- Contributed by
- People in story:
- John Andrew
- Location of story:
- Europe 1940-1945
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 18 February 2004
John Andrew Royal Engineers
When I was seventeen and a half, I was working at Midwinters’ factory, which was then in Furlong Lane, Burslem.
One day, my mate, who was also my closest friend, said that he was going off the factory at dinnertime to enlist in his Majesty’s services and would I go with him? At the time I said that I would think about it.
S o my mate, whose name was Jacky, went on his own. When he came back he told me that he had enlisted for twenty- one years in The Royal Tank Regiment.
I did decide to go, and enlisted in the same Regiment.
When I got home and told my parents, my mother was very upset and started to cry. You see, the reason why I joined was because my mother and I didn’t get on. We were always falling out with each other. Anyway it upset me to see my mother cry so much that I asked my dad what I must do, and he replied,
“If you don’t want to go through with it, go back to the recruiting officer, and tell him I won’t let you go because you are under age”.
This I did, and the recruiting officer said,
“ When you are eighteen and would like to come back that will be alright with me”.
I did not go back. Germany marched into Poland, and, on 3rd September 1939, England declared war on Germany. In October 1939 I joined up for the duration of the war with the Royal Engineers as Sapper John Andrew. No 2196335, at the Drill Hall in Stoke. I was then nineteen years and eleven months old. There were lots more men at the drill hall, who had joined the same regiment and were waiting to go to their destinations.
A sergeant came in, shouting names out (one of them was a chap named Albert, who I had made friends with, he came from Fenton), and they were told they were bound for Plymouth. My name was called, and I was bound for Cardiff, Wales. Well I was disappointed. Anyway, the sergeant came back and told me to go to Plymouth, I was very pleased as I had my friend to go with.
We got into the back of Army trucks and travelled to Plymouth, where we were taken to Raglan Barracks, just two miles outside Plymouth. There we were issued with knives, spoons, forks, billy (dixy) cans and uniforms. We had to sleep on the floor for one or two nights, until we were provided with beds.
One day a young Army lad committed suicide by jumping through a window six or seven storeys high, because he did not want to go to France. It shocked us all. We had no sleep that night.
We moved from Plymouth to Dovercourt where we were housed in chalets. We had to sleep in bunk beds. I slept in the bottom one, Albert slept on top.
One Saturday night, Albert and I had a late pass, which meant we could stay out until midnight. We went to a pub, where we got into a conversation with two girls. One was English, and the other was a Czechoslovakian refugee, who was staying with the English girl. Albert chatted them up, and we made a date for the next night, which was Sunday.
We took them to a pub for a few drinks, and then we went for a walk along the sea front. Albert and the English girl left us on our own and I had a hell of a time trying to understand the Czechoslovakian girl. She wanted to go to her digs, she did not like to stay out late. Well I took her home, and gave her a kiss, and she waved me goodbye. I did not see her again, she was a very respectable girl. When I got to the camp Albert was still out. When he came in I asked him how he had gone on. He said he’d had a smashing time.
After that, we had a weekend pass and I went home to my parents. When we got to Stoke station I took a taxi home. Albert went home to his wife, he said he would walk from Stoke to Fenton, where he lived, it was not far.
Albert said he would come to my home and we would have a few drinks with my parents, which he did on Saturday night. I introduced him to my parents and also to my brother Stan and sister Winnie. (I had another sister, Minnie, who was away from home at the time.)
Before I went home on the weekend pass, I had made arrangements with another soldier named Bill. He had met a girl, and asked if she had a friend for me for the following Saturday night; not knowing that Albert had made arrangements for the same night.
Well on the Saturday in question was getting ready to go out with Bill and the two girls, when a sergeant came up to Albert and told him two women were waiting outside against the sentry box. It was Albert’s wife and her next door neighbour. Albert told me that he had made arrangements for the four of us.
“I’ve got a date”, I replied.
“Come with us”, said Albert, “you will have a better time”.
Well again I let him talk me into it, and we went to a cinema. Albert introduced me to his wife and her neighbour, Ethel. Who should I see in the cinema but Bill and the two girls _ didn’t speak to me after that.
