- Contributed by
- Rod Pocock
- People in story:
- Charles Henry Pocock and Others
- Location of story:
- Egypt, Eritrea, North Africa, Italy and Germany
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 04 June 2005
Campo 19, this camp, a new one for POWs was originally an Italian barracks as far as we were concerned it consisted of 7 buildings, one for a hospital, 5 for housing the prisoners, each holding 300, and one for the kitchen and canteen. The building in which we were built in the shape of three sides of a square, the front side of each was split up into small rooms holding about 10 each and the wings into bigger compartments, I shall call them that because one could walk right through them, each held 20 officers. For space we were rather cramped, the beds were not so comfortable as at Padula being of canvas pattern. We each had a stool but no table, the washrooms were very elaborate and there was a good water supply but often cut off owing to the visits of the RAF. The lavatories were awful, being of (he squat fashion like those used by the Arabs in Egypt, although the flushing system was very modern when the water was on, all one had to do was to press a button and jump for it otherwise you risk a wet bottom. The bathroom, I didn't know too much about although it was allotted to us once a week, I only ever got one hot shower.
The canteen was very good we were able to get more cakes and bars of chocolate and nearly every day we were able to obtain wine but no beer. Facilities were not extraordinarily good, one could walk around and around the barrack square, but in the heat of the day it was a bit too much. Outside walks were very good; they took place at 7 o'clock in the morning and were quite pleasant, the countryside was very interesting we were able to note things that would be very useful to us later on. I went on several of these walks, but it was a shame that we were accompanied by a large number of sentries that took the gilt off the gingerbread. The cooking facilities here were excellent, the cookhouse itself being very modern. The messing was much better owing to the fact that Red Cross parcels went into the mess or at least such of it as required. We got out parcels weekly, they consisted of biscuits, margarine, jam, sugar, chocolate and milk, the rest went into the mess. This with the items issued and bought from the Italians we were able to live reasonably well, plenty of green stuff but no potatoes, the bread issue was much better here. Nearly every morning we were supplied with coffee, porridge and an apple for breakfast, lunch used to consist of a soup and salad and about twice a week a sweet and an issue of wine. Supper was soup and something from the Red Cross parcel. We were able to get plenty of hot drinks, hot water being supplied from the cookhouse, we used to take our dry tea along and add the water at 10, 2, 4 and 8. All this time the news was extremely good and we were optimistic how long would it last. Mail was very bad but that was only to be expected although I did very well. Private parcels came through and I hoped for my long lost next-of-kin, but was unlucky, however we soon all settled down and were reasonably comfortable and we were not troubled much by the Italians. The end came suddenly, we were not caught unprepared but were certainly let down but that is another tale.
We got news of the Italian Armistice at about 7.30 pm on the 8th September 1943 the day before Rod's birthday, it came as a surprise but on the other hand we were not unprepared. The news was brought in by an Italian officer, and soon the whole place was agog, at the time I was playing dominoes with Martin Verity a very placid gentleman who calmly remarked to me "Carry on it won't make any difference" Later on the SBO gave it out officially and ordered us to remain calm until further orders, he was then going outside to see the Commandant. Rumours were very rife - we had landed here and we had landed there - our forces will be here in the morning - everything would be all right. Whatever plans we had made went awry from the beginning from, information that we were able to obtain, the Italian Commandant had promised us all assistance but none was forthcoming. The Protecting Power Representative who had visited us the week previously had said that under no circumstances are we to be handed over to the Germans. That evening we all packed our kit, just what we could carry and what was required in the case of emergency, and in addition we all received a Red Cross parcel each as reserve food. Later in the evening we received more orders, firstly that no one was to leave camp independently, some had already broken this order and gone over the wall. Secondly we were to sleep or at least remain fully clothed for the rest of the night and thirdly if the Germans arrived during the night, the alarm would be sounded and that we were to make a dash for it. These orders were based on the information that the Germans were already around the camp even before the Armistice was announced this proved to be absolutely correct. Bologna was at this time the HQ of the German forces.
