This is a transcript of part of the diary of Sgt. Stan Prout, R.M., who was captured on Crete in 1941. Details kindly supplied by his son, Geoffrey.
July 10th, 1941: Move to Marburg, Stalag XVIIID and have a thorough delousing, hot bath, the first for weeks, and an inoculation in my chest. I am now living in a long tent with 200 fellow POWs, sleeping on boards with nothing but an overcoat I managed to cadge in Athens.
July 12th: Started work at the Austria Barracks doing odd jobs. It was understood between Tom (Sgt. Thomas Hawksworth, R.M.)and I that all we got we shared and, if at any time one of us got a piece of bread, that one would ransack the grounds for the other, with a grin of rapturous delight. Tom could usually manage to put aside a little piece of bread for breakfast, but when I tried, I could not get to sleep and then would very quietly take off my dixie lid and eat it, all the time being scared of what Tom would say in the morning. The Stalag market was a very serious affair, chaps who were working out in town came back with half dozen apples, a piece of bread or other little tit-bits, and were instantly mobbed, then bartering began. How funny it seems now, when I think of no unbuckling our dixies half a mile from Stalag, ready for soup (?). Oh that luscious smell as we passed that custard powder factory.
July 27th: What a wonderful sight a lorry, full of Red X parcels rolling thro' the gate to be immediately served out, plus a letter form, what a relief to be able to write to our wives and families. Everywhere there are chaps sucking pencil ends and with puckered brows. What could we say? I remember asking Muriel to send me concentrated foods & toilet gear. Then on to the parcel and 50 Gold Flake. Everyone was happy and tons of smoke. I ate my chocolate straight away but after due consultation with Tom decided to go easy over the actual tin stuff. Oh that happy day, with chaps calling across to one another, "What did you get?", "I've got this" and "I've got that". We were all kids again in raptures of delight.
Next morning we were issued with old clothing of many nationalities and were detailed off for work.
July 28th: .1600 hours. 200 of us left for farms (this we did not dare to believe at the time). We travelled in trucks & as we passed certain villages so different trucks were shunted off.
July 30th: At last our truck door was opened and the 30 of us were told to get out - this is Rotenturm station, and marched with much clattering of tins & dixies, etc to Eisenzicken, Burgenland - 4 kilos from Hungary, where we were taken by the Burgermaster to an old converted cow-shed which was to serve as our sleeping quarters for many months. We learnt that we were now potential farmers. On sitting on the grass outside the lager, I remember how chuffy Tom & I felt and also him saying "Just think, Stan, these people going by, are now going home to a nice farmhouse tea". Oh how wrong he was proven to be after.
"Can any of you drive horses?" cries the Burgermaster. "Yes." came from a couple of chaps including Tom. I had been a POW long enough now to know that there is nothing a man can't do if he tries, so up I piped as well, but even then, not too sure.
1800 hours. We are lined up for the farmers to choose their slave. I was taken by Julius Heinisch to his farm and was introduced to his wife Alouise & the two children. Justine, 17 years, & Wilma, 13 years, were frightened of me and wouldn't come in. Of course I must have looked a sight, dirty old clothes, dirty face, wanting a haircut and having a grand beard.
The people were swell in their rough way, and fed me up well. Gee, it was grand to sit at a table again. After this, the old Grandmother, Rosa, 76 years old, came and took me on a tour of the farmyard.
On our return to the lager several chaps were sick through overloading but I was OK and quickly set to shaving and delousing for we had more of these pests now, from the cattle truck. Then down we got on real straw mattresses & with 2 blankets too, 21 of us in a room 18 ft x 14 ft. We slept on shelves, two on each side of the room.
July 31st: 5.30 the next morning, and in comes the guard, shouting "Gaymer, Auf-stehen, Arbeit" (Come on, get up & work) and away we go to our respective farms to start work at 6 o'clock. The meals and meal times were, 7 o'clock, coffee and dry bread, 10 o'clock, wine and dry bread, 12 o'clock, dinner, soup with some weird Austrian concoction, usually pretty vile, 4 o'clock dry bread & 9 o'clock, coffee and dry bread. I soon learnt to drop the bread into the coffee, thus making it more palatable. As the days went by, I had these times weighed off & used to get quite panicky if they were late & terribly hungry when missed. The first few weeks I was very weak, and looked just like a bag of bones but, on learning that I liked milk, the farmer's wife gave me as much as I wanted & often some cream.
Work - oh how we had to work and I staggered under loads that later I could laugh at. After 2 or 3 months I was quickly picking up the language and learning to plough, harrow, scythe & milk the cows, in fact everything on the farm and was soon being sent out to work by myself. I also taught the farmer's wife how to make several English dishes. These Austrian peasants were not too clean, have dirty habits and their manners leave much to be desired, eating from a communal bowl with much finger use, slobbering, laughing at us when we demanded a plate & knife & fork but soon they were copying us.
