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Private Stanley 'Bill' Froud, 4th Buffs 1939 - 1945icon for Recommended story

by martin body & sue pocock

Contributed by 
martin body & sue pocock
People in story: 
Stanley Norman Octavius Froud
Location of story: 
Europe
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A4104703
Contributed on: 
23 May 2005

Private Stanley 'Bill' Froud, 4th Buffs 1939-1945

In 1939, Stanley Froud (father of co-author Sue Pocock) was a streetwise lad from Lambeth, in London. In World War II he served as a private with 'A' company, 4th Buffs, from the battalion's inception late in 1939 to its demise on the Aegean island of Leros in November 1943.

In 1940, after a brief training period, the 4th Buffs were sent to France. During the 'phoney war' period they were employed in 'lines of communication' duties in general area of Nantes - St. Nazaire — Rennes, in Western France, not that Stan was always aware of the location.

“When you were ordered to move, no-one actually said like, 'We are going to Le Mans' or wherever, they just said, 'Pack your kit, you're going in five minutes', so you never knew. You only found out if someone recognised it.....”

The commencement of the German invasion saw the battalion move West, but they were cut off by Guderian's thrust to the channel coast and could not reach Dunkirk. Part of the battalion, including Stan's 'A' company, eventually escaped to Southampton via Le Havre and Cherbourg on 13th June 1940, others, including the C.O., Colonel Iggulden, escaped later, from Brest.

In England, the battalion returned to its base at Canterbury before moving to Rhyader, Wales, to guard the reservoirs (in case the Germans poisoned the drinking water). While there, Stan went AWOL for a few days in order to marry his sweetheart, Winnie Ellis. Permission for leave to get married had been turned down, but he went anyway and was confined to barracks for seven days on his return. After a relocation to Ross-on-Wye, the battalion was confined to barracks pending posting abroad. Most of the soldiers were granted embarkation leave, but not Stan because he had absconded to get married. Instead, Winnie came to see him, staying with her brother in a guest house nearby and, needless to say, it was no problem for a resourceful and newly wed soldier to escape occasionally to see her. It did, however, result in Winnie having to endure the unannounced departure of the battalion, in the middle of the night, without the opportunity to say farewell.

“It was a terrible, terrible night that. I laid in bed and shut my eyes....and I suddenly woke up and I could hear the men marching. I laid there and I thought, where are they taking him?....and I cried.”

Winnie wasn't to see Stan again until May 1945.

On 29th October 1940 the 4th Buffs set sail from Liverpool, bound for Gibraltar aboard the SS Pasteur, a ship upon which Stan had once stood guard duty in St.Nazaire. From Gibraltar they sailed on to Malta aboard the battleship HMS Barham, later to be lost in the Mediterranean with tragic loss of life.

On Malta, Stan and 'A' company endured the siege and its shortages, guarding the island against the expected invasion, filling in bomb holes on the airfields, constructing blast pens, unloading bomb-damaged ships etc.

“What we used to have to do was build sangers, which were pens to protect the aircraft. I don't know why they were called sangers, which was a German word, but that's what we called them. Most of them were made out of tins filled with mould (earth) or sand, some out of bits of masonry and rocks, whatever was around really. For doing that we were classified as engineers!”

Eventually, on 6th September 1943, with the Afrika Corps beaten and the threat of invasion gone, the 4th Buffs sailed for Alexandria.

Stan and his comrades were granted leave in Alexandria, but spent most of their six weeks in North Africa in a transit camp at Sisi Bishr, from where they were earmarked to join the 8th Indian Division. Before that could take place, however, on 23rd October 1943, the 4th Buffs were rushed to Alexandria docks and boarded two destroyers, which set off at high speed for a desination unknown, as usual, to the troops.

