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A Prisoner of War’s Diary from Stalag VIIIB — 1940

by actiondesksheffield

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
George Irving Beck, George Beswick
Location of story: 
Sheffield, Handpooch, Pommerin, Dunkirk, France. Herzogswalde, Upper-Silesia, Poland, Grottkau, Landsdorfe, Niklasdorf, Czechoslovakia
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Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
11 January 2006

July 05, 1940 Registered as prisoner of war at Stalag VIII B. Forwarded first card home by Red Cross via Geneva. What a relief to write again. The card is shown above and is dated 3rd July 1940

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk — Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Mrs. J. Broomhead and has been added to the site with the author’s permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and condition

A Prisoner of War’s Diary from Stalag VIIIB — 1940
George Irving Beck

George Irving Beck was born in Sheffield on November 22, 1923. He was a pupil at the local Carbrook Council School and on leaving school became a Miner.

On September 20, 1932 at the age of 18 years he enlisted in the army at Sheffield. He was given the Army No. 4612260 and joined the 2nd Battalion of The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.

His ‘Regular Army Certificate of Service’ shows:
That in Halifax on November 28, 1932 he passed the ‘Army Certificate of Education — 3rd Class’.
That in Aldershot on November 30, 1933 he passed the ‘Army Certificate of Education — 2nd Class’ the subjects being English, Army & Empire, Map Reading and Mathematics.
In 1935 he saw action on the North West Frontier of India at Loe Agra and Mohmand and was awarded the India General Service Medal 1908 with clasp ‘N.W.F. 1935’.

He left the army on January 3, 1939 at the age of 25 years. The final assessment of conduct on ‘Leaving the Colours’ states:
Military Conduct: Exemplary
Testimonial: A good man, smart, honest & trustworthy, hardworking & clean.

On March 23, 1939 he started attending a government training centre in Leeds and is recorded as having a 5 day leave from the centre between August 5th to 9th 1939.

On September 3, 1939, the day England and France declared war on Germany at the start of World War 2, George Irving Beck rejoined the army and his old regiment but this time the 1st Battalion of The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment keeping his old Army No.

His diaries start on ‘May 10, 1940 with the Invasion of Belgium by Germans’ and continue as follows:

May 31, 1940
Captured by Germans about four miles from Dunkirk, France. Place called Handpooch near Pommerin. Out of 28 men I alone remained, what had become of the others I could only guess. Spent about sixteen hours in water. Escorted by German sniper to headquarters where I met five strange chaps who were wounded.

June 01, 1940
Started on long trek from France to Germany via Belgium and Holland. Had to pull comrade first twelve miles on wheelbarrow, he was wounded in legs and stomach. German officer (Medical) injected morphia into him to ease pain. Left him at church where he was taken away by ambulance.

On June 05, 1940 George Irving Beck was posted as missing and the following report appeared in the Dunkirk, France. Place called Handpooch near Pommerin local press.
‘Private Beck was seen on the beach at Dunkirk by his brother-in-law, Corporal George Beswick, but has not been heard of since. A regular solder, he served for five years in India before the war. He was married last January before going to France. Mrs. Beck has not seen her husband since. Private Beck was a pupil at the Carbrook Council School.’

June 18, 1940
Passed convent in Holland and smuggled wife’s address through to Sister of Mercy. Don’t know if it got through.

June 22, 1940
Finally reached destination after three weeks strenuous marching from dawn to dusk each day. These days will never be erased from my memory. Hungary and practically starved, feet bleeding, men dropping by the way, houses and shops raided for bread and Germans hitting men with rifles and bayonets to stop stampeding some poor unfortunates were shot. How we kept plodding on God alone knows but grim determination kept us up. Reached Landsdorfe in very weak condition and hardly able to stand. Spirits very low. Received drop of unsweetened coffee and one slice of bread.

June 01, 1940
Had all my hair cut off. No blankets but just bare boards to sleep on. Received for dinner four potatoes with skins on, drop of thin soup.
Tea fifth of a small loaf and nothing for breakfast but coffee. Dinner was twelve o’clock and tea at one. Next meal in twenty tree hours time. Tried to make cigs out of coffee grounds and clover.

July 05, 1940
Registered as prisoner of war at Stalag VIII B. Forwarded first card home by Red Cross via Geneva. What a relief to write again.

The card is shown above and is dated 3rd July 1940 and sometime later the following report appeared in the Sheffield local press.

‘ Wife’s Faith Rewarded by Good News.
When her husband was reported missing, a Sheffield woman believed that some day, somewhere, he would turn up.
Her husband Private George Beck, of 11, Weston Square, Brightside, Sheffield, of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment was reported missing on June 5th.
Weeks passed into months, but still Mrs. Beck had faith, and she has just received a card from him, telling her that he is a prisoner of war in Germany.
“It just shows that faith helps a lot,” she told the “Telegraph and Independent,” “for I have always felt that he would turn up some day. All I am waiting for now is the war to end. It can’t be too soon for us.”

July 25, 1940
Left prison camp after nearly five weeks, for place of employment. Number of men fifty. Destination unknown. Travelled by rail on cattle trucks.

