- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Sid Hayden
- Location of story:
- France and Belgium
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 02 April 2004
British POWs at Stalag III B57, Germany, 1943. Sid Hayden is 6th from left, back row.
Sid Hayden in France and Belgium
Sid Hayden 29.08.1914
Information obtained by Joan Lovegrove, volunteer with Age Concern Oxfordshire. Sid was asked whether he was happy to talk about his recollections of the war etc. to which he gave his permission.
Sid was born in 1914 but does have a memory of his father and uncle coming back during the 1914-18 war in about 1916. His father was wounded 5 times and still had a bullet which had not been removed at the time he died. Although he must have had a terrible time fighting in the trenches etc. he never discussed this with the family. His father was in the Royal Berks Swindon.
Sid was one of 7 children, 5th child with elder brothers. 1 girl and 1 boy were born after the war. He was born in Lyford, Oxfordshire. He left school at 14 and was apprenticed to a baker. He did not complete his apprenticeship however as his father was not happy with the way he was being used to deliver bread rather than learn the trade. He then worked at Longworth on a smallholding and later as a farm worker in various local areas. Finally he enlisted with the OXFORD and BUCKS in 1932.
He served in India from 1934 to 1939. Sid's recollections of his postings in India are mainly of being inside the camps. They did not mix outside very much and were there to control any unrest as it arose. Although they had to work hard he felt that it was easier to be posted to this area as when they were off duty they had time to themselves but in England they were never really off duty.
He returned home in 1939 just before his time of service was due to end; however, 3 days after his return, war was declared. He was transferred to 8th. WARWICKS SWINDON. He met his future wife at this time and they married in October. He had 10 days' leave at Christmas but in January his regiment was sent to France. He can't remember the name of the village in France but it was between the coast and Belgium (Roy du Nord?). He was there for a few months and May 10th was sent towards Belgium. His duties were batman to an officer. Soldiers could not know where there were at these times. Troops were moving about and they were not aware of what was really happening and where the rest of their regiment were. Every 2nd regiment that had been sent out at the beginning of the war was a territorial unit. The army did not expect the Germans to come through Belgium as it was thought that it wasn't tank country; however, they did, and the British troops had to move towards them. Germans were advancing across Europe. May 28th 1940 Sid was with about 6 other soldiers, a soldier from Oxford (Ted Harper), a Belgian officer, the Company Commanding Officer and two others, walking through a village which he can visualise still. A straight main road, cross roads and an apple orchard at the top. They suddenly found themselves surrounded by Germans, they were captured and taken to a local church where they were left for the night. They were cold and did not know what was going to become of them. Sid found out afterwards that a group of 5 soldiers had been captured just before them . This included a Lt. King and Corporal Charlton. They had been taken a short distance away and shot, some said by Belgian officers but this was not generally believed. Officers were separated from lower ranks when captured and generally were not given work to do. Ranks lower than Lance Corporal were sent to many camps often being moved several times during the war. The clothes that were worn when captured, even if it were only a thin shirt were kept and over that first winter they had no extra clothing, razors and only a very small piece of soap which lasted them for months until the spring. When they finally took their clothes off they were full of lice.
Sid was sent to camp XXA in Spring 1941 to help build a road across Poland. It was very difficult to know where they were at this time but he thinks a town called (Bromberg?) & the (River Vistular?) were close. They lived in underground barracks. Sid doesn't know whether they were built for the German soldiers or what. Later he was sent back to a main camp and then out to XXB a few miles from the Russian border. For the first few months Sid's wife had been told that he was missing presumed dead, but after a while she received letters from him and continued to do so throughout the war. She received a widow's pension for a year, although she knew he was a prisoner, as the foreign office did not accept that he was alive. The prisoners had Red Cross parcels from New Zealand, Canada and America which gave them various items they would not have had. It was usually shared one parcel between 6 prisoners.
Prisoners were asked to volunteer for jobs that became needed from the local area. It was good to volunteer as it could provide a better life but it would depend on the farmer, shopkeeper etc. Sid worked for 3 years helping a coal merchant, delivering coal to the local houses using a horse and cart. He learnt some German at this time and began to know the local people but they were not allowed to mix socially. Percy, a friend of Sid, worked in a grocery store.
As the Allies began to advance across Europe and the Germans became aware of what might be happening the prisoners were marched south and then back again. Sid felt that they were between two armies and it was luck that they did not have shells fall on them from either side. They marched for about six months moving from farm to farm. If it were 10/15/20 miles it would make no difference. It might be only potatoes to eat when they arrived. Just before 10th April 1945 the German soldiers, who with Sid and the rest of the prisoners, left. Sid remained in a barn. They thought that the Allies had moved past this area and that they were behind the advancing army. However that night when they were lighting a fire they were fired on by an English troop, 48th. Brigade who thought that they were the enemy. April 10th. Wednesday the following day, they realised who they were. They were taken in trucks first to Celle and then to stay in a hotel in Belgium and finally on the Monday to Horsham. By the following Wednesday he was home in Oxfordshire. When he had started walking he had weighed 12 stone, when he arrived home he was less than 7 stone.
It must have been totally traumatic to have such a change within the space of a week and Sid apparently found it very difficult to settle in the first month. Men who had been released as he had probably should have gone into hospital however there were too many. He was allowed leave until August just before the end of the war. He would have liked to re-enlist as he only had 3 years before his pension was due but unfortunately there were no married quarters available and as his wife was pregnant he had to leave the army.
Following this Sid worked on farms around this area having two children, a boy and a girl. For the last 10 years of his working life he worked in Abingdon hospital.
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