Uncle Harry and World War II

harry-young

Uncle Harry was one of the strongest influences in my childhood. He was actually my great uncle (Tom’s brother and Mum’s uncle). He was born on 24 October 1905 and died on  16 November 1991. Harry was quietly spoken and rather serious but had a sense of humor.

When I was small, Nan used to picked me up from school and I would wait at her flat for Mum to come and collect me after work. I have clear memories of Harry (and my Uncle Tom) often dropping by to visit Nan while I waited for Mum. Harry was especially interested in my academic progress and I still have books he gave me. I believe it was he who introduced me to Dickens and Trollope at a young age, and I still enjoy their works.  He was an avid reader, something he shared with Tom. With hindsight, it amazes me how articulate they were despite having had such little formal education.

Harry was called up at the start of World War 2 (because of the age difference, Tom served in World War 1 and several of his brothers in the Second World War). He was a gunner in the Royal Artillery (305th L.E.E. Searchlight Battery) and ended up serving in the Mediterranean.

harry-army

He sent the following card home for Christmas in 1940.

xmas-card-12

xmas-card-2

Harry wrote in the card: “My love and greetings to all of you and may more peaceful happier days be very, very near.”

There is also a quote from Dickens: “Many happy years, unbroken friendships and cheerful recollections.”

I have a letter that Tom wrote to him, dated Wednesday, 17 June 1942.

toms-letter

Tom wrote: “Clear the Mediterranean, Harry. At the moment it looks as if Rommel is not going to allow that to happen, not awhile anyway. He seems a wise owl but no doubt he will come unstuck shortly. That new gun he has got has certainly helped him. Still, the battle has only been on a week so our lads still can paste him. It must be murder in those tanks in this weather. They are bad enough wobbling along the roads. We are all hoping that you can manage to stay in your present abode or keep to your original place of residence since your landing for I should not like to see you on the move towards Libya. No doubt there will be plenty of reserves sent there if we have received a lot of casualties for the wireless has given it out about the losses being heavy on both sides. “Who stopped General Wavell over a year ago from going on further than Benghazi?” The question was asked in Parliament a few weeks ago. None of this would have been on now. Still, we shall keep blundering our way through, I suppose… [Brother] Len is sending you some books today. You must have quite a library out in your part now… I wonder how long it will be before you get your other pip [promotion to rank of ?] … If you get around Sidi Beach [in Thessalonika, northern Greece, close to where Tom fought in WWI] or Alex[andria, Egypt], have a pint down to me.”

Four days after Tom wrote the letter, Rommel captured Tobruk, a strategically important port in Libya that the British had captured from the Germans in January 1941. Harry was taken prisoner around that time and spent the next nearly three years as a POW.

In another letter, dated 8 July, (Grandad) Tom wrote to (Uncle) Tom [who served in the Air Force and was stationed in Khartoum] that:

“We had some bad news this morning. Poor old Harry is reported missing. My one hope is that he is a prisoner of war, which I am pretty confident that he is… The date Harry is reported as missing  from is 21st June… the same day as Tobruk fell or surrendered. There were 25000 of our boys taken then, so I think it is a pretty safe bet that Harry was amongst them. Today we have had two letters from Harry, one dated the 8th May and another the 10th May. In one he states he is up the field and looking forward to his leave. Poor chap, he has got it.

The remarkable thing is this. The last letter received by air mail from Harry, which Gran had last week, was  dated the 8th June. Harry was posted as missing on the 21st June  and today is only the 8th July, a month to the day of Harry last writing. It looks very much to me as if Harry was sent up for the defense of Tobruk. It comes into line with Harry’s capture, if capture it is.

If we can get another letter from Harry, posted after the 21st June, we shall have to think of something after Tobruk. ..  I wish one of us had been with him. Perhaps his brother-in-law, who is in the same battalion, has got away and will send a telegram.”

