- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Jack Hemmings
- Location of story:
- Normandy France and Poland
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 May 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk — Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Jack Hemmings, and has been added to the site with the author’s permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I was called up in December 1939. Assigned as a driver with RASC after being trained at Bulford Barracks, Aldershot. Landed with the British Expeditionary Force at Cherbourg, France in February 1940. I became staff car driver for the CO of a petrol dump near the village of Vignacourt near Amiens in northern France.
CAPTURE:I was captured by the Germans in May 1940 en route back to England. We were marched in France for four weeks with no known destination, then taken in cattle trucks to Poland to Fort 13, Thorn, Poland, Stalag XXA
I was put to work in Danzig on a working party acting as an interpreter even though I then knew only four words of German! This was in March 1941. I was back in Stalag in October 1941.
ESCAPE 1: I escaped to Danzig as it was a place I knew in March 1942, but was recaptured en route, as we thought, for Sweden. I spent four weeks in Strafe (punishment) camp in Thorn.
GARDENING: I became a gardener on a working party in 1942/3 but got in dire trouble for sabotaging the tomatoes! I knew nothing about gardening but everyone else was being recorded as a cook and the guard put me down as a gardener when I told him I couldn't cook. I was assigned to work with Elizabeth who was a member of the Hitler Youth. I thought this was wonderful as I hadn't seen a woman for months, but she turned out to be as ugly as sin and didn't like Englishmen very much. However she was a good gardener and gave me a lot of help. In charge was ‘the Frau’. The garden was used to supply the food for the German officers at the local hotel. Elizabeth kept ranting on about the tomatoes but I didn't know what she was on about, so I decided to ask my pal Eddie, who was a good gardener. He said I had to cut off all the yellow flowers, which I did, but when the Frau saw this she was shouting “sabotage” and the guards were called. I managed to persuade her that that was how we did it in England and the second flowers were always better. I was dismissed from gardening. For a while I was confined to the camp again.
ESCAPE 2: I was put to work in sugar beet fields but escaped for a second time. I was picked up in Warsaw by an SS Police check and sent back to Stalag: I spent two months in the bunker. I lost my job as interpreter but managed to get on to another working party near Warsaw on a farm.
ESCAPE 3: On 5 January 1945 I was told we were going by train into Germany. There were no trains, so instead, we were marched across Poland into Germany until I escaped for the third time. I had hidden in a barn and met the farmer in the morning, and he helped me. I was hidden in a milk cart and driven by the farmer's son to find a good place to escape from. Suddenly I was being bounced around and we were in a field, because he had seen tanks. I saw the tanks had stars rather than crosses and knew they were American. I was picked up by a very surprised American spearhead unit and used by them as an interpreter for ten days, until we reached the River Elbe. They were then told to get me back pronto to the UK.
ENDINGS: I had three months leave, then was sent to Brussels on an interpreter's course, then posted to 318 Military Government in Dusseldorf catching, by now, non-existant Nazis. I arrived back in England in 1947 and was demobbed back to my native Chesterfield. I am going back to visit Poland on 4 June 2005 for the first time since the war.
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