy dad, Horrie Carpenter, was captured at the fall of Tobruk. He was taken to Italy where I believe he was put to work in a car factory, then onto Breslau Stalag 8a where he worked in a sugar beet factory. He told us that he escaped by swimming a river with two other prisoners, one of whom died. They were captured by the Russians and put to work digging graves for their fallen.
He was repatriated by the Red Cross through Odense. I have the map they used for their escape and his Stalag 8a dog tag. These almost got them killed by the Russians, they thought they were German but an Engliah speaking Russian realised they were English, then put them to work. Sadly, dad has passed away. I wish I had asked him more but he seemed reluctant to talk about it further. I don't know who the other guy was. I know he made friends with New Zealanders because he talked about going there to live.Barbara Brewin
Paul Daniel Jacobs Royal EngineersPaul Jacobs was my father. He was born in Pennsylvania, USA but moved to the UK in 1920, aged 3 and lived in Deganwy, Caernarvonshire. He volunteered to join the Royal Engineers and was sent to Gibraltar, where he said he was digging out the rock to make hospitals and storage facilities. He mentioned the apes on the rock and how you couldn't leave any food unattended, as they would run off with it. There was also a huge ape, obviously the group leader, who was not to be messed with! He was called home due to his mother being seriously ill, after which he worked for the Army on the railway in Llandudno Junction, North Wales, organising the troop trains. I would love to hear from anyone who might have known him then (rather unlikely I know). He wouldn't really talk about his time in Gibraltar, other than about the apes.Christine Haywood
William Yabsley Royal EngineersMy Grandad, Bill Yabsley, was a POW at Stalag XXA from 1941-1942. He was captured at Dunkirk and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner. He has lots of stories to tell, particularly one where he helped to save the lives of two Jewish girls; Magda and Suzanne Hersgovitch. Grandad is now 93 and frequently talks about his experiences as a POW. We would love to hear from anyone who can remember him, particularly Bill Ackland.Cia May
Thomas McCarthy 100th Field Company Royal EngineersMy dad, Tom McCarthy of the 100th Field Company, Royal Monmouthshire Engineers was captured at Wattou, on the retreat to Dunkirk on 29.5.1940. After a time in Stalag X11A and Stalag 344, he along with 96 other POW's was transferred to Stalag V111B at Teschen on the Polish border. I have a Christmas Card sent by POW's from Stalag in December 1942. Tom remained there as a POW (no 15356) until the "death march" on 20.1.1945. On 9 May 1945 he and other survivors crossed American lines at Karlsbad.
Sadly, my Dad died in 1963 when his three children were very young, so we were never able to talk to him about his time as a POW. But we did have left to us some pictures and Xmas Cards and a very small notebook in which he kept a record of the "death march". Tom used a pencil stub to bravely keep a record of what happened, despite the risks to him. The original of the notebook in now in the Regimental Museum in Monmouth.Gabrielle Taylor
RSM. Robert Henry Lay Royal EngineersMy Grandad Robert Lay served in Egypt as a Regimental Sgt Major for the Royal Engineers but can't seem to find any thing else. I have a photo of him with a badge on the arm it is a square with a triangle but being black and white I don't no what colour it is.Rob Lay
Sgt. Charles Samuel Frank Ashen Royal Engineers (d.16th Dec 1945)Frank Ashen was my great uncle. According to The Commonwealth War Graves Commission he died in Caeserta. He was a sergeant. My grandad, his brother, said he actually died during a card game and that someone stabbed him! Not sure if there is any truth in this would appreciate any tips on finding outMargaret Coley
Joseph Bate Hackney Royal EngineersMy great grandad was in the Royal Engineers. I believe he went to Gibralter to blow up bridges. His name is Joseph Bate Hackney. He was born in 1902. If anybody has any info or stories I would love to hear them.Paula Titterton
Robert Kinder RoyalEngineersMy grandfather, Robert Kinder, was captured in Greece in 1941, spent 4 years as POW, in Stalag 383, Hoenfels, Bavaria.
