Diaries Dog tag

The Lost Six Years 1939-1945

Derek Hunnisett

Winter & Xmas 1940 at Mogilno

24th of December, Christmas Eve. The guards got us some beer from town, which we bought with our money. We had a nice sing song and some of the boys were drunk. The guards were also drunk and two of them fired into our window because a light was showing. Christmas dinner was pea soup! and we finished off with prunes and custard from the Red Cross parcels. We had a church service in the morning. After dinner we played cards until the evening and then went along to room 7 and spent the rest of the day with Taffy and Nick Dobson. We had a supper of bread and cheese, cake and tea. What a Christmas this year – everyone was feeling very low and depressed.

Mogilno monastery in winter
Mogilno monastery in winter

There was little work being done now as it was too cold and the ice on the river was two feet thick. I have never known it so cold. It was very funny seeing the horse drawn sleighs travelling about. They all had bells on them because they run so silently on the snow. The Poles cleared a stretch of ice on the river and there were a lot of people skating. We had a grandstand view from our window. If a German fell badly we would all give a cheer, although I doubt if they could hear us.

From the 1st of January 1941 until the 11th of March we didn’t go out to work because of the cold. During this time we were issued with Red Cross parcels on three occasions; one between two, one between three and one between four. Also we received two payments of three Marks and forty Pfennigs and one of one Mark and fifty seven Pfennigs.

To relieve the boredom we made our own amusements. I made a ship model whilst others did various things, like drawing, playing cards etc. We had five mouth organs sent to us, via the Stalag, from the Red Cross, with which we formed a band. I played one of them but the time went very slowly for us.

Three men escaped through the wire but were soon caught and brought back. They were half frozen and were beaten up on the Fuhrers orders. After that the Fuhrer made us parade outside for at least an hour, morning and night, and we were just about frozen ourselves by the time we got back inside. He also opened all the tins in the Red Cross parcels so that we had to eat all the perishable items first, within a day or two.

sketch by the author - February 1941
sketch by the author - February 1941

A load of clothes came in from Schubin. I managed to get a shirt at last; it was white and did it feel good! I also obtained a pair of Dutch clogs. They weren’t very comfortable and were too big but at least they were drier and warmer than my old boots, or what was left of them. It was terribly cold and we often lay in our bunks listening to the wolves howling. The guards told us that they came this way from Russia when it was cold and it gave us the creeps hearing them.

One Sunday we had a treat and those who wanted to were allowed to go to Mogilno, to church. Most did and we must have looked a strange lot marching to church; most had greatcoats too big for them, there was an assortment of hats and balaclavas and most wore clogs in which it was impossible to march properly, so we just shuffled along. It made a very welcome change and a Padre had come from Schubin for the occasion.

Everybody seemed to be getting letters from home, except for me. Then, on the 19th of February, I had one from my mother! I sat on my bunk and read it and re-read it over and over again. It was a most wonderful feeling to hear from her at last and after that I started to get them more often.

sketch by the author - February 1941
sketch by the author - February 1941

Everybody was getting fed up and tempers were getting very short. The slightest thing would start a fight. It was a lot better when we were working, although when we did work we would always go as slow as we dared. I see from my diary that I had a fight but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was about or who with, so it couldn’t have been very important or about much.

After the 11th of March the weather improved a little, although it was still very cold. We started to go out on small work parties again. I was glad that we didn’t get winters like that at home.

The Fuhrer left and another took his place but he was no better than his predecessor. I received a clothing parcel from home that contained a shirt, a lovely pair of socks and a pair of shoes. The shoes were no good for working in but it was good to get out of my clogs and into them when I got back from working.

The new Fuhrer was turning out to be a real !*****! He beat up one chap for being last on parade and he would turn us out at all hours to search our rooms. I don’t know what he was looking for but the room was always left in a shambles afterwards. He opened all the tins in the Red Cross parcels and tipped all the contents into a bowl. It was a hell of a mess. Some of us managed to create a disturbance and with a couple of the guards got some of the parcels through unopened. We gave the guards some chocolate for helping us. They were some of the better ones who didn’t like the Fuhrer any more than we did, as he was as strict with them as he was with us. One of them of course, was Willie.

I had been having trouble with toothache and managed to get permission to go to the dentist. He apologised because he didn’t have much cocaine as it was mostly going to the troops. By hell did it hurt – it wasn’t properly numbed.

