My grandad: WWII PoW, Y&L


Firstly, if you think this is in the wrong section of this forum, please suggest where this thread would be more usefully positioned!

My grandad (1923-2002), from Leeds, served as a Private in the Yorks/Lancs regiment during the Second World War. He was a PoW in Italy and Germany after being captured in Tunisia in 1943.

I'm currently seeking as much information as I can get about his time in the war, and I have listed what I know so far below. If you think your dad/grandad/great grandad could have spent time with my grandad then please PM me for more info (ie his name, number etc) as this would obviously be fantastic to hear.

(I've posted the below on a War memories site hoping to hear from others who had similar experiences, but thought this would be a good place to try too, with so many people being from the area. )

Anyway, the following are the basics of what my family and I have pieced together from the few bits of information he gave us before he died in 2002:
He was captured by the Germans and taken to camp PG66 in Italy, which was in Capua, near Naples.

He also stayed at camp PG53 (Campo Concentremento 53), which was in Sforzacosta, and then camp PG78.

After the Italians surrendered, he was squashed into an open rail truck and taken to Stalag 357 in Germany (Oerbke, I think).

He spent most of his time (we think!) at Stalag 4DZ near Annaburg. (We got this number from a photograph, but we're not sure what it means: 226387 D602. Perhaps a PoW number?)

I think it was here where he was forced to work on repairing a damaged railway line near an ammunition factory (which was regularly bombed by the RAF). He was certain they were sent to work there to reduce numbers, and many men died working there.

He, along with two other prisoners (Trooper Walter Rowley and Lance Corporal James "Busty" Speight, from Hunslet), fled Stalag 4DZ on April 14, 1945.

The day before they fled, they were told by a British R.A.M.C major that the whole camp was to be marched east the following day. The march began and suddenly the air raid sirens sounded. As allied planes swooped to strafe a nearby airfield, the three of them made a run for it, taking with them two of the German sentries (they told them they would make it alright for them with the Americans, who were rumoured to be getting closer). In the village of Nienburg, they told the local Burgomaster that they had been sent to make their way back to camp. A German girl who had been a worker in the camp kitchen helped my grandad and the other PoW's by tipping them off about the Burgomaster being suspicious. He had sent for the SS, who were to arrive the next morning. The German girl also told them the way to the American lines, so they pulled out quickly and eventually found an American patrol near Halle (Saale). The Americans took some convincing that they were British POW's, but they eventually realised they were genuine and couldn't make them more welcome. They later learned that the guards who stayed behind were shot by the SS for assisting them to escape.

My grandad returned home to Leeds on a Tuesday in May 1945.

There are an awful lot of gaps that I'd love to fill in, and he probably stayed at a few more POW camps. I'm unsure where he was when at the end of the war but think it's most likely to be Stalag 4DZ in Annaburg. I have no idea how much time he spent at any one camp.

If anyone has information about ANYTHING I have mentioned above, I'd appreciate hearing from you.
I don't have any info I'm afraid but wondered if you had sent off for his POW record from the Red Cross. I sent off for my Grandad's, it took about 6 months to come back. It's only basic info (date of capture and dates he was in which camps) but it was more than I already knew.

Info on how to do it is here:

Records of prisoners of war | British Red Cross

I also got hold of my Grandad's Liberation questionnaire from the National Archives. I don't think all POW's filled them in, I was lucky that my Grandad did, it's worth having a look to see if yours did.
As suggested above. Red Cross are known for their record keeping. Erm, possibly something in the national archives perhaps? Or the imperial war museum might have general info On POWs that might help.

Either way, all the best and perhaps post what you find. It's certainly a gripping endeavour.

Sent via Heliograph from the Jebel Birkenhead
Always remember there being quite a strong element of the Arrse community who were rather into research, history and this sort of thing. Don't see as many on anymore but if there are they might venture in and offer help. Also consider asking on Rum Ration too. They might be Navy but they get a lot of people looking into family service stuff etc.

Sent via Heliograph from the Jebel Birkenhead
Dont know if you aready have or not, but the Regimental Museum may have information as well - I was reasearching a family member who died at the Somme and the Staffs Regt Museum were able to fill in some details about why her was there are what actually happened to him (he was a Woffer, joined up at 15 served in Galipoli then on the Somme whilst his Bn was in Ireland - the Staffs Regt were able to find out he was in the Machine Gun Platoon which was detached in Egypt and send to France not Ireland on attachment to the Staff, they also were able to describe how he had died too

Well worth a try

the Yorks & Lancs Regt Museum is

York & Lancaster Regiment Museum
I don't know what internet research you've done but changing 4DZ to IV-D/Z might get you a few more links.

