Summary of Reg Dickinson
Pilot Officer Reg Dickinson was shot down in North Africa in June 1942 and after a stay in Tripoli Hospital was transferred to various PoW camps in Italy. After the Armistice he escaped with the other officers from PG 49 Fontanellato and was on the run until being recaptured in the area of the Sangro river in February 1944. Dickinson was moved to Auschwitz and Stalag Luft III. The final diary entries on which this account is based derive from the Long March towards the west. The account is noteworthy because it recounts in almost daily detail his life and emotions whilst a fugitive in Italy and subsequently in a German PoW camp. Unfortunately the description of his recapture by the Germans is missing.
The full story follows, in two versions. The version in the first window below is the original scanned version of the story. In the second window below is the transcribed version in plain text.
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September 1942 returned from SA via Trinidad, West Indies, Bermuda [illegible]
217 Squadron Malta
21 June 1942 Shot down
Trig Ta Huna (Tripoli POW camp)
Bari (Italian POW camp)
Montalbo (Italian POW camp)
Fontanellato (Italian POW camp)
9 September 1943 Left Fontanellato
9/09/43-23/12/43 Period covered by diary
February 1944? Villa Santa Lucia
13 February 1944 Recaptured by Germans
[illegible] ? March 1944 Stalag Luft 3
Wrote to Ruth from Stalag Luft 3, 23 April 1944. POW 3843,
Great Escape 24 March 1944
27th January 1945 Left on Long March
Milag and Marlag Nord
Lubeck Marched towards British Army for 3 weeks (April 1945)
2 May 1945 met three British tanks
8 May 1945 Lancaster brought them back (VE Day)
48 hours, then went on leave
Home Jack back from Turkey after 5 years, Peg on leave, 14 August 1945 War ended (15 August 1945 VJ Day)
POW Diary 15 February 2006
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Reg Dickinson shot down 21 June 1942
ALICE – AND THE WHISTLE
It was June 1942 in beleaguered Malta. Only a fortnight before, our RAF torpedo bomber squadron had left England for Trincomalee, Ceylon, with kit and spares stowed in torpedo bays to join the war in the Far East. Flying by day, a little aghast at the sun and the clear skies of the Mediterranean after the cloud and fogs of the Scottish and Norwegian coasts, we first tasted battle as we rounded Cape Bon when waiting Macchi fighters from Sicily claimed their first squadron victim.
Petrol was running short when we sighted the rocky island and the dust-swept area of Lucca airfield. We thought it was dust-swept but as we landed with almost empty tanks, high above we saw the Messerschmitts. The dust was from exploding bombs launched from above. We landed with unusual haste and out came the ground crews with their transport, disregarding the pattern of death, to guide us swiftly and efficiently to the perimeter pens. We quickly realised why this was the George Cross island.
We never reached Trincomalee. Authority decided that there were richer pickings in the Mediterranean and three days later we attacked the largest Italian fleet concentration that had ever dared to sail Mare Nostrum.
And so it went on, fighting in the air, searching for Axis convoys and returning to a base where petrol, ammunition, food and aircraft could not be replenished and only grim determination and hope was keeping the fortress impregnable.
June 21 1942 was a hot, cloudless day. Early in the morning we were briefed to attack two cargo ships believed to be carrying tanks, making their way along the Tunisian coast to reinforce the German army. The briefing was short, the ships lay south of Pentellaria, we could expect fighter attack. We could not have fighter escort. It was not encouraging.
I went back to my stone-washed hut and sat on my bed; there was half an hour to take-off. Suddenly I decided to write my Will. There was really not much to leave, but a letter home suggesting who might have my prized possessions somehow seemed right – but I had never been tempted to do this before. I packed all my kit.
I joined up with the crew. There was Squadron Leader Lynn, the pilot, who had just joined us. Tim Frith, the air gunner, a Manchester man, and George Horn, wireless operator, a solicitor, a Lancastrian, red-headed, tall and unflappable. George liked football and refereeing and this had something to do with our story later.
With an air raid in progress, five Beauforts from 217 Squadron took off from Lucca for better visibility, unhappy that it was necessary to forsake the comfort and surprise of a low-level attack.
We flew on; the sea seemed empty, the water reflecting back like a great golden mirror, but suddenly we saw the merchantmen – and the fighters too. Down we went
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to 100 feet to begin the run in for the attack.
The water and the sky began to erupt as ships and fighters sought to short us down as we moved on target, in classic style, straight and level at 100 feet, ready to drop our torpedo. It fired and to clear the ship we ran through the aerial rigging. There was a crash. The plane filled with smoke and Robert Lynn was dead at the controls.
With his hands still holding the stick back, the plane climbed away while with the crew I tried to release him and take over. For a moment there seemed to be a cathedral-like quiet. The ships were to our stern, the fighters had gone and with them the rest of our squadron. Somehow, I managed to grab the controls. There was something to be thankful for. We were still flying at about 1000 feet. Gently I turned the plane towards Malta, wondering if we ever got there, how I would land.
Five minutes’ flying then we knew that a return to Malta was unlikely. Our engine was on fire, the wings were shattered, we were all wounded and the aircraft was slowly losing height – but it was still flying. Like us, it seemed to be clinging to life.
We began to stall. I put the Beaufort’s nose down and at 240 knots, we hit the sea. The controls were like lead. The Perspex nose broke, a great wall of seawater engulfed us and seemed to cushion the impact as I was thrown forward. We were under green water and then suddenly it was sunlight again.
From their crash stations, Tom the air gunner, and George the radio operator, moved to the rear to exit and release the dinghy. My harness was jammed in the throttle mechanism but a childhood memory reminded me not to struggle, and as the water rose to chest height, the harness floated free and I crawled out of the cockpit.
Tom had moved quickly. Out on the wing he had his hand on the release marked ‘Pull to Launch Dinghy’. He pulled and the handle came away in his hand. There was to be no dinghy. We cursed the man who made the faulty join.
The plane settled and we knew there were only seconds left. Quickly we three survivors threw ourselves clear as she quietly sank from sight with Robert Lynn aboard. It was exactly 1.22 pm in the middle of the Mediterranean Sae and 90 miles from the nearest land.
We grouped ourselves together, inflated our Mae Wests, and tried to examine our wounds, and took comfort from Tom’s report that just before we had crashed, he had put out an SOS.
The sea was warm – but did Malta have an air-sea rescue service? If they had an air-sea rescue service, had they petrol? We really didn’t know!
Afternoon turned to evening, the wind increased, the waves grew higher and then a Red Cross seaplane flew immediately overhead. It seemed so close. We waved. We shouted but he flew on his way. Then came the night. It was cold and dark. Perhaps we were not so far from land as we thought. We could see lights, but it was difficult seeing each other so with the cords on our Mae Wests, we tied ourselves
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together. Nobody would be lost during the night. There was no conversation. There seemed little point in talking and the little Catherine-wheel of bodies slowly propelled itself towards the mirage of light flickering on the horizon. It grew colder, but the salt water was a balm for the wounds. Then the moon came up and everything turned to silver.
For the first time in many hours we could see each other again, but Tom was in repose. He had quietly died during the night. Without a word we untied him and watched his body slowly float away as we splashed on to ….nowhere.
When morning came, we had company. A yellow and green smoke float from the aircraft. All our swimming had been to no avail, we were being carried by the current and so was the smoke float. The sea would decide our destination.
The sun came up and our spirits rose. Perhaps the SOS had got through, perhaps somebody would see us. But could one really believe this when as far as the eye could see, there was nothing but sea? I remembered a line from the Ancient Mariner.
The sun rose, it was warmer, the sky was blue and we waited, our Mae Wests buoyant, as if we were sitting in two armchairs. There was no point in trying to swim anywhere, the current was in command. The day wore on and the sun became hotter and the mind began to wander.
“Could anyone imagine where I am now? Has the squadron written us off?”
There seemed no point in optimism, but then I thought “If I have to die, why wait? What is worse than a long, lingering experience that must inevitably end in death?” The only thing that was keeping me alive was the Mae West. If I deflated it, I would still go on swimming until strength failed. Why not drink sea-water, then deflate it – and sink?
I tried drinking sea-water. It seemed to quench my thirst, and suddenly the idea of drinking more and more was a good idea.
George, a few yards away from me, in the midst of this huge open sea-stage, suddenly became involved in his own thoughts. From his tunic pocket, he gently produced a picture of his fiancée, Alice. A quarrelsome courtship had almost ended their romance before he left England. George solemnly and 90 miles from land began to talk to Alice.
“I’ll be back”, he said and the conversation went on. He was with Alice and suddenly drinking sea-water did not seem to be such a good idea and we began to talk again. George told me of his plans to marry, if he ever got through the war. We were still talking about Alice when, far away, we saw movement.
Could it be a ship? It was. What sort, we couldn’t make out. Would it see us? It seemed to turn away, then it came back towards us. It moved a little closer but it still looked like a toy boat. With the little strength we had left we waved and we shouted but gain it changed course, away from us, and then George remembered. From his pocket he brought out a whistle – and blew.
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It was only the day before, involved in his inevitable football that somebody had told him to keep the whistle – “He was the lousiest refer he’d ever seen!”
George blew and blew and blew and suddenly the ship was heading towards us. There were voices, Italian voices.
Just 24 hours had elapsed since we crashed.
There were years of prison camp ahead and then I came home, to journey to Burnley to watch George wed his Alice. But the story lacked its happy ending because Alice was killed in a car crash some years later.
I often think of Alice and her picture and George’s whistle and that strange conversation.
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The WW2 Diary of Pilot Officer Reg Dickinson
Italy: 9 September-23 December 1943
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ITALY AFTER FONTANELLATO
September 9th. Order to move out at 12 as Germans were approaching the camp. Moved en masse into woods and spent two nights there, hoping situation would clear.
September 11th. Nearly everyone making a move. Was going with party, but had foot trouble – took opportunity of taking a billet.
September 12th. Family of 5 very poor, but extremely kind to me. Comfortable for 2 days – after that people began getting nervous and on the 15th, having contacted 3 of our chaps, we decided to move in the direction of the mountains. Started at dawn, all very shaky expecting trouble, but crossed the main road-railway bridge without difficulty. Had our 1st daylight move clad in our ‘civvy’ attire, made 10 miles in spite of the fact that we drank vino and ate grapes at every opportunity.
September 13th. A new roost, 2 families sleeping in the hay, attracting far too much attention, working a bit, spending much time in the woods. Became obvious that 4 is too many so decided to split. The Major seemed keen on coming with me as my Italian goes over quite well. After 3 days moved off again further into the mountains.
Met up with some of our chaps again, travelling by night because of their uniform. At 2 places had grand parties and fed awfully well. Keep meeting people who speak the odd word of English or American! Moved on again – having heard the news which isn’t very inspiring. Spent a miserable day in the mountains climbing paths that goats would look askance at. Morale really pretty low, my companion not perhaps the best I could have chosen! Both are at fault because neither of us seems to visualise any definite plan of campaign. One gets so bloody lonely wondering what next and where and is it all worth it with our boys 500 miles away. Felt pretty miserable about Paddy. Thought a lot of him.
Found another spot. Terribly poor but awfully kind to us both. Really marvellous. (Africa Corps). Moved on again and found a grand house, fed awfully well. ??? the charming daughter and heard the wireless, but how bloody the news seems to us so far north.
September 22nd (Wednesday) Valmozzia district. Are doing very well but terribly browned off with life. ‘Jerry’ is now offering a reward of £5000 and cigarettes and clothes which won’t help us much.
September 23rd. Moved on again to a house full of cloak and dagger merchants. Very amusing. Turfed out early in the morning. P. pretty ill with a chill. Have decided to go south in spite of no map. One can’t just stick around doing damn all.
