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500955

Sgt. John Verdun Kelly

Army

The following extracts are from the YMCA Wartime Log Book supplied to Sgt John Verdun Kelley. Captured at Tobruk he passed through various Camps- Derna, Benghazi, PG60 Lucca, PG70, Stalag IVB and Stalag 357. Some of the entries are by Kelley others by "guest" writers.

Benghazi

Barren wastes of stony sand

Dry infertile desert land,

Spiked wire on every hand.

Prisoners of War

Ill clad ,unkempt and underfed,

Trading watches and rings for bread,,

With chilly concrete floors for beds,

Prisoners of War

Queueing for hours in blistering heat,

Receiving a morsal of bread and meat,

Glad, even of scraps to eat,

Prisoners of War.

Crowded together like flocks of sheep,

Bullied and driven from dawn to sleep,

Hearts are filled with hatred deep,

Prisoners of War

Cut off from the news of the outside world,

Sifting truth from taunts that are hurled,

Slightly keeping the flag unfurled,

Prisoners of War.

Striving to keep alive their hope.

Finding at times 'tis beyond their scope,

Drugging themselves with rumour dope

Prisoners of War

Setting new values ion trivial things,

The smell of a flower, a skylark that sings

The beauty,the grace of a butterfly's wing

Prisoners of War

Finding life without freedom is vain

'Tis better to die than live ever in chain,

Thank God! For hope of relief once again,

Prisoners of War

Seeing new meaning in higher things,

In life in Christ and the hope He brings

Thus did they treat the King of Kings

Prisoners of War

Finding at last, if you've the eyes to see

This glorious truth fixed by God's decree,

As long as the soul's unchained you're free.

Prisoners of War

June 23 .We awoke after a cold hungry night. The compound larger than Derna and as we were about 1000 more room to move about .In a separate cage near the gate were a party of Indian troops, used in fatigue work for strengthening the wire .In the other corner was a 40ft tower with machine guns.. Each corner had a water tank (empty) and guards patrolled all sides. We were ordered to form groups of 50 and we became N0o 22. Nothing else happened-it got hotter, more rings etc swapped across the wire for water. Someone paid £2 for a quart. Around 2pm the tanks were filled and after queueing for hours we were given a quart each., a groundsheet and 2 short poles . Rations arrived at 5pm - a tin of bully each and 2 small loaves between 3 men. Eat it all or save some? We had begun the trek down Starvation Road.

More new faces arrived and we hoped to move on- we entered hungry men and left weeks later starving wrecks. More searches-this time anything sharp. A few kept back their jackknives or we would have had no way to open the bully cans. Water ration was increased to 3 pint per day, usual ration arrived at 4pm. The cigarette supply started running out!!! Profiteering took over and cigarettes that were selling for 50 piastres for 50 rose to 10piastres each. The guards realized the opportunity and were soon exchanging cigarettes for clothes etc. Sanitary arrangements were just a row of trenches and the smell would become unbearable. Empty day followed empty day ,bored, dirty ad unshaven the main conversation was about food. At the end of the month the Italians issued cigarettes-2 between 6 men!! By rerolling the dogends we made 2 more.

By July 3 morale was low and sickness high , the MO visited but had nothing to teat anyone. Great excitement on July 6 -the RAF bombed the harbour and again on the 9th , lots of shrapnel falling on the camp but no injuries. Now we were so organised that we could make hot meals at night by soaking dry bread ,adding bully and boiling it up. Fuel was the problem, the guards became unhappy about us ripping pieces off the fence posts. The Indian fatigue troops had plenty but at a cost- 2 cigarettes for a small piece and the price of cigarettes was 5 piastres or a shilling each. Another bombing raid on the 11th and a ship hit in the harbour.

Sunday 12th and a service from a South African Padre, though it must have helped it brought everyone back to thinking of home as they took part in a service knowing family at home were doing the same. We were all given Red Cross Cards to fill in, they were handed in but to this day I never heard of any arriving. By now health was getting poor, walking an effort and dizziness when standing. We were dirty, unshaven and lice started to appear. One by one those who had kept rings etc swapped them with the guards for food-tempted by guards holding up loaves of bread The minds of the guards needed understanding, a good watch worth £5 would get maybe 2 loaves but a cheap ring from the Souk costing pennies would get 5 loaves easily Cigarettes became THE currency and money was used for card games until we found the guards would sell 40 cigarettes for £1 Egyptian. Ersatz coffee was added to our rations but what was it? A Cookhouse was also built but could only feed one compound a hot meal per day so we hot meals every third day.

Our first meal was 17 july a pint stodge of rice peas flavoured with olive oil . this cost us half a tin of bully each. The cooks found the dry rice a valuable trade item and were soon exchanging it for cigarettes. Dysentry broke out amongst the weakest but only the worst cases went to hospital I reckon about 60 died. Daily routine- get up when you felt like it, pass the time somehow until rations were drawn at noon, go to bed early to escape the day. Meals were 9am and 5.30pm and a brew of coffee in between (no milk or sugar)..

July 25 the reality of how weak we had become hit home. New latrines were needed to be dug The labour divided up and each man had 2 minutes of digging to do. Mainy were unable to complete even this.. An escape attempt was made by a couple of guys hanging onto the underside of the rubbish truck, unfortunately this went into the next compound where native SA troops saw the guys and crowding round bending down to look resulted in the 2 heroes retuning in chains for 48 hrs.

On July 27 groups from the next cage started to be moved out . July 31 we were given English bully 1 tin between 2 . We knew we would be soon and had started pooling our food to sustain us on the journey. We eat as much as we could and for the first time since capture I felt full. We paraded at 0330 next day, we had our food and 2 gallons of water why go hungry and thirsty? We were marched to the docks, the water weighed a ton but it was good to see the bombing damage that had been done We embarked on the Rosalino Pilo , although modern she soon took on the look of a slave ship as we were crammed into the holds helped by the Libyans standing on anyones fingers if they were slow on the ladders. More fun was had by throwing buckets of sea water at us through the gratings . The heat was stifling and we dreaded the night, a meal of cold fried bread,bully and water arrived at 11am and we sailed at noon.

Next days rationed were lowered in a bucket at 4pm, tin of bully and a pack of biscuits. We were told next stop was Tripoli then across to Naples. The dysentery cases became so bad that in the end they were allowed on deck. We tried to sleep in the heat with the smell of engine oil and engine noise. It was a long night but as dawn approached the hold was silent save for a few groans and moans when I heard an unknown person playing "solitude" on a mouth organ- knowing my feelings and thoughts I could sympathise with him. We were allowed up on deck at 8am and managed to stay there all day, one man was hauled up unconscious and his body was taken off at Tripoli.. Our 11am meal of biscuits and bully seemed good until we saw the meals being taken to the gun crews who were German even though it was an Iti ship. We reached Tripoli at noon

Sgt John Verdun Kelley

Names in the log book from Benghazi:

  • Sgt Taylor
  • John Toole
  • Dougie Herrage
  • Charlie Peace
  • Stitch Taylor
  • Dodger Green
  • Bill Fyfe
  • RQMS Bone
  • CSM Muldowney
  • Sgt Graham
  • Sgt Mc Dermott
  • Gdsman Hall
  • Gdsman Simpson



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