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Richard Bradley, Escape from Stalag VIIIB, Part 2 - Prisoner of War

by Monica_Robinson

Contributed by 
Monica_Robinson
People in story: 
Richard (Dick) Bradley
Location of story: 
Stalag VIIIB Prisoner of War Camp, Upper Silesia on the Czech-Polish border
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A7211422
Contributed on: 
23 November 2005

PRISONER OF WAR

Sometime later I seemed to be half-conscious as I felt myself being hit in the thigh. After that I could hear two Commandos passing by, one shouting to the other, “Oh, he’s a goner”. In my half sleepy state I agreed with them, feeling the blood still pouring from my chest and back. In due course I could hear two German soldiers near me, one saying to the other, “Dem Geb ich noch eine kugel im fall er einen streich an uns spielt” da sagt der andere, “lass ihn doch, der ist schon tod”. In plain English one said, “I’m going to put a bullet through him, in case he plays a trick on us”, so the other said, “ Leave him alone, he’s dead”. I don’t think I ever kept so motionless in all my life. I don’t know how long I lay there, dead to the world, when I realised I was being picked up by two German Sanitateers (Medical Corps) and taken to an air raid shelter. Here I was given first aid by a French woman using the first aid kit which every soldier carried. The next thing I remember is lying on the pavement on Saturday morning with the other wounded waiting for transport to take us to an emergency hospital in la Baule, a French seaside resort roughly ten miles north of St. Nazaire.

This journey turned out to be a nightmare for me. We travelled in an open lorry on a very rough country road and I could feel the blood pouring out of my chest and back. I don’t know how I survived this journey. We all landed in the dining hall of what must have been a large seaside hotel in better times. It was now Saturday afternoon, 28th March 1942. The medical staff were working overtime to see to the wounded, both English and German. My turn to be looked after came next day, Sunday afternoon. The chest and back wounds were dressed and the thigh wound was operated on by cutting away large pieces of flesh. The injury was most likely caused by a piece of shrapnel. I did not have any kind of injection for this operation and I did hear later that the Germans were very short of painkiller drugs - they didn’t have any for us or for their own wounded. Time went by and very much to my surprise I was still alive a week later. There were no such things as blood transfusions or anything like that. On Easter Saturday we were taken to Rennes by hospital train and landed in a French prisoner of war camp. There we came under the care of French doctors.

After a few days in Rennes I became very ill with a high temperature. The doctors sent me for an X-ray where they found a foreign body in my chest which looked like a bullet. I was informed that they would operate on me the same day. That was some operation! They laid me on the table in the kitchen and two huge Senegalese prisoners held me down, one on the feet and the other on the shoulders. The bullet hole was still there as it had not yet healed. The senior doctor had a very long thin pair of tweezers which he put in the bullet hole, trying to grab this object and pull it out, which he managed after a long period.

All this time I was fully conscious and had been given no anaesthetic whatever. I might add that these two doctors smoked non-stop while doing this, in my opinion, very serious operation. The only treatment I received after the operation was a course of M and B tablets. After this my condition improved but it took many months before I could take a deep breath. In the days before I was captured I was a great smoker so I asked the doctor if it would be all right to smoke, and he said, “Sure, young man. You’ll then be able to see the smoke come out of your chest”. I quite enjoyed those French cigarettes which we were able to get hold of now and again.

Weeks went by and soon Whit Sunday was on the doorstep. My health and strength seemed to build up despite the hunger and frustration. Most of the other wounded had also made enough progress to be in a reasonably fit state to travel, so around Whitsun the journey began to a prisoner of war camp in Germany. The first stop was Paris where we had to change and walk to a different platform and news spread that we were British prisoners of war and in no time the French gave us cigarettes, cherries and other goodies. We could have wept with joy at the goodness of these people. This happiness did not last long as we were not used to so many cherries and the after effects were awful!

This was a boring journey lasting about four days and at the end we landed at the naval prisoner of war camp Marlag und Milag which is situated about thirty miles north-east of Bremen. All officers and men who were not wounded at St. Nazaire were already there and it was a wonderful reunion, despite the tragic circumstances.

There were only members of the St. Nazaire party in our compound which was surrounded with lots of barbed wire but very near some woods. Some of the men were hard at work digging a tunnel through which some of us hoped to escape in due course. One fine day we had news that there was an escape through a tunnel in the main camp. Because of this a search party arrived at our camp and that was the end or our tunnel.

Around this time, the German Commandant, Admiral Schurr, had ordered a special roll call for a personal inspection. When he arrived, Colonel Newman called us to attention and Admiral Schurr asked Lieutenant-Commander Beattie, Commander of the Campbeltown, to step forward and he addressed him. “Commander Beattie, I have the honour to inform you that you have been awarded the Victoria Cross by His Majesty King George the Sixth.” That certainly was a grand compliment by an enemy officer. Soon after this event we were gradually split up. The army officers went to Oflag, some ending up at famous Colditz, most naval personnel stayed at Marlag und Milag. The rest, including myself, found their ultimate destination to be Stalag VIIIb in Upper Silesia on the Czech-Polish border, approximately sixty miles east of Breslau.

The journey to Stalag VIIIb was in a very long cattle truck and very uncomfortable. The camp held between 40,000 and 50,000 prisoners of war plus thousands more in working parties attached to the camp. As you entered the camp you were deloused, which included a hot shower, the only hot shower you ever had in Stalag VIIIb. This huge camp was encircled with barbed wire about ten feet high. There were also six observation towers with a manned machine gun on each.

The sanitary conditions were the most awful and horrible that one can possibly imagine. The toilets consisted of wooden boxes with wooden lids on the seats. As you took the lid off everything was black with flies. It was a full time job for one poor man to fill a muck spreader from morning till night and empty it on the fields about half a mile from the camp. So much for the sanitation!

I think every nation under the sun was represented here under the name “British”. Hunger was always everybody’s predicament despite reasonable supplies of Red Cross parcels.

About that time in 1942 the Commandos, with Canadian troops, took part in the raid on Dieppe. Because of this attack the German High Command gave an order that all Commando prisoners in the camp would have to be tied up. A company of Hitler’s special troops were sent to fulfil this order. The only means of tying us up was the string from our Red Cross parcels, so for three days and nights our hands were tied with our own string. After that we were tied up from six in the morning until six in the evening. Ten days later real chains, about 18” long, turned up which made life a bit more comfortable. As well as this the saddest part of the whole affair was that all Red Cross parcels, cigarettes and letters were stopped for six weeks as punishment. As you can imagine, our moral sank very low.

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