The following account was provided by David Parsons, his son.
I was conscripted into the army on 18th April 1940 and after a short period of training at Blandford Army Camp Dorset, I was posted to a Lancashire Regiment 154 Battery 52nd Light ack ack (Bofor guns) and on 9th September I was in Egypt and still hadn’t seen a Bofor’s gun. We were then sent to Greece and were stationed to guard an airfield just outside Athens. When the Germans attacked we were told to move to a port called Argos where we were bombed continually by Stuka’s, eventually we ran out of ammunition and we were told to ‘blow’ our guns. There were ships anchored about ˝ mile from the quay waiting to take us off however we had to take our turn to be ferried in flat bottomed boats out to them. I got into one of them at about 5.00 am and we were about half way out to them when they all up-anchored and sailed away.
When we returned to shore we were told to go to ‘T’ beach, as far south as we could go (Kalamata) where boats would come in on 28th or 29th April. It was on that long walk that I came across a sailor who was soaking wet and shivering so I gave him my greatcoat, but I unfortunately forgot that I had a tin of bully beef in one of my pockets and I had lost sight of the chap. We got to ‘T’ beach about 8.30 in the morning of 28th and at about 9.30 the first Germans turned up and commenced sniping us, most of the Germans were paratroopers.
This little village, which is what it was, was located at the foot of a hill and there were about 3000 of us there besides the inhabitants. We had about 100 rifles between the lot of us, so we were hoping that the ships would hurry and turn up. However they didn’t turn up that night so we had to keep our heads down and hope for tomorrow. However the 29th only brought more sniping from the hill above the village and we were just hanging on hoping that the ships would come that night, but they never did. The Germans that night sent a captured Brigadier under a flag of truce, with a message stating that if we didn’t surrender they would bomb the village together with the villagers until it was flattened; so about 10.00 that night the Brigadier marched us out into captivity.
We were marched back to Argos and after two days marched to Corinth and put into little buildings where the Greeks had kept their Italian POW’s and that’s where I first saw lice. As I remember it was beautiful weather, really hot; and all of us after a couple of days were taking off our clothes trying to kill all the lice and their eggs. We had no means of washing ourselves and all we had to eat was a cupful of watery rice every day for the 6 weeks we were there. Most of us had various stages of dysentery and it was not until about 5 weeks I found one of my school friends, George Tucker at the back of the place together with about 15 other chaps who came from the Weymouth area. I remember he gave me a packet of cigarettes, the first I had since capture.
Eventually we were marched in groups of about 50 through a nearby village and down to the sea, but first they made us remove all our clothes which they put into a large steam oven. Whilst the clothes were steamed and dried we were given pieces of cloth which we put on like nappies and at the seaside we were sprayed all over including our hair after which we ran as quickly as we could into the sea because the stuff they had sprayed us with burnt like hell. That killed the lice for a while.
When the Corinthian bridge was repaired we were marched to Athens this was a very long march and by the time we reached it we were like a bunch of stumbling zombies. From there we boarded cattle trucks and were entrained and after several stops ended up in Salonika which was a large town in northern Greece. There in a POW camp we were given a bowl of some sort of split pea soup once a day with some meat, it tasted better than the rice. What we didn’t know was that the split peas which were floating on the top of the soup were in fact weevils. After staying in Salonika for about 4 days, we were again put aboard the cattle trucks about 60 men to a truck each with a blue mildew loaf, which had been stored for some time and a piece of dried salt fish. We were also told to fill our water bottles as it would be a while before we were allowed out of the trucks. We stayed in the trucks for about 5 days and they kept shunting us off into sidings to allow the army trains to take priority. Each truck had a small opening in the corner of the floor for our natural functions, there was about 12 trucks comprising the train (about 600 men).
We were very pleased when we stopped at last at a place called Liebnitz which was as far as we understood, somewhere near Graz and was supposed to be the main POW camp in the south of Austria.
