[Note: This section of the diary begins with March 4th, 1943. For March 1st to 3rd, please see February 1943. Transcription and transcription annotations have been provided by the collection donor; some descriptive/explanatory sections were added during the revision of 1993.]
Mar 4, 1943:
Doug Robinson the rear gunner, Joe Davison, the dispatcher, Ron Jerome the flight engineer, Harry Long, the engineer trainee, Eric Ramm, wireless operator and Arnold Dawkins, the navigator were taken from the prison in handcuffs and put on a train to Paris. In Paris the handcuffs were removed and we boarded a train to Frankfurt.
Fri Mar 5, 1943:
We arrived at Frankfurt at 12:30 am. We were given barley soup at the station soup kitchen. Travelled by train and tram to Dulagluft interrogation camp. We shared a compartment towards the rear of the car with two German soldiers, our guards for the trip. Doug Robinson escorted by one of the guards went to the toilet, the guard put his foot in the doorway to prevent the door being closed and the occupant escaping out the window. When Robbie returned he seemed very amused about something but said nothing to us. Later there was a lot of angry shouting by a German officer at the rear of the car. Robinson burst out in uncontrolled laughter, when he stopped laughing he told us that he had taken a bottle of water from the table at the rear of the car. In the toilet he emptied most of the water and refilled it but not from the sink tap. He then put the bottle back on the table. The rest of the journey was fairly quiet.
INTERROGATION CAMP, DULAGLUFT, GERMANY
At 3 pm we arrived at Dulag Luft, where we were put in small cells. I was thoroughly searched, losing my A.M. Chronometer and four and a half pennies English money. We had a much needed shave. Our supper consisted of two slices of black bread and a small bit of margarine. Although there were bars on the outside the guard would not open the window which were locked. Electric radiators were controlled from the passage outside. If you complained that the cell was too hot, he turned off the power, then it was too cold. The walls were made from paste-board. There was a table and two stools. The bed was softer than the one in Tours prison. A wall of my cell had anti Nazi remarks scratched into the surface. One day a painter came in and very carefully painted along the scratches, when the paint dried it was darker and the messages were more noticeable.
Sat Mar 6, 1943:
A resume of life in the cooler - breakfast always consisted of two slices of soggy black bread smeared with some sugar beet molasses, washed down with burnt grain coffee. The noonday meal consisted of mint tea, sauerkraut, potatoes or soup. Supper - two slices of black bread, margarine and mint tea. With each meal we were issued an aluminum spoon, wooden knife and fork. To go to the lavatory one had to turn a handle protruding through the wall. This released a metal arm outside the cell and the guard opened the door. Numerous searches took place and the “V” signs scratched on the walls were kalsomined over with a darker or lighter shade, so they stood out just as plain if not plainer than before. I was interrogated three times. My picture and finger prints were taken. During the last few days I was given some books to read. My teeth are in very bad shape. The heat from the radiators is so great it weakens one.
One day I had a visitor wearing a German uniform with a Red Cross arm band. He said he was from Switzerland and was a Red Cross representative. I asked why he was wearing a German uniform. He said that it made it easier to visit prisoner of war camp. I had been told that Red Cross people travelled freely and wore civilian clothes. So this was another interrogator. During his conversation he asked if he could locate any friends for me when he toured the camps. I gave him the name Thomas McRoberts and said I had a lot of things to discuss with Tom. He looked in his book, but could not find the name so he made a note of it and said he would try to find Tom for me. Thomas McRoberts was my grandfather. He died in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1920.
Sat Mar 13, 1943:
At 7 pm tonight my crew and I were taken from our cells and put in the compound with all the other prisoners. There are 3 huts here, one for officers, another for NCO’s and the 3rd one is the cookhouse and messhall. We had supper of biscuits and cocoa. Later we had some very watery beer. Here we were greeted by a man who claimed to be the British man of confidence or some such title. He was too friendly and asked too many questions. I considered him to be another interrogator so I avoided any conversation with him.
Sun Mar 14, 1943:
Church service held this morning in the Mess Hall by a paratroop padre. I wrote two letters today.