The 4th Buffs were, in fact, on their way to Leros, the last infantry battalion to be sent to bolster the island's defences, the neighbouring island of Kos having already fallen to the Germans. At around midnight, HMS Eclipse, the destroyer carrying 'A' company and part of the HQ company, detonated a mine under her forward boiler room, setting the fuel tanks ablaze. She immediately took on a heavy list and broke in two, spilling burning fuel into the sea. Within three minutes she sank.

“I was standing on deck with my best friend Jack (Hawkes) and the other boys....and that was it, I didn't know any more....I woke up and all I saw was flames in my eyes and everything was still. My legs were caught in the wires going round the boat....my back was towards the edge of the destroyer and as she turned I went down with her. Strangely, it felt kind of peaceful....then, I don't know if I kicked or what, but I came to the surface....about 100 yards from the destroyer. I saw her turn over and the screws were still going fast as she went down....speeding down.”

There was heavy loss of life: of the 200 Buffs on board 135 perished, along with another 135 naval personnel. Stan was the only survivor of his close-knit group of friends, most of whom had served together since 1939 and he now had to face an uncertain future among virtual strangers — a situation which no soldier relishes.

“On Leros I was without my own 'A' company and all the boys and men I'd soldiered with before, and believe me you feel lonely and naked without the men that you could rely on.”

The hopeless and demoralising debacle known as “The Battle of Leros” followed until, one day:
“I know that near the end, a group of us, survivors from all sorts of units, were taken up....to the top of a hill and were told we'd been ordered to gather together here, and tomorrow we'd make a frontal charge and drive the Germans off the Island. 'Oh my God' I thought. 'This is the end of the line for me'....I knew if we tried that we'd all die.
Next morning when we woke up, it was very eerie, very quiet....Our officer, Major Pike, came up and said, “Throw away your rifle bolts....the Brigadier's had to surrender. I didn't know if I was happy, sad or what. I wasn't worried, I'd gone past worrying by then.”

Stan and most of the other survivors of the battle were captured and the 4th Buffs ceased to exist.

After being shipped by the Germans to Pireaus, by stages Stan was taken to Germany, finally being incarcerated in Stalag IVb, Muhlberg, near Leipzig, where he remained until March 1945. When he arrived at Stalag IVb, Stan had managed to convince the Germans that he was a paratrooper, purely so that he wouldn't be sent out on workparties (German authorities apparently classified paratrooopers among those groups of prisoners too dangerous to go on work details). However, in the Spring of 1945, the rumour went around the camp that all paratroopers in captivity were to be shot, possibly as a reprisal for the bombing of nearby Dresden. Consequently, Stan exchanged identities with an American prisoner who, for reasons unfortunately unknown, wanted to be thought a British prisoner.

Shorty after that, the American contingent were marched out of the camp bound for, as usual, an unknown destination. After a few weeks of aimlessly marching around apparently in circles, sleeping in fields, barns and so on, they awoke one morning to find their guards gone and Russian forces approaching. Not wishing to fall into their hands, Stan and his pal Lenny Buck struck out towards the advancing American and British forces. A little while later, early in the morning, they arrived at Torgau, on the River Elbe, the Americans on the far bank, the Russians close behind. Finding a wrecked bridge, they scrambled across the ruins to safety. Later that morning, American and Russian forces 'officially' met for the first time on the remains of that same bridge.

We have written a book detailing all of the above, from both Stan's and the 4th Buff's points of view, setting their local involvments against the ever-changing situation in the world at the time. If anyone has personal memories, letters, diaries etc relevant to Stan's story, especially regarding the sinking of HMS Eclipse, the Battle of Leros or the identity of the American soldier who he swapped places with in the POW camp, we would like to hear from you. Anyone from the battalion with personal memories of Stan would most likely remember him as 'Bill' Froud: a reference to his hair, which stuck out in the manner of the actor Will Hay.
Although our book is to all intents and purposes complete, it is not too late for additional material to be included. If access to the book is desired, contact us for details, and if we can help with information that we have gleaned during our research we would be pleased to do so.

Martin Body and Sue Pocock

martin_privatefroud@hotmail.com

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