Originally from St Helen's, Lancashire, but was living in Weymouth, Dorset. We have very little information about his time in the war. If you can add to his story we would be very grateful. Thank youPaul Hartley
Hugh O'Hara Royal EngineersMy father Hugie O'Hara was amongst the troops who liberated Bergen Belsen on 15th April 1945 I think. He was in the Royal Engineers up untill 1952 and then from 1955 till 1959 in the TA 240 field Squadron RE's.Gerald O'Hara
Arthur Thomas Wells 60 Special Company Royal EngineersMy late father, Arthur Thomas Wells, served in Italy, I believe, somewhere near Naples, in World War 2. He was a member of 60 Special Company of the Royal Engineers, but I am unable to find anything out about his role. He enlisted as a Photography Assistant, but that is almost all I know. There was a report, some years ago about the Unit being involved with deception, but that is from someone who joined in 1946, even the forces records can't trace my father or his unit. There doesn't even seem to be any Association for the 60 Special Company, they don't appear to Parade in their own right on Rembemerance Day. Another one of the forgotten sections of the conflict.John Wells
L/Cpl. Alfred Alexander Derrick Royal Engineers (d.17th June 1940)My grandfather, Alfred Derrick, died on HMS Lancastria. Apparently when the ship was bombed he was thrown into the sea and covered in oil. I am actually wondering a. if anyone knew of him or b. how I would go about obtaining a photograph of him in his uniform. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.Christina Derrick
Robert James Sutton Royal EngineersRobert James Sutton is my father. He never spoke about his time in WW2, apart from being in the Royal Engineers. Before the war he was a Borough Surveyor in Surrey. He died in 1981 and I subsequently found out my mother sold his medals at the door! As a former serviceman myself (RAF for 25 years)I would like to find out more about him.Bruce Sutton
Major Walter Bennett Wignall Royal EngineersMy father, Walter Wignall was called up in December 1939. He first of all was in France, then as the engineer on the RAF station at Kirton in Lindsay, Lincs. At the beginning of 1942 he sailed in a convoy round Africa & was given a posting with the 10th army. A desert convoy to Baghdad, then Persian Gulf, Bombay, Quetta on to Zahedan. Here he was the engineer on the strategic road to Russia. He was with Paiforce. In Jan 1943 he was posted to Baghdad then in summer 1944 to Aleppo & Beirut. I am not sure when he was made a major but it was whilst with Paiforce, probably early 1943.Graham
RSM Frederick Charles Read Royal EngineersMy Great Uncle, RSM Fred Read, was a British Camp Leader at Lamsdorf Stalag 8B amongst others. He wrote his memoirs some 30 years ago and we lost touch but they were never published which was a shame. He emigrated to Africa after the war and died there and I am sure he would have loved to have seen the information here and reminisced. We have recently published his book for the Kindle on Amazon.co.uk - though you can read it on a normal PC. It is entitled "A War Fought Behind The Wire" and mentions many anecdotes about POW life. I wanted to publish it for free but Amazon has a minimum charge of £0.77. I hope others may find it interesting. I have spoken to a fellow POW who well remembers Fred Read and others may do the same. He was quite a character.Alan Pearce
Spr. Daniel Dolman 4th Field Squadron Royal Engineers (d.7th April 1945)My uncle Daniel Dolman served with 4 Field Sqn, Royal Engineers. All I know about him is that he was shot by a sniper on 7th April 1945, in Germany. His grave is at Becklingen War cemetery, Germany.Kevin Byng
Spr. Hugh Hanlon Royal EngineersMy father Hugh Hanlon was a POW in Italian hands Aug 1942. Detained until 1944 when he was sent to Stalag 1Vb & then transferred to Stalag 1VA three months later. I was very interested to see the posted photographs as I have no wartime photos of him. He returned a changed man and I lost touch with him, so thank you for the information posted.Margaret Evans
Sapper Lew P. Bray Royal EngineersI have traced my ancestor Lew Bray to Stalag 18 and then he was transferred to Stalag 375, we was with the Royal Engineers. Any information would be gratefully received.Andy Hall
Pte. John "Jack" Andrew Royal EngineersMy father, sapper John Andrew of the Royal Engineers, enlisted in October 1939 at the drill hall in Stoke. He was stationed at Raglan Barracks 2 miles outside Plymouth. He then moved to Southampton 1st December 1939 and sailed to France to Cherbourg & then they went to Boulogne.
His company were staying in an old fish market, they were ordered to move out by the Sergeant onto their army trucks because the fish market was under heavy fire. They then moved to Camiers and then to Staples then to Boulogne docks where they were surrounded by German snipers. Some of the soldiers were trying to get back to England across the English Channel.
My dad's friend was named Albert. They then made their way to the railway station and the Welsh Guards were already there. They had to go down steps to an underground air raid shelters and my dad and his comrades had to carry sandbags to the Welsh Guards to make barricades. They ran out of ammunition. The Germans then surrounded them.
My dad and the other soldiers were taken prisoners of war and left Boulogne on the 25th of May 1940 and marched into Germany which took 3 weeks, then marched into Poland to Posnam and marched to an underground fort. They were at the fort 11 months then Stalag 344 then to Stalag v111b. My father used to play an accordion also a mouth organ. In 1945 they woke up one morning and all the Germans had left the camp. My dad and other soldiers left the camp and got to the American lines where they were deloused before getting on a plane to England.
L/Cpl. Donald George Durrant Royal EngineersMy Dad, Donald George Durrant, was an engineer in the 8th Army. They were called the Desert Rats and he was posted to the Sahara Desert. He was taken prisoner - it may have been at Tobruk - and was sent to a POW Camp. He attempted to escape twice. Once with his friend Tich. As they were crawling on their bellies along a wall some Germans were crawling along the other side of the wall. Unfortunately they met at the end and they were both returned to the camp. He tried escaping again but got caught on the wire and was shot through the groin but recovered.
The guys in the camp were shipped over the Med to Italy and the prisoners were marched up through Italy all the way to Bologna where the city turned out in the streets to watch the column march through. Don dropped down to his knees and crawled out into the crowd under the noses of the German guards. He was taken in by Italians. Don let his black hair and moustache grow. He learned to speak Italian and joined the Italian resistance. However after a couple of years he was re-captured and sent to a POW camp in Gorlitz, Poland called Stalag 8a.
He was badly treated and starved there and the prisoners were made to break rocks in a quarry. Don somehow survived to the end of the war and was liberated by the Russians.
He was taken back home where my grandmother had decorated the street and everyone turned out to welcome him home. However he was too tired and emaciated. He couldn't face up to all the fuss and hid around the corner.
To add to the trauma, since he was away for years, his fiancee thought he was dead, as he hadn't been heard of and had married someone else which broke his heart.
