Bill Brooks's Wartime Log

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Bill Brooks's Wartime Log

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A WARTIME LOG

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A WARTIME LOG

FOR

BRITISH PRISONERS

I had no shoes and I murmured; until

I saw a man who had no feet.

Gift from

THE WAR PRISONERS’ AID OF THE Y.M.C.A.

37, Quai Wilson

GENEVA – SWITZERLAND

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[Drawing of lion]

THIS BOOK BELONGS TO

F/SGT BROOKS W.A.

49, THE DRIVE

NORTH HARROW

MIDDLESEX.

[Y.M.C.A. logo]

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1

1944

I have heard & read of many crews who had “gone for a Burton,” or were now prisoners-of-war, but had never visualised myself in the same position. Sitting up there in the bomb aimer’s hatch, flak & fighter trace intrigued & thrilled me, rather than conveying a sense of impending danger. My dream-world of self-assurance, however, built round a Halifax bomber & crew that had completed so many successful & uneventful sorties, was shattered one night – the night of May 24th – 25th at 0110 hrs.

The worst & most memorable aspect of “baling out,” I think, was the initial dropping away from the aircraft, before the rip-cord was pulled. I dropped with face towards the tail & saw in one quick flash the belly

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of the ‘plane sweep over me; then that horrible sinking feeling followed by a welcome jerk. Looked up then to see white canopy billowing & oscillating gently in the breeze; dead silence except for Jerry fighter following our kite down few hundred feet below: seemed to be suspended in mid-air with no downward momentum. Broke cloud pretty low altitude & watched for ground: ground suddenly lurched up & hit me. Disposed of parachute & walked West by Polaris; walked roughly 8 miles & hid up in wood at 5 o/c in morning. Tried to sleep, but too cold & damp. Found narrow strip of grass separating cornfield from wood & dozed off in the sun. Woke up at 11 o’clock to find a woman working in field, so retired to sanctuary in the woods.

Having previously left pandora in kite, felt very hungry & resorted to sucking grass.

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Picked up at 4 o’clock. Met Den between Doverend & Baal. Slept in Burgomaster’s office at Baal.

[Underlined] MAY 26 [/underlined] Boarded train for Munchen-Gladbach in morning – saw John & Pud en route. Met Jack at Luftwaffe headquarters in Munchen. Had dinner & pushed off to Dulag-Luft at Oberensel (via Frankfurt).

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[Underlined] July 19th. Wednesday [/underlined]

Things getting organised now, many amusements, entertainments etc. to occupy mind. Camp sing-song I think is most impressive. Brave people, they that volunteer to entertain. Some have little talent, but that little is used liberally. Fellow with leg chopped off at the knee rendered “In Mobile”, beating time with his sealed over stump. Humorous, but tragic.

Sing-songs, however, are held Sunday evenings, & today is Wednesday. Les has procured a clarinet, which he says he hasn’t been used to, & has spent best part of day practising.

Camp magazine, “The Pow-Wow,” was supposed to have been published yesterday, but due to inclement weather had to postpone putting it on noticeboard till today.

A whist-drive in progress outside hut, & the silence is now quite a change.

Tonight fellow from next hut visited

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us with accordeon. [sic] Accordeon [sic], clarinet, & 2 mouth organs, one of which played by Wilby, attracted 26 men, who walked in (uninvited) & sat huddled against wall, singing lustily. Chap with one leg clapped his crutches to music. Packed up at 10 o/c & went to bed.

[Underlined] July 20th Thursday [/underlined]

This morning acquired “Monopoly” & played morning, afternoon & evening. Les is practising (as usual). Coffee is up, & am waiting for supper.

Had supper, & early to bed, for tomorrow we are “duty hut”. Laid in bed for quite a while pondering on plans for the future & dreaming of far away England.

[Underlined] July 21st Friday [/underlined]

Duty hut today & spent all morning peeling spuds. This afternoon volunteered for ration party & managed to get outside

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the compound – what a glorious feeling – if only for an hour. While waiting for rations saw two Tommies, one of whom, poor devil, had been a prisoner for 4 years. They verified the rumour that “The Big Man” had nearly caught a packet.

