Work Camp   76 HV

Location: Gosting

Type of work: Horse Hospital

Man of Confidence: Unknown

Number of Men: Unknown

Known to be present

Forename
Surname
Rank
Unit
POW
Comments
Kenneth Child Cpl R Marines 6187 Yorkshire
Francis John Charles Coatsworth Pte 20 Bn. 7194 New Zealand; died 10.8.42
Leafe Douglas Harvey L/Cpl R Marines 6185 Sussex
John Edward (Jack) Hurton Spr RE 6043 Mansfield; also 576/L
Gerard H. Pollock Spr 2/1 Fld. Rgt. 5204 Australia; also 107/GW
Dennis Thomas William Ponting Cpl R Marines 6186 Wiltshire
Thomas B. Roberts Spr RE 6042 Liverpool; also 576/L
Eric Sharpe Gnr RA 6958 Kent; also 839/L
 

Extract from Jack Hurton's account of his time as a POW.

One day both Tom and I had a shave, a good wash, combed our hair. There was a rumour that working parties were going out so we went to the gate. Tom was picked out, but not me, he refused to go without me and as I was respectable they dropped somebody else and took me. We hadn't a clue where we were going or what the work was to be. Twenty-five of us in the party, put on a train to Graz, then a tram to Gosting, and billeted in the dance room of a pub. A field kitchen full of boiled potatoes awaited us, inside wooden beds with straw mattresses. Heaven. Next day we were taken to work, it was a military camp, most of which was a place for horses captured on the Russian front. Some were ok, some wounded. Vets tended the wounded and experimented on the very bad ones. We were put to work digging and breaking stone in a quarry to make hard core for stable floors, which were then concreted. They must have built forty massive stables for the horses and each stable held about forty horses. We worked from 5am to 6pm or dark in winter. The food was quite reasonable, bread and cheese or bread and jam, and a hot meal at midday. When anyone went sick they were sent back to the main camp at Wolfsberg. I got blood poisoning in my right leg, tried to doctor it myself to save going away. It got very bad so they took me to the German doctor for the camp. He asked why I hadn't visited before now and I explained that I didn't want to leave as I liked it there and it was better than base camp. He said he would treat me and put it right. He said that for me the war was over. I laughed, but not when they cleaned my leg, they kept asking if it hurt, but I couldn't answer and the sweat poured off me. I felt sure they wanted me to shout out. When they finished, the orderly took me back to the pub, where I stopped in bed for three days and he came every day to dress it. The guard wanted to send me back but the orderly wouldn't hear of it. After three days he said I could go back to work, and gave me a note for light work for one week. I tore it up to be on the safe side. Tom was pleased to see me, he thought I would have been sent back, it must have been my good looks. I did have quite a rapport with the orderly who spoke English; we kept off the war, talking about our families, homes and the countryside. Our guard was not very pleased about it all, he had to walk every day to bring me my dinner, but the Corporal over him made him do it. That guard grumbled to the other lads about having to look after me, little did he know what he would suffer later, we took the 'Mickey' whenever possible. He was a very little chap; his rifle stood nearly as tall as he did. He always marched at the front of the squad from the Billet to work, and the Corporal in the rear. The Corporal had been to Russia at the front and was invalided back. He was a decent type and very often said he was too ill to accompany us. Oh dear the little guard then went through it. We stuffed part of a bunch of flowers in the end of his rifle, he didn't know until somebody at the barracks shouted to him. Other times we would suddenly march quickly so that he finished in the middle of the squad, then slow down to his speed but keep him in the middle. We would march through the main gate of the camp, he would march to our cabin, but we would divert by another way, leaving him marching on his own. The Major would shout out of his window at him, then tell us not to take the 'Mickey' out of our guard, but he had a smile on his face when he turned away. The Corporal over the guard sometimes marched with us to work and a few times collapsed en route. We just picked him up and carried him to the medical centre.

