- Contributed by
- People in story:
- James Eric Wicketts
- Location of story:
- Germany, Poland, Finkenstein
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 22 November 2004
Jim Wicketts - was taken a few months after we returned to England. PoWs were given double rations by the Government for three months which helped them to get back on their feet.
After arriving at Finkenstein we were soon put to work and our first job was hoeing sugar beet. Over one hundred men would be spread out and we were allotted three rows each, which seemed to go to the horizon, it was very disheartening. We were pushed by guards to work faster and by the end of the first day we had not got anywhere near the end of the first rows.
The next morning we were paraded in front of the Nazi Inspector, who told us if we did not do better the next day our food would be cut back. That night the men talked about it and decided to put on a show for their benefit. The guard said "very good you are doing better today!", but he had not noticed the boys chopping out a lot more plants than they should have been, reducing the final volume of the harvest. After a while the men learned how to disrupt the work without being obvious.
Every day the Germans would march us to the centre of the village which would be a daily routine for the next four years. There, the Nazi Inspector would be waiting for us. He would then tell the guards how many men he required for the different jobs. Some men were located to specialist jobs like the wheelwright, farm hands for milking cows, shepherd, also gardeners and men to work with the horses and oxen as there was no such thing as tractors there. The transport was all done by horses and wagons and in the winter the wheels were taken off the wagons and replaced by sledges.
In 1943 I was ordered to work on the horses. I had never been on a horse in my life but here I was expected to ride and drive four horses pulling a heavy load. After quite sometime I managed to move them in the right direction. I must say I enjoyed working with the horses even though it meant being woken up by the guard at 3am every morning to groom, feed and harness them ready to start work at 7:30am.
It was inevitable that something would happen to me, not having the knowledge of horses. The wagon was loaded very high and everything was going very nicely when aGerman army convoy on its way to the Russian front, came up from behind going very fast and spooked the horses. The wagon hit a power pole and disintegrated, loosing all the load. Fortunately the German foreman saw the whole thing, which was lucky for me.
The subject of escape often came up in conversation when we were sitting around at night. The Germans locked the doors at 7pm and the lights went out at 9pm. There were some very well educated people in the prison camps and they were able to teach others. I myself got to learn to read music from a mate who was a bandsman in the Royal Scots and it now enables me to enjoy playing the organ.
Escape - Another mate of mine got talking one night and we decided to give it a go to try and escape. We waited for our opportunity and away we went. We soon discovered that this escaping thing could be very nerve racking with the convoys going to Russia. The area was swarming with troops and we managed to keep going for three days. We were very tired and went into a barn and fell asleep in the hay. We were woken by a farmer pointing a shotgun at us. He handed us over to the Police and we were put in the cell for the night.
Recaptured - KA guard arrived at the police station to take us back to the Stalag. He was a real nasty type. He must have planned something for the weekend and having to pick us up must have spoiled his social life so he was very bad tempered and because we did not move fast enough for him, he picked up his bike and threw it at us, causing both of us to have cuts and bruises.
On arriving at the Stalag the Germans put us into the cells until the next day. Then we were taken in front of a high ranking officer who interrogated us about why we escaped, where we were going and then told us it was impossible to get away because there were to many troops in the area, as we had seen for ourselves. He sentenced us to three months in the lock up, which was constructed out of a hillside with each cell measuring just over three feet wide by six foot long and the height under six feet. The cell was lined with barbed wire walls and ceiling so that when you stood up your head would be raked by the barbed wire the bed was a board, it was two foot wide which sloped to one end which made it difficult to get a nights sleep.
For meals, one day was watery soup and the next day a slice of bread. It was very damp and cold sleeping in those cells with just one blanket. I used my big army overcoat that helped to keep me warm. After I was released I was sent back to Finkenstein.
The German NCO in charge of the camp was very unpleasant to us for a few days after we got back but we managed to weather the storm and things slowly got back to the old routine.
Dances were organized to break the monotony. The guards were approached to have the lights left on longer. After a lot of asking and pleading they finally gave us permission. The dancers in the camp taught the non-dancers. To start with, the music was supplied by a few men playing mouth organs but slowly instruments started to arrive from the Red Cross in Switzerland and the music got better.
If the work was not up to the Germans satisfaction, they would threaten to stop the dances. As time went on the guards were replaced with older men, the younger ones were sent up to Russia. The teenagers were also taken for the army and they also took dogs by putting food on the tanks. The dogs learned that when they saw a tank it meant food so they strapped explosives to the dog so that it saw a tank it would explode on contact. The dogs in the village disappeared.
The winter of 1943 was below zero temperatures and heavy snow falls. The wagons were changed into sledges. There were four teams of horses sent into the forest to load logs. Out of the four teams I was the only PoW driving the horses, the rest were Germans. We came to a part of the forest track that cambered quite steep and we got them into a trot. The next thing I saw was my wagon passing me, completely out of control, it hit the trees and was a total wreck. It was late when we got back to the village and the inspector was waiting, looking at me because I was the only one with horses not pulling a wagon. The foreman in charge of the horse teams told him what had happened the first thing he said was "sabotage". He then said "I will see you in the morning". After I put the horses away, the guard who took me back to the camp said, "you have done it this time; you are in big trouble". I think because of the shortage of labour, and the fact that we knew the work, we got away with more than we normally would have and so it was back to the daily routine.
The Germans would only allow two men to go sick. One day, four men were genuinely sick. At the morning count they discovered four men missing so the German seargent in charge of the camp sent in a guard with fixed bayonet to get two of the men out. They didn’t care how sick the men were - two had to go work. Because this was what was laid out in their rules, for one hundred men only one could go sick regardless.
From time to time the Germans would send out a search party from the main Stalag. It always happened while we were at work. We were lucky they never found anything because the men were very careful and had good hiding places.
By the end of 1943 the age of the guards was around fifty years old.
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