There is lots more to tell and I have been asked to write a book of his story so I am researching and gathering evidence in earnest. If anyone has a relative or knows anyone from the WW2 Desert Rats or knows of his friend who was nicknamed Tich as he was short in stature, or maybe had a relative that was in Stalag 8a, please do get in touch, any information or contacts you have would be gratefully received.Annie Durrant
Pte. John Andrew Royal EngineersJack Andrew, my father was a prisoner of war for 5 years. He was captured in Boulogne in 1940 by the Germans. He was in Stalag V111B. As a child I never understood what he must have gone through. I feel very proud of my dad. I have had his medals mounted in a frame which is now on my wall so that I can look at them every day. He was so brave.Dorothy Plimbley
Cpl. Edwin Thomas George "Ted" Moore 100th Fld Coy. Royal EngineersMy husband's father Edwin Thomas George Moore was at Stalag V111B Lamsdorf until the end of the War. (Probably known as Ted Moore) Ted Moore was born in 1900 and also served in the 1st World War. He was a bit of a rough diamond but spoke of his memories in the Army and the Prison Camp always making a joke of everything. He was liked by all and down the pub made many friends of young lads who loved his stories. So much so that when Ted died in the 1970's there were dozens of these lads at his funeral.
At the POW Camp groups of inmates were sent out on work-parties. Trucks would take them to farms etc. I have no idea where this particular farm was located but the Farmer's name sounds like Teel or Teal. So somewhere in the Camp vicinity was a German family with the surname sounding like Teel/Teal. The Farmer had a very young son and asked my Father in law to teach him English. One day the Teel family had visitors and they were singing round a piano. The Farmer stopped the songs sung in German and proudly announced that their son would entertain all their guests as he knew many songs in English. The lad did so with great gusto as his English was indeed very good. The guests also could speak English but Farmer Teal could not! There was uproar because the guests were profoundly shocked to hear a young lad singing the usual troop songs including the many "swear" words. Corporal Ted Moore despite this remained good friends with Farmer Teel. Anyone who may remember him will know he had a Welsh accent as he was born Newport Gwent. South Wales.
In the same camp was another Newport man Albert Vittle. Albert Vittle kept escaping and getting caught. He used to say "See you in the morning Ted". My father in law said "Why do you do it Albert, you know they will catch you" The reply was "Anything to annoy the b****rs Ted”.
Ted Moore was in the Royal Monmouthshires, Royal Engineers and his number was 12591. He was a Corporal. His Life was quite sad, actually, although he would not agree with me. He left school at the age of 12. He was then in the 1914-1918 War followed by the the Second World War. He was riddled with TB. On returning to his work the Directors called him into their office and said "Ted you are not well enough to do your job so we have found you a nice light job to do, from tomorrow you are in charge of cleaning the lavatories"! Because he was a man of his time he thanked them profusely.
It makes me so angry and tearful to remember Our Glorious Wonderful Boys returning from the War to "a new world" they were told. A Land for Heroes. Well, Old Ted found the "new world" no better than the old although he never complained. In the meantime if anyone remembers Ted Moore, please e-mail me. This site is a wonderful tribute to all the men who withstood so many hardships but in their twilight years recalled the camaraderie and "funny" incidents with no bitterness. Thank you.Diana Moore
Sapper Arthur Marriott Royal Engineers (d.1945)My brother, Sapper Arthur Marriott, was in Stalag VIIIB. He was captured at Dunkirk 1940. He was then in Stalag 334 (or maybe 344 was first as I was only a child at the time). He went on the long march in 1945 and while trying to get some potatoes from the farm where they were spending the night my brother was shot and killed by a German guard. I would like to hear of anything anyone can tell me as I am the only one left.Norma Marriott
Sam Auerbach Royal EngineersSam Auerbach served in the Royal Engineers during WW2 and was a POW in Stalag 8b.
Spr. William Adams 233 Field Coy Royal Engineers (d.18th Sep 1942)William Adams died at the age of 31, he was the husband of Miriam Adams (nee Robinson) of Primrose Jarrow. William is buried in Benghazi War Cemetery.Vin Mullen
Spr. James McFarlane Barrow 629 Field Sq Royal Engineers (d.12th Mar 1943)James McFarlane Barrow died aged 31 whilst serving with the Royal Engineers. He was the son of Joseph Barrow and of Annie Barrow (nee McFarlane) of Monkton Jarrow
James is buried in Sfax War Cemetery and has a private memorial in Jarrow Cemetery. His name was missing off the old plaque in the Town Hall, Jarrow and is still missing off the new plaque.Vin Mullen
L/Cpl. Dixon Brown 233 Field Coy Royal Engineers (d.6th Jun 1944)Dixon Brown died aged 24 whilst serving with the Royal Engineers. He was the son of John Dixon Brown and Hannah Louisa Brown (nee Lowes) of Jarrow and husband of Edith Brown (nee Matthews) of Jarrow. His older brother James was also one of the fallen.
Dixon is buried in Bayeux War Cemetery.Vin Mullen
Sgt. William Bruce 506 Army Fld Coy Royal Engineers (d.11th Mar 1943)William Bruce died aged 36, he was the son of Robert Symington and Ann Elizabeth (nee Fitch) Bruce, husband of Mary J. Bruce (nee Chapman) of Jarrow.