Two days later, Tom wrote again:

“Since writing the last letter, we have heard that Harry’s brother-in-law is also missing. We also had two more letters from Harry saying he had moved up the line with the South Africans [2nd Infantry Division, also captured at Tobruk].”

From what I have read on the Internet, Harry would have been shipped to Italy and spent some time in a camp in the north of the country. When Italy surrendered, he appears to have been transferred to a stalag in Lower Saxony.

On the Internet, I found the extremely interesting recollections of another soldier, Peter Walker (go here). He seems to have been in the same camps as Harry. I now quote from his fascinating story:

“One night a fleet of ambulances turned up outside the camp and we were on the move again, eight to an ambulance, with what hand luggage we could pack in the time allowed… [At a] French railway station on the Franco-Italian border…we got on the train that was to take us to sunny Italy. We went through Turin, Alessandria, to Modena and arrived at the little town of Carpi in the Po Valley.  From there we marched to our next home for nine months.  This was the Italian POW camp – Campo Concentramento di Prigionieri di Guerra No. 73.

The camp was large – capable of holding about 6,000 prisoners – and quite new.  Constructed for prisoners taken at Tobruk and El Adem in the summer of 1942, it held British, Australian and South African troops.

The food from the Italians was marginally better than what we had received in France and consisted of an artificial coffee drink with a small baguette type loaf of maize bread first thing in the morning, followed by about a pint of rather watery minestrone soup at midday and again in the evening the same soup.  Red Cross parcels were only one between two men per week.  As a result of the shortage of solid food the camp was busy at night with people tripping to the latrines.

In Hut 23 the main way of passing time was in conversation, reading when one was lucky enough to get hold of a book, and a pastime that was new to us ex-internees, cracking lice between two thumb nails.

In the spring we played a very vigorous form of touch rugby.  The soccer players in the camp thought that we were mad and, as we played all through the summer, so did the Italian guards.  We enjoyed it though.  The hut 23 ‘Wasps’ playing in army vests, dyed yellow with a stripe of black round the middle, became the Champions of Settore 1.

After the invasion of Sicily and the Allied assault on Italy, the prisoners expected a backlash from the Italians, though none came.  After the capitulation of Italy on the 8th of September 1943, the camp inmates received orders to stay and await liberation by Allied forces, but the day after the Italian guards had fled, the camp was surrounded by German armoured cars.

We were ordered to pack up what we could carry and were then marched to the nearest railway siding where awaiting engines stood… We were ordered into these – about 50 men to a truck with a loaf of bread and a bit of cheese per man.  As soon as the train was loaded it set off on its journey to Germany.

Peter was taken to Stalag IV ‘F’ at Hartmannsdorf near Chemnitz.  It was a huge camp with several thousand prisoners of different nationalities.  The camp seemed unprepared for new arrivals and they were penned in a compound until the next day.

The next morning the Germans began processing us in groups of a hundred.  We had our heads shaved… the next stage was delousing and bathing, where we stripped and our clothes went through a stoving machine to kill any lice, whilst we were painted with delousing ointment in all our private places and passed forward into the shower.  Here we had a soapless shower and dried ourselves as best we could on the bits of cloth which the Germans provided.  We were then reunited with our clothes and possessions, got dressed and the processing continued.

Having noted our army number the Germans then gave us our German Prisoner of War number.  I now became No. 247892.  It seems such a little thing but after the first few days as a POW had passed I think that this was one of the most depressing things to have happened.  I no longer felt to be a British soldier but rather a German POW.

After having been given our numbers we were next finger-printed and photographed with our numbers in front of us.  When the processing was complete we were admitted to the British prisoners’ compound and allotted a hut.

Soon after their arrival, Red Cross parcels began to arrive weekly and morale in the camp improved.  The inmates talked about their wartime experiences and their plans for the future and in the Spring of 1944, some brass musical instruments arrived and a small band was established.  The evening concerts became very popular.

