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Gunner Bellas. POW. Vol 1

by mikebellasale

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Archive List > Diaries > Gunner Bellas POW

Contributed by 
mikebellasale
People in story: 
Leonard Bellas
Location of story: 
Sudetenland, Germany.
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A6394629
Contributed on: 
25 October 2005

November 15th 2005. This is a part of my Father`s journal that he secretly kept when he was a POW at Stalag 4C in Decin, formally Bodenbach in what is now Czech Republic. He was captured after the surrender of Crete in May 1941, he was a gunner in the Royal Artillery. This journal was written in secret and it took me a while to arrange the entries in chronological order. The Journal also had other comments and descriptions, poems, jokes etc, which I have not included. I would like to state that the language and some of the terms used is in the idiom of the times. My Father was a well-read man and his grammar was usually perfect. Any deviations from this standard have to be because of the situation at the time it was written. I am sure he could have been in trouble if the Nazi guards had found it. Some notes were obviously written in cryptic haste. He never really talked much of his ordeal until late in life and then only small amounts. I have remembered the tales and have noted them, but they are not included here. The words you read are all his, written at a time of great stress. I feel it is a lasting testament to him, and the thousands of other POW`s who suffered the same uncertain daily routine. In the summer of 2004 I went by train from Prague to Decin, where he was incarcerated. I went to the local Museum and all my enquiries of where exactly the camp was located were met with a blank denial of any camp being there, I called it a collective amnesia. If anyone else would like to discuss this with me I would be happy to share this experience, it unsettled me and left me with more questions than answers. Plese contact me and I will be happy to reply. Michael.J.Bellas. son of 1557472 Gunner Leonard Bellas.

1941
Rumours

June 1941.
All R.A.M.C. personnel will be returned to Egypt.
June 1941
The Germans cannot feed us and cannot take us from Crete owing to the Navy so by Int. Law they must return us to Egypt.
July 1941.
The Germans cannot remove us from Salonika to Germany because either
1) All their rolling stock is in urgent use or destroyed.
2) 2) The Russians are between them and Germany.

July 1941
The Russians are at the head of the Strumo Pass which is only 60 Km away. Several chaps heard the Russian artillery one night. Watch word of the day “Sleep with your boots on boys, Joe`s coming”

1942

August 9th 1942
On “appell” tonight Sgt.Battle said he had been instructed by the Kommando Fuhrer to ask if any of us would volunteer for the local AFS. (Army Fire Service?) As they were short of manpower. This appeal caused a great deal of mirth and no volunteers, except from one Cypriot who was labouring under a misapprehension and withdrew it when it was explained to him. We were informed that we should be paid 30 pfennigs per hour for time taken upon practice but should have to practice on “out of work” hours. The K.F., speaking to Sgt. Harper, said he thought that the sergeants must have “primed” the men previously how to react to the appeal where upon Sgt. Harper asked him if he seriously thought any British would volunteer for such a service. It would be “curious” to say the least, to see English soldiers fighting fires lit by the R.A.F.

August 16th 1942 Sunday.
Went to the pictures today - first time for nearly 18 months — and the last time was in Cairo or Bene-Yusef — I don’t remember which. The show started at 10 am, ended at 12am and the admission was 10 pfennigs. Attendance was compulsory. The audience were English, French and Cypriots and the dialogue German — so a fat lot of entertainment it was. The first film was a short extolling the virtues of the Hitler Youth Organisation. It showed a “troop” in camp in a rock climbing district; a slight story seemed to be woven into the film to give it interest but the effect of the rather good photography was spoiled by “wordiness” of the dialogue and the theatrical scenes of camp life showing much (too much) of the flag and the youths “devotion” to duty, leader and country. What the “big” picture was about only the Lord and the Germans know — it seemed to me to be one long chatter. The news was by far the most interesting item of the programme. The bombing of Malta by German and Italian planes and scenes on the eastern front were shown. The planes were filmed during “bombing up” and were all ‘flying pencils’ Dornier 215. The film of the actual bombing was pretty good but the camera must have been vibrating rather a lot. The film of the eastern front was very interesting. Mortars, anti-tank guns and heavy artillery were all shown in action; Russians coming forward surrendering, and a column of them (exactly as I have seen them myself — hopeless looking devils) being marched back into Germany escorted by a trooper on horseback. Soviet tanks and Soviet villages burning and Soviet soldiers ”kaputt” were all vividly portrayed but strangely enough the Germans appeared to suffer no losses. The handing out of Iron Crosses by different “big bugs” was also filmed; by the number of Iron Crosses I myself have seen they seem to ‘come up with rations’
The theatre was quite a decent well decorated place; Nicht Rauchen” was the rule and at one time there were more men smoking in the latrines than sat in the theatre. The ‘posten’ had to come and rouse us out eventually. The civvies said that the theatre is only open for 3 nights per
week.

August 20th 1942
A few weeks ago a new posten (guard) arrived. He got into the habit of bringing articles into the camp and selling them. He grossly overcharged for the articles and the last straw was a bloke paying 30 marks for a 8 mark case. The K.F. heard of it in some manner and the posten was reported and sent to clink for a period.

