Diaries Dog tag

The Lost Six Years 1939-1945

Derek Hunnisett

Neubrandenburg Hospital Stalag

Wednesday the 21st of February. I was very sick by now but it was good to be under a roof again and to be dry and warm. This was an American Stalag with American and Italian permanent P.O.W.s, but it seemed to have been turned into a hospital camp, more or less. Men kept drifting in, French, Belgians and Dutch as well and most of them were sick or exhausted. We were housed in long huts kitted out with two tiered bunks down each side. Each nationality was in a separate part of the camp. The food wasn’t any better than what we had been used to in all the other camps but on the 22nd we had a food parcel between three, on the 23rd one between four and then on the 24th a Yankee parcel each. I couldn’t touch anything for over a week but lived on burnt toast and something horrible the M.O. gave me. It was lovely staying in bed for a while. I didn’t have to go outside for roll calls; they came inside and counted us in bed. I caught up on my lost sleep.

On the 5th of March I met up with Harry Spence, one of our group of six on the march, who had come to the camp, two days earlier. He was very sick and had had to be brought to the camp. I was glad to see him. He told me that the column was in a very bad state when he had left but the guards were a lot better and were taking them to different places. We stuck together after that and he was moved near to me in my hut. We also palled up with four others, Mac, Jim, Tom and Ralph, but I cannot remember their surnames.

When anyone was well enough to stand, we were made to go outside for Appel (Roll Call). A lot still couldn’t stand for long and kept sinking to the ground, much to the annoyance of the guards who still couldn’t count very well. Mac and Tom moved out on the 12th. They volunteered to go. Harry, Jim, Ralph and I didn’t; I had had enough of volunteering for things. In any case I didn’t feel very strong yet.

It was very monotonous in the camp but at least we were having a rest and getting Red Cross parcels every five or six days. They were Canadian and Yankee ones and were issued one between two. Our strength was improving every day.

We got friendly with a few Yanks but on the whole I wasn’t very keen on them. Most had been taken at Arnhem and many were a bit loud mouthed. We would swap things for cigarettes, tea, chocolate and milk mostly. One time we swapped our tins of coffee with them, but first we tipped out the coffee, three parts filled it with sand, put apiece of card on the top and then topped it up with coffee. Needless to say that didn’t last long. If they bought a tin later they used to have a good rake around inside, but it was a good fiddle while it lasted.

On Easter Sunday April the 1st there was a football match organised between the English and Italians, so we went to cheer our side on. The Yanks who we had palled up with said to take a club or something, hidden in our clothes, as sometimes there was trouble. I didn’t take a club but I had an Army belt that was a lethal weapon. It was studded with buttons and badges that I had collected over the years and was completely covered. It was a good game and there was no trouble but then the English scored right at the end. A fight started between two players that quickly spread to the spectators and soon there was a free for all between the English and Italians. The Italians produced knives so we were glad of the clubs etc. We got out of there as quickly as we could. The Yanks said “We told you so; we had the same trouble with those guys.” The Italians weren’t liked by any of us out there.

The stove in the hut wasn’t big enough for all the men to cook the food from their Red Cross parcels so we made another stove from Klim tins and did our cooking on that. We organised games with the Yanks, or at least others did. I didn’t go in for them as I didn’t think I would last them out. I was happier to watch and we never had any trouble with them.

We would spend a lot of time just walking around the barbed wire compound talking of what we would do when we got home, and what we would buy to eat. I always said that I would buy a fresh, hot white loaf, cut it down the middle and put half a pound of butter and a pound of cheese in it! (I never did though.)

We spent a lot of time with the Yanks who we palled up with, talking of all sorts of things. One of them who I got particularly friendly with was, James B Bell of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He gave me his address and said that he would like me to go and see him when the war was over. He said his father owned a farm over there. He broke his leg as he landed, when parachuting into Arnhem and was picked up by the Germans. It couldn’t have been set very well as he had a very bad limp.

The guards didn’t bother us a lot apart from at roll calls. We would get them a bit exasperated at times. As we lined up in fives, we would close up as much as we could and then, when they had counted and passed us, some of the chaps at the back would bend down and sprint to the end of the rows so they were counted twice, resulting in the Germans coming up with a lot more men than they should have. We would also do it the other way around so they would be short on the numbers. There would be a lot of counting, re counting and discussions, much to our amusement. They found out what we were doing, in the end, and made us spread out a bit so they could see through the ranks to the back. They got a bit mad when they found out but nothing came of it. I think they were getting a bit scared by now as we heard rumours about the Russians pushing hard and the British and Americans advancing towards Germany.

By the end of April the weather was getting very hot and we spent a lot of time sunbathing when we weren’t on roll calls or getting our watery stew for dinner. About four men had to collect the dinner from the cookhouse in large bins. At tea time the black bread would be dished out with some jam, or what have you. I was getting brown again, what with lying in the sun and walking round and round the compound. All the mail had stopped and I hadn’t heard from home for months. The last letter I had received was at the beginning of January. I was feeling a lot better but still didn’t have the energy to play games. I did have one game of football but was very glad when it was over. I felt whacked and I never had another game.

One thing that was very unwelcome was that we were becoming lousy again. We hadn’t seen any while we were on the farm, only fleas, and I would far prefer the fleas to the lice; they were filthy things. Another problem was that I didn’t have any clean clothing to put on.

On the 27th of April at mid morning I was sunbathing and talking to Harry when somebody came running up shouting “The guards are packing up and moving out!” We all dashed out to the wire and sure enough they were all marching off and leaving us. We gave them a rousing cheer, “Get a move on or the Ruskies will get you.” They didn’t look at all happy. The Camp Officer called us all out on parade and said, “Men it is very nearly over, the Russians will soon be here now, but just because there are no guards now, don’t go outside the camp under any circumstances. There are troops all around us; we will be a lot safer just staying put and waiting. In the meantime everybody is to get stuck in and dig trenches in the compounds.” We spent the rest of the day digging trenches and had two and a half food parcels per man issued to us. We all felt very happy and worked with a will, knowing that it was coming to an end at long last.

It was April the 28th and we heard the guns in the distance and they were getting closer all the time. That evening we put all our things together and went into the trenches. During the night there were rockets going right over us; that was the first time we had seen or heard rockets. The planes going overhead were huge four engined bombers and we had never seen anything like them before either. It was like hell's inferno all night long but after a while I went to sleep for a short time. My mates couldn’t understand how I could sleep through the racket, but I did. We seemed to be right in the middle of the battle, with tracer and firing going in both directions, but not one shell or bomb fell on the camp. How I don’t know; each side must have known we were there. We didn’t see anything of the Armies but it wasn’t a pleasant night, having the bombardment going on and being able to do nothing but sit tight and keep our fingers crossed that nothing dropped on us. Eventually the shelling stopped in our area but it still went on as the Russians advanced past us. Still we saw nothing but, as it was quieter, we climbed out of the trenches and stood by the wire, but it was too dark to see anything. There were flames from something burning in lots of places further out and we could hear the sound of armoured vehicles passing.

Text © Copyright Derek Hunnisett 1983
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