When we had seen the film we went for a few drinks, then Albert said,
How about staying somewhere for the night?”
“No, I don’t want to get into trouble. We are only allowed out until twelve o’clock”.
Well again I let him talk me into it, and we went to a boarding house. Albert asked the landlady if she could put us up for the night, because we had missed our train back to the camp. She gave Albert and his wife, and Ethel and I a room each. We enjoyed it so much, we stayed another night. Then we saw the women to the station to catch their train home.
When we got back to the camp, we were marched in front of the Commanding Officer, between a Sergeant and a Corporal, and charged with being absent without leave and confined to Barracks for four days on bread and water, it was worth it.
While we were still at Dovercourt, one night the air raid siren sounded the alarm. We got out of our Bunks, and went outside. In the distance we could see red flashes and hear big guns. We were very close to the sea front.
It was a battle between a British battle ship and a German submarine. A Spitfire was flying low and machine gunning. The German submarine sunk, and all the German sailors went down with her, to the bottom of the sea.
The next morning, we were moved to Southampton and on 1st December 1939, we sailed to France over night, and landed next morning at Cherbourg. We were there only a short while, and then we went to Boulogne, where we had to sleep in an old fish market. All we had was a pallaisse, which is a cloth bag filled with straw, which we had to lie on, on a concrete floor. The smell of fish was terrible. Rats were running around us all night.
One morning the air raid siren sounded the alarm. Our Sergeant gave us orders to move out as quickly as possible. We got into the back of our Army trucks. The sergeant and a few lads stayed behind to collect the ammunition and rifles, and the rest of the gear which was loaded on the Army trucks ready to pull out.
We had only got two to three miles out, when the German bombers attacked. The fish market received a direct hit, the Sergeant and the other lads were killed, and some were badly wounded. How, I missed death I’ll never know.
We moved on to Camiers, and from there to Etaples. I was helping to unload an Army truck, which had boxes of tin food, sacks of potatoes, and other stuff. I was on the truck, handing down the boxes to another soldier, when a Scottish Sergeant, who had it in for me, kept on shouting to me to hurry up and get a move on. Well I lost my temper, and said to him,
“I’ll do you one of these nights!”
He reported me to the Commanding Officer, and I was marched in front of him between the Sergeant and a Corporal, and charged with threatening the Sergeants life. I was sentenced to fourteen day’s detention.
I was taken down some steps into a cellar, and put into a cell, which had no windows. I was in total darkness, and had to live on bread and water. There were two more soldiers already inside, serving twenty-eight days. One of them became mentally sick, so much so, that he got his ticket out of the Army.
When at last I had served my sentence and was let out I thought I was blind. I could not see anything at first, but after a while I was all right again. I never saw the Scottish Sergeant again, he kept out of my way.
While we were still at Etaples, I was on guard duty one night when the air raid siren sounded the alarm. We were expecting German paratroopers at any moment, but they didn’t land at Etaples.
We had quite a few bombing raids, on one occasion we were having dinner in the canteen, when the air raid siren went. We all dashed outside, there were French women and children all over the place. We saw the German bombers. A Liverpool lad and I made a dash for cover, at the same time as one another behind a brick wall; and as we dived, my head landed under his belly, and we stayed that way until the bombers had passed over us. We saw the bombs coming down, and they exploded just a few yards away from where we were lying. The all clear went, and we went back to the canteen to finish our dinners. What a day that was! Then we had another raid, and I cleared, jumping over the fence into the forest.
We had quite a few bombing raids, and had to move out of Etaples, because the Germans were so close. Our Captain stayed behind with some more soldiers. He was standing by a church, when it got a direct hit. He was killed instantly, along with the other soldiers, some were mortally wounded and dying from their wounds.
From Etaples we went to Boulogne, and we were surrounded by German snipers at the Boulogne docks. We were inside a building with glass windows on each side, and there were French women and children lying on the floor, trying to keep out of the line of fire. The Germans were machine gunning and firing mortar shells at us, all around. We were completely cut off.
A French soldier came into the building, with his hands over his face, moaning. Blood was coming through his fingers, onto his uniform. A soldier and myself went to him and asked what had happened. The French soldier replied that he had been hit in the face, when a mortar shell exploded.
