This is an account of my wartime experiences; of call up with the Royal Sussex Regiment, service in France and Belgium with the B.E.F. and my time as a Prisoner of War. This was a very different kind of war from that experienced by most of the fighting forces but still a war nevertheless.
I am not only writing for myself, but for all my comrades and others who were P.O.W.s. We were fighting, as I believe it, humiliation, boredom, loss of freedom. At times we suffered mentally and physically from the guards and civilians alike.
However one thing stood out, during the whole time I was out there; the British, more than any other nationality, refused to give way to their suffering. They caused trouble where they could and tried to keep their morale at the highest level, come what may. I couldn’t have served with a better group of men. Sometimes there were a lot of fights between ourselves, mostly because we were so hungry and had to watch every crumb, but our differences were soon forgotten and we were friends again.
If anyone was in trouble or sick, (with the exception of the odd one or two, as is always the case) not one refused to give all the help that they could, no matter how badly off they were themselves.
I kept a diary for most of the time from when I joined up. There were times that I had to hide them but I always managed it somehow. Sometimes they were sewn in my clothes, sometimes in my boots or clogs. If upon reading this story it seems a bit short and abrupt in places, it is where I have copied my notes at that particular time, so the narrative isn’t everything that happened. I have, however, put down all that I can remember from my entries and memories.
While in France and Belgium we seemed to do a hell of a lot of marching before coming to grips with the enemy. When we did it was short and brief but we endeavoured to do our best with the weapons we had. They were, unfortunately, not of the standard issued to our German counterparts.
The treatment we received whilst P.O.W.s varied with the guards. Usually the older ones weren’t too bad but the young ones were very provocative and overbearing. They liked to show their authority both physically and mentally. They never came to understand us though and often said we were mad and would laugh at anything. Perhaps they were right as if things went wrong or were bad, we always tried to laugh it off. The guards had a very poor sense of humour. I remember one occasion at Mogilno in Poland, a guard (a good one as it happened) tried to show off his strength to us, in the process of which someone pinched his rifle….. he didn’t think that a bit funny!
I can’t praise the Polish people enough, they were wonderful. The risks they took, trying to get food to us, were unbelievable at times. Very often we witnessed them getting beaten but it never stopped them trying again. I will always admire their courage, the women as well as the men.
There is one thing I will always be grateful for and that is the Red Cross Society. I don’t know what we would have done without them. Also to my family and friends who sent me out clothing and cigarette parcels. They were a godsend to me.