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September 24th. (Friday) Made another billet, very poor place, but extremely kind. Lazed about until about 4 and then decided to move nearer the river so we could cross first thing in the morning. Long tramp over the mountains, and at dusk found our old spot. Didn’t get a terribly enthusiastic welcome but an hour later all seemed well, as we tucked into the minestrone, wine and MEAT.
September 25th (Saturday). About 6am, still dark, we weighed anchor and feeling pretty bloody at that time of the morning made our way carefully across the railway and the Taro and over into the mountains. After crossing two valleys were just about all in. Collected food as we progressed, and about 1, after a rest chanced the National Road which had been reported pretty tricky. Approached mostly on hands and knees. Over and feeling 1 obstacle accomplished we rested and about 4 set off to find a house. Started to rain very heavily, luckily we were in a populated area, and later had a very homely time watching a ten-day old baby being fed at incredibly short intervals. Slept badly on poor quality hay – very thankful for the blankets we had borrowed. Left early Sunday just before the family, all dressed, ironed and pressed, left for the christening.
September 26th (Sunday) A beautiful day, with a howling wind that bowled us over as we tried to cross the mountains again. Walked long and hard, crossing mountains about 5000 feet. For an hour in a perfect valley, absolutely away from the world. Seeing little in the way of good digs we plodded on, covering twice the distance intended. The hardest going yet. About 7 we were still on the move wondering where we could find a bed. How kind the fates were. We lighted on a village set in a ravine, cold and hungry, and within 30 minutes were sitting in a warm civilised room, eating well and realising how lucky we were. Incredible – BEDS to sleep in!!
Heard news of Carver, Padre Mac and Hill, who plodded along this way. Started raining.
September 27th (Monday) Clouds at our door. Grey everywhere – foul weather. Hopeless trying to start with our one set of clothes. Glady agreed to stay – the beds are like magnets. Fed very well, but indoors get terribly restless trying to stop twiddling one’s thumbs.
September 28th (Tuesday) Grey again – everywhere. Fine for a few minutes and then poured. Tried copying from a school atlas. Ate very well again and slept excellently.
September 29th (Wednesday) People have been grand but are getting just a shade jumpy. Grey, but fine. Started with loads of best wishes – (food?) for days. Before long met 5 Italians going our way – a good crows – and we covered a fair distance that day walking – what relief – on fairly level ground. Marooned again by rain
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from 2 to 4 and after crossing two flooded rivers found a house where we had our worst meal and bed since we started.
September 30th (Thursday) Off at 9, fine but mountain tracks hellish. Laboured for hours trying to cross a valley. Grand reception at one of the villages. Directed on over the mountains to Valbona. Guided by an ex-naval chap we wandered for hours, landing at our destination about 5. For a time thought we’d have to move on, but kindness overruled their fears.
During the evening found an excellent map, copied as best we could. Met up with a soldier journeying to R. Calabria who seems keen to keep with us. We’ll try him. Heard news of Milner and something of Peter Oasle. Slept jolly well.
October 1st (Friday) Raining again in the morning, things looking generally pretty bloody. Jittered about all day. Finally, after persuasion decided to move tomorrow. Very kindly given another singlet, real homespun wool. Amazing to watch the girls from 9-90 working away everywhere you go. Getting terribly restless if we stay put anywhere. Troops seem to be advancing fairly well now. Maybe we’ll get through yet.
Next entry: October 28th
October 28th (Wednesday) Left at 9, wandered most of the morning in clay-filled ravines and gullies and finally rescued by a charming gal who insisted on taking us into a nearby town for lunch. Felt a bit windy, but after lunch very content. All 3 browned off with the progress. Peter and Charles decided to try the main road. I, cautious, was agin it and we parted, hoping to meet over the line. Found a very good house when it started to rain, ate chicken, trousers patched. Very kind, slept well.
October 29th (Thursday) Chicken for breakfast. Pocket full of apples and cheese and a mountain 4500 feet to climb. After 2 hours lost in cloud and soaked to the skin. Was desperate but found a group of men sheltering round a fire. Drank 6 glasses of wine and left with good wishes – very much drunk. Staggered and rolled, singing to myself down the mountain. An hour later hit the valley and found myself miles off my track. Spent a miserable night eating bread with dozens of squealing kids.
October 30th (Friday) ???? discovered a village 4000 ft (?) below. Met a wonderful old woman who stopped me, changed my clothes and produced sweet coffee in a few minutes. Marvellously kind. Had a good day resting and eating.
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October 31st (Saturday) Left at 9, cloudy but fine, made excellent progress down the small roads. Bought 20 cigs!!! Lunched on a massive steak. Crossed terrific range towards Sorti, nearly got caught in the dark. By luck hit Sorti – smack. Found a house, all pretty dumb but ate well.
October 31st (Sunday) Am locked out while the family go to mass. Raining like hell, and very cloudy. No sign of the others. Map finished. Impossible to move. Ate very poorly. News of many passing Sorti a fair time ago. Off to bed at 7.30 – dreaming of home. Watching illicit stilling of ‘Mistra’.
November 1st (Monday) What will this month bring? Grey skies again. Mountains rolled in cloud, but not raining. Cold. Locked out again while family go to Mass. Almost turned R.C. Should make a little progress today with luck. “All Saints Day” makes direction-asking difficult, as no one is in the mountains. Left at 10 towards Serraville di Ciente. Coffee’d with some Y.S – lunched with Y.S. At 2 left with good intentions to get to V.St.L. Halfway up the mountain met a half-drunk shepherd who insisted I’d have to spend the night in the woods if I progressed. Had a spot of food, bored stiff by his drunken meanderings. Bed at 7 – minus a blanket and damn cold. Still no sign of the others.
November 2nd (Tuesday) Was evicted at 6, cold, minus breakfast, luckily had a spot of cheese with me. Climbed about 4000 ft. After reaching plateau sat down in disgust, surrounded by fine clouds and not a person in sight. A bit ‘parky’. Writing this here hoping clouds will ‘roll away’. Don’t trust my little compass too much. What a life – Dear Mother!!! Actually, hit my aiming point 2 hours later. Tried to find a map – but in vain. While arguing in a D.N. 2 Carabinieri arrived complete with armbands. I hurriedly moved to a room above for safety. Journeyed on picking up a spot of bread and cheese. Climbed 4 mountains – very high and at 4 was looking down on the S. Maestro. Wonderful view. Dozens of scattered villages about full of ‘bomb-scary’ Romans. Things didn’t look too hopeful as regards a billet, but, by chance, hit upon a grand fellow – who insisted that I sleep in a bed. Ate jolly well – plainly and plentiful. Very difficult moving about minus a map. Local inhabitants are pretty thick!!
November 3rd (Wednesday) Moved down the valley towards VISO, making pretty poor progress and finally got so browned off decided to chance everything and go to town and buy a few things. Walked down the main road. All very hazy minus map. Contacted and was escorted to the top of the mountain, and entertained by gang of refugees, feeding and living jolly well. Captain in charge. No map! But promise of boots being repaired. Met two OR’s who are held up with boot trouble. Are very well organised here from point of food and quarters. Slept poorly.
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November 4th (Thursday) One of the boys left for town with my boots. Hopeful? Had conference with the CO. Had a bath in ice-cold water. Managed a razor from one of the boys! Cold as hell here. Eating reasonably well, but breakfast at 12 Lazed about all day – shockingly cold at 5,0000 feet. Had a long talk with G. Off to bed at 8. Boots returned, magnificently studded. Cost £50.
November 5th (Friday) Left for Castel Luccia via the mountains. At 5-6000 feet all the time. Cold and hard going but scenery overpowering. Lunched sparingly at 12 after 4 hours on a piece of bread. Excellent meal at C.L. Hordes here. 13 OR’s. Slept in the straw – bit cold. Magnificent meal. Scenery amazing. Plain!
November 6th (Saturday) Walked for 4 miles across the plain. Beautiful day. Mountains quite gentle, made good time. Looks like easier going. Arrived 5 at Illia. Fed jolly well. Lot of people from Rome here. Ate jolly well here. About 9 just as we were thinking of retiring when they brought a calf in the kitchen and killed it. What fun! Frightened of the ?? Bags of black market. Puzzled about route. Due south looks pretty dangerous. Left very discontented having spent a night lying on ‘mealies’.
November 7th (Sunday) Left early and made good time – beautiful day. Quite a convoy. Walter and George very cheerful. Met our 2 Y.S. friends again. Caught in rain and dark. Made Preta. What a hole. Bread solo and everybody scared to death.
November 8th (Monday) Woke to find the dreaded snow everywhere. Left for Campotosto about 6 inches snow. Sunny – going pleasant. Arrived with 2 Y’s at C in blizzard. C’s shoes up. Met Lieut. Y.S. – good type – very keen on coming south. Ate like kings – plans laid on choice of 3 routes. Finally decided after much discussion on E of Sasso – shortest. Slept well.
November 9th (Tuesday) Purchased map from CT (?) Necessary. Make good progress in blizzard towards Nerito! Going easy. Scares started!! Warnings about impossibility of getting food, finding a place to sleep etc. Lots have returned. Could get no bed so slept in a disused hut for a couple of hours – 5-8. Thank God! Had some bread and made a fire. Sat round it all night. One hour on -one off. 6 rather a crowd! Me?? ‘Felice’, ‘Bogo’, Franz, Walter and George.
November 10th (Wednesday) Woke to find the weather filthy, had been sleeting and snowing alternatively, clouds lay below and above us. Moving on was impossible under such conditions, but we were still optimistic. After as miserable as ever. Wondering about food, but had some bread in hand. Using ‘Angina’ as an excuse, 2 set off for the good people of a nearby village. I was the patient. Came back with oil tablets, blanket, pullover, scarf. T. flask full of hot soup. Aniseed in a bowl of pasta, bread etc. Even I felt guilty! Are very keen on
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us staying here. It’s a temptation. Life would be very rough but secure. Road (main) lies in the valley below about 2000 ft down. Ate well! Gosh, how hungry we were. Offered to write a cheque in £ for an overcoat but no luck!
Rained all day – miserable but company is good. Conversation a mixture of YS, English, Italian, French. Walter F this, F that, a natural comedian with high altitude spirits. Sat and yarned round the fire. To bed with my blanket – slept quite well.
November 11th (Thursday) Our troops are nearing P and it seems a waste of time to try and get down East of the Sasso, so while things are secure, I think we’ll stay here – at least for a while and see if we make a landing anywhere.
Beautiful day. Cold – with snow glistening on the tops of the mountains. Grand Sasso with a snow plume waving from its peak. Sat round the fire most of the day after having had an ice-cold bath. George and Bogo contacted another village and came back loaded with stuff – potatoes, pasta, cheese etc. Fiesta tomorrow? As the ‘patient’ I must stay at home. Confess got very browned off. Felix and Franz went down to our supply depot and came back loaded with ‘goods’ – meat etc. Yarned all night. Bed at 10. Slept jolly well.
November 12th (Friday) Another grand day, cold but fine. Saw party of 12 stalking across the mountains. Our advance near Pescara. Wait and see. Sow is melting. Have been eating very well, but all starchy stuff. Breakfast pasta, lunch ‘goulash’, apples and bread all day long. Brewed up pin point of precious tea. A real cup is just one of the things that will be a sensation when I arrive home. Cigarettes are hopeless – the contraband finished yesterday – the cig. Papers two days ago. We’re reduced to unhygienic rolls in newspaper, lavatory paper, exercise books, that pass from mouth to mouth. Today we’ re going to try potato peelings. Day went quickly but our place was discovered about 2 by F’s ‘foster mother’ who implored him to come back and bring the sick captain with him! Bogo and George went off again – hunting for food. Wonderful night – snow glistening on the mountain caps and scudding clouds. Heard artillery in the far distance about 8. Roast potatoes, toast – and so to bed. Speriamo! (we hope)
November 13th (Saturday) Another grand day – crisp and clear. Started well by eating polenta, and lacking plates, Franz with his usual demonstration removed the front door, spread the polenta and we ate off that. Great heavy meals are the order of the day, potatoes and flour ??? flavoured with a little oil and cheese. We’ll be horribly fat if we stay here long. Did nothing as usual except about 3 have a shave, ready for my outing to the world ‘below’.
