Diaries Dog tag

The Lost Six Years 1939-1945

Derek Hunnisett

Poland - Schubin and Poznan

Schubin was a small P.O.W. Stalag. A Stalag is a main camp where there are hundreds of prisoners and acts as a centre for working parties. There were Polish P.O.W.s there as well but we were separated from them by a barbed wire fence. Around the entire camp there was a double wire fence with sentry boxes, spaced at intervals and manned by guards with machine guns. The sleeping quarters were long huts fitted with two tier bunks. Roll call (Appel) was held every day at 7:00 am and 6:30 pm. We were supposed to stand in rows of five but they lasted so long (the Germans were terrible counters and they had to do it about four or five times every roll call) and we were so weak that we kept dropping down to a sitting position. This didn’t help their counting, or their tempers and they would start shouting threats of all sorts until we stood up. Then they would start again until they finished to their satisfaction.

During the next few weeks we did nothing but dodge the camp fatigues, such as emptying the latrines and clearing the compound etc. The daily routine consisted of roll calls and lining up for meals. Breakfast was a piece of bread and coffee. Dinner was soup or stew (there was no difference) and a potato. Tea was a piece of bread with either a spoonful of jam or margarine, or a piece of sausage, and coffee. The bread varied between four and six men per loaf and were still of the same size. They were black and very coarse, just like sawdust. The German Army had the same sort of bread issued to them.

During this time I sold my pocket watch for a loaf of bread, a packet of tobacco and forty pfennigs to a Polish P.O.W. It was a Polish loaf, which were about a foot across and four inches thick. The watch didn’t work but it didn’t seem to worry him.

One day I saw some chaps looking through the seams of their clothes. I didn’t know what they were doing at the time but I soon found out when I became lousy as well. We couldn’t get rid of them however hard we tried. There was a canteen there but it wasn’t of much help as we never had any money issued to us. All we had was what we could flog to the Poles but nobody had much to flog. There wasn’t much to buy in it anyway and it was mainly for the Poles who had been there a long time and were paid a little for working on outside farms although I did buy a loaf of bread with the forty pfennigs.

On the 22nd John Bedford and I volunteered for a working party, hoping to get some extra food. After three quarters of an hours marching we arrived at a farm and started work on a threshing machine. In the afternoon we filled palliases with straw. We got an extra loaf between twenty men! It worked out as a very thin slice each, so it was hard work for nothing.

We mostly spent our time walking around the compound, talking mainly of food and what we would buy when we were home. We went to sleep thinking of it and woke up thinking of it.

On the 23rd, three hundred men were selected to move out the next day. Harold Spencer, John Bedford, Shorty Rickard and I were picked but John Matheson wasn’t. He had been pretty sick for several days now and we were sorry our little group had been broken up. John Matheson felt it badly and we were sorry to leave him behind.
We were up at 4:00 am, issued with a third of a loaf of bread and half a sausage, and moved off at 5:45 am for the station. With fifty men to a truck it wasn’t quite so cramped as before, and it wasn’t such a long journey, but we were glad to get out when we finally reached Poznan at 2:30 pm. They then marched us through and around the town in, what we later found out, was a victory march for them, and to show us off to the Polish people. The Poles were very good to us (or at least they tried to be). They attempted to get food to us on the way but were beaten back by the guards with their rifle butts. There was one teenage girl being beaten on the ground. We all started shouting and moving towards them which made the guards concentrate on us. They fired their rifles over our heads and it got a bit ugly for a time, but we were pleased to see that they had left the girl and she was being helped back by her own people. All around the town there were scuffles with the Poles when they tried to give us food. A lot got away with it but some didn’t.

We eventually ended up in a fort on the outskirts of the town – what a place! We were put into a concrete, cell-like room that had a one foot square, barred window high up on the wall. There were about thirty five men to a room. There were no beds and we slept on the damp, concrete floor. The fort was a very old fortification with a moat around it. The only access was by a drawbridge across the moat. There was a small door that led into the moat. This was the only place that we could get exercise and where the daily roll calls took place. It was very damp and cold and as this was summer I hated to think what it would be like in winter.

