His Story, His Words Part Ten

Life At Grunfliess Continued……

Here is instance when we were in the huts, we all used to sleep naked because we were lousy, absolutely, we slept on straw and for night usage we had a big half wooden tub about three feet across, this was put in the middle of the room, well I slept in a corner and all of the lights were out at night time. If I wanted to use the tub in the night I had to gauge where to go because there were four rows of lads sleeping, I had to gauge where I could walk without disturbing or stepping on these lads to get to the tub. Well, with drinking all this Ersatz Coffee and all this cabbage soup, I needed to go, I remember, it was about three in the morning and I went steady and went along carefully and I felt the tub and it was full, well I had to stand there and carry on and the lads were shouting “you dirty sod”, some of the lads were sleeping around the tub, it was overflowing and I had to get back quick but that was how we were.

That tub had to be emptied every morning, there were two poles to pick it up with a man either side and it was very heavy, there were five steps to come down from the hall to the ground and I remember there was ice and the steps were icy and young Baker from Wolverhampton slipped and it went everywhere. Normally this would be tipped onto a garden to be used as manure.

Christmas 1940 the German guards bought their wives there to have a party with them, it was about 12 O’ clock at night and the lights in the hall switched on and we had to get up, we had to get our trousers on quick. We stood in lines and the guards bought their wives in to inspect us, the dirty rotten British prisoners. The wives had Mink fur coats on which I suppose had all been pinched. I met a chap some years later and his wife was with him and he was telling her what I was doing at the time the guards wives were inspecting us, I had some lice and I was dropping them on the furs, the wives were drunk so I don’t know what those fur coats were like after. The lice were terrible we used to sit there when we had nothing much to do and kill them.

In the big boiler tubs where they used to cook the soup, they used to boil our clothes in there as well and you could see the lice skins on the top, it was horrible.

My stomach was OK but a lot of people had diarrhoea, there was one young lad he was out of the Tyneside Scottish, he was a tall lad and he had the diarrhoea and he did it in his blanket, there were a row of blankets in the hall on a shelf and we had to roll the dirty one up put it with them and pinch a clean one and give it to him. One day an officer came round to inspect the blankets and he had to pull them all down to have a look, he pulled the dirty one down and oh! my God there were ructions, he was shouting “swinehunt”. Overall the guards treated us rotten, we had to work, we could not stop, they would push you and stick a bayonet in you to get you moving.

I left that camp and I had to go back to hospital, my leg had gone and I had a bad chest, so I went back to Stalag VIIIB, that was around December or January 1941, it’s on my medical sheet. I was supposed to got to the hospital but the hospital was full so they did not do anything for me except I remember a German medical officer gave me a spoonful of medicine, cough medicine which is all I ever had. I did have a bad chest at the time but it got worse and worse, it was bronchial, I now have chronic bronchitis.

Before I went on the first working party, I was walking in the Stalag VIIIB camp and I was ready to go on the first job and they were shouting “come on, hurry up we are waiting for you” and I saw this chap walking towards me and it was George Blackburn, my mate, oh! God, I could not ask him what happened but he was in the camp, so the Germans must have been very kindly towards him the same as they had been to me in a way. They could have shot us. I said “George, hurry up give us your address” and he wrote it on my pay book, it has faded now, he lived at East Bolton, I said “I have to go now George, I can’t stay”. I had to leave George, he was alive, that was nice.

I went on another working party but can’t remember when I went on it, I have a picture of some of the lads, we went to a village called Hof in East Sudatanland. Here we were working in a saw mill, logging , cutting timber down and sawing them into planks. Part of my job was to trim the bark of the logs on a saw.


Jim Miller (In The Middle) Working Party At Hof


Map Of Location Of Hof (Now) Click Image To See Description

We stayed in the village jail and there were five of us at first, two of the lads went into a carpenters shop and they were doing carpentry, I am not sure what they were making but I think it was huts, whether for the German troops or for the British prisoners of war, I don’t know.

