His Story, His Words Part Nine

Action At Saint Venant With “D” Company 2nd Battalion DLI Continued….

Martine McLane said two spies had been shot because they were making signals to the Germans, this was on the 27th May.

There was not much happening again, just a bit of shelling and our artillery had moved out, we did not have any artillery and I never heard any shells from our artillery.

I saw three planes landing ahead of us, the Germans were bringing in troops on these planes but even at this point I had still not actually seen a German.

Later on, on the 28th of May around dusk there were forms running towards us and we got the order to open fire, rapid fire, so we started shooting, then somebody yelled “cease fire it’s the Berkshires”, we were firing on our own men. Not long after that there was a bit more machine gun firing, no shells, nothing like that and then we got the order “Every Man For Himself” and then a second or two later “Make For The Canal”.

At the time there were tanks approaching but I never saw them, I did not find out who gave the order until years later when Martin McLane told me that he had given the order. To me it sounded like it was through a megaphone “Every Man For Himself, Make For The Canal” and suddenly there was shots firing and small arms.

I was with my mate George Blackburn, I said “come on George, out quick”. We started running across a field, I did not know that there was a canal there, I don’t think any of the other lads knew there was a canal there because we had never been wandering around looking for a canal, we had been stuck in the position all the while. As we were running, George was behind me and I heard him shout “Jim, Jim” so I stopped and George was lying on his back, he had been hit in the legs I think, I ran back towards him and then I saw a young officer running towards me and he shouted “keep going, keep going” and I had to leave George. The two of us ran to a road, I did not know this young officer’s name, it was the first time I had seen him and he said to me “run across the road” because I believe there was a tank up the road but I never saw it and I said “no sir we will both go together” and we ran across together into a wooded area, bullets were still being fired at us but God made them miss.

We walked a good distance and we saw a little boat, a little two seater floating in the canal, I could see no one else from the rest of the company just me and the Lieutenant. We used a long branch from a tree to get the boat in, we both got in and I used my rifle as an oar because the officer was just sitting there. We still did not know each other, he never said “what is your name” and I never said “what is your name sir” but he was a DLI man. We got across the canal and we walked quite a distance and then we met up with about a dozen NCO’s, they were all NCO’s. Sergeant Major Metcalfe was there, we walked up to them Metcalfe was looking at a large map, I did not know the names of the other NCO’s because they were ones that had enlisted after me.

I sat on a rock, a large rock near to a barn and Metcalfe turned round towards me and said “what the hells wrong with you Miller” and I said “Sir if you’ve just been where I have come from you might feel the same”, I never stood up I was thinking about my mate and other things like running and all this firing. Then he yelled at me “stand up” and I did stand up, he dropped the map and I thought he was going for his gun, I got the shakes and then someone shouted “he is bleeding from the shoulder sir”. Metcalfe said “get his equipment off” around this time I saw Martin McLane and he was soaking wet.

My equipment was taken off me, my rifle and my helmet and I remember I had a grenade in each pouch, I had no small arms like 303 because I had used all that, the rifle was empty. Someone was told to bandage me up, I never felt any pain. I did not know I had been shot and don’t know where it had happened, my shoulder must have been bleeding and I was bandaged up, there must have been something there but I could not feel anything and I could run and I could walk and I could fight. My sleeve was cut off my battle jacket and my shirt and I had a bare arm, they got my field dressing out and put it on my shoulder, then they put my arm in a sling.

Then, “you and you march Miller to that barn to await an ambulance”, there was a barn not far away. So I was in the barn and I sat down to await an ambulance, you could not get an ambulance there, the Germans were just down the road. I was sitting there by myself, nobody else was there, I didn’t see anybody else, I kept looking around and there was a bit of a board that I could glance around and I thought when they move I am going to follow them. I wasted a bit of time and when I looked they had gone.

I came out of the barn and I did not know where I was, what could I do, Where should I go, so I just kept walking, I must have been walking North West because I got into a forest which I now know is called Nieppe Forest. There was a battalion there standing behind trees with their bayonets fixed and I said what regiment are you and young lad said “The West Kents 4th Battalion”, I think it was 4th Battalion, I said “the Germans are just down the road here”, I asked if they had anything to eat because I had had nothing to eat and I had a piece of bread off one of the lads, a French roll thing.

Anyway, I kept walking and then I got in with some artillery with two types of field guns, I did not know what type of guns they were but they fired several rounds, I had to put my hands over my ears in case I was deafened. I moved off with them then I got into a truck, as we were travelling a couple of Stukas came shooting, the driver must have been hit and the truck tipped over and I got flung out.

The next thing I knew, I don’t know when, I felt something hit me in the ribs and I got up, I sat up and there were Germans all around me. When I had awoken the truck was not there so I must have been knocked out.  There was no artillery, no guns, nothing, it had all gone, I don’t know how long I had been out.

