I was called up to serve in the Army on my 20th birthday in October 1939, but did not have to report for duty until the 1st of January, at Putney, London.
I was enlisted into the Royal Corps of Signals, the first 3 months was spent in Wimbledon Common training. I was then transferred to 5th Corp Signals and spent time training in various parts of Southern England.
Later my unit transferred to Edinburgh where most time was spent installing telephone circuits and lines to Rosyth Naval Base.
On 30th December 1940 we embarked on a ship in Glasgow and sailed to Egypt via the Cape of Good Hope, for a while were engaged in Desert Operations, then suddenly in February 1941 we became 3rd Air Formation Signals and moved to Greece, attached to R.A.F. and Greek Army.
On Easter Monday we were in Athens and heard that Germany had declared war on Yugoslavia and Greece.
Due to the superior German Army and Air Force we had no defences and were driven back to the south, to Kalamata where Royal Navy ships called at night to take on board as many men as was possible. This could only be done at night as during the day we had Stuka dive bombers attacking from dawn to dusk.
On the 28th April 1941 we surrendered to the Germans, and spent the next few weeks in Greek Army Barracks at Corinth and Salonika. During this time the only food we received was what we could buy from the Greeks with what money we had. I can say it was not much, mostly Broad Beans, one ate the beans the first day boiled up in a tin hat over a small fire made of paper and twigs, the following day one ate then skins cut up like runner beans, it was not long before dysentery was rife.
After 2 weeks were piled into railway wagons, bound for Germany. We were given a bottle of water and a small piece of bread. Each wagon had 50 men in it, one could not sit down, being so tightly packed in, and it took 5 days to reach Belgrade. Here we were allowed out of the platform for exercise and a meal of soup and a portion of bread and sausage. From there another 2 days of travelling to Graz, here we received another meal. Most of the men just managed to crawl out of the wagons on to the platform. We rested here for a day and then continued on to Wolfsberg in Austria to a large P.O.W. Camp XVIIIA.
The next day we were photographed and given a number. Mine was 645. We were sent in parties to work camps. The group I was with ended up in a Castle in a small town called Gmund. The work here was to build a section of Motorway all done by manpower, no mechanical aids as you can imagine this was self destroying for us. If you slacked you were given a poke from a guard with his Bayonet. The meal here at midday was a large bowl half filled with ground maize which had been boiled and a cup of acorn coffee.
In October I became sick with malnutrition, and was sent back to Wolfsberg to the camp hospital, where I was treated for badly ulcerated legs. Here the food was plain but good, as it was usually from the Red Cross parcels. I was released from hospital the day before Christmas into the main camp. This was a series of stables, (late Austrian Cavalry) no heating or lighting, just one small stove, only allowed to be lit from 8am – 4pm. The food was a small loaf of rye bread which had to be divided between 13 men (very difficult) usually done by balancing the loaf on a knife blade. Very difficult if you were the one who had been chosen to do the cutting. A square of margarine about 1 inch cube, had to last 3 days.
Dinner was a bowl of soup 30% water with potato peelings and a tiny scrap of sausage. Tea and coffee made from acorns, if you wanted a drink during the day you stood under a stand pipe. Here one never felt well, always a pain in the stomach.
Suddenly we heard that a consignment of Red Cross parcels had arrived. The next day we received one each. I could not believe my eyes when the parcel was opened. Chocolate, milk, cheese, meat, stew, biscuits etc. That night everyone slept well.
A few weeks later, parties of men were being sent out to various camps to work. I was lucky to be chosen to go into a party of 20 to a work camp A.826-L (April 30th 1942)
I was here until the end of the war, with exceptions of being absent due to refusing to work without the proper food, and one attempt to escape to Switzerland. This was rewarded by 3 weeks solitary confinement in a Russian P.O.W. Camp. 3 days of water and 3 days of bread, alternating until the 3 weeks were up. On release I was accompanied by a guard, we had to walk back to my camp 28 km.
