Sunday, November 20, 2011

*Salutes new readers*

I think a lot of you may have come from Twitter, but just to say that it's very heartening to see interest in Freddie's diary. It's not unusual to see this kind of thing on the net, but I know that my Dad would have been delighted that so many people are interested in what he had to say. Anyway, here's my favourite picture of me and him (when I was cute and blonde. Not so much now).
New readers, please do start from the beginning, and please do leave comments - I am interested to hear from anyone who might have any memories of my Dad, as his diaries are incomplete and I would love to be able to fill in the gaps of the things he didn't finish. Clair

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Two minutes later the wooden gates have closed behind us. Once inside we are told to queue up and prepare for another search, but goodness knows what they expect to find after the search we had in Bari camp. The search did not take long owing to the fact that the guards searching us were soon to be off duty and were anxious to get finished.

Looking around the camp I could see that there were only a few other prisoners in the place and one said that he had arrived a few days earlier with the first inmates. The camp itself had been built originally as a wine factory and had only been built in a short time. The buildings, brick built, were large and in construction like large hangars. These were to have been the vat rooms and were large and airy and in a few weeks we were to know just how cold these buildings were.

It is now the middle of October and since our arrival a few days ago, we have all decided that this camp is not a luxury camp. When we entered our new billet we saw that our sleeping spaces were allocated and marked out on the floor by chalked lines. In the space we were to place a bundle of straw which the Italians had given each man as we entered the billet. Two blankets were issued later and that was a blessing for many of us were soon using one as a shawl when we went on roll call and on our walks round the compound.

Every morning we went on parade for the daily count and at mid-day had our issue of rice and tomato puree, a small soya flour loaf and a spoonful of sugar. At 6pm another roll call and at 8pm coffee and 'skilly'. When Red Cross parcels did come, it was amusing to see the lads 'brewing up'.

In each compound was situated an area 20 yards square roped off and was only to be used for the purposes of cooking. When Red Cross parcels were to be had these brewing grounds were a hive of activity, and as time went on, ingenious contraptions were to be seen working full pressure to give a quick brew with the minimum amount of energy used. The first time any of us had brewed up here we had used pieces of brick on which rested our tin of tea. The fuel used had been the staw on which we slept, and kneeling down had blown a the straw, lit from the embers of an earler fire. By the time the tea was boiling, the contents of the tin was tea and burnt straw. As time passed, most of us started to build small tin stoves and instead of blowing the fire, made a small fan to do the job for us, this being operated by the means of a handle.

The base of the machine was usually a board taken from the bunks which were issued after we had been in the camp about a month. The rest of the machine was built from the tins of the Red Cross parcels. Scissors could be brought off the guards for a few cigs and these were to cut the tins to the neccessary shape and size.

Although we now had bunks in which to sleep, we found that as the weather was so cold it was neccessary to spend most of the day under the blankets. It is near Xmas and most of us were now walking round in rags. When it was neccessary to go on parade for roll call we would use one blanket as a skirt, the other as a shawl. Something had to be done about this, so a deputation went to the Commandant asking that some form of clothing be issued to the lads. The answer was that the Red Cross had dispatched British uniforms but that they had not yet arrived. In the meantime, Yugoslav uniforms would be issued as a temporary measure. The lads were overjoyed when these were issued, for although most of us looked likd the cast of a comic opera, it was certainly great to be warmer in these non-heated billets.

Xmas came and the Italians gave us all double rations that day, and an issue of vino. Each billet had a little Xmas show and the talent found was really astounding and it was wonderful to laugh and forget we were prisoners for a moment. The day ended, we went to bed and dreamed of loved ones at home wondering just what they had been doing. 'Peace and goodwill towards men'; that is what we wanted to see, but would it be this year or next? One must just keep on trusting that all would be well for us all soon.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Great footage!

Can't spot the Pater, but great viewing nevertheless...



Sunday, November 8, 2009

The sun has disappeared and the darkness falls. Most of the lads are trying to sleep. Sleep takes the mind off food for a few hours. Jack Mason is asleep in the corner, just underneath the steel-barred window, the same type of window through which I was to escape a few months later. Charlie Forsyth, the shy boy in the RAMC, has just urinated into his empty Red Cross box and is stepping over the sleeping bodies to the window, through which he will pour out the urine. He reaches through the window and tips the contents out, but some of it runs though the box into the mouth of Jack Mason, sleeping in the corner. He was asleep, but he is certainly awake now, spluttering and cursing at poor Forsyth.

'What the bloody hell is going on?' 'S, s, s, sorry, ch, chum,' mumbles Charlie, 'couldn't help it, it's dripping.'

'Dripping? That's the queerest bloody dripping I've ever tasted!' shouts Mason at the top of his voice. All were awake now, but heartily amused at the incident.

