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15 October 2014
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by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Archive List > Prisoners of War

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BBC Southern Counties Radio
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Contributed on: 
29 October 2005

"This story was submitted to the People's War site by Caroline Toms, CSV Journalists' Network and has been added to the website on behalf of Charles Marshall with his permission and they fully understand the site's terms and conditions."

Part three: in the camp.

By the time we got to Dulag-Luft, in a suburb of Frankfurt called Oberersal (now twinned with Aldershot), where they interrogated us, it was dark. We had got there by tram and walking, there were about 20 of us rounded up from various raids. It was the first time we saw barbed wire: it was coiled and bright lights seemed to be shining through it. Two German soldiers stripped us at a table in a corridor. They wanted my silk scarf, but I said: "No, you can’t have that, my mother gave it to me."

Norman and I were separated. They gave me back my clothes in a bundle and opened the door of a room with no lights and just pushed me in. Inside there were two other people, two Americans. One of them had the same name as me, Charles Marshall! He had his arm in a sling cradle because he had had a cannon shell through his shoulder when he was shot at in his plane. He was quite pleased because he would get the Purple Heart, the award for being injured.

I got used to the dark as there was a window and I found a bunk. We went to sleep. In the morning they pulled one of the Americans out of the room and took him down the corridor. Shortly afterwards we heard some rifle fire and he did not return. Then they took the second American and the same thing happened. So you got in your mind that they took you out and shot you. They then came to collect me. I found I wasn’t going to be shot, it was all bluff, and they didn’t shoot the Americans: it was a kind of psychological game to break you down for questioning.

I was sent into a large room and sitting opposite was a German officer at his desk. I particularly noticed he had an open fronted desk and he had dirty boots. I thought: "He is a scruffy b!" He invited me to sit opposite, offered cigarettes, but `I didn’t take any. Then he began to question me. All we were supposed to say was name, rank, number, but it went on from there. He said: "What were the names of your crew?"

I said: "I don’t have to tell you that."

He said: "But they might all be dead, how would we inform their relatives?"

I said that they all have dog tags. He asked who was my commanding officer and various things which I didn’t give any answers to.

"What was your route?" he asked.

"I don’t know."

"What sort of chap gets in a plane and doesn’t know here he is going?"

This questioning went on for a while and then he told me to turn around. On a wall at the back was a large map of Europe, exactly as we had been shown on our briefing for the raid, even the same colour ribbons and turning points. I was able to say: "If you know all that, why are you asking me?"

He said: "Just checking!"

After a while he got fed up and said he would see me later. I was put in a solitary confinement cell. All that there was in there was a bed and a mattress filled with scrap paper. When you wanted to go to the toilet you had to rattle the door latch and the guard would appear and decide whether you could go or not. I spent four days in this cell. The first visit was from a guard who brought a little glass with something in it that looked like cold tea and smelt like disinfectant, so I threw it over him. He just walked away, came back with a cup and said: "Good English tea, milk and sugar." I think the first thing was herbal tea, but I thought he was trying to poison me.

Then I had a visit from a chap who called himself the British Red Cross representative, who turned out to be one of our air gunners who had turned sides and was working for the Germans. I had doubts about him, which were confirmed later when I learned he had gone to the next cell where there happened to be someone who knew him from his squadron.

The fellow who had identified the "Red Cross" man reported it to the squadron leader in charge of British discipline at Dulag- Luft and he got a message back to London. After the war, the spy was put on trail. His name was Hughes.

After this we were taken from the cells and put in the communal part of Dulag-Luft ready to be transported by cattle trucks to permanent camps. We were taken to a place called Mühlberg 0n Elbe, Stalag 1VB and had to walk from the railway station to the camp. We were allocated to huts: 200 POWs per hut, 10,000 inmates. There was a senior British NCO in charge of each hut-ours was Sgt. Maj. Cotterill-as we had to have our own discipline.

The Germans used to supply us with fuel in the form of briquettes made from coal dust left over from manufacture. There was a time when we ran short of fuel but we knew the French had lots in their kitchen, so Sgt.Maj. Cotterill went out one night, took a mould of the lock on the coal store, made a key and we all went and nicked the French coal and stored it in the roof of our hut. The French could not cook their food properly, but hard luck!

This was all very well until we got a loose board in the ceiling and some fuel fell down. It just happened the German who used to look for tunnels was there at the time. He ordered us to take all the coal back. Galvanised baths were filled with coal to be returned to the French kitchen. But we didn’t take it back; we just took it around to our back door and put it back in the roof again!

The German in charge of the RAF compound, in the middle of IVB, was an unter officer who we called Blondie. He didn’t like anything untidy and used to kick anything that was lying about. In the American Red Cross parcels were cans of powdered milk called Klim, the size of baby milk powder. We saved up several of these tins, filled them with water and made a pyramid stacked just inside the door. Blondie came in, gave it a mighty kick and got it all over himself. He was mad and drew his revolver out!

A few Russian officers were held in a pen inside the camp, exposed with no shelter. I think the Germans were planning some sort of punishment for them One of the fellows in our hut could speak Russian and used to talk to them through the wire. He got one of them out and brought him back to our hut under the Germans’ noses. They thought he was missing and were looking for him on the outside. The bottom bunk under me was empty and we hid him there.

He couldn’t speak any English, so we taught him some, but we couldn’t learn Russian when he tried to teach us. Whenever he tried to say something he would draw pictures of it and we discovered he was a professor of art at Moscow University. His name was Vasel Kaspinski and we called him Basil. We bribed the guards and got him watercolours and paper. He painted me and made a watercolour of the photo I had of my fiancée, Phyllis. I still have it.

I was in the camp from October ’43 to May ’45. While I was there I got promoted to Flight Sgt: the RAF sent the promotion and when it arrived the camp commandant presented it to me in his office. Shortly after I came home I was turned into a warrant officer.

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