Came back to hut exhausted & ready for tea. Donald Cope is in the hut talking about susceptibility to drink, etc.

[Underlined] July 22nd Saturday [/underlined]

German communique says that Yanks have occupied island 1200 miles from Tokyo. Russians are still advancing & have reached border of East Prussia. Surely it can’t be so long now till the day of liberation!

Lloyd (Camp Leader) has pinned up a notice to the effect that respects must be paid to all German officers & correct dress etc. must be worn on al parades. Some of us are beginning to wonder

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if we were wise in our choice of Camp Leader.

Cope blustered into the hut with another of his innovations in world of “big business”, intending to make petrol engines for model planes. I sometimes wonder if he will ever put his ideas into practice.

[Underlined] July 23rd Sunday [/underlined]

Sunday dinner today was potatoes, greens & pork fat (first time we’ve tasted cabbage on camp} Finished my story for Camp Magazine called “All for the Best”. Evening sing-song went well – with Les’s band to accompany us. Doubtless future renderings of “Silver Wings in the Moonlight” “Amapola” & “Coming in on a wing & a prayer” will bring back vivid memories of camp life.

[Underlined] July 24th Monday [/underlined]

Afternoon prep. Had no dinner due to shortage of spuds; however, had peasoup for tea. Russians fighting near Lwow. On western front Allies fighting SW of Caen.

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[Underlined] July 25th Tuesday. [/underlined]

Did some work on Camp Magazine – “The Pow-Wow,” of which I am sub-editor, & presented my story. During the day heard rumbling of guns – and were told by Lloyd that it was manoeuvres by Jerry.

[Underlined] July 26th Wednesday [/underlined]

French classes in session now, & motor engineering classes are to be held next Monday. Drew book from library called “The Coloured Counties” – with coloured photos of English countryside. Felt quite homesick reading it. 50 new arrivals necessitated the barriers to be extended. One of them is an excellent violinist – much to Les’s delight. The band (with its new member) practiced tonight until 10 o/c. Pieces were played quite well, although I can appreciate their efforts better when heard at infrequent intervals.

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A jerry guard fired a shot during the night – accidentally, I hope.

[Underlined] July 27th Thursday [/underlined]

Acquired typewriter from Greene (British Man of Confidence) for this week’s edition of “Pow-Wow.”

Had no dinner – or rather no soup, contented ourselves with meat roll & bread & butter.

In my leisure hours often wonder how much longer this business will last before we see England again. Some of the boys prophesy February, others, more hopeful, say September.

[Underlined] July 28th Friday. [/underlined]

Unexpected changes & innovations today Whilst playing football this morning saw Lloyd & Paul, with suitcases etc. leaving camp accompanied by the Colonel & 2 guards. Colonel’s explanation being that they were parachutists, & should be transferred to an

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appropriate camp – we have our own opinions. Camp meeting held tonight & Johnson elected as Camp Leader. Walkty to succeed Paul Hill.

[Underlined] July 29th Saturday. [/underlined]

After great deal of trouble 4th Edition od “Pow-Wow” was exhibited to the public. An exhibition of public speaking was rendered tonight much to amusement of crowd – called “The Balloon Goes Up”, which Bob Sindall (Mag. Editor) played part of Duke of Windsor. Generally entertained & served to dispel the boredom the occasionally grips us. Due to yesterday’s piece of trouble had no news from German High Command today. [Deleted word]

[Underlined] July 30th Sunday [/underlined] As today is sing-song day think it apt to quote a verse sung by Jock, a familiar figure to all of us on most

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Sunday evenings:-

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest & best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.

[Underlined] 2nd Verse [/underlined]

Oh that old rugged cross, so despised by the world
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left his glory above,
To bear it to dark Calvary.

[Underlined] Chorus. [/underlined]

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
[Underlined] And exchange it some day for a crown. [/underlined]

This afternoon I volunteered for a party to go to Bankan & collect the kit of 93 gefangs who came in this morning – the majority of whom came from another camp, & had been prisoners for 2 or 3 years.

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Took one cart down & found it could only accommodate 1/3 of the luggage, so two journeys had to be made, the 2nd time with 2 carts. Saw quite a few people dressed in black, riding about in buggies. Rather a lugubrious observation, but served to buck us up considerably. Noticed little more of interest except that women & girls (the latter mostly with prams or toddlers) far outnumbered the males in the street.