On the 23rd the Fuhrer and all the guards were replaced with a fresh lot. We were sorry to see Willie go but not most of the others. We hoped that the new lot would be better.

The weather was turning hot now and it seemed to change very quickly with little in the way of spring. I finished another model ship and sold both of them to the Polish chimney sweep who came in every now and again. He got permission from the Fuhrer and he gave me cigarettes and bread for them.

We received another Red Cross parcel, one between two, unopened this time. The new Fuhrer and guards were quite good and they didn’t bother us a lot. In fact our camp leader got permission for us to have a swim in the river but it poured with rain on the day we were going and didn’t get another chance before we left there.

We were asked for volunteers to go to the station to collect a load of personal clothing parcels. There was no shortage of volunteers but when we got the sacks back to camp and opened them they were in a right mess. All of them had been torn open and all that was left in mine was a balaclava, a pair of pants and a sewing kit. I could have wept after waiting so long for a parcel from home. There were some very angry men in camp that day. We complained to the Fuhrer but he was unable to do anything about it.

4th of June. It was very hot and we didn’t go to work and were told to pack up our things as we would be moving the next day. We had more kit by now as most of us had received clothing parcels from home and had spare clothes. It would have been nice to get a new tunic and trousers though. New boots would have been a godsend as my feet were not so good again, as the clogs chafed them badly.

We were sorry to be moving as we had got settled now and the guards were pretty good. Now the weather was better and the work wasn’t that hard most of the time. We were getting some Red Cross parcels and mail through and it was a lot better than what we went through before we had arrived here. Through the winter we had organised whist drives, had sing songs with our mouth organ band, played cards, made models and had various discussions. (These often turned into arguments.) It could have been a lot worse; we were in comfortable quarters. Even so, we got on each others nerves at times and the time went slowly. When I made my models I managed to get some cotton, paint and glue from one of the guards. He was very interested and often came into our room to see how it was coming along.

The stove in our room was on the go most of the time we were in there. When we received our food parcels and wanted to cook on it we had a “Two up” system that allowed us to cook in rotation. It was always “two up” on anything we had to share in our room and there was never any argument over that sort of thing.

The Red Cross parcels contained a packet of tea, a tin of sweetened condensed milk, a packet of biscuits, six small triangles of cheese spread in a round box, (they were always as hard as rocks though) a packet of prunes or raisins, custard powder, a tin of meat roll or bully beef, a tin of stew, blackcurrant puree, chocolate, a bar of soap, a tin of dried egg, a tin of butter, a tin of jam, a tin of bacon or sausages, a tin of tomato juice, sugar and a tin of fish. It was good propaganda. Often the Germans said to us “England Kaput!” and we would just show them what was in the parcels and asked them if England was kaput!, how come we could get these. They had nothing to say to that as they couldn’t get such things themselves.

The chimney sweep came two or three times while we were there and I have never seen anything like it. He was a Pole and dressed in black, trousers, jacket and top hat. His top hat was always full up with fags which he shared out in each room and he cleaned  the chimneys from outside, standing on the chimneys themselves. Neither of us could speak the others language but we managed to make ourselves understood to each other. He hated the Germans, as all Poles did that we met. They were a fine lot of people out there and took a lot of risks and beatings for us. They would always help if they could, slipping food to us, which was the biggest help they could give us. If it wasn’t for the food parcels and the extras from the Poles we should have been in a bad way. As it was we were still hungry most of the time.

The thunder storms out there were just fantastic. I have never seen storms like them with continual lightning and deafening thunder. It was a really frightening and marvellous sight. In one storm we had, the church spire on the convent was hit by lightning and what a crash it made. Every house had a lightning conductor fitted to the roof and they needed it.

One day a chap came running into our room and said that an accordion had come from the Stalag and asked if anyone could play it. I said that I could knock out a tune but couldn’t play it well. I went along to his room but when I got there I found that it was a button accordion, not a piano accordion, which was a lot different. I tried it but didn’t get on very well. We were very disappointed as nobody else could play it and it would have gone down well with our sing songs.

That last evening there we packed our kit so that we could carry it easily but we didn’t like going as none of us fancied going back to the Stalag. It was much better on a working party (If it was like this and not like Poznan). The time goes much quicker when you have less time to think and it was very boring in a Stalag.

Text © Copyright Derek Hunnisett 1983
The moral right of Derek Hunnisett to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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