- Contributed by
- Researcher 240258
- People in story:
- Harry Rogers
- Location of story:
- Italy Egypt Switzerland
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 01 September 2003
MY STORY OF CAPTURE DURING WORLDWAR II
I joined the 1st Battalion of the Buffs February 15th 1940; my number was 6289955.
In 1941 I was captured at Galzara, near Tobruk, we were in the desert and were surrounded for 3-4 days without food or water. At 4 p.m, one evening, the German tanks came in and took us all prisoner. We had to march all night, across the desert, until one of our Majors went to the German Officer at the head of the column and told him that we would go no further until we had transport, food and water; he demanded also to speak to General Rommel.
Eventually Rommel arrived in his staff car dressed in his big leather coat. Through an interpreter he said if we would move on a little further there was a water point. We arrived at this point only to find so many troops there that you could not get near the water and we had to resort to drinking from puddles. We were then transported into Durna and stayed the night on the beach.
The next day we went on to Benghazi and stayed there for 2 days in a prison camp. Suddenly the guards were withdrawn from the camp as the British were coming.
The guards had left the stores open, so some of us went in search of food and drink: I found a bottle of lime juice, which would later come in handy.
We were evacuated from Benghazi by the Italians to the docks, our boat that we were to board was not ready so they put us into a bombed out Cinema for the night.
During the night the boat was actually bombed, but was only slightly damaged, so in the morning we transferred to the hold and were told that we were not allowed to go up on top at all. Our toilet consisted of a tub and many of the men had dysentery so one can imagine the stench in the hold.
Around this hold was a balcony and several doors. I opened one of these and went inside and found a cupboard, it contained some maps of Italy. I took one of them and made a hole in the lining of my coat and hid the map, it remained there for the duration of my time as a prisoner of war. Many copies were taken of my map for the purpose of helping those who were planning escapes.
In the hold of the boat were sacks of macaroni and also an electric fire, which we took off of the wall and laid on the floor. We crushed up the macaroni and mixed it with the lime juice I had stolen from the stores at the previous camp, and we cooked the mixture and ate it on the way to Tripoli.
Outside Tripoli harbour there was a Red Cross boat which had been destroyed. We landed, and they put us on a goods wagon train, there were so many of us we could not sit down, only stand. They took us to the foot of the mountains to Gava and then we had to walk up the mountain to a very large type hanger, where we stayed for Xmas Eve. Once you laid down you had to remain there, as the hanger had so many people in it, if you moved you lost your place.
Xmas day was the first time we were given food in 4 days, it consisted of a small roll and a lemon; this had to last us all day. We stayed there for another 5 days and then we were shipped to Naples. It was January, the snow was 18” deep, and we were put under canvas, which was made from the Italians ground sheets. We were behind a fence, 10 foot high, plus another fence consisting of a trip wire and we were informed anyone found trying to cross this would be shot.
We stayed in Naples for a week or so, and we received our first ever Red Cross parcel, which consisted of tea, coffee, biscuits, 50 cigarettes, raisins and chocolate. Out of the tins the food had come in we used them to brew the tea. When we had finished with the tea we dried out the leaves put them back in the packets with a little of the good tea on the top, sealed them, and bartered with the guards for rolls and bread. On our arrival at this camp we had been given Italian mess tins and aluminum spoons, we received two ladles of rice a day.
Later on they came and took the utensils and mess tins away and issued us with earthen-wear pots, and informed us we were now on half rations. We were later transferred to camp 59, once again, by goods wagon to Port St George and we stayed in stables full of bugs and lice for some considerable time.
Once again we were moved on to Mazarata which was a big camp with thousands of prisoners. There were 1000 men to a hut with three tiered bunk beds with straw mattress
There were no table and chairs. Toilets were holes in the ground at the end of the hut and there was just one cold water tap to a hut. From here I was sent to a working camp on a farm; we would go out, every day, haymaking. The huts only held 50 people and our ration for the day was one ladle of rice. Sometimes we were lucky to receive a Red Cross parcel, which usually had bars of soap and this, to the Italian guards, was gold, so we swapped a bar for about 7 lbs of potatoes. We had no sports facilities or music like some of the other camps.
