Reg Wilson's Wartime Log

MWilsonRC1389401-170113-07.pdf

Title

Reg Wilson's Wartime Log

Description

A notebook to be used for recording wartime activities. It contains an account of Reg's bale out, capture and time in Dulag Luft, Stalag 4B and Offlag 7B. Reg records his operational experiences the day he baled out. His captors were friendly but the food was awful. They were taken by bus to a station in Berlin to catch a train to Frankfurt. The transit camp had good food helped by Red Cross parcels. He was not impressed with the railway wagons nor the camp when they arrived. He describes camp life in detail. He meets colleagues that he trained with and from his squadron. However much of his diary concerns food and camp life. There is a little about studying and sporting activities, principally football. He states the quality of the sporting activities was very good. Drama, plays and musicals were successfully organised. The Russians were treated the worst by the Germans and suffered from no Red Cross parcels. He discusses the other nationals in the camp, including Italians, French and Poles.
Cooking fires figure strongly in his thoughts and the operation of the blower using a wheel to blow air through a fire.
 In January the Germans received news that Reg was now commissioned but before he could be transferred the camp was evacuated to Bavaria by train. The book also contains a receipt issued to Reg for his RAF watch, six poems by six authors about camp life, photos of his girlfriend, his parents and May, Doris and Vera, his sisters, four detailed sketches of camp buildings and interiors, sketches drawn by Reg, a Christmas card for 1944 and ‘the Last Flight of Old Flo’, his Halifax going down in flames over Berlin. 

Creator

Language

Format

One booklet

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Contributor

Identifier

MWilsonRC1389401-170113-07

Transcription

[blank page]

[page break]

[lion symbol] 1 [lion symbol]

[underlined] Diary [/underlined]

[underlined] 9th March 1945. [/underlined]

This wartime log I received today. I have been a prisoner just over 13 months having been shot down over Berlin 20th January 1944 in Halifax “F” (Old Flo).

Short Summary of Previous experience in Germany:-

After baling out from 17000 ft over the target and landing unexpectedly in a small forest through thin cloud, I am glad to say I sustained no injury. Only a graze on my face and a sprained ankle. My ankle proved to be a bad thing, as my progress after landing was slow. Unhappily I was captured on the following morning and spent most of the next 12 hours in the local “Jug” in a town about 12 miles southwest of Berlin. My first experience of the Germans as a civilian was good, the police seemed fairly freindly. [sic] Of course my cigarettes “State Express 555” helped in this congenial atmosphere no doubt. The food was aweful, [sic] German bread “spud” soup and ersatz coffee, after eggs bacon, toast and marmalade is a poor substitute. From here I was taken by a smoky old Ford to a night fighter station at Wieneuchen. [symbol] The Luftwaffe treated me fairly well I must admit. In the guardhouse the sergeant in charge had himself completed

[symbol] Werneuchan (III N J G 5)

[page break]

2

60 “ops” over England and his attitude towards my branch of the service was one which really is quite understandable, “C’est la guerre” and wrote it off with that. It was here that I found how the Germans hated the Russians, they were stuffed to the top with propaganda of the uncultured Russian hoardes, which I have found re-iterated ever since in their papers. The next day I was taken along with 3 other RAF unfortunates to another Luftwaffe station in Berlin Spandau-West and we spent the next two days in and [sic] air-raid shelter there where our party accumulated to about 16. Of course we all talked of our experiences some had had a very “shaky do” one chap having 5 pieces of shrapnel removed from his back whilst we were there. The food was still grim the bread was our worst experience, it seemed sour rye stuff and repulsive to the stomach (how I could eat it now – its surprising how your taste alters when food is short) of course at that time our psychological condition did not aggravate hunger. I for one after escaping with my life seemed very thankful indeed, and I felt a queer type of cheerfulness – a joy of being alive – underlying this of course was the worry and distress that would be prevalent at home especially for Mum, and my one hope and prayer was that they would know the truth with all possible speed.

We were taken to the railway station in Berlin by a Luftwaffe bus and I had a good view of the western part of Berlin’s suburbs. It certainly was very attractive as the approaches to the city area was interspaced with preserved park land, and I did not experience the effect of passing through grim industrial parts, which I thought would ring the city. The roads were wide &

[page break]