We had arrived at Stalag XVIII-A, where I was given my POW number 4209 and inoculated, what for I never knew, all I knew was that the needle was blunt by the time it got to me. After about 4 days about 100 of us were picked out and sent by train to a little town called Radkersburg by then we were a right mixture in fact I didn’t know any of the others, we were Scots, Welsh, English New Zealanders and Australians. We were there to repair and build roads. At about 5.00am we had a small piece of brown bread and ersatz coffee and then marched to work on the road, at about midday we had a boiled potato in its jacket together with water. By the time we marched back to the camp it could be about 8.30pm, the trouble was the further the roadwork extended the further we would have to walk each day, therefore we had to start earlier and end later. We worked Monday to Saturday and on Sunday we washed and dried our clothes also we cleaned the camp, for all our work we were given POW Deutsche Marks and if I remember rightly it was 7 Marks a week, however we had to hand back 4 Marks to pay for the buildings we lived in and our bunk beds and bedding, this left us with 3 marks to buy soap matches and cigarettes etc. We were digging those roads for about two months. It was there I very nearly got shot; besides the guards who were stationed about every 50 yards along the side of the road, there was one steamroller and driver and a civilian who was in charge of the actual road building. This man was a complete *&%$!$ and very excitable and to make matters worse I was the smallest man there and every time something went wrong he always seemed to single me out, shouting at me fortunately or unfortunately I could not understand a word he was saying, so I never took much notice of him. However one day he approached me from behind shouting and went to grab my shovel and I thought he was going to hit me with it, so I tried to give him a back hander, I missed but the guards saw it and they all brought their rifles to their shoulders ready to fire, as soon as the rest of the prisoners saw this they raised their shovels at the guards. For a while there was a bit of a standoff, however, our interpreter called out to the guards and everything was smoothed over but I was made to stand on the side of the road with a guard for the rest of the day. When we returned to the camp things were sorted out and that was the end of the matter, however the chap who was the first to raise his shovel was a New Zealander called Snowy TROY (John Dermot); he was a chap about 6ft tall and broad with it, unfortunately about six or seven months later at a different job at Weinberg he was shot and killed by a guard just because he was arguing with him. After we finished the road we were split up again and sent to different jobs.
I and about 50 others were sent to Weinberg where we put to digging irrigation ditches for the farmlands, these ditches were about 20 ft deep and 20ft wide at the top tapering to about a foot wide at the bottom with wooden planks laid into the bottom to aid the water flow. The tops of the ditch were rounded and turfed from turfs taken from the grasslands nearby, this job lasted for about another few months. After that 20 of use were sent to work on farms nearby whilst the remaining 30 were sent elsewhere.
We used to have a bit of fun with the guards because we met some POW’s from the next village and they had the means to get up to date news from a pro-British farmer’s radio. We used to spread the news to all the work groups which then got back to the guards who would then search our room and in all the mess we used to stand and cheer. We knew they would never find a radio we thought that was good fun even though all are belongings were in a mess. When poor ‘Snowy’ was killed we were split up again but first we were marched to Graz for a Red Cross enquiry, that was about 17kilometers away from where we were, the next day we hat to march back for his funeral.
Ten of us were then sent to Mureck, the only name in our group I can remember is Ernie Walker who was English who worked on the farm of the local mayor who was pro-british and each night he allowed Ernie to listen to the BBC. We were all were on farms near Mureck, my farm had a mill attached but that was not being worked because the owner had been called up into the local border guards near, I think called Grenzie he used to get home about once a week his name was Herr Rabble who had a wife and two daughters, the eldest was called Marianne about 13 years and the youngest about 8 years was called Frieda. Working with us was Jim Mollison an Australian a very good friend with whom I kept in touch with after the war for a few years. Jim was an interpreter in the village for us there was also an Australian called Dave on another farm, we called him Pop because he was the oldest at about 45, when he joined up he told the authorities he was 35, he was a bit of a ‘jack the lad’. We had a good thing going with him, the farmers were quite religious and used to go to church on the mornings of their saints days, so Pop told the frau of his farm that where he came from no one worked on such days she was so impressed she told him after he had cleaned out the cow stall that he need not work do any more work on such days. This got passed around the POW’s in the village and we all got onto this, Pop would find out from his frau each religious day and we would tell our families, they were quite impressed that we were all so religious, we even got the day off for Churchill’s birthday. All good things must come to an end when he told his frau that we also respected Hitler’s birthday, the guards put a stop to it immediately. We also pinched anything we could eat to supplement our diet and once Pop stole a chicken, now we could only cook things after the guard locked us in for the night and the only window had bars across it and only could be opened a small amount so after we had burnt the feathers and innards the whole room stank.
We had to work hard on the farms more so in the summer, for me the worst job was haymaking, the farm used to employ two old locals to help them cut the grass so each morning we used to go out with scythes one old chap would start on the outside of the field, I followed him cutting the next line and the remaining old chap followed me, I was the sandwich between them, they were very good (they had been doing it all their lives) and very fast it was very hard work to keep up and I had too, as if I lagged behind they would have cut my legs off. I had already cleaned out the cow sheds and fed and watered the animals, I looked after two oxen, one young bull five cows and a calf then came the grass cutting until about 11 am then we spread and thinned the grass out turning it with large wooden rakes and finally collecting it into heaps and then I had to feed the livestock again and at about 10:00 pm the guard came and took us to our own billet, this was repeated every day, mind you we were given large stone jars which were filled with cider, as much as we could drink. If the hay was dry enough at the end of the day we loaded in onto a wagon with the two oxen took it back to the farm and through it up into the roof of the cow stall, the stalls were about 50 yards long and the lofts covered not only the cow stalls but the pig sty’s. Each farm had several acres of woods and the leaves of the trees were raked up and together with the straw were used as bedding for the live stock. The farm I was on had a large wooden press in a separate building which was used for cider and wine making as the farm had vineyards and orchards for grapes, apples and pears.