Left about 5, were on the road when overtaken by 3 German trucks – all was well. Ate well, all very concerned about my health, collected an Italian greatcoat, an amazing hat, sort of Anthony Eden special which makes me feel like a plutocrat in
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disguise, tobacco, apples, cheese and drank well. Riotous night – 40 mph wind, full moon, hard going. No news of import. Slept well.
November 14th (Sunday) Ate gigantic quantities of potato and flour again. Changeable day. Beginning to feel restless – want to be on the move again. This is just like the early days of POW life. One’s mind a blank, not daring to think of all the things so dear. Lost my hat in the wind last night so had a trip to recover it. Very much an English November day. George, Walter and Franz set off in spite if the weather for No. 2. Within an hour was as dark as the Styx, rain lashing everywhere, filling our ‘hotel’ and the old game of trying to find a dry spot started all over again. Thank God! The hay was reasonably dry – everything else was soaked. By 10 we were tired but built a huge fire and waited to see if there was any sign of George and Franz. At 12.30 went to bed.
Think at this stage I should give a word or two about our hotel.
About 6 x 12 yards – earth floor, built on to the side of some outcropping rocks. Used previously for animals – now – hardly air conditioned, blows in freely from 6 large holes, and about 600 small ones. Have a huge fireplace, one construction, in the corner. Water – stream about 200 yards away. Sleeping – suspended twixt earth and sky, a trick ¼ floor of hay. A bit difficult at night when the smoke lies heavy on the lungs, and lacking a chimney refuses to escape. Chairs 6 large rocks. Bit too much like Scouting for me.
Lying about 1 k above main road. Gradient 1/3. H.T. cables in vicinity.
November 13th (Monday) A day of despair. Horribly homesick, neuralgia, sore throat, ad incessant rain for 18 hours. Water pouring in everywhere. So bad the 3 for No.2 couldn’t get back and enjoyed the luxury of a bed. Terrific meals of potato and flour, and gallons of potato soup. All stickers – but excellent for keeping warm. What price steak and mushrooms? All the surrounding mountains are covered with snow. Freezing during the night. George getting on my nerves a bit. Still in a quandary as to what to do – in this weather we’d make no progress.
November 16th (Tuesday) An awe-inspiring dawn, but later a day of relentless rain. After a good night’s sleep am feeling better. Spent a couple of hours with the axe, collecting wood – our tree consumption a day would be quite interesting. Stodge today – polenta and beans, with usual results. Bags of starchy stuff, but are lacking the trimmings at present: puree, cheese, onions etc. – and of course MEAT.
Have been smoking very well for the last few days, but it’s so irregular and the tobacco so rough that I for one have passed the ‘craving’ stage.
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Franz and I were going down to the village, but the heavens opened and we decided to keep by the fire. Other 3 left for F but didn’t return. Raining incessantly again. These trips up and down mountains, across streams, on 6” paths are tricky at night.
Franz regaled us with curdling tales of his partisan days. Bed at 8.30 with the usual drip-drip accompaniment.
All save Felix seem agreed to retrace steps for the C Sector once the weather settles at all. 8th Army seem to be making no progress against!!!!
November 17th (Wednesday) A reasonable sort of day, raining but crisp. The 3 returned about 11, marvellously equipped with shirts, handkerchiefs, food tobacco and medicine – aspirin etc. Jolly useful. Franz and I left at dusk to go below An incredible trip in the dark, fording the flooded river, sliding down the hills. Arrived in time for a little chicken, figs. Heard the radio – “everything firm” – disheartening. All were very kind. We’ve enough food for 7 days now, I think. Left about 8, staggering with a flask of Vino in my right hand. A little more tobacco – all helps. Arrived ‘home’ – a beaker of cognac from F. Polenta-potato cum Mac stew – and lots and lots of bread. Perfect night, tropical moon. Apparently quite a few English in the neighbourhood.
November 18th (Thursday) Little doing today as we’re well equipped for food for a few days. Watched 4 of our planes, don’t know the type, weaving up and down this road looking for trouble. Walter down with a troublesome skin disease. Feeling pretty low in spirits. Would give a lot for an English book.
November 19th (Friday) G & F left at 6 to try and pick up some equipment, blankets, shirts etc. at a spot some 10 miles from here! Grand day. Bogo and I spent the afternoon sprucing up ready for our trip to F. In my rigout the best I can appear as a respectable type of tramp. Arrived about 6, we’re soon at home round the fire eating a magnificent pasta S. People started to drift in, bringing more shirts, socks, pullovers, handkerchiefs – and food. Struck gold with 10 cigs each. Everybody very kind. Spent some time making eyes at the gals – and wishing. Oh yes! We’re two good Catholics. Bed – pillows and sheets!! At ten and a wonderful sleep. News still very disheartening. When is something going to happen?
November 20th (Saturday) Breakfast – collected food when one good lady arrived with a magnificent bowl of pasta for us all. Two insisted on coming back with us – 2 hours’ journey over foul country and shamed us further by picking up our sacks, placing them on their heads, leaving us to carry ourselves and munch the odd apple. Couldn’t part them from the loads and arrived at Paradise rather like the white man and native carriers. Exclamations of sympathy etc. while we ate like horses and knocked back the vino. If the snow does arrive here, it’s going to be the very devil trying to pick up food. Everybody horribly fed up with the general inactivity and
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Lack of anything to pass the time. Bed at 8 and slept badly. F went down to N. to sleep.
November 21st (Sunday) A slight advance of 8k in the region of the Sangro. Grand day. Stew for breakfast – sempre! (always) 2 Yugo’s dropped in – are hiding up 5 hours from here – 20 (?) Everything quiet as the tomb – festa (feast). Gift of meat turned out to be an uneatable species of mule – excellent shock absorber. Everything quiet as a tomb.
November 22nd (Monday) Roof collapsed, narrowly missing killing – or braining yours truly. Lunch supplied by our padrone whose poker-faced wife brought a large bowl of gnocchi up the mountain. We ate it picnic-fashion in the vicinity of the ravine. Roof was something of a problem but brute force and a few trees have helped quite a lot. Left with Felice and Bogo for F. Arrived about 6 and every shortly were entertaining rich and poor who came along with gifts for the poor ‘laddies’. Collected some shirts and odd things. Slept well in ‘our’ bed. Gold in the shape of 20 cigs, 3 cigars and a bottle of cognac.
November 23rd (Tuesday) Filthy, wet, windy day delayed our going until mid-day when loaded with a colossal sack we staggered towards home, alternately wet and dry. Arrived in time to hear that things were flapping and the old familiar words of spy etc., kept creeping into the conversation. F and I left to visit the source of information, ate well, listened hard and decided in case things were true, to move away, if only for a few days. Arrived back to find everybody in bed and not enthusiastic about leaving at 4.
November 24th (Wednesday) Left at 4 – a hellish journey through the woods carrying about 25 bulky kilos each. Got caught on the road by Jerry convoy, but passed safely. Arrived at T about 9 after a hell of a climb, to find we were not expected. Luckily found some decent people who heard our plight and decided to help. All 6 moved into a house, took possession of the fire, cooked our food and felt at least a little contented. Slept well in the old ‘stalla’ (stable) again.
November 25th (Thursday) Woke late and started life in the village – not an encouraging prospect as they insist we keep to the house all day. Snowing and raining, cold and windy so perhaps we are better off. B returned from F with the story of 2 Jerries arriving and asking the way to our house? My neuralgia has been hellish. Gran Sasso looks marvellous covered with snow. Ate pretty well.
November 26th (Friday) Impatient, not liking this life. Very cooped up. Grand day. 8th Army advanced into defence works of the Sangro. Again, took possession of the kitchen. 6 of us all round the fire and the poor women warming themselves over a few ashes. Truly woman is not emancipated here. Did literally nothing all day. B and I arranged to go to F. B tooth extracted – entertainment.
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November 27th (Saturday) Scares started early. At 9 Caribs (carabinieri) arrived and we were locked up, cold and hungry, until 11. Later discovered C’s were interested in illegitimate slaying of a pig. At 3, looking like a Canadian lumberjack with Frank’s coat, left A for F. When in vicinity (of it) ran into a Guardia Forestale. Everybody started running. Report from A that Jerry had sent out parties to pick us up, the prisoners in T had been denounced, that we must flee, F now packs a p (?). Long journey to F. Arrived at 7 tired. Content reigned, no flap – all was rumours. Ate a grand bowl of pasta under the eyes of our usual visitors. Later heard radio in the house of the ‘ricchi’ (rich) and sipped wonderful coffee and liqueurs. Decided to have BW, pants died. F. tells me English can pass the front via Mare but YS’s no. Slept magnificently.
November 28th (Sunday) F and I left at 2 after a magnificent lunch bound for A. Arrived to find the Fascists had spent 4 hours there and had finally taken a brother away – destination unknown – charged with supplying food to prisoners. ‘Mac’ who I’d heard of was caught – 3 OR’s with him. F handled all very well – with his usual easy way. Spent an hour hiding under a bridge. Met 3 SA’s from Q and 6 YS’s. Spent all day in the woods due to the scare. Arrived at T, gave instructions to pack. Family were grand there. Made a huge composite bed on the floor, as we were leaving at 4. Cried over us. The gang had spent the day in the snow. Absolutely fagged out.
November 29th (Monday) Left at 4.30, cold and dark and loaded up, we made our way 1500 feet down to the river. By dawn we’d crossed the road and were well into the forest. Breakfast, figs and bread, and off again. Found our second resting place, but it was hopeless. Wood miles away, no cover, and no place to build a fire. Conference: we’re just deciding to move back to our old place when Concita came along complete with goat – led us up and up – and up about 10 feet below the snowline. This proved to be the worst of all our hotels but lying about 4000 feet high, completely isolated, it’s likely to be safe. Three yards by six, so low even wee Walter has to stoop, smelling revoltingly of cow dung – we weren’t terribly happy. The all-important fire looks difficult because the roof is thatched. Water 10 yards away and lots of wood, straw – dry and clean. Visibility about 30 miles.
Franz started to prepare a meal ad very soon his eyes were in a terrible state. A bucketful of watery ‘mac’ failed to cheer us.
Started half-hearted construction of a fireplace. At 2 W and I left to meet Bongo who arrived with a bevy of beauty and very necessary food. Gosh! What a climb it is up to the roost.
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About 9 after another watery stew, smoked out, we crawled into bed, listened to the wind howling and feebly tried to keep out the draughts.
November 30th (Tuesday) Catastrophe – my map has disappeared. Theory that a rat has carried it off? Spent most of the day searching without success/ First of our visitors arrived, bearing a huge plate of wizard pasta ashuta [asciutta] and wine. Entertaining is a little difficult as we have no chairs, no plates, one glass, and our manners have deteriorated to rock bottom quality. Things went well – waved them goodbye, crouched round the fire and made innumerable rounds of toast, followed by cigarettes which refused to smoke. Freezingly cold.
December 1st (Wednesday) Woke to find snow everywhere, a howling wind, and a temperature well below zero. In 3 hours about 6” of snow. Miserable as hell. 25 days to Christmas – 25 shopping days – shop early – home for Christmas!
God! Where will we be? Spent the morning trying to cut timber for fear of being snowed up, with half frozen fingers.
At twelve two women arrived. Made a 3-hour journey carrying provisions. They too thought things might be bad. They’re marvellously kind! Eggs, ham, apples, vino bread. Good food for a few days.
They left about 2, and everything seemed dull again.
