Thomas Hawksworth

This is a transcript of a wartime log kept by Sgt. Thomas Horace Hawksworth R.M. (father of Pamela Cox) during his time as a POW. He starts his diary with an account of his experiences from the day war broke out on 3 September 1939 to 1 June 1941 on Crete when he realises his fate. It finishes on 7 May 1945 as he eagerly waits for the weather to improve to enable the planes to fly them back to England, his wife and 4-year-old child who he hadn’t yet seen.

(His friend, Sgt. Stan Prout, R.M., also kept a diary during his captivity.)

To write a book, even for one’s own perusal only, it is surely necessary to have a reason for so doing. Mine is to provide a few short notes which will serve to jog my memory, if I wish, at some future date, to recall some date, name place, happening etc. of these war days. I have asked myself, will I not want to forget these days, especially those spent as a prisoner-of-war in Germany, but I doubt if that is possible since I’m positive these days are going to have a profound influence on the rest of my life, even after I am a comparatively free man. I say comparatively because since being a prisoner I have learned that whether a prisoner behind barbed wire, or a ‘freeman of England’, we are all slaves of fate.

This, however, is not the only lesson I have learned in these days, but to set them all down on paper, even had I the skill, would take a book larger than this one.

I shall, then, confine my efforts to keeping a record as near as possible of most of my activities from 3rd September 1939, when England declared war on Germany.

Owing to the danger of this book being confiscated by the Germans, or being read by some unauthorised person, I shall keep my most personal thoughts out of it.

Since the war is more than five years old at the time of writing, many of these incidents have lost their vividness already, but the main impressions I think, have remained unaltered in my mind.

Part 1

Sept 3rd ’39I had been serving in H.M.S. Courageous for nearly 12 months when the momentous news was announced about 11.15 a.m. over the ships broadcaster by Capt. Makeig Jones that war had been declared. Conscious that something important had happened in our lives, many of us greeted this news with cheers which quickly gave place to sober thought. The general attitude towards the news was that it wouldn’t make a great deal of difference to us, (all long service men) since we would only be doing the job we had always been doing with an added spice of danger. On the whole, though, I think I was rather glad that at last something was happening in a rather dull world.

We were already at sea when the news was given out and our aircraft were soon up on patrol spotting for enemy subs. Several times our escorting destroyers raced away to make a “pattern” of depth charges. Whether any were sunk I don’t know, though of course most of the ships company laid claim to seeing at least one come up with its back broken.

After putting into Plymouth for oil and more provisions, we were soon out again on the same errand, hunting submarines. This time instead of us getting a submarine, it was a case of the biter being bitten, for on Sept 17th 1939 at approximately 20:00 hours, we were struck by at least two torpedoes in the bomb room, port side forrard. With half her bottom ripped out it was obvious to everyone she was going. By 20:25 hours there was only the bobbing heads of the survivors, oil and flotsam to show there had ever been a ship there…. I well remember how at the first explosion my resentment arose that the ship was in should be hit, quickly giving place to the realisation of my position between decks… the struggle to gain the upper deck in the dark. For of course the lights went out on the torpedo striking… The white, tense faces, some almost unrecognisable with their present expressions… The ridiculous manner in which I looked around for a place to put my clothes as I stripped prior to taking the water… swimming… cursing the commander of Impulsive for changing his position causing me several more hundreds of yards to swim… The feel of the deck of Impulsive after the insecurity of the sea... Grog and plenty of it... Thanking God as I stepped over the guard rails… not I think because I am religious, but simply because I was thankful… My dive off the lockers when a loose block banged the ships side… As happy as a skylark through being saved… Joy in seeing Plymouth again… surprise of marine barracks… leave… bath… sleep… How people I never even new congratulated me for saving my life… My sorrow at the long list of missing… approximately 570 missing and approximately 650 saved.

Many of those killed could have been saved had they life jackets as issued to the navy immediately after…. Harry Greenleaf… Bungey Williams… Mick Hurley. These and thousands of other memories I hardly need to set down here.

