- Contributed by
- 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:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 23 November 2005
Dawn came on the Saturday morning and Alf and I sat in the forest watching the sun rise. It was going to be a glorious July day as we wondered what was in store for us. Full of confidence we left the forest and made our way on the road towards Switzerland, crossing a bridge over the Danube as we went. To a man sitting at the side of the bridge we gave the customary greeting of the day, “Heil Hitler”. This was the first time we had given this kind of greeting. We used the same expression to anyone else we met. The wonderful part of this hike towards Switzerland was that we had forests all the way and after a few hours walk we just left the road and took a rest in the woods - we even enjoyed picking strawberries.
Our confidence grew as the morning passed and we approached midday. Whilst walking through a village a farmer passed us and we gave him the usual greeting, “Heil Hitler”. We hadn’t gone ten yards when he called us back. “What are you doing in this village and where are you going?” he asked. “We are on our way to see friends in Singen”, I answered. “You two had better come with me and see the Buergermeister (Mayor)”, he said. As he had a big alsatian dog with him we had no option.
We must have been questioned for half an hour by the Buergermeister and I am amazed until this day how I managed to find all the answers. Whenever he asked anything from Alf I asked him in English and translated it to Herr Buergermeister. As we travelled as Dutchmen it must have sounded Dutch to this good man. At the end of this ordeal the Mayor apologised to us for being stopped and he wished us a safe journey.
Midday had passed and it had become a really hot Saturday. By now we were extremely thirsty but more full of confidence than ever, so we decided to go to a beer garden in the next village. It was a wonderful feeling to sit in the shade and enjoy a glass of beer. After a while we saw a policeman fifty yards down the road which gave us a bit of a shock. Another beer and twenty minutes later he was still there. We couldn’t stay all day so we started walking and hoped for the best. All went well - the policeman was not interested in us.
The next village was the last before the border town of Singen and it was only mid-afternoon. Again we took refuge in the pine trees and hills until night fell.
Now we began the last few kilometres of our escape and we were on our way to the frontier. Our plan was to go round the town of Singen rather than through it as we assumed it was full of police, Gestapo and alsatian dogs. I have never come across so many alsatian dogs in my life as on this escape. We by-passed Singen and were now on the road to Gottmadingen. Somewhere along this road the Swiss border almost touches it and we were full of the joys of spring as we walked along, when all of a sudden there was a shout. “Halt. Wer da?” (“Halt. Who goes there?”). It was a German frontier guard and he wanted to know what we were doing and where we were going. I said we had missed the last train to Tuttlingen where we were working and that we wanted to spend the night with our Dutch friends in the next village. After checking our papers he told us to scram!
What enormous luck it was to have been let off like that. After a while we made our way through the woods to get back on the road where we were before. As Alf walked across a path in the woods there came a shout. “Hande hoch!” (“Hands up!”) There stood two frontier patrol guards pointing their rifles at Alf. They were under the impression that Alf was a smuggler and wanted to know where he had the money. I then came forward to explain that we were not smugglers but Dutch workers and that we had lost our way. They didn’t believe us so they took us to their guardroom where there were eight or ten more guards. They were still convinced that we were smugglers so in the end we told them we were English prisoners-of-war who had escaped from Upper Silesia.
All of a sudden they looked upon us as heroes and they seemed thrilled to meet us. The corporal then took us to his HQ at Singen where he handed us over to the corporal in charge of night duty. In no time at all we were on friendly terms with these two. “Deutschland kaputt”, they said and that they were fed up with the war. They also said that they would like to let us go but that it was more than their lives were worth. They also invited us to study their large-scale frontier maps on the wall and they hoped we would try and escape again and that next time they didn’t want to see us. After a while they passed us on to the Police with lots of apologies. In the early hours of Sunday morning in the police cells in Singen we had time to think how near and yet how far we were from Switzerland.
