- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Basil Cotton
- Location of story:
- 'Eindhoven', 'Krefeld', 'Dusseldorf Gerresheim', 'Dulag Luft at Hohemark','Stadtroda','Egendorf','Obermassfeld',
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 15 May 2005
I was flying a Whitley when I was shot down. On July 4th, at 2am, I made a parachute descent at Eindhoven, Holland. There were 5 of us on our plane : Dickie Davis (rear gunner), Ken Bowden (a good actor), Ron Lakin and myself who all survived (the other three weren’t injured) and Gibson who died. I subsequently met Ken Bowden at Heydekrug, he was in the bed next to Roy Dotrice.
I was found by a dog, shot in both legs, in an irrigation ditch. A German orderly helped cut me out of my flying suit, he was very gentle and kindly. He wouldn’t let me walk but got an ambulance, which was driven across the field to pick me up. I was put on to a stretcher and was taken to Krefeld to a hospital run by nuns.
My legs were in a mess, I was shot in the right thigh, my head was hit too, my left foot had been stuck. The nuns at the hospital treated people very badly. They used to put food by my bed but I wasn’t strong enough to eat it. When they came back and found the uneaten food they swore at me.
My left leg went gangrenous. They took me to a hospital (Res Laz) in Dusseldorf Gerresheim, which was run by the French and had about 1000 French patients, I was the only Brit. This was in 1941 on July 8th, when France was under German rule and French workers were taken into Germany to work. They were used to handling minor injuries, hernias etc. A doctor there called Galving came to look at me. I was on a stretcher and when he saw my left leg he recoiled. I stayed in this hospital for about 8 months.
I’d already learnt German and French at school — at Dusseldorf I got a big compliment from a Frenchman. He said ‘You speak very good English for a Frenchman’. I had done 7 years of French at school and was better at it than German. I learned the correct version but you pick up the patois from French men. Of course I picked up a lot, I was stuck in a hospital with only French people. My greatest friend was a Frenchman whom I met at Dusseldorf, he gave me some of his ration and a lighter. I saw him a couple of times after the war, once in Lille, another time in Leicester in 1957 when Muriel was expecting Fran.
We used to have very good concerts at Dusseldorf, Paul Boissier ran an excellent orchestra and he arranged a jazz gala on 26th September 1941; I was the only English man there.
I had two operations on my legs at Dusseldorf, both by Galving.
On March 2nd 1942 I was moved to Dulag Luft at Hohemark (which means ‘High Point’), near Oberursel, Frankfurt where RAF prisoners were taken for distribution to POW camps. This was up in the mountains, on the Rhine, a beautiful setting, lots of snow. Around this time I spent time in solitary confinement. They took my clothes away and interrogated me for information and turned the heat up. I was warned ‘ No one will know you are here’, but I told him I’d already been here for 12 months and had received parcels, which took the wind out of his sails. Another German, Lieutenant Erihart, came in to see me, he spoke perfect English and said he’d been to Queens College Oxford, but I wouldn’t tell him anything. I heard after the war he got four years for ill-treatment of POWs. This happened over two days, by then they knew I was no good to them.
I was next taken on April 2nd 1942 to Stadtroda hospital, where I was in bed next to an Army man, Taffie (he was Welsh) — he looked after me for weeks, used to sort out food for us both as I couldn’t do anything. The hospital was in a nice village.
The hospital was under German control but with British doctors, the patients were English plus some from Crete and New Zealand. They did two operations on my left leg, which straightened it and put it in plaster, after which I could walk, more or less. The surgeons there were Leslie Lauste and butcher Martin (I met Martin at Wimbledon years later, he was very tall). The senior sergeant made the patients clean the hospital.
On August 21st 1942 I was moved to the hospital at Egendorf, near Stadtroda, in the central part of Germany. The countryside reminds me now of Wiltshire, it was beautiful. The hospital was previously used as a college for the Hitler Youth; it was on a hill and like being in a holiday camp. It was more like a convalescent home than a hospital; they didn’t do any operations there. My left leg was affected by the move. I made sure that I got a bed near the kitchens, so I could watch the girls at work there and hear the radio playing every night. The summer of ’43 had beautiful weather and I had a girlfriend in the kitchen, Anna Maria Blankenfuland, she was very blond and had a sister Lottie — there were about 5 girls working there in all. We got Red Cross parcels and took them to the kitchen and they’d heat them up for us. The parcels had tinned meat, prunes, little things of cheese, dried egg, tins of fish. We received German rations too, but they weren’t anything special.
They didn’t mind people who were wounded going outside the hospital and I used to go to Blankenhein village.
There were Russians, Poles, Belgians and French in Egendorf, it was run by mainly English doctors plus a couple of French doctors. In winter they would ask for say 6 men to get the coal and I always volunteered because I could talk to them. Known there as Schwartze ie black because I had black hair. We used to travel by oxen cart and sled. The doctors there were doing a fiddle to get the coal. I was kitted out in striped Polish trousers and a blouson. We found out after the war that we were very near one of the concentration camps. I remember one day the sky was blue, but then a great black cloud came across. We thought it was just a rain cloud, or perhaps from a bombing but now I wonder if it was from that camp.
We had a good band at Egendorf, we used to put on shows for the English and French, I used to be the compere. I played a bit of table tennis there. I bought myself an accordion and with a Yugoslavian who played the trumpet and another chap on drums we set up a band called the Cosmopolitans.
I met George Friedlander, a German Jew, at Egendorf, he had joined the British Army and was a POW. I was friendly with Walter Kretchmer, the guard commander, German. He had lost an eye and finger and had been shot in the thigh, he was part of Rommel's army that had marched across France. He was a sensible man, not vicious in the slightest. His brother was a famous submarine commander, who ended up as a POW in Canada.
Whilst at Egendorf Cooper, the doctor there, sent me to Obermassfeld on May 22 1943 for a couple of weeks. Here the Geneva Commission, who checked injured POWs in case any were eligible to be repatriated, saw me. One chap who lost an arm was lucky, he was sent home. Tiger Fulton was another doctor at Egendorf, he was an international bridge player and later an umpire at Wimbledon. I am not sure how these English doctors ended up in the German hospitals, perhaps they were captured during Dunkirk?
Shortly after returning to Egendorf I was sent back to Stadtroda on June 13th 1943, where I stayed for about 5 weeks and started to learn chess, taught by a Russian, before being put on a train to Mohlsdorf on August 21st. I was there about a week and contracted jaundice, so was sent back to Obermassfeld hospital on August 30th where I spent 4 weeks in bed, not at all well. At Stadtroda the cooking was based on a liquid fat which may have caused the jaundice. When I was mobile again they sent me to Mühlhausen Army Camp on November 9th. This was not very nice but I wasn’t there for long, setting off for Heydekrug later that month.
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