Got back in camp in time to hear Jock sing “The Holy City.”

[Underlined] July 31st Monday. [/underlined]

This morning started learning about engineering (motor). Though it is very elementary, may prove to be beneficial in later years.

Further additions to the editorial staff in the form of 2 cartoonists from the old-times & a journalist from the “Coventry Evening Telegraph.”

Russians are advancing rapidly, & have

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reached the borders of Warsaw.

[Underlined] August 1st Tuesday [/underlined]

Little of interest occurred today, except that we have finished making our “Monopoly” board, which for the dull days we’ve had recently & are having now will prove quite useful to pass the time.

[Underlined] August 3rd Thursday [/underlined]

Today we are duty hut & have done little work – for the pump broke early in the morning, & potatoes were new & didn’t need peeling.

A new system of education will begin shortly, & I enrolled for mech. engineering, shorthand, & French. Whether they will have time to get the classes organised is doubtful – we hope not, at any rate. At irregular intervals we hear deep rumblings

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& bumping sounds. We know nothing definite of their origin – we can only hazard a guess.

[Underlined] August 4th Friday [/underlined]

Red Cross parcel’s day -always a day of excitement, mingled with rumours that Cracow has fallen & Rotterdam & Amsterdam are in Allied hands.

[Underlined] August 5th Saturday. [/underlined]

Quite a number of new prisoners arrived today, late in the evening, most of whom were shot down about 20th July. Met a the [sic] rear gunner of Murtha’s crew at Melbourne, according to him, we were the only crew missing on the night of 24th – 25th May from 10.

[Underlined] August 6th Sunday [/underlined]

Well organised service this

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morning with a good sermon, given one who obviously had had some training & experience. Held in dining hall – first time it has been used publicly by POW’s.

[Underlined] August 7th Monday [/underlined]

August Bank Holiday - & sideshows consisting of coconut shies & treasure hunts & guessing competitions well supplementing the main events of the day – baseball in the morning (for benefit of Canadians) & cricket this afternoon between England & Australia.

Early this evening found us watching with avid interest a boxing tournament which boasted many talented fighters.

[Underlined] August 8th Tuesday. [/underlined]

Many rumours floating around today – of which none are worth mentioning. Also parcels day; apparently the American stock of parcels has almost been exhausted, & in the future [deleted] we are [/deleted] English parcels will have to suffice.

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[Underlined] August 9th Wednesday. [/underlined]

We still hear rumblings, which are pretty well consistent now. We have come to the conclusion that it must be the Russian Front.

[Underlined] August 10th Thursday [/underlined]

Atmosphere in our hut is becoming rather oppressive, so decided to move [deleted] at [/deleted] when the opportunity arose. Today they required 3 men to reside permanently in newspaper office. So here was my chance. Bob Sindall – (Sagittarious) [sic] & Ted Milligan (Art Editor are my room-mates.

[Underlined] August 11th Friday. [/underlined]

Red Cross parcel day again – the only day worth looking forward to.

[Underlined] August 15th Tuesday. [/underlined]

Agricola (Dave Parker) moved in with us today.

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[Underlined] August 25th [/underlined]

Many times have I attempted to keep an accurate chronicle of events, & in each instance my perfunctory attitude attendant upon the first phrases of gushing enthusiasm had totally eclipsed my original intentions, which, [inserted] in this case [/inserted] was to make an unpretentious perennial record of camp life. Needless to say the effort failed miserably, partly due to factual episodes constantly [inserted] in danger of [/inserted] repeating themselves & subsequently depleting later entries, & partly because of my inability to improvise & orientate events of [deleted] an [/deleted] ostensible insignificance.

The contents of the opposite page evidence a determined effort on my part to continue with the diary, though

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the obvious lack of continuity with the dates is indicative of the final despairing & frustrated glance that will accompany the book as it is trodden deeper into my suitcase, never to be salvaged again until an overbearing customs official in England sees fit to peruse it.