The police in Singen treated us more like criminals than prisoners of war. On the following Tuesday morning an army guard came to take us to a prisoner of war camp in Villingen. On the way out we had to walk through the Inspector’s office so Alf said, “Go on, Dick, you tell him what we think of his prison”, so I said, “Herr Inspector, we’ve been in many prisons, but never in one as bad as yours”. He answered, “If I was a prisoner in England they wouldn’t put me in the best hotel either”.
We walked to the station and as we expected the place was swarming with Gestapo, police and alsatian dogs, so our idea of avoiding this town had been right. Our next destination was Stalag Vb at Villingen and it was tough. Our hut was crowded with French prisoners of war and we were locked in 24 hours a day. At six in the morning and at six in the evening we were allowed fifteen minutes to go to the toilets and to stretch our legs. The remainder of the time there was a bucket in the corner of the hut. It was the middle of July and the atmosphere was putrid. Our stay at Stalag Vb lasted ten days during which time we were interrogated by a tribunal of army officers presided over by a Major. Also included in this party was an English speaking professor. When we told the tribunal how we had managed to get to the Swiss border the Major asked the professor to tell us “Das ist Unmoeglich” (“That is impossible”). So Alf said to the professor, “Please tell the Major that for us English nothing is impossible”.
Escaped prisoners were always taken back to their main camp, so after ten days an Army guard came to take us a stage further on our travels. The journey took us from Villingen along the Neckar Valley through Stuttgart to a prisoner of war camp near Ludwigsburg. This place was murder for me. For three days we were locked in darkness with hardly any food or water and for the rest of our stay I couldn’t sleep a wink. There were thousands of fleas and they played hell with me. As for Alf, they never touched him! The Commandant was a nut case and we got as near to being shot as we ever did. The prisoners were mainly Dutch and most of them spoke English or German, so we were in good company. Also in this camp were the funniest toilets I ever came across. A small stream ran through the camp and on each side was a long beam about 3’ high. You just sat on the beam and made sure you had the right balance. For twenty-seven days I could hear the clock on the local church strike every fifteen minutes. On the twenty-eighth day a guard came for us and told us to pack because he was going to take us to Stalag VIIIb.
RETURN TO STALAG VIIIb
As we had been living in the same stinking outfit for the last month we had nothing to pack. We were lucky we still had a toothbrush and shaving gear. That rotten Commandant had taken our good shoes and clothing and left us with a shirt, a stinking Russian uniform, no socks and only wooden clogs which were miles too big, so as we walked along we had to drag one foot after the other to make certain we didn’t lose them.
The guard had no idea how to get to Stalag VIIIb. He took us everywhere -Wurzburg, Leipzig and almost to Berlin. One evening, late, we arrived at Gern just as the air-raid sounded and everyone at the station had to go to the shelter. All the people stared at us as if we had come from another world. The first thing the guard said to everyone in the shelter was, “Ich habe hier zwei Englishe Gefangene” (“I have here two English prisoners”) and we often wondered what would have happened if a few bombs had fallen on this town.
After days with this guard we were almost glad to be back at Stalag VIIIb. Back to square one! All we had on our bodies as we walked into the main camp was a shirt. When we appeared before the Camp Commandant we told him that we had done twenty-one days solitary confinement at Ludwigsburg so he let us off further punishment.
It was wonderful to be deloused, even though we had nothing to delouse, because we had a hot shower thrown in. We were given clean uniforms and clean clothing and also the first Red Cross parcel for many weeks. We enquired about our friend Jim Brown and were told that he was in the sick bay. The poor chap was down with Yellow Jaundice but he was just about getting over it. No-one was more surprised than Jim to see us back after about fifty days. He thought that we would be back in England long ago. Apart from our misfortune we were thrilled to see each other again and Jim’s first words, after we told him of our adventures, were, “Let’s get cracking and organised so we can be on our way before winter sets in”. Alf was as keen as ever. I had the greatest admiration for Alf and Jim. They had pluck, courage and stamina and the will to have a go and they were frightened of no-one.
Our top priority was to see the Escape Committee and our second to volunteer for a working party. They got us a working party in no time but it would take a while to get good identity papers organised. Time was precious so we took what papers were available and hoped for the best.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.