William is buried in Jarrow Cemetery.Vin Mullen
Cpl. John William Clouston 240 Field Coy Royal Engineers (d.17th June 1944)John Clouston died aged 29, he was the son of George and Elizabeth Clouston (nee Ingoe) of Jarrow, and husband of Nora Clouston (nee Milne) of Primrose Jarrow. He is buried in Hermanville War Cemetery.Vin Mullen
Spr. Edward Graham Daglish 233 Fld Coy. Royal Engineers (d.6th Jun 1944)Edward Graham Daglish died aged 23 on teh 6th of June 1944. He was the son of William Richard and Alice Daglish (nee Jones) of Primrose, Jarrow.
Edwards is buried in the Bayeux War Cemetery.Vin Mullen
Spr. James Glen Royal Engineers (d.13th Sep 1945)James Glen died aged 23. Born in Jarrow in1922, he was the son of Alexander and Margaret B. Glenn (nee Wilkinson) of Jarrow.
He is buried in Jarrow Cemetery and is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
Spr. Colin Hart 238 Field Company Royal Engineers (d.23rd Jul 1943)Colin Hart died aged 23 whilst serving with the Royal Engineers. Born in Jarrow in 1920 he was the son of Joseph and Elizabeth H. Hart (nee Fisher) of Primrose, Jarrow.
Colin is buried in Bari War Cemetery and is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
Sgt. John Hillis 233 Field Company Royal Engineers (d.29th Jun 1942)John Hillis died Age 26 whilst serving with the Royal Engineers. Born in Jarrow in 1916 he was the son of John and Sarah Hillis (nee Woods) and husband of Caroline Hillis (nee Scott) of Jarrow
John is remembered on the Alemein Memorial and is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
Spr. James Hudson 233 Field Company Royal Engineers (d.26th Oct 1942)James Hudson died aged 31 whilst serving with the Royal Engineers. Born in Hebburn in 1910 he was the son of Robert and Mary Lydia Hudson (nee Lucas) and husband of Hannah Hudson (nee Carrick) of Jarrow
James is buried in El Alemein War Cemetery and is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
Spr. Thomas Irvine 192nd Docks Operating Company Royal Engineers (d.24th Feb 1944)Thomas Irvine died aged 28. He was born in South Shields in 1919 the son of Thomas and Ellen Irvine (nee Murray) of Jarrow.
Thomas is buried in Catania War Cemetery, Sicily and is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
Spr. Arthur Judge 233 Field Coy Royal Engineers (d.20th Jul 1940)Arthur Judge who died aged 20 was born in Jarrow in 1920. He was the son of Arthur and Comrie J. Judge (nee Adams) of Jarrow.
Arthur is buried in Jarrow Cemetery and is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
Sgt. Richard Henry Laidler 507 Field Company Royal Engineers (d.29th May 1940)Richard Laidler died aged 40. He was born in Jarrow in 1899, son of Alexander and Helen Laidler (nee Grey). He was the husband of Mary Eleanor Laidler (nee Gwynn) of Primrose Jarrow
Richard is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial and is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
Pte. David Reuben Mason 15 Field Park Coy. Royal EngineersMy brother and I are trying to find out which WW2 medals our father had presented to him after the war. We have the medals 39/45 Star, France & Germany Star, Defence Medal, WW2 War Medal, but need to know why he has a ribbon with and attached with all the corresponding medals that looks like a DFC, white background with purple diagonal stripes. We have all the medals but the possible DFC. We would like to know why and if he had it and why did he get it. We have his army pay book with his army number. We do hope someone can help.Terence Mason
Spr. George W.A. Mayor Royal Engineers (d.5th June 1945)George Mayor who died age 25 was born in Teesdale in 1920 to William and Mary Evangeline Mayor (nee Clarke) of Jarrow.
George is buried in Jarrow Cemetery and is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
Spr. John McCann 954 Railway Operating Company Royal Engineers (d.27th Dec 1944)John McCann died age 32. He was born in Jarrow in 1912, son of James P. and Elizabeth Ann McCann (nee McMullen) of Jarrow
John is buried in St. Sever Cemetery Extension Rouen and is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
Spr. Frank Pratt 233 Field Coy. Royal Engineers (d.22nd Mar 1943)Frank Pratt, son of William Bow H. and Mary Pratt (nee Mills), was born in Jarrow, County Durham, in 1918. he died aged 24 during The African Campaign, and is commemorated on Face 10 of the Medjez-El-Bab Memorial, Béja, Tunisia. He is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance to Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
Spr. William Hemsley Reavley 3 Field Sqd. Royal Engineers (d.14th Apr 1941)William Hemsley Reavley, son of Nathaniel and Marjorie Mitchell Reavley (nee Hepburn), was born in Jarrow, County Durham, in 1916. He died aged 24 during the Battle of Greece, and is buried at Phaleron War Cemetery, near Athens. He is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance to Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
L/Cpl. William Small Royal Engineers (d.29th May 1940)William Small was born in Jarrow in 1919, and died aged 20. He was the son of William and Annie Small (nee Young) of Jarrow. He served with the the Royal Engineers HQ I Corps and is remembered on the Dunkirk Memorial and is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
George Softley Royal EngineersGeorge Softley Royal Engineers is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
Sgt. John Stewart 233 Field Company Royal Engineers (d.29th Jun 1942)John Stewart was born in Jarrow in 1906, the son of Thomas and Eliza Stewart (nee Lindsay) and the husband of Josephine Stewart (nee Bonham). He died aged 36 and is buried in El Alamein War Cemetery. He is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
Cpl. John Surtees 233 Field Company Royal Engineers (d.7th Aug 1943)John Surtees was born in Chester le Street in 1920. He was the son of George Surtees MM and Ann B W Surtees (nee Lowerson) of Hebburn and elder brother to Ronald. He died aged 22 and is buried in the Catania War Cemetery, Sicily. He is also commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
Spr. Errol Wrightson 233 Field Company Royal Engineers (d.13th Aug 1943)Errol Wrightson died aged 23, he was the son of Thomas William and Lily Wrightson of Jarrow and is buried in Catania War Cemetery Sicily. He is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
Spr. Joseph Yates 1018 Docks Operating Company Royal Engineers (d.17th Jun 1943)Joseph Yates died aged 22, he was the son of Richard and Rachel A. Yates of Jarrow. He is remembered on the Brookwood Memorialand is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
Dvr. John Henry Parton 677 Artisan Works Coy. Royal Engineers
In February 1941, at the age of 20, I received my 'calling up' papers and had to report to the Royal Engineers Training Camp at Gresford, Wales. After three months of training I passed out as a Driver.