After a real good leave, I returned to R. Marine Barracks, Plymouth and was posted to 21st L.A.A. Batt. (POM-POMS) during November, together with many other H.M.S. Courageous survivors. This was done by the order of some big wig who thought he was giving us a good turn by giving us 6 months rest after the sinking of the ship.

It was at this time that I renewed my friendship with Fred Cox who had just paid off the Eagle.

For the next year, Thomas was posted to Shore Batteries in Tynemouth, Dorset, Huddersfield, Blythe and Derby. It was during his time on Tyneside that he met his future wife, Bunchie. In October 1940 they were married. By now Thomas had been promoted to Sergeant.

After a short leave in Fraserburgh with many misgivings on the way, we returned to Blythe and a short while later I was sent to Derby to help in the defense of Rolls Royce works manning Bofors for the first time. However, all good things come to an end some time and what I had been anticipating for some time now happened. We were ordered abroad. It would be foolish to describe my leaving Bunchie… My last glimpse of her and (one I carry even now) was standing in the doorway of the house in Sherwin Street (where we were then living) trying to smile as the tears blinded her. We marched to Derby station through quite a heavy air raid, but I never even noticed it so full was I at leaving my wife.

Part II

On February 9th 1941, Thomas sailed from Greenock in a convoy, stopping at Capetown, Durban and Aden, disembarking at Port Suez.

April 22nd.Disembarked from the Bergensfiord and traveled by rail to El Assasin and next day to El Tahag, a huge troop concentration. On the way we passed an Italian POW camp and how they jeered at us, telling us we would be in a like plight before very long. Those fellows must have all been clairvoyant. It was at El Tahag that Fred and I were separated. Luckily or unluckily he was posted to another unit. We didn’t worry much about it as we thought the two units would be together anyway.

May 9th. Left El Tahag transit camp for Alexandria and visited many old hunting grounds with Stan Prout who I had now chummed up with and who was to go through a great deal with me.

Next day we embarked in Nine Zeeland (Dutch) for Crete fully expecting the greeting we were given. It was nightfall and we hadn‘t reached harbour before Jerry sent out his fighters to welcome us but we managed to beat them off leaving one of their number on fire in the water. Now we were to know there really was a war on. We had hardly set foot on the island before we were bombed again. For a few days life seemed to be nothing but dodging about among the olive trees making oneself as small as possible. We were in the ridiculous position of being in the middle of a war as a Bofors Battery with no guns. However, within a few days we took over the Bofors from the army on Maleme airdrome.

From now on events moved so fast life was just a blur in my memory so continual was the fighting. But no efforts of ours could stop Jerry finishing off what few of our planes were left. After incessant attacks by air, he accomplished this and on May 20th he began his invasion by air. The sky was literally blacked out by thousands of planes towing their gliders and escorted by hundreds of fighters. What a beautiful and awe inspiring sight were the first two thousand “Fallschirmjager” as they floated down suspended from their white parachutes.  They didn’t look quite so beautiful when I thought these fellows are out to get me. I’ve no wish to set down a detailed account of the fighting, things moved too fast for any incident to register on the mind, but of this I am certain, given air support the tale of Crete would have had a very different ending.  How many times did I hear during the battle of Crete men say “Oh, If we could only see just one British plane up there”! As soon as we thought we were beginning to hold them down, up would go their red signaling ribbon pointing out the particular obstacle they were up against and over came the fighters and stukas like so many hornets to blast us out of it.

Once surrounded by Germans I and about 60 others had the hair raising experience of creeping through the German lines at night and escaping back to Suda Bay. After being re-kitted we moved back up the line under a new officer. It was quite easy to see by now several of the fellows cracking up under the terrific air attacks. Forced to give ground more and more, the order was given at last to evacuate the island. This was to be carried out on the other side of the island at a town called Esphakia. So marching over the mountains hungry, tired and thirsty we made our way to this town.