Soon, it is quiet again, except for the rumble of the train as it heads its way north. The cold night air is coming up through the floorboards. I try to sleep, but my mind wanders back...

The cold and grey, a winter's day,
Before the break of dawn,
The guns are still, there's such a chill,
So early in the morn.

The field is hazed, the men half-dazed,
Their nerves are highly-strung,
They take the strain, an awful pain,
For zero hour has come.

A moment's spell, and then a YELL,
Word has come to charge,
Bared bayonets flash, wild men dash,
Over No Man's Land at large.

The silence broke, the guns have spoke,
Stark death fills the air,
The surge is on, the strain has gone,
There is no shirking there.

Their faces set, their goal they'll get,
Their object is to win,
They are gaining ground, their voices drowned,
Beneath the bullet's din.

Then, at last, the worst is past,
A battle's given birth
Each picks his man, fulfils his plan,
And bodies fall to earth.

The fight is fought, its life was short,
No greater deed is done,
There's time for rest, but not for jest,
A battle had been won.

I had cramp and woke up rubbing my legs, and soon had the blood circulating again. It was light now and many were eating the last morsel of food. I ate mine and wished for a drink of good English tea to wash it down.

Some of the lads are standing at the grille, looking out. Two of them have their noses through the bars, and for good reason, as someone has used the corner of the wagon for other purposes than sleeping. No wonder that corner of the wagon is deserted, and this end is so cramped. 'Dirty bastard!' says the little chap with the Ronald Colman moustache. 'Who was it? Why, it's poor old Forsyth again - dripping and now this!'

My watch has stopped, but guess the time is about 8am. A running commentary is being given by Jimmy James, who has levered a bar out of the window and has half his face outside. 'Pulling into a station, boys!' he shouts, 'give you the name in a sec!'

The train stops before we reach the station. A few minutes later the train starts to go back, but Jimmy says we are going onto a branch line. As the train goes on round a bend, Jimmy shouts that the train is only half the length it was when it left Bari, so somewhere, at some stop, some of the lads had been taken in another direction, to another camp. Fifteen minutes later, the train stops for the last time as far as we are concerned. We have arrived at our next camp!

The wagon doors are slid open, and gathering our small belongings, jumped down to the ground. Looking to the left, we all see great wooden gates ahead. This is our new home, Campo PG70, Monturano, Italy.

Irritable guards tell us to march towards the gates, but half the lads are urinating on the railway track, and themselves are in no mood to be pushed around. Presto! Presto! shout the guards, as slowly we make our way towards the gate. As we get nearer, I note that mounted machine guns are trained on us from the sentry box above the gates.

* This chap was also in PG70.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

It is now the end of October and one cold morning, a fatigue party were detailed to bring home the long-awaited Red Cross parcels into the camp. This was indeed good news, and the morale of the lads was raised tremendously. Smiles were to be seen again and before the parcels were issued, men were saying how they were going to eat the contents. One was going to eat his in one go, another ration himself to so much per day, another was going to keep his until all had eaten theirs and then they could watch him eat his. Knowing the men at this time, this one would be lucky to see any of his parcel if he kept it after the others had eaten theirs!

At 2pm, the first issue of parcels was made. I had not seen such excitement for a long time. All of us stood in the queue like a lot of excited schoolboys. At the head of the queue stood a wooden table, at which sat two Italian officers, nearby stood a British officer. Each man in his turn walked to the table and saluted, a parcel was then given to him which he opened in front of the issuing officer, all the contents put on the table in front of the Italian, who, with great gusto, plunged a spike into every can of food. The chocolate was broken into little pieces, just in case a map was concealed!

This piercing of tins meant the food had to be eaten quickly anyhow, and was done in order to prevent men hoarding tins of food in order to make an escape, which we were told was a prisoner's first duty. So the pierced tins were put back into the box and carried back to our tents.

What a tuck-in we had! 24 hours of bliss. After so long without decent food - of starvation and malnutrition - this issue of food caused much distress for a few days. The contents were grand, but after an orgy of stewed steak, Spam, apple pudding, raisins, biscuits, butter, chocolate, milk, sugar, tea and cheese, the bliss of this in a few hours turned to great distress, and many could be seen rolling on the straw in agony. Sickness and diarrhoea were the prevailing feature in the camp for the next few days. Many blamed the Red Cross for their predicament, most blamed themselves.

600 of us moved out of the camp in late October. The march to Bari station was so different from our march to the camp a few weeks earlier. The soldiers, many of whom had stoned us earlier, now stood near the barracks, staring at us, not a word of abuse coming from their lips. Perhaps the news was good for us, perhaps the war was at an end, perhaps we should be home for Christmas -perhaps!

