Left behind - POW

Discussion in 'World War 2' started by RoyWillard, Aug 19, 2014.

  1. RoyWillard

    RoyWillard New Member

    My father was born 5th November 1911 at Robertsbridge, East Sussex. Up until 1939 he was employed as a ‘Shot Firer’ at the Gypsum Mines, Mountfield, East Sussex.

    With the War looming he joined in April 1939 the 5th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment TA, becoming a Regular Soldier before or at the outbreak of the Second World War. His younger brother Roy joined at the same time. When I was very young I asked my father why he volunteered to join the Army, he told me that from the newspapers and Wireless reports they could see War was coming and it was best to be prepared. My Fathers Army Service Number: 6400900.

    My father's Regiment was I believe part of the BEF and moved to France. He told me he was a ‘Batman’ or ‘Runner’ for an Officer. He did not talk a lot about the period leading up to his capture by the Germans, except to say that with about a dozen or so other Soldiers he hid in a church. The Germans were outside, and one of the Soldiers, an Officer went out and gave them all up! My father said that the Germans marched them round the French countryside in circles to pick up all the Soldiers who could not escape to Dunkirk and had became Prisoners of War. He told me he had fainted a couple of times because there was nothing to eat or drink, but Frenchwoman would put pails of wine on their doorsteps for the British prisoners to drink. He spoke disparagingly of the French Soldiers who went home and waited on their doorsteps for the Germans to collect them as Prisoners of War!

    The POW Number assigned to my father: 3443.

    I do not know if after capture, my Father was taken to a POW camp in Germany or straight to Poland: I have photographs of my father with other prisoners either dressed in uniform or wearing football kit, the photos are dated '1943 Germany'!) he only ever spoke of Silesia and Poland. At one time he was operated on by a German Doctor because of a Hernia. I used to argue with my father as to where he was captured, he maintained it was Toulon. I can only think that it was a hamlet in France or Belgium, but too small to be put on a map. I do not think the British Army were ever in Toulon in 1940. But he was insistent!

    The British Regimental Journal; Roussillon Gazette published a list of Royal Sussex POWs; it listed Private Willard as Prisoner Number 3443 at Stalag XX1.B. This was a camp in the Province of Posen in Poland.

    He spoke of having to work for the Germans in ‘Open coal faces/mines’ in Silesia. I have photographs of my father in Stalag 344.

    He was transported to the Krakow/Katowice area of Poland with other POW’s, still working in Coal Mines. POW’s with him were British, Australian and New Zealanders. The POW’s were made to work for the German armaments company; KRUPPS. He said “if you did not work, they did not feed you”.

    Towards the end of the war, the German guards fled and he with the other prisoners was ‘liberated’ by Russian soldiers. The Russians allowed the POW’s to leave the POW camp during the day, but my father said it was very dangerous to do so because the Russian soldiers – men and women – would open fire in the streets/roads with their weapons for no reason at all.

    He never spoke fully about his wartime experience; it was only my badgering in his last few years that I was able to gain some details of his experiences. My father with the other POW’s was made to watch, as the Russians ‘butchered’ Ukrainian’ prisoners. When he told me what the Russians did, he was shouting at me in anger and distress. I had awakened in him ‘demons’ that he had tried to forget, I must admit I was very humbled by what he told me and never again pushed him to elaborate on his wartime memories as a prisoner in Poland or talk about the Russians.

    He was eventually taken to Reims in France and flown home in daytime by a RAF Wellington bomber.

    I was born in Robertsbridge in May 1946 and I remember as a baby being taken to (I believe) a satellite POW camp in Robertsbridge, East Sussex, England. The POW camp was demolished circa 1948. There is now a Housing estate known as Heathfield Gardens on this site. Some of the POW’s from this camp; German & Italian stayed on in the village, in some cases marrying local women. Throughout my life, I never witnessed or heard any animosity towards the men that stayed or their families, my father certainly was friends of some, and I went to school with their children.

    My older Bothers told me that our father was ill for a year after the war.

    I would like to know where I can obtain details of his Military Service from 1939 to 1945. I would also like to know where I can learn of his capture by the Germans, the POW camps he went to. If he was de-briefed by the Red Cross after his release and how he managed to get to Rheims in France from Poland.