These concerts soon caught the attention of the German civilians taking their evening strolls and their numbers soon attracted the attention of the German authorities.  The guards were ordered to make us put blankets up on the barbed wire, the sight of British POWs enjoying themselves was not good for the German morale, or so they thought.  D-Day gave a big boost to our morale which had already started rising with the turn of the tide and the increasing severity of the bombing of German cities, even the Polish slaves looked happier in their misery.

As the early months of 1945 passed, the daylight sky on many days was filled with the lace like tracery of the condensation trails of American planes on their daylight raids.  This was a beautiful sight, both visually and from the point of view of morale, tinged with a great sadness when one of these spearheads burst into silver fire and started twisting downwards to earth like a falling leaf.  Sometimes little toy-like parachutes could be seen floating down in the distance but other times there was just a flash and then nothing.

With the increased air-raids the prisoners were made to dig trenches.  On one occasion a bomb was dropped about half a mile from the camp, after a raid on Dresden, but no-one was harmed.  By the end of February the bombing of transport facilities affected the delivery of mail and parcels. On the 21st of April, the Americans arrived.

There were scenes of wild rejoicing as an American tank and two jeeps came driving up the valley to the camp gates, and the odd tear as their crews were greeted, – five years had been a long time.  Our two guards had now disappeared into the countryside with our blessing, as they had not been so bad on the whole.

The Americans provided K rations and gave orders for them to remain and keep order between the foreign and slave workers.

On the 25th of April the Americans told us to commandeer what transport we could and then make our way to Gera, where we could be picked up by army trucks and taken to Erfurt to be flown from there as soon as an aircraft was available.  The next morning the convoy set off, several vehicles crammed with very happy British soldiers.  Reaching Gera by early evening after a very pleasant drive in warm, spring weather we were billeted in private houses for the night.  What a luxury it was to sleep in a proper bed after all these years – even if it was a rather peculiar German bed.

The next morning we climbed up into big, three-ton, American trucks driven by the Transport Corps, who drove long hours on what was known as the ‘Red Ball highway’, a route reaching back to the stores depots in France.  On this highway they had complete right of way but were now becoming extremely tired.  We were bowling along quite nicely towards Erfurt when, all of a sudden, the truck started to lean to the right and after a few moments the lean became more and more pronounced until eventually the truck came to a halt, remarkably gently, on its side with everybody inside all of a jumble.  The driver had dropped asleep at the wheel but fortunately the roadside ditch was wide but not very deep and our descent was very gradual.  The driver was woken by the accident and we soon managed to get the truck back on the road and resumed our journey.

They arrived at Erfurt in the late afternoon of the 26th of April and a nominal roll was taken.  The next morning they were flown to Brussels and then to England.”

This very vivid account gives a good idea of what life must have been like for Harry as a POW. This is a letter he wrote from Germany, dated 7 March 1944.

stalag-letter-3stalag-letter-4

stalag-letter-1stalag-letter-2

As mentioned by Peter Walker, Stalag IV F was located in Hartmannsdorf, near Chemnitz and the Czech border.

Long before there was email, there was V Mail (read about it here). It looked like what I used as a teenager to write letters from Spain (an international something-or-other). You wrote the text on one side, the address on the other, and then folded and sealed it.  The following picture is of a V mail that Harry sent to his sister Betty from France after he was released. It is dated 23 April 1945 (the date coincides with Peter Walker’s mention of the Americans arriving at the camp on 21 April). Harry had been overseas for 4-5 years and his mother had died while he was a POW.

v-mail-1

v-mail-21

The text reads:

“Dear Betty,

Am now released and staying temporarily in an American reception centre in France. Have been released eight days and during that period have travelled back from Germany, staying at various places. I hope to be on leave within seven to ten days but will send you more information from the reception centre in England. I have written to Mr. Bond who will advise Kathleen [his wife]. The Americans are treating us wonderfully well and give us everyhting we need. I am quite fit and well and hope you and all the family are the same. Please inform Len and Tom.