At 4 o'clock they came, the Italians had opened the front gate but no others, the Germans came in the front gate, Mick and I managed to get to another gate which had just been opened when I suddenly remembered that I had left my water bottle behind, I went back for it, then a lot of firing broke out, what happened was that as soon as they got out of the gate the Germans fired down the road, the first lot caught it, some managed to cross the road into the woods but the Germans were prepared for it and the Italians had let us down without a fight because the Germans were all over the camp. Had I not gone back for my water bottle I would have been in the first rush, when I returned I was met by a German officer with a tommy gun who said "Go back British officer" I went back and met Mick. We could see the others being rounded up and put in between the barbed wire fences. We managed to keep clear for an hour but were eventually put in with the rest. When dawn broke we were prisoners of the Germans, we were herded in between the barbed wire as tightly as sardines with machine guns all around us, it looked very much as if we were all going to be shot where we stood, which was not a very pleasant thing, to say the least. It was Rod's birthday one that I am never likely to forget and all my thoughts were with Kit, what a way to go out.
It rather pleased us to see the little 'shits' of Italians being rounded up and taken away as prisoners, In the meantime those who managed to get out were being brought back, one had been killed and 3 wounded, a German officer afterwards told us that he had been told that we were all armed, which was entirely untrue. After the Germans had searched the whole camp we were counted and let back in, but were put under 24 hour warning to move, actually we remained in the camp until 14.30 hours on the 11th
September 1943, in the meantime we just lived in a state of unsettledness hoping against hope, I felt perfectly bloody because I had a roaring cold. We had no news but plenty of rumours, which were all untrue. When we received our orders we were told that we could only carry a very amount of kit, as we had to march 25 miles to a place that was outside the fighting area, consequently we had to destroy a lot of stuff. Food was the main thing knowing that it was most unlikely we should get any. A lot of officers were still very optimistic and of the opinion that they would not get us away, I felt too bad to worry, however motor lorries eventually turned up and we were piled into them, they had covers over them and were grossly overcrowded, I do not remember much about it because I fainted and didn't come round for an hour or two. We were taken to Modena where there was another camp, but instead of going to the camp we were taken to the station and put into goods trucks, this was the last straw. Later in the evening the trucks were all barb wired up and we realised where we were bound. No food was issued but they gave us a very small amount of hot coffee to drink early in the morning. I was lucky and had a blankets others didn't, the number in the truck was 25 just about enough room to lay down it was all just too horrible for words.
Whilst at Modena station the officer POWs from Modena camp were also brought into the station and put into goods trucks next to us, I have had some hard sleeps but never one quite like that night. I cannot remember much about the journey to Germany because I was feeling so very bad and miserable, the cold that I had made me feel awful and my feelings were exactly the same as those when I was first captured, I was still very much ashamed of myself at being a prisoner. We left Modena during the night of 11th September 1943 and arrived at Camp V11A that was at Moosberg in Bavaria during the morning hours of 14th September. Several got away whilst on the trip by various means, but we were unlucky through being in an all steel van and in addition a sentry was posted outside. We were fairly well off for food purely because we had Red Cross parcels, no food was issued to us at all during the whole journey, although on the night of 13th September at Innsbrucke food was put on the train and we were given some more coffee. The food was not issued out to us until we arrived in camp, our main cry was for water, at every stop we tried to get out and get some but it took too long to unlock all the trucks. There were no arrangements for lavatories, if the sentry happened to be nearby he might open the truck and again he might not, altogether it was just too bloody. What we could see from the trucks was little because the only windows were high up, there were only 4 and they had a crowd around them all day trying to get a bit of fresh air. All I could see was the top of the Alps as we went through the Brenner Pass, the farther we went the lower got my spirits, Phil Groves helped considerably to keep my pecker up during the trip. One thing I shall never forget was the rattle of machine gun fire as we went through tunnels, the sentries just opened up and let rip. Occasionally we were caught up by other POW trains, one I remember carried Italians, they were more crowded than we were and the cries of 'Aqua!' reminded us of our last trip in Italy they were getting it back alright.
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