However, I am desperately essaying to record at least [underlined] some [/underlined] events, which in my estimation are worth recording; but since so little happens, & when it does happen, it [inserted] invariably [/inserted] chooses a very [inserted] in [/inserted] opportune moment, just before the magazine goes to press; & I argue myself into believing that as a result I have [deleted] n’t [/deleted] neither the

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time nor the energy to put pen to paper.

Here is a poem written by John Stapleton, who frequently visits our hut in the late evening & discusses poetry, among many other absorbing subjects. Since he was captured 2 1/2 years ago he has had ample time to [deleted] which [/deleted] meditate & to write, & “The Mouse” was the pathetic outcome of an incident at his last camp.

[Underlined] The Mouse. [/underlined]

“Come & see“ they said “We have a mouse and they
With shining eyes went forth, as children at their play.

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I followed them, not overmuch amazed to know
How small a spectacle can give proud man a show.
It was a little mouse, oh! such a little mouse
That in an ear of corn could build a downy house
But here there came no sigh of wind-swept wheat
Only the futile scratching of a creatures feet
Against the polished ramparts of a common tin
Half filled with water. I heard the shameful sound
Of tortured flesh, which struggled round & round

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That pit of mocking, smooth & shining Hell
Which men had made, and found the making well

Panic screamed out for all the world to hear
Great waves of terror struck the shuddering ear
Small eyes were bursting forth with fear and pain
Until they slowly sank & then rose up again
And all the time the little feet were struggling on,
After the last feint hope of life had gone.

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Some coward instinct drew my steps away.
I spoke no word of anger at their mirthless play
But traitor like I left them, nor gave look or sign
To tell them that the greater sin was silent – mine.
Some old persistent instinct held them grouped around
Until the little feet were still, the bright eyes drowned.
Set deep within the labyrinth of voiceless mind
Each man had set the victim free – each man was kind.

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One day in decent stillness we shall mutely lie
Lungs and heart will strive with is, nor let us die
Until the spirit writhes at every futile breath,
And in the living vortex begs a welcome death,
Forgetting its small virtue and its ancient sin.
Close in the shades a little mouse may watch – and grin.

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[Underlined] Sept. 4th [/underlined]

Last night we held a séance, a very interesting one. John Stapleton being the medium, I was apprehensive at first, but my subsequent interest dispelled most of my fear. A fellow whose name was not given spoke first, in a very cultured voice, told us of the fallacy of the word ‘Death’, & [deleted] told [/deleted] said that one of us was ‘Psychic’ but had not as yet developed his power; things would be revealed to him later.

Mrs. Piper then spoke, a garrulous old woman heavy with jewellry, [sic] earrings etc., who was apparently a fortune teller in Cardiff. Her pleasant humour put us all at ease, & somewhat eased the tenseness of the audience. She still

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likes her cup of tea, & when she wants one, she makes one of us drink some, from which she apparently gets satisfied. She is fond of young men, & very annoyed when she can’t get through. Tries to tell us serious things, & warns us of some spirit contacts. She was far from a good person, & went to church only to see what her friends were wearing.

[Underlined] Oct. 13th Friday. [/underlined]

What a day for starting a new life in new surroundings! Today we moved over to the new camp, complete with blankets, crockery etc. Many of us declared that the war would finish before we had a chance to see the Lower camp. Since then few people committed themselves with such futile predictions.

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[Underlined] Sunday 22th [sic] October 1944 [/underlined]

Last night’s concert was indeed the best that has been shown yet. The talent collected from a camp of little more than 1200 men is, to say the least, commendable.

Vic Cooper & Dave Semple [deleted] ton [/deleted] (cello & accordion) gave a fair rendering of “Over the Waves”, which [deleted] unfortunately [/deleted] was [inserted] regrettably [/inserted] [deleted] too [/deleted] long & [deleted] dull to be appreciated by [/deleted] ponderous for the bulk of the audience.

Roy Taylor, a glider pilot, possesses a strong voice, & if he had given some more of his time to rehearsal he would have been received even better.

The three ? created a sensation with their novel imitation of the Mills Brothers. ? also caused a great deal of amusement with his forks & [deleted] jam [/deleted] molasses tin.

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A stage is to be built from wood taken from the old huts, in readiness for the variety show which will be shown in 3 weeks time. It is [deleted] hoped [/deleted] expected to run nightly for a week.