Weather too cold to go out, it’s draughty inside, one can’t relax and to pass the time we’ve nothing. It’s an incredible world this – rugged mountains everywhere – the snowy mass of the Sasso in the background 10,000 feet in height, always silhouetted against stormy skies. Worked a little to keep warm and glowing, came back to crouch round the fire, swapping yarns and munching bread and cheese and garlic – are they the same at home! Sleep disturbed and draughty.
December 2nd (Thursday) Map still missing. Walter took over the duties of ‘padrone’ (boss) and we celebrated by ham and 2 eggs apiece, cooked in pukka English style – absolutely the tops. Not fully appreciated by the Yugos [Yugoslavians]. There’s an undercurrent of discord in the camp – all getting on each other’s nerves. Felix is without doubt the chief offender. G & F left for T at 1. We four ate plates of bean stew followed by beans and toast and more stew at 7 – a full day. Quite a reputation for eating! Heard that 15 Fascists had demanded to be taken to our old place, but after ¾ of an hour up the hill, had gracefully retired in disgust. Spent a frosty evening sitting crouched round a blazing fire yarning. New moon. Thought kept travelling home dwelling on the same old question, whether it would be better to move or not. These sudden snows are the great enemy. What wouldn’t I give to be home or in our unit for Christmas. Slept spasmodically. Had a long walk to A. Corno (?)
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December 3rd (Friday) A long day with little to relieve the monotony except for several flare-ups. Day not quite as cold. Little activity. Did a spot of wood cutting. G & F brought back a few provisions. News if true is good – 13 kilometres from P. Bed awfully early, about 7.30. Slept restlessly.
December 4th (Saturday) Fine (?) pack of cards arrived, played a little poker. Very little activity in all quarters. Found ourselves by sheer carelessness desperately short of food – except for a little ‘Mac’. Walter took charge of the cooking, but after a little ‘crit’ threw down his fork in disgust and with suitable epithets told the b___ foreigners to go to hell. Daggers drawn all day long. Feel certain we would have to split.
December 5th (Sunday) Spent the morning cleaning up ready for food collection and meeting with the 3 girls – Maria, Clementina, Rosina. After waiting 1 ½ hours spirits slightly damped, we met and repaired to the barn with ?? drank vino and wished and wished! Felt satisfied but unfortunately could only bring half a loaf and a few extras up to the starving poor. Managed one good meal. F and Franz left for A, spelt Amore, and returned with everything and 1,000 lire. Waited up for them but finally turned up at 4 am. Bogo still at F. Am a little fed up with the way they are monopolising all contacts. F is one of the world’s greatest liars.
December 6th (Monday) Dirty-looking day. Ate well – sampling most of our newly provisioned larder. After many ‘fagless’ days the position was eased, but we’re still having to use the Giornale d’Italia for paper. Minus a watch we spend most of the time guessing the hour. F left at 4 for F, insisted on going solo – for the last time. After my early morning excursion for 30 kilos of flour, felt tired and went to bed at 7.30.
December 7th (Tuesday) F & B arrived back at 9 with much treasure, including 23 eggs and a pot of honey and a packet of Macedonia Extra. About 11 started to rain and we found ourselves quite isolated in cloud. Sleet and snow followed. Had a rendezvous down below but weather made it impossible. Latest Franz concoction flour, eggs and honey, boil for 5-10 minutes, fry in olive oil, flavour with tomatoes and onions – a special dolce (sweet)! Sat around the fire talking of books and odd things. Bed at 9 to be woken at 5 by Franz to investigate 3 rifle shots – alleged to be in immediate vicinity. News of hard struggling advances and retreats towards P. Still feeling horribly homesick and full of doubt as to whether this is the better plan.
December 8th (Wednesday) Today was fine but cold. Spruced and shaved, we set off at 1 for our 2pm ‘date’. The Rome smart set arrived sophisticated, chic, looking as if they were off to the National. Afraid we lacked that get-together spirit – but it’s hard when 4/5 of us speak so little of the language. Tea, sweet and English from elegant flasks, a cigarette, thinly cut sandwiches, made me desperately homesick again. Ham, honey, jam!! Left with much cordiality. Shortly after the
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Best part of the male F population arrived having much ??? of the Hun arriving to pick them up. He actually arrived at 11 that night in 3 lorries.
Feeling content after a day’s outing we mounted the ‘road’ to the roost. Hot soup – a chat – so to bed.
December 9th (Thursday) Great amusement is Bogo’s chess set, made from flour and dyed in ink. We had 4 games but I was ingloriously beaten in each case. Cold today. One of the local carbon merchants decided to spend the night with us. He and his son. Things were pretty crowded. Saw a grand sight – 4 flights of bombers, 12 fighters – think they were ours but couldn’t be absolutely sure. Much bombing activity all day. About 5 every mountain from here to the coast seemed to carry a light. All disappeared after ½ an hour.
F & I finally flew off the handle and had a row over amount of work done. There’s little love lost between us. We’re 2 very similar types. A very disturbed night – a mule and a dog below, and 8 above sleeping. Heard Istlea (?), Cavarsi (?) raided by Fascists.
December 10th (Friday) Crisp and clear. Activity all day in the distance. Spent the morning doing a spot of wood-chopping and looking anxiously down for the arrival of the visitors (feminine). About 2 they were in sight and civilisation entered our primitive dwelling. Brought us a magnificent meal, complete with all the trimmings, a few cigarettes and stayed chatting until quite late. It’s a grand break after the monotony here. They’re marvellously kind and the larder took on a marvellously healthy look once again. Gifts of handkerchiefs too!
News is pretty bloody – we’re attacking hard with little advance – as yet. So near yet so far! Still I gather the line just south of Ortona-Lauciano (?) Peace reigned round the fire again and we came to a better arrangement for picking up replenishments – taking it in turns. All feeling a wee bit queasy about the tummy – result of using Mickey Mouse comics as cigarette paper. Lulled to sleep by rumbling artillery.
December 11th (Saturday) Fine day – and the prospect of a visit ahead. How one cherishes these few social calls. Spent the day wood-chopping and enjoying wild and wonderful tales of the 8th Army, which from previous experience we refuse to believe. At 4, spruced, with a long list of wants, we left the Eyrie and by dark were sitting around Conchetta’s one log fire. Soon benefit night started – all our usuals and some new contacts who brought bread, jam, chest, 3 cigars and 10 cigarettes. Bogo, Franz and I indulged ourselves with 3 litres of the best and before the night was out, all were speaking rapid, though perhaps not fluent, Italian. Bed about 12, 3 of us, all by reason of its size and our construction forced to time our turnings. Maria half an hour later crept into the other bed, the darkness giving everything a sweet
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mystery. Little sleep and the stealthy visits to the ‘po’ by all and sundry were really humorous.
December 12th (Sunday) Raining. Bogo behind for shoes. Franz and I plodded off through the cloud, sweating and damp. Arrived in time for a hot and sticky polenta. Puffed at our last cigarette. All were bright and cheerful. Began to feel a bit wobbly – tummy – went to bed and woke to eat three plates of grand stew.
F went off on his usual amorous excursion, which pays such amazing dividends. Walter and I saw up crouched round the fire eating steadily, swapping yarns about the hell camps, frying an egg. Walter is the perfect British workman with no ideas above his beer and women, and no pretences – but an absolutely A1 chap.
Towards 3 we heard the travellers and looked out. Everything bathes in silver from the snow-capped mountains to the valley below. A good night’s work, oil, sausages, flour, figs and a wizzard whack of the weed. From the food point of view, we’re doing magnificently.
Oh yes! My demands and bribes especially for an overcoat met with little success. Pro tem I now have a black cloak, very 1800-ish, not very warm but a grand thing to go with a rapier. Gosh! How you’d laugh at home. I’d like to take it back with me.
News is as dreary as ever, small advances and a little in the rear here and there. It’s a hell of a job to know what to do.
By Christmas – I’d hoped – all sorts of things, but chances now look horribly small. However – what matter if we once get through safe and sound, and that’s a subject too one daren’t think about too much – speriamo!
December 13th (Monday) We’re wakened after a few hours’ sleep by the arrival of Antonio and spent the morning doing a few odd jobs. Grey and very cold. Had a dose of cursed neuralgia again. Did a few odd jobs, handkerchiefs, boots etc. Grand night’s sleep at 9. No news from F.
Most important! Meal worthy of high mention – soup, sauté potatoes, sausage, chop, spaghetti – modo inglese.
December 14th (Tuesday) Nothing really to write about. Grey day, except for an hour of sun. Spent some time playing rummy – even the cheating is international!
Tragedy – (ugh! Spelling!) One by one our flour chessmen have been eaten by the mice. Marked preference for pawns and bishops. Even took a few nibbles at my hair last night. What mice! First my map? Chessmen, hair? B returned with little news -forming a ‘bridgehead’. Things seem horribly tough. Getting
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wretchedly homesick as it nears Christmas. Keep thinking of fires – of just sitting talking, doing those things that seemed so unimportant before. Late supper, egg and fried potatoes – more rummy – and so to bed. Wretched neuralgia again. Everybody getting awfully touchy these days.
December 15th (Wednesday) Our date with the ‘Angels’ down below. The ‘Eyrie’ shrouded in grey mist. Magnificent meal sitting in the straw and after lots of chatter on our usual limited subjects. They are really grand to us.
After a late night conference we decided to start having a guard on duty all the time from 6 am to 6pm – 2 hours each. Visitations are unlikely but it’s better to be prepared. Fascists have been very active round about. Picked up 8 Yugo’s at T.
Had 2 visitors, two Yugo’s who were passing through towards the front. Slept the night. Did my guard from 8-10 am. Evening ended with the usual game of rummy.
December 16th (Thursday) 1st Guard. Up and on my beat at 6 am to find everything black and silver, quiet and hushed. Impossible to see anything, but the stillness and the mountains made it easy to think clearly for once. At 6.45 the sun from behind the snow-capped ‘Sasso’ started to tint the sky, brown greens, reds, blues – a riot of colour. Everything seemed so unreal. I prayed for guidance – for those at home. Gradually the day arrived and the world 4000 feet below started to wake up.
From the sublime –
Found some lice in my underclothes and immediately started a hunt. Bed full of eggs. Boiled everything, think F is to blame, and chiefly of course the fact that we never can take our clothes off. I wonder what a sensation it will be when that bath, clean clothes etc. finally arrives.
Started to a reserve store which will keep us supplied for some days, should we be snow-bound.
About 6 pm round the fire. The 3 are keen on moving again, for security, but I refuse. Suddenly the ”shall we try the front door??” – and a unanimous ‘yes’. It probably isn’t logical but the weather seems goof now, if we can’t pass, we have a spot to come back to. On the front everything seems very static. Ready to start Monday – five days before Christmas!
December 17th (Thursday) Shrouded in fine, silvery cloud all the day, which rolls away occasionally giving us chance to see the world below. Cold and damp. Franz provided us with several scares – he says three suspicious characters with rifles, that later turned out to be umbrellas. B & F are continually agitating for a move, but I’m against it providing we keep on our toes all the time. Kit is now packed ready to
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leave at a moment’s notice. Spent the day in anti-lice war and preparing for the journey. Idea is for F and I to start and the others in two’s follow at day intervals.
December 18th (Friday) Cold and grey again. Guard again – late afternoon. G, W and F left for their spot of civilisation and also to break the news of our going. We three cosy in front of a roaring fire, settled down to serious rummy for 1 cigarette. Atmosphere much easier. Lots of air activity today.
December 19th (Saturday) 3 returned at 10 having drunk well, talked a great deal, eaten, and finally reduced most of the population to tears. All wanted us to stay until we arrive here and say it’s inconceivable that we go before Christmas. How I’d love to be somewhere nearer home for Christmas. The weather’s good but in this short time we couldn’t do it. We all agree that after Christmas!!! – G & W have been out in the blue for 3 years and there seems a possibility that this Christmas here may have something of our spirit about it.