When farmwork was slack we were sent on the road that was being built by Hungarian Gypsies through the village. Farmwork 6 till 8, road 8 till 6, and then back to the farm till 9 o'clock. Many funny incidents happened on the road. Old Titz, the foreman, tearing his hair at our lack of interest and often in the cold weather we used to disappear into the farm kitchens for a warm. My wardrobe consisted at this time of my cut boots, 2 foot wrappers, a very thin cotton vest, battledress jacket, French cavalry breeches, Yugoslav overcoat and French cap.
Words cannot describe my joy when, arriving back to the farm, I found a letter from Muriel. I believe the Austrians were almost as happy as I was. The times everyday, my thoughts turned to my wife & home.
1st October: and our 2nd food parcel. From then on they came through fairly regularly.
12th October: The first fall of snow and from then on, the weather became bitterly cold.
November: found me with 15 boils & by Geez, they were painful. Around this time we ran out of large stones for the road and were sent to Eisenburg in Hungary for 6 weeks to quarry more. We now left the lager at 5.30 for the station - train to Eisenburg and work begins 8 o'clock till 3.30 then back to the farm till 8, because we have now started winter times. It was about this time that I began feeling pretty fit, and also to get a full night's sleep, because when I was weak I used to work all night as well.
Xmas, 1941: Thick snow everywhere, I have never seen so much before and intensely cold. I had now risen from little over 10 stone to 13 stone 1½, and had a smashing potato stomach. Xmas night I was gloriously drunk with good wine and forgot all my troubles for a little while - till it wore off a little then I was worse stil. We had a few bright times on the sledges & skis.
Spring '42: Still working hard but absolutely homesick, convinced myself all along that war would end very very soon. Issued with English battledress & 1 shirt and received my first clothing parcel and put on a real pair of socks again. I can now speak German pretty well & help young Wilma with her homework. Wet weather gave us no escape from work, being sent into the woodshed to chop wood. Sundays I worked for half an hour, feeding the cattle. I was just getting settled when..
June 17th 1941: Draft chit to Oberwarth. This was a bad blow having to leave Tom. we had been pals now right through all those hardships when first captured. If I had used some gumption & stood out against it, perhaps we should still be on the farm.
Oberwarth, & the same slave market, this time I was out of luck, getting a Hungarian farmer, Johann Raba by name, and a swine of a man too. His wife was an invalid and there was a daughter of 19 - to her I must give some credit, for she used to sneak food to me & let me milk the cows so that I could get out of some of the dirty work. I now had to get up at 5 o'clock & leave for the farm at 5.15, arriving at 6. Finish at 9.15 and enter the lager at 10 o'clock at night, but we had all day Sunday off. Here I was not given the same food as the farmer, so refused to sit with them & had mine in the porch. Many times have I pinched eggs & if early in the day, eaten them raw. Once the son Giza came home on leave & work slackened for a few days - a decent chap. During the next few months I tried hard to return either to Eisenzicken or Marburg, but with no luck. I have just received my first cigarette and second clothing parcel. This Oberwarth has a population of 5000 a little different from Eisenzicken's 350. There were 30 of us at this Kommando and lived in a disused barn, all in one room but in double bunks and had more room.
October 26th: On heavy work, carting sacks of potatoes, I sprained my shoulder & next day saw the doctor who gave me two days in the lager. By then, it was OK, but I 'swung the lead' and was sent into Marburg on Nov. 1st.
November 3rd: What a difference to the Marburg of old, just a few chaps now (200) and life was very easy. On my second night I had a temperature & an abcess in the ear so was admitted into the sickbay for nearly a week - that poor little Russian - tons of sleep - this camp was running alive with bugs, lucky they don't bite me.
Whilst there, I put in to go to the Naval Camp near Bremen, but on Nov.13th was sent to Spittal in the Tyrol. What a fine little camp this was, the snow-capped mountains all around were very pretty. I really think this is the finest scenery in the world.
November 20th: 7 naval ratings & myself sent to Leipnitz, Austria, a new camp, and with only 100 men - no parcels.
November 23rd: We are now starting out for Germany, stopping at Spittal the first night. We are now faced with a 5 day on 1 loaf apiece. After attempts at different stations we finally managed to get a bowl of soup off the Red X at Munich. The main towns we passed through were Salzburg, Munich, Nurnberg, Dresden, Eisenach, Leipzig, Magdeburg, Hanover, Hamburg & Bremen.
(Stan spent the rest of the war in the Marlag.)