I don’t know what the German’s thought of me sitting there with a sleeve off with no equipment. Then this German, he was yelling at me, he was a big paratrooper, I was scared, I was really frightened, he pulled me up and he was shouting at me, I was looking all over the place and as I turned he hit me with something, I don’t know what he hit me with and down I went.

An officer came up and he was shouting at me, he opened my battle dress, he looked at my pay book and photographs then put them all back and then he said “oh Muller”, I remember he said “Muller”, then he told me to walk up the road, I was in a bit of a daze.

The soldier had hit me pretty hard, he had mashed my face up, he had knocked some teeth out and knocked half my eye brow off, I did not know that until later on, he also damaged my nose, at that point I lost my sense of smell which I did not find out for years after), he had damaged my nostrils, it was a strange feeling.

I had to walk up this road and I met some Moroccans, then some more lads, there were quite a few of us that met up, I did not see any of the DLI, there were all different regiments. We just kept marching and marching and by then there were loads of us, there were French prisoners and some had bicycles with big packs on their backs laden up with fags. We carried on marching and the days were hot, real hot and the nights were cold and after we had marched we would rest in a field. Some of the lads had mess tins and that or tins and they were getting soup, I could not get any, I didn’t have anything. Some of the lads had a blanket and I used to ask them if I could lie with them on their blanket because it was cold.

We stopped at a town, we halted near some houses and I quickly dashed into one house looking for a tin or something, I went into the toilet and the was a can in there with a long spout on, so I grabbed it, I ran back, I had a can. I said to one lad “look what I got out of that house, I got a can”, he said “do you know what that is”, I said “no”, he said “it’s what a woman uses”, it did not matter. Then I used to get some soup and water.

We marched through another town and the French were in front of us and the British were stopped, we were halted by the Germans, these French prisoners marched through the town and some of them had wives because the wives and women kept running out and cuddling and kissing them and all that. Well, after the French had gone through the town, we had to go and we had to run, the Germans made us run and they were cracking whips because we were British. Before we arrived at the camp when we were in towns the French women used to put buckets of water out but the Germans would kick them over. I have sipped out of a pond with the algae on it, I drank out of horse troughs, I swept the green away and drank, I got water out of the running overflow of a toilet, I was told not to drink it by an RMC (Royal Medical Corps) bloke but I drank it.

When I was in India, I had dysentery, I was told that I would get a relapse but I never had diarrhoea or anything like that but some of the lads had diarrhoea, I must have had a new stomach when I was in India.

We did think of escape but I was broke, it came over as England was kaput, that German paratroopers had landed in Scotland, I thought of my wife, my family, that’s what information was carried among the lads when marching, the Germans told us that England was kaput. There was no where really to escape to, we were just marching, if anyone was seen running away they would be shot, there were shots fired, some of the lads were badly injured and maybe could not walk, they were just shot if they could not march, it was terrible.

We rode in trucks, standing up packed in there, we were in there days sometimes and they used to sling biscuits in and the lads used to fight for them, I must have gone hungry for several days, I didn’t fight, there were some big lads there. If chaps wanted to go to the toilet they had to use the one on the floor, it was terrible.

I could not feel the wound on my shoulder, I could not feel anything, I had no treatment for it, all through my prisoner of war life I had no treatment, it just healed itself.

We got to the camp, it was Stalag VIIIb, to tell the truth I can’t remember how we got there, I don’t know if we marched there or in trucks, it was hell. I don’t think I got to the camp until August 1940, I am sure of it, it was about three months since being captured. My wife was told that I had been reported killed and she waited a long time for a message.

 Information. (From Site Wartime Memories Project)

Stalag 8b was situated 3 Km from Lamsdorf, the camp was renamed Stalag 344 in 1943. to cope with the over-crowding at Lamsdorf and at the same time divide the work of administering its numerous Arbeitskommandos, transferred administrative staff to form new base camps at Teschen and Sagan. These became known as Stalag VIIIB and Stalag VIIIC respectively, the original camp at Lamsdorf being renumbered Stalag 344. The Silesian working camps were now conveniently divided between Stalag 344 and Stalags VIIIA, B, and C, all coalmining Arbeitskommandos coming under Stalag VIIIB at Teschen. The latter very soon had a strength of 11,000 British Commonwealth prisoners (including nearly 1000 New Zealanders); but only a little over 200 of these were at the base camp, the remainder being spread over fifty or more Arbeitskommandos.

Today the site is a museum dedicated to the memory of the prisoners who were held there. Lamsdorf was one of the largest complexes of POW camps run by the Wehrmacht comprising: Stalag VIII B, Stalag 318/VIII F and Stalag 344. It is estimated that the camps saw about 300 thousand POWs of different nationalities.