From Wiki:
A sub-camp, Stalag IV-D/Z, was opened in May 1942, located in Annaburg about 20 km (12 mi) north of Torgau.[SUP][3][/SUP] From March 1944 it was designated as a Heilag (short for Heimkehrerlager), a repatriation camp for POWs waiting to be either exchanged or returned home on medical grounds.[SUP][4][/SUP]
The camps were liberated in late April 1945 when US and Soviet forces met on the Elbe at Torgau.
Stalag IV-D - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

While IV-D was recorded as using prisoners to repair railway lines, I'm a bit surprised that the inmates of IV-D/Z were used for this purpose, given it's status as housing sick prisoners.

Also found, which may make research a bit easier:
There are a few publications which list the names, Regimental details and PoW no. for each known prisoner. One source is entitled Prisoners of War British Army 1939-1945 and is available for reference at Kew.
More about IV-D/Z:

It will be clear from what has been said that, if living conditions in German camps in early 1945 were a severe hardship for fit prisoners, they were much more so for the sick and disabled. Fortunately nearly 2000 of the remaining British Commonwealth sick and wounded prisoners were spared the later stages of disorder in Germany by being exchanged at the end of January. Of the 89 New Zealanders in this party, the largest groups were sufferers from bad wounds and amputations, or from lung and related infections; the smaller groups were sufferers from mental conditions, from stomach disorders, and from blindness.
Many had been selected for repatriation in late 1944. Some had gone to the repatriation centre at Annaburg, Stalag IVD/Z, where they had been treated well, and the German commandant had sent them on their way, remarking that he hoped they would carry away a good impression of Germany. Hospital trains from this and other collecting centres went to Constance on the Swiss frontier, and between 22 and 25 January these trainloads of Allied repatriates passed into Swiss territory in exchange for trainloads of Germans who passed back into their own country. The British repatriates were housed for some days in Switzerland, where British officials and representatives of the International Red Cross Committee and of the Swiss Red Cross took good care of them. Most had borne the bitter disappointment of omission from former repatriation lists, and for a few who died in Switzerland while awaiting transport repatriation had come too late. But at least they were spared the additional hardships of Germany's last chaotic months of defeat.
I: Movements of Prisoners and Liberation in Germany | NZETC

I'm busy until Friday (working) but just wanted to quickly say thanks for what you've posted! I look forward to looking into the above in as much detail as I can.

It's very interesting to hear about Stalag IV-D/Z being for sick prisoners from March 1945 onwards. I didn't know that, and he wasn't sick, as far as I know!

Just a bit of background for you about what it is I'm trying to achieve here - after some persuasion from my grandma, my grandad began writing an account of his wartime experiences just before he died. He tells his story right from being snapped up by the army and his military training in Yarm to being captured by the Germans in Tunisia, but unfortunately he passed away after he got to the bit about him arriving in the first PoW in Italy (PG66). My grandma continued writing his story by remembering the bits and pieces he had told her over many years. So certain things are sketchy.

I'm in the process of writing the story in full and am trying to fill in a lot of blanks at the moment. No one has ever researched anything online about this, so I'm hopeful of finding a few things.

I know it's not the same when it's not your own family but it's really fascinating me. I just wish I'd have taken an interest years ago when he was still with us!
On the contrary. I wouldn't mind knowing a bit about the training in Yarm, I didn't know that there was any done there. I might have a root around when I'm up there to see if there's anything still visible.

It also comes as a surprise that York&Lancs were training in the Green Howards' patch.


Gallery Guru
On the contrary. I wouldn't mind knowing a bit about the training in Yarm, I didn't know that there was any done there. I might have a root around when I'm up there to see if there's anything still visible.

It also comes as a surprise that York&Lancs were training in the Green Howards' patch.
I think there's something in my Grandads papers, I'll check but that was WW1. Mainly though it lists the fines he got for going AWOL to get pissed, using foul and obscene language and damaging property.
One of his periods of absence I think he was on the way for treatment at a Hospital in Bournemouth. I think it was Glasgow Hospital where he smashed a chair and swore lots. I'm not sure he actually earnt anything. Christ knows why they let him back in and kept him until 1930.
The only York and Lancaster battalion to serve in Tunisia was the 6th, in 46th (North Midland) Division.
If I were you, I would make sure the Regimental Musuem or the National Army Museum were made aware of that "Diary", there is a great deal of information looking from the top down, but the view from a humble Tom seldom gets recorded and it would be a tragedy if it were not preserved somehow
If anyone's interested, here is the start of his story - as much as he wrote before he passed away - in his own words:

As the war drew near, I, along with many of my colleagues, joined the Home Guard. This was attached to Burtons, where I worked, and we had excellent training from regular soldiers stationed at Wellington Hill barracks in Leeds. We had no live weapons, shared old rifles, and used dummy Mills Grenades.