When the Germans retook Tabruk up went speakers around the camp and we got German music and Italian news and then when the British took Tabruk back everything was taken away again.
Getting towards the end of the Italian war the guards became very slack at their duties and one night 8 of us broke out under the fence. We hid in a maze field that night and then kept to the lanes as much as we could. Once we were walking along, a convoy of Germans came down the lane, so we had to run and take cover under the bridge that they were going over.
We continued on and came to a village, it was very early morning, and we thought we could pass through unnoticed, but we were wrong, for sitting on a wall was this rather retarded young man who proceeded to shout "Germans". His shouting we knew would bring the whole village out, so we high-tailed it out of there and hid in an allotment shed. We could hear a lot of voices outside, obviously the village people were looking for us, and then all of a sudden it started to rain very hard and they all disappeared so we once again hightailed it out of there.
On our journey along the lanes we could hear yodeling above us in the mountains, this was the people telling each other where our position was. Further along we were suddenly surrounded by Italians in civilian clothes who turned out to be partisans and they showed us which route to take. We were in civilian clothes given to us by the partisans, so we entered a small town called Domodossola and as we stood at a bus stop, a man came up to us and spoke to us in English, he took us back to his house in the mountains where we stayed the night.(to this day I still have the bus ticket for that journey.)
Next morning we climbed the mountains, aiming for Switzerland. The man took us halfway up the mountain and then left us, giving us a map to follow. We crossed the mountain range, without ropes, hanging on to tufts of grass and each other's backsides.
All of a sudden this very large black cloud covered the mountain and we could see nothing, but as fast as it had appeared it went, and we found ourselves only a few yards from a hut. We managed to get inside and found candles and matches, there was also a stream just outside so we could drink.
The next morning we could not find our way down, so we decided to follow a sheep trail. On reaching the bottom we were met by Swiss boarder guards who made us put our hands up until they had established we were English. We were the given food and drink and then taken to a transit camp in Switzerland in a town called Sirnach. In this camp we had no beds only straw to lie on.
Orders then came through that there were vacancies in some hotels in Adelboden who would take internees in for one month's convalescence, I was picked to go. Whilst I was there I noticed that they had an ice rink, but it was out of bounds to military personnel. As we had no sports facilities, I approached the man in charge of the ice rink and asked him where he thought I could make a rink for the troops. He suggested I asked one of the hotels if we could use their tennis courts to make a rink. One of them agreed, and the man from the local rink came to give us a hand. We were up 4 or 5 times a night spraying fine water over these courts until our ice rink was made. The government provided us with skates. I was put in charge of running the rink and it proved to be very successful.
Many ice shows were put on for the troops, I took part quite often as I had been roller skating for many years and gave displays with my partner, in my home town, before the war, so skating on ice was easy for me to pick up. Whilst there I also learnt to ski and was lucky enough to pass my silver medal.
My time was coming to a close, my one month's stay was up, and one day I noticed an advert in the hotel for courses to improve your trade so I put down for printing as this was my trade before the war and I was accepted. I was sent back to take the course in Sirnach.
One day, to my surprise, a Colonel Desmond Young told me that he was going to start up a newspaper for internees and would I like to join him as a printer where I was to supervise the making of the newspaper in a Swiss printing works. The paper was a great success and many Swiss manufacturers were queuing up to advertise in our paper, being that they wanted to show that they were pro-British. The civilians began to want to buy our paper also. When the government got to hear of this they promptly closed us down.
After lengthy discussions they agreed to let us start again providing we did not supply papers to the civilians.
When the Swiss boarder was opened again, and the British Troops arrived, we had to get ready for repatriation to the U K. Colonel Young gave us a farewell dinner, presented us all with a copy of all the papers we had printed, and made into a book the title of which is “ Marking Time “; I still have that book today. Colonel Young went on to write a very successful book entitled “General Rommel".
I was repatriated to England, I had 6 weeks leave and was then sent to Canterbury to retrain, but once they knew I had already been abroad they gave me a staff job. I remained there until the end of the war, which was not long afterwards
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