3

pleasant. As we came near the centre bomb damage was more apparent and Bismarkstrasse had certainly taken a hammering. At the railway station we were shepherded by our large party of guards straight to the train bound for Frankfurt on Main. This I was very thankful for, I wasn’t happy amongst Berliners so recently bombed. The following day we arrived at Oberusal just outside Frankfurt here was Dulag Luft (every RAF chap knows this place!) I spent two days here for interrogation, I was lucky sometimes it amounts to weeks. Being in solitary so recently out of England isnt [sic] so hot, and it provides plenty of time for thought – how would they be at home? are the rest of the crew alive or dead? and many other knowing questions. The food too still persisted to be lousy and very very [sic] small quantity at that. I found since that this was about all we would ever get from Jerry. A slice or so of rye bread & marg in the morning with ersatz coffee, some thin soup for dinner, bread, marg & jam for tea plus coffee, the whole wouldn’t make a meal in itself. My second day there incidently [sic] was my 21st birthday, not a very happy one at all. That evening a party of us were “released” from these conditions and sent over to Dulag Transit in Frankfurt itself the following day. You can imagine my relief to meet my rear gunner in this party. He had received a bad cut above his right eye, evidently after hanging on in the aircraft till the last moment had got into difficulties, the ‘plane turned over, he crashing his head over his guns. Next thing he knew was that he was on the ground pretty well shaken up, and a searchlight battery took him in hand, though they did very little for his eye. It was through his very

[page break]

4

healthy condition that it healed up so well in a very short time. Of course we talked our heads off at the time, being guarded in our conversation of course. He told me (Johnny Bushell by the way) that Laurie was alive, he was picked up outside Berlin, having walked through the city making his way west. We learnt later that George (Griff) was also OK. All this news and being in contact with one of the crew again bucked me up immensely, the huge relief of uncertainty off my mind. Dulag Transit is a place I will always remember, everything was done for us here though we were only here 2 days. We were given new clothes if necessary plus an overcoat and a case containing most things from a toothbrush down to pyjamas, cigarettes & chewing gum. All this was Red Cross, mostly American – from this day on I have no praise higher than I can give to the International Red Cross, their work is superb without it we would not be fit men in mind or body. Transit held about 200 or so chaps and had a communal mess. The whole place was run so well that I was really amazed. Huts were OK and the messing was after the previous few days was sumptuous. Of course the bountiful supply of Red Cross food plus German rations in a well run kitchen can make that much difference to life as only prisoners know. In a way, I was in no hurry to leave as conditions were more than I expected, but I also knew something of the bombing programme and Frankfurt was not the healthiest place in Germany, so really I was glad to move on, and our destiny was Stalag

[page break]

5

IVB. Our travelling facilities to IVB were anything but congenial, we came down to earth again when we found that our transports were closed railway trucks, accomodating [sic] either 8 horses or 40 men, the normal troop transports on the continent. Not being horses we were loaded 40 to a truck which is just a little more than standing room and we lived on these for the next three days, not at all pleasant. The Red Cross were “on the ball” though and we each had an American food parcel to take with us, thus we spent the next few days exploring the contents being our 1st parcel, it was the best part of the journey.

My first impression of Stalag IVB after Dulag was not impressive at all. Being Jan-Feb the countryside was very bare, a fall of snow had just about thawed out, and being extremely flat and open, pictured to me more like Siberia than Mulberg-on-Elbe, a village about 30 miles east of Leipzig. The camp held about 15000 of mixed nationalities, most of the British were either prisoners removed from Italy or I’m glad to say RAF personnel, others were made up of Dutch, French, Poles, Italians, Serbs or Russians and a few other Nationals, thrown in. On entering the camp my impressions were worse. The main roadway with its grim black lines of barracks on either side, the formidable main archway with sentry box plus searchlight on top, and many more boxes along the wire that formed the boundary of the camp. The whole area was inches deep in mud & slush,

[page break]

6

portraying a dismal colourless scene. Before we made contact with the camp life itself we were searched this being the 7th time for me, I’m glad to say in all these searches I lost nothing except some photos which were mislaid, & some cigarettes which it seems the Germans at Dulag seemed to like, can’t say I blame them as theirs’ are foul. I also lost my flying boots which I had hoped to retain. They were almost new and were ideal for the weather at the time, why they were consfiscated, [sic] beats me, probably German contempt towards the R.A.F (this was an Army camp) I was given in return clogs made of scraps of leather with wooden soles, hopeless ill-fitting things which I wore for the ensuring [sic] 3 months, as there were no Red Cross boots in stock. Incidently I found many Russian hats made out of the lambs wool lining of flying boots in the camp, evidently the Russian cobblers were doing a spot of private enterprise on the side at our expense. After the preliminary episode of searching, we followed through with de-louzing [sic] (a procedure which seems to be imperative when moving to & from the camp) innoculation [sic] vaccination. From here for registration and POW. No., now we all were fully-fledged P’s o.W. By this time I was very hazed & very hungry not had anything to eat all day, other than a snatch at some bread from my red cross box. It was to me a very overcrowded camp it was Monday & parcel issue day, and all the British were marching to and fro down the main road. At last we were assigned to our barracks and I found that overcrowding was not as I thought apparant [sic] but very real. Each barrack held about 200 in each end with a brick washhouse in the centre. Everyone is continually getting in one anothers