“God Save the King” has been banned by the Germans, so tonight a heartfelt rendering of “Land of Hope & Glory” surged through the open windows, penetrated through the [deleted] night air, [/deleted] cold, damp night, was carried by the gentle breeze for all Germans to hear.

[Underlined] Tuesday 24th Oct. 1944 [/underlined]

John Stapleton told us that he in turn was told that a woman foretold her own death & that of her maid, who both died at the appointed times. She also predicted Nov 5th as the end of the war. I wonder how much truth there is in it!

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In my many moments of meditation I have decided to take any job that comes my way after the war, preferably one with short working days, so that I can devote most of my leisure time to writing. The money is not of great importance – as long as I get enough for cigarettes, beer, a couple of rooms, & the initial outlay for a typewriter.

[Underlined] Sunday 28th Oct. 1944. [/underlined]

The newspaper was completed today, ready to be handed in to the Germans. I have decided that my services are not required by Ray Heard – the virtual editor of the “POW WOW, so I shall resign by simply not going to the office & not submitting further contributions.

Today there have been an exchange of autographs & addresses in room 9, hence the two pages at 100 – I don’t expect I shall ever write to them anyway; I shall

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probably be fully preoccupied [inserted] in [/inserted] searching for employment.

The feeling that something will happen soon has pervaded the atmosphere and influenced everyone. We find it increasingly difficult to settle down to anything – [deleted] not [/deleted] even a book. Our moods are controlled by wild rumours; rumours which begin with a modicum of truth and are moulded by hundreds of hands into fantastic [deleted] shapes [/deleted] but believable shapes.

[Underlined] Friday 3rd. Nov. 1944 [/underlined]

Yesterday (2nd) was quite an outstanding day so far [deleted] so [/deleted] as I was concerned. I received a letter from Ethel – my first. I must have read it and read it again. I was a little disappointed to find it was from Ethel – after expecting a letter from home first.

She has visited Mother, so I have no doubt that complications

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will ensue when I get back.

Today 5 members of our room are busy mass producing Christmas Cards, mainly for Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders. They are charging 10 cigarettes per card.

[Underlined] Tuesday 7th November 1944. [/underlined]

Books have to be returned to the library for another censorship, so once more pencil is put to paper, somewhat reluctantly, for want of something better to do.

Our stove, which was fitted just recently, serves to make life much more pleasant, although colds appear to be more prevalent. For my part, chilblains have worried me the last few days, & I find waking round the perimeter track enhances the circulation & relieves the itching. Five times round the perimeter track each day is the distance I have allotted myself; (I don’t know how long I shall be able to keep this up.)

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[Underlined] Saturday 2nd December 1944. [/underlined]

I have not mentioned “Paddy” yet; he is a comparative newcomer, and sleeps in the bed underneath mine. Fate has treated Paddy pretty badly. When he flew in Johnny Pearrt’s crew flak splinters caught his eye and also destroyed the use of his right hand. Now, [deleted] his [/deleted] an artificial eye gazes [deleted] for the [/deleted] out, expressionless & blind, from between [inserted] stunted [/inserted] lashes which have stuck together with matter behind the eyeshade which he [deleted] always [/deleted] wore until recently.

He told me tonight about his girl, how beautiful she was, & if she would recognise him when he got back. He [underlined] has [/underlined] got guts, this fellow!

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[Underlined] Friday 15th December 1944. [/underlined]

The lapse of time between my last entry and this is inexcusable, for a few [deleted] then [/deleted] events are certainly worth recording.

On the 4th & 5th we performed “Journey’s End,” a play by R.C. Sherriff in 3 acts, presented in the form of a radio play – from behind drawn curtains. Bob Sindall played Raleigh, John Stapleton was Osborne, & I did my best with the role of “Mason,” the Cockney servant.

The first two nights went well, received with apparent satisfaction from the bulk of our audiences. But our third performance was sadly ruined at the beginning of the first act, when a Jerry burst in on us, shouting “Stop the Show!”

Vic Cooper, who was playing

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Captain Hardy, mentioned the word “Boche,” which should have been replaced with one a little more complimentary. However, we consoled ourselves by listening to a “Study in E Minor” by Chopin, & other pianoforte compositions. (The former was used for incidental music between acts).