May 27th. Before we reached Esphakia, however, the marines were ordered to fight the rearguard action. It was with very mixed feelings that I took my party of men to a position immediately in the enemy’s path. I well remember the army fellows cheerfully shouting “Up the marines! Good luck!” as they marched through us on the way to the boats. Each day that passed was to be the last that we must hold out and plenty of promises that the rearguard would get off the island as soon as the others had gone. By now the food question was definitely acute but we just had to manage. During this action I saw General Freiberg (who was certainly a good example to his men) never turning a hair as trench mortar shells burst all around and Jerry planes machine gunned us from the air.

31st May. At about 20:00 hours we withdrew from the last position and told that only 7% of us would be able to get off. Captain King decided to take the nucleus of a new battery. I was one of the lucky ones but when we got down to the beach we knew it was hopeless to try and get through the tightly jammed men. At 3 o’clock on June 1st, we watched the last destroyer fade into the black night. We had “missed the boat”.

The bottom seemed to drop right out of my stomach as we destroyed our arms, papers etc. The thought of my being a prisoner of war had not occurred to me until the last few hours and even now it was a certainty, I couldn’t believe it.

However, there was nothing else for it and with many worried thoughts of home, I settled down to see what daylight would bring.

Part III

June 1st 1941. Dawn on the “Glorious 1st June” revealed all the rabble of a beaten army… broken arms everywhere and large bonfires of pay books and all papers that would tell the enemy anything.

Here I had a terrible decision to make. Two open boats were being prepared for sea with a fair chance of being picked up by British ships, but as they were to leave in full sight of Jerry, they were almost certain to be attacked by stukas. It would be a very chancy business even without an attack from the air as there was no food and only sufficient water to go in each mans bottle. More than 200 men were piling in the boat as I stood debating whether to take the chance or not. I must resign myself to being a prisoner – there’s another life soon to be dependent on mine, so I stood away and watched them go.

1 ½ hours later I watched the stukas go over to try and send that boat to the bottom. Whether they succeeded in doing so has been a controversial subject with us Crete prisoners ever since. With nothing else for it but wait until Jerry fetched us, I stretched out with some other fellows for the first time for many days and must have fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion, when a sudden shout of “Planes!” made me open my eyes to see a stick of bombs already on the way. They landed a few yards away and I escaped with nothing more than a small stone in my knee. Now we were in for it. Huddled helplessly together in a small ravine, without arms, we were at complete mercy of Jerry and he made the most of it with a strafing from the air and anti personnel bombs. The reason for this attack after we had officially surrendered about 8 hours ago through H.Q. Cairo still remains a mystery. Had the planes left their base before notification of surrender came through or was the attack simply to completely demoralise us thereby make us easy to handle?

Immediately following the attack, we were herded together on a hilltop and searched for weapons. Many fellows lost personal belongings here… watches, wallets, rings etc. About 4 o’clock we started on the long weary trek to the other side of the island. Never will I forget that journey. After 12 days continuous fighting, with little or no sleep or food, we were in a sorry state at the outset. The Germans deemed it necessary to keep us moving for they gave us no rest until it was a physical impossibility to go a step further without sleep. Stan and I had by now decided to stick it out together and after a short snatch of sleep we were aroused at dawn and off again. By continually promising us water, Jerry kept us going to the next village but his troops were on guard at the wells so we had to carry on. In this way we passed village after village until water was our only thought. At last we were allowed to drink and fill our bottles but still no food till at last, about 8 o’clock, we had one tin of bully and one packet of biscuits between nine men. Here we got a bit more sleep. Stan and I were lucky, as we had picked up a blanket on the way.