We were very near to a saw mill and one night it went up in flames and it was burning and I said “God we will get blamed for this”, so the guards came in and rushed us out and we had to march to it and start to put the fire out with buckets of water, I know one lad one was chucking buckets of oil on, so it disappeared and we all had a sweat on. A house went up in flames as well but in the end they found out it was an electrical fault.


The Village Of Hof


Area Near To Saw Mill Which Was Owned By Emil Richter

They started to build a new saw mill, there was not much for us to do but clearing muck away. I had to come off the job I was doing because my leg had gone on me again and I became the cook for the lads and I was happier then.

Red Cross Parcels

We had Red Cross Parcels when we were on the first working party,, they were very good, there were Canadian ones and British ones and inside there were things like chocolate and soap and tins of meat and the stuff you spread on bread, Marmite.


Example Of British Red Cross Parcel


Actual Red Cross Parcel Gift Receipt Sent To Jim Miller From Wife

The Germans used to inspect the parcels, there were cigarettes as well and the Germans used to break open the cigarette packets in case there were secret messages inside. They also used to stab their bayonets into the tins and work them round and this German stabbed a tin of tomato puree with his bayonet and it exploded all over him, he was covered in tomato puree and we had to laugh.

The first parcels that came through were shared out one parcel between eight men, we had made some playing cards out of bits of cardboard, we use to cut the pack and the person who got the ace had the first pick and so on. So something would be cut into eight pieces and the last person would have the smallest piece, this went on for quite a while.

They did not come that regular, the Germans must have been holding them back, later on we had a full parcel to ourselves and I think they came about once a month.

I was the cook and I used to make some good meals, the men would give their parcels to me as cook. I had a little kitchen, this was in the jail house, the guards were down below down the stairs. I had cooking implements such as pans. I used to go shopping with the German guard and Emil Richter who was the owner of the saw mill. Before Emil Richter built his new saw mill, he was building a new house and I used to help him around the house. I was a bit afraid of heights and I was working on the roof which was pretty steep. Emil Richter was German I think and he and his family were OK and they got to know us but I think when the Russians came they shot him and his family.

I used to go and get Wurst, Liver Wurst which was German liver sausage, the meals were not big but they were tasty, we also used to get decent bread, not the green stuff, it kept us alive. All I did was cook, it was a bit of a cushy job. There was enough food for all of the lads.

The lads in the camp used to make their own little stoves out of bits of tins and that so they were able to cook, I don’t know how they did it, there were some clever lads.

There were some Jewish lads in the camp, when they got their Red Cross Parcels if there was any pork in there we used to swap over a bit of fish with them.

I preferred to be on working parties than staying in the stalag, it kept us happy, we were doing something and not just sitting around in the camps.

I was cook in the camp right up until the end, so I was cook for about three or four years, the people in the village, they got to know us, they would say “Guten Morgen” and somebody used to put cigarettes in a little hole for us and we would pick them up when we marched by.

Tricks

We used to play tricks on the Germans when we were on parade. When we were all lined up and they started counting eins, zwei, drei, vier, funf (one, two, three, four, five) then one lad would quickly step out and go to the rear rank. When they counted the first row there would be forty men and when they counted the back row where there was supposed to be forty men there were forty two or something like that, the lads used to swap over quick, so in the end the Germans gave the counting up because they could not count properly.

There was a woman I was writing to in England and she used to send me cigarettes, I have lost her address, I used to write letters back to her thanking her and that and I used to write about the Reverend Kirkbrae and she used to write back that the Reverend Kirkbrae was doing alright (Kirkbrae was secret code for Churchill, in Scottish terms a kirk is a church and a brae is a hill). I never saw the woman. I use to swap the cigarettes for eggs.

I used to worry about my wife and I wrote to her, she was OK, she was working, she worked in a steel mill and she was living with her mother. I did not have many letters off my mother, I think she was OK, she had a son working in the shipyards, he was practically keeping her, I had a sister in the ATS and one in the Land Army, so there was money going into the house, there was nothing I could do.

It was a pretty routine life at the saw mill but someone did give us a gramophone, the type with the horn, we had a couple of records and one was Lili Marlene which was sung in German, we used to sing different words to it in English, they were listen to the bugle, listen to the call, listen to the bugle calling one and all.