After they got the main stables finished, some of us were put on gardening. We grew vegetables for the soldier's kitchen; any surplus was taken to another depot. I was put on gardening; the gardener was a Lance Corporal Ferdinand, Ferdie to us. I was called the 'young man'; I was the youngest there. The garden had a horse; he was not a shire, but that type, he was massive. He knew more English than the Germans and he was like a lamb with us, but deadly to a German. He had a chain behind him in the stable to stop him kicking the Germans passing. We even had to go on a Sunday to feed him; the Germans dared not go near his head. I don't know what happened to him when we left. He always got more food than the others, when the horses were fed the Germans went to a cabin and got each horses ration, we went along and said it wasn't enough. We were told that we couldn't have any more, but we'd pass a couple of fags over and get double rations. The next day, we would say, 'you wouldn't want us to tell the Sergeant that you demanded cigarettes off us for extra food for the horse would you?', and so it went on. He was groomed every day thoroughly. He had sweets and chocolate from the Red Cross Parcels when we had any, also some of our bread ration. The Major in charge was a First World War Dragoon, first class horseman. He would get forty or fifty soldiers on parade and ask us to bring the horse; they then got a lecture on how to look after horses. At dinnertime we would take most of his harness off and slap his backside, he always took the shortest route to our cabin; it didn't matter which way we went. He stood outside with his head through the open window. Ponting, one of our crew put the gardenerís hat on one day, he was stripped to the waist. The horse reached out and bit him on the chest, hospital for Dennis.

We were finding our feet and superiority and said the German's were stealing our rations, we wanted our own cook. Agreed. Mick Harvey took on the job and it was agreed for him to clean the billet every day, repair boots, repair clothes and they gave him all the tools, including an old sewing machine. He collected our ration every morning; sometimes he cooked it in the German kitchen, sometimes in our billet. We also gave him stuff from the parcels when we had it, biscuits were ground up and with sultanas, made into a boiled plum duff. Mick turned out to be a good cook, innovative with what he had. If he wanted anything from the garden, we got him it by fair means or foul. If he ran out of leather for repairing boots, a horse lost a bit of its harness. The Germans at the depot were either old, disabled or barmy. One soldier had a bad limp; Eric Sharpe hit him on the shin with a hammer and innocently asked if it was wood. A yell and a shout and a hop and we were told 'nicht holz', (not wood). Another one was always asking for cigarettes, so we got two hairs out of the horse's tail and threaded them through a fag, that made him cough and he didn't ask for another. Back at the billet at Christmas they sent us a four-gallon container of wine. It must have been watered down, one part wine to four parts water. We boiled some sultanas and put in, not much difference. Then someone had a brainwave; there was methylated spirits in shoe polish. So anybody who had shoe polish tipped it in after melting it. The black brown scum on the top was skimmed off and the wine was drinkable, just, but a short time later, we didn't know how to stand up. I lay on my bed and it couldn't have been worse crossing the Atlantic on that bed, it went up and down and side to side. I was supposed to be the First Aid man and somebody came and asked me to go to Crafty as he was very bad. I said let the bugger die, I am doing.' The urinal bucket got full that night, Kiwi said he would empty it, he threw the contents through the window, but forgot to open it first. It was a good job none of our beds were near that window. The guards were changed now and again, when the little one left we got a big Mongolian with slitty eyes. He was always asking to taste our food from the parcels. He had to be taught, we mixed a can of mustard into a cup. He wanted to try it so we said it was custard. We gave him a big desert spoonful of it. He said it was good but hot and with tears in his eyes, he stumbled downstairs. He never asked again. I got my first letter from home in October 1941, the first news I had had since leaving home. Tom got one about the same time; we always read each other's letters. We were supposed to get a Red Cross parcel every week, but we didn't. I think it averaged out at about every two weeks. We got a fair supply of cigarettes; I had a parcel from Betty and a parcel from the Royal Engineers from time to time. At Gosting, Kiwi Coatsworth began to be disturbed, talking irrationally, crying in the night. We got the guard to take him to the doctor, we never saw him again. Later we heard he had committed suicide. He couldn't stand the life.

 

 


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