- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Brian Reid
- Location of story:
- Western Europe
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 31 October 2003
This is the remarkable story of Brian Reid, my grandfather, and his war. He served as a 2nd Lieutenant, East Yorkshire Yeomanry, in the BEF in 1940 and was captured by the Germans during the British Army's retreat upon Dunkirk. During the next five years, he spent his time being transferred between different Prison Camps mainly in Germany and Poland, at Oflag VI B and Stalag XXI D. Throughout the five years he spent detained, he wrote, as countless others did, hundreds of letters to loved ones back in Britain. His parents, my great grandparents, lived at this point outside Hull. Most, if not all, of these letters were saved and passed down through the family, and are now split between my father and one of his sisters. I have been lucky enough to read many of these, and am currently typing them up with a view to possibly publishing them. They give an amazingly detailed perspective of life inside a P.O.W Camp during the Second World War, and furthermore tell the amazing story I will now recount. Below is the first letter received by my grandfather's family, from Brian.
June 9th, 1940
My very dear family, I have a little more time now to write a more detailed letter. I do so hope that you have received the odd p/c's and two small notes I have sent during the last month.
Up to the time I was captured we had been in action for 16 days, almost continuously. Night and day was the same, snatching a few hours sleep when possible. On May 29th we had our HQ in a partial cellar. The back was under a road, and the front faced out over the country. One shell landed in the front, just outside, and another right in. We were all amazingly fortunate. One Officer was killed, not one of ours. Myself and Michael were the only two injured. Mine is healing up nicely now, still a trifle tender though. They patched me up at the First Aid Post and I then rejoined the Regiment - to learn that we were going that evening to try and make the coast. All went well till 6 a.m on Thursday, May 30th. When we ran into a very powerful and well organised enemy force. Nearly all the vehicles were shot up, and quite a number of personnel. We were on foot now - our party consisted of the Adjutant, the R.S.M and one of our French Liason Officers. We attempted to make our way through, but were spotted. Machine guns from both flanks opened fire, and also mortars. We were driven out of our ditch, and had to make a dash across an open field into another. Bullets were whistling all over the place, but as far as I could see no one was hit. Once again we were forced out. By this time, my head was in a perfect whirl, and I was feeling extremely dizzy. Anyhow we made another dash across a field, and this time my legs just doubled up, and I fell headlong into a small delve in the ground, and that is all I remember, till I was picked up by the Germans and taken into a village. The C.O and John were there, but nobody else, and we do not know what happened to them all - except for Donnie, Ted and John C, who were definately killed. Harold, Dick, Tom and all the others are unknown quantities. We are earnestly praying for the best. Since then we have marched 110 miles, and this is the first time we have had any real time. We are being treated extremely well - with a meal three times a day. We are all extremely grateful at our good fortune to be alive. We have not yet reached our permanent camp, so I do not know what arrangements for parcels, letters etc. there are. Please don't send any parcels just yet till there is something definate - but letters would be welcome. The only clothes I have are what I stand up in - everything else having been lost. That roughly is the story leading up to the present circumstances. We had Holy Communion this morning. It was simple but wonderful. Please inform the Bank that I'm still alive and that my pay will go in as usual. Also let Yvonne know I am well and will write as soon as possible. I would advise you to find out the correct address for me at the War Office or Red Cross. The one I gave you will get me - but I'm not sure whether it is quite correct. The C.O and the Major have both written home - so I should get hold of their wives and have a talk about things.
I will close now. I hope Betty and her affairs are O.K - do let me know all the news. Noting military or anything like that, but family news etc. My love to everyone at home and I will write just as often as I am permitted.
So for now - cheerio and so looking forward to hearing from you. No letter for nearly 4 weeks owing to the A.P.O being absolutely disgraceful!
All my love,
Brian went on to write four letters a week along with a couple of postcards to send back home. This was the same up until 1943. Most are stories of life in the camp, and what him and the other P.O.W's had been up to, and which countries had sent him Red Cross parcels. Around the beginning of 1943, a Danish Red Cross worker got engaged to a Canadian Army Officer whos surname was Reed. The Danish Red Cross worker's best friend, called Gunver von Born, was also a Danish Red Cross worker, and because her friend was engaged to a chap called Reed, decided to sponsor the next P.O.W on the Red Cross list, which was, of course, Brian Reid. So from that time she began to sent weekly parcels to Brian. Over the course of the next few months Brain began to write more and more of his letters to Gunver, and every week she would reply. As time wore on Gunver invited him to Denmark after the War so that they could have a chance to see each other, and give Brian a chance to thank her personally. By 1944 they had fallen in love. Here is an extract from another letter:
"My darling, I still love you, and always will. You have my solemn promise that I will not marry anyone, until I have seen you, and I know in my heart that I will have no further to go. I also miss you, every moment, I never stop thinking about you, and I don't think you have any idea of what you mean to me, and the comfort you give to me. To know that you will wait for me whatever happens makes even this life worth living. I hope to be able to meet you sooner than 3 months after the end of this thing".
When Brian wrote home about Gunver, however, his father was not at all pleased. He was very stern and believed that it was obscene that his son could marry someone who was not English. He regarded foreigners as a lower life form and occassionally in his letters back to Brian called Gunver a harlot. This was a barrier that needed to be overcome, but it did not change anything between Brian and Gunver, though, and they continued to write hundreds of letters to each other every year.
The final chapter of this story is when, having finally been liberated by the Allies in 1945, Brian returned home. Three months after the end of the War he met Gunver in the bar at the Ritz Hotel, and they got married shortly after. They had four children, three daughters and my father, to whom the letters passed, as I have said. Sadly, Brian died only five years after marrying Gunver. He had never really fully recovered his health after being wounded in the War. Gunver died in 1980, two years before I was born. I never had the chance to meet these wonderful people. But it is an amazing story, and I hope that this will preserve their memory for a while longer. If anyone knows others or has relations who were in either Oflag VI B or Stalag XXI D plese let me know!
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