An old colleague joined the Royal Marines and, when he came home on leave, got permission to allow each of us to fire two live bullets. We did this in a nearby quarry, and it was quite an experience for us young lads.

Eventually a Sargeant Major from the Green Howard's regiment came every Sunday morning to teach us foot and field practice. The troop took this very seriously and it was most helpful later when we joined the real army.

We took the chance to be on night guard for the princely sum of three shillings and six pence. This duty was meant to defend the factory, but whatever would have happened if there had been an invasion of paratroopers? God knows! We would have shat ourselves.

Most of the company were young lads, but several of the older men also served. Unfortunately, when we were learning the prone position used when firing, some had great difficulty getting back up again. They were rolling about all over the place and caused great amusement. This was stemmed by the Sgt Major, who didn't see the funny side.

"Big Sam", our guard commander, couldn't get any boots to fit his massive feet, so he had to wear his ordinary shoes.

When war was declared on September 3, 1939, the older men were gradually called up into the Armed Forces. They took men in their twenties first and gradually increased the age as the war progressed.

Two weeks after my 19th birthday, on March 23, 1942, I received my calling up papers. Like everyone else, I soon had to learn what the real army in wartime was all about.

I was called to Lincoln barracks, where the Notts Forest, Leicester and my regiment, the York and Lancs, we're all stationed. We had 16 weeks basic training, and I was grateful for the knowledge I had gained from my time in the Home Guard.

From Lincoln, several Leeds lads and I were moved to Yarm in North Yorkshire. There we joined the 11th Battalion of the York and Lancs regiment.

In the evenings, girls came from nearby towns (Stockton, Darlington and the surrounding area), to meet up with the squaddies. In Lincoln we weren't allowed out of the barracks, so this was a new experience for us.

We also had to sample Night Guard for real. There was no going for cover if the rain poured and the wind howled. (After the war I always appreciated a warm bed on stormy nights, and I say without fail, "I'm glad I'm not on Guard tonight!")

We had 16 weeks training in Yarm, followed by forty eight hours leave. From there we went via an overcrowded troop train for five weeks advanced training in Folkestone, Kent. There we stayed in a small hotel, but we were not allowed to sleep in the beds. Army style meant the floor and very little else.

I then joined the 6th Battalion, along with two or three friends. I was offered a stripe, but that meant staying behind without my new pals, so I turned it down.

The morale was very high in those early days. We were all very fit lads and felt like we were all in it together, facing the unknown. We had never heard of adrenaline, but it was certainly running high.

From Folkestone we were given ten days embarkation leave.

After the leave we all met down in Cobham, Surrey. There, at Sunningdale golf course, we were inspected by King George the Sixth. We waited on parade "at ease", but very still and silent, for hours. A few of the men fainted from the tension. He finally arrived and quickly walked up and down the lines. It took him five minutes at the most and then he was away. What struck me most was his brilliant blue eyes.

That evening three men and I were on guard duty and had to meet at set places to report any incidents. One of the men accidentally fired his rifle. Fortunately the gun was pointing downwards so the bullet hit the ground between us and ricocheted into the air. Luckily we were leaving the next day so he managed to escape severe punishment.

It was early December and very cold when we crowded into yet another troop train. Most of the trains had carriages without corridors and we were all wearing thick coats and had large kit bags, so we were packed like sardines.

When we reached Liverpool we had to spend several uncomfortable hours before it was time to leave the train and embark onto the troop ship. This was "The Duchess of Bedford", commonly known as "The Drunken Duchess" due to the way she rolled about, even on calm seas.

As we left dock she bumped into another vessel, so we had to return to Liverpool for repairs - the result being, when we eventually set sail, the escort had gone on ahead with the rest of the convoy.

We finally caught up with them in the Bay of Biscay, and it was here we encountered horrendous storms. I was dreadfully ill and had to take refuge behind the ventilation shafts on the upper deck. I missed the "all present" parade which was held below deck. Naturally I was soon discovered and put on charge.

The ship was a retired luxury liner so the officers had their quarters in the upper class area. The steps leading there had to be mopped and thoroughly cleaned every day, so I was given that task, along with cleaning the toilet area. I felt absolutely wretched - sick and dizzy. Fortunately an old sailor gave me a mug of tea doused with rum, and that made me feel slightly better.

