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My Life - Born in 1918, then a Soldier in WW2 - Part 4

by robert beesley

Contributed by 
robert beesley
People in story: 
Fellow comrades and fellow Prisoners-of-War
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
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Contributed on: 
24 December 2004

The working party returned to Camp. but it was not the camp that we had left. This camp was at Marianberg. This was a large camp where there were British, French and Serbians. We found a billet and moved in. We then had a walk around it to see what the layout was. We did hear that there had been escapes by the Prisoners-of-War and that they had been returned to the camp.
One story was that there was one Prisoner-of-War that was on the run and had been found asleep by some German Land Army women. After they had finished with him, he had no skin on his body. The Prisoners-of-War had said that he was in hospital very ill. I cannot say if this was true or not, but by seeing the Nazi women, one would expect such a reaction. We then heard of a spy that was in the camp,a German, that spoke English, said that he had escaped and been returned back to the camp. One of the lads said"Where do you come from in England"? The man replied "Bradford". But when he was asked to name some of the streets there, he had a few right but the others were not located in Bradford.They had a wireless set but only the Builder and also a Pole knew where it was hidden. It was best not to ask too many questions or you, yourself could find yourself being thrown into the cesspit.
There were quite a few rumours flying around the camp. One could not say if they were true or not. But one thing that one did notice was that the men was still very defiant. The food was a little better there and we were receiving letters from home and also receiving Red Cross parcels, which was shared by 4 men or sometime 2 to a parcel. The way to try and fool the guards was that now, some of the Prisoners-of-War could speak and understand German, speak or not they understood German.
Every morning all of the camp attended parade, we were all counted and we stood in lines of three's. This seemed the only way that the Germas could count.
After parade the Prisoners-of-War were found work, some were marched to work outside of the camp, they always returned at night.
Wednesday afternoon was a football match which had the French playing against Serbs, England was against the french. This always brought a crowd of German civilians to the camp. The machine gun tower was full of German guards. the match would kick off playing well,then the dirty tricks would start. At half time, the French and the British would start to complain. They would then kick off again and you would then havea fight break out. A French wrestler would walk on to the pitch and then there was trouble. Fights broke out and that would be the end of the game.
There was a Serbian soldier, who was always playing a tin whistle. It did not matter if he was sitting, walking or on parade, he would still play his whistle. The germans always thought that he was wrong in the head. They never stopped him playing his whistle.
It was now December 1941, and it had now been another year passed. The Prisoners-of-War made the best that they could in the circumstances, to try and enjoy themselves. But they were always thinking of their loved ones that were back home. In fact, even when you were resting, your thoughts were always about family and your loved ones. Sometimes we heard about what was going on with the War. In 1940, we had heard about the bombing of England but it was forbidden of us to listen to German news broadcast. Sometimes we did get information about the War, but never enough to get a true picture of what really was happening.
You would turn over in your mind, why had France fallen? But you could read the answer in a French soldier's face. Also when they repeatedly said "Bosch in Paris in 6 months". If their General could not see that the French soldiers had had enough, why were they filling their back packs with food. Some of them threw their rifles away. Once the low ranks lose faith, what hope is there of fighting a losing battle. You can shout all of the encouragment, to fight on, but once their minds are made up, you have lost. The fleeing civilians did not help by blocking the road, saying that the Bosch was coming.
The lads learnt that Japan had attacked America at Pearl Harbour. This was early in December 1941, then we heard of the sinking of the American War ships. This was all new to us. America then declared War on japan. The world got around that Germany had declared War on America. This really cheered the lads up. Once America put their factories on War footings, we said "God help Japan and Germany".
It was Christmas day and we had pea and vegetable soup, we received no gifts from the Nazis. The lads made the best that they could but there was no beer or spirits. But we did enjoy ourselves,Sleeping that night, you were dozing and then you could hear the men having nightmares, shouting in their sleep. Boxing day it was a free for all and we spent our time kicking a football. It was a cold, dry cold day. There was also snow, The new year was a madhouse, we all hoped that we would soon be all going home.
As the months passed, we remained at the same address. we, George and myself joined a large working party to work on a large farm. Once again we had first class travel in cattle wagons! The time spent in the main camp was not too bad, we had been out on our day job. We had 3 months at the Sugar beet factory, unloading sugar beet from the wagons. This was being used to make sugar, we also had quite a lot of sugar, when we left the factory.
