- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Kenneth Roy Brant
- Location of story:
- Holland and Germany
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 21 November 2004
The following is the exact diary, written during POW camp, of my father in law. He was helped by the Dutch resistance and then captured swimming the Rhine in winter 1944. He was w POW until the end of the war.
I WAS A HUNTED MAN
ON THE LOOSE
CONCERNING THOSE DAYS BETWEEN OCTOBER 6th and OCTOBER 23rd 1944.
October 6th.1944 - Friday
We were out on an armed recce over Holland when at last - after many near misses - that thing called the “law of averages” caught up with me. There is always a shadow at the back of one's mind that one will get hit at sometime or other. Well, this date at 5.0 p.m. marks my time.
I was flying Spit IX GE-T, in search of' ground transport and had just dived down on a target and had not gained much height (about 200 feet) when I went directly over a gun post. Of course I was like a sitting fowl and was hit in the prop. The aircraft lurched into a steep dive and was vibrating as if trying to throw me out. A height of 200' and a thickly wooded countryside doesn't offer much encouragement for a forced landing. However, fate placed a small chicken run at hand and this I successfully squeezed into. This small field had woods on two sides, a house on another and a hut in the middle. See why I believe in that word "luck"?
A crowd soon assembled and I found someone who understood English. A pair of blue overalls were stuffed in my hands and a dirty cap rammed on my head, by the Dutch people. It wasn't many minutes before I was away from the site of the Crash (and German searchers) on a bicycle. The English speaking Dutchman, C. Bos, said he would contact the "underground". As soon as I was a reasonable distance from "T" for “Tommy" I dismounted and in a hidden spot, cut off (very hurriedly) the tops of my boots and made my disguise better. Then I made my way to some woods to hide out. All the time I naturally had that hunted feeling imagining every person was a Hun -what a nerve-wracking feeling. Spent the night in the woods -gosh, it was cold.
Early next morning I heard someone whistling "God Save the King" and I was very relieved to find Bos with a farmer and some food and warm milk. We went to the latter's house (after consultation as to the best thing to do) which was a breathtaking experience. At the house I changed my blue overalls for brown corduroy trousers, a blue jacket and wooden clogs and became a typical Dutch farm worker. After burying my battledress jacket I went straight off to do a bit of work (or rather appear to work) in the fields.
My first job was digging a shallow trench. Due to the language difficulty I became a deaf and dumb and for a whole week I carried out this role on the farm. To say the least it was a very difficult life, only conversing for a short while each day with Bos. To do this we went into the woods.
I was very grateful to Bos, he did a lot for me bringing books, razor, hankies, dictionary, tooth brush, etc. In our conversations we planned my way of escape to the Rhine if anything happened. I knew that bit of countryside like the back of my hand and could travel along the little-used paths which were ideal for the fugitive ( thanks to Bos ).
The first two mornings I got up with the farmer to do some work but after that I stayed in bed till dinner - milk, tomatoes and apples were brought to me. I spent the morning reading, studying the Dutch dictionary and planning my method of action for all contingencies. I had a way of escape from the house via a barn if ever the Hun came searching, and could do it blindfolded.
On the Saturday that I arrived, Typhoons dive-bombed the railroad close-by while I was in the fields. It was so close by that I fell on my face in no graceful manner - that was a close shave.
I had a hair-raising ten minutes one morning while washing when a Jerry came for some milk. He looked at me but didn't notice anything unusual. I tried to act in an unconcerned manner but my heart was sure in my mouth.
Bos fixed me up with false identification papers for which I provided the photo (escape photo). My papers said my name was Anton Pool, born at Arnhem on May 25, 1918. I was a landworker and was doofstom (deaf and dumb). Obviously I was taking great risks for if I had been betrayed I would have been shot immediately. Wearing civilian clothes and carrying false papers pointed to nothing but a spy or saboteur.
October 8th - Sunday
Was having tea when a Hun came to the farmhouse for butter. He stood arguing in the doorway for 10 minutes with me in full view and not 2 yards away. I tried to eat my tea naturally but, needless to say, I can't remember eating any of it. If I didn't get any grey hairs I don't know why.
I had several such escapes during my week at the farm; those are enough for now, though.
Everything went on much the same, with Bos coming for a chat daily, myself acting deaf and dumb and working in the fields, perhaps picking potatoes or driving a horse and cart, until Friday night when a member of the Underground came to see me. He said there was probably a chance that he could get me across the Rhine if I was prepared to take the risk. He said the odds were 50-50 and I agreed (very willingly - this life was getting a bit of a strain, by hell it was) He was to communicate with me later.
On Saturday noon this same member of the Underground came for me to take me nearer the Rhine. I changed into blue overalls again with my uniform underneath and left the farm on a bicycle. From here I went to Veenendaal to the house of the Underground bloke to pick up a guide for the rest of the journey.
If by any chance there was trouble the chap leading was to scratch his head and I would turn round immediately. Everything went O.K. to Veenendaal, we passed a few Germans without any incident. There was always a chance a Hun might commandeer my bike and I had instructions not to offer any obstruction whatever. After a cup of tea and a cigar we continued our journey.
On this part of the journey we met many Jerries and even passed a training camp where there were many soldiers - just off the road. But so far, so good, a bit nerve-wracking but nothing else. We eventually came to a sentry guarding the road who brought his rifle to the ready. This looked like being a ticklish situation and my heart wasn’t beating too evenly. However, before we reached the guard we changed course 180°, without saying one word. I fully expected a bullet through my back but all went well. Then we passed another guard without being stopped. I went so close to him that I could have placed my hand on his shoulder.