We didn’t get anything to eat that day – they couldn’t get the fires going. The next day we did get a watery stew and a drink of coffee late in the afternoon but that was it for the day.

On the 27th we went on a working party, road building, and managed to get some bread from the poles. They were very good to us and took a lot of risks. Every day after that, while we were there, the routine was more or less the same. Roll call morning and evening and three quarters of an hours march to the road works. The work sometimes varied to working in a sand pit or cleaning out a building. We spent our evenings bug hunting in our clothes – we were crawling with lice by now, it was impossible to keep them down. We were getting one meal of soup per day (it was just like cabbage water and two drinks of coffee (I heard they made it from burnt acorns – it was horrible anyway).We never saw any water, that all went for cooking, so most often we went dirty. It was no wonder we were lousy.

On the 30th of June there was nearly a riot. I don’t know what started it to this day but I was sitting in the moat with my mates when there was a lot of shouting. The guards came running out on to the drawbridge and started shooting into the moat. Everyone scattered for cover and then started to throw stones, or anything we could get hold of, at the guards. They then brought out the machine guns and opened fire so we retreated into the fort. The guards came in, in force, and threatened to shoot some of us but it eventually quietened down. Miraculously no one had been hit. Soon after the Sergeant in charge of the camp came round and asked everyone to sing as loud as they could. We did and created a terrific din – it was the only way we could show the Germans our contempt for them. I think they thought we were mad.

On the 2nd of July I sent my first card home to my mother and father. I wrote that I was very well and being treated well. I couldn’t do much else as I didn’t think it would get to them if I told the truth. Also they would worry a lot more then. I was getting very thin and I kept putting fresh holes in my belt.

On the 9th of July Typhoid had broken out and John was very ill – as if we didn’t have enough to cope with. A quote from my diary reads “meals very bad here, goes straight through us, men falling while marching to work, it’s terrible here, barely enough to keep going, steadily becoming weaker.”

The entry for the 23rd reads “I managed to get a few potatoes so we cut them up into as thin slices as possible and ate them raw in our soup. My ankles are very bad now, they are both poisoned and I have got a rotten cold. Altogether I feel pretty lousy. Had to get rid of what was left of my socks. I haven’t any others to wear. Swapped some tobacco I had left from selling my watch (I didn’t smoke then) for a very small blanket." (It was very welcome at night.)

On the 27th a crowd of us got together and had a sing song. It brought back a lot of memories; we sang all the old songs and it was a very good evening. My ankles were in a hell of a state by now and it was a job walking, let alone working. They were chafing on the boots due to having no socks. By now I also had a lovely beard. Tempers were very short and there were frequent fights. There was a good one in our room between a Scot and an Irishman who beat the hell out of each other and five minutes later were the best of pals again. All the fights started from nothing really but at the time the little things seemed more important.

On the 8th of August I went on a new job clearing out a station. It was about eight miles there and back. There were Polish civvies nearby and now and again, when the guards weren’t looking, they threw a loaf of bread to us. It was the first time that I had ever fought for food like that but we were so hungry. About six of us just dived for it and were rolling on the ground fighting to get at it. I managed to get a piece, which I shared with my mates. In the station there was a pair of scales and we all weighed ourselves. I had a shock as I went 7stones 6 pounds instead of my usual 10½ stones.

On the 24th of August, I couldn’t believe it but a guard pinched a loaf of bread and gave it to us. I also found a packet of tobacco that a Pole had put in a sand truck for us.

Three of the men back at the camp were beaten up by our own men for letting the guards take a photograph of them giving a Nazi salute. They were beaten up pretty badly and had to be sent to hospital in the town. I bet they didn’t do that again. We were terribly lousy now and every seam in our clothes was full of lice and eggs. We would burn them out with lighted cigarettes and matches but it was a hopeless losing battle. I swear my shirt would have moved on its own if left on the ground.

On the 26th of August we were paraded outside with all our kit and marched to the station. At 1:00 pm we left, fifty to a truck, and arrived back at Schubin at 5:45 pm. We were glad to get away from Poznan – nothing could be worse than that place.

Text © Copyright Derek Hunnisett 1983
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