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Prisoner of War in Leros 1944

by Leominsterlibrary

Contributed by 
Leominsterlibrary
People in story: 
John Norman Cowell
Article ID: 
A3744407
Contributed on: 
04 March 2005

I was held prisoner on the island of Leros with the Kings Own Royal Regiment

Our brigade was a conglomerate of a number of Regiments. I was called up in Sept 1942, and we first went overseas 1943 from Carlisle. Our first posting was in the Nile Delta.

All the way down the Nile to the Suez Canal, there was a series of very large forces depots

Our unit was part of the 10th Army which was on the Lebanese coast and Syria. From there we were called, and travelled by train to Alexandria. From there we joined a convoy of 4 destroyers, (didn’t know where we were going) and one 6 inch Cruiser — the mothership. I had my last bath in two years on the destroyer just outside Larnaca!

No one knew where we were going, but one man said it must be Leros from looking at the position of the stars. He was right.

Next morning we went to Porta Lago in Leros, then the action really started. It was a small island eight miles off Turkish coast. At one point we thought Turkey may join allies to help, but we were fired at by Turkish army while on shore. We arrived at 5am. At first light in Porto Lago a squadron of Stuka bombers came to bomb us. Porto Lago was the target. We were digging in. There was intermittent bombing for a week, when the action started; Germans came ashore. In the meantime the RAF sent us leaflets ‘The eyes of the world are on you’. The fighting lasted a week, then we gave in. Terrible. We had no real armour, not even a Bren gun carrier. We were totally unequipped. The Italians had given in at this point. They allied themselves to British troops on the island after that. They gave some of their 6” guns and anti aircraft weapons to the British, which gave us a bit more time.

We had drawn off troops from the Russian Front which was part of the scheme, and we had air landing from the German troops which were ill equipped as we were. They were just boys then.

We were captured — they had very good infantry from the ground who’d come from other islands which had been captured already. We could see them coming - it was awful. They came in in waves, tank-landing craft all sorts. We gave in after perpetual attacks — unremitting. We were attacked from air and sea.

We were transported by the Germans to the port of Athens in a cargo boat, we were kept down below decks. It took two days travel to get to Athens… Pireaus of course. We were heavily bombed by our own troops on a day raid in which the whole of Athens was bombed. After that we went on shore and we were taken to an aircraft factory east of Athens. We were there in that factory — which was empty for a fortnight. There was nothing to do. We attempted several escapes mostly unsuccessful, those who were successful were SAS troops. They knew where to go. We were visited by the Swedish ambassador who was representing the Red Cross. We were then transferred to Germany in trucks — 11 days and 1100 miles through Greece and Bulgaria. The truck was heavily armed by guards. Some unpleasant incidents occurred along the way, and one or two escapes. We arived in South Germany about 60 miles west of Munich,and we went to our first camp with about 2000 others from several nations. We were then transferred to Alten Grabu which is in Saxony. Morale was low. Food was very scarce. We were then put to work in other small camps in various roles; agricultural and industrial including an oil refinery in Hanover. We were there for two years. We did go into one two houses to clean up after air raids. We were subject of course to air raids during which it was everyone out for themselves. Some people were killed. We were relieved and freed by the Scottish Lowland Division two weeks before the end of the war. There was still fighting going on as we left Celle.

We left Celle on Sunday morning when they were prepared for a German counter attack. We flew to Brussels where we spent the night, and with grateful thanks to Alllied Armies and the British Red Cross. We were always well cared for with Red Cross parcels throughout our captivity. We were never physically assaulted during our time as prisoners.

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