Agreed – that F and I move off to ‘recce’ after Christmas down towards the front.
B, F and I: it’s our big night – so shaved, washed, spruced and me complete with my romantic cape, we left for F. Arrived about 6 and started solidly to sink the local wine. Fascist scare spoilt our appetites for a few minutes, but all calmed down. Everybody happy we’re not going – cigarettes (20), much talk with all and sundry and finally we realised it was 2 am. Bed like3 large sardines, Franz very pissed, speaking fluent Italian but using the same 3 words. Perfect day for us: wine, women and song.
December 20th (Sunday) Early in the morning in good weather we left for the ‘Eyrie’, carrying a large and very attractive basket – a mass of coloured parcels. Excitement terrific. Something like opening your stocking on Christmas morn!! Feast: presents for all – a pipe, a diary, a block of compressed dates, all individually packed and marked – ‘Pietro’ being mine. Food – oh! Cognac, wine, meat and mayonnaise, a huge omelette, cheese, packet of tea, a pair of gloves for all, everything complete down to 4 cigs each and matches to light them. We were just like kids and within ½ an hour were bright-eyed with cognac, full and lolling back smoking our elegant ‘tailor-mades’. Life seemed very good. The holly bushes are at our door so we cut a few sprigs, everything except home and the snow. With a roaring fire the day just flew away. Larder full, news no worse, under the circumstances very content.
Eight and a dark, dirty night and very loath, F, B and I set out for A. to collect some more food and to help F satisfy Italian womanhood.
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Tripping, slithering, cursing, sweating, we finally made it, left F and retired for a 2-hour wait while he turned on the charm and collected the goods. Thought of home sitting above the houses, watching lights go on and off and the odd ‘J’ pass by. Gosh, it was cold. A whistle – F arrived – impossible to carry all – 12 loaves, figs, meat, cheese, pasta and TOBACCO.
Oh, what a journey back – no moon, and having drunk ½ a flask of repellent vino, the legs weren’t too wizard. Bogo was very content, chanting patriotic-sounding YS songs. Left at 12. Return journey almost 4 hours, and so tired that just didn’t care whether I slept out or not. Struggled on and finally found the ‘Eyrie’ after much difficulty – pot of tea and the welcome of a grand fire.
December 20th (Monday) 4 hours’ rest and about 3 hours’ neuralgia didn’t help. Had been on guard about ½ hour when I spotted some ‘pilgrims’ struggling along in the face of a howling gale and pelting rain. More benefactors – Carmina, Anita and 4 others bearing the best of food and wine. The hotel just a little full and the fire smoking so much that every 5 minutes we crawled out for a little fresh air. Everybody at home! Sitting on bits of wood on the dingy floor, 6 fortunates near the fire. Conversation excellent, politics and what we’d like to eat for Christmas – ‘sempre dolce’. (always sweet/dessert). Getting a bit dark we regretfully said ‘au revoir’ and watched them disappear in the mud, rain and wind down below. One is terribly like Ena! No news.
December 21st (Tuesday) Anti-climax – nothing! Late sleep. Franz on strike. G & I prepared the evening meal, minestrone – not so bad! Raining – surrounded in cloud all day.
Neuralgia again. Everybody seems to have picked up a few lice but we’re fighting them hard. Do hope F hasn’t any. Wonder if G was captured at T. F doesn’t want to go to A again – must have been some trouble there. Looking forward to the 25th.
December 22nd (Wednesday) Up early – by mistake – the watch. Franz in very literary mood is writing his life story and we are starving. In prep for visitors we fasted this morning except for half a loaf, figs, cheese, tea. At 12 the procession arrived minus the gals – ‘mother’s ill’. C in great form. Jolly good feed all round – bless them. Captured some frogs – filled the drinking jars to everyone’s disgust. 3 go below tonight. Writing this on guard 2-4, sitting with all my mts [?mates] around me. Cosy night. Rummy for cigs (won), egg and fish. Slept badly.
December 23rd (Thursday) Started well with a flask of vino. Visibility down to nil, guard – returned to fire. 2 returned with arrangements for Christmas and very interesting story of ‘Paddy’ who got as far as 10k from Chieto and was captured by the Hun and later escaped. Pretty cold and miserable all day. Everything lined up at F. All leaving tomorrow for the big Fiesta – hope it’s undisturbed. Fighting in the
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Streets of Ontona. Some very interesting stories about the Jerry. Treated P very well.
December 14th (Friday)
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The WW2 Diary of Pilot Officer Reg Dickinson
Germany: 1 August-19 October 1944
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Stalag Luft III
Tuesday, August 1st
Doing ‘O.P’ 9-10. Nerves bad. Played myself to a standstill. 2 hours’ B.B. + 18 holes.
Wednesday August 2nd. Tried some water colours. Ghastly day of rain and grey skies. My nerves almost at breaking pitch. Impossible to read. Barney in for a brew. Heard swing concert. Much speculation as to war’s end.
Thursday August 3rd Germans doing a good deal of exercising. Find them singing as they march along every morning about 7. Played a little golf, sunbathed, did my reducing exercises of 1-2 miles at an elephantine pace. Reading ‘The Woman on the Beast’ [by] Helen Simpson. Seem a bit more at peace. Barney and I bashed a few circuits discussing the Irish-Anglo situation. Haven’t got round to doing my water colours yet. News good.
Friday August 4th Parcel Day. Watching the Labour battalions exercising – all carrying spades shining like steel. Played golf and read. Nerves a little better.
Saturday August 5th What a day! My first letter dated June 6th from home – and thank God! All seems well. Has reawakened the thirst for news. Weather was perfect – sunbathed most of the day. Reading mostly fiction and a book on water colours. Concert after lockup – mostly light stuff – very pleasant.
Sunday August 6th STOOGE DAY. Was as busy as hell dishwashing and cooking, but managed to squeeze 18 holes in with Lew Barry. Still getting up early o’mornings and bashing the circuit. Feeling the urge to do some water colour. A was a little tense today. This waiting and hoping for the end is nerve-wracking. Air Raid.
Monday August 7th Up early to sick parade with my ear. Ken and Pat had letters. Glorious day. Played myself to almost to a standstill. 2 hours’ BB and very amateur hockey. Tickets for St Joan were waiting. It whetted my appetite for GBS – thoroughly enjoyed it. Sets were so-so. Late supper – cabbage, carrots, which are fairly plentiful now. Bed – but slept badly.
Tuesday August 8th Sick Parade again, lunch and basketball. By that time, it was evening. Last cricket match of the season was played. Cricket must bow to softball, as a kriegies game. Have found one really enthusiastic Canadian so far.
Wednesday August 9th The long-awaited ‘Kelly Folly’ or Block Marathon. Each of the 8 blocks provide 50 runners to lap one circuit each. Cig and chocolate pools were evident. Today was far too hot – an added hazard to the ‘deadbeats’ and men who in two or three years have run perhaps 2 circuits. Some rare and picturesque figures, including myself, defied all laws of nature. Surprisingly enough I lapped at 2.52 for ½ mile – 50 yards which put me in the first 15, but nevertheless we dallied well in the rear for almost 30 circuits. Am feeling a little proud that my early morning madness
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of ‘bashing’ the circuit has paid some dividends. Two months ago, I could not have run one circuit!
Thursday August 10th Today passed horribly slowly. Tried designing a few posters for the Log books but couldn’t get any ideas on to paper. With the end seemingly close, everyone is trying to pluck the brains of the camp for records of life here. Best record should be ‘It happened to me’ which Berber is publishing. I’ve ordered 3 copies. It should contain a record of everything pathetic, interesting and happy in ‘Kriegie’ life. No mail today. Played some very amateur golf that makes me wonder if it’s worth the mental agony incurred. Reading ‘Fanny Kemble’, a Victorian biography by Margaret Armstrong – relation of Sarah Siddons.
Friday August 11th 1944. Heat that reminds me of the ‘sirroco’ – consequently I wandered around without an end in view, hot, nervy and discontented. Played golf and did my usual circuits, tried sunbathing and finally ended up in the Library trying to read ‘Everybody’s book of Facts’. Potatoes have finished for 3 weeks. News quite good.
Saturday August 12th. Very hot again and looks as if we might have thunder. The sky is banked up with huge masses of Cumulus. Best moment of this week was perhaps the performance of St Joan, minus the first few days the Epilogue. This was really my first Shaw play and I was very impressed. Costumes and sets were excellent. The performance of a good play is one of the few events that momentarily makes one forget that the theatre is a dull drab-hued barrack block, and that outside lies the all-encompassing barbed wire. The closing words – “The King” and the reply “God Bless Him” shakes one back to reality.
Sunday August 13th Even Sundays have a different atmosphere. Perhaps it’s the late roll call, the sparing issue of Reich porridge, or the fact that the more civilised doff their ‘G string’ and wear uniform and amble slowly round the circuit watching the occasional German girl pass. Sex transforms the meekest into wild-eyed monsters. Today was cool, encouraging more than somewhat the art of pit-bashing. Doug Berber visited and told us something of what to expect in “It happened to me”. Curtis Brown & Co. are responsible. The urge to paint still comes, but I usually end discouraged, surrounded by rejected scraps, unable to attain anything I want. Today was no exception. Hockey, some lumbering circuits, a troublesome conscience that demanded why one did so little in so much time, a book, and a great deal of idle chatter completed my day.
Monday August 14th Another week commences – another week nearer the end. Today was fine though breezy and aircraft were over all day. Sometimes one forgets this is Germany – remembers the days of O.U.T. with the constant accompaniment of A/c from 8 till dusk. Appel was long and late, due to a routine identity check, which usually passes with murmurs of the b’s etc. Lunch of cabbage soup – afterwards my fortnightly task of cutting Ken’s hair. Have tried thinning, trimming with some
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success, usually aided by much advice from the room or anyone who happens to drop in. News seems excellent in France. A film is showing tonight but judging by reports, it’s ancient and not very good entertainment. We’re far too critical. For me it’s a glimpse of the outside world. Tea, roll-call, 2 circuits – a freezing shower and here I am in the Reference Library, trying to pass the deadly hour before supper of corned beef and cabbage.
Tuesday August 15th My loathed day of work – stooge day – made pleasanter by the fact that there are no potatoes to peel, but merely a mass of cabbage to massacre.
Tickets arrived for the Film Show – a Dixie Duggan, Charles Ruggles, so-called comedy which dripped poor propaganda about the working women of America, and was so chock-full of obvious situations of Boss and Secretary, squirting hosepipe episodes that it became funny because it was so corny. We are extremely lucky to even see a film but why one was so poor as this was sent, I can’t think. However, Dixie Dugan made the Kriegies feel good. 3.30 – a sunny day, and figures dashing in all directions – “Another Invasion”. Everyone was almost as excited as on that memorable day we landed in France for the first time. Men who had never run a step were known to at least equal 9.5 for the 100 yards. As before amateur strategy reared its ugly head, D bars were mentioned, and there were some lofty remarks of “Remember, I said that last Tuesday” or “We’ll strike N & E etc. etc.” I myself was guilty. Still it was a grand day. Felt in a talkative mood, so having finished my dishes, filled the water jugs, swept the floor, and heaved a sigh of relief I went out to ‘chew the fat’.
Wednesday August 16th A glorious day, hot, but breezy, and a morning’s basketball which finished to the accompaniment of the curdling air-raid siren. No planes were insight though. An afternoon lying in the sun, tea, a very meagre one, more good news on the radio, a little reading – and another day had nearly gone.