At the beginning of 1943 things began to improve for us but much tougher for the Germans due to the Russian Front. This meant sacrifices had to be made in Germany by the population, which of course meant that all P.O.W. food was cut to a minimum. This was one of the worst times, one always felt hungry, and were unable to work properly. At harvest time etc. most P.O.W. would come back to camp in the evening with bulging trousers etc, crammed full of barley and oats, which were in the cooks stove, to be used to help supplement the reduced rations. In the autumn it was the same only that it would be potatoes. In the hunting season we would have to work as carriers for the German generals who would come to shoot stags, mostly as trophies. The stages would be cut up into pieces that could be carried on the back of a person, very much like a rucksack. To us this was most enjoyable time, most stags lived in the upper slopes of as the mountains and meant following each other down a single file mountain track with just one civilian guard. Each P.O.W. always carried his knife on these occasions, so walking close behind each other; we were able to carve good slices of meat from the back of the person in the front. These were stuffed down the shirt and jacket then done up to hide the bloody shirt. Back at camp we unloaded in the cook’s store. On a good day we could reckon on about 30 lbs of venison. This was a meal bonus to supplement our meagre rations and kept our spirits up.
In September 1944 the rations in Germany were cut to the bone. We were back to the same amount as in the main camp in 1941-42. We were really starving at this time, and then in October 1944 the Red Cross parcels arrived. This was a godsend which meant we would be able to survive the worst. Christmas 1944 was celebrated by everybody contributing a parcel to the cook, to make a celebration meal. This went down very well indeed.
The camp Commandant and his assistant became human and turned their radio on and tuned into the American Forces network. I shall never forget hearing Bing Crosby singing White Christmas. There was not a dry eye in the camp.
Things got worse in 1945 when food got less and less day by day. By February we were living on our Red Cross Parcels, which still arrived once a week.
At the beginning or March the Russian army was nearing Vienna, an order from Hitler was received by the Commandant. All P.O.W.’s were to be moved to Markt Pongau in Steiermark.
We set off in the morning to march to Kapfenberg, slept on the roadside. Each man had to feed himself with whatever he could carry or purchase from the Germans. Thank God we had put as much of the contents of our Red Cross parcels in our jackets.
Next day on to Leoben, slept in a brewery (no beer) and so on for 3 weeks, bitterly cold. Knittelfeld, Zeltweg, Judenberg, Murau, Tamsweg and over the Tauern Pass, deep snow and very cold. Then down to Radastadt, then on to Markt Pongau, a very large P.O.W. Camp XVIIIC with approximately 10,000 men. There were English, French, Americans, Poles, Canadians, Aussies and Kiwis.
A hot meal was served to all but we had to wait in line 2 ˝ hours. It was well worth it. The next day we wandered around camp to see if one could see any old colleagues. No luck.
The next day war over, 101st Airborne Division arrived and immediately a change of life. My mate and I were allocated a personnel tent, hot showers and new clothing. We felt like new men but starving. The doctor examined us and we were put on a special diet, mostly milk for the first few days, then wonderful stews and drinks. After a week we were nearly back to normal.
Taken by lorry to Salzburg air field we were interviewed and given a number and mine was 99. This meant I was on flight 99. After a 2 day wait in the airfield our plane arrived which was a Douglas D.C.3. No seats just a bench on each side, just enough for 25 men. We landed in France at Reims, welcomed with open arms. Hot showers, hot meal, beds and we slept like a log. The next day we were taken out to an airfield where a Lancaster bomber was waiting. We had to wait while a puncture was repaired then we left.
I shall always remember this flight as it was a beautiful sunny day. We crossed channel, watched Brighton passing underneath and landed at an airfield near Henley on Thames. We were taken to an army camp in a wood, given new uniforms a pass and money. We were then taken to Henley on Thames Station for London... We were met by the military police who took us to Kings Cross on to New Barnet and home.
On leave until the end of September and reported to camp at Hayward’s Heath, which we found was a training camp for Airborne troops, destination Japan. Not very nice but all was cancelled due to the surrender of Japan.
We were posted to several places in the south of England but were not wanted anywhere. We ended up at a camp just outside Cheltenham. We were sent home for Christmas, then posted to St Johns Wood until demob number came up. Sent to Guildford in May of 1946 and returned to civilian life.
Eric Sydney Batty
Army No. 2332544
German P.O.W. No. 645/A.826L
(Information supplied by his son, Dennis.)