Mon Mar 15, 1943: to Thur Mar 18, 1943:
Fri Mar 19, 1943:
The weather was fine today. Played poker. The day passed quickly. The following is a typical day’s activities: 8 am breakfast, 9 am check parade, 11 am cocoa or tea, 12:14 lunch, 4 pm tea, 5 pm check parade, 7 pm dinner, 9 pm a light supper or just a brew, 11 pm lights out. American and English Red Cross parcels and bulk food was drawn daily for 80 men - all prepared in the kitchen by the permanent staff. We took turns to do the morning fatigues of potato peeling or window cleaning. In the afternoons some of the fellows played football. Before anyone was allowed into the barbwire enclosed playing field it was thoroughly searched than the armed guards were posted.
Sat Mar 20, 1943:
Our crew had a picture taken this morning. Raining in the afternoon. Played poker most of the day. Our American friends from Tours prison arrived today. They have changed a bit. Payday, five camp marks (fifteen marks = one English pound.)
Sun Mar 21, 1943:
The weather was dull. Played poker and lost a bit. After tea I played draw poker with the Yanks and won. Two of the permanent staff gave a violin and piano concert in the Mess Hall after supper.
Mon Mar 22, 1943:
Played poker in the morning. Read a book in the afternoon. Played poker at night. Rainy part of the day
STALAG 8B LAMSDORF POLAND
Tue Mar 23, 1943:
I obtained a shirt and a pair of Yank flying boots from the stores. We leave this evening for Poland. We were given hot tea, a packet of twenty French fags and five marks. We marched down to the railway station. Here we witnessed an example of Nazi efficiency. The sixty of us were put in one carriage with wooden seats. The train, a troop train going to the Russian front, was shunted around Frankfurt for about eight hours. I didn’t sleep so well.
Wed Mar 24, 1943:
We were travelling in a passenger car of the troop train. We had a small breakfast of bread, butter and tea. Tired out sitting doing nothing, but listen to idle chatter. We passed trainloads of battered equipment returning from Russia. Saw more examples of German feminine beauty, good for breeding and very heavy work. I slept on the floor. Some of the fellows managed to sleep on the baggage racks. An uneventful journey through forests and prairie land.
Thur Mar 25, 1943:
Not so tired this morning. Played poker and shot crap. In the afternoon we watched the scenery go by. In one station we saw a trainload of Germans going to Russia, what a miserable looking lot, some of them are very young.
Mar 26, 1943:
We arrived at Lamsdorf this morning. At the railway station we saw some British soldiers going on a working party. We left the station and marched to a large building about a mile from the village. The wounded had to walk. Before entering the building we were searched and our flying boots were taken from us. In the building we were ordered to remove all our clothes and put them into some large containers. The doors of the building were then locked. We could see nozzles set at intervals in the ceiling. Was this a gas chamber? Soon jets of cold water hit us from nozzles in the ceiling. This was our first shower since leaving the squadron, but there was no soap and not towel so we air dried. Our clothes had been deloused and returned to us.
After we had dressed the guards marched us a short distance to the gates of Stalag 8 B, an army work camp with a compound for air force prisoners. Next came registration then we were marched to the R.A.F. Compound. A number of “Dieppe” Canucks gave us smokes. George Kerr, Windsor, Essex Scottish came over and gave me some fags and shaving tackle. Cec Loughlin and Don Scowen are here. I’m in Hut 16B. Each Hut is divided into “A” and “B” with a connecting washroom locked at 9 pm, lights out at 10 pm. Here we were allotted a bunk each. Some of the windows had been broken and the glass was replaced with cardboard from the Red Cross parcels. Our compound also had some French Canadians.
Lamsdorf had a long history as a prisoner of war camp. It had held French prisoners during the Franco-Prussian war. In 1914 - 1918 there were 90,000 prisoners including English soldiers. In 1939 it was named Stalag 8B and had Polish army prisoners. In April 1940 British and French prisoners, including some airforce personnel were brought here. The Canadians caught at Dieppe came later. When Italy was invade the Germans moved prisoners from Italian camps to Stalag 8B. In 1943 there were 97,000 prisoners attached to the camp.