The guard opened the wagon sliding doors and he shouted "Roust, Roust". We were in a Railway goods yard and lined up to be counted. No one else has escaped. Then off we go to this farm. We must have walked or marched some 2 to 3 miles. We had arrived, the guard showed us our billet and into the billet we went. We found our beds and started to unpack, what we call our kit. At about 6.30 p.m. we were ordere out of our billet, then counted and then lead away for about a quarte of a mile. We were told to halt then ordered to enter this long building. We were told to sit down at the tables, we noticed, on the other side of the room, st civilians, eating soup and bread. A man and a woman came out of the kitchen, carrying a bucket full of soup. Our plates were full, we also bread. We all got stuck into the hot soup. After our meal we formed up and were marched back to our billet and then they locked us up for the night.
Next morning we heard"Roust,Roust", so we got up, washed and dressed then went on parade to be counted and then we were marched away. We had a hot drink of coffee, which was amde from burned barley. It was wet and warm. Next we were marched away up to the fields. The Poles, as we had learned waived working together. The Prisoners-of-War were on the left of the Poles then the Poles went to the other side of the field and then returned to where we were. We were thinning out plants and they were well ahead of us. We were up from the starting line, when the Poles reached the end of the rows. They started working towards the Prisoners-of-War, when we all met up about two yards from the starting line. the next line up wasmuch different, it ran in order, one Pole and then one women Prisoner-of-War. This was carried along the strting line, so if you were slow, the Poles helped you, that was our days work. We had soup at linchtime then we had bread and lard that night with coffee.
Each day was the same cleaning the fields, also the potatoe fields,then stacking corn to dry. We did hear that it wasa 1000 acre farm and they made Schnapps, which is a german spirit drink, made from potatoes. We did work on the thrashing machine. At lunchtime, we had bread and cheese. Soup at night.
We had spent the summer here and the guard informed us that we were going to the Sugar beet factory, when we had finished potato picking. We had a change of guards, but one morning we had a surprise. One of the guards came in to wake us and he shouted "Wake, Wake" in English, then he said "Where is your hand?". We were that surprised but they called him a traitor. he replied "No, No" He told us that his father was British and his mother was German. His father had married his mother and stopped in Germany after the last War. As his mother was German he had been con-scripted into the German Army, if he had not had done so, then he would have been imprisoned.He coulddo guard duty or be sent elsewhere but not to the British Front because he might have desserted to the British side.
We asked him if there were many of them and he replied "Yes". Some of the men were being held as political prisoners.
It had been a hot summer and the lads were quite sunburnt and they looked well.We had received letters from home and also some Red Cross parcels ach, for the first time. We learnt that the Serbian, who played the tin whistle had been repatuated back home, to Serbia and that he had joined the Partisans. We also had heard that some French Prisoners-of-War had been found hung in the toilets. The Germans were investigating these hangings.
I found myself day dreaming one evening and one thought of some of the ideas that they had dreamt up to outwit the Germans. One lad spoke and wrote perfect German, you could not fault him. he had also made his uniform to look like the Hitler Youth, complete with the red Swatzika arm bnd. he had escaped from a working party, so how the German Police had stopped him, we were not quite sure.But they took him back to the Police station for further questioning. Something that he had said must have slipped. They told him to take off all of his clothes and that was when they found his Prisoner-of-War tag around his neck. So now he was back to square one.
We did hear that Germany had attacked Russia and how the Germans were knocking on the door of Moscow in 1941. Aslo that Rudolf Hess had crashed in Scotland. We did not know if any of this was true or not, until we were told it by word or mouth.
The time was about due for all of us Prisoners-of-War to leave for the Sugar beet factory.
We were in our billet at around 6.00p.m.when a guard knocked on our door. This was very strange to us, he pushed it open and said in English "May I come in" It was not our usual guard and we could not have stopped him coming in. He entered our billet and started to speak. He said that he needed a Prisoner-of-War for a small farm as another Prisoner-of-War had to be returned to go into hospital. He spoke to a number of us and then he turned to me and said was I in charge. I replied that I was a N C O working with the men. He then asked me to come to this farm. I thought about the hard work that it was at the Sugar beet factory and I decided to say yes. I got all of kit together and said good luck to the men that I was leaving behind. I was now on my way. We walked about 5 miles to a village and the guard said that there were two parties of Prisoners-of-War. We entered the farm yard and I waited by the door until he guard returned with the farmer. I was hen told to come into the farm. The famer went right, into the house, The guard and myslf went left, which led into the kitchen. There wasa man and a woman sitting, eating food. The guard told me to sit and the woman filled a plate with milk soup and noodles. There was also a bowl of fried potatoes. I ate my soup and then I was taken to my billet. There were 8 British Prisoners-of-War and they welcomed the new men. I found my bed and the guard then told us lights out.