[page break]

7

way, with noise added and various orders coming throughout the day, concentration is well nigh impossible. These huts are built of wood and were always needing repairs, the roofs leaked, windows mostly broken now replaced with boards reduced lighting to a minimum. The floors were, bricked just like a barn, the bunks were in 3 tiers all to one side, in the centre were two cooking stoves leading to a common central chimney. Other amenities were 4. 25 watt bulbs for lighting, 1 tap - water on and off continuously which served 200 men, coal for cooking for about 2 hours, a few forms rebuilt to serve as tables. No cooking or eating utensils issued other than 1 dixie and 1 spoon all other requirements we had to make ourselves as soon as & as best as we could. There were many other miseries I found besides these, of course at the time they are greatly magnified, I was only 11 days out of England, just 3 weeks since leave and “Home sweet home” and comfort. Consequently for the following few days life just revolved about me until I got into the groove of things, then it wasn’t so bad, my values were reduced to a common level, which gave me a much more reasonable aspect on things in general. During the next day or so, we were a great centre of interest for the rest of the British personnel, they were, the army chaps at least old prisoners from Italy and wanted all the latest news from home. The R.A.F were mostly prisoners of 6 months standing or less, and I was surprised to find many of them I knew, some from old training courses, some from the Squadron. They all wanted to know the “Gen” and if confirmation of their capture had come through

[page break]

8

or not. They were in a compound of their own and we shifted there after 3 weeks. A different atmosphere prevailed in the R.A.F compound, typically R.A.F I must admit acquired I suppose from Squadron life and a general lackadaisical attitude. It caused us trouble with the guards at times, and things weren’t Army fashion nevertheless we got what we wanted done, & everyone was happy.

“Mucking in” – this expression at IVB is perhaps one of the most universal used. It really means messes of convenient numbers, anything from two upwards, and all food Red cross and German pooled to facilitate cooking and eating arrangements. One of the major things in or POW lifes [sic] is I think cooking it may not be always apparent, especially in the summer months but it essentially is so for a new prisoner and also when food is short. It certainly marks periods in our daily routine whatever else we have to occupy our time.

Johnny Bushell and I, “mucked in” just the two of us and we got on pretty well. We had no system who was to do the preparing and cooking it was done by both of us anytime we wished to do it. Washing up we did in turns, we both agreed this was the most distasteful job. Our cooking utensils were made from “Healthy Life” biscuit tins (Scotch RC. Parcel) plates were made from these also, our cups were “Maple Leaf” butter tins (Canadian), these completed our crockery and were renewed from time to time. Parcels were issued every Monday, and marked the beginning of the week as much as anything. German rations

[page break]

9

were issued daily. Potatoes and vegetables (mostly turnips, with pea soup issued 1 day a week in Lieu of these. In summer fresh veg were available some days a week instead) cooked from central cookhouse came up during the morning. We used these for our midday meal with Red Cross tinned food from parcels. In the afternoon dry rations (bread, margarine, jam, sugar, meat paste etc) were issued and from these & supplemented with R.C items we made tea and breakfast meals. Cooking was done on two hot-plates one at each end of the hut, it was mostly frying and boiling etc as the 2 ovens were often insufficient for 200 men. A stoker was in charge of each stove and he was lord of all, many a comical incident took place at the stove. It was an everyday occurrence for someone to upset his frying & set fire to the whole hot plate. To fry BRC bacon was a sure road to become unpopular as it spat at everyone in turn. I’ve seen a whole tin of creamed rice blow up & its contents hit the ceiling. Many a dish I’ve seen cremated, by the hot plate suddenly becoming excessively red in one spot. All kinds of dishes were prepared, I think many a new cookery book could be compiled in Stalag IVB, though I would not vouch for their recipes. Canadian biscuits seem to be very adaptable in “concocting”, which is really all it is, the maxim “variety is the spice of life” is proved in prison camps. One time all our drinks we made ourselves, but when fuel became scarce, communal “brewing” was necessary. The “brew [underlined] must [/underlined] go on” is an unwritten law, whatever

[page break]

10

happens, we found these absolutely necessary almost habitual, and it was nothing to hear the “boiler man” shout “brew up” 6 and 7 times a day, and these to [sic] magic words would electrify the whole hut, and from all directions would appear chaps carrying two & three dixies to collect the “combines’” tea, coffee cocoa, whichever one it happened to be.