Thursday August 17th A restless night and a cold grey morning that crushed my intention of ‘bashing’ 2 circuits. Some new after-invasion prisoners arrived. Strange, one picks them out straight away by their pale faces and generally debauched look. All seem very optimistic, but as each Kriegie has his own idea of war, its strategy and end, in general distrust of news, is apparent. The average Kriegie is far better informed on the general war situation than a man serving at home. German camps contrast strongly to the Eyeties in this respect. Here we are allowed our wall maps, and plot the fronts with arrows, coloured pencils and flags. Played a few holes of golf, but modified grips, improved swings sap my self-confidence. Had a brew with Barney and spent the time before lights out telling my oft repeated line ‘about Italy’. I have quite a reputation. News comes of another film. Perhaps the Corsican Bros.
Friday August 18th Another restless night with long processions of ghastly figures parading the mind. Bleary-eyed it was hard to get up this morning, but a wild game of hockey knocked me into shape. Played golf erratically with Dicky Freshwater,
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much aimless wandering, tea and the 15 boring minutes of Appel that brings the evening so close. Managed to finish my 3 miniature posters for ‘Tiger’s’ Log book. News is excellent. We’re very close to Paris. Hungry these days with no potatoes.
Saturday August 19th Terribly hot again, ut seems a possibility of storm. A great many of the camp are down with the squitters, due no doubt to the flies and tinned food. Can’t concentrate on anything and my nerves are very bad. Played BB. Disappointing that no more mail has come through. News is very good from France. The tension of waiting is noticeable.
Sunday August 20th Appel was late today – at 11. I managed to rise at 8, have a run and breakfast before going to church, which apart from the fact that one can pray for those at home has little or no spiritual effect. The day again tiringly hot, with huge banks of towering Cumulus behind the dusty looking pines. The fire pool, lovingly referred to as the Swimming pool, or the Luft Lido, is full of bodies all day. Its dimensions are 6 x 6 yards. Have not yet written my month’s mail. Parcel supply is sufficient for about 11 weeks. Lots of dreamers state that armistice has already been signed.
Monday August 21st Up early and retired to my spot by the swimming pool to doze the morning away, but it was irritably hot. Played golf with Dicky Freshwater and felt much better. Has golf a narcotic effect? Latest gen is that G pep talk said ‘stay at your posts and maintain discipline, even if the war is practically over’. I wonder which about (?) produced that one? The V1 is being featured as the dominant item in the news. Big News – the arrival of new potatoes that puts an end for the present to the dinner of a dice of bread and Spam!
Tuesday, Wednesday August 22nd-23rd Have fallen way behind in keeping up my diary, but these last two days have nothing to recommend them except good weather, and excellent news. The days have passed pretty much along routine channels. Have managed to design a few labels for the authentic props for Petrified Forest. Played softball.
Thursday August 24th A beautiful day, with lots of good news. Rumania seems to have tried to sign peace. Stooged all day and spent long hours queuing for water which dripped from one tap with a monotonous infrequency. Everybody’s tempers were frayed. ‘No water for lunch, none for tea’. My ankle has turned revoltingly septic, started with some trifling cut and by the end of the day I could just hobble. The ‘Corsican Brothers’ was the high spot – I drew a ticket and forgot Kriegie life for about 2 hours in a riot of sword play, villains and beautiful women. Spent most of the evening poulticing my ankle and went to bed early to the strains of Dinah Shore and Glen Miller.
Friday August 25th Spent the morning in the hospital. The doc had a look at my ankle and suggested poultices, or hospital if there is no improvement. For the first time
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For many months I spent the day trying to take it easy and rest my leg. As to be expected, I missed some good games of BB and golf, but I hate to have any serious trouble when the end seems so near. Read Alex Waugh’s ‘Decline and Fall’ and had a jolly good laugh. Tried to start this month’s letter home with little success.
Saturday August 26th The ankle in pretty poor shape and here I’m a bad ‘bed’ patient. Applied Kaolin poultices all day, but the infection looked as if it might creep up the leg. Read, dozed a little and retired to bed early.
Sunday August 27th Up early trying to sketch a few of the local camp scenes before getting my leg dressed. It seems a little easier. A bombshell – our room is splitting up. Red and the 4 Canadians are moving due to the unpleasantness of P, and life here holds little promise, especially should we collect 5 new Kriegies. I’m thinking very seriously of moving – nerves are bad – and a change might help. Saw the film again, but did not enjoy it. Wish I could get over with Barney. Beautiful day, news good.
Monday August 28th Move seems definite. Paddled around all day and watched a dramatic storm at night. Weather cooler. A lot of sickness, vomiting and squitters in camp. Grand crop of tomatoes today and an issue of new potatoes. 8 weeks parcel supply in. A very brief but welcome May letter from Peg Am now addressed by all and sundry as ‘Harry Reginald’.
Tuesday August 29th Leg almost better, than goodness and I can think of sport again. Wrote my full quota of letters, mostly dismal screed. News again very good. Cool today, some rain. Reading ‘Profitable Showmanship’ – good.
Wednesday August 30th The expected purge arrived and our 5 Canadians decided to move. Everything was chaos with 4 going out and another 5, pale-faced new boys, arriving. Somehow, we managed to cope and spent the evening evolving a super-plan for messing and management of room 5. I’ve taken over the 2 M-ship and we’re trying to mess communally.
Thursday August 31st This morning 4 of our beds disappeared due to the mysterious workings of the official mind, and our new arrivals are sleeping in various postures of 45 degrees, and on the floor. They seem a good crowd: a South African, a New Zealander and 2 Australians. The day passed with incredible swiftness and my voice was quite hoarse with giving long lectures on the methods of sweetening, brewing and cooking. With a sigh of relief, we found a volunteer cook.
Friday September 1st Everyone is slowly settling down and the visitors’ queues after absorbing all the latest ‘gen’ have thinned out. Today all is turmoil. George is living on stiff brews of coffee stimulating himself for tonight’s big show – ‘The Petrified Forest’. The show was first class and apart from one or two miss-firing gems, went without a hitch. ‘Hooch’ was very good playing Alan Squire.
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Saturday September 2nd Weather has broken and it’s like August – and very cold in the morning. The ankle is completely better and I’m running again in the early morning. Played a lot of sport today, golf, basketball and hockey. News is still very good and latest rumour says ‘it ends in September.’
Sunday September 3rd Up early today. We ‘celebrated’ six years of war with a bulls’ parade. Apparently, there was some rivalry between the Free Churches and C of E and both read prayers of equal length. Camp is well underwater. Last night we had a storm lasting several hours. There is now a supply of 5 weeks’ parcels and if no new consignments arrive, we go on to half parcels in 2 weeks’ time.
Monday September 4th Weather has an August flavour about it and early rising is quite a fight. Another upheaval – another new purge. We drew 2 bodies – Ken decided to keep his promise to move to room 14. I’m sorry! Newcomers are a New Zealander and an Englishman, both on Spits. Steve is organising well, building occasional tables, and generally beautifying the room with odd pieces of wood – all scrounged. My department runs smoothly and Tony is an enthusiastic cook. Heard a classical recital in the theatre – Mozart and Haydn.
Tuesday September 5th Drugged myself in sport, golf, hockey, basketball, until I was completely weary. We have to store our cigs under a new German order, being allowed 500 in our immediate possession. I found myself with almost 3000 scrounged together since my arrival here. These should take care of any worries likely to arise. Played golf with Peter Hunt.
Wednesday September 6th Flash – Soviet declares war on Bulgaria. 3 hours’ later Armistice! Blitzkrieg. Weather marvellous, spent sunbathing, playing golf and talking, washing my smalls became a pleasant? Hour Most feel that the end is very near – but when – Chi lo sa? (who knows?)
News from home – one from Mother, one from Peg, lacking news and somehow depressing. There was much I had hoped would change but life there is the same.
September 7th-15th A horrible admission, but the diary had been forgotten almost a week. It’s been an eventful week too, starting with the forces closing towards Germany and finally entering the Reich. Principal topic has been our reduction in food Due to the possibility of transport failing a policy of conservation has been decided on and we are now having half a parcel a week. Weak and wet brews are the order of the day. Klim orgies are no more, but providing the German rations supplying the bulk remain constant we can manage. The circuit has been full of statistics, showing how many calories we miss and what are our vitamin deficiencies. The number of keep-fit men who pound the circuit has decreased and the weight lifting class is allowing rust to settle on its 50 pounders. I’ve been visited by a mysterious dose of tummy trouble and diarrhoea which seems to be slightly better now.
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Current war ending dates are optimistic though very vague. George is thinking of producing ‘Idiot’s Delight’ – and has offered me the part of the German Doctor who, having in his grasp the means of saving humanity from the scourge of cancer, realises the bedlam in the world and turns his back to find new and better means of killing the enemies of his country. An interesting part – but I wonder if I can cope? Frankly I’m not keen on the choice of play. Things are running smoothly in Room 5 and my quarter-mastering hasn’t reached the boring stage yet, but it’s hard to keep the ‘new boys’ filled. Feature of the entertainment world this week was a band show. I did a couple of posters and thoroughly enjoyed my evening. Latest motto home or home by Christmas! Biggest event was an affectionate letter from Ruth, posted June. Peggy seems to have kept contact pretty well. John must still be out there – lucky dog.
Saturday September 16th Blue skies and a morning swinging golf clubs and meandering around. After lunch I opened my barber shop and did some patchwork style. Tea, a little better because of the arrival of delayed Reich Rations, was a little better. Spent the afternoon plugging through Ulysses which still leaves me puzzled yet impressed. Classical Concert, Sibelius No. 1 Symphony was grand. Must put it on my list. Worked hard today and am feeling much better. News is good. We’re having a £5 a head sweepstake for the year’s end. I’ve taken October 15th. Chi lo sa?
Sunday September 17th Lazy today, up at 10 with a typical Sunday morning feeling. We had an amateur trombonist splitting the peaceful atmosphere with his lusty blowing. After lunch, a ladle of porridge, played softball and managed to disgrace myself thoroughly. Sunbathing, tea – some amateur tailoring and an hour of Ulysses brought supper of fried potatoes and the famous Mortons Meat Roll. Played a vigorous game of basketball, costing many calories no doubt. A brew with Barney and 2 hours’ mind wandering before lock up.
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday September 20th. These few days have been eventful. News of the air landing in Holland seems to indicate the end is nearer. The weather has perked up and we’ve been airing the ‘bods’ again. I’ve been playing lots of sport, golf and bb and seem to have lost lots of weight. The mess seems better organised and feeding better due to a fairly decent supply of turnips and cabbages. Our room seems more restful, everyone is reading all day – waiting patiently. Rumours are flying round on all subjects from the end of the war to the usual consignments of parcels. Entertainment has been good Heard Beethoven’s 9th Symphony – but wasn’t very keen. An Arts and Crafts Exhibition has opened, a very talented display of carving, painting and model making, but everyone feels rather useless and lazy as a result. Wednesday brought a tragedy. A poor fellow, new to camp, tried to cut his throat. He had hidden himself in the potato cellar. Luckily or unluckily, he was caught and rushed off to hospital. Have been compiling notes for a future ‘Log Book’. Sleeping well, eating poorly, life goes on. Parcels – or half parcels tomorrow.
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Friday September 22nd Parcels up! – and a bash of chocolate. Rumours everywhere of fantastic trainloads of parcels arriving – but they are all phantoms. No mail. Lecture tonight on post-war politics – but I didn’t draw a ticket. A supply of pumpkins arrived. We’ve big plans for jam.
Saturday September 23rd A new proclamation ‘To all prisoners of war’ – escaping is no longer a sport. Practically threatens escape with the death penalty. Played golf, but satiated with theory my mind refuses to cooperate with the body. Weather quite good.
Sunday September 24th The usual Sunday atmosphere of peace and quiet. Funny that even here Sunday is the 7th day of the week. A front is passing over and the weather is dull and September-ish. Played bridge with Johnny. The cooks are excelling themselves – and pumpkin stew tonight. Food seems to be a continual source of conversation, making me horribly conscious of food. News still good, but fighting is very deadly.