    An enlistment book states that Private Willard was transferred to the Reserve on 10 February 1946. I would appreciate if you can provide to me details of my father's Wartime Military and POW service, or point me in the direction to find such information.

    Sorry, I guess the above may be too much information, but I am using a laptop and I am not very experienced with this particular device. So I have copied and pasted from a draft I had prepared earlier.
    Thank you

    Roy Willard
  2. Kate

    Kate Active Member

    Hello Roy... and welcome to the forum. I do work with U.S. Civil War databases and groups, so I'm not able to answer your questions. There are a few people here, though, that may be able to help you, and I hope that's the case!

    Never "too much information" for me when I'm reading a heartwarming and heroic story such as your father's! I enjoyed reading every word and "getting to know him" through your words.

    I do know what you mean about not wanting to talk about it. I know some Vietnam vets who are the same now... and pushing to "share" or remember can indeed revive those demons you mentioned.
  3. RoyWillard

    RoyWillard New Member

    Hello Kate thank you for showing an interest in the story of my father, I have begun to realise that I knew very little about his life before the Second World War (that applies to my mother too), so it is important to me to find out as much as I can.
    In 1939 at the age of 27 years my father had joined the Territorial Army, enlisting in the 5th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment. At the outbreak of war six months later he was still with the Royal Sussex Regiment.
    I remember my father telling me that when they went to France with the Royal Sussex Regiment as part of the BEF, initially there was no fighting with the Germans and when he did guard duty he would be armed only with a Pickaxe handle!!
    When the fighting did start my father told me that at one time the Germans were using Mortar bombs against them, apparently Freddie Booth (a friend from the same village as dad; Robertsbridge) got fed up diving for cover every time there was a warning. A Mortar bomb landed right next to Freddie and miraculously did not explode! Years later around about 1964/65 I played football for the village team; Robertsbridge United and Freddie Booth was also in the team. He was well into his forties but still fit enough to play and quite skilful, he was also a very nice man to know.
    My father’s brother Roy was ten years younger than him; I would think that they both joined the Royal Sussex Regiment at the same time.
    In 1940 when the Germans were advancing rapidly through France and the British Army falling back my father became separated from his company and his brother Roy. My father was captured by German soldiers and for the next five years he was a Prisoner of War. His brother Roy had been wounded but I do not know if my father knew that or not and he was to never see him again; Roy died in 1944 during an operation for Peritonitis, he was buried at Salehurst Parish Church (Robertsbridge is in the Parish).
    In 2010 I wrote to the International Red Cross in Switzerland, I had requested that they provide any information they have in their archives of visits to POW camps where my father was held from 1940 to 1945. I was told they take about a year to reply and there is no way of knowing if they ever received letters or not, because they do not enter into any form of discussion.
    Monday 9th May 2011, I received a letter from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). I was very pleased to read the contents, it came in the form of an ‘Attestation’ with Capture Card and provided brief details of when and where my father was captured by the Germans:
    • 29.05.1940 Arras
    • POW No. 3443
      Followed by the places of detention up until 23.07.1941:
    • 11.06.1940 Stalag XX1/B
    • 19.01.1941 Stalag XX1/A
    • 23.01.1941 Stalag 1VC
      Detained in Stalag 1V/C; from 23.07.1941.
      Stalag IVC was a German military prisoner of war camp in World War II, sited close to what is now the city of Teplice in the Czech Republic. Some inmates of the camp had to work at the "Sudentenlandische Treibstoff Werke" which is a coal hydrogenation plant, involved in the processing to get oil from coal. The factory was destroyed by the RAF in 1944. The POW camp was liberated by the Russians in January 1945. Location: Wistritz, Czech Republic. District: Wehrkreis IV - Dresden. Opened: February 1941. Closed: 1945
      My father had told me that throughout his captivity he was involved with ‘Coal’ and extracting it from Mines or Open Quarry’s. He recalled that his POW camp was bombed by the RAF and some of the prisoners were killed. The POW’s in his camp resorted to painting the roof’s of their huts, showing either the colours of the Union Flag or the Red Cross on a white background.
      From my Internet search, the POW camp Stalag 1Vc was liberated by the Russians in 1945. I was sure that my father was in Poland when the Russians arrived and he was freed from captivity, because he always spoke of Krakow or Katowice; both of which are in Poland. Maybe the National Archives will enlighten me on that point. One other item from the ICRC Archives that would be contentious if my father was still alive; Captured by the Germans: 29.05.1940 Arras. He was insistent that the place of capture was ‘Toulon’!
      On 21st November 1936 at Salehurst Parish Church he married my mother Lillian Josephine (nee Williams). Also in 1936 my father had played a game of Snooker against a former World Professional Billiards Champion: Tom Newman and beat him!!! Tom Newman in common with all Snooker and Billiard Champions of that era would travel around the country visiting Working Men’s Social Clubs play matches and give demonstrations. My father was very proud to have played and beaten Tom Newman. For many years before and after the war he was the Billiards and Snooker Champion.
      He told me that before the War he had wanted to be either a Jockey or Boxer, but he was almost blind in one eye, so he could not fulfil that dream (that did not deter him from volunteering to join the Royal Sussex Regiment of the British Army at the outbreak of war!).
      Best regards
      Roy Willard
  4. aghart

