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- LEONARD HUTCHINGS
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- 26 April 2005
Sailed from England at the end of March 1943 for where we did not know until we reached Algiers. Marched 20 km (in what seemed to us hot weather at the time), to a little village called Fort Duperre and here we stopped 5 days. All the conversation heard at that time was “Know how the boys at the front are and what is it like up there”, we were soon to know that answer. The 4th day we handed in all surplus clothes and took battle dress, packed up remaining kit, being in WD Shorts and shirt.
The following morning after an early breakfast we again set off for the nearest railway station Maison Carree 10 km away. We knew then that we were on our first stage to the front. After travelling 3 days in a cattle truck we were pretty dirty and at 11 o`clock we reached Medjez El Bab, then we had to march to a transit camp, it poured with rain. We stopped till next afternoon and then taken back to station. Another 2 days on the train brought us to Beja where we were taken to the base camp of Black Watch which as we enter one side is being evacuated the other, march stopped to fire a shot. A day in town and off the following evening in search. The people up till now have treated us well and were very friendly giving us stacks of grapes, food being very scarce that’s all they had to offer, we in turn gave them biscuits and bully and the children our chocolate, it was really pitiful to see those youngsters suffering so much, no shoes hardly any clothes. All our meals were given to them that day; they were grateful with (Gracias Senor) Thank you.
3 days more of following an elusive enemy we could never catch, decided to have 3 or 4 days rest, heard the Italian Armistice that night. At last news that Jerry had made a stand at Tito 50 km away, into trucks, arriving they has vanished. That night taken to hospital malaria again. 3 days, out of hospital and on trucks, had at last tried to push us back, very week but must go into action, travelling mountain path fell owing to heavy rain and fog breaking 2 ribs. On again soaked through, at last in the thick of it until dark, dug in, rain a foot deep in trench, no food for 24 hours, now returned back to a little town. Next morning sent 20 miles to hospital, 2 days and off to Barletta dinner and to Bari bed and breakfast and to Taranto a night there 70 Gen and onto hospital boat for Africa.
Arrived at Phillesville, taken to 100 Gen once more. 3 days and on the train to Algiers, taken to the 95 Gen, 6 weeks and out to Bon camp, 2 weeks and back in, malaria again. Spent Xmas in hospital, very quiet, met A Harrison, out 21 Jan joined Yorks Dragoons 2 weeks eating best of food. On the boat once more for Italy, this time Naples. 2 days rest and on invasion craft to new Bridgehead at Anzio. 12 days rest then up the line once more with many thoughts of what would happen. 8 days of endless guards and patrols, of mortars with casualties every day. Night of 10th March into attack, hopeless shambles, after 2 hours dead and wounded everywhere, dug in waiting for morning or a counter attack. 4.30 am German patrol advising us to give up as we were surrounded, as we looked we found them everywhere. So after 1 years fighting I was taken prisoner on the 14th March. I was not sorry in a way, I came through some nasty moments, very nerve racking hours crossing no mans land, heavy barrages from our own guns.
To a farm house 10 km, interrogated, 3 good meals and on to P.O.W. camp at Rome, starving after 8 days. Next day taken in trucks near Florence, food passable but very hungry for a fortnight and a break was made, unfortunately the guards were told by a Russian 1 killed 4 wounded. 2 days later to German hospital, malaria again (up till now no cigs) very good treatment and food with sweets and 6 cigs a day. 2 weeks and on to Mantova hospital, food rice macaroni and milk, very little else. 14 needles in back 2 for Dip.
On the train once more for Germany, good food and 6 cigs. Very lovely scenery all through Brenner arrived at Astron, little village near Innsbruck. One day at camp and first Red x parcel, soon had brew on and made short work of it. A week and on to a working camp working in a tunnel, pretty hard 8 hr shifts. Malaria again. Back up the tunnel, news very good, soon be all over. At last 2nd front has started, not much news but still good and wondering if it’s possible to have Xmas dinner at home, what a reunion that would be.
Have lost all souvenirs I had, only thing left is your photo and a red rosary I bought in Italy.
Up to July 1st I have about £15 that’s if none is stopped for being P.O.W. Malaria again, end of July sent to hospital at Stalag. 2 weeks and back to large tunnel, work finished all back to Stalag. Going out every day to work a few miles away. I didn’t go back into hospital again with malaria.
50 cigs and one parcel, 2 weeks instead of one a week. Oct 3rd your lovely parcel of cigs arrived, all ok, letter from Win same day but still no letter. Your lovely parcel arrived Oct 15th and letter next day, have received 12 letters up to Nov 26th.
Moved to Mitterberg, commando for 2 weeks, back to Stalag, moved to Glasenbach camp few days before Xmas until Jan 6th, am back at Stalag again. Red x parcels have now been finished 5 weeks, very little food, all banking on them coming in this week (hoping so). Have sent £10 more home to you in Jan making £45 in all.
Snow is 3 to 4 feet deep. Feb 6th not so cold and thawing fast, signs of an early spring. All think it will be over by end of March or April at latest. Received photo you sent in Dec, last letter dated Oct 30th received end of Jan. 10 weeks without parcels and very little food, rations have been cut again, here is the latest scale.
Potatoes 300 gms Marg 25 gms
Meat 17 gms Bread 250 gms
Turnip or Carrot 440 gms Sugar 20 gms
Tea/Coffee 3 gms Barley 30 gms
March 14th I’ve been a P.O.W just one year today, we’ve just been told there’s parcels for us at the station, everyone is very excited. March 16th there are Xmas parcels, getting them issued tomorrow, we have 50 cigs tonight, everyone is having a good smoke after so long without, what a difference in the camp, everyone is happy. Sunday 18th after a good meal of Red Cross food we are beginning to feel a lot stronger and have forgotten just how hungry we’ve been in the past. It’s hard for anyone at home to realize just what the Red Cross are doing for us, we thank God for such an organization in times such as they are now. Received your loving letter of Nov 17th on March 17th the first for about 9 weeks. Our spirits are as high as ever in spite of all our setbacks and have every confidence of it being over very soon. Received 2 Xmas parcels today between me and my mucker. One ordinary and one we missed at Xmas time, we’re giving it full marks. It’s some of the best food I’ve tasted and I am in my glory cooking again, it reminds me of home. I’ve tried out a lot of our home recipes. 27th more parcels arrived this week making Canadian, English and Xmas. On 29th it’s Xmas issue again and April 4th had a letter from you dated Dec 12th, one from Al next day 5th dated Jan 5th. I drew a Canadian parcel on Monday, I don’t know which is more exciting, the parcel or whether the war will finish before April 30th.
Have heard the Germans are packing in, have decided to make a break as the Americans are near us. Have made a good start and on May 8th we reached the Americans at Saltzburgh. Am now at Ulm and expect to be flown home tomorrow, May 15th flown to Brussels, 16th flew home. England at last. Passed a few miles from Het’s house. I am now at Gt Missenden, we’re rushed off our feet getting papers signed and kit as they want to get us home quickly. We start 42 days leave Friday, am longing to get going, only 24 hours till home.
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