Yours affectionately,

Harry”

Advertisements
This entry was posted in My journey, Tom and Ethel (Tom Bladon and Ethel Lockyer Morris). Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Uncle Harry and World War II

  1. David Holder says:

    Thank you for making this information available on the web. My father was also captured in Tobruk and was held as a POW in Italy and then Stalag IV-F. He never spoke about his experiences (except displaying a dislike of Italians) so I knew very little of his history. The few souveniers we had of his time in WW2 were stolen from a local musuem, so I have only just found out where he was held, by using the POW records now available on ancestry.co.uk.

    David

  2. thebarrowboy says:

    Hi, David. It was a very British reaction, I think, not to speak about it. All “stiff upper lip.” I just watched a BBC documentary on the children evacuated in WW2 and it was heartbreaking. No one seems to have told their story either.

  3. Moira Palmer says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to make the information about your uncle available. Like David Holden, my Dad was also taken prisoner in Tobruk. Unfortunately he died when I was 21 and before that he told us very little about his time as a POW. I do, however, remember him telling me that one Christmas the guards gave them a guitar and a football. he also mentioned the guards running away when the Americans arrived.

  4. thebarrowboy says:

    Hi, Moira. I find it all fascinating. You can understand them not wanting to talk about their experiences but so many questions remain unanswered.

  5. John Sutter says:

    Thank you for publishing your site. Like previous replies my father very rarely spoke of his wartime experiences and your site has helped me to add pieces to my understanding of my father’s war. I hope to put it up as a web site, (but don’t expect it soon), and will include things like a menu for Stalag IV-F and a couple of letters.

  6. thebarrowboy says:

    Hi, John. I look forward to more people providing information in the future. With the resources available today, it should be possible.

  7. Moira Palmer says:

    Do you know if anything remains of the prison camp? I have searched on line for the town – it seems very small. I wondered if they have a museum or a memorial of some sort.

  8. thebarrowboy says:

    Hi, Moira. No, I don’t. I searched as much as could on the Internet but I don’t speak German.

  9. David Holder says:

    Moira,

    There is a recent picture from the site of Stalag 4F at the end of this newsletter:

    The only other reference I could find to it is in Walter Armstrong’s diary here:

  10. steve collins says:

    it was good to read about other pow held at stalag 4f as my father was held there also ,he was captured on one of the greek islands ,it might have been cos or leros,he also did not speak of the war, only when asked how he got captured he would reply i did not run fast enough.ive traced his camp number but would love to know more.

  11. thebarrowboy says:

    Hi, Steve. It’s like finding pieces to a jigsaw. Hopefully, more testimonies will emerge in the years ahead.

  12. David Beaney says:

    Many thanks for sharing the contents of your Uncle Harry’s letter. My Grandfather was POW No. 249810 at Stalag camp IV F, he was captured at Tobruk and the info you provided gives me an insight into the experiences he went through. I noted from his POW record that he was registered as a General… mum always told us that he was Colonel… has your research found that it was common practice to exaggerate your rank or could he really have been a general?

  13. thebarrowboy says:

    Hi, David. Thanks for your comment. I have no idea about your grandfather’s rank. It could be an error but it could just as easily be true. If you’re in the UK, it should not be too difficult to find out.

  14. Pauline Groves says:

    It is only this week that the family have discovered that dad was at Chemnitz and like one of your previous correspondents was captured at Leros. He was only there for just over a year as he managed to escape and reached American Lines after 2 weeks. We don’t have any details as like so many others did not talk of his experiences.

    His name was William Alfred Locker and he served with the London Irish Fusileers. I have a small exercise book, with notes, songs and poems written by him and fellow prisoners, but not names of the authors. One of which hopes that The story of the Greek Islands will go down in history, but unfortunately these soldiers seem to be the forgotten heros of WW2

    Dad died 16 years ago, but his experiences of his time as a POW stayed with him ( not just physically) and being deprived during the war made him appreciate all the little things in life. We are now, as I keep reading like everybody else trying to fit the jigsaw puzzle together.