It is almost an impossibility to study in Stalags this was so at IVB. What with cooking, keeping clean, amongst 200 chaps, then the amount of noise and distraction in a crowded ill-lit hut both by day and night, you were a hero to attempt it. Nevertheless I decided at least if I could not do this I would keep actively-minded. In any case the “school” facilities were sketchy, and the general atmosphere being based on the knowledge of the second front and the war almost over, also helped to keep my activities in this direction well down. Even so I took classes in intermediate Maths, wireless, photography, psychology, the latter two closed down after we lost our classrooms but I managed on and off depending on the times to keep going to the former two.

Sport – of all the various past-times [sic] etc. I think this was the most popular, & most universal during the better weather; after quarantine from Typhus & diptheria [sic] I think sport was carried on from morning roll-call (6.30 am) to curfew (as late as 9.30 pm). The main interest was taken in Soccer even throughout the summer, when it was carried on in the evenings. Each hut had its own team, these were entered under the 1st Division names in various League competitions. I think the knock-out

[page break]

11

cup was the most exciting of all. Newport County were by far the leading light in this competition & eventually won the cup. The amount of keenness was amazing, every team made its own colours, the supporters were always “on the beam” when their team played and the amount of discussion on play reached tremendous heights. Semi-finals and final games were played off on Saturday afternoons, being a main feature of the weekend. Such Gala occasions as Easter, Whitsun, August Bank Holiday, there were such matches as England versus Scotland, Army versus R.A.F, Amateurs v. Professionals. The standard of play was very high indeed, drawn from several thousands, the selected players gave good account of themselves. Other feature matches were introduced when the various clubs materialised, these clubs formed by chaps living in the same areas, such examples as the “London Club”, “Heather Club”, “Notts & Derby”, Kent “Invicta Club” and a host of others. There was a Rugby League, they sued to feature their important games on Sundays, perhaps the most notable members were the “Springboks” and the “Anzacs”, and many a time blood was drawn between these two hefty teams.

During the cricket season, each hut entered a team and the matches were played off on similar lines to Soccer & Rugby, the main feature being generally a test match played over the weekend England V. Australia or South Africa. Some of these were very close ending matches, England on one occasion beating Australia by a few runs only.

Two Athletic meetings were held and prior to the event, every morning and evening contestants could be seen on the track, training with great zeal. Boxing was a camp organised sport
12

and several times exhibition & competitive bouts were carried out in a well built ring placed in one of the Compounds

The Canadians were very keen on Basketball and softball, whilst volley ball was carried on by one and all. Others took up weight-lifting organised P.T., there was no lack of exercise at IVB whatsoever. Many of the games were played between the British and other Nationals such as the French, Dutch Russians & Poles the latter two excelled at Volley Ball, the former had a tough struggle when playing us at Soccer, after all its our national game. The British were very fit during the Summer, full parcel issue & good news coupled with their outdoor activity made this so.

Entertainment in my opinion in prison life is essential and IVB did not lack talent in this sphere, it had a reputation of having the best of Stalags and I’m sure this was the case, from the “Empire” Theatre shows down to the hut shows and various Lecture programmes. After being in camp only a day or so I saw my first Empire show & I was greatly impressed. It was called “Mulberg Melodies of 1944” a variety and completely written & produced within the camp. To see female parts carried out so well as to believe their sex, almost may seem far-fetched, but it was so. The Theatre had to contend with all kinds of difficulties costumes, equipment etc but they always bridged these gaps, always improvising with great success. Suits of armour made from tin cans is a typical example. Towards the end of the year the “props” had gained in experience until they were masters at their trade. Nothing too good though, for the actors themselves they were supreme. Many varieties were produced by leading comics, “Lets Raes [sic] a laugh”, “Knee-deep”, “Splash”. Musical Comedies such as ‘Springtime for

[page break]

13

Jennifer” Lyrics & Music both written by the leader of the Orchestra, it takes a chap to be a prisoner before he realises the ability of many of his fellows. The Cads. specialised in straight plays, and they had a howling success each production seemingly better than the last, such shows as “Dover Road,” “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” “You can’t take it with you” and “The Barretts of Wimpole Street.” There were Light Classical Orchestras & more serious music. Dance and Swing Band Shows, and they were all good. The latter parcipitated [sic] in hut shows providing the music required. At leading football matches, boxing bouts and Sunday afternoons a Military Band provided entertainment. On some Sundays in the Empire the Experimental Theatre Group gave some very interesting plays based on the Melodrama and reactions of the audience, a prominent one sticks in my memory – “Waiting for Lefty”. The Church Services were also held here, and they also provided pleasant entertainment and talks for Sunday afternoons.