Yesterday I saw quite a good American film (the second since I’ve been here,) called “Life begins for Andy Hardy.” The sound track was drowned occasionally by howls & catcalls which took the form of [deleted] act [/deleted] earnest advice & admonishment for the uninitiated Andy Hardy.

Films are alright – in England – but under the present conditions we would be better off without them.

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This morning we had our first real taste of snow & coldness. The cold is intense, & although there is only about 6 inches of snow now, doubtless we shall see more & more as the bitter Winter grips Central Europe.

[Underlined] December 25th. [/underlined]

[Underlined] Christmas Day. [/underlined]

Many very hopeful people anticipated spending their Christmas in “Dear Old England” – but…. we are still here. But this is not such a bad Christmas after all – under the circumstances.

We had saved quite a stock of Red X food and today, after every meal, we feel quite well disposed towards everybody (even the Germans) [deleted] we [/deleted] – trying to recapture that elusive Christmas spirit that flourished

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in happier times.

For breakfast we had the usual 2 slices of bread, jam & paste.

Dinner consisted of fried egg, bacon, pork, potatoes, followed by Christmas cake, the latter being made of bread, biscuits, raisins, marge, egg powder & milk, covered with chocolate cream & decorative icing made from thick cream.

In the middle of the morning, which I forgot to mention, we were given 6 chocolate biscuits.

Tea comprised food issued by the Jerries (soup & potatoes) [deleted] plus [/deleted] together with the usual 2 slices of bread (jam & paté)

For supper some more cake, bread & biscuits – and so to bed, happy & crammed full.

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[Underlined] Dec. 27th. [/underlined]

Today at 11 o’clock the air raid siren sounded, and as usual, the sentry’s guns were uncovered, ready to mercilessly mow down anyone who ventured outside the barracks. Before our own “All Clear” sounded, we faintly heard that of Kreutzberg, & a Canadian named Stevens mistook it for ours, & was shot in the chest as he walked across the parade ground. He died soon after he was admitted to hospital – he was only 19.

[Underlined] 1945 [/underlined]

[Underlined] Jan 1st. [/underlined]

The first day of the new year – I wonder if this one will bring us that peace we are all craving for.

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[Drawing of a hilltop village]

TO BILL WITH KIND REGARDS MING 44

(EDWARD A MILLICAN)

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[Cartoon of the outside of a Prisoner of War camp]

BOB CUTTS

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100

EDWARD A MILLIGAN [Signature] MING.
41 OXCLIFFE NEWBY
SCARBOROUGH E. YORKS.

David V. Parker, [Signature] “Agricola.”
63 Salisbury Street,
Blandford,
Dorset.

GLEN W KING (R.A.A.F) [Signature]
25 PEARY ST
NORTHGATE
BRISBANE
AUSTRALIA

FREDERICK MAXWELL HARRIS, [Signature]
11, SYDENHAM VILLAS ROAD,
CHELTENHAM SPA, GLOS.

MAURICE E HOLLOWAY [Signature]
3 CARLISLE AVE,
SWINDON WILTS

MAXWELL R. BARRY [Signature]
COLAC
Victoria
Australia

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JOHN PEART [Signature]
“NENTSBURY”
NENTHEAD
ALSTON
CUMBERLAND

K. LE HEUP [Signature]
106 TOLWORTH RD
SURBITON
SURREY

JOSEPH W. ARCHER [Signature]
14 ROOKERY R’D
SWINTON
MEXBOROUGH
YORKSHIRE

ALAN MANTLE [Signature] “TEX”
74 LANGHAM GARDENS
WINCHMORE HILL
LONDON

LATE OF “RHODESIA”

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Robert AJ. Sindall [Signature] “Sag” R.I.P.
378 “FROGROVE”
UPPER SHOREHAM RD
SHOREHAM-BY-SEA
SUSSEX.

Angus M. Hughes.
53 Cedar Avenue,
Croydon Park.
Adelaide.
South Australia.

R. John Stapleton
430 St Ann’s Rd.,
Harringay,
London. N.15

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Citation

Bill Brooks, “Bill Brooks's Wartime Log,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 18, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/27169.

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