We asked if we could help in any way. Well when he took his hands from his face,
There wasn’t a face, just a bloody mess. The soldier then collapsed and died.
Soon after that, the Sergeant gave us orders to make a break for it. One of my mates said
“There’s a ship in dock, lets try and get on it to England.”
“No you go.”
So he went, and got on board with a lot more soldiers, who were trying to get back to England. The ship set sail and was only part way across the English Channel, when it received a direct hit by German fighter bombers, and all on board went down with her, again I was lucky to be alive.
Then we had another bombing raid, and we had to run across a bridge to reach the British Army. When Albert and I almost stumbled over a French civilian, who had been hit by shrapnel. We asked if we could help him, by carrying him across the bridge to get a medical officer to look at him. But the old man said,
“I am dying save yourselves.”
He was bleeding very badly. We saw that we could not do anything for him. So we had to leave him. Albert and I and some others, got to the other side if the bridge, but as some more soldiers were getting across, they were only about half way, when the bridge had a direct hit. They never knew what hit them, again I was lucky.
From the bridge, we made our way to a railway station, and got trapped there. The Sergeant said,
“I want eleven men at a time, to make a dash for it, between the railway wagons.”
Another mate of mine, a Manchester lad, was in the first batch, I was in the second. When I got there my mate was as white as a sheet. I asked what was the matter, and he told me that when they were running between the railway wagons, a soldier in front of him was hit in the back with machine gun bullets.
“I saw the bullets go into his back, and blood pumped out on to my battle dress,” he said “I just stood there for a moment, then I realised I could be next, so I ran as fast as I could.”
There were quite a few killed that way.
When at last we got to the railway station, the Welsh Guards were already there. We had to go down some steps that led to the underground air raid shelters, and we had to carry sand bags, one at a time, on our shoulders to the Welsh Guards to make barricades, about four to five feet high, for them to rest Bren guns on — one Welsh Guard to each Bren gun. We had to keep our heads down low, below the windows of a stationary Red Cross train, which had bullet holes in every window.
On one trip I had just dropped a sandbag down on another one by a Welsh Guard, who was on the right side of me, when he slumped forward across his Bren Gun. He had been hit in the left temple, again I was lucky. I went to fetch another sandbag, and the dead Guard was removed, with another in his place.
The Welsh Guards ran out of ammunition, and we hadn’t a chance in hell of getting out of there. In other words, we had had it. The Germans us surrounded, they swooped on us like lightening. A German Officer came into the station, twirling a German luger around his finger. He was laughing, and said in broken English,
“Well lads, the war is over for you.”
We were taken prisoners of war.
The Germans gathered us together, and we were marched off, with our hands on our heads, from the railway station to the docks. There were two Army trucks with ammunition in them on fire, and bullets were flying every where. So the German Officer told us to sit down along side the docks, just a few yards from the trucks until the fire had died down. While we were waiting, the German troops had a wash and clean up, before getting us on our feet again.
We left Boulogne on the 25th May 1940, and we were marched into Germany, which took three weeks. We had to march from dawn to dusk, sleeping in open fields, in all sorts of weather. While we were resting one day, one of our lads ran out into a building, just off the road, about one hundred yards down the hill (they looked like houses to me). He went inside, looking for food (we were practically starving), not knowing that he had been spotted by a German Officer. The Officer put his hand on his holster and pulled out a luger, and when the prisoner of war got to the door, to try to get back to us, the Officer fired six bullets into him, killing him instantly for looting. We were told that was a lesson for the rest of us, then we were on the move again.
When we had marched into Germany, we then had to march into Poland, to a big city called Posnam. It was the fourth biggest city in Poland.
We were then marched to an underground fort, which had big steel, steel doors. When we got inside, there were three archways opening on the left, and three on the right, with steps leading down both sides. We were put into these rooms, some were large, some were small, and ten to twelve men were put in the large rooms, and six were put into the small rooms.
The toilets were on the outside of the fort, they were just below a landing, outside the entrance to the fort. Where we were, just outside our door, was another door leading outside to the toilets. They were made of wood, about six to eight feet long, with holes at the top, and no seats on them. We had to manage the best way we could.
