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- Thomas Samuel Woodhouse
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- 30 March 2004
My father, having enlisted in the TA in 1938, was one of the first to be sent to France. He was in the 1/6th Battalion Queen’s Royal Regiment, A Company, No 9 Platoon, which landed at Cherbourg on 2nd April 1940 and then marched to Steenwerke on the Belgium frontier. His platoon had been under heavy fire in a front line operation on the Schelde Canal where he was a key man on a bren gun and was hit in the leg by shrapnel while crawling through woods in a desperate bid to get back to headquarters. He and two others were caught by German soldiers and taken to the emergency hospital in Maastricht. There he received excellent treatment by the Dutch, two nurses especially, who helped him in a bid to escape by providing him with a bike, a farmer’s smock and an old pair of shoes.
He was re-captured and was sent to Aachen, Germany after travelling in cattle trucks — 50 men per truck for 16 hours. Arrived at a passage camp in Dortmund where they stopped for three days with air raids every night. Rations were five men to a loaf with ‘soup of a kind’. Travelled in trucks for 36 hours. ‘No food. No sympathy. Just prisoners. Starved, dirty and lousy’. Rumoured they were going to Poland which proved correct.
My mother received a letter from the Home Office saying that my father was ‘missing presumed dead’. Eventually as she was due to receive her widow’s pension she received news from the Red Cross to say that he was being held prisoner in a POW camp in Poland.
During his time as a POW he was moved to various Stalags and even met one of his brothers in one of the camps. His camp was liberated by the Russians forces on 23rd April 1945 at Muhlberg Germany but just before the liberation an American plane machined gunned the compound by mistake. He was flown home by the American Air Force on 24th May 1945.
When he was captured he left a wife and four children with another on the way who he did not see until she was five years old. After the war they went on to have three more children.
In 1985 my father went back to Maastricht and met the two Dutch nurses who had cared for him and who almost helped him to escape. It was after a chance remark made to a Bromley Red Cross helper, whose husband was Dutch and came from Maastricht, who traced the nurses through an ad in a Dutch newspaper and arranged for him, my mother and eldest brother to visit Holland. The Burgermeister of Maastricht arranged for an ambulance (Dad had had his left leg amputated a few years before) and showed him the place where he received his wound and the hospital where he was treated. It was a very emotional meeting after 45 years. They made the front page of the local press with the headline ‘We’ve met again’.
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