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Patrick Devlin - A Granddaughter's Recollections

by maltjoseph

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04 February 2005



This is a copy from my diary of the things grandad told me. I haven’t altered anything in copying it. I think to change it would lose something. I hope it brings you as much pleasure as it has brought and continues to bring, to me.

21st November 1991

My Grandfather, Patrick Devlin, has just recently told me a little about his experiences in the Second World War. From what he told me and what my great aunt told me, this is an attempt to record what happened.

Grandad was a cypher clerk — coding and decoding messages. He joined the army voluntarily at the start of the war. Early in the war he travelled the length of India .wearing full dress, overcoat, etc. By the time he reached southern India he was wearing just shorts as it was sweltering hot!

Grandad was captured by the Italians and held in a prisoner of war camp. When the Italians surrendered he was made ‘free’ and went ‘on the run’ in German occupied Italy. Whilst on the run he encountered German soldiers on a number of occasions. At times he was forced to confront them, he amazingly managed to convince them that he was Italian by speaking in broken Italian in answer to their questions which were posed in even worse broken Italian. However, he said the Italians were not so easily fooled. He says they can spot an Englishman really easily. Most Italians were very helpful, giving him food and a bed for the night. One family hid him from the Germans by asking him to get in a bed where a dead woman was lying!

Once he and some other British soldiers hid in a shack. Some children found them and promised to bring them food. They didn’t return, instead a man came saying that they were on his land and he was going to get the Germans. Grandad moved on — not only because of the danger from the man, but also because outside was deep snow and the temperature was dropping! Another time he and another young soldier hid in a shed when they found the shed at night fall, there was no snow but by morning it had fallen into deep drifts.

All of his ‘stories’ were of funny instances - he never complains.

He said that whilst in the POW camps (later he was recaptured) he received parcels from the Red Cross containing, amongst other things — a parcel of tea. Whilst on the run he had to do as the Italians did. This meant — no tea — instead they drank wine. Grandad said this was difficult to get used to — but even more difficult was going back to tea.

When he returned to camp he was privileged to share a ‘room’ with others. Some of the other men planned to escape. Grandad would not become involved; I think this was a combination of common sense and his responsibility as a sergeant. Anyway, the Escape Committee started to dig a tunnel under one of the bunk beds in the room Grandad was in. Outside there was large fence and some three feet either side of this were two smaller fences. On the day when they had decided the tunnel was ready they discovered a young French cook writing to the Germans — an informer!

They decide that this boy had to be killed — a large soldier volunteered to ‘do the deed’ He decided to do this by hitting the lad on the back of the head with his boot (which had steel reinforced heels). The plot had one flaw, as soon as the blow was struck, blood spurted from the boys head and our big hero fainted!! They then had to install the boy into the medical hut and persuade one of the doctors to keep him drugged until the escape was attempted; the only trouble was that the tunnel came up between the second two fences. The escape was called off and the next morning a German medic visited the young cook and the escape plan was discovered. The whole hut was threatened with punishment unless they told who used the bunk beds which were covering the tunnel entrance. The men responsible owned up and they were sent into solitary confinement. But don’t spare them too much sympathy — the guards in solitary were changed every hour and each relief brought food to the two prisoners.

We asked granddad about his release.
For days before the war was ended the prisoners were on a forced route march, they were very tired and hungry when they got the news that the war had ended. The German soldiers told them to stay put on the top of a hill. Grandad and another soldier decided not to heed this advice, they walked until they reached the nearest town, and from there they were sent to an airport where they waited in a hanger. They were given numbers (like the meat counter at Tescos!) and told to wait until their number was called. Grandad missed getting a flight home that night by one number! At this point he had given his regiment as the Lancashire Fusiliers but part way through the war he had transferred to the Indian Army. When he returned to England he gave this information and the Salvation Army took care of him. He was sent to a camp somewhere south of here. Grandma remembers a phone call which mum apparently took over. Uncle John didn’t want to speak to his dad but I don’t suppose mum gave him much chance. Mum told me that when grandad came back he brought presents — a nurses uniform for mum and a replica gun for John (which he told him was the gun he used in the war!) Mum thinks these presents were supplied by the Salvation Army. She said that if her dad had bought presents he would not have missed out Aunt Pat (mum’s aunty who is the same age as her.) I have already said that granddad did not talk about the downside of his time as a prisoner. He did make mention of being interrogated by the Gestapo and of being shot at with a machine gun — only being saved by hiding behind a concrete slab.

6th. March 1992

Further instalments from Grandad’s war memories.

I was telling grandad about an official visiting our office. He told me that whilst a POW in Italy soldiers from his camp were taken to work in local vineyards. Whilst at the vineyard another sergeant was in charge of the prisoners. When the local businessman Count Svalenska (or Svalerski I’m not sure of the spelling ) passed by this other sergeant would salute him. After some time this other sergeant moved on and grandad was put in charge. He told me that he didn’t salute the count — he wasn’t going to salute a civilian.

I asked granddad about the work which they were asked to do. He said they were told to do fieldwork, for every 15 or so privates there had to be a sergeant with them. NCOs did not have to work but privates did.
He then told me about the work which they had to do whilst in the German camp. Here privates were sent into Munich by train, a journey of some 40miles. They set out at 4am. and were cleaning the debris from raids. Again they had to be supervised by a sergeant for every 15 or so privates. There was a rota for these duties but the task was very popular — sergeants going onto Munich were able to obtain all kinds of ‘goodies’ which they could barter with back at camp. At this time grandad had no problem getting someone to take his turn in the rota. After a while the raids into Munich continued into daytime hours then the trips were not so popular. The sergeants would only go when it was their turn on the rota. Grandad had never been interested in the trips, he didn’t want to get the ‘goodies’ etc. Now more than ever he wasn’t interested at the time when it was his turn it got to 3am before he got a volunteer to take his turn.

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