While we were at the fort, two British soldiers, an air force chap and a sailor, planned an escape. They got away one night, and tried to get to the Russian border. Only they didn’t make it. They were re- captured and brought back to the fort. The Germans made all the soldiers work. Forced labour from them at gunpoint. We had to get up at five o’clock in the morning, and were marched ten miles a day to and from work. They made us demolish seventeen to eighteen storey flats, with just a lump hammer and a chisel — it was a long job, and the German Guards stood over us with rifles and fixed bayonets. One German guard hit me in the chest, with the butt of his rifle, because I asked if I could go to the toilet. He wouldn’t let me go, so I had to do it where I was working.
On the long march, we wore our boots out, our feet were cut and bleeding. So the German Commandant issued all of us with a square piece of cloth, for each foot for socks, and Dutch wooden clogs. They were heavy at first, but we got used to them.
During the first six months of captivity, we were only getting a little food from the Germans. We had a loaf of bread, the size of a malt loaf, which had to be cut up between five of us; and a bit of margarine the size of an oxo cube with German black coffee to drink with no sugar or milk. We were starving.
One day a Manchester lad and I managed to pinch some raw potatoes, and put them in our haversacks, when the German guard wasn’t looking, to get them back to the fort. In each room there was a stove, and we were cooking some potatoes on top of the stove, when a German guard came in, and knocked the potatoes off the stove — he was furious! He took us to a cell, which wasn’t far from our room. It had a big steel door with two big bolts, and a big key, it had no windows. We were in it for four days and nights, in complete darkness, on dry bread and water.
When the guard went off duty one night, for his break, one of our mates gave us a knock, the lad with me undid the screws with his pen knife, and we pushed the door open just enough to get through. We went to our room, roasted a few potatoes and got back to the cell. My mate put the screws back. We had only just managed it, when the guard came back. He didn’t know that we had been out. We enjoyed those roasted potatoes- the best meal we had had for weeks.
During the first six months of captivity every prisoner of war was reported missing, believed killed in action. Your next of kin received a telegram from our headquarters in England. Then they received news from the German headquarters that we were prisoners of war somewhere in Germany, and we started to get Red Cross parcels from England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The parcels were the size of a man’s shoe box, but the one’s from Canada were a bit bigger — they contained one tin of beans, corned beef, a tin of milk, egg powder, porridge, and also a pound of tea. Did we have a feast? I made myself sick I ate so much.
While I was a prisoner of war, a lady from Uttoxeter adopted me, to help my parents out by sending me shirts, underwear, pullovers socks and scarves. Our Army depot in England sent us new battle dress, boots, shirts, and socks. And the Germans let us write letters to our parents, sweethearts and wives.
The mail started to come to us, and I had a letter from my parents. I also had a letter from a girl I had met when I was home on leave, her name was Elsie Johnson. We later got engaged, my mother got the ring for me and gave it to Elsie.
One of the lads in our room also received a letter. He read it, then crumpled it and threw it on the floor, then went outside. One of the lads picked it up, read it, and told the rest of us that the lad’s parents and sister had all been killed in a bombing raid on London. They were having their tea, when their house had a direct hit, with a flying bomb. Three of our lads ran outside just in time to stop him from committing suicide.
While we were still working on the flats, demolishing them, the Germans picked some of us one morning to do another job in Posnam. The job was digging a trench. I was sent on this job with some more soldiers.
We went up a road, not far from the city to a brick wall, about six to eight feet high, with an opening. It looked to me like it had been a garage at one time, it had open ground inside the entrance. The German guard gave each of us a pick and a spade. We started to dig the trench and got about six feet down, when the side of the trench caved in. We managed to get out, but one lad got buried to his waist. He was pushed forward with the dirt, he had internal injuries and was bleeding from the mouth. We shovelled the dirt out as fast as we could. The German guard phoned for an ambulance, and it arrived within minutes, we pulled the lad out minus his Dutch clogs, and he was taken in the ambulance. We did not see or hear of him again.
I was working in the trench one day, and got out for a breath of air. I was standing by the entrance, when I saw a lovely looking girl, across the other side of the road, I gave her a wolf whistle, and within minutes a car pulled up and two Gestapo agents got out. They were wearing black uniforms, with armbands that had swastikas on them, and a holster around their waist with a German Luger gun in it, with black jackboots on their feet.