The huts shows were generally very good and I always think much of the enthusiasm was gained beforehand. The reason being in erecting the stage work from forms and various structures brought in for the purpose and such industry gave a holiday atmosphere to the show that followed. They made such a welcome break in the evenings which everyone enjoyed. The Radio plays were interesting – performed behind a curtain in broadcasting style with adequate sound effects, with the rest of the hut in darkness, gave the right feeling. Such plays as “The Tale of two Cities” the “Ghost Train” & “Pygmalion”. On other winter

[page break]

14

evenings would be run a series of different lectures & talks by chaps of experience – “Big Game Hunting” “North-West Frontier” “Russia” and here’s an ironical one “H.M. Prisons” by Ex-prison Warder. On some occasions the chaps themselves would hold a dance – last New Year’s Night was such a night, we had a dance band, an M.C and plenty of “female” partners, and in spite of adverse conditions of hopeless over-crowding of the hut it was run well. Yes entertainment at IVB was the tops, just what the fellows made it themselves.

There were quite a few Russians in the camp, they were always coming in and going out as most of them were kommandoes. [sic] They did not have a very good time as there was no love lost between them and the Germans, and were often seen getting a good kicking. Not having any Red Cross to aid them, they lived on entirely German rations and what else they could scrounge and racketeer, they became pretty good at the latter. Of course they lived pretty poorly, food and clothing they lacked very badly, thank goodness the British could help them out with their food problem, by giving them most of our German soups, but when our parcels were halved and got less than that, they did not get it. We also gave R.C. food to the Russian sick & they certainly needed it. Many of the more enterprising made cigarette cases picture frames etc. in wood and straw, the former sometimes in engraved metal from Italian dixies, these they used to trade for meats, fish, butter, cigarettes. We have them to thank also for knives as the Germans never gave us any, and they are pretty essential, you can’t

[page break]

15

do much with a spoon! The racketeers apart from the “tradesmen” were the middlemen for civilian bread, onions, potatoes and they lived pretty well in comparison to the others. Many of the disabled, legless fellows stumping around on their thighs, had to beg, whilst the lowest crawled in and out of the filth, peelings, empty tins etc., in the incinerators – no wonder they were always subject to Typhus. When there were a large crowds gathered at football matches the Russians would be on their knees amongst it all looking for cigarette butts. Thus their life appeared always to be one keeping body and soul together.

When the Italians inhabited IVB their lot seemed to be similar to the Russians, their Red Cross couldn’t do much for them at the time. They were well kitted out though as no Italian is taken prisoner without all his kit I’m sure. This they proceeded to “flog” for food and cigarettes & some did a spot of private trading in the tailoring line. They also used compete with the Russians for “buckshee” soup and many a fight ensued, often amongst themselves for that matter. They on the whole had a miserable time for they were the butt of everyone, after all anyone who had been a prisoner in Italy had some hard reminisances [sic] of the Italians.

I think the French were some of the longest inhabitants of IVB. As our nearest neighbours I did think they mixed very well. They had the Red cross so they were not dependent like the Russians & Italians nor could they be compared in anyway. They administrated quite a lot of the camp really, they had control of one of the cookhouses (the other was for British personnel) and I suppose being at the camp such a time enabled them to get well in every way. Many

[page break]

16

had the opinion that the French created an atmosphere of ownership of IVB, not that I saw it mattered who “owned it” – England home & beauty was my concern only. They had a good canteen, University and Theatre. Used to produce plays & musicals, but I think their main [deleted] tain [/deleted] industry was to give an [deleted] d [/deleted] exhibition of some kind. They liked display & modelling, I saw two, The Paris & Mountaineering Exhibition, they were very good, their models being the last word in craftsmanship. They lived well on the whole, getting “black market” food more easily than us, their connections were in operation before we arrived.

The most striking thing I noticed about the Dutch was their impressive appearance. They were all mostly big strapping chaps and always seemed to be smart. Most of them still had their uniforms these seemed to me more like some commissionairs [sic] uniform tassels & gold braid, but I must admit they looked smart & immaculate in them. Like the French they came under the I.R.C, they also had parcels from home until the Second Front, so their food was assured. They also shared the French Theatre, but we did not come in contact with them much except playing football, though their Dutch Symphonic Dance Band used to entertain us very often both in the Theatre and in the huts.

There were Poles and Serbs in the camp, but personally I never noticed them overmuch, language & customs on the continent account for this I think. British are strictly maritime being Islanders, and as the camp became more & more populated with British

[page break]

17

and American, we were less & less inclined to notice other nationals. The Poles though had bags of spirit. There were some Poles operating with the R.A.F who had been prisoners several years, these chaps were with us, and their policy towards the detaining power was a good example. They never gave way in spite of any reprisals. When the patriot activity broke out in Warsaw and unfortunately for Poles was unsupported by Russian advances at the time, many prisoners were brought and put in a compound adjacent to ours. The most striking thing about this was the fact that apart from men, many boys from 7 & 8 years of age & girls from 16 years of age upwards in bad condition came with them. My sisters were about their ages & it horrified me to think of the privations and dangers of the front line had been & still were their lot. But this did not deter their spirit, often in the evenings Polish songs could be heard ringing through the night air, Poles are noted for their choirs & I can appreciate this fact after this experience. Many of our chaps gave them clothes & food though at the time we were short ourselves, of course I think a pretty girl can work wonders & they certainly did considering a prisoner’s restrictions of female company, many almost got to the pitch of serious romances.