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Message 1 - Memories of my life born in 1918 to being a soldier in the Second World war PART 4

Posted on: 24 December 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Robert

Yours is a very interesting and well written story and a first-class contribution to this archive.

Having read all four parts so far, I look forward to reading many more.

Best wishes,



Message 2 - Memories of my life born in 1918 to being a soldier in the Second World war PART 4

Posted on: 27 December 2004 by robert beesley

Hello Peter

Thankyou for all of the information that you sent to me. But I do not think that it would have done us much good, although the Germans must have known it heart by heart.
Nazi Germany had their own set of rules so you kept your mouth shut or you died! The Geneva Convention did not apply to their Prisoners-of-War, they made their own rules up as and when applied. On the farms we received no pay and there was no canteen either.
When you had a canteen you had Polish cigarettes which was half cardboard. You only had to have two puffs and that was your lot. You had no food, just jam and a cut throat razor, to cut your throat.
You and the Historians can study all the War documents that you like, and you will never find the answers to your questions. If you can get a French soldiers diary, you will learn the truth.

After Dunkirk, the French soldier said that the British had run away. The Germans said the same. It was even said that some British soldiers, threw their rifles away and members of the Pioneer Corp, they in turn picked up these rifles and took up position and returned fire. These men fought in the 1918 to 1918 War. Why were the French soldier filling their back packs and why were they saying "Bosch in Paris in 6 months and France is finished".
Why were some of the French soldiers, that threw away their rifles say that they were waiting for the germans to arrive? Why did the French, not escape off the line of march. they had every chance to do so, with the help of the farmers, who would have gladly helped them.?
There are lots of WHYS?
Now the Historians are putting their fingers to their ears and saying that it had never happened. I dare them to say that to any groups of Ex Prisoners-of-War. I do know, that the Ministry of Defence as always said that it had never happened.
Some years ago, I wrote to the German Embassy in London about the treatment that I had received under the Nazis. I wanted compensation. The answer that I received from the German Embassy was that the British Government had already been compensated for the Prisoners-of-War. But what we got was our old 2 shillings a day! We were told SOD YOU ALL!
You tell the Marines that this had never happened. The German motto is Strength through Joy! The British Government's motto is SOD OFF !!!! It never happened.
I have been informed by Major Redfern that there is a new book being issued about 1939/1940. He has told me that it covers a lot more which has not been mentioned in other books.
Best wishes to you
Have a Happy New year and don't do anything that I would do!

Bye for now




Message 3 - Memories of my life born in 1918 to being a soldier in the Second World war PART 4

Posted on: 27 December 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper


Many thanks for your comments. You say, however, that "You and the Historians can study all the War documents that you like, and you will never find the answers to your questions."

I saw much extreme violence during WW2 as a teenager, more I now think than many experienced, I was even held at gunpoint at an SS roadblock in 1944 and am well aware of how an annoyed German can yell and menace.

But by and large, the Germans did observe the Geneva Conventions with Allied PoWs, although it may not have seemed that way to you at the receiving end.

They did not do so with Russian soldiers, nor with partisans of any country. Captured Italian partisans where lucky if they got hanged. Many endured flogging and torture before being killed.

These were truly dreadful times,


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