One of them hit me in the face with the flat of his hand, and shouted something to me in German, which I couldn’t understand at the time, then he put his hand on his gun, he was expecting me to retaliate and hit him back; but I kept a cool head, and just stood there. I was very frightened, I thought to myself,
“This is it, he is going to shoot me.”
Anyway, he took his hand off his gun, and they both got back into the car and drove away. Once again I was lucky to be alive.
I went back to the trench, and started to work, and I asked one of the lads- who could speak German, what the Gestapo agent had said. He had said that if the girl I had whistled at had been a German girl, he would have shot me, but as luck would have it, she was a Polish girl- thank God.
We were on our way back from work one night, when we saw a German Officer kick some Polish children with his jackboot, off the pavement. The children had nothing on their feet and very little clothing. They were begging for food. The Officer was taking it out on the children because German soldiers, Officers and members of the Gestapo were being murdered by the fathers of the children. For every man that was murdered, ten Polish men were picked up by the Gestapo put against a wall and were shot by a firing squad. But this didn’t stop the Poles, they still carried on murdering the Germans.
We were at the fort eleven months, then we were on the move again.
We left Poland by rail, we were put into railway wagons with sliding doors. The German guards pushed us in like cattle, we had to sit with our knees under our chins. We must have travelled miles, because, when we got to Germany, we all had cramp and pains in the stomach. When we finally got out we could hardly walk.
The German guards told us to fall in, and they marched us to another prisoner of war camp called Stalag 344. We were split up, and half of us had to work at a grave stone factory (I was one of them), and the other half had to work at a paper mill.
In the grave stone factory we each had a machine to work — polishing gravestones for the German dead, it was a dusty job. A German civilian, who was a very good man, we liked him very much. We had not been on the job very long, when the boss was taken ill, and one of our lads found out that he had been taken to hospital. Both of his lungs collapsed, and he died coughing blood up, through the stone dust.
I started to have pains in my chest, and began coughing blood up after I had been doing the job for a while. I reported sick, and was taken to a German medical Officer. He examined me all over, and had me taken off the job. I was taken to another civilian who was the boss of a sandpit.
The following morning I had to wait inside a long brick building for the boss. The camp where we were staying was a big house, the boss and his wife lived upstairs, and we had the downstairs to sleep in.
Finally the boss came to me and took me to a sandpit. My job was shovelling sand through a big sieve. I had to knock two wooden stakes into the ground to put the sieve on, which was five feet high, two to three feet across. Then I had to shovel sand through the sieve, and when there were forty tons of sand, a German civilian came with a horse and cart, and I had to shovel the sand onto the cart. I then got onto the cart with the civilian, and we went to the railway. I got down, unloaded the cart of sand, then I had to shovel the sand into the railway wagons — twenty tons in each wagon. Did my backache?
The second day I had to help the boss to put a German woman to work with me. She was about fifty — six years old, she was a damned good worker.
It was then the 12th of December 1941. Just above where I was working in the sand pit was a farm, it was very high up, and sometimes I would see a farm girl go along the top of where I was, I would whistle at her and sometimes she would wave to me. There was no way of getting to know her without getting caught, so I gave it up as a bad job.
When I had finished work one day and got back to camp after we had had our tea, we then got down on our bunks. At around eight or nine o’clock a German guard picked a Birmingham lad and me to go and help unload three to four railway wagons loaded with logs. The guard took us to the railway, where other prisoners were unloading. We made a chain — some lads were on the wagons throwing the logs down to us, and then we had to throw the logs into army trucks. We finished the job, and went back to camp.
One morning while I was waiting for the boss, and the German guard wasn’t around, a German girl gave me an orange. She was about twenty years old. I never had the chance to talk to her, it was too risky, and I did not want to get caught.
Well again the Birmingham lad and I were picked at night to unload logs. We were getting a bit fed up with it, always being picked on by this German guard. When he came for us again one night. We jumped on the back of an army truck as it was going up a hill taking the logs to town, and we were sitting on our bunk beds thinking we would be alright, when two minutes later two German guards came in with rifles — one had a fixed bayonet. The guard with the rifle put it to my mates’ head took off the safety catch, and the other one with the fixed bayonet stuck it against my stomach. One of the guards told us in English that we had five minutes to go and unload the logs.