In the area I was located they had quite a few thunder storms and once whilst I was in the cow shed sheltering from a downpour of rain interlaced with thunder and lightning, the building was struck by lightning, I was standing in the doorway and was thrown well into the cow shed. The whole building caught fire, and when I came too I found myself lying on the grass between the cow stalls and the main house which was about 30 yards away. I could not move so I lay there with the animals milling around me while everyone was trying to fight the fire, the only things left of the cow shed after the fire were the stone walls, it took me about two hours to lose the feeling of paralysis and a further 2 to 3 days to feel better. One of the worst things was my clothes were very wet and dirty and it took me days to get them clean and dry as they were my only garments.
Then came the task of rebuilding the cow stalls, two carpenters came and it took months Herr Raul????? Who was in the border patrol and I used to go o the woods and cut down a few trees, trim them and cart them back to the farm for the carpenters to work on. This went on for a few months; we must have cut down about 30 pine trees for the work. This was in addition to the normal farm work.
There then came a time when the guard arrived at my farm early one morning about 10.00 am and instructed the frau to give me two brown loaves and he told her that as the Russians were getting too close he had orders to move me, he then marched myself and others back to our camp. We were then told that the guards had orders to march us all westward keeping us ahead of the Russians, we were also quietly told that the guards knew it was obvious that the war had been lost and as far as they were concerned if we wanted to escape back to our farms or whatever they would not try to stop us. However he told us that the SS were on the roads and had orders to shoot any escaping POW’s.
After a conference we decided it was probably better to go with the guards all except Ernie Walker who’s farmer had told him he would hide him if he went back to the farm. We never saw Ernie again, but it was a fair bet that he never saw home. The first week of the march we slept during the day and marched all night but after that we had to march during the day it was during that time we were strafed by allied aircraft and had to run into the trees to escape the bullets twice that happened that week. Our bread had run out and they started issuing us with dried hard beans and peas the sort you had to soak for a few hours unfortunately we never had a few hours. We only managed to march about 10 miles a day because we were in such poor condition. I remember one day we came to a small mountain (probably the Tauern Pass) thankfully some POW’s had passed there before us and had dug out the route in some places the snow was piled about 20 ft high, I don’t think I could have dug through that. It took us from about 10.00am till about 3.00pm to before we got down the other side. About half way down the mountain was a dead horse with one leg missing by the time we had passed by there was more than that missing, we ate well that night in spite of the difficulties getting the fire to light. We eventually ended up at a place called Markt Pongau our last stopping place the camp was enclosed with two lots of barbed wire with a gap of about 6ft between them with high guard towers, as we were new arrivals we were put into tents it must have been around 1st or 2nd of May and there was still snow on the ground, not a lot, just enough we had no blankets only what we were wearing so we all huddled together in the tents. There were clandestine radios in the camp so we kept up with the news and on 8th May we woke up to find all the guards gone, so we tore down the wire and left the camp to forage for food. We found a large a building opposite the camp with sacks of flour and sugar in it so the night we made a kind of flapjack. Later an American ‘black’ regiment came upon us and the following day we were put on lorries and taken to a place near Salzburg; where we were emplaned on Dakota transport planes and flown to somewhere outside Paris the following morning I went aboard a Lancaster plane together with about a dozen other Ex POW’s where we were flown to a place in Kent. There we went through a sort of debriefing/ interrogation given a shower new clothes and Ł5.00 together with a travel voucher. I was told to go home and stay there until I was contacted, I got a train to London and at about 7.30pm I got a train towards home, I arrived at Dorchester about 2.00am and slept on the platform until a milk train took me to Weymouth at about 6.00am. As I walked down St. Thomas Street I saw a lady whom I knew by the name of Mrs Pitman who was cleaning the front of the Regent cinema steps, I had a few pleasant words with her and proceeded homewards. I saw no one until I walked through the railway arch on Chickerell road and was nearly home when I heard a lady shouting out “hello Dick how are you, it’s nice to see you home” and when I looked up I saw Mrs Apsey at her open window, I spoke to her for a few moments. As I got to St. Martins church about 100yds from my home, I saw my father cycling to work, he worked at Groves Brewery, he got off his bicycle and asked me how I was, and told me to tell my mother he would be home again soon after he had told the Brewery that he would not be working that day. I then started to finish the last 100yds to home, but by then everyone seemed to be calling out and talking to me. At about 7.30 am I was home, I had been a POW for over four years.
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