Nearer the station, children stood and smiled, some said 'Buono Inglese, la guerre quasi finere'. The war to finish soon! Yes, if that was true, the news was good. Water was offered to us by the children, and the guards did not stop us from taking it from them.

It was obvious to all that something great had taken place, and we climbed on the cattle wagons with light hearts. The wagons had no seats, no straw,and I had no overcoat or blanket to keep me warm tonight. I could only hope that we were not to travel far.

It is noon, and all seems still. The guards sit on the ground near the wagons, munching bread and salami, we sit watching, hoping that perhaps one guard is not hungry today. Before the train moved off, and wagon doors locked, we were surprised to receive a bag of food for our trip. Opening the bag, we found two salami sandwiches.After our parcel eating experience, we had learnt to treat our stomachs with respect, so did not scoff the food all at once, after all, how long was it to last?

At 3pm, the guard's siesta finished and the train moved off. Hour after hour the train thundered on -the wheels rumbling on the track appeared to be saying 'To another camp, to another camp', on, on, on. It is getting stuffy in the wagon, 40 bodies crowded into such a confined space. Anyway, it gives the fleas and lice a chance to change their abode if they want to!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Photographic evidence

Well, I did promise ages ago, but I had a top e-mail from Ian in New Zealand commenting on pater's pic as the Sheikh of Araby. Here are some more pics of him - in Egypt. Click for bigger, obviously.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Words cannot express the comfort of that first night under canvas, on a bed of straw, two blankets and hoping hearts. In the desert we had grumbled:

Out here in the desert we often feel sad,
Things might be worse, but if they were they'd be bad,
We try to keep smiling, but here comes the rub,
We're 400 miles from the nearest pub.

The lads at the base can still drink a toasts,
Swilling their beer and forgetting our post,
It's hard to keep smiling, to be of good cheer,
When we're 400 miles from a nice glass of beer.

At home the Canadian is making his call,
The beer's in the cupboard, the wife's in the hall,
She sends us a wire saying 'Hope you are well',
But we're still 400 miles from the nearest hotel.

Churchill has promised 'blood, toil and sweat',
It might be a promise, it might be a threat,
We wish he could provide us with two-seater cars,
To drive 400 miles to the nearest bars.

In our holes in the ground, we lay down and dream,
Of days spent fishing from the bank of a stream,
Or of nights fire-gazing, sat on the rug,
But we wake up and find we're still 400 miles from the Bottle and Jug.

There is no beer here in this camp, bu the thought of a constant supply of water thrilled us, and it was strange to see chaps filling bottles and bringing them back to the tent, just to look at it. Others would fill their tins with water and pour it over themselves, soaking themselves and their clothes.

We awoke each morning to the sound of a bugle note of the Italian reveille, thus we all returned to the realities of life - forgotten for the moment the bed of straw, constant water supply and the prospect of Red Cross parcels. It was time for roll call, after which a cup of ersatz coffee would be issued, this was made from acorns, first ground then roasted.

After roll call, the day was our own to do as we liked, but the things we most wanted to do were not inside the bounds of the camp. The day would be spent talking about food. One man would tell of an evening out in the West End of London. In detail, he would speak of his attire, evening dress, his wife on his arm, a mink stole around her shoulders, her body sheathed in a black taffeta gown.

They walk to the front door, the taxi is waiting. In half an hour they have arrived at the Cafe de Paris. A commissionaire opens the door, the driver is paid, and into the restaurant they walk. It is now 9pm and for the next three hours they eat a fine four-course meal, laced with the appropriate drinks.The evening finished off by an hour on the dance floor, dancing to the music of Ambrose.

Another would tell of his mother making a lovely steak and kidney pudding for dinner, with apple tart as the second course. Then, the comic would say all he wanted was a meat pudding the size of a house with him in the middle to eat his way out!

This constant talking about food was tribulation to all of us, and with mouths watering, we would get up and get away from this tantalising conversation. Nearly all the morning had been spent talking about good, wholesome food and now it was nearly 1pm - this was the hour for 'skilly'.

At 5pm, a loaf of bread was issued, and at 7pm, ersatz coffee again. Although conditions at Bari were better than those at Bengazi, it was not long before we were becoming melancholy. Rumours ran wild. Deliveries of Red Cross parcels had been coming every day now for a week, but still it was 'skilly' and acorn coffee, without milk or sugar. Winter was coming on and none of us had sufficient clothing for cold weather.My one and only shirt had now been thrown away, as there was more hole than shirt. I was still wearing the overalls I had in Tobruk, but these were now quite threadbare. My £3 overcoat had been stolen since we arrived in Bari camp. It had been taken one day while I was collecting my skilly. Of course, no-one knew about it. Self-preservation was the code of life, I had to accept my loss.