  15. thebarrowboy says:

    Hi, Pauline. Thanks for your comment. Forgotten heroes is right. I’m amazed that younger generations in Britain know so little about their recent history. A couple of months ago, a man in his 30s told me that the only history he had studied at school was the period involving Henry VIII.

  16. Kevin Baxter says:

    Many thanks for the stories and information on stalag 4F (Hartmansdorf) . My late father , Gerald Baxter (Signalman and platoon runner for South African 2nd Infantry Div) was a POW there . He was captured , escaped and then recaptured . Should anyone have any documents/recollections/photographs , I would be very appreciative if they could supply me with copies .
    Kind regards
    Kevin Baxter

  17. thebarrowboy says:

    Thanks for leaving a comment, Kevin. I hope more people will contribute information in the future.

  18. Thanks so much , I have so enjoyed reading , & seeing all your photos , I did just write a substantial amount here & “lost it ” …. $%%^ !!! So just briefly I lived in Moodkee Street behind the “old town hall ” Lower Rd across from St Olives hos. ( born Nov 1941 ,) ..remember as a little girl the bombed sites & playing .. ..went to Albion St Pri.School ..then Credon rd, hthen onto Shoreditch tech, for garment trades . ..So many child hood memories , would like to talk about .. ( my Nan lived in Brunel Rd , nr Rotherhithe Station , but right across from the “Adam & Eve pub ) … my dad was one of 13 children .. so it was a bit crowded for them all growning up , 7 they were all 6footers …. My G.dad died in his 50’s .. so my nan a widow as long as i can remember …. My bro & I went to see her every sunday , along with our cousins ( they went to collect money ) we never did , we knew she did’nt have much ,,, but we liked going any way…. My bro & I went to St Mary’s church , he was a choir boy there to, for a while .. me a Brownie @ Christchuch Jamaica rd .
    Many happy childhood memories , all the parks , Southwark park , St James Jam.Rd the slide our fave .. Greenwich when we got older … , sat morn, pictures …the Trocette … Roxy , thru’ the tunnel ( walking & saving our money ) … salvaging newspapers , selling them , going to the pictures ( the Rialto , ‘the Blue ‘ }…. wow so innocent back then.

    My dad was a very well read man , a bookcase filled with complete collections of Dickens , all the classics , & we were schooled After school ..on reading , geog, history ,, & gen, knowledge , & QUIZZED afterwards !!
    Also we were not allowed to talk “slang ” & ridiculed at Albion st. from other children , be cause we talked “posh ” …… but we were ok we just got used to saying “we speak properly ” , My Dad was & still is MY HERO , he was the best , my dad was in the “rag trade ” he was a factory manger , also owned his own manufacturing co..( rag trade ) but his work killed him too at a young age of 56 .. ..My Mum too was fabulous , she worked too , she was a seamstress by trade , , worked hard all her life , a bit of a cockney ..at heart , she passed in 2002.. lived her last yrs in Rupack st , nr St.Mary’s …

    My first job , was London John lewis Oxford St 1956& 15yrs of age , went into the gown dept .. loved it ,,,met an American… went to llive in the U.S 1961, had 3 beautiful children and have journeyed back and forth living in both countries , off & on . ( & now from Nov 89 , till present . living in Tampa Florida …. always come back most every year to England for holiday’s ..this is where my heart is , so …I have decided , that altho’ i have a very nice life here i want to come back to the the UK & live the rest of my life that God gives me .. I am still in good shape & health ( its the genes !!) My 2 daughters live her so i can come over & visit .. the good news is my son is moving back too…he is such an Anglophile!….. so I cant wait till next year ..(2013)… , & enjoy London all the history , , enjoy all the beautiful parks ..& just “stop 7 smell the roses ..while i can !!

    I am going to be living in kent where i lived before I moved over her in “89 , i have many close friends , 7 my brother , his family all living fairly near too.

    Sorry i have gone on a bit .. but wandering down memory lane , the nostalgia , & reading your lovely writings , pictures , brought it all back to me.
    Thanks again so much . .