From the training I had to report to a Bailey Bridge Company, the 247 Field Park Company in Crawley, Sussex, and soon after the Company moved to Billingshurst. Another move took us to Bournemouth, and here we were billeted in houses commandeered by the Army for their use. I was in Tower House in the Canford Cliffs area. One night at about ll.00 p.m. we heard the sirens and a single bomber dropped a time bomb in the garden. We were told to evacuate the house but before we could do so the bomber came round again, dropped a further bomb which again landed in the garden but nearer to the house destroying a large portion of it. Some of the soldiers sustained cuts and bruises but no one was killed. The next day three of us were told to locate the unexploded bomb to put a cordon around it. We searched for a while to no avail and came to the conclusion it was buried under the house rubble. As we were about to move the rubble the tea wagon arrived and we went to get a drink. As we sat on some grass to drink the tea suddenly there was a tremendous bang from the unexploded bomb – it must have been our lucky day! Had the tea wagon not arrived at that moment we would have been moving the rubble. That night we all dispersed to several different billets used by the other lads until a more suitable place was found for us near Branksome Park.
Whilst in Bournemouth the Banns were posted for my marriage to my fiancée Kathleen and we married in August 1942 in our home village of Hadley in Shropshire. We will celebrate our 72nd Anniversary this coming August 2014.
About a month after the move to Branksome Park another move took place, this time taking us to Shroton. As we were no longer known as a Bridging Company our wagons were left there for use by other companies.
Following this we went to Street, Somerset, where our task was to do maintenance work for other companies until we were shipped abroad. Before we moved from Street, I was downgraded because of an eye defect, and was posted to a holding unit at Halifax before being taken on by the 677 Artisan Works Company Royal Engineers who were stationed at Hull. I was put into H.Q. Platoon and there were four other platoons to make up the Company. I had an interview with Major Witton and one question he asked me was “What did you do in civvy life?” I replied that I was a barber. He asked me if I had any tools at home and if so to send for them. This I did, and from then on I was the Company barber and would be sent out to whichever platoon needed a trim.
From Hull we went to Seaview on the Isle of Wight to be trained for the kind of work that we would be carrying out once we moved abroad. This was construction of petrol installations, ship to shore lines, pipe lines and large tank farms. After our six weeks training here we were sent to Woodhouse Eaves, again for six weeks. Our next move was to Tenby and here the Company’s task was to carry out the same type of installations we practiced on the Isle of Wight. Another move was this time to Saundersfoot, where we slept in bivouacs. Here petrol was brought in by large barges, two of which grounded and cracked causing thousands of gallons of petrol to be lost; some we were able to save.
Our next move was to Tow Law, County Durham. This journey was to take two days as we were to stay at a staging camp in Shropshire for the night before leaving early next morning for the remainder of the journey. We had reached Bridgnorth (about 15 miles from my home) when the convoy was halted and someone came to tell me that the Major wanted to speak to me. He said “You live in Shropshire, do you know where Apley Park is?”, I replied “Yes Sir, it is near to where I live”. I then had to sit in the Staff car and lead the way for the rest of the convoy. On arrival I asked if I could go home for the night and he answered “Yes but be back here for 6.00 a.m. tomorrow morning."
We started on the rest of our journey and arrived at Tow Law in County Durham where the weather was terrible. We were under canvas once again and the water just ran through the tents but fortunately our stay here was a short one. We then moved to Staindrop, where we were to have three weeks physical training but after two days we had orders to go back to Tow Law and thankfully this was only for one week. Our next move was to Grimsby, quite a pleasant place, and from there to Chandlers Ford before going to Scarborough for further training on petrol pipe lines. Here we stayed with civilians in their homes.
Early in June 1944 we moved to Berrys Green near to Sevenoaks to prepare to go abroad and this is where we saw the first flying bombs. Our wagons were taken to the docks in London, and the rest of us moved to a tented park in Southampton awaiting orders. When these came through it was to go to the docks ready to sail for France. We boarded the Empire Spearhead on the 28th June, and dropped anchor a mile from the French coast. We then had to climb down netting thrown over the side of the ship to landing craft which were to land us on the beach near to Arromanches.