There’s an interesting feature of IVB I’ve so far failed to mention and that was the camp markets. There was one official camp

[page break]

18

market and several private ones. Any R.C food, personal clothing and chocolate could be bought & sold on the market and the legal tender (incidently [sic] for Empire Theatre also) was cigarettes & tobacco. Straight exchanges could also be made, cigarette value being the basis for every item. This system was very good as it enabled chaps to sell excess food & clothing others who were short could buy it, whilst others could exchange items for things they wanted or needed more at the time. There were few rackets involved especially at the Camp Market as most of the profits were for the camp fund. Prices were on a sliding scale system controlled by supply & demand; there were some queer prices towards the end of ’44 though when food was scarce and cigarettes more plentiful, then when cigarettes became scarce also, the values were re-adjusted to more sensible figures.

Surveying my year at IVB, I can put it into 3 phases. The first was one naturally enough, of getting used to a new life, one which I never expected to experience or had any idea what was like. Thus for the first few weeks I was hazed, improvising and trying to make my lot as congenial as possible in louzy [sic] conditions. It was winter and being couped up in overcrowded huts with nothing but mud & slush outside did not improve matters. But now I realise how comparitively [sic] lucky I was all round, with

[page break]

19

a full parcel every week. When quarantine put the whole camp out of action for about a month, everything seemed dead, but after this it changed especially as the weather improved.

The second phase came in Spring & summer with better weather the camp burst into life, its surprising how the talent in the place adds to everyone’s enjoyment. We were all waiting for the Second Front, & were we impatient up to June 6th. Thats [sic] a day worth remembering indeed, optimism was terrific, ah! the war would be over in 2 months, the pessimistic said 3. From thence onwards the spirits of the chaps were at their highest level, & how the rumours grew, times were exciting. Outside sport & also entertainment went with gusto, there seemed to be a new lease of life in everybody. Even when we went on to 1/2 parcels in early September nobody worried – it would not be for long, for the war would be over anytime.

After the dramatic sequel of events had died down, “Arnheim” and a general settle down in the West, we realised it would last longer than expected. Here came the last phase in the atmosphere at IVB. October came and still no end, it was just dragging on it seemed. Parcel situation was bad as our stocks had practically been exhausted & fresh supplies [inserted] were [/inserted] unlikely. I personally did not look forward to another winter in these conditions. Nevertheless these conditions prevailed, it got colder, parcels ran short, coal issue was inadequate by far, naturally our resistance to the colder weather became less also. The war now dragged as much now as it had previously progressed, & we all were disillusioned

[page break]

20

men & ours [sic] spirits ebbed. But we kept going with a firm conviction “It would be over by Christmas.” During this period I must mention that there was a flux of personal parcels in the camp. From July onwards I had received mail fairly regularly then these almost petered out, but I was fortunate compared with many in receiving several cigarette & book parcels instead. I also received my first clothing parcel (actually the 3rd from home.) So my lot was not so bad as others.

Well Christmas came & we were still behind the wire, with a stroke of luck we had RC parcels for the festivities and on the whole Christmas & New Year turned out quite OK. After this we came back more to reality it was now 1945, no parcels, little coal, extreme cold & on top of this overcrowding to as many as 3 in a bed, due to many American prisoners being passed through our camp. We were watching eagerly for the final flare up on the Western Front for we all felt sure it was imminent, & would be the only thing that could end this existence in IVB. Anyway Russians started first and made their sensational advance from the Vistula to the Oder rivers. This brightened us up no end and though January seemed to me one of the longest months as a prisoner it certainly brought good news from the Eastern Front.

It was the end of January that my time at IVB came to a close. The Germans having received confirmation of my commission from the Air Ministry arranged for my transfer. I think I should have gone to Luft III but just at that

[page break]

21

time, the whole camp was evacuated, and they were on the march westwards just ahead of the Russians. My destiny instead was Oflag VIIB in Bavaria. I had no regrets at leaving the camp, for I was sure conditions anywhere else, especially an Oflag in comparatively peaceful surroundings near Switzerland could be no worse, this proved to be very right. So I left Johnny (my “mucker”) behind this I was very sorry about, for he’s a grand chap but still when back in Blighty we’re going to celebrate with the rest of the crew & laugh over all our old troubles.