At Dieppe the Germans claimed to have discovered some dead Germans with their hands tied or handcuffed. In reprisal they used string to tie up the Dieppers and airforce people whom they considered to be Luft gangsters. After they had collected enough handcuffs they used these instead of the string. The Dieppe compound was across the road from ours and inhabited by an active and cheerful group of men in spite of the hardship they had endured. We were issued our chains prior to morning parade, where they counted us to be sure none had flown the coop. During summer after parade we would open the handcuffs with a key that came with the bully beef cans from a Red Cross parcel, take off all our clothes to sunbathe and replace the handcuffs. We would turn up at evening parade fully clothed and wearing our handcuffs. The guards never understood how we could take our clothes off and put them back on again while still wearing handcuffs. The handcuffs were taken away after evening parade. During the colder weather we wore the chains, with our hands in our pockets. The guards didn’t realize our hands were free, as the cuffs were resting in our pockets. If we were caught without the cuffs they would wrap our wrists with chain using a padlock to keep the chain tight. We wore handcuffs for many months, then one day they were not issued. I suppose it took too many guards to watch over us and they were needed on the Russian front.
We learned that the two pilots of our aircraft had been captured in March 1943. Joe Kessel, the German in charge of our compound, kept a very close watch on our crew. We never found out why. Joe was a strict disciplinarian, if after morning parade he saw any blankets not folded properly, he would take them away. One day I left a blanket unfolded on my bunk, Joe picked up the blanket and was walking out of the hut with it. I caught up to him and after much discussion through an interpreter he gave the blanket back saying that an old man like me might freeze during the winter with only one blanket. How true, except I was not that old.
We existed on the Red Cross parcels, the German ration was a few small potatoes, a slice of black bread and a ladle of turnip soup. The Canadian parcels were the best. The small bag of course ground coffee could be boiled at least four times, dried and put back in the bag. It was then traded to a guard for something we needed. Not all guards would enter into trading. Klim tins were flattened and used to make many items such as filling a window if the glass was gone and cardboard was not suitable. Small cook stoves were made as well. Some of our bed boards were used as fuel. A still also was made to distill the German version of jam into something more palatable.
Sat Mar 27, 1943:
We were issued out chains this morning. The Dieppe Canadians, the R.A.F. are chained. Breakfast - Red Cross tea from the cookhouse, bread (not as sour as the Dulag variety) and margarine. Parade, after which we walked round the compound. Today we are unchained at 10 am. There are 10 of us at Table 6. I’m partnered up with Shack Hutt, Ben Bennett and Geordy Davison. Lunch - spuds, canned salmon, German soup and dates. After lunch I shaved my beard off, then shaved all the hair of Geordie’s head.
Sun Mar 28, 1943:
Another fine day. Ramm, Robinson and I went to the camp church at the back of the school, music by a band and an organ. A choir sang. Sent postcards today. In the afternoon we watched some seven a side rugby matches. Met some more Dieppe Canadians. After tea I read Pygmallion - GB Shaw. Our watches are put ahead an hour. We sleep on wooden bunks built in two’s, wooden bed boards take the place of springs, straw filled mattresses. Our cooking is done in large ovens which are heated with coal fires.
Mon Mar 29, 1943:
There was another little scene this morning. Joe Kessels the unter officer in charge came in at five minutes to seven to count, but everyone was still in bed. This made him mad and he started bellowing and shouting swaying his gun and screaming his head off as he ran all over the hut. Morning parade in the rain. Raining hard. Duty table today. Robinson and I had to empty the latrine buckets this morning. Morning parade in the rain. I went down to the school which is the largest English school in Germany and enquired about the various courses. Eric Ramm and I went over to the Dieppe Compound to see Kerr. Weather has got a lot worse with rain and cold. After tea there was a band concert in hut 15A, but it was too crowded to get in.
Tues Mar 30, 1943:
Not raining today. After breakfast Kerr and I strolled round our compound. I went to the camp library in the school hut, not many books there. Half of the library is for study and the other half lending. Eric Ramm and I enquired about the advertising class. We may go tomorrow. I had a small meal at noon. We received our Red Cross food parcels at 2 pm.
Wed Mar 31, 1943:
Usually we don’t wear our chains inside the hut, but keep them handy in a pocket. As soon as we step outside we put them on and always wear them outside the compound. If we are caught without them we have to stand facing the barbed wire for two hours. We are allowed on the beds from 12 - 2 pm. After the 5 pm parade that’s a barbed wire offence. If the beds aren’t tidy the blankets are taken away.