As early as during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) a camp for about three thousand French POWs was set up on the site, which had previously been an artillery range. During World War I about Ninety Thousand POWs - soldiers of the Entante - were interned in Lamsdorf.

The camps were liberated by the Red Army on 17-18 March, 1945.

Today the site is used as a military artillary range.

Wartime Memories Project

Once we were at the camp we were stripped, all our clothes and boots had to come off and they were put into a big boiler thing to clean and delouse them, everyone’s was thrown I together. We were sitting in chairs, naked, getting our hair cut off with shears. When we came out we had to pick our clothes up and grabbed anything you could get, so somebody had a battledress of mine with no sleeve in it, there were French Dragoon trousers and all kinds coming out. I got myself a pair of trousers, no underwear of course, just my khaki and a blouse, I can’t remember if I had any socks.

In the camp were rows and rows of beds. There was a chap there called American Joe, a German officer who had lived in America, he spoke Yankee but he was a pig he was. He would bash anybody, he had a revolver and every now and again you would hear bang.

We used to get called out on parade every morning. Two airman from the RAF had escaped and they got them back, we were all called out on parade and oh! these two lads, what a mess, we were told that the next man caught trying to escape will be shot.

The barrack blocks were just huts, I don’t know the name of it, they were long huts filled with bunks three tall I think. I thought to myself I am not stopping here and the Germans asked for some farm workers to go and work on farms, I thought where there is a farm there is food, the Germans used to say (no work no food). I went on this first working party, I still have a list of the name of the lads, there were forty of us from different regiments. I think it was September or October when we went on the working party but I can’t quite remember.

We were at a place called Grunfleiss, it had two dots above the “u” I think. When we got there we moved into the village hall, a big hall and we had to put our own barbed wire up around the windows, while there we had a feed of potatoes, it was all you used to get potatoes, we had potato soup which was potatoes boiled down, we also had cabbage soup with blood in it which had also been boiled down and Ersatz Coffee, plenty of that, it was horrible, it was liquid.

When we were on detail we used to steal the spuds, we used to fasten our trousers at the bottom and put the potatoes down our trousers. There was a stove and we used to put our initials on the spuds, the heating was from French coke stuff, we used to drop them in the oven. We had long pieces of wire which we made into a hook, when we pulled them out they were black but we ate them. We had a rest that day at the hall.

The next day a horse and cart pulled up with a load of picks and shovels on, we were all sent out to grab a pick or a shovel, this was farm work. We marched for three miles or longer to a field and the River Neisse was nearby, there was a line, a rope drawn across long ways and there were two civilians in charge of us, two German civilians that could not speak English, there were guards there too, so with these picks and shovels we were told to dig but we did not know what to dig.

I remember I had a pick and I kept banging it in the ground, the Germans were jumping up and down wild and it got around that what they wanted us to do was to take the turf off the ground first and stack it. The job was to make a canal run off the River Neisse, an irrigation canal, there were skips there and we had to pick railway lines up and we were hungry as well. We had long handled shovels and as we kept on digging we were digging three shelves, the chaps down below shovelled onto one shelf and then the chaps above them had to shovel it to the top and the lads on the top had to shovel it into skips and wheel it away and the turf was put to line the banks. I never saw the finish of that.

Map showing Niesse River (Clink On Image For Full Size Image)

Jim Miller (Ringed. Stalag VIIIB)

Jim Miller (Stalag VIIIB Front Row, Second From Left)

Jim Miller (Stalag VIIIB Middle Row, First On Left)

Jim Miller (Stalag VIIIB Top Row, Fourth From Left)

Jim Miller (Stalag VIIIB Back Row, Third From Right)

We had a Sergeant Major Betcheman , I think he was out of the Ox and Bucks and he said to the guards “what happens if it snows, do we work”, he was told “no, you stop in your hut in bad weather”, so we were getting towards November and some snowflakes come down and Betcheman said “right O lads pack up”, my god there was hell let loose, there were guards fixing bayonets, they were really mad and he said “you said when it snows we had to pack up work”.

I remember a little German girl, we were marching back towards our billet and this little girl she had an apple in her hand, she took a bit of a bite out, she was standing with the apple and suddenly the apple wasn’t there, one of the lads had taken it.

We worked long hours and we used to take out a bit of bread for our lunch or dinner whatever while we wee there. Our boots got that badly worn that we used to wear clogs, wooden clogs with what you call lappings, it was a piece of cloth to wrap round your foot then put your clogs on, we had no stockings. Well when the snow was on the ground, the snow used to get on the heel and you got higher and higher and my leg was really suffering then, it was terrible.

Part 10