Before leaving Mulberg behind I must mention that I did get a lot of help from the Church services. Inside the wire, I’m sure one becomes more introspective than [inserted] under [/inserted] normal [inserted] conditions [/inserted] there’s more time to look into yourself. The free church services interest me most, in fact I think Padre McDowell from New Zealand delivered the best sermons I’ve ever heard. He was a very devout person and could always apply his addresses to prison life & to post war life too, in the most apt manner. I will always link his name to IVB.

On the 2nd Feb. I said goodbye to those “pearly gates” with its sinister watchtower, & with a party of 5 other RAF & RAAF chaps & 3 guards set out for Oflag VIIB. It was an interesting time to be travelling on the German Railways. The Russians in their drive had caused many civilians to evacuate their homes, and the railways were very congested with them. To make matters worse the RAF were keeping on their toes, totally upsetting the transport system.

[page break]

22

I thought travelling like a civilian & not in the usual “cattle trucks” would make it an interesting journey, and I had looked forward to the change after a year inside one place. But I was soon proved wrong. The first train we caught from the junction was very late & it literally crawled all the way to Chemnitz. At Chemnitz we waited 7 hours for our next connection. At the time the station was crowded with people all patiently, waiting, many with bundles of clothing & packs. They were definitely on the move to less threatened areas. When an announcement that the train which was already 2 hours late, would still be another 70 minutes they just moved back from the platform’s edge, without a murmur, they must have been very used to this kind of thing, & accepted it all in a day’s work. Those 7 hours seemed unending, as we stayed on the station almost counting the minutes all through the day. Chemnitz had not been subject to air attack up till then as it was a hospital centre. It was all intact, only I missed the familiar bookstalls & buffets that we have in England, it is very dull for the passenger I think not being able to have some food & hot drink available. You could buy beer though, it wasn’t very potent just a drink with a taste of beer, even young children could have it. There were many hospital cases of wounded soldiers about and they looked generally very ill & in poor health, pale & thin specimens all of them. One track had a complete train of German soldiers which appeared to be waiting for a move Eastwards, I guessed their destiny. We passed through

[page break]

23

this station just in time I think, for 10 days later for the first time since the war began it was heavily bombed several times in succession. I think it was a tactical measure to assist the Russian offensive.

After leaving Chemnitz behind we continued southwards at a very slow pace & eventually reached Plauen. We arrived at midnight and our next train went at 5 am. This station had taken a packet of bombing and we had 5 hours of very drafty waiting. Civilians were in the same boat as ourselves, & they could not have shelter or anything to warm them up. The youth movement girls & boys about 10 years of age resident in the town were working with baggage etc, right through this period. Germany is certainly employing everyone in their war effort, but what a life just one drudgery, and for what avail? Hof was our next port of call, we got here around 9.30 am and as another wait was in the offing, we were lucky in getting a hut with a stove, in which to wile [sic] away the time. So we managed to have a brew of coffee with our bread, & boy did it make a difference. Well it was about 5 pm that day before we moved on. The train was packed, more & more people were travelling & everyone had wasted many hours getting connections I know, it was no joyride, the railways were absolutely up the creek. We had a quick change of trains at 7 pm, but what a carriage we had, no windows at all, it froze us all the way to Nurnberg, which we did not reach until 12 midnight. Here the

[page break]

24

usual whirlpool of people prevailed, the station was almost in darkness, and we were led by the nose, through the crowds to an air-raid shelter. It was an excellent shelter air-conditioned with plenty of warmth, it was a pleasure to thaw out, even though another 6 hours were to pass before we could shorten our distance to VIIB.

[page break]

25

56

[underlined] 8th March ’45. [/underlined]

[underlined] Thoughts at odd moments [/underlined]

I had a short walk with Jack this afternoon, he looked rather browned off and so was I. It was quite an enlightening conversation and I think it did us both a world of good. Jack has been a prisoner four years now and is now 27, I am 22 so we are both quite young. Here we are situated among many chaps older than ourselves and after years of “kriegie” existence have developed an atmosphere which is not congenial to us and has definitely had its pyschological [sic] reactions. They have developed a very routined [sic] existence and every day is more or less the same, and silence, lack of conversation marks every day. For me coming recently from a Stalag with crowded conditions and living among young fellows enabled me to have the stimulus of young chaps and share in their activity, now I have the contrast. This has pent up my conversation etc and I have felt extremely irritable yet not having the opportunity of getting it out of my system. I feel restless unable to co-ordinate my activity or concentrate on any one thing. Of course the war situation and our lack of food aggravates this unsettledness. The war has definitely dragged on far too long, Germany cannot hope to win, it could all end any day, but what day? the over-optimism of last year still hangs over us like a dark shadow.