  19. thebarrowboy says:

    Hi, Christine. Thanks for the comment. You certainly wandered far afield too. I love to hear people’s stories, so thanks again for writing. Best regards, Peter

  20. les says:

    Hi
    I enjoyed reading of your uncle Harry, My grt uncle Harry was also at Hartmannsdorf, Saxony,. Many thanks for the information regarding living conditions and general life in the camp.

  21. thebarrowboy says:

    Hopefully more information will come to light in the future.

  22. Anne Ingham says:

    Hi I have only just seen this site but like so many other people,my dad was also a POW in Italy and then in Stalag 1V f . He told me snippets but not much really -too painful to talk about it. He was Scottish and a Sapper in the Royal Engineers. His name was John Suttie and I would be thrilled if anybody has any further information. Thank you. Anne Ingham nee Suttie

  23. Kay Enk says:

    Like your Uncle my Dad was captured by the Italians before initally being transferred to 4B and finally 4F. Dad told me just before he died that after liberation he and some friends walked down the railway line and found a concentration camp. I have only actually been able to verify his story two days ago as originally I could only find him in 4B but found secreted between the pages in his diary a Red Cross Parcel slip which has him at 4F in February 45. He never spoke about this to anyone except me, and it was only three weeks before he died. My Dad was Christopher SA Tennant, could have well be known by his nickname of Dixie and his Red Cross Parcel buddy was “Dusty” Miller who came from the West Country.

  24. thebarrowboy says:

    Thank you for contributing that piece of information; it puts things in a different light. My Uncle Harry was a kind, gentle man but a real loner. I have always wondered how scarred his experiences left him.

  25. David Holder says:

    I visited Hartmannsdorf in June as I was at a conference in Dresden with work. The remaining building from the camp (which had been part of the dye factory that was on the site originally) has been demolished. There is a stone on the site of the building with a plaque which mentions what was at the site beforehand. You can see a video of its unveiling here: http://www.kabeljournal-chemnitzer-land.de/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2203. The railway station is also currently being demolished. I have some photographs which I would upload to this blog if I knew how to do it!

  26. thebarrowboy says:

    Hi, David. Thanks for that very interesting information. If you send me the photos (mrbrownlow1@gmail.com), I’ll post them. I’ll send you an email as well as this message through the blog. Best regards, Peter.

  27. thebarrowboy says:

    Hi, David. Thanks for the photos et al. I’m so out of practice with the blog that I can’t remember how to do things. I think I have to create a new blog entry for the photos.

  28. Edith Morgan says:

    Hi David,
    Thank you for posting this information.
    My dad, John Kindred, was also a pow at Stalag 4F after being captured inTobruk and then taken to a camp in Italy and them to Hartmannsdorf. We are going to Chemnitz – Harmannsdorf in the fall and if you know a street address for the stone and plaque and / or railway station it would be of great help.
    Are there any other remnants of the camp in the area ? I know my dad worked in a mine when he was there.

  29. David Holder says:

    There are no remains of the camp left. The stone is at the site of the camp headquarters building at Ziegelstraße 1, 09232 Hartmannsdorf (https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Ziegelstra%C3%9Fe+1,+09232+Hartmannsdorf,+Germany/@50.8856076,12.7985958,15z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x47a7392ea820cfe7:0x13831927f78570fd?hl=en) whilst the railway station was (it may be gone now!) on Bahnhofstraße 33 (https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Bahnhofstra%C3%9Fe+33,+09232+Hartmannsdorf,+Germany/@50.87772,12.81749,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x47a738c49efa8011:0xefeb5dac5f0cb4f8?hl=en).
    The camp headquarters building was originally the offices belonging to a dye factory, the remains of which can still bee seen if you walk down Untere Haupstraße from where it crosses Ziegelstraße.
    I think POWs got involved in loading coal onto trains but I don’t know anything about where the mine actually was.
    Good luck with your trip! David

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s