We finally reached our destination, ( a cemetery 3 km from the Rhine ) without any setbacks. Here I was to live, eat and sleep with members of' the Underground. This entailed still more dangers for I was virtually a member of the Dutch Resistance movement and would be shot as such. We slept about 6 ft. underground and had to be out of sight by 7.0 p.m. as there was a Curfew. Down below we would sing, eat chestnuts and play cards until bedtime.
We had a very narrow escape one night, when, after making a hell of a noise we were alarmed to find a Hun above, prodding with a bayonet into what little camouflage there was to our hideout. The chief dished out arms and ammunition for it looked like developing into a sticky situation. We became so quiet that breathing sounded like thunder. Fortunately for us (and the Hun) the entrance wasn't discovered but nevertheless we slept with guns under our heads.
The days passed on much the same - the same nerve wracking tension, the same commonplace narrow escapes from disaster, the same continuous bombardment by allied artillery which was much too close (one shell landed in the cemetery; the whine and whistle of shells seemed to get nearer and louder).
Previous to being shot down I smoked very little, but now, such was the tension, that I was chain smoking cigars to stop myself shaking. There was a German gun post about 200 yards away and Huns were passing the cemetery every day.
The climax of my stay at the cemetery arrived just before I left. Here is the scene:- Outside the place where we had breakfast were 2 Hun officers with a car which had apparently broken down - this made me feel a little tense. Then the Allies across the Rhine started what seemed to me like a Monty barrage - the place was shaking and vibrating and the whistle of shells was continuous. This on its own was bad enough but I had also to contend with the Hun officers and was now beginning to feel a bit shaky.
Now this situation was bad enough and it became very critically worse, yes, it became very critical to say the least. In the middle of the artillery bombardment came a great explosion from our underground hideout - surely the 2 Huns would notice this and I would be undone.
But no, the dim clucks observed nothing, and my life was preserved.
You see, down underground was my uniform and my RAF identity card. If these were destroyed I was in a bit of a fix as you can well imagine. I would be shot as the “Underground” without the least hesitation and I wouldn't be able to argue that I was English or anything.
I was beginning to shake visibly and was smoking cigars very heavily for my life was hanging on a thin thread and it looked like breaking any moment. I was ready to flee to the woods as a last attempt if necessary.
The situation grew progressively worse for now the underground hideout was smoking and we looked like having a big fire. The members of the underground did their best to prevent any further explosions and finally things reverted back to normal. Phew! What a time, though, while it lasted.
Briefly, this is what caused the explosion: one of the members was down below practising revolver shooting when one of his rounds ricocheted into a bag of grenades and set one off.
He was very badly hurt and may not have lived through it. The hideout was in a state of collapse but I was able to retrieve my 1250 (sigh of relief). My blouse was shattered beyond recognition.
Saturday October 14th
In the afternoon a guide came to the cemetery to take me away to some woods near Benekom where pilots, paratroops from Arnham (who were free) etc. were being gathered in readiness for a crossing of the Rhine. Followed the guide on foot again passing many of the Bosch. Was now used to mingling closely with Jerry but all the same it was a ticklish and dangerous job and caused many a missed heart beat. I reached the woods safely where I slept the night in the open while a party led by a captain made a reconnaissance of the route we were to follow. We couldn't move that night as was first planned because of new German movements which necessitated modifying our route.
On the Sunday evening just before dark we blackened our faces with burnt cork, and at dark moved off towards the Rhine. There were in the region of 100 to 150 men in the party and it took us 2½ hours behind the enemy's line. It was a very difficult job, this secret movement.
Everything went well until we were crossing the last field before the river. At one corner of the field was a machine gun post not a 100 yards from where we had to pass. We were spotted.
Machine gun and rifle fire rattled in the still air and I scattered for cover. I found safety in a small haystack where I made a short hasty meal of my false identity papers. If I was to be captured
I didn't want to have these on me in addition to civilian clothes - things would have been grim. I watched for hours for further movement of the remains of my party but observed nothing.
I was now alone and I had to do something. The Rhine was about 150 yards away so I crawled on my belly on the river's edge. This was no easy task and took some considerable time. I was operating under the noses of the Hun for, besides the machine gun post at one side of the field, I had to pass not 30 yards from another sentry post. I reached the river without detection and proceeded to crawl into the water. Gee Boy, and was that water cold? It was impossible trying to get my breath and I could only gasp. Soon had to give up the task as hopeless and make my way back to my hideout and make fresh plans.
Here I hid myself well for the approach of daylight because it meant I had to lie in one position until dark came around again. And what an uncomfortable day I spent -I was wet through and it is as cold in Holland at the end of October as it is in England.
My hideout was a small haystack of damp hay more like manure and there were innumerable small thorns making my being still more uncomfortable. There I lay for about 12 hours and in the afternoon a Jerry poked round one side of the stack while I lay breathless and still. When dark came I got up, still wet and cold, and searched for some wood to make a raft.
I found a piece of wood, used in the making of cement blockhouses, on an uncompleted blockhouse and with great difficulty pulled it down. It was about 5 foot square and I had calculated that this would hold me. Then came the job of taking it the 150 yards to the river and believe me it was far from light. I crawled along on my belly with this thing on my back stopping about every yard for a breath and a rest. What made it much more difficult was that I had to move silently not even daring to breath heavily. Imagine the tenseness as I passed right under the noses of the Hun sentries who were certainly less than 30 yards away. However, I successfully reach the water but try as I would I couldn't get that raft to hold me. In the process I wet myself , afresh.
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