All these things and many others I find are the roots of Jack’s neurosis and mine and talking about them helped us both, whats the use of writing down conversion [sic] as I found Jack was doing, repression of a perfectly natural expression, trying to

[page break]

57
sublimate it and becoming melancholy. We must after knowing our failings face them not avoid them, and put them right. Soon we will be going home and we want to be as natural as others who have been more fortunate – what price freedom!

[underlined] 9th March ’45 [/underlined]

Just had to put this down. I have heard next week that there is a 20 percent cut in all German rations and 33 1/3 percent in potatoes, what a reduction! How we live on them now beats me. Last night whilst having a wash-down I hardly dare look at myself. I’m naturally thin but now I’m a shadow. Red cross parcels only 1/2 ration, then none at all make you watch every gramme of German food louzy [sic] as it is, stuff would make pig swill normally. Our lives now centre around food when hunger knows your stomach its very difficult to centre your thoughts elsewhere, your imagination is food and unconsciously you are concocting dishes of palatable food. How you eat every morsel with gusto. Everything else seems of a secondary nature, even the war situation (which is excellent) sometimes. We had a windfall this week when a truck destined for another camp broke down and was brought here instead, food for a week! Transport is grim now it is uncertain when more will arrive we just hope and rumour –

Rumours:- never have I known rumours to germinate and spread among people as I have in a prison camp, they seem to rebound in every direction. After a time you become skeptical [sic] to all of them, not even if they are repeated dozens of times

[page break]

92

[underlined] Cooking Fires [/underlined]

One of the main trials in a kriegie’s cooking experiences is the perpetual lack of fuel for this purpose. The brew situation is [deleted] as [/deleted] almost as important as the progress of the war, if he wants to make an odd cup of tea, & the cooking stoves are either too expensive on fuel or too crowded, he has to resort to other means of “brewing up”.

The Italy prisoners suffered acutely in wood shortage, most of their fuel was wood & there are many amusing stories on how they acquired sufficient stocks. It became necessary for some kind of quick and inexpensive brewing & cooking fire. Thus there came into existence, that masterpiece of genius “The Blower”. The accompanying sketch gives some idea of a simple blower. It is a portable machine designed to be hidden in all kinds of corners in case of a purge by the detaining power, as they took a poor view of these contrivances. They are made from odd scraps of wood, bed boards etc., R.C. tins such as biscuit tins, “Klim tins”, and constructed with odd nails, penknives, bits of iron for hammers, and lots of patience. Some of the “engineers” created masterpieces with built in ovens, hot plates etc. The principle is “forced draft”, and many an old hand will tell you, how many revs per min his fan will produce, the most efficient length of shaft.

The prisoners coming from Italy brought their invention to Germany where it was immediately copied and is now universal throughout all prison camps.

[page break]

93

Of course the Germans forbad them, & said it was sabotage to make & use blowers, & would be punished for this offence. At first this order was more or less adhered to, but coal gradually was cut and rackets did not improve in this direction. Consequently in a short time every washhouse turned into a refuge for blowers of many varieties, it was more like going into a blacksmith’s forge than a washhouse. There was a constant war at IVB between the Jerry’s and blower users. For a few weeks they would tolerate this industry, then would come the purge & they were all smashed. But in a few days it was the same as ever, with determined inventors handling yet another modified super-blower.

[black and white drawing of a Blower]

[page break]

94

At VIIB the Jerry’s or should I say “Goons” seemed to tolerate these auxilary [sic] heaters, also other varieties not on the blower system are prevalent everywhere with flues added & built into the room chimneys. I think the Goons have been worn into submission over a period of 5 years here, and have accepted them as an essential piece of kriegie equipment. Coal seems to be almost non-existent now and there is a permanent wood party and pine cone party who are allowed to go out and collect fuel for the use of the camp. It is ideal stuff for these small stoves & hot plates, the heavier pieces of wood being used for the room stoves company kitchens & camp kitchen for the mess and communal cooking arrangements.

[black and white drawing of a stove and cooking implements]

[page break]

95

The second sketch is one of the small stove built by Ray Cowier in our room. It is made with biscuit tins, and a German pickle tin lined with clay for a fire box. On damp mild days it needs some fanning with an old table tennis bat, but generally its pretty good. Its in constant use for making brews, sauces, frying, and a hot plate can be used for making excellent toast, about the only way Jerry bread seems palatable in my opinion.

The Smokeless Heater is another gadget used for toast and making odd brews. It is similar to the second sketch except that the firebox is made with two “klim” tins joined together and fed with fuel from a shaft made with a cocoa tin from the side. Paper and small twigs form the main basis of fuel. Usual flue built into room chimney, or just through the wall forming separate chimney on outside wall.

Citation

Reg Wilson, “Reg Wilson's Wartime Log,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed January 28, 2023, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/35682.

Item Relations

This item has no relations.