“If you don’t go”, he said, “We will kill you”.
Some of our lads told us not to be foolish — it wasn’t worth being killed for. We thought the guards were bluffing. We had just one minute left — so we unloaded the logs.
Next morning, while we were on parade, we had to stand to attention while our numbers were called out (my number was 1039) and answered. Three German officers were waiting, one of the officers, who could speak English, shouted:
“Step out the two prisoners who refused to work unloading logs last night! “
The Birmingham lad and I stepped out of ranks, and the Officer said, “ Why did you refuse to work?”
I replied that my mate and I were always picked on all the time, and the guard didn’t tell any of the others to go and help unload the wagons. So the Birmingham lad and I were moved to another Stalag.
We went to Stalag V111B at a place called Lamsdorf. It was a very big camp, with barbed wire fencing about twelve feet high, with a wooden tower at each end that had a searchlight and a machine gun on it. Two German guards were in each tower. There were English, Canadians, New Zealanders, Australians, Americans, Palestinians, and all other nationalities at this Stalag. I met Commander Bader — the legless pilot.
The Birmingham lad and I were marched in front of the Commandant between two guards, and he was told that we had refused to work at Stalag 344. Then we were charged with being disobedient, refusing to work. We were taken to a cell with no bed to lie on, no windows, in complete darkness, fed on dry bread and water for eight days. Alone with no one to talk to — it was very distressing.
When I was let out I felt as though everything was against me, because as you know, when reading this story, that it had happened to me before. Well the Birmingham lad was let out as well. We were dirty. There was no toilet in the cell, so I had to go where I was, in one of the corners. The Birmingham lad had to do the same.
We were then taken to a long hut, which was one of twelve in the compound. All of the prisoners were kept in them, and they held about twenty — two to twenty — four men. There were twelve double bunk beds, made of timber, with wooden planks across each one and a pallaise on them. We were given two army blankets. When it was cold we had to put our over coats on too, to keep warm. There was a long table with chairs and a stove pot.
Well, I told you we were very dirty, so one of the other prisoners loaned us a razor and some soap, and we cleaned our selves as best we could.
We had no food because we had lost our parcels due to being moved. So I pinched some food off a Scottish Sergeant. He found out, and took me outside, where he gave me a good hiding. I didn’t hit him back because I had asked for what I was getting. He split my lips open, blacked my eyes — I had to have two stitches in my lips.
I apologised to him, and he said,
“ If you had asked me, I would have given you some food “,
We shook hands, and we were the best of friends after that. It taught me a lesson I shall never forget.
I was sent to work in the salt mines. After a while I started coughing up blood again. I reported sick, and the medical officer said that I must not work indoors, but must work outside. So I was sent to work in the Black Forest where I helped to saw down trees and chop off branches. Then they had horses to take the logs away. I would put chains around the logs and attach the chains to the horses, who would drag them to where they were being stacked. Another soldier helped me to stack them, and then I would ride the horses back bareback. I loved the work, it was hard, but I really enjoyed doing it.
One day, when we were going out to work, we had a Commander Bader in the middle of the working party. All this had been arranged with the escape committee. A dummy had been made, and it took the place of one of one of the lads. We had been taking it with us for a few days, and when we were counted one of the lads answered for it. Bader wanted to get to Lamsdorf airfield, where he would take a German plane. He told us that he would take six men with him.
Well, the day of the escape came, and all went well. We were counted, and started to march to work. We had to go up a hill, we kept together, but Bader fell back, and the men near him held him up, but they were spotted by a German guard. He told us to halt, and then we had to march back to the compound. Bader was taken to the Commandant, he was made to drop his trousers, and his legs were taken off him. He was transferred to another camp.
I started getting parcels and mail again. I got a letter from Elsie Johnson telling me that she had met someone else, and she had broken off our engagement. She had given my mother the ring to give back to me. Well, I was very upset. I wouldn’t eat or keep myself clean. I was very depressed. I had gone through so much that I couldn’t take any more. The lads tried to help, but I wouldn’t listen to them. I was so run down that I got lice, and that did not help me. Well, the lads were getting a bit browned off with me, so two of them forced me to have a wash and a shave, and made me take pride in myself once more.