Monday September 25th Another couple of fillings out but managed to wangle a trip to the dentist and 3 minutes and the job was done. Jam making was the day’s big event. Pumpkin, turnip, prunes, raisins, sugar and orange concentrate, diced and boiled and boiled Miserable day, grey and raining. Are eagerly awaiting the jam test. First reports indicate it rather resembles chutney. Hooch is down with the ‘flu. Tried to do a ‘Swing’ poster but my eyes won’t focus for close work.
Tuesday September 26th A long letter from Mother with news of my kit from Malta. It was a pleasant surprise to know that at least there will be one or two odds and ends to help me face the post-war world. Today was grey, cold and depressing. Greatcoats were worn in rooms. Those lucky enough to have a spot of coal cleared the flues and ceremoniously ushered in winter or autumn by lighting a fire. Felt a sudden spark of energy, did a wizard patching job on my Airtex-like shorts and the aid of borrowed spectacles completed a miniature poster for (?) Log Book. Eyes just ain’t what they were.
The jam/chutney has been and bashed. Hunger strikes at funny times – overruling all long-term planning. In a flash one pounces on a tin, before reasoning can commence, wields a spoon with deadly accuracy, leaving a temporary satisfaction and a mere skeleton of a tin. The sad tale of my chutney. Colds and ‘flu are passing round from one to another. I have had it in Room 5. Rumours are still abroad of personal parcels and batches of food – but – far (?)
Wednesday September 27th 2 hours’ softball on 1 slice of bread and a cup of weak coffee, doesn’t give one much pep but it passed the time. More tailoring – a pair of trousers this time. News of our Airborne troops not very good according to the German news – they claim 6,000 prisoners. Ken and I went to the ‘popular’ concert. Sat contentedly puffing and reading through a smooth recording of Crosby and Kostelanetz’. The imagination always strays in the direction of ball-rooms, soft lights, romance and
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naturally women. Tried to concentrate on my Advertising book again, but 11 persons compressed into this small space, all talking, reminiscing, working, smoking and constant interruptions is not helpful.
Thursday September 28th Golf at crack of dawn with Paddy Denton and I played a shambling round. Gosh, it was cold this morning and conversation veered from food, bacon and eggs, steaks etc. to life after the war.
Two more letters from Mother. At last some of the pieces are beginning to fit. All this was news to me. Peg’s Commission, Jack in Turkey, M in a play, has married. Tom Main killed, May’s resignation. Felt wretchedly homesick after reading it all. Everyone married with babies, killed – or Life for mother seems to have taken on a new phase. Skip seems to be helping magnificently. Exciting is the tale of a parcel dispatched in July – doomed doubtless to a never-ending voyage – but holding some hope for me. G are doing anti-invasion exercises in the woods all day. Sore throat!
Friday, September 29th Lucky again – another 2 letters – from Bobbie and Peggy. Was very shocked to hear B’s father died almost a year ago and her Mother has been very dangerously ill. I had some letter forms left and wrote immediately, but as usual all I really wanted to say remains unexpressed. Can’t help feeling these letters will not get through. The cold and irritating sore throat, and a touch of toothache, made me feel pretty low. A big batch of parcels have arrived and even my natural pessimism can’t completely quench my hope that there may be a parcel for me. A night’s bridge with George – reasonably successful.
Saturday September 30th Grey again, cheered by another letter – with some grand photos of Jack. Played a spineless game of golf and almost despaired of future days on a green stretch of countryside. Big refurnishing ideas are taking shape. Winter quarters are now the fashion – which means moving the sofa from under the window towards the wall.
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Dressed myself up and went to see a radio play of ‘Wind in the Willows’. It was charming. Hone, more bridge, a brew and bed – La Guerre.
Sunday October 1st 11 o’clock Appel. A big washing, battledress trousers and what not. Breakfast 2 slices of bread, and church. A really excellent sermon on the Social work of Christianity in a PoW camp. Lunch – one slice of bread, and softball. Room 5 won. Made some whitewash and had a heyday slapping in all directions. Paddy gave me a golf lesson, and my inability drove me almost frantic. A shower, supper and my diary before bridge. Throat a little better. Clock advances an hour.
Monday October 2nd. Pouring rain that damped all spirits. We gave thanks for the few nubs of coal we had. Parker & Dickinson & Co spent the morning fathoming out new schemes for the home and modifying the electric light. I squandered 60 points, ‘bashed’ a bar of chocolate in as many seconds, and in a comatose state sat round the fire reading my ‘Advertising Production’, sniffing, watching the leaden sky, unconsciously associating it with cosy armchairs, sizzling toast and muffins – ugh! News uninspiring but good. Played bridge with Ken and Johnnie. Bed with a brew and three aspirins to combat a bloody cold.
Tuesday October 4th The curse of a cold, and the usual pretty picture of a red nose and pockets full of handkerchiefs. Decided on a morning in bed – my first for months, but found little peace – my pseudo wire mattress can hardly be called a ‘Vi-spring’. After lunch of a ladleful of goo, I dozed until 3, when, in one fell swoop I found myself cowering under an icy shower – full of energy and a little buying at the ‘Mart’ – marg at 20 points a tin. Restless again, I walked 3 and a half miles round the circuit. Everywhere was crisp and autumnal. Pictures of those muffins again. At 7.30 I had one of my big moments – my first parcel – 200 cigs from May, a sign that contact had been made at last. The flat blue 50 Players on our ‘occasional’ table gave the room a certain air of affluence. Lit the fire, picked up by Margaret Lane’s Edgar Wallace, and puffed away.
Wednesday October 5th A sparkling, crisp, clear morning – as one would write. One can’t look sleepy in a temperature as low as this. An overnight frost made many don their Jim Corbetts to sleep. The 2 Reich blankets are hopelessly inadequate and bed usually resembles a mound of old clothing, the theory being the more on top the warmer below. False theory!
Just before a game of basketball 8 letters arrived, all from M and P, with the exception of one from … and 2 from May. I decided to read later when fully in the mood. A shower, lunch – brew, a cigarette, and the news from home. At last I seem to have formed a picture of what is and has happened. May’s letter tickled me immensely – the white rug and my lack of intentions. Clever gal! Feel Peg will gain a great deal from her commission and give her many new useful ideas. Felt energetic again, so pressed and ironed my trews. Seem to have developed a sudden mania for appearing tidy. Everything passed as usual until 10 when Sid’s face
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peered round the door, looked at me and casually said “Dicky – British Clothing Parcel”. After 2 ½ years it was overwhelming. Loads of congratulations and I was described as looking like a ‘cat with a lot of kittens’. The feeling was something associated with Christmas and birthdays. Bed, a little excited, to the strains of Rachmaninoff’s No. 2 Concerto, played by Hooch after lights out. Life seems good!
Thursday October 6th Crisp and sunny. The tomatoes have given up before the onslaught of the frost and we have plans for making chutney with the little green ones. Golf with Ken – catastrophic as usual – perhaps even worse. A letter from Hilda Murphy and photo caused a slight stir. Lunch late, the orderlies refusing to serve the ‘goo’ as their characters had been besmirched by tales of ‘goo orgies’ or ‘bashes of gash’ in Room 3. News of another day’s exquisite agony – no parcels until Friday.
George and I (?) tried to cope with the Asking Bids – or George tried to get me to absorb them. Fried kohlrabi is our big special these days – more for supper! Horribly disappointing but parcel collecting is being deferred until the /morrow – and I’m in an agony of suspense. Slept well aided by my Bemax Brew.
Friday September 7th A beautiful day. Once up, spent most of the morning trying to correct my golf swing. Lunch goo and a slice of bread, the siren – everyone quickly gets indoors and shuts all the windows. Afternoon passed quickly – queuing at the Mart and playing 1st base for an hour, a run of 2 miles, cold shower, supper and a long evening. Weather is much warmer. Lots of false alarms about the parcel.
Saturday September 8th An amazing batch of letters in. 300+ for the block. Ginger had 22 but disappointingly I had none. 10.30 came and instructions to collect the parcel. Armed with a kit bag we marched away – hopeful – excited – after waiting 2 ½ years maybe I’m hard to please. Most useful articles were the pyjamas, the choc of which there wasn’t enough, the razor blades, toothpaste and the scarf. Most disappointing was the gym shoes size 7 ½, difficult to swap, the razor that wouldn’t take the blades, the pullover far too small and sleeveless – for the winter – the underwear needing support of braces and 2 old and very thin shirts. Perhaps it was the sensible thing to send so much old stuff in case it went astray, but the joy of handling something new, fresh and colourful that helps relieve the drabness means a great deal. It’s amazing to think of my bank balance standing useless when it could have made things much simpler – Ah well!
Played our first round Bridge comp with George. Battled very hard and just won.
Sunday October 9th Up late. Appel was at 11. Rewire my famous bed, re-stuffed my mattress with wood wool, shortened my ‘shorts’. After lunch of a slice of bread and a ladle of porridge, played soccer and basketball. Dressed and polished, sat down to Edgar Wallace’s Biography, and feeling contemplative went to the evening service. Enjoyed it. Weather much milder. Ration of coal – 54 nubs for one week. Almost forgot – Saturday, have decided a once weekly treat of a good meal. Table was
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specially scrubbed and Tony excelled himself with a dish of mashed potatoes, a layer of meat roll, topped by cheese and bacon. The sweet was good – an apple pudding base and 8 Canadian Biscuits and some raisins. Topped by a super sweet brew.
Monday September 10th A day reminiscent of Scotland, grey, sultry, with a mist-like rain slowly falling. Not to be totally condemned however because it afforded us the luxury of an early morning Appel and some lazy hours snuggling in bed. Shaved with reluctance because for 4 days I’ve been toying with the idea of growing a beard. Played a miserable game of golf with an inward glow of satisfaction because I seem at least to be playing reasonably. Meals were poor today, mainly because we lacked vegetables and 2 spoonfuls of salmon fail to fill even a ‘kriegie’s’ stomach. Attended my first Economics lecture – quite interesting. No mail. Having the most disturbed dreams. Cold not too good.
Tuesday October 11th Feeling a bit low today, but was more than cheered by the sight of 3 letters from the stalwarts, Mother and Peg.
Glorious morning so played golf with Ken – felt quite pleased by my new ‘non-slicing’ strokes. Today marked the opening of my Sagan University term. Took:
leaving me hungry, tired and very much in the mood for ‘Hay Fever’ – our latest show. It was very good. Rounded off the evening with the next round of our Bridge comp with Ken and Johnny. Won hands down. Had wizard cards. So tired I couldn’t sleep and tossed and turned. Cold is pretty bloody.
Wednesday October 12th Inspection, Red Cross, Parcels, Mail, BB. Tiredness. Letter sorting Mail, Washing, Gym Shoes, Men.
October 10th 30 letters. Percy (1), Skip (1), Irene (1) Hilda Murphy (1), Ruth (1),, Peg, Mother. Latest date August 24th.
Our bi-weekly hut inspection, so the morning passed doing odd chores, raking the ‘garden’ and removing the pounds of sand that enter every part of the room. Sandwiched between this and basketball I managed a little dobey-ing. After much experiment I’m adamant that the Klim tin Dunker and stick and a large tub is the most efficient method, but God grant me soon the sensuous joy of arraying myself in a clean, well laundered shirt.
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A letter from one of our still bewildered repats in Sweden tells of a million and a half Red Cross parcels awaiting shipment. How well we can imagine them lying there!
Having despaired of trading my slightly worn 7 ½ gym shoes, was elated by a straight swap for a brand new pair of Canadian Keds, size 9. Apparently, my manner bordered on smoothness with a polished “Would you care to try them on?”
Letter sorting passed an hour. I have now the impressive total of 30.
