French POW have moved to the Hitler Youth camp, but judging by
its state when we left it they will be very uncomfortable. British
and American personnel have all vacated the prison camp itself
and now occupy the former German quarters outside the wire; our
total number is about 2250 and at least living conditions are
thereby considerably improved.
Our former barracks have now received a huge influx of civilian
refugees who have invaded the Stalag; men, women and children
of various nationalities are herded together in frightful squalor
and sanitary arrangements have largely failed. With the weather
approaching a heat wave there must be serious danger of an epidemic.
Our little group is still in the workshop detached from everyone
and very glad to be so; we are probably living as comfortably
as anyone in the Stalag and this has contributed to maintaining
our morale. We get a fair number of jobs to do in the shop and
on Saturday morning there was a rush order for four coffins from
the Hospital. Neither Ted nor Ray had ever done any undertaking
work but they set to even calling on Johnny and me to lend a
hand and on Sunday the contract was fulfilled; although a bit
rough the coffins really looked quite respectable.
About 40 German prisoners are employed in the Stalag for most
of the dirty work such as digging out the sewage beds and they
are well treated as regards food and lodging. I could not get
any satisfaction in witnessing harsh treatment of Germans unless
I knew that they had formerly been brutal to our own chaps.
We have had a little trouble with Italians in the workshop, following
the visit of an Italian officer a few days ago to request the
use of the shop for the manufacture of crosses to be placed on
the graves of Italians in the cemetery. Normally we would have
refused to grant any favours to an Italian but for such a purpose
we could not refuse and Ted gave permission for two such men
to work in the shop; the discussion was carried out in French
with some difficulty as the Italian Officer's command of the
language was as poor as mine. More and more Italians have appeared
in the shop to do a variety of jobs and yesterday we had a real
row so that today there are only two Italians working here.
Our diet these days is very starchy as it consists entirely of
potatoes, bread and dried pea soup but at least there is plenty
and after recent experiences we are not complaining.
May 23 1945.
(at Halle) Towards the end of last week the situation was one
of miserable stagnation and there is little to report of any
note except, incredible as it may seem, a dance was held on Saturday
night. None of us attended but during that evening the news for
which we had been waiting desperately came completely out of
the blue. An announcement from the SBO said that an agreement
had been reached between American and Russian Officers regarding
exchange of prisoners and that we were to leave on the following
day - Sunday, May 20. We went to bed that night excited but a
little anxious as we had been disappointed so often.
However about 10 o'clock next morning, Russian lorries rolled
in and the camp siren was sounded as a signal for everyone to
prepare for departure. We had no time to put the workshop in
good order before leaving so that it was not in a good state
when we handed it over to six Dutchmen; it had been a comfortable
billet for three weeks but we had no regrets at leaving.