July 26, 1940
Working at a place called Herzogswalde situated in Upper-Silesia, Poland, stone breaking with fourteen pound hammers, road making.

July 30, 1940
No cigarettes, in fact we’ve forgot what a good smoke is like. A couple of kind women leave ‘tab ends’ on the window sills for us but this isn’t much between us lot. I suppose we’ll get over it some day.

August 15, 1940
Just beginning to feel our feet a bit. The food is much better than the prison camp. Damned hard work, but at least its better than being behind barbed wire all day, and not seeing the outside.

September 04, 1940
Lost sight in right eye. Enlarged pupil. Under doctor at Grottkau, ten days. Only 43 men left, seven in hospital.

September 23, 1940
Work nearing completion. Cannot sleep at night for scratching, covered in spots for we’re walking with lice everyone is dead lousy, they’re even breading in out clothes.

October 14, 1940
Road completed so we say farewell to Herzogswaede. Shook hands with foreman before leaving, civilians gave us a good send off. The new road was opened by burgemeister and called ‘England Strasse’. Houses were built by prisoners last war.

October 15, 1940
Back at prison camp Landsdorfe. One blanket issued and bare boards to lay on again. All our hair cut off once more and had to be deloused. All the linings of our were full of lice eggs. Gave us stuff to rub on our bodies.

October 16, 1940
I volunteered for new job coal mining, but instead was sent to a place called Niklasdorf in Czechoslovakia. Building trade. Said to be making ammunition dumps. No news of the war.

October 20, 1940
Everyone ravenously hungry. We can’t get enough to eat. Lads even storming the coffee place for buckshees. Stealing going off all over through hunger. It’s surprising what a man will do when hungry. No water to wash with.

October 26, 1940
Swnowing like hell and terribly cold. Working from six o’clock in a morning till six at night. In spite of weather and regardless of little clothing we have to carry on. Very little rumours. We all seem to be acting like savages through hunger. Stealing going off all over.

November 08, 1940
Still snowing and freezing. No cigarettes. Tried to smoke bark off trees but it was like poison. Some of the lads stole a few potatoes and boiled them over candles. Others set fire to blacking. What would I give for a Blighty meal now.

November 14, 1940
Snow still falling. No socks to our feet and no shirts to our backs. Tore pieces off our blankets to put around our feet. No boots but had a pair of Dutch clogs issued. Usual routine, plenty of scratching every night and lice killing.

November 20, 1940
Received first two letters from home. How grand it is to receive mail again. I shall treasure these two letters all the time I’m a prisoner. One was wrote on the 6-7-40 and the other 9-9-40.

November 24, 1940
Old French, Belgium and Czechoslovakian overcoats issued. Even these are a godsend now for they will keep us a bit warmer. Snow still falling. Lucky if we get a wash once a week for what little water there is gets used for the cookhouse. Keep rubbing my face over with a drop I manage to get in my basin now and again at knight.

December 06, 1940
One Red Cross parcel issued between five men and thirteen English cigarettes. It isn’t a deal but its very welcome. Still snowing , what would I give for some socks and boots or a pair of gloves.

December 08, 1940
Had narrow escape for I was trapped in the cookhouse cellar whilst stealing potatoes. Managed to get away in my bare feet. Saved myself from a beating up by the Germans.

December 15, 1940 - Sunday
Still snowing. Up to the knees in it at work. Nothing to report for its all the same routine. Wonder what I should be doing now if I were in Sheffield with my dear wife. Most likely we should be at the club instead I’m behind barbed wire.

December 22, 1940
No work until the New Year. All the Poles and Czechs have gone home on holiday. Still snowing. Nothing to do but stay in the hut, next best place to home is bed. Roll on Blighty. Time — eight pm.

December 23, 1940 - Monday
No rumours. In bed early again. What a life we’re caged up like wild animals with guards pacing up and down outside. If I say we’re just about surviving on spuds I’m not far wrong.

December 24, 1940 — Xmas Eve - Tuesday
Tonight I feel rather depressed; one cannot help his thoughts travelling back home at a time like this. For years I’ve looked forward to a Xmas in England but no it just hadn’t to be, fate intervened and here I am. Times like this make one realise what he is missing. May the day be not far off when we can all be united again, nothing but bed and work for a prisoner, if we stop in camp we get stung for a job somewhere even if its only shovelling snow. Roll on Blighty.

Christmas Day Menu 1940
Breakfast — two pieces of dry bread and a bit of German sausage, usual drop of unsweetened coffee.

Dinner — Mashed spuds, cabbage, one rissole and custard after.

Tea — Bread, jam and coffee.

Boxing Day Menu 1940
Breakfast — Pea soup, bread, lard and coffee.

Dinner — Cabbage soup and spuds half cooked.

Tea — Ox blood soup, bread, coffee.

December 29, 1940 — Sunday
Nothing fresh to report last few days except to say we went on route march last Friday. Still snowing like blazes. Two men flogged for stealing potatoes. The Germans are merciless when they catch anybody; they use sticks and bayonets on them.

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