Next day we were off again. Despite the bitter cold of the nights it was sweltering during the day and the smell of rotting bodies was awful. Stan’s heels were simply raw by now and he had to hack away his boot to ease it a little. Fearing dysentery I went several miles further sooner than drink bad water. After one more issue of bully and biscuits at the same ratio, we arrived at the burned out 7th General Hospital at about 7 o’clock. At last we got a whole nights sleep and after meeting several men of the battery we had believed dead, moved on several miles inland to Skeynes Camp, passing released Italian POWs on the way. Contrary to my expectations these fellows bore us no ill will and they gave several of us bits of fried dough and a few tobacco leaves.

June 4th. Skeynes “Camp” turned out to be nothing more than a dried up riverbed with no shelter from the sun whatever. After all my precautions to ward off dysentery, I was struck down with it within 24 hours of entering here. The British doctor with no equipment was unable to do anything for us except give us advice and charcoal. What a pal Stan proved himself to be here, drawing all “rations”, collecting wood etc. when every movement of any of us demanded a great effort of will. Many of us dysentery cases got weaker and weaker and my recollections of Skeynes are extremely hazy on that account.

Many fellows showed up in their true light in this camp… sniveling to Jerry for food and others racketeering food for themselves out of other men’s rations. One would have thought there was no such thing as pride to see some of them. We lived on lentils and rice here.

I had picked up a red dress and a pair of underpants on the journey. The underpants we used as a food locker and the dress I found plenty of use for while with dysentery. In this camp were about 2000 Australians and 800 Marines.

June 16th. We had been hoping we would get a move from this camp even though it meant another march and today about a thousand of us marched to Suda Bay and waited on the quay for the transport ship “Cordillias”. It was strange to see the Italian prisoners, allies of Germany, being forced to work by their German masters. While waiting for this ship, I learned quite a lot… I was sitting a little apart from the rest when a young German paratrooper came and sat with me and asked me many questions about the treatment we were receiving…. I told him plenty. He then explained how they had found many of their comrades crucified and mutilated and had at first attributed this to the British, but since found out it was the Greeks. This he said was the reason for our harsh treatment so far. He was sure from now on things would get better. Upon leaving he handed me a packet of cigarettes. At least there are some good Jerries. We were all stowed down a small hold and before long, as we were not allowed out of the hold, the stench was awful. My dysentery seemed to be leaving me now, but I was left little more than a skeleton.

June 19th. Some of the lads had been cherishing the hope that we would be intercepted by our navy but no such luck and after two days on the ship, we arrived at Pyreus and from there to Athens where we were put into some barracks near the Acropolis. On the way we saw many evidences of Greek kindness and German brutality.   It seems the Germans must pick out special men for the army of occupation because the front line men were very different from these brutes.

June 21st. Left Athens for Salonika. We were issued with 5 biscuits and a tin of meat. I felt sorry for the fellows with false teeth, as the biscuits were quite impossible for them. As we waited to take the train, the Greeks wanted to help us by giving us food etc. but were afraid. They had evidently already felt the weight of the Nazi heel. Eventually we were herded into cattle trucks in 50’s. We were unlucky in ours for we had 55. For five days and five long nights we were locked in there with very brief periods to fetch water. The longest we were without water was 36 hours. Once, when Stan was filling our water bottles he saw a civilian with a loaf of bread under his arm which Stan promptly snatched and was belted by Jerry all the way back to the van.

June 26th. Arrived a Salonika and spent the night in a transit camp and on the next day we were off again, still 50 in each truck. We were so crowded it was a relief to stand up for a rest… every bone was aching, we took turns to stand by the little windows for air. Leaving Greece behind, we traveled through Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Hungary. Our few glimpses of the people showed them to be subdued completely. I must pay tribute to the German Red Cross at Belgrade for they gave us all tea and bread.

July 3rd. At last we arrived at Wolfsberg and after a few hours went on to Marburg. This was the end of our journey and here we were officially registered as POWs and given a number. It was with little hope that I sent off the card they gave us… it had little chance of getting home before the child was born. Now we were able to try to get rid of some of the lice we were ridden with. Lots of fellows seemed to spend the whole day hunting these in their clothes. Practically the whole of the conversation among the different groups was of food… an interesting psychological problem is why do men in a starved condition deliberately torture themselves with thoughts of food? Every group of men were talking of the dishes they would have when they got out of this and as their imaginations were sharpened by hunger, they literally watered at the mouth.

