Tuesday, April 18, 2006
The site for the camp was almost ideal. Situated in a valley it must originally have been a field for grazing and had the river on one side and railway embankment on the other. We quickly put up some barbed wire around the perimeter and bingo, we had a cage. Within a few days the first 2OOO prisoners arrived by train and eventually this number was to swell to 4OOO.
Timber was requisitioned from far and wide, and after it was dumped in the cage, the Germans were told to get on with it and build their own accommodation, which they soon did in a most professional manner. One of the first buildings put up was a guard room for our own benefit and I, in company with the rest of "A" squadron, was to spend the next month doing 24 hours on, and 24 hours off guard without a break.
At any one time there were only four men on actual guard around the perimeter, one patrolling the railway embankment, one the river bank, and the other two each other side of the cage. The Germans had their own internal guard to keep things in order within the cage itself and it was quite common for the British and German guards to patrol together, each on his own side of the wire.
On one occasion, in the early hours of the morning, I was chatting in German to my counterpart on the other side. I told him I was Jewish, to which I got the almost automatic response: "Ich habe so viel Freunden Juden!", and I asked him as a matter of academic interest what would have happened if some weeks earlier I had the misfortune to be captured by his own unit and they discovered I was Jewish.
He considered the matter for a moment and then told me that if I had been one of a large group of prisoners, then no attempt would have been made to segregate me, and I would have just been sent to the rear with the others. If, however, I had been captured separately and if his own officer said to him "shoot him" then he would simply have shot me, for as he quite cheerfully pointed out to me: "If I don't shoot you, then he shoots me!"
At the time, it all seemed perfectly logical to both of us and I have often been glad that events had never put the matter to the test.
On another occasion I was on the river bank duty and was being observed by a bunch of young Jerries. It was fairly obvious that they were amused by something and I asked them what they were laughing at. The ringleader said: "It's because you are only armed with a pistol!" as tank crew this was standard issue and worn in a belt holster. I pointed out to him that if he personally attempted to slip through the wire and swim the river, the pistol was more than sufficient to stop him, if on the other hand the whole 4OOO of them were to decide to make a run for it, then all the armoured cars in the village would probably have difficulty in stopping them. He saw the logic of it and shared it with his friends.
Occasionally we would lose some prisoners who would scoot up the railway embankment and make for the hills, and we used to send out patrols in the early hours to see if they were hiding in the local farms. To everyone's embarrassment we sometimes found our own troops having a liaison with the local "talent."
The snap lower left is titled "Off stag (stag being army slang for "guard")