In our hut were one or two who were interested in music, so they joined some more from the other huts, and formed a band. There were accordion players, a banjo player and a guitar player. They asked me if I would join them, and I played the harmonica. I wrote to my mother and asked her to send me one (I had been playing the mouth organ since I was three years old). My mother sent it to me, and we really got going with the band. We would play in the compound, and I began to live again (it took my mind off Elsie), and we had a great time.
An English officer, who was in charge of entertainment, asked me to play my harmonica in a show he was putting on for the soldiers, but I couldn’t face a crowd, I was then very shy. The officer said,
“ Shut your eyes, no one will notice!”
But I still wouldn’t go on, I just liked to play for my own amusement. The officer put on great concerts. Soldiers would dress up like women, and dance and sing (the dresses were all made by the soldiers themselves). There were good comedians, musicians, and singers. Even Germans enjoyed the shows.
All went well until six soldiers escaped, and we were all made to stand to attention in the compound until they were caught. Four were caught and brought back, the other two were shot while trying to escape. The four that were caught were shot in front of us by a firing squad. Well, we all refused to work, so we had machine guns trained on us, and were given one hour to make up our minds. We saw that they meant business, so just before the hour was up we went back to work. This was May 1944.
News came to us that the Americans and Russians had joined forces with England, and that there was going to be an invasion. We waited patiently, they did invade in June 1944 and were driving the Germans back. Months past and the German officers began to leave the camp one by one. Then the guards began to go one at a time. Just after Christmas 1945 we woke up one morning and all the Germans had gone. So we decided to get to the English lines.
We all got into deserted army trucks. No one stopped us. We were very excited. The truck I was in stopped for a while and I said to one of the lads,
“ I’m going to get some food, will you look after my kit for me?”
He said he would. I got the food, and when I went back to the truck it had gone, with my kit bag and all my possessions. I was left on my own, with only what I was standing in. I didn’t know what to do, until I saw some Russian soldiers. They took me to their camp, gave me some food, and somewhere to sleep for the night. I thanked them and the next morning, after breakfast, I was on my way. I was given enough food to last a few days.
When the food ran out I went to a German house, and asked for some food and shelter. Two very frightened women asked me in, and they said if I stayed the night they would be very grateful, because Russians were raping and killing women. I had a good meal, and got down on the sofa for a sleep, when two Russians kicked the door in, they saw me on the sofa and said,
I pointed to my uniform and said,
“ Yes, Englishky”.
They left. The German women could not thank me enough, they gave me some food, and I was on my way again.
I reached the American lines, where I was deloused and taken by plane to England. The first thing I did was kiss the ground and thank God. I was so happy I cried tears of joy. I was then taken to a hospital in Southport, where I received treatment, and light food to build me up.
Then I was given leave to go home to my parents, who had been told I was in England. When I arrived home I saw a big banner, it read;
“ Welcome home Jack”,
Every one called me Jack at home, because my father was named John too
My mother came running out tears streaming down her face. My father was having a shave, and came running out with a towel around his waist and shaving soap still on his face. They both hugged and kissed me. Then my brother came to me with my sister Winnie. They hugged and kissed me too. Minnie was away in the, A- T- S.
What a day that was. We had a party, and I got drunk. I didn’t know what to do with my head the next morning.
That was May 1945, VE Day.
I had to go in to the hospital again with stomach trouble. The doctor said it was a nervous stomach. I went on leave again, and on the 1st of June 1945, I met a young lady, and we got engaged her name is Ivy Wilcox. We were married on the 1st of September 1945.
I was discharged from the army on the 10th December 1945 for ceasing to fulfil Army physical requirements. I had served six years and one hundred and seven days. I was a prisoner of war for five years.
My wife and I had three lovely daughters. My daughters are named Josephine Barbara, and Dorothy, Josephine is the eldest Dorothy is the youngest.
John has since died of cancer on 25th February 1979, aged 59 years, he is buried in Burslem cemetery
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