However, the main thing arising out of our arrival at Marburg was that our rations were stabilised now and we could be reasonably sure of at least something to eat each day. The rations consisted of ersatz coffee at 6 a.m.; a bowl of potato soup at 12 noon and 1/5 of a loaf with sometimes either marg or jam. Very often as a luxury, Stan and I would put all our jam or marg on one piece and blow the expense. We had made up our minds, if possible, we would get to work on a farm, as the advantages of getting more to eat were self-apparent. After registration, we moved to the main camp and at last deloused and were able to get a bath, which made us feel something like a human being again. After a while, Stan and I, hoping to get in the way of extra food, went out to work in the Austrian barracks. We would separate and then scrounge what we could, pooling it all later on. There was hardly need to ask, “What did you get?”, Stan always had a grin a mile wide if he had got hold of a piece of bread. The main square of the camp was used as a market place at night where fellows who had been out working would trade what he had brought back. Sometimes ½ dozen green apples, a tomato, a handful of onions, anything that could be begged, borrowed or stolen while the guard was not looking. Anything gold would bring at least a couple of loaves and most fellows personal possessions, rings, pens, watches etc. went this way. Here Stan and I did well to hang on to all stuff of sentimental value. As there was no money in the camp, almost everything was a straight swap. It was up to each man to get the best bargain he could and when he’d got it watch it closely in case it was pinched back again. They say Jews are good businessmen, but I saw many a Jew worsted in our open market. Came the day we had been waiting for so long… we were able to send our first letter home. This didn’t seem to be quite so easy as I at first thought as I couldn’t write what I wanted to and to write about how we were then living would cause Bunchie to worry just when my aim all along was to avoid that very thing.   Somehow before I was taken prisoner I had been able to reassure myself she would be alright, but now I had been reported missing, I was afraid.

With the rolling in of a lorry-load of Red Cross parcels, things began to look more as that young parachutist had said on Crete… a good deal brighter. We were all just kids again, asking one another what we’d got. For a while we were quite happy among so much food. All this time men hadn’t lost their craving for tobacco and for the want of something better had smoked any dried leaves they could get hold of, but now what a satisfaction to get 50 English cigarettes with the parcel!

July 30th. Stan and I took a chance and joined a party of 30 to leave Marburg and work on a farm. Our destination turned out to be a small village called Eisennzicken near the Hungarian border. We must have looked a sight because the women and children were scared stiff and peered at us from behind windows and doors. No wonder either, for most of us wore beards and had on uniforms of all nationalities. I had a Yugoslavian hat, Greek tunic, belt, and baggy Yugoslavian breeches. We were taken to the place that was to be our sleeping quarters, a room 18 ft x 14 ft with two shelves for sleeping down each side and then given a chance to bath and shave. From now on it was obvious things were going to get better. Later on in the day the farmers came en-masse to collect the man who was to work for him. The method by which this was done reminded us so much of a slave market that we had to laugh. I was taken along to the Wolfel house and introduced to the family. At first they seemed a weird lot to me but I was to find out, leaving aside their absolute ignorance, they had hearts of gold. They stuffed me full as an egg with food and when I arrived back at the lager I found the other fellows had received a like treatment, some of them much to their present discomfiture. It was amusing in those early days to watch one another trying to talk to the farmers in sign language. With all these benefits after our early treatment it was only natural we should look for snags. We found the snag in the length of time we were to work... 6 a.m. till 9 p.m. These people beat a Chinese coolie for work. I for one didn’t care how long we worked as long as I got my belly full for doing it. I was also fortunate in getting what was probably the best house in the village for food. With good food at the farm and a weekly Red Cross parcel of food, it was no wonder I weighed before winter the heaviest I have ever been, but when my system got used to food again, I soon went back to normal. Now we were able to eat regularly, we soon were in high spirits and considered it only a few months before it would be all over. How I scoffed at Sep when he said the war wouldn’t finish before 1945. At least it proved to me that he didn’t think Germany would win for their propaganda said England was on her last legs.