From there we walked to an area a short distance away where we stayed the night. We had no cover as our kitbags were left on the beach. Unfortunately there were two terrific thunderstorms that night and we were all drenched. Next morning, a wagon was sent out to search for us. Having located us the driver informed the R.A.S.C. who came to collect us to take us to Escures, where we met up with our own transport. Bivouacs were erected and the Company settled down to our first permanent location in Normandy. Here we could hear the gun fire at Caen which was still held by the Germans, and where fierce fighting was still ongoing. The following morning orders came to report to Port en Bessin to construct petrol installations and pipe lines for petrol that was to be brought into Cherbourg and Port en Bessen. Another pipe line was erected between Port en Bessen and Bayeux. Cherbourg was still in German hands.
Once Cherbourg had fallen we moved from Escures to Juvigny near to Tilly. This move came about because Caen had fallen and the Germans were in full retreat. Recent heavy fighting had taken place here, the smell of death was everywhere, dead cattle were lying in the fields and men had been buried in very shallow graves and the road had been heavily shelled. Our bivouac area was by the side of a church and large chateau; both had been heavily shelled. The weather was very hot and I remember having a parcel from home which, among other items, included insect repellent; we were plagued by flies and wasps which carried disease and we all had a form of dysentery. Our first job was to burn the carcasses of the dead cattle around the camp and unfortunately one of my mates was blown up by a booby trap and seriously injured.
At Juvigny we were to erect more petrol storage tanks and several miles of pipe line as well as felling trees which were in the path of the pipe lines. On completion of this task we moved again further up the line to Aunay, which was a terrible place as all the houses had been shelled and there were no people, only dogs, cats, and cows, and these were all starving. From here we moved further up the line to another village where we slept in the open, it was pouring with rain all night but we were given a rum ration to cheer us up. Our task here was to erect more storage tanks and on completion of this job all platoons were sent to various places, where I had to follow to keep the lads in “trim!”
At Escures we lost two of the lads as their vehicle was involved in an accident with a civilian truck. Moving from Escures further up the line to Rouen we passed abandoned German vehicles and other military equipment.The port of Ostend had now been opened and tankers were able to offload petrol there, so the company moved there to build further storage tanks. Unfortunately, a valve burst on one of the tanks and petrol was lost, some running into a small bunker. About two days later there was a loud explosion followed by a fire. After the fire had been put out, the body of a British sailor was found. We reckoned he had gone into the bunker to have a look around and had probably struck a match causing the explosion.
Work continued on various pipe lines and as it was late December it was bitterly cold. I was outside cutting hair because all the buildings had been booby trapped. A tanker was unloading petrol when I heard someone shout from the deck asking “Could you come on board to cut hair?” I answered “Yes, if I could get permission”. This was granted, so I went aboard and tidied them up before they sailed.
We had our Christmas dinner in Ostend, and in mid-January we moved to a village called Leke and here we were billeted in civilian homes. I was with a family named Del Rue. There was Mr & Mrs Del Rue, two sons and one daughter named Madeleine. They were very kind to us, and in the evenings invited us to sit around their kitchen fires with them. Whilst we were at Leke the whole village was covered with snow. It was here that some of us were to be sent on our first leave since D-Day and to decide who would be lucky enough to get a leave pass, all names were put into a hat and I was told that my name had been drawn out. I was to sail from Calais, but the weather was so bad that the ship was delayed for a day. When I did arrive home my wife presented me with a daughter, born on February 5th, the day I should have arrived had the boat not been delayed.
After my leave we moved to a place near Calais, and here the lads were sent to various sites to do a variety of jobs, one of which was to build a large Parcel Depot for the Army Post Office in the docks. As usual I followed, still cutting hair, and one of my sites was the Calais Lighthouse. We went from Calais to Bourg Leopold where we were erecting POW camps. It was here we received orders to “cease fire” but this did not affect our work.
We moved again to Eindhoven in Holland where the lads carried out some work on civilian properties that had been bombed. The Phillips Radio Factory was also situated in Eindhoven. We next heard that we were to move close to the German border to a place near to Venlo and from here to Bonn before going to our final destination of Mehlem on the River Rhine. Company Headquarters was in a large mansion which had belonged to a Baron and we were billeted in a smaller house in the grounds. The mansion fronted the River Rhine with magnificent views of the Drachenfels on the other side of the river. Someone cut down a large tree and the trunk was used as a flag pole on which the Union Jack was very quickly hoisted for the first time on German territory. It was at Mehlem where the Company split up and I was posted to Bad Oeynhausen to await my demobilisation in July 1946.
On arrival home my wife had secured a rented shop for me and I was able to start my own hairdressing business. In time another shop a few yards away was for sale and so I left the rented shop and bought a double fronted shop, remaining there for 40 years until I retired.