Today’s menu in passing:
9.00 2 slices of bread and a cup of coffee
12.00 ladle of porridge, one slice of bread, tea
4.00 3 slices of bread, marg, 1/11 American cheese and a film of peanut butter
7.00 supper: 2 ½ potatoes, Spam 3”x1/2”x1/2” and a little fried Kohlrabi – re-boiled tea
10.00 Cocoa, biscuit, marg.
Had a long chat with Ken. He shyly showed his first photos from home for 2 ½ years. As a result, I missed the padre’s lecture on psychology. Feeling argumentative somebody raised the subject of religion and the existence of God. We passed through the 4th Dimension, Darwinism, the Scientific Outlook, progression of the mind and returned naturally equally baffled.
The lights failed about 11 which brought one early night. This wretched catarrh seems a little better.
Tuesday October 13th Transfer of money, Bobbie, Lecture, Sun, parcels, Check on Bowls, Dunbarton – Oaks.
My Account to date (1944)
May 30th (Moosburg) 45 50
June 30th -5
August 31st (to date) 308
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Transfer to Mother 150 M = £10
Transfer to Glynn M (Ldn) 234 M = £15.15
Mark = 15 to the £
Spent the morning arranging my accounts. The day was fresh and sunny, so polished myself up and walked a couple of circuits to pass the hour to lunch.
Lunch a ladle of goo, a slice of bread, pate and a sup of weak tea.
Two more letters arrived from home.
Attended my first lecture on English Lit – lazed until the bugle sounded Appel at 3. This was held for the purpose of checking Reich property. Can you imagine the spectacle of 1000 officers, each clasping an earthenware bowl, tin mug, and knife, fork and spoon, lined up in squadrons trying to retain a semblance of dignity. From Wing Commander downwards, no one escaped. The half hour of slow filing over we escaped for tea – the remnants of peanut butter and a cube of highly aromatic Reich cheese.
At 8.15 went to the theatre to hear a classic concert, and was carried away by Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony (Pathetique). I wonder if music will stir me the same way at home.
Sudden inspiration made me sit down and write some lines for Hooch’s Log Book all in a humorous vein. Finally, bed to dream. A fantastic adventure that ended up in my being wounded after a long ride on the top of a tramcar running on an Autobahn towards Aachen. Finland and a fleet in the Baltic came into it. Read about the Dumbarton Oaks plan and was impressed.
Friday October 14th Letters. May (1), Peg (1), Nellie (1), Bobbie (1), Mother (1). Parcels, Golf, Running Circuits, Gash, Home, Bridge, Lectures.
Parcel day again – and in spite of all resolutions my chocolate lasted but 15 minutes. To add to the gaiety – 5 letters all interesting and entertaining. I detect a note of the sober truth in Peg’s letter when she says “How we will have changed”. My own conceptions of life are much broader – and my ideas I hope more fertile. One night when I don’t inveigle myself in some discussion, I’ll write down my thoughts here for the future, to re-read and probably smile at one day.
Golf with Hooch proved a horrible failure. Discovered a new racket! By waiting outside the kitchen after soup has been served one if lucky collects some ‘buckshee’ or ‘gash’ goo. Our always hungry room efficiently picketed and returned triumphant with a huge bowl of soup that added an unexpected richness to our evening meal. Attended another lecture on SM. Very interesting.
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By 10 my light was flickering and by sheer good luck I managed to bluff throughout an evening’s bridge. George was disgusted with my play. My humorous masterpiece for Hooch’s Log Book still progresses.
Saturday October 15th Dining in night – reduced bread ration. Golf, circuits, log completed, Peg letter (Thomson), bridge, music lecture. Circuits, bridge.
Bread has been reduced again by 300 grammes a head per week – making the grand total now 6 slices about 3/16” inches thick. To offset this is the promise of an increased potato ration and the possibility of some soya beans next week. Golf was a shambles today. Weather fine and sunny. Ran 1 ½ miles to give me some justification for a cold shower. Catarrh is still very bad.
Own dining in night again. Freshly shaved we sat down to the big bash.
Corned beef hash, boiled potatoes, silver beet leaves
Pudding – apricot, prune
Super Sweet Brew
Result – 11 completely satisfied Kriegies – for an hour at least
30 10th inc. 30 letters
5 14th – May, Peg, Bobbie, Mother, Nellie
1 15th – Peggy Thomson
13 Bobbie, Ena, Peggy, Margaret
Had a hectic bridge tournament. Dinner had a soporific effect and we just won. Are now in the final.
Sunday October 16th Golf, up early, Church, Lecture, reading.
Rose early, shaved, showered and prepared to go to church. Fine day. Lunch provided porridge and 1 slice of bread. Attended a lecture – Law for the Layman – very interesting. Played a shambling game of golf and have definitely decided to persevere and keep practising until I can do something. Confirmed today that there are 35,000 parcels of all types awaiting delivery here.
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Decided on a quiet evening at home reading. So, curled up with a brew by my side, I travelled with Nelson & Co aboard a 16-gun corvette which participated in some amazing adventures.
About 11, just before lights out, found that I’d left my blankets outside – airing – so collected as many greatcoats as possible, and passed not too uncomfortable a night.
Monday October 7h Lectures, no Mail, Room Football, 3-nothly Roast, Bridge, Cig Parcels.
Our roast arrived today representing 3 months’ meat ration apart from the rather dubious additions we get in our stew. Hours of roasting in our overtaxed oven failed to make it edible and my attempts to carve it ended 10 minutes later in an exasperated hacking. It proved excellent exercise for the teeth.
The Room 5 soccer team made its debut. 50% had not played before – but sheer enthusiasm and force drove our opponents to submission.
Did some swinging and attended my usual Monday lectures. My brain seems to be functioning more reasonably these days. Played bridge with Derek. No mail – and no parcels. Have heard of some trouble. One of the parcels staff was caught with confiscated articles in their possession.
Tuesday October 18th A depressing day, raining and muggy. Mooched about most of the day, reading and writing. No mail. News is good, progress slow and patience slowly being exhausted. Did some swotting and sent off some letters. Too lazy to write more.
Wednesday October 19th Our second soccer match, which ended in inglorious defeat. Felt very lazy but managed to do a couple of hours’ Advertising Administration. Had pea soup for lunch today, 3 slices of bread for tea and salmon ‘pie’ for supper. Loss of a slice a day is beginning to tell. Wandered around the circuit with a pleasant wind blowing in my face and a picturesque ragged sky to gaze at, but couldn’t overcome my feeling of suppression – depression. Perhaps it’s due to the lack of mail. The evening was brighter – a radio play ‘Wind in the Willows’. Its fantasy is specially refreshing here. Ended hearing Padre Thomson giving the second of his lectures with a religious -psychological base. The subject speech. Excellent. ‘Let my yes be yes and my noes no’. Misuse of modern words – eg homely maudlin tears, onomatopoeic words – F etc. This bloody skilly is awful. Feeling tired and rather like a Horlicks ad.
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The WW2 Diary of Pilot Officer Reg Dickinson
The Long March – Germany: 4-8 February 1945 (incomplete)
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The Long March (Left Stalag Luft 3 27 January 1945)
Sunday 4th February Toward night we passed near Hanover on our miserable journey towards Bremen. The effects of lying on the concrete were beginning to tell – we were filthy and the food as gritty, but we cared little. It started to rain – of course the roof was like a sieve. The only view of the dank dirty grey flat countryside was through the barred window. We occasionally stopped for people to perform the necessary functions, performed squatting on the line in the full view of a disinterested German population. Water was scarce and the journey to the pump was freezing. Containers were short but the inevitable Klim tin – dirty with the meals of 3 (?) days brought salvation. Rumours were spreading – “just another ½ hour”, “another 25 kilometres” but we were beyond caring.
Towards 3 we came to a juddering halt and looking out, saw some N.O. parleying with the adjutant. We had arrived at Tarmstadt East, focal point of our future home. We stepped out, cramped but hopeful and surveyed the miserable spectacle of a grey muddy German village.
Then came the forming up and the march, mud squelching underneath our boots, kit trailing in the mud, and the stragglers – the sick falling out behind. 5 kilometres way we found our camp in a bleak piece of moorland, with the inevitable “posten boxes” (?) against the sky. We entered the gate – halted! For 2 ½ hours in the damp evening air we halted and moved. We, the first 300, were fortunate. We were given a cursory search – trudged on in the mud to try to find billets. The remaining 1700 were finally through by 3 am. Many were taken to hospital and many were sick.
Our quarters were chaos, filthy, damp, un-swept, minus beds, straw, fires or anything workable, but we were all too tired and after a makeshift brew slept curled together to await the morning and what it would bring.
Monday 5th February Raining and damp and a chaotic 3 hours trying to distribute the 2000 around in this camp that was intended for 500. The Germans found themselves unable to issue any food and were again forced to rely on our meagre Red Cross supplies, dwindling fast. Unwashed and hungry, we argued and carried on until finally rooms were allocated and for the first time there was opportunity to look around and survey the miserable projects. Our room was ‘axed’ (?) – I found myself parted from ‘Hooch’ and transferred to a room of New Zealanders and Canadians – a good crowd. I was not Room 8, Hut 1.
The room was high, bare and cold. For its 16 inhabitants it boasted some wood, straw and 6 beds – 4 of which had collapsed. There was a table, a form and a broken stove, minus chimney and a flex that once boasted a bulb. There was lots of fresh air. Still we slept fairly well and awaited the future.
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Tuesday 6th February The clouds refused to clear. Stock was assessed and the camp can boast but 500 beds, 100 blankets, practically no fuel, no parcels, it was raining hard. The after-effects of the journey were telling and the hospital couldn’t cope with the sick. It holds 40 and there were approximately 200 sick. Utensils are nil: for 150 men we have 3 water cans, 2 bowls, 1 broom and Klim tins are doing yeoman service in holding brews, providing containers for shaving, collecting soup and potatoes.
The staff is working hard against hopeless odds to try and get the place working. We’re still existing on Red Cross food, and apart from 3 potatoes today they have supplied nothing. There are lots of promises but no results. Found enough energy to force myself under a cold tap. Washing conditions are shockingly primitive. There are no showers. It’s hard to find drive to start anything. Jimmy (?) is here but isn’t properly organised yet.
Wednesday 7th February Appel times re fluctuating. Today we assembled at 9 – and it was cold and bleak and some of the chaps, unshaven and pale, look bloody and the hospital is getting more and more cases – mostly fever and dysentery due to lack of hot food and filthy travelling conditions.
There were reunions today. I met Dicky Head, Panc (?), Goode and Coddy, Jim Kaye – the remnants of the original No.1 Queenstown course. Most of the chaps have been killed. Some life-saving rations arrived – bread and potatoes, but the kitchens won’t cope. They were designed for 500 and couldn’t cope with 2000. The 9 insist that the ration should remain the same for cooking, fuel for 500. A camp re-shuffle took place. We were finally allocated 4 beds. The remaining 2, I was unlucky, slept on the dirty floor. A few blankets were issued. Rumours reached us that the Belaria party were housed 25 miles SE of Berlin, and that they had had some casualties in a bombing raid. There is no library here but the NOs in the next compound have some their best – and a book per 16 men has been issued. Slept poorly – a combination of the bed dampness and lack of blankets. I’ve managed to pick up a sin disease of sorts. My fingers are affected and they discharge a lot. I hope to hell it doesn’t spread. Everybody lacks something. Our heavy packs have proved a little inadequate for our stay here. Haven’t climbed out of my underwear yet. Everybody reminisces of the motley equipment left behind at Sagan.
Thursday 8th February A typically English day – fresh, with scudding clouds, but the grey green surround has no beauty to reflect back into the camp. The kitchens broke down under pressure today and we were without hot water again.
The great news of the day was contained in the short notice that from Monday onwards we would go on to ½ parcels until they cease to exist. About 2 weeks of grace I guess. There is no salt in the camp – but we were told that 10 tons……
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[Photograph of Reg Dickinson]