    aghart Former Tank Commander Moderator

    Roy, as your father was a Private soldier, he is unlikely to have been the person with the map, and that coupled with the confusion of the retreat through France means he was likely only to have a vague knowledge of where he was at the time. I'm sure he was convinced that he was near Toulon when captured but it is likely that the Red Cross document is probably accurate. Just across the border in Belgium is the town of Tournai, not too far from Arras.
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2014
  5. RoyWillard

    RoyWillard New Member

    Hello Aghart

    Thank you for the information, my father's insistence that Toulon was the place of his capture by German soldiers in 1940 has always troubled me, he was upset that I doubted his word and I wish that I had not persisted on that line of questioning. But of course I cannot turn the clock back.

    My father, in common with a lot of ex-POW's would not talk about his wartime experiences. When I spoke with him at the dinner table I would start off by saying "History lesson Dad", he knew then what was coming and would accommodate me except on the occasions when I asked too much or he was tired of going back in time and 're-living' the experiences.

    Can you help me with regard to my father's brother: Roy Willard? In April 1939 my father had joined the 5th Battalion, TA, Royal Sussex Regiment he was assigned Service Number: 6400900. I have always believed that his brother Roy joined the Army at the same time and that they went with the BEF to France. I have just assumed that they were in the same Company (which one?) same Battalion and Regiment.

    My mother told me that Roy had been wounded in France and evacuated back to England, because of his injuries he was discharged from the Army. At some point he became an Ambulance driver, by all accounts he had many girlfriends. Sadly he died in 1944 whilst undergoing surgery in Hospital, Peritonitis was the cause of his death. My mother was the only person who told me how Roy died, until some years later when I met an elderly woman in Somerset who told me she had been engaged to Roy at the time of his death-she also mentioned Peritonitis as cause of death.

    I have tried to find details of Roy Willard's Army service, but to no avail. I know he was born 1920 in Salehurst, Sussex and that he died December 19th 1944 at Tonbridge Hospital, Kent. I have drawn a 'blank' on all of the family history websites. His name is entered on the Robertsbridge War Memorial and shows his Regiment as 'R. SUSSEX'. Roy's parents (my grandparents) were George Henry Willard and Ethel Will nee Every.

    I would appreciate any help with regard to my father's brother.

    Thank you
    Roy Willard
  6. RoyWillard

    RoyWillard New Member

    I was very pleased to receive help from:
    Matthew Jones
    Assistant County Archivist
    West Sussex Record Office

    Mr Jones provided me with this information:
    I had a look at the enlistment books that we hold for the Royal Sussex Regiment and found the following entry (in volume 12, page 75):

    Name: Roy Willard
    Army No: 6401741
    [Attested]: 17.7.39
    Discharged: 10.3.41 Para 390 (xvi) K.R. 1940

    ‘K.R.’ stands for King’s Regulations. I don’t have a copy of them here, but I’m fairly sure that this means he was medically discharged.

    I also learned from my Dad's sisters that their brother Roy Willard had died from Peritonitis and Gangrene Poisoning. He had been wounded in France but was able to be evacuated back home (maybe Dunkirk but I do not know)

    I did not particularly want to write to the : Army Personnel Centre in Glasgow. Would you know of any other source of information?

    Many thanks
    Roy Willard

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