I could not end this article without saying that some ten years ago when my daughter and her husband were on holiday in York, they met a Belgian couple with whom they spent some time. They were telling them about me being stationed with the Del Rue family, and when they returned to their home they went to Leke to take a photo of the house to send to me. They discovered that daughter Madeleine was still living there with her husband and they welcomed them into their home. Unbelievably, they still had a photo of my wife and I that I had given them in 1945. Sadly Madeleine and her husband have passed away, but on the odd occasion and always around Christmas time we still correspond with Madeleine’s daughter Carine. Whilst our daughter and husband were on holiday in Belgium in 2008 they were able to meet up with Carine and talk of my time spent in Leke.I am now in my 94th year and I often wonder if any of the lads from 677 A.W. Company, Royal Engineers are still alive today?John Parton
Arthur Thornton Royal EngineersMy grandad Arthur Thornton started his army career in the Duke of Wellingtons but was transferred to the Royal Engineers. He was stationed in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and all I know is that they were building a dam (amongst other things). I would love to find out more, can anyone help?Catherine Bowles
Spr. Constantine Perdik Royal Engineers (d.25th Aug 1942)Constantine Perdik died aged 24, he was born in Jarrow in 1917, son of John and Priscilla Perdik (nee Douglas) of Jarrow. He is buried in Jarrow Cemetery and is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
Spr. George William Rymell 255 Field Company Royal Engineers (d.24th Apr 1943)George William Rymell served with 255 Field Company Royal Engineers and died, age 22, on the 24th April 1943. He was born in Willington Quay 1920, the son of Thomas H. and Mary Rymell (nee Morland).
He is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall and is buried in Massicault War Cemetery.Vin Mullen
Corporal David Cooper Simpson 507 Field Company Royal Engineers (d.5th Jul 1941)David Cooper Simpson died aged 37, he was born in Jarrow in 1903 and was the husband of Janet Simpson (nee Brady). he is buried in Jarrow Cemeteryand is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
WO2. Alfred John Whittingstall 233 Field Company Royal Engineers (d.13th Nov 1942)Alfred John Whittingstall served with 233 Field Company, Royal Engineers and died, age 47, on the 13th November 1942. He also served during WW1 as Sapper, Acting Lance Corporal, 470125 Royal Engineers. Alfred was the son of Alfred John and Margaret Ann Whittingstall of Jarrow. He was the husband of Henrietta Whittingstall of Primrose, Jarrow.
He is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall and ris buried in Tel El Kebir War Memorial Cemetery in 8 Egypt.Vin Mullen
Spr. William Blyth Nichol 586 Field Company Royal Engineers (d.25th Apr 1944)William Nichol died age 26, he was born in Jarrow in 1917, son of Ishmael and Georgina Nichol (nee Blyth) of Jarrow. William is buried in Cassino War Cemetery and is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
Dvr. William Green Royal EngineersBill Green served with the Royal Engineers and was held as POW No. 13828. Nothing else is known unfortunately.Mike Clarke
Spr. James Ormston Royal Engineers (d.22nd Feb 1943)James Ormston died aged 33, he was born in Jarrow in 1909, son of James and Elizabeth Ormston (nee Gallant) of Jarrow. He was the husband of Rachel Elizabeth Ormston (nee Smith) of Primrose Jarrow. James is buried in Jarrow Cemetery and is commemorated on the WW2 Roll of Honour Plaque in the entrance of Jarrow Town Hall.Vin Mullen
Pte. John Cameron Royal EngineersJohn Cameron was captured within 6 days of the war and was from Scotland. I am trying to find out what regiment he would have been from first and then take it from there. He spent the whole war there also. There are three photos attached, one with a fellow prisoner. I am just looking for a starting point really.
Editors Note: a search on Ancestry shows that John Cameron was in the Royal Engineers and was a craftsman. Stalag XX-A was located in Torun, Poland. The Record Office given for this information is Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers Record Office, 2A, Tichborne Street, Leicester.Mark Liddell
Spr. William James Smith 245 (Welsh) Field Coy Royal EngineersMy late dad William (Bill) James Smith served from 1943/46 posted in various European countries Belgium France Holland Germany. He was on the Rhine with the 101st & 82nd American airborne I believe and a Polish armoured division at various times. I have photos of Rhine bridges he I understand was attached to a company called R force at some point?
He did not talk much as was the way from what these brave men went through I think at the end of the war in 1945/6 in the Black Forest he went out for rabbits/game and the three of them were walking in the Forest and one fella had in his possession a German Luger pistol and my dad said to him put the pistol away as they are very sensitive by an act of God where my dad was walking they changed their walking formation and the pistol went off and the fella in the position where my dad had been fell shot through the head by accident by the fella who had been forwarned to put away the gun. My Dad tried to stop the blood with his fingers in his head, they were picked up a by a search party after not returning to camp. My Dad did not realise that he had died instantly but would not leave him. I understand that my Dad was put on courts martial with the other fella until the full facts were found he was released with no charge and was commended for what he tried to do at that moment it was as he said an accident and a tragic loss of life and a lesson to respect weapons at all times sad loss to this fella's family. It obviously stayed with my dad till he passed away in June 2000.
I have a photo I believe may be one of the fellas who was shot? I do have some other short stories but I cannot substantiate as accurate detail in all my words. Bless Bill my dad and all the brave men &women in all the wars before then and now for all their brave acts for me and all others to live our lives as we do.Robert Smith
Alexander Frame Royal EngineersAlexander Frame was my grandfather and served with the Royal Engineers.Max
L/Cpl. George Francis Bonham Royal Engineers (d.10th Aug 1944)George Francis Bonham served with the Royal Engineers. He was born in 1915 in Walsall to Sarah A. and Thomas R. Bonham, and was my Great Uncle. He had previously served for six years in the army and was recalled to the colours in August 1939. He was invalided home from France before the capitulation in 1940. He married his young wife Molly in Hertfordshire in 1942. He and Molly did not have children.
He was amongst the first to cross the channel with the invasion forces on D-Day but was seriously wounded towards the end of July. He was flown home but died of his injuries on 10th August.
