I recently rediscovered bits of Grandad’s journal (aka Pop David) from his life as a soldier fighting for the Allies against the Germans and Italians in Europe during World War 2. After working through what I could make out, I decided to share some of what he wrote. Some of what he experienced. Some of what his family and others might find interesting.
This is what he wrote…
In the evening we received word to destroy all our weapons as the allies had thrown in the towel and Tobruk was now in the hands of the advancing Germans. Sadly we did as we were told and destroyed all our weapons as well as food.
Early the next morning we were surprised by the sudden arrival of four German Mark 4 tanks of the 21st Panzer division of which Romel was the commander. As we were searched, we were told to keep walking until we reached Tobruk where all the other troops were.
On passing one of the tanks, a German officer asked me if there were any mines on the road below and of course I answered no, knowing that the road was indeed mined. After walking a few hundred yards there was a terrific explosion. Looking around I saw only smoke some tanks tracks.
Realizing that I would be in trouble if any of the tank crew survived, I took off as fast as I could. Fortunately, no-one came after me.
After some time I reached the main group of captured soldiers.
Life from then on was pretty grim. There was little food or water. We had to scrounge for everything. Sitting there, thinking about my misfortune, I realized that being a prisoner of war was the last thing I wanted.
We had received, just before the surrender, half a dozen four-wheeled drive Jeeps which the enemy had captured. Since they did not know how to use them, they wanted six of us to show them how to operate the trucks with the promise of food, water, and cigarettes. To a hungry man, this seemed quite a good offer, after all, we only had to show them how to use the vehicles. Six of us accepted the offer not knowing that the Germans had something else up their sleeves.
We soon found out that they wanted us to drive the trucks ourselves, taking supplies to the advancing German troops headed for Alexandria.
When we realized what our mission would be, we asked for permission to go and get some of our kit to take with us. They agreed to let us go. We were escorted by six men who gave us 30 minutes to go and collect our kit. As soon as we left them, we lost ourselves amongst the other troops so that they could not find us. After this, our troubles really started as we were handed over to the Italian forces.
What a ragtime army!
After collecting our possession they loaded us up and sent us to Derna. When we arrived we were placed in an old cemetery which had a high stone wall. There we were inspected by none other than the little corporal Mussolini.
What a little creep!
From Derna we were taken to Bengga [I could not make out exactly the name of the town he wrote]. We were put into camps with open toilets. They were just big holes dug into the grounds of the camp. The camp was full of disease.
Men died each day from the conditions.
Fortunately, some of us were taken to Italy. Many never made it.
On arriving in Italy, I was sent to a reprisal camp known as Camp 65. Whenever the camp officials decided to attack someone, it was taken out on us. One morning we were chased out of the room into the snow, barefoot. After a couple of hours in the snow, we were told to go back inside and settle down. Then we were chased out again. I decided that this camp was no place for me.
No food, fleas, and lice by the thousands.
Life was miserable for us so I decided to make a break for it. I worked out a plan which I explained to a captain who was in the camp with us. He agreed and said he would try and get me extra rations for a couple of weeks. Things however changed since there was a call for farmers to the north of Italy and farm. What an opportunity! The Swiss border wasn’t very far away. Maybe I could make it there.
I decided to become a farmer. What I knew about farming was that it was very dangerous, but I accepted it and departed to a camp int he north, close to Venice. Life there was much better. Better food and sleeping situations too. We were mixed with the farm workers cutting wheat, filling bags and carrying them upstairs to the storage. I was rather happy there. That was until I heard that the allies had landed in Cicily.
From that time on I started thinking of escape again.
We bribed the farmer workers with the little we had and they kept us informed. From the time the allies arrived the guards were very different to us. By this, we knew that the allies were having success after success. As soon as we knew we would be taken to camps in Germany, so my friend Frank and I decided to escape because Germany was not for us.
The walk from where we were to the allies was approximately 800 miles and would take us 3 months. The walking was tough: Hiking in the bushes, up and down mountains, crossing freezing rivers, walking many miles barefooted without food and missing being capture by the skin of our teeth. things were very hairy at times.
I didn’t realize at the time, but someone else was watching over us.
We got out out situation impossible for humans to accomplish on their own.