It took five days to get from the Bay of Biscay to Algiers, but it seemed like an eternity to me. Later, when I was asked how long it took to sail to North Africa, I always said "Too bloody long!"

6/1/43: In Algiers we docked, disembarked and marched several miles to secure a position in an Algerian town. By then we were all tired and weary as it was very hot and we were loaded with heavy kit bags. We could hear distant gunfire.

I still had to serve the rest of my sentence, so I was put on guard duty for the next three nights. We were warned to watch out for thieving Arabs and were threatened with what would be our punishment if any equipment went missing.

The town was French owned and we had to sleep on top of concrete wine vats. Naturally we did everything possible to suck up the wine, but without success.

Four days later we boarded a troop train and proceeded towards Tunisia.

Opposite a mountainous point called Green Hill, while doing guard duties, we saw what we thought was a group of Germans in the distance, heading our way. Sighs of relief sounded all round when we realised it was a herd of cows!

It was raining heavily and we were soon soaked to the skin. Gunfire was being exchanged on both sides and we realised we were now on the edge of the battle. The next day we were herded into troop carriers - 35 men packed into each wagon - and we headed into Tunisia.

Several hours later we took up position between Beja and Majaz Al Bab. I was put in charge of the machine guns, and we soon encountered the first heavy shelling and constant gunfire. Trying to get cover wasn't easy - the noise was horrendous and the sky was lit up and full of gun smoke. Weather conditions were atrocious, with torrential rain and hail stones as big as golf balls. We needed our tin hats for that reason as well as for protection from the constant shelling.

Freezing temperatures during the night didn't help at all. Our makeshift slit trenches filled with water in no time, and we were paddling in mud and water.

The food was all cold. It consisted of very fatty corned beef or soup, and occasionally tinned peaches. We ate everything straight from the tin, which filled with water as soon as is was opened.

By now the Germans were attacking on all fronts and this went on for several weeks. Occasionally there would be a lull for a day or so, but we got very little sleep, waiting for the thunderous noise to restart.

Still the rain poured down for weeks on end and we realised we were outnumbered. Believe me, we were all very scared and miserable.

Later we discovered that the French-Algerian troops, who were supposed to be guarding the left flank, had disappeared, thus allowing the Germans to advance quickly without opposition from the left.

It seemed to be constant attacks of mortar bombs, heavy infantry and machine gun fire from all sides. Being vastly outnumbered and knowing we were surrounded was incredibly daunting. We never imagined being deserted by our allies, the French-Algerians.

During the worst (and final) attack, the soldier on my left received a fatal burst of machine gun fire to his head and face. He was a good friend of mine and a more horrific sight is hard to imagine. His face haunted me for a long, long time.

The man on my right was shot in the back and arm, and he was screaming in agony. While the Sargeant and I were trying to tend to these men, a German soldier appeared about three feet above us and ordered us to come out of our positions. Many times I have wondered why the German didn't fire on us. We were sitting ducks.

We helped the injured man out of the trench and laid him at our feet. Almost immediately there was a heavy burst of gunfire and the German soldier fell to the ground, severely injured in his groin. I wondered then and I still do, why was I spared when all around me men were injured or killed?

By now other Germans had arrived and they began mopping up the remaining survivors of our section.

1/3/43: Just over three months had passed since we arrived in North Africa and here we were - petrified, bewildered, captured and being roughly herded into some kind of barn. Throughout the night we were interrogated by German intelligence officers, but we only gave our rank, name and number. However, the Germans already knew our regiment as our own Sargeant Major had committed the offence of leaving his badge in his hat.

The following day we were all forced to march to Tunis. It was still pouring with rain and we had been without food or drink for two days - from being captured to arriving at Campo Concentramento P.G. 66, in Capua, Italy. The march there was over twenty miles and most of the time we were forced to have our hands on our heads. This was to humiliate us.

On arrival, the POWs already held there were all shouting "Where do you come from?", and this happened every time we moved camps. We all longed to meet someone from our local area.

*Sadly, my grandad passed away at this point. My grandma continued writing his story by remembering bits and pieces he had told her over many years. Certain memories are sketchy and there are many blanks in the story, and I'm currently trying to fill in as many gaps as possible. I will post up the rest of my grandad's story, about his time as a POW and up until his escape, as soon as I have managed to do this.*
Your grandads ship:

Canadian Pacific's DUCHESS OF BEDFORD of 1928. Served as a troop transport during WWII, and in 1947 went to Fairfield, Glasgow for a refit. Initially renamed EMPRESS OF INDIA, but soon changed to EMPRESS OF FRANCE Re-entered transatlantic service in 1948, scrapped in 1960.
Built at J.Brown, Clydebank. 20,123 GRT, 601' x 75', twin-screw turbine steamer, 18 knots. 580 Cabin Class, 480 Tourist Class, 510 3rd Class.