I would like to know more about what George was doing and where he was during the 7-8 weeks between D-Day and late July when he received his fatal injuries, but having searched to try and find which unit he was in, the only term I can find in online records is "other corps", and I have no idea what this means. Without knowing his unit I am unlikely to find any information. Any information on George, others he served with or the other soldier in the photo would be gratefully received.Julie Flavell
Spr. Robert John "Jock" Moodie 963 RCER Coy, No 2 Sect. Royal EngineersMy father Robert Moodie left Pembroke Dock on 5th June for the D Day landings in Operation Overlord, but we have heard nothing about this to date. Everyone seem to have left from the south of England, what happened from Wales. My father never really spoke about the war neither did he receive any medals which I am sure would have been due to him. Could anyone please inform us of this? We saw him off on the parade square which I think might have been Sennybridge. I myself as I was in a choir went to Hertzenboch 2012 the only ladies choir through the British Legion. Please can anyone shed more light on the Royal Engineers?Anne Braund
Dvr. Henry Edward "Nib" Axford 560 Field Coy Royal Engineers (d.4th Feb 1943)Henry Edward Axford was my uncle (my father's brother). He served in the Royal Engineers 560 Field Company in WW2 as a driver. All I know about him is he was a prisoner of war and was on the "Death railway". He died on 4th February 1943 at the POW camp. I don't know which POW camp he was at or what he died of. I am going to Thailand travelling in March 2015 and will be going to pay my respects at his grave in the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, and also to ride on the railway. Unfortunately all his siblings have passed on so there is no one to ask about him. Not that they talked very much about him when they were alive, mainly because I don't think there was a lot of information around. Any information would be fantastic.Sandra Axford
Cpl. Brinley Norman "Bryn" Williams Royal EngineersI knew very little about Dad's wartime experiences - he died when I was barely out of my teens. He had told stories of being in Palestine during the war and I know he was a POW - but he never talked about that. I do recall seeing a newspaper cutting from 1945 when he returned from the war (my grandmother had kept it). It said he was very sick, and that POWs had been so hungry they had eaten grass.
When I began to research my family history I got Dad's military records from the MOD. What a revelation - they told me so much about this young man who joined up in 1939 - about his education, his previous employment (and what he earned) and his physical appearance. The records also told me that Dad was captured at Gazala in North Africa and ended up in Stalag VIIIb, in what is now Poland, from September 1943 until liberation in April 1945. Research then told me about the Death Marches - and the fact that the starving prisoners ate grass. An elderly cousin of my father was able to tell me about the impact his capture and imprisonment had on his family - his sister and parents - and that helped me understand a lot about family relationships in later years. As a teenager, she remembered Dad's return and how very weak and ill he was.
I have just come back from a visit to the remains of Stalag VIIIb and the Prisoner of War Museum at Lambinovice (Lamsdorf). I stood on the railway platform where Dad would have arrived, and saw the entrance to the camp. Very little remains there, but there is an exhibition of daily life in the camps and a reconstruction of a hut where Russian POWs were held (and treated very badly). Lamsdorf became a prison camp in 1870 during the Franco Prussian War - and was used as such until the late 1940s. Hundreds of thousands passed through those gates - and tens of thousands died there. It saw almost a century of misery. Today there are beautifully kept POW graveyards in peaceful surroundings, filled with birdsong. The visit has really inspired me to make sure that Dad's name is recorded and remembered. His wartime experience was instrumental in forming the man he became. His lifelong involvement in the British Legion is testimony to that.Su
Dvr. Henry Edward "Nib" Axford 560 Field Coy Royal Engineers (d.4th Feb 1943)Henry Axford served with 560th Field Company Royal Engineers during WW2 and died, aged 30,on the 4th February 1943. He is buried in Collective grave 6. G. 1-67. Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, Thailand (formerly Siam). He was the Son of Edward Henry and Nellie Axford.Sandra Axford
Spr. Robert Bruce Turnbull Royal EngineersMy dad, Robert Bruce Turnbull, he drove the landing craft on D-Day. If anyone knows of any info on him during the war, I would be so grateful. He died in 1981 and he did talk of the war and what he did only I was too young and ignorant to listen back then!Maggie Fleming
Spr. George William Orchard 287 Field Company Royal Engineers (d.25th Aug 1943)George Orchard was my uncle, and enlisted in the Royal Engineers on 16th Jaunary 1941 as a Sapper. After initial training in July 1941 he was posted to the 8th Field Squadron and in August the 287 Field Company.
He was posted to Singapore on 28th October 1941, towards the end of the Malayan campaign, and it was rumored that there's was the last convoy to reach Singapore before its fall, arriving in January 1942. Other records show the 287th fought in Johore and lost 21 other ranks killed in action or died of wounds, eight taken prisoner and imprisoned in Pudu Jail, Kuala Lumpur and at least one missing in action. During the subsequent fighting on Singapore island, the 287th incurred another 5 casualties. Singapore surrended on 15th February 1942, although some members of the armed forces managed to escape the chaos, just before this. Indeed George's Sergeant, made it home, to tell his parents that he had been unable to persuade George to leave with him, as he intended to "stay and fight".
Following surrender, George and numerous other POW's were marched many miles with little food and water to work on the infamous "Burma Railway". Casualties from the prisoners labours, malnutrition and brutality of their guards has been well documented. George survived until the 25th August 1943. His records show he died of acute enteritis. George is commemorated at Chungkai War Cemetary, Thailand.John Orchard
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