Aug 22nd 1942.
Went to Wilsdorf hospital on sick parade today with a slight touch of stomach-ache and got one days innensdienst (lit.stop service) French doctor staff in charge. Saw a number of Russian prisoners and it was horrible. They were walking death! Most of them were suffering from the results of frostbite and the sights were terrible. I have never seen such emaciated, hopeless, dumb misery in all my life and I hope I never do again.

Sept 27th 1942
“Ned” Hurman showed me today a shaving brush he obtained from a “civvy” while in hospitals. It consisted of the usual wooden base, but in place of bristle was a bunch of soft grey feathers! Some curio what!!

Sept 28th 1942
It is forbidden to leave washing out in the garden overnight. Reason being that clothes are rather short in Germany.

Oct 20th 1942
Received a food parcel today from the RA despatched from the BRCS Sharea Malika Farida, Cairo in August.

Oct 20th 1942
In the men’s-room today was a note purporting to be a copy of instructions taken from a British officer during the Dieppe business. It is headed by the Germans “Germans prisoners in irons” and the passage referred to is underlined. The passage says, ”prisoners will if necessary have their hands tied to stop destruction of papers.” No mention of irons!!! Referring to it Sgt.Battle said “you will have no luck coming if they take reprisals.”

Nov 10th 1942
The Kommando Fuhrer left today and a new chap is in charge. The old Kommando Fuhrer could speak English (with difficulty at first but with increasing fluency — the many dialects confused him I think) and tho` a bit of an old woman was quite a decent bloke. He and Battle agreed fairly well and were on chaffing terms — each running down the “enemy” — but from many reports and from things I saw and heard myself I think he was P.E. I played him twice at chess — and was beaten. The new bloke gave promise of being a “tartar” but so far (Dec12) he has been very quiet. On leaving the old Kommando Fuhrer bade us all farewell, “the best of luck and an early return home”

Dec 9th 1942
There was a bloody fracas between two Cypriots last night, the third or fourth since we have been here. A shoe-maker corporal was playing cards with 3 or 4 ‘Cypriots” and was accused of cheating. He resented this and for his pains was crowned on the forehead with his own hammer, leaving a wound which necessitated four stitches. He face was a mass of blood when Sgt. Battle waded between him and his opponent. Battle looked at him, asked who had done it and what with, turned to the culprit and smacked him down with a blow to the point of the jaw which laid the Cypriot out for five minutes. The Kommando Fuhrer gave it out later that if any more affrays of this type occurred “lights out” would be at the time of the affray for a long time to come. He told the Cypriot corporal that they were all alike and that if they quarrelled in future they would have to settle it with gloves in a civilised manner. The Cypriots are very fond of knives and 3 or 4 chaps have been stabbed by them with pen knives. Only a month ago 3 Cypriots from the bottom camp were off work with knife wounds. They are a very “close” race and the grafting done by them is amazing. The two Cypriots in the cookhouse have the run of the spud rooms and all the Cypriots are well supplied. They buy chocolate. With bread and sell it to “civvies” for double the amount. They are always trading and if you deal with them you are lucky to “break even.”

Dec 12th 1942
A circular was read out by Sgt. Battle on Appell (roll call) tonight. It was to the effect that a number of men had been sentenced to 5 months prison for refusing to work. Their reason was that the mid-day meal was only a thin soup and not the usual spuds and soup. The president or judge of the court said that the following was to the favour of the prisoners :- British P.O.W.`s worked better than other nationalities. One of them, a corporal, was working voluntarily and they had very little trouble with them. He said that the British P.O.W.`s received so much food from the Red X that they gave some of their Germans rations to other prisoners. This notice has a sequel. At this camp are about a dozen Corporals and all were under the impression that work was compulsory, In view of this notice however they all applied for return to Stalag. The application has gone through but nothing has been done so far (Dec 26)

Dec 1942. Eric Parfett (a chap from the same Regiment as myself) has suffered ever since he has been a prisoner with running boils on his legs. He has never been properly cured and when they broke out last week again he reported sick. He was told by the Germans M.O. that his condition was the result of self sabotage.

December 1942.
A notice in the factory (in German) tell the German workers of the execution of two and the imprisonment for periods varying from 2 to 15 years of 12 Germans railway workers convicted of stealing from railway wagons.

Winter 1942-1943 This winter so far (middle of Feb) been a very mild effort compared with our last Germans winter. At this time last year the average daily temp. was about —15c, ice and snow covered everything, the Elbe was frozen to a depth of 2 or3 ft and conditions were almost Arctic.
These conditions appertained from Jan to Mid March. Today is so warm and sunny that I am writing this in the Garden. No snow is visible even on the surrounding hills and the Elbe is ice-free. To date there have been two heavy falls of snow (early Jan) and one cold spell which lasted for 2-3 weeks but even then the thermometer never dropped below —17c and that only for one day. The rest of the spell it hovered about the —5c mark. Last winter we were working on the road without socks, and boots in bad condition. All our clothing was scanty and we were in poor physical trim owing to Crete etc. This year we have tons of clobber, are in pretty good condition and those of us who are not working inside can always nip inside for a warm. Such is life!

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