- Contributed by
- People in story:
- William Pearson from Northumberland
- Location of story:
- Germany and Poland
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 25 February 2004
My father is now dead (he died in 1997 aged 77 yrs) but this is his story by his daughter Carol Pearson.
On 22 January 1945 my dad was in a POW Camp E209, near Bobrek, a mining town in Upper Silesia. This was a commando working camp out of the famous Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf, (which had also housed Douglas Bader of the RAF).
They woke late, which was highly unusual, and just mooched around until their hut was unlocked at 9.30am. They all piled out to the wash-house, then had a meagre breakfast of black bread and ersatz coffee, but could tell something was different. Their guards didn't seem to know anything when questioned but there was obviously something up. The rumour was that the Russians were getting closer and they were all going to be abandoned by the Germans to the Russians. My dad said they did nothing all day which was like a holiday as usually they would have been working down the mines. There were about 120 men in this camp. A Red Cross lorry arrived with parcels for them to be distributed, then after this they were all told to line up and be ready to march at 5pm with whatever belongings they could carry. My dad and some friends in his hut knocked up wooden sledges from their bunk beds to haul their stuff in as the snow was lying pretty thick. Then off they started on a march which was to last until May 1st.
They marched and marched, day after day, sometimes, my father thought, in circles, as he didn't think the Germans knew where they were going either. On the second day they stopped at Hindenberg, where another column of prisoners joined them. My father managed to trade five bars of chocolate with a little German boy for his sledge which had steel runners and was much lighter and easier to pull through the snow. He said the little boy was delighted with the bargain! The prisoners who had joined them were Russians. They were shambling wrecks of men as the Geneva Convention did not apply to them and so they had no Red Cross parcels to sustain them like the British did. My dad's friend George Burn made the mistake once of opening a tin of meat on one of their halts, next to some of these Russians, only to find them crowding close begging for some of it. When they opened another tin and held it out to the Russians a wrestling match started for it, they were so hungry. German guards had to break it up and they told the English lads never to do that again.
They started off again, day after day, more prisoners joining them all the way, their guards changing every so often. The Russians were at the front and every now and again, they would see one kneeling at the roadside with a German standing beside him as they went by, then a shot would ring out and that German would pass them by on his own to get to the front again. The days went by, the snow came down, they hardly had any sleep as the stops were very brief. They crossed the River Oder where they had two days' rest billeted in barns and cowsheds. The Russians were eventually taken off to God knows what kind of fate and the column bow consisted of about 800 British. The month of March wore on and the snow disappeared. They had to abandon their sledges although their Red Cross parcels had diminished by now anyway. (The guards' kits were all drawn in horse pulled wagons at the rear).
American fighter planes began to circle overhead, which they had to wave at, the German guards mingling in among the prisoners for safety. My dad said some of the lads had a large Union Jack which they would spread on the ground whenever they saw an American plane to let them know who they were, as they once had been raked with bullets and had to dive down into ditches at the side of the road.
In Czechoslovakia they found friends. Civilians lined the road giving them bread and fruit, and the Germans allowed it as they had no means themselves of feeding the prisoners. They passed through Prague but the populace this time was cleared from the streets as they went through. They passed into Germany and stayed for a week on two large State farms. They raided potato cellars for food and found one with sacks of flour and oatmeal and baked crude scones out of them. (The farmer was arrested by the German commandant for hoarding food.) They marched on into April, the food situation getting worse, but the weather better.
Their marathon trek went on until May 1st. They had come to a bridge over a river and were told to halt. The German guards all ran to the rear of the column where their kit was, and it became apparent that they were going to run over the bridge and leave the prisoners on the other side which they did, after blowing up the bridge behind them. My father and his fellow prisoners were now free. He and two or three others found shelter at a farm where they were allowed to cook food given by the farmer and sleep in the barns. A German convoy of tanks passed by but they stayed hidden in the farmer's cellar till they were gone. Another convoy passed later which blew up a nearby bridge. My dad and four others later crossed this bridge which still was not completely blown away and made their way to the nearby village.
When bullets ripped passed them and over their heads they dropped into ditches and called out that they were British, to be replied to in American voices telling them to advance with arms raised. On assuring themselves they were British, the Americans then gave them chocolate and cigarettes (Camels and Chesterfields). The next day the village was crowded with the rest of the British POWs, chatting to Americans, eating chocolate and biscuits and smoking their heads off. They stayed here a fortnight, eating well and getting on well with the Americans, who they occasionally helped to round up straggling German soldiers, four of whom had been hiding out on the same farm my father had been on, in the stables. (I have two or three photos of my father with some of these Americans.)
Eventually my father's contingent was loaded into trucks and driven by Negro drivers at breakneck speed to a large canvas American camp and next day were driven to an airfield near Landschutt and were boarded onto Dakota troop carriers and flown to Rheims in France and handed over to the RAF to be flown home in Lancaster bombers. When they flew over the English Channel they didn't get to see the White Cliffs of Dover which had long been a dream of theirs when they were in the POW camp. They landed at Weston and were given a huge tea party in an aeroplane hangar waited on by the WAAF. My dad said hearing English being spoken in feminine voices was a real attraction. After hot baths, clean uniforms and documentation they were on their various trains home next morning.
My father came from a small mining town called Bedlington in Northumberland which meant getting a train to Newcastle upon Tyne first, then the milk train to Bedlington arriving at 6am. The platform was deserted as his telegram had given the wrong details and everyone had been waiting for him the night before. Someone from his regiment (the Northumberland Fusiliers, now disbanded) had remarked he was astonished to see so many people waiting for my dad, as he had heard that he had been killed in 1940. This obviously was a shock to my dad's mother. He walked home alone but on reaching his house my grandmother had hung a large Union Jack from a bedroom window and when she saw him it was hugs, kisses and tears all round.
Miss Carol Pearson
These are the camps my father was moved to and from during his 5 years as a POW:
- First captured and taken to St Omer in France on June 19th 1940. Left St Omer on 26 July.
- Arrived Tournai 26 July. Left Tournai 13 August.
- Arrived Alexisdorf 15th August. Left Alexisdorf 20 September.
- Arrived Hamer? 21st September. Left Hamer 2 October.
- Arrived Strasbourg 3 October. Left Strasbourg 10 December.
- Arrived Hueberg 16 December, Left Hueberg 15 January 1941.
- Arrived Zimmerssen 16 January 1941. Left Zimmerssen 5th February.
- Arrived Villingen Hos 5 February. Left Villingen Hos 25 February.
- Arrived Rottenmunster Hos 25 February. Left Rottenmunster Hos 11 March.
- Arrived Villingen (camp) 11 March. Left Villingen Camp 14 March.
- Arrived Schildberg 16 March. Left Schildberg 10 April.
- Arrived Spatenfelde 10 April. Left Spatenfelde 5th May.
- Arrived Schildberg again 5 May. Left Schildberg 9 May.
- Arrived Zgierz 9 May. Left Zgierz 3 June.
- Arrived Wolstien 3 June. Left Wolstien 15th June.
- Arrived Lamsdorf 16 June. Left Lamsdorf 21st August.
- Arrived Bobrek 21st August 1941 and remained there until 22nd January 1945 when he left on his Long March Home.
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