While I was staying in the jail, there were bunks in the cell and the room was small but it was not too bad, there was a stove in the room.

Later on we started to get a lot of Australians coming in and Newzealanders coming in from Crete. This was the first time I heard the song Now Is The Hour and a Newzealander was singing it, I thought it was great then we all used to sing Now Is The Hour to pass the time away and I used to play a mouth organ. The Australians and Newzealanders stayed in big bungalows away from us on the saw mill and us five stayed in the jail until the end.

One of the lads built a little radio, he must of acquired the parts swapping cigarettes, he built a crystal set and unknown to me there was an attic and he hid the wireless in the attic, they must have listened to it every night and this one chap called Bill Menguy who was a very intelligent man drew a large map of Europe which showed where the Russians were and where they were coming forward through the towns. We were all listening to it on the 5th of June, the night before the D-Day Landings in Normandy.  The Germans knew nothing about the landing but we knew and on the 6th June when the landing was made we knew they were there but the Germans in the village knew nothing about it.

One day about 11 O’ clock in the morning I think I was writing a letter and I heard this terrible roar in the sky, I looked out through the bars up towards the sky and there was all these planes, thousands and the German civilians were counting them eins, zwei, drei and they did not know they were American bombers which I think were based in Italy after Italy capitulated. They all ran into air raid shelters that had been built for them. Every morning at 11 O’ clock these bombers used to come over and what bombs had not been dropped on their targets up in the north of Germany, they used to drop them anywhere.

The Germans put up posters stating the planes were bombing hospitals and schools where the children were, we got frightened about that, we thought that when the civilians saw these posters they would turn against us but they didn’t, these Sudateland people were different to the other Germans.

We got used to this, we did not know when the war would end, we thought we would be there forever, it was a funny feeling, thousands and thousands of us were the same, it was just life. We did not think of escape, there was no where to go, there was all snow up in the mountains, you could not go anywhere.

We could tell that the war was coming to an end, we got a little excited and optimistic but we dared not shout too much, we knew for days that our troops and the Americans were well in.

Just before the war ended the guards said “pack everything up, come out, you have to go”. We were walking and marching with the guards. We marched a long way then rested and women were coming out of their houses imploring us to stay because they knew that the Russians were coming, they were German women saying “don’t leave us” but we could do nothing.

As we were resting the guards done a bunk and left us, we did not know what to do and we did not know where we were, there were just five of us. So, we split up because we thought if we were in a bunch we would be easy to see. I was on my own walking and I did not know which way I was going.

I started to see refugees getting away and I was with these German refugees and they were looking after me, it’s quite true, the Germans had given us new British uniforms to put on and a lot of Germans themselves were wearing British uniforms. So, I was with the Sudetenland refugees and I could talk a little German and they understood me and they gave me food.

I can’t remember if I left them or they left me but I met up with the Russians, the ones I was with were OK, I had to say “anglichane tavárishch” which is English comrade, I rode on their tanks on the way to Prague. Some of the Russians were also riding horses, some of these horses collapsed with heart failure as the Russians raced them to see who could get into Prague first. They would not stop, they would go into any house and take it over. The first house we went into there was a family there, they had a daughter about 20 years old, I don’t know what kind of people they were, maybe they were Germans.

I was with Russian officers and we sat round a table and we had something to eat and it was half roast pork which they were cutting with a knife, I could not eat much at the time. They had vodka but I thought it was water, I had never seen vodka, it was white. They got some glasses off the woman and filled them with vodka, then they stood up and then toasted Stalin first and you had to take a gulp, the vodka burnt me, then they toasted Roosevelt with another swig, then Churchill. The next thing I knew I was lying on the settee and I had vomited all over place. This girl came over and I said “I am very sorry”, she said “alright, nothing to worry about”.

The Russians did nothing to the people in the house and I got back on the tank. The Russians were OK , they never questioned me or anything like that, they knew I was British and at night time when they used to stop, the Russian girls used to dance.

Part Eleven