Work Camp 561 L
Type of work: Farmwork
Man of Confidence: Pte H. Everitt, Royal Marines
Number of Men: 23
|Tommy||Tasker||SSM||RAC||7813||Transf'd to Stalag 344|
|Syd||Weatherill||Marine||R Marines||6137||London; also 977/L|
Names and photos supplied by Christine King, daughter of John Bell.
War brings together people in often strange and sad ways. How else might a Signalman from Fulham and a Liberator gunner from Pennsylvania have crossed paths? The Signalman was John Bell, a POW held at Work Camp 561/L. The American was Lawrence J. Shimkus, Radio Operator and Gunner on the B-24 Liberator 'Fast Company' which was shot down over Deutsch-Kaltenbrun on November 2nd, 1943. Shimkus and eight other crew members failed to bail out of the aircraft and were killed in the crash which left the bodies badly burned.
In May, 1945, on returning to the UK, John Bell completed a Questionnaire as a returning POW. This is an extract:
"On the 2nd Nov. 1943, while returning from a bombing raid on Vienna Neustadt, an American four-motored bomber was shot down at Deutsch-Kaltenbrun (near Furstenfeld) Steiermark, Austria. To the best of my knowledge three of the crew jumped (in fact, only the Navigator, Marcus Dekle, got out of the plane), nine remaining in the machine, these being killed and badly burned, and left laying in the wreckage four days, unguarded. We, the English POWs working in the village, applied to the Landgeschutz Battalion, No. 891, No. 1 Company in Furstenfeld, to be allowed to recover the bodies and to bury them in the local Churchyard, and later to tend the grave. They were eventually buried by the local gravedigger, with the Burgermeister and one or two civilians, in one large wooden box. No burial service whatsoever being read, and no military respects being paid. A small wooden cross was made and erected although a proper large oak cross supplied by the German military from Graz was laying in the local Council House for a period of over 12 months and was still there when we left in April 1945. This cross was shown to me by the Burgermeister himself and also to my friend Sigmn J. Cook 2346876 who was with me at the time. We later applied for permission to attend the grave but were again refused, although we did tend it whenever an opportunity occurred."
Mark, from New Jersey, USA, has spent years researching the last flight of the B-24 Liberator, number 42-41255, 'Fast Company' and I am indebted to him for supplying the text of John Bell's testimony. For more details on the crew of the 'Fast Company' and their fate, go here.