Probably the most memorable day for me was the day I got my first letter telling quietly that I was the father of a little girl. All my troubles dropped away like and old coat and my relief; well no words can describe it. Later the lads used to tell me what a snappy, grumpy fellow I was till I got this first letter. Certainly it was a long while before I found anything to grumble about. Our first Christmas under the circumstances was a great success and I’m able to boast I was able to get good and drunk on wine whilst a POW By now we were building, together with a number of gypsies, a road to the village. It was an extremely cold winter and several days reached 34 degrees of frost. When we ran out of stones for the road we had to quarry our own at a place about 10 kilometers away. This meant we had to leave the lager even earlier. However, during the winter work on the farms eased off and we were able to get a couple of hours leisure at night. As 20 of us were living in the one small room, some had to lie on their bunks while the rest cooked etc. in turn. Life now was just a song as long as the Red Cross parcels came regularly. We were still wearing the old clothes they gave us in Marburg and did we look funny in our patches and rags on our feet but what did we care as long as we were in good health. No one seemed to worry now they were getting mail and everything at home was alright.

When the news of mother’s death came through it knocked me heavily even though I had half expected this would happen before I got home again.

In spring our uniforms came through the Red Cross and we were able to make our German guards look quite shabby. Most of us considered ourselves by now fully-fledged farmers doing the ploughing, scything and any job that came along. Except for the long hours, I had nothing to grumble about on my farm. I was treated with the greatest respect and shared all their troubles and joys. In fact I was just one of the family.

After nearly 12 months over a half of our party were sent to another village a few kilometers away (probably Oberwart). Stan was among these, but we were unable to do anything about it. However, we were still able to see one another occasionally and as he had drawn a rotten farm, he engineered his way back to Stalag with a promise he would get word back to me of how things were. I was to down tools and go in immediately on receipt of this. We had heard that N.C.Os were not working any more but had no means of verifying this until now. Having received the letter saying he had gone up to the marine lager, I decided to stay on at Eisinzicken over the Christmas. Early in January I downed tools and refused to work and after many threats was sent into Wolfsberg.

Jan 20th 1943. Life in Stalag I found to be vastly different from the old Marburg days… no guards with black-jacks here, in fact all Germans seemed to be outside the wire and the actual running of the camp was done by ourselves. It was quite enjoyable for a while to have all the leisure in the world instead of all the work. My days there were spent walking round the camp, reading, cards etc., anything that would pass the time away. Here too I saw my first concert given by the fellows. The ingenuity displayed by them in making costumes etc. out of pieces of paper and worn out cloth was amazing. Certain fellows also showed real talent in their acting.

I saw the commandant and requested to go up to Marlag (a marine POW camp) and he promised that several marines already in Stalag were to be sent up as soon as transport was available. This was quite obviously an empty promise for on May 2nd ’43 I was sent with other N.C.O.s to Spittal-an-der-Drau in the Tyrol. Now I could really get enthusiastic about this place as I’ve never seen such beautiful scenery and as the camp was quite small, discipline was easier and we were allowed to go for walks under a guard of course. I was able to go swimming, sometimes four times a week in a lake called Millstätter See at Seeboden, about 3 km by 1 km. The swimming, scenery and a good commandant combined to make this the best camp I’ve been in. Often as I sat by this lake looking at the beautiful scenery it crossed my mind what an ideal place to bring Bunchie and Maureen to for a holiday after the war. I don’t believe there was an unfit man among all the British there. I myself was tiptop. Must have been to go three rounds with Jock Sanderson in the two boxing tournaments we held there. The Russians, however, were not so well treated having no Red Cross and insufficient food, with apparently no constitution to withstand this life, they simply died off like flies. There must be millions of mass graves throughout Germany.