Intrigued at the reference to Yarm, I've been trying to find where your granddad's training might have taken place. My initial thought was at what was the RN Spare Parts Distribution Centre in Eaglescliffe (Urlay Nook/Allens West), just over the river from Yarm. This land was taken over by the War Department in the 1940s (for what purpose I've yet to determine), later becoming a collection centre for crashed airframes before use by the RN.

Another thought was Preston Hall. I've a recollection that somebody told me that it had a military use in WW2 but I've been unable to find an internet reference to this - yet.

In the absence of anything better, I'm obliged to plump for the Dugdale Estate at Crathorne, prompted by the following description:
From Essex we had a quick move to North Yorkshire, at an estate belonging to Major Dugdale, in a small village Craythorne, near Yarm where the first steam train by Stephenson had run. (Stockton-on- Tees was our nearest town.) We were a drafting battalion which reinforced the strength of other battalions of our Regiment and took in a new squad about every eight weeks. Our Company received about 90 soldiers, to do a six-week extensive training, followed by embarkation leave and then posted to our other battalions. Many went straight into action, places like the Anzio Beach Head in Italy, Malta, India and others to battalions preparing to return to the Continent, the Second Front. As I was too young to go on overseas draft, I stayed at Craythorne for seven months.

For a short period, I became friendly with Len Lanning, a policeman from Dorset. We were on guard duty one night, marching to the gardener's lodge and back; outside the lodge we turned about. The Company Commander was Captain Marker (a motor racing driver before coming into the army, from Honiton) who had a bed there. The following morning, we were called up for Company Commander's Orders, by the Sergeant Major, Dickie Clowns, thinking we had done something wrong. Captain Marker congratulated us on our timing and excused us from any further guards. I suppose we had disturbed his sleep! The upshot of that, was I was placed on guard duty in the daytime. If anyone important visited us, we called it ‘B B B’ (Bullshit Baffles Brain)! Unfortunately, Len Lanning was killed in the Anzio Beach Head, a few days after leaving us.

As I was spare, I had to go and work in the cookhouse and also look after the mess in a Nissen hut (a tunnel—shaped hut of corrugated iron with a concrete floor). I use to 'shout up' at meal times and prepare haversack rations when the Company was on all day schemes, route marches etc. We use to go down to the village post office, run by two charming ladies, the Kendrick sisters, who produced cakes etc through the Women's Institute; often getting 30-40 men in two rooms was some feat. Our Company’s strength was greater than the population of the village of Craythorne. It's not surprising that we 'blotted our copy book'!

One night, we were invited to a 21st birthday party in a barn at Hulton Rugby[sic - actually Hutton Rudby], about 4 miles away. On return, some took a number of milk churns off their stand and placed them across the road; only, the next person to be coming back from the party was none other than the vicar, who came off his cycle and fell into the road. The next morning, the Sergeant Major had us on parade and said in sympathy, we would all be on church parade the following Sunday!

It was a pleasant stay at Craythorne, rather ‘out in the sticks’. On another occasion, the cookhouse staff, Corporal Dowse, Eddie Weltner and Bucket Cann, accompanied by Buzzer Harris and Screwey Newt from the stores, set off to the river below us, to get some fish. If one goes fishing, you don’t wear workhouse whites! The intention was to fire a .22 rifle at the fish. Having espied a fish, off the rifle went. The fish was partially stunned and went up stream with the speed of a motor boat, half out the water. We chased it, only to find the Company Commander around the corner fishing! On orders next day — ‘Other ranks are reminded that poaching fish is prohibited’! Whilst at Craythorne, my home at Teignmouth was badly damaged in an air raid and my mother, father and sister, Joan moved to Wooburn Green, near High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, where I spent my leave.
Thanks for looking, putteesinmyhands.

To be honest, I'm personally more interested in his time as a POW. It's becoming a bit of an obsession at the moment because every time I think I've finally started to figure things out, I read something that changes everything (for example, the Stalag 4 DZ being used to house ill prisoners). I really want to find out which camp he was in when he was made to work on repairing the railway lines and exactly where he was at the end when they made a run for it.

I'm sending off for his details from the Red Cross, as suggested to me earlier in this thread, so hopefully that will give me some of the answers I seek... although I want them now, not in six months time! Ah well, patience is a virtue, and all that. Will keep looking.

Thanks a lot to everyone who has posted information/pictures so far, I really appreciate the help.

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