Towards September I heard some of us were to be moved to Oflag III C. so thinking it may be easier to get to Marlag from there, I managed to join the list and we left Spittal-an-der-Drau on Sept 14th ’43 travelling through marvelous country… Tyrol and Bavaria. How different again were the train journeys to what they were in the old days - now we are able to have the door open for fresh air and given opportunities to wash, brew tea etc.

Thomas was moved to Stalag 383 at Hohenfels and then to a Marlag in northern Germany where he would remain until the end of the war. This last extract outlines Thomas' feelings on surviving as a POW. It was written in January of 1945. 

The ennui is without doubt the worst thing a POW has to contend with. It is past description. Like describing ‘green’ to a blind man, it’s something that must be experienced before it can be understood. The main thing is to make sure it does not grip you and thereby have effect on your life after the war. Occasionally we see men who have given way to this hopeless boredom and it is made apparent in both their face and speech. They are completely pessimistic and bitter about everything and to hear them running down their own country and all she stands for, one would think they had been fed fanatical, Bolshevistic propaganda for the last 4 years. 

Admittedly, this war has made even the most patriotic of Englishmen look upon their governments movements with a more questioning eye than before, but the distorted views held by some POWs is attributable only to the unnatural existence of a man behind barbed wire. 

It does not follow, however, that all our conclusions on the various subjects are distorted as we are able to regard events and life in general with a detachment that none of us could attain in ordinary life. Indeed, in many cases, the effect this sojourn behind barbed wire has had on the development of mind can only be described as beneficial. 

When a man has so much time on his hands and easy access to good books, it is only natural his thoughts should be more profound than when he is so occupied as in normal times, with the strenuousness of living. 

It is only when he ceases to think along constructive lines and his mind is filled with a kind of blank hopelessness that a POW becomes an almost unbearable being, but such is human nature that even the worst of us are forced out of his state of ennui. One by being persuaded into taking part in sport, another by attending some class and still another perhaps by a mere issue of cigarettes, but these bright periods are short lived and if we are not careful, we soon slip back into being “too browned off for anything”. All this could probably be contained in one sentence. Give a man something with which to occupy his mind and he’ll come to no harm. But through repetition these glib sentences lose their poignancy.  

For my own part, I’m sure my mind has improved considerably, partly through reading so many good books and in no little degree to my association with Geoff Lamsdale. There will probably come a day when I shall laugh at this book but as long as I can do just that, laugh at myself, then I shall have come to no great harm. I only wish I had the ability to formulate my thoughts clearly enough to enable me to commit them to paper. However, the mere fact that I have attempted to set some of them down is proof enough for myself that I am giving more time to serious thought than ever I would have had I not been a POW. My main trouble now is not being able to hang on to one single thought long enough to pursue it to its logical conclusion. I blame the environment of a POW for that. With so many men living in such a small space, it would take an Indian Fakir to shut out the distracting noise. 

It is a wonder to me there are not more quarrels than there are with so many living on top of one another. The small misunderstandings, which are dispelled so easily in normal life, are here magnified because of the overcrowding, but all things considered, really serious quarrels are few. 

This points to a certain patience and tolerance a POW is forced to learn. In such a small community he just cannot afford to fall out with people on the least provocation or he would soon be without a friend in the camp. Thus tolerance is forced on him at first and soon he practices it without effort. Patience too has been forced on him. Surely no one has to exercise so much patience as a POW. From the day he is first captured he’s waiting for something… books to read, food, parcels, letters, ablutions etc. To a new prisoner the whole day seems to be spent waiting in a queue. Last but not least he is called upon to exercise the greatest patience of all